Our coaches, fitness trainers, and doctors always tell us to warm up our muscles before we exercise. The physiological reason is to pump oxygen rich blood to your working muscles to increase circulation preparing the body for use. I know it may seem crazy but children need to do the same for their fingers when learning to handwrite.
Progressive Pediatric Therapy Occupational Therapist, Julie Schneider, MS, OTR says “Handwriting requires thinking, finger strength, and finger endurance. Children use their arms and legs all day while playing and only use the small muscles in their fingers intermittently. In order for children to be successful in academics, they must be able to multi-task. Concentrating on forming their letters, staying on the lined paper, and allowing proper word and letter spacing is very hard to do when your fingers get tired easily. Finger warm ups are essential. Once all the small muscles in the fingers are warmed up, handwriting becomes more automatic leaving children with the ability to concentrate on the teacher’s lesson.”
Finger muscle warm-up exercises should develop pre-requisite handwriting skills of crossing the midline, promoting bilateral integration, understanding directional terms, exploring and developing hand dominance, and promoting functional pencil grasp. Listed below are some activities to help with each skill.
Ability to cross the midline
Windshield Wipers: Place arms above head, cross straight arms ten times like scissors then put bottom arm over top hand and do ten more.
Promoting bilateral integration (two hand use)
Mickey Mouse Ears: Place fist next to ears, squeeze, and then open and close the fingers. Complete the activity ten or fifteen times.
Understanding directional terms
Cooking: Follow step-by-step instructions on recipe.
Exploring and developing hand dominance
To increase hand strength, practice tearing paper with hands, spraying plants with water bottles, or using tweezers to place small items into a container.
To improve hand dominance, open containers with lids, cut with scissors, or play Simon Says.
Promoting functional pencil grasp
Many activities can help with grasp including playing with puzzles and Legos as well as molding clay or play dough.
Julie suggests that parents and teachers incorporate a few of these exercises into their daily routines. It only takes a few minutes to touch the life of a child by “getting the silly’s out” and exercising those fingers!