Welcome to the Fine Motor Skills page for wheelchair users
This page is for our Busy Butterflies; those who spend much time in their wheelchair to access activities and who has mild or no learning difficulty.
This page gives you ideas for activities that you can do to improve the fine motor skills of your Busy Butterfly.
Fine motor skills are our more intricate hands and finger movement skills. This can include all the ways our children’s hands work to enable them to do their activities of daily living such as feeding or dressing themselves, playing with toys, doing their school work with a pen or typing, using a tablet or using their hands to communicate.
To develop good fine motor skills it is important to have good core stability (see our section on core stability) and to develop strength in your child’s shoulder, arm and hand (see our section on arm strengthening for ideas). Without strength further up the body, the hand will not have a stable base to work from and it will be much harder to develop those fine motor skills. If your chid doesn’t have good core stability, it is best to practice their fine motor activities in supportive seating – with any harness or supports in use. This will replace core stability to enable them to be as successful and enjoy the activity as much as possible.
Before trying these exercises, take a minute to prepare your child. If they have any tightness or increased tone in their upper limbs, stretch out their fingers, hands, elbows and shoulders before the activity so they have as much movement as possible to play. To wake up their muscles, try squeezing their hands, tips of their fingers and their arms. You could also use a brush along their skin, or a vibrating massager. All of these can help to make your child more aware of their fingers/ hand/ arm which can then help them be more accurate and learn more effectively as well as being able to feel and enjoy the activity better..
These activities all help to develop fine motor skills.
Find the level for your child in each activity. Make sure your child is successful in their game as this will motivate them to continue. As you push them to get to the next level, they should be able to manage a few of their attempts to keep motivated-even if they are not successful at all of them.
Remember to praise the effort rather than the result to motivate them to keep putting in effort and not be put off if they don’t succeed.
Excellent fine motor skills activities to do at home with your Busy Butterfly
Start with big toys or objects – soft toys are good as your child may be able to grasp these more easily than hard objects.
Help them to open their hand to get a good amount of toy into their hand to grasp. If they hold their hand in a tight fist, bend their wrist forward towards the palm side as this will release their muscles and open their hand. Also try rapidly stroking the back of their hand towards the fingertips to help stimulate their hand to open and let go.
If they need help to keep the grasp, use your hand over their hand to help them so they get the feeling of what you are doing. You can also bend their wrist back to help them make a fist. Encourage them to drop the toy into a container to sort it – again helping them by bending their wrist down if they are really struggling.
Alternatives include having a photo of the object to one side and ask them to match the right object to the photo instead of sorting.
Move onto smaller items such as play cars or plastic animals, different pasta shapes, paper clips, pens and pencils or coins. Sort these by colour or by object. It may be that sorting means pushing the item off their tray into a container or just moving it to 1 side. If they can use their fingers each time rather than pushing with their hand in a fist then even better. The key with this activity is to try to encourage lots of grasp and release.
If they manage these, try sorting smaller items such as Smarties, mixed dried foods such as rice mixed with lentils and dried chick peas. You could die these with food colouring before to make this more engaging (see our section on messy play to find details of how to die different foods). To add further difficulty to this, try giving them a pair of tweezers for this task – or make them use their less dominant hand.
Once they have sorted the objects, try to find another activity they can use their different piles for – e.g. making a necklace out of the tube pasta or making a drawing using glue and the dried foods. This will keep your child motivated to keep sorting and is another way to work their fine motor skills.
You could make this a little more challenging by creating a Laser Quest game in a box. See our video for details of how this can work.
9. Playing with dice for turn taking games (we love Orchard Toys for fun board games) can be a great way to share this skill with family and friends. There are large dice available online or you could re-purpose a building block if this is easier for your child.
Drawing can be practiced with a hand/ finger or with an implement.
Here’s a helpful tip to help your child hold a pen/ crayon etc: Take a regular clothes peg and clip it round the end of the pen. Your child can now be helped to hold across the peg and with their index finger around the other side of the pen if this looks comfortable for them.
It’s also usually easier for them to make marks on an angled surface- you can use a level arch file or prop a board onto something to tilt it- Ikea have inexpensive laptop supports that work really well for this.
To begin with encourage any mark they can make with their hands and fingers, on the page or on a chalk board. As they get better at this, encourage them to draw lines; up and down, side to side or diagonal. The most complicated movement is curved lines or eventually a circle.
A great way to encourage purposeful marks is to complete a picture- you can purchase or find online resources for this or draw something yourself eg a car and ask your child to add the wheels.
Start drawing with their fingers/ hands. This could be in sand, in shaving foam or in other messy play or on a tablet on games such as ‘Finger Paint’ (see below). To show them the way, you could draw a line for them to copy or follow in the path you have made.
Move on to trying drawing with implements. Large pieces of chalk or crayons need less fine motor skills than smaller implements. To begin with any grip is fine as holding the grasp as well as keeping pressure can be a great challenge in itself.
Start with freestyle and then try dot-to-dot games, colouring in and then copying simple drawings that you do for them.
They could also use other objects to draw – for example using stickers, glue and glitter or glue and dried pasta
As your child improves, move on to thinner crayons or pens.
Their fine motor skills will take time to develop so spend weeks or even months on each stage before trying another stage.
The options for music are wide and varied.
Your child can just use their hand to hit a keyboard or a drum as an easy way to get some cause and effect without needing high levels of fine motor skill.
Move on to using an implement in their hand. A stick to hit the drum or a rattle/ tambourine in their hands can work well to practice grasping.
Next try to be a little more refined in the fine motor skills and work towards play with their pointing finger. If necessary hold their other fingers to keep just the pointing finger free. Practice pressing a keyboard key with this finger, pressing buttons on musical toys or using the pointing finger for games on a tablet.
See this video for a handy tip on how to isolate the pointing finger to play on a tablet.
6. If you don’t have any instruments at home you can use every day object such as a wooden spoon and upside down saucepan, a plastic bottle with some rice in it as a shaker or silver foil/ fire blanket to scrunch. For other ideas, go to this page https://www.activityvillage.co.uk/musical-instruments which has some other easy ways you can make musical instruments from everyday objects in the home.
Playing with stickers is a great way to practice fine motor skills. Peeling them off their backing as well as sticking them down.
You can make this easier by peeling most of the sticker off it’s back and your child can use their fingers to take the rest off. It may well get stuck to their finger but help them to stick it to another bit of paper or a part of their chair/ body.
Try using stickers to ‘colour in’ a shape – or draw a shape with the stickers. You could always use them as a reward for great effort or behaviour – they won’t even know they are still working!
Start with putting soft toys or rolling large balls into an open container.
Progress to smaller toys into a smaller container. You could combine this with a matching game-putting the red objects into the red container etc.
Shape sorter games are fantastic for working fine motor skills. Put the shape half into it’s hole and your child can push it in the rest of the way. If you don’t have a shape sorter, cut a circular hole in the lid of a plastic pot and post small objects.
As your child gets more accurate, cut smaller circles or slits and post smaller objects such as coins, pebbles or buttons. You could cut different sizes of slits for different sizes of objects so they have to work out sizes as they post.
Hand over hand works well here again to help with the last bit of turning their hand or to help them release the object.
Simple marble runs or car runs can are often motivating and fun – friends and siblings can share and take turns with this. Consider using cardboard tubes with cars (there are lots of home-made marble run ideas on Pinterest that could work well.)
Start with pipe cleaner and a colander. Your child could make lines across to make a bridge for their cars. Or keep to the side of the colander and just go freestyle and make some lovely patterns.
You could also stick a piece of uncooked spaghetti in some play-dough or blue tack on the table so it is sticking right up. Your child could then thread tube pasta onto the spaghetti.
As their skills improve, use laces (with the taped end) to thread paper. Use a hole punch to make holes along the edge of a piece of card. Or they could make necklaces with pasta.
As they improve, use string, or ribbon or even some thread on a needle for threading games. They could add colour to a basket by adding ribbon through the holes, have fun re-lacing the shoes in your house or cut some straws into small tubes to lace into a necklace.
Start with simple paper weaving. Cut some coloured paper into 1 inch strips. Cut a different piece of paper into 1 inch slits but leave an inch uncut at the end so the paper is still attached at the top. Your child can then slip 1 loose strip over and under the main paper. Start nearest to the end which is still in one piece. The next piece goes over and under (the opposite from the first strip).
You could try this with smaller strips of paper to make it more difficult.
Move on to weaving knitting wool. This video shows how you can weave just using a piece of cardboard.
Move onto shapes. This video shows how to make cool patterns on a paper plate but you could use any cardboard you have (old cereal boxes etc) instead. You could even write out your child’s name.
Here is a lovely video which shows how to make a simple Pom Pom. This is a lovely exercise to use repetitive use of your child’s hands to strengthen and improve their endurance.
Knitting is a great progression to weaving and brilliant for developing those more advanced fine motor skills. Finger knitting is straight forward and a good way to start and you only need some wool to try it. This video gives a lovely demonstration.
Knitting with knitting needles is an even more advanced fine motor skill. This video demonstrates nicely how to do this. You will need knitting needles and wool.
Puzzles are lovely for making children match up shapes. Some children will try to use force instead of turning the puzzle piece to make it fit so start with easy puzzles where they can be more successful to teach them about turning the puzzle piece (or turning the board if they can’t turn their hand as well).
Puzzles with pegs on them are often the best place to start if children don’t have full fine motor control.
Move onto regular flat puzzles as skills improve.
Use smaller pieces as skills improve.
If you don’t have puzzles at home, find a pretty page from a magazine and cut it into 2 or 3 pieces (as a start). Your child can piece the pieces back together.
Building towers requires a steady hand and precision in placement of the next block.
Start with bigger objects to stack, such as cushions and pillows, books or empty cans. This works well as a 2 handed activity. They will also get a lovely stretch of their arms as they reach higher in the stack.
As they get more accurate, try smaller stacking such as coins, lego, or blocks. They can build all sorts of scenes and structures with building toys and piecing the pieces together is great for their fine motor skills.
If they get really good, try to challenge them to find things to stack – use flat pebbles, cars, or soft toys.
Another great thing with this game is that they get to knock it all down at the end.
Consider using giant coloured lolly sticks to build on a flat surface- they are available from craft stores. Adding dabs of velcro can work well to help them stick together to make shapes.
We also love the commercially available magnetic shapes – different colours and shapes to make designs on a flat metal surface (e.g. fridge door?) or to build up.
If you don’t have play-dough there are plenty of different ways to make dough at home. See our videos for how to make the dough and how to play to challenge fine motor skills.
2. Make the dough with your child for an extra opportunity to strengthen hands and fingers.
3. Kneading the dough, rolling it with a rolling pin, squashing dough balls, squeezing it through their fingers, pushing items into the dough – with a full hand or with a pointing finger are all great ways to work your child’s fine motor and hand skills.
4. You can also put different objects into dough or other soft play mixtures – things they need to find or things to play with e.g. cars or plastic animals/ dinosaurs/ figurines.
5. Hiding marbles in your play-dough will work their manipulation skills brilliantly.
Brilliant fine motor skills apps to try with your Busy Butterfly
Sensory Light box or Sensory Soundbox (£2.99 each). Just a touch on the screen produces a wide variety of sounds and noises. As you move your fingers/ hand the noises change. Vey calming or stimulating, depending on the setting and wonderful feedback for cause and effect. Accessible for those with minimal or no fine motor skills.
Fluidity HD (free – for apple devices only) – beautiful flowing colours controlled by any touch on the screen. Accessible for those with less fine motor skills.
Baby’s Musical hands (free – for apple and android)- musical and colourful app – any touch will play a piano sound. Accessible for those with less fine motor skills.
Finger paint (free for apple and android) – opportunity to paint with different colours and sounds. Accessible for those with less fine motor skills.
Duck Duck Moose nursery rhymes series.(free on apple and android) These are a series of apps with entertaining and often surprising cause and effect options which can keep your younger child (and you) entertained for ages. We particularly like Itzy Bitsy HD, Old Mac HD and Trucks HD. Some fine motor control helps but this can also be played with little fine motor control.
Dr Panda series (Apple and Android, vary from free to up to £3.99) has some lovely options with simple yet entertaining games for young children. We enjoy Dr Panda Restaurant, hospital, Beauty Salon and Daycare. A pointing finger is needed for this and it is a lovely way to help improve pointing finger accuracy without being too demanding of perfection.
Busy Things (from free to £1.99 for game or bundle of games. Apple and Android) – zany, educational games of all levels (Shape Up is the easiest, building by dragging pieces).
Toca Boca (from free to £3.99 per game – Apple and Android) – fabulously fun and well animated games for varying degrees of fine motor control. We love: Robot Lab (fairly easy), Pet Doctor, Hair Salon (especially the version when you use your own face!), Toca Cars, Paint my Wings (easy).
Whizzy Kids and Whizzy Kids Two (Free – Apple and Android) – simple and fun finger control games, matching activities.
My First…Puzzles (£1.99) – Puzzles with 4 pieces each is easy and accessible.
Tiny Hands- Sorting Puzzle and Sorting 2 and 3 (Free with in app purchases through to £4.99 for bundle. Apple and Android) are good for pushing items into categories (nice presentation).
Letter School- (subscription after ‘lite’ version – for Apple and Android) fabulous interactive and engaging way to learn letter and number formation (printed, not cursive letters).Dexteria Jr- (£3.99 – just for apple devices) simple shape tracing, finger placement accuracy (fun squishing game!) and finger to thumb pinch.
Dexteria- (£5.99 – apple and android devices)Typing-related finger placement and sequencing, pinching and writing and tracing (tricky).
Fine motor strengthening activities and ideas
Squeezing bottles is a lovely way to strengthen fingers.
Fill an empty toothpaste tube with yogurt, a water bottle with a spout with any liquid or put soft play-dough in a plastic bag and make a small hole – squeezing it out can make a lovely snake of dough and be great for strengthening the hand and fingers.
Squeeze stress balls – see Our Home video on how to make a stress ball out of flour and some balloons. Encourage your child to squeeze this or just poke with their fingers.
Fun with clothes pegs – use card and make hair. Or do a scavenger hunt. Clip pegs around the house on bits of material, paper, drawer handles etc. The child can then go around the home or the room (depending on their mobility) to find the pegs and take them off.(see this ‘our home’ video which shows how to use a tablet to set up a scavenger hunt).
Using home implements can be brilliant for strengthening. For the whole hand use kitchen or BBQ tongs and try to pick up bigger items such as socks, soft toys, small cushions. You could set this up as a scavenger hunt too. Take photos of objects they need to pick up with their tongs from around the house and bring back to the start.
For finger strengthening, use tweezers instead of tongs and pick up small items such as coins. See how quickly they can pick up 10 coins and put them in a bowl the other side of the room.
Use any spare nuts and bolts (and washers) you have around the house to make shapes with card. Just draw the shape of a dinosaur, snake, tree etc. cut slits in the card and your child can amuse themselves screwing the nuts and bolts together to make great pieces of 3d art.
Use a large piece of newspaper and ask your child to scrunch it into the smallest ball they can with 2 hands. Now ask them to do it with 1 hand. The manipulation needed for this will strengthen all the small intricate muscles of the hands.
You can start by cutting dough as this teaches the right way to cut. Make a snake out of dough and ask then to cut it into pieces.
Move on to cutting straight lines on card and/ or paper.
As their skills develop you can be inventive with your cutting and draw interesting shapes for them to cut. See our home video on how to make a paper chain with straight line cutting.
4. As they develop, try gentle curves and finally circles and more complex shapes.
These activities should be supervised at all times.