Sugar Aunts: In-hand Manipulation for Functional Tasks and a Letter Activity

In-hand Manipulation for Functional Tasks and a Letter Activity

Kids require a lot of skills to write with a pencil, button a coat, zipper a shirt, and manage a handful of coins.  Today we're sharing ideas to help your child with in-hand manipulation.  This skill is important for moving that pencil, erasing mistakes, and fine motor tasks like managing buttons and zippers, coins, small items that fit in the hand, and pretty much a ton of functional tasks. SO what is in-hand manipulation and what can you do to improve all of these skills in kids?  Here are a few ideas for you!  This fun and easy activity is part of our 31 Day series of Occupational Therapy series where each post this month are functional and creative activities that can be done in Occupational Therapy treatment or in activities for kids who might need to work on certain skills through play.  All materials are free or items that might be found in your home.

Toys and tools for working on in-hand manipulation skills in kids, perfect for handwriting, pencil use, buttoning, scissor use, zippering, and more from an Occupational Therapist.


In-hand manipulation activity for kids learning letters

This post contains affiliate links.  This easy play activity was a fun one to set up for my four year old.  She is practicing letter recognition and letter sounds so we practiced identifying letters with this foam puzzle that we have.  We found ours at a garage sale, but you can get one in dollar stores or 
a similar puzzle here.  Simply grab a pile of whatever you've got on hand to fill the letters.  We used beads, but you could use dry beans, corn kernals, dry split peas, or any other small item.


Toys and tools for working on in-hand manipulation skills in kids, perfect for handwriting, pencil use, buttoning, scissor use, zippering, and more from an Occupational Therapist.

Letter Recognition Activity for Preschool

To practice letter recognition, I called out a letter and my preschooler filled that letter with beads.  It was a great way for her to work on letter identification.  We also did a little phonetic awareness and I named a letter's sound.  She then filled the letter that makes that sound.  She enjoyed testing me, too.  "I'm filling a letter that sounds like this: /mmmmm/.  What letter is that, Mom?"


Toys and tools for working on in-hand manipulation skills in kids, perfect for handwriting, pencil use, buttoning, scissor use, zippering, and more from an Occupational Therapist.

In-hand Manipulation 

So are you still thinking, "Ok, cool. I like it.  But what the heck is in-hand manipu-what"?

In-hand manipulation is essentially is the ability to move small objects around in your hand without using the other hand to help.  This skill is essential for managinfg small items within the hand for accomplishment of tasks. There are three parts to In-hand manipulation...translation, shift, and rotation.  We shared two fun activities to work on these skills here.  

In-hand manipualtion begins to develop around 18 months, with the greatest skill development occuring between 2 and 2 1/2 years old.  

Toys and tools for working on in-hand manipulation skills in kids, perfect for handwriting, pencil use, buttoning, scissor use, zippering, and more from an Occupational Therapist.

Parts of In-hand Manipulation

Finger-to-Palm Translation: Movement of an object from the fingers to the palm i.e. picking up a coin and moving it to the palm.

Palm-to-Finger Translation: Movement of an object from the palm to the finger tips.  (i.e. moving a coin from the palm to the fingertips to insert into a vending machine.)

Shift: Slight adjustment of an object on or by the finger pads. (i.e. adjusting a pencil up and down in your hand.)

Simple Rotation: Turning or rolling an object 90 degrees or less with the fingers moving as a unit. (i.e. unscrewing a toothpaste lid)

Complex Rotation: Turning an object more than 90 degrees using isolated finger and thumb movements. (i.e. Turning a paper clip)

Each of the above skills can occur with items "squirreled away in the palm using the pinkey finger and ring finger.  This is called "with stabilization".  If other items are not pocketed away in the palm while in-hand manipulation occurs, it is called "without stabilization".  Stabilization typically occurs around 2 years of age.

Toys and tools for working on in-hand manipulation skills in kids, perfect for handwriting, pencil use, buttoning, scissor use, zippering, and more from an Occupational Therapist.

Toys and tools for working on in-hand manipulation skills in kids, perfect for handwriting, pencil use, buttoning, scissor use, zippering, and more from an Occupational Therapist.

Activities to work on in-hand manipulation using (almost) free materials.  These a few of my favorite activities from my Occupational Therapy treatment bag and ones that should be pretty easy (and inexpensive!) to set up:
  • Roll play dough into small balls using only the fingertips.
  • Tear newspaper into strips, crumble it, and stuff an art project.
  • Use tweezers to pick up small items.  This works on the intrinsic muscles of the hands.
  • Lacing activities.
  • Eye Droppers to drop water into recycled lids.
  • Coin or button matching, sorting, and stacking.  We loved playing with coins for fine motor fun.
  • Small pegboards, tucking extra pegs into the palm of the hand.  You can use cut up straws and play dough, too.
  • Dropping small items into bottles with a small opening like we did here.
  • Pick up beads from the floor and drop into ice cube trays.
  • Push coins into a piggy bank.
  • Press buttons into a slit cut in the lid of a plastic tub.
  • Pick-up sticks.
  • Games with small chips.
  • Beading.
  • Twisting lids on/off water bottles.


In-Hand Manipulation Toys and Tools for Fine Motor Skills

Toys and tools for working on in-hand manipulation skills in kids, perfect for handwriting, pencil use, buttoning, scissor use, zippering, and more from an Occupational Therapist.

These are some fine motor tools that kids will love.  While they are definitely not free, they are additional ideas for in-hand manipulation play and learning.  These are toys that will help with handwriting, buttoning, zippering, managing snaps and shoe-tying, among other functional skills, and all through play.  

Lite Brite is a classic art creating activity that works on fine motor skills, and especially in-hand manipulation. Prop the board up on a on angle and you're getting excellent wrist extension which helps with translation from fingers to palm and vice versa.

 Lacing & Tracing Dinosaurs can help kids with lacing, managing strings, threading, bilateral hand coordination, and strength.  It's a great activity to work on in-hand manipulation.  Try these Lacing & Tracing Sea Life cards, too.

HABA Color Peg is a fun creating activity to work on in-hand manipulation to translate the small pegs into the slots. 

 This Peg Board with 1000 Pegs was one of my absolute favorite treatment tools in pediatric Occupational Therapy. I love the small size of the pegs that allow children to manipulate and manage the tools within their hands. The key to working on in-hand manipulation is to use items that are smaller than the child's hand and these colorful pegs work on so many other skills besides the vital in-hand manipulation. 

 Manipulating coins is such a great way to work on in-hand manipulation. This Coinasaurus Bank is a fun bank to practice with! 

 Spinning tops is a nice way to work on rotation. These Standard Tops are fun! 

 The game, Ker Plunk Game is an in-hand manipulation powerhouse. Handle the marbles to work on translation, and rotate the sticks with the thumb and the pointer finger. This is a game that will work on so many fine motor skills.

Toys and tools for working on in-hand manipulation skills in kids, perfect for handwriting, pencil use, buttoning, scissor use, zippering, and more from an Occupational Therapist.

Toys and tools for working on in-hand manipulation skills in kids, perfect for handwriting, pencil use, buttoning, scissor use, zippering, and more from an Occupational Therapist.

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