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Give me a hand

Helping your child develop good strength in their hands and fingers is a good way of ensuring they are ready for starting school, giving them more confidence and independence.

Have a go at some of these suggestions for fun and easy activities you can do at home to improve your child’s fine motor skills. This will this make it easier for them to control a pencil to start writing and drawing and also help them to use cutlery to feed themselves.

Child painting at the table

Fifteen fun ways to strengthen little fingers

  • Wringing water from sponges or flannels
  • Scrunching up newspaper into balls
  • Playing ‘tug of war’
  • Holding onto ropes and swings at the playground
  • Using a hole punch
  • Spraying with trigger type spray bottles or water guns
  • Colouring in small sections of paper
  • Cutting out pictures from catalogues and magazines
  • Building toys that push together – like Lego and Duplo bricks
  • Kneading, poking and rolling play dough
  • Squeezing washing-up bottles filled with water to make pictures on a fence or patio (you can also do this with paint on large pieces of paper)
  • Making a collage with scrunched up pieces of tissue or crepe paper
  • Popping bubble wrap
  • Drawing with sticks in damp sand or mud
  • Sketching with chunky chalks on paving

Making their mark

There are also lots of activities you can try to give your child experiences of mark making and self-expression before they pick up a pencil.

First, the messy ones:

  • Mix table salt with glitter on a tray and encourage your child to make shapes and patterns in the ‘sparkledust’.
  • Drive toy cars and trucks through shaving foam.
  • Make and decorate fairy cakes with squeezy tubes of icing. The added bonus is you can all enjoy eating the finished result!
  • Decorate each other with face paints.
  • Draw with bath crayons in the bath.

And the mess free:

  • Explore chalk boards, magnetic drawing boards or water drawing mats.
  • If you have a tablet, download some free children’s art apps such as PaintSparkles or Pixie Dust.

As children get closer to school-age, you’ll notice their mark-making becoming more purposeful. This is the time to encourage a three-fingered ‘tripod’ pencil grip, and to introduce activities that help them develop pencil control. For example, have a go at dot-to-dots, tracing and colouring-in. The first writing that most children recognise is the initial letter of their name. Help them to spot it in books and on signs and posters when you’re out and about.

Child painting

That’s a mouthful

If your child’s struggling to hold their cutlery at mealtimes, try making a mark with Tippex or nail varnish on the knife and fork to remind them where to place their index finger. Using thicker handled cutlery will help them achieve a better grip. Give them lots of practice of cutting up food, reminding them to use the fork to hold the food steady while they ‘saw’ backwards and forwards with their knife. Having fun with pastry cutters and playdough will also build confidence.

Remember, it’s a good idea to all sit down together at the table for mealtimes. Not only will it prepare children for lunchtimes at school, but it will give you an opportunity to model how to use cutlery and how to behave when you’re eating.

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Page last reviewed: 21-03-2024

Next review due: 21-03-2027