Cylindrical and Spherical Grasp Development

cylindrical grasp and spherical grasp development and activities

A cylindrical grasp and a spherical grasp are important parts of grasp pattern development, and are functional grasps needed for many daily tasks. In this blog post, we’re covering everything you need to know about cylindrical grasp development and spherical grasp development. You’ll also find spherical grasp activities and cylindrical grasp activities. Let’s get started with these fine motor skills that play a pivotal role in functional grasp!

cylindrical grasp and spherical grasp activities and development

Cylindrical Grasp and Spherical Grasp

In everyday activities, we use our hands in myriad ways. From holding a toothbrush, to turning a key in a door, to typing, tying shoes, jotting down a note, or pouring our morning coffee…all of these tasks involve grasping objects in a variety of dynamic patterns. Fine motor skills are necessary for every task that a child completes.

Today, we’re talking about cylindrical grasp and spherical grasp.

Both of these grips require and utilize underlying skills:

  • Wrist stability
  • Slight wrist extension
  • Intrinsic development of the arches of the hand
  • Finger flexion in a stable position
  • Possible rotation of the thumb (depending on the grasp and the object being manipulated)
  • Possible finger and thumb opposition

From play, self-care, to managing clothing fasteners, and coloring, motor skills like spherical positioning of the hands and cylindrical positioning development is needed for every aspect.

Grasp skill development is essential to pencil grasp and handwriting. Fine motor skills make up a huge part of learning and the school day (Read about the various fine motor skills needed at school.)

Fostering development ensures functional use on objects such as hair brush, toothbrush, holding a spoon and fork or other food utensils, managing food, toys, and many other objects, including those used in play.

For example, building and stacking with regular blocks is an exercise in fine motor development. Manipulating blocks uses these grasp movements. However, typical building blocks do not provide the unique grasp development of the cylindrical grasp of the hand. 

When I saw my kids using the Cork Sphere Stacking Tower to make some pretend ice cream cones, I was inspired to encourage fine motor skills like cylindrical and spherical grasp development.  If you are looking for creative ways to encourage development of grasp, then read on!

Spherical and cylindrical grasp development with KORXX cork building blocks


Help kids develp their Spherical and cylindrical grasp with KORXX cork building blocks


This post contains affiliate links.
cylindrical grasp

What is a cylindrical Grasp?

A cylindrical grasp is one in which the whole hand is in contact with an object, and curved with thumb opposition.  A common term for this grasp is gross grasp.  You can find more information on gross grasp development and strengthening with objects that we’ve done in the past.  

A cylindrical grasp requires use and strength of the extrinsic muscles and intrinsic muscles of the hand in order to flex the fingers around curved objects.  The thumb is positioned in flexion and abduction.  A cylindrical grasp is needed in order to hold a broom handle, baseball bat, and ice cream cone.

Cylindrical Grasp Development 

Typically, the cylindrical grasp develops early in childhood, beginning with the palmer grasp at around 12 months of age.  This grasp is precursor to fine motor development and is an early pre-writing grasp.  

This grasp pattern evolves into the cylindrical grasp with thumb abduction and fluctuations in finger abduction. 

Cylindrical Grasp Activities

Encouraging development of the cylindrical grasp is easy with fun activities:

  • Use a paper tube! Roll a piece of paper (or cardstock for a more sturdy tool) into a tube. Tape the edges and use it to hold a ball
  • The spheres in the Limbo var C KORXX cork building blocks set are perfect for helping kids develop fine motor skills.
  • Stack paper tubes in a fine motor STEM activity.
Spherical and cylindrical grasp development with KORXX cork building blocks


The KORXX cork building block set that we have has small cylinder shapes and we were able to encourage promotion of this grasp pattern by using them AND by creating paper tubes.  

This is a perfect extension of my kids’ imagination as we used them to make colorful ice cream cones with the KORXX spheres.  

Holding the paper tubes allows further development of the cylindrical grasp from a power grip to one of precision.  In order to hold the paper tube, one can not squeeze with all of their strength.  Otherwise, the paper will crush in their hands.  The same is true when holding a cake-type ice cream cone or a paper cup.  If precision of the cylindrical grasp is not developed, the cone or cup will crush in a child’s hands.  

NOTE: There is a difference between holding a cake type ice cream cone which is a tube shape and a sugar ice cream cone which would be conical in shape.  These are different grasp patterns.

We used the paper tubes to stack, build, and create lots of ice cream cones of various sizes.

To make the paper cones, simply use colored cardstock and tape.  Cut the cardstock into different sizes and then roll it into a tube.  We found that packing tape worked well to maintain the shape of the tube. 

Spherical grasp

What is a Spherical Grasp?

A spherical grasp is one in which the hand curves to hold a round or sphere-shaped object. This grasp is used to hold round items in the palm of the hand. Other examples include:

  • Holding a ball in the palm of the hand
  • Curving the hand to hold water in the palm
  • Holding an apple, orange, or other round fruit
  • Turning a doorknob

The intrinsic muscles of the hands play a big part in this grasp.  In order for the hand to curve, the metacarpal phalangeal joints need to abduct.  Involved in this action are the interossei muscles and the hypothenar eminence.  

The interossei include the palmer interossei and the dorsal interossei.  

Spherical and cylindrical grasp development with KORXX cork building blocks



These allow the fingers to abduct and adduct in order to grasp smaller and larger sphere shaped objects.

The hypothenar eminence includes three intrinsic muscles that allows the pinkie side of the hand to flex, rotate to oppose the thumb, and create the bulk of the pinkie side of the palm when curving around shapes like spheres. 

Spherical and cylindrical grasp development with KORXX cork building blocks


Spherical Grasp Development


Spherical grasp develops beginning at around 18 months.  Smaller objects require a smaller curved palm with opposition and larger objects such as an apple require increased adduction of the metacarpal phalangeal joints.


Spherical Grasp Activities

We used our KORXX cork building blocks to practice various grasp and release of the spheres.  This block set is unique in it’s varying sphere sizes.  Placing the spheres on the paper cones allowed for precision of this grasp pattern.

How fun is this building activity.  The spheres and cups of the Limbo var C KORXX cork building set inspires stacking to new heights with balance.  

  • Building and creating towers using balls of various size is such a powerful way to encourage precision, grasp, and control of small motor movements of the hands.

  • This balls in a muffin tin activity is a fun way to foster spherical grasp development. Ask the child to hold the ball in the palm of their hand.

KORXX cork building blocks

We love our KORXX cork building blocks.  They are right there in the bin of blocks and have quickly become a favorite go-to toy.  I love them for all of the open-ended play ideas that my kids have been creating with them.  

Using them to boost developmental skills through play is super easy, too.  (See how we used them to work on visual motor integration development recently.)

  • KORXX building blocks are made from natural cork harvested without harming the trees.
  • They are soft and silent, stable and safe, and light cork blocks.
  • KORXX’s blocks are a natural material free of any harmful contaminants. The cork material provides excellent stability without slippage. Unlike typical cork used for other products, it is also safe for even the smallest of children.
  • KORXX pressed Cork contains no harmful substances (phthalates, dioxins, formaldehyde) and has no other sensory emissions. The product adheres to the guidelines for children’s toys (under 3 years) and the harmonized standard DIN EN 71.
Cylindrical and spherical grasp development and KORXX blocks


More activities to foster fine motor development, including spherical and cylindrical grasps:

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

cylindrical grasp and spherical grasp handouts

Spherical Grasp and Cylindrical Grasp Handout

Would you like a printable version of this blog post to use in educating parents on the benefits of targeting the fine motor skills needed for a cylindrical grasp and spherical grasp? We have you covered! You can grab a printable handout that covers these areas by entering your email address into the form below.

This printable is also available inside the Member’s Club, along with thousands of other printable tools, including handouts and educational materials. Plus, you’ll love the printable activities and Therapy Kits designed to foster development of grasp skills and fine motor strength. (All of the Therapy Kits listed above are in the Member’s Club, for example!)

Enter your email address here for the printable handout:

FREE Spherical Grasp and Cylindrical
Grasp Handouts

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    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

    DIY Light Box for Tracing

    DIY light table for tracing

    This DIY light box for tracing is an easy light box we put together in minutes. All you need is an under the bed storage container and a string of lights to make a tracing tool that kids will love. There are benefits to tracing and this tool is a fun way to build fine motor skills and visual motor skills as a visual motor skill leading to better handwriting.

    DIY light box for tracing

    A light box is a fun activity, and one you see in preschool classrooms, as it’s intended for hands-on play and exploring the senses. But did you know there are many benefits to using a light box for tracing (and other exploring play)?

    How to Make a DIY Light Table for Tracing

    This DIY Light Box was something I’ve seen around Pinterest and have wanted to try for a while…Once we had our Christmas lights outside, I thought we would definitely be doing this project after we pulled all of the lights back in.  So, after we brought the Christmas lights in from the outside bushes, this was easy to put together for a cold evening’s play!

    You need just two items to make a DIY light table:

    (Amazon affiliate links)

    1. Strand of white Christmas lights
    2. Clear, plastic under-the-bed storage bin

    Important: The under the bed storage bin needs to be made of clear plastic or have just a slight opaque color to the plastic. Also, the top should be smooth. Many storage bins have textured surface or a white surface. The flat, smooth lid is important for sensory play as well as tracing with paper on the DIY light table. This brand is a good one to use.

    Instructions to make a DIY light box:

    1. Plug in the lights.
    2. Place them into the bin.
    3. Either cut a hole in the base of the bin for the lights to go through or cut a small notch into the lid so the strand of lights can go under the lid.

    To make this homemade light box safer and not use plug in lights, you can use battery operated button lights inside the storage bin. Or, there are many battery operated LED lights available now too. These are a great idea because many of them have a color-changing capability and can be operated from an app on your phone.

    IMPORTANT: This homemade light box project should always be done under the supervision of an adult. The lights can get warm inside the bin and they should be unplugged periodically.

    This is not a project that should be set up and forgotten about. The OT Toolbox is not responsible for any harm, injury, or situation caused by this activity. It is for educational purposes only. Always use caution and consider the environment and individualized situation, including with this activity. Your use of this idea is your acceptance of this disclaimer.

    I put all of the (already bundled-up) strands of Christmas lights …seriously, this does not get much easier…into an under-the-bed storage bin, connected the strands, and plugged in!


    DIY light box for tracing

    A DIY light box made with Christmas lights

    Once you put the top on, it is perfect for tracing pictures!
    Tracing on a DIY light box

    Tracing pictures on a light table

    This is so great for new (or seasoned) hand-writers.  They are working on pencil control, line awareness, hand-eye coordination…and end up with a super cool horse picture they can be proud of!
    Use printable coloring pages and encourage bilateral coordination to hold the paper down. You can modify the activity by taping the coloring page onto the plastic bin lid. 
    Tracing a picture on a DIY light table
     Big Sister LOOOOVED doing this!  And, I have to say, that she was doing the tracing thing for so long, that we had to turn the lights off because the bin was getting warm. 
    trace letters on a light table

    Other ways to use a DIY Light Table

    We went around the house looking for cool things to place on top of the bin.  Magnetic letters looked really neat with the light glowing through…Baby Girl had a lot of fun playing with this.
    You can add many different items onto the DIY light table:
    • Magnetic letters (the light shines through them slightly)
    • Sand for a tracing table- We cover how to use a sand writing tray in another blog post and all the benefits of tracing in a sensory medium. With the lights under the tracing area, this adds another multisensory component to the learning.
    • Shapes (Magnatiles would work well)
    • Feathers
    • Coins
    • Blocks
    • A marble run
    letters on a light table
    What a great learning tool…Shapes:
    Letter Identification, spelling words:

     Color and sensory discrimination:
    …All in a new and fun manner!  We had a lot of fun with this, but have since put our Christmas lights back up into the attic.  We will be sure to do this one again next year, once the lights come back out again 🙂

    Please: if you do make one of these light boxes, keep an adult eye on it, as the box did warm up…not to burning warmth, but I would worry about the lights becoming over heated.  This is NOT something that kids should play with unsupervised!

    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

    Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

    Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

    Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

    Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

    Pincer Grasp Activities

    pincer grasp

    The development of fine motor skills such as the pincer grasp is an important aspect of a baby’s growth and development. As a baby grows and gains more control over their movements, they begin to develop the ability to grasp objects with increasing precision. One of the most significant fine motor milestones in this journey is the emergence of the pincer grasp. This grasp enables babies to pick up small objects and use their fingers with greater dexterity, allowing them to explore their surroundings in new and exciting ways.

    However, the functional use of a pincer grip doesn’t stop in babies and toddlers. Pincer grip use supports independent and manipulation of items with precision and dexterity and is an important part of fine motor work. 

    In this blog, we will delve deeper into the pincer grasp, exploring what it is, how it develops, and why it is such an important milestone for a baby’s growth and development. 

    pincer grasp

    What is Pincer Grasp?

    The pincer grasp is a significant hand grasp that enables one to pick up and manipulate items with the tips of the fingers and is used to manipulate items such as small pieces of cereal or other little items. When we manipulate objects between the pad of the thumb to the pad of the pointer finger (index finger), we are using pincer grasp.

    Pincer grip is essential for babies who are beginning to explore self-feeding with finger foods and begins to develop with the raking motion of the hands used to grasp at items such as food or cereal pieces. The hand eye coordination progression builds from here.

    The raking grasp motion we see in young babies is actually a prerequisite to facilitate a pincer grasp development as the motion supports strengthening and coordination with all of the fingers, allowing for development of finger isolation in the index finger and thumb. 

     With the pincer grasp, the baby can pick up small items between the tips of their index and thumb fingers and bring them to their mouth. 

    Pincer grip can be broken down into types:

    • Inferior pincer grasp- Also known as crude pincer grasp, or pad-to-pad grasp, the inferior pincer grasp uses the pads of the index and thumb to grasp objects. 
    • Pincer grasp- Slight flexion of the DIP joint of the index finger and IP joint of the thumb results in a round thumb web space. This grasp component utilizes the tips of these fingers. 
    • Neat pincer grasp- Also known as superior pincer grasp, Neat pincer grasp pulls the tips of the fingers in closer to the thumb web space and requires more flexion of the thumb IP joint and index finger DIP joint as well as flexion of the thumb MP joint and index PIP joint. Neat pincer grip is a more refined and dexterous grip used for extremely precise fine motor tasks such as picking up very small objects like a pin, thread, or sequin.

    Development of Pincer Grasp

    Pincer grip is one of the first dexterity skills to develop. The grasp pattern is a precision motor skill that emerges when a baby is between 8 to 10 months old and is guided by self-feeding and exploring objects through the primary sensory system at this young age: the mouth. 

    Inferior pincer grasp begins at 6-9 months. Before a true pincer grasp is established, you’ll notice a lateral pincer grasp, or an inferior pincer grasp. This progression begins as a raking motion from the fingers to grasp at the food pieces, but this movement is typically not successful in picking up small foods like baby puff snacks. The next stage of pincer grasp development progresses as the baby uses the lateral side of the index finger and the thumb to pick up small food pieces using the thumb and the side of the pointer finger to grasp items (not a true pincer grasp).

    Pincer grasp develops around 9-12 months of age.  This is when you see the baby pick up baby puffs and small chunks of food pieces to pick up the items with the thumb and the pad of the index finger.

    Neat pincer grasp develops between 12-18 months and is a much finer skill. This is a common part of feeding developmental milestone achievement which allows babies to pick up and then feed themselves using that pincer grasp. This is when you will see babies pick up small crumbs from the carpet. Baby proofing takes on a whole new level once pincer grasp has developed!

    Pincer Grasp Activities

    We can use play-based pincer grasp activities to support this development based on the child’s age, development of these motor skills build independence, too. This pincer grasp activity supports precision needed to manipulate a pencil.

    Pincer grasp and neat pincer grasp are precision fine motor skills that develop when babies start to pick up cereal in self-feeding. The developmental skill is essential for development of fine motor skills and manipulation of toys and items in play and discovery.  

    Try these pincer grasp activities:

    1. Stacking blocks
    2. Practice buttoning with buttons. Here are button activities to try.
    3. Build puzzles
    4. Play with nuts and bolts
    5. Open drawers with knobs
    6. Pound golf tees into an egg carton or hammering golf tees into the ground
    7. Flip pages of a board book
    8. Spray water with a spray bottle to strengthen the arches of the palm
    9. Color with small crayon pieces. Read more about the benefits of coloring.
    10. Play with play dough- Roll play dough into small balls and place onto a target. Use our play dough mats for inspiration.
    11. Bend pipe cleaners into different shapes
    12. Play with stickers. Read this resource on 10 reasons why every kid needs to play with stickers.
    13. Poke holes in a cardboard box and thread pipe cleaners into the holes.
    14. Press a pushpin into a lid of a container or cardboard box
    15. Use tongs to manipulate objects and sort craft pom poms by color
    16. Use tweezers to pick up cotton balls
    17. Tissue paper art- crumble tissue paper and dip into glue, then paste to paper
    18. Offer small food items in a cupcake pan
    19. Glue beans onto lines on paper
    20. Tread beads onto pipe cleaners or string
    21. Play with marbles (this marble slime activity is fun!)
    22. Water play with an eye dropper and colored water.
    23. Clip clothespins onto paper. These clothes pin ideas will give you more fun ways to build a stronger pincer grasp.
    24. Play with Cheerios or small pieces of cereal
    25. Build with LEGO blocks
    26. Play with wind-up toys
    27. String pasta onto yarn or pipe cleaners
    28. Geoboard and pegboards

    What is Neat Pincer Grasp?

    Neat pincer grasp is used to pick up very small items such as perler beads, a thread from a surface, or a needle.  You might see the tip-to-tip grasp to pick up a sequin or fuzz from clothing.

    Think about the “ok” sign with the thumb and pointer finger touching and a nice round “O” in the thumb web space.  That tip-to-tip pinch is neat pincer grasp.

    If neat pincer grasp is not developed, kids can potentially present with less thumb IP joint flexion and difficulty opening the thumb web space when manipulating very small items.  This can lead to fumbling and decreased dexterity during fine motor tasks.

    This post contains affiliate links.

    Neat Pincer Grasp Activities

    Neat pincer grasp uses the tips of the thumb and pointer finger to stabilize objects.  When using a pincer grasp, children use the pads of the thumb and finger to stabilize the object.  

    These neat pincer grasp activities are creative ways that can help kids develop the small motor skill area.


    Neat pincer grasp activities for kids to develop dexterity and fine motor skills.


    Neat pincer grasp activities for kids to develop dexterity and fine motor skills.

    More fine motor skills you will love to explore:

     Pincer grasp fine motor activity

    Neat Pincer Grasp Fine Motor Activity Buttoning Tips and Tricks

    In the Fine Motor Kits here on our website, you’ll find many precision activities that support development of pincer grasp. Specifically, there are tearing activities, crumbling activities, pinch activities, and other hand strengthening activities using themed fine motor activities.

    Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

    Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

    Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

    Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

    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

    Sorting Colors Activities

    sorting colors

    Sorting colors is a big deal. Young learners in the toddler and preschool stage start out by sorting items such as blocks, plastic animals, coins, or colored items.  Later in child development, sorting colors morphs into sorting silverware, matching socks, organizing drawers, or filing papers to name a few life skills. 

    Sorting colors

    Sorting by color is an important skill for organizing items into categories to make sense of them, or for ease of locating them later. It is far easier to find a pair of socks in a drawer when they are matched together rather than in a large multi-colored pile. But what developmental skills are required for sorting colors? How can you support this essential skill?

    Sorting Colors

    First, let’s break down what we mean by sorting colors…

    Sorting by color can refer to anything from colored blocks to silverware does not involve being able to name the item. 

    Developmentally, a young learner does not need to know their colors in order to sort. They are arranging the items according to their properties. You could sort foreign coins into their respective piles without any idea what they are. By participating in sorting color activities, the young child obtains hands-on practice in several areas of development: 

    Hopefully as your learner continues to sort items, they may start recognizing the qualities of each item.  This can include shade, or color, shape, form, number, etc.

    Sorting Colors Development

    As with many skills, there is a hierarchy of learning to sorting tasks. Young children develop these skills through hands-on play and by playing with toys.

    Development of color sorting progresses through these stages:

    1. Grouping items that are exactly the same.  Examples; colored plastic bears, blocks that are all the same size, coins, pompoms
    2. Sorting items that are similar: different brands of socks in similar colors, silverware in varying sizes, towels, a bag of buttons
    3. Sorting items that are similar AND different: sorting items by the color red, that are all different items. Sorting socks that are all different sizes, shapes, weights, and colors. Sorting items by colors that vary (five different shades of red).
    4. Sorting items that have more than one category This stage of development progresses to categorizing objects that can be sorted such as a pile of paper to file. In this case there needs to be one similar quality selected first in order to sort, such as putting all the medical bills together, sorting by date, alphabetizing the papers. The last stage is where we may see challenges impacted by working memory. Those struggling with development of executive functioning skills can be limited in sorting objects in various categories, particularly when a background is busy such as a messy desk, cluttered locker, or home.

    Sorting by color is not the easiest way to sort. When there are multiple items that are similar such as 100 colored plastic balls, your learner may not recognize these as different items.  They see balls first, not colors. Try sorting very different items first.  Example: 5 identical buttons, 3 towels, 4 pencils, and 6 spoons.

    Color Sorting and Visual Perception

    Sorting involves recognizing an item’s properties, but also visual perception.  Through development of these skills, children move from thinking through the sorting of colors to visual efficiency which allows for automaticity in tasks.

    Below are some thought processes that integrate color sorting with visual perceptual skills:

    • Figure ground lets the “perceiver” see the items as part to a whole, 
    • Form constancy recognizes that two balls of different colors are still balls. or two shades of red are still red.  
    • Visual discrimination allows the learner to tell difference between items. 
    • Visual memory is the ability to remember what is seen as the eyes are scanning the items

    Color Sorting Teaches Mental Flexibility

    When teaching sorting, teach mental flexibility.  Sort many different items in many different ways. Sort by, color, size, similarity, quality (4 legged animals), texture, weight, or two qualities.  

    Sort the same items two different ways.  First sort the plastic fruit and veggies into color, then sort by type.  Later your learner can sort by larger categories such as fruits versus vegetables.

    Color Sorting and Functional Tasks

    Why do some people have difficulty organizing and cleaning up? 

    Sometimes a large task seems very overwhelming, therefore shut down and refusal tends to occur.  The most effective way to combat this is to teach sorting and categorizing. Go into your child’s messy room and look for the categories.  

    • Books all over the floor
    • Dirty clothes everywhere
    • Papers and trash scattered around
    • 9 dishes and plates
    • 29 stuffed animals
    • 84 hair clips
    • 64 crayons

    Now this task seems much more manageable.  I often had to solve this dilemma with my younger daughter.

    What other, more complicated ways could she organize this messy room?

    • Sorting the books into genre, size, type, or alphabetizing
    • Organizing the dirty clothes into whites and colors
    • Determining trash versus recyclables
    • Crayons may be part of the “school supplies” category
    • Hair accessories or toys might be a larger category

    How would you tackle this chore?  

    • Sort into the larger category first such as books, then sort into their subcategories?  
    • Sort into subcategories such as stuffed animals, games, action figures, puzzles, then group into toys?  

    There is no wrong answer depending on how your brain works. Actually the only wrong answer is not getting started or having a meltdown.

    When working on basic sorting colors, and feeling it is futile or pointless, think about the bigger picture.  A person who can put their laundry, silverware, and toys away will be more independent than one who can not.

    Color Sorting Activities

    So, are you wondering about a fun way to build development in this area? We’ve got plenty of ideas.

    The OT Toolbox has a great resource for teaching sorting using everyday items.

    Amazon has tons of toys and games for sorting!  Don’t limit yourself to store bought items though.  Your kitchen, bathroom, junk drawers, and desk are filled with items that can be grouped and sorted.  

    Color sorting activities can include ideas such as:

    • Sorting colored circles (cut out circles from construction paper)
    • Sort different objects by color and drop them into baskets or bowls
    • Use color sorting activities along with a scavenger hunt. This color scavenger hunt is one fun idea.
    • Cut out cardboard shapes and sort by color or shape. This cardboard tangram activity is an easy way to make shapes in different colors.
    • Sort colored markers or crayons
    • Laminate a piece of construction paper and use it as a play mat. Sort different colored craft pom poms or other objects onto the correct mat.
    • Print out color words and sort them along with small objects. The Colors Handwriting Kit has these color words and other printable activities for playing with color.
    • Make dyed pumpkin seeds and sort by color.

    This color sorting activity is a powerful fine motor activity and a super easy way to learn and play for toddlers and preschoolers.  We’ve done plenty of activities to work on fine motor skills in kids.  This straw activity is the type that is a huge hit in our house…it’s cheap, easy, and fun!  (a bonus for kids and mom!)  

    A handful of straws and a few recycled grated cheese container are all that are needed for tripod grasp, scissor skills, color naming, and sorting.  

    SO much learning is happening with color sorting!

    Fine Motor Color Sorting Activity with Straws

    This color sorting activity is a powerful fine motor activity and a super easy way to learn and play for toddlers and preschoolers.  We’ve done plenty of activities to work on fine motor skills in kids.  This straw activity is the type that is a huge hit in our house…it’s cheap, easy, and fun!  (a bonus for kids and mom!)  A handful of straws and a few recycled grated cheese container are all that are needed for tripod grasp, scissor skills, color naming, and sorting. 

    This color sorting activity is great for toddlers and preschools because it helps to develop many of the fine motor skills that they need for function.

    I had Baby Girl (age 2 and a half) do this activity and she LOVED it.  Now, many toddlers are exploring textures of small objects with their mouths.  If you have a little one who puts things in their mouth during play, this may not be the activity for you.  That’s ok.  If it doesn’t work right now, put it away and pull it out in a few months. 

    Color sorting activity with straws

    Always keep a close eye on your little ones during fine motor play and use your judgment with activities that work best for your child.  Many school teachers read our blog and definitely, if there are rules about choking hazards in your classroom, don’t do this one with the 2 or 3 year olds. 

    You can adjust this color sorting activity to use other materials besides straws, too. Try using whole straws, pipe cleaners, colored craft sticks, or other objects that are safe for larger groups of Toddlers.  

    There are so many fun ways to play and learn with our Occupational Therapy Activities for Toddlers post.

    Kids can work on scissor skills by cutting straws into small pieces.

      color sorting activity using straws

    We started out with a handful of colored straws.  These are a dollar store purchase and we only used a few of the hundred or so in the pack…starting out cheap…this activity is going well so far!  

    Cutting the straws is a neat way to explore the “open-shut” motion of the scissors to cut the straw pieces.  Baby Girl liked the effect of cutting straws.  Flying straw bits= hilarious!  

    If you’re not up for chasing bits and pieces of straws around the room or would rather not dodge flying straw pieces as they are cut, do this in a bin or bag.  Much easier on the eyes 😉  

    Kids love to work on fine motor skills through play!

     Once our straws were cut into little pieces and ready for playing, I pulled out a few recycled grated cheese containers.  (Recycled container= free…activity going well still!)   We started with just one container out on the table and Baby Girl dropped the straw pieces into the holes. 

    Here are more ways to use recycled materials in occupational therapy activities.

    Toddlers and preschoolers can work on their tripod grasp by using small pieces of straws and a recycled grated cheese container.

    Importance of Color sorting for toddlers and preschoolers

    Color sorting activities are a great way to help toddlers and preschoolers develop skills for reading, learning, and math.

    Sorting activities develop visual perceptual skills as children use visual discrimination to notice differences between objects.

    By repeating the task with multiple repetitions, kids develop skills in visual attention and visual memory. These visual processing skills are necessary for reading and math tasks.

    The ability to recall differences in objects builds working memory too, ask kids remember where specific colors go or the place where they should sort them.

    These sorting skills come into play in more advanced learning tasks as they classify objects, numbers, letters, etc.

    And, when children sort items by color, they are building What a great fine motor task this was for little hands!  Sorting straws into a container with small holes, like our activity, requires a tripod grasp to insert the straws into the small holes of the grated cheese container.   

    These grated cheese containers are awesome for fine motor play with small objects!

    Sorting items like cut up straws helps preschoolers and toddlers develop skills such as:

    • Fine motor skills (needed for pencil grasp, scissor use, turning pages, etc.)
    • Hand strength (needed for endurance in coloring, cutting, etc.)
    • Visual discrimination (needed to determine differences in letters, shapes, and numbers)
    • Visual attention
    • Visual discrimination
    • Visual perceptual skills
    • Left Right discrimination (needed for handwriting, fine motor tasks)
    • Counting
    • Patterning
    • Classification skills

    Preschoolers can get a lot of learning (colors, patterns, sorting, counting) from this activity too.  Have them count as they put the pieces in, do a pattern with the colored straws, sort from smallest to biggest pieces and put them in the container in order…the possibilities are endless!

    Cut straw into small pieces and provide three recycled containers to sort and work on fine motor skills with kids.

    Color Sorting Activity with Straws

    Once she got a little tired of the activity, I let it sit out on the table for a while with two  more containers added.  I started dropping in colored straw pieces into the containers and sorted them by color. 

    Use colored straws to sort and work on fine motor skills with recycled containers.

    Baby Girl picked right up on that and got into the activity again.  This lasted for a long time.  We kept this out all day and she even wanted to invite her cousin over to play with us.  So we did!  This was a hit with the toddlers and Little Guy when he came home from preschool.  Easy, cheap, and fun.  I’ll take it!

    Looking for more fun ways to work on color sorting?

    You’ll find more activities to build hand strength, coordination, and dexterity in this resource on Fine Motor Skills.

    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

    Colors Handwriting Kit

    Rainbow Handwriting Kit– This resource pack includes handwriting sheets, write the room cards, color worksheets, visual motor activities, and so much more. The handwriting kit includes:

    • Write the Room, Color Names: Lowercase Letters
    • Write the Room, Color Names: Uppercase Letters
    • Write the Room, Color Names: Cursive Writing
    • Copy/Draw/Color/Cut Color Worksheets
    • Colors Roll & Write Page
    • Color Names Letter Size Puzzle Pages
    • Flip and Fill A-Z Letter Pages
    • Colors Pre-Writing Lines Pencil Control Mazes
    • This handwriting kit now includes a bonus pack of pencil control worksheets, 1-10 fine motor clip cards, visual discrimination maze for directionality, handwriting sheets, and working memory/direction following sheet! Valued at $5, this bonus kit triples the goal areas you can work on in each therapy session or home program.

    Click here to get your copy of the Colors Handwriting Kit.

    Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp

    Pencil grasp toys

    Have you ever used pencil grasp toys to support development of handwriting? Helping kids with pencil grasp can be a challenge, so using motivating and fun activities to support the underlying skill areas is essential. Today, we’re going over the best occupational therapy toys that target pencil grasp development. Pencil grasp toys to challenge precision, dexterity, endurance, separation of the sides of the hand, and other skills needed for a functional pencil grasp. All of this can happen through play using toys to support stronger hands by focusing on grasp pattern development through play!

    The best pencil grasp toys to support the fine motor skills needed for a better pencil grip.

    Recently, we shared fine motor toy ideas and then gross motor toys. Both of these areas are closely related to a functional pencil grasp, so be sure to check out those toy suggestions, too.

    Pencil Grasp Toys

    We love coming up with fun play and craft activities designed to work on the development of an efficient grasp.  Being the season of gifting to others, we thought it would be fun to bring you our top recommended toys to work on tripod grasp, intrinsic muscle strength, rotation of the pencil while handwriting, and an open thumb web space

    Children who have difficulty with handwriting may completely HATE to work on letter formation and pencil grip.  Why not gift them with a fun toy this holiday that will work on the developmental skills necessary to improve their grip on the pencil?  Make the exercise fun as they PLAY their way to a better pencil grasp!

    Handwriting is more than just pencil grasp! Manipulating a pencil to write letters and numbers has a lot to do with visual perceptual skills. You’ll find easy and fun ways to work on visual perceptual skills through play here. 

    You will also love these Games to Improve Pencil Grasp

    Best Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp

    Toys that will help improve pencil grasp

    {Note: This post contains affiliate links.}

    Toys That Improve Pencil Grasp

    Coming up with this list, we thought about the skills needed for an appropriate pencil grasp and age-appropriate handwriting.  This toy gift guide is broken down into toys that will help with different sets of problem areas when it comes to a poor pencil grasp.

    Let’s take a closer look at toy suggestions for these areas:

    • Toys for Tripod Grasp
    • Toys for an Open Thumb Web Space
    • Toys for Hand Strength
    • Toys for Extended Wrist

    Toys for Tripod Grasp

    Tripod grasp: The most efficient way to hold the pencil when writing is with a dynamic tripod grasp.  So WHAT is a tripod grasp? 

    A Tripod grasp starts with a nice round circle made with the thumb and index finger.  The pencil is pinched with the tips of the thumb and index finger and held close to the point of the pencil.  The pencil is resting on and assisted by the middle finger.  The ring finger and pinky fingers are tucked into the palm.  All movement should happen with the fingers and thumb.  The wrist and arm should not move while writing, coloring, or drawing. 

    Often times, new pencil and crayon users will hold the writing utensil in a different way.  You might see four fingers opposing the thumb to hold the pencil.  You might see the pencil positioned in the knuckles between the index and middle fingers.  Maybe they hold the pencil away from the tip where the lead is and instead hold it in the middle of the pencil shaft.  There are SO many variations of awkward and inefficient pencil grasps.  If your little hand writer is showing some version that affects their letter formation and pencil control, try a few of these fun toys…

    A few toys that help to encourage a tripod grasp:

    Light Brite: Picking up and manipulating those little colored pegs encourage a tripod grasp.  Pushing them through the paper and into the holes is a great resistive exercise…disguised as FUN! 

    We have this Lite Brite Flatscreen – Red from Hasbro and love making pictures with the pegs!  When the child holds the pegs in his hand, it’s a great way to encourage the ring finger and pinkie finger in a tucked position.  Show your child how to pick up a handful of pegs and “squirrel them away” in their palm while they push one peg into the board.  What a great fine motor exercise!  Not to mention, the dots of the guide paper is a great visual motor activity…so important in handwriting!

    Lacing Cards:  Lacing cards are a great way to encourage a tripod grasp.  This set of Lacing Shapes from Patch Products come in simple shapes with bold colors. The child must hold the tip of the string in a dynamic tripod grasp to push through the holes of the card.  If your child has their thumb squashed up against their index finger while threading the cards, be sure to show them how to make a nice round circle for an easier time.

    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.

    Spike the Fine Motor Hedge Hog– This fine motor toy builds a stronger tripod grasp, and when positioned appropriately, can place the wrist into an extended position, too. This helps to further refine precision movements for accuracy and dexterity. These are great skills to carry over to pencil control and pencil movements during handwriting tasks.

    Learning Resources 3 Prong Tong– This tong tool promotes a better grasp on objects…but only if the hand is positioned correctly. If you allow kids to just pick up the 3 prong tongs and start using them, they likely will position the tong into their hand with a gross grasp, or by using all of the fingers along the length of the prong. This can actually strengthen the wrong muscles, and promote an ineffective motor plan that becomes muscle memory when writing with a pencil.

    When kids use these tongs, they should have their hand positioned almost under the tongs, as if it were a pencil. When used this way, the tongs can strengthen the intrinsics and promote a tripod grasp. These 3 prong tongs can work well when used correctly, but be sure to work along side a child with this one.

    Toys for Open Thumb Web Space

    Sometimes you will see a child who is holding their pencil with a closed web space.  This happens when the thumb web space is the area between the thumb and the index finger.  If the thumb is squashed up against the side of their index finger, they are not able to manipulate the pencil with small movements.  They might move their whole arm to make letters instead of just the hand.  A closed web space is an inefficient way to grasp the pencil and will lead to poor handwriting.  This type of positioning requires activities that strengthen and stabilize the thumb.

    A few toys that help encourage an open web space:

    Tweezer Games:  Tweezer activities promote an open web space and stabilization of the thumb.  This Avalanche Fruit Stand from Learning Resources is a colorful way to encourage an open web space.  The vertical surface is perfect for encouraging an extended wrist (see below).

    Bead Sets: Stringing beads is a good way to encourage an open web space.  The child must hold the bead and string between their thumb and index fingers.  Collapsing of the thumb web space will happen when the child demonstrates weakness in the muscles of the thumb.  Beading is a repetitive activity and promotes strength. 

    This Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Stringing Beads with over 200 beads from Melissa & Doug has over 200 beads in different colors and shapes, and even letters!  You could even form sentences for the child to copy and practice their improved pencil grasp!

    Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots:  Often times, a child will wrap their thumb around the index finger when they are writing with a pencil.. This indicates instability in the thumb and the muscles that allow for smooth pencil motions. 

    Pushing down on the buttons of the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em ROBOTS Game from Mattel really strengthens the muscles of the thumb and allows for more stability leading to an open web space and ultimately more fluid motions of the pencil in letter formation.  Plus, this game is just plain old FUN for kids of all ages!

    Toys for Hand Strength

    Hand Strength:  If a child has weakness in their hands, they may complain that their hand is tired when they write or color.  Then, to compensate for muscle fatigue, they resort to an inefficient hand grasp.  They may grip the pencil with four fingers or with their whole palm.  many times, a child will start off with a nice tripod grasp and then switch to a less efficient grasp…or even switch hands!  Do they complain that their hand is tired or that it hurts?  These kiddos need to work on hand strength.  To allow for increased endurance when writing and coloring, this child would benefit from strengthening exercises.

    A few toys that help encourage hand strength:

    Pop Beads:  Pushing pop beads together is a perfect way to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the hands including the arches of the hands. 

    Pop beads are such a fun toy that can be used to make patterns, different lengths, bracelets, necklaces, and even shapes. This Pop Beads from ConstructivePlaythings are unique in their shape, color, sizes, and textures. A twist on the classic bead, this set will excite girls and boys of all ages.  Be sure to shop for size-appropriate beads for your child’s hands.

    Play-Doh:  Play dough is the ultimate open-ended toy for hand strengthening.  There are unlimited ways to play all the while encouraging hand development. 

    We love this Play-Doh 24-Pack of Colors for lots of creative play!  Hide coins, beans, or beads in the dough and allow the child to find the items.  Roll small balls of dough using just the thumb, index, and middle fingers. 

    Roll a play dough snake with the dough and have the child pinch the dough between their thumb and index finger.  Just get creative and make some things with your play dough.  Most of all, have fun!

    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.

    Geoboard Activities– Using a geoboard supports hand strength to enable endurance in handwriting. Manipulating the rubber bands promotes finger isolation, open thumb web-space, and and extended wrist.

    Learning Resources Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Set Toy– This set of fine motor tools includes an eye-dropper, scissor scoops, and tongs. The sensory bin scoops and tools support hand strength through manipulating small objects or water.

    These tools are a great way to strengthen the exact muscles needed for a functional pencil grasp.

    Toys for Extended Wrist

    Extended Wrist:  An Extended wrist is a slightly bent back wrist.  When a child’s hand is bent forward toward the palm, they typically exhibit inefficient grasp on the pencil and weakness in the hand. A slight bend in the wrist towards the back of the hand (bent up toward the ceiling when writing) allows for better movement and flow of the fingers when forming letters.  Often times a child with a poor handwriting demonstrates a “hooked wrist” or a flat wrist and it leads back to inefficient control of the pencil and messy handwriting. 

    A few toys that help encourage an Extended Wrist:

    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.

    Montessori Boards– Precision and dexterity activities are needed for pencil grasp and when you add in dexterity tasks and manipulation of tongs, spoons, or tweezers to move and place objects, it’s a win-win.

    This precision Montessori board builds the skills needed for pencil grasp: a stabile wrist, in-hand manipulation, open thumb web space, and dexterity.

    Best toys and ideas to help kids improve their pencil grasp

    Looking for a few activities to improve handwriting skills? Check out our round-up of the best handwriting activities from our blog and these other toy suggestions:

    More Therapy Toy Ideas

    Want to find more therapy recommended toys to help kids develop specific skills? Check out the list of skill areas below.

    1. Fine Motor Toys 
    2. Gross Motor Toys 
    3. Pencil Grasp Toys
    4. Toys for Reluctant Writers
    5. Toys for Spatial Awareness
    6. Toys for Visual Tracking
    7. Toys for Sensory Play 
    8. Bilateral Coordination Toys 
    9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills
    10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception
    11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills
    12. Toys for Attention and Focus

    Printable List of Toys for Pencil Grasp

    Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support pencil grasp?

    As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

    Your therapy caseload will love these PENCIL GRASP toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

    Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!


      We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

      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

      Easy Ideas for Motoric Hand Separation

      Motoric hand separation

      There are many times throughout the day that hand separation in fine motor dexterity is used to stabilize and manipulate objects. But what do we mean by this phrase, “hand separation” and exactly What is Motoric Separation of the Two Sides of the Hand? We’ll get into that here, as well as cover specific separation of the sides of the hand to develop precision and refined fine motor skills.

      Motoric hand separation
      Hand separation, or motoric separation of the two sides of the hand, plays an important role in fine motor skills.

      Motoric Hand Separation

      Motoric hand separation is another term for separation of the two sides of the hand and is an important aspect of fine motor skills.

      The term “motoric” refers to the motor actions, or the motor skills of the hand. This includes movements, grasp, precision of the fingers, intrinsic muscle strength needed to grasp and manipulate items.

      When we refer to motor skills, we are talking about the physical movement of the hand to manipulate, grasp, and use objects by moving the hands.

      Motoric skills requires coordination and refined motions of the muscles, joints, skin, and ligaments in the hand. Motoric use occurs in the fingers, palm, and wrist using the following joints:

      • Wrist
      • MCP joints
      • PIP joints
      • DIP joints
      in hand manipulation with beads

      Definition of Hand Separation

      Hand separation refers to the fine motor skill in which the two sides of the hand are separated into a “power side” and and “precision side”.

      Refinement of fine motor skills like pencil grasp, manipulation of very small items, and managing zippers, shoe laces, and buttons with the precision half of the hand (the radial side) happens when the power half (the ulnar side) is stabilized.  

      You can imagine a line drawn from your wrist directly down the middle of your hand and between your ring finger and middle finger, separating the precision side of the hand (thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger) with the power side of your hand (pinkie finger and ring finger).  

      These two sides work together in skilled activities with precision and power grasp in functional activities. This motoric separation of the hands allows for in-hand manipulation skills.

      You’ve seen hand separation day in and day out:

      • A child is fumbling to manage the buttons on their sweater.
      • A little one is zipping up their coat and they have the zipper and coat clenched between their pinkie fingers and thumbs.
      • A Kindergarten student is learning to write letters on lines, but they’ve got the pencil in a clenched grasp, using their whole hand.

      All of these examples indicate a fine motor need to work on motoric separation of the two sides of the hand.

      The fingertips are used in so many small motor activities throughout the day, in functional tasks like self-care, dressing, eating, and everyday tasks. Part of these activities involves holding objects in the palm of the hand, manipulating the small objects, and using those materials in daily tasks. Most of this is done without even thinking about the process. 

      An alternative to a flexed position of the ring and pinkie fingers are when theses two digits are fully extended out and stretched out away from the hand (abducted).  This positioning stabilizes the MCP arch and allows for control of the pointer and middle fingers.

      Separation of the two sides of the hand allow for more precise use of the thumb.

      Try this fun activity to work on separating the sides of the hand, using sponges you might have in your kitchen right now.

      Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

      Motoric Separation of the hands

      Assessing for Hand Separation in an OT Evaluation

      As always, when completing an occupational therapy evaluation, the primary focus is on function, or the occupation that the individual needs to or wants to accomplish.

      What is functionally happening? This is the main place to look when completing an OT eval.

      When it comes to the fine motor aspect of functional performance, hand separation can impact precision, dexterity, refined motor skills, coordination. This can lead to safety issues in daily tasks. It can impact learning or performance of self-care. It can mean the individual can not accomplish a great number of functional tasks.

      Hand separation is needed for dexterity. A functional fine motor grasp and manipulation of objects is more accurate when the ring and pinkie fingers are flexed (bent) into the palm.

      Another intricate part of this fine motor puzzle is the stability offered through the upper body, including the core, shoulder girdle, elbow, and wrist. These areas can impact function, and as always, you should consider proximal stability before distal mobility.

      Important things to consider in an occupational therapy evaluation include:

      Motoric separation of the two sides of the hand is needed for precision in fine motor tasks, including activities that require in-hand manipulation. Simple ideas to help work on this important fine motor skill.

      How does motoric separation of the hands develop?

      Development of hand separation begins at a young age. We cover this progression in our resource on fine motor milestones.

      Hand separation starts when a baby bears weight through their arm and ulnar side of the hand while carrying a toy in the radial side.  

      This simple activity developmentally lengthens the muscles of the ulnar side.

      It’s through play that the separation of the hand develops. As toddlers become more refined at fine motor activities, they gain more dexterity in using just the precision side of the hand.

      You’ll see this progression also with the development of pencil grasp.

      Whole Hand Grasp- (Typically seen between 12 months-1.5 years) the child holds objects with their whole hand. I​t looks like they are holding a paint stirrer or potato masher.

      Digital Pronate Grasp/ Pronated Wrist Grasp- (2-3 years) The child holds objects with a gross grasp and the wrist facing the ground, or in a pronated position.

      Four Fingered Grasp- (3.5-4 years)- Items are held in the fingertips but using the thumb and all four fingers. There is not yet a clear separation of the sides of the hand.

      Static Separation of the Sides of the Hand- (3.5-4 years)- The child will hold objects with the precision side of the hand, but there is not joint mobility in the precision side: The joints of the thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger do not move in isolation or as a group to manipulate objects. If there is mobility in the joints, it is crude with objects falling at times and manipulation skills needing more refinement. For example, a child at this age can place a coin into the slot of a vending machine, but they will drop the coin.

      Dynamic separation of the Sides of the Hand- (4-6/7 years) With age, the child develops more refined motions in the precision side of the hand, and they are able to move the joints in isolation as they manipulate objects within the hand.

      Lateral Separation of the Sides of the Hand- As the child gains more experience with precision skills, they are able to use more motor combinations in fine motor tasks. This looks like holding a key with the side of the pointer finger against the pad of the thumb as they insert a key into a door. Still more refined is holding a keychain of keys in the hand and moving the keys around to find the correct key and then position it between the thumb and lateral finger to unlock a door.

      separation of the hand activity

      Activities to Improve Motoric Separation of the Two Sides of the Hand

      • Flip coins
      • Roll play dough into small balls
      • Squeeze a spray bottle with the pointer and middle fingers
      • Pick up small items and “squirrel them away” into the hands: mini marshmallows, cereal, small beads, coins, waterbeads. (This is also called translation toward the palm.)
      • Release the items (This is also called translation away from the palm.) Place coins into a piggy bank or beads into a cup.
      • Hold a cotton ball in the palm with the ring and middle fingers while coloring, writing, or cutting with scissors.

      Other activities to work on motoric separation of the hand include:

      One way to develop hand strength and the refined motor skills needed for motoric separation of the sides of the hand is this beads sorting activity.

      You’ll need just a couple of materials to set up this fine motor therapy exercise:

      • Beads
      • Two bowls or containers

      This is one of the most simple therapy exercises and it has a powerful impact on developing motoric separation of the sides of the hand.

      1. To set up this therapy exercise, place all of the beads into one of the containers. We used star beads but any beads or small items can work for this activity. You can find the star beads here.
      2. Next, I placed the beads into a shallow basket and asked my kids to grab only one color that they liked best.  
      3. They then tried to hold as many of that one color in their hand while picking up more beads.  
      4. When they couldn’t possibly hold anymore beads in their cute little hands, I showed them how to drop them into a small cup one at a time, while counting how many beads they had.

      This type of activity is a version of in-hand manipulation called translation.


      Motoric separation of the two sides of the hand is needed for precision in fine motor tasks, including activities that require in-hand manipulation. Simple ideas to help work on this important fine motor skill.


      Motoric separation of the two sides of the hand is needed for precision in fine motor tasks, including activities that require in-hand manipulation. Simple ideas to help work on this important fine motor skill.
      More fine motor activities that you will LOVE:

      Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

      Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

      Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

      Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

      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

      What is Motor Planning

      motor planning

      You may have heard the term motor planning but wondered what this means and what does it look like to utilize motor planning skills in everyday activities. Here, we are breaking down this important motor skills topic. Occupational therapists are skilled at analyzing movements and underlying skills needed to perform the things we do each day, or the tasks that occupy our time, and establishing an efficient and coordinated motor plan is one of the main aspects of this assessment. 

      Motor planning

      Motor Planning

      When we perform an action, there are movements of our bones, joints, and muscles that enable our bodies to move. It’s through this movement that 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!

      Let’s look at a child’s motor skills in a specific action to really explore this concept. 

      Ok, so you’re walking along a hallway with an armful of bags and see a ball in your path. You walk around it and continue walking. But, hold on. That was a pretty cool ball. It was all red and shiny. It looked like a really fun ball to bounce. You stop, turn around, walk back to the ball, stoop down, put down your bags, and pick it up. Woah. It’s not only red and shiny, but it’s a little heavy too. 

      It takes a bit more muscle oomph than you were expecting. You hold your arm up high, with the ball up over your head. Totally not a baseball player’s pose, but all awkward and kid-like. You know. Pure fun throwing. 

      You toss that red, shiny, heavy ball as hard as you can towards a big old blank wall on one of the hallway walls. Now watch out! That red, shiny, heavy ball is bouncing around like crazy! 

      It’s bouncing off of the wall and right back at you! You jump to the side and then to the left and right as it bounces back and forth between the walls of that hallway. You have to skip to the side to avoid your bags. 

      The ball stops bouncing and rolls to the side of the hall. 

      Well, that was fun. You pick up the ball and hold it while you gather your bags. Now, you see a boy coming down the hall who sees that red, shiny, heavy ball in your hand and says, “Hey! There’s my ball!” You smile and toss the ball as he reaches out his hand and catches. “Thanks!!” he says as you wave and start walking down the hall again.

      What is Motor Planning? Tips and Tools in this post with a fun fine motor motor planning (dyspraxia) activity for kids and adults from an Occupational Therapist

      What is Motor Planning?

      Motor Planning happens with everything we do! From walking around objects in our path, to picking up items, to aiming and throwing, drawing, writing, getting dressed, and even dodging red bouncy balls…

      Motor Planning is defined as the problem solving and moving over, under, and around requires fine motor and gross motor skills and planning to plan out, organize, and carry out an action. We must organize incoming information, including sensory input, and integrate that information into our plan. We need to determine if a ball is heavy or light to pick up and hold it without dropping it.

      You might hear of motor planning referred to as praxis. 

      Praxis (generally also known as Motor Planning, but also it’s more than simply motor planning…) requires observing and understanding the task (ideation), planning out an action in response to the task (organization), and the act of carrying out the task (execution). A difficulty with any of these areas will lead to dyspraxia in many skill areas. 

      Praxis includes motor planning, but also involved is ideation, execution, and feedback, with adjustment to that feedback. You can see the similarities in motor planning, which refers to the conscious and subconscious (ingrained) motor actions or plans.

      Motor Planning is needed for everyday tasks. Think about the everyday activities that you complete day in and day out. Each of these actions requires a movement, or a series of movements to complete. There are both gross motor movements, fine motor movements, and posture all working together in a coordinated manner.

      There is a motor plan for actions such as:

      • using a toothbrush to brush one’s teeth
      • brushing hair
      • getting dressed
      • putting on a backpack
      • walking down a hallway
      • walking up steps
      • walking down steps
      • holding a pencil
      • writing with a pencil (motor planning and handwriting is discussed here.)
      • riding a bike
      • maintaining posture
      • putting on a coat or jacket (on top of other clothing such as a shirt so that in this case, there isn’t the tactile feedback available of the fabric directly on the skin’s surface)
      • performing sports actions such as swinging a baseball bat or tennis racket, running, or gymnastics like doing a cartwheel

      The interesting thing is that a movement plan, or the physical action that is completed whether the action has been performed in the past or if it is a new movement. A motor plan for a new task can be completed without thinking through how to move the body because it is just inherently completed.

      When we complete unfamiliar tasks and need to stop and think through how the body needs to move, is when we see inefficient movement, or motor planning issues.

      Motor Planning Difficulties

      Above, we talked about praxis as another term or way to name the motor plan concept. When there are difficulties with motor planning, we are referring to the opposite of praxis, or dyspraxia. 

       Dyspraxia can be a result of poor sensory integration, visual difficulties, fine motor and gross motor coordination and ability, neural processing, and many other areas.

      Motor planning difficulties can look like several things:

      • Difficult ability to complete physical tasks
      • Small steps
      • Slow speed
      • Pausing to think through actions
      • Clumsiness
      • Poor coordination
      • Weakness

      These challenges with motor function can exist with either new motor tasks or familiar actions. Deficits are apparent when speed is reduced so that the functional task isn’t efficient, when the motor task is unsafe, or poor completion of the task at hand.

      There are diagnoses that have poor motor planning as a component of the diagnosis. Some of these disorders can include:

      When motor planning difficulties exist, this can be a cause for other considerations related to movements, and demonstration of difficulties when participating in movement-based activities:

      • challenges in social interactions
      • anxiety
      • behaviors
      • social skills issues

      Today, I’ve got a quick and easy fine motor activity to work on motor planning with kids. This activity is part of our 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where we’re sharing fun and frugal ideas for treatment of many OT skill areas with items you might already have in your house.

      motor planning activity

      Motor Planning Activity

      Affiliate links are included in this post. 

      Motor planning activity

      To make this motor planning activity, you’ll need just a few items: 

      • a clear plastic baggie
      • white crafting pom poms
      • one red pom pom. These are items we had in our crafting supplies, but you could modify this activity to use items you have. Other ideas might be beads, pin pong balls, ice cubes, or any small item.
      1. Fill the baggie with the pom poms and squeeze out the air. 
      2. Seal the baggie.
      3. Use a permanent marker to draw on a maze from one side of the baggie to the other. You can make this as complex as you like. 
      4. Add additional mazes, or two different pom pom colors for the maze. Work the red pom pom from one end of the maze to the other.
      Apraxia activity

      Squeezing the pom pom is a fine motor work out for the hands. You’ll need to open up the thumb web space (the part of your hand between the thumb and fingers, and use those intrinsic small muscles of the hand. Both of these areas are important for fine motor tasks like coloring and writing.

      Use this motor planning exercise as a warm-up activity before writing, coloring, and scissor activities. This is a great activity to have on hand in your therapy treatment bag or to pull out while waiting at the doctor’s office.

      Motor planning toys and games

      Motor Planning Activities

      Looking for more ways to work on dyspraxia with your kids? These are some fun fine and gross motor activities that are fun and creative. 

      The best thing about all of them is that they are open-ended. Use them in obstacle courses or in movement tasks to incorporate many skill areas. These are some fun ideas to save for gift ideas. Now which to get first…

      Work on fine motor dexterity and bilateral coordination while encouraging motor planning as the child matches colors of the nuts and bolts in this Jumbo Nuts and Bolts Set with Backpack set. The large size is perfect for preschoolers or children with a weak hand grasp.

      Practice motor planning and eye-hand coordination. This Button Mosaic Transperent Pegboard is a powerhouse of motor planning play. Kids can copy and match big and bright cards to the pegs in this large pegboard. I love that the toy is propped up on an incline plane, allowing for an extended wrist and a tripod grasp. Matching the colors and placing the pegs into the appropriate holes of the pegboard allow for motor planning practice.

      Develop refined precision of fine motor skills with eye-hand coordination. A big and bright puzzle like this Puzzle-shaped Block Set  allows kids to work on hand-eye coordination and motor planning as they scan for pieces, match the appropriate parts of the puzzle pieces, and attempt to work the pieces into place. Building a puzzle such as this one can be a workout for kids with hand and upper extremity weakness.

      Strengthen small motor skills. Kids of all ages can work on motor planning and fine motor skills with this Grimm’s Rainbow Bowls Shape & Color Sorting Activity. Use the colored fish to place into the matching cups, as children work on eye-hand coordination. Using the tongs requires a greater level of motor planning.

      You can modify this activity by placing the cups around a room for a gross motor visual scanning and motor planning activity. Children can then follow multi-level instructions as they climb over, around, under, and through obstacles to return the fish to their matching bowls.

      Encourage more gross motor planning with hopping, jumping, and skipping, or other gross motor tasks. This Crocodile Hop A Floor Mat Game does just that. It is a great way to encourage whole body motor planning and multiple-step direction following.

      Address balance and coordination. These Gonge Riverstones Gross Motor Course challenge balance skills as children step from stone to stone. These would make a great part of many imagination play activities as children plan out motor sequences to step, cross, hop, and jump…without even realizing they are working on motor planning tasks.

      Introduce multiple-step direction following and motor planning. These colored footprints like these Gonge Feet Markers support direction following skills. Plan out a combination of fine and gross motor obstacle courses for kids to work on motor planning skills.

      Make hand-eye coordination fun with challenges. For more fine motor coordination and motor planning, kids will love this Chickyboom Balance Game as they practice fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and about balance and mathematics.

      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

      How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds for Sensory Play

      How to Dye Pumpkin seeds

      If you’ve ever carved a pumpkin and wondered how to dye pumpkin seeds, then you are in luck. The occupational therapists know the sensory benefits of lifting and carving a pumpkin, as well as separating pumpkin seeds from the ooey, gooey pumpkin guts. Here, we’re sharing one Fall Bucket List item must-have…dying pumpkin seeds for sensory play, pumpkin seed crafts, and pumpkin seed fine motor tasks! Read on for an easy dyeing method for pumpkin seeds that can be included in occupational therapy Halloween sessions or sent home as a home program for this time of year.

      How to dye pumpkin seeds

      Add dyed pumpkin seeds to your list of pumpkin activities!

      How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds

      This post on how to dye pumpkin seeds was one we originally created back in 2014. The thing is that colored pumpkin seeds is still just as much fun for fine motor and sensory play as it was years ago!

      Dying pumpkin seeds isn’t hard. In fact, the kids will love to get in on the mixing action. They will love to use those dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory bins, for fine motor pumpkin seeds activities, or even Fall crafts like this pumpkin seed craft.

      Once you dye the pumpkin seeds, use them for tons of fine motor activities, sensory play activities, and visual motor ideas, like sorting pumpkin seeds. These are fun Fall activities that will stick with kids as a memory!

      I love that this recipe is simple because it is a great way to support development of specific skills when kids are involved in making the dyed pumpkin seeds. By getting kids involved in the process, you can work on several areas:

      • executive functioning skills: planning, prioritization, working memory
      • problem solving
      • direction following
      • bilateral coordination
      • safety awareness
      • spatial awareness
      • kitchen tool use
      • fine motor skills
      • functional fine motor skills: opening containers, opening a plastic bag, scooping with a spoon, closing a plastic bag
      • eye-hand coordination skills
      • proprioception skills and body awareness with shaking a bag to coat the seeds completely

      We cover how using recipes to develop skills is such a powerful therapy tool in our resources on our blog on life skills cooking activities. It’s simple recipes like this one and others in our cooking with kids resources that pack a powerful punch in developing skill areas.

      Be sure to check out this resource on fine motor kitchen activities to better grasp all of the fine motor skills developed through cooking tasks like this pumpkin seed dying task.

      We also talked about about these skill areas in our resource on how to dye sand for sensory play.

      Colorful Pumpkin Seeds

      This post contains affiliate links.

      We wanted to make a batch of colorful pumpkin seeds with vivid colors, so I wasn’t sure how to dye the seeds to make the colors really pop. We decided to test which method would work to really get the best colors on our pumpkin seeds.

      We tested using To make our seeds this year, we used (Amazon affiliate links) liquid food coloring dye and gel food coloring.  In our tests, each type of food coloring worked really well.  

      One thing to note is that if you use food coloring, technically, the pumpkin seeds are still edible. This is important if you have a child playing with the seeds that might put them into their mouth.

      The problem with roasting the seeds after coloring them is that the colors don’t “stick” as well to the seed, making less vivid colors.  If you are going to roast the seeds so that they are edible for these situation, I would suggest first roasting your seeds and THEN dying them for the brightest colors.

      That being said, you don’t NEED to roast the seeds in order to use them for sensory play. As long as the pumpkin seeds are dry, they will absorb the food coloring.

      Use these instructions on how to dye pumpkin seeds to make colored pumpkin seeds for fine motor and sensory play with kids.

      Materials to Dye Pumpkin Seeds:

      To dye pumpkin seeds, you need just a couple of items:

      • raw, clean pumpkin seeds from a fresh pumpkin
      • a plastic bag (sandwich bag or a gallon-sized plastic bag)
      • food coloring
      • paper towels

      That’s all of the items you need to dye pumpkin seeds! This is really a simple recipe, and one that is easy to make with kids.

      Dying PUmpkin Seeds

      To dye the pumpkin seeds, it is very simple:

      1. Put dry pumpkin seeds into a plastic bag.
      2. Add the food coloring.
      3. Seal the bag shut and shake the bag to coat all of the seeds with the food coloring.
      4. Pour the seeds out onto a surface covered with paper towels (A kitchen counter works well).
      5. Let the seeds dry.

      Whether you use liquid food coloring dye or gel food coloring, add the seeds to plastic baggies and add the food coloring.  Seal up the baggies, mix the seeds around, (or hand them over to the kids and let them go crazy), and get the seeds coated in coloring.  

      For kids that might eat the seeds during play: As we mentioned above, f there are any risks of the child eating a seed during sensory play or crafting, you can first roast the seeds.

      1. Roast the seeds before dying them. Spread the seeds out on aluminum foil spread on a cookie sheet.  
      2. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.  Be sure to check on the seeds often to make sure they are not burning.  
      3. Then dye the seeds using food coloring as described above. If you roast them first, the colors will cover any brown spots.
      Wondering how to dye pumpkin seeds and use in sensory play?

      Pumpkin Seed Activities

      Once you dye the pumpkin seeds, you can use them in pumpkin seed crafts and pumpkin seed activities that foster fine motor development.

      Pumpkin Seed Sensory Ideas:

      Pumpkin seeds are a great addition to sensory play experiences. Allowing kids to scoop the seeds directly from the pumpkin is such a tactile sensory experience!

      But for some kids, that pumpkin goop is just too much tactile input. Using dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play is a “just right” challenge in exposure to carving pumpkins. It’s a first step in the tactile experience.

      Some of our favorite ways to use dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play:

      • Use them in a sensory bin
      • Use colorful pumpkin seeds in a writing tray
      • Add dyed pumpkin seeds to a discovery bottle
      • Use rainbow pumpkin seeds on a Fall exploration table

      Use the directions listed above to create a set of colored pumpkin seeds. Use the colorful pumpkin seeds in a big pumpkin sensory bin to create a tactile sensory experience. Kids can draw letters in the seeds to work on letter formation. Add this idea to your toolbox of sensory writing tray ideas.

      Add a few Fall themed items such as small pumpkins, acorns, pinecones, scoops, and small bowls to the sensory bin activity. Dyed pumpkin seeds are a great sensory bin medium this time of year when making an easy sensory bin.

      Dyed pumpkin seeds in a sensory bin

      This sensory play activity was very fun.  We couldn’t keep our hands out of the tray as we played and created.

      Use dyed pumpkin seeds for sensory play with kids.
      Use this recipe for how to dye pumpkin seeds with kids.
      Colored pumpkin seeds are great for kids to use in sensory play.

      Pumpkin Seed Crafts

      Pumpkin seeds are a great fine motor tool to use in crafting.

      Try these craft ideas using dyed pumpkin seeds:

      Fine motor activity with dyed pumpkin seeds

      We used our dyed seeds in art projects first.  Manipulating those seeds is a great way to work on fine motor skills.  Little Sister was SO excited to make art!

      Add additional fine motor work by using a squeezable glue bottle to create a pumpkin seeds craft and pumpkin seed art. Squeezing that glue bottle adds a gross hand grasp and fine motor warm-up before performing fine motor tasks.

      How to dye pumpkin seeds to use in a Fall mandala craft.

      Use dyed pumpkin seeds to make a colorful mandala craft with fine motor benefits. Picking up the pumpkin seeds uses fine motor skills such as in-hand manipulation, separation of the sides of the hand, pincer grasp, open thumb web space, and distal mobility.

      Placing the colored pumpkin seeds into a symmetrical pattern of colors promotes eye-hand coordination and visual perceptual skills such as visual discrimination, figure ground, and other skills.

      Dying pumpkin seeds is a fun Fall activity for kids.

      Little Guy made a gingerbread man.  Because why not??! 😉

      Squeezing the glue bottle into a shape and placing the colored pumpkin seeds along the line is another exercise in visual perception and eye-hand coordination.

      Colored pumpkin seeds can be used in Fall sensory play and fine motor crafts.

      Little Sister made a rainbow with her seeds.

      Use colored pumpkin seeds to make a fine motor craft with kids.

      How to dye pumpkin seeds for sensory play for kids.

      Colored pumpkin seeds are fun for Fall crafts.

      Be sure to use your dyed pumpkin seeds for a few fun ideas like these:

      Pumpkin activity kit
      Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit

      Grab the Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit for more coloring, cutting, and eye-hand coordination activities with a Pumpkin theme! It includes:

      • 7 digital products that can be used any time of year- has a “pumpkins” theme
      • 5 pumpkin scissor skills cutting strips
      • Pumpkin scissor skills shapes- use in sensory bins, math, sorting, pattern activities
      • 2 pumpkin visual perception mazes with writing activity
      • Pumpkin “I Spy” sheet – color in the outline shapes to build pencil control and fine motor strength
      • Pumpkin Lacing cards – print, color, and hole punch to build bilateral coordination skills
      • 2 Pumpkin theme handwriting pages – single and double rule bold lined paper for handwriting practice

      Work on underlying fine motor and visual motor integration skills so you can help students excel in handwriting, learning, and motor skill development.

      You can grab this Pumpkin Fine Motor kit for just $6!

      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