Welcome to the Fine Motor Skills page for wheelchair users with learning difficulties.
This page is for our Butterflies; those children and young people who have profound and multiple learning and physical difficulties which may also be associated with complex medical and health needs.
This page gives you ideas for activities that you can do to improve the fine motor skills of your Butterfly.
Fine motor skills are our hands and finger movement skills. This can include all the ways our children’s hands work to enable them children to do their activities of daily living such as feeding themselves, playing with toys or using their hands to point or communicate their needs.
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. 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 work to develop fine motor skills. If your child is managing all these skills then move onto skills in the Bustling Butterflys’ section.
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 tries 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 Butterfly
Start with big toys – 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. 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. Brushing your hand, quickly, a few times across the back of their wrist can often help prompt their hand to open and let go.
You can also bend their wrist the other way to help them make a fist. Encourage them to drop the toy into a container – again helping them by bending their wrist down if they are really struggling.
Move onto smaller items such as play cars or plastic animals. Encourage them to open their hand first before trying to pick these up to give themselves their own active stretch.
If they understand the concept of sorting, you may want to include sorting in this game – sort 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.
Alternatives include having a photo of the object to one side and ask them to match the right object to the photo.
Or pretend play can be a nice way to make this more meaningful. Play a shopping game with items that they are choosing on their tray.
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 lever 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.
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.
As your child improves, move on to thinner crayons or pens.
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 hold their 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. This video demonstrates how to use a sock to isolate the pointing finger.
4. 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 rattle 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. Try using brightly coloured or “noisy” containers such as bright pink stain remover container, metal bases such as hot choc tubs or pringles tubes so that the object falling in makes a sound. Tissue boxes also work well.
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.
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.
Place stickers underneath the items so that taking out the pieces also gives a reward in the early stages- you could have “treasure” hunt game.
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 lovey stretch of their arms as they reach higher in the stack.
As they get more accurate, try smaller stacking items such as chunky Lego or blocks.
Another great thing with this game is that they then get to knock it all down.
If you have some sticky velcro- try adding dabs to blocks to help them stick.
Magnetic building and design sets are available online- you can use the lid of a biscuit tin to create shapes and scenes – a child with limited grasp and release skills can often push pieces around.
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 with it if you have less fine motor skills.
Make the dough with your child for an extra opportunity to strengthen hands and fingers.
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.
This video gives ideas of how to strengthen fingers and work fine motor skills.
Brilliant fine motor skills apps to try with your 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.
More helpful Butterfly resources
Here are a selection of suitable Our Home videos
Messy play is a fun way to challenge your child’s fine motor skills.