What is Finger Gym? A Guide for Teachers

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, what it is, 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 and similar programmes like funky fingers and clever fingers, refer 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)

15 Funky Fingers Activities 

These 15 funky fingers activities are designed to enhance fine motor skills in early years children. These engaging activities promote dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and finger strength:

  1. Tweezer Pick-Up:
    • Place small objects (such as beads or buttons) in a container. Provide child-safe tweezers for kids to transfer the objects from one bowl to another. You can even challenge them to sort by color.
  2. Money Box Play:
    • Introduce a money box with a slot. Children can practice inserting plastic coins into the slot, enhancing their pincer grip and hand-eye coordination.
  3. Bubble Wrap Fun:
    • Lay out bubble wrap and let children press on the bubbles. The popping sensation engages little fingers and provides sensory feedback.
  4. Building with Interconnecting Blocks:
    • Encourage children to construct structures using interconnecting blocks. This activity strengthens finger muscles and promotes creativity.
  5. Pegboard Creations:
    • Set up a pegboard with colorful pegs. Kids can arrange and stack the pegs, refining their fine motor control.
  6. Threading and Lacing:
    • Provide shoelaces or yarn along with large beads or pasta shapes. Children can thread them to create necklaces or patterns.
  7. Weaving Practice:
    • Use paper strips or fabric scraps to create simple weaving projects. Weaving helps develop finger strength and coordination.
  8. Play Dough Sculptures:
    • Sculpting with play dough allows children to manipulate and shape it using their fingers. Encourage them to create animals, objects, or abstract designs.
  9. Sorting Seeds or Small Objects:
    • Set up trays with different seeds or tiny objects (e.g., buttons, pom-poms). Kids can sort them based on color, shape, or size.
  10. Transferring Conkers with Small Sieves:
    • Place conkers (chestnuts) in a bowl and provide small sieves. Children can transfer the conkers using the sieves, refining their grip.
  11. Leaf Threading:
    • Thread leaves onto sticks or string. This activity combines nature exploration with fine motor practice.
  12. Picking Googly Eyes from Slime:
    • Hide googly eyes in a container of slime. Kids can use tweezers to retrieve them, enhancing their precision.
  13. Balancing Ping Pong Eyeballs:
    • Place ping pong balls (representing eyeballs) on top of golf tees. Children balance them while improving finger control.
  14. Seed Picking from Sunflower Heads:
    • Provide sunflower heads with seeds. Kids can pick out the seeds, working on their fine motor skills.
  15. Create Pebble Art Patterns:
    • Arrange pebbles to form transient art patterns. Children manipulate the pebbles using their fingers.


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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