Get a Grip Kid!

Categories: Pediatrics

Does your child have poor hand writing? Is it hard for him/her to button or snap the fasteners on clothing? Does s/he avoid tasks or ask for help with tasks that require small motor movements of the fingers? Are his/her peers able to perform activities that s/he is struggling with? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions it is possible that your child has weak hands. There are many tasks within a child’s day that require hand strength. These include managing clothing fasteners, tying shoes, writing, coloring, throwing a ball, brushing hair, cutting food, opening containers, and cutting with scissors just to name a few.

High repetitions of weighted, resisted activities are great ways to strengthen hand muscles.  However, if it is hard for adults to go to the gym for strengthening activities how are we going to incorporate strengthening in a child’s day? This is where the fun begins! Below are activities to engage your child and to build hand strength.

While reviewing the ideas below, customize any or all of these activities to your child’s interests. You may find that naming the tools or materials your child’s favorite Disney character will increase his/her interest. Or if you are creative, a make believe story around the activity may engage your child more easily. Additionally, be aware of your child’s tolerance and fatigue. If your child only enjoys the activity for a few minutes, that’s OK. Even though the activities are fun, you are asking him/her to work hard. Always encourage your child and when you try another time see if s/he can tolerate a longer play session. Also, recognize your child’s reluctance to engage in the activities. This can mean the activity is too hard or it needs to be tailored more to his/her interests. There are suggestions for altering the activities below. Please make changes as needed.

1.  Weight bearing games are a great way to begin. Weight bearing through the upper body are movements that put weight through the child’s hands and arms. These activities strengthen the core, arms, and hands. After these activities children are usually calmer and more able to concentrate on seated tasks. Twister is a fun way to perform weight bearing. Other options include wheel barrow walks, animal walks, climbing, crawling, pushing heavy objects, etc.

2.  Popping bubble wrap! Squeezing to pop bubble wrap can be noisy and fun for your child while strengthening his/her hands.

You will need:

Bubble wrap

Customizing the challenge:

Smaller bubble wrap with pinching motions uses small muscles of the hand and forearm muscles.

Larger bubble wrap with a whole hand gripping motion uses larger muscles of the forearm.

Other option:

Incorporate bubble wrap in the weight bearing activity by putting the bubble wrap down on the floor for your child to pop while doing a wheel barrow walk or other animal walks over it.

3. Playdough. Almost any way you play with playdough will be strengthening for your child. Squeezing, twisting, cutting, mashing are all effective ways to manipulate the dough to increase strength. Putting items in the dough to create a “treasure hunt is another fun way to strengthen the fingers and hand. You can use a variety of materials to hide in the dough including crafting beads, dried beans, dried corn kernels, marbles. Once hidden, have your child use fingers and hand to find their treasure. (Warning small objects can be a choking hazard if a child puts them in his/her mouth.)

You will need:


Kid friendly knife

Cookie cutters


Craft beads

Dried beans or corn


Customize the challenge:

Use different size materials to find in dough. Larger items will decrease the challenge; while smaller items will increase the challenge.

Other option:

Have your child hide the “treasure.

4.  When your child has the option of getting wet whether it be in the bathtub or outside on a sunny day, water games are always exciting. You can incorporate fine motor strength by using a syringe, a turkey baster, spray bottle, or water squirters. Activities can include water fights, target practice, or clean up tasks.

You will need:




Turkey baster

Spray bottle

Water squirter

5.  Picking up objects with tweezers or tongs is an excellent fine motor activity. It both strengthens the hand and works on fine motor control.

You will need:




Chop sticks

Materials to pick up:


Playdough balls


Paper balls

Customize the challenge:

Use different size objects to pick up. Larger objects will decrease the challenge while smaller objects will increase the challenge.

Use a bigger tool to use a full hand squeezing motion.

Use a smaller tool to use a pinching motion.

Use chopsticks to work on high level fine motor coordination skills.

6.  Wind-up toys can be brought along anywhere your child may need to be entertained. These little toys build strength of the index finger and thumb.

You will need:

 Windup toys


7.  Many crafts include fine motor strengthening. This can be simply coloring with your child or creating a masterpiece with various materials. Ripping paper and balling it up can be a fun way to make materials for your masterpiece. Scissors and a hole puncher are great tools that use repetitive movements to increase strength similar to doing multiple reps of weight exercise with a light weight. Also the use of wet glue instead of glue sticks produces great squeezing motion.

You will need:

Crafting materials:






Hole punch

Glue bottle

Creative projects:




House with holiday lights

Customize the challenge:

Increase or decrease the number of repetitions:

Creating snow with hole puncher

Cuts to make a paper snowflake

Change the resistance:

Use of thicker paper to cut or punch to increase the challenge.

Use of thinner paper such as tissue paper to decrease the challenge.

8.  Finding creative ways to use clothes pins is another way to strengthen both the hand and forearm muscles. Here are few examples of some crafts to create with clothes pins.

You will need:

Clothes pins

Paper plate

Customize the challenge:

Increase or decrease the number of clothes pins used.


9.  Mr. Potato Head requires a child to push, pull, and twist to make the pieces stay on Mr. Potato Head. This strengthens the muscles of the hand and forearm.

10.  Lego’s strengthen hands with high repetitions of the pushing and pulling required to make the ideal building, creature, or project. Depending on your child’s skills use big or small Lego’s. And if you child likes destroying things, you can build the structure and s/he can take it all apart. Whether it be building or taking apart, Lego’s are very affective in challenging you child and strengthening his/her hands.

11.  Light Brite, yes, good old Light Brite. The small pegs make it another engaging way to challenge the fine motor skills of your child.

12.  Operation requires a child to use careful fine motor coordination and fine motor strength by using the tweezers to get items out of the man.