Heavy Work for the Hands and Body: Viewing Clothespins through Sensory Savvy Lenses

Recently, we suggested a number of ways to engage your children in heavy work for the hands using clothespins.  Today, we would like to add a new element to the idea of using clothespins as a sensory tool.  So, put on your Sensory Savvy Lenses and get ready.

This Month’s Challenge:  Clothespins for Fine and Gross Motor Input

Original Purpose:  hanging up clothes to dry

With Sensory Savvy Lenses:  a tool for providing heavy work for the hands while also incorporating gross motor, proprioceptive input

Seated clothespin work has its place for providing opportunities for:

  • finger strengthening,
  • hand strengthening,
  • motor planning,
  • visual perceptual input, and
  • fine motor work.

However, there are some days when heavy work for the hands simply is not enough to regulate a child.  On these days, more traditional heavy work is in order to help calm or alert a child.  So, how do you incorporate both hand strengthening and gross motor work in one activity?  Simply don your Sensory Savvy Lenses and get moving:

1. Hair Design
Set a box of clothespins at one end of a room and a “beauty station” (with a seat, mirror and chair, perhaps) at the other.  Have your child run, hop, jump or otherwise move to the box to retrieve clothespins one-by-one, coming back to clip them to your hair making a fabulous hairstyle. This can also be played as a team competition.  Divide players into teams and see which team can add the most clothespin clips to their teammate’s hair within a set amount of minutes, or which can create the most original, craziest, most traditional or other ultimate hair design.

2. Clothespin Clothing Challenge
Got a hallway or clear floor? Strew a good amount of clothespins over it, and then ask children to pick them up and clip them to their clothing as quickly as possible, seeing how many they can clip to themselves in a given amount of time.  To add an auditory element to this, simply play music in a “freeze” game style. To add extra challenge to the game, blindfold children.

3. Pinned Together Obstacle Course
Does your child love obstacle courses?  Here’s a twist:  To add both vestibular and gross motor proprioceptive elements into a clothespin activity, have two people pin themselves together using five to ten clothespins, and then try to navigate an obstacle course together.  The object is to get through the course without causing the clothespins to fall off.

4. Clothespin Tag
Need a party or recess game?  Offer children a handful of clothespins to pin anywhere on the outside of their clothing.  On “Go”, everyone tries to pull clothespins off of one another.  As soon as a clothespin is snatched, whoever stole it kneels down to attach it his or her clothing.  While kneeling, the person is “safe” from having clothespins taken.  On “stop”, whoever has the most clothespins attached wins.

Many traditional gross motor activities can be easily adapted to include fine motor clothespin work.  What other ones can you think of?

Tips and Notes

  • Focusing on both gross and fine motor skills at once can be fun, but it can also be extraordinarily challenging.  Do not attempt the activities above until children are comfortable with seated clothespin activities.  Additionally, watch for signs of fatigue and frustration when playing these games, adapting or halting activities accordingly.
  • Light, wooden clothespins are often easier to manipulate than plastic ones, but plastic ones can stay on clothing better. Considering your child’s needs, choose clothespins for use in activities accordingly based on ease of manipulation vs. challenge.
  • Be aware that some children may need to begin clothespin activities by using fingers from both hands to attach and remove clothespins from objects before gaining the strength and coordination to do so with a single hand.  Adapt activities accordingly to allow for this–adding in head starts or extra time for children who need it when playing competitive games,  or simply making the games cooperative ones in which children work as a group to meet an objective.
  • Some children have difficulty knowing where to place the pads of their thumbs and index fingers in order to manipulate clothespins.  Drawing colored circles on the clothespin, or putting stickers with a theme that interests a particular child, exactly where the thumb and index finger pads should go can help with this.  In fact, having a child color these dots or place these stickers can be a great fine motor preparation activity prior to any of the above gross motor games.
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Martianne Stanger About Martianne Stanger

Martianne is a homeschooling mom with over 20 years of experience in education, youth work and dramatic arts both in the United States and abroad. With certifications as a Middle School Generalist and English 8-12 teacher, plus a drawer full of certificates from a wide variety of professional development workshops and graduate courses, she brings a comprehensive "traditional" background to her present-day creative pursuits. Visit Martianne at Training Happy Hearts.