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In-hand manipulation

In-hand manipulation is the most complex fine motor skill. It’s the ability to hold an object in one hand and move or re-position it without having to use your other hand. This includes things like being able to twirl a pencil in one hand or spin a coin from head to tails.

This ability is important in learning how to efficiently coordinate hand muscles so they can control objects like a pencil or pen.

If your child is having difficulties with in-hand manipulation, you might notice that they use both hands to do movements they should only need one for. They might also be using their bodies or furniture to stabilise an object and get the job done.  

There are a number of activities you can try to help your child develop in-hand manipulation, including:

  • Asking them to pick up several small objects at once, such as paper clips, coins or buttons, and then, using only the thumb and index finger, put them back down one by one. Try building this into board games, marble games or threading
  • Practicing removing small objects from a purse, bag or container one at a time and holding them in the palm of their hand before putting them back
  • Painting and colouring with two colours on cotton buds, or a pencil or crayon sharpened on both ends, so they have to flip from one side to the other
  • Picking up a pencil as if they’re going to write with it and instead walking their fingers up and down the pencil
  • Practice sharpening pencils
  • Playing with a pencil and making it spin like a windmill, going clockwise first and then anticlockwise
  • Practicing flipping a coin from heads to tails and then posting it into a slot
  • Turning a dice with their fingertips to see different sides
  • Twisting open or closed lids on small bottles or toothpaste tubes with the same hand they're holding it in

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and you’re still not seeing any improvement after four months, please speak to a health professional for advice.