Upper Limb strength and stability

Here are the words you’ve been longing to hear: household chores are no longer a solo activity!

Welcome your pint-sized apprentice to assist you with hanging out the washing, sweeping, carrying light shopping bags – all of the tasks that involve pushing and pulling the arms.

There’s no need for any guilt because these tasks are great for developing junior’s upper limb strength and stability, which is how strong and stable their arms and shoulders are.

Considering how essential this is for school-based tasks such as handwriting, helping you with the housework really is for their own good… And yours!

Little miss or mister will also benefit from improving their upper limb dissociation – the ability to move the different segments of their arms (e.g. hand, wrist, forearm, upper arm, shoulder) independently from each other.

For example, when you’re stirring a cake mixture your shoulder provides the stability and support so you can move the spoon with your arm. When you’re typing, your fingers move independently from your shoulder.

Upper limb stability, strength and dissociation are essential for fine motor (small hand and arm movement) and gross motor (big body movement) activities at school and outside the classroom.

To see just how essential these skills are, think about which parts of your arm are moving, providing support and working independently while you’re writing, cutting, eating or throwing a ball.

It’s mind-boggling to think of what’s going on beneath the surface in order to help us with the tasks we do each and every day!

How do I know if my child is having difficulty with their upper limb strength and stability?

Your child may need help developing their upper limb strength and stability if they have difficulties with any of the following:

  • Using a dynamic tripod (three-fingered) pencil grip, which involves the small muscles of the fingers (particularly the thumb and pointer/2nd finger) controlling the pencil rather than the shoulder
  • Sitting at a desk with the correct posture, the non-dominant (non-preferred) hand holding the page steady, and the dominant shoulder and elbow positioned to allow the forearm to slide across the page with the pencil
  • Cutting with scissors or using cutlery without tensing and/or raising their shoulders uncomfortably
  • Playing sports such as cricket, basketball and netball
  • Carrying toys, pillows, wet washing and so on
  • Playing on monkey bars and climbing equipment
  • Playing ball games

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Fun Activities

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Ways you can help your child with their upper limb strength and stability

If you think junior would benefit from strengthening and stabilising their upper limbs, have a go at these fun activities:

  • Games or tasks that involve pushing, pulling, carrying, throwing and catching
  • Drawing on a large vertical plane (upright surface) with sweeping motions that start big and progress to smaller and smaller arm movements (e.g. using chalk on a blackboard or outside wall, paint on butchers paper stuck to a wall or the hose on a backyard fence)
  • Flying kites
  • Hitting and playing with balloons
  • Playing with ribbons or crepe paper in large anti-clockwise and clockwise circular movements with the whole arm, the elbow and then the wrist
  • Playing with a variety of balls (e.g. throwing them against the wall, bouncing them on the ground, catching)
  • Doing wheelbarrow walks (where you hold their legs so they walk on their hands in a plank position)
  • Animal walks (e.g. walking sideways like a crab on the hands and feet with stomach facing the sky, doing bunny hops by pushing the hands off the floor, lying on the belly and pulling the body across the floor using the forearms like a seal)
  • Playing tug of war (using pillows or towels)
  • Doing wall push ups*
  • Doing chair push-ups*
  • Climbing and swinging on playground equipment
  • Playing with Lego or construction blocks
  • Digging in a sand pit, carrying bucket of sand
  • Arm wrestling
  • Doing ‘prayer pushes’ (placing the hands in a prayer position and pushing them together)

* To do wall push-ups, get little miss or mister to stand about two steps away from the wall, with both hands placed on the wall at shoulder height. Then get them to let their elbows bend so their body ‘falls’ closer to the wall, followed by straightening their elbows to push away from the wall. For chair push-ups your youngster needs to sit on a chair with their hands palm down on the seat. Then ask them to lift their body up by using their arm strength (and straightening their elbows). Do you think little miss or mister would benefit from working on their bilateral integration skills? Have a go at the following fun activities:


Some additional tips for improving your child’s upper limb strength and stability

A biggie to know is that the strength and control your little one has with their posture can greatly affect how strong and stable their upper limbs are.

Basically, a strong, stable core provides the support your child needs to move their arms with control and strength. Without it, little miss or mister won’t be able to develop the ideal level of fine motor (small hand and arm movements) or gross motor (big body movements) control. So, whenever possible encourage junior to stand and sit with a straight spine and their shoulders back!

Plus, if you head over to the ‘Posture’ page in the Handwriting section you’ll find a whole load of information, activities and strategies that will help develop your pint-sized human’s posture.

PlayBiz Members Only Content

This content is especially for PlayBiz members. For a modest fee* you can gain exclusive access to even more foundation skill building strategies, including video demonstrations of our ‘teachable moment’ activities. Want an Access All Areas pass to a bigger, brighter future for your little one? Become a PlayBiz member today!

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Combined Videos

Combining several foundation skills, our PlayBiz Play-a-Long videos run for 10 minutes or so. We’ve carefully ordered the activities so they enable your youngster to have an optimal learning experience and develop the skills they’ll need for school by joining in the ‘teachable moments’. Picture a fun and educational TV program like PlaySchool crossed with an occupational therapy session that’s chock full of strategies. Ready, steady, learn! Please note: The Play-a-Long videos don’t need to be viewed in any particular order.