Working on a functional pencil grasp with your child or occupational therapy caseload? Need activities to improve pencil grasp that kids WANT to do? These games that improve pencil grasp through fine motor activities are activities that boost the skills kids need for pencil grasp and games that strengthen the hands. Working on pencil grip to make and efficient and functional pencil grasp can be as easy as adding a few fine motor games to your therapy toolbox!
Games that improve pencil grasp
Every child loves playing games, but did you know that games also help children improve their pencil grasp? There are many components to working on pencil grasp including core strength and stability, shoulder strength and stability, coordinated movements, hand/finger strength and visual motor skills.
Functions of the hand that help to improve pencil grasp
Arches of the hand start to develop very early on in children. They can develop these skills by crawling and doing weight bearing activities. The arches of the hands help to direct the skilled movement of the hands, how to pick up different size blocks for example.
Here is a fun way for your child to work on grasp: The Ultimate Guide to fine motor strength with recycled materials.
Separation of the two sides of the hand
Around 2-3 years of age children will start experimenting with a tripod grasp (first three digits hold pencil while the ring and pinky are tucked in). In order to do this the child has to have a separation of function of the two sides of the hand.
The precision side of the hand (thumb, pointer, middle finger) does the work and the power side of the hand the last two fingers (ring and picky) are used as the stabilizer.
An example of this is when you hold a pencil. Typically your ulnar side of the hand (pinky) will rest of the paper and the thumb, pointer and middle finger will hold the writing utensil and move.
Check out, Easy Ideas for Motoric Separation of the Hand in Fine Motor Skills, for some more ideas.
Palm to finger translation skills
Another important skill needed for pencil grasp is palm to finger translation skills. This is when you use only one hand and move items from you palm to your fingertips. Try holding a few marbles or coins and using your fingers to “take” the coins/marbles out of our palm and bring them to your fingertips.
Here is a fun in-hand manipulation activity using a puzzle. Use puzzles you already have in the home!
Games to Improve Pencil Grasp
There are lots of components to developing pencil grasp, listed below are games that work on these skills.
Tong games to Improve Pencil Grasp
You can buy the following games that use tongs (Amazon Affiliate links included below):
Wok and Roll– This game uses long tongs that can be used to pick up and manipulate small pieces, perfect for strengthening and improving precision, arch strength and development, separation of the sides of the hand, coordination, and open thumb web space necessary for pencil grasp.
Operation– This fine motor game requires visual motor skills and precision along with open thumb web space, arch development, and separation of the sides of the hand to manipulate and remove small pieces. Operation comes in a variety of themes that kids will love.
Super Sorting Pie– This game is a fantastic way to work on hand strength, grasp, and even in-hand manipulation such as translation from the palm to the fingertips. It’s a game that can be played in a variety of ways, making it a great addition to the therapy clinic.
Bed Bugs Game– This tong game has different colored tongs and matching bugs that promotes not only fine motor skills needed for pencil grasp, by eye-hand coordination and visual perceptual work, too. This game is geared toward preschool-aged kids, but can be easily graded up or down to suit older or lower developmental aged kids.
The Sneaky, Snacky, Squirrel Game– Great for younger kids or non-readers, this game promotes hand strength and eye-hand coordination. Players use squirrel shaped tongs to pick up and manipulate small acorn pieces. It’s a fun game to promote separation of the sides of the hands and arch strength needed for pencil grasp!
Avalanche Fruit Stand– This game is a powerful tool to promote pencil grasp! Kids use the tweezers to remove different shaped fruits from a stand that is on a slanted surface, promoting extension of the wrist. The slanted surface encourages separation of the sides of the hand and use of the precision side of the hand, while strengthening the arches for improved functional pencil grasp.
Make Your Own Games to Improve Pencil Grasp
Feed the dog- Take a box, put a picture of a dog on it. Cut out a hole for the mouth and uses tongs to pick up cheerios to place in the dog’s mouth.
Occupational Therapy activities using tongs has even more tong ideas you can do at home.
Wind up toys are another great way to work on developing the precision side of the hand. Holding the wind up part with the thumb, pointer and middle finger works on the precision side of the hand and grasp.
Battleship is a great game to work on using the precision side of the hand. Every time your opponent says the coordinates of the strike you have to grab a tiny peg, red or white and place it on the ocean grid. This gives the child lots of practice with fine motor skills!
Looking for more ways to improve the skills needed for pencil grasp by using games, toys, and tools in the therapy clinic or at home?
These toys and tools to improve pencil grasp cover lots of interests and ideas!
Use these wind-up toys to help with fine motor skills.
This gift guide has lots of toys that promote a better pencil grasp.
These are must-have toys for stabile wrist extension needed for pencil grasp.
More games and toys that improve pencil grasp:
Lite Brite Position this old school toy on a slightly elevated surface to promote an extended wrist while managing the small pegs within the hand and with a tripod grasp.
Table Top Easel– This one is double sided to allow for chalk, dry erase markers, and has a clip for attaching paper. Use the easel for writing, drawing, painting, coloring, chalking, and games like Hand Man to make strengthening fun.
Avalanche Fruit Stand Game– This game is a fun way to build fine motor skills with an extended wrist.
Dartboard– Tossing darts encourages an extended wrist while holding the darts. This set comes with magnetic darts, which is great for kids.
Pop Beads– The small size of pop beads promotes dexterity of the fingers as well as resistance to push the beads together. Encouraging the child to do this task with both elbows on a table surface encourages an extended wrist.
Stamps– Grab a set of small rubber stamps or any stamp that has a small handle. Tape a piece of paper to the wall or clip it to an easel. Holding the handle while stamping on a vertical surface promotes a functional wrist position.
Twister game– Any game or activity that is done with the child extending their wrist as the press their upper body weight through the arm is a great strengthening exercise for wrist stability.
Beads– Threading beads with a string or plastic cord encourages and extended wrist with fine motor dexterity. Beads can be found in various sizes to meet the needs of the child.
Etch-A Sketch– Another classic toy, the Etch-A Sketch is perfect for building an extended wrist. Prop it up on a slanted position and be sure to place it upside down so the knobs are at the top.
Tissue Paper Art: There is possible no better art project for hand strengthening than tissue paper art! Crumbling little bits of tissue paper is perfect for strengthening the small muscles of the hand. Encourage your child to use just their finger tips to crumble the bits of tissue paper rather than two hands to crumble. This ALEX® Toys – Early Learning Tissue Paper Art -Little Hands 521W from Alex Toys is bold, colorful and just plain fun art! Even better for the intrinsic muscles of the hands is tearing bits of paper before crumbling.
Squeeze Toys: a gross grasp is using the whole hand to squeeze and flex into a grip. What a great way to strengthen the muscles of the hands! This Melissa & Doug Louie Lobster Claw Catcher from Melissa and Doug is a fun way to encourage hand strength and endurance for coloring and writing.
Easel: An easel can be used in so many ways while encouraging an extended wrist. Paint, draw, color, or write on the elevated surface. We love taping contact paper to our easel and sticking all kinds of craft supplies. This really encourages an extended wrist while using a tripod grasp or tip to tip grasp to manipulate little items (think tissue paper, sequins, foil squares…the possibilities are endless!) This Easel is great for extended wrist activities. And, it even folds down to reveal a desk surface. It’s the perfect gift to promote improved handwriting!
Ker Plunk: The Ker Plunk Game from Mattel encourages an extended wrist as the child pushes the sticks into the holes of the game. They are encouraged to use a tripod grasp to hold the sticks as well. Rotating the sticks encourages two types of in-hand manipulation. Take this game a step further in handwriting exercise for strengthening and play laying down on the floor, propped up on your elbows. Getting down on the floor to play will activate the large muscles of the back and the shoulder girdle to improve precision in pencil grasp.
Peg Boards: Grasping pegs encourage a tripod grasp especially while pushing them into the holes of a peg board. This Lauri Tall-Stacker Pegs Building Set from Lauri is great for building peg towers while learning colors and shapes. Older kids might love Fusion Beads like the Perler Beads 6,000 Count Bucket-Multi Mix from Perler.
MORE activities to improve the skills needed for a functional pencil grasp:
Pencil Grasp Help
The pencil grasp challenge is a free, 5 day mini course and challenge. During the course of five days, I’ll be teaching everything you need to know about the skills that make up a functional pencil grasp. You’ll learn what’s going on behind the inefficient and just plain terrible pencil grasps you see everyday in the classroom, clinic, or home. Along with loads of information, you’ll gain quick, daily activities that you can do today with a kiddo you know and love. These are easy activities that use items you probably already have in your home right now.
Besides learning and gaining a handful (pun intended) of fun ideas to make quick wins in pencil grasp work, you’ll gain:
- 5 days of information related to pencil grasp, so you know how to help kids fix an immature pencil grasp.
- Specific activities designed to build a functional pencil grasp.
- Free printable handouts that you can use to share with your team or with a parent/fellow teachers.
- You’ll get access to printable challenge sheets, and a few other fun surprises.
- And, possibly the best of all, you’ll get access to a secret challengers Facebook group, where you can share wins, chat about all things pencil grasp, and join a community of other therapists, parents and teachers working on pencil grasp issues.