Activities to Develop Hand Skills in Children- In-Hand Manipulation Skills

What are in-hand manipulation skills, and why are they important?


In-hand manipulation (IHM) is a specific type of fine motor skill. Three skill areas and five total skills, have been defined, all of which entail moving and manipulating items within one hand, to position items for better use of the item, or for placement of the item.


In-hand manipulation skills were initially defined by Dr. Charlotte Exner, an occupational therapist and occupational therapy educator. She defined translation, shift, and rotation skills. Dr. Exner’s Occupational Therapy graduate students investigated in-hand manipulation skills for many years. She first investigated what the normal developmental progression of skills is for young children, then older children.


Pegboards are excellent activities for IHM translation and rotation.
Pegboards are excellent activities for IHM translation and rotation. | Source


I studied under Dr. Exner, and did my graduate project on in-hand manipulation skills and handwriting. IHM skills have been found to correlate directly with many important developmental skills. In my own study, the quality of IHM skills correlated directly with the quality of handwriting skills, and speed of IHM correlated with speed of handwriting. Other student researchers found direct correlation between IHM skills and self help skills such as dressing. This means that by giving young children the opportunity to explore in-hand manipulation skills, we will also be facilitating handwriting and self care skills.


In-Hand Manipulation Translation Movements


There are two types of translation movements. The first is finger-to-palm translation, and an example would be picking up coins one at a time with one hand, and storing them in the palm. Other finger-to-palm translation activities would also include picking up small items like small pegs for pegboards, small chips such as for travel sized games like Connect Four, and small beads for stringing.


Very young children tend to rake or scoop small items into the palm. Turning the arm over to use “gravity assist” to store items in the palm is common among children and adults. “Drops”, not being able to retain items, are common in young children.



The second type of translation movement is palm-to-finger translation. An example would be retrieving coins from the palm one at a time back to the fingers, to place in a vending machine. Young children may pass objects from one hand back to the other.


Connect Four

Pick up 2 to 4 pieces, one at a time, with one hand.  Then place pieces in frame one at a time.
Pick up 2 to 4 pieces, one at a time, with one hand. Then place pieces in frame one at a time. | Source

Translation Activities


Remember, the goal is to do all activities with one hand, but young children may need to use both.


Pick up 2-4 Connect Four pieces from the table one at a time, then place in the slots one at a time using the same hand.


Pick up small pegs one at a time and store them in the palm, then retrieve one at a time to place in pegboard (may also require rotation; see below).


Pick up coins from table one at a time, then place in a bank one at a time.


Pick up small items like buttons and beads one at a time and store in the palm. Then place items one at a time into plastic container through slot cut in plastic lid.


Make up new games. Pick up 2-4 small game pieces, such as travel Trouble pieces. Place on board one at a time (may require rotation).


String Beads with Shift Motion

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In-Hand Manipulation Shift Movements


Shift is the IHM skill used when picking up a pencil in the middle, then scooting the fingers down the pencil to the point.



Shift Activities


Adjusting fingers up and down pencil or crayon.


Race fingers from one end of a straw to the other.


String beads on lace or pipe cleaner using needle threading motion. Straighten fingers away from the palm to string.


Lace through eye loop design secured in a vertical position.


Insert pegs in pegboard oriented in a vertical position, using finger movement.


Feed or remove pipe cleaner, coffee stirrer, or plastic lace through a snug opening in cardboard or leather.


Stringing and Lacing Activities for Shift

String beads on string or pipe cleaner with straightening movement of fingers, or lace in vertical position.
String beads on string or pipe cleaner with straightening movement of fingers, or lace in vertical position. | Source

Rotation Toys- I have all of these

In-Hand Manipulation Rotation Movements


Simple rotation or complex rotation would be used to pick up a pencil off of a table, and rotate it in the hand to position the pencil for use.





For simple rotation, your pencil would be laying horizontally in front of you, with the point toward the right. When you pick it up with your right hand, you rotate it about 90° to rest the pencil in your web space. This would be simple rotation.




For complex rotation, the pencil would be oriented to the left. When you pick it up with your right hand, you have to do a little ‘baton twirl’ to orient the pencil to rest in the web space. (Watch my IHM video and the difference should be clear.)




Remember, the eventual goal is to do all activities with one hand, but young children will need to use both.




For example, when picking up small pegs, a young child will tend to pass the peg to the other hand and back again to orient the peg for placement into the pegboard. Children then tend to progress to “trapping” the pegs to their body to assist them in rotating the pegs.


Simple and Complex Rotation

Game pieces require simple and complex rotation
Game pieces require simple and complex rotation | Source

Toys to Practice Rotation Skills

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Rotation Activities


Manipulate shapes for shape sorter.


Manipulate letter cubes for Boggle Jr.


Manipulate pegs for placement in pegboard.


Manipulate pegs for Lite Brite designs.


Manipulate game pieces for board games, such as Trouble or Sorry.


Make up new games with existing board games, that place greater emphasis on handling (rotating) the small game pieces.


Flip pegs or dowels in putty or Play-doh.


Retrieve crayons from the bottom of the box.


Retrieve crayons from the top of the box.


My In-Hand Manipulation Video

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1 comment

tebo profile image

tebo 4 years ago from New Zealand

Very informative hub on this subject. I am trying to imagine picking up the objects and keeping them stashed in the same hand. Oh yes just tried it and it is quite natural but a learned skill.

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