Developing Finger Isolation

What is Finger Isolation?

Finger Isolation refers to the ability to use individual and specific fingers for certain activities or tasks. You might see toddlers move all their fingers at once, but as children develop, so should the ability to use specific fingers to help with writing, using a keyboard, playing instruments, tying shoelaces and many others.

Why is my child having trouble with Finger Isolation?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of an occupational therapist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as appropriate finger isolation.

Finger isolation is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Appropriate strength in the fingers and hand
  • Functional posture
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Functional forearm positioning
  • Shoulder stability to help control your arm

While children often learn and develop these skills during play, others may benefit from direct and specific teaching of each of the skills above.

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

Ways in which you at home can support your child to develop these skills include, but are not limited to:

Playing with your child – Board games, doll and teddy play, and play dough, are activities that can help your child practice using their hands and fingers to manipulate objects, and to develop strength to allow them to have refined and isolated finger movements. Games to further develop this specifically are ‘I Spy’, where your child would point at objects they see, or ‘finger puppets’ to help isolate the index and middle finger. ‘Where is Thumbkin’, and ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ are also worthwhile to consider.

Getting your child help around the house - Depending on the age of your child, helping with activities around the house can help develop their finger isolation, as well as give you a break! One activity could be watering the garden or flowers with a spray bottle. This position of the hand is fantastic to strengthen the first three fingers, and to isolate them while squeezing. Your child could also use the spray bottle to spray and clean windows, using the same reasoning. Another task is helping peg clothes, as this uses specific fingers, similar to that of holding a pencil, to promote finger isolation.

Craft activities - Craft is a great activity to use hands and fingers in an isolated way. This would be seen when your child holds a pencil, uses scissors, and glue sticks. Craft ideas can be found on the internet with a simple Google (https://www.parents.com/fun/arts-crafts/kid/). Try finding ones that have lots of squeezing, like glitter glue, fabric paint, regular glue bottles, or even finger print craft activities like painting.

How can an occupational therapist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as finger isolation. Occupational therapists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal of appropriate, and functional finger isolation. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards successful finger isolation may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through an assessment process
  • Developing these skills through fun and creative activities
  • Supporting parents and caregivers to develop their child’s skills at home, school and the community
  • Using engaging games that focus on isolating the fingers, similar to those listed above, but in an intensive and rewarding way.
  • Developing larger body movements like core strength and shoulder stability to help promote posture during table top activities to allow for isolated finger movements.

School Readiness Program: If your child is 4-6 years of age, the Talking Matters ‘School Readiness Program’ might be perfect for your child. Here they will develop isolated finger movements across a 2-day schedule, as well as other various skills like following instructions, literacy skills and friendship building. More information can be found here at the Talking Matter website: https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/group-programs/

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