Finger Gym: A Guide for Teachers

Table of Contents

    Introduction to Finger Gym

    Teaching students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) requires a unique set of skills, patience, and a toolbox of innovative teaching strategies. One of the strategies that has gained popularity in recent years is ‘Finger Gym’. This article explores the concept of Finger Gym, how it can be incorporated into your classroom, its benefits, and the research that supports it.

    Finger Gym: A Guide for Teachers Essential resources image of multiple fine motor skills teaching resources

    Finger Gym refers to activities designed to build strength and dexterity in children’s hands and fingers. These activities often involve manipulation of small objects, threading, cutting, squeezing, and other fine motor skills tasks. Finger Gym can be particularly beneficial to children with SEN who may struggle with motor skills development. There is a great book on Fine Motor skills and Down Syndrome that has loads of ideas you can build into your finger gym provision.

    Incorporating Finger Gym into Your Classroom

    Incorporating Finger Gym into your classroom can be a fun, engaging way to help children develop their fine motor skills. Here are some suggestions to help implement it effectively:

    Daily Routine

    Make Finger Gym activities part of your daily routine. This could be a designated time each day, or you could use them as transition activities between other tasks. Ideally you want to set up task boxes with complete finger gym activities so you can just grab and distribute or label in a way the children can collect them independently. It is a good calming activity for primary children.

    Star wars fine motor activities for pre-school

    Finger Gym Centre

    Create a Finger Gym centre in your classroom where children can go to work on specific activities. This could include materials for threading, cutting, or crafting. This is good for children that are self-motivated to complete the activity. It is less time demanding than task boxes if you don’t have a teaching assistant to take ownership of these. Some of my classes have been children who couldn’t be expected to leave the boxes neat and keeping track of all the bits was difficult.

    Use Household Objects

    Many Finger Gym activities can be created using everyday household objects. For instance, children can thread pasta onto string, squeeze water out of sponges, or manipulate playdough. The kitchen is your greatest source of inspiration. Many useful things can be found on facebook marketplace or charity shops. There really is no need to buy expensive sets.

    Finger Gym: EYFS activities
    Simple Finger Gym Activity Using Home-Made Resources

    Rotate Activities

    To keep students engaged, try to rotate the activities regularly. This will also allow children to work on different skills and prevent them from getting bored with the same tasks. You can even theme them to your topic.

    Here are 5 suggestions to incorporate finger gym activities into your timetable:

    1. Playdough/modelling clay – Kids can roll, pat, pinch and shape the dough to strengthen fingers. Add small objects to pick out.
    2. Finger paints/chalk – Drawing, swirling and printing with paints/chalk on paper or boards builds dexterity.
    3. Lacing cards – Fisher Price and Melissa & Doug make cards with holes and toys/shapes for threading to improve pincer grasp.
    4. Tweezers/tongs – Games collecting small toys/cereal pieces with tools work on precise finger-thumb coordination.
    5. Clay sculpting – Modelling animals, people or shapes from coil or slab methods engages fingers fully.
    6. Finger exercises app – Differentiate instruction for various skill levels with an app featuring novel targets, trails etc. OT Toolbox has some great suggestions for fine motor apps.
    7. Play rice/lentils/sand – Open containers, pour, mold and sculpt the media. Tool use strengthens fingers engaged in discovery.
    8. Blocks/Legos – Gathering, sorting, connecting, stacking manipulatives develops precision handling.
    9. Marble Run – create small builds that allow children to develop their fine motor by either picking up the marble with their fingers or small tongs or tweezers. Just use a few pieces.
    Marble run fine motor activity

    Benefits of Finger Gym

    Finger Gym activities offer a wealth of benefits for children with and without SEN:

    • Fine Motor Skills: They help develop the small muscles in the hands and fingers, which are essential for tasks like writing, buttoning, and using scissors.
    • Hand-Eye Coordination: Many Finger Gym activities require children to use their eyes to guide their hands, thus improving hand-eye coordination.
    • Concentration: These activities can help improve focus and concentration, as they often require children to pay close attention to what they are doing.
    • Confidence: As children see their skills improving, they can gain a sense of accomplishment and confidence.
    • Boosts brain development:Using fingers actively engages different areas of the cortex which are still developing fine control pathways in young children.
    • Increased academic engagement: Students with stronger finger muscles can focus on learning rather than struggling with motor tasks. This leads to better attention, listening and participation.

    Research Supporting Finger Gym

    While there is limited research directly looking at Finger Gym and similar ideas like Clever fingers, Dough DiscoTM and funky fingers, several studies highlight the importance of fine motor skills and their impact on other areas of child development. This meta-analysis of fine motor studies underscore the importance of fine motor skills development, but suggests more research is needed, which is a key aspect of Finger Gym activities. I also found an interesting school based study by Louisa Clements but I cannot track her down.

    Finger Gym Ideas and Activities
    Children at a Finger Gym Station (Louisa Clements)


    Incorporating Finger Gym into your SEN classroom can be a valuable strategy for promoting fine motor skills development, improving concentration, and boosting children’s confidence. While there is a need for more research specifically on Finger Gym, studies reinforce the significance of fine motor skills in overall child development. Remember, as a teacher, the most important thing is to create a learning environment where children feel safe, engaged, and ready to explore. Finger Gym activities can be a wonderful way to add variety, fun, and essential skill-building to your teaching toolkit. Be open to experimenting with different activities, and watch as your students flourish in their fine motor skills and beyond.

    Finger Gym: A Guide for Teachers

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