Building Skills through Play

Pincher GripAs a parent of a special needs child with sensory processing issues and poor muscle strength, I need to think out of the box a little bit when it comes to playtime. I want playtime to not only be fun, but also educational and skill-building. I think toys should help develop skills my child needs to master.

The pincher grip is a long-standing issue for us. This skill comes into play in daily life. Did you ever really stop to think about how many things we do with our pointer finger and thumb? Writing, buttoning buttons, snapping snaps, picking up small items. The list goes on and on. Some kids have difficulty even holding a pen or pencil correctly or firmly enough. We take it for granted if we can do it and don’t give it a second thought, but for others it can be a very difficult skill to learn and master.

Playing games and activities that help strengthen hand muscles, finger strength, and improve the pincher grip is an ideal way to build skills and have fun all at the same time. Here are a few things I’ve discovered that help us.

Play-DohPlay-Doh is a great tool on so many levels. It offers lots of physical benefits. You can roll it, smash it, pound it, tear it apart, and squish it back together. Or hide small items in it and have your child dig out the items. These are all great ways to build that hand and finger strength. Not only is it great for building muscle strength in the hands and fingers needed for handwriting, but it is also a great opportunity to help with creative expression. You can also incorporate pretend play, which some children with autism have difficulty with, simply by utilizing additional playsets. Take Play-Doh fun time as an opportunity to work on vocabulary skills, too. Take turns building models and see if you can guess what the other person made.

Games that include tweezers or tongs or even small pieces can really be fun and educational and help develop that pincher grip. Operation is the first game that comes to mind. We started out using it without batteries to eliminate the loud buzzer sound. And although it takes some reminding to use the thumb and pointer finger, classic Battleship has been another really good and really fun finger-grip game. My son doesn’t even realize he’s working on that skill. Ssshhh, don’t tell him either.

Play-DohI bet you can think of at least a few more games, toys, and activities that help develop those much-needed life skills.

Trust me – your kids will never suspect they’re building pincher-grip skills, hand strength, creative play, and even social skills by having so much fun!

So whether you choose to call it therapy or play, just have FUN with it and your kids will, too! Plus, what a great excuse for you to relax and act like a kid again!

*Please always keep in mind the age-appropriateness of any game with small pieces that may pose a choking hazard to your child.

Nanette Gomez is a Texas-based blogging mom who loves her family, travel, photography, and social media. She shares everything mommyhood, brings her way from family fun to family travel, and everything in between at

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