Upper Extremity Activities for Toddlers | The OT Toolbox

Upper Extremity Activities for Toddlers

Upper extremity hand strength isn't just about strong hands! Kids need upper extremity strength for tasks such as handwriting, coloring, managing clothing fasteners, and more! The thing is, upper extremity strengthening begins at a very young age. In fact, activities for toddlers can be loaded with the strengthening and dexterity activities that strengthen the upper extremities for improved endurance and coordination down the road. All of these components work together fluidly for strong upper extremities. Check out the upper extremity activities for toddlers to find out how and where to begin with upper extremity strength!  This article was written by The OT Toolbox contributor author, Christina Komaniecki, OTR.

Upper extremity activities for toddlers


Working on upper extremity strength is a key factor in being able to have the endurance for handwriting. Working on the shoulder muscle strength and flexibility will help to improve the coordination needed for drawing and handwriting. 


These upper extremity activities for toddlers will help improve the strength and stability needed for endurance and coordination in handwriting and other tasks.


Importance of upper extremity activities for strength


Why is this important? If a child does not have adequate shoulder strength and core body strength it will be difficult for them to have controlled hand movements. You may notice that when handwriting or coloring that they position their shoulder abducted and wrist will be flexed instead of in extension.  Build muscle strength proximal to distal because if you don’t have strength in your shoulders, back, traps etc. then your distal function (example handwriting) will not be as controlled.

 Below are two easy activities that can be done at school, in a clinic or at home with a child to address upper extremity strength. Also try these activities to promote wrist extension.

Use these arm and hand strength activities for toddlers to improve upper body strength for better coordination and endurance in handwriting and other fine motor activities for toddlers.

Upper extremity strength activities for toddlers


These are upper extremity activities for toddlers and kids who would benefit from strength and endurance in the upper body.

Gravity Resistive Sticker Activity


Have the child lay on the ground under a table. I will usually place a pillow or blanket to make it more comfortable. Tape a large piece of paper under the table and have the child, while laying on their back, place stickers on the paper.

I have drawn circles for the child to place stickers in or had a background theme. For example, a nature background and use stickers such as birds, trees, etc. The other activity I have done is had the child place stickers randomly all over the paper and then then have to use a marker to circle the shapes. Works great if you are working on a child’s pre-writing skills. They could also put a square, triangle or make an X on the shapes.

Crayon Rubbing on a Vertical Surface

I remember when I was younger I really enjoyed taking coins, placing paper over them and then using a crayon to rub the print onto the paper. I also did this with leaves in the fall. How exciting to see the print come out on the paper! One fun way to keep a child engaged with this great upper extremity activity for toddlers, is to tape crayon rubbing plates on the wall, place a large sheet of paper over them and then give the child crayons to rub the paper until they see the print.

Use wall crayon rubbings to help kids strengthen the upper extremities in this upper extremity activity for toddlers.



Having a child color on a vertical surface is a great activity in itself for shoulder stability and flexibility and it puts the wrist in extension which helps encourage a better pencil/crayon grasp. 
I have used crayon rubbing plates with animal pictures on them and  girls love to color the fashion plates. To keep the child engaged I won’t let the child see what plates I am using. That way they continue to color on the vertical surface to see what pictures they get.

This activity also works on teaching children how to apply more pressure when writing/coloring, as you need to press hard to have the print come through and softer if the print is blurred because of how hard the child pushed on the crayon.

Looking for more upper extremity activities for toddlers? 

This crayon rubbing activity uses sight words to work on strength and pressure in handwriting.

Want some other fun ideas to work on a vertical surface? Check out learning ideas on windows and glass doors!


Stickers are an awesome fine motor tool. Here are 10 ways to use stickers to help with fine motor skills.

Read more about the many benefits of coloring with crayons.

Read more about working on a resistive surface to build strength and stability.


Another great under the table activity is beading! Use resistance and gravity to strengthen and boost skills by beading under a table.


About Christina:
Christina Komaniecki is a school based Occupational Therapist. I graduated from Governors State University with a master’s in occupational therapy.   I have been working in the pediatric setting for almost 6 years and have worked in early intervention, outpatient pediatrics, inpatient pediatrics, day rehab, private clinic and schools. My passion is working with children and I love to see them learn new things and grow. I love my two little girls, family, yoga and going on long walks.