Though your toddler is a few years away from school, where he will need fine-motor skills to hold a pencil or cut with scissors, now is the time to strengthen all of the small muscles in his hand. According to the Therapy Street for Kids website, more than 25 muscles in the forearm and hand control the movements of the wrist, hand and fingers. These muscles are not fully developed when your child is a baby, so you can do activities that will help him make his fingers and hands stronger as a toddler.
Squeezing activities can help strengthen your toddler's grasp, helping him learn to hold writing utensils for longer periods. Give him some modeling clay and have him squeeze, squish or pull it. Try hiding small objects such as beads or beans inside the clay and let your toddler use his fingers to pull them out. Occupational therapist Carrie Lippencott at the website for Make the Grade OT suggests adding kitchen tools to the play. Showing your little one how to squeeze the clay through a cookie press or use a rolling pin to squish it flat will help strengthen his hands.
Turn a warm day into a strengthening exercise by giving your toddler a large tub of water and a few water play tools. Fill a spray bottle and have him squeeze the trigger to spray his toys, clean a window or water the plants. Pretend to have a car wash and give him a large sponge and let him squeeze all of the water out of it. Let him squeeze a turkey baster or bulb syringe to transfer water from one tub to another. He might think he's just enjoying some fun water play, but he will also be strengthening his hands and fingers as he squeezes.
Your child should be able to snip paper with scissors by age 3, according to the website for Skill Builders Pediatric Occupational Therapy. Before that time, he will need to strengthen the muscles in his hands and fingers that will allow him to separate the sides of the hands. Activities that require him to pinch with his index and middle fingers and thumb while leaving the ring and little fingers tucked into his palm will help strengthen this skill. Use tongs, tweezers or strawberry hullers to pick up small objects such as cotton balls or beads. Give him clothespins to pinch and place around the edge of a container or along the bottom hem of a shirt. Place small food items such as cereal inside the cups of an egg carton and have him use his index finger and thumb to pick them up one at a time.
Jars and Lids
Make a game of screwing and unscrewing lids to help strengthen your toddler's hands and fingers. Give him several plastic jars or bottles that have lids that screw on, such as an empty peanut butter container, a water bottle or a juice bottle. Hide small toys or treats inside the jars to motivate him to get the lid off. The tighter the lid, the more he will have to work to get it off, so give him a challenge without letting him get too frustrated. Make it a matching game by asking him to put the lids on the correct containers and have him screw them tight.
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