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!

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!

therapy toy

ANNUAL THERAPY TOYS AND TOOLS GIVEAWAY

This year’s Therapy Toys and Tools Giveaway is BACK!

This year, it’s better than ever! We’re giving away a therapy tool each day for 12 days. You can enter each giveaway for a chance to win a themed therapy toy! Today’s toy is a pencil grasp tool.

🏆 12 days of giveaways

🏆 72 prizes

🏆Automatic entry for Member’s Club members!

🏆Toys specifically selected to help kids thrive!

Want to enter?

  1. Go to the form below.
  2. Enter your email address in the form.
  3. That’s it!

Today’s giveaway is a fine motor/visual motor, and pencil grasp goldmine: the therapist-favorite, a Montessori Board with color matching cards, colorful manipulatives, and fine motor tongs!

Check out this toy here: (Amazon affiliate link) Pencil grasp toy

Plus, 5 winners will get fine motor tools from The OT Toolbox Shop. Each day will be a different skill area, and you can enter those giveaways, too.

This is going to be fun!

Fine print: There are 6 winners each day. Giveaway ends 12-6 and winners will be selected and notified 12-7-22. Be sure to enter a correct email address into the form: that’s how I’ll contact winners!

PENCIL GRASP TOY GIVEAWAY

and get a handout: Therapist-Recommended

PENCIL GRASP TOYS HANDOUT

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    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    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:
     
     

    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 is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    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 is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    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 is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    What you Need to Know About a Thumb Wrap Grasp?

    thumb wrap grasp

    If you’ve worked with kids on handwriting skills, then you’ve probably seen a thumb wrap grasp at one time or another. Also known as a crossover grasp, a cross thumb grasp, a thumb wrap grasp, (or other descriptive names), a thumb wrap grasp is just that: a holding the pencil with the thumb wrapped around the pencil shaft. Here we are talking about what this type of pencil grasp looks like and what to do about it. Let’s discuss!

    Thumb wrap grasp information

    Thumb Wrap Grasp

    Kids can use some pretty interesting grasps on pencils.  You can see the thumb squashed up against the pencil, the pointer finger wrapped around the pencil, or the thumb wrapped around the fingers.

    Very often, the pencil grasp that a child is using is not one of stability and rather, is a demonstration of instability as weakness in the muscles of the hand is compensating during handwriting. This thumb wrap pencil grasp exercise is an easy one to put together and one that will help kids gain strength in the muscles that make up a functional grasp.  Read on to find out how to work the muscles of the hand to improve the “dreaded” thumb wrap grasp!

    I’ve had a few questions from readers about the thumb wrap grasp.  It seems like this pencil grasp is becoming more prominent in classrooms.

    So, what does a thumb wrap grasp look like?

    The thumb wrap grasp is what you see when you the end of the thumb is wrapped around the pointer finger.  The pencil is supported with the tip of the pointer finger, and supported by the middle finger. The end of the thumb wraps around the pencil to support and stabilize the pencil. With a thumb wrap grasp, typically mobility of the pencil strokes are limited by the thumbs positioning on the pencil.

    However, a thumb wrap grasp can be functional as well. While it’s not a completely horrible pencil grasp, it isn’t a great grasp for speed and efficiency in writing.

    Several anatomical components are involved with a thumb wrap grasp:

    • Opponens Pollicis
    • Flexor Pollicis Longus
    • Interphalnageal Joint (IP Joint) of the thumb
    • Intrinsic muscles

    An open thumb web space is a skill that can help to fix the thumb wrap grasp. Try these fine motor activities to promote an open thumb web space.

    A thumb wrap or thumb tuck grasp can be a part of developmental progress of pencil grasps, but might be one to address during this progression. Read more about pencil grasp development for more information.

    A thumb wrap grasp can also be called different names:

    • Thumb wrap grasp
    • Thumb tuck grasp (pencil is tucked under the pencil, but similar anatomical positioning exists and strengthening can be used to address a thumb tuck)
    • Crossover grasp
    • Cross thumb grasp

    A thumb wrap can also exist in combination with other grasp patterns:

    • Tripod grasp with thumb wrap
    • Lateral thumb wrap grasp
    • Quadrupod grasp with thumb wrap
    Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

    Is the THumb Wrap Grasp Functional?

    *Note* I am one who takes pencil grasps in stride.  So, when I say “dreaded” thumb wrap grasp, I am not completely serious in that this grasp is dreadful or something to fear.  Many (many) of us have unique and very functional pencil grasps.  The issue is when a quirky grip on the pencil becomes a cause for illegibility, fatigue, joint strain, or other concern.  In those cases, a grasp should be addressed. Read more about functional pencil grasp and how a functional grasp can exist even if it doesn’t look like they typical tripod grasp.

    Remember that a functional pencil grasp is the one we want to see. A functional pencil grasp might look like various things. Every child may have different tendencies when it comes to “functional” 

    Functional means the student can hold the pencil, write with legible handwriting, and doesn’t have joints that are hyperextended or otherwise inefficient in joint positioning. Fatigue and endurance play a part in a functional pencil grasp.

    This resource on what therapists want parents to know about pencil grasp is a great read.

     



    Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.
     

    What is happening when a child uses the Thumb Wrap Grasp?

    Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

    The tip of the thumb bends over the pencil and pointer finger, providing stability to the grasp.  Instead of using the opposition muscle of the thumb to grasp the pencil, the child is using the adductor muscle.  The thumb wrap grasp provides stability but it does not allow for quick pencil movements.

    As a child is required to write faster to take notes, the legibility of their handwriting will be sacrificed. Rather than moving the pencil with the tips of their thumb and index finger, the child is manipulating pencil motions with their wrist and forearm.

    In order to improve this grasp, a child needs to strengthen the opposition muscle, Opponens Pollicis, along with Flexor Pollicis Longus to bend the tip of the thumb or the Interphalnageal Joint (IP Joint) of the thumb. Strengthening the intrinsic muscles along with addressing an open web space will improve IP flexion in pencil grasp. 

    Working on precision skills will also help with a thumb wrap grasp.

    Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

     

    Exercise to Work on a Thumb Wrap Grasp

    Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

    This is such an easy activity.  Use store bought Play Dough or homemade sensory dough.

    Press flower beads into the play dough with a bent thumb. Encourage your child to press the flowers into the dough using a their their thumb in a bent position on the edge of the flowers.  This is important, because it works the muscles needed to oppose with an open web space and flex the tip of the thumb.  This is the mobility needed to advance the pencil fluently.  These flower beads are perfect for this exercise because of the length of the flower that can press into the Play Dough.

    Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

     

    Next, ask your child to pull out all of the flower beads by using the tips of their pointer finger and the tip of the thumb, while ensuring that your child maintains a slightly flexed (bent) thumb IP joint.

    Encourage learning and playful math by counting as your child pulls out the flowers.  If your kiddo is like my preschooler, those flower beads will be hidden pretty far into the play dough.  The search and find is a great overall hand exercise and a fun math activity as you add up the beads!

    ONE Simple Trick to Help Kids With Their Pencil Grasp

    SO? How can you use this info to help kids with their pencil grasp? Make them aware of that little bent thumb joint.  Point it out as they are doing the play dough activity and then again when they are holding a pencil.  Remind them of that bent knuckle when they write.  Too much for your kiddo?  Don’t fret. 
     
    Another tip is to use the pencil grip needed for a thumb wrap grasp. This blog post includes pencil grips for each type of grasp.

     

    Pencil Grasp Tricks and TIps

    Working on the underlying skills of a functional pencil grasp? Battling a thumb wrap grasp that slows down handwriting so much that the kiddo you are seeing on your caseload falls behind in writing speed? Know a child who has hyper-extended joints when holding the pencil?

    Here are some pencil grasp tricks that can help to improve functional grasp. These strategies can address pencil grasp issues such as thumb wrap, inefficient joint positioning, a closed thumb web space, poor separation of the sides of the hand, and other pencil grasp concerns.  

    Use this pencil grasp tricks to help kids improve pencil grasp when writing.
    human hands with pencil and erase rubber writting something

    Pencil Grasp Exercise

    • Try this trick: Ask the child to hold and manipulate a small item such as a kneadable eraser in the non-dominant (non-writing) hand while holding the pencil with the dominant hand. Ask them to manipulate the object with just the thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger. Sometimes that symmetrical movement makes a big difference!
    • This pencil grasp trick uses an item you probably already have in your therapy bag: a clothes pin!
    • This pencil grasp trick helps to work on thumb IP joint flexion…and requires only a marker.

    The pencil grasp exercise and tricks above will help with many kids that need to work on an open web space, not just the thumb wrap grasp.  Try it and let me know how it goes!

    MORE PENCIL GRASP HELP

    Working on a functional pencil grasp with your child or occupational therapy caseload? Need activities to improve pencil grasp that kids WANT to do? These games that improve pencil grasp through fine motor activities are activities that boost the skills kids need for pencil grasp and games that strengthen the hands. Working on pencil grip to make and efficient and functional pencil grasp can be as easy as adding a few fine motor games to your therapy toolbox!

    • Want to know how to fix a problem with pencil grasps?
    • Need help knowing where to start when it comes to immature pencil grasps or a child hating to write because their hand hurts?
    • Need help with carryover of pencil grasps?

    The Pencil Grasp Challenge in open for you! In this free, 5 day email series, you’ll gain information, resources, specific activities designed to promote a functional, efficient pencil grasp.

    know about the skills that make up a functional pencil grasp. You’ll learn what’s going on behind the inefficient and just plain terrible pencil grasps you see everyday in the classroom, clinic, or home. Along with loads of information, you’ll gain quick, daily activities that you can do today with a kiddo you know and love. These are easy activities that use items you probably already have in your home right now.

    Besides learning and gaining a handful (pun intended) of fun ideas to make quick wins in pencil grasp work, you’ll gain:

    • 5 days of information related to pencil grasp, so you know how to help kids fix an immature pencil grasp.
    • Specific activities designed to build a functional pencil grasp.
    • Free printable handouts that you can use to share with your team or with a parent/fellow teachers.
    • You’ll get access to printable challenge sheets, and a few other fun surprises.
    • And, possibly the best of all, you’ll get access to a secret challengers Facebook group, where you can share wins, chat about all things pencil grasp, and join a community of other therapists, parents and teachers working on pencil grasp issues.

    Click here to join the Pencil Grasp Challenge.

    free pencil grasp challenge
    Pencil grasp exercise to work on an open web space and flexed thumb needed to remedy the thumb wrap grasp.

    More fine motor activities you will love:   

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

    The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

    The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

    • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
    • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
    • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
    • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
    • Tips to improve pencil grip
    • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

    Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

    Beautiful Oops Activity

    folded paper animals

    This “Beautiful Oops” activity is a preschool book craft focusing on fine motor skills with a concentration on awareness of differences, making mistakes, and not focusing on specific details, using a creative book activity based on the book, Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg. If you are looking for hands-on book related activities, this one is a big hit!

    Beautiful Oops Activity

    One part of social emotional development is the ability to “go with the flow”. Allowing ourselves to make mistakes and to adjust is a key part of maturity and a personality trait that can be difficult to teach unless given examples and practice. in this book activity, we read the book, Beautiful Oops! and created folded paper crafts using our mistakes.  

    This book craft is part of a series of activities that help kids build social and emotional skills such as:

    • acceptance
    • friendship
    • empathy
    • understanding
    • and other important skills involved with social emotional development.

    For more activities that help build these skills, check out the resource, Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance and Empathy.

    Beautiful oops activity to make a folded paper giraffe craft

    Beautiful Oops Craft

    Beautiful Oops book by Barney Saltzberg

      This post contains affiliate links.  

    What does Beautiful Oops teach?

    Have you read the book, Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg?  This is a book that we completely fell in love with.  The creative process of art spills out over the pages as little (and big) “oops” messes, tears, and folds become art.  While we do many crafts that are focused on an end product, process art is something we love in many creative projects!

    Beautiful Oops! is a process art guide book.   As we read the book, one of our favorite pages was the folded corner Oops that became a reason to celebrate with a cute penguin.  We decided to make folded paper animals and couldn’t stop creating!

    Folded paper animal crafts for kids based on the book, Beautiful Oops


    paper folding activity

    To make our folded paper animals, we started with just a few materials. The best thing about this paper folding activity is that there was no “right way” to do the craft. Each paper fold was part of the process art! Just like in the book, Beautiful Oops, any fold, cut, tear, or pasted paper was part of the process to create something beautiful. When an “oops” happened when cutting the paper or folding the paper, it was just part of the fun!

    Gather a bunch of materials to make the paper folding activity:

    • Paper- scrap paper, construction paper, cardstock…whatever you have on hand
    • Scissors
    • Glue
    • Scraps of materials

    We started with a big pile of assorted cardstock, a few pair of scissors and some glue.  We started with a fold on the corner of the paper and let our imaginations go!

    We cut…

    …and cut some more…  

    …and folded…

    …and glued…

    …and added details to our animal creatures.

    Beautiful Oops folded paper animal crafts
    Folded paper animal crafts based on the book, Beautiful Oops

      We made a feeeew animals.

    Folding paper Crafts

    Use this craft to build fine motor skills! When kids fold paper, they work on a variety of fine motor skills. Click each link to read more about these specific skills and how they impact function.

    Fold paper to work on fine motor skills in the hands.
    Monkey bookmark craft

      And then put our folded paper creatures to work holding pages in books!  

    Paper bird bookmark craft
    Penguin paper craft bookmark

      We had a blast with this book and can’t stop making our oops’ beautiful!   Looking for more activities and crafts based on Beautiful Oops!?  Try these from the Preschool Book Club:

    Straw Blow Painting from Homegrown Friends

    Painting on torn Newspaper from Buggy and Buddy

    Circle and Holes Art from Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

    Oops Painting from Mama. Papa. Bubba.

    hands-on activities to explore social emotional development through children's books.

    Love exploring books with hands-on play?  

    Grab our NEW book, Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy, that explores friendship, acceptance, and empathy through popular (and amazing) children’s books!  It’s 50 hands-on activities that use math, fine motor skills, movement, art, crafts, and creativity to support social emotional development.    

    GET THE E-BOOK

    Get the PRINT BOOK

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Apple Brain Breaks

    apple brain breaks for kids

    These Apple Brain breaks are a resource that has been popular on the site for many years. During the fall months, all things apple theme is the way to go, so when it comes to adding themed resources into a Fall, harvest, farm, or back-to-school theme, apple themed exercises and movement activities are the way to go!

    Apple brain Breaks

    Many of you have used the brain break activities that we have here on the OT Toolbox help kids focus and pay attention in the classroom environment. Movement in the classroom is helpful for learning and helping kids with movement needs such as fidgeting or attention. The brain break activities listed below can go along really nicely with an apple theme. Try adding the Apple themed brain breaks in between activities, lessons, and other classroom tasks.

    Apple themed brain breaks can be a great way for kids to extend on an Apple theme activity while adding movement into the classroom.

    Other brain breaks you might enjoy include:

    Apple Theme Brain Breaks

    apple brain breaks for kids

    Looking for brain break videos for the classroom or home? Here are the best brain break videos on YouTube.

    Related read: These visual perception apple theme shape stamps are a perfect way to work on visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills with DIY stampers.

    Apple themed brain breaks for kids to use in the classroom or as part of an apple theme in learning and play.

    How to Use Apple Brain Breaks

    Get this list of apple theme activities as a printable sheet to use in the classroom. Print them off, glue them to cardstock or index cards and laminate for durability. Kids can complete apple brain breaks as a group or individually.      

    In the PDF below, you’ll find printable cards that you can cut out and use over and over again as a movement break for kids. Other ways to use these fall brain breaks?

    • Incorporate into an apple tree life cycle curriculum or any apple lesson plan
    • Use with talking about Johnny Appleseed during the Fall months
    • Use as a Johnny Appleseed game
    • Add to a harvest theme or visiting the Farm during the Fall
    • Use as a transition activity between classroom activities
    • Use along with our Fall sensory stations kit (another great Fall brain break!)
    • Indoor recess activities during the Fall months
    • Great for waiting activities or transitions in an apple themed classroom!
    • Use when waiting periods during classroom breaks
    • Add as sensory motor activities to promote attention, focus, re-direction, or needed heavy work input

    These apple theme exercises can be added to a weekly therapy theme when planning occupational therapy lesson plans, and then individualized based on the child’s needs and interests.

    Apple Exercises

    The brain break cards include activities like these ones. These apple theme exercises can be adapted or modified as needed to meet specific needs.

    Here are some apple think brain break activities that can be used at movement into the classroom using an Apple theme:  

    1.) Reach and climb- Ask students to stand up beside their desks and pretend to climb a ladder. Students can reach up high with alternating arms as they climb in place. Imagine climbing up a ladder to reach the top of an apple tree.

    2.) Pick apples- Ask students to imagine reaching up to grab an apple from an apple tree’s branch, and  then bend down to drop it into a basket. Ask students to repeat this motion repetitively reaching up high and then bending down low to the ground.

    3.) Peel and toss apples- Ask students to imagine peeling an apple as they roll their arms over and over again at the elbows. Then ask them to toss an imaginary apple into a bucket. They can imagine the buckets are at different levels and distances as they pretend tossing apples. Continue this exercise for one minute.

    4.) Apple dash – Ask students to run in place and imagine running at an apple farm. Students can pretend they are delivering bushels of apple from a tree to a barn as they run in place while carrying an imaginary bucket. Ask them to imagine hopping over logs or running faster or slower.

    5.) Make a pie- Ask students to imagine picking an apple and buffing it with their sleeve. Ask them to buff an apple on their left sleeve and then their right sleeve. Doing this activity encourages crossing of the midline. They can then pretend to slice the apple, roll out dough, pour the apple slices into the pie pan, and putting the pie into an oven.

    6.) Apple spell- Ask students to form the letters used to spell the word “apple” using their arms and legs. To make an “A”, the student can reach up over their head putting their hands in the middle and stretching their legs wide next. Next, make a “P” by standing with feet together and arms curved toward the side to create the bump of the letter. Complete the same movement again for the second P in the word apple. Next, form a letter L using by sitting on the floor and bending at the waist stretching legs out straight. Finally, create a letter E by sitting on the floor bent at the waist with leg s extended straight and feet together. Put one arm out at the waist and reach the other arm out overhead bent at the elbow.

    7.) Spell and clap- To the tune of “BINGO”, spell the word apple. After singing a round, replace one letter with a clap of the hands. Each round adds another clap in place of a letter. Try adding other movements in place of clapping such as hopping in place or stomping a foot.

    8.) I’m a Little Apple- Use the song “I’m a little teapot” only pretend you are an apple. Kids can sing  “I’m a little apple small and round. Here is my stem and here is my leaf. When I get so red, I fall from the tree. Reach down low and pick me up.” Add movements to go along with the words.

    Can you think of any other apple themed brain breaks?

    Squirrel Themed Brain Breaks may be another fun movement idea that you are looking to pair with a book.  

    Apple themed brain breaks for kids to use in the classroom or as part of an apple theme in learning and play.

    Free Apple Brain Break Cards

    Want a copy of these apple brain break cards to add to your toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below to access these printable tools.

    This freebie is also available inside our Members Club! Members have easy access to all downloads on the site, in one place, without the need to enter your email address for each item.

    Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

    This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

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    Free Apple Brain Breaks

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      More Apple Theme Activities for Kids:

       
      You will love these apple activities to go along with an apple theme.
       
      Ten Apples Up on Top pre-writing activity
       
       
      Apple fine motor strengthening activity and fall math with hands-on learning.
       
       
       
       
      Gross Motor Apple Tree activity for learning red and apples with toddlers and preschool children. Kids love this in the Fall!
       
       
       
       

      Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

      What is Finger Isolation?

      finger isolation

      Today’s post is all about finger isolation: what does finger isolation mean, why this fine motor skill is important, and even finger isolation exercises and activities to support precision and dexterity in the fingers. As children develop dexterity in fine motor skills, more precision and refined movements allow for coordinated skill work. It’s through this motor skill that one can do specific tasks that use only one finger or several fingers.

      You may have heard of finger isolation as a component of fine motor skills that kids need for dexterity and precision. Today, we’re discussing this important motor skill, how finger isolation impacts function, and activities to build finger dexterity. So, what is this motor skill that allows us to point, hold up a single finger, or make fingerprints? Let’s discuss!

      What is finger isolation? 

      Finger isolation is the ability to isolate and use the fingers one at a time in functional tasks. The fine motor skill of finger isolation is the development of being able to “isolate” or individually use each finger of the hand. Counting one finger at a time, tying shoes, typing on a screen or computer keyboard, finger games like “Where is Thumbkin?”, and opposing one finger to the thumb are examples of finger isolation.

      When children are developing they begin to use each finger individually; as infants, children tend to use the hand as one solid unit. Finger isolation is one of the first important developmental milestones that leads to children’s ability to write well with a pencil, type on a keyboard, play a musical instrument, tie shoes ect!

      If you’re wondering how to see if your child has good finger isolation, you can ask yourself:  

      • Does your preschooler or kindergartner avoid pointing?
      • Do they tend to gesture in the direction of an object instead of pointing?
      • Do they use their whole hand to grasp objects rather than one or two fingers when that makes more sense for the size of the object?
      • Do they struggle to manipulate coins, turn a page of a book, tie shoes, or other task requiring refined movements?

      Then adding a few finger isolation activities and games might be helpful for your child!

      Development of finger isolation

      Finger isolation typically develops in the baby at around 6 months of age as they begin to pick up small pieces of cereal. It progresses to pointing, and then separation of the two sides of the hand with in-hand manipulation. Finger isolation is so important in fine motor dexterity in every task that the hands perform.

      There are other components of fine motor skills that contribute to the precision of isolating fingers in activities:

      • Separation of the sides of the hand- Separating the sides of the hand isolates the precision side of the hand from the power side of the hand allows for, and requires isolation of fingers and joints during motor tasks.
      • In-hand manipulation- In hand manipulation includes moving objects within the hand and refined isolation of digits and joints on the fingers contribute to this skill.
      • Arch development- This hand strength allows for fingers to move in isolation of one another.
      • Opposition- Finger and thumb opposition of the thumb to the fingers also plays a role in finger isolation. This ability to oppose the thumb to a single digit allows for more refined and precise grasps on objects.
      • Open thumb web space- Similarly, to oppose the thumb to the fingertips, an open thumb web space is necessary.

      Finger Isolation and Screens (apps and games)

      From a very young age, many small children are efficient at using tablets and phone apps with finger isolation to point, swipe, and move through images on the screen. However, when kids are scrolling the screen, and using their finger in isolation on a tablet, they typically use only one finger (the index finger OR the middle finger) and do not exert strength on the screen.  

      They are not receiving feedback through the muscles and joints of the hand (proprioception) to build motor plans for fine motor tasks. They are not establishing a “store” of fine motor experiences.

      You then may see that single finger is stronger and more dominant in tasks such as pencil grasp or tying shoes. This concept is similar to the dominance of a hand or side of the body. Equally of interest is this post on deciphering the difference between dominance and ambidextrous. It’s all related, and to the occupational therapy professional, so interesting to read about the connections!

      Read here for more symptoms of too much screen time.

      Finger isolation is a fine motor skill kids need for dexterity and precision. Here are ccupational therpay activities to work on fine motor skills.

      Development of fine motor skills includes finger isolation. Here is more information on finger isolation for dexterity and motor control.

      Finger Isolation Activities

      So, how can you build and develop finger isolation?  There are many ways to build finger isolation skills. You’ll also find more finger isolation activities along with a craft that can help kids become more aware of this fine motor skill. Below are small motor tools to help with development. Add these finger strengthening exercises to your therapy plans or home programs.

      One great way to develop precision in a single digit of the hand is to instruct the individual to tap each finger to their thumb (give them a demonstration so they can mirror you!),

      Isolation of the individual fingers really develops with hand strength and coordination through the use of hand clapping games and finger rhyming songs. Show the individual finger and hand games such as “Where is Thumbkin?”, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, and other rhyming games that involve hand motions.  

      Overall, fingerplay songs are a powerful tool to support the development of finger isolation!

      • Pop bubbles
      • Play “I spy” with items around the house and encourage your child to point
      • Counting on fingers one at a time
      • “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (this is a great beginner motor plan with easy finger isolation hand motion)
      • Shadow hand puppets using a flashlight
      • Dampen fingers to pick up small items such as glitter, confetti, other small items
      • Teaching common finger expressions such as “A okay”, thumbs up, finger guns etc
      • “Lizard fingers”: this is one of my favorites that really makes kids laugh, stick small pieces of tape on each finger and have kids pretend to be a lizard and see what they can pick up around the room! (Make sure to have small items that can actually be picked up, we’ve had a couple failures with this activity!)

      Other finger isolation ideas here on The OT Toolbox:

      What is finger isolation? Use these button rings to work on using fingers one at a time in fine motor activities with kids!

      Finger Isolation Crafts

      • Make and play with finger puppets
      • Finger painting
      • Using a pointer finger to trace shapes in foam, slime, various sensory mediums
      • Make “spaghetti” strings by rolling play-doh between the index finger and thumb
      • Make a “finger soccer board” by folding up a small piece of paper into a triangular shape and have your child “flick” the “ball” into the goal

      If there is ever an easy craft that you and the kids make, this is it.  These button rings are as cute as they are effective in developing the skills needed for tasks like maintaining a pencil grasp, shoe tying, and managing clothing fasteners.

      This post contains affiliate links.

      You’ll need just a few items for this craft:


      These super cute button rings are a craft that my kids loved making.  They wore these rings every day for a while there. (This mom did, too!)

      What is finger isolation? Use these button rings to work on using fingers one at a time in fine motor activities with kids!

       

      1. To make the rings, cut the pipe cleaners into small pieces.  You’ll want them small enough to fit little fingers, but a little longer in order to add the buttons.
      2. Thread the buttons onto one end of the pipe cleaner.  
      3. Twist the two ends together and tuck the end of the pipe cleaner on the outside of the ring (so it won’t rub up against the skin).
      4. You can add extra buttons and layer different colored buttons for fun rings. 

      Finger isolation activity with rings

      • When wearing the rings, incorporate finger isolation by placing rings on different fingers.  
      • Ask your child to hold up the finger with a specific colored button or pipe cleaner.  
      • Try tapping fingers with the rings one at a time by calling out a colored ring and asking your child to play a “SIMON” type of memory game.
      What is finger isolation? Use these button rings to work on using fingers one at a time in fine motor activities with kids!

        You’ll love these fine motor activities, too:

      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 is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.