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Tips from an OT

One of our OT's is sharing some tips for families about In-Hand Manipulation Skills. Read why these skills are so important and how you can encourage your child to practice In-Hand Manipulation Skills. 

by:  Isabelle Witzel, OT

In-Hand Manipulation Skills why are they important to my child?

Being able to explore, manipulate, and position small objects within one hand without using the other hand is an essential skill children develop during the preschool and early elementary years.  The difference between controlled and clumsy manipulation lies on the development of little muscles in the hands and fingers that strengthen with use as your child grows.  If your child doesn’t explore and play with manipulatives that require use of these small muscles, they are likely to experience difficulty with in-hand manipulation and struggle with self-help skills such as using a spoon or a fork to eat, or managing clothing fasteners like buttons, snaps and zippers.  A lack of in-hand manipulation skills can also lead to difficulty with school readiness skills such as drawing, cutting with scissors, and handwriting.

How can I help my child develop in-hand manipulation skills?

  • Play-dough has been a childhood favorite for decades. Not only is it downright fun, but handling play-dough also develops some important skills. Squeezing and stretching it helps strengthen finger muscles, and touching it is a valuable sensory experience.
  • Using finger paint can strengthen your child’s hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. All you need is an easel or a thick piece of paper, some finger paints and a space—like the yard or garage—where your child can get messy!
  • Make tub time playtime with sponges and squirties.
  • Make macaroni necklaces: Stringing together necklaces is a great way for your child to be creative while working on hand-eye coordination and developing his/her ability to manipulate small objects. To start, give your child a thick string and big beads or large pieces of dry pasta. Over time, he/she can work on more complex designs using smaller pieces/beads.
  • Water Spray Bottles: Have your child water the plants, spray an outside wall, or add a spray bottle to bath time fun!
  • Make simple crafts with your child that involve small pieces/objects (noodles, cereals,etc.) or crumpling/tearing paper.
  • Practice opening and closing containers that have a lid that twists on and off.
  • Put coins in a piggy bank or small objects like pompoms in a slot container.
  • Put pegs in a pegboard or play games like Lite Brite
  • Play with toy nuts and bolts 
  • Color with broken crayons: Coloring with small, broken crayons encourages your child to hold the crayon correctly—between his/her thumb and forefinger. Small pieces of chalk and the pencils used on mini-golf courses work well, too. To provide additional wrist stability and control, coloring on a slanted surface such as an easel is a great way to boost your child’s in-hand manipulation skills.

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