Writing Activities for Reluctant Writers

Toys for reluctant writers

Here, we’re talking all about reluctant writers. We’ll cover WHY kids hate to write, and we’ll discuss strategies to engage kids that are reluctant to write. You’ll also find TOYS and TOOLS to engage and motivate children that hate writing.

We’ve already covered fine motor toy ideas and pencil grasp toys, which can be a resource for reluctant writers. Today is all about play–based strategies to support reluctant writers.  

Reluctant Writers

It’s very common for kids of all ages to be a reluctant to write. Challenges such as not knowing letter formation, struggles with dysgraphia, or difficulties with visual perceptual skills or visual motor skills that impact legibility can mean that kids just hate to write.

They hate to practice handwriting.

Motivating struggling writers to actually practice the underlying areas in which they struggle can be a challenge. For kids that HATE to write, meaningful and motivating is key! These writing activities for reluctant writes will make handwriting fun so that kids can work on the skills they need to work on.

Practice writing?  “But Mom! I don’t like to write!”  Sound familiar?  Many kids (Many, many!) just aren’t into practicing their handwriting at home.  School and homeschooling can be exhausting for kids when they have to do certain topics that they just aren’t interested in.  And handwriting is often one of those topics.  

Hopefully, you’ll find some motivating handwriting activities in today’s post that will help your reluctant writer pick up that pencil and start writing!

Functional and meaningful handwriting activities for reluctant writers.  These are motivating activities for kids who don't like to practice handwriting.

Handwriting Ideas for Reluctant Writers

Many kids just aren’t into practicing their handwriting at home. School and homeschooling can be exhausting for kids when they have to do certain topics that they just aren’t interested in. And handwriting is often one of those topics.

Often times, kids balk at having to do repetitive writing. I mean, would you want to write a word or sentence 10 times in a row? Sometimes a functional activity that is meaningful and helpful can motivate a child to want to pick up a pencil. In the end, emphasize handwriting quality over quantity and functional handwriting over perfection.

Here are a few easy hands-on strategies to help with “non-handwriting” ways to work on handwriting:

Work on Handwriting With Art

Try some of the handwriting through play ideas in our handwriting library.

Motivating Handwriting Activities Quick Tip:
Try using “handwriting toys” to sneak in the handwriting practice in fun ways that seem more like play than writing practice.

Fine Motor Quick Tip:
Using a neutral or extended wrist is so important for pencil grasp, endurance in handwriting, and small motor movements of the fingers in isolation of the wrist. If your student is using a flexed (or bent) wrist, try paper position and placement. Encourage fine motor activities performed on a vertical surface or slanted surface.

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Handwriting ideas for reluctant writers.

How to engage reluctant writers

{{This post contains affiliate links.}}

You can throw in the fun colored ink pen for extra smiles from your reluctant writer, but we wanted to share ideas to work on functional skills like handwriting using mainly items you can find around the home. 

Try a few of these fun ideas with your student or child:

  • Write Jokes. Look up jokes in a joke book and write them on index cards.  Send them to a friend in the mail, drop one in a neighbors mailbox (if you know the neighbor and first let them know to expect something in the mail!) or give one to teachers.  Find a buddy who would be interested in exchanging jokes.
  • Write letters to favorite celebrities.  Use those interests and look up addresses to your child’s favorite artist, musician, or sports hero.  Kids can compose a letter and address the envelope.
  • Exchange letters with a pen pal.  Kids can exchange letters with friends and relatives in other states or towns.  Getting mail addressed to themselves is very rewarding for a child.
  • Pass notes.  Write short notes to members of the family.  Leave them in places where they will be found, like on bedroom dressers or in shoes.  Notes might be simple things like, “Don’t forget about soccer practice today.” or fun things like, “Do you want to play checkers?”
  • Plan a scavenger hunt.  Write out hints on slips of paper.  The child can plan the steps and hide notes for family members or friends.
  • Practice letter formation during fun games like Tic Tac Toe.  Instead of x’s and o’s, write printed or cursive letters in the squares.
  • Write your own comic books.  Draw large rectangles on a page for a comic story. Students can draw pictures and write comic bubbles for handwriting practice.
  • Make a creative journal full of creative handwriting ideas.  We did ours with a cursive handwriting, but you could use these ideas for printed handwriting, too.
  • Tape paper to a window and write on the paper.
  • Location, location, location! Change spaces for something fun and different: go to the library and try the tables there.  Write outside with a clipboard.  Where can you go to write that is new and fun?
  • Change positions.  Sit on the floor and write on the chair seat.  Lay on couch cushions and write on the floor on a clipboard. 
  • Take brain breaks.  Every 3-4 minutes, take a mini-break for jumping jacks or wall push-ups.
  • Write to classical music.
Engaging activities for reluctant writers

Functional Handwriting for reluctant writers

Often times, kids balk at having to do repetitive writing.  I mean, would you want to write a word or sentence 10 times in a row?  Sometimes a functional activity that is meaningful and helpful can motivate a child to want to pick up a pencil, especially when they are hesitant to try a writing task.  Try some of these functional handwriting tasks:  

  • Write out the family grocery list.  
  • Write your family’s return address on bills.
  • Write out a family calendar with sports schedules, outings, and family night events.
  • Write out the phone messages from an answering machine.  
  • Write out the day’s schedule on a weekend day.
  • Write out favorite television shows.  Add the day, and time of each show.
  • Write out a holiday or birthday gift wish list.
  • Write out a list of items to pack for vacation.  Include little squares next to each item to check off as items are packed.
  • Practice forming letters and words in shaving cream.
  • Sensory writing without a pencil.
  • Write words on a foam tray.

Free Worksheet- Ideas for Reluctant Writers

Want to print off a list of handwriting ideas for reluctant writers to send home with your therapy caseload? Now you can add this list to your therapy toolbox! Join us in the free, 5 day email series where you’ll get this free 2 page list of writing ideas for reluctant writers. You’ll also access other handwriting handouts to cover areas of handwriting issues.

Click here to join the free 5 day Handwriting printables series.

handwriting handouts
Toys and game ideas for kids who are reluctant writers, and "hate" handwriting.

Toys for Reluctant Writers 

Looking for more ways to help your reluctant writer get more “into” writing?  These toys, tools, and games will inspire and encourage your child to want to pick up the writing tool and play.  

The best thing is, they won’t even realize they are practicing handwriting and doing “work”!  While these tools and toys are not free, they are ideas to try.  If you have family asking for gift ideas, you might want to pass a few of these ideas along.  Here’s to writing and loving it!

Amazon affiliate links included below.

  • Kids love a dry erase board and this Crayola Dry Erase Activity Center will be fun for them to practice letter formation and writing. 
  •  The Crayola Dry-Erase Activity Center Zany Play can be a fun way to practice individual letter formation. Ask your child to practice letters in each box. Kids can also work on starting/stopping the writing tool on the dots, which is great pencil control practice and needed for handwriting legibility. 
  •  Writing on this Crayola See Thru Light Designer is bright and colorful and a great way to really work on letters while your child is captivated by the light animations and color effects. 
  •  For students who love to draw (or have a slight interest in drawing), this Crayola Light Designer will be a huge hit. Even though they will not be writing letters and words, kids can draw with the writing tool to create 3D images of their drawings.  This is a motivating tool for reluctant writers, and beneficial for pencil control and dexterity, helpful in handwriting. 
  •  For kids who say “I can’t think of anything to write!” (sound familiar?) This creative storytelling game, Rory’s Story Cubes, will be a fun way to inspire. Play the game and write out stories as a family. This sounds like a great Family Night activity! 
  •  Make writing fun with Washable Window Chalk Markers by writing on windows, glass, and mirrors.
  • Completing mazes are a great way to practice pencil control, line awareness in handwriting. 
  •  Try a maze book like this Extreme Mazes with your reluctant writer. 
  • Mad Libs Game is a great way to practice handwriting on lines and in smaller spaces. For kids who can not write as small as needed to write in the book, use a piece of paper for filling in the answers. 
  •  The handwriting practice that kids get with a Spirograph is big: Pen control, bilateral hand coordination, and proprioceptive feedback. Creating these fun art pieces are motivating and fun!

Toys for Letter Formation

Helping kids to work on letter formation can help them to become more confident in their handwriting. Try these engaging toys to support written work:

Chuchik Magnetic Drawing Board– Use the magnetic pen to “write” letters and then erase them, adding repetitions in letter formation.

Coogam Wooden Letters Practicing Board– Use the wooden board to trace and form letters. Then place a paper over the board and use a crayon to form the letters using the textured letters.

Naturskool Sand Writing Tray for Letter Formation with Alphabet flashcards– Work on letter formation and copying skills with a sensory tray and pencil-like writing stylus.

More Fun toys to practice pencil formation and handwriting

More Developmental Toys for Therapy

Be sure to check out these developmental toys, too. These are top-rated occupational therapy toys to support child development of skills.

  1. Fine Motor Toys 
  2. Gross Motor Toys 
  3. Pencil Grasp Toys 
  4. Toys for Reluctant Writers 
  5. Toys for Spatial Awareness 
  6. Toys for Visual Tracking 
  7. Toys for Sensory Play
  8. Bilateral Coordination Toys 
  9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills 
  10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
  11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
  12. Toys for Attention and Focus

PRINTABLE LIST OF TOYS FOR Reluctant Writers

Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support reluctant writers?

As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

Your therapy caseload will love these handwriting toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!

therapy toy

ANNUAL THERAPY TOYS AND TOOLS GIVEAWAY

It’s Day 4 of The 2022 Therapy Toys & Tools Giveaway and we are covering toys for visual motor, letter formation, and handwriting…in totally fun and engaging ways!

This Sand Tracing Tray is a high-quality, wooden tray for practicing letter formation with multi sensory learning. It includes letter cards with visual directions for proper letter copying. This toy can be used in SO many ways to help motivate kids to write, practice letter formation, copy spelling words, or practice pre-writing lines! PLUS, the winner will also get a Wooden Letters Practicing Board with upper case and lowercase letters to use to create a sensory-based motor plan for letter formation. 🤩

Here’s how it works:

🏆 12 days of giveaways

🏆 72 prizes

🏆Automatic entry for Member’s Club members!

🏆Toys specifically selected to help kids thrive!

Want to enter?

  1. Go to the form below.
  2. 2. Enter your email address in the form.
  3. That’s it!

Today’s giveaway is a handwriting goldmine: a sand writing tray with letter formation cards AND a sensory letter practice board. Plus, 5 winners will get fine motor tools from The OT Toolbox Shop. Each day will be a different skill area, and you can enter those giveaways, too.

This is going to be fun!

Fine print: This giveaway is in no way affiliated with Instagram/Facebook. There are 6 winners each day.

Giveaway ends 12-6 and winners will be selected and notified 12-7-22. Open to international entries! Be sure to enter a correct email address into the form: that’s how I’ll contact winners!

PENCIL GRASP TOY GIVEAWAY

and get a handout: Therapist-Recommended

RELUCTANT WRITER TOYS HANDOUT

    We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp

    Pencil grasp toys

    Have you ever used pencil grasp toys to support development of handwriting? Helping kids with pencil grasp can be a challenge, so using motivating and fun activities to support the underlying skill areas is essential. Today, we’re going over the best occupational therapy toys that target pencil grasp development. Pencil grasp toys to challenge precision, dexterity, endurance, separation of the sides of the hand, and other skills needed for a functional pencil grasp. All of this can happen through play using toys to support stronger hands!

    The best pencil grasp toys to support the fine motor skills needed for a better pencil grip.

    Recently, we shared fine motor toy ideas and then gross motor toys. Both of these areas are closely related to a functional pencil grasp, so be sure to check out those toy suggestions, too.

    Pencil Grasp Toys

    We love coming up with fun play and craft activities designed to work on the development of an efficient grasp.  Being the season of gifting to others, we thought it would be fun to bring you our top recommended toys to work on tripod grasp, intrinsic muscle strength, rotation of the pencil while handwriting, and an open thumb web space

    Children who have difficulty with handwriting may completely HATE to work on letter formation and pencil grip.  Why not gift them with a fun toy this holiday that will work on the developmental skills necessary to improve their grip on the pencil?  Make the exercise fun as they PLAY their way to a better pencil grasp!

    Handwriting is more than just pencil grasp! Manipulating a pencil to write letters and numbers 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. 


    You will also love these Games to Improve Pencil Grasp

    Best Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp

    Toys that will help improve pencil grasp

    {Note: This post contains affiliate links.}

    Toys That Improve Pencil Grasp

    Coming up with this list, we thought about the skills needed for an appropriate pencil grasp and age-appropriate handwriting.  This toy gift guide is broken down into toys that will help with different sets of problem areas when it comes to a poor pencil grasp.

    Let’s take a closer look at toy suggestions for these areas:

    • Toys for Tripod Grasp
    • Toys for an Open Thumb Web Space
    • Toys for Hand Strength
    • Toys for Extended Wrist

    Toys for Tripod Grasp

    Tripod grasp: The most efficient way to hold the pencil when writing is with a dynamic tripod grasp.  So WHAT is a tripod grasp? 

    A Tripod grasp starts with a nice round circle made with the thumb and index finger.  The pencil is pinched with the tips of the thumb and index finger and held close to the point of the pencil.  The pencil is resting on and assisted by the middle finger.  The ring finger and pinky fingers are tucked into the palm.  All movement should happen with the fingers and thumb.  The wrist and arm should not move while writing, coloring, or drawing. 

    Often times, new pencil and crayon users will hold the writing utensil in a different way.  You might see four fingers opposing the thumb to hold the pencil.  You might see the pencil positioned in the knuckles between the index and middle fingers.  Maybe they hold the pencil away from the tip where the lead is and instead hold it in the middle of the pencil shaft.  There are SO many variations of awkward and inefficient pencil grasps.  If your little hand writer is showing some version that affects their letter formation and pencil control, try a few of these fun toys…

    A few toys that help to encourage a tripod grasp:

    Light Brite: Picking up and manipulating those little colored pegs encourage a tripod grasp.  Pushing them through the paper and into the holes is a great resistive exercise…disguised as FUN! 

    We have this Lite Brite Flatscreen – Red from Hasbro and love making pictures with the pegs!  When the child holds the pegs in his hand, it’s a great way to encourage the ring finger and pinkie finger in a tucked position.  Show your child how to pick up a handful of pegs and “squirrel them away” in their palm while they push one peg into the board.  What a great fine motor exercise!  Not to mention, the dots of the guide paper is a great visual motor activity…so important in handwriting!

    Lacing Cards:  Lacing cards are a great way to encourage a tripod grasp.  This set of Lacing Shapes from Patch Products come in simple shapes with bold colors. The child must hold the tip of the string in a dynamic tripod grasp to push through the holes of the card.  If your child has their thumb squashed up against their index finger while threading the cards, be sure to show them how to make a nice round circle for an easier time.

    Peg Boards: Grasping pegs encourage a tripod grasp especially while pushing them into the holes of a peg board. 

    This Lauri Tall-Stacker Pegs Building Set from Lauri is great for building peg towers while learning colors and shapes. 

    Older kids might love Fusion Beads like the Perler Beads 6,000 Count Bucket-Multi Mix from Perler.

    Spike the Fine Motor Hedge Hog– This fine motor toy builds a stronger tripod grasp, and when positioned appropriately, can place the wrist into an extended position, too. This helps to further refine precision movements for accuracy and dexterity. These are great skills to carry over to pencil control and pencil movements during handwriting tasks.

    Learning Resources 3 Prong Tong– This tong tool promotes a better grasp on objects…but only if the hand is positioned correctly. If you allow kids to just pick up the 3 prong tongs and start using them, they likely will position the tong into their hand with a gross grasp, or by using all of the fingers along the length of the prong. This can actually strengthen the wrong muscles, and promote an ineffective motor plan that becomes muscle memory when writing with a pencil.

    When kids use these tongs, they should have their hand positioned almost under the tongs, as if it were a pencil. When used this way, the tongs can strengthen the intrinsics and promote a tripod grasp. These 3 prong tongs can work well when used correctly, but be sure to work along side a child with this one.

    Toys for Open Thumb Web Space

    Sometimes you will see a child who is holding their pencil with a closed web space.  This happens when the thumb web space is the area between the thumb and the index finger.  If the thumb is squashed up against the side of their index finger, they are not able to manipulate the pencil with small movements.  They might move their whole arm to make letters instead of just the hand.  A closed web space is an inefficient way to grasp the pencil and will lead to poor handwriting.  This type of positioning requires activities that strengthen and stabilize the thumb.

    A few toys that help encourage an open web space:

    Tweezer Games:  Tweezer activities promote an open web space and stabilization of the thumb.  This Avalanche Fruit Stand from Learning Resources is a colorful way to encourage an open web space.  The vertical surface is perfect for encouraging an extended wrist (see below).

    Bead Sets: Stringing beads is a good way to encourage an open web space.  The child must hold the bead and string between their thumb and index fingers.  Collapsing of the thumb web space will happen when the child demonstrates weakness in the muscles of the thumb.  Beading is a repetitive activity and promotes strength. 

    This Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Stringing Beads with over 200 beads from Melissa & Doug has over 200 beads in different colors and shapes, and even letters!  You could even form sentences for the child to copy and practice their improved pencil grasp!

    Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots:  Often times, a child will wrap their thumb around the index finger when they are writing with a pencil.. This indicates instability in the thumb and the muscles that allow for smooth pencil motions. 

    Pushing down on the buttons of the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em ROBOTS Game from Mattel really strengthens the muscles of the thumb and allows for more stability leading to an open web space and ultimately more fluid motions of the pencil in letter formation.  Plus, this game is just plain old FUN for kids of all ages!

    Toys for Hand Strength

    Hand Strength:  If a child has weakness in their hands, they may complain that their hand is tired when they write or color.  Then, to compensate for muscle fatigue, they resort to an inefficient hand grasp.  They may grip the pencil with four fingers or with their whole palm.  many times, a child will start off with a nice tripod grasp and then switch to a less efficient grasp…or even switch hands!  Do they complain that their hand is tired or that it hurts?  These kiddos need to work on hand strength.  To allow for increased endurance when writing and coloring, this child would benefit from strengthening exercises.

    A few toys that help encourage hand strength:

    Pop Beads:  Pushing pop beads together is a perfect way to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the hands including the arches of the hands. 

    Pop beads are such a fun toy that can be used to make patterns, different lengths, bracelets, necklaces, and even shapes. This Pop Beads from ConstructivePlaythings are unique in their shape, color, sizes, and textures. A twist on the classic bead, this set will excite girls and boys of all ages.  Be sure to shop for size-appropriate beads for your child’s hands.

    Play-Doh:  Play dough is the ultimate open-ended toy for hand strengthening.  There are unlimited ways to play all the while encouraging hand development. 

    We love this Play-Doh 24-Pack of Colors for lots of creative play!  Hide coins, beans, or beads in the dough and allow the child to find the items.  Roll small balls of dough using just the thumb, index, and middle fingers. 

    Roll a play dough snake with the dough and have the child pinch the dough between their thumb and index finger.  Just get creative and make some things with your play dough.  Most of all, have fun!

    Tissue Paper Art:  There is possible no better art project for hand strengthening than tissue paper art!  Crumbling little bits of tissue paper is perfect for strengthening the small muscles of the hand. 

    Encourage your child to use just their finger tips to crumble the bits of tissue paper rather than two hands to crumble.  This ALEX® Toys – Early Learning Tissue Paper Art -Little Hands 521W from Alex Toys is bold, colorful and just plain fun art!  Even better for the intrinsic muscles of the hands is tearing bits of paper before crumbling.

    Squeeze Toys: a gross grasp is using the whole hand to squeeze and flex into a grip. 

    What a great way to strengthen the muscles of the hands!  This Melissa & Doug Louie Lobster Claw Catcher from Melissa and Doug is a fun way to encourage hand strength and endurance for coloring and writing.

    Geoboard Activities– Using a geoboard supports hand strength to enable endurance in handwriting. Manipulating the rubber bands promotes finger isolation, open thumb web-space, and and extended wrist.

    Learning Resources Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Set Toy– This set of fine motor tools includes an eye-dropper, scissor scoops, and tongs. The sensory bin scoops and tools support hand strength through manipulating small objects or water.

    These tools are a great way to strengthen the exact muscles needed for a functional pencil grasp.

    Toys for Extended Wrist

    Extended Wrist:  An Extended wrist is a slightly bent back wrist.  When a child’s hand is bent forward toward the palm, they typically exhibit inefficient grasp on the pencil and weakness in the hand. A slight bend in the wrist towards the back of the hand (bent up toward the ceiling when writing) allows for better movement and flow of the fingers when forming letters.  Often times a child with a poor handwriting demonstrates a “hooked wrist” or a flat wrist and it leads back to inefficient control of the pencil and messy handwriting. 

    A few toys that help encourage an Extended Wrist:

    Easel: An easel can be used in so many ways while encouraging an extended wrist.  Paint, draw, color, or write on the elevated surface.  We love taping contact paper to our easel and sticking all kinds of craft supplies. 

    This really encourages an extended wrist while using a tripod grasp or tip to tip grasp to manipulate little items (think tissue paper, sequins, foil squares…the possibilities are endless!) This Easel is great for extended wrist activities.  And, it even folds down to reveal a desk surface.  It’s the perfect gift to promote improved handwriting!

    Ker Plunk: The Ker Plunk Game from Mattel encourages an extended wrist as the child pushes the sticks into the holes of the game.  They are encouraged to use a tripod grasp to hold the sticks as well.  Rotating the sticks encourages two types of in-hand manipulation.

    Take this game a step further in handwriting exercise for strengthening and play laying down on the floor, propped up on your elbows.  Getting down on the floor to play will activate the large muscles of the back and the shoulder girdle to improve precision in pencil grasp.

    Montessori Boards– Precision and dexterity activities are needed for pencil grasp and when you add in dexterity tasks and manipulation of tongs, spoons, or tweezers to move and place objects, it’s a win-win.

    This precision Montessori board builds the skills needed for pencil grasp: a stabile wrist, in-hand manipulation, open thumb web space, and dexterity.

    Best toys and ideas to help kids improve their pencil grasp

    Looking for a few activities to improve handwriting skills? Check out our round-up of the best handwriting activities from our blog and these other toy suggestions:

    More Therapy Toy Ideas

    Want to find more therapy recommended toys to help kids develop specific skills? Check out the list of skill areas below.

    1. Fine Motor Toys 
    2. Gross Motor Toys 
    3. Pencil Grasp Toys
    4. Toys for Reluctant Writers
    5. Toys for Spatial Awareness
    6. Toys for Visual Tracking
    7. Toys for Sensory Play 
    8. Bilateral Coordination Toys 
    9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills
    10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception
    11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills
    12. Toys for Attention and Focus

    Printable List of Toys for Pencil Grasp

    Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support pencil grasp?

    As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

    Your therapy caseload will love these PENCIL GRASP toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

    Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!

    therapy toy

    ANNUAL THERAPY TOYS AND TOOLS GIVEAWAY

    This year’s Therapy Toys and Tools Giveaway is BACK!

    This year, it’s better than ever! We’re giving away a therapy tool each day for 12 days. You can enter each giveaway for a chance to win a themed therapy toy! Today’s toy is a pencil grasp tool.

    🏆 12 days of giveaways

    🏆 72 prizes

    🏆Automatic entry for Member’s Club members!

    🏆Toys specifically selected to help kids thrive!

    Want to enter?

    1. Go to the form below.
    2. Enter your email address in the form.
    3. That’s it!

    Today’s giveaway is a fine motor/visual motor, and pencil grasp goldmine: the therapist-favorite, a Montessori Board with color matching cards, colorful manipulatives, and fine motor tongs!

    Check out this toy here: (Amazon affiliate link) Pencil grasp toy

    Plus, 5 winners will get fine motor tools from The OT Toolbox Shop. Each day will be a different skill area, and you can enter those giveaways, too.

    This is going to be fun!

    Fine print: There are 6 winners each day. Giveaway ends 12-6 and winners will be selected and notified 12-7-22. Be sure to enter a correct email address into the form: that’s how I’ll contact winners!

    PENCIL GRASP TOY GIVEAWAY

    and get a handout: Therapist-Recommended

    PENCIL GRASP TOYS HANDOUT

      We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

      Gross Motor Toys

      gross motor toys

      If you are looking for the best gross motor toys to challenge coordination, balance, motor planning through whole-body movement and heavy work play, then you are in luck with these occupational therapy toys. Each one is designed to develop gross motor skills: strength, coordination, balance, posture, and more.

      PLUS, head to the bottom of this blog post for Day 2 of our therapy toy giveaway. We’re giving away a gross motor kit with agility cones, tossing loops, bean bags, and hula hoops, perfect for gross motor, balance, coordination, and even heavy sensory play through whole body movements.

      We started off the fun with yesterday’s fine motor toy ideas. Today is all about the gross motor play.

      First, let’s talk Gross Motor Toys!

      Gross Motor Toys

      Kids need gross motor movement for so many skills. Today, I have gross motor toys to share! Here, you’ll find the best whole body toys and ideas to help kids with balance, core strength, stability, coordination, and endurance. Scroll on to check out some therapist-approved toys that help gross motor skill development!

      Gross motor toys to help kids develop skills in running, hopping, jumping, skipping, crawling, and more.

      Gross Motor Toy Ideas

      This list of toys for gross motor skills pairs well with our recent list of Fine Motor Toys. Today however, you’ll find toys that develop a few areas that are essential to areas of child development:

      Bilateral Coordination– Kids need bilateral coordination in whole body movements to move their body in a coordinated way. These whole body movements can include coordination of the upper and lower body, or both arms, or both feet, and all of the above! Here are bilateral coordination toys to address this specific area.

      Motor Planning– Motor planning with the whole body allows children to move in a room without crashing into objects or other people. Gross motor motor planning allows children to climb steps, navigate obstacles, or any movement-based task. Here is more information on motor planning and motor planning toys to address this specific sub-area.

      Gross motor coordinationCoordination of gross motor skills is needed for tasks such as kicking or catching a ball, riding a bike, getting dressed, or any task that uses the entire body. Here are hand eye coordination toys to address this particular sub-area.

      Proprioception– Integration of proprioceptive input allows children to know where their body is in space. It tells the body how much effort is needed to pick up and move objects. Proprioception allows us to understand the body’s position as it moves in a coordinated manner.

      Vestibular input- Integration of vestibular input allows children to navigate the world around them as they move. Going up or down steps or bleachers is an example of this. Moving into different positions during tasks is another example of vestibular integration. Movement through different planes requires integration of vestibular input.

      All of these areas work together in functional tasks and all are rooted in gross motor skills.

      Related: This dinosaur gross motor game is a skill builder, as well.

      Toys for Gross Motor Skill Development

      So often, therapists and teachers purchase items to use in their work using their own money. This giveaway offers a chance for you to win an item that will be useful in helping kids thrive.

      And, given that kids are on screens more than ever before with all of the virtual learning and hybrid learning models being incorporated all over the world, therapists are seeing more need for active, physical play.

      These are gross motor toys that you will find in therapy clinics. There is a reason why…because they are gross motor powerhouses! So, if you are looking for toy recommendations that build whole body motor skills, this is it!

      Amazon affiliate links are included below. You can read more about these items by checking out the links.

      Zoom ball is a great gross motor toy for kids.

      Zoom Ball– This classic toy is such a great way to work on many skills. A zoom ball can be used in different positions to challenge balance and vestibular input: Try using the zoom ball in sitting, standing, kneeling, standing on couch cushions, a slant…again, the options are limitless! Address skills such as:

      • Bilateral coordination
      • Core strength
      • Shoulder stability
      • Visual convergence
      • Motor planning
      • Coordination
      Pop and catch toys can help kids develop gross motor skills.

      Pop and Catch- Use this coordination toy indoors or outdoors to get kids moving. This toy can be played with while the child is standing, sitting, kneeling, or in a half-sit to challenge the core and eye-hand coordination in a variety of planes. Try playing on all fours on the floor for a shoulder girdle stability activity. Another use for this toy is by playing by standing at a table while the child shoots the ball across the table surface as they play like a ping-pong type of game. There are many uses for this pop and catch activity:

      • Eye-hand coordination
      • Motor planning
      • Vestibular input
      • Core strength
      • Stability of core
      • Stability of shoulder girdle
      use bucket stilts to help kids develop gross motor skills.

      Bucket Stilts– These bucket stilts are perfect for helping kids develop gross motor skills. I love this set because there are 6 colored buckets that make a great gross motor obstacle course tool, too. You could use them as stepping stones to challenge balance and coordination, too. Here are gross motor skills that you can work on using these bucket stilts toys:

      • Core strength
      • Vestibular input
      • Motor planning
      • Coordination
      • Balance
      • Endurance
      • Stabilizing
      use agility cones to help kids build gross motor skills in obstacle courses and more.

      Agility Cones– Sports cones are such an open-ended gross motor toy that can be used to develop so many skills: hopping, jumping, skipping, running, climbing, crawling…the options are endless. Use these agility cones in obstacle courses, challenges, drills, and more. I chose these particular cones because they can go very nicely with a Zones of Regulation activity! Use cones to support these areas:

      • Motor planning
      • Vestibular input
      • Coordination
      • Core strength
      • Endurance
      Use carpet markers to build gross motor skills with gross motor obstacle courses, motor planning, and more.

      Carpet Markers– These carpet markers are an occupational therapist’s dream toy! Use the colored marker spots to help kids work on so many movement skills in obstacle courses, visual perceptual skill activities, direction following, sensory movement breaks, positioning guides, and so much more. The arrows are perfect for addressing directionality. Use them to work on crawling, hopping, jumping, stopping on a point. Just some of the areas that these carpet spots support:

      • Core strength
      • Shoulder stability
      • Motor planning
      • Coordination
      • Endurance
      • Proprioception
      A parachute is a great gross motor toy for kids.

      Parachute– A parachute is another open-ended gross motor toy that the kids just LOVE. This one is small enough for small groups, but builds motor skills in a big way. Use the parachute to help kids develop:

      • Core stability
      • Arm strength
      • Motor planning
      • Endurance
      • Bilateral coordination
      • Proprioceptive input

      Toys for Core Strength

      Toys that develop core strength get kids moving in a variety of positions. These toys support and challenge the vestibular and proprioceptive systems so they can be calming activities as well. Strength and stability in the core is needed for almost all functional tasks. Challenge kids with these core strengthening toys by getting them moving, on the floor in floor play or strengthening the core muscles through movement and balance coordination. Some ideas for developing and strengthening core strength include:

      Toys for balance

      Toys that challenge movement changes, stepping from high to low and low to high, and movement with vestibular input offer opportunities to challenge and develop balance and coordination skills.

      Gross Motor Coordination Toys

      Encourage movement, whole body play, and gross motor coordination with throwing, tossing, and hand-eye coordination or foot-eye coordination skills with these gross motor coordination ideas:

      Obstacle Course Toys

      All of the gross motor toys listed above could be used in obstacle courses…and what a great way to encourage so many skills! These are perfect additions to your obstacle course ideas, and challenge balance, coordination, motor planning, and add sensory input. Use these obstacle course toys to vary movement and encourage the specific skills kids need:

      Want to add these toys to your home, classroom, or therapy practice? I am SO happy to fill your toolbox so you can help kids thrive and build and develop the skills they need!

      More therapy Toys

      Check out the other therapy toy recommendations in the list below:

      1. Fine Motor Toys
      2. Gross Motor Toys
      3. Pencil Grasp Toys
      4. Toys for Reluctant Writers
      5. Toys for Spatial Awareness
      6. Toys for Visual Tracking
      7. Toys for Sensory Play
      8. Bilateral Coordination Toys
      9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills
      10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
      11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
      12. Toys for Attention and Focus 

      PRINTABLE LIST OF TOYS FOR GROSS MOTOR

      Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support gross motor development?

      As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

      Your therapy caseload will love these GROSS MOTOR toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

      Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!

      ANNUAL THERAPY TOYS AND TOOLS GIVEAWAY

      It’s Day 2 of The 2021 Therapy Toys & Tools Giveaway and we are talking balance, coordination, strength, & stability! Swipe ➡️ to check out today’s prizes.

      This obstacle course kit can be used in SO many ways, and includes: agility cones, bean bags, small tossing loops, and adjustable hula hoops. 🤩

      Here’s how it works:

      🏆 12 days of giveaways

      🏆 72 prizes

      🏆Automatic entry for Member’s Club members!

      🏆Toys specifically selected to help kids thrive!

      Want to enter?

      1. Go to the form below.
      2. 2. Enter your email address in the form.
      3. That’s it!

      Today’s giveaway is a gross motor goldmine: an obstacle course kit! Plus, 5 winners will get fine motor tools from The OT Toolbox Shop. Each day will be a different skill area, and you can enter those giveaways, too.

      This is going to be fun!

      Fine print: This giveaway is in no way affiliated with Instagram. There are 6 winners each day.

      Giveaway ends 12-6 and winners will be selected and notified 12-7-22. Open to international entries! Be sure to enter a correct email address into the form: that’s how I’ll contact winners!

      GROSS MOTOR TOY GIVEAWAY

      and get a handout: Therapist-Recommended

      GROSS MOTOR TOYS HANDOUT

        We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

        Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

        Check out the blog comments below to see tips and ideas from readers telling us which gross motor toys they would love to use with the kids they work with and love. Have other gross motor favorites that aren’t listed here? Tell us about them!

        Fine Motor Toys

        Awesome fine motor toys for kids

        Working on fine motor skills through play is natural. Here, you’ll find the very best fine motor toys designed to promote and support a variety of therapy skills. These occupational therapy toys support the development of precision, dexterity, hand strength, and coordination, through play. Let’s talk Fine Motor Toys!

        Fine Motor Toy Ideas

        Today is going to be FUN! I am beyond excited to share the very best fine motor toys that support development of hand strength, dexterity, precision. We’ll also cover why these occupational therapy toys support fine motor development, and cover a little about an occupational therapist’s perspective on what makes them such amazing tools for building hand strength, dexterity, motor control, and fine motor coordination.

        Here’s why: I love to share my OT perspective on helping kids develop skills, using fun and engaging therapy toys that kids are excited about.

        Check out the items below, and add one of these fine motor toys to your therapy toolbox!

        These fine motor toys are therapy toys that help kids build motor skills like hand strength, coordination, and more.

        Fine Motor Toys

        So often, therapists and teachers purchase items to use in their work using their own money. This giveaway offers a chance for you to win an item that will be useful in helping kids thrive.

        And, given that kids are on screens more than ever before with all of the virtual learning and hybrid learning models being incorporated all over the world, therapists are seeing more need for active, physical play.

        Because of that, I’m excited to share with these fine motor toys that help kids develop the motor skills they need!

        Fine Motor Skills Toys

        Here on The OT Toolbox, I’ve shared a lot of different toy suggestions, that are perfectly suited to meet specific needs, like fine motor strength, grasp, pincer grip, and dexterity. Some of these specifics can be found here:

        Today, I wanted to go through some specific toys that develop fine motor skills. AND…as part of the Therapy Tools and Toys Giveaway, you can enter to win these items!

        Therapy Toys for Fine Motor Skills

        These are fine motor toys that you will find in therapy clinics. There is a reason why…because they are fine motor powerhouses! So, if you are looking for toy recommendations that build motor skills, this is it!

        Amazon affiliate links are included below. You can read more about these items by checking out the links.

        Learning Resources Avalanche Fruit Stand– This toy is one of my FAVORITE ways to develop fine motor skills in kids. Kids use tweezers to manipulate fruit pieces and can work on colors, counting, matching, and other learning skills. The fine motor components are impressive! Address skills such as:

        • Pincer and Tripod grasp development
        • Hand strength
        • Arch development
        • Separation of the sides of the hand
        • Wrist stability
        • Wrist extension
        • Eye-hand coordination
        • Motor control
        Build fine motor skills with this Avalanche Fruit Stand game that helps with fine motor skills.

        Pop Tubes– There are so many ways that these fine motor tools build skills in kids. You can read about using Pop Tubes for bilateral coordination skills in this previous blog post, but beyond bilateral coordination, these bendable tubes can be used to help kids develop body awareness through tactile stimulation, fine motor skills auditory feedback, AND fine motor skills such as:

        • Grasp
        • Arch development and hand strength
        • Separation of the sides of the hand
        • Eye-hand coordination
        • Bilateral coordination
        • Proprioception to the hands (use them as a fidget tool)
        Pop Tubes are a fine motor toy that helps kids build hand strength.

        Spike the Fine Motor Hedgehog– Have you seen this cute hedgehog toy? It’s a great way to help kids develop fine motor skills in a fun way. The bright colors are a nice way to work on matching, sorting, math skills, and color recognition, too. The chunky pegs make this fine motor tool a great toy for toddlers, but the hedgehog’s cute factor makes it a great fine motor activity for older children as well. These fine motor skills are addressed with this toy:

        • Eye-hand coordination
        • Pincer grasp
        • Grasp development
        • Hand strength
        • Motor planning
        The fine motor hedgehog toy helps kids with fine motor skills.

        Bucket of Perler Fuse Beads– This bucket of beads is the perfect way to build so many fine motor skills. I love working with perler beads with children because you can target many skills, and it’s a great fine motor activity for older children that may benefit from fine motor work. This bucket of perler beads makes my recommendation list for it’s fine motor benefits:

        • Pincer grasp
        • In-hand manipulation
        • Separation of the sides of the hand
        • Open thumb web-space
        • Dexterity
        • Precision
        • Wrist stability
        • Eye-hand coordination
        Perler beads are a great fine motor toy for kids.

        Jenga Game– This classic game is a fine motor powerhouse that kids love. As a therapist, I love to use this game to build fine motor skills, because it’s such an open-ended activity. You can play the Jenga game, but you can use the blocks in building activities and pretend play activities, too. Consider the fine motor benefits of this game:

        • Precision
        • Dexterity
        • Separation of the sides of the hand
        • Eye-hand coordination
        • Motor planning
        • Motor control
        Use Jenga to help kids develop fine motor skills and coordination

        Coogam Wooden Mosaic Puzzle– This pixel puzzle comes with a wooden board, a puzzle booklet, and 370 small block pieces in 8 different colors. Children can use this fine motor toy to develop so many fine motor and visual motor skills. Use it to copy and build letters and numbers, shapes, and pictures. This toy is great for math concepts, too. This is a powerful toy!

        • Precision
        • Eye-hand coordination
        • Visual motor skills
        • Pincer grasp
        • In-hand manipulation
        • Open thumb web-space
        Use this shapes puzzle to help kids develop fine motor skills, coordination, and motor control.

        3D Building Block Gear Shapes– This building toy is a fine motor goldmine. Kids can construct 3D shapes or they can copy figures and work on visual motor skills. Use this fine motor toy to work on skills such as:

        • Hand strength
        • Arch development
        • Separation of the sides of the hand
        • Bilateral coordination
        • Pinch and grip strength
        • Wrist stability
        Use these gear building toys to help kids develop fine motor skills like hand strength.

        Coogam Wooden Blocks Puzzle Brain Teasers Toy Tangram– This puzzle toy is a fantastic addition to have in your therapy bag, classroom, or home. Kids can complete the fine motor puzzles and use it as a brain break to learning. Plus, there are so many visual motor benefits to this toy:

        • Visual motor integration
        • Eye-hand coordination
        • Precision
        • Wrist stability
        • Wrist extension
        • Separation of the sides of the hand
        • In-hand manipulation
        • Open thumb web-space
        Children can develop precision and dexterity with this tangram activity.

        Mini Squigz– Squigz are such a great fine motor toy for kids. Use them to build on one another or to stick to a wall or protective plexiglass surface. The sticking suction cap toys provide resistive feedback that not only strengthens little hands, but offers a proprioceptive sensory feedback, too. Here are more fine motor benefits to this toy:

        • Hand strength
        • Arch development
        • Separation of the sides of the hand
        • Eye-hand coordination
        • In-hand manipulation
        • Precision and dexterity
        Use squigz to help kids build hand strength.

        Straw Constructor STEM Building Toy– Using STEM toys to support fine motor skills is a powerful strategy. Read more about STEM fine motor activities.

        This fine motor toy is such a fun way to help kids develop and strengthen motor skills. Even better, is that this building toy can become a gross motor toy, too. Containing 300 pieces of plastic straws and connecting pieces, this construction toy helps kids develop so many areas:

        • Bilateral coordination
        • Visual motor skills
        • Eye-hand coordination
        • Pincer grasp
        • Tripod grasp
        • Hand strength
        • Arch development
        • Separation of the sides of the hand
        • In-hand manipulation
        A straw construction toy is great for fine motor skill development.

        Pincer Grasp Toys

        Toys to improve pincer grasp include:

        Hand Strength Toys

        Fine Motor Games

        More Therapy Toys

        Check out the therapy toy ideas listed in the blog posts below. Each article covers a different area of child development.

        1. Fine Motor Toys 
        2. Gross Motor Toys
        3. Pencil Grasp Toys
        4. Toys for Reluctant Writers
        5. Toys for Spatial Awareness
        6. Toys for Visual Tracking
        7. Toys for Sensory Play
        8. Bilateral Coordination Toys
        9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills 
        10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
        11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
        12. Toys for Attention and Focus 

        PRINTABLE LIST OF TOYS FOR Fine Motor Skills

        Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support fine motor skills?

        As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

        Your therapy caseload will love these FINE MOTOR toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

        Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!

        ANNUAL THERAPY TOYS AND TOOLS GIVEAWAY

        This year’s Therapy Toys and Tools Giveaway is BACK!

        This year, it’s better than ever! We’re giving away a therapy tool each day for 12 days. You can enter each giveaway for a chance to win a themed therapy toy! Today’s toy is a fine motor tool.

        It’s here! The 2022 Therapy Toys & Tools Giveaway is here…and it’s better than ever!

        🏆 12 days of giveaways

        🏆 72 prizes

        🏆Automatic entry for Member’s Club members!

        🏆Toys specifically selected to help kids thrive!

        Want to enter?

        1. Go to the form below.
        2. Enter your email address in the form.
        3. That’s it!

        Today’s giveaway is a fine motor goldmine: the therapist-favorite, Fruit Avalanche game! Plus, 5 winners will get fine motor tools from The OT Toolbox Shop. Each day will be a different skill area, and you can enter those giveaways, too.

        This is going to be fun!

        Fine print: There are 6 winners each day. Giveaway ends 12-6 and winners will be selected and notified 12-7-22. Be sure to enter a correct email address into the form: that’s how I’ll contact winners!

        FINE MOTOR TOY GIVEAWAY

        and get a handout: Therapist-Recommended

        FINE MOTOR TOYS HANDOUT

          We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

          Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

          Therapy for Picky Eaters

          food therapy for extremely picky eaters

          In this blog post, we are covering therapy for picky eaters. Occupational therapists and speech therapy practitioners often cover extremely picky eating in therapy sessions, but how do they know where to begin with food therapy? Let’s cover specifically how to help extremely picky eaters, food for picky eaters, and therapy suggestions for extremely picky picky eating disorder.

          Therapy for Picky Eaters

          Fifty years ago, feeding therapy this would not have been a popular topic. Children ate what was provided, like it or not.  Sometimes parents would spare the child and leave the offending objects off of the plate. More often than not, children over the age of four were expected to eat what everyone else was eating.

          Fast forward to 2022. There has been a huge rise in allergies, picky eaters, and problem feeders. How to help extremely picky eaters  has become the forefront of many occupational therapy sessions and referrals.

          There has been a marked rise in food sensitivity (gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance) or allergies to certain foods.  This goes hand in hand with the rise of anxiety, illness, ADHD, autism, and poor immune response. 

          Picky Eater List

          There is a difference between oral motor skills that impact feeding abilities and a child’s picky eating. Foods that make the “picky eater’s list” might include certain food texture issues, food mixtures, food sensory issues like crunchy foods, and even foods that require utensils. 

          A short list of some foods that are not on the plate of extremely picky eaters might include:

          • Sandwiches
          • Rice
          • Chicken breast or other meats
          • Carrots
          • Cheese
          • Sauces
          • Vegetables
          • Fruits

          Obviously this is a short list and any number of foods, food types can be on a picky eater list. Any other number of foods or food combinations

          Looking at this list, you can see the limitations in nutrients, vitamins, proteins, and brain-building foods that are missing from the plate of an extremely picky eater.

          It is not productive to get stuck in the “why is my child a picky eater”, but move forward to “what can I do about picky eating”.  I am not just an experienced feeding therapist, I too had two picky eaters who survived on 3-4 different foods in their second and third year of development.  

          In order to help my daughters, I had to remove my thoughts impacting how I approached tackling that picky eater list for each child. That includes putting aside parenting/worry/anxiety/they’re starving persona, and put on my therapist hat.  I am happy to report they are thriving adults who eat a huge variety of foods!

           NOTE*The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and inclusion. Not all picky eaters are children. This information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

           How to help extremely picky eaters 

          To learn how to help extremely picky eaters, it is important to define it first.  

          Picky eating is different from problem feeding.  Often, but not always, extremely picky eating is actually a problem feeding disorder. This has recently been renamed Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder ARFID.  ARFID is not classified with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, as persons with ARFID or problem feeding do not restrict their intake due to body image.

          The term picky eating includes:

          • Selective eating habits
          • Eats 10-20 different foods (preferred foods)
          • Will often eat more if hungry
          • Not missing entire food groups
          • Can often be bribed or rewarded for good eating
          • Can be distracted into eating
          • Adds new foods to their diet

          Problem feeding (extremely picky eating) refers to:

          • Refusal to eat
          • Rigid eating habits (no food touching, specific brand, same plate, cut a certain way)
          • Eats less than 10 different foods
          • Will starve before they eat unwanted foods
          • Missing entire food groups 
          • Behavioral reactions: gagging, vomiting, crying, anxiety, refusal to sit at the table
          • Increased sensitivity to the taste and/or texture of foods
          • No amount of rewards, bribing, punishing will magically make this go away
          • Does not recognize hunger
          • Food jags, will lose foods once eaten regularly

          What is the difference between picky eating and problem feeding?                

          The picky eater will survive.  They are likely to consume at least one meat, fruit, and vegetable and a bunch of carbs.  

          Continue to put out expected foods on the plate and encourage tasting of new foods.  The problem feeder on the other hand, is not consuming enough calories, or getting the right nutrition.  

          A person surviving on four foods often gets tired of one of them, eating only three foods now.  This is more of a dire situation and the treatment is complicated.

          If you have a problem feeder, seek treatment from a therapist who is certified or has attended classes in feeding therapy.  There is a lot that can go wrong working with problem feeders.

          The Sequential Oral Sensory course, Beckman Oral Motor Therapy, and Mealtime Miseries are popular courses. Having this information can help in identifying whether extremely picky eating is related to sensory or oral motor difficulties.

          Therapy for Extremely Picky Eating

          After viewing the list, if you feel the learner is more of a picky eater, there are several strategies that can help.

          Following a feeding evaluation, feeding therapy can begin. Start a structured feeding problem including the following:

          1. Feeding Therapy Interview

          Interview the caregiver to determine the following:       

          • What foods the learner eats – a specific list will determine texture, variety, color, or patterns. Are all the foods crunchy? Are they all brown?
          • How many foods the learner eats – less than 10 is a problem, 10-15 is picky, and above 20 is average. Count two different cookies as two items, two cereals as two items.
          • Medical history – Is there a history of reflux, G-tube, or NG-tube, swallowing issues?
          • Time frame for eating – A typical meal should last 20-30 minutes for a child.
          • Where the learner eats – Does the learner eat at the table or in front of the television? Do they run around the room catching a bite here and there?
          • Behavioral reactions during meal times – Does the child flee the table? Turn their whole body away from the food, vomit, cry, refuse to open their mouth, gag, spit out food?

          Record information from caregivers and look for clues to feeding issues, other than the exhibited behavior. The person may have a history of reflux that makes eating very uncomfortable.  They may have been verbally abused and shamed during mealtime, making eating an unpleasant experience. Perhaps the child has never had structure or routine during meal time, thus not making eating a priority. 

          2. Planning for Feeding therapy

          Start treatment planning                

          Begin with the provided list of preferred foods to determine what foods to try first.  A Food Inventory Questionnaire can be used for this step.

          If the learner eats: crackers, pancakes, waffles, bread, and dry cereal, they may have a preference for white/brown foods that are dry. Some are crunchy foods and some are soft foods, but all are dry. 

          The next in order would be another dry brown food such as toast, bagel, cookie, or different type of cracker. 

          Once the child tolerates more brown dry foods the next texture in the same color family would be a banana or plain macaroni. 

          For the learner who eats only purees or smooth foods like pudding, yogurt, and baby food, the next step would be to try different flavors of yogurt or pudding. For a learner who only eats smooth foods, it is important not to vary the texture yet. After the child tolerates this texture, then a trial of applesauce may work.

          Adding flavor choices and additional nutrients can be found in sauces or dips. While this can be a source of refusal for some kids, others prefer dips such as ketchup or ranch dressing.

          Take a look at what the individual is gaining from these dips. Both can be high in sodium and that salt intake is preferred. Can you offer other foods to dip into the preferred choices?

          Think about other similar options that may offer a similar sensory input through texture or taste:

          • butter for pasta rather than sauces
          • pizza sauce in place of ketchup

          3. Feeding Therapy Treatment session              

          Ask the learner or their caregiver to provide two favored foods and 2-3 non favored foods. Having preferred foods decreases anxiety as  the child is not presented with a plate of non favored foods.  

          It is important for the learner/caregiver to provide the food.  Possible allergic reactions are diminished, as the caregiver is more aware of the learner’s diet. There may be cultural or dietary foods that the family prefers.

          It doesn’t do any good for the therapist to work for weeks on waffles and applesauce, if the family does not offer these foods.

          Food presentation – Present all foods on the plate in small portions, or a choice of two options with small bites of each. Avoid huge piles of non-preferred food, as it increases anxiety or aversion.

          Divided plates help ease anxiety, as do small portions. It can help to present the food as snacks, using a snack plate or small tea plate.

          Food exploration- Start to encourage eating, or at least food exploration.  Have the learner look at the food, touch the food, touch it to their face, give a kiss, give a lick, take a bite, chew, and swallow.

          There are 27 steps to eating from being in the same room as the food, to chewing and swallowing it.  This makes learning to eat new foods challenging. 

          Offer food options- Allow the child to touch foods or use their fingertips to pick up and eat or taste the foods. In some cases, muscles and coordination are not appropriate for utensil use, limiting options.

          Read about suggestions to improve how to hold a spoon and fork.

          Offer various food temperatures. Consider the sensory input offered by cooked carrots vs. raw carrots. 

          Offer various food cuts. Consider the amount of force needed to bite baby carrots vs. shredded carrots.

          Food Therapy Progression

          Food therapy interventions are about progressing through with small incremental changes to food offerings with observation and food challenges. Some food therapy goal banks are included below.

          Learner is able to:

          1. Be in the same room as the food, then in the same area as the food.
          2. Sit near the food, then in front of the food without turning away.
          3. Look at food, touch the non preferred item, smell the food.
          4. Touch  the food to face, then lips, then give it a kiss.
          5. Lick the food, take a bite and spit it out, chew the food with the option to take it out.

          While presenting and working on the feeding portion, observe for signs of oral motor issues that might indicate oral motor development considerations.

          • Does the learner chew from side to side or munch up and down?
          • Do they have good lip closure?
          • Do they have an intense gag reflex?
          • Can they move the food around effectively?
          • Can they bite into the food?

          4. Carryover of Therapy for Picky Eaters

          The ultimate goal is to carryover skills achieved in therapy sessions into a functional environment. Discuss techniques with caregivers and encourage them to try the same foods later in the day.

          Remind them to be calm and not emotional during feeding time. The goal is to have fun with food and find mealtime enjoyable.

          For more information on how to help extremely picky eaters, I have also published a helpful resource book (Amazon affiliate link) Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes for to understand different environments that may be impacting the eating habits of your child/clients, including the cafeteria, kitchen, restaurants, and more.  

          Feeding and toileting are two of the most frustrating, anxiety producing stages of childhood. Children start to exert their free will at this stage and can no longer be forced to do certain things.

          Encourage parents, educate yourself on this topic, and spread the word, so problem feeding does not continue to rise along with other scary diagnoses. 

          This post is part of a series on feeding disorders/picky eating. Other resources you will find helpful include:

          Victoria Wood

          Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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.

          How to Encourage Growth Mindset Mistakes

          growth mindset mistakes

          When using a growth mindset mistakes can help you grow! Rather than thinking our intelligence is fixed and unchanging, the growth mindset encourages people to see their abilities as things that can improve. Here, we’re covering why it is important to teach students the growth mindset. You’ll also find strategies to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset when mistakes happen.

          Growth mindset mistakes

          Growth Mindset Mistakes

          In life we strive to be perfect. Some of the best inventions have come from mistakes.  For children (and adults), it can be a real challenge when simple mistakes happen. Errors happen all day long: in math problems, in conversation, in the classroom, or in a myriad ways!

          The problem is when these mistakes become a setback in emotional or behavioral self-regulation

          Mistakes are part of the learning process!

          Developing a growth mindset is about what you are going to do, not what you can’t do. Try again, or make the most of what you have already.  

          Learning from mistakes examples:

          Some inventors decided to make the most of what they had created by accident.  They learned something valuable from their mistakes. Check it out!

          • Penicillin – Alexander Fleming was a medic through WWII.  He was used to using antiseptics to treat infections, but was trying to find a safer alternative. He was studying staphylococci in several petri dishes. He stacked them on top of each other and went on vacation. When he returned, he discovered there was a fungus growing on several of the dishes that had destroyed the staphylococci infection. His poor housekeeping skills and growth mindset mistakes lead to the discovery of penicillin!
          • Microwave – Percy Spencer was working on magnetron technology. When he stood too close to the magnetron he noticed his candy bar had melted in his pocket. He tried popcorn, eggs, and other foods next to the magnet and voila! The microwave was invented.
          • Potato Chips – This was the result of trying to please a picky customer.  Cornelius Vanderbilt repeatedly sent back his potatoes to the chef because they were too soggy. After several returned attempts, the chef decided to slice the potatoes really thin and fry them as a joke. The customer loved these fried potatoes, and the potato chip was born.
          • Velcro – George de Mistral was walking his dogs and noticed several burrs sticking to their fur. He marveled at the way these burrs clung to the dogs. After a few trials and mistakes (including chopping bits and pieces off of the material), he created what is now known as velcro.
          • Post it Notes – Dr. Spencer Silver was trying to invent an extremely strong adhesive. What he ended up with was an adhesive that stuck but could easily be unstuck and repositioned. He deemed this mistake a failure, until someone suggested reusable book marks and notepads.  The classic yellow color was born from the only available colored paper at the time!
          • Coca Cola – This popular drink was born from nerve tonic. This was supposed to cure all ailments. Unfortunately it had alcohol in it, and in the age of prohibition it had to be removed. A little sugar was added and the carbonated beverage was advertised as making people healthier. We now know that this beverage definitely does not make one healthier, it does the opposite. However, in moderation, it is a sweet treat with a boost of caffeine.
          • Slinky – Richard James was attempting to invent a spring that would stabilize equipment on Navy ships. He accidentally knocked it off his table and was delighted to see how it slinked down to the floor.  While the Navy rejected his invention, millions of children throughout the world have owned at least one Slinky.
          • Silly Putty – During WWII James Wright was trying to invent a cheap alternative to synthetic rubber.  He accidentally spilled boric acid into silicone oil and created a stretchy bouncy product.  This toy has morphed into Theraputty, a helpful tool for strengthening and stretching muscles.
          • Playdough – This craft staple and children’s favorite building material was designed as a wallpaper cleaner. With the decline in popularity of wallpaper in recent years, the company is thankful they rebranded this as the playdough we know today! And, we all know the benefits of play dough, so this is a wonderful mistake that was made!

          These are just a few of the inventions made while trying to invent something else.  The products were born from people learning from mistakes. There are dozens more including; Crazy glue, popsicles, artificial sweetener, Viagra, Smart Dust, ice cream cones, the pacemaker, and more.  

          Why are these mistakes important? We can help kids see that there is importance of mistakes happening. Otherwise these products would never have been invented!

          What else did these inventors learn from their growth mindset mistakes?

          A growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and understanding can be developed” (Mindset Works, n.d.). Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get smarter, stronger, and more talented through putting in time and effort.

          This way of thinking became popular through the work of Carol Dweck in her book (Amazon affiliate link) Mindset.  She teaches about the “power of yet.” This mindset shifts the focus away from all the things one can not do, to what one can not do YET.

          The power of yet teaches people:

          • they can learn
          • learning takes time and effort
          • results come from hard work
          • giving up isn’t an option 

           This is huge when we think about the kids we serve and the ability to develop and strengthen self-esteem.

          These inventors believed they could learn new skills with enough effort and practice. Giving up was not an option for them. If they had given up on their “mistakes”, and not persevered with their ideas, they would not have invented some amazing products!   

          I don’t believe these inventors “got lucky” or “were in the right place at the right time”. Perhaps they did have a little fortune on their side in their innovation, but most of them had the growth mindset, and will to succeed.  

          If they had not invented what they did, they probably would have gone on to create something else, or reach other an achievement. 

          Mindset is the difference between those who excel and those who give up. The issue is that there can be discomfort in making errors…and then persevering.

          Learning from mistakes and moving forward drives people to succeed. It offers a chance to reframe mistakes into another chance, a new opportunity, or another try. Some people innately have this drive, while others need to develop it. 

          Mindset Tools for Mistakes

          Below are some mindset tools to help us make mistakes with a growth mindset. These are new strategies, but also tools to support mindset.

          As therapy professionals, educators, or parents, we can drive the enthusiasm in persevering or trying again. The obstacles kids struggle with are part of the course, and we can support that development with words of encouragement. The OT Toolbox is featuring several posts involving mindset to help create a treatment plan for yourself, or the learners you work with.

          Use these tools in a growth mindset lesson to support self-awareness skills.

          Develop Brain Skills- Brain activity happens with learning, and making mistakes is part of that learning process. Using persistence to complete a task is not only an executive functioning skill, it’s also an opportunity to develop grit, or resilience. This is an important life skill!

          • Amazon (affiliate link) has a great Growth Workbook for Kids. It is a fun and engaging activity book, for ages 8 to 12, that can help you train your brain and develop creative problem-solving skills through practice and perseverance. You’ll learn how to foster a “can-do” attitude and celebrate your mistakes as a path to ultimate success.
          • Mindsetkit has a great presentation on the critical role of mistakes.  

          Give yourself permission to make mistakes- Switch thinking from an error that means starting over is a bad thing. Mistakes can be permission to achieve a new skill. 

          Sometimes, as humans, we view mistakes as something bad. But when we stretch mistakes into something good, it’s switching the perspective in our brains. We can try a different strategy. We can use new skills that we learned as a result of that mistake. 

          Working with kids is a great opportunity to try again, but an important one that can have a huge impact!

          Learn from mistakes- There is always an AHA-moment mistakes allow. At some point, maybe long after the mistake has happened, that we have a moment of “Aha!” where we learn something about ourselves. We can ask ourselves a few questions as part of this mistake learning:

          • What have you learned from making mistakes?  
          • What did the mistake teach me?
          • What did I do that contributed to this mistake?
          • What can I do differently next time?
          • What tools can I use next time?
          • Was this a “big mistake” or a “small mistake”?
          • What did I learn from this mistake?

          Talk about different kinds of mistakes- Not all mistakes are life threatening, or high-stakes mistakes! We can work with kids to identify different types of mistakes. Ask kids to identify different scenarios on a scale of intensity.

          • small mistakes
          • big mistakes
          • life-threatening situations 
          • learning curve errors
          • sloppy mistakes

          Find courage to try again- I have learned that there is not much that can not be undone or fixed. This gives me the courage to try. Talking about this concept of trying again can be helpful for kids. We can even bring up times in our life that we as therapists have had to try again.

          • Don’t like that paint color in your bedroom you just painted?  Paint over it.
          • Not sure about the tattoo you just had done? Get it removed or “painted over”
          • Not thrilled with the way your hair color/cut came out? It will grow back, or try again with another color.
          • Cookies came out overdone? Chop them up and sprinkle over ice cream, or feed them to the goats.

          Mistakes can be spun as a trial run. Every mistake is good practice for the next time!

          Use self-talk- Kids can use self-talk as a strategy to hush that inner critic that tends to “beat up” our emotional state. Instead of repeatedly thinking “I’m so dumb”, “How could I make this mistake”, or “I’ll never be good enough”, we can teach kids the emotional regulation strategy of self-talk to support their mindset. 

          Positive self-talk is a huge asset to teach to switch the perspective of mistakes as a bad thing to just part of the learning and living process. There is power of the word that  we speak to ourselves!

          A final note on growth mindset mistakes 

          I once took a pottery sculpting class years ago on a whim (actually after a bad breakup).  My coil pot was crooked, bumpy, and leaning to the side.  Instead of becoming discouraged, I took a step back.  It kind of looked like the sorting hat from Harry Potter.  I painted it and proudly display it as a sorting hat replica!  What could have been a mistake and failure, turned into a one of a kind art piece.

          Victoria Wood

          Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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.

          Thanksgiving Parade BINGO

          Grab a copy of our Thanksgiving parade bingo and connect with family, develop fine motor skills all while watching the Thanksgiving day parade! This free printable thanksgiving bingo is perfect for Thanksgiving morning while watching the parade with the family. Add this fine motor tool to your Thanksgiving occupational therapy activities!

          Thanksgiving parade bingo

          Thanksgiving Parade Bingo Cards

          One of my favorite holiday traditions I have with my kids is sitting down to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Watching the parade, floats, musical acts as they kick off the holiday season is such a calming and fun time for us as a family. One way that we enjoy the time together as a family is by playing Parade BINGO.

          Many moons ago, I came up with this game and made a quick little BINGO board. My kids would fill in the squares with things they thought they would see in the parade, and we would mark the spaces with candy corn as we saw items on our BINGO cards.

          This has been such a fun tradition for us that I’ve shared out makeshift BINGO cards on Instagram each year. This year, I decided to make a quick printout so you can play along too, with literally no-prep.

          Free printable parade BINGO card

          Thanksgiving Parade BINGO Game

          You know how to play BINGO, but did you know that by playing the simple game, kids are working on a variety of skill areas? Things like visual perception, discrimination, form constancy, visual memory, visual scanning, figure-ground are just some of the visual processing skills that are addressed with a game of BINGO.

          Then there’s the auditory processing skills, executive functioning skills, fine motor skills, and even handwriting. Problem solving, self-awareness, and so many more skills are impacted with this simple game.

          Thanksgiving Parade Bingo and Handwriting

          The Thanksgiving parade BINGO game works the same way you would play any other BINGO game. Fill in the spaces, watch the parade, and when you see an item on your card, place a small marker on that space.

          You could also have kids color in the space to work on hand strength and line awareness, or you could mark an “X” on the spaces. The options are limitless.

          Ask kids to write out the names of items they may see in the parade:

          • Marching bands
          • Singers
          • Dancers
          • Turkeys
          • Floats
          • Parade balloons (Check out the full list of floats and balloons on the parade website.)
          • Frosty the snowman
          • Santa Claus

          You can play this game too. Print out the BINGO game card below and make a handful of copies. Play as a family, or let each family member have their own card.

          Send the handouts home with clients or students as “homework”. Families will get the chance to connect and build memories all while working on the skills kids need.

          UPDATED! This parade bingo game has been updated with candy corn bingo markers. Use the bingo markers to up the fine motor skill development level:

          • Color the candy corn markers
          • Cut out the bingo markers on the lines or around the curves of the candy corns.
          • Place the bingo markers on the bingo board
          • Or, use real candy corn (or crumbled paper, play dough, beads, or other markers) for fine motor precision skills.

          Have fun with your game of Thanksgiving Parade BINGO. Enjoy!

          Get a free Parade BINGO game

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            Pair the Thanksgiving Parade BINGO game with more tools to support development with our Thanksgiving Fine Motor Kit!

            Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

            Emotions Playdough Mats

            emotions playdough mats

            One fun therapy tool to address social emotional learning in children are emotions playdough mats. Kids can use the printable play dough mats as tools to develop emotional awareness. understanding feelings, naming feelings, and practicing facial expressions. All of this occurs along with the many benefits of play dough! Let’s get some emotions play dough activities into your hands!

            Emotions playdough mats

            Emotions Playdough Mats

            Facial expressions convey feelings and emotions. This is an important social and emotional skill for preschoolers. It’s through play and practice that young children explore different emotions. Using play as a tool to support that development makes sense!

            Arlin Cuncic from Very Well Mind states, “If you only listen to what a person says and ignore what their face is telling you, then you really won’t get the whole story. Often, words do not match emotions, and the face betrays what a person is actually feeling”.  You can read more about Understanding Emotions through Facial Expressions.  

            Early research stated we have seven universal facial expressions, however research from 2020 states we have closer to sixteen.  Some expressions may last a long time, making them easier to read, however there are also micro expressions that are fleeting. A micro expression may be covering up a lie or concealing another emotion. The introduction of global mask wearing made reading facial expressions that much more difficult. 

            Many people have difficulty reading emotions or understanding them. Today’s freebie, the Emotions Playdough Mats is a great tool to teach and talk about feelings, facial expressions, and emotions. 

            Emotions play dough mats

            Use Playdough mats to learn feelings

            Some emotions such as anger, crying, and happiness are fairly easy to read, but what about the more difficult facial expressions such as disgust, disappointment, boredom, disinterest, or doubt?  

            Younger learners often say they are bored, when really they might be overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, tired, scared, or a host of other emotions. Using tools like the emotions playdough mats is a non threatening activity to help learners understand these complicated feelings. 

            One way to support this development is by using a PDF play dough mat with a feelings theme. Toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, and older children can use this strategy to practice different facial expressions while creating faces made from playdough.

            People learn by doing, not just listening or watching someone else do it. The Emotions Play Dough Mats explore through play. 

            Play based therapy is at the heart of occupational therapy. The great thing about this activity is that it works on multiple skills whether in the classroom or therapy clinic.

            • Playdoh is a great sensory medium – it addresses tactile, visual, olfactory, and proprioceptive input for little hands.
            • The dough can be purchased or made at home. I found this cute website for sensory dough in dozens of different styles.  If you prefer to make your own, you can find different playdough recipes here
            • Playdough is also great for strengthening the tiny hand muscles. Make your dough soft or stiff, or substitute with therapy putty for a more intense workout
            • Working with playdough is a great fine motor activity. Folding, pinching, pulling apart, flattening, molding, cutting, and rolling are great fine motor skill builders

            How to Use Feelings Playdough mats

            What are some other skills you can think of that can be incorporated into working on the emotions playdough mats while creating play dough faces?

            1. Print off the PDF files.
            2. Laminate them or you can slide the page into a page protector sleeve. 
            3. Use play dough to create faces on the playdough mats based on the prompts.

            Use the printable pdf file over and over again to support social emotional learning with children!

            There are more ways to use these resources to address fine motor, sensory motor, visual motor, and of course social emotional skills: 

            • Use play dough to create facial features. Children can explore and identify nuances of facial features that are paired with emotions. These features might include furrowed eyebrows, frown lines around the cheeks, small eyes, etc. By using the playdough face mats, kids can create these features.
            • How about social function?  Following directions, turn taking, task completion, orienting to details, neatness, multi-tasking, attending to task, and impulse control can be addressed using the playdough emotions mat
            • What about bilateral coordination?  Using two hands together to create the playdough pieces, or one hand to hold the paper while the other hand works the playdough to create facial expressions, facial features, and emotions in the dough.
            • Can you think of visual perceptual skills addressed with this activity?  Parts to whole, copying from a model, creating a representation from a picture, visual memory and recall are just a few.
            • Explore social skills- These emotion playdough mats are perfect addition to social skills interventions. Ask the child why a person may feel the way the facial expression is depicting. How can they support or help a person who feels that way? Have they ever felt that emotion or feeling? What did they do about it when they did feel that emotion? This feelings activity can go in so many different directions using a bit of follow-up questions and conversation while creating with the emotions playdough mats. Include a social skills checklist and you’ve got a strategy to support social emotional development in therapy sessions.
            • Focus on fine motor strength by creating a small face from the play dough. Can you use a toothpick or a pencil point to poke a smile or frown into a ball of play dough? This can be another fun hands strengthening activity of its own!

            How can you modify these playdough emotions mats? There are so many ways to extend this social emotional learning activity!

            • Definitely think about laminating these to make them easier to use, more eco friendly, and less messy
            • Cut out facial expressions from magazines to glue to the blank faces. Now you have added cutting and pasting to your task!
            • Have your learners draw facial expressions instead of using playdough. Voila! A visual motor task has been born
            • Create a smart board activity so learners can draw on the board, drag pieces, or work together
            • Take pictures of their artwork and create a collage to keep
            • Make this part of a larger lesson plan by adding gross motor, social, sensory, and other fine motor games
            • Pre-cut pieces of facial expression for beginning learners to identify and glue
            • Advanced learners can talk about the emotions, research them, write stories or situations about each face, and role play
            • Use fine motor add-ons to improve dexterity and eye-hand coordination. Think: craft pom poms, sequins, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, etc. Use the materials to add to the various emotions on the free playdough mats.
            • Emotions Monster I Spy page is a great resource to add to your lesson plan
            • The Emotions Frog Slide Deck is another great tool
            • Incorporate these social emotional learning worksheets for more fine motor work while exploring feelings with kids.
            • The OT Toolbox also has a spring themed slide deck to add to your “toolbox”

            While there are definitely people who can’t read facial expressions or body language, there are others who are too attuned to these. The Highly Sensitive Person is often hypersensitive to the emotions and facial expressions of others. They feel and notice much more than typical people. The HSP might be shy or cautious because they feel and see too much.

            They may avoid eye contact because of the amount of information transmitted through the face. If you are highly sensitive you might find daily occurrences to be “too much”.  

            Too loud, bright, busy, chaotic, messy, overwhelming, smelly, sticky, and on and on.  The irony of wearing masks, is that they have been great for those who are highly sensitive to facial expressions. 

            Whether your learners are highly sensitive, just learning about emotions, or having difficulty reading non verbal communication, the emotions playdough mat is a creative way to add fun into your treatment plan while working on important skill acquisition.

            Free printable emotions playdough mats

            Would you like a free printable playdough mats of your own to work on SEL with kids? Get a PDF version of these playdough mats to print off and use with your therapy caseload or in your classroom (or home)!

            Enter your email address into the form below to access this printable resource. Or The OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can access this inside the membership on our social emotional toolbox. 

            FREE Emotions Playdough Mats

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              Working on addressing feelings, emotions, acceptance, and empathy in kids? Use the hands-on activities selected to support these concepts in skills using popular children’s books as a theme. Grab Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance and Empathy today!

              Victoria Wood

              Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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.