Dough Gym Week – Funky Fingers

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Dough Gym is a very
effective programme for children who really need to work on their upper body
and gross motor development, but there may well be children in our setting who
need more focused input on their hands, fingers and grip.


Paint in a 'zip-lock' folder – great for working fingers.

Although you can add
resources to the dough to support this development the intervention will not be
as specific. When I was delivering the Dough Gym programme with my designated
group I sometimes found that they became a bit self conscious. All of the other
children would stand and watch as we flung our dough around to loud music! The
other children also were constantly asking for a turn and starting to emulate
Dough Gym in their own free play.

What I needed was activities
for the other children to do whilst Dough Gym was taking place. That way no one
would be standing and staring and our Dough Gym music wouldn’t be bothering
anyone else because we would all be working out to it. That is when Funky
Fingers was born.


Funky Fingers Pincer Grip Activity – Halton Lodge Primary

As I have previously said,
there is no point in just getting children to squash a few bits of dough in
time to music if it not going to have any impact on their fine motor
development. So the first port of call is assessment. You need to know where
the children are currently in terms of their dexterity and then identify what
the next steps are.

 To do this you need to take
into account a child’s grip with a variety of objects of different sizes and
also their ability to use their own fingers, or manipulate apparatus or
resources to pick up small objects.

Then you can use this
information to create activities that will challenge and extend the children.


Funky Fingers Football  - Woodhouse Primary

 When it comes to Funky
Fingers activities, the speed at which you ask the children to perform the
activity or the number of times you ask them to complete the task in a given
time frame can really increase the level of challenge.


Funky Fingers Speedy Bead Catching – St Andrews Primary


How would a Funky Fingers Session Work?

One group of children will
be working with an adult having a Dough Gym Session. The rest of the children
will be split into groups identified by assessment of their need and stage of
development. With two adults it is advisable to have no more that five groups
in total (including Dough Gym).

For example 

Group One – Dough Gym


Group Two – Palm strength and pincer grip exercises


Squeezing a (pre-cut) tennis ball open and dropping a piece of pasta inside

Group Three – DIP and PIP joint flexibility


Tying knots in small lengths of string

Group Four – Pincer movement


Picking alphabet beads out of hair gel

Group Five – Wrist and arm rotation


Waving one of those whirly whoopy things around your head.

 (I have no idea  what these are officially called, but they do a great job!)

An adult would need to be
stationed with the Dough Gym and the other adults could split themselves between the other groups.

Of course, your groups might be entirely different to mine in terms of their focus. It all depends what your assessment tells you.

Once you know the area you are working on, you just need to think of activities that target that specific need. While one group are doing Dough Gym, the other groups have a task
to complete; how many pompoms can you move from the pot to the
egg box with the
tweezers? How fast can you fill the skewer with beads and then empty it again.


Keep the spinners spinning until the timer runs out – Ladybrook Primary


Screwing nuts onto bolts against the timer – The Friars Primary


Thread the (differentiated) objects onto the skewer – Halton Lodge

I would always do my Dough Gym
and Funky Fingers at the same time every day. Usually after the children have
had a ‘sitting’ time, like a carpet time or a direct teach.

Every one should know where
their Funky Fingers group is, and on your command, they should take their places!

The music goes on and everyone is working at the same time. You will be amazed
how tiring working with dough and pom poms can be!


The Funky Fingers activities
stay for a week. They are only used at Funky Fingers time and not as part of
continuous provision. This helps you to ensure that you can really monitor how
the children are using them to make sure they have ultimate impact, it also
stops the children from getting bored with them.

 The easiest way I have found
for managing your Funky Fingers time is to have your activities in a box or on
a tray under the table on a morning. While one adult is finishing the carpet
session then another can easily lift the resources out onto the table tops, or
you can get the children to do it at the beginning of the session. Once the
session in over and the boxes go back under the table out of the way.


Halloween themed Funky Fingers – dig the spider out of the jelly with a cocktail stick!

Halton Lodge

The important thing is that
you match the provision to the needs of the children. If you have a large group
that you think would benefit from some Dough Gym input then you could create
two Dough Gym groups, each led by a different adult. The other children would
be completing Funky Fingers activities during this time.


Rescuing dinosaurs from the swamp – St Thomas More

 As the children become more
proficient in their skills then you increase the dexterity challenge of the
activities that you offer them. Make sure that you record this progress to show
evidence of how your environment, planning and intervention is having a direct
impact on attainment.

You can use 'Grip Assessment' displays to help to remind you where the children are up to and where they are going next.


Sticking Post It notes to the display can be useful as you can move them along as the children progress (providing they don't fall off over night)!


You can find the images that have been used to create these displays in the 'Resources' section of this blog at the top of this page, under the title 'PENCIL GRIPS' (clever!)

So, this has been a bit of a whistle stop tour of Dough Gym and Funky Fingers. Tomorrow I will post some recipes for making different malleable materials that provide different levels of challenge.

The ABC team has almost finalised the details of the next round of conferences 'From Mark Maker to Writer' so hopefully I will be able to share them with you this weekend.

If all that wasn't enough, it is TTS giveaway weekend again, so keep a look out for the gorgeous stuff that I am giving away this time!

Enjoy Funking up your Fingers…


23 Comments on “Dough Gym Week – Funky Fingers”

  1. Hi
    I am a PGCE student and I want to do my small research project on
    How Does dough gym support young children’s handwriting development ?
    The Idea came from my previous placement as a child in reception found handwriting particularly challenging
    This was partly due to restrictions and limitations made upon him during his early childhood experiences
    I observed the wonders of class dough gym (15 children in a circle) who all loved participating to the up beat music and I enjoyed teaching them to
    I also observed some O/T small group intervention that used Theraputty exercises which focused on the hand and finger manipulation skills
    I am very interested in this area so any information shall be gratefully received

    1. I would be really interested to see what you find out Catherine. I know I have used it very successfully as an intervention – usually with groups of children no bigger than 8. Let me know how you get on!

    2. Hi Catherine,

      I am a PGCE student too! I am doing a very similar topic for a research study about how using play dough through dough gym and making the words out of play dough can support children’s writing. Any information you have would be so helpful for my own research!

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  3. Hi Sam rose,

    Did allistar get back to you about this as I am concerned about assessing the children incorrectly too…. I was wondering if anyone has a set way of assessing what children need to improve on ie if they hold pencil with pincer they need…..

    Please help 🙂

  4. Thanks Alistair yes you are very helpful. Sorry to keep asking questions! Right so I need to first assess where they all are then, clearly that’s the crucial part. I’m doing this for an Action Research project as I’m in the second year of a Teaching and Learning degree, I was going to do some baseline assessments such as how many pegs can they put in a pegboard in a minute and can they touch each finger with their thumb, so I have evidence at the end to show how it’s worked. So to link the activity to their needs I look at their pencil grip and those with a poor grip need a pincer activity? What specifically would dough gym help? Would it be for those who can’t independently move each finger? The children are in Reception. Are there any other assessments I should do to start with you can recommend? I’m worried I won’t assess their needs correctly. Also once I’ve done this and split them into groups how long should each session be, is it for the duration of just one song? Sorry to ask so many questions I’m not a teacher yet as you can tell! Thanks so much for your time.

  5. We are just starting this (not done it as a class before) I am thinking of doing dough gym with all the children in our reception class with a differentiated funky fingers activity for each child straight after. Would this be ok? We are going to do it 3 times a week I’m just not sure how long each session should be in order for it to have an impact. So dough gym for one song then an activity for 2 or 3 minutes maybe? Or for the length of another song or should it be a 1 minute challenge? Please help!

    1. Hi Sam – you can’t really do Dough Gym with the whole class unless you have enough adults to have one supervising each group. Your Dough Gym activities should be specifically linked to the development needs of each group of children. It unlikely that everyone will be at the same stage of development. Usually I would have one group doing Dough Gym and the other children doing different Funky Fingers activities. I would keep these activities and groups for a week and then change the activities or rotate the groups. Ideally you would do a session every day to get really good impact. Hope this helps?! Alistair

  6. I am ‘new’ to the whole funky fingers experience, although have done dough gym before and have to say it is fantastic!! The children ( and adults!) are loving it and we can all see the benefits it is having!

  7. The Early Years class I work in LOVE our daily funky fingers sessions. Especially when done to Happy by Pharrell Williams!
    We do not do a dough gym session at the moment.

  8. I think I need to start from the very beginning of assessing motor skills! Do you have a blog or can you recommend a good resource?

  9. Great resources Alistair, was just thinking how fab snowball fights would be for encouraging motor development, oordination etc and voila there is actual snow on your page!!! Love it! Cant imagine any of my little darlings saying “…need a poo…” in the middle of snow making !!! Carrie Hyland x

  10. Alistair, your ideas never fail to enthuse! Some wonderful tips to support the development of early writing. Is dough gym your idea, and if is it on the website? I would very much like to work on some assessment and intervention style groups using your recommendations. Thanks, Helen.

    1. Our nursery children love using shaving foam on the table and swirling it around. We have ice cube trays, pincers and pom pom balls out at the moment which they are using very well. Having read all the information about ‘Dough Gym’ this evening, I shall be looking around the school for a suitable unit so as the children can stand up rather than sit down! We would love to win any resources to help develop our children’s early writing skills. Please can you let me know where I can find out more ideas about ‘Dough Gym ‘ as I’m keen to implement the approach in the nursery.

  11. We would love to win the resources to help our little ones along the way in developing their early writing skills.

  12. I can’t wait to start trying out some of these ideas with my class. I just need to start stocking up on hair gel, wall paper paste and zip lock bags. The kids are going to love it!!

  13. This is just what some of my class need. I have a year 1 class made up of mostly boys and some with very poor fine/gross motor skills. The Early years team in my school are massive fans of yours and pointed me in your direction by lending me some books. I have used your pictures of grips to group them but I need to look more at their upper bodies and arm pivots before I start. They will love having membership cards and doing the exercises to music. I think because of my class setup they are going to need to do this as an intervention. Hopefully will have some good results.
    Thanks for all the advice. I have also enjoyed reading about engaging boys and can’t wait to make some shrunken heads.

    1. Hi Sam
      Did your dough gym work well for your yr1 children? Thinking about setting this up over the next half term for my yr1 class.

  14. Hi Emma
    The beauty of Dough Gym and Funky Fingers is that you can use both to work on all fine and gross motor dexterity. If your assessment is telling you that lots/most of your children need to work on palm and fingers then in your Dough Gym sessions you would just use a malleable material with greater resistance and all of your exercises would be based on hands and fingers.
    By the same token if you have got children who need to work their upper bodies and arm pivots they can do this in Funky Fingers, just using larger movements that mobilised that part of the body – like the whirly tubes.
    So, you can mix and match depending on the assessment, the resources and the number of adults you have got to help.
    Enjoy having a go!

  15. So is it the case, or am I confused(!) that children doing dough gym would be at an earlier developmental stage than those doing funky fingers, needing to work larger parts of their body – more gross motor- than just their fingers, palm etc which takes them through the different pencil grips after palm grip?
    Many of our reception children are using either extended or inverted tripod grip – would they typically need dough gym and upper body strengthening activities too, or just fine motor, funky fingers type things?

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