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How to Teach Hand Skills in the Special Needs Classroom

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/5/2012

This article shows teachers how to build fine motor skills for young children in the special needs classroom. These fun hand skills activities can be done easily with low cost resources and little preparation time, and work well alongside formal, targeted tasks for specific hand skills.

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    What You Need

    Over time, it is helpful to build up a kit of resources that you can pull out at a moment's notice to make an activity for your students. Often, teaching fine motor skills needs to be done in a small group or individually so that you can ensure you are appropriately meeting the needs of each student. Try these for the beginnings of a kit for fine motor skills:

    1. counters of varying colors
    2. small and larger blocks of varying colors
    3. a range of pencils, crayons and markers
    4. a range of brushes and rollers with different sized grips(you can make your own by adding some foam to the outside of the brush, or buy a ready made one)
    5. pencil grips to add to a pencil, markers, or even on to a paint brush if needed
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    Resources for Building Hand Skills

    counterssmall blockstracing taskbrushes and rollerspencil grip
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    Match It With Counters

    Match It - Use the counters to match the pattern made by the teacher or another student. Two students can play this game together by sitting opposite each other and placing a counter on the table which is then "matched" by the other student. The activity can be extended or varied by increasing the speed of the task, putting down a color which matches a verbal prompt from the teacher, or making a shape such as a triangle using the counters. Encourage students to hold some counters in their hand and use their thumb and pointer finger to place the counter they want on the table. This encourages them to use all their fingers together as a whole working unit.

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    Build It With Blocks

    Build It - Use small colored blocks to build a tower. Sounds simple? Now try building on a wobbly or uneven surface, or building a tower using a colored pattern. Small blocks that do not click together are useful as children have to place them carefully to make them balance.

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    Trace It With Crayons

    Trace It - Use crayons or pencils to make various patterns on a page. Then ask your students to use their fingers to trace carefully around the line. Careful - if your finger leaves the line the crocodile/alligator/bear etc might snap it up! Make this task harder by using different fingers, two fingers together, or two patterns (one traced with each hand at the same time.) Also try placing the paper to one side so students have to reach across the mid-line of their body to trace.

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    Squeeze It With Grips

    Squeeze It - Ensure students are using a grip which suits their hands and their abilities. A relaxed, comfortable grip is important as it lets the child perform the task for longer without experiencing pain or discomfort. Talk to your school therapist about the appropriate grips for each student in your group. Sometimes extra resources are needed to make a good grip, such as using a neoprene strap to hold a brush or pencil securely in the hand.

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    Rainbow Road Ready to Go Resources

    Another option is to use a pre-made kit of activities that are designed to meet specific skills such as scissor skills, fine motor planning, individual finger control or finger position awareness. Along with your school therapist (if available), you could utilize a kit such as the Rainbow Road Program, which contains color coded activities designed to build both hand skills and also work across other areas such as eye hand co ordination, visual motor integration and visual closure.

    The activities come packaged in a neat little box which contains hard wearing cards explaining the materials needed for an activity, how to run the activity and what the measure of successful completion is. There are also details about how to extend the activity for many of the tasks.

    Regardless of whether you decide to go for your own ideas on building hand skills or you bring in the experts through a kit such as Rainbow Road, remember that the key to success lies in regular practice, lots of positive feedback, and a planned, carefully designed teaching and learning program with clear goals.

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    The Rainbow Road Program