skip to Main Content

5 Activities to Promote Thumb Opposition

Thumb. What a funny sounding word for a finger. You probably don’t think twice about how critical the thumb is during every day activities. As a pediatric occupational therapist, in a school-based setting, I look at the thumb on a daily basis. In fact, I find the thumb quite interesting because humans are the only primate that can oppose the thumb. This means that we have the ability to isolate, rotate, and position our thumb, to touch the tip of our thumb and fingers together. Think of the “OK” sign that you make with your thumb and index finger. That hand position is thumb opposition. Having a strong and mobile thumb, allows humans to have a refined pincer pattern. This pattern allows use to pick up and manipulate objects, such as beads, coins, food, scissors, buttons, zippers, writing utensils and more.

Without this thumb position, we would have to use a raking motion, using the other four fingers, just to pick up and manipulate objects. Therefore, we wouldn’t efficiently be able to complete daily tasks, such as buttoning pants, turning a key to unlock a door, write, turn pages in a book, open/close containers and bags, cook, and more. If you notice that your child has difficulty isolating and opposing the thumb, then the child might be at risk for not developing critical fine motor milestones.

Below are some signs that your child might have poor thumb opposition:

  • Poor hand strength
  • Lack of an open web space (area between thumb and index finger) when using writing utensils or when picking up objects
  • Underdeveloped arches of the hand
  • Difficulty performing age-appropriate fine motor tasks (i.e. beading, zipping, buttons, lacing, etc)
Now that you know the signs, here are 5 activities to work on strength and mobility of the thumb for optimal opposition. These activities can all be completed in the comfort of your own home. Try to incorporate at least one activity into your daily play routine. Remember that practice and play is the best way for kids to learn and grow.

1. Tweezer Games

Tweezer games are great to help develop hand strength, arches of the hand, and encourage an open web space as the child plays. Make sure that the child uses the fingertips with the thumb opposed during the activity. There are plenty of games that use tweezers such as Avalanche-Fruit Stand, Bed Bugs, Operation, and Giggle Wiggle.  You can also sort pom-poms or cotton balls and place them into their own containers and tubes.

2. Squeezing activities

Squeezing games and activities will help to develop strength in the child’s hands, develop arches of the hand, and improve an open web space by placing the thumb in opposition, as the child squeezes the object. Games such as Froggy Feeding Fun and ball poppers are great squeezing games. You can also use plastic bottles, such as glue, condiment containers, and shampoo bottles to work on squeezing.

3. Eye droppers

Small eye droppers are great to isolate the index finger and thumb, which will work on creating an opened web space. Kid science boxes can be a fun purchase to use eye droppers with. You can make this tool even more kid friendly by creating a colorful art and science project. All you need is food coloring, water, and a coffee filter. Just mix the water and food coloring into a cup, and then drop different colors on the filter. The colors will blend and mix together. Once the child is finished, you can leave it the filter there to dry.

4. Clothespins

Clothespins are not just for hanging the clothes out to dry. Using clothespins through play also promotes hand strength, thumb stability and opposition.  When a child has hands that are weak, they may compensate their grasp pattern by using the side of the index finger and side of the thumb to squeeze the clothespin open. Encourage the child to use the tips of the long finger, index finger and thumb (pinch fingers) to squeeze the clothespin. The best part, clothespins are highly versatile. You can paint the clothespins or write numbers on them and then have the child match the clothespin on a card, paper plate, a ruler or paint stick. You could also have the child place the clothespin on, you guessed it, clothes.

5. Play-Doh

This is always my favorite activity. Play-Doh is naturally resistive to pull, squish, roll, and twist. There are tons of dough tools that a child can hold and push the dough through with the thumbs. If you don’t own dough tools, that is not a problem. Have the child try to roll the dough into a small ball or snake. From there, have the child smoosh the dough using the pinch fingers. You can also have the child roll big, golf ball size, balls and then have them squeeze the dough into the palm, with the thumb crossed over top of the fingers. This will work on strengthening the whole hand, and promote thumb mobility and stability needed for opposition.  

*Remember, the activities above are suggestions on how to improve thumb opposition and should not be used in place your child’s actual occupational therapy services.  Be sure to talk to your child’s occupational therapist to ensure that these activities are safe and appropriate for your child’s current skills and abilities.

-Brittany Stout, OTR/L

Back To Top

Patient Reviews

LLA Therapy

Patient Reviews

Crystal Scheibe

Great place, glad we found them. Been going to Medina over 2 months now and he loves Lauryn and Kyler. Wish they had more ABA therapy places available... live in Wooster and long drive everyday.

Karrie Swan LaRock

My 11 year old son has dyslexia and has made noticeable gains in working At LLA THERAPY. Katie is strong in her approach toward him and also keeps him comfortable enough to perform well. We will continue visiting both the Fairlawn and Hudson offices and recommend them highly.

Ron Monroe

My 9 year old just completed about 9 months of weekly speech sessions (due to his stuttering) with Matt Hagge at LLA and we are thrilled with the experience and results. What I thought might be a negative (what kid really wants to go to speech class?) was made very positive by Matt, and my son never hesitated or complained when we talked about class. He really enjoyed it and really took what Matt taught him to heart. His speech has been greatly improved and we definitely recommend LLA. Thank you so much!

Heather Dougherty-Pantoja

My son’s Occupational Therapist, Jess, is an amazing OT! She gives practical tips on working with my son at home and school!

Terri Apgar

I cannot say enough good things about LLA Therapy. My daughter was a client of Teal Simmons’ for approximately 2 years and was just released from speech therapy! She was diagnosed with Apraxia in 2015 and worked with Teal twice a week. Through Teal’s application of PROMPT therapy, my daughter had age-appropriate speech after one year. All of the staff we interacted with at LLA were absolutely wonderful. They really care about what they do and making sure your child achieves their goals.

Kelli Geisler Davisson

LLA Therapy has been an excellent experience for my son as well as my family! My son always asks, "When can I go see Ms. Jeannine again, is it Monday??" He has also made huge gains in only 5 months! I would highly recommend LLA and have already shared my experience with friends looking for services!

Victoria Hansford-Price

We are so grateful for our Speech Therapist Ms.Teal. We have seen a great improvement with our sons confidence and communication abilities since we have started "Prompt" therapy. What we love the most about LLA and Ms. Teal is that Kohl feels comfortable and relaxed which has played a critical role in his progress. Thank you Ms. Teal for all you have done.

Laura Lee Hogsett

They have helped in numerous ways. Speech, OT and behavioral. I've had numerous compliments on my son's progress thanks in very large part to LLA. I would recommend LLA before I recommend our local children's hospitals, though they are good, they don't have the staff that LLA does.

Amy Furukawa

We had a great experience with Matt Hagge at LLA! Our Middle School age son was becoming very conscious of his voice, which is nasal due to a cleft palate. Matt helped him to better form his sounds and project his voice in a way that makes the unavoidable nasality less noticeable.Our son is more confident and outgoing & even took on a speaking role in the church play. Matt has the perfect personality to relate with our son, and we would recommend him to anyone needing speech therapy services!

Jessica Havalotti

LLA Therapy has been an excellent experience for our daughter. I would highly recommend LLA. Miss Grace was so amazing and I can't believe how quickly our daughter showed improvement. Thank you!
Read More