Wondering about lateral pinch strength? Hoping to help kids build tip to tip strength? Trying to build pinch strength in general? Here, I am sharing pinch exercises to strengthen pinch strength so that tasks that require strong hands (like coloring without fatigue, or holding the pencil and writing with endurance) can maneuver and manipulate objects. Check out the pinch strength exercises listed here and add these to your hand strengthening activities toolbox. All you need are clothes pins to build muscle strength and pinch patterns in occupational therapy sessions.
Related, here are more fine motor activities using clothes pins, to use these in your therapy planning, too.
Before we get into the pinch exercises below, be sure to bookmark the popular series about Occupational Therapy activities that can be done using free or almost free materials. This post is included in that series, and you will find other activities designed to build skills using everyday materials.
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Pinch Exercises for Kids
Today, I’m going back to the early days of my OT career and sharing fun ways to work on a few different hand pinch grasps. For this fine motor activity, we’re using wooden clothes pins…something you probably have in your house or could get for a dollar at the dollar store. There are many pinch grasp tools on the market designed to build pinch strength, but having an easily accessible (and inexpensive) option is key to carryover, use, and feasibility in building strength.
Types of Pinch Grips
Ok, the basics: When you use your hand to do …anything… you’ll use one or more of the different types of pinch grips. These pinch patterns are developed through use. Les cover the types of pinch grips, as well as some common terms when we talk about pinch.
Lateral Pinch Grip (aka Key Pinch Grip)- The thumb opposes the lateral side of the pointer finger. This grasp is used when holding and using a key.
Lateral Prehension Grip– A sub group of the lateral grip type of pinch is the Lateral Prehension Grip. In the lateral prehension grip, the thumb is flexed (bent) and it’s pad opposes the lateral side of the tip of the pointer finger. This grip is used to hold an index card or paper, sometimes.
Three jaw Chuck Pinch Grip– The thumb is flexed (bent) and opposes the pads of the pointer finger and middle finger. Holding a small cap like a toothpaste lid uses this grip. This is the grip used in holding a pencil.
Tip to Tip Grip– The tip of the thumb touches the tip of the pointer finger. The thumb and pointer finger form an circle (or open thumb web space). This grasp is also called a pincer grasp. It is used to pick up small items like cereal or beads. If very small items are picked up (like a needle), a Neat Pincer Grasp is being used.
Lateral Grip– Pinching an item between the pointer and middle fingers use this grip. You would use this grip in holding a cigarette. While this is not a functional grasp for kids (obviously), you might see kiddos fiddle with a pencil by holding it between two fingers.
Prehension is another common term that you may have heard mentioned. But what is prehension?
The definition of prehension is the act of holding or grasping. The ability to hold and grasp an object in the hand requires prehension of the fingers. Prehension can also refer to the ability to hold a concept or idea in the brain to allow for understanding. Here, we are talking about prehension skills that allow us to manipulate items or objects. We are covering prehension patterns in the way of pinch grips.
To break this down further, prehension can be identified in the different types of pinch grips.
Tip prehension refers to the ability of the tip of the thumb, or the last joint of the thumb (known as the IP joint) to bend in isolation so that the rest of the thumb is stabile while just the last joint bends, or flexes. This tip prehension works in combination with opposition of the thumb as it rotates at the base, in order to oppose the tip of the index finger. Prehension can refer to the precision of grasp in the index finger as it bends at the PIP joint (proximal interphalangeal joint, or the middle joint of the finger), and the DIP joint (distal interphalangeal joint, or the end joint of the finger). This tip prehension is needed for small motor movements such as picking up a button or coin, threading a needle, etc.
There are other types of prehension, like palmer prehension. This dexterity refers to in-hand manipulation, which we cover in other places on this website.
Still other types of prehension are included in each of the pinch grasp patterns described above. Specific motions of the joints related to each pattern, and stability offered by related joints such as the wrist or metacarpophalangeal joints, and the arches of the hand allow for dexterity and precision of grasp…or prehension!
Pinch Grip Exercises
So, how can you work on these grips in a fun way? Try using something you probably have in your home: Wooden clothes pins. These are a therapy treatment bag staple. You can work on each of the pinch grasps above to improve strength, arch development, open web space, and dexterity using clothes pins.
Lateral Pinch Exercises
- Hold the clothes pins between the thumb and the side of the pointer finger, like holding a key. Clip the clothes pins onto an index card.
- Hold the clothes pin between the thumb and the side of the pointer finger, like holding a key. Use the clothes pin to pick up an object like a craft pom pom to drop it into a color-coded bowl, cupcake liner, or onto a marked circle on a piece of paper.
Tip to tip Grasp Exercises
- Hold the clothes pin between the thumb and the pointer finger. Be sure the tip of the thumb is doing the work. The IP joint of the thumb should be bent. Do several repetitions of this exercise to open and close the clothes pin.
- Holding the clothes pin between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the pointer finger, try to clip the clothes pin onto the single page of a book. Then, try to clip the clothes pin onto 10-20 pages of a book. Try to increase the increments and number of pages that are clipped between the clothes pin.
3 Jaw Chuck Pinch Exercises
- Hold the clothes pin between the thumb and the pointer finger and middle finger. Clip the clothes pins onto a shirt or edge of clothing. Using both the index finger and the middle finger allows for more strength through the 3 jaw chuck grip pattern, so try clipping items of clothing together, like pairs of socks or two shirts. Clip several clothes pins around the edge of the clothing.
- Hold the clothespin between the thumb and the pointer finger/middle finger. Try to clip clothing to a string or clothes line.
All of these exercises listed above can be completed in increasing repetitions. You might notice that the exercises listed include a functional component, like hanging clothes, or play. This is part of what makes occupational therapy, well, occupational! Try to include an aspect of function or daily tasks like painting, moving and manipulating objects with sorting for a learning aspect, or other aspect of independence.
Here are more pinch activities clothes pins:
Use the grips described above in the play and art activities below. Try using different grips while completing the tasks, to work on the grips or skill areas appropriate for your child. Start with these fine motor activities using clothes pins.
- Pinch clothes pins along a string.
- Line the edges of an index card with clothes pins. Try using the different pinches described above.
- Make clothes pins into a superhero craft and pinch them onto strips of paper.
- Paint with Pom Poms (Fantastic Fun and Learning)
- Write letters on each clothes pin and match them to letters written along the edge of a piece of paper in this sight word activity to spell sight words or create a sentence with sight words.
- Pinch clothes pins onto a ruler.
- Use clothes pins to pinch and grab small items like crafting pom poms, small erasers, or crumbled up pieces of tissue paper.
- Craft with rainbow clothes pins.
- Paint wooden clothes pins
different colors and clip them to matching paper scraps.
- Use clothes pins to create an outdoor scavenger hunt.
- Wrap clothes pins in colored string and match them to crafting pom poms.
- Make a fun animal craft. These bees were fun to make! So were these nativity figures.
- Make a butterfly garland.
- Create a tree using the clothes pins as the trunks, like in these Cherry Blossom trees.
Like this activity? Try some of these 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 email@example.com.