Pencil Grasp Activities with Fine Motor Play

Helping kids with pencil grasp can be a complicated matter. Kids can hold the pencil too tightly or with an immature grasp no matter how many pencil grips you try. But, there is hope. These pencil grasp activities are fun ways to improve pencil grasp with fine motor play. By using play activities to help kids build a better pencil grasp, kids develop a grasp that is strong and dexterous in ways that carryover to holding a pencil. Try these tripod grasp activities to help kids with pencil grasp development. This is something that therapists want parents to know about pencil grasp development…that a functional pencil grasp might not look like a traditional tripod grasp…and that there are fun ways to work on grasp development!

pencil grasp activities

That said…this is the place for all things pencil grip activities that actually make a difference!

Pencil grasp activities for kids

Pencil Grasp

I love to share easy tricks to work on things like fine motor skills. Working on pencil grasp and the fine motor skills needed for handwriting are two of my favorite ways to build functional skills as an Occupational Therapist.  This blog post is a round up of some of the best pencil grasp activities and ways to develop a more functional pencil grasp through fine motor play activities.  I’ve updated this resource to include more recent pencil grip occupational therapy ideas and grasp activities that I’ve shared. 

A functional pencil grasp might not “look like” the traditional tripod grasp. One thing to read up on is grasp patterns, because this plays a huge role inholding the pencil.

Want to know how to fix a problem with pencil grasps? Need help knowing where to start when it comes to immature pencil grasps or a child hating to write because their hand hurts? The Pencil Grasp Challenge in open for you! In this free, 5 day email series, you’ll gain information, resources, specific activities designed to promote a functional, efficient pencil grasp.

Click here to join the Pencil Grasp Challenge.

Pencil grasp challenge to help kids improve their pencil grasp.
Pencil grip activities kids will love for playing while working on pencil grasp perfect for occupational therapy activities.

Improve Pencil Grasp with Fine Motor Play Ideas

First, if you’ve go questions about pencil grasp, check out this resource on building fine motor skills through play.  You will find TONS of info about the fine motor “parts” of a functional grasp.  

Try these awesome activities to improve pencil grasp through play and fine motor development.

Fine Motor Play Activities to Improve Pencil Grasp

We love incorporating fine motor activities into our play.  These posts are some of our favorites from the past year, and as a bonus, will help with the development of the small muscles of the hands.  An efficient grip on the pencil uses a tripod grasp (thumb, index, and middle fingers) with an open space between the thumb and index finger.    This grasp on the pencil allows kids to better form letters correctly and in a given small space using the fingers to make the pencil movements, vs. using the wrist or whole arm.  If your child is struggling with their handwriting, look first at their grasp on the pencil and go from there.  Try one of these activities for improved muscle strength and pencil control.  

If you are interested in improving pencil grasp, and wondering about all of the fine motor skills that impact a functional pencil grasp, you will definitely want to join the pencil grasp challenge. This free 5 day email series explains everything you want to know about pencil grasp activities that have a powerful impact. Click here to join the Pencil Grasp Challenge. 

Pencil activities to help kids write with a functional grasp

So let’s get moving on some of the best pencil grip activities that actually make a difference in a functional pencil grasp.

Pencil Grip Activities

We have many pencil grasp tricks up our sleeve as school based OTs…but there are many ways that you can target specific needs with fun and engaging pencil grip activities! Most of these ideas don’t even use a pencil. They target the underlying skill areas like hand strength, dexterity, and precision. Other tasks DO use a pencil though!

While these wouldn’t be specified in a manual dexterity goal, you would target functional skills of handwriting. These ideas are the play-based strategies, or tools.

Fine motor play idea that promotes pencil grasp with beads and play dough

Pencil Grasp Exercises with Play Dough is fun with these mini fluted flower beads.  They build a flexed thumb IP joint which is needed for an efficient pencil grasp. 

Strengthening activities for fine motor skills like handwriting activities

Hand Strengthening Exercises are fun with tongs! They are an easy tool to  build so many handwriting skills.

Fine motor play activity using tweezers made from craft sticks

These Craft Stick Tweezers build muscle strength, an open web space, and tripod grasp.

Use play dough and this free play dough mat to work on intrinsic muscle strength in the hands.

 Play Dough Strengthening Mat works on building the intrinsic muscle strength of the hands.

creative ways to build and work on a functional pencil grasp
Improve pencil grasp through fine motor play with blocks.

Fine Motor Development with Blocks is a great way to build many skills needed in handwriting.

Use coins to work on fine motor skills like in-hand manipulation

In Hand Manipulation with Coins can help build skills needed for pencil grasp like manipulating the pencil during letter formation.

Work on fine motor skills with paperclips to improve thumb opposition.

Thumb Opposition is an important skill needed for an open thumb web space and functional and efficient grasp on the pencil.

Mini Circles Pencil Control Exercises

Mini Circles Pencil Control Exercises help with building small motor movements and tripod grasp through improved intrinsic muscle strength.

Help kids with fine motor skills using small balls of play dough.

Finger Isolation with Play Dough helps with minute movements of the hands and individual finger movements in managing the pencil. 

Use clay to work on fine motor skills

Clay Exercises can help strengthen the muscles of the hand for increased endurance of pencil grasp.

Improve hand dominance using fine motor activities.

Motoric Separation of the Hand is essential for managing the pencil while utilizing the ulnar, stability side of the hand.

Kids can work on fine motor skills by playing with masking tape on a table surface.

Fine Motor Table-Top Play addresses intrinsic muscle strengthening.

Work on fine motor skills by playing with waterbeads

  In-Hand Manipulation: Two Activities In hand manipulation is necessary during pencil grasp to manipulate and advance the pencil while writing, as well as making adjustments with the pencil while erasing.  

Fine motor play using tissue paper

Fine Motor Play with Tissue Paper is a great way to build intrinsic muscle strength. Strength in the intrinsic muscles ensure a functional tripod grasp.

Make DIY lacing cards to help kids with fine motor skills.

DIY Lacing Cards improves bilateral coordination, needed for holding the paper while writing.


Use pipe cleaners to work on fine motor skills.

Pipe Cleaner Fun builds tripod grasp for use with handwriting.

Use clothespins to work on hand strength.

  Fine Motor Strengthening Color Match works on increasing the intrinsic muscle strength of the hands.

Make your own pencil control worksheets.

Pencil Control Worksheets You Can Make at Home These worksheets build pencil control, line awareness, and spatial awareness during handwriting.


Use dry pasta to work on fine motor dexterity

Learning With Dyed Pasta provides a fun activity for building eye hand coordination.

Play with coins to improve fine motor dexterity.

  Manipulating Coins for Fine Motor Development is a great way to work on in-hand manipulation needed for manipulating the pencil during handwriting.    

Tracing letters with sidewalk chalk improves hand strength.

Rainbow Writing provides a resistive writing surface, providing proprioceptive feedback and a way to work on motor planning in letter formation, as well as tripod grasp on the pencil.  

Use Wikki Stix to build hand strenth

Tripod Grasp with Wikki Stix Pushing the wikki stix into the container works on tripod grasp and intrinsic muscle strength, as well as bilateral coordination.  

Use pipe cleaners and a plastic bottle to work on tripod grasp.

Using Pipe Cleaners in Fine Motor Play also improves intrinsic muscle strength and bilateral coordination with a brightly colored stick.  Using the plastic bottle provides great auditory feedback.  

Here is more information on pencil control and distal mobility in handwriting.

Here are games to improve pencil grasp.

Creative ways to work on pencil grasp

tripod grasp activities

Working on tripod grasp is fun when you add activities! Some tripod grasp activities that strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the hand include:

  • Tearing paper
  • Playing with tweezers
  • Dropping coins into a bank or slot
  • Rolling balls of play dough
  • Pushing paper clips onto paper
pencil grip occupational therapy ideas for fine motor skills and pencil grasp

More ways to support this skill include the ones below.

developing pencil grip activities

The ideas listed below are simple tasks you can do to help kids with developing pencil grip. These are the ideas OTs usually have on hand.

Creative ways to work on pencil grasp
Teaching pencil grasp? Use these fun fine motor activities to improve pencil grasp through play.

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

31 Days of Learning with Free Materials

This blog post on learning at home with materials found around the home is a great resource for school based OT providers because many of the skills we work on in therapy sessions need to be carried over at home to ensure results. It’s the everyday practice that makes skills stick! Here you will find our top picks for DIY learning materials using items found around the home. These are great items for occupational therapy at home, too. The thing is that I love to share activities that build skills using everyday items.

diy learning materials

We are big fans of using free and recycled materials in our crafts and activities.  Many times, people ask: “How do you do so many fun activities without spending a fortune?!” Most of our learning, crafts, and activities involve using free or almost free materials.  While we are not a homeschooling family, we do SO many learning through play activities and homework extension skills that work on the skills that my kids are doing at school.  

Some of our top picks using items found in the home include:

We’re excited to join homeschooling bloggers with 31 Days of ideas for learning at home.  In this series, we share 31 days of Learning at Home with Free (or almost free) Materials.  Each day, we’ll bring you tips and ideas to use materials you already have in learning and school extension activities. Most of these materials are household items you may already have in the house and others will be recycled materials.

Use these learning at home ideas using free materials or items already found in the home.

All of the activities will be using free (or almost free) items to build on learning concepts that are age appropriate for our kids.  We will be sharing ways to use these items in different age ranges, as well.  

These activities are sure to be a fun way to work on skills over the summer to prevent an academic “summer slide” and ways to creatively learn and extend on school homework and homeschool curricula during the year.  Be sure to stop by each day in July for creative learning ideas as we fill in our month with Free Learning!

31 days of learning with almost free materials.  Learn at home through play with recycled and free materials.


Learning with Free (or almost Free) materials at home:

This series is about easy learning ideas that you can make your own.  Your child’s needs and interests will make these ideas work in your family.  My hope for the 31 Days of Learning with (almost) Free materials is to bring you creative ideas.  

Start with these games with paper clips to use an everyday material found in most junk drawers.

Creative & Playful Learning.  Be inspired.

31 Days of Learning with Free Materials (items you probably already have):

Click on the images below and the list of posts for our month of learning at home!





Distance learning ideas for learning at home with free materials.

More Learning at Home Ideas

These learning with free materials ideas use items you probably have in the home right now to work on math or writing concepts, AND build fine motor skills. Try some of these learning ideas using items in the home, including:

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

Fine Motor Activities with Beads

beading activities

A while back, I started putting together lists of activities that require just one supply. These are items that you probably already have in the home. I wanted to put these activity lists together to help kids work on fine motor skills with little to no supplies. Some of the activity lists that we have so far include fine motor activities using paper clips, activities using just craft pom poms or cotton balls, and activities to improve fine motor skills with just playing cards. I have a lot more activity lists to come. These will all use just one item, and the fine motor ideas are great for building skills with limited supplies. Send a copy of these links to any friends or families looking for activities for kids to do at home to work on fine motor skills. They are also great for adding to teletherapy services and working on skills with kids as the families probably have these simple items in their home.

Beading activities

Having a small portable fine motor kit with beads and pipe cleaners can be a a great tool for supporting fine motor development. This is a great addition to the therapy bag for any school based OT.

stringing beads occupational therapy

Occupational therapy as a profession was centered around crafts at it’s roots. Historically, OTs used crafting as a tool to support physical and social emotional recovery. It’s fun to think about how stringing beads and occupational therapy is stull a very functional craft that supports skill development!

For example, check out our empathy activity that uses bead stringing!

fine motor activities using beads

For now, let’s talk about fine motor activities that can be done using just beads! HERE are all of our fine motor activities in one place.


Kids need fine motor skills for school and play. The problem is when we see functional concerns that limit independence. We might see kids who really struggle with hand strength, dexterity, joint mobility, or precision. We may notice these issues in how a student grasps their pencil. We may see kids having trouble with buttons, zippers, or snaps because of the fine motor skills they really need to develop. Simple fine motor activities can make a real impact in working on these fine motor skill areas.

Activities using what you have in the Home

Here are some of the other OT activity ideas that I’ve created so far in this series:

Activities using just a deck of playing cards

Activities using just craft pom poms or cotton balls

Activities using just paper clips

Fine Motor Activities using Beads

Now onto the fine motor activities that require just beads! Let’s talk about the WHY behind using beads as a fine motor tool in occupational therapy activities. There are several fine motor sill components that can be strengthened with beads.

Separation of the sides of the hand– Paperclips are the perfect small item to hold in the palm of the hand, engaging the ulnar side of the hand, while encouraging movement and precision with the pointer finger, middle finger, and thumb. This skill is so important for fine motor precision in tasks like pencil grasp and managing clothing fasteners or tying shoe laces.

Pincer grasp– Paper clips are a powerful means of promoting the precision grasp between the thumb and pointer finger. This motor skill is essential for tasks that require strength and dexterity to manage small items like coins or turning pages in isolation.

In-hand manipulation– Paperclips can be used as a manipulative item for transferring from the palm to the fingertips or vice versa. This is an essential skill needed in pencil grasp and other functional tasks.

Finger isolation– Paperclips can be used in various ways to promote finger isolation needed for fine motor dexterity and functional tasks.

Eye-hand coordination– This skills is an essential fine motor precision skill needed for so many functional tasks. Craft pom poms can be a powerful way to work on this skill area.

Visual Motor Skills- Coordinating visual information with motor movements of the hands is essential for handwriting, cutting with scissors, and many other tasks.  Manipulating lacing cards is an excellent way to address these needs. 

Read more about visual motor skills.

Motor Planning- A motor plan is functional execution of a task which is viewed with the eyes and carried out with the hands in order to complete tasks, such as mazes, walking around obstacles, cutting along a line, and writing within a space on a form.  Visual motor skills can be difficult for children with visual processing difficulties.  Identifying and organizing information is in a motor plan works on problem solving skills.  

Read more about motor planning activities for kids.

What kind of beads help with fine motor skills?

This is pretty open-ended! Use what you’ve got on hand to really home in on the skills listed above. Some beads that would work include: pony beads, perler beads, pop beads, jewelry making beads, or even beads from an old necklace would work. The point is that you need small manipulatives that can fit into the palm of the hand and really challenge those fine motor skills.

fine motor activities using beads and activities in the home

Use beads to work on fine motor skills in the following ways:

  • Press beads into play dough
  • Stick toothpicks into foam. Place beads onto toothpicks.
  • Sort onto pipe cleaners by color
  • Thread onto string
  • Tape ribbons to an easel or wall. Slide beads up the ribbons from the bottom
  • Place beads and hair gel in a gallon size bag. Tape the top. Move beads with fingertips.
  • Drop beads into spice containers
  • Drop beads into recycled water bottle
  • Draw a large letter on paper and fill the lines with beads to form the letters. Use bubble writing to fill the space inside or place the beads right on the lines of the letter.
  • Add beads to a marble maze
  • Sort beads by color
  • Copy patterns on play dough
  • Place beads on shapes and lines
  • Press beads into slime for a fine motor workout.
  • Use beads as counters
  • Create arrays with beads on cardstock
  • Use letter beads to place on letters of spelling words
  • Write letters on the sides of some beads like wooden ones that we used in this fine motor activity.
  • Roll dice. Count out same number of beads
  • Use other items to create beads like this foam curlers activity.
  • Scoop and count beads into groups of ten
  • Use tweezers to pick up beads
  • Slide beads onto feathers
  • Line up beads on a craft stick placed on a table surface
  • Perler beads can be melted to create a pegboard like we did in a previous post.

More fine motor activities

Beading Activities

It’s not just about stringing beads on a pipe cleaner or string! You can work on other areas, too! Some ideas include:

  • Work on patterns with the beads
  • Copy a series of colors or bead types to work on visual motor skills
  • Use a variety of bead types to encourage fine motor skill work
  • Hide beads in theraputty and then use them to string the beads

These are just some of the ways to use beads in OT sessions! How do you incorporate bead activities?

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

Sensory Handwriting Backyard Summer Camp

Have you ever thought about running a handwriting tutor session or a Summer handwriting camp? A handwriting camp is a great way to support the Summer slide when it comes to handwriting skills, or work on a few handwriting activities in fun and engaging ways over the summer months. For school based OT practitioners, this is a great summer work opportunity too!

how to run a handwriting summer camp

How to Run a Summer Handwriting Camp

There are a lot of different ways you could go about this…I have personally run handwriting sessions in different ways. In this blog post, we’ll cover a few different ideas. Some might work better for you!

  • Handwriting tutoring- Reach out to your current caseload (the ones that may benefit) with the option to enroll in cash based tutoring sessions. This is just like summer tutoring that teachers offer. You may want to consider offering this option to a counselor in the school that has a list of teachers that offer tutoring because parents ask for a list of tutors all the time. Why shouldn’t your name be on that list too?
  • Run a summer camp. Set this up in a park, at a local rental space, or other location. Outdoor handwriting is a great idea for developing skills! You could incorporate kinesthetic learning activities and outdoor sensory activities.
  • Run sessions throughout the summer- This would be weeklong sessions (already outlined with specific activities in mind) and parents could sign up for one or more of the sessions.
  • Just offer summer handwriting activities– This could be in a camp style or even a backyard summer camp type of session.

Summer Handwriting Camp Ideas

Summer is a time of relaxation, lazy play, and freedom for kids.  It can be a time of sliding backward in skills like handwriting, too.  While it’s important to remain free of schedules over the summer and allow kids to just be kids, there can be a need for some kids to maintain skills to prevent a loss of skills.  

These sensory handwriting activities are a fun way to incorporate the senses into handwriting practice, in a fun way.  I’ve created sensory-based handwriting activities that can be used to create a DIY backyard summer camp at home.

Use these ideas to work on handwriting skills through the senses!

sensory summer camp at home idea for handwriting summer camp for kids using all of the senses to prevent the summer slide.

You’ll also be interested in our new Summer Occupational Therapy Activities Packet. It’s a collection of 14 items that guide summer programming at home, at school, and in therapy sessions. The summer activities bundle covers handwriting, visual perceptual skills and visual motor skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, regulation, and more.

You’ll find ideas to use in virtual therapy sessions and to send home as home activities that build skills and power development with a fun, summer theme. Kids will love the Summer Spot It! game, the puzzles, handouts, and movement activities. Therapists will love the teletherapy slide deck and the easy, ready-to-go activities to slot into OT sessions. The packet is only $10.00 and can be used over and over again for every student/client!

Grab the Summer Occupational Therapy Activities Packet HERE.

summer occupational therapy activities for kids

Tips to be a Handwriting Tutor

This post contains affiliate links.

Before beginning handwriting tutoring sessions, or a handwriting camp, you’ll want to create a few pieces of paperwork. Important papers such as disclaimers, waivers, and intake information can cover a few important issues as a handwriting tutor, handwriting coach, or handwriting camp. 

  1. Identify if you are using your therapy license or not? This is an important item to cover from the very start. Identify the scope of the handwriting tutoring sessions or camp sessions. If they are going to be considered under the scope of occupational therapy, there are certain considerations to be addressed. These are not to be considered therapy, unless you are actually doing an occupational therapy evaluation and creating a specific course of treatment. In these cases, fees for therapy or insurance can be collected, and you would operate under your license. Occupational therapy assistants would need to work under supervision of an occupational therapist. If the sessions would be operating without evaluation, assessment, and individualized interventions, then the scope of the sessions can occur under general tutoring or camp activities. In both situations, a disclaimer explaining these specifics should be created (next item).
  2. Disclaimer- Create a disclaimer that covers the scope of the tutoring or camp sessions.
  3. What will you cover in tutoring/handwriting camp? Identify the scope of tutoring content or handwriting summer camp content. Are you going to be covering letter formation? Simply handwriting practice? The importance of cursive writing? Cursive letter formation? Copying skills? Functional handwriting? Pencil grasp? Fine motor skills? Free writing?
  4. Waiver- Create a waiver that covers liability and removes yourself from any liability issues as a tutor or camp creator. There are many waiver and liability templates available, or you can reach out to a local attorney.
  5. Intake paperwork- Create paperwork for collecting information from parents. This should include name, contact information, special considerations such as allergies, emergency contact information, etc.
  6. Handwriting Camp Plans- Create a plan for handwriting tutoring or handwriting camp sessions. See below for ideas for each handwriting camp session.
  7. Collect money- Determine how you will be collect money to paid for tutoring sessions. A great tool that I have used in the past is SendOwl. You can create an account and create a “product” that is listed as a service. For an average of $20/month, you can have a way to collect income, sales pages, and market to your list month after month.

Handwriting tutoring or Handwriting Camp Plans

After you’ve created the logistics of the camp or tutoring session, it’s important to come up with a plan for general tutoring or camp sessions. You can create a plan for the entire camp that covers several weeks so that you’ve got ideas Try these tips to keep handwriting summer camps fun and stress-free.

  1. Identify what will be covered in the handwriting camp/handwriting tutoring.

Start by identifying what you’ll be covering in tutoring sessions or handwriting camp sessions. These are general topics and can be used with any student no matter the level (this is important if you are not going to be doing an evaluation and treatment plan and operating under your license).

Some topics for handwriting camps and handwriting tutoring sessions can include:

You can also consider a theme for the camp or handwriting sessions. Some ideas include an outer space camp theme or a circus summer camp theme.

2. Next come up with a schedule for handwriting camp sessions or handwriting tutoring:

Start off sessions with movement, play, and activities that build skills through play. Below are some ideas for the schedule of a tutoring or handwriting camp session:

  • Use lots of movement breaks and brain break activities.  Try to keep written work tasks as movement oriented as possible. 
  • Start each mini-session with gross motor activities: crab walks, jumping jacks, heavy work, or vestibular games.
  • Move on to fine motor movement activities, incorporating proprioception, and dexterity tasks.
  • Proceed to handwriting activities, keeping them as fun and activity-based as possible.  Incorporate several of the senses into written work, allowing the children to involve as many senses as possible in each mini-session. Limit written work activities to 15-20 minutes. You can use our free Handwriting printables and resources available on the website. See all of our Free Handwriting Resources HERE
  • Try using some handwriting games to keep the motor skill work fun and engaging.
  • Encourage 10 minutes of journal writing or letter writing.
  • Use these Summer Writing Lists for quick list writing that build handwriting skills
  • Finish with movement activities, using whole-body games like playing catch, batting a balloon, jumping rope, or kicking a ball. 
sensory summer camp at home idea for handwriting summer camp for kids using all of the senses to prevent the summer slide.

Summer Handwriting Camp Ideas

When it comes to handwriting, the motor sensory systems have a HUGE input in terms of handwriting ability, legibility, and fluency.  

START HERE for learning more about sensory processing and handwriting; This is everything you need to know about handwriting and sensory concerns.

I will be the first to admit: There are not too many kids out there who want to work on handwriting during their summer break.  The trick to building or maintaining skills it to make it fun.  Here are a bunch of ideas for motivating kids to write.

Once you’ve got some ideas to incorporating handwriting into summer days, you can try a few sensory strategies for practicing written work.  Try the handwriting ideas below to making written work fun using the senses.

Tactile Sensory Handwriting Ideas:

  • Pressing Too Hard When Writing Proprioception Tips is the perfect post if you are looking for tips on writing with too much (or too little) pencil pressure.
  • Fizzy Dough Cursive Letters uses the sense of touch with tactile exploratory input with fizzy, sensory letter formation.
  • Sensory Letter Formation Work on letter formation using dish soap in this tactile and olfactory letter learning and writing activity.
  • Fidget tips and tools can be used for kids who are constantly fidgeting during writing activities.
  • Write in shaving cream on a plastic tablecloth.
  • Practice letters while writing in oobleck.
  • Use mess-free sensory bags.
  • Form letters in a sand tray, salt tray, sugar tray, cornmeal tray, or flour.
  • Write with wet chalk.

Auditory Sensory Handwriting Ideas:

  • Write in the air letters while singing.
  • Use Encourage singing or humming during written work.
  • Use headphones to block out sounds or to provide background noise.
  • Practice written work from an auditory source.  
  • Take handwriting activities outdoors to the backyard, and notice birds chirping, cars, dogs barking, etc.
  • Minimize auditory distractions for other children.
  • Ask children to repeat the directions.
  • Use visual cues such as index cards with written directions.
  • Handwriting on Foam Craft Sticks and letters and coffee filters use the auditory sense when writing.  Whisper, tell, yell, rhyme, or sing the letters as your child writes them.

Olfactory Sensory Handwriting Ideas:

Proprioception Handwriting Ideas:

  • Start with these ideas  for understanding the basics of the proprioception sense and its impact on handwriting.
  • Write on a resistive surface.
  • Form letters with push pins on a lid.
  • Write with chalk on a driveway or rocks.  Try rainbow writing with chalk.
  • Write while laying on a trampoline. TIP: Use a clipboard.
  • Use a therapy ball to sit on, lay on, and write on.
  • Practice letter formation and pencil pressure by lacing a sheet of paper over a foam computer mouse pad. If pressing too hard, the pencil point will poke through the paper. 
  • vibrating pen provides sensory feedback to the fingers and hand and helps to keep children focused on the task. 
  • Practice handwriting by placing a sheet of paper over a piece of sandpaper. The resistance of the sandpaper is great heavy work for small muscles of the hand. 
  • Practice Ghost Writing: Encourage the child to write very lightly on paper and then erase the words without leaving any marks. The adult can try to read the words after they’ve been erased. If the words are not able to be read, the writer wins the game. 
  • This will provide the child with awareness and words for the way they are holding the pencil. 
  • Wrap a bit of play dough or putty around the pencil as a grip. Encourage the child to hold the pencil with a grasp that does not press deeply into the dough. Encourage using a “just right” pressure. 
  • Provide terms for they way they write. Encourage “just right” writing and not “too hard” or “too soft” marks. 
  • Use a lead pencil to color in a small picture, using light gray, medium gray, and dark gray. Talk about how using different amounts of pressure changes the shade of gray. 
  • Practice writing with a pen on thin paper surfaces such as napkins and tissue paper.

Vestibular Sensory Handwriting Ideas

  • Write while laying in the slide. Try using the slide as a writing surface while the child is lying on their belly.  Try both head towards the top of the slide and head towards the bottom of the slide.
  • Try a wiggle seat cushion such as a balance disc or a wobble chair.
  • Try sitting in a rocking chair, using a clipboard to write on.

Gustatory Sensory Handwriting Ideas

  • Form letters with taste-safe play dough.
  • Use bread dough to form letters.  Bake and eat.
  • Write in pudding.
  • Try taste-testing handwriting activities:  Try practicing writing while the student is chewing gum, or sucking on hard candy.  Other ideas include: chewing licorice, sour candy, chewy gummy candy, lollipops, or crunchy pretzels.  These types of oral sensory input are organizing. With the children, see if they notice improved concentration and written work output with these types of oral sensations.

Visual Sensory Handwriting Ideas

  • Write with highlighters.
  • Write with a flashlight in a darkened room.
  • Write with sparklers in the evening. (Use glow sticks for a safer option.)
  • Make a DIY light box.

 Sensory Summer Camp at Home themes

What do you think?

Have you thought about running an occupational therapy summer camp or a sensory summer camp? Maybe you’re thinking about targeting clients or just creating a group activity for non-clients as part of summer programming. Let me know if you’ve done any of the activities listed here. And, tell me…What are some awesome occupational therapy summer camp ideas you’ve had or sensory summer camp strategies that you’ve used?


Want to take summer play to the next level? Be sure to grab your copy of the Summer OT Activities Bundle!

Summer activities for kids

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 make Sensory Bottles for Self Regulation

sensory bottles

This blog post on how to make a sensory bottle is an old one on the website. It was originally written February 21, 2015 and we updated it April 11, 2024. All this time later, the fact is that sensory bottles continue to be a valuable self regulation and calming tool for kids to use to calm down.

sensory bottles

We love to play with sensory bottles.  They are an amazingly simple way to explore, calm, and investigate.  If you are looking for a sensory play idea that is mess-free and can be used as a learning tool as well as a therapy tool, then sensory bottles are the way to go. 

Sensory bottles for self-regulation, calming, and sensory input. How to make sensory bottles for learning and sensory.


This post contains affiliate links.

What is a sensory bottle?

You can find many versions of sensory containers and bottles online.  So what is a sensory bottle?  They are tools to calm down and encourage self-regulation.  
Sensory bottles are a visual and physical tool for calming and relaxing the body.  A child (or adult!) can use a sensory bottle when they feel anxious, overwhelmed, “wound-up”, or overstimulated and use the sense of proprioception as they shake the sensory bottle and watch the contents shift.  This visual cue is a great calming strategy for many children.


Why do Sensory Bottles Work?

One question that comes up a lot is how do sensory bottles work? How does a sensory bottle or sensory jar calm down a child, especially when they are in a fight or flight state? It has to do with the proprioceptive input paired with visual gaze. 

Let’s break this down…

A sensory bottle is a common tool used to support sensory processing needs that  impact behaviors and emotions. This type of tool is key when it comes to sensory dysregulation and meltdowns or regulation needs. We call this a sensory coping strategy.

The jar or container has weight to it, offering heavy work, when held and shaken or information to the proprioceptive sensory system. Then, along with that input, the jar has a visually enticing “thing” inside, which might be sand slowly moving through objects, water and oil moving slowly up and down the bottle, or other item that catches the eyes. 

Sensory Bottle and Polyvagal Theory

The polyvagal theory is a newer area of study (at least since this blog post was originally written back in 2015!), but the concepts have always been there. The polyvagal theory says that there is a relationship between eye gaze, autonomic reactions, and cognitive performance. This article explains more about a research review related to polyvagal theory.

The key here is to get the eyes into a gazing state. By that I mean the eyes should dilate as if staring off into the horizon or even something that is just 20 feet away. Did you ever sit on a beach and stare off at the horizon with a huge sense of calm and peace? Or have you ever looked off at a mountain pass and felt regulated? This is horizon gazing and we can use that calming strategy when using a sensory bottle as a calming tool.

When you gaze off into a distance without really focusing on something, the pupils are converging. The cool thing is that you don’t need a horizon or something really far way for this to happen. You can just stare at the sensory bottle without really looking and focusing on any one thing. This can be especially helpful to blunt norepinephrine. 

When we see these materials move within the bottle, we hold a gaze…AND feel the weight of the bottle…and add deep breathing exercises, this is where we get the calming state!

We cover a lot about sensory strategies, including vision and interoception here on The OT Toolbox. This is important because of the role of the limbic system, the vestibular systemproprioceptive system, and overall sensory processing systems in functional tasks.

A sensory bottle is a valuable support tool for these areas. They also serve as a hand-held mindfulness activities and can be added to a child’s “Regulation Toolbox.”

When we use a sensory bottle in therapy sessions, we are focusing on the coping strategy that is used in conjunction with an emotions check in and feelings check in to support self awareness. It’s a self regulation activity that we love because you can use a variety of materials and kids can help make them. 

Because of this, sensory bottles make a great addition to a budget sensory room in the school environment, or a calm down corner at home.

RELATED READ: Sensory Play Ideas

How to make a sensory bottle

It’s not difficult to make a sensory bottle. Basically, you’ll use materials you already have on hand. 

The sensory bottle as a coping strategy are so easy to create.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to additions.  
In general, there are two types of bottles:
  1. Liquid sensory bottles
  2. Dry materials sensory bottles
To make either type, the process is the same. You need a bottle of some type and items to put into the bottle. Grab a few plastic bottles, glue to secure the lid (Glue is the most important part!), and a few of these items:
To make a liquid sensory bottle add:
Add pieces to the liquid base:
Or make a dry sensory bottle by skipping the liquid and just pouring in:

After you add the items you want into the container, add a bit of glue to the lid and secure it onto the bottle. Allow the glue to dry before you use the bottle. 


We’ve used sensory jars and bottles as a sensory tool many times. Along with crayon play dough, they are one of our favorite ways to to get proprioceptive input through play.

How to make sensory bottles




Sensory Bottle Ideas

Some of our favorite sensory bottle ideas include ones that we had as much fun making as we did playing with!

If you are looking for more creative sensory ideas, then you will love our favorite sensory bottle ideas: 

Check out the baby sensory exploration bottles we made in this video below:

Baby Exploration Sensory Bottles made with recycled spice containers.

Have you ever made a sensory bottle? What did you add?

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

Preschool Centers to Develop Pre-Writing Skills

preschool center ideas

This blog post on preschool center ideas for pre-writing skills was originally written September 20, 2017. We’ve since updated it to include more resources and ideas to support the development of preschool prewriting skills that occurs through play in the preschool age. We have many preschool centers ideas to help with this skill!

preschool center ideas

Our favorite preschool center ideas involve movement, play, and exploration!

Preschool Center Ideas

If you’ve ever been in a preschool classroom and seen a lot of play, you are in a great classroom setting! Preschoolers need play to help them develop the skills that they will use throughout their lifetime. The preschool occupational therapy providers reading this are probably nodding their OT heads. And, actually, so are the school based OTs who later see those same kiddos in the elementary building. Why? Because teaching preschoolers to write is just not developmentally appropriate. Instead, we can focus on how can you help preschool children develop pre-writing skills through developmentally appropriate tasks!

The preschool classroom is a bustling place of activity, play, learning, and development.  All of these areas are happening at once, driven by the focus and intention of the preschool teacher.  I’ve had readers ask how to incorporate more developmental areas into group activities for the preschool aged child and how to incorporate development of pre-writing skills into a small group setting.

Before we get into the preschool center ideas, check out some of our resources to support the preschool aged kiddos:

Preschool Centers for Prewriting Skills

The center activities that we have listed below are designed for the developmental level of preschoolers. This means that prewriting and play go hand in hand…sometimes there are creative ways to do this! For example, you might have the center right on the carpet during a circle time. Other times, you might try a few different ways to sit on the floor during the center activity. These variations can be a great tool for developing balance, coordination, core strength, regulation needs (regulation is different in the preschool child!), motor control, and other skills needed for writing…it’s all connected! 

The activities below are ones that can be used in preschool centers or in small groups of children who are working on development of fine motor, visual perceptual motor skills needed for pre-writing and other tasks needed in a classroom setting. Considering all of the pre-writing skills that are developed during the preschool years, these centers can harness the excitement and play of creative play to promote development of skills needed throughout the child’s life.

The skills developed in the preschool setting has a lot to do with visual perceptual skills. You’ll find easy and fun ways to work on visual perceptual skills through play here. 

Preschool Centers and Development

Centers in the classroom are a common thing.  A center is a small group of children that work together on one area for a short period of time.  While in this small group, the children can work on a single area before moving on to a different center within the classroom.  You may see centers geared toward a single learning concept or area or you may see a center that combines motor involvement with learning.

In the preschool setting, centers include tactile play, play dough, water tables, blocks, imagination play, art creation, finger paints, sensory play, name writing, manipulatives, etc.

The Occupational Therapist can contribute information related to development and specific needs of the classroom when collaborating with the preschool teacher, focusing on fostering skill development through play and use of various media and materials within the centers.

Try setting up center activities on the floor to develop skills like crossing midline, core stability and strength, proprioceptive input, motor planning, arch development of the hands, shoulder stability, and more.

Skills to address in preschool centers

The cool thing is that a center activity often targets many aspects of development. This is why occupational therapy providers working in early intervention, and especially when in the preschool setting love to push into the classroom for circle time. Check out the areas of development addressed with circle time activities:

  • Fine motor development
  • Gross motor development
  • Pincer grasp
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Crossing midline
  • Pre-writing skills
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Manual coordination
  • Hand strength
  • Body coordination
  • Object manipulation
  • Grasp development

You can incorporate many of these components in a single circle time. For example, check out these indoor gross motor activities for preschoolers.

Fine Motor Preschool Centers

Here are some of my favorite fine motor preschool centers. These learning centers support development of hand strength, manipulation skills, dexterity, and the fine motor skills needed for functional tasks.

Writing Preschool Center

While writing with a pencil in preschool isn’t ideal because of the development of the child, you can target different writing tasks as a pre-writing activity. For example, if you use aspects of the Handwriting Without Tears program, there are many preschool activities that get young kids ready for writing without actually picking up a pencil.

  • Copying shapes
  • You can use the letter pieces to identify the big lines, little lines, big curves, and little curves used in forming letters.
  • Play with letter manipulatives
  • Create a mat man using letter parts (from HWT program)
  • Pre-writing lines with leaves
  • Copying pictures
  • Stamping letters in play dough
  • Tracing shapes
  • Writing in wet clay
  • Drawing on carpet squares
  • Painting water on a chalkboard
  • Pencil control sheets

Visual Perception Preschool Center

You can also use some fun visual perceptual skill activity in center time:

Here is more information about strategies to address visual perceptual skills and handwriting.

Use these preschool center ideas to help kids develop pre-writing skills and other developmental skills like visual motor and fine motor skills.
Use these preschool center ideas to help kids develop pre-writing skills and other developmental skills like visual motor and fine motor skills.

Check out our related preschool and developmental resources to better understand child development in order to support the preschooler during center time: 

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

42 Ways to Help Students Stay Organized at School

organization activities

This blog post oh how to help students become more organized at school was originally written on January 11, 2016 and was updated on April 9, 2024. We wanted to update it to include resources to help kids with a messy desk or disorganized locker that results in lost homework, misplaced assignments, and general school organization. A related post that can support these needs is the home aspect with our post on organization activities.

School Organization

Helping students get organized is key when it comes to executive functioning skills and school work and participating in education in the school setting. One way I like to explain this is by referring to school organization as a two part balance.

One side of the balance is the home aspect and the other side is the school aspect.

Executive functioning skills play a major role in homework! And, there is more to it than just doing a homework assignment. There is actually a school and a home aspect that involves EF skills like organization, attention, task completion, working memory, impulse control, and other skills. The thing is that development of these skills isn’t complete until 30 years of age, so having tools and strategies in place is key for each step.

At school there can be supports for each step:

  1. Writing down the assignment in an agenda
  2. Putting all of the needed materials into the backpack: books, tablet/device, papers, folders, etc.
  3. And then turning in the assignment when it is due: locating the assignments and other items

At home, there are several stages as well:

  1. Locating the homework assignment and all items in the backpack
  2. Doing the assignment completely according to the timeline and requirements
  3. Putting the completed assignment back into the backpack or folder along with other materials

Kids need Organization Skills in order to function during their school day.

A student’s desk is so over-stuffed that papers are crammed in among pencils, books, last week’s homework, and the missing permission slip for today’s field trip.

A backpack that is filled with crumbled papers, broken pencils, toys, and crumbs from last week’s lunch.

A locker that doesn’t shut because granola bar wrappers, overdue library books, three sweatshirts, and last semester’s gym shorts.
A homework folder that is so full that it doesn’t shut flat, filled with doodles, notes from teachers, homework, and yesterday’s test that needed a parent signature.

How can a child function during their school day when they are so disorganized that desks, backpacks, lockers, and folders are so overwhelming?  

As an Occupational Therapist in the schools, I often times had referrals for kids with organizational difficulties: messy desks, overstuffed book bags, trouble with keeping homework and classroom assignments organized, lost or missing parent/teacher communication, and the ability to organize and care for one’s own belongings during their school day.

Organization tips for students in the classroom. So many ideas here from an Occupational Therapist on how to help kids with disorganization problems and help students with organizing their school work.



How to Help Kids Organize their School Work

There are many ways that a student can overcome disorganization and flourish in school with systems that work for them.  As with any Occupational Therapy recommendation, ideas are individualized to meet the student’s needs.  Every child is different in their strengths, abilities, and needs and what works to organize one student will not work with another.  Today, I’m sharing tips and tools to help organize students so that they may learn in the classroom and school environment.

These sensory strategies for school based occupational therapists can be a big help in addressing the organizational needs of students.

What causes a student to become so disorganized that they cannot complete classroom requirements?

There are many diagnoses that have symptoms of disorganization.  ADHD, Autism, and Learning Disabilities are just a few.  Additionally, many students do not have a diagnosis and are disorganized in their school tasks.

There are so many causes of disorganization that describing contributing factors is a more efficient way to describe reasons why a student may be disorganized. Problems with attention, executive functioning, fine motor skills, and vision may contribute to disorganization, among many others:

Problem Areas leading to disorganization:

Studies show that individuals with a small or underdeveloped frontal lobe of the brain tend to have difficulties with organization, poor memory, emotional reactions, and they tend to become overwhelmed by simple tasks.  These individuals will have trouble keeping themselves organized in tasks.

Often times, organization challenges are a result of difficulty with planning and prioritizing tasks. These problem areas may be contributing to a child’s disorganization in school:

  • Attention difficulties
  • Sensory issues
  • Behavior
  • Executive Functioning
  • Visual Perceptual difficulties
  • Visual Motor difficulties
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Fine motor problems
  • Motor Planning issues
  • Hyperactivity
  • Distractibility
  • Fidgeting
  • Problem solving
  • Memory issues
  • Auditory processing problems
  • Language processing problems
  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor impulse control
  • Emotional instability

    Executive Functioning and Organization difficulties

    Executive functioning is needed to keep up with the growing to-do list of the school’s day.  A child with executive function difficulties can’t see the first step they need to take in a project.

    Taking home a daily planner, packing a backpack, arranging items in a desk, placing homework into the correct bin, all requires working memory, motivation, cognitive skills, focus, planning, and persistence.  Difficulties in any of these areas will result in a breakdown of task completion.

    So, how can a student with organization problems be helped so that they can complete assignments, function in their school day, and excel in learning?

    Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Organization tips for students in the classroom. So many ideas here from an Occupational Therapist on how to help kids with disorganization problems and help students with organizing their school work.

Organization Tips for Students

Try these tips to help organize students in the classroom:
    1. Develop routines and stick to them. Morning routines can involve unpacking a backpack, planning homework into correct bins, putting away items needed for the day, sitting at the desk, and starting on morning work.  Maintain a consistent routine. Develop routines for different parts of the student’s day.  Social stories, picture schedules, story stones, and physical routing minders can help.
    2. Use a simple Schoolwork Folder system. Create a system for paperwork that needs to come back to school and what can stay at home.  A simple 2 pocket folders
      works best for this.  Adding extra pages or parts to the folder creates too much visual input.  Add a bright sticker to one pocket for “Keep at Home” and a bright sticker for the pocket to “Bring Back”.  A plastic folder is more durable. Older students can use color coded folders for each subject.
    3. Clear document folders in different colors can be used to coordinate with each subject’s color.
    4. Create a checklist to help students stay organized.
    5. Use checklists. Make checklists that the student can mark off tasks as they are completed. Using a checklist is a great way to incorporate handwriting skills into the routine.  Marking a check mark or “x” in a small box allows for precision of motor movements.
    6. Homework assignments should be written in the same place on the blackboard each day.
    7. Allow time at the beginning of the class or day instead of at the end to write down that day’s homework.  
    8. Teachers can sign off in an assignment book after the student writes down the day’s homework.  Provide a space for parent sign-off after homework has been completed.
    9. Parents can be provided with a small list of students in the class that can help with homework assignment questions.  These students or parents can be called if there are questions about assignments.
    10. Mailed homework. The parents would need to provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope and the teacher can mail the next few week’s homework assignments.
    11. Use a monthly calendar to keep track of long-term assignments and weekly classes like gym or library.
    12. Break long term projects into smaller tasks with deadlines.
    13. Email parent permission slips.
    14. Breakdown worksheets by folding the paper into sections that can be completed before moving on to the next section.
    15. Provide concise and concrete directions.
    16. Turn in completed assignments immediately and provide a space for completed work with clear label. A bin, file, or tray works nicely for this.
    17. Mark pages in a book or workbook with a paperclip so that the student can turn to the correct page more easily and quickly.
    18. Use a digital clock in the classroom or timers for competing tasks.
    19. Provide a small movement break between tasks.
    20. Allow for self-monitoring of systems.
    21. Provide tools for fidgeting.
    22. Try using an Impulse Control Journal.

Organization Tips for the locker

Another aspect is a messy locker. You’ve probably seen the locker stuffed full of papers from the beginning of the school year. How can the student find a homework assignment in that mess of old papers, torn folders, dirty gym clothes…

These organization strategies can help keep the locker organized:

  1. Create a container system for lockers. Use one container for hat, gloves, scarf, and one container for books.  The container can be emptied into the backpack at the end of the day.  Add pictures to the locker for a visual cue for where the coat, lunchbox, and backpack should hang. Add shelves if needed.
  2. Picture Symbols. A visual cue is a great way to break down tasks.  Create a series of pictures for desk morning tasks, lunch tasks, or end-of-the-day tasks. Pictures can be printed off in a strip and the strips replaced as the day goes by.
  3. Use a second set of textbooks at home to eliminate the need to bring books back and forth between school and home.
  4. Place a checklist of what needs to be brought home each day in the locker or in the desk.

How to help students keep their desk organized

A huge aspect of disorganization for students is the desk. It becomes a catch all that is stuffed with papers. Did you ever experience a teacher that dumped a student’s desk over in anger? Unfortunately, my daughter’s second grade teacher did just that for students in her classroom. Then, the student had to miss recess in order to clean up the mess. While the desk was very disorganized and the students couldn’t find their missing assignments or books, it is a really cruel way to teach organization skills. This aspect of executive functioning actually doesn’t develop for many years, so experiencing this kind of treatment in front of a whole classroom of peers probably isn’t the best way to teach skills…

Here are some actionable and practical ways to help students keep their desk tidy and organized (without needing to dump the desk in the middle of class):

  1. Eliminate dropping of the pencil.  Students with organizational problems often times have difficulty with fidgeting, sensory issues, fine motor skills, attention…(all of the items described in the list above!) Dropping the pencil can create a break in attention that allows for further disorganization.  Tie the pencil to the desk to prevent dropping: Tie a string to the eraser end of the pencil and tie the end of the string to a suction cup. Attach the suction cup to the desk surface.
  2. Reward systems. Set up an incentive or reward system for appropriate organization of folders, backpack, locker, or homework completion.  These can be tailored to the student’s interests.
  3. Color code notebooks, folders, book covers, and workbooks.  Books and notebooks can use prefabricated book covers or you can use colored paper to create book covers in a variety of colors. Add a small colored dot on homework assignments that correspond with the color of the subject’s book.  Use markers or small stickers
    to color code homework.
  4. Use a zippered pouch for pencils, erasers, calculators, etc in the backpack.  This will reduce the items “floating around” in the backpack.
  5. Develop a written contract of organization tasks with the student, teacher, and parent, along with choices for the student.
  6. Clear plastic, gallon-sized bags in the backpack to hold items like gloves, gym clothes, etc.
  7. Reduce distractions in the classroom to prevent distractibility: place desk away from windows, doors, and the pencil sharpener.
  8. Use a classroom peer as an organizing mentor.
  9. Provide a daily class checklist.
  10. Help the student clear their desk of all items except the items they should be using. Work on getting the student to be independent in this task by using visual and verbal cues. Provide a 10 second “Clear Off” time before starting a new task to allow time for the student to clear his work space.
  11. Mark off spaces inside the desk for items like books and pencil box using masking tape.  The items should be “parked” in their correct space unless they are being used.
  12. Provide a low cardboard box inside desks with compartments for organizing supplies.
  13. Provide a clear plastic bin or shelf for the student’s items instead of using a desk or locker.
  14. Use a triangular pencil grip to keep pencils from rolling off desks.
  15. Provide velcro for students to attach their pencil to the desk surface or inside the desk.
  16. Try an eraser ring to prevent losing large erasers inside desks.
  17. Use a Kneadable Eraser. It can be stuck inside the desk when not in use and makes a great fidget toy.
  18. Conduct daily, weekly, and monthly clean-ups of desk, locker, and backpack.
  19. At the end of the day, help the student prepare his work space for the next day.
Organization tips for students in the classroom. So many ideas here from an Occupational Therapist on how to help kids with disorganization problems and help students with organizing their school work.

How to Help Organize Kids Schoolwork

Organizing challenges are difficulties with prioritizing and planning.  It is difficult for some students to breakdown a multi-step assignment into manageable steps.  

Try using the tips above for organizing in the classroom.  It can take a period of monitoring along with trial and error to establish an appropriate organizational system that works for your student of child.

Organization tips for students in the classroom. So many ideas here from an Occupational Therapist on how to help kids with disorganization problems and help students with organizing their school work.

This is our first post in a new series on organization for kids.  I’ll be sharing a few other ways to help kids become organized so that they can function in daily tasks.  Stay tuned for more tips to help organize themselves.

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

Cherry Blossom Tree Craft- Fine Motor Activity

Cherry blossom tree craft

This cherry blossom craft is one of my favorites this time of year because it’s a fine motor power tool that supports so many areas of development with a single craft. We made the tissue paper cherry blossom tree many years ago, and it’s still a favorite when it comes to one craft that supports many areas! This is just one of the fun Cherry blossom crafts here on the site that promote fine motor skills, strengthening, and precision in big ways. Let’s explain…

Cherry Blossom Craft

We made these Cherry blossom trees one day as a Spring occupational therapy activity for kids.  This was the perfect way to brighten up our dining room.  We had a bunch of paper snowflakes hanging on our window and decided we needed to pull those down and make a few fun spring crafts!  This Cherry Blossom Tree craft hit the mark!

Not only were our trees fun to make, they had a great fine motor component to them…and we love fine motor activities!


Cherry blossom tree craft

 This post contains affiliate links. 


Cherry Blossom Tree craft

We made this tissue paper cherry blossom craft using simple materials that we already had on hand:

  • Green construction paper
  • Pink tissue paper
  • Glue
  • Clothes pins
  • We also used scissors, a pencil, and a lid (to create the tree circle)

The craft is ideal because there are many skills that are addressed using these materials. We show them in the image at the top of this page, and they include:

  • Finger strength– needed to pinch the clothes pins as a trunk onto the tissue paper cherry blossom craft.
  • Open thumb web space– needed to tear and crumble the tissue paper
  • Scissor skills– necessary to cut the circles
  • Arch development– crumbling the paper into small bits requires refinement of the arches of the hand
  • Pincer grasp– to pick up and manipulate the small crumbled tissue aper pieces and to place them onto glue spots on the tree

There are other skills that are used as well: tripod grasp, gross grasp, bilateral coordination, intrinsic hand strength, etc.


Trace a lid to make circles for cherry blossom tree craft.
We started with green Construction Paper and a peanut butter jar lid.  I traced a bunch of circles (and Baby Girl had to try her hand at tracing, too!)
Holding the lid and tracing around it is a great way to incorporate bilateral coordination and crossing midline. This is a nice precursor to the task of cutting out each circle. 
To address scissor skills, consider using thicker paper or cardstock to make the cutting activity easier. Here are strategies for working on scissor skills and cutting accuracy.
Cut circles for a Cherry blossom tree


These were cut out and we were ready to get started on our trees.

Dots of glue for cherry blossom tree craft

I put a bunch of dots of glue on the circles.  Older kids could do this part.  Squeezing the glue bottle is a great fine motor strengthening exercise for little hands.

For kids that need help working on graded resistance and grasp when managing a bottle of glue, practicing glue spots onto different sizes of circles like in a glue exercise is a good way to help with this functional task. 

The Glue Spots worksheets in the Spring Fine Motor Kit is a good exercise for this activity.

Crumbling tissue paper is great for fine motor skills.
Next, Big Sister pulled small bits of pink tissue paper from a big old sheet. 
Tearing tissue paper is such a GREAT fine motor strengthening exercise for kiddos. 
Crumbling those little bits works the intrinsic muscles of the hands (the small muscles that are in the hand and make up arches of the palm.  Strength of these muscles is so important to endurance in handwriting and coloring, maintaining adequate pressure when coloring, holding the pencil accurately…the needs for defined arches of the hands could go on and on and on!
Crumbling tissue paper for crumbled paper art is a functional fine motor craft that kids can hang up and admire their hard work. You’ll find more Crumble Art crafts in the Spring Fine Motor Kit, including templates for 5 different crumble art crafts: flowers, mushroom, rainbow, and Easter egg crafts.
Pinching tissue paper works on hand strength and tripod grasp.
Pressing those little tissue paper crumbles into the glue required a tripod grasp.  And, we had a ton of glue spots…so this was a good long activity!
Tripod grasp is worked on with this cherry blossom tree craft.


Cover all of those glue spots!

Make Cherry Blossom tree crat to work on fine motor skills with clothes pins for trunks.


Once our tissue paper/glue was dry, we clipped on clothes pin “trunks” onto our trees.  Pinching those pins was another way to encourage hand strengthening.  We had a whole forest of Cherry Blossom trees and got them involved on our train table, with the Little People stuff, with little dinosaurs.  We played with these Cherry Blossom trees until they fell apart!

Be sure to check out this other cherry blossom fine motor math activity, where we used pink tissue paper to make cherry blossoms and worked on tripod grasp and eye hand coordination skills.


Spring Fine Motor Kit

Score Fine Motor Tools and resources and help kids build the skills they need to thrive!

Developing hand strength, dexterity, dexterity, precision skills, and eye-hand coordination skills that kids need for holding and writing with a pencil, coloring, and manipulating small objects in every day task doesn’t need to be difficult. The Spring Fine Motor Kit includes 100 pages of fine motor activities, worksheets, crafts, and more:

Spring fine motor kit set of printable fine motor skills worksheets for kids.
  • Lacing cards
  • Sensory bin cards
  • Hole punch activities
  • Pencil control worksheets
  • Play dough mats
  • Write the Room cards
  • Modified paper
  • Sticker activities

Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

Spring Fine Motor Kit
Spring Fine Motor Kit: TONS of resources and tools to build stronger hands.

Grab your copy of the Spring Fine Motor Kit and build coordination, strength, and endurance in fun and creative activities. Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

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

Cherry Blossom Tree craft for kids with fine motor activity

Awesome Buckle Toys for Fine Motor Skills

buckle toys

I was wasting time on Amazon (do you do that too? It’s the ultimate window shopping experience!) one day and I came across a series of buckle toys that made my occupational therapy mouth drool. Ok, maybe I’m being a little dramatic here, but as a pediatric OT, I can tell you that there are a LOT of kids out there not getting the play skills they need to develop fine motor skills and visual motor skills needed for functioning. We can go into that in more detail, including why a buckling activity supports development, in a bit. But I do want to get this occupational therapy toy into your hands, and for good reason!

buckle toys for fine motor skills

Buckle toys like these ones support fine motor skills and visual motor skills.

What is a Buckle Toy

First, if you aren’t a pediatric occupational therapy provider, you might be wondering “what is a buckle toy!?”

A buckle toy is a handheld toy, usually a soft toy or interactive book, that has various buckles and straps for attaching and connecting. You’ve probably seen Montessori type toys that have buckle before but never thought twice about them. It’s a clothing fastener toy that supports development of much needed skills!

They might be a stuffed animal with colorful straps that snap together. Or, there might be added clothing fasteners that kids can manipulate and attach. I’ve seen buckle and snap toys with clothing fasteners like snaps, zippers, buttons, velcro attachments, and other fun fine motor tasks.

This type of toy is perfect for the child working on fine motor skills and clothing fasteners, but it actually covers more underlying skills than just that.

As a pediatric OT, I LOVE these toys!

We’ve shared various fine motor toys in the past, and specifically, bilateral coordination toys. The buckle/fidgeting toy is a gem!

Why I Love Buckle Toys as a Pediatric OT

I mentioned a couple of the reasons why buckle toys are so fantastic. Let me list this out because the benefits of playing with a buckle type toy is pretty extensive.

We cover all of the fine motor skills needed for dressing skills in a different blog post, because there are many underlying skill components (that are addressed by a buckling toy like the ones below) that are needed for teaching kids self-dressing skills.

Buckle activities build fine motor skills through play!

Awesome Buckle Toys

Some of the best buckle and fidget/manipulation toys are fun stuffed animals, but there are things like backpacks too…You can find a lot of different types on Amazon!

  • Buckle backpacks
  • Stuffed animal buckle toys
  • Buckle board book
  • Shape buckling toys

I found some that I love and I have the OT perspective behind each type of toy.

Buckle Toy Backpacks

The reason I came across these toys on Amazon is that I was actually looking at therapy bags. I saw this buckle and snap toy backpack and thought it actually would be pretty fun to see as a therapy backpack! While it is a bit on the smaller size and you would need a tote to carry paper and files, you could actually use this buckle toy to hold a handful of therapy materials to use in OT sessions.

Because the school based OTs know that carrying a ton of supplies from school to school building is painful, but a must. The other thing that is true is that occupational therapy providers can make a complete therapy session with just a handful of materials. So, add a pair of scissors, some index cards, a pencil, maybe a tub of theraputty, and a fidget or two, possibly a dice or a spinner, and you have a whole session in your hands.

I love that this buckle backpack has the snaps, clips, and a side pouch with snaps. You can have your therapy students access materials like a dice or a fidget from the pocket and work on the functional task of snapping the snap.

Another buckle backpack that I like has a variety of clothing fasteners. This one has ties, lacing, buttons, snaps, and other clothing fasteners.

Stuffed animal backpack– This stuffed animal buckle toy backpack is a little different because it has some added fine motor features but it’s also a fun stuffed animal, too.

Buckle Toy Busy Board

I like this buckling toy busy board because it can be slid into a therapy bag or a diaper bag for fine motor quiet play. Or, slide it into your therapy bag as a table-top toy.

This is a great toddler toy because they can get the benefit of quiet play without a screen!

Stuffed Animal Toys

There are a ton of different stuffed animal manipulation skills toy options. Most of these are nice because they have a zipper pocket that kids can open and put items inside. Holding the zipper and the toy supports bilateral coordination skills. And, when they pinch the zipper to grasp and pull open the pocket, the child is working on hand strength, arch development, open thumb web space, all of which are fine motor skills they need for tasks like pencil grasp.

The ones I listed below are nice lap-sized toys. They are great toddler toys for using in a stroller or in a car seat.

Here are some that I found:

  • Dog Buckle Toy– this one has numbers on its belly to work on number identification, but there are also different colored shapes on the dog’s back and feet. It’s a great way to work on shape identification, color identification, and visual discrimination skills.
  • Buckle Toy Airplane– This buckle activity is fun for the little one that is obsessed with all things airplanes. There are shapes and numbers on this one too.
  • Shark– This cute motor skills toy is an adorable shark. I love that the mouth zippers open and closed because opening and closing the zipper is a fun way to work on precision grasp and hand strength!
  • Turtle
  • Lion– This one has a nice handle and it makes a great stroller toy for toddlers.
  • Crab
  • Ladybug
  • Caterpillar

SHape Buckle Toys

Then, there are the buckle activity toys that are shapes. These are actually a little more advanced than some of the stuffed animal toys that I mentioned above. This is because the straps are a little longer and it can be more challenging to attach the strap to the correct match.

The different toys have different buckle types so this makes it harder to find the correct and matching attachment, too.

Here are some shape options:

So, which do you think you will try? The thing is that these toys all support fine motor skill development, but it’s nice because you can select the toy that fits the needs of the child you are supporting!

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