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

    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.

      Snipping Paper

      snipping paper

      For young children, snipping paper with scissors is a challenge! Today we are covering this first stage of using scissors so you can teach preschoolers, kindergarteners, and older kids how to snip paper, even if they have never touched a pair of scissors before.

      Using scissors is a part of every classroom and many times we see kids come into the school environment having never used scissors. But did you know that according to the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales, snipping paper with scissors should be mastered around 25-26 months?  (Read about other fine motor milestones.)

      Interestingly, when researching articles for this blog, I discovered a plethora of different information.  Occupational Therapists and their blogs indicate cutting around two years of age.  “Mama” blogs are all over the place from age 3-8 to start giving kids scissors. 

      When should kids begin to snip paper? We’ll get into that below. But first, let’s define what it means to “snip paper”.

      Snipping paper

      What is snipping paper?

      Snipping paper is the first stage of cutting with scissors and refers to the single open and shut motion of cutting into a page. When children learn to cut with scissors, they will open the scissors away from the paper and cut into the paper. There is no forward progression of the scissors across the page. 

      You’ll see in this resource on scissor skills activities how this progression occurs.

      When young children first snip paper with a pair of scissors, they may snip into the paper along the length of the paper. 

      Snipping paper is an important stage of learning motor control and bilateral coordination skills used to cut more complex shapes. It’s a fine motor activity all kids must learn at one point.

      Snipping is seen when paper strips are cut into squares or the edge of a piece of paper is snipped into a fringe. 

      To progress beyond snipping, the scissor user needs to progress to more refined fine motor skills, including graded scissor use so they can open and close the scissors while using a forward motion across the page. Additionally, there is a graded “hold” on the scissors as the hand closes but does not completely close the scissor blades. This concept is covered in our resource on difficulty cutting with scissors.

      Whether snipping or progressing from this stage, practice is the essential piece of the puzzle. Let’s go over a few cutting tricks to support this development.

      When Snipping Paper isn’t introduced at home

      The issue with this is that children arrive at kindergarten and are handed a pair of scissors. IF the educator has time in their busy curriculum to teach their students how to use scissors, they have many skills to cover:

      • How to properly hold the scissors with a safe and efficient grip
      • How to grasp the paper with the assisting hand
      • How to hold  the paper while moving the scissors around the shape
      • How to open the scissors to snip paper without pushing through the page
      • How to then grade the opening and shutting of the scissors to stop at a stopping point
      • How to turn the page while managing proper upper body positioning
      • How to cut along lines of various shapes,
      • and all of this WHILE using safe use of the scissors

      To complete this list in the busy classroom, WITH a group of 30 new scissor users…there MIGHT be enough time left in the school year to finish out the remainder of the school year to use those snipping skills to actually cut out crafts, spelling worksheets, and multi-step activities. 

      Therein is the problem that we typically see: the children without exposure to scissor use at home have trouble with the visual and motor aspect of using scissors once they get to the classroom setting.

      Over the years when assessing young children, at least two thirds fail this task due to “lack of exposure” or never handling scissors.  The reasons I am given are often a nervous parent/caregiver/teacher/grandparent. 

      This can be expected given the fact that you are about to hand a sharp object to a toddler, however, if a child never experiences a task, they will never master it.

      I am in no way advocating giving a two year old unsupervised access to large scissors.  Or a three year old for that matter. What I AM advocating or suggesting, is working with toddlers 20-24 months on beginning scissor skills including snipping paper. 

      When are kids ready for Snipping Paper

      To give you an idea of the timeline for scissor skills: 

      • 25-26 months snipping with scissors
      • 37-38 months cutting paper in half (not on any line)
      • 41-42 months cutting a five inch line within half inch of a straight line
      • 49-50 months cutting a circle within ¼ inch of the curved lines (first of the simple shapes)
      • 53-54 months cutting a square within ¼ inch of the lines, including around the corners (the second of the simple shapes)

      After this a child would move toward more complex shapes, smaller shapes, thinner lines, with increased accuracy.

      As you can see, there is a span of 11-12 months between snipping with scissors and cutting across a piece of paper in a straight line.  This is a considerable amount of time to practice and work on fine motor development including scissor skills.

      If you, or the caregiver are timid about offering scissors for cutting practice, there are several different scissor options from blunt playdough scissors, to scissors that only cut paper, to tiny toddler scissors that can be used before handing over “real” scissors.  

      Supervision when snipping paper

      As with any activity, supervision is the key. As a seasoned occupational therapist, I myself have developed ninja reflexes when working with young children.  I can thwart danger in a microsecond. This is the type of supervision to develop with a two year old.  

      Another note on supervision.  Once showing this child how to use scissors, be sure to put ALL scissors out of reach of your curious toddler. 

      I can not tell you the number of times I have had an irate caregiver call me upset that I taught their toddler to cut with scissors, only to find they snipped the dog, their own hair, all the books, the couch, and whatever was not nailed down.  

      As with everything else hazardous, if you do not trust your child to follow instructions, remove them out of harm’s way.

      How to Teach Kids scissor Snipping

      On to the fun stuff! Here are some tips to teach kids how to use scissors in snipping paper. This is the first step of cutting with scissors and often time the most challenging aspect for parents.

      1. Start with exploration of scissors. Let the child try and figure out what these do first.  Do they touch the paper with them?  Open and close their pair? Hold them with two hands? 
      2. Grasp the scissors. Move on to teaching the child how to correctly hold their pair of scissors with an appropriate grip. Start with this resource on how to hold scissors. The OT Toolbox has several great resources for scissor skills and selecting types of scissors:

      Correct scissor positioning will include grasping the handles in a specific way. The thumb in the small hole and the third, fourth, and maybe fifth fingers in the larger loop.  Pointer finger stays out of the scissors.  It is there to “lead the way”.

      The supporting hand will hold the paper or whatever object the child is cutting with their thumb upward.  Remember “thumbs up”,  for helper hand.  It will take a lot of practice for your youngest learners to master this position, so start early.

      3. Practice with scissors. Practice building the intrinsic hand muscles to prepare for cutting skills by using tongs, picking up tiny objects, working on dressing and fasteners, playing with putty and dough, fine motor exploration, or doing puzzles. Try this cutting with scissors program.

      Just kidding, that wasn’t all that much fun.  That was the Pre-Fun. The following snipping activities can be used by pediatric occupational therapists to work on functional task of cutting with scissors.

      cutting activities for preschoolers

      Snipping paper is often a huge accomplishment in the preschool years. Work on scissor skills development with these snipping activities.

      These activities can be an extra challenge that supports development of bilateral coordination and eye-hand coordination, leading to skill development. 

      Beginner snipping activities

      This stage involves practice when cutting different objects

      • Snipping items into thousands of tiny pieces seems far more motivating than cutting snips into a single piece of paper
      • Play Dough (or other homemade dough) is a good start with blunt scissors.  The dough is easier to grab than a flimsy piece of paper.  
      • Make a play dough snake, sausages or worms of dough and encourage snipping through it.
      • Use these toys to support scissor skills
      • Cut junk mail
      • Set out a tray of index cards. Cut a fringe around the edge of the cards
      • Work on placement and positioning of the elbows.
      • Place stickers on the edge of a piece of paper. Snip beside the stickers but not over them.
      • Tear paper into pieces to work on hand strength and wrist stability needed to snip with scissors.
      • Use a marker to create lines along a paper strip. Cut along the marker lines to create small pieces of paper
      • Straws provide another option for beginning snipping as they are easy to hold
      • Snipping note cards into shreds is handy
      • Snipping through strips of cardstock to create confetti, very motivating and fun
      • This (Amazon affiliate link) PlayDough BarberShop toy is excellent motivator for anyone working on scissor skills 
      • Cutting real food such as french fries, pizza, soft pretzels, pancakes makes the activity more relevant for a young learner

      Second stage snipping

      This stage of snipping with scissors will involve lighter weight paper and objects for cutting. These are more flimsy but sometimes easier to cut for a learner with weak hands

      • Snipping through magazines (here is where you have to be careful of curious toddlers who will cut through all of your favorite magazines and books). Supervise, supervise.
      • Snipping construction paper or regular weight color paper
      • Opening packages by snipping with scissors
      • Creating crafts and collages by gluing little pieces of objects onto paper. Drippy glue is a great way to add a sensory experience to this activity
      • Snip stiff ribbon
      • Snip yarn
      • Cut paper towel rolls at the edge. Add a bit of fun by drawing a face on the paper towel roll and cut down the length to make hair
      • Snipping worksheets are available online everywhere, including the Scissor Skills Home program which covers all stages of scissor use.
      • Try cutting green strips of paper to make grass fringe or a hula skirt
      • Cutting coupons is functional and good practice
      • The Scissor Skills Printable Pack offers printable tools for snipping skills and beyond

      A note about Scissors: 

      There are many types of scissors that can be used with different needs and using a different type may support development of snipping skills depending on the skill and need being targeted.

      • Small toddler scissors are just right for tiny hands. 
      • Self opening or loop scissors are another way to make cutting easier for those learning to cut, or lacking the intrinsic hand muscles to open and close scissors.  
      • Did you know left handed people cut in a clockwise direction while their right handed friends cut counter-clockwise?  This allows the helper hand to support the paper adequately while cutting.
      • See this article on developing scissor skills grasp.

      For more cut, paste and color activities, check out this Animal Alphabet workbook!

      Keep watching the OT Toolbox for upcoming cutting PDF and creative worksheets, cut and paste pages, and themed lesson plans.

      Remember to supervise your young learners with scissors.  I don’t want any calls about who now has a new haircut or owes the library $534.00 because of chopped up books!

      The Scissor Skills Book breaks the functional skill of cutting with scissors into several developmental areas including: developmental progression of scissor use, fine motor skill involvement, gross motor development, sensory considerations and -visual perceptual skills

      Each section of The Scissor Skills Book includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas:

      • Help for kids who struggle with cutting accurately
      • Creative tips to keep things interesting for kids who lose interest easily
      • Quick, practical strategies that can be put into action today!
      • Ideas for kids who cut too fast or too slow
      • Support for kids who can’t grasp scissors efficiently
      • Strategies for right-handed and left-handed children
      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.

      Crayons for Toddlers

      crayons for toddlers

      One question therapists get all the time is about the best crayons for toddlers and specifically which crayons are best to support development. During the toddler years (preschool stage as well), there is a lot of motor and cognitive development happening, making it a great stage to introduce crayons. Let’s talk about the best types of crayons for the toddler years and beyond!

      crayons for toddlers
      Crayons for toddlers

      Crayons for Toddlers

      There are many benefits to coloring with crayons and for many toddlers, it is natural to want to color, making it a win-win in building sensory motor skills.

      There is a plethora of  information floating around the web about correct crayons and writing utensils for young people. There are a lot of choices, some great, others not so good.

      When thinking about crayons for toddlers, there is more to it than simply placing a crayon in the palm! Some things to consider include:

      • Coloring with a crayon both develops and requires a grip on the crayon. Forcing coloring too early can promote an immature grasp on the crayon when used in small hands.
      • Coloring offers resistive feedback through the hands by marking the paper. This is a great strengthening activity, but for babies and young toddlers, this can strengthen and add feedback to immature grasps.
      • Likewise, coloring at the toddler stage can be developmentally great when offering the “just right” strengthening and sensory motor feedback needed to move through grasp patterns.

      If you’re thinking about shopping around for the best crayons for toddlers, you’re already in the right frame of mind, because coloring is a tool for creativity that kids need at such a young age.

      Coloring with toddlers is all about the unique shape of the crayons out there on the market that are designed to fit small hands: Think rock crayons, egg crayons, and even something called honeysticks.  

      Do these options surprise you? 

      Then consider the other options out there to worry about:

      • Jumbo crayons vs. Triangular crayons
      • Thick crayons vs. regular sized crayons
      • 96 pack of crayons vs. 8 crayon pack
      • Brands like Crayola crayons vs. Melissa & Doug crayons
      • Washable crayons vs. paraffin wax crayons
      • Pure beeswax crayons vs. crayons with vibrant colors 
      • Non-toxic crayons vs. natural ingredients crayons
      • Large crayons vs. choking hazard sixed crayons
      • Food-grade pigments vs. non-toxic natural wax

      With all of these considerations, how do you choose crayons that make THE very best crayons for toddlers??

      crayons for kids
      Crayons for kids based on development

      Best Crayons for Toddlers

      Before deciding which crayons are best for toddlers, understanding the “why and when” is most important. To do so, we need to run through the developmental stages leading up to toddlers coloring with crayons. This is important because you may see some of the earlier considerations in place when a child is not developmentally ready to color. In those situations, is a good idea to back up and build on skills from a developmental standpoint.

      Birth to one year: This article from Parents magazine highlights the hand development of babies from birth to one year.  In the article it does not mention crayons at all.  

      Why? Because babies’ hands are not ready for crayons of any kind. Crayons for babies exist out there on the market…but it’s just not developmentally appropriate. The hands of babies do not have the muscle control for handling objects like crayons until about 11 months. 

      To prepare toddlers to use crayons to support development, the preparation is a must. Spend the time before the toddler years working on overall fine motor development through picking up objects, self feeding, exploring the environment, cause and effect toys, and dumping objects out of containers. This resource on baby play has a lot of great ideas.

      If crayons are introduced too early, maladaptive grasping patterns will develop.  

      From 12-18 months, the toddler stage, little ones begin to refine their hand development. You’ll see in our resource on fine motor milestones, that there is a lot happening during the toddler years. 

      Around 12 months, children may find it challenging to manipulate small objects with dexterity. At this stage, they are picking up small objects like food pieces with their thumb and pointer finger in a pincer grasp. However, it is difficult for children this age to use dexterity in the fingers of the hand or by isolating fingers or hand separation.

      In six months time, by around 18 months of age, manipulating objects such as toys, utensils, and household objects becomes more coordinated.

      Is it time for crayons yet?  Yes and no. 

      Making marks on paper, and starting to make strokes, but not with pencils or traditional crayons quite yet. 

      Remember, those hand muscles are still very primitive at this point, thus the tools need to be also. Think about how large the knobs on toddler puzzles are, or how chunky beginner spoons are. Writing tools need to be designed the same for little hands.  

      Here are some fine motor and coordination activities to support use of crayons for toddlers:

      Amazon affiliate links are included below.

      • Writing and creating lines with fingers in shaving cream or pudding
      • Finger painting
      • Egg shaped chalk (Amazon affiliate link) like these Egg shaped pieces of chalk fit the whole hand without forcing the fingers to grasp the writing tool
      • Egg shaped crayons like these also offer resistance when coloring or marking using the whole hand to grasp rather than force a grasp using the fingers which are not ready for that stage yet.
      • Make your own crayons by melting crayons into muffin trays.
      • While there are several iPad apps for writing using finger pointing, research shows children under age 2 should have no exposure to electronics.  Stick with the basics.

      Some coordination activities for 12-18 months can be used to promote eye-hand coordination, proprioceptive input, shoulder stability, and motor coordination. These activities include:

      Children ages 2-3: At this stage of toddlerhood, hand development is starting to become more defined. 

      This is the stage when the young child begins to develop more muscle control needed for precision and dexterity of motor skills in the hand.

      You’ll begin to notice finger isolation, hand separation, and arch development. You’ll also see more refined movements with the thumb in finger opposition. This is where precision in fine motor skills is seen.

      This is also a stage of visual motor growth. Children will begin to integrate the visual input with motor output needed to copy a straight line. A word of caution: at this stage, don’t be concerned with tracing letters or shapes, or copying shapes. Focus is on the simplest of lines: horizontal, vertical lines, circles, and a cross. Read here about pre-writing lines development.

      Is it time for regular crayons yet? 

      Again, yes and no.

      Those tiny hands, while that can certainly hold a regular or chunky crayon, are not ready to do so correctly. The grasp starts out as a gross grasp, then to a pronated grasp, finally ending with a tripod grasp around age 4.

      Children often get stuck in one of these primitive grasping patterns when given crayons too early. A gross grasp is an appropriate stage of hand development, as is a pronated grasp, however the grasping pattern is supposed to continue to develop to a mature tripod grasp over time.

      It often fails when tiny weak hands are holding onto small pencils, crayons, or pens. 

      Coloring can happen, but it’s at the child’s interest, and shouldn’t be forced.

       Here are some crayons for toddlers and preschoolers using this information:

      • Continue to use the large egg shaped crayons and chalk, as well as finger paints
      • These unusual looking rocket type crayons have a large bulb for palmer grasping that support development but also don’t force young children into holding utensils with an underdeveloped grasp.
      • I also love these crayon rocks for toddlers and preschoolers:
      • Dot markers, while fun and entertaining, also promote the gross and pronated grasps appropriate for this age.
      • Bath finger paints are a great alternative to using crayons.

      Ages 4-5 the preschool age.  Is it time for crayons yet?  Yes!  However, not all children are ready for traditional crayons. 

      One-two inch crayons are the best for children through elementary school.  It is almost physically impossible to get a fist around a one inch crayon. This promotes a tripod grasping pattern.

      During each stage described in this blog post, but especially during the 4-5 age range, don’t feel rushed to put a pencil in the hands of a preschooler. It is common for preschool teachers to think tracing lines, doing simple “prewriting” mazes, tracing their name, and even letter writing activities (including sensory writing trays) is appropriate. Developmentally, it is not. More important at this stage and each stage before, is the PLAY. Play builds the motor, cognitive, sensory, and emotional skills needed for pre-writing.

      If you have children do not like the idea of broken crayons, there are ready-made flip crayons.

      What about the chunky crayons? 

      You have probably seen the jumbo sized crayons out there. They are commonly offered to the kindergarten age range. You may have even seen these large, chunky sized option in a triangular shape. 

      However, when it comes to oversized crayons, one size does not fit all. This goes for crayons too. The problem with handing out boxes of large, over-sized crayons to the entire kindergarten class is that, the children that are receiving these boxes of crayons have small fingers, hands, and wrists. 

      In fact, some hands are much too small for chunky crayons, thus leading to more of a gross grasping pattern, or all fingers around the crayon. 

      Other children are able to use a tripod grasp but need a larger size to form this grasp properly. 

      The one benefit to using triangular crayons is that in the classroom setting, they don’t roll across the desk or table and fall on the floor. This is a huge benefit to using the triangular shape because at the kindergarten and first grade age, managing materials as well as body awareness can be a challenge for some kids.

      What about traditional crayons? 

      These can be used if your child has an appropriate grasping pattern such as a tripod, or alternate tripod with two fingers on top.

      The thumb wrap grasp, underwrap, and too many fingers on the writing tool are signs your child is not ready for traditional crayons yet.

      Understanding the why and when behind hand development and tool use, is critical to selecting the correct tools for each stage of development.

      Important note about the ages and stages listed above: Do not rely strictly on the ages above, as children will develop at different ages. These are ballpark ranges for hand development. 

      While it is going to be impossible to convince “the powers that be” to slow down preschool and kindergarten curriculum, being armed with tools and resources will help children be ready to face this onslaught of demands. 

      The OT Toolbox is a great resource for articles, worksheets, printables, crafts, and thousands of ideas and products to work on development.

      *The term, “child” is used throughout this post for readability, however this information is relevant for students, patients, clients, children of all ages, etc. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

      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.

      The Ultimate Guide to Occupational Therapy Toys

      occupational therapy toys

      Wondering about occupational therapy toys to give as gifts? There are so many therapist-recommended toys that support development of skills!

      Pediatric OT professionals use toys in occupational therapy interventions and are often asked about their recommendations for the best occupational therapy toys. Many times, parents are looking for holiday or birthday ideas or they want to pass on some gift ideas to grandparents that will help the child rather than collect dust.

      Today, I’ve got the ultimate list of therapeutic toy ideas, broken down into OT gift guides by skill area. So, if you’ve got a child who needs to develop specific skill areas, this enormous list of occupational therapy toys will serve you well!

      occupational therapy toys

      Occupational Therapy Toys

      So, you may be wondering…how are toys used in occupational therapy? Well, that is a good question! Occupational therapy professionals work to help people become more independent in functional tasks. 

      We use the real life objects like toys, clothing, utensils…as occupational therapy tools to support and promote development. 

      The thing is that OT toys support development in kids of all ages! From the baby stage through preschool, to kindergarten and school age, to teenagers, to adults, therapy toys support development at all stages!

      OTs work with all ages to help address the very skills that occupy a person’s time. In kids, that occupation is likely play. It’s through play that therapists build skills. Occupational therapists and Certified occupational therapy assistants use toys and games for many reasons. 

      Why do Occupational Therapists use toys in occupational therapy?

      In occupational therapy sessions, you’ll see therapists using toys and games to develop areas of child development such as: 

      • Motor planning
      • Coordination
      • Balance
      • Positioning
      • Fine motor skills
      • Gross motor skills
      • Sensory needs and tolerance
      • Handwriting
      • Hand-Eye Coordination
      • Hand strength and dexterity
      • Cognitive skills
      • Problem solving
      • Strength and endurance
      • Executive functioning skills
      • Imaginative play and play development skills
      • Social emotional skills
      • Social skills
      • Bilateral coordination
      • Visual motor integration
      • Functional task development
      • Tummy time tolerance
      • Emotional needs
      • Self-regulation
      • Movement tolerance
      • SO much more!

      In OT, toys are used to develop new skills and to help children move through skill levels as they develop and refine the areas listed above. Toys are a fun way to get little hands and little bodies building, growing, and developing!

      Through play and with toys, children become more confident in their abilities. They are able to practice skill development in a low-pressure scenario that is fun, engaging, and motivating. When children play in therapy sessions, they are using novel games, puzzles, toys, and activities that help them to practice through play.

      Toys can boost a child’s creativity and cognitive skills as they problem solve in games and toy use. They can strategize, and practice interactions with others with therapeutic toys.

      Toys that are selected for therapy sessions can include a strong sensory components. Or, they can involve movement, motor skill development, bright colors, small items. Whether a therapist is using classic toys or novel therapeutic games and fun activities, the games therapists play are selected to meet the specific needs of the child or therapy participant.

      Toys are some of the best equipment that occupational therapists use! 

      Occupational therapy toys and therapeutic toys that help kids develop functional skills.

      Therapeutic Toy Ideas

      I’ve designed this list of occupational therapy toys to be a resource for the pediatric occupational therapist looking for occupational therapy supplies, or fresh ideas for therapy equipment for the OT clinic. I’ve also created this OT gift guide as suggestions for therapy professionals to pass onto parents and caregivers looking for developmental toys to gift to children with needs.

      The way this therapy toys gift guide works is by skill area. You’ll find links for toys specific to each skill area linked below. 

      Over the years here on The OT Toolbox, we’ve created A LOT of therapy gift guides. 

      All of these therapeutic toy ideas are broken down to describe each area of development and then to list out toy ideas that support that skill area. You’ll find links to each toy and a brief description on how that specific toy or game helps children to develop skills. Almost all of these toy ideas are available on Amazon, so you can easily fill your therapy room or toy room with therapeutic toys that build skills.

      So, if you are looking for occupational therapy recommendations for best toys…look no further!

      Occupational therapy toys gift guide 

      Ready for the BEST occupational therapy toys? Select the area of child development which you are hoping to promote and then head to the link to read all about that area as well as to find links to purchase each toy.

      Below, we are covering the best developmental toys, broken down by skill area. Scroll to the area of development that best suits the needs of the children you work with in OT, PT, ST, or any realm of child development. These are therapy toy suggestions that can be handed out to parents looking for gift ideas that support development.

      Some of the toy lists below include a printable handout that can be given to parents of children receiving therapy services. Many times, parents are looking for toy ideas for holiday gifts or birthday gifts. Therapy toys help to promote development and skill-building. 

      We’ve put together a printable handout for several toy lists, so you can print out the lists and hand them out to the parent of each child, based on that individual child’s specific needs. We wanted to make these lists as easy for you as possible so you don’t need to re-create the wheel when it comes to recommending toys as a therapy provider. 

      Plus, each printable toy list has space for you to write in additional toy recommendations, so if a child really enjoys playing with a specific brand or toy in therapy sessions, you can write that toy idea right on the page.

      We’ve included a link to each blog post which has a printable therapy toy handout. The toy lists that don’t have a handout associated with them are linked further down in this blog post.

      The OT toy lists include: 

      1. Fine Motor Toys
      2. Gross Motor Toys
      3. Toys for Pencil Grasp
      4. Toys for Reluctant Writers
      5. Toys for Spatial Awareness
      6. Toys for Visual Tracking
      7. Toys for Visual Scanning
      8. Toys for Sensory Play
      9. Toys for Tactile Challenges
      10. Bilateral Coordination Toys
      11. Games for Executive Functioning
      12. Visual Perception Toys
      13. Wrist Stability and Wrist Extension Toys
      14. Visual Perception Toys
      15. Toys for Math Skills
      16. Scissor Skills Toys
      17. Toys for Attention and Focusing Skills
      18. Dressing Skills Toys
      19. Toys for Coloring Skills
      20. Magnet Toys
      21. Keychain Fidget Toys
      22. Fidget Toys.

      Fine motor therapy toys

      These fine motor toys and tools are designed to develop fine motor skill development, refined motor use of the hands, hand strength, eye hand coordination, and all of the motor skills using fine motor activities through play.

      Fine motor therapy toys support hand strength, precision, hand-eye coordination, and motor planning in the hands. These skills allow us to hold and use a pencil, use scissors, use utensils, complete clothing fasteners like buttons and zippers, type on a computer, and so much more!

      Some of the toy ideas you’ll find described in this resource include:

      • Play dough
      • Beads
      • Peg boards
      • Pop beads
      • Chalk
      • Slime
      • Geoboards
      • Tweezer games
      • Board games
      • Construction toys
      • Paper tearing crafts
      • Puzzles
      • MUCH MORE

      CLICK HERE to find all of the Fine Motor Toy Recommendations.

      Gross Motor therapy Toys

      Therapists use Gross motor toys to work on coordination, motor planning, balance, position changes, sensory input though heavy work, and more. All of these areas are needed to kick, hop, jump, stoop, crawl, and play!

      These therapy toy ideas support motor planning and body awareness (or the awareness of their bodies), promote self-regulation, offer heavy proprioceptive input, and movement-based vestibular input.

      Whole body toys like the ones suggested below help kids to establish awareness of their body but also strengthen their core for better posture, develop upper extremity strength and lower body strength for better stability in every day tasks. These gross motor toys build stronger bodies with body tone for greater strength and stability.

      Some general suggestions for occupational therapy and physical therapy toys include:

      • Tunnels
      • Obstacle course materials
      • Jump ropes
      • Balance beams
      • Scooter board
      • Balance rocks
      • Midline play toys
      • Balls
      • Bouncing toys
      • Infant and baby blankets and playmats
      • Stilt walkers on rope
      • MUCH MORE

      CLICK HERE to find all of the Gross Motor Toys and why each supports gross motor development in children through teens.

      Occupational Therapy Toys to Develop Hand strength

      The hand strengthening toys and dexterity toys described in this list of pencil grasp toys support developmental needs to hold and write with a pencil.

      The toys we’ve curated below are creative and motivating ways to work on pencil grasp, endurance in fine motor activities, and other fine motor tasks with creative and fun products.

      Occupational therapists love to make therapy sessions fun and engaging, while working on the very tasks that are hard to do! That’s why working on an area like pencil grasp can be accomplished through play and not just when using a pencil.

      Try these OT toys to support pencil grasp development:

      • Beads
      • Scrape art 
      • Play dough
      • Clay
      • Torn paper art
      • Tweezer toys & games
      • Fusion beads
      • Kerplunk
      • Lacing card activities
      • Crumble art kits
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE to read all about the Hand strengthening activities and how each toy recommendations supports specific skills needed for pencil grasp development.

      Occupational Therapy Games for Pencil Grasp

      Some kids are gamers but still need to develop the fine motor skills needed for a functional grasp. These games for pencil grasp ideas are great for younger kids through teens who are working on hand strength, dexterity, endurance, motor control to write with a pencil.

      Be sure to check out the gross motor ideas, fine motor toys, and hand strengthening toys listed above because those toy ideas will support pencil grasp, too!

      Some game ideas recommended by OTs include:

      • Battleship
      • Checkers (pegboard version)
      • Tweezer games
      • Lightbright (use in tic/tac/toe!)
      • Wind-up toy races
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE FOR Games for Pencil Grasp and games to fill your game closet but also develop the skills kids need to write. 

      Occupational therapy Toys for kids that hate to write

      Speaking of writing, sometimes kids HATE to write. That’s where these toys for reluctant writers come in.

      These ideas are great for the home, the classroom, or the clinic…anywhere you are working on writing skills but want to make the task meaningful and engaging…not a chore! These toys make writing FUN…and some don’t even seem like work at all.

      Here are toys for kids that hate to write:

      • Motivating writing toys
      • Journals with a lock
      • Diary with fun markers or silly pens
      • Fun pens
      • Scented markers
      • Messy writing toys
      • Easel toys
      • Toys on a vertical surface
      • Letter/note writing kits

      CLICK HERE to find our recommended toys for reluctant writers…Let’s make handwriting fun and not a hated activity. 

      Occupational therapy Toys for spatial awareness

      These toys for developing spatial awareness are designed to promote visual spatial skills needed for handwriting, eye-hand coordination, and moving the body in a given space.

      Sometimes children need to work on spatial awareness on a large or small scale. Kids will love these interactive activities for developing spatial awareness skills. That’s where these fun toys come into play:

      • Building toys
      • Puzzle toys
      • Geoboard activities
      • Directional arrows
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE to find the full list of spatial awareness toys.   

      Therpy Toys for visual tracking

      Visual tracking is a visual processing skill and these toys help with visual tracking skills needed for copying written work, reading, and body coordination games like tag, catching a ball, riding a bike, and more.

      Try adding these visual tracking toys to your therapy toolbox to support reading fluency and comprehension, too. Support kids visual processing needs through fun and engaging activities. 

      • Marble mazes
      • Labyrinth Games and toys
      • I Spy books
      • Tangram toys
      • Puzzles
      • Slow-motion balls
      • Catching and tossing games
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for all of the Visual Tracking Toys and Games.

      OT Toys for visual scanning

      Visual scanning is another visual processing ability that is needed for functional tasks and learning.

      These toys to support visual scanning skills help kids to scan for needed information in a learning task, finding information in written text, scanning for items in a backpack or drawer, and searching the visual field for information.

      All of these needs relate to visual motor integration that is needed for function, learning, and participation in daily occupations.

      Try adding these toys to your therapy toolbox to work on these abilities:

      • Hidden pictures activities
      • BINGO games
      • Spot it games
      • I Spy books
      • Bead maze toys
      • Where’s Waldo books
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for the full list of visual scanning toys and why these activities support functional tasks.

      Occupational therapy sensory Toys

      Sensory products and sensory toys are a valuable tool to address sensory needs, add to a play-based sensory diet, use for sensory seekers or sensory avoiders in the classroom or home.

      These sensory toys support sensory processing disorder, or can be used for self-regulation or coping strategies, too. 

      Sensory activities in therapy involves play, and you can use these sensory-based toys to support needs in the home, too.

      • Messy play toys
      • Texture painting supplies (finger paints, etc.)
      • Sensory bin and sensory bin supplies
      • Water play toys
      • Slime and play dough
      • Crafting materials
      • Heavy work movement toys
      • Sensory equipment
      • Balance beams
      • Bouncing toys
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for sensory toys recommended by occupational therapists and the WHY behind sensory equipment for the home. 

      Occupational therapy Toys for tactile challenges

      Occupational therapists love to use tactile sensory toys to challenge the sensory system of touch. In this way we can help to calm the sensory system that is hyper-responsive with toys that offer calming, heavy work through the tactile sense.

      Or, we can alert the sensory system using tactile input that is alerting and “wakes up” the body through the sense of touch.

      These relate to functional tasks so that children can interact with others and participate in daily occupations. Check out these tactile toys: 

      • Kinetic sand
      • Bean bags
      • Sand art
      • Messy art materials
      • Glue
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE to read about our tactile sensory toy recommendations.

      Therapy toys for Bilateral coordination

      Sometimes forgotten, but oh, so important is the bilateral coordination skills needed for integrating both sides of the hands in functional tasks.

      Whether it be toys for midline play, trunk mobility activities, or toys and game that use both sides of the body in gross motor fine motor activities, these favorite toys support bilateral coordination skills.

      Check out these bilateral coordination activities and toys:

      • Foozeball games
      • Zoom ball
      • Target activities
      • Instrument toys
      • Bow and arrow toys
      • Sewing or lacing activities
      • Rock em Sock em Robots
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE to read all of our bilateral coordination toy recommendations.

      Occupational therapy Games for Executive Functioning Skills

      We’ve got TWO resources here on the website on games to support attention, memory, organization, impulse control, planning, prioritization, etc.

      Check out this resource on games for executive functioning and this second resource with MORE games to improve executive function.

      Some of our favorite executive functioning therapy games include:

      • Checkers
      • Self-control games
      • Distraction
      • Consequences
      • Memory
      • Ticket to Ride
      • Labyrinth
      • Code Names
      • and MORE

      CLICK HERE for one list of EF games and HERE for more executive functioning games.

      OT Toys for wrist extension & stability

      Wrist extension and stability is an important fine motor skill needed for functional tasks like clothing fasteners, tying shoes, typing, writing, coloring, manipulating small objects, fastening a seat belt, and so much more.

      These toys to improve wrist extension and stability will help with these motor skills.

      Check out these toy ideas:

      • Kerplunk
      • Floor games (also great for tummy time activities for babies and toddlers)
      • Use these crayons for toddlers to support strength and coordination
      • Big artwork activities
      • Twister
      • Stamps
      • Darts
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for more wrist stability and extension games that kids will love.

      OCcupational Therapy Toys for visual perception

      Working on visual perception and visual motor integration through play allows children to develop the skills they need for learning, reading, and function with every day toys.

      The ability to integrate spatial awareness into functional tasks is part of the visual processing system, and the visual motor skills are needed for doing everyday activities. 

      These toys for visual perceptual skills are fun ways to do just that! Grab some of these toys:

      • Mazes
      • Building toys
      • Stickers
      • Puzzle toys
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for more visual perceptual skills toys to support child developments.

      Toys for math skills

      Kids that struggle with math can benefit from math toys while building skills and concepts through play.

      These math toys also have motor skills benefits, allowing kids to incorporate eye hand coordination and input with multisensory learning.

      Math skills are a functional part of everyday life. You need math to set a clock so you can wake up at a certain time. You need math for cooking. You need math for shopping and money management. In these ways (and so many more!) math is a functional part of everyday life.

      Meaning that while occupational therapy doesn’t specifically teach math skills, OTs DO work on strategies to support areas of need when it comes to money, time management, writing checks, finances, shopping, and other IADLS.

      Doing these tasks is what allows humans to function in the works around them. These math toys can be a great help for teens and older individuals that struggle in these areas.

      These are great additions to the classroom or home to support math learning:

      • Card games
      • Adding games
      • Building anc construction toys
      • Monopoly
      • Tangram toys
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for the full list of multisensory math toys and games.

      Occupational therapy Toys for scissor skills

      Children that struggle with scissor skills can get tired of working on cutting with scissors day after day.

      That’s where these toys for developing scissor skills comes into play. Use the games and activities to work on scissor control and use in fun and engaging activities that are low-stress because they are meaningful!

      • Craft materials
      • Tong activities
      • Fine motor games
      • Hand strengthening toys
      • Jacks
      • Toys that encourage separation of the sides of the hand

      CLICK HERE for our list of toys for scissor skills.

      OT Toys for Attention and focus

      We love to use toys to support the development of attention skills and focusing. Distraction can happen in the moment while completing any task throughout the day, so toys to promote working memory, focus, and attention are pivotal.

      Occupational therapy toys for attention include:

      • Timer games
      • Distraction games
      • Memory games
      • Timed crafts

      CLICK HERE for our list of toys for attention and focus.

      Occupational Therapy Toys for dressing and self-care

      OTs work on daily functional tasks and self-care, including getting oneself dressed each day is part of that independence level. Occupational therapists use toys to support functional tasks like self-dressing as a fun way to build skills kids need. Try these toys for dressing skills:

      • Buttoning toys
      • Zippering toys
      • Clothing fastener dolls
      • Manipulation boards and puzzles
      • Hand strengtheinng activities

      CLICK HERE for more fun toys to support dressing skills.

      Occupational Therapy Toys for coloring

      Children that have weak fine motor skills complain of fatigue and pain during coloring tasks. That’s why these toys to support coloring skills work on these very areas.

      Kids that HATE to color will love to play with these engaging toys and games, all while building hand strength, eye-hand coordination, and motor planning skills through play. Try some of these coloring toys:

      • Scented markers
      • Messy art activities
      • Large coloring pages
      • Easel
      • Watercolors activities
      • Meaningful and motivating coloring books
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for our list of toys to promote coloring skills and the WHY behind these toy selections.

      Magnet Toys

      Kids love these awesome magnet toys but don’t realize the fine motor work and hand strengthening they are developing through play. Kids are challenged with weaker fine motor skills more than ever before.

      These magnet toys promote fine motor strength and coordination through fun and engaging magnet play:

      • Magnet blocks
      • Magnet science activities
      • Magnet building toys
      • Magnet puzzles
      • Magnetic letters and numbers
      • Fridge activities
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for more magnet toys that build skills.

      Keychain Fidget Toys

       These keychain fidget toys are the perfect stocking stuffers. Use these mini fidget toys for all the benefits of fidget tools for attention, focus, and play, on a small scale.

      You can attach these keychain fidgets to backpacks, beltloops, shoes, or jackets. Use them as coping tools on the school bus, in the classroom, during circle time, or when learning in the classroom.

      • Keychain pea pod
      • keychain pop it
      • Keychain bead toy
      • keychain buckle loops
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for more keychain fidget toys that kids can use in any environment.

      Fidget Toys

      Fidget toys seem to be the new “it toy”, especially the Pop Its that are everywhere. But did you know that occupational therapists have been using fidget toys for years to address stress, anxiety, focus, attention, sensory processing needs, fine motor skills, and more?

      These fidget toys are tools to support the many needs of kids so they can function in the classroom or home.

      • Pop Its
      • Stress balls
      • Stretch band toys
      • Click toys
      • FIdget spinners
      • Pencil topper fidgets
      • Finger traps
      • Wikki Sstix
      • MORE

      CLICK HERE for all of our fidget toy recommendations.

      Printable Lists: Occupational therapy TOys

      So? Did you find some new toys to add to your therapy collection? These toys are sure to be a hit this holiday season or birthday…and kids won’t even know they are building skills!

      Do you want free Occupational therapy toy recommendations in hand out form? Head to these links to get your copies. Each blog post has a form at the bottom where you can enter your email address.

      You’ll need to go to each blog post for the toy ideas and to get that toy area’s handout.

      The OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can access these printable pages all in one place. Simply log into your membership account and head to Educational Handouts to grab each handout without entering your email address for each page.

      Click this link to make a copy of your own. Use it to share with parents, grandparents, aunts, and anyone asking about developmentally appropriate birthday gift ideas or holiday gift ideas for the kids you serve!

      1. Fine Motor Toys
      2. Gross Motor Toys
      3. Toys for Pencil Grasp
      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
      10. Visual Perception Toys
      11. Scissor Skills Toys
      12. Toys for Attention and Focusing Skills

      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

      Drawing Mind Maps

      drawing mind maps

      You’ve probably heard of mind maps as a tool for planning, prioritization, task completion, and other executive functioning skills, but have you heard of drawing mind maps? Drawing a mind map is such a fun way to put goals down onto paper and actually accomplishing them. All of this can be done through drawing, doodling, and sketching a drawing mind map!

      Drawing mind map

      Drawing Mind Maps

      A drawing mind map is a visual diagram used to visually organize information into a picture outline format. By drawing representation of ideas, projects, tasks, drawing mind map users can see the whole picture and individual steps to achieve a main goal.

      Much like mind maps in general, a drawing mind map is typically created for a single goal, project, assignment, or even business.

      A drawing mind map is a picture of ideas, doodles to clarify, and visual representation of steps to offer support and structure around a single concept. When drawing, doodling, and writing out steps to a large project, we can see the overarching idea or concept in the center of the page, with connecting steps drawn out from that center idea.

      You may have used a mindmap in the past by writing out lists, mapping out details, and putting thoughts down on paper.

      A mind map is an awesome visual tool that can help kids (and therapists) in many ways:

      • identify and clarify ideas
      • pinpoint a starting point- Using task initiation skills
      • define short term and long term goals
      • identify steps of a project or task
      • visualize completion (SO important for mindset)
      • Get started on a big project or task
      • Drawing out goal to completion
      • Identifying steps of a task
      • Using foresight to predict problems or potential issues
      • Brainstorming activities
      • Prioritization tool– identify steps and put them into order
      • Goal setting
      • Using “self talk” through drawing
      • Planning a story
      • Graphic organizer
      • Organize thoughts and ideas
      • Writing a paragraph

      The real reason beyond these is when people start out with a project, they are not SMART about it.  People are very smart, just not about the way they start projects or set goals. A drawing a mind map can help with incorporating smart goals into actually creating a plan to accomplish goals.

      Drawing Mind Maps for Students

      Our students create projects similar to the way we set goals. When our learners start a project, it can often feel overwhelming, unclear, and discouraging. 

      Without proper strategies, learners tend to stare at a blank page, write in circles, give up, or forget half of what is supposed to go into the plan. 

      Graphic organizers, or project planners, are an excellent way to draw a mind map, start a project, prioritize work, and brainstorm activities.

      For flexible learning styles, there are three types of project plans highlighted here. 

      Some learners will benefit from a large open space to write words, draw pictures, and sketch notes, while others will need more defined space such as the web of circles or note card designs.

      Whichever design works for the learners current level, is the starting point. Moving to a more sophisticated design will happen as learners become more advanced.

      How to use a Drawing Mind Map

      First, you can definitely use this drawing mind map as a visual project planner. But what other ways can you use this tool to support development and target skills like executive functioning skills?

      I used a drawing mind map to write my book when I was working on it. It seemed overwhelming, and without a clear goal I might not have met my personal timeline. 

      I was able to write my project planner into a list with bullet points, however if I were to use this project planner, I would have put the title in the center or larger area, and add the chapters in all of the web spaces or smaller areas.

      To use a drawing mind map with kids, you can simply:

      1. Print out the mind map printable below (or head to The OT Toolbox Member’s Club to grab your copy)
      2. Ask the student to think of one goal, one project, or one thing they would like to accomplish.
      3. Ask the student to use a pencil, crayon, markers, or pens to complete the drawing prompts and writing prompts on the mindmap.
      4. Write or draw a goal or concept in the center of the page.
      5. Then add doodles, drawings, representations, words, phrases, etc. to indicate various steps or parts of the larger project or goal in branches from the center image.

      The nice thing about drawing as a planning tool is that you can add steps in a braindump fashion. There’s no need to think out the project in sequential order. Simply get the main idea down on the center of the page and then add the steps from there.

      Break out the project into different tasks that need to be done.

      One tip for those that need to really focus on the brain dump strategy is to just get it all down on paper and then go back and add numbers to order the tasks in a sequence that makes sense.

      You can use this tool to support executive functioning skills, AND address other areas in therapy sessions, including the ones listed below.

      After a drawing mind map is done, you can use other tools to help with the task competition, or actually achieving each step of the process:

      These items are available for free on our site or also available inside The OT Toolbox Member’s Club under executive functioning tools.

      Develop Skills with Drawing Mind Maps  

      This activity moves beyond creating a vision, a goal, or a project.  It meets many objectives such as:

      • Handwriting – letter formation, sizing, spacing, line placement, directionality, spelling
      • Fine motor – grasping pattern, wrist stability, intrinsic hand muscle development
      • Bilateral coordination – hand dominance, using “helper hand”, crossing midline
      • Proprioception – pressure on paper, grip on pencil
      • Strength – shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, core, head control
      • Visual perception – scanning, figure ground, line placement, crossing midline, visual closure, seeing parts to whole
      • Executive function – following directions, attention, focus, sequencing, organization, planning, and task completion
      • Social function – working together in a group, problem solving, sharing materials and space, turn taking, frustration tolerance, task avoidance, talking about the activity,

      Use Drawing Mind Maps for different skill levels

      How do I grade this activity?

      When I use the word “grade,” I mean make it easier or harder, not give it a letter grade or score it.

      • Laminate the page for using markers and wipes. This can be useful for reusability and saving resources
      • Different colored paper may make it more or less challenging for your learner
      • Enlarging the font may be necessary to beginning handwriting students who need bigger space to write.
      • Make lines in the boxes to create better boundaries for handwriting. Learners tend to fill whatever size space they are given, often lacking the necessary space to fit all of the words in one box.
      • Project this page onto a smart board for students to come to the board and write in big letters or collaborate.
      • Lower level learners can dictate their words to their helper to get the ideas onto the paper
      • Beginning learners can draw figures instead of writing thoughts
      • More or less prompting may be needed to grade the activity to make it easier or harder.

      The OT Toolbox has a great graphic organizer tool called The Project Plan, to assist learners map out those daunting projects so they can have success instead of failing or becoming discouraged!

      Teach your learners to become more organized and less frustrated by using planners to set goals or start projects.

      Free mind map exercises worksheets

      Want to get started with using a drawing braindump with kids? We have new mind map exercises worksheets to get you started! Simply enter your email address into the form below.

      OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can access this printable mindmap exercises worksheets inside the club on our Executive Function toolbox. Be sure to log in and then head to the main dashboard. Then click on the EF toolbox to get your copy.

      Free Drawing Mindmap Exercises Worksheets

        We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

        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

        Tips for Legible Handwriting

        legible handwriting

        When it comes to legible handwriting, there are a few tips that occupational therapy practitioners suggest. Handwriting is a complex task that incorporates motor skills, sensory processing, executive functioning skills as well as the creative writing aspect when it comes to thinking about what is being written.

        We’ve explored handwriting analysis in the past, including specific areas too look at when observing handwriting. In this blog post, we’ll cover skills needed for legible handwriting. 

        Legible handwriting tips and resources

        What is Legible Handwriting?

        Legible handwriting means written work that is overall able to be read and understood by the writer as well as others. Legible written work can be achieved in both print and cursive writing formats, as well as at each stage of writing:

        • Learning letter formation of upper case letters
        • Learning formation of lower case letters
        • Writing on lines (primary paper)
        • Writing on smaller lined paper (small ruled paper)
        • Learning formation of cursive lower case letters
        • Learning formation of cursive upper case letters

        Bad habits can start at each one of these stages.

        Legible handwriting is something most teachers hope for when it comes to a classroom of students!

        Putting it all down on paper can be where you see one or more of these contributing factors fail. 

        Handwriting legibility occurs when one is able to read their own handwriting. Think about the student that writes down a list of homework assignments in the classroom. They may be writing quickly as the bell is about to ring. When they get home at the end of the day, are they able to read the page numbers and words describing the assignment? This is where legible writing is important. 

        • Things to consider in this situation may include: increased writing speed, an unknown amount of time remaining to complete the written work, and a small writing space in the homework tracker, given for the written material

        Legible handwriting also refers to others being able to read the written material. Think about the student that writes letters, sentences, and paragraphs on a homework assignment. When the student offers the assignment to their teacher, they may not be able to read the written work. Then the student misses points or gets answers marked wrong because of the illegible materials. This can especially be the case on math assignments or spelling tests where letter formation and number formation is essential for legibility.

        • Considerations in this situation may include: The student rushing to complete materials, Poor letter formation, words or letters written in a small given area on worksheets or homework papers.

        Handwriting readability can also be related to habits. We all get into a habit when it comes to forming letters, and we all have quirks when it comes to how we hold the pencil, letter formation, and writing styles. The important thing to consider here is: is the written work functional.

        As a side note, you’ve probably seen a physician referral that has very bad and almost illegible handwriting. In these cases, the script is almost a scribble. Why is this a stereotype? One reason may be the continued practice of writing very quickly during medical school and residency studies. You can see how practice results in an established writing form! Similarly, the medical professionals that need to read that chicken scratch handwriting have a lot of practice in reading those sloppy scripts in order to process the medical advice!

        Functional and Legible Handwriting

        Functional handwriting refers to handwriting that is efficient. Can the student write in the given amount of time? And in that given amount of time, is the written material able to be read by the writer and by others?

        We’ve covered a great deal on the aspect of a functional pencil grasp. A functional handwriting style is similar!

        Kids often write so quickly that the handwriting impairs legibility. They may get into a bad habit of forming letters incorrectly, using poor use of the lines, letter size, or spatial awareness. 

        Fluency also has a huge impact on functional written work. When we say fluency, we refer to the typical speed of written work. For younger kids, fluent handwriting is longer because the child needs to think about the motor plan for each letter. They are still working on the fine motor skills needed for pencil grasp as well as other areas of development that impact written work.

        In older children, handwriting fluency increases as students gain motor skills, motor planning, and letter formation becomes more natural.

        Then you’ll see similar examples of handwriting fluency as the student learns cursive. At first, the child needs to think about the motor plan for a letter and letter connectors, especially after they’ve learned the printed version of the letter’s formation. Then, with practice, cursive fluency increases.

        By second grade, printed formation is established in most handwriting curriculum, but there is still room for increased legibility, especially with practice and effort.

        By third grade, most students are learning cursive letters and you’ll see fluency for handwriting decline if cursive is being used. 

        Fine Motor Skills and Legible Writing

        Fine motor skills play a HUGE role in a child’s ability to participate in writing activities. From grasp patterns, to which hand they use, to endurance and in-hand manipulation skills—there’s a lot to make sure you are checking off during your observations and evaluations. 

        To make sure you don’t miss anything, check out the tips below! They can make a huge difference when it comes to handwriting help.

        Skill #1: Hand dominance—When looking at hand dominance, you want to look and see if they are consistent with the use of one hand, or if they are trying to switch hands.

        If you observe challenges with consistency, this may indicate poor muscle strength and endurance. 

        In a previous blog post, we discussed how switching hands impacts neatness in written work.

        Skill #2: Grasp pattern—what does this look like while the child is writing? Is it a dynamic tripod? Static tripod? Or some form of primitive grasp pattern like a fingertip pattern or a gross grasp? 

        Take a look a the placement of the fingers on the pencil:

        • Where is the middle finger on the pencil?
        • Where is the index finger on the pencil?
        • Where is the thumb on the pencil?

        Each of these considerations can make an impact, but are not essential when it comes to a functional grasp on the pencil or neat handwriting. And, importantly, pencil grasp development plays a huge role.

        Make sure that you watch throughout the evaluation to see if they have any regression to a primitive pattern or switch how they hold the writing utensil frequently. 

        If you notice grasp pattern regressions, fidgeting or switching of grasp positions frequently, it’s a sign of fatigue related to poor muscle endurance and strength.

        It may also be an indicator that there is poor separation of the two sides of the hand, under development of the arches of the hand, and finger to thumb opposition, and even potentially poor web space development. 

        If pencil grasp impacts handwriting, work on pencil grasp through play.

        Bonus Tip! Watch for consistency of skills. If you notice that a skill is consistent, even if it’s an immature pattern, you can determine what is due to poor muscle strength and fatigue (inconsistent patterns) versus an established pattern or compensatory pattern (consistent patterns) that’s going to be difficult to change. This is called carryover of skills in handwriting.

        Consistency in motor skills can impact legible and neat written work because when the hand becomes fatigued, you may see legibility decline. 

        • Also take a look at how diagonal lines, vertical lines, horizontal lines, and shapes are formed
        • Assess written work in a variety of environments and when required to write at different paces or speeds.

        Skill #3: Joint Integrity—This is super important because a child that has a grasp pattern that is too tight or too loose can have compromised joints. 

        A grasp pattern that is too tight puts undue stress on the joints, ligaments and muscles which will lead to poor endurance, and hand cramps. And even potentially repetitive stress injuries. 

        On the opposite end, a grasp pattern that is too loose or where the child has hyper extended joints, they will experience similar pain and concerns. They are more likely to have joint pain due to the bone on bone of hyper extension patterns. 

        Both patterns are inefficient and will need to be addressed to help the child be successful with handwriting 

        Skill #4: Wrist and Hand Mobility—in this category, we want to look at how the wrist and hand move both as a unit, but also separately.

        Ideally, the hand and wrist should move independently of one another when writing with the wrist being stable and the hand moving. Read here about wrist extension and stability.

        If you see that the child is moving their hand and wrist as a unit with stabilization coming through the forearm, that is an inefficient movement pattern that you will want to work on addressing.

        This pattern is inefficient because it requires more energy from large muscle groups instead of utilizing them for stability. 

        Skill #5: Finger Mobility—similar to wrist and hand mobility, you will also want to assess finger movements and joint isolation. 

        Mature patterns will allow for the thumb, index and ring fingers to move in synchronized flexion/extension patterns to great dynamic movements. If you don’t see this, or notice that the child uses their whole hand to form letters, this is another inefficient pattern that you’ll want to address in your treatment. One way to support this skill is through finger isolation activities.

        If you’re not sure that this is an issue, have the child walk their fingers up and down a pencil to evaluate their in-hand manipulation skill focusing on shift. 

        Whether you are assessing an 8th grader or a preschooler these skills apply across the continuum to promoting independent and successful handwriting experiences. Working from this list of skills you can develop these skills further and take the stress out of handwriting!

        Letter Size and Spacing for Legible Written Work

        What Inconsistent Letter Size and Poor Spacing Means for Writing

        A key component to legible writing are three important components:

        Letter formation can vary, much like the functional aspect of a pencil grasp, letter formation can take a functional form as well.

        However, without proper letter size and space, valuable thoughts and ideas are lost, along with the student experiencing frustration and potential feelings of failure. 

        When a student demonstrates consistent challenges with scattered letter sizing, and overlapping letters or words it may cause a teacher to refer the student to OT for a writing evaluation to take a closer look at where the child is struggling. 

        As OTs, we are the experts in writing and decoding what these challenges mean for a child’s overall foundational writing skills. 

        Observing the letter size and spacing during a writing evaluation provides valuable information regarding how the child’s fine motor, visual motor and coordination are functioning. 

        Inconsistent Letter Size 

        Inconsistent letter size can come in a variety of patterns. Letters may be all over the place on the line with short letters being the same size as tall letters, letters varying in size within a given word or with collections of letters with similar strokes being the same size. An example of this would be all letters that start with a “C” are all the same size. 

        You may also see letters getting progressively smaller throughout the writing sample, which is known as micrographia. Or you may see the size get larger as the sentence goes on. 

        Regardless of the pattern you see, inconsistent letter size is an indication of:

        • Poor fine motor control 
        • An immature tripod grasp 
        • Fatigue or pain 
        • Limited joint movement for dynamic patterns 
        • Potential visual spatial deficits 
        • Poor fine motor coordination 

        Along with inconsistent letter sizing, poor spacing or overlapping letters/words is also common. 

        Overlapping Letters 

        If a student is struggling with letter size, it is likely that they will have challenges with overlapping letters or words. This is because many of the same skills are needed for spacing letters and words that are used when producing consistent letter sizes. 

        Overlapping letters and words may also be an indication of: 

        • Poor fine motor control 
        • Poor visual motor control 
        • Visual spatial deficits
        • Tracking deficits 

        If you observe consistent letter size, and only challenges with spacing, this is an indication of poor visual spatial skills being the primary deficit affecting the students writing performance. It is also likely that they have more difficulty when completing copying tasks. 

        Use Writing Samples to assess handwriting legibility

        When collecting your writing sample, make sure that you ask the student to complete words and sentences. This will help you to further determine what skills will need to be addressed during therapy. 

        Make sure that you are actively watching how the child writes. This will also provide more clues to the pre-writing and foundational skill challenges that they may be experiencing. 

        Letter sizing and spacing is just one of the many components needed for legibility.

        Development of these skills will significantly increase a child’s overall confidence and ability to participate in written activities, and you may even see development in other areas such as reading and hand eye coordination with your treatment! 

        Looking for more writing skill break down and a handy way to collect your observations? Check out the Handwriting Observation Kit!

        Tips for legible handwriting

        Tips for legible handwriting

        Working on the instruction for establishing a functional and efficient motor plan for letters, letter connections, and line use is important.

        So how do we support legible writing skills?

        Beyond addressing the physical motor skills as covered above, there are a few strategies that can support the development of legible handwriting. Use these resources to help.

        Practice formation in sensory activities:

        • Use sensory writing trays
        • Practice good writing habits by forming letters in sand
        • Write letters in shaving cream
        • Take a look at pencil grip
        • Try a slant board
        • Use modified or adapted paper styles
        • Focus on letter size (size awareness)
        • Highlight writing lines (line awareness)
        • Focus on spacing between letters and words (spatial awareness)
        • Use the digital download tools in our Member’s Club to practice proper letter formation
        • Look at upright posture when writing: how the hips are seated in the chair, chair height, desk height, posture, positioning of the knees, and placement of the feet and ankles
        • Use play dough for fine motor skill work, to improve hand strength, and dexterity
        • Practice letter groups- Group similar letters together and practice the letters that are in the same group based on the lines used to form that letter. Use cursive letter groups and printed letter groups based on writing lines.
        • Teach letters in specific orders: There is a printed letter order and a cursive letter order.
        • Use our Fine Motor Kits as tools to develop all of the underlying skills needed for written work; Each kit includes modified writing lines, handwriting opportunities, fine motor activities, visual motor opportunities, and fun and meaningful ways to support practice in each of these areas. 

        When a student’s learning and educational participation is impacted as a result of handwriting legibility issues, be sure to consult a pediatric occupational therapist to assess the potential for other underlying considerations. These may include:

        • Visual motor issues
        • Visual perception considerations
        • Sensory processing considerations
        • Fine motor delay
        • ​Developmental delay
        • Other considerations

        Legible handwriting can impact learning, lead to better grades, and result in overall improved confidence at school. Use the suggestions to establish good habits that carryover. Hopefully this resource had a few suggestions that impact your writer’s legibility!

        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

        Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits: