Kids develop best through play! When adults go to therapy for hand weakness, they squeeze hand grippers to improve their strength. When kids come to occupational therapy with hand weakness, we play!
Activities have to be fun to get buy in from kids! If it’s not fun, their participation probably won’t be so great.
When working on any skill, it’s always best to gravitate toward activities your child already enjoys. You can often find ways to adapt their favorite activities to work on skills they need to focus on.
The high tech world we live in does not support making hands strong. All of the tablets, TVs, computers, and phones, have led to an increase in fine motor delays and weaker hands.
Learning to use these devices has become essential for kids because they use them in school and for doing homework. But make sure you set aside time every week to put the screens away and encourage them to play with their hands!
Using playdoh is one of these easiest ways to work on hand strength. Most young children love playdoh and it naturally requires hand strength! If you have a few basic tools like a rolling pin and cookie cutters, this is plenty! This starter set on Amazon is inexpensive and a great way to get started.
These modeling dough extruders are some of my favorite tools to use when addressing hand strength. Kids love to watch the dough come out in all the different cool shapes.
There are other materials similar to playdoh you can also try. If your child gets bored of playdoh or you want to offer another sensory experience, try:
- Modeling foam beads offer a really unique texture that is fun to play with
- Modeling clay is great for kids who love crafts
- Putty is one of the more firm options and great for kids who are already somewhat strong
If your child is a beginner with scissors, first read our article on Teaching Kids to Use Scissors. Once they have it figured out, you can work on cutting more challenging materials. Cutting thicker or more difficult materials is great for strengthening little hands.
Some ideas include:
Writing with utensils that don’t glide smoothly on paper requires more hand strength. Imagine how it feels to write with a pencil vs a pen (or a crayon vs a marker for kids). The more resistance felt when moving the utensil on the paper, the more it can help to strengthen the hand.
Generally speaking, it is better to offer chalk, crayons, and pencils over markers and pens if you are working on hand strengthening.
- Writing with chalk on a chalkboard easel requires strength of the entire arm. They have to hold their arm up against gravity while writing on this vertical surface.
- Writing or drawing in resistive material such as playdoh requires a lot of force and is great for hand strengthening
- Single hole punch can be used to make a handful of small circles to use in a craft (such as raindrops under a cloud or stars in the sky!)
- Paper punches are fun if you prefer different shapes and designs
Kinetic sand is more firm than sandbox sand. It feels like sand at the beach that was wet several hours ago and now sticks together easily to make a sandcastle! Not only is a great sensory experience for kids, but it is also great for hand strengthening.
Regular sandbox play is a good option too if you already have access to this in your backyard, at the park, or the beach. Digging, scooping, and pouring with shovels, buckets, and other toys is a great way to strengthen the whole arm, but especially the hand gripping the tools.
Blocks that connect and can be pulled apart are really great for working on strengthening the hands. They are also great for bilateral coordination, which is learning to use both sides of the body together.
For children under 18 mos of age, I recommend Mega Blocks. Once they are over 18 mos, usually Duplo Legos are an ideal size. For children over age 4, the smaller Legos are great (if your child is completely past putting things in their mouth!).
Most kids love playing with water! If you are worried about a mess, you can always do these outdoors.
- Squeezing spray bottles to help water plants
- Squeezing sponges in water to clean them after sponge painting. Kids love making pictures with these shape sponges.
- Bath squirters are a fun way to strengthen hands in and out of the bath
Gross Motor Activities
Gross motor activities are those that use the larger muscles of the body. They are more whole body activities as opposed to fine motor activities which require use of smaller muscles, such as the hands.
Many gross motor activities can be used to target strengthening the hands. Many of these can easily be found at most playgrounds. Some examples include:
- Hanging from monkey bars or a trapeze bar
- Climbing a rock wall
- Climbing up and down a ladder
- Wheelbarrow walking is great for strengthening the entire arm since it requires the child to walk on their hands.
There are so many fun hand strengthening activities for kids! Use activities you know they will enjoy and they won’t even know they are working on this skill!
Webster, E. K., Martin, C. K., & Staiano, A. E. (2019). Fundamental motor skills, screen-time, and physical activity in preschoolers. Journal of sport and health science, 8(2), 114-121.
This post contains affiliate links.