Improving Fine Motor: In-hand Manipulation

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On September 2, 2015, Posted by , In Fine Motor Skills, With No Comments

What is In-Hand Manipulation?

In-Hand Manipulation skills refers to the ability to move and position objects with one hand without the assistance of the other hand.  Examples include “squirrelling” coins in the palm, twirling a pencil within the fingers and turning a coin from heads to tails.

In-hand manipulation is, perhaps, the most complex fine motor skill.  Three types of skills have been identified as being important components of in-hand manipulation.  These are translation, shift and rotation.  Translation is the movement of objects between the palm and fingertips, similar to moving coins from the palm to the fingertips to place them into a vending machine slot.  Shift involves moving objects between the fingers.  An example is “walking” the fingers along the shaft of a pencil, from eraser to pencil tip.  Rotation is the turning of an object around using the pads of the fingers, such as flipping a pencil around so it’s point end is where the eraser end was.  All of these components are needed to get the object oriented so it’s just right for using, viewing or grasping.

Why is In-hand manipulation important?

Children who have difficulty with in-hand manipulation may need to use both hands for activities that would typically require only one.  Or they may need to unnecessarily stabilize an object against their body or an external support to get the job done.  They may appear clumsy when handling objects or be slow to complete projects.  Many daily activities require this high level hand skill.  Examples include positioning a pencil when writing and drawing, adjusting grip on paper when cutting with scissors, using a fork and knife.  Positioning buttons, zippers, snaps and laces for dressing involve these subtle hand movements. Operating tools, handling nuts and bolts, nails, turning a screwdriver– all involve in-hand manipulation ability.

How do I improve my child’s in-hand manipulation?

Here is a list of simple and fun activities you can get your children to engage in to improve his/her in-hand manipulation:

  • Pick up a small object with fingers (bead, coin, M&M candy, popcorn, etc. ) and “hide” it in your hand.  Then pick up another and another.
  • Move one item from your palm to your fingertips and place it down on the table (or put it in your mouth if it’s food)
  • Practice removing small objects from a change purse, baggie or container one at a time and hiding each within the palm.  Then placing them back, one at a time.
  • Connect 4 game:  hold several chips at a time within the palm while placing chips in the slots
  • Place coins in a Piggy Bank starting with several coins in the palm.
  • Place items in Hungry Guy’s mouth (see instructions) while palming several items in your palm
  • Place items in slots (Bingo chips, coins, pegs) while holding several within the palm
  • String beads holding 2 or 3 beads within the palm
  • Pegboard games holding 2 or 3 pegs within the hand
  • Twist open or closed lids on small bottles or toothpaste tube held within the palm of the hand
  • Flip a coin from head to tail within the fingers of one hand
  • Cut with scissors and practice adjusting the grip on the paper with the helping hand
  • Practice buttoning, zipping and snapping snaps.
  • Turn dice within the fingertips to see different sides.
  • Hold a small cup filled with water.  Practice turning it with the fingertips without spilling
  • Play with construction toys such as Duplos, Legos and K’nex
  • Pop beads: large size for preschool, small (play jewelry type) for older children
  • connect linking chains
  • Place clothespins around an index card or paper plate: encourage using only one hand to position/reposition the card or plate
  • Craft activities that require using bottles to squeeze: glue, glitter glue, puffy paint, fabric paint, etc.
  • Lacing boards, sewing cards

Pencil Games

  • Hold the pencil in the fingertips, ready for writing, then “walk” the fingers to the eraser end of the pencil, then back to the tip
  • Turn the pencil between the thumb and fingertips: try turning it like a windmill in one direction, then the other
  • Practice flipping the pencil from eraser end to tip end
  • Use a hand held pencil sharpener to sharpen your pencils


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