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, as they give them more confidence and independence to carry out a whole range of everyday tasks.

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. Not only will this make it easier for them to control a pencil to start writing and drawing, but it will also help them to use cutlery to feed themselves.

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.

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.

Useful links:


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Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust runs a confidential secure text messaging service for parents of children aged 0-19 years called Chat Health. The service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, excluding bank holidays. All texts will be responded to by a public health nurse (health visitor/school nurse) within 24 hours. Outside of the service working hours, you’ll receive a message back to inform you that your text will be responded to once the line reopens.

Should you require urgent health advice in the meantime, please contact your GP, visit an NHS walk-in centre or call NHS 111. For emergencies, dial 999 or visit A&E.

Leicester City: text 07520 615381

Leicestershire & Rutland: text 07520 615382

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