What are In Hand Manipulation Skills?

What are in hand manipulation skills?  In simple terms, it is the ability to pick up and use an object with one hand. There are three types.

Perhaps you are a parent or school staff member who recently read an occupational therapy report and wondered what are in hand manipulation skills?  In simple terms, it is the ability to pick up and use an object with one hand. There are three types of in hand manipulation skills: translation, shift, and rotation.

Three Types of In Hand Manipulation Skills


Translation allows you to move objects from the palm of the hand to the fingertips and vice versa using only one hand. An example of translation is moving coins from your palm to your fingertips to put the coins in a bank.

If children do not have adequate translation skills, they may have to use both hands for certain activities that should only require one hand. You may observe the child: transferring the object to the other hand to help reposition it, using external support like a tabletop to help reposition objects, dropping the objects in the hand while trying to move them or taking longer to complete activities that require translation skills.


Shift is the ability to move objects between the fingers. Some examples of shift are when you use your fingertips to try and separate two pieces of paper that are stuck together or when you move your fingers to the bottom of a pen
to get ready to write.

The ability to move objects between the fingers is necessary for fine motor tasks. If shift skills are not sufficient you may have difficulty with isolating your finger movements causing you to drop objects frequently. It may also be difficult for you to manipulate objects like playing cards.


There are two types of in hand manipulation skills when it comes to rotation, simple and complex. Simple rotation is the ability to roll a small object between the thumb and finger tips. An example of simple rotation is using the finger tips and thumb to open a small jar. Complex rotation is the ability to turn an object end over end. An example of this is flipping a pencil over in one hand to use the eraser instead of writing with the tip of the pencil.

The ability to rotate objects with the finger tips is necessary for many fine motor tasks throughout the day. If a child has difficulty with rotation, he/she may drop objects frequently or be unable to manipulate small objects using one hand.

What Activities Improve In Hand Manipulation Skills?

There are many fun, simple in hand manipulation activities that children can work on to improve their skills.

How to help a child develop translation skills

Here are a few in hand manipulation exercises to help with translation skills:

  • put coins in a piggy bank that are in the palm of your hand
  • get coins out of a purse
  • crumple up paper using one hand
  • lace beads onto a string while holding the beads in the palm of the hand
  • pick up small objects from a table
  • put small objects in play dough such as coins or small beads. Have the child find the small beads in the clay. Once a bead is found, move it into the palm of the hand. When three beads have been found remove them from the palm and start again. Creative Clay Activities can provide you with more ideas!
  • recycle an old plastic container like a margarine or potato chip can. Cut a slot in the top. Have the child hold several poker chips in one hand. Practice putting the poker chips into the slot.
  • give the child a snack of a small food like raisins. Put the raisins in the child’s palm. Instruct the child to eat one raisin at a time moving the raisin from the palm, to the fingertips to the mouth.

Creative Clay Activities Updated

Activities to Develop In Hand Manipulation Skills that Encourages Shift

To practice moving objects between the fingers (shift) try these exercises:

  • practice turning pages in a book.
  • play games that require you to pick up one card at a time (ie: Candy Land®, matching games, flash cards, etc. Combine card play and exercises with the Candy Exercise Game.
  • practice sorting currency by separating bills into different denominations
  • practice crayon, pencil or pen walks – hold the writing utensil in one hand and try moving the fingers up and down the shaft, remember only use one hand
  • when cutting, practice turning the paper with one hand as you use the scissors to cut with the other hand. Try Step by Step Circle Animals.
  • walk your fingertips up and down a pencil from the tip to the eraser using only one hand.

Candy Game Exercises

In Hand Manipulation Skills and Exercises to Help with Rotation

To help children develop simple and complex rotation try these activities:

  • practice putting on and taking off small lids or caps (ie: opening water bottles or juice containers)
  • give the child a container of nuts and bolts. The child can screw the nuts onto the bolts. Start out with large nuts and bolts and progress to smaller ones.
  • practice rotating writing utensils, for example, try rotating the pencil from the lead side to the eraser side
  • do puzzles – rotating the pieces to fit into the proper place in the puzzle. Try Tangram Printable Puzzles.
  • build with small building blocks especially ones with pictures on them. For example, six-sided block puzzles are great to practice rotation skills
  • try stacking dice with the same number showing on each side of the tower. The child will have to rotate
    the die in the hand before he/she stacks the dice. Play Sudoku with dice.
  • play with a shape sorter. The child will have to rotate each shape in different positions in order to fit it
    in the correct hole.

Would you like this in hand manipulation PDF as a handout?

The What? Why? and How? Series 2 helps to explain fine motor skills to students, parents and teachers.  Each hand out includes a definition of what the topic is, why it is important and how you can help.

Series 2 includes one-page handouts on the following topics:

  1. Pincer and Tripod Grasp
  2. Dynamic Tripod Grip
  3. Finger Isolation
  4. Muscles in the Hand
  5. Arches in the hands
  6. Web Space
  7. Thumb Opposition
  8. Separation of the Hand
  9. In Hand Manipulation – Translation
  10. In Hand Manipulation – Shift
  11. In Hand Manipulation Skills – Rotation

Get more information here.

Would you like more in hand manipulation skills, activities, and exercises?

Ping Pong Puzzles

Print and Play Fine Motor Activities Pack #1

Flip and Snip

Flip and Fill Animals


Case-Smith, Jane (2005). Occupational Therapy for Children Fifth Edition. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.

Your Therapy Source Inc (2006). Therapeutic Activities for Home and School. Schaghticoke, NY: Your
Therapy Source Inc

What are in hand manipulation skills?  In simple terms, it is the ability to pick up and use an object with one hand. There are three types.