Many people incorrectly assume that Occupational Therapy is a field that focuses predominantly on fine motor skills. More specifically, the muscles of the hands. In our past articles, we have given you a taste of many of the areas included in the scope of Occupational Therapy (OT) including crawling and early gross motor development, participation in play, sensory processing development and use of technology. We would, however, be remiss if we did not focus much of our column on the importance of acquiring good fine motor skills. This article will specifically focus on hand and arm strength.
You see, our children need their hands for so many activities in their day. From self care activities such as hygiene, dressing, feeding and more; to playing and writing. Many of the cases that are referred for OT that seem to be situations that are often concerning to teachers and parents are frequently a situation whereby there is upper extremity and hand weakness. This can lead to poor endurance and can affect play, independence at home and in the classroom and overall academic achievement.
Following many of the suggestions that we have made in previous articles will help to ensure that your baby develops with age appropriate hand strength and endurance, as long as muscle tone is normal and there are no other neurological conditions. Activities such as crawling, reaching for toys, self-feeding at an appropriately young age, participating in tactile activities and avoiding excessive technology during play, are all great strategies to help ensure great fine motor development.
At this point, we would like to make the following recommendations to help parents address their children’s hand strength. These activities can be done both preventatively as well as therapeutically:
Good fine motor development begins with infancy. Playing with your baby, as we mentioned in an earlier article, cannot be undervalued. Allowing your child to begin reaching for a toy at an early age helps to develop early eye hand coordination and grasp. Additionally, encourage your baby to help hold the bottle and ultimately feed him/herself using fingers or utensils as appropriate. These typical activities of daily living help to encourage normal hand development.
Weight bearing is an important tool to help with muscle development and strengthening. An obvious milestone to aid in this process in crawling. As we have mentioned earlier, crawling is a natural way for babies to bear weight in their hands, thereby developing the arches in their palms, the stability in their wrists and overall strength of the arms and shoulders. (Remember, your child will be walking, running and jumping for many years to come. These are all activities that help to strengthen the lower part of the body. Crawling is a short term milestone that is crucial in the development of our upper body and once your baby has moved on from this milestone it becomes more difficult to strengthen his/her upper body.)
As your child gets older, use activities that require resistance. For example, have them help you carry your groceries (two benefits in one!), let them help you with kneading and mixing in the kitchen (ditto!), and gardening; playing with toys such as putty, play-doh, Lego, clothes pin and squishy balls are all activities that will facilitate fine motor development.
Provide your child with various types of arts and crafts such as scissors and glue (you can use glue sticks if you want to keep it neat), finger paints, crayons and markers. Have art activities fun and available. Scratch Art, Etch Doodle, beading, sidewalk chalk and collages are all great ways to help facilitate find motor development and enhance hand strength while being fun and age appropriate.
Fine motor activities can and should be fun for children. A few minutes of creativity (let’s be honest, go online and do a search if you can’t think of anything) can lead to an excellent activity for your children. Keep in mind, though, that these activities are very general. For some children these activities will not be enough. In those cases, you will need to visit your local occupational therapist.
Alyssa Colton MA, OTR and Aviva Lipner MA, OTR are pediatric occupational therapists and owners of Kids’ Therapy Place, LLC and Kids’ Therapy Toy Store info_kidstplace.com
By Alyssa Colton MA, OTR/L & Aviva Lipner MA, OTR/L