Shoebox Task: Practice for Pointing and the Pincer Grasp


Juliana’s fine motor skills are still developing but that doesn’t seem to stop her from getting what she wants. Picking up small objects is a challenge because she hasn’t quite mastered the pincer grasp. So, to get something small she rakes it with a full hand or a few isolated fingers–that is until recently.

It was Juliana’s teacher who told me about this great shoebox task to help exercise pencil pusherJuliana’s pointer finger in prep for mastering the pincer grasp. I now refer to the box as “Pencil Pusher”. Juliana’s teacher uses one at school and my version is pictured at right.

 I don’t know if making this box could be any easier. The supply list includes:

  • 1 clear shoe box
  • 1 recycled tennis ball container or slim snack container with a lid
  • 10 assorted decorative pencils
  • An assortment of stickers (optional)
  • An X-acto or fine pointed utility knife

To make the Pencil Pusher, cut a small pencil size hole in the top of the lid with the X-acto knife. Be sure not to make it too large so that there will be some resistance when the pencil is pushed through. When the hole is complete, place the pencils inside the container and put the lid on top. Use the stickers to decorate the top and sides of the container. This is optional, but the container didn’t seem quite as interesting when it was plain white. If you have a clear container you can get color and interest from seeing the pencils on the inside.

I simply store my Pencil Pusher in the shoebox, but you can make the items accessible on top of the box by cutting a round hole to insert the pencil container and a square hole on the opposite side to hold the pencils. If you choose to cut the square, be sure to insert a small container for the pencils to sit in. When I do this exercise with Juliana, I let let her shake the pencils once she pushes them into the container. She loves anything that rattles, so it is a good way to hold her attention and reward her for completing the task. I never suspected that this activity would be at all interesting for my two year old, but Jessa loves having the pencils disappear as she pushes them. I have an assortment of colored pencils so the box also serves as a way to help Jessa practice her colors. I have more than gotten my monies worth out of this simple exercise.

I don’t have any real proof that this activity is prompting the difference, but several weeks ago Juliana started isolating her pointer finger. At first, I thought I was mistaken, then I noticed her very deliberate isolation of her pointer finger. Now, it’s not too hard to miss because all the other fingers are wide and apart while she works hard to bend that pointer.

I guess she knew I was doubting what I saw, so one day out of the blue she isolated her finger to “point” on my leg. It was the cutest gesture. Since she wasn’t doing anything like this before, I feel like the Pencil Pusher is helping. Although she isn’t doing the pincer grasp all the time, she can do it now whereas before she just couldn’t seem to bend that finger. What’s exciting to us is that she is moving her pointer the way she should and that is a good thing. We’ll continue to use the Pencil Pusher as much as possible and I have no doubt we’ll soon be able to say goodbye to raking and hello to pincer grasping.

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