Jenna has very little grip strength. Working with a pencil, crayons or paintbrush is incredibly hard for her, and she becomes easily frustrated and fatigued. Her written lines look shaky because she doesn’t have the fine motor control to steady herself when she can barely muster the strength to grip. We try to find ways at home that are both fun and therapeutic to build up her strength and fine motor coordination. Today’s activity: Sorting.
We began with a small bowl of assorted beads (including some TINY seed beads), small snaps, jingle bells and puffy pom poms. I gave Jenna both a small set of tweezers from a drug store, and a larger set from a crafting store. She chose to use the smaller, cosmetic set (pictured below) and claimed that it was easier for her. I set out the bowl of assorted pretties (which served a dual purpose for sensory stimulation for SPD), a mini muffin tray (Wilton silicone) and a mini ice cube tray that I picked up at the grocery store over the weekend. I let her decide how she wanted to sort them, because I find that the more control I give her, the more cooperative and engaged she is. Here’s what she ended up with after 40 minutes of concentrated effort:
She sorted the beads by color and type, gave the snaps their own compartment, and gave each pom pom a cup in the ice cube tray, arranged by color. As she sorted, we talked about the letters on each letter bead, the shapes and colors of the other beads, how the pom poms felt, the sound the jingle bells made, how a snap works (we opened & closed the snaps), and problem solved how to pick up the large orange bead and the jingle bells with the tweezers when they didn’t easily pick up. Not surprisingly, she pulled the pom poms out first, followed by the larger beads, then focusing on the (MANY) letter beads, and finishing up with the smaller beads. She sorted the tiniest seed beads last, and they were obviously more difficult for her.
Throughout the exercise, she complained that her hand hurt and we would pause to shake it out and wiggle her fingers. She also tends to want to use her thumb and middle finger, rather than a pincher grip with forefinger and thumb. To correct for this, I take a large marble or small rubber ball and have her close her middle, ring and pinky fingers around it to hold it in her palm (a trick I learned from our occupational therapist). This forces her to use a correct pincher grip. She also only wanted to use her right hand and was quite resistant to the idea of switching to her left. I let her finish all the sorting with her right, then asked her to pick 10 things up with her left to put back in the starting bowl. She ended up doing more than 10, but still did not give the left equal time. Something we’ll need to work on in the future.
This is a very easy exercise to do with craft supplies or various things around your house. You can even use small pebbles, leaves, sticks and grass from outside! This was such a hit with Jenna that I hope to find different materials to use in the same way in order to hold her interest. Here’s the breakdown of what I used: cosmetic tweezers (drug/dollar store: $2), pom poms (Target craft aisle: $2 for a LOT), letter beads (Target craft aisle $1), mini snaps, assorted beads, and jingle bells were all purchased at a garage sale last summer for $1 in a bag of assorted craft supplies, mini ice cube tray (grocery: $3), Wilton muffin tray (I have no idea. I’ve had it for years and use it for baking most of the time), small sorting bowl (dollar store: $1 for 4).
A variation we’ve used in the past is to sort cotton balls into muffin trays or from bowl to bowl using tongs. You can use large, salad tongs or smaller, ice tongs. This doesn’t encourage the pincher grip as much as smaller tweezers with smaller items, but it’s still a great (and FUN!) exercise. If you have variations on this task or other ideas for strengthening grip, please feel free to share in the comments. I always love hearing from you!
Finally, the cat wanted in on the photo shoot: