Finger Gym Activities – what are they and how do they work?

I’ve decided to share finger gym activities today as they have been a big focus in our house for the last couple of weeks. Finger gym are games and activities that help children to develop their fine motor skills and exercises the muscles in the fingers and hands that are used when writing. The activities can be started from a very young age (aged one or two) and are useful for children to do up to the age of six or seven (or beyond if still needed).

Children find writing difficult and I am a big advocate of giving children the time they need to develop the necessary muscles before they are pressurised into physically writing. I have taught children who know the process needed to write a word, they can break down the sounds and can say what is needed orally. This is great in the beginning and works well, they can then use magnetic letters to form the words they want while taking time to learn how to form letters and developing the muscles they need doing finger gym activities. However there comes a time when they have to pick up a pencil and have a go at writing. This can be painful if the muscles in their fingers are not quite developed enough and is where finger gym activities can really help.

Isabel’s teacher came to speak to me a couple of weeks ago and said that she had become very upset during her writing activity because her hand was hurting while she was writing. I had noticed she had been complaining of her hand hurting while she was colouring in at home a couple of days previous to this conversation. Isabel has pretty good fine motor control, she can form her letters well and can write a sentence. The trouble that Isabel has is stamina, her muscles are not strong enough for her to comfortably write more than a few words at a time. This is a common issue and one that many children struggle with, they often write the bare minimum not because they don’t know what to write but because they physically cannot do it. So what can we do to help?

Firstly I decided to try to up the number of finger gym activities we do at home. There are lots of ideas on the internet a quick google search will give you lots of activities as well as on pintrest. Here are a few of our favourites so far:

Making rainbows– I painted a quick rainbow on paper. Then using cotton buds the girls dotted along the lines matching the colours. Isabel’s challenge was to keep the dots on the line and to make sure they were evenly spaced out using a correct pincer grip. Megan challenge was to match the colours and dot as close to the line as she could while using a pincer grip. (Charlie was having a nap!)

Pom Poms- I froze some pom poms in water in ice cube trays. They had to try to push the ice cubes out of the tray, then as they melted use tweezers to pick them up and put in a bowl. We didn’t have any tweezers at the time so I used clothes pegs and a pair of toy tweezers from the medical case. They enjoyed the challenge of squeezing the pegs and Isabel was really proud when she filled her bowl. Megan had a go but then picked up the pom moms with her fingers and matched the colours to the coloured bowls. Charlie loved playing with the small amount of water that was created. They also all learnt that when ice melts it creates water.

Hanging out the washing- They all love helping me hang up washing so I gave Isabel the job of pegging the socks. She had to squeeze the pegs using just one hand as she had to hold the sock with her other hand. This can be adapted with a piece of string tied to a couple of chair legs, they could wash baby clothes or socks in a bowl and peg out the washing.

Poking Pasta- Collect items in the house that have holes in them a colander is perfect, I also used a basket and some threading beads. Using long pasta push it through the holes you find. Charlie loved this and he surprised me with his level of concentration and the number of small holes he managed to get the pasta in.

Threading beads– You can get all sorts of threading activities. Amazon do a wide range of large beads, small beads and pictures that can be threaded. If you don’t want to buy anything then you can punch holes in coloured paper and encourage children to thread wool or shoelaces through the holes. (If you are artistic then you could draw a picture and punch the holes along the lines) Getting the children to punch their own holes in paper is also great for those finger muscles.

Golf tees- Have a large lump of play dough in front of the children. Get them to spread it out with their fingers. Then push golf tees through the play dough. The golf tees need to be straight because then they need to balance a bead on the top of the tee without it falling off!

Lego- Use Lego pieces to build a maze to roll a marble through. (We don’t have marbles in the house so we just used plastic golf balls).

Stickers- Draw different shapes or lines on paper. Circles, squares, triangles, numbers, letters, zig zag lines all work. Then ask the children to stick stickers along the lines. You can use coloured circle stickers and they can make patterns with the stickers. We decided to use up some of the millions of stickers we have left over from magazines which worked just as well. This was a great activity as they all loved it and it kept them busy for ages. Even Charlie had a go at peeling the stickers and randomly put them on the paper.

Bubble Wrap- Whenever we have a delivery from the postman the children get very excited because it might have bubble wrap inside! I cut it up into squares so they have the same amount to pop, encourage them to use forefinger and thumb to pop the bubbles and then let them get carried away. Lots of fun!

Another thing we have started to do is some simple exercises for fingers. I used to use these a lot in school before doing any kind of writing. The children think they are good fun and they are great for stimulating and exercising those muscles.

Push ups- Put finger tips together and palms of hands then push the palms away from each other.

Finger raise- Raise finger from table individually one at a time on each hand. Then touch each finger at the tip and the base with the tip of the thumb.

Rings on fingers– Wrap one hand around each finger of the other hand individually and gently roll forwards and backwards as though you are putting a ring on each finger.

The third thing we are doing is hand massage each morning. I was trained how to do this in my previous school and I know a lot of schools are using hand massage. If your child is finding writing painful then speak to your class teacher about hand massage as it may be something they are able to offer.

Developing the finger muscles are also good for helping children being independent at school, for example screwing or unscrewing lids, opening their lunchbox, putting straw in milk, doing up buttons or shoelaces, doing up the zip on their coat, putting letters into book bag (you will be surprised at how tricky this is for a 4 year old!) changing in and out of P.E kits and putting them away and toiletting to name a few of the skills children need in their every day life at school. Hopefully you have found these ideas useful.

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