Fine motor “finger games” like finger twister, Where is Thumbkin, and a thumb battle are a powerhouse of motor skills. Did you ever think about using a finger game as a warm-up to handwriting or a fun way to target fine motor skills like finger isolation? Finger games are fun fine motor activities using the fingers or hands. They have the added benefit of being great for developing motor coordination, finger musculature, finger dexterity, and eye hand coordination.
We need fine motor skills for school, play, work, and daily functioning! Adding fun fingerplay to the mix is a great way to build these essential skills.
why choose finger games?
Hand therapists work with fingers all day long. They use some great exercises to strengthen and rehabilitate the hand. Imagine trying to use these same exercises on a four year old.
Finger games and songs are actually great for engaging circle time activities, just like action rhymes we see in young childhood. These movement-based activities are driven in play but offer opportunities for motor skill work, language development, comradery, and fun!
The idea behind teaching young children is to use play in order to reach their goals. Play is the occupation of the child, and is much more motivating than rote exercises. Using finger games incorporates play into therapy, while working on important objectives.
what is the benefit of finger games?
Finger games work on multiple different skills. Some in isolation, others grouped together. Besides the obvious answer; coordination, there are many other skills being addressed using finger games:
- Hand strength and dexterity
- Finger isolation
- Open thumb web space– targeting this fine motor skill can be helpful to support dexterity in tasks requiring object manipulation and opposition of the thumb and finger.
- Motor planning – the body and brain receives feedback, or a motor concept that tells the brain and body that we have moved in a certain way in order to accomplish a specific action. This is the motor plan for that particular task at work
- Rhymes with action movements inspire rhythm and rhyming skills
- Sequencing – can your learner do the steps in order?
- Proprioception – getting a sense of where the hands and fingers are. Adding the correct amount of pressure when playing
- Precision of grasp and release– Movement of the fingers with precise range of motion needed to complete finger game activities can support the ability to pick up and release small objects using minute finger motions.
- Bilateral coordination – while many finger games involve two hands at the same time, there are just as many that rely on one hand (usually the dominant one).Using one hand as a dominant hand instead of switching back and forth is encouraged once a child is in grade school, or demonstrates a significant strength in one or the other. Participating in finger games can even support development of bilateral coordination work.
- Separation of the sides of the hand– Playing with finger games allows for range of motion and strength with separation of the sides of the hand. This separation provides grip strength and dexterity sides in functional grip.
- Arch development– In the palms of the hands are arches. These allow us to hold objects in the palm of our hands and are essential to grip strength. Moving the fingers through finger games can target this area, which in turn supports pinch and grip strength.
- Language – many of these finger games involve songs or rhymes to remember
- Strength – core strength, shoulder and wrist stability, finger strength
- Building the intrinsic muscles – the intrinsic muscles are in the middle area of the hand.
- Executive function, following directions, attention, attention to detail, focus, sequencing, planning, task completion, impulse control, compliance, behavior, and work tolerance are all important skills to learn
- Handwriting warm ups
Read more about fine motor skill components in our post on “what are fine motor skills“.
classic finger games
There are many finger games that you probably grew up playing…think about the hand games you’ve played as a child. The following is a list of the classic finger or hand games children play (or used to):
- Rock, Paper, Scissors – bilateral coordination, focusing on a dominant hand, quickly forming hand movement
- Cat’s Cradle- All you need is a long length of string tied into a loop for this classic finger game. This activity develops wrist stability, wrist range of motion, finger isolation, hand strength, bilateral coordination, and crossing midline skills.
- The Itsy Bitsy Spider – this song involves using both hands to create different motions
- Patty Cake – who hasn’t done this classic finger game with babies?
- Thumb War – 1,2,3,4 I declare a thumb war! This is a great finger activity for building upper extremity strength, and hand strength!
- Hand Jive – this hand clapping game was made popular by the movie Grease. Here’s how it goes: Pat your thighs twice. Clap twice. Wave your hands, one over the other, in front of your chest. Then do it with the other hand on top. Bump your fists twice, one on top of the other. Then do it with the other fist on top. Point your right thumb over your right shoulder twice, then your left thumb over your left shoulder twice. Play this song and put it all together to the beat! Pat-pat-clap-clap-hand-hand-bump-bump-thumb-thumb!
- Miss Mary Mack – this classic finger game dates back all the way to the civil war. Miss Mary Mack, all dressed in black, with silver buttons, all down her back… Check out this tutorial.
- Steeple People – here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and see all the people!
- Shadow Puppets – make animals using your hands, a darkened room, and a light
- Here is Thumbkin – work on isolation of the thumb
- 5 Little Ducks, 5 Speckled Frogs, 5 Little Monkeys – learners sing the song as they do hand movements and count down on their fingers
- Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes – this uses more arm movements than fingers, but is great for coordination
- 1,2 Buckle My Shoe
- Nursery Rhymes – there are finger plays for several classic nursery rhymes such as: Hickory Dickory Dock, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, London Bridge
- Hand Clapping Games – we all remember Miss Mary Mack and Patty Cake, but what about Say Say oh Playmate, Stella Ella Ola, Rockin Robin, Miss Susie, Down Down Baby.
Another great idea is to use paper and pencil handwriting games to create letters, numbers, or shapes and offer fine motor and visual motor work.
a new generation of finger games
These differ from the classic games but are wildly popular. I love seeing kids waiting in long lines playing Finger Twister, Hot Hands, or Sticks, instead of being glued to their phones.
- Finger Twister- This is a fun version of the classic Twister game, on a smaller scale. Use a small Twister board: Draw a row of colored dots on the board. Then, spin a spinner, or roll a dice to determine the sequence to touch the colored dots. This is a great activity for finger isolation and executive functioning skills.
- Simon- You can also play a finger version of the Simon game. Rather than use an electronic toy, create your own Simon game and ouch the colorful areas using sequences.
- Finger Aerobics– This is such a fun way to warm up the hands and foster finger and hand ROM and dexterity.
- Paperclip Spinners- Make a game board spinner using a paperclip, tip of a pencil, and a circle drawn on paper.
- Hot Hands – learner one puts their hands out palm up in front of learner two. Learner two places their hands palm down on top of learner one but not touching. Learner one has to try and touch learner two’s hands before they pull them away.
- Sticks – this is a finger tapping game that is very popular among kids now. It involves tapping the fingers on your opponent and adding their number to your own hands. Look here for a more thorough explanation.
- DIY Fidget Toys are a fun way to spark fine motor play. Use them in games or copying activities.
- Odd or Even – this is a great finger game for working on finger isolation. Two people face each other. Each player can put out only one or two fingers. 1,2,3 shoot. Decide if odd or even wins.
- Board games- You can learn with board games you already own by using the game pieces: spinners, dice, timers, game pieces all offer opportunities to move those hands. Use the game pieces for hand strengthening, precision, and dexterity.
- Baby Shark – this is not a classic (yet) but it is well known
- Create a special handshake – how many moves can you remember?
- Sign Language – learning sign language or finger spelling is great exercise for the hand muscles. How about a finger spelling bee?
- Pair these concentration clapping games with hula hoop activities and backyard tag games for old school fun!
old school or new?
Whether you come from the old school classic finger games, or the newest ones, these are great skill building tools that cost nothing, but are priceless. Old school people can try their “hand” at the new games, while the younger generation learn the classics. Nostalgic games have a way of bringing us full circle back to our past as we teach the future generation.
Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.
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