The strengthening of a child’s finger muscles is essential for the development of fine motor skills such as doing up their own shoelaces, fastening buttons, holding pencils and cutting up their own meals.
Developing Child hand and finger strength
Children first start to exercise the muscles in their hands at a very young age. At just 2-3 months of age, babies will reach out to bat at objects that are within their reach. Over the first 12 months of a child’s life, their hand and finger skills will progress into grasping objects, letting go of objects and learning how to transfer objects between their hands. By 3-4 years of age, children will be starting to grasp pencils using the pincer grip which will further strengthen the muscles required for fine motor skills development.
As children participate in everyday activities, the strength of the muscles in their fingers and hands will continue to increase. Outdoor activities such as holding onto monkey bars, climbing up ladders, grasping the ropes of a swing and digging in the dirt are fun and practical activities which will assist your child in refining their fine motor skills.
There are also plenty of ways to increase these skills by creating activities for children which get those little fingers working — such as squeezing, pulling, threading, pressing, pinching and grasping. A fun idea is to create a “hand gym” for your children. This is a box full of goodies which your child can access for 10-15 minutes every day, and provides appropriate materials for your child to play with.
How to make a hand gym
First, find an old shoebox and decorate it with wrapping paper, paint it in beautiful bright colours, or cover it with stickers. You could also pick up a gift box from a shop. These are often available in a variety of patterns and sizes so you can choose one which is just right for your child.
Using the list below as a guide, go on a treasure hunt around the house and look for small items or objects that can be added to the hand gym. It’s a good idea to find as many objects as you can and rotate them every few days so that there is always a variety of activities on offer.
Some useful objects for the hand gym
There is no need to go out and buy anything as most of these items will often be hiding throughout the house and in your toy boxes. Simple is often the best when it comes to these activities. Some objects you could include in the box are:
- Soft stress balls
- Squeaky toys
- Pegs — wooden or plastic
- Velcro dots
- Threading beads and laces
- A row of paper clips on a square of cardboard
- Bubble wrap
- Russian dolls
- Small empty travel size shampoo bottles with lids
- A few pieces of LEGO
- Wind up toys
- Rubber bands around small boxes
- Spinning tops
- Small pieces of fabric with press studs
- Lacing shapes
- Bull-dog clips of various sizes
- Stacking blocks
You will find that when your children first start playing with the items in their hand gym, they may get tired quickly, so start with only one or two activities at a time and for no more than a few minutes. As their finger muscles strengthen, you can choose items which offer greater resistance or challenges for your child and build up to about 10-15 minutes per day. The development of these muscles will offer your little one’s hands greater control of detailed tasks, so this is a good way to assess how your child is developing.
Most importantly, enjoy spending this time with your child. Have a play with some of the objects and you just mind find that you too will benefit from some time spent with the hand gym!