One of the favorite items in my collection of occupational therapy tools is a pickle picker. We’ve shared how to use a pickle picker to support fine motor skills over on our social media channels in the past, but we wanted to put all of that information together in one place for building those skills!
Ok, when we pull a pickle picker out of our fine motor kit from our collection of occupational therapy supplies, the typical response is…”what is that?” But if you have ever used a pickle picker to grab pickles from a jar in the kitchen, then you know how beneficial this kitchen tool is. Let’s explain…
What is a Pickle Picker?
A pickle picker, also known as a pickle grabber, is a kitchen tool that has found it’s way into occupational therapy supplies because of the fine motor benefits of using the small kitchen gadget. The utensil’s original use is to retrieve pickles or other items from a jar or container without getting one’s fingers or hands wet.
A pickle picker (Amazon affiliate link) is a long grabber that has a plunger that when pressed, moves long metal prongs from inside the hollow tube. As the plunger is pressed, it pushes the prongs out of the pickle picker tube to grab items (pickles, olives, or other items in a tall jar or container).
When I started out as a school-based occupational therapist, a pickle grabber was a therapy tool that I loved to have in my therapy toolbox.
While we don’t use the pickle picker to pick up pickles, we do use it to grab small objects:
- craft pom poms in different sizes
- mini erasers
- small objects like mini koosh balls
- crumbled paper
- anything that is small and grabbable!
The point to using this tool is to sort, foster fine motor work, and to us the tool as a manipulative while building underlying skills.
As a functional task, the pickle picker makes fine motor work and finger strengthening tasks fun and engaging. But, you can also use the pickle picker in learning, too:
Use a Pickle Picker for Fine Motor Skills
While this under-rated kitchen tool has so many benefits, it actually has fine motor benefits as well. The pickle picker (affiliate link) is a powerhouse when it comes to fine motor skills!
Pickle pickers, or pickle grabbers can strengthen hands, develop eye-hand coordination skills, promote motor planning, add heavy work to the hands, and be used to facilitate so many more skills. Occupational therapy providers LOVE the pickle grabber as a therapy tool! There are may reasons to have a pickle picker or two in your therapy bag.
Just some of the ways that a pickle picker builds skills:
- proprioceptive input
- heavy work
- thumb IP joint flexion
- arch development
- eye hand coordination
- separation of the sides of the hand
- crossing midline
- wrist stability
Let’s break these down…
Use a Pickle Grabber for Heavy work.
When you press down on the plunger of the pickle picker, the spring inside the device pushes back against the thumb. This resistance offers proprioceptive input that alerts the muscles of how much pressure is needed to grab objects.
You can grade this task and require more force to push the plunger all the way to the bottom of the tube in order to open the grabber’s tongs all the way open. This is necessary for grabbing larger items such as extra large craft pom poms.
To grab and pick up smaller items like mini craft pom poms or mine erasers, less force is required to push the prongs open. Knowing the difference between the force required and the resulting heavy work input against the thumb offers proprioceptive input through the thumb.
Facilitate thumb IP joint flexion by pressing the plunger of a pickle grabber.
In order to press the red plunger down on a pickle picker, you need to hold the tube steady. When you move the plunger down, one needs to stabilize the fine motor tool at the base of the thumb. You also need to have flexion at the MP joint and the IP joint of the thumb.
Read about this concept in our blog post on thumb wrap grasp.
Use a pickle picker for separation of the sides of the hand.
Separation of the sides of the hand is so important for fine motor tool manipulation and dexterity in fine motor skills. The pickle picker is an ideal tool for this skill work because the ulnar side of the hand is used to stabilize the tool while the thumb presses against the pickle picker tool with a lateral key pinch.
Pickle picker tool for crossing midline.
There are many ways to use this therapy tool to foster midline crossing.
Place objects in different locations and planes and use matching colored containers to place the objects. You can position the materials across the midline, or use the materials in an occupational therapy obstacle course.
Target eye-hand coordination using a pickle grabber tool.
Positioning the materials and using the pickle grabber to pick up and move objects fosters eye-hand coordination skills as well. Target motor planning and use games to improve motor skill speed to pick up the objects and move them to targets.
Wrist stability with a pickle picker-
Another nice benefit of using a pickle picker in play is the wrist stability. So often, we see a flexed, or bent wrist which doesn’t put the wrist and hand in an optimal position for precision skills.
Holding a pickle grabber tool requires the wrist to be in a stable position, improving hand and grasp strength.
How to use a pickle picker in occupational therapy
- Grab craft pom poms– Scatter craft pom poms onto a table surface. Use the pickle grabber to pick up the craft pom poms and sort them by color. We show how to do this activity in the video below.
- Use mini erasers– You can pick up the erasers and stack them to work on precision skills.
We shared many ways to target specific skills through play in the descriptions above, but sometimes it helps to see the skills in action. Check out our video where we share how to use a pickle picker in fine motor work. You can also check out this pickle picker video on The OT Toolbox YouTube channel.
A pickle picker, or pickle grabber, is a great fine motor tool for occupational therapy!
Want to get your hands (literally) on a pickle picker? Here are our top picks from Amazon (affiliate links):
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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.