Finger Dexterity Exercises

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Fine motor skills are a complex thing, but one thing that plays a major role in fine motor coordination is finger dexterity. The precision movements and endurance in small motor activities is driven by the ability to maneuver fingers and isolate the joints in holding and manipulating small objects. Let’s explore the role of manual dexterity in fine motor skills.

The finger dexterity activities and exercises in this post can be used along with manual dexterity goals to support functional tasks.

finger dexterity

Fine Motor Dexterity

Fine Motor Skills in kids are so important for independence in self care tasks.  Children need to develop the ability to manipulate their fingers in a coordinated manner in order to skillfully maneuver buttons, zippers, shoe laces, pencils…and the tools of learning and play…TOYS! 

Dexterous movements are used in everyday activities throughout our day.

What is finger dexterity?

Finger dexterity refers to the ability to use coordination and manipulation of objects in the hands with precision. Dexterous motor skills can be broken down into areas: grasp and release, coordination with in the hand (in-hand manipulation), and proprioception (knowing how much effort is needed to manipulate objects without dropping them). There are many other contributions that impact finger dexterity and we list these below.

Together, these precision skills enable us to pick up an object with the right amount of pressure and motor dexterity so you can grasp the object accurately taking eye-hand coordination skills into consideration.

After grasping the object without overshooting or missing the item, it is necessary to position or rotate the object within the hand. Isolation of the joints of the fingers and thumb allow for precise movements and coordination when manipulating objects in functional tasks.

The nine hole peg test is a good way to assess for finger dexterity.

 

Finger Dexterity Examples

 
Fine motor dexterity also looks like:
  • manipulating coins
  • picking up small beads
  • opening a tube of toothpaste
  • threading a needle
  • holding items in the palm of the hand and putting them down one at a time
  • crafts with small objects
  • peeling stickers off a page
  • opening or closing a clasp on a necklace
  • tying shoes
  • opening a bread tie
  • putting a pony tail holder in hair
  • braiding hair
  • maneuvering a pencil within the hand (rotating the pencil, erasing a small spot on the page)
  • turning a pencil in a handheld pencil sharpener
  • zippering– inserting a zipper into the zipper carriage
  • buttoning a shirt
  • lacing up shoes
  • stacking coins
  • holding playing cards in your hands
  • any other task that requires small motor tasks
 
 
We’ve got lots of posts dedicated to fine motor skills.  Finger Dexterity is a necessary step in development of fine motor skills
 
 

 

 
Kids will love to play this finger dexterity activity to work on fine motor skills.

 

Skills needed for Finger Dexterity

Children develop their hand skills from infancy. Hand strength develops from the time a small baby is placed in tummy time. You’ll start to see finger dexterity in action when a baby picks up cereal pieces using a pincer grasp.
 
Finger dexterity requires components such as: 
 
The terms that make up finger dexterity are explained in each of the blog posts in the list.
 
There are developmental milestones for fine motor development that are necessary for independence each stage of childhood. When kids struggle with handwriting, manipulating small objects, hand fatigue in small motor tasks, finger dexterity and the underlying contributions should be considered.
 
Children also need to demonstrate dexterity in order to manipulate objects.  They need to maneuver their fingers independently of one another (this is called finger isolation) and with separation of the two sides of the hand
 
Without these skills, modifications or adjustments are often made by the child. We’ll cover more specifics about the relationship of finger dexterity and these components below.


Finger Dexterity and Separation of the two sides of the hand

When using the small muscles of the hands in dexterity tasks, one uses the side of the thumb-side of the hand. 
 
The precision side of the hand is the thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger.  These are the fingers needed for dexterity tasks and fine motor skills. 
 
The ring finger and pinkie finger are involved in providing stability during precision tasks.  When the index and thumb are involved in a small motor activity, the ring finger and pinkie finger are tucked into the palm and proved a support during handwriting and shoe tying
 
They also provide power during grip and the force behind a gross grasp
 
So when will you see the two sides of the hand separated during activities?? Tying shoes, pulling a zipper, fastening a button, and manipulating small pegs into a pegboard are some examples of separation of the two sides of the hand.


Finger Dexterity and Finger Isolation

Finger isolation is a key part of finer dexterity and begins when an infant begins to point at objects with one finger. 
 
Using the fingers independent of one another is needed for tasks like turning a page in a book, typing, molding dough, sign language, and finger plays (“where is Thumbkin” and other fingerplay songs are great ways to practice finger isolation and dexterity!) 
 
Kids can identify colors by playing this fine motor game.

 

Finger dexterity Activity

 
This finger strength exercise is actually a game, which makes it a great activity for developing precision in those little muscles of the hands, isolating fingers, and separating the two sides of the hand…all SO important in independence and play.
 
Try this activity to work on separating the two sides of the hand with a fun activity for kids. 

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Our finger dexterity activity began with a little prep work.  We used acrylic paints to paint circles on the back of bubble wrap paper. 

Kids will explore colors in this finger dexterity game.

 

I painted the back side of large bubble wrap with different colors.   We let these dry (and it was slightly difficult to remain patient!!)

Kids will love to play "Twister" in this fine motor exercise.

 

Once our paints were dry, we got our fingers ready to play some finger dexterity games!  I had Little Guy get his fingers ready by making “legs”. 

This is a great way to encourage use of the two sides of the hand.  He tucked his pinkie and ring fingers into the palm of his hand and got his pointer and middle finger busy as they “walked” around.

Fun fine motor game for kids.

 

We played a color matching game with the colored bubbles.  I called out a color and he had to “walk” his fingers to the color and pop the color.  He was working on color awareness at the same time as we practiced finger dexterity.

kids can work on fine motor skills needed for independence in many tasks.

 

As I called out different colors, he had to “walk” his fingers around to the different colors.  He really worked on those finger isolation skills as he searched for a bubble that was not yet popped. 

Other ways to work on finger isolation and separation of the two sides of the hand include using small objects in manipulation like crafting pom poms.

The index, middle finger, and thumb are needed to manipulate items in fine motor tasks. This activity is a great way to encourage dexterity in kids.

 

Even Baby Girl wanted to get in on the fun!  This finger dexterity exercise is a great way to “warm up” the hands before a handwriting or typing task for older children. Using handwriting warm ups prepares the hands for tasks like writing with a pencil.

When there is weakness in the small muscles of the hands, it is often times, difficult for children to write, color, or type with appropriate grasp and positioning of the fingers and wrist. 

A dexterity exercise like this one is a fun way to play and get those muscles of the hand moving and strengthened in order to improve endurance and positioning.

Manual Dexterity Activities

Looking for more fun ways to practice manual dexterity of the fingers?  These are some fun games and activities you may want to try:

Finger dexterity exercises

Using the activities listed above are great ways to build fine motor skills. You can also improve manual dexterity with the following exercises:

  • Pinch putty or playdough 10 times, with 3 repetitions (find more reps in our theraputty exercises blog post)
  • Place pegs into a pegboard- time the student to see how many they can place in 30 seconds. Try to beat that time.
  • Hand gripper workouts to improve proximal stability
  • Stack 10 coins or game tokens into a pile. Then pick them up one at a time and place them into the palm of the hand
  • Deal a deck of cards
  • Creating a fine motor home exercise program
  • Using the exercises described in the Weekly Fine Motor Program
  • Finger aerobics shown in the video below.

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!

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.

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Hand holding coins by the fingertips and dropping one at a time into a stack of coins. Text reads "finger dexterity"

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