It's just like a normal exercise gym but for your fingers! Physical development comes in two forms; gross motor skills (jumping, running, waving arms, climbing etc) and fine motor skills (smaller movements particularly using your hands and fingers). Finger gym exercises are great for developing these trickier muscles needed for fine motor skills.
We need fine motor skills to devleop the muscles in our hands and fingers which help children to do important every day skills like writing, feeding themselves, doing up zips, tying shoe laces etc.
Here are some of my favorite finger gym activties
Threading pipe cleaners into an upturned collander. Children as young as 1 can have a go at this. If they can't manage to thread the pipe cleaner through the holes encourage them to pull some out. They are still using the same muscles.
Once the children are adept at this activity make it a little trickier by offering them a plastic golf ball with holes in one hand and the pipe cleaner in another hand.
Babies and children who struggle to poke pipe cleaners throug holes could poke them into playdough.
Other brilliant finger gyms that we use often
water beads - picking them up, sorting into cups or bowls by colour or size, counting, squashing etc.
lplaydough - justs squashing, pressing, moulding the dough is a great finger gym but we also stick raw spaghetti into it, squash it into shapes, push it into containers of different sizes etc.
stickle bricks - free play for the children to feel, experiment and connect together
pom poms on golf tees - stick the golf tees into a small block of styraphome or playdough and invite the children to balance pom poms on top. When they get good at this with their fingers introduce pincers and encourage them to pick the pom poms up using the pincers and balancing them onto the golf tees
pipets - so many options here. Colour water with food colouring, place a pipet into each different coloured water and let children make drops onto white paper. draw circles with felt tip pens onto tin foil or mirror and ask the children to fill with water using only a pipet. Transfer fluid from one vessel to another.
lego - free play or ask children to make something specific
seeds/beans - plant seeds with children using their fingers
pasta - place different types of pasta into the centre of a table or tray and ask the children to sort into groups that are alike
beads - threading beads onto raw spaghetti, pipe cleaners or string