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  • Claire Murphy, MOT, OTR/L

Shoulder Strengthening: Building a Foundation for Play and Independence


When out at the park, you might see babies waving bye-bye to other children, older children high fiving each other after crossing the monkey bars without falling, or kids feeding themselves snacks with a fork and spoon without spilling the food onto their laps.

The above activities all appear simple and easy but if a kid does not have strong shoulders or core they might night be able to complete any of these activities well. The baby will not reach their arms up above their head to wave bye-bye. The older child won’t be able to hold onto the monkey bars without falling. The child eating the snack might have more food on their laps than in their mouths.

Our fingers and thumbs need a solid base of support in order to complete complex and intricate fine motor skills. Having strong and supportive core and shoulders provide the foundation for handwriting, shoe tying, throwing or catching a ball, and many other important fine motor and self-care activities.

What signs might demonstrate your child has a weak core or shoulders?

  • Their hands shake while completing activities that require control (self-feeding, shoe tying)

  • They rest their arms on a supporting surface, such as a table or chair, to move the base of support from their shoulder to their elbow

  • They might fatigue quickly and refuse to participate in fine motor activities (coloring, writing, etc.)

How can I help my child?

Engage your children in a variety of strengthening activities throughout the day. These activities should all be fun and enjoyable. Mix it up to prevent boredom!

  • Wheelbarrow

  • Laying on the ground and coloring on paper taped underneath a chair/table

  • Paint roller with water on garage door/outside of house

  • Monkey bars

  • Climbing up ropes, ladders

  • Keeping a balloon up in the air

  • Washing windows/doors

  • Coloring on a vertical surface (i.e wall, easel)

  • Wall pushes, pushing chairs, pushing laundry baskets - keeping elbows bent

  • Walking differently sized balls up the wall to full reach

  • Chair push ups

  • Hand pushes - hold hands at the center of the chest and push hands together

  • Yoga - downward dog, cobra, dolphin, plank, side plank

  • Scooter board - lying down and pulling with arms on the floor

  • Scooter board - sitting and pulling self with a rope

  • Games while lying over a therapy ball

Who can help?

An occupational therapist (OT) can help determine the best ways to help your child build a strong support with strengthening core and shoulders. In addition, an OT can assess other performance areas, including: attention, motor coordination, visual motor integration (eye hand coordination), fine motor control, self-care skills (self-dressing or self-feeding). After assessing your child, the occupational therapist will provide individualized treatment strategies to improve your child’s ability to participate in fine motor activities.

#ShoulderStrengthening #ShoulderStability #CoreStrength

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