The OT Toolbox
Oculomotor function refers to the six muscles surrounding each eye.  These muscles work together to produce controlled eye movements.  When there is oculomotor dysfunction evident, a child may have difficulty with depth perception, visual attention, visual memory, visual perceptual tasks, visual scanning, spatial disorientation, eye-hand coordination, balance, or reading and writing tasks.  You can see how these difficulties closely resemble problems that result from vestibular or proprioceptive dysfunctions.  Likewise, kids with oculomotor dysfunction often times have difficulty with visual motor skills.  If ocuolomotor dysfunction is suspected, children should see a developmental optometrist for assessment.

Once a diagnosis is made, there are many things you can do to improve oculomotor dysfunction in occupational therapy.

Try these activities to improve oculomotor function with kids.

The activities below are ones that challenge the muscles of the eye in coordination with movement changes.  Looking for more movement activities? Try these:

Childhood development and action rhymes

Farm theme brain breaks

Try these activities to improve oculomotor dysfunction:

Affiliate links are included. 
  • Balance board- This is a great price for a child's balance board.  THIS ONE is great for older kids or children who seek more movement or challenging movement patterns.
  • Directional Jumping
  • Hopscotch
  • Write the letters of the alphabet in random order on a small ball (a softball works!).  Ask the child to hold the softball and rotate the ball to spell words.
  • Experience movement and direction changes with sequencing arrows.
  • Crawl through an obstacle course with a bean bag or pillow on the child’s back.  They can crawl along a masking tape course while keeping the object from falling from their back.
  • Hit a soft ball/balloon/crumbled paper with a tennis racket or paddle.
  • Zoom ball-as kids to keep their eyes on the ball.
  • Toss a large beach ball with letters or words written on it.  When they catch the ball, they should look at and say one word that is closest to their hands.
Movement activities to help improve oculomotor function

Click on the images below to find more creative movement activities that will improve oculomotor dysfunction:

Ooobleck recipe and sensory play with a marble run! This is awesome sensory play and creative fine motor work when kids scoop and pour the oobleck into the marble run.  Watching the oobleck slowly run down the marble run is so mesmerizing and calming!

Water table activity for kids: use a marble run and water beads for scooping and pouring fine motor and sensory fun this summer!

Some children are tactile learners.  These are the children that learn through movement of their hands.  They NEED to move, fidget, tap, and wiggle those fingers and learning happens best when they are doing these movements. These kids focus on and recall information better when they are manipulating items in learning.  This sight word sensory tray is PERFECT for tactile learners.  There is a reason--Sight words are just that-words that are learned by sight.  They are words that have no "rule" and are learned just through plain old memory.  But for the child who learns best through small motor actions, how are they supposed to learn those sight words just by looking at them and remembering them?  A sight word sensory tray is the way to go for tactile learners and kids that are just bored with sight word memorization!

We've got a TON of sight word activities on the site that use tactile sensory play and movement if you are looking for more ways to help kinesthetic learners learn those sight words.

Try this sight word sensory tray with tactile learners.

Sight Word Sensory Tray

You'll need just a couple of materials for this activity. (Affiliate links are included in this post.)

Long tray
Paper with sight words written on them (Cut a sheet of printer paper in half, length-wise.)
Foam eggs

First, write out the sight words on the half sheets of paper.  Write one word per sheet and write with large letters.

Place the sight word sheet in the tray and cover it with the foam eggs.

Then, start moving those eggs!

Help tactile learners with sight words using a sight word sensory tray

Kids can uncover just part of the eggs in the tray to reveal part of the sight word and then the whole word.  They can identify the sight word by seeing part of the word or the whole thing.

Help kids with tactile learning strategies using a sight word sensory tray.

There are several other ways to use this sight word sensory tray to help tactile learners with that sight word list.

Ask kids to trace the sight word by starting with one uncovered letter.  Then, ask they to trace the remaining letters as they uncover each letter.  Use a finger, the eraser end of a pencil, or a writing utensil.

Try to guess the sight word by uncovering just one or a few of the beginning letters. 

Add a movement action for each letter as it's uncovered.  One example would be to "form" the letter with outstretched hands and legs.

Kids can use this sight word sensory tray to learn sight words when they are tactile learners

For more information on tactile learners and sight words, check out fine motor movement learning activities like: 

Sight Word Sticky Easel
Sight Word Manipulatives
Sight Word Scavenger Hunt
Beginner Sight Word Letter Match
I Spy Sight Word Sensory Bottle
No-Mess Sensory Sight Word Spelling
Sight Word Bottle Cap Stampers

Positive self talk can make a big difference for kids!  From seeing that big test in front of them, to walking into a new classroom full of strangers, to gearing up for a big can become overwhelmed and stressed out from daily tasks.  Teaching kids positive self talk can be a minor tool to use in building confidence, easing anxiety, and helping with attention and focus.  

These self-talk beads are a fun way to show kids how to use positive self talk to their advantage! 

This post is part of our new series on executive functioning skills and just one tool to have in your toolbox when helping kids build the skills they need for function and independence!

Teach kids positive self talk with these bracelets for helping with attention, self-confidence, self-esteem, and executive functioning skills.

Teach Kids Positive Self Talk

(Affiliate links are included in this post.)
You'll need just a couple of materials for this self talk bracelet.

Wooden Alphabet Beads 
Star Beads
(we received both sets from

Any type or style of beads would work, though.

 alphabet bead kit

This alphabet bead kit is perfect. 

Positive self talk for kids

Self talk does wonders for kids (and adults!) Self-talk can boost self-confidence, self-esteem, self-control, and influence impulse decisions.  When kids are in a situation where they question themselves or put them selves down in their minds, they can end up struggling even more.  

Related read:  Read more about attention and how kids can improve attention at home and at school.

Help kids understand positive self talk with these bracelets for helping with attention, self-confidence, self-esteem, and executive functioning skills.

How to make positive self-talk bracelets

Kids can use these positive self talk bracelets for helping with attention, self-confidence, self-esteem, and executive functioning skills.

Next, spread out the beads and start talking with your kids about positive self talk!  

Talk to your kids or students about the power of self-talk.  Ask them how they feel when they hear positive and negitive self-talk statements.  Show them how they can identify with these feelings during situations in school, on the sports team, or when with friends.  

Each child is different, but there are common concerns that kids might have. From anxiety over a test to feeling self-conscious around peers, a positive thought can really help. 

Teach kids positive self talk with these bracelets for helping with attention, self-confidence, self-esteem, and executive functioning skills.

Assign each of the colored beads to a positive statement.  Then help your child to pick out the statements that speak to them.  Use the alphabet beads to create a positive statement they can see on their bracelet.  Ideas include: "It's ok!", "Yes I can!", or "I can do this".  

Teach kids positive self talk with these bracelets for helping with attention, self-confidence, self-esteem, and executive functioning skills.

If the children you're working with don't want to put words on their bracelet, they can just assign colors to different positive thoughts and add them to their bracelet.  

Teach kids positive self talk with these bracelets for helping with attention, self-confidence, self-esteem, and executive functioning skills.

When children wear their bracelet, they can see and feel the colors and remember positive thoughts!  

We did a different activity similar to this when we talked about the feelings of others.  Check out our empathy beads, too!

Teach kids positive self talk with these bracelets for helping with attention, self-confidence, self-esteem, and executive functioning skills.

Slime is such a fun way to encourage tactile sensory play.  But what do you do with the slime after you've played with it a few times?  I wanted to share some creative ways to work on fine motor skills with slime.  

Use slime to work on fine motor skills with these fine motor activities

Fine Motor Activities with Slime

A sensory dough like play dough or therapy putty is pretty well-known tool for building fine motor skills in kids.  Have you ever tried using slime to address hand strength and dexterity that is needed for functional tasks?  Try these fine motor activities with your next batch of homemade slime (or purchased slime):

1. Press beads into slime-  Pushing beads into slime is a great way to work on tripod grasp, arch development, separation of the two sides of the hand, and opening of the thumb web space.  The slime provides a resistive feedback that will provide proprioceptive input and strengthening

2. Remove beads with tweezers-  Once those beads are pressed into the slime, use a pair of tweezers to pull them back out again.  Using a clear slime would work best with this, but this activity can be done with a colored slime as well.  Using tweezers helps kids strengthen the hands and address visual motor skills needed for functional tasks such as handwriting or scissor use.  Tweezers develop the intrinsic strength of the hand as while developing arches in the palm.

3. Peel slime- Place pencils in a thin layer of slime, then pull the slime from the pencils-  We shared this activity on our Instagram channel.  The thin layer of slime on pencils is a coating that kids can pull off while strengthening the muscles of the hands.  While this activity could be done with any small toy or object, the unique shape of pencils promotes tripod grasp, intrinsic hand strength, and separation of the sides of the hand.

4. Cut slime with scissors-  Roll slime out into a snake shape.  Use scissors to cut the slime into chunks.  This is a common activity using play dough or therapy dough so most therapists would love to try the slime version!  Cutting a resistive material such as slime promotes bilateral coordination and scissor skills.

5. Poke holes in slime-  Create a circle of slime by patting the slime blob between both hands (bilateral coordination!) Then, with the slime on a table surface, press the index finger into the slime until you touch the table surface. This is an excellent way to work on finger isolation and strength of the hands. Finger isolation is essential for dexterity and manipulation of the pencil during handwriting tasks.

Slime fine motor activities for helping kids improve hand strength and fine motor skills

You'll love these fine motor activities too:

Neat Pincer Grasp Fine Motor Activity Buttoning Tips and Tricks

Have you ever had a professional mention the term "sensory diet"?  Have you wondered why a sensory diet would be used with kids?  This post describes the goals of a sensory diet for kids with sensory processing needs. 

Before we get started, I have news to share! I've been busy working on a new (BIG) project for you.  You'll see more sensory diet information here on the site because I've been putting together a strategy book for developing sensory diets!  This is going to be a resource for parents, teachers, therapists, and anyone who works with kids with sensory needs.  Be sure to join our mailing list so you can be the first to know more about this project! 

Why do kids need a sensory diet to help with sensory processing problems?

Sensory Diets for Sensory Processing Needs

Sensory diets are a commonly known strategy for addressing sensory needs.  The term “sensory diet” was coined by Patricia Wilbarger in 1984 to explain how certain sensory experiences can improve occupational performance and help to remediate disruption of the sensory processing systems.  A sensory diet is a means to adjust sensory input in relation to an individual’s needs.  

Sensory diets don't need to be a strict set of prescribed structured activities for every child.  They ARE a meaningful set of strategies for developing sensory programs that are meaningful, practical, carefully scheduled, and controlled in order to affect functioning.  

Sensory diet activities provide appropriate sensory input based on the needs of an individual.  Just as a healthy diet consists of a variety of foods, a sensory diet is a balanced set of sensory information that allows an individual to function.  A person cannot survive on broccoli alone.  Similarly, a child cannot function with only one type of sensory activities.

Sensory diets are not just for kids with identified sensory issues.  We all need a diet of sensory input.  Our bodies and minds instinctively know that varying sensory input allows us to function appropriately.  Neuro-typical children naturally seek out a variety of proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile sensory input.  As a result, they are able to accept and regulate other sensory input such as a seam in their shirt, a lawnmower running outside their classroom, or the scent of chicken cooking in the kitchen.

Studies support the use of active participation in multi-sensory activities for at least 90 minutes per week to improve occupational performance and autism symptoms and behaviors (Fazlioglu & Baran, 2008; Thompson, 2011; Woo & Leon, 2013; Wuang, Wang, Huang, & Su 2010).  

Children who have a toolbox of sensory activities available to them for daily use may benefit from prescribed sensory activities.  These activities can be a part of and incorporated into the day in a natural way.

What is a sensory diet?

A sensory diet is a set of activities that are appropriate for an individual’s needs.  Specific and individualized activities that are specifically scheduled into a child’s day are used to assist with regulation of activity levels, attention, and adaptive responses.  

Sensory diet activities are prescribed based on the individual’s specific sensory needs.   Just as there are no two people that are alike, there are no two sensory diets that are alike.  

Every sensory diet will meet the specific needs whether in activity, position, intensity, time, sensory system, or type.  Additionally, a sensory diet can be modified throughout the day and based on variances in tasks.

A sensory diet needs to be specific with thoughtful regard to timing, frequency, intensity, and duration of sensory input.

Goals of a sensory diet

Goals of a sensory diet are to:

  1. Provide the child with predictable sensory information which helps organize the central nervous system.
  2. Support social engagement, self-regulation, behavior organization, perceived competence, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
  3.  Inhibit and/or improve modulation of sensation within daily routines and environments.
  4. Assist the child in processing a more organized response to sensory stimuli.

Fazlioglu, Y., & Baran, G. (2008). A sensory integration therapy program on sensory problems for children with autism. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 106, 415–422.

Read more on sensory processing information here:

Sensory processing red flags for parents to help identify sensory needs in kids

We've got several attention strategies on the blog that help kids with attention and focus difficulties.  Modifying the environment or reducing demands are tools that can help many kids pay attention in different contexts.  However, sometimes it's not possible to adjust the external factors involved in paying attention.  It's then that internal strategies must succeed on their own.

When kids have trouble with executive functioning skills, the internal ability to filter out unnecessary information, maintain focus, and use that information with appropriate working memory interfere with functional abilities in the classroom or learning.

Try this simple trick to help kids pay attention by using an internal strategy that can be used on it's own or in conjunction with external supports like desk dividers, checklists, reduced information, and other attention building modifications.

Try this simple trick to help kids pay attention with a movement strategy

Simple Trick to Help Kids Pay Attention

Much research has been done linking movement to attention.  So, if space, time, and context allows, a simple stretch or gross motor movement break is a big help for building attention.

If the opportunity to get up and move is not possible, try this trick:

Kids can often times become overwhelmed by the perceived size of a long reading assignment or multiple page test.  The feeling of anxiety can interfere with focus.  Breaking the task down into smaller chunks can ease that feeling of anxiety.

Visualize a Karate Chop to Help with Attention

Break down a task into smaller pieces with a CHOP!  The visual image of a karate kick or karate chop can help kids see their assignment or big task in smaller chunks.

When presented with a big task such as a 6 page unit test, teach kids to visualize each page as a small part.  They can work their way through the first page or section.  At the end of that first page, they can close their eyes, visualize themselves doing a big jumping, karate CHOP with a kick and arm motion.  Ask them to take a deep breath and know that that first chunk is done!  Then, they can move on to the next page or section.

The ability to visualize each separate part of a larger task is just one strategy that can help kids pay attention and use strategies on their own.

In order to use this strategy successfully, kids will need to visually break big tasks into smaller pieces.  They will need to maintain motivation and working memory to use this tool in functional tasks.  

It can be fun to practice the Karate CHOP trick though.  Just seeing Mom or Teacher showing them how to use this tool can be funny enough to remember it during a big job. 

What sort of tasks would this attention-building trick work with?
Cleaning a bedroom
Picking up toys
Other chores

How can your child use this attention strategy?

Help kids pay attention with an easy visualization strategy

Looking for more tricks and tips for attention problems?  Try these:

Attention and behavior and meal time problems, use these tricks to help kids with independence during meals.Use this gift guide to help kids who need tools and toys to help with attention and focus in the classroom, school, or at home.Sensory Processing components and considerations for the disorganized and inattentive child.  This site contains lots of attention and organization strategies for kids with sensory processing disorders from an Occupational Therapist.Try these sensory movement activites and exercises for helping kids learn to pay attention.  Easy ball therapy exercises using proprioception and core muscle strengthening with a frugal and easy alternative to a therapy ball.  Occupational Therapy tips for kids.

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