20 Ways to Strengthen Your Child's Pincer Grasp Before Kindergarten so She's Ready for Writing, Drawing, and Cutting

Updated on March 31, 2018
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I'm a credentialed teacher with a master's degree in special education. I spent many years teaching preschool and kindergarten.

Avoid Frustration in Kindergarten by Strengthening Your Child's Pincer Grasp Before Starting School

Many children today have difficulty holding a pencil correctly and comfortably. This frustrates in the classroom when they become easily fatigued while writing, drawing, cutting, and coloring. An aware mom or dad can stave off this problem by addressing it before the youngster starts school. But first, a parent needs to know what the pincer grasp is and why it's so important to their youngster's academic success.

A developed pincer grasp is necessary for the everyday activities in kindergarten: coloring, writing, cutting, and drawing. A weak pincer grasp leads to frustration and fatigue at school
A developed pincer grasp is necessary for the everyday activities in kindergarten: coloring, writing, cutting, and drawing. A weak pincer grasp leads to frustration and fatigue at school | Source

What is a Pincer Grasp?

Developing the pincer grasp is an important developmental milestone that typically occurs between 8 and 12 months. It involves the child's ability to pick up small objects between his thumb and index finger. Some children on the autism spectrum need special help to strengthen their pincer grasps.

More Children Entering Kindergarten with Poor Pincer Grasps and Weak Hand Muscles

Children on the autism spectrum often need extra help to enhance their pincer grasp and overall hand strength. But they are not the only ones. Kindergarten teachers are now seeing more youngsters enter school who lack the power and dexterity to do everyday activities such as cut with scissors, tie shoelaces, string beads, and turn pages of a book. Many of these children have spent too many hours in front of screens and not enough time manipulating play-dough, putting puzzles together, and building with Legos—all of which develop hand strength. While occupational therapists help children on the autism spectrum develop their pincer grasp, moms and dads can help their own kids at home. Here are 20 activities a parent can do at home with their own child to accomplish the same goal:

Peeling, Pulling, and Squeezing

1. Place strips of duct tape on the kitchen floor, outside on the sidewalk, or on the walls of the garage. Have your child pull them off the surface. It's hard for him at first but watch as he becomes stronger and more confident.

2. Keep lots of stickers on hand for your child to peel and stick (I kept a little tool box of them in the car for my son with crayons and markers). Have him place the stickers on a piece of paper to create a scene/story. Encourage him to add background details with crayons and markers. Optional: Have him describe the scene/story to you while you write it on the paper.

3. Keep a squishy ball or squishy toy handy for your child to squeeze while watching TV, riding in the car, or walking to the park. Make it a part of his everyday routine.

4. Have your child take a wet wash rag and squeeze the water into a sink, on the lawn, or in the bathtub. Give him a goal of filling a cup or bucket.

5. Give your child a wet sponge to squeeze on the plants inside and out.

Kids today need to move away from the screens and play games that strengthen their hand muscles. Pick-up Sticks is a fun and easy one!
Kids today need to move away from the screens and play games that strengthen their hand muscles. Pick-up Sticks is a fun and easy one! | Source

Playing Games Together (Amazon and Target are good resources)

6. Hi-Ho Cherry-O—Many parents will remember this classic game from their own childhoods. Children improve their pincer grasp by picking up little plastic cherries and placing them on a tree. It's great for hand-eye coordination, counting, adding, and subtracting.

7. Don't Break the Ice—The beauty of this game lies in its simplicity. Players take a mallet and tap at blocks of ice—gently and strategically. Patience is key. Suspense builds as the ice falls away. Whoever causes it to collapse loses.

8. Don't Spill the Beans—This game is ideal for enhancing the pincer grasp. Players take turns picking up little plastic beans and placing them carefully on the pot. The object is to avoid tipping over the pot. If you do, you lose.

9. Pop Up Pirate—This is another terrific game to improve the pincer grasp. Players insert small plastic swords into the barrel. Suspense builds until one sword causes the pirate to pop off the barrel. That player loses. This games creates lots of fun, excitement, and laughter.

10. Pick Up Sticks—The oldest games are often the best games. Players take turns picking a stick from the pile without disturbing the others. If the player causes a stick to move, he ends his turn. If he doesn't cause a stick to move, he gets to go again. The player with the most sticks wins.

Using Tools

11. Let your child use tweezers to pick up small objects: cotton balls, paper-clips, beans, plastic rings, and little rubber dinosaurs. Have him transfer the object from one container to another.

12. Have your child pick up similar objects with chopsticks and tongs. See how many objects he can transfer to a container in 2 minutes.

13. Have your child play with hole punches. Go to a craft store such as Michael's and buy an assortment. Some make circles. Some make squares. Some make stars. Some make animals. Using a hole punch develops hand strength and children LOVE doing it.

14. Have your child pound, punch, pull, roll, stretch, squeeze, and create with play-dough on a regular basis. Keep a variety of kitchen tools on hand for him to use: rolling pins, cookie cutters, utensils, a garlic press, etc.

15. Even if your child is not ready to use scissors to cut paper, let him cut thicker items such as play-dough, straws, and foam shapes.

Unfortunately, some parents (and teachers, too) don't understand the importance of play-dough in developing the pincer grasp.
Unfortunately, some parents (and teachers, too) don't understand the importance of play-dough in developing the pincer grasp. | Source

Get Creative and Keep It Fresh

16. Give your child some bubble wrap and let him pop the bubbles.

17. Assign your child the weekly job of watering all the houseplants with a spray bottle.

18. Let you child drive nails into scraps of wood with a junior-sized hammer.

19. Have your child write/draw on the sidewalk with jumbo chalk and then “erase” it by squirting it with a spray bottle full of water.

20. Let your child build sculptures with mini-marshmallows and toothpicks.

Turn Off the Technology!

In my kindergarten class, I had students who could surf any technological device put before them but would cry when they colored a picture because their hand ached. These youngsters once had ample opportunities at home and at preschool to develop their pincer grasp by pounding and pinching play-dough, playing games, stringing beads, doing puzzles, and painting at the easel. Sadly, so many of them don't now because they're preoccupied with screens.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids today are spending an average of seven hours a day on cell phones, televisions, computers, and other electronic devices. Seventy percent of them say there are no rules at home that restrict their use. The problem is compounded when young children attend preschool and are given even more time there to sit like zombies in front of screens.

While some ill-informed parents are impressed that their little ones use technology at preschool, the evidence is not there to support it. Lisa Guernsey, Director of the New American Foundation's Early Education Initiative, cautions moms and dads. She states that screen time at preschool can “distract children from important play patterns and social interactions that help them develop social-emotional skills, cognitive skills, and habits of mind.” Having kids on devices at preschool is putting the cart way before the horse, preventing them from building the strong foundation that's needed for future learning.

Final Thoughts

Children face many challenges when they start school—both academic and social. Why not eliminate one of those challenges by dealing with it now? Strengthening your child's pincer grasp and overall hand strength will prevent fatigue and frustration in kindergarten. He'll enter the classroom with confidence, knowing he can handle the routine of coloring, drawing, and writing.

A Book to Combat the Insanity in Early Childhood Education

Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids
Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids

Thank goodness for this wonderful book that advocates for young children. As kindergarten teachers, we are now required to do so much that goes against what we know is best for our young students. We see kids struggling at school with poor fine motor skills and pincer grasps. We see their lack of focus and their inability to control themselves. We see their desire to play and use their imaginations, not zone out in front of screens. We see their need to think critically, not act like robots. This book brings common sense back to early childhood education. It should be a must-read for administrators, bureaucrats, and politicians who don't understand child development but are setting the educational agenda.

 

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 McKenna Meyers

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