Fine Motor Toothpick Activity

toothpick activity

This toothpick activity requires only one item: a toothpick container found at the local dollar store. Typically a toothpick container is filled with toothpicks and has a few holes in the removable lid, making it a great fine motor tool for children. This occupational therapy activity is used because you can target many precision skills and finger dexterity in kids. Let’s check it out…

toothpick activity

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Toothpick Container Activity

I’ve had a toothpick container in my therapy bag for many, many years. While we don’t actually use the toothpicks in their traditional use, we do, use the toothpicks in a fine motor activity that kids seem to love!

First, look for a holder that has small holes in a removeable lid. Amazon (affiliate link) has a three pack with color coded lids which would be great for sorting colored toothpicks.

Next, place toothpicks on the table and show the child how to pick up one at a time and drop them into the holes of the lid.

Use this basic activity in many ways:

  • Play pick up sticks
  • Roll a dice and pick up that many toothpicks. Drop them in the holes of the container.
  • Set a timer and place as many toothpicks in the holes as possible
  • Hide toothpicks in a sensory bin. Pull out a toothpick and drop them into the holes as they are found.

What other ways to use this toothpick container activity can you think of?

Fine Motor Toothpick activity

What skills are we working on here?

Talk about an easy set- up and great fine motor dexterity task…
toothpick activity for kids
Picking up those tooth picks from the table surface is perfect for a fine motor neat pincer grasp. 
Putting them into the little holes of the container works on a tripod grasp and extended wrist. 
Holding the container with the non-dominant hand is great for establishing a stabilizer hand (supporting the paper when writing).
toothpick holder activity for kids

More Toothpick Activities

  1. STEM Towers: Challenge your child to build towers using toothpicks and marshmallows. There is power in fine motor STEM! This activity promotes precision and hand-eye coordination.
  2. Pincer Grasp Practice: Encourage your child to pick up toothpicks using only the tips of their thumb and index finger in a neat pincer grasp. They can transfer toothpicks from one container to another, enhancing their fine motor control.
  3. Build letters: Use toothpicks to shape letters of the alphabet. Your child can place the toothpicks on a flat surface to form letters, improving their finger dexterity and control.
  4. Counting and Sorting: Have your child count and sort toothpicks into different groups based on length, color, or other criteria. This activity develops counting skills and promotes attention to detail. One way to expand this activity is to use a marker or paint to color the toothpicks or use (Amazon affiliate link) colored craft matchsticks.
  5. Geometric Shapes: Challenge your child to create geometric shapes, such as squares, triangles, or hexagons, by connecting toothpicks. This activity sharpens spatial awareness and fosters creativity.
  6. Playdough Poke: Make a playdough snake and then use the toothpicks to poke along the play dough. This threading exercise improves hand strength, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor control.
  7. Toothpick Art: Encourage your child to create miniature sculptures or artwork using toothpicks. They can connect toothpicks with glue or build structures, allowing their creativity to flourish while refining their fine motor skills.
  8. Sensory Play: Combine toothpicks with sensory materials like kinetic sand or rice. Your child can bury toothpicks in the material, dig them out, or create patterns and designs. This activity provides tactile stimulation and enhances finger strength.
  9. Fine Motor Mazes: Draw or print mazes on paper and use toothpicks as a stylus to navigate through the maze. This activity strengthens hand control and precision movements.

Plus, you can use the toothpicks in the toothpick art found in our seasonal Fine Motor Kits:

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

Light-Bright Toy Fun!

lite brite toy in occupational therapy

In occupational therapy, we target the occupation of play in kids, making toys one of the main tools like a Lite Brite toy to support and drive development. Pediatric OTs love to foster development through innovative and meaningful activities in therapy interventions, and the Light Bright toy is one fun toy that sparks creativity and sensory motor skills.

Today, we shine a spotlight on an iconic toy that has captured the imagination of generations: the (Amazon affiliate link) Light Brite. Known for its mesmerizing glow and colorful pegs, this beloved occupational therapy toy has found a special place in occupational therapy practices as an effective tool for enhancing fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and finger dexterity in individuals of all ages.

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

lite brite toy for occupational therapy

Using a Lite Brite Toy in Therapy

In this blog post, we will explore the Light Brite toy and unveil how its simple yet engaging design can be leveraged by occupational therapists to promote development and foster therapeutic progress. We will explore the unique qualities of Light Brite (affiliate link) that make it a valuable asset in the pursuit of improved motor skills and coordination.

From the manipulation of the pegs to the coordination of visual input and fine motor control, Light Brite offers a multifaceted approach to therapeutic intervention.

Many therapy providers have a Lite Brite (affiliate link) in the therapy closet, but did you ever consider all of the ways to use this toy to foster development?

Light Bright Activities

There are many ways to use a Lite Brite toy to target specific skills.

  1. Free Design Play: Encourage creativity by letting individuals create their own unique designs using the pegs and create vibrant, personalized artwork.
  2. Shape Recognition: Use templates or stencils to guide individuals in creating specific shapes, helping them develop shape recognition skills. This is an actiity that fosters visual discrimination.
  3. Sort the pegs: Sort the pegs by color and practice grouping them together on the Lite Brite board, enhancing color recognition abilities. This is a great sorting colors activity for preschoolers and toddlers.
  4. Fine Motor Skill Development: Manipulating the small pegs and inserting them into the board helps develop and refine fine motor skills. You can foster fine motor milestone achievement by targeting various levels of fine motor development by grading activities with the pegs.
  5. Hand-Eye Coordination: Practicing precise peg placement on the Lite Brite board enhances hand-eye coordination as individuals align their movements with visual targets.
  6. Pattern Replication: Introduce patterns or designs for individuals to replicate on the Lite Brite board, fostering pattern recognition and visual-motor coordination.
  7. Letter and Number Formation: Create educational activities by using Lite Brite templates to guide individuals in forming letters and numbers. Integrate the activities into other letter formation strategies.
  8. Spatial Skills: Explore spatial awareness concepts by creating designs with varying levels of complexity, promoting spatial understanding and manipulation skills.
  9. Counting and Math Skills: Use Lite Brite templates with numerical symbols or dots to engage individuals in counting, basic math operations, and number recognition. Fine motor and math are connected skills.
  10. Storytelling Tool: Use the Lite Brite board as a visual aid to accompany creative storytelling activities, allowing individuals to bring their stories to life through illuminated scenes.
  11. Graded precision: Utilize the pegs as a tool for various occupational therapy exercises, such as picking up and placing pegs to improve dexterity and finger strength. The pegs are a powerful tool in supporting graded grasp and release in dexterity.
  12. Sensory Exploration: Engage individuals with sensory processing needs by incorporating different textured materials onto the Lite Brite board, providing tactile stimulation.
  13. Pre-Writing Skills: Practice tracing shapes or letters on the Lite Brite board to promote pre-writing skills and hand control. One of the main pre-writing skills many kids don’t achieve is the fine motor aspect.
  14. Collaborative Projects: Foster teamwork and social interaction by engaging multiple individuals in creating a larger-scale Lite Brite design together, promoting cooperation and communication. This can be a fun activity for group OT sessions or across a whole caseload.

using pegs for fine motor skills

One of the main ways to support fine motor skills with a Lite Brite is by using the pegs.

Picking up and manipulating the pegs offers strategies for skill development:

  • Eye-hand coordination- picking up the desired colored peg
  • Graded grasp and release- Aiming the hand and fingers to select a peg and placing it into a hole with the correct aim and force
  • In-hand manipulation- Moving pegs from the fingertips to the palm to hold the pegs. Then, moving one peg at a time to the fingertips to place the pegs into the holes of the Lite Brite board
  • Separation of the sides of the hand- Using the fingers on the thumb side of the hand (radial side) while using the fingers on the pinky finger side of the hand (ulnar side) to stabilize the hand for precision
  • Finger isolation- Moving use one finger to isolate a single peg in picking up the peg or placing it into the board.

fine motor peg activities

Some fine motor peg activities that use the Lite Brite pegs include:

  1. Counting Game: Use three different colored pegs to play a counting game. Assign a specific number to each color, for example, red for one, blue for two, and yellow for three. Ask individuals to insert the pegs into the Lite Brite board, counting aloud as they go. They can create patterns or designs while practicing their counting skills.
  2. Force Modulation- work on the amount of pressure needed to press the peg into the Lite Brite board by using different grades of paper. Consider tissue paper or construction paper. Each type of paper requires more force to push the peg through the paper. Or, you can add more resistance by laying an additional piece of paper on the Lite Brite board.
  3. Color Patterns: Create a simple color pattern activity using three pegs. Start a pattern sequence using the three colors, such as red, blue, yellow, red, blue, yellow. Individuals can continue the pattern by inserting the corresponding colored pegs into the Lite Brite board. This activity helps develop pattern recognition and sequencing skills.


While the small pegs of a Lite Brite toy might not be a great way to use this toy with toddlers, you can use the toy to foster development with young children.

We AGAIN used the dishwasher box that has been sitting in our living room.

(One cardboard box is so much better than a whole storage bin of toys! Consider DIY cardboard bricks!)

This box has been everything from a rocket ship to a barn in their imaginary play.  It has been a corn cardboard sensory box, to a light tunnel for a Twinkle Twinkle little star party.  

We’ve covered it with blankets to make a bear cave, and put it on it’s end, cutting a door and window into one side for a house.  

After we cut the door into it, Baby Girl loved opening and shutting the door over and over and over again!

We used the Lite Brite in the cardboard box (without adding the pegs). It was a great sensory light that fostered many skills:

  • Crawling
  • Reach
  • Visual scanning
  • Intended reach (aiming)
  • Fine motor skills- making shadow puppets
  • Gross motor skills
  • Crossing midline
  • Tactile sensory play
  • Visual processing sensory play

This was one of Baby Girl‘s favorite games to play in the box.  We took the Light Bright toy inside and had a blast checking out the lights, putting her hand over the light screen, touching the circle lights on the wall…

What a great sensory experience!

We’ll definitely be using the light bright again for sensory play.  Poor box has seen the end of it’s time in our living room…There was a liiiiittttle rough play that destroyed it.  Don’t worry, though. It will be used for some great art projects before it makes its way into the recycle bin!

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Ambidexterity or Mixed Dominance

What is ambidexterity

Many parents see their child switch hands during tasks, or show refined use of both hands and wonder if their child is ambidextrous. Maybe a child uses their left hand to throw a ball, but bats with their right hand. Maybe they kick a ball with their right foot, but hold a pencil with their left hand. Ambidexterity is a common question among parents of kids who switch hands in activities or don’t use one hand consistently.

In this blog post, you’ll find information on

Ambidextrous Or Mixed Dominance?

Here, we are covering several aspects of ambidexterity. We’ll go over the difference between being ambidextrous and having mixed dominance. We’ll cover what it means when a child uses both hands to write or color. And, we’ll go over some activities to support a dominant hand.

How do you know if your child is ambidextrous or if they are showing signs of mixed dominance? This post will explain a little more about ambidexterity as well as mixed dominance and what it means in motor skills.

Ambidextrous refers to use of both sides of the body in equal ability and refined finger dexterity. This can refer to a bilateral refined movement and skill in the hands, feet, and eyes. Ambidexterity is the ability to use both hands equally well. It means that a person can perform tasks with either hand without any noticeable preference.

Cross dominance refers to a situation where a person’s dominance does not favor one side over the other. In simpler terms, it means that your child hasn’t developed a clear preference for using either their right or left hand for tasks.

Mixed dominance is an other name for cross dominance. It can extend beyond just hand preference and also involve other body parts like the eyes or feet. For example, a child with mixed dominance may have a dominant hand different from their dominant eye or foot. This means that their dominance is spread across different sides of their body.

In other words, cross dominance or mixed dominance is different than ambidextrous in that an individual with cross dominance might switch between dominant sides depending on the task they’re performing. For instance, they may write with their right hand but prefer to eat with their left hand.

Let’s break this down further to explore ambidexterity.

What is ambidexterity? Is my child ambidextrous?

What does Ambidextrous Mean?

The definition of ambidextrous is use of both hands with equal refined precision and motor skill. This means that each side of the body is equally able to write with natural motor planning, fine motor control, strength, and refined motor movements.

According to the definition of ambidexterous, there is equal refinement and precision. You might think this means just the hands and fingers are involved with equal use of both sides. However, that’s not exactly the case.

Those who are truly ambidextrous may have equal use of hands, as well as feet, eyes, and even toungue motor skills.

An ambidextrous child will play naturally with toys using both hands. You might notice equal use of the hands and feet, or switching left to right or right to left during play, sports, school work, and other tasks.

When it comes to someone being ambidextrous and fine motor involvement, this can refer to:

  • Writing
  • Scissor use
  • Clothing fasteners
  • Play
  • Hand strength
  • Brushing teeth and hair
  • Many other every day tasks

Ambidextrous also refers to the feet too.

An ambidextrous person will be able to kick equally strong and with the same amount of force with both feet. They are able to “take off” from a running stance with equal feet placement, whether they start out running on their left foot or their right foot. Gross motor ambidexterity can be seen in:

  • Jumping
  • Running
  • Skipping
  • Hopping
  • Balance
  • Kicking a ball
  • Throwing a ball
  • Catching a ball
  • Among many other every day tasks

Ambidexterity can be observed in the eyes, too. Typically, all of us have one eye that is stronger, or a naturally dominant eye. We can complete a visual screening to identify this, or a visual exam may be in order.

Finally, an ambidextrous individual may show motor overflow movements with the tongue to both sides of the body.

Are you wondering about a child who uses both hands to write or perform tasks? Maybe you know a child who uses both hands equally and with equal skill. Perhaps your child uses one hand for specific tasks and their other hand for other tasks.

Mixed Dominance or Ambidexterous?

Just yesterday on The OT Toolbox, we discussed mixed dominance. In this post, we will cover more about true ambidexterity and what that means.

A child with mixed dominance demonstrates clear, stronger patterns based on the side of the body they are utilizing to complete the task.

For example, a child who is left hand dominant will develop a stronger fine motor pattern then a child who is not left side dominant but compensating for fatigue and is moderately adept at utilizing the left hand as a coping skill.

Is my child ambidextrous

A child who is truly ambidextrous will be equally as skilled at utilizing both sides of the body and it will look and feel natural to the child. Statistically, only 1% of the population is truly ambidextrous—it’s really very rare, and it is more likely that your child is experiencing mixed dominance patterns.

True ambidexterity requires both hands to be used with equal precision and there is no true preference in either the right or left hand for either both fine or gross motor tasks.

Can you make yourself ambidextrous?

This is an interesting question. Many times there is a perceived benefit to being ambidextrous, or switching hand or foot use during a task. Some perceived benefits might be:

  • Switching hands when one is fatigued from use during a task
  • Switching dominant sides during a sport such as baseball or softball to pitch with the other arm, batting from another side, dribbling to the other side when bringing up the ball during basketball, or kicking a ball with the other foot during soccer.
  • Writing equal legibility with both hands

Actually being ambidextrous is different than teaching yourself to become ambidextrous.

To use both sides of the hand as a learned concept takes cognitive attention whereas natural ambidexterity occurs without thought. Because of the neuroplasticity of the brain, humans have the ability to teach themselves to use their non-dominant hand or side to complete tasks. It takes practice, practice, and more practice.

Read here on motor planning where we cover this concept.

Ambidexterity or Mixed Dominance?

Is my child ambidextrous? Isn’t that what mixed dominance is? These are two questions that therapists get asked frequently when evaluating a child for the first time for mixed dominance and other concerns. The answer is no, they are not the same thing.

This is a tricky area. Therapists recognize mixed dominance as a miscommunication or poor integration of the left and right sides of the brain and that’s how it’s explained to parents. However, there is a lot of information out there on this topic that may or may not be relevant to your child and her struggles— keep this in mind when Googling information.

It is more likely, that your child’s brain is utilizing the left and right sides for very specific motor skills such as writing, eating and throwing a ball. This can lead to motor confusion—this is where the poor integration and lack of communication between the left and right sides of the brain comes into play.

When the child is not utilizing one side of the brain more dominantly for motor patterns, confusion and poor motor learning occur leading to delays and deficits in motor skills.

how to tell if your child is ambidextrous

It is unclear why the brain develops this way, but it does happen, and it is okay. In fact, it is easily addressed by an occupational therapist.

Determining if your child is ambidextrous, meaning they have equal proficiency and comfort using both hands, can require some observation. Here are a few signs that may indicate ambidexterity in your child:

  • Equal use of hands
  • Kicks a ball with either foot with equal distance and force
  • Balances on each leg equally
  • Equal tongue movements laterally
  • Proficient functional performance with either side of the body
  • Efficient use of tools with assistance of the other hand: scissor use, pencil use, feeding utensils, and other functional tools

In addition to these abilities, you can take a look at areas of functional performance. These include the underlying skills that impact function.

  • Frequent hand-switching: Observe if your child regularly switches hands during activities such as writing, drawing, eating, or playing sports. Ambidextrous individuals often demonstrate fluidity in using either hand without a clear preference.
  • Equal proficiency: Notice if your child shows similar levels of skill and coordination when using both hands for various tasks. They may exhibit no significant difference in handwriting quality, drawing ability, or manipulating objects with either hand.
  • Ease in learning new skills: Ambidextrous children tend to adapt quickly when asked to perform tasks with either hand. They may show little to no difficulty when switching hands for activities.
  • Mirror-like movements: Pay attention to your child’s movements. Ambidextrous individuals may display symmetrical movements, where actions performed with one hand can be mirrored almost identically by the other hand.
  • Lack of hand dominance: Ambidexterity implies the absence of a clear hand dominance. If your child does not consistently favor one hand over the other for a majority of tasks, it suggests a potential ambidextrous inclination.

Ambidexterous Motor Development

I already touched on this a little, but a child with mixed dominance may switch sides for task completion when experiencing fatigue. Due to this, their motor development and precision is typically delayed.

The most common area that this is noted in is in fine motor development for handwriting. This is because the child is equally, but poorly skilled with both hands, and will switch hands to compensate for fatigue.

Motor delays may also be noticed later on when it comes to the reciprocal movements needed to throw/catch or kick a ball and when skipping. A child with mixed dominance may attempt to catch and throw with the same hand, hold a bat with a backwards grip, or stand on the opposite side of the plate when hitting.

They may also experience a moderate level of confusion, and frustration as they are unsure of how to make the two sides of their body work together leading to overall poor hand/foot-eye coordination skills.Ambidexterity or mixed dominance and what this means for kids who use both hands to complete tasks like handwriting.

For a few fun hand dominance activities, try these ideas to help kids establish a

Ambidextrous hands and eyes

If you have more questions and want to learn more on a dominant eyes and understanding how the eyes and hands work together during activities, you’ll want to check out our Visual Processing Lab.

It’s a 3-day series of emails that covers everything about visual processing, visual motor skills, and eye-hand coordination. We take a closer look at visual skills and break things down, as well as covering the big picture of visual needs and how the hands and eyes work together.  

In the visual processing lab, you will discover how oculomotor skills like smooth pursuits make a big difference in higher level skills like learning and executive function. The best thing about this lab (besides all of the awesome info) is that it has a fun “lab” theme. I might have had too much fun with this one 🙂  

Join us in visual processing Lab! Where you won’t need Bunsen burners or safety goggles!  

Click here to learn more about Visual Processing Lab and to sign up.

ambidextrous eye dominance

Hand preference is something we are often aware of, whether we are right-handed or left-handed. However, many parents may not realize that we also have a preferred or dominant eye. This aspect of eye dominance is often overlooked because we typically use both eyes together for most activities.

So, how can you determine which eye is dominant?

Observing monocular tasks: When using a camera, telescope, microscope, or squinting with one eye. Pay attention to which eye you naturally prefer to use. This eye is typically your dominant eye. In most cases, eye dominance aligns with handedness, meaning that if you are right-handed, you are more likely to be right-eye dominant. However, there are instances where the dominant eye may differ from handedness.

Knowing about eye dominance is important because it can help to gain insights about a child’s visual processing and to identify any variations in eye-hand coordination. This knowledge can be particularly helpful when engaging in activities that require controlled motor planning, speed and timing of movement, and accuracy.

Free visual processing email lab to learn about visual skills needed in learning and reading.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to