Common Questions about Hand Skills

Q.  My sonís preschool teacher told me that he is having problems with "eye hand coordination activities." What is eye hand coordination and what could cause a child to have problems with it?  

A. You are not the only parent who gets confused with all the terminology used by professionals. Eye hand coordination is the ability of the brain to coordinate information received from the eyes and hands for skilled movement of the hands. This process can be disrupted in many ways but is often related to the gathering of necessary information for the brain to direct the hands. Impaired vision, poor feed back from the muscles or joints of the hand or aversion to the feel of different textures are some common reasons that a child doesnít gain adequate information to be able to coordinate the eyes and hands together well. Is your son having trouble when playing with blocks, beads, crayons or all of the above? I would ask your sonís preschool teacher what specific activities that he is having trouble with. As a side note, you might also want to pursue an occupational therapy evaluation.

Q. My 2-year-old child keeps switching hands in the same activity, is this normal?

A. Yes, absolutely. The earliest most children show a hand preference is the age of 2 to 3 years old. However many children donít show a preference until kindergarten. Hand preference, like the name implies, means simply that a child prefers one hand. True hand dominance, the definitive use of one hand, doesnít become fully established until as late as 8 or 9 years old in many children.

Q.  My son is almost 3 years old and wants to color like his older brother, but Iím concerned about the way he holds the crayon. What should I do?

A.  Having an older sibling to imitate is the advantage of being a second, third or more child! However, we as parents have to monitor if this is in the best interest of the child. In your sonís case, he may be "practicing" an incorrect grasp. However, there is a simple solution. You can provide different type of writing utensils such as preschool crayons, egg chalk or character markers that allow your son to color like his brother without developing an incorrect grasp with a standard crayon.

Q. Should I get a fatter pencil for my son to help him learn how to hold it?

A. No. Many people think thicker pencils are better but in fact, they can be more cumbersome for a small childís hands. Larger objects require more fingers to hold and control the object. You may be surprised to know that smaller pencils, like golf pencils, or shortened crayons actually can encourage a good grasp.

Q. Why is my 3-year-old learning to undress sooner than dress himself?

A. Dressing is harder than undressing because it requires more mature hand skills. For example, putting on a sock requires good grip strength with both hands working together to stretch the sock over the foot. While most children will pull off a sock by grabbing at the toe with one hand.

Q.  What toy would you most recommend to help my childís hand skills?

A. The easel wins our vote hands down. (No pun intended!) Putting an activity on a vertical surface makes an average activity into a great one. When working on an easel, a childís shoulder muscles are being strengthened. The vertical position of the surface also encourages the child to position her wrist in extension and her thumb out of her palm, which is an ideal posture for the small muscles of the hand to work. Those muscles are the very muscles that children use in writing or cutting. In fact there are so many advantages, we canít list them all. You may just have to take our word for it. Happy shopping!

Q.  Why can my 2-year-old throw a ball well but not catch it?

A. Throwing a ball and catching a ball require very different level of skills. There is more timing and accuracy involved in catching a ball. Therefore throwing a ball occurs much earlier in a childís ball play than catching. If you want to work on catching a ball with your son, we recommend using a large lightweight ball like a beach ball for this age.

Q.  My 4-year-old child will often use the table to help her turn a puzzle piece upright, why does she do that?

A. Using a surface to orient a puzzle piece is a very typical way for a child to compensate for not being able to turn the object in one hand. Since your child should have this skill, in-hand manipulation, at her age, place puzzles on an easel that doesnít provide an easy surface for her to "cheatĒ. We suggest you tilt the easel back slightly to keep the pieces from falling on the floor.

Q.  Does the chair my child sits in affect the way she uses her hands?

A. Absolutely. If a child has to focus on maintaining her posture then she will have difficulty paying attention to any task with her hands. If you are looking for a chair for your child, look for one that allows her feet to fully touch the ground and keeps her knees level with her hips. A chair with a back will also provide further support and reduce fatigue if she is sitting for long periods of time.

Q. My 2 year- old was very interested in scissors when watching her older sister cut out Valentines cards. When should I let my child start using scissors?

A. Around three years old is the ideal age for most children to start using scissors as cutting requires the skills that many younger children donít have. Using scissors too early may lead to developing a grasp that uses the wrong fingers. We suggest allowing her to make valentines or pictures by tearing paper, cotton balls or other materials instead.

Q.  I have to pack a lunch for my son who is attending a preschool program. What kind of containers should he be able to open?

A. Most preschool children have the hand skills to open most containers or wrappers that foods are commercially packaged in. At your sonís age most children have a precise grasp to separate the seal of a bag and the skill to twist or turn a lid of a container. However, they often do not have the hand strength to break the airtight seals. Therefore, we suggest that you repackage some foods when you pack his lunch. Easy to open sandwich bags and Tupperwareģ containers will probably do the trick.

Q.  My child is 15 months old and he is still crawling on hands and knees, should I be concerned?

A. Put your fears at rest. If a child walks by 18 months, he is right on target with his development. Now we have some good news. When a child crawls on hands and knees (also called creeping), he is developing the necessary shoulder and arm strength for good hand skills. Whenever he comes to sit, he is also developing muscles in the hand when he pushes away from the floor. When he crawls on hands and knees with a small toy in his hand, he is using one side of the hand to hold the toy while the other side bears weight. This is an opportunity to promote separate use of the two sides of the hand.

Q.  My pediatrician asked me if my little girl had a pincer grasp at her one-year check-up. Why is the pinch or pincer grasp such an important milestone in my babyís development?

A. This grasp is often seen when young babies eat small pieces of cereal like Cheerios.ģ It is very easy for parents to identify as a child is clearly using the two sides of her hand separately. Instead of trapping it in the palm, your child will use the index finger and the thumb to hold the Cheerio while the other fingers curl towards the palm. This grasp is important because this is the first precision grasp that your child will have. She is also beginning to use the intrinsic or small muscles of the hand when manipulating small objects, another exciting first!

Q.  My husband and I think our daughter is going to be right handed. What causes a person to chose one hand over the other?

A. Hand dominance is believed to be a family trait. For example, it has been found that left-handed mothers have a higher incidence of having left-handed children. In the past, it has been said to be due to direction of hair whorling, location of an individualís heart and even on a childís rejection of his mother (they supposedly use the opposite hand of the parent). Thank goodness we know a little bit more in this age!!

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Last modified: April 14,2007