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.
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
- 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
Skills needed for Finger Dexterity
- pinch grasp
- hand strength
- distal finger control
- arch development (Explained in our blog post on tongs activities)
- in-hand manipulation
- thumb IP joint flexion
- finger and thumb opposition
- Finger isolation
- Open thumb web space
- Motor planning
- Precision of grasp and release
- Separation of the sides of the hand
- Arch development
- wrist stability
- finger strength
- grip strength
Finger Dexterity and Separation of the two sides of the hand
Finger Dexterity and Finger Isolation
Finger dexterity Activity
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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.
I painted the back side of large bubble wrap with different colors. We let these dry (and it was slightly difficult to remain patient!!)
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Beach Play Dough
- Itsy Bitsy Spider and other finger play games
- gears building set (Amazon affiliate link)
- Shadow puppets
- Clay Rocks activity
- Tricky Fingers (Amazon affiliate link)
- eye droppers
- Operation Game (Amazon affiliate link)
- Connect 4 Game (Amazon affiliate link)
- finger games
- pick up sticks
- lacing cards
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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.