Kinesthetic Learning Activities for Outside

This blog post about kinesthetic learning is an older blog post from March 2017 that we updated in March 2024 to add more information on what kinesthetic learning means and what it looks like for kids. Check out our suggestions and strategies below.

The thing about kinesthetic learning is that it’s happening all day long. We know the power of play and how play drives learning in children. After all, we OT practitioners preach about play being the primary “work” in children!

We’ll explain a little more about kinesthetic learning below. The thing is that there is incredible opportunities for movement and learning through movement when exploring in the outdoors, so this older blog post focused a lot on outdoor experiences as a medium for kinesthetic opportunities.

kinesthetic learning activities

What is Kinesthetic Learning?

Kinesthetic learning refers to a style of learning where individuals learn through physical and movement activities. This sounds a lot like tactile learning, right? It’s actually a lot like a term you have probably heard in recent years: multisensory learning.

Kinesthetic learners prefer to engage in the learning process by moving, doing, and touching. This allows them to use their body to explore and the sense of touch to explore and learn about the world around them. For those that have a strong sensory touch, this is great! This approach is grounded in the belief that students learn more effectively when they are physically active or involved in the learning process.

The thing about kinesthetic learning is that there is the added benefit of proprioceptive input and heavy work through the hands as the child learns and explores.

Tactile learners and kinesthetic learners are a lot alike.  

Kinesthetic learners need to move their bodies, manipulate materials, and really interact with learning materials.  These children tend to fidget, wiggle, slouch, or get up out of their seats when in the classroom setting.  This site has a lot of great information on kinesthetic learning. 

Kinesthetic Learning Activities

Kinesthetic learning activities are powerful for some kids. It can mean the difference between paying attention and grasping a concept and missing it all together. Some of my favorite kinesthetic learning ideas include those that involve gross motor work and the senses.

Some kinesthetic learning ideas include:

  • Clipping clothes pins marked with letters onto the edge of paper and then writing the letters. Here are more clothes pin activities.
  • Counting paperclips in groups of ten
  • Sorting colored beads into different containers.
  • Creating alphabet shapes with playdough.
  • Using a hopscotch grid to learn numbers or math operations.
  • Themed sensory bins
  • Building geometric shapes with toothpicks and marshmallows.
  • Tracing letters or numbers in a sand tray. Here’s what you need to know about writing trays.
  • Assembling puzzles that correlate with lesson themes.
  • Conducting a scavenger hunt to find objects related to the lesson.
  • Using a ball to pass around for answering questions or storytelling.
  • Walking along a tape line to improve balance while discussing a topic.
  • Playing charades to act out vocabulary words or historical figures.
  • Matching socks to teach pairs, colors, or patterns.
  • Using body movements to represent mathematical operations (e.g., jumping for addition).
  • Organizing classroom objects by size, color, or type.

More ideas for kinesthetic learning include:

Physical Manipulatives: Using physical objects to teach concepts can be particularly effective in subjects like math and science. For example, using block activities are so much fun for some kids and it’s great to teach mathematical operations.

Interactive Notebooks: My daughter has an ELA notebook full of cut outs and interactive activities. They cut out worksheets and glue the pieces into a regular lined notebook. The act of cutting, pasting, drawing, and writing helps all of the vocab and spelling words to “stick”. It’s funny because she can flip through the notebook and find a random vocabulary word because she remembers the cut outs that she did and where they are pasted into the book. It’s fascinating to watch!

Movement-Based Games: We LOVE board games! There are so many board games that can be used to learn concepts and they are so much fun for learning through play. Games that require movement can be used to teach various concepts.

Building and Construction: Tasks that involve building or constructing models can enhance understanding, especially in subjects like engineering, physics, and geometry.

Outdoor Learning: See below for more info. The thing about taking the learning outside the classroom is that kids gain so many vestibular and proprioceptive input through learning . This could include nature walks, geological expeditions, or physical education activities.

Dance and Music: Incorporating dance and music to explain concepts, especially in younger classrooms, can be an effective kinesthetic learning strategy. For example, creating a dance routine to explain the water cycle.

I recently shared a post on tactile learning with a sight word sensory tray. I talked a little bit about kinesthetic learning and how some kids just seek tactile input in their learning.  

Try these kinesthetic learning activities for outside to help kids who need to move while learning.

Kinesthetic Learning Activities for Outside

Taking the learning outside can make a big difference.  As the weather warms up, it can be hard to keep the attention in the classroom.  The birds are chirping, trees are blossoming, and the muddy lawns are calling!  So, when kids want to be nothing more than outside playing, how do you keep them focused and learning?  

Try taking the learning outside!  These kinesthetic learning activities are perfect for the outside play this time of year and all year long.  Add some movement and outdoor play and facts are sure to stick when kids are out of the classroom and outdoors!
Try taking the learning outside to really get some space and movement into the learning experiences.  You could try these activities when practicing math facts, spelling words, vocabulary, memorization, or many other areas.  

Outdoor Learning Activities that Use Kinesthetic Movement

There are several kinesthetic activities that allow for learning while outdoors.

  • Balance Beam Adventure-  Use a jump rope or a board to create a balance beam maze on a driveway or sidewalk.  With sidewalk chalk, draw fish in a pond.  Kids can walk on the balance beam without falling into the “water”.  When they are on the balance beam, ask kids to hop while stating facts or other learning tasks.  Try a bean bag toss game when on the balance beam.  Kids can toss a bean bag into a target while spelling words. Here are more outdoor balance beam activities.
  • No Peeking Simon Says- Play Simon Says outside in the backyard.  This version requires kids to keep their eyes closed when they perform the actions.  As they play, ask them questions.  You might ask them to touch their nose for “true” facts or to touch their shoulders for “false” facts.  Get creative with movement and learning with this one! Simon Says commands can incorporate movement and learning for practically any subject.
  • Backyard maze- Create a maze in the backyard by placing obstacles around the lawn.  Kids can look at the simple maze and then walk with their eyes closed as another person “guides” them with verbal directions around the obstacles.  Set up stations around the obstacle course where they need to answer questions.  This can be as simple as a printed out sheet of questions.  They just may recall the answers later by thinking about where they were in the obstacle course when they learned about those facts!

       This pre-reading obstacle course is perfect for kinesthetic learners. 

  • Backyard Yoga- Try yoga in the outdoors with kid-friendly yoga games like found in this book (Amazon affiliate link)  Try having your child close their eyes during yoga moves to incorporate position of body in space.  Add deep breath spelling or math facts while breathing in and out for several counts.
  • Hopscotch Math-  Practice math facts like addition or multiplication with a hopscotch game on the driveway.
  • Sidewalk Chalk Learning- Kids can use sidewalk chalk in so many ways!  Write out spelling words.  Do math homework on the driveway.  Write out vocabulary words.  Use patio pads or bricks to work on perimeter, area, or geometry.  What would you add?
  • Take a Walk-  Go on a stroll while reviewing information.  What a great way to learn in nature!

Try some of these outdoor lawn games with the kids. 

How can you add learning and movement to the backyard to better serve your kinesthetic learners?

outside activities for kinesthetic learning for kids

How to incorporate sensory and motor play into playing outside

Sensory diet activities can be specific to sensory system like these vestibular sensory diet activities. Sensory activities can be prescribed according to need along with environment in order to maximize sensory input within a child’s day such as within the school day. Using authentic sensory input within the child’s environment plays into the whole child that we must understand when focusing on any goal toward improved functional independence. 

Many sensory diet activities can naturally be found outdoors. In fact, outdoor sensory diet activities are a fun way to encourage sensory input in a child’s environment and without fancy therapy equipment or tools. 

It’s a fact that kids are spending less time playing outdoors. From after-school schedules to two working parents, to unsafe conditions, to increased digital screen time, to less outdoor recess time…kids just get less natural play in the outdoors. Some therapists have connected the dots between less outdoor play and increased sensory struggles and attention difficulties in learning. 

Knowing this, it can be powerful to have a list of outdoor sensory diet activities that can be recommended as therapy home programing and family activities that meet underlying needs.

That’s where the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and Sensory Challenge Cards come into play.

They are a printable resource that encourages sensory diet strategies in the outdoors. In the printable packet, there are 90 outdoor sensory diet activities, 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities, 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards. They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.

Here’s a little more information about the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards

  • 90 outdoor sensory diet activities
  • 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities
  • 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards
  • They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input. 
  • Research tells us that outdoor play improves attention and provides an ideal environment for a calm and alert state, perfect for integration of sensory input.
  • Outdoor play provides input from all the senses, allows for movement in all planes, and provides a variety of strengthening components including eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle contractions. 
  • Great tool for parents, teachers, AND therapists!

Be sure to grab the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and use them with a child (or adult) with sensory processing needs!

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

We also love the learning opportunities in our 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!

Occupational Therapy in Schools

school based occupational therapy

Occupational therapy in schools looks a lot different than it has in the past. With social distancing requirements, sanitizing needs, and changes to school schedules, therapists are looking for ways to meet the needs of their students. This year, school-based OT looks different than any other year, and occupational therapy activities will reflect those changes.

Here, you will find strategies that school-based OT practitioners can use in the classroom as part of push-in services, in small groups, or in an individual, pull-out model.

What is school based Occupational Therapy?

One thing that I love about the profession of occupational therapy is that there are many environments and areas to cover. It’s all about the individual and the functional performance areas can be drastically different simply based on the environment.

In school based OT, occupational therapy providers support students in their education. We might support fine motor, visual motor visual perceptual, sensory motor, executive functioning skills, cognitive skills, physical skills or other area which impacts the student’s ability to learn.

School-based occupational therapy practitioners are either occupational therapists (OTs) or occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) who use meaningful activities
(occupations) to help children participate in the tasks they need to do in order to learn and participate in the school day. School based occupational therapy practitioners addresses the physical, cognitive, psychosocial and sensory components of performance which impacts learning.

This might look like supporting needs in academics, play at the playground or at recess, social participation, self-care skills (ADLs or Activities of Daily Living), and transition skills.

From targeting skills like executive functioning in schools to developing fine motor skills through play (ideal for the preschool occupational therapy interventions!), school based OT professionals do it all!

While OT in the medical model can cover similar areas in some ways (underlying developmental areas like fine motor skills and functional skills like self care or handwriting), there are big differences too.

school based occupational therapy

What does a School Based OT do?

A school based OT can work on many different areas in the school environment. It will all depend areas the student struggles with in their education. Basically, if a student’s developmental challenges impact their ability to participate in their education, then OT may be involved to support these areas of need.

It all starts with an OT evaluation. Here is information on how to request an OT evaluation.

Depending on the needs of the student, a school based OT can address:

  • Fine motor skills (impacting areas like holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, using school materials, managing clothing fasteners, manipulating materials like books and glue sticks, etc.)
  • Gross motor skills (impacting areas like moving throughout the school, using playground equipment, walking in the hallway, etc.)
  • Visual-motor integration
  • Sensory processing- For example, here are ideas for using playground equipment to support sensory needs.
  • Sensory Diet creation
  • Coming up with sensory strategies in the classroom to meet needs
  • Self-regulation
  • Handwriting
  • Self-care and daily living skills- for toileting, clothing fasteners, shoe tying, managing coats or jackets for leaving the school building, washing hands, etc.
  • Feeding needs (in some cases)
  • Social skills
  • Play and leisure skills
  • Executive functioning- including organizing materials, attention and focus, problem solving, planning and prioritizing projects, etc.
  • Assistive technology use
  • Environmental modifications- for example, supporting needs like getting on and off the toilet for physically involved students
  • Mobility considerations- accessing areas of the school, bus, auditorium, cafeteria, hallways, etc.
  • Transition skills
  • Behavioral strategies
  • Motor planning and coordination
  • School participation and access
  • Other areas

Then, knowing that these are all of the areas that a school based OT provider can address in the school environment, there are different roles the OT plays as well.

Roles of a School Based OT

The school based OT has many roles in the school system. AOTA has a resource on this which describes roles like: educator and trainer, resource consultant, advocate, leader, and researcher. These roles typically happen all day long as a school based OT!

When it comes to actually intervening with students, a school based OT can support students in various models:

  • Direct OT Interventions
  • Consultation
  • Professional Development and Training

The typical school based OT will do all of these roles in a single day! Let’s cover each of these roles:

Direct OT Interventions

Direct treatment is done following the OT screen and evaluation, and completion of OT goals which are added to the student’s IEP. There will be a process which is followed, depending on the state requirements, which may include RTI, MTSS, etc.

Direct OT interventions can look like one on one therapy sessions, group OT sessions, or push-in therapy interventions. All of these models provide services to support at-risk students. The main thing to remember is that we always use the most appropriate intervention model to improve the academic outcomes and school conditions the individual student’s learning.

School Based OT Consultation

Consult refers to periodic “check ins” with educators that are involved with the student. The school based OT professional providing consult services will address specific needs and make recommendations that are carried out in the classroom. The consult process involves checking in with the teacher or teacher assistant on how the recommendations are being used and how it’s going.

For example, I’ve moved students from direct intervention into a consult model when the student has progressed to a certain point. I’ve used the consult model with students in middle school OT or high school OT who have had several years of direct interventions.

Another example of consultation is supporting teachers by setting up a calm down corner in the classroom. The teachers that I’ve worked with in this way have been very appreciative.

Professional development and training

This can be a tricky area of the school based OT provider’s job requirements, because if the OT provider is a contracted OT, time spent training and educating educators or other members of the staff may not be paid time. However, this time can roll into the consult model if specific and individualized training and education is provided. For example, in one situation, I ran a training to a group of educators and special educators on using the ALERT program with one student. The training session was individualized for the particular student and we went over recommendations for this one student that would be implemented into the classroom. We scheduled this time as a meeting and it was billed to the student because we were setting up the program for this one individual.

Another area of professional training is to support the entire school by setting up a sensory room. The school based OT professional is a valuable asset for the school in this regard.

Some admin will pay for this time in the way of a staff development training session. OT providers who are employed by the school district however, may have these requirements built into their contract. It’s just one more component of the school-based OT’s job description!

Group Occupational Therapy

Many OTs need to move from a push-in model to pulling each one of their students out of the classroom for therapy intervention. Other therapists will focus on pushing into the classroom for a small group activity with a couple of students who are in the same classroom.

Regardless of the model, occupational therapy activities will need to have social distancing practice in place and thoughtful use of supplies. Looking for group occupational therapy activities that can be completed with a small group?

How to address social distancing in small groups in school occupational therapy this year.

Some recommendations for group OT can include:

Arranging the occupational therapy room so that students are well-spaced out. Using painters tape to create marked stations for each student can be used for social distancing, but also to help kids work on personal space, body awareness, and spatial awareness. Students can carry this skills over to functional tasks such as standing in lines in the hallway or getting on/off the school bus, or in the community.

Sensory coping strategies in the classroom can be adjusted to address social distancing requirements while meeting the child’s needs. Think about Simon Says, wall push-ups, I Spy games, etc. These therapy Simon Says commands can target many different skills through play.

Brain breaks can be used on an individual basis, in small groups, or in the whole classroom.

Mindfulness activities can be implemented in therapy sessions or in small groups.

Pushing into the classroom to work with a small group might be something that some therapists have to do per school recommendations and wishes. When pushing in to the classroom, precautions can be taken to try a group activity without close interaction like “I Spy” or “What’s missing?” visual perception games. Add handwriting to these group activities to work on specific skills, too.

There are points for both push-in service and pull out model of school occupational therapy during a pandemic. For example, pushing into the classroom or using a consultation model can mean less equipment that needs to be sanitized between sessions.

School Occupational Therapy Tips

These suggestions can be used by school-based OT professionals in pull-out sessions or in push-in therapy in the classroom.

Plan ahead. Use this interactive school-based OT planner to plan out activities based on themes and come up with a plan for each week. This can help with accessing materials and using what student’s have in their desks to work on certain skills. (See below for how to use what the student has in their desk.)

Organize the OT space so that items can not be accessed by students. Keeping items out of reach of students will allow for less sanitation time between sessions.

Pull out items that will only be used during that session and place each used item into a designated bin or “sanitize zone”. These items can be sanitized after each session and allowed to dry after the use of sanitizer.

Washing hands before/after each session. When children come into the occupational therapy space as a small group, or when a small group is seen in push-in services, therapists can have each child wash and dry their hands or use hand sanitizer both before and after each session. Make it part of functional goals, if it is something that can be used to meet the goals of the child. Hand-washing offers opportunities to work on eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, tactile sensory experience, attention, organization, motor planning, and more…all part of a functional activity of daily living. Add in the clean-up portion (throwing away paper towels) and you’ve got aspects of IADL work as well.

Allow time for washing hands/sanitizing. we know that as therapists, we have a FULL schedule. Some OT professionals juggle 60+ students and many different school districts. But, allowing time for sanitizing and hygiene is a must. It’s not going to be easy, but like everything else, we are going to be forced to slow down and take that necessary time. Try to add that cleaning/sanitizing time right into sessions. The student can do their last activity while the therapist sanitizes materials.

Incorporate outdoor recess as a therapy session. So many goal areas can be addressed through play and social interaction in outdoor recess. While this “down time” might look different than it has in years past, games and small group activities can be incorporated into occupational therapy sessions, in a “push-in” model that occurs outdoors. Here are sensory diet activities for outdoor recess.

Outdoor occupational therapy sessions. Sensory processing activities on the playground is an excellent way to work on sensory needs and regulation. What’s more, is that the outdoors offer the perfect environment to work on so many OT goal areas. Take students to the playground for sensory and motor work. Use a blacktop surface for fine motor and core strength activities. Use a shading lawn area to work on various coping strategies. Here are sensory diet activities for the playground.

Use teletherapy slide decks- Even though OT professionals may be in the schools (or virtual depending on the district and state), there are many free teletherapy resources like OT slide decks available that can be used in person, too. Try these teletherapy activities, specifically this alphabet slide deck that teaches letters with a handwriting, letter formation, and gross motor brain break activity.

These occupational therapy teletherapy activities can be helpful for remote learning, hybrid models, or even in the classroom.

School based occupational therapy will have trouble using shared materials and equipment. OTs can create inexpensive school based OT kits for students.

School-Based OT Kits

Using an inexpensive kit for each student can be an easy way to target a variety of goal areas with a few materials. Here, you will find suggestions on how to create a kit for each student. This is great for the school based OT who travels from building to building throughout their day.

Small occupational therapy kits can be created at a low cost. Here are some OT kits that we’ve covered:

A small kit for each student may be necessary. I tried to come up with a list of LOW cost materials and ones that can be spread across a caseload. For example, a $1 deck of cards can be split up among man students as they each get 5-6 cards. A pack of pipe cleaners or a pack of straws can be distributed among many students, especially if the pipe cleaners are cut into smaller sizes.

These kits can be organized into a plastic zip-lock baggie for each student. Write the child’s name on the bag and make sanitizing the outside of the bag part of the child’s session. Kids can participate in this aspect, too…an essential self-care ADL of hygiene!

School Based OT Materials

OTs working in schools cover a lot of different areas. But, the skilled therapy provider knows how to use a limited supply materials to support a variety of needs.

Use the items students have in their desks. This year, they will be using more individual items that come from home and are separated from other students, so use those materials. Some items and occupational therapy activities include:

Markers- Use regular markers in occupational therapy activities like the ones we have listed.

Scissors- Students will likely have their own set of scissors in their desk. Work through this scissor crash course to work on precision and dexterity.

Colored Pencils- If students have colored pencils, use them to work on handwriting, visual motor skills, and fine motor work. Here are colored pencil activities.

Pencil box- If students have a pencil box to hold their materials, use that pencil box in OT activities!

Crayons- Crayons are always on the back-to-school list. There is a reason why crayons are so effective in building skills…Use those power tools in school occupational therapy sessions. Here is just one way to work on distal finger control with crayons. And, kids will love this 3 crayon challenge!

Ruler- If kids have a personal ruler in their desk, use that to work on bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, pencil control. Here is one way to use a ruler to help with cursive writing.

Small pencil sharpener- This is a school supply item that is often times on the back to school supply list. But this year, it will be even more important for students to have their own pencil sharpener. Why not use it to work on arch strength, bilateral coordination, pinch and hand grasp, and endurance? Using a small pencil is effective in tripod grasp and hand strength, but kids can sharpen those pencils and work on skills, too.

Books- Books and workbooks can be used for proprioceptive input and heavy work.

Folders and papers- Kids can work on organization and executive functioning skills with the materials they have in their desks. Folders, papers, and all of the “stuff” can get overwhelming fast, especially for the child struggling with impulse control, focus, attention, and other executive functioning skills. Work on those areas with strategies.

Use these school occupational therapy suggestions to address social distancing, small groups, and changes to school OT this year.

School Occupational Therapy Activities

In other cases, it might look like recommendations for a routine or wellness. This wellness wheel can be helpful in addressing the balance of kids at home and at school.

As therapists, maybe we can offer movement-based activities or brain breaks that can be done as a whole group. Perhaps a consult with a teacher on one student leads to a deep breathing session for the whole class.

Educating parents, teachers, administrators, and even the students themselves on the connection between movement, coping tools, behavior, and cognitive processes will become more necessary.

While many students receiving OT in schools have handwriting goals, OT’s are definitely not handwriting teachers. It is a very common functional task that needs support. Here are handwriting activities to try.

Try some of these mindfulness and coping tools that can be used in school occupational therapy sessions or consultation:

Incorporate recess activities into a sensory diet to meet self regulation needs.

Brain breaks can be used on an individual basis, in small groups, or in the whole classroom.

Mindfulness activities can be implemented in therapy sessions or in small groups.

This easy coping strategy requires no materials or items, making it sanitizing-friendly.

These anxiety and sensory coping strategies can be helpful with re-acclimation to the classroom and learning.

Working on social emotional skills can be helpful in identifying emotions as a result of reentering the classroom…and help kids come up with coping tools.

Here is a free Space Theme Therapy Slide Deck.

Here is a free Strait Line Letters Slide Deck.

Here is a free “Scribble theme” Handwriting Slide Deck.

Teach Letters with a free interactive Letter Formation Slide Deck.

Try this free interactive letter writing/brain break slide deck.

Final note on school based OT

Remember to take time for self-care as a therapist and address the stress and burnout with coping strategies and balance. Rest. Use these tips for occupational therapists to stay organized yourself. You’ve got this!

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

How to Request an OT Evaluation at School

One question that comes up over and over again is how to get started with OT as a related service in the school environment. Parents of young children might see issues that their child struggles in and feel that an OT evaluation might be in order. But how do you get started with this process? Many parents ask the question “how do I request an OT eval?!” This is a great question and one we want to cover here.

School based occupational therapy can be tricky to navigate. There are a million and one steps to follow, and protocols to implement. Outpatient therapy is an entirely different ballgame. Once you have a doctor referral and insurance approval you are ready to start. But when it comes to OT in the schools, we fall under the educational guidelines. That means there are certain protocols directed by law.

How to request an OT evaluation in schools

In this post we will explore how to request an OT evaluation at school.  The occupational therapy evaluation process depends on where the eval request comes from and whether or not there is already an IEP in place.

This request may come from a teacher, school psychologist, or parent. At times the occupational therapist may notice a student struggling, and get the ball rolling for an OT evaluation. We’ll cover each of these processes separately, because there can be differences. (See the challenge that we have with simply wanting your child to receive OT at school? It’s definitely not a one step process!)

How to request an OT evaluation at school

The first type of OT eval we’ll cover is the Teacher/parent driven referral. This means that the teacher or parent see a need for an occupational therapy evaluation.

The referral may come from the classroom teacher, resource teacher, school speech-language pathologist (SLP), a member of the special education department, or a parent, to name a few. Essentially, anyone can refer or request an OT evaluation at school. Typically this type of request for an OT referral comes from an individual in the school system that works with the child, teaches the child, or sees the student struggling in some aspect.

It is up to the IEP team to determine if occupational therapy support would be educationally relevant and required for the child to access their education.

Protocols and procedures vary from state to state (and different countries), however, there should be some common steps for how to request and OT evaluation at school. The process is going to be much easier if the student already has an IEP (individualized education plan) and you want to add on OT services.

When the student does have an IEP in place, the “next steps” for adding an OT evaluation would be:

  1. The teacher can speak with the school psychologist or directly to the school based therapist about their concerns. 
  2. Then they loop in the parents and request an evaluation planning meeting to get permission to perform an OT evaluation. Our resource, the OT Screening Request Letter is a great tool to have for this step of the process.
  3. If the parents grant permission, the evaluation process can begin. 
  4. The team will hold another meeting to review the results, and possibly a third meeting to add services to the IEP.
  5. All requests from parents need to be taken seriously and investigated. Once a parent makes a request, if the student already has an IEP, the steps would be the same as above.
Occupational therapy referral process includes several steps

The occupational therapy referral process includes several steps. First, is a screening.

Pre-referral screening

Before jumping right in to request an OT evaluation at school, it is important for the teacher/parent to know what they are looking for.  There are generally three steps in this phase (pre-referral screening, OT observation, and RTI/MTSS supports).

  1. A pre-referral screening is exactly as it sounds. It is a basic questionnaire that helps to screen the student before evaluation. This can cut down on unnecessary referrals or too many evaluations. This might look like a form on a piece of paper or a digital form that the teacher or other professional (speech, admin, etc.) can fill out with their concerns.  We do have a pre-referral checklist available as a resource for this step of the process. When filling out this checklist, the teacher needs to consider whether the form item involves a skill that is expected or performed in the student’s classroom or school environment, and whether the student is performing this skill at a level that is comparable to his/her peers. If the pre-referral screening is done digitally via a Google Form, it cuts down on time because it will allow you to easily send the form via email and receive responses electronically. The responses can also be printed.
  2. OT Observation- The therapy referral form might be followed by an observation by the school occupational therapist (after getting permission from the parents). Followed by suggestions for best next steps. These suggestions could include strategies for teachers to incorporate, or task/ environmental modifications. 
  3. Tiered Response- Some districts use an RTI (response to intervention), or MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports), or a similar tiered approach. The school therapist supports the student’s needs within the general education setting, by providing in-services/ trainings to the educators or small group support for teachers/students, before moving on to 1:1 support incorporated by the Student Success Team (SST). This approach provides services early to struggling learners and enables them to succeed in school. RTI requires collaboration between all school personnel and involves evidence-based instructional methods as well as decision-making based on data and monitoring of the student’s progress. The RTI model can increase student performance and decrease the number of referrals to special education.

Communication is key throughout this process. After the screening process is completed, it’s helpful and appreciated to complete an OT screening results letter that describes the status of the occupational therapy screening.

When the pre-referral strategies have been exhausted, it is time to put the formal evaluation process in motion.

How to request an OT evaluation at school if the student does not have an IEP

If the student does not already have an IEP, the process to request an OT evaluation at school becomes more complicated.

Occupational Therapy is a related service. This means we support the educational goals and are not a stand-alone service. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 requires schools provide related services to a student with a disability who needs them to benefit from the special education being offered. If your child has a disability, as defined by IDEA, and needs special education and related services to meet unique learning needs, then he/she might be eligible for OT services. Your child must be eligible for special education before being considered for OT services in the schools under IDEA.

Because OT is a related service, the student must qualify for an IEP under certain diagnostic criteria. Criteria states that to qualify for special education services, a child must have one of the 13 disabilities as defined by IDEA AND the impact of the disability must create a need for services. 

Those disabilities identified by IDEA include:

  1. Specific Learning Disability
  2. Speech and Language
  3. Other Health Impairment
  4. Mental Retardation
  5. Emotional Disturbance
  6. Autism
  7. Multiple Disabilities
  8. Developmental Delay
  9. Hearing Impaired
  10. Orthopedic Impaired
  11. Visually Impaired
  12. Traumatic Brain Injury
  13. Deaf and Blindness

In order to qualify for special education, the school psychologist will initiate a comprehensive evaluation. You can include related services in a comprehensive evaluation. If the evaluation reveals one of the 13 disabilities and there is an educational impact requiring special education, the team can proceed to offer an individualized education program outlining services.

A student Qualifies for OT Evaluation but the Evaluation doesn’t indicate a Need

Here is the tricky part. A student can qualify and be in need of occupational therapy services, but not receive them. Your OT evaluation might reveal below average fine motor skills, however if their IQ is in the average range, they will not qualify for special education. Similarly, a student might qualify based on the descriptions we listed above, and show a potential need for OT, but the OT evaluation shows that the fine motor or visual motor skill development is on age level for average range of development.

This means you can not offer related services. It is a parent/teacher’s right to request an OT evaluation at school, but this does not guarantee they will get services.

To have an IEP, the IEP team needs to agree that the child requires placement in special education classrooms and/or needs services that are only provided through special education.

A second difficulty is that students who have borderline skills do not qualify for special education. If students are below average (but not too low), and are working to their IQ level, they are considered slow learners and do not receive services. This happens all the time.

While we cannot suggest outside therapy, the hope is that you are able to make suggestions to the teacher that would benefit everyone in the class. If you have an MTSS model for OT (we do not in our district in South Carolina), you may be able to provide accommodations and strategies to the student directly. Each state will have different guidelines, so it’s important to look at the guidelines by state.

Keep in mind about OT Evals in Schools

The system has it’s flaws…

No entity is perfect. The idea is to give students the education they need in their “least restrictive environment.” Special education, therapy services (whether push in or pull-out), resource, or special modifications are considered restrictions. If a teacher can educate the students without the expertise of specialized education, this is the recommendation.  Education is meant to be “appropriate”. The law of a free and public education does not require a school to Provide the best services possible for kids, or “maximize” their potential. Instead, the law requires that schools provide services that are “reasonably calculated” to help a child make progress. 

For more information on specifics of OT evaluations, be sure to check out our resources on:

Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

Occupational Therapy Month (Ideas for 2024)

Low effort ways to celebrate OT month

Happy occupational therapy month! April is OT month and every year, I love to recirculate this blog post because it offers so many OT memes and social media graphics for explaining what we do in occupational therapy. This year, we’ve got a few fun free OT PDFs for OT month, too, so if you are working in school based therapy, in clinics, or in homes and want to celebrate the OT profession WHILE building skills, those resources are for you.

I also wanted to update this blog post because, and I don’t know about you, but I am busier than ever before. There are new challenges that seem to be getting more difficult each year that impact the profession. Some things that I’m seeing that are new challenges for OT professionals include:

  • Demanding schedules (higher number of students on caseload than ever before, more eval requests, extremely high productivity…)
  • Challenging client needs. Kids seem to be struggling just as much as we are. I’m seeing more referrals for self regulation needs, emotional skills, and coping needs, in addition to the very tasks that limit functional performance. We as OT professionals are skilled in supporting the whole person. And it seems like there are more and more of our clients that are struggling in the social/emotional/regulation area than ever. Do you see this too?
  • Limited time in the schedule for making things fun and engaging. When the schedule is full of demanding caseload numbers, it’s hard to find the time to come up with new and fun activities that keep the attention of kids we learn. It’s a recipe for burnout on the part of us as the practitioner, and the child as the client/student.

What other areas are you seeing struggles in as an OT provider?

So, because of these things that seem to be more and more prevalent, I added a few ideas to this OT month activity post. I added ideas that don’t take up extra time, or don’t require bringing in cookies (i.e. making cookies for colleagues that might not even recognize the true value of OT). In years past we might have provided a workshop or seminar on the value of OT. But who has time or energy for that?! Just thinking about creating a workshop is exhausting. Then try to find time in the schedule to fit one in…it’s just an unfeasible thing. There’s no way!

OT Month Activities

Below, you’ll find easy ways to celebrate OT month so we can celebrate the profession of occupational therapy and share with others what an amazing thing it is to be an OT professional!

Below, you’ll find ideas for OT month:

  • OT Month memes (share them on social media!)
  • OT month printable activities. Use the free occupational therapy PDFs in treatment sessions. Grab all of them below.
  • If you are a member in The OT Toolbox membership, log in and head to OT Month resources. You’ll love the grab and go activities!
  • Collaboration ideas to celebrate OT month with your colleagues

Also be sure to check out our occupational therapy jokes post…it’s a fun way to celebrate OT month with colleagues!

I’ll update this post each day during the first week of April so you can gather your OT month materials. And, don’t forget to grab some of the memes below to share on your social media (just link back to this page) so you can celebrate occupational therapy along with all of your friends!

occupational therapy month ideas

OT Month Activities

There are a five fun, EASY ways to celebrate OT month. Pick out these activities for the whole month of April:

But before we get started with the OT month ideas, be sure to check out this Autism acceptance month, during the month of April and all year long.

  1. Share OT memes on social media! Scroll below for a new graphic explaining what we do in therapy sessions (and why!). There are enough for every day in April. You’ll even find inspirational occupational therapy memes, too. Here are more OT memes to share.
  2. Get creative with fun and festive OT month activities. Make OT month even better with an April occupational therapy calendar that is a perfect addition to your therapy lesson plans this year. Let’s make occupational therapy month exciting with fresh OT ideas!
  3. Use some of our OT month worksheets and activities that build skills. Not your typical “worksheet”, these are printable activities that get kids moving and functioning, with an emphasis on FUN. You’ll find 5 new OT month activities that celebrate the profession and use therapy materials for occupational therapy awareness.
  4. Grab the OT Materials Bundle! During the month of April, it’s only $8 and includes 13 OT month resources using supplies that we use every day during OT sessions. You’ll also find 8 bonus articles on ways to grow as a professional.
  5. Collaborate with other OT professionals! April is the perfect time to grow as a professional, celebrate others in the field and chat all things OT. In the OT Materials Bundle, you’ll find articles on how to collaborate with others, how to reflect on OT practice, how to find an OT mentor, and ways to network as a busy OT professional.
Low effort ways to celebrate OT month include wearing a t-shirt for occupational therapy month

Low-Effort Ways to Promote OT Month

Those of us working with demanding schedules, the thought of setting up a whole “OT month” event is exhausting! We added this list of ways to celebrate Occupational Therapy Month with little to no effort. These ideas can be integrated into your daily work routines without requiring significant additional effort.

  1. Share Educational Posts on Social Media. Sharing a quick post on Facebook or Instagram is a low pressure way to celebrate the profession. Share some quick facts about OT, educational memes, or inspiring stories about occupational therapy. Check out The OT Toolbox on Facebook and The OT Toolbox Instagram page for one-and-done social media sharing.
  2. Wear OT-Themed Shirts. This is an easy way to promote the profession. Grab an OT-themed shirt from Amazon (affiliate link) and you’re good to go. We have put together a whole page of OT shirts over on our Amazon page. This can serve as a conversation starter and a way to spread awareness about the field. Click here for our OT shirts list (affiliate link).
  3. Change your Email Signature. One super simple way to promote the profession is to edit your email signature. Add a one-liner or a banner to your email signature that celebrates OT Month, such as “Proud to Celebrate Occupational Therapy Month!” or include a brief message about the importance of OT in improving patients’ lives. We included some fresh email banners to the bottom of this blog post that you can add to your email signature.
  4. Tell your Clients! One way to celebrate OT month is to bring it up in therapy sessions. Briefly discuss the significance of OT Month with clients during sessions, and highlight how occupational therapy has impacted their lives. This can enhance client awareness and appreciation of the profession.
  5. Thank another OT! A simple (and free way to celebrate OT month) is a simple thank you to your OT colleagues. I love to thank my co-workers for their dedication and hard work, and it’s a nice way to authentically appreciate the efforts that others put into their work each day. I like to think of it as starting small with a simple word of thanks and appreciation. It can expand and encourage your workplace!
  6. Share OT Resources: Recommend blog posts (like this one!), articles, podcasts, or social media posts about occupational therapy to your friends. We try to share a lot of information in our email newsletters and in blog posts that really reflect the impact that an OT has on development. Simply sharing these blog posts with others can have an impact on the person you share it with, as well as promotes the profession.

I hope these low cost ways to support and promote OT help!

Occupational therapy memes for OT month

Occupational Therapy Month Memes

As Occupational therapy professionals, we can celebrate the profession that we love by sharing a bit about what we do. This includes informational memes that advocate for the profession of occupational therapy, those we serve, and the interventions that we use as tools to support functional skills. You’ll also want to check out our blog post on occupational therapy memes. This is a fun way to share a joke or two about the profession. We also have a post on sensory memes that are just about sensory processing.

Below are OT memes that can be shared on social media.

Each image is an underlying area that influences development and includes a therapist quick tip.  These are occupational therapy tricks and tips! 

It’s my hope that each day in April, you’ll share your creative ways to work on these skills. 



 Kinesthetic learning activities
DAY 1: Kinesthetic Learning- Try these kinesthetic learning activities.
 Vestibular activities for kids
DAY 2: Vestibular Activities- Try these vestibular activities.
 Toys and tools to help with attention
 Laterality and hand dominance
DAY 4: Try these activities to address laterality and hand dominance.
 Proprioception activities
DAY 5: Try these activities to develop and address proprioception needs. 
 Distal finger control exercises
 Neat pincer grasp activities
 Tactile sensory input activities
DAY 8: Try these activities to develop tactile discrimination and the tactile sense.
 Bilateral coordination activities
 What is motor planning activities
DAY 10: Try these activities if you are wondering, “What is motor planning?”

   olfactory sense scented play

DAY 11: Try these olfactory sense scented play ideas.

 Eye-hand coordination activities
 Visual scanning activity
DAY 13: This is a fun visual scanning activity.
 In-hand manipulation activities
DAY 14: Read more about in-hand manipulation activities.
 What is finger isolation
DAY 15: Read more about finger isolation.
 Precision of grasp activities
 Visual discrimination activity
DAY 17: Try this activity to build visual discrimination.
 What is visual memory
DAY 18: Read more about visual memory here.
 Visual closure activity
DAY 19: Try this activity to develop visual closure.
 Form constancy visual perception activity
DAY 20: Try this technique to develop form constancy.
DAY 21: This is a fun way to develop visual figure ground skills.
 Visual tracking tips and tools
 auditory processing activities
 Core strengthening with music
 intrinsic hand strengthening
DAY 25: Use these strategies to build intrinsic hand strength.
 Task initiation executive functioning strategies
Wrist extension in occupational therapy month
 How to help kids learn impulse control
DAY 28: Use these ideas to help kids learn impulse control.
 Use animal crackers  oral motor exercise
DAY 29: This is a fun way to practice oral motor exercise.
 Visual spatial skills
DAY 30: Try these activities to help with visual spatial skills.

More OT Month Graphics

Use these OT month graphics to promote occupational therapy. The professional of occupational therapy is an incredible profession. Let’s share all that we love about OT and bring awareness of this amazing profession to others!

Occupational therapy graphic
OT month graphic
OT month image
OT month graphic
Occupational therapy month graphic
occupational therapy month
Occupational therapy month image
Occupational therapy month images to share
Occupational therapy month quote
Happy OT month
What is occupational therapy quote

Happy Occupational Therapy Month!

As we step into occupational therapy month again with another April, let’s remember what it is that makes our profession special. Occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) help patients to participate in every day occupations! We help people do the things that occupy others’ time. We help others do the things that matter most to them It’s all of the most meaningful activities a person desires and needs to participate in for daily life.

For children this may include things like doing cartwheels, riding a bike, getting dressed, writing their name, brushing their hair, or playing with friends. 

For us as professionals, the most important thing IS to serve and support others. OT is the most encouraging, enlightening, and inspiring profession there is, and YOU are a part of that light!

YOU make a difference in the world. That difference makes a ripple of impact. Helping one person achieve a small goal effects that person’s family and everyone they are in contact with. Now multiply that wellbeing to your entire caseload.

  • Occupational therapists are difference makers!
  • Occupational therapy assistants are difference makers!
  • We literally do, as occupational therapy professionals, what matters most in this world.

Happy OT month, fellow occupational therapy professionals!

Occupational Therapy Email Signature

One way that we mentioned above, which is a low effort way to celebrate OT month, is by updating your email signature. Here are some email signature banners that you can add to your email. So, every time you respond to an email, this celebration of OT month will go out, promoting the profession!

To use these OT email signature banners, copy and save the picture to your computer or device. Then go into your email settings and add the image to your email signature. That’s all you need to do! Then, you can celebrate occupational therapy all month long!

April is OT month banner
Happy OT month banner
Happy occupational therapy month banner
Happy occupational therapy month banner for email
April is occupational therapy month banner
April is occupational therapy month email signature
April is OT month signature banner
OT month email signature banner

Have fun celebrating all that occupational therapy is!

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