If summer vacation means that your child has the summer off from Occupational Therapy (or if you just think he/she could use a little work-out for those growing muscles), here are some of my favorite ways to improve grasp and hand strength. Improved hand strength can translate to improved handwriting, better endurance while writing and cutting, and better fine motor and self-care skills. These are fun ways to improve skills (without it feeling like “work”).
Playdoh, Clay, or Silly Putty
• A good clay is Crayola Model Magic. Squeezing with the whole hand to soften the dough increases overall hand strength. Be sure to switch back and forth between hands. Hide “treasures” that the child has to find.
• Roll the dough on a table to make snakes, using one hand and then the other, and then both together.
• Practice pinching off pieces of the snake, using thumb and index finger. Roll dough into a ball, then squish it flat like a pizza between fingers and thumb. Poke holes in the dough using index finger.
• Wrap a rubber band or silly putty around the student’s flexed fingers. As he straightens them, have him spread them apart against the resistance.
Tennis Ball “Monkey”
Parents can use a knife to cut a 2-inch slit in a tennis ball for the mouth and draw eyes with permanent marker. Then, have the child use one hand to squeeze and hold the mouth open, and the other hand to feed monkey pennies, beads, small buttons, etc.
• Doing gross motor play while weight-bearing the hands is great for strengthening the shoulder, wrists and hands. Some suggestions are: wheelbarrow walking, tug-o-war (with a towel or blanket), crawling through a tunnel, sustaining a grasp while hanging from monkey bars, climbing ladders/playground structures, and rock climbing walls. Even biking and scooters can help with hand strength.
• Squirt guns are great for strengthening fingers.
• Plastic turkey basters are good for strengthening the whole hand.
• Squeeze sponges or squeeze out a wet washcloth.
• Don’t Break the Ice
• Lite Bright
• Tear paper into little pieces (as part of a craft project) and/or wad paper into balls.
• Cut thick paper (e.g. cardboard, index cards, several sheets of construction paper).
• Coloring in a confined space (the smaller the space, the harder it is and the more strengthening it is).
• Color with small pieces of crayon (broken crayons are great for this). Put the paper on a vertical or inclined surface (tape to a wall, use an easel, or attach to a large 3-ring binder to make a “slant desk”). Together, the incline and the small crayons will encourage a child to use a finger grasp and hand muscles, instead of relying on using the whole arm to color.
Lynn-Marie Herlihy is an Occupational Therapist in private practice in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She has over 12 years experience treating children from birth to school-age, with a variety of sensory and motor deficits, developmental delays, and learning issues. You can also visit her website at http://www.ParkSlopeOT.com/.