Hand and Finger Strengthening for Toddlers and Young Children

by | May 8, 2020

Having strength in your hands and fingers is so important for all the tasks that kids and adults do on a daily basis.

Fine motor skills and hand and finger strength have been developing since your child was an infant. Through crawling to playing with toys, even babies work on strengthening their hands and arms.

FIne motor skills involve the small muscles in the hands and fingers, allowing a child to grasp and manipulate objects. Fine motor skills allow us to produce movement, coordination, and strength in our hands as we use them for everyday life.

For adults, we use these skills and muscles to write, type, feed ourselves, turn a doorknob, sew a button, give a massage, cook dinner, and so much more.

For children, we need our hands and fingers developed for holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, buttoning and snapping to get dressed, tying shoes, and coloring pictures to name a few.

It’s important to have these muscles fine-tuned while we’re still young in order to live our lives successfully.

Hand and Finger Strengthening for Young Children

If you’re noticing that your toddler or young child may have decreased strength and coordination in their arms, hands, or fingers, it’s a good idea to start working on exercises to strengthen those small muscles.

Lucky for you, most activities that work on these skills are FUN! Your child won’t even realize that they’re actually exercising, building muscles, and gaining new skills while they play.

An important thing to note is that hand and finger strength doesn’t just come on it’s own. It’s also important to develop arm, shoulder and trunk strength, as well.

Your hands need stability from strong muscles in your arms in order to work properly. Therfore, it’s just as important to work on the larger muscles of the arms and shoulders as it is to strengthen the small hand muscles.

Here are several activities to use in strengthening your child’s arms, hands, and fingers.

Squeezing Activities

  1. Playing with play dough, theraputty, or clay – Squishing, pinching, rolling, squeezing, and smushing these materials are all great for building muscles in the hands. Theraputty is exceptionally great because it comes in various resistances.
    • Hide small objects like coins, beads, or tiny stones for your child to hide and bury and then pull out. 
    • Roll it out into a really long log or “snake” then twist and turn the snake to form letters, shapes, or numbers
    • Once it’s rolled into a long log, cut it into small pieces with a scissor
    • Pinch off small pieces with just the thumb and index finger to make “confetti”
    • Use stamps, puzzle pieces, or letter magnets to press into the putty to also work on educational components. You can even use cups, bowls, etc to make circles and shapes.

2. Wring out sponges or wet rags – This is a bonus for parents because you can get your child involved in household chores.

3. Spray bottles, water guns, squeeze bottles – More chores and fun for kids to do!

  • Have a water gun fight in the backyard
  • Have kids water your plants with a water spray bottle
  • Clean the house with a chemical-free spray

4. Squeeze Stress Balls or Stretchy Balls – These make great fidget toys or just as an exercise to do on their free time, watching tv, reading a book, etc. The repetitive squeezing will help strengthen muscles in their hands.  

  • You can make your own by filling balloons or a rubber glove with sand, flour, play dough, dry rice, or beans.

5. Clips, clothespins, tongs, and tweezers – These are great tools for working on the small muscles of the hands and fingers.

6. Hole Punching – Make hole punch crafts with kids or simply use it to make holes in paper. You can use a standard office hole puncher or get fun shapes and sizes.

7. Stapling- Have them staple pieces of paper together or make a fun design with staples.

8. Cutting with children’s scissors – Try cutting against any resistance: thicker construction paper or cardstock, playdough or clay, straws, etc. Make a fun, seasonal or holiday craft.

9. Glue Bottles – After cutting out pieces of paper, have your child glue them together or on to another piece of paper by making a craft. Squeezing glue bottles is a great activity for hand strengthening.

10. Turkey Baster – Squeeze the squishy end of a turkey baster. Use it to blow pompoms or pieces of paper across the table.

11. Bath ToysSquishy, squeezy toys can make bath time even more fun. Use the ones that squirt water as a hand strengthening activity while your child squeezes them multiple times.

12. Bubble Wrap – This is something you probably remember loving to do as a kid because all kids do! Just have your child squeeze the bubble between their fingers for exercises. The bubbles come in all different sizes as well. Smaller bubbles are best for strengthening individual fingers and larger ones for the whole hand.

13. Coloring – A simple activity that can strengthen the muscles and decrease fatigue for writing and other fine motor activities. Print them out coloring sheets of their favorite characters and let their little hands get strong as they color.

Pushing and Pulling Toys and Activities for Kids

14. Lego or Duplo blocks – Pushing together and pulling apart lego blocks are fantastic for strengthening. Smaller Legos for the older kids and larger Duplos for younger ones.

15. Pop BeadsSmall pop beads (pictured above) are great for developing the smaller muscles of the fingers and also require more hand eye coordination and precise manipulation. The larger pop beads (below) are great for shoulder girdle and arm strength and also for younger children who don’t have the precise control for the smaller ones.

16. Velcro – Pulling against heavy duty Velcro is another great hand strengthener.  Find items that you can velcro together and have your child pull them apart.

17. Tear and Crumple Paper – Tearing construction or tissue paper into smaller pieces helps build hand muscles.

  • Crumple each small piece of paper and glue it to a piece of paper to make a craft
  • Have the child write sight words, spelling words, or short sentences on the small pieces of paper.  Once they read it, crumple up each piece to shoot a basket into the recycling bin.

18. Rubber Bands – Kids can stretch and pull against the resistance to create masterpieces on a geoboard or play a rubber band game with their hands. 

20. Pegs and Foam PegboardsFoam pegboards are fun for kids and provide resistance as they push in and pull out the pegs. They can make a pattern or just play.

Arm Strengthening Activities for Kids

21. SquigzSquigz are little rubber toys connect to each other and to any solid, non-porous surface. They flex. They stick. Once they take hold, it takes some real pull to separate them. These work on both the finger and hand muscles, as well as arm muscles. Use them on windows, doors, in the bathtub, or just sticking to each other.

22. Pop Tubes – Play a little tug of war with these pop tubes to increase strength in your child’s arms and hands. Kids love the sounds they make and can play with them for awhile.

23. Cooking with Kids – If your arm has ever hurt after mixing cookie dough, you realize how good of an arm workout baking can be. Kneading dough, stirring batter, scooping, cutting, you name it! If it happens in the kitchen, it’s probably a hand strengthener! They also don’t have to use real food if you’re worried. Try using random ingredients like water and flour or making slime or salt dough just for fun.

24. Rolling Pins – Have your child use a rolling pin to flatten out play dough, putty, bubble wrap, or even during actual cooking. Make sure they’re pushing really hard into the pin to work those muscles.

25. Climbing – Climbing on just about anything is awesome for building arm strength in kids.  Think monkey bars, ropes, ladders, trees, jungle gyms, any playground equipment, and more!

26. TherabandThis stretchy stuff, called Theraband is another great “tug of war tool”.  There are all kinds of ways to pull on it and against it to strengthen arms and hands. Here are some great examples of exercises from the OT Toolbox.

27. Weightbearing into arms – This is one of the best ways for the little ones to strengthen their arm muscles. Here are some ideas

  • Play or do work on all fours – Try playing board games, coloring, or playing with toys in a crawling position so the child is holding his weight on his hands.
  • Crawling – Try doing it in obstacle courses or relay races to make it fun.
  • Wheelbarrow walks – Have the child place her hands on the floor while you or another child holds their feet.  See how far she can walk on her hands. If you aren’t strong enough to hold them up, you can try sitting on a rolling chair and hold them as you just move your legs.
  • Donkey kicks – Have the child bend forward to place his hands on the floor and then kick his legs up behind them like a donkey.  
  • Yoga for kids –  Poses like downward dog, table pose, and handstand are great weight-bearing poses for kids to try

I hope you found something here to help your child strengthen his or her hand and finger muscles.

Consistency is key and if you practice several of these activities on a daily or weekly basis, you will see progress!

Remember, always make activities fun for your toddler or young kid and it will never feel like hard work to them!

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