Fine Motor Coordination and Strengthening Ideas for Children Struggling with Handwriting: School OT

I did a presentation on Friday to kindergarten and first grade teachers and this is the hand-out. I don't know how to place documents on here so I am just copy-pasting the three page thing, sorry. Hope formatting doesn't screw it up too bad. I asked Tonya of to consider posting it there. 🙂

Occupational Therapy: Ideas for Fine Motor Centers and More!    < -- tons of fine motor craft ideas I collected

Please note that many of these activities fall under multiple categories!

Things to work on to help children improve their fine motor coordination and strength, which can help their handwriting:

·      Precision (carefully manipulating tiny objects)

o   Cut up straws, then bead onto pipe cleaners

o   Beading onto pipe cleaners or tiny strings, or through colanders

o   Placing marbles on top of golf tees that the child has stuck into Styrofoam

o   Place beads/items on skewers placed in Styrofoam in various directions

o   Stack very small blocks

o   Match a bead pattern on a skewer to another skewer (on Styrofoam)

o   “Tight rope” – have them place small items on thick taut band that has been wrapped around a box, and/or have them hold a popsicle stick in the air in one hand, and place tiny objects

o   Folding paper, ie very basic origami

·      Tripod grasp (holding items with 3 fingers, not all five)

o   Clothespins [wolves] and cotton balls [sheep] game

o   Any type of tweezers or tongs, picking up objects and transferring them [I use ice cube trays]. Ensure only using 3 fingers by giving them something to hold curled up in their last two fingers if necessary.

o   Push pins and corkboard – with supervision

·      Open web space  (“OK” sign) – look at thumb to index finger

o   Making the OK sign, pulling the OK sign apart, finger exercises

o   Picking up tiny objects using small eraser ends (those little rubber erasers you can put on the end of pencils – using those as tiny tongs!)

·      Strengthening of hands, upper arms/extremities  (strong core/arms helps with fine motor coordination)

o   Arms: Do a lot of “crawling” or “animal walks”, weight-bearing into arms, while moving from center to center or during physical education

o   Arms: Wheelbarrow walks

o   Squeeze stress balls

o   Use play-doh to roll out logs, circles, squish thin on table, etc. Also remember they love “adult” tools – cheap 50 cent putty “knives” [make sure they aren’t sharp!] at hardware store, etc

o   Stamping – make it harder by having them repeat a pattern of some sort, and or stamping into a small area for precision

o   Turkey basters/eye droppers for water to “wash” things or to melt colors etc on coffee filters

o   Tear out of a piece of an old phone book, crumble up the paper in ONE HAND with the hand in the air, then throw to “hungry shark” aka recycle bin

o   Rip paper into wading pool or tray

o   Use “tennis ball heads” (tennis balls that you put a “mouth” aka a gash on – (be REALLY careful when cutting it! I use a clamp!) Then squeeze their sides to open their mouth to feed them, then – the popular part – make them throw up. Small sizes from pet stores best for smaller hands.

o   Wrap rubber bands, or hair bands, around boxes or containers

o   Geoforms – pegboards where you stretch rubber bands to make shapes or letters

o   Place golf tees into left-over Styrofoam

·      Man
ipulating a pencil   (Twirling it in dominant hand, “walking” fingers from tip to eraser and back, and turning it over to erase using only one hand.)

o   Practice ERASING. Kids struggle with the act of turning over the pencil with one hand to erase (they either put it down and pick it back up, or use their chest, or other hand, etc) – Practice this move but also practice the act of erasure itself. IE draw a line, flip over pencil, erase. TEACH how to erase. A lot of kids don’t do it very well and need guidance.

·      Shifting items within hands  (picking up tiny items, placing into hand, then picking up the next item, etc, with 1 hand only) – I call it “squirreling”, ie storing nuts in a cheek – storing items in part of the palm)

o   Coins for piggy bank or tiny items into ice cube trays

·      Isolating fingers on command (ie show me your index finger, show me your ring finger, etc)

o   Make each finger “bow” or place fingers flat on desk, lift one at a time

o   Put a smiley face or drawing in a laundry detergent cap or on a tennis ball, then have the child use just the fingers of one hand to rotate the “face” around.

·      Directionality (up, down above, beside, etc) and lefts/rights

o   Incorporate “I Spy” and scanning games where child has to look for items by directions, ie “Look below the X”

o   Consider placing a small L and R on the children’s desks or on their hands each day with water-soluble nontoxic markers.

o   When walking places around campus, stop at turns and ask them which way to turn.

o   Great game called Left, Center, Right, for about 7 dollars you can buy at many toy stores or Target/Wal-Mart etc

·      Visual motor (using their eyes with their hands more so than in some other tasks)

o   Bendaroos/WikiStix – they can work on copying a design or writing own name or spelling words

o   Stacking up cubes of different colors/sizes then have child copy design

o   Marble/cup game, rolling across a table

o   Lacing & buttoning – big buttons are easier. Big laces too.

o   Sign language alphabet

o   Sort cards by suite

o   Balloon tapping – blow a few up, have the children keep in the air without touching ground as long as possible

·      Proprioception/tactile – knowing what their hands are doing/feeling without looking

o   Hiding objects in a bag or box game, figuring out what it is/manipulating it without looking. Start with easy discrimination such as long skinny cylinder versus fat round ball, then make more difficult as child has success

o   Moving or isolating their fingers with eyes closed

·      Cutting

o   Consider different types of scissors for struggling kids (scissors requiring less fine motor skills – ask an OT)

o   Start with snipping, cutting straws, and business cards and manila envelopes


Contact me at or karen.dobyns *** at ***  with questions. Thanks!






Apr 23, 2012 | Category: Occupational Therapy | Comments: 7