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Let’s Join Hands: A Theme About Hand Function

By Tania Cowling

Put your hands together to celebrate the hand – these incredible machines that enable us to do a multitude of things. Teachers can use these activities across the curriculum to educate young children about this useful body part.

About the Hand (Science)

Let’s Join Hands Begin this unit on hand function by having your students take a closer look at their own hands. Did you know that our hands are made up of 27 bones and they account for one-quarter of all the bones in the body? See if you can obtain some x-rays from an orthopedic surgeon so the kids can view all 27 bones. Count them!

Ask the kids to make a fist to emphasize their knuckle bones, then bend and straighten the fingers to see their hinge joints work. Next, move the thumbs in and out to observe how well the saddle joint works. It allows the thumb to bend and rotate.

Handy Greetings (Circle Time Discussions)

People shake hands – it’s a gesture of welcome and friendship. Soldiers in the military welcome each other with a hand salute. And, if you are into Star Trek, you may know the Vulcans (like Mr. Spock) have their very own unique handshake, which requires you to separate the fingers between the middle and ring fingers. Why not make up your own silly handshakes and practice these during circle time?

I’m So Handy (Thinking Skills, Art)

Challenge your students with this thinking activity. Brainstorm a list of things you can do with your hands. Then make a list of things you can do without your hands. Which list is longer?

Encourage your kids to make a handy booklet. Trace around the child’s hand and cut this out. Tell the children to use their template to draw several more hands (six or more) on sheets of paper and cut these out. Have the kids draw pictures on each page showing actions they can do with their hands. The list from the previous activity may help with ideas. Assemble the booklet pages together, punch two holes at the wrist area, and thread yarn, ribbon, or raffia to bind the pages together.

Beats and Claps (Music and Movement)

Hand clapping creates a beat. The basic idea is to face a partner and follow a pattern. Try this:

  1. Clap your hands together; slap your partner’s hands.
  2. Clap your hands together; slap your partner’s right hand with your right hand.
  3. Clap your hands together; slap your partner’s left hand with your left hand.

All clapping rhymes employ a sequence of these motions while chanting a rhyme. Let the children explore with such variations as snapping fingers, slapping the thighs, slapping a partner’s hands, etc.

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack,

All dressed in black, black, black,

With silver buttons, buttons, buttons,

All down her back, back, back

She asked her mother, mother, mother,

For fifty cents, cents, cents,

To see the elephant, elephant, elephant.

Jump over the fence, fence, fence.

He jumped so high, high, high,

He reached the sky, sky, sky,

And he never came back, back, back,

‘Till the end of July, ‘ly, ‘ly.

Hand Jive (Music and Movement)

Performing the ‘hand jive’ lets the hands motions tell what the song is all about. We also call these finger plays. Here is one to try:

In a cabin (form a house with hands)

In the woods (put your arms up like a tree)

A little man by the window stood. (stand tall)

Hopping by, (fingers hop like a bunny)

Knocking at the door, (pretend to knock on door)

“Help me! Help me!” the rabbit cried, (put hand to mouth)

“Before the hunter shoots my hide!”

Come, little rabbit. Come inside. (motion to come)

You’re safe with me, by my side. (pretend to hold the rabbit close)

Using Your Thumbs

Using Your Thumbs 

The thumb is our most important digit. It is opposable, meaning the thumb can rotate around to touch the palm of your hand and the fingertips. This bending and rotating ability of the thumb is what gives us our manual dexterity.

Our thumbs have been the inspiration for many artistic endeavors. Share classic books like the tales of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina with the class.

Artist Ed Emberley has shown how to create artwork out of thumbprints. Why not engage the kids in thumbprint art? Have them dip their thumbs into paint (or a stamping pad) and make a print on paper. Encourage your students to draw faces, arms, legs, tails, wings, etc. to create their own thumbprint creatures.

Lefty or Righty?

We are all born with a tendency to be right-handed or left-handed. Take a poll to see who uses their right hand or left hand. Can you use both?

Experiment with handedness. Ask the kids to scratch their back. Which hand did they use? When you cross your arms, which arm is on top. Obviously, when you pick up a pencil to write you are using your dominant hand. What happens if you use the opposite hand? Does it feel awkward? Try using the opposite hand with some activities just for fun.

Lend a Hand

Explain to the children the saying, “lend a hand.” Talk about all the ways hands can be helpful to people. Make a list of ‘helping hands’ actions on paper and give this paper to each child in your class. Invite students to dip their hand into tempera paint and make a print on the paper.

These are just a few of the many activities that can be performed with hands. Think about how blind people use hands (fingers) to read, how hands are used to conduct sign language as communication for the deaf, and the fun of using hands to engage in shadow play. Hand function is not only useful, but fun too!