Easy Fine Motor Precision Activities

Precision activities

Helping kids develop and strengthen fine motor skills is essential for functional tasks, and this resource on fine motor precision activities supports that development. Here, we are addressing what fine motor precision means and specific activities to do with kids to help with grasp manipulation, dexterity, and graded movements like managing a zipper, buttons, and adjusting a pencil within the fingers to write and erase. These are just a few examples of how grasp and release activities support fine motor skill development. Let’s break this down…

Fine Motor Precision Activities

Before we get to the fun stuff…the actual fine motor activities that support graded grasp and release, manipulation of objects within the hand, and various amounts of pressure and precision needed to perform functional tasks, let’s cover exactly what precision skills look like, what the term means, and why this area of development is so important.

At the bottom of this post, you’ll find specific strategies to support precision development so that kids can complete these tasks and not fumble with objects in the hands.

A good place to start is with our resource listing games with paper clips as a tool to support precision and refined dexterity.

This post is part of my 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where you can find 30 more ideas like this one with easy treatment materials.

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

What is Fine Motor Precision?

Fine Motor Precision refers to the ultra-fine motor skills in the hand, broken down into areas: grasp and release, fine motor rotation, in-hand manipulation, and proprioception. 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

Let’s cover each of those areas in greater detail below.

But first, it’s important to note that a child’s ultra fine motor dexterity is dependent on bigger things.  And by that, I mean that in order for a child to use their hands super fine motor tasks, they first must demonstrate strength and control of their core, shoulder, and arm.  If any of these areas are not fully developed in stability or control, then the child will show compensatory strategies as they try to use their hands in handwriting or cutting with scissors. Gross motor coordination is a great place to start if precision skills seem to be “off” or delayed. Related to that is the key input of body awareness and the impact of heavy work on more distal motor coordination skills.

One way to remember this is this:

Proximal stability allows for distal mobility.”

Colleen Beck, OTR/L

Before a child can manipulate and move an object with dexterity and refined motor skills, there needs to be a base of support in stability in the core and upper extremity, mobility and coordination in the proximal joints (shoulder before elbow…elbow before wrist…and wrist before hand). Breaking it down further, arch development and strengthening of the intrinsic muscles in the hands are both areas that are essential for precision in the fingertips.

The following resources will be a great way to break these areas of development down:

Fine Motor Precision

Kids and fine motor skills go hand-in-hand. (That is my funny-OT attempt at a fine motor skills joke!) But really, fine motor skills are a staple of a child’s development and are essential to function.

Precision occurs with development of grasp when child to use the pads of the index finger, middle finger, and thumb to manipulate objects with opposition.  I talked a little about strengthening these types of grasp patterns.  

Today, I’m sharing ways to work on the controlled use of these fine motor patterns in controlled dexterity tasks.  The precision of grasp and release is essential for very small motor movements in activities like picking up beads and releasing items like blocks with precision. This is broken down into areas of dexterity that all work together:

  • Grasp and release (we’ll break these two areas down even further)
  • Fine motor rotation
  • In-hand manipulation
  • Muscular force, or the amount of force applied through the muscles in small motor use, also referring to proprioceptive input through the hands and fingers.

What is precision of grasp and release?

Precision in grasp, manipulation, and release of small objects makes the difference between fumbling with zippers and buttons and efficiently grading movements in very small dexterity patterns like threading a string through a needle (kid-friendly, of course!) 

Precision in grasp is related to the picking up of items.  A graded lateral grasp is needed to cut with scissors and only squeeze the scissors halfway shut for accurate cutting lines in some situations.  Around 3-4 years, a preschool aged child typically develops a greater variety of grasping patterns, including precision.  They begin to grade their scissor strokes so that they can cut a line or shape without opening and closing the scissors completely.  Grasps in babies typically begin with a raking motion and work towards a pincer grasp.  Precision in this skill occurs when the child is able to pick up very small items like beads with accuracy and graded movements.  

Precision release is needed for stacking blocks without toppling them over, placing cards on a pile, opening scissors just a small amount, or placing small beads into a bowl.  Precision is needed for a child to let go of an item in a controlled manner.  If they are not exercising precision in release, you might see them rolling or tossing an object as they let go.  They will knock over a stack of blocks, or over open the scissors when cutting lines, making their accuracy very choppy.   

Precision in rotation is another task that children develop around age 5. Rotation is a portion of in-hand manipulation and seen when turning a coin on the edges and the child rotates it in a circular motion.  Precision in rotation also occurs when holding a pencil between the fingers and the child rotates it over and over. 

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

One way to develop these skills is through practice! One precision grasp and release activity I love is using popsicle sticks in various colors. You can stack the popsicle sticks so they build a wall without toppling over. Using the different colors allows kids to see how the sticks are aligned by offering contrasting colors. If they see a bit of yellow stick under the green stick, then they need to adjust the top stick with refined motor movements.

Grade this activity for younger kids or those developing skills:

  • Simply place a single popsicle stick down on a table surface. Then pick it up.
  • Younger kids can stack just one stick on top of another.
  • Match colors.
  • Make a wall of popsicle sticks to develop more refined precision skills.
  • Place and sort popsicle sticks into a container on the vertical position (shown below)

To practice precision in grasp and release, I showed my preschooler how to pick up and stack Popsicle sticks.  Picking up the sticks required a tip-to-tip grasp.  We used different colored Popsicle sticks for my 4 year old and my 17 month old.  

The preschooler was able to pick up the sticks accurately without pushing other sticks around.  She could grasp the specific stick she wanted by an end or middle accurately.  

The toddler grabbed the sticks with a pincer grasp, but showed much less accuracy.  

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

To advance this popsicle stick sorting, the next step is precision in rotation. This can be addressed by asking the individual to sort popsicle sticks into containers.

Different small cups (Dixie cups would work) but we used a popsicle mold to encourage a single hand to hold the mold as the assisting hand.

We used an empty Popsicle mold to place the sticks into the cups.  What a great way to practice grasp precision!  We worked on sorting the craft sticks by color and had to hold the mold with one hand to work on bilateral hand coordination.  For the activity, we placed the mold on the floor and sorted the colored sticks without knocking the Popsicle mold over. Both the preschooler and the Toddler loved this simple activity.  

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

 Another precision in release activity was simply stacking the craft sticks.  The four year old could do this, but used her non-dominant hand to stabilize. 

Precision in in-hand manipulation- In hand manipulation skills include different components as well. In our blog post, we cover rotation, refined movements within the hand, and how to actually move objects from the fingertips to the palm and ice versa. These are precision skills at work!

Muscular force- This refers to knowing how much force to use to pick something up. When it comes to muscular force in fine motor skills this can mean the difference between overshooting an object when picking something up, fumbling with small objects, pinching things with too much force, or dropping items because not enough force is applied.

As described above, muscular force also refers to the amount of force applied through the muscles in small motor use, also referring to proprioceptive input through the hands and fingers. Another term for this concept is force modulation, or graded force.

Muscular force is a must for picking objects up, putting them back down, manipulating them within the hand, and rotation.

We go into greater detail on the proprioceptive input in our blog post on proprioception. In summary, muscular force means the ability to inherently know how much force is needed to pick up and hold and manipulate a ladybug as opposed to a heavier rock. Too much force and the bug is squashed. Not enough force, and the rock slips through the fingers. Another example is pressing too hard when writing and holding a pencil. This experience and muscle knowledge happens through play!

As you can see, all of these concepts work together to enable precision skills in functional tasks!

Precision Activities

We’ve covered a couple of precision activities related to grasp and release and rotation, but let’s go over a few more that include all aspects of precision, including muscular force activities and how these are related to functional participation.

Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

This post contains affiliate links.

Looking for more ways to practice precision in grasp, release, and rotation with Occupational Therapy students or your kids?  Try some of these ideas.  While they are not all free (going with our series this month!), they are creative ways to practice precision.  

  • Precision engineering activities that use play dough and blocks to work on force modulation in the hands as well as eye-hand coordination.
  • Small motor pegboards like this precision pegboard activity combining crafts with fine motor skills
  • Perler beads- Try manipulating Perler Fuse Beads with Pegboards for precision in grasp and release. These pegboards are very small and work on very fine dexterity with precision. 
  • Stamp sets– Playing with stamps is a good way to practice graded grasp and release. Use these stamp blocks to accurately stamp within a specific area on a page. Draw squares or circles and the child needs to stamp in those areas. 
  • Tweezer games and activities like this Bed Bugs Game encourage a precise and graded grasp and release of the small game pieces using tweezers. This game is on my must-buy list for Christmas this year! 
  • This Avalanche Fruit Stand for another fun way to practice precision with a pair of tweezers. Stack the fruit with precision of grasp and release in a fun and colorful way! 
  • The Perfection Game is another game that is great for precise grasp and release. Encourage kids to rotate the pieces by twirling the peg of the game pieces to work on precision in rotation as well. 
  • Jenga is a precision work out in grasp and release of the blocks. My kids love this game!
  • Stacking blocks is a precision pattern activity that is perfect for working on graded grasp and release. 
  • This Tobbles stacking toy is a version of that, with bright and bold colors. Try stacking and taking these balls down without knocking them over! 
  • Sometimes, simple is best! These Wooden Color Cubes are perfect for simple block building and stacking while working on precision of grasp and release. 
  • Kids need precision of the thumb, too. These Slide Puzzles are not only fun, they work on small motor skills needed for graded movements in cutting and pencil control.
Easy precision in grasp, release, and rotation in fine motor skills for kids.  Precision is so important in dexterity in many skills like handwriting, cutting with scissors, and everything done with the hands!

It’s my hope that this post and ideas were helpful and a resource for you!  Looking for more fine motor activities for functional grasp?  Try these: 

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

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.

Types of Pencil Grips

Types of pencil grips

Pencil grips, pencil grips, pencil grips, there are so many types of pencil grips! Do I try this grip or that one? Does this child really need a pencil grip? Will they use this pencil grip? Will it be used correctly if they use it in the classroom? Ugh! So much to decide and so many variables to consider when it comes to handwriting. It is overwhelming! Does this sound like you in your practice as an OT? I’ve been there, and I’ve said these things to myself, and sometimes even to others. This post is here to help you decide what pencil grips to try and why!

Types of Pencil Grips

In this blog post, we’ll dive into pencil grips occupational therapy practitioners may offer as a tool to support handwriting needs.

We’ll address types of pencil grips (with links for purchase) and why each pencil grip is used.

Finally, we’ll cover a variety of related resources and activities to support the development of pencil grip use.

To further explore pencil grasp development, take a look at our blog post, Pencil Grasp Development and get this great Pencil Grasp Quick Visual Guide, which helps Occupational Therapists identify and explain grasp patterns, using pictures to educate, and explain how pencil grasps progress developmentally.

The visuals will help parents and teachers understand grasp development and the goals for an appropriate grasping pattern. My prediction is that these tools will help get buy-in from the educational team and the family. It helps them understand exactly where the child is developmentally and where you, as the OT, wants the learner to head, and why! 

pencil grips and Occupational Therapy

First, let me begin by saying that pencil grips are NOT a miracle cure for pencil grasp. They can help in certain circumstances based on the child’s individual needs.

Different types of pencil grips do not help to overcome the root of the inefficient grasp, as these issues must be addressed simultaneously, while implementing the gripper. 

In occupational therapy sessions, the OT practitioner is striving to achieve the most effective and functional pencil grasp for each individual. A therapist may have 40, 50, or even 70 students on their school-based OT caseload…and each student will be completely different when it comes to grasp patterns, pencil pressure, positioning of the fingers, preferences, letter formation strokes, executive functioning skills, self-regulation, visual motor skills, sensory preferences, and handwriting considerations. All of these areas play into handwriting.

To meet the needs of the individual student, a pencil grip may be supplied as a tool to support those individual needs.

Before we get into the various types of pencil grips you may see an occupational therapy practitioner recommend, it’s important to cover functional pencil grip.

Pencil grips are designed to support the most functional and efficient pencil grasp a child can achieve.

This is based on many factors including; their current skill level, motivation, and understanding that the pencil grasp should be efficient and effective, but NOT perfect.

Functional grasps have a few basic components, which include; an open web space, skill fingers holding the pencil (thumb, first, and middle fingers), and stability (achieved with the ring and little fingers being curled securely into the palm). This results in an efficient and functional tripod grasp for the most success with handwriting, drawing, and coloring.

Inefficient grasps are used as a child attempts to compensate for lack of stability, skill finger strength, and endurance. With this inefficient grasp comes fatigue, pain, stress on the joints, decreased writing speed and overall legibility.

A pencil grip may be a tool provided to support a functional pencil grasp, depending on the needs of the individual student.

Think of pencil grips as a supplemental tool to aid a child as they continue to work on building the hand and finger skills needed to achieve an independent and efficient grasp.

The type of pencil grip can also serve to support the child as they focus on the writing process, therefore not exhausting their thought and energy, trying to remember to grasp the pencil properly for the best function. 

The OT Toolbox has a great Pencil Grasp Bundle available for purchase to support various needs related to pencil grasp.

types of pencil grips

Now, without further ado, let’s proceed to types of pencil grips that most OTs recommend, what their purpose is, and why they are recommended!

Amazon affiliate links are included below for purchase of various types of pencil grips.

Sometimes the easiest way to ensure a better grip on a pencil is by getting a smaller pencil into those hands. Golf pencils are some of the best tools for smaller hands, as they are the right size. The use of larger pencils and crayons leads to compensatory grasping patterns, as they are too long and too heavy for little hands to grasp and hold for long periods of time.  A typical sized pencil in the hands of a child, is the equivalent of an adult trying to use a 12 inch pencil!

The physical size of hands and biomechanics of the muscles and joints in a child’s hand can’t possibly hold a large writing instrument unless they grasp it with compensatory efforts. This generally results in inefficient and ineffective grasps.  Younger learners have far more maladaptive pencil grasp patterns than older adults, due to the young age at which learners are instructed to write. 40 years ago, writing did not begin until first grade. That gave the hands time to develop. Now writing starts in the two year old class, or in preschool many times. It’s because of the early push to trace, copy, and write letters in preschool that we see poor pencil grips established.

The Pencil Grip

This grip, simply called “the pencil grip”, is an oldie, but a goodie for some children. It is designed to provide cushiony comfort, with proper finger placement indicators for left AND right-handed writers. The Pencil Grip helps learners gain improved pencil control, while reducing fatigue. This type of pencil grip supports an open web space and tripod grasp. The pencil grip comes in mini, standard, and jumbo sizes, making it available for a variety of children and adults. Recently, I have been unable to find the mini-sizes. 

The crossover grip

Honestly, this grip is essentially “The Pencil Grip”, with a wing on the front to help prevent the fingers and thumb from wrapping over the pencil shaft. This helps keep the web space open. The crossover grip will aid some children who do not have a strong thumb overwrap pattern yet. If their thumb overwrap is significant, this grip may not be the one for them, as it allows a wrap grasp with little resistance. It is cushiony and does not prevent the learner from wrapping their thumb over the material.

The Grotto Pencil grip

This type of grip is great for the children that have a thumb wrap grasp which closes up their web space. The Grotto Grip is not as cushiony as “The Pencil Grip”, but it is easier to use, as it has molded finger slots for the thumb and index fingers, and an indentation on the bottom for the grip to rest on the middle finger. It also has a wing on the front, and the material is stiffer in design, which can help aid in the prevention of any finger or thumb wrapping.

Left and right-handed writers can easily use the Grotto Grip, as the finger placement is exactly the same, making it less confusing for children to know where their fingers should be placed while using it. 

The Writing Claw pencil grip

This grip has three finger cups to support finger placement, and can be used by both left and right-handed writers with a simple change of finger placement within the cups. The finger placement indicators are on the bottom of each cup. The design leaves little room for error, and supports a variety of children, as it comes in three different sizes.

The Writing C.L.A.W. fits a wide variety of writing, drawing and coloring tools such as standard pencils, primary pencils, crayons, markers, and paint brushes!

Firesara Pencil Grip

This grip is similar to the Writing C.L.A.W. as it has two cups for the thumb and index fingers, but it has a ring for the placement of the middle finger. The Firesara Grip can easily be used by left and right-handed writers. Learners place their thumb and index fingers into the cups, and the middle finger goes into the ring finger of either hand.

Using this grip, helps the three fingers to be fixed tightly to the pencil shaft. The Firesara type of grip is made of soft, durable silicone.

Twist and Write pencil grips

The Twist n’ Write, also called the Rocket Pencil, is not a pencil grip, but a pencil that has a wishbone-shaped design. This helps fingers to be placed into a tripod grasp with little guidance. It has rubbery sides that double as erasers! The pencil twists at the bottom to push forward more lead. It needs a special tool to add more lead, which makes it a little less efficient for use. It is often easier to buy multiple pencils rather than trying to replace the lead. The pencil design is for not for tiny hands, but is effective for finger placement without the use of a pencil grip, making it more motivating to use.

The Twist n’ Write pencil can easily be used by left and right-handed writers. Some learners or teachers might not like the rocket pencil, because it looks so different from traditional pencils.

Handiwriter Pencil Grip

This is not really a type of grip, but rather a position support for the pencil. There are some children who hold the pencil vertically instead of at an angle, or have a thumb overwrap grasp with a closed web space. The Handiwriter positions the pencil at the correct angle within the hand. This pencil positioner helps to reposition the pencil within the web space, by pulling the pencil back into the web space, while promoting improved finger placement on the pencil shaft.

The “charm” on the commercially purchased Handiwriter is grasped by the ring and pinky fingers, and curled into the palm, providing increased hand stability. These can purchased as pictured, but can also be made with or without the charm support, by using two terry cloth hair bands using these directions, or by following the visual sequence for creating one using elastic bands. 

Stylus with pencil grip attached

You can put a grip on an existing tablet stylus, or buy get his great stylus that has a gripper on it! I tried this device with some of the kiddos I work with, and it worked well with the added index finger placement into the cup that is on the shaft of the stylus.

The Write Right Stylus will only work if the index finger is properly placed into the cup, and ensures proper positioning when using a tablet or screen for writing tasks. This placement helps to promote a tripod grasp. The symmetrical design allows it be used by left and right-handed writers. 

Stetro Pencil Grip
  • Stetro– This pencil grip is efficient when The Pencil Grip is too large and the individual benefits from a smaller “target” to pinch the pencil.
Traditional triangle pencil grip
  • Traditional Triangle– the Traditional triangle grip is a common pencil grip that is offered to the whole classroom from teachers, parent teacher groups, or in back-to-school kits. The triangular sides offer a flat placement for the fingers, but this grip may not work for all individuals. One therapy tip is to cut the triangle grip in half or in thirds and use the triangular ridges as bumps on the pencil to stop the fingers from moving too close to the pencil point. This way the ridges bring awareness for placement.

  • Weighted pencil grips- Pencils with weighted added on are typically an adaptation to support specific needs related to tone, proprioceptive sensory input, tremors. Read about pencil pressure and the benefit of adding a weighted pencil grip for more information.
Classic foam pencil grip

Adaptice Pencil Grips

The alternative pencil grasp pattern that is successful for many kiddos who simply cannot achieve an efficient grasp is use of an adaptive tripod grasp, or any grasp which enables a functional grip on the pencil.

For those struggling to manipulate, use, position, and write with a pencil grip during written output, sometimes an alternative grip is the answer.

There are several alternative grasps for pencil manipulation.

The Adaptive Tripod Grip is appropriate to use when low muscle tone or hyper mobility of the finger joints limits pinching and manipulating the pencil.

It is easy to achieve, and I often use it if I am writing a lot. My husband uses it all of the time, and has since grade school.

In the adaptive tripod grasp, the child places the pencil between the index and middle fingers rather than within the traditional web space. They grasp the pencil shaft with the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The placement of the pencil between the index and middle fingers provides ample support and stability allowing for good pencil control, and less hand and finger fatigue. 

This grasp pattern is similar to the “Rocket Pencil” described above. This can be used with different types of pencil grips if needed. 

When pencil grips are uncomfortable

One final note on the use of pencil grips, they WILL be uncomfortable to use at first. Learners are having to utilize the correct finger and hand muscles.

They are not used to using them in this way, therefore they will be uncomfortable and met with resistance. With this discomfort comes less motivation and desire to use.

Rest assured, the use of the right pencil grip, when coupled with the activities you are using to get to the root of the problem, will help.

Be patient, encouraging, and rewarding to your learners, as they work on these skills. A good grasping pattern will be essential later in school, as handwriting tasks become longer and more complex. You are supporting their present AND future success! 

Pencil Grip Kit

Here is an OT tip just for you! Create a pencil grip kit as pictured below. This will serve you coordinate an approach to determining the best pencil grip for any learner. You will have children that the typical grip will not work for, and you’ll need that one rarely used grip just for them! Have it on hand!

Below is a picture of my own pencil grip kit, which I have used with kiddos to help determine which one is the best grip for them. You can buy pencil grip kits on Amazon that come with several different types of grips.

Make a pencil grip kit for occupational therapy sessions.

Pencil Grip Activities

Be sure to check out our FREE Pencil Grasp Challenge . This is a 5-day email series that will provide you with loads of information about everything you need to know about the skills that make a functional pencil grasp. You will gain quick, daily activities that you can do with learners to help them right now.

Explore the other blog posts we have here at The OT Toolbox regarding pencil grasps by reviewing the convenient list of these just for you:

Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!