Fine Motor Activities to Improve Open Thumb Web Space | The OT Toolbox

Fine Motor Activities to Improve Open Thumb Web Space

An open thumb web space ensures a functional grasp on the pencil.  When the thumb is squashed against the pencil and the index finger, it is difficult to control the pencil with small motor movement changes.  These activities are designed to promote an open thumb web space.  Why not try  using them before a handwriting task to warm up the hands?





Try these activities to improve open thumb web space needed for tasks like pencil grasp, in hand manipulation, and dexterity needed in fine motor activities.




What is Open Thumb Web Space?


You might be wondering what is open thumb web space?  The thumb web space is that space between your thumb and pointer finger that makes an "O" when you make the "OK" sign. In order to grasp small items with your thumb and index finger, you need to oppose the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pointer finger.  Not only do the tips of the fingers need to touch, but the thumb must rotate at the joint closest to your hand.  This opposition is needed to manipulate and grasp small items like shoe laces, buttons, and zippers.  

When kids write or color with that web space area squashed shut, it's a sign of problems.  Then might be compensating for thumb instability, underdeveloped hand arches, and/or poor strength.  Each of these problem areas will lead to difficulties with handwriting, dexterity, manipulation of small items like beads, and pencil grasp. 


Writing with a closed web space is inefficient and will cause poor and slow handwriting, especially as kids grow and are expected to write at faster speeds. A closed web space while attempting to manage fasteners such as buttons and zippers will lead to fumbling and difficulty. 


An open thumb webspace is necessary for tasks requiring in-hand manipulation such as moving coins from the palm to the fingertips. If the thumb is squashed up against the index finger, it can not be helpful in manipulating items. 

An essential part of a functional open thumb webspace is a flexed thumb IP joint. Read more about this simple tip for a functional pencil grasp that encourages a flexed IP joint. 

RELATED READ: Here are activities and tools to address pencil grasp.

Fine Motor Activities to Improve Open Thumb Web Space

These activities will help improve open thumb web space:

Using a flexed IP joint of the thumb while encouraging thumb opposition is the number one best way to encourage an open thumb webspace. The resulting rotation of the thumb and a tip-to-tip grasp will result in an open space that allows for improved dexterity. 

This activity with small beads and play dough is an easy way to strengthen these skills.

Make and Take made these caterpillar pets that address bilateral coordination and an open thumb web space when threading the pony beads.

Thread beads onto feathers like we did in this fine motor beading activity.


Use homemade craft stick tweezers to encourage an open thumb space.

Encourage an open thumb web space during lacing activities, like in this DIY lacing card


Here are more lacing card ideas that you can use to promote an open web space. 

Use a homemade pegboard to encourage an open thumb web space.

An important piece of an open thumb space is the components that make up the skill. These include arch development, opposition of the thumb to the pointer finger, rotation of the thumb CMC joint, and flexion of the MCP and IP joints.


To encourage arch development try these ideas:

Tearing small pieces of paper
Shaking dice within the hand
Rolling small pieces of play dough into balls

To encourage opposition of the thumb to the pointer finger and rotation of the thumb CMC joint, a child needs strength in the muscles of the thumb.  The bulk of the thenar eminence allows for rotation, control, and endurance in activities with sustained thumb rotation. 



Here are more easy ways to encourage an open thumb web space:

Remember, while completing these activities, encourage the child to flex the thumb IP joint and to rotate the thumb to oppose the fingers. This promotes an open thumb web space, and not a squashed space! 

Pushing small pegs into a pegboard
Pinching clothes pins
Tweezer activities
Popping bubble wrap
Connect 4 game
Using an eye dropper to transfer water
Stringing beads
Wind-up toys

A few toys that help encourage an open web space:


Tweezer Games:  Tweezer activities promote an open web space and stabilization of the thumb.  This Avalanche Fruit Stand from Learning Resources is a colorful way to encourage an open web space.  The vertical surface is perfect for encouraging an extended wrist (see below).


Bead Sets: Stringing beads is a good way to encourage an open web space.  The child must hold the bead and string between their thumb and index fingers.  Collapsing of the thumb web space will happen when the child demonstrates weakness in the muscles of the thumb.  Beading is a repetitive activity and promotes strength.  This Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Stringing Beads with over 200 beads from Melissa & Doug has over 200 beads in different colors and shapes, and even letters!  You could even form sentences for the child to copy and practice their improved pencil grasp!


Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots:  Often times, a child will wrap their thumb around the index finger when they are writing with a pencil.. This indicates instability in the thumb and the muscles that allow for smooth pencil motions.  Pushing down on the buttons of the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em ROBOTS Game from Mattel really strengthens the muscles of the thumb and allows for more stability leading to an open web space and ultimately more fluid motions of the pencil in letter formation.  Plus, this game is just plain old FUN for kids of all ages!



Try these activities to improve open thumb web space needed for tasks like pencil grasp, in hand manipulation, and dexterity needed in fine motor activities.

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