Hand Strengthening Activities

finger and grip strength activities

Hand strengthening and finger strengthening are a part of occupational therapy interventions, in every day tasks. There is more to developing strong and efficient hands than just using a hand grip exerciser or therapy putty to strengthen fingers.

Here, you will find a collection of fine motor resources and hand strengthening activities that can be used to improve tone in the hands, increase stability in the thumb and fingers, develop and define arches of the hands, improve precision with in-hand manipulation, improve endurance in hand strengthening activities.

Below, you will find hand strengthening activities for kids, hand strength activities for adults, and therapy tools to develop hand strength. The activities to strengthen fine motor skills included in this post are perfect to improving grip strength, pinch strength, or as part of a finger exercises program for handwriting.

Hand Strengthening

Let’s take a closer look at hand strengthening…in fun and creative ways! 

Occupational therapists use functional tasks, or daily occupations, to improve hand strength so that the clients they work with can lead functional lives: so they can have strong and efficient hands to do those tasks that take up their day. 

Think about it this way: with weak hands, it is very difficult for a child to color a coloring page. But, through coloring and using crayons, they are improving their hand strength so they can color larger pictures or tackle more difficult fine motor tasks.

Adequate finger and hand strength is a crucial foundation skill necessary to successfully perform most activities of daily living such as opening snack wrappers, flushing the toilet, opening the tap, buttoning your shirt and so the list goes on.

Not only do we need adequate hand strength for our ADLs, it directly impacts on our ability to perform school related tasks such us cutting, writing and manipulating materials such as glue.

How do you know if a child has weak hands?

Hand strength is an important area of development. 

Kids who struggle with hand strength may have difficulty with grasping a pencil, coloring, holding and using scissors, managing clothing fasteners, attaching a seatbelt, squeezing a glue bottle, opening and managing food containers, tying shoes. There are many fine motor activities needed in school that will be a red flag for determining if a child has weak hands.

Luckily, there are many fun ways to improve a child’s hand strength. 

the best way to improve overall strength is through meaningful and motivating activities…especially everyday play! 

Here, you will find a collection of pinching, pulling, and pushing activities, weight bearing activities, squeezing activities, and overall grip and pinch activities. 

These ideas improve tone in the hands, increase stability in the thumb and fingers, develop and define arches of the hands, improve precision with in-hand manipulation, improve endurance in hand strength, and address hand separation into a fine motor side and a power side.


Fine Motor Strength is essential for so many reasons! From maintaining a grasp on a pencil to opening and closing scissors, to buttoning buttons, snapping snaps, tying shoes, coloring a picture without stopping, to most everything we do…hand strength matters! 

Use these hand strengthening activities to improve hand strength needed for pencil grasp, coloring, clothing fasteners, and using scissors or other fine motor tasks.


I wanted to cover fine motor strength and the skills kids need for pencil grasp, managing scissors, working clothing fasteners, and using those hands. 

So often, we see weak arches, instability, and low tone in the hands that transfers to awkward use of the hands, impractical grasps, and poor endurance in writing or coloring. Sneaking in a few strengthening activities each day can make a world of difference!

Hand Strengthening Activities

Today includes a collection of hand strengthening activities that can be used as hand strength activities for adults, and to develop hand strength. Scroll through the activities below to find creative hand strengthening ideas to improve grip strength, pinch strength, or as part of a finger exercises program for handwriting.

What Impacts Hand Strength?

Hand strength is impacted by various components. When it comes to hand strength, there is a lot to uncover. Many aspects of motor skills impact strength and endurance in the hands. Some of those areas include these concepts:

  • Intrinsic hand strength
  • Thumb strength and stability
  • Motor control
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • In-hand manipulation
  • Wrist stability 
  • Wrist extension
  • Finger strength
  • Range of motion of the arm: upper arm, forearm, wrist, fingers, and thumb
  • Hand muscle tone

A hand therapist will have various hand strength norms by using a dynamometer to measure grip strength, pinch strength of various pinches. Having an understanding of hand musculature and anatomy of the hand and upper extremity is important too.

First, check out our huge online library of fine motor activities. This is a collection of all of the fine motor activities on The OT Toolbox. There’s something for everyone.

One thing that makes a big difference in fine motor dexterity is addressing separation of the sides of the hand. This post explains more about motoric separation of the hand and here is another fun activity that really strengthens those muscles.

Intrinsic Hand Strength

These OT activities using tongs are great for developing and strengthening the arches of the hands for improved intrinsic strength.

In fact, the intrinsic muscles are the muscles in the hand that define the arches of the hands, bend the knuckles, and oppose with the thumbs. Activities like this intrinsic muscle strengthening activity can easily be replicated at home or in the therapy room.

Among these muscles are a group called the lumbricals. The lumbrical muscles have a job to bend (flex) the MCP joints and extend (straighten) the PIP and DIP joints. When the lumbricals are in action, the hand might look like it is holding a plate with the big knuckles bent and the fingers extended. Read more about strengthening the intrinsic muscles here.

When kids write or color with a thumb 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. So, what do you do if you’ve got a kiddo who is squashing that web space shut during functional tasks? I’ve got a few ideas on how to work on open thumb web spaces.

Thumb Strength and Stability

Here are even more ideas to promote thumb stability and tone with activities designed to open the thumb web space.

Strengthening the hand can occur through a variety of pinch and grip exercises. Here are ideas to strengthen the hands using clothespins.

In-hand manipulation Strength

In-hand manipulation is a skill requiring strength in the hands. Activities like this in-hand manipulation activity can boost these skills. 

There are several aspects to in-hand manipulation:
▪ Finger-to-Palm Translation: Movement of an object from the fingers to the palm i.e. picking up a coin and moving it to the palm.

▪ Palm-to-Finger Translation: Movement of an object from the palm to the fingertips. (i.e. moving a coin from the palm to the fingertips to insert into a vending machine.)

▪ Shift: Slight adjustment of an object on or by the finger pads. (i.e. adjusting a pencil up and down in your hand.)

▪ Simple Rotation: Turning or rolling an object 90 degrees or less with the fingers moving as a unit. (i.e. unscrewing a toothpaste lid)

▪ Complex Rotation: Turning an object more than 90 degrees using isolated finger and thumb movements. (i.e. Turning a paperclip)

Each of the above skills can occur with items “squirreled away in the palm using the pinky finger and ring finger. This is called “with stabilization”. If other items are not pocketed away in the palm while in-hand manipulation occurs, it is called “without stabilization”. 

Stabilization typically occurs around 2 years of age. Read more about in-hand manipulation here. Here are a couple of activity ideas that can be easily replicated at home.

Wrist Stability and Strength

Wrist stability is one of the essential areas that impact hand strength.

Due to the anatomical nature of the tendons in the forearm and hand, a stabile wrist impacts hand strength, specifically grip and pinch.

When the wrist is flexed (bent forward towards curved fingers in a grasp), there is little chance of fine motor dexterity.  A flexed wrist in functional tasks limits use of the fingers due to the tendons of the fingers being shortened as they work to stabilize the wrist.  The fingers just can’t move like they are supposed to.

There are many exercises and activities that can be done to build the stability of the wrist so that it maintains a slightly extended position during fine motor activities. 

Upper Body Strength Impacts Hand Strength

Upper body strength is made up of the muscles in the upper chest, muscles in the upper back and muscles attached to the shoulder joint. All of these muscles work together to create stability at the shoulder joint. This shoulder girdle stability is essential for establishing a solid anchor for the rest of the arm. Without this anchor it is difficult to develop good control in the lower arm, hands and fingers. In therapy-speak we talk about developing proximal stability before we can achieve distal control. 

The stronger body enables functional performance in purposeful activities, specifically strong and efficient hands.

Occupational therapists can use these hand strengthening activities to improve hand strength in kids or adults for improved fine motor skills.

hand strengthening activities: 

Hand strengthening activities can use the items you have in your home or therapy bag. Activities that involve play are best for developing hand and finger strength in kids. Some of these ideas can integrate play and stronger hands:

  • Squeeze play dough or a stress ball
  • Drop beans into a bottle to make a sensory bottle
  • Use a hole punch to create confetti for crafting
  • Everyday play activities using small toys or manipulatives
  • Weightbearing activities: play games on the floor
  • Pop bubble wrap
  • Attach paperclips onto the edge of a paper
  • Shoot a marble into a target with the thumb
  • Screw together nuts and bolts
  • Tear pieces of paper
  • Make dough and roll and cut cookies
  • Sort, stack, and drop coins into a bank
  • Use a stapler and staple remover on a bulletin board
  • Freeze playdough and cut it with scissors
  • And then cut playdough with scissors!
  • Cut a slit in a tennis ball and “feed” it small objects
  • Stack mini erasers
  • Open and close jars and containers
  • String small beads onto string or a pipe cleaner
  • Tie and untie knots
  • Pop beads

How will you use the hand strengthening activities and ideas listed above? Maybe in a home exercise program or in a therapy program that runs throughout the school year? Maybe you will use the ideas at home or in a clinic. The ideas are endless!

Hand Strengthening Exercises

Think about it, how much do you use your hands throughout the day? Would you say it is from the moment you turn off your alarm clock in the morning to the minute you cover up in bed at night? How about the times you use them during the night, such as when you go to the bathroom or readjust the covers or the pillow?

If you’re like many of us, the list of necessary tasks you need to do using your hands each day could go on and on and on. No matter how often you use your hands, they need to be in good shape and strong enough to manage all the tasks you need and want to do daily. 

However, with children, they don’t necessarily think about the times they need to use their hands and the strength the hands need throughout the day, but we bet they often think of the times that their hands have failed them and they were too weak and they couldn’t accomplish the tasks and activities that were important to them. We do believe they think about those times.

On a personal note, I work with many kids in the clinic that struggle with cutting, coloring, handwriting, drawing, pencil grasp, gameplay, dressing, and other self-care skills and the one factor that often comes into play with my kiddos is their decreased hand and finger strength. 

For this blog post, we will be addressing hand strength exercises and activities that can be used in the clinic, classroom, and home setting with many of them simply using some inexpensive supplies that you may already have on hand.

Some are direct exercises for older kids while some will be fun game-like exercises or activities for younger kids because we all know children need to be motivated at their level of age and level of interest, that’s why we’ve given you a variety of ideas. Now, let’s get started with some fun, meaningful, and hopefully successful hand strengthening exercises and activities.

Also, one last note, please don’t forget that even gross motor activities can also help build hand strength too! So, keep children doing animal walks, crawling, heavy work exercises, pulling themselves while prone on a scooter board, weight-bearing over therapy balls, climbing, and playing on the playground equipment.

hand strengthening exercises for kids

Below are hand strengthening exercises for kids that use a variety of different materials. You’ll find different activities and ideas under each section.

Therapy putty exercises:

  • power grip is simply taking a ball of therapy putty and squeezing with a gross grasp until as flat as possible, repeat
  • flat pinch is taking the therapy putty and creating a fat therapy log for the fingers to pinch flat as they attempt to stay, repeat
  • full grip is taking the therapy putty and creating a fat therapy log placing it vertically within the hand and then squeezing to make the log grow out of the top within the webspace, repeat
  • thumb press is taking a log or ball of putty and squeezing or pressing the thumb into the ball or log, repeat
  • finger curl is taking the therapy putty and placing at the base of the fingers within the palm and then squeezing the fingers into the putty making and fist, repeat 

Squeeze ball exercises:

  • gross grasp is squeezing the ball repeatedly with the whole hand and holding for 3-5 seconds and repeating multiple times
  • gross grasp with a squeeze ball that has a face – simply squeeze with the whole hand to distort the face on the squeeze ball

Squeeze and feed the tennis ball (the size of the slit opening can make the ball easier or more difficult to squeeze open)

  • squeeze the ball open to feed the ball individual objects
  • squeeze the ball and scoop dry beans with a spoon to feed the ball

Rubber band exercises

  • wrap rubber bands around the fingers including the thumb and then stretch out the hands and fingers to spread the fingers outward as far as possible, repeat 

Hand pushes and pulls

  • simply place palms of hands together and push together, repeat
  • place a small squeeze ball between the palms of the hands and push together to flatten the ball, repeat
  • simply intertwine fingers together and attempt to gently pull them apart, repeat

Palm rotation with bounce balls or marbles

  • place 2-4 marbles or small bounce balls into the palm of the hand and attempt to rotate them in a circle while only using one hand

Fist to fan to fist fingers 

  • open the hand by fanning (spreading) out the fingers and hold 
  • close the hand by fisting the fingers together and hold

Make an O to fan to O position 

  • curl the fingers into an O shape and hold
  • open the fingers into a fan and hold 

Piano push 

  • slightly curl the fingers like playing the piano and then push against a stable surface such as a tabletop or wall, repeat

Crumbling paper balls 

  • bilateral – use two hands with both working individually to crumple flat sheets of paper into paper balls (you can re-use each sheet by flattening the sheet again after crumpling or you can use a new sheet)
  • unilateral – use one hand at a time to crumple flat sheets of paper into paper balls (same as above you can re-use each sheet or you can use a new sheet)

Wringing water out of washcloths or sponges

  • bilateral – use both hands together to twist and wring out a wet washcloth or a small hand towel 
  • unilateral – use one hand at a time to squeeze a wet washcloth to wring out the water 
  • bilateral/unilateral – use two hands at the same time, but both working individually to squeeze water out of sponges

Create tongs out of a Pringle’s lid or other large flexible lids 

  • use these recycled lids as tongs and squeeze with the whole hand to pick up objects and sort them

Condiment bottles and a turkey baster

  • use condiment bottles or a turkey baster to blow cotton balls or pom-pom balls in a fun race against a partner (you can use one or two hands to squeeze)

Milk the latex glove 

  • this hand strengthening exercise is where you fill a latex glove with water and then knot the opening. Use a pin to poke a small hole into the tip of each finger then a child will work on squeezing the water out of each finger like milking a cow.

Spray bottle 

  • use a spray bottle to form letters on the sidewalk or side of the building 
  • use the spray bottle to clean a chalkboard  

Robot or Gripper claw apparatus

  • full hand reacher and/or gripper apparatuses are easy for kids to use to pick up objects at a distance to transport to a nearby laundry basket or box or simply from left side to right side or vice versa

Office supply tool use to promote hand strength when in use:

  • Stapler to staple along a strip of paper or even around shapes
  • Hole punch to punch holes along a strip of paper or even around shapes
  • Bottle glitter glue to trace letters or shapes
  • Rubber band wrap to wrap around a canned good or a fun pool noodle friend
  • Marker cap removal or matching to simply remove and put back on the marker or before use mix up the color caps on the markers and have the child fix your mix-up of marker caps 
  • Scissor cutting with play dough or putty to cut play dough or putty logs or snakes into pieces

House tool use to promote hand strength when in use:

  • New plunger removal from the floor (ugh, don’t use a used one) – simply use it on a hard floor surface to push down and pull up 
  • Pushing and pulling a weighted laundry basket – simply have a child push a weighted laundry basket across the floor or tie a rope onto the basket and have a child pull it hand-over-hand to themselves
  • Pulling a rope with any weighted object on the end such as a weighted scooter board, box, or even a chair – make sure they use hand-over-hand
  • Pull pieces of Velcro apart – you can use large strips 
  • Place whole hand chip clips onto the edge of a box, rope, etc., and remove 
  • Grasp and lift a canned good for hand strength in all planes – up, down, left, right, cross midline, bicep curl, etc.
  • Roll a water bottle or canned good in the open hand while supine on the tabletop – probably for an older kiddo
  • Palm down wrist flexion exercise – drape over the edge of a table and grasp a water bottle or dumbbell and flex up while lifting – probably for an older kiddo
  • Bean bag spatula flip (grasp activity) – use bean bags and a kitchen spatula to flip bean bags from one side to the other

Use commercially available tools and games to promote hand strength (Amazon affiliate links included below):

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

  • Pop Toobs – pull apart for the fun sound and push together to do again or use more than one and link them together. Read about how to use pop tubes for fine motor skills.
  • Squigz – push onto a dry erase board, hard surface floor, or therapy ball and pull off in a color sequence 
  • Squeeze animals – distort their bodies and faces or use bath toys that blow air, have children blow small pieces of cotton balls or pom-pom balls in a race against a partner
  • Plastic and wood food-cutting toys – use the plastic or wood knife to cut food apart into pieces
  • Lego brick building and destruction – use the bricks to build simple towers or even buildings or objects with the use of picture cards
  • Build and destruct Mr. Potato Head – use the fun game to work on hand strengthening. They can build the correct way or a distorted way for fun. 
  • Build and destruct Cootie Bugs using the fun game to work on hand strengthening. This one is a little tricky for younger kiddos as the legs must go in at a slight angle which may make them more appropriate for older kiddos. 

Would you like a fun game-like resource that addresses both hand and finger strengthening? Add these fun resources to your toolkit – Finger and Hand Exercise Game Boards and Year-Round Play Dough Game Boards.

These resources include 10-12 no-prep game boards that you can print and play to practice finger isolation, left and right-hand discrimination, overall fine motor coordination, finger dexterity and build hand and finger strength. If you want to jazz up any warm-up routine, these are what you need as they are engaging for kids and are a great tool to use before coloring, cutting, handwriting, or typing work. 

Want to read more about hand strengthening and further build your therapist toolkit?  Take a look at the other posts found right here at The OT Toolbox:

It’s my hope that these resources are a huge help for you! Here are a few more topics related to strength in the hands that you may need in your therapy toolbox: 

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

Writing Trays for Handwriting

Child's fingertips drawing a letter S in sand. Text reads sand writing tray

Writing trays are a fantastic way to help kids work on handwriting, letter formation, and pre-writing skills.  There are so many benefits to a sand tray (or other sensory writing materials) in helping with letter formation and handwriting. There is a reason that writing trays are a popular way to encourage fine motor skills and an introduction to handwriting; They use a tactile sensory strategy to encourage movement in learning in a multi-sensory way.  Writing Trays make letter formation fun and meaningful in a play-based manner.

Try this easy rice writing tray for a simple sensory writing experience.

Writing trays are sensory activities to teach handwriting

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What is a writing tray?

I’ve used writing trays in my occupational therapy interventions and with my own kids for years. Writing trays are such a powerful tool to add a multi-sensory component and moveemnt to learning to write.

Writing trays are a dry or wet sensory material in a low tray or bin type of container. Children can use their finger or a tool such as a pencil, paint brush, or other item to draw, write letters, or form numbers into the sensory material.

Writing Trays are a creative way to help kids learn to write letters, numbers, shapes, and pre-writing strokes.  There are a ton of different ways that writing trays can be set up and used in letter formation. Essentially, a writing tray uses a low container (or TRAY) and a medium that can be moved and shifted for writing.

Sensory writing trays can contain sensory fillers of any type. If you are able to move the material in a way that letters can be drawn in the tray, then the sensory writing tray is a success. With a sensory writing tray, children can write letters independently or copy letters from a visual letter card.

You can find them used in schools, clinics, preschools, early learning centers, and homeschool dinging rooms.  

Writing trays are one tool to support development of Near point copy skills skills.

Writing tray sensory filler ideas for handwriting

Writing Tray Sensory Filler Material

Affiliate links are included in this post.

What is in a Writing Tray? (Writing Tray Fillers)

Writing Trays are filled with a filler that us manipulated and shifted so that letters or writing lines are visible.  Some ideas for filling a writing tray include the sensory materials listed below.

Sand (affiliate link)
Colored Sand (affiliate link)
Dyed Rice
Dyed Rice
Play Dough (affiliate link)
Other Doughs
Slime (Check out the fun we had with slime in a writing tray!)
Spices (affiliate link)
Crushed Chalk (affiliate link)

While sometimes, a child can use their finger to form the lines in their writing tray, a writing tool is typically recommended. (More on that below.)
Use writing trays for handwriting and letter formation

Sensory Writing Tray Benefits

Kids can use writing trays to practice letter formation, or pencil control and stroke sequence in writing letters.  
Typically, they will be provided with a visual cue or cue card for copying the letters/numbers/shapes.  
Other times, kids can form the letter/number/shape independently when prompted to make a specific letter. This is a great way to work on visual memory and independent letter formation.
Be sure to verbally prompt children to form letters or build letters with correct stroke sequence.  This is essential for carryover of accuracy with letter formation in handwriting.  
Otherwise, the child is simply playing in the sensory tray and not effectively using the writing tray as a tool for improved handwriting.  
Encouraging the child who is learning pre-writing strokes and beginning letter formation can use a writing tray as a base for forming letters independently. Try using visual and verbal cues to promote correct letter construction.
A few more must-dos when using a writing tray for addressing letter formation:
  • Make sure letters are not formed in parts.  In other words, don’t allow kids to make a circle and then a line to form an “a”. 
  • Make sure letters are formed from top to bottom. 
  • Realize that the motor plan to form letters with your finger is different than the motor plan to form letters with a pencil or other pencil-like writing tool.

The nice thing about writing trays is that they are very versatile. Students of all ages can use writing trays to work on different levels of handwriting. Some ways to work on handwriting include:

  • Copying pre-writing lines
  • Copying shapes 
  • Letter identification
  • Uppercase letter formation
  • Lowercase letter formation
  • Letter copying
  • Letter writing from memory
  • Cursive letter formation
  • Cursive letter writing from memory
  • Word copying
  • Sight word writing
  • Spelling word writing
Writing trays for handwriting, letter formation, and fine motor skills.


Fine Motor Skills and Writing Trays

A writing tray can be an effective tool in boosting fine motor skills.  Kids can use their finger to form lines and letters while strengthening finger isolation and separation of the two sides of the hand, including an opportunity for the ulnar side fingers to tuck into the palm for a more effective pencil grasp when writing.
Children can also use a tool to form letters in a writing tray.  This can be an opportunity to develop pencil grasp.  
However.  There are a few items that should be mentioned about using a writing tray to address pencil grasp and appropriate motor plan for letter formation.
Writing Trays are a common tool.  But if you just place a writing tray in front of a child, you will likely see an inefficient writing activity.  You will probably see most kids forming letters with an awkward grasp on the writing tool, a flexed and deviated wrist, an abducted shoulder, and generally ineffective positioning.  

Positioning absolutely carries over to letter formation and handwriting.
A writing tray can be used to address pencil grasp and handwriting needs.  However, it is essential to use the tray in a proper manner.  There are a few ways to do this:
  • Place the writing tray on a slight slant. Try using a DIY slant board.
  • Use a low edged tray.
  • Use verbal, physical, and visual cues for appropriate positioning. 
  • Position the writing tool in your child’s hand with an appropriate tripod or modified tripod grasp.
  • Show the child how to hold the tool at the end of the tool as if they were holding a pencil.
Once you’ve got your writing tray set up and positioning taken care of, it’s on to the fun stuff…making a writing tray!

How to make a Writing Tray

Making a writing tray to gain benefits of teaching sensory handwriting is easy. You can use materials found around the home.

The options are limitless when it comes to writing tray combinations! You can create a writing tray in any theme or to meet any need. You’ll need just a few items: a container, a filler, a tool, and letter cards.

Writing Tray Ideas

First, you’ll need a low tray, basket, bin, or other container. We’ve used a variety of containers in our sensory writing trays. You’ll want a container that will hold the sensory writing material within its edges.

In some cases, you can even scatter the sensory material on a flat surface like a table or a plastic table cloth on the floor. For example, we used dyed rice right on the kiddie picnic table for a pre-writing and hand strengthening activity.

Kids will be using a tool or their hands to write letters and the sensory material can scatter. Some specific ideas include:

  • Kitchen baking trays (jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with edges)
  • Food storage containers
  • Melissa and Doug wooden puzzle boxes
  • Cardboard boxes cut low on the sides
  • 9×11 cake pan
  • Shirt box
  • Tray
  • Low basket

Writing Tray Tools

Next, you’ll need a tool to use to write the letters. This can be items found in the home as well.  Some writing tray tools include:

  • Finger
  • Eraser end of a pencil
  • Paint brush
  • Feather
  • Straw
  • Pointer stick
  • Stick from a tree
  • Craft stick
  • Chopsticks
  • Toothpick (Incorporate our toothpick holder activity to further fine motor skills!)
  • Craft pom pom attached to a clothes pin

Writing Tray Letter Cards

Next, an important part of a writing tray is the letter model. As mentioned above, writing trays are great for copying pre-writing lines, shapes, letters, numbers, and words. 

Cards can be used as a visual model for forming letters or words. Some cards include direction arrows. Others might include a sight word or spelling word for the child to copy. These cards can be positioned in different positions to address different needs. 

  • Position the letter cards right in the tray for near-point copying.
  • Position the writing tray cards in a vertical position near the writing tray to challenge vision shift. 
  • Hang the writing cards on a wall for far point copying to work on visual shift, visual attention, visual memory, and copying from a distance. 

Writing Tray Fillers

You’ll also need a sensory material to act as a filler. This is the material that the child will actually “write” in. When we say “write”, they are using the tool to form letters as the sensory filler moves in the tray. They will not actually write a letter with a pencil or other marking device. Sensory filler material can be as creative as you let it. Some writing tray fillers include these materials:

Click each link for ideas on how to set up these creative writing trays.

Dyed Rice
As you can see, the ideas are limitless when it comes to sensory handwriting! Use a theme or materials that meet the needs of your child or client and are motivating and fun!

More sensory Handwriting Activities

Sensory Writing Bag

Sensory Handwriting Camp at Home

Teach letters with sensory textures

Pencil pressure activities




Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Sand Writing Tray

One very easy way to create a sand writing tray is to use a child’s picnic table placed either outside in a sandbox or over a tarp (or outdoor space where it’s ok that sand goes into the ground and lawn).

We loved using our kid’s picnic table in this way to make a sand writing tray.

sand writing tray

For this sand writing tray, we made it super simple and just dumped a thin layer of sand onto our (Amazon link) Little Tykes picnic table. Then, I invited the kids to all sit down and draw in the sand using their fingertips. This is a great exercise in finger isolation.

sand writing tray

Practicing letters in a sensory surface like writing and drawing in sand on a picnic table surface is a motivating and fun activity for kids because it’s not something they typically do.

Kids learn new skills well with a multisensory learning experience and a sand writing tray is a great, inexpensive way to do just that.

To encourage vocabulary and verbal expression, tell stories on the table surface and ask questions that extend the story further. Then, while practicing lines and drawing shapes and figures, gently smooth the sand with the palm of your hand and start over again!

sand writing tray for preschool

Preschoolers can practice pre-handwriting lines, while older kids can form letters and numbers in the sand. They can also copy and trace letters to improve their penmanship skills.

DIY Light Box for Tracing

Child tracing letters with a pen on a light table. Text reads DIY light table for tracing

This DIY light box for tracing is an easy light box we put together in minutes. All you need is an under the bed storage container and a string of lights to make a tracing tool that kids will love. There are benefits to tracing and this tool is a fun way to build fine motor skills and visual motor skills as a visual motor skill leading to better handwriting.

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DIY light box for tracing

A light box is a fun activity, and one you see in preschool classrooms, as it’s intended for hands-on play and exploring the senses. But did you know there are many benefits to using a light box for tracing (and other exploring play)?

How to Make a DIY Light Table for Tracing

This DIY Light Box was something I’ve seen around Pinterest and have wanted to try for a while…Once we had our Christmas lights outside, I thought we would definitely be doing this project after we pulled all of the lights back in.  So, after we brought the Christmas lights in from the outside bushes, this was easy to put together for a cold evening’s play!

You need just two items to make a DIY light table:

(Amazon affiliate links)

  1. Strand of white Christmas lights
  2. Clear, plastic under-the-bed storage bin

Important: The under the bed storage bin needs to be made of clear plastic or have just a slight opaque color to the plastic. Also, the top should be smooth. Many storage bins have textured surface or a white surface. The flat, smooth lid is important for sensory play as well as tracing with paper on the DIY light table. This brand (affiliate link) is a good one to use.

Instructions to make a DIY light box:

  1. Plug in the lights.
  2. Place them into the bin.
  3. Either cut a hole in the base of the bin for the lights to go through or cut a small notch into the lid so the strand of lights can go under the lid.

To make this homemade light box safer and not use plug in lights, you can use battery operated button lights (affiliate link) inside the storage bin. Or, there are many battery operated LED lights available now too. These are a great idea because many of them have a color-changing capability and can be operated from an app on your phone.

IMPORTANT: This homemade light box project should always be done under the supervision of an adult. The lights can get warm inside the bin and they should be unplugged periodically.

This is not a project that should be set up and forgotten about. The OT Toolbox is not responsible for any harm, injury, or situation caused by this activity. It is for educational purposes only. Always use caution and consider the environment and individualized situation, including with this activity. Your use of this idea is your acceptance of this disclaimer.

I put all of the (already bundled-up) strands of Christmas lights …seriously, this does not get much easier…into an under-the-bed storage bin, connected the strands, and plugged in!


DIY light box for tracing

A DIY light box made with Christmas lights

Once you put the top on, it is perfect for tracing pictures!
Tracing on a DIY light box

Tracing pictures on a light table

This is so great for new (or seasoned) hand-writers.  They are working on pencil control, line awareness, hand-eye coordination…and end up with a super cool horse picture they can be proud of!
Use printable coloring pages and encourage bilateral coordination to hold the paper down. You can modify the activity by taping the coloring page onto the plastic bin lid. 
Tracing a picture on a DIY light table
 Big Sister LOOOOVED doing this!  And, I have to say, that she was doing the tracing thing for so long, that we had to turn the lights off because the bin was getting warm. 
trace letters on a light table

Other ways to use a DIY Light Table

We went around the house looking for cool things to place on top of the bin.  Magnetic letters looked really neat with the light glowing through…Baby Girl had a lot of fun playing with this.
You can add many different items onto the DIY light table:
  • Magnetic letters (the light shines through them slightly)
  • Sand for a tracing table- We cover how to use a sand writing tray in another blog post and all the benefits of tracing in a sensory medium. With the lights under the tracing area, this adds another multisensory component to the learning.
  • Shapes (Magnatiles would work well)
  • Feathers
  • Coins
  • Blocks
  • A marble run
letters on a light table
What a great learning tool…Shapes:
Letter Identification, spelling words:


 Color and sensory discrimination:
…All in a new and fun manner!  We had a lot of fun with this, but have since put our Christmas lights back up into the attic.  We will be sure to do this one again next year, once the lights come back out again 🙂


Please: if you do make one of these light boxes, keep an adult eye on it, as the box did warm up…not to burning warmth, but I would worry about the lights becoming over heated.  This is NOT something that kids should play with unsupervised!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

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