20 Ways to Bolster a Preschooler's Pincer Grasp for Kindergarten

Updated on January 13, 2020
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During her years as a teacher and mother, Ms. Meyers discovered that not all praise was equal and some kinds were even deleterious to kids.

A preschooler's weak pincer grasp can lead to frustration and fatigue in kindergarten.
A preschooler's weak pincer grasp can lead to frustration and fatigue in kindergarten. | Source

Avoid Frustration in Kindergarten by Strengthening Your Preschooler's Pincer Grasp Now

Today, many kindergartners struggle holding a pencil correctly and comfortably, causing them undue frustration. They become easily fatigued when writing, drawing, cutting, and coloring because their fingers and hands haven't developed the necessary strength and dexterity. Parents of preschoolers, though, can help their children now so weak fine motor skills won't be an issue in the future. But first, they need to know what the pincer grasp is and why it's critical for success in kindergarten.

What is a pincer grasp?

Developing the pincer grasp is an important developmental milestone that typically occurs between 8 and 12 months. It involves a child's ability to pick up small objects between the thumb and index finger. When a youngster is older, it's key to holding a pencil correctly. Some kids need special activities to develop strength and dexterity so they have a strong pincer grasp.

More Children Are Starting Kindergarten With Weak Pincer Grasps and Poor Fine Motor Skills

Children on the autism spectrum often need extra help to enhance their pincer grasp and overall hand strength. Today, though, they're certainly not the only ones. Kindergarten teachers now have more students who lack dexterity and, therefore, struggle to do everyday activities such as cutting with scissors, tying shoelaces, stringing beads, and turning the pages of a book.

Many of these kids have spent too many hours with screens and not enough time manipulating play-dough, putting together puzzles, and playing simple games such as Pick-Up Sticks and Hi Ho! Cherry-O. Fortunately, parents of preschoolers can step in to solve this problem so their children won't struggle when starting kindergarten. Here are 20 fun and simple activities moms and dads can do at home to strengthen their children's pincer grasp and fine motor skills.

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. Then, have your children pull them off the surface. It will be difficult for them at first but watch their proud faces as they get faster, stronger, and more confident!

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

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

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

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

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

Playing Games Together

6. Hi-Ho Cherry-O—Many parents will remember this classic game from their own childhoods. Youngsters 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, and whoever causes it to collapse is the loser.

8. Don't Spill the BeansThis 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 it over and, if you do, you lose.

I used this game with my pre-kindergarten classes, and they absolutely loved it. Best of all, it's so simple that kids can play it by themselves with no adult supervision. When teenagers would come from the nearby high school to help at preschool, they'd always want to play this game with the little kids because they liked it so much, too!

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 game creates lots of fun, thrills, and laughter.

10. Pick Up Sticks—The oldest games are often the best ones. Players take turns picking a stick from the pile without disturbing the others. If the player causes a stick to move, they end their turn. If they don't cause a stick to move, they get to go again. At the end, the player with the most sticks is the winner.

Using Tools

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

12. Have your kids pick up similar objects with chopsticks and tongs. See how many objects they can transfer to a container in two minutes.

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

15. Even if your children are not ready to use scissors to cut paper, have them 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 children some bubble wrap and let them pop the bubbles with their fingers.

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

18. Let your children drive nails into scraps of wood with a junior-sized hammer.

19. Have your kids 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 children build sculptures with mini-marshmallows and toothpicks.

Turn Off the Technology!

In my kindergarten class, I had students who could surf any technological device but would cry when they colored a picture because their hands ached. 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 no longer do 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. This problem is compounded when young children attend preschools that allow screens there as well. Instead of doing activities that enhance their fine motor skills, little kids are spending too much time on technology, sitting too long at circle time, and enduring too many teacher-directed lessons.

While some ill-informed parents are impressed when their little ones use technology at preschool, research doesn't 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

Kids 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 children's pincer grasp and overall hand strength will prevent fatigue and frustration in kindergarten. They'll enter the classroom with confidence, knowing they 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.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    © 2016 McKenna Meyers


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