Play-Doh is one of the best (and cheapest) occupational therapy tools around. Squeezing and squishing works on strength and pinching and rolling into cool shapes helps with coordination. There are also untold numbers of Play-Doh tools that double as great OT tools. Especially good for hand strength are the presses (they look like garlic or cookie presses). Dig around your kitchen drawers for cookie cutters and other small kitchen tools, because kids love working with kitchen stuff (I guess the bloom falls off that rose around the age of 10).
I have always thought it is best to work on strength first. There are two reasons. One, it is easier than coordination as it involves fewer nervous system pathways and everyone is encouraged by success. If you can do something you are more likely to want to do it. It is also easier to build on success (probably one of my top 5 rules).
The other reason to work on strength is stronger muscles are easier to control, so coordination tasks will become less of a challenge. Think of strength and coordination as a screen door and a glass door, you have to open the screen door first to get in the house.
Play-Doh is also a good warm up tool. Just like we stretch (or are supposed to stretch) before going for a run, a few minutes with Play-Doh can limber up little fingers for other activities.
So do Play-Doh a lot. Keep your child interested by making cool creatures you have liberated from the darkest corners of your imagination. Snakes, snowmen, spiders – anything goes! If you are laughing, having fun, and engaged in the activity your child will want to copy.
Mine certainly do.
By the way, your kids don’t have to know Play-Doh is therapy, you are just the coolest mom or dad for letting it get all over the house!