107+ Easy OT Hand Strengthening Activities & Games for Kids

Hand Strength in Kids Occupational Therapy

A child’s hand strength is necessary for fine motor skills and self-help tasks.  An occupational therapist frequently uses hand strengthening activities, exercises and games to help preschool and kindergarten students.  Check out this list of easy occupational therapy activities – kids won’t even know they’re “exercising!”  

So many kids have weak hands right now.  

I frequently have teachers and parents asking for activities and exercises to help strengthen kids’ hands.  They see difficulty when kids try to open containers and packages at lunch, color, use scissors, squeeze glue, and grasp a pencil properly.  The kids also can’t manage their clothing  or backpack, or fasten buttons and snaps.  

Big muscles of the body develop before the small muscles.  Therefore, adequate hand strength in kids is dependent on core strength and shoulder strength.  The hand muscles work effectively with a strong and stable core, upper back and shoulders.  

Types of Hand Strength and Grips Needed in Kids for Fine Motor Activities

Our hands are quite fascinating if you look at the anatomy!  I loved learning about hand function as an occupational therapist.  The small muscles of the hands and the structure of the hand allow for a variety of movements, grips and grasps for fine motor tasks. 

Grip strength and finger strength are dependent upon the development of the different small muscle groups within the hand.  Additionally, good hand strength is supported by the muscles in the forearm. 

A child’s hands move in so many different ways to perform everyday activities.  The fingers bend and straighten, the thumb opposes all fingers, and the thumb moves in against the palm to grip and manipulate objects.  The muscles in little hands cup and curl the palm to create various arches in order to adjust to whatever objects they pick up.

Young kids grip items with power and with precision.  They isolate the index finger to poke and push small objects.  

Children uses different small muscle groups for different grips and grasps.  The following are different types of grip strength that young kids need during home and school activities:

Types of Strength Grips Needed in Kids for Fine Motor Skills

-Power / Hammer Grip – the whole hand grasps tightly to pick up a heavy object or to pull something; this grip is used to pick up a handle on a heavy bin, hold & use a hammer, pull a door handle, hang on a bar or move across monkey bars 

-Hook Grip – the ends of the fingers curl to grasp – the thumb is not involved; the hook grip is used to pick up and hold the top of a backpack handle or during certain climbing tasks (rock wall ledge)

-Fingertip / Claw / Circular Grip – pads of fingers make contact with the object – fingers are all open and straight or slightly curved to grip an object; used to turn and open a door knob, remove a lid from a jar, squeeze a spray bottle, pick up a container or a can, squeeze glue, or grip a large ball (this can also be called a palmar grip which is not to be confused with a palmar grasp in babies and young toddlers!)

-Key Grip – the thumb is held against the palm to hold a key or other small objects against the palm

-Skill Finger Grip – the thumb, index and middle fingers grasp and grip objects such as blocks, Legos, packages, large buttons, scissors

-Precision / Pincer Grip –  pad to pad of the fingers or tip to tip of the fingers –  used to open packages, manage clothing fasteners (snaps, zippers, pull a fuzzy from a shirt, pick up and hold small objects such as beads or cereal, and hold and control a pencil

Proper fine motor development and hand strength are needed for these various grips.  Developmental activities, strengthening exercises and fun games help improve hand strength in kids. 

Hand Strengthening Readiness for Kids

Hand strength in kids is dependent on core stability, shoulder stability and wrist stability.  

The post 40 Core Exercises for Kids shares easy activities as well as a free printable.  This is a great starting point before diving into specific hand strengthening activities if needed with your kiddos.

You can help kids improve shoulder stability, wrist stability, and wrist extension through Vertical Surface and Floor Activities (there’s also a free printable available on this post.)

When working on improving weak hands in kids, it’s important to make sure you incorporate weight-bearing activities through open palms.  Think of a bear walk or wheelbarrow walk (many more similar activities are listed below.)  

Weight bearing activities on open palms stretch out the muscles within the hands in order to help strengthen them.  They’re a great way to prep or warm-up the muscles before a fine motor activity.  

The following hand strengthening exercises and activities for kids are divided into gross motor activities, fine motor activities, and toys & games.  Some additional sub-categories are listed in each section.

How to Improve Hand Strength in Kids

Gross Motor Activities for Hand Strength

As an occupational therapist, I typically start with gross motor activities (like the ones listed below) for building hand strength. They’re a great way to prep the hands for a seated fine motor activity.   

Additionally, these gross motor strengthening activities are also fun ways to provide heavy work and proprioceptive sensory input.  The sensory input provided wakes up the muscles, increases motor feedback in the upper body, and improves focus and attention.  

Many of the weight bearing activities can be done during a transition – down a hall, to the carpet, etc

  • Crab Walks
  • Bear Walk
  • Inch Worm
  • Crab Kicks
  • Plank Position
  • Push-Ups 
  • Chair Push-Ups
  • Carrying a Bin of Books
  • Lifting & Stacking Chairs
  • Opening Doors
  • Wheelbarrow Walk
  • Climbing on Playground Equipment
  • Hanging from Bars
  • Monkey Bars
  • Overhead Glider 
  • Tug-of-War
  • Golf
  • Baseball
  • Hockey
  • Tennis
  • Hammering
  • Pulling a Rope (with a weighted object on the end)
  • Hula Hoop (hold while being pulled on a scooter)
  • Pulling a Loaded Wagon
  • Pushing a Cart or Stroller
  • Flying a Kite
  • Lifting & Carrying  Buckets
  • Carrying Groceries
  • Moving Large Rocks or Logs
  • Placing Plates or Books on Shelves
  • Wash Walls or Windows (with cloth or sponge)
  • Scrub Large Surface (hold brush handle to scrub floors, outdoor walls, decking, fences, etc)

Fine Motor Activities for Hand Strengthening

Hand strengthening activities are easy to add to your daily activities at school and at home.  Make sure you use a variety of tasks to work different muscle groups in the forearm and within the hand itself.    

This section is divided into two categories: 1) activities that use school, craft, or office supplies 2) activities that use household items.

Hand Strength Activities Using School, Craft, or Office Supplies

  • Play Dough, Modeling Clay, and Therapy Putty – pinch, pull, roll, smoosh, or hide small objects inside
  • Sidewalk Chalk – uses more resistance on concrete or brick
  • Color with Small Crayons or Chalk –  grip firmly to with the fingertips to hold and color
  • Pipe Cleaners – pull through slits in a plastic lid or box
  • Hole Punch or Paper Punch – make patterns, punch targets, create confetti
  • Cut Play Dough or Cardboard – find resistive objects to cut (freeze playdoh)
  • Staplers – fold paper, make envelopes; staple papers on bulletin board 
  • Rubber Bands – wrap around tubes 
  • Glue Tracing – squeeze glue to trace designs, shapes, & pictures 
  • Erase Boards – hold eraser to completely erase chalkboard or white board
  • Paper Clips – string together or place on numbered index cards

Fine Motor Hand Strengthening Activities – Everyday Play with Household Items

  • Magnets – pull apart, build designs, create pictures on a vertical surface
  • Clothespins & Clips – hang art, clip onto number cards, match colors (great for pinch strength)
  • Paper Scrunching – use one hand to squeeze and crumple paper into a ball, clean up scraps of paper or small pieces of tissue paper using one hand
  • Bubble Wrap – squeeze with fists, squeeze and twist, pinch with tips of fingers
  • Push Buttons / Coins – use index finger to push through small slit in plastic lid or container
  • Styrofoam, Cardboard or Dough – press push pins, toothpicks, golf tees, etc into the resistive surfaces to create designs 
  • Hand Cupping – curl / cup the palm to hold water drops; or dump small beads, marbles or cubes back and forth 
  • Open Packages – place supplies and snacks in bags
  • Pull Weeds – grip and pull weeds
  • Flatten Recycling – squeeze soft plastics or cardboard boxes before adding to recycling bin
  • Tear Paper or Cardboard – hold and rip junk mail or tear recycling boxes into small pieces

Build Fine Motor Hand Strength with Kitchen Items

  • Paint with Potato or an Apple – cut in half and dab in paint (or pureed food) on a vertical surface
  • Food Prep – peel an orange, stir ingredients together, knead dough, cut food  
  • Pitchers & Watering Cans – pour a drink, water flowers, fill containers or pet water dishes, etc 
  • Sponges or Wet Cloths – squeeze to water plants; or clean boards, windows, cars, walls
  • Spray Or Squeeze Bottles – water plants, spray a chalkboard, spray to erase sidewalk chalk
  • Tongs – use skill fingers to squeeze tongs
  • Kitchen Baster – add to a water activity or science lesson; or use to blow cotton balls 
  • Medicine Droppers – use for painting designs or water play with natural food coloring
  • Lids – remove, replace on jars or containers (keep supplies or snacks inside)
  • Rolling Pin – roll dough using both hands
  • Stack Cans – put away or stack cans or supplies

Improve Hand Strength in Kids

Amazon Toys & Games to Strengthen Kids’ Hands

Games are the best way to develop stronger hands in kids.  Children are more motivated through a fun activity or game.  They don’t realize they’re exercising their hands!  And many also improve hand-eye coordination.  

[Amazon affiliate links are used for your convenience – see below for more information.]  

This section of toys and games is divided into six sections: 1) large arm movement games, 2) palm, thumb, and skill finger strengthening, 3) building sets, 4) perceptual motor & learning, 5) sensory tools, and 6) life skills tasks

Large Arm Movement Hand Strengthening Games

Palm, Thumb and/or Skill Finger Strengthening Games and Board Games

Building Sets & Games that Strengthen Hands

Perceptual Motor & Learning Games for Strong Hand Muscles & Brains!

Sensory Tools to Strengthen the Hands

Hand Strengthening Games with Life Skills Tasks

So many kids have weak hand strength… SHARE this extensive list on your favorite social media channel with other teachers, parents, caregivers and educators!   Improve fine motor skills in more kids with these tips from an occupational therapist.  

Other Posts Related to Hand Strength & Fine Motor Development:

Articles Linked Throughout This Post:

[Amazon affiliate links are used in this post. Develop Learn Grow may earn a very, very, very small  commission if you click on a link and make a qualifying purchase!  See full disclaimer and privacy policy for additional information.]

School-Based OT

Amy Hathaway MOT, OTR/L, CIMI-2 is a licensed and registered occupational therapist.  She is the founder of Develop Learn Grow. 

Amy has 22 years of experience as a pediatric occupational therapist.   She enjoys collaborating with teachers, parents, therapists, administrators, and support staff in preschools & schools, as well as coaching and guiding parents of infants and toddlers in their homes.

She is married and has three children.  Click to read Amy’s bio.  

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