Fun and Effective Hand and Shoulder Strengthening Exercises

Core (trunk) strength and stability is crucial to provide a solid base of support for your child’s body to allow their arms and hands to move freely and perform precisely. Without adequate core strength, a child may have a difficult time maintaining an upright seated position with appropriate postural control. This may lead to easier fatigue when sitting at a desk as well as more difficulty using their arms and hands precisely. In order for your child’s hands to work well, good upper body strength as well as shoulder girdle strength is important.  Stability at the shoulder muscles in a necessary component for your child’s coordination, postural control, and fine motor skill development. This stability in their upper body and shoulders allows for fine motor tasks, such as writing, cutting, and lacing, to be carried out easier as well as increasing their performance with these tasks. Listed below are hand and shoulder strengthening ideas and activities to do around the house to improve your child’s overall upper body strength, which is so important to help with those fine motor skills! Have fun!!

Hand Strengthening

  • Play dough or clay: The more they manipulate it, the better. You can find homemade recipes or silly putty adds an extra level of resistance.
  • Rubber bands: See how many you can stretch around a can, or make a geoboard (rubber bands stretched around pegs to make different shapes).
  • Hole punch: Just punch holes in paper using different shape punchers. The paper punches can be used as snow, confetti or for making crafts!
  • Kitchen tongs: Pick up stuff around the house with them. Watch Inspector Gadget for inspiration, if old enough ☺ Or pretend to be robots.
  • Clothespins: Have kids hang stuff up, like art, good grades, or chore lists, on a clothesline.
  • Tweezers: Use these to pick up extra small objects. These are smaller than tongs so it takes more coordination, but they’re easier to actually squeeze. Play the board game Operation for surgical precision practice!
  • Eye droppers: Use them for a water activity or a science experiment – by squeezing to fill up or drop a water bead out.
  • Syringes: Use these for water activities for increasing 3 finger pinch strength.
  • Paper: Start with tissue paper, work your way  to computer paper, then go for construction paper – tear small pieces and roll them into little balls (using pointer finger and thumb if possible) to use in a craft or to have a mini “snowball” fight.
    • For overall grip strength, crumple up an entire sheet of paper to see how tight it can be rolled using just one hand (tip: use newspapers or old papers you’re planning to recycle). Or buy a cheap “trash can basketball hoop” to make a game out of it.
  • Spray bottle: Enlist your child’s help with spraying/misting plants at home or spraying down a chalk or white board to clean it.
  • Sponges: Practice squeezing the water out of a sponge when washing a car, chalk board, or dishes.

Shoulder Strengthening

  • Wall push-ups: Stand a foot from the wall, reach arms out straight so flat hands connect with wall.  Now, bend arms while leaning forward and then push back out. Do as many as possible – try for at least 10!
  • Climbing Trees/Monkey Bars:Have your child work on using their upper body to climb trees or hang and swing on obstacles around or outside your house.
  • Wheelbarrow Walks: Hold your child’s legs while they wheelbarrow walk using their arms. See if they can wheelbarrow walk while laying over an exercise ball on their stomach!
  • Complete activities laying on their stomach on the ground: Laying on their stomach on the ground, have your child complete activities to increase their core/trunk and shoulder strength.
  • Balloon Volleyball: Use an item around the house like a bat, racquet, or  fly swatter to hit a balloon. Create a middle net or imaginary net to hit the ball over back and forth.
  • Washing windows/cars: Washing windows or a car can improve upper body strength because it involves reaching above their head and against gravity.
  • Draw, color, or paint on a vertical surface: This also encourages reaching against gravity to increase upper body strength as well as improve wrist extension for handwriting tasks.
  • Play catch with a large ball or exercise ball: Encourage throwing a large ball or exercise ball back and forth or around a circle. Practice bouncing or tossing as well!

-Kelsey Shanks, OTR/L