Materials to Develop the Pincer Grasp

Learning to use the pincer grasp (where children use the thumb and index finger to pick up a small item) is a critical fine motor skill. When children use the pincer grasp, it is important that the web space or the space formed by holding the thumb and finger together be rounded. This allows the child to hold a pencil or other tool in a way that is less tiring for the hand. The pincer grasp can be developed by materials such as

  • A sieve with colored toothpicks for inserting through the holes (using colored toothpicks allows children to classify by color if they wish).
  • Colorforms or stickers to place on paper.
  • Eyedroppers to move water from one container to another.
  • Tweezers, tongs, or spoons to move glass marbles, beads, shells, or pinecones from one place to another.
  • Wooden chopsticks that are tied together at the top with a rubber band to pick up pompoms.
  • A Lite Brite.
  • Pins to push into a paper with a cork board underneath to punch out a design of choice.
  • Buckles to open and close and shoes to tie (at Bright Beginnings Preschool an actual shoe is nailed to the wall for children to lace and tie).
  • A sunflower with tweezers to remove the seeds.
  • A rubber band ball for removing and adding rubber bands.

Materials to Strengthen Grasping and Squeezing

Following are some materials to enhance grasping and squeezing:

  • A plant sprayer and colored paper so that children can spray a design on the paper.
  • A paper puncher, many different types of paper, and a beautiful container to hold the punches. The punches can be used for other activities.
  • A turkey baster and cotton balls (the child can blow the cotton ball across the table with the baster).
  • Squeeze toys such as toys whose eyes bulge when squeezed.
  • Clothespins that are used to attach items to a clothesline (the clothesline can be placed on the wall of the manipulative area).
  • Sponges and basters. In a Montessori program, the manipulative shelves included a tray furnished with a baster, a pitcher of colored water, and two glasses. Children pour the water into one of the glasses and use the baster to move the water to the other glass. Another tray includes a pitcher of water, two small bowls, and a sponge. The child pours the water from the pitcher into one dish and then uses the sponge to move the water from that dish to another one.
  • A nutcracker with nuts to crack (nuts can later be eaten for snack).

Materials to Strengthen Bilateral Coordination

Bilateral coordination is using both hands together or using one hand for one thing while using the other for something else (holding paper with one hand while cutting with the other). Following are manipulative materials that enhance bilateral coordination:

  • Cotton balls to pull apart (these can then be used to glue onto a picture or to make a project).
  • Beads to string into necklaces.
  • Pop beads to put together and pull apart.
  • A stapler and paper.
  • Lacing cards.
  • Cards that show a clapping rhythm for children to imitate.
  • A child’s shirt to practice buttoning (Joanne, a preschool teacher, took the shirt and placed it over a frame, making it easier to button).
  • Two clear jars (one containing colored water) and a funnel on a tray. Children can pour water from one jar through the funnel into the other jar.
  • Paper for folding airplanes or origami.
  • Newspaper for tearing (the newspaper can be used for collages, paper mache, or other art products).
  • Beautiful small coin purses to unzip and find the treasure.

Materials to Strengthen Eye–Hand Coordination

This refers to focusing and coordinating eye movement and the processing of visual input to control and direct the hands to accomplish desired tasks (Johansson, Westling, Bäckström & Flanagan). Some materials that encourage eye–hand coordination are

  • Golf tees, with clay or Styrofoam to pound the golf tees into.
  • Nails and a wood stump to hammer nails into.
  • Poker chips and a covered potato chip can with a slit in the lid for inserting the chips.
  • A variety of items to pour (water, aquarium gravel) and dishes to pour them into.
  • A wire strainer, pebbles, and two dishes for transferring the pebbles from one dish to another.
  • Peas to shell (these can later be used for lunch or snack).
  • Nesting dolls to stack together.
  • Games such as Pick Up Sticks, Barrel of Monkeys, Operation, Bedbugs, and Don’t Spill the Beans.
  • Small building materials such as 1 inch blocks, legos, tinker toys, gears, Lincoln logs, bristle blocks, marble rolls, and erector sets.
  • A variety of types of puzzles.

Materials to Enhance Wrist Rotation

Wrist rotation includes being able to perform a twisting motion with the wrist. This is necessary for everyday activities such as opening doorknobs. Some materials that promote wrist rotation include

  • Lids and jars to match (provide a variety of different interesting jars and lids).
  • Nuts and bolts to screw together.
  • Padlocks and keys to open and close (provide several different padlocks).
  • Screws, wood to screw them into, and screwdrivers.
  • Items to take apart (hair dryer, toaster, carburetor) with a screwdriver or nut remover.
  • An Etch-a-Sketch.
  • A flashlight for taking apart and reassembling.

Materials to Enhance Wrist Stability

Children’s wrist stability is enhanced by using a vertical surface. Make sure your manipulative area includes some vertical surface work. If there is not room on the walls, consider tabletop easels.

Materials to Enhance Finger Dexterity or Moving Individual Fingers in Isolation

Children often develop finger dexterity while performing finger plays. To extend this activity to the manipulative area, you can add finger puppets (one for each finger) that the child can use to retell a familiar story, song, or finger play. Providing a typewriter for children ages 4 to 8 can also allow children to develop finger dexterity but only if they are using all the fingers as they type.

Materials to Develop the Arches of the Hand (General Hand Development)

There are several materials that are used in therapy to help develop the arches. These can also be used in an early childhood setting with preschool and K–3 children. These materials include

  • Small tongs or clothespins to pick up small objects, such as beads or cotton balls. Children can classify these objects into sorting trays.
  • Small items (pennies, marbles, plastic bugs) with teacher-created cards. The card contains a picture of the type of item and the number of items to hold in your cupped hand. The child draws a card and completes that challenge.
  • Games that include dice (the child shakes the dice in her cupped hands until she reaches a number spun on a dial).
  • Sock puppets (the child can make the puppet “talk” by opening and closing her hand).
  • Plastic packing bubbles to pop with the fingers and palm.
  • Tomy Waterfuls (games where the top is filled with water and you move small objects by pushing a button) (Myers, 1992).

Materials to Enhance Cutting

Cutting may occur in the art area, writing area, or the manipulative area. Children typically progress through developmental stages in cutting. They are first able to cut play dough with a plastic knife or scissors, next snip paper into small pieces, then fringe paper, and finally cut lines (creating strips for paper chains or cutting out newspaper comic strips). At the next stage, children are able to cut out geometric shapes, turning the paper with their holding hand. It is easier for children to cut with high-quality scissors using paper that is card weight.

Special Considerations for Infants and Toddlers

Some of the previously mentioned materials are appropriate for infants and toddlers such as pop together beads or colorforms to place on and pull off surfaces. Infant manipulative materials may be in baskets on the floor with each basket containing groups of similar items. It is recommended that toddlers age 2 or older have a formally designed manipulative area (Texas Child Care, 2005). Some manipulative materials that are suitable for infants and toddlers include

  • A basket of different types of rattles.
  • An assortment of small boxes to open and close, each filled with a surprise (stuffed toy, unbreakable mirror glued inside, jewelry, shiny key chain).
  • Nesting boxes, bowls, or butter tubs to stack.
  • Pots and pans with lids to take off and on.
  • A decorated coffee can or hot chocolate can with a hole in the top with items that fit through the hole (the items can be changed when children lose interest in the current items).
  • An empty tissue box with scarves to pull out.
  • Simple puzzles.
  • Busy boxes.
  • Duplos or other snap-together building blocks.