Do your kids like to snack constantly? Mine are allllllways hungry. Always. So, when I pulled out this Animal Cracker Oral Motor activity that we designed to address oral motor sensory processing, they were just a bit excited. Make that completely-jumping-and-cheering-excited. Anything that involves play and food makes the Best Thing of the Day column. It’s an oral motor exercise that kids will love. Why? Because it’s an out-of-the box way to work on oral motor skills for tasks like drinking from a straw, lip closure for safety when feeding, and sensory benefits of an oral motor activity.
We used animal crackers and a couple of straws to provide calming oral input. This was an easy way to add in an oral motor strengthening exercise, too. Here is some information on development of oral motor skills.
Oral MOTOR EXERCISE
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Problems with oral motor skills can be an indication with feeding. That seems pretty obvious, right? But when there truly is a problem with oral motor skills and feeding, real issues can result. That’s why we wanted to cover a few big issues along with this oral motor activity. Be sure to check out that link to read more about the vast area of skills that make up oral motor processing and how it impacts feeding and other areas.
Sensory processing allows us to take in information from our environment and process it appropriately. Typically, we adjust to sensory input and adjust appropriately. Sensory input to a person’s mouth is no exception. We must process movement of the tongue, textures of food, adjust to drinking liquids, monitor and adjust the force required to bite and chew, and move our mouth/lips/tongue in order to speak.
When there is a difficulty with oral sensory processing, a child might drool excessively, chew on their shirt or hair, have difficulty eating certain foods, have trouble moving their tongue to swallow all of their food, show difficulty removing all of the food from a utensil, be unable to use a straw, refuse certain food textures or tastes, or have trouble with articulation in speech. Here are tips for kids who chew on everything.
Children with proprioceptive sensory needs may present as benefiting from calming, resistive activities. Sucking from a straw is one activity that involves the oral input and is typically effective in calming a overactive child.
Oral Motor Exercise
First, a quick disclosure: Be sure to provide direct observation during this activity. Use judgement in deciding if this oral motor activity is right for the child or not. This activity and all others on this website are not intended as interventions. This is for educational purposes only. Consult your physician or medical professional when oral motor interventions and assessment is needed. The OT Toolbox is not liable for any action on your part. Your reading this website and webpage indicates your understanding.
For this calming activity, we used just a few items. Some brightly colored straws were the perfect tool for adding proprioceptive input to the mouth. I love the bright straws for their high contrast and tendency to draw the eyes toward the mid-line. When we added the learning portion to this activity, attention and precision were important so the bright colors helped.
You can find many fun oral sensory activities out there that involve blowing as a sensory processing activity. The one that we did used straw sucking as a way to add proprioceptive input. When a child sucks on a straw, their lips are forced to close while their cheek muscles tighten and the tongue retracts. This activity would be beneficial to a child who needs to build strength and endurance of the cheeks and muscles or a child who demonstrates tongue protrusion.
With the straw, I had my preschooler suck in order to pick up an animal cracker. She placed the straw flush on the cracker and sucked in order to pick the cracker off of the table. This was a real workout for her! She was able to figure out that turning the animal cracker over so that she placed the straw against it’s back side made the task easier. Sucking the animal cracker up off the table in order to move it provided a lot of calming proprioceptive input.
To grade this activity down (to make it easier for kids who are building their oral motor musculature and can not yet pick up the animal cracker), try smaller/lightweight crackers like Annie’s Homegrown Bunny crackers. These were much easier to move with the straw yet still provided sensory feedback to the mouth.
To add a bit of learning and motor planning to this activity, I provided a few small shape containers to the table. Ours were from a local dollar store, but these shape sorter shapes would work perfectly for addressing shape discrimination and actually comes in more options than the shapes that we talked about with our containers. We use these containers as lunch box compartments but the bright colors and shapes made a great shape recognition activity for her. She is working on identifying a triangle and rectangle and often times gets the two shapes mixed up. When she was doing this activity however, she was able to move the animal crackers and bunny crackers to the right shapes.
We practiced a bunch or rounds with this activity, because she loved it so much!
Looking for more animal cracker activities for learning and play? Try these ideas:
Gold Fish Measurement Math Game from Learning 2 Walk
Teach Preschoolers Fractions from Preschool Powol Packets
Jelly Bean Maths Game from Mum in the Madhouse
How Many Goldfish in the Bowl Game from Play & Learn Everyday
Cheerios Number Tracing from Schooling a Monkey
Fish Cracker Color Patterns from The Kindergarten Connection