Shoulder Stability and Hand Strengthening Exercises for children with all disabilities and abilities.
These resources are suitable for our Jungles; children and young people with any ability or disability.
What are the benefits of shoulder stability and hand strengthening for disabled children?
We need good shoulder, elbow, wrist hand and finger strength to carry and manipulate objects, stabilise ourselves and for hand dexterity and fine motor skills.
This includes being able to carry out activities of daily living such as eating, dressing (buttons and zips can be especially difficult) doing up laces, handwriting, typing etc. Much play and school work need good fine motor skills although there are adaptations if fine motor skills aren’t going to be achieved.
If your child has some difficulties with using their hands, then strengthening their shoulders, arms and hands may help them with their hand function.
Before trying these exercises, take a minute to prepare your child.
If your child has any tightness in their hands and arms, give them a good stretch before they start.
To wake up their muscles squeezing and massage their hands, tips of their fingers and their arms and shoulders. 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 use their arms/ hands more effectively.
Shoulder stability and elbow strength and stability exercises for your child
Start just trying to maintain a hands and knees position. It may be easier to start with the child sitting back on their heels and just balancing through their arms.
As they get stronger, move their bodies forward until their shoulders are over their hands and their hips are over their knees. While they learn to hold this position, watching activities are the best – watching a tablet, reading a book etc so they don’t have to move their arms.
Once they are stable on their hands and knees, practice lifting 1 hand to play. They could play on a tablet with 1 hand, roll balls back and forwards or do a puzzle.
On their hands and knees – reach 1 arm straight out in front of them in the air – you can challenge them to balance a beanbag or soft toy on the back of their hand to keep it up. Try and hold for 1 minute
Now try and lift 1 leg straight out behind them. Try and hold this for 1 minute
Can they do an opposite arm and leg at the same time and hold it for 1 minute?
Try the other side.
Hold your child by their hips with their legs straddling you and their hands on the floor. Move around the floor picking up objects for as far as you can go. Your child should walk around on their hands.
Move your hands down to your child’s knees and walk around the room – picking up objects or play a matching game or skittles.
If you can, hold your child by their ankles. Make sure they keep their bottom in the air and don’t hang their tummy down. Again find a game to make this motivating.
As your child gets stronger you could try to get from one end of the house to another – even trying going up the stairs.
You could also make an obstacle course to go around.
Any climbing using hands will be good for hand and shoulder strength and stability. This includes climbing on furniture or up the stairs. The more weight which goes through the arms, the better.
The most challenging activity is hanging on a bar or going along monkey bars. Try hanging off a door if you don’t have access to a bar to hang from.
Wrist, hand and finger strengthening exercises to try at home with your child
See this ‘Our Home’ video on hand strengthening with playdough – kneading, pulling apart, squashing or wringing the playdough can all be great hand strengthening exercises.
For finger strengthening, try hiding objects in the dough and your child has to manipulate it to get the toy.
Fill an empty toothpaste tube with yogurt or a water bottle with a spout with any liquid in to squeeze and squirt.
Put soft playdough 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.
See our ‘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.
Tie string around the legs of some chairs and clip pegs to it. Your child can then try to take the pegs off.
Use card and cut it into a head shape and use the clothes pegs to 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).
For whole hand strengthening, use kitchen or BBQ tongs and try to pick up bigger items such as socks, soft toys or 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. They then need to find the item, pick it up with their tongs or pincers and bring them 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 small holes 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.
Using scissors is a great way to strengthen hands. You can start by cutting playdough as this teaches the right technique to cut. Make a snake out of dough and ask them 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. These activities should be supervised at all times.
See this video for some simple paper chains using straight line cutting.
Headstand and handstands
Both headstands and handstands are brilliant ways to challenge your child’s whole arm, hand and fingers strength. They should be tried only if your child has a good level of fitness and strength already and can manage the wheelbarrow exercise held at their ankles. Both carry risks and must be attempted at your own risk.
These videos take you step by step through the process of doing a headstand and handstand. Make sure your child takes these very slowly to avoid injury and help and supervise your child throughout.
This video takes you through the process of doing a headstand. Watch the whole thing through before you try. Make sure your child is stable at each step to avoid injury later on.
This video is great for teaching a smaller child the beginning steps of a handstand. The final step is up against a wall.
This video is appropriate for teaching handstand to older and stronger children who love a physical challenge; Workout Series: How to Master the Handstand . If your child is very physical this will be a good challenge and may also help to calm and regulate them. Remember to stay with your child throughout these exercises for safety.
Here are a selection of suitable activity videos for your child
This obstacle course is suitable for those children who can crawl along the floor, this includes younger children with Down Syndrome.
This video is suitable for mobile children. You can create the laser string quest anywhere in your home and make it as big or small or as easy as you like!
The scavenger hunt is really simple and easy to set up. It can be adapted to suit any disability and household.
Silly Socks and a bit of Boccia
Lucy Lost-it has created some fun easy to set up games. All you need are some socks!
Stealthy Ways for Handwashing
This video contains tips on how to ‘stealth handwash’ whilst still having fun with various kitchen or household props.