Fun Shoulder Exercises For Kids
That May Improve Handwriting!

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These shoulder exercises for kids will not only strengthen their shoulder girdle muscles, but may also have a positive effect on their handwriting!

shoulder exercises for kids

As an occupational therapist and homeschooling mom, I have used these activities many times with my own kids as well as with children in schools.

Even children with poor coordination skills can benefit from these ideas, and children from kindergarten to Grade 2 will enjoy them. You can even try them with your preschool child. This article contains lots of photos to make it easy for you to see how to put them into practice!

You may be wondering...

How can shoulder exercises for kids
improve their handwriting?

Because shoulder exercises for kids work on improving the strength and stability of the shoulder girdle muscles.

Ok, but...

But why are the shoulder girdle muscles
so important?

When the large muscles of the shoulder girdle (SG) (the pectorals in front and the trapezius and rhomboidus muscles at the back) work effectively together, they provide stability for the smaller muscles in the hand and arm to do their job effectively.

hand and finger exercises for kids That means that your child can learn to cut with scissors and write without getting tired or producing messy work. Other fine motor tasks such as craft work, tying shoelaces etc are also much easier to carry out when the shoulder girdle muscles give good stability.

Does my child have poor shoulder girdle stability?

  • Does she use whole arm movements when coloring or drawing (instead of hand and finger movements)?
  • Can you see movement in her arm and shoulder as she writes?
  • Does she tense up her neck and shoulders as she attempts to cut with scissors, or use a knife and fork? Although children attempting a task for the first time may hold their arms awkwardly or in an exaggerated way, they should soon relax as they become more accomplished. But if your child approaches every fine motor task with tension in her shoulders, then she may have some difficulty.

If you answer yes to any of these questions then your child may benefit from doing these Shoulder Exercises for Kids.

Have fun!

Some of these shoulder exercises for kids are great classroom exercises, and at the bottom of the list are a few ideas for Jungle-Gym / Playground Activities as well.

Some hints before you start:

  • Read the legal stuff before you begin!
  • If your child is reluctant to do “exercises”, call them by another name - I call them circus tricks and we do a few circus tricks at a time, it’s a great motivator to do exercises that can sometimes be tricky.
  • Make it a game! That means taking turns, which means that your child can get to be the leader in follow-my-leader, or the circus trainer, and that you get to do the exercises. My kids are very motivated to do even the ones they find demanding, if they know that they will get a turn to be in charge. So, ham it up and make them laugh!

gross motor activities leopard crawl

Leopard crawl
You need: a stretch of floor or grass
How to do it:
This is a great obstacle course or follow-my-leader activity (especially if an adult is involved!) Ask your child to lie on his tummy and then to move forward using his elbows to pull himself along. Doing it under tables and chairs is a great incentive, and as an outdoor activity, it lends itself well to a jungle or army theme party!

The big push
You need:yourself and/or a wall
How to do it:
Tell your child the wall is falling down, and ask him to push it to keep it up. Make sure he has only his hands on the wall (no shoulders), and try and keep elbows slightly bent. Look at the gallery below to see good and poor positioning.

Alternatively, ask your child to try and push you backwards. Put your hands together as shown in the fourth picture in the gallery below, both of you keeping elbows slightly bent (not locking the elbow joints ensures that the shoulder girdle muscles do as much work as possible!) Stand with one foot behind the other and on the count of 3, PUSH each other as hard as possible until one of you moves backwards.

To make this a really fun competition, draw a line behind each of you – if you get pushed over the line you lose. Do "best of 5", and give your child stiff competition, even winning one or 2, so he feels like he has worked hard for his victory – don't be a pushover!

gross motor activities kids shoulder exercises This is a good position for all the pushing exercises. Elbows bent, and arms held away from body.
 gross motor activities kids shoulder exercises Don’t let your child hold his elbows tightly against his body like this. He won’t be using his shoulder girdle muscles if he does this.
 gross motor activities kids shoulder exercises This is also not a good position as his elbows are elevated and his shoulder girdle muscles won’t work properly in this position.
 gross motor activities kids shoulder exercises The Big Push! Note the position of hands and feet as the contestants prepare to push.
 gross motor activities kids shoulder exercises The wall is falling over! Here, Jamie pushes as hard as he can to keep it from toppling!
 gross motor activities kids shoulder exercises Make sure your child does not use an awkward position like this one!

shoulder exercise for kids:  crab walk Crab walk
You need: no crabs!! Just your child and a stretch of floor or grass and a bean bag or small soft toy
How to do it:
Ask your child to get into this position (a demonstration by an adult is usually best, so get on the floor!). Ask the child to walk backwards, like a crab, to a destination and back again. If she is struggling to keep her bottom off the floor, put a beanbag or soft toy on her tummy – she will have to keep her bottom up to stop the toy from falling off. This is a great outdoor activity to do as part of an obstacle course or follow-my-leader.

As this activity is quite demanding, set a short distance (2-3metres) for your child’s first attempt, and include it as a small part of an obstacle course or follow-my-leader game. As your child’s endurance increases, you can increase the distance set.

Ball Walk
You need: a therapy ball and a couple of metres of smooth wall (we used a wall in our entrance hall). PFOT sell Therapy Balls of all sizes. How to do it:
Look at the gallery below to see this activity in photos. Ask your child to crouch facing the wall, and put his hands on the ball. Using both hands together, but moving them in a walking motion (reciprocally), he must “walk” the ball up the wall until the centre of the ball is just above shoulder level.

Then he should “walk” the ball along the length of wall, keeping it at the same height. Doing this a few times is a great shoulder exercise for kids of all ages. Aim for slow controlled movements – the child who wants to do it quickly can sometimes be compensating for the lack of stability needed to do it slowly in a controlled way!

gross motor kids gym-ball exercises Jamie is crouching in front of the ball as he prepares to walk/push the ball up the wall.
 gross motor kids gym-ball exercises The ball is at a good position now, ready for Jamie to “walk” it down the length of wall.
 gross motor kids gym-ball exercises Jamie is “walking” the ball along the wall, using reciprocal movements of his hands. Note that only his hands stay in contact with the ball, not his forearms.
gross motor kids gym-ball exercises As you can see, the ball is too high, and the exercise will not be effective.

shoulder exercise for kids: chair push up

Shoulder Exercises for kids to do at a desk before a fine motor task.

Chair push-ups
You need: a child- sized chair without arms (and an adult sized one with which you can demonstrate)
How to do it:
Put your hands on either side of your chair, and PUSH, until your bottom rises off the chair. Hold for 5 counts. Ask your child to copy you! If this is too easy, ask your child to lift his feet off the floor and hold them off while raising his bottom, and hold for 5 counts. A great exercise to do before writing.

classroom exercises for kids Hand Pushes
You need: Just your hands
How to do it:
A great shoulder exercise for kids to practice before commencing a handwriting task. Ask your child to copy you as you demonstrate: place your palms together, with elbows out and forearms held horizontally as in the photo. Now push your hands together as hard as you can and hold for 5 seconds – you should feel all the muscles around your shoulder girdle contract. Repeat a few times. Encourage your fidgety child to do this exercise if she loses focus in a writing lesson.

Shoulder Exercises for kids to do in the playground

playground activities: jungle gym rope pull Shoulder exercises for kids should always be fun, and what better place to have fun than in the playground or at the playpark!

Encourage your child to pull himself up on a rope – either on a ramp board as this little girl is doing, or up a knotted rope like the boy.

If at first they don’t succeed, encourage them to keep trying at least once every time they go on the jungle gym – they will soon surprise themselves! All climbing is great for strengthening the muscles of the upper body, and your child will only benefit from hours spent at the park!

playground activities - rope climbing

Now that you have seen how shoulder exercises for kids can improve handwriting, pop along to to "Fine Motor Skills" for some more fine motor ideas!

Or head to Gross Motor Skills for some more free gross motor activities!

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