While an individual with cerebral palsy can practice all sorts of hand exercises, we wanted to promote hand exercises that make it easy for children to get the repetitions they need to improve.
Many parents find it difficult to keep their children engaged in therapy because the exercises can get mundane and boring.
This article will go over some fun activities that children with cerebral palsy can do to work on hand function without losing interest.
Why These Hand Exercises for Individuals with Cerebral Palsy Work
Ever heard of neuroplasticity? It’s the brain’s ability to rewire itself, and the best to way activate it is to practice actions repetitively.
Every movement stimulates the brain, but consistent repetitions will let the brain know that there is a demand for that function. The more repetitions you perform, the more the brain will reorganize itself and strengthen the neural pathways for that function.
Because of neuroplasticity, some people have had entire parts of their brains removed and have been able to recover functions that are typically controlled by those missing parts.
The brain is extremely adaptive and functions affected by brain damage can be rewired and improved through massed practice. Now that you understand how hand functions can improve, let’s get into the exercises.
Hand Exercises for Cerebral Palsy
Some of the best hand exercises for cerebral palsy are the ones that will get your child to perform the most repetitions of actions that are challenging for them.
Check out these hand exercises that can improve grip, range of motion in the wrist, finger strength, and dexterity!
1. Sorting Candy
Buy a bag of your child’s favorite treat. Make sure it has a variety of different shapes or colors.
Dump them all out onto a countertop and have your child sort them into piles by color or shape.
They can either slide them across the countertop to practice wrist movements or pick them up to practice pinching the fingers together. They can also practice moving them from one hand to the other to work on coordination of both hands.
2. Therapy Putty
Have your child mold some play-doh, clay, slime, or therapy putty into different shapes.
Not only will it help strengthen the muscles in your child’s fingers, but it will also get their creative juices flowing.
Therapy putty has different levels of resistance, so some are easy to squeeze while others are more difficult.
Slime and play-doh are easier to shape and are best for children with more severe hand weakness.
Kids love music, games, and a challenge. MusicGlove is a hand therapy device that encourages users to perform lots of finger curls through an interactive game.
There are many different songs and difficulty levels to choose from, so your child won’t get bored and can continue to be challenged as they improve.
4. Making Jewelry
Jewelry making is a fun way for children with cerebral palsy to work on developing their fine motor skills.
All you need is a string and some beads. To make the activity more challenging, use a thinner piece of string or beads with smaller holes. Alternatively, to make it easier, use larger beads and a pipe cleaner rather than string.
As we recommended with the candy, buy an assortment of beads and have your child organize them into a bead organizer.
Holding a paintbrush is one thing, but all the different strokes that can be used are another.
If you press harder, you get a thicker, more prominent stroke. If you press lightly, you get a wispy, thinner stroke.
Encourage your child to use different pressures and stroke lengths when painting to get a more comprehensive hand exercise. Using smaller and larger paint brushes can also increase or decrease the difficulty of the exercise, respectively.
6. Braiding Hair
Braiding hair is a great way to develop hand functions because there are so many different types of braids. Some are simple, while others are more complex.
Braiding involves various hand functions; you have to brush the hair, section it off, hold strands in place while pulling others over, and tie it all up at the end.
7. Playing an Instrument
Playing an instrument is a great way to develop hand functions and each instrument will require a unique technique.
For example, to play the drums, you must practice holding onto the drumsticks and maneuvering your wrists up and down.
To play the piano, you have to move all your fingers to the appropriate keys.
Playing an instrument teaches children how different amounts of pressure can affect sound.
Slower songs will help children master technique, while faster songs will require more control.
8. Popping Bubbles
It’s so simple, but popping bubbles is something that will keep your child occupied for a relatively long time (especially if you make a game out of it that constantly challenges them to work harder).
Get a bubble maker and challenge your child to pop a certain number of bubbles in a given timeframe. Continue to increase the number as they improve.
Jenga is a game that starts off easy, but progressively gets more difficult and requires a lot of caution.
You have to delicately pry the block out of the structure and then add it to the top.
This will teach children how to use their fingers to push, pinch them together to grab, and use precision to place the block on the top without the entire tower falling over.
10. Decorating Food
Plating your child’s food in a fun way makes them enjoy their meal more. So why not have your child decorate foods like pancakes, cookies, and pizzas at home?
Picking up all the ingredients and placing them exactly where they want them to be, grabbing and squeezing different sauces, and using tools to help make intricate designs will help develop fine motor skills.
11. Beach Day
You’d be surprised at how many different hand exercises your child can practice at the beach.
Wet sand is extremely easy to mold. All the squeezing, pressing, and scooping will help your child strengthen the muscles in their hands.
After that, challenge your child to pick up as many seashells as they can find.
Even having them rub sunscreen into their skin can help strengthen the hands.
Gardening is an activity that requires a lot of patience and daily commitment.
From picking out the plant to potting it, watering it, and seeing it grow over time, your child will actively use their hand functions.
If you end up planting some sort of fruit or vegetable, your child can even practice picking them when they ripen.
Have your child build something with some Legos.
The bigger ones will be easier to put together, while the smaller ones will require a little bit more intricacy and finger strength.
Cerebral Palsy Hand Therapy
That’s a wrap! If you’d like more straightforward hand exercises, click here.
However, we find that the best hand exercises for cerebral palsy are the ones that keep children challenged and having fun. This way, they don’t think of the exercises as something they have to do, but rather something they want to do.