Developing Hand Skills In The Classroom


Primary grade teachers and parents!  Here is what you need to know and do to develop your student’s /child’s hand skills for printing.  This post will give you the why and how!

Hand and finger strength and coordination needed for precise hand activities is also known as fine motor skills. 

Gross Motor skills are the large body movements we use for walking, running, jumping, balance, kicking, catching and throwing.

We need strong gross motor skills to lay the foundation and provide the stability for fine motor skills to develop.  When we have good core strength and shoulder strength and stability, we will have better control of our hands. 

Therefore, when preparing to learn how to print, we first need to have strong gross motor development.

Classroom Activities to develop Gross Motor Skills:

  • Do instructional activities lying on tummy or on all 4s
  • Jumping jacks, burpies, squats on the spot
  • Bum lifts from a chair or the floor
  • Do work in alternative postures (on tummy, at the wall in squatting, kneeling, standing)
  • Play statue games
  • Animal yoga poses ( or animal walks (crab, bear)
  • Encourage active play outside (running, playground equipment, ball games)

      **Suggestions for parents:  swimming, martial arts, dance, gymnastics, and sports are excellent gross motor activities.

Other things to also do for gross motor development:

  • Encourage play while lying on your tummy on your forearms and in standing at a wall or at an easel as this also builds shoulder and arm strength. It also helps put the wrist in a more neutral position which we need to properly manipulate a pencil.  If your student has a bent wrist (bent inwards) when s/he is drawing or colouring, these positions are great to use to help put the wrist in a straighter position.  Further, when working at a table or desk, put a thick (3-5?) binder under the work material to add angle and help the wrist position.
  • Positioning at table/desk:  Always strive for feet on the floor when the bum is at the back of the chair as this gives the most support to the trunk.  Remember, a strong and supportive trunk lays the foundation for mobility in the arms and hands.  Scoot the chair in so the body is close to the desk.  Putting tennis balls or felt pads on the feet of the chair legs will help the chair slide easier (and it’s quieter in the classroom).  Push work materials forward on table/desk so forearms are supported on the table.  The table/desk height should be 2? above the elbow when the elbow is bent at 90 degrees.

There are 4 factors that impact pencil grasp development:

  • Finger Strength
  • Finger Coordination (dexterity) and development of a tripod grasp
  • Visual-Motor Skills
  • Ability to Cross Midline

1. Finger Strength:  In order to have the endurance for drawing/colouring/printing and be able to apply the correct pencil pressure, you need adequate finger strength.  If you do not have adequate finger strength, you will revert to using a whole-hand grasp or you will switch hands.

Finger Strengthening Activities:

  • Plasticine/clay/playdough/slime: kneading, pulling it apart, finding hidden objects, mashing colours together, making tiny balls with fingers, cookie cutters.
  • Construction Play: Lego, interlocking blocks, Kinetic toys, magnet toys, Plus Plus (Mindcraft) blocks
  • Spray bottles: to mist plants, add food colouring and spray paint a mural
  • Erasing: with an eraser and/or a dry erase marker with a cotton ball
  • Hole puncher: to make designs on construction paper, paper plates
  • Clips: various sizes to pinch onto a popsicle stick or cardboard
  • Rainbow Looms or elastic peg boards: to make designs, shapes, letters
  • Colour with crayons: for 2-4 minutes to build endurance
  • Sidewalk chalk: drawing/colouring outside
  • Ball Roll: roll a small ball up and down your leg using your thumb & 1st 2 fingers only 

Sort Lego pieces and find the really small pieces to further encourage finger strength

2. Finger Coordination and developing a tripod grasp:  In order to hold a pencil with a tripod grasp (the thumb and 1st two fingers), you need: individual control of each finger, to be able to curl the ring and baby finger away from the 1st three fingers and to be able to move objects in and out of the hand.

Finger Coordination and Tripod Grasp Activities:

  • Stickers
  • Coin games
  • Beading
  • Lacing
  • Cutting/scissors
  • Erasing
  • Gluing
  • Origami and paper airplanes
  • Tongs/tweezers
  • Eye dropper designs
  • Lite Brite or peg boards
  • Spinning tops, wind-up toys
  • Wikki sticks designs
  • Finger action songs
  • Tearing paper and crumpling into tiny balls
  • Painting with toothpicks and Q-tips

3. Visual-Motor Skills:  In order to draw, colour and print, you need to be able to target your pencil to where you need to start and stop, and understand spacial directions (down, up, beside, under, over, etc.).

 Visual-Motor Activities:

  • Bingo dauber sheets
  • Mazes
  • Stencils
  • Dot to dots
  • Word searches
  • Pre-printing shapes worksheets
  • Colour by number, letter, word, object sheets

4. Crossing Midline:  This is the ability to cross your hands and arms easily across the center of your body.  Crossing midline correlates with establishing hand dominance.  It also impacts the ability to draw intersecting lines such as a + and X.

Crossing Midline Activities:

  • Ball or bean bag games that cross the center of the body and when catching with both hands
  • Batting games (bat a ball or balloon)
  • Drawing large shapes such as a circle, oval, horizontal line, an X or a sideways 8 that require the student to cross the centre of the body
  • Instruments such as a guitar or ukulele
  • Placing objects so student has to reach across the his/her body to get them

Make a fine motor bin! 

Using the ideas above, make a bin that contains finger strength activities, tripod grasp activities, visual-motor activities and crossing midline activities.  Then, when you have students who need extra practice, you have everything you need in one place.

Also, make a tapestry board for your classroom that everyone can contribute to!

Good luck and let me know how it goes…

And remember, be the hero you are meant to be!

Author: Michelle Brown
Michelle Brown is an occupational therapist and has been helping people since 1996.

You can find out more about Michelle Brown here:
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