Fidget Kits for Travel and On-the- Go Sensory

fidget kits

Do you know a kiddo that LOVES all things fidget toys? This Fidget Kit is a DIY Travel Sensory Kit that is perfect for on-the-go sensory needs for kids with Sensory Processing Disorders children or those who are Autistic and prefer sensory fidget items. Let’s cover fidget kits, just one occupational therapy kit that meets specific needs.

Read on for tips to help with sensory issues while out and about, how to use and set up a fidget kit, and why fidget kits are a great sensory tool for self-regulation, a sensory diet (based on meaningful and motivating sensory strategies (aka a sensory lifestyle), or sensory needs. 

Sensory fidget kits

What are Fidget Kits

A fidget kit is essentially a collection of fidgets that can be used to meet sensory needs and can be used as a movement break to incorporate specific sensory motor actions into daily functional tasks. Fidget kits may contain squeeze toys, fidget items, pop toys, putty, slap bracelets, Rubix cubes, stress balls, and many other fidget items. These sensory items can be housed in a box, bin, tote bag, shoe box, or any small carrying case. Fidget kits can be used by occupational therapy professionals with a whole caseload of clients, or a fidget kit can be individualized based on one person’s specific sensory preferences.

Fidget toys support self-regulation and sensory needs so that kids can pay attention, focus, learn, and interact with others. Some fidgets offer heavy work through the hands. Others offer movement for the hands or body.

A fidget kit can be used in many different ways:

  1. A fidget kit can be used in a sensory corner of a classroom as a calm down area.
  2. Or, a collection of sensory fidgets can be used by one individual for meeting various needs.
  3. Other times, a fidget kit is used as a choice, where use of a sensory tool is selected from a bin or bag of sensory fidget items. In this case, a visual schedule may be incorporated into the fidget toolbox.

We’ve shared various collections of fidget toy recommendations here on the website in previous years.

These types of fidget toys are all excellent additions to a fidget kit:

Occupational Therapy Fidget Kits

Occupational therapy practitioners know the benefit of carrying a collection of intervention tools in their therapy bag. They create a collection of materials designed to meet various needs on their caseloads. OTs make handwriting kits, scissor skills kits, auditory kits, functional skills kits, and even themed OT kits, or seasonal kits. Each therapy kit contains materials and activities designed to make therapy sessions fun and innovative. A fidget kit is no different!

Why use fidget kits?

Have you ever been out shopping the day before Christmas Eve when the entire city is packing everything from pineapples to pickles in their carts?  And while you wear your itchy winter coat and drippy boots, the carts bump into aisles, people are talking everywhere, and buzzes, dings, and noise are everywhere.  

It is utterly unorganized chaos.   Now imagine you have difficulty ignoring those beeps and buzzes.  That itchy wool coat is SO there.  The people talk and talk and you hear them all.  The utterly unorganized chaos makes you feel so out of sorts that you can’t help but breakdown, throwing yourself on the floor, and trying to make it all go away.  

Children who live with a Sensory Processing Disorder experience situations like this every day.  It doesn’t have to be a busy holiday for the environment to be too much for their body to organize.  It is everyday life for SPD kiddos.  They over or under process environmental stimulation at the bus stop, in the library, in a restaurant, or while waiting with Mom at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The disruption of typical processing can occur at minor or severe levels, but is always a struggle.     

Use of a specialized sensory diet can help with over or under sensory responses while out and about.  Specific sensory inputs can help to organize these inappropriate sensory responses.

Treatment of Sensory Processing Disorder with a Sensory Diet To treat these responses to input, Occupational Therapists perform an assessment of individual abilities and needs.  Using information from evaluation, they establish a diet of sensory integration activities to organize sensory systems so that appropriate and meaningful responses occur. Function and purposeful responses to sensory input in all settings are the goals of sensory integration and sensory diets.  

A sensory diet is highly specific to the needs of a child with sensory processing disorder.  Sensory diet activities should be specialized to the meet the child’s regulation needs.  Items that are often times found on a sensory diet include activities like wall push-ups, jumping on a trampoline, vacuuming, pillow sandwiches, and kneading play dough (among tons of other ideas!)    But how do you do these sensory diet activities while in a classroom, car, restaurant, or in a while waiting for appointments? 

This is where a fidget kit comes into play, that can help with sensory needs and can go anywhere.

How to set up classroom fidget kits

How to use a fidget kit in schools

When I started working in school-based therapy in 2000, long before the craze of fidget toys, I created a set of fidget kits for each classroom in one school that I served.

As the occupational therapist in this school, I worked with many of the children in various classrooms on my caseload. However, I knew the benefit of using fidget items during specified times in the classroom.

The kits were contained within a clear plastic shoebox with a lid. There would be a list of materials in the kit and a sign out sheet if students removed an item to use at their desk.

Because I knew the students on my caseload in each classroom, and their sensory preferences, I was able to select specific sensory tools to place in each classroom’s fidget kit. Then, I added additional materials that may benefit the general population of the classroom. These items included things like stress balls, a string of paperclips, a bead on a keychain ring, a fidget desk strip, wacky tracks (clicking string of blocks), finger trap, and Koosh ball.

I offered a quick in-service to each teacher on the fidget kit that I created for their own classroom. I introduced the fidget kit, showed them the items in the kit and how to use them, and quickly explained the benefits of using a fidget kit to support attention, focus, sensory, and regulation needs in the classroom.

I explained preferred sensory tools for the students on my caseload and when they may use the materials to best support their education.

I also quickly explained that we all (whether receiving OT services or not) use sensory strategies all day long throughout our day to regulation, to focus, attend, deal with anxiety, or even boredom. For most of us, this fidgeting, or sensory breaks, looks like getting a cool drink of water, standing up after sitting for a long time, taking a deep breath, sitting up strait, stretching, clicking out pen, or jiggling a leg.

Finally, I instructed teachers to use the supports as they deemed fit within their classroom. This way, the kit was used correctly within the classroom.

Consult time with students was spent identifying needs and making changes to the individual student’s items and supports.

At the end of the school year, I collected all of the kits and saved them for the next school year. These sensory kits were a success with every teacher and were requested again at the start of the next school year.

How to make a sensory kit

Sensory fidgeting breaks support learning and paying attention for all individuals and using a kit of fidget tools can support the entire classroom. Plus, another benefit to using a kit with the whole classroom is the normalization of the fidget tools as a generalized support, and using the tools correctly, and not as a means to gain attention. Still other students may feel as if they are being watched when using the fidget tools and when the entire classroom has fidget time, the use is less ostracizing.

The benefit of creating fidget kits for schools is that you can put the items in any container that suits the needs of the students. Some can even travel from classroom to classroom. Try these ideas:

  • Plastic shoe box
  • Mini tote bag
  • Pencil box
  • Pencil pouch

fidget kit

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sensory fidget kit

This travel sensory diet is perfect for on-the-go sensory needs.  We made a small tote bag with fun paint and used it to create a travel sensory diet.  A tote of this size can be slid into a big purse, carried by the child, or carted around in the minivan.  

The best thing about this travel sensory diet is that you can switch out activities so that new regulating items are added in and old favorites remain.    

Travel Sensory Diet Bag for on-the-go-sensory needs

What goes in a fidget Kit?

 A fidget kit can be made up of any sensory motor item!

Some common sensory items include movement based fine motor or activities that offer heavy work through the hands, or Proprioception Activities Related articles: Proprioception and the hands impacts pencil pressure, and can be a great way to add a quick heavy work brain break.

  • Bungee cord or Exercise band.  These can be used by arms or legs while sitting or standing. 
  • 1 pound wrist weight:  This is an important addition to a travel sensory bag.  The weight provides proprioceptive input as the child carries the bag. Sometimes, just carrying the tote bag can be enough to regulate sensory needs. 
  • Other ideas include wearing the weight on the wrist, ankle, placed on the lap, or draped over shoulders.
  • Use the weight of the bag as input: While seated, hang the loop of the handles over a knee for weight down through the calf and into the foot.  Switch legs after a while.
  • Hang the bag on one shoulder, then the other.
  • Hold the loops of the bag by the hand as if carrying a suitcase. Switch hands often.
  • Hold the loops of the bag by individual fingers.

Oral Fidget Items

  • Sugar free hard candy
  • Sugar Free gum
  • Eat dried fruit, bagel pieces, popcorn, pretzels, or raisins
  • Kazoo
    (take the paper out for less noise!)
  • Chew Toy ” or Chew Necklace

Scent Fidget Tools

  • Small bottle of scented lotion

Tactile Fidgets

  • Fidget with sensory koosh balls.
  • Pipe cleaners twisted together make a great fidget toy.
  • Beaded Keychain Friends
    for fidgeting
  • Small Scrub Brush
    (The pictured brush is used in the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol.  An Occupational Therapist should train you in this treatment
  • Baby wipe to wipe the face, arms, hands to “wake up” the skin.
  • Fidget items– The nice thing that is different than in 2000 is that Amazon now has large kits of items available that can be distributed into various smaller kits and recirculated among classrooms.

Vestibular Fidgets

  • Heavy work activity cards
  • Hang the head and arms down between the legs to touch the floor.
  • Arm windmills
  • Twisting walks: Twist at the waist as the child walks.

Other sensory diet ideas that work while on-the-go

These are fidget kit ideas to have on hand that don’t require any equipment. these are sensory strategies that can be “pulled out” anywhere to support attention, focus, emotional needs, or sensory needs.

  • Carry grocery bags.
  • Push shopping carts.
  • Bend over hand hang the head and arms down to the ground.
  • Find a wall for wall push-ups.
  • Hug from a loved one.
  • Chew gum.
  • Drink from a straw.
  • Carry a sports bottle with crushed ice for resistive sucking and chewing ice.
  • March down a hallway.
  • Duck walks.
  • Find stairs and climb them.
  • “Mountain Climb” up a stairwell banister.
  • Use a coat as a sensory wrapper.  Wrap the child up like a sensory burrito with an extra coat.
  • “Prayer Stretch”  Press the palms of the hands together and press hard.
  • “Spider Finger” Stretches” Place fingertips of both hands together and stretch fingers up and down.
  • Spin in a chair (if at a doctor’s office).
  • Chair Push ups.
  • Weighted vest for situations that you know will cause sensory overload.
  • Headphones to cut out background noise.  
Travel Sensory Diet Bag for on-the-go-sensory needs

  This on-the-go travel sensory bag can go everywhere from the doctor’s office with the too-hot waiting room and buzzing fluorescent lights to the hair salon with the noisy dryers and itchy hair clippings.  

Travel Sensory Diet Bag for on-the-go-sensory needs

This post is part of our 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where you can find free or almost free treatment activities and ideas.  Stop by every day!  You’ll find more fun ideas each day in October.

Looking for more sensory integration ideas?  These are some of my favorite:

Dinosaur-Sized Sensory Feelings and Proprioception Activities

  Oobleck in the Marble Run

Oobleck in the Marble Run

 Alphabet Discovery Bottle

Alphabet Discovery Bottle

Fidgeting During Homework

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.


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

Goals of a Sensory Diet

benefits of a sensory diet
Have you ever had a professional mention the term “sensory diet”?  Have you wondered why a sensory diet would be used with kids?  This post describes the goals of a sensory diet for kids with sensory processing needs. 
This resource on how to create a sensory diet is a good place to begin when it comes to creating a sensory plan that helps kids thrive and function in their daily tasks.
Why do kids need a sensory diet to help with sensory processing problems?

Sensory strategies that are motivating can be a big help for some kids. Try these train themed sensory activity ideas.

Why Use a Sensory Diet?

To begin, read this blog on what is a sensory diet. You’ll discover that sensory diets are a commonly known strategy for addressing
sensory needs.  The term “sensory diet” was coined by Patricia Wilbarger in 1984 to explain how certain sensory experiences
can improve occupational performance and help to remediate disruption of the sensory processing systems.  
When it comes to benefits, a sensory diet is a means to adjust sensory input in relation to an individual’s
There’s more to it, though. 
Sensory diets don’t need to be a strict set of prescribed structured activities for every child.  They ARE a meaningful set of strategies for developing sensory programs that are meaningful, practical, carefully
scheduled, and controlled in order to affect functioning.  
We use sensory diets for many reasons: 
Specific needs- While a sensory diet offers specific sensory input at times in preparation for periods of poor regulation, the optimal sensory diet becomes a sensory lifestyle, in which the individual has a “bank” of sensory strategies at their disposal and can use those tools in preparation before a meltdown or crash occurs.
Individualized needs- No two individuals are alike. And, no two individuals will experience the same sensory needs. As a result every sensory diet will differ in sensory input, timing, and various other factors. Sensory diet activities provide appropriate sensory input based on the needs of an individual. 
Balance- Just as a healthy diet consists of a variety of foods, a sensory diet is a balanced set of sensory information that allows an individual to function.  A person cannot survive on broccoli alone. Similarly, a child cannot function with only one type of sensory activities.
Sensory diets are not just for kids with identified sensory issues.  We all need a diet of sensory input. 
Position in Space- Our bodies and minds instinctively know that varying sensory input allows us to function appropriately.  Neuro-typical children naturally seek out a variety of proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile sensory input.  Children that struggle because of underlying issues or developmental concerns may show difficulties with fine motor, gross motor, sensory processing, self regulation, executive function, creativity, and general life skills. It’s through a process of identifying specific sensory processing needs that these areas can be impacted. 
Routines and Transitions- Having a better understanding of transitions, routines, and schedules may allow children to know what to expect in their day. A sensory diet offers this opportunity.
Confidence- When we offer children strategies that support their needs, they thrive. This is true for children of all abilities and skill levels. Involving kids in movement based and sensory activities allows them to connect with others, and learn about the world around them, how their body moves and interacts in daily tasks, and this offers confidnce and further skill-building, as well as overall competence.
Regulation Needs- As a result, they are able to accept and regulate other sensory input such as a seam in their shirt, a
lawnmower running outside their classroom, or the scent of chicken cooking in the

Why Sensory Diets?

Studies support the use of active participation in multi-sensory activities for at least 90 minutes per week to improve occupational performance and autism symptoms and behaviors (Fazlioglu & Baran, 2008; Thompson, 2011; Woo & Leon, 2013; Wuang, Wang, Huang, & Su
Children who have a toolbox of sensory activities available to them for daily use may benefit from prescribed sensory activities.  These activities can be a part of and incorporated into the day in a natural way.

Related Read: Here are more sensory-based tricks and tips that help with meltdowns.

What is a sensory diet?

A sensory diet is a set of activities that are appropriate
for an individual’s needs.  Specific and individualized activities that are specifically scheduled into a child’s day are used to assist with regulation of activity levels, attention, and adaptive responses.  
Sensory diet activities are prescribed based on the individual’s specific sensory needs.   Just as there are no two people that are alike, there are no two sensory diets that are alike.  
Every sensory diet will meet the specific needs whether in activity, position, intensity, time, sensory system, or type.  Additionally, a sensory diet can be modified throughout the day and based on variances in tasks.
A sensory diet needs to be specific with thoughtful regard to timing, frequency, intensity, and duration of sensory input.
Goals of a sensory diet

Goals of a sensory diet are to:

  1. Provide the child with predictable sensory information
    which helps organize the central nervous system.
  2. Support social engagement, self-regulation, behavior organization, perceived competence, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
  3.  Inhibit and/or improve modulation of sensation within daily routines and environments.
  4. Assist the child in processing a more organized response
    to sensory stimuli.

Add these resources to the ones you can find here under sensory diet vestibular activities to meet the sensory needs of all kids. 

Fazlioglu, Y., & Baran, G. (2008). A sensory integration therapy program on sensory problems for children
with autism
. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 106, 415–422.

Read more on sensory processing information here:

Sensory processing red flags for parents to help identify sensory needs in kids

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.

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

Outdoor Sensory Activities

outdoor sensory activities

Have you ever considered what a wealth of sensory input there is in outdoor sensory play? Here, you’ll find outdoor sensory activities that would make a great addition to outdoor occupational therapy sessions, or just sensory input through playing outdoors! Consider taking the benefits of sensory play and moving them to an environment with differences in sounds, temperatures, textures, surfaces. You end up with a functional space that invites motor and sensory development!

Previously, we’ve shared how to go on a sensory nature walk, but this resource covers much more in the way of outdoor occupational therapy activities to support needs.

Outdoor sensory activities to support sensory processing

Outdoor Sensory Activities

The outdoor sensory ideas listed below include sensory activities that can naturally be found outdoors!

It’s a fact that kids are spending less time playing outdoors. From after-school schedules to two working parents, to unsafe conditions, to increased digital screen time, to less outdoor recess time…kids just get less natural play in the outdoors.

Research on outdoor sensory play tells us that playing outdoors supports development through areas such as: developmental and primary tasks that children must achieve can be effectively improved through outdoor play. These include: exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development, absorption of basic knowledge, social skills, self-confidence, attention, language skills, among others.

In fact, one study found a sensory diet in outdoor play along with sensory integration therapy resulted in better functional behavior of kids with ADHD (Sahoo & Senapati). 

Some therapists have connected the dots between less outdoor play and increased sensory struggles and attention difficulties in learning. Knowing this, it can be powerful to have a list of outdoor sensory activities that can be recommended as therapy home programing and family activities that meet underlying needs.

A note about using outdoor activities in sensory diets (and creating a sensory lifestyle…)

Sensory activities can be prescribed according to need along with environment in order to maximize sensory input within a child’s day such at home, within the community, during transitions, or within the school day. Outdoors are part of our everyday. Whether it’s walking to the car or school bus, travelling down a sidewalk, or spending time outside in the yard, there are many opportunities to support sensory and emotional regulation needs with outdoor play.

Using authentic sensory input within the child’s environment plays into the whole child that we must understand when focusing on any goal toward improved functional independence.

We’ve been talking a lot about sensory diets here on The OT Toolbox recently. Understanding what a sensory diet is and how it can be used within a sensory lifestyle is a big part of integrating sensory activities and sensory play into needed sensory input that a child needs to self-regulation, cope with his or her environment, and to attend or focus despite sensory overload or distractions.

You’ll find more outdoor sensory diet activities like these outdoor sensory diet activities for the backyard coming to the site very soon!

For specifics on how to get started with a sensory diet, and how to use these outdoor sensory processing strategies in a sensory plan, start here with this resource on how to create a sensory diet.

Outdoor sensory activities can be specific to sensory system like proprioception activities, auditory processing, vestibular sensory diet activities, and the rest of the sensory systems.

Use these outdoor sensory activities to help kids with sensory processing needs

Outdoor occupational therapy

When therapists develop a specific and highly individualized sensory diet, it’s not just throwing together a day filled with sensory input. It’s activities based on sensory need and strategizing. Each of the nature-based sensory activities above should meet specific needs of the child.

outdoor occupational therapy activities and reasoning

Imagine a world with more creative outdoor play that involves a variety of enriching sensory input. The proprioceptive input from running and jumping into puddles can calm the child who is typically overactive.

Outdoor occupational therapy supports the development of skills in a functional and natural space. When OTs venture outdoors for therapy practice, the world opens up in the way of sensory input, motor experiences, emotional regulation, and skill-building.

Occupational therapists practice outdoors for many reasons:

  • Develop confidence
  • Social skill building
  • Independence with clothing
  • Attention
  • Focus
  • Body awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Executive functioning skills
  • Safety skills
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory processing
  • Connection with others

Through outdoor occupational therapy, individuals experience all that nature has to offer while developing skills, just like one would in traditional occupational therapy services.

Below, you’ll find specifically sensory occupational therapy activities that can occur outdoors.

Sensory Activities for Outdoors

Nature, playing outdoors, and experiencing everything the outdoors has to offer supports all of the sensory systems. Let’s break this concept down:

  1. Visual System- Outside, we can see details in the trees, notice differences in plants, spot items hidden in the grass. Vision is more than just acuity. It’s through the visual sense that we learn, communicate. Visual motor activities and visual processing tasks occur naturally through play and experiencing the outdoors.

Try some of these outdoor activities to support the visual system:

  • Play I Spy
  • Hide objects and find them
  • Play tag (visual tracking and visual scanning)
  • Collect rocks or leaves (visual figure ground)
  • Watch the clouds (visual attention)
  • Look for birds
  • Collect items from nature and notice differences

2. Proprioceptive System- Another of the “Big 3” sensory systems (explained in detail in our book, The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook), is the proprioceptive system.

There are so many proprioceptive activities supported by the outdoors. Try some of these:

  • Hike of inclines or declines
  • Animal walks in the grass
  • Relay races
  • Pound and smash ice
  • Lift and carry rocks or logs

3. Vestibular System- The vestibular benefits of slowing swaying side to side on a tree vine can organize the child who is challenged by sensory overload.

Try these outdoor vestibular activities:

4. Interoceptive System- There is a connection with interoception, too. This sensory system is responsible for hunger, thirst, fatigue, digestion, sleep, toileting, and other internal systems. Sensory activities like going outdoors, experiencing differences in temperature and texture (warmth of the sun, cool breeze, wet rain drops, damp soil, etc.) on the skin receptors can impact how we feel, how mindful we are, and how the interoception system responds.

Outdoor sensory activities that impact the interoceptive system include:

  • Running/walking/crawling
  • Playing in wet sand, soil, grass
  • Feeling the breeze on skin
  • Feeling the warmth of sun on skin
  • Playing on swings
  • Going up or down a slide
  • Laying on the ground (pressure on the stomach and internal organs)
  • Rolling on the grass (vestibular and proprioceptive systems)

5. Auditory System- Outdoors, you can rest your state of mind just by listening. The outdoors offer a great mindset strategy for emotional regulation and is a way to calm the body. These backyard auditory processing activities will get you started. Try these outdoor auditory processing strategies for regulation and sensory needs:

  • Listen for birds
  • Mimic sounds
  • Play “I hear” (just like I Spy for sounds)

6. Tactile System- The outdoors offer so many tactile experiences. From walking in grass without shoes on, to playing the variety of natural tactile sources, there are so many ways to support the tactile system outdoors.

Try some of these calming or alerting sensory activities for the tactile sense:

  • Walk barefoot in grass
  • Play in a sandbox
  • Climb a damp tree
  • Pick grass
  • Dig in dirt
  • Play with messy, sensory play outside
  • Pick flowers
  • Feel and crunch leaves (also great for the auditory sense)
  • Create a tactile nature walk collection

7. Gustatory System- The gustatory sense, or the sense of taste can be incorporated into the outdoors. Think about your experience with picking berries, tasting a cool and sweet popsicle on a hot day. There are so many sensory-based memories involving tastes. Try some of these gustatory sensory activities in the outdoors:

  • Grow a sensory garden with fruits and vegetables that can be eaten outdoors
  • Eat a juicy watermelon outside- This is a great tactile activity, too
  • Make ice pops, smoothies, or ice cream using fresh fruits.

9. Olfactory System- This is the sense of smell. Outside, there are so many scents that occur and may change every day (and even based on the time of day!) Consider these olfactory sensory ideas:

  • Smell flowers
  • Smell grass
  • Identify odors and scents by location
  • Name the type of plant based on scent
  • Garden- Plant herbs such as mint, parsley, basil, lavender, etc. These are powerful scents that can be calming.
These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.

Outdoor Sensory Play

There are so many outdoor activities that incorporate play naturally while meeting underlying needs in the great outdoors! The ideas you’ll find below are naturally occurring play ideas using items found in nature, natural environments. They are outdoor activities that kids can try without any additional equipment or specialty therapy items.

The point with these outdoor occupational therapy strategies is to support motor skill development, motor planning, visual motor skills, and overall development through the natural environment of the outdoors.

Ideas for outdoor occupational therapy:

  • Hike
  • Play in the woods
  • Roll down hills
  • Balance beam on logs
  • Climb trees
  • Collect nature
  • Play at the beach
  • Nature walk
  • Play in the backyard
  • Climb on stumps
  • Jump in puddles
  • Driveway or pavement play activities
  • Swing on tree vines
  • Sensory play on a porch or enclosed space
  • Collect sticks
  • Leaf hunt
  • Water table
  • Move and carry rocks of various sizes
  • Hide and seek
  • Create with nature
  • Outdoor water play
  • Collect fireflies
  • Pour rocks
  • Build with rocks, stumps, sticks, small logs
  • Mix and create nature soup (mud, sticks, flower petals, grass clippings)
  • Mud play
  • Use more of the ideas in our Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards

The outdoor world is full of sensory input that can meet individual needs of every child. The kids with sensory needs as well as those who present as neurotypical will benefit from a lifestyle of sensory play and experiences in the outdoors.

These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.

As always, these activities should be looked over and utilized along with assessment and intervention of an occupational therapist, as each child differs so very vastly.

Some of the ideas above are going to be described in more detail here on The OT Toolbox. Watch this space for more outdoor sensory play ideas based on the following outdoor play spaces:

Sensory diets and specific sensory input or sensory challenges are a big part of addressing sensory needs of children who struggle with sensory processing issues.

Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (sensory diet) into a lifestyle of naturally occurring and meaningful activities is so very valuable for the child with sensory needs.   

That’s why I’ve worked to create a book on creating an authentic and meaningful sensory lifestyle that addresses sensory needs. The book is now released as a digital e-book or softcover print book, available on Amazon.   

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory diet creation, set-up, and carry through. Not only that, but the book helps you take a sensory diet and weave it into a sensory lifestyle that supports the needs of a child with sensory processing challenges and the who family.  

Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.

Scanning Activities for Reading (Free Download)

visual scanning for reading

Today, we have a fun scanning activities for reading using a printable resource that supports the underlying visual skills while using a fun theme that kids engage with. Vision truly impacts learning so if we can support the areas of development that help a child thrive, we are moving in the right direction. One of the ways that occupational therapy professionals support development is through meaningful occupations, and anything fun and playful is a winner when it comes to pediatric OT!

There are many visual scanning activities that support functional participation. Here, we’re talking specifically about reading skills.

Visual Scanning and reading

The end of the school year might feel like coasting into the finish line, however it needs to be focused on meeting goals and preparing learners for summer reading. 

Learners seem to have a love/hate relationship with reading. I believe the people who hate reading struggle with this task.  Becoming a proficient reader takes a combination of skills. Beyond vision, phonics, spelling, and letter recognition, are the visual perceptual skills needed to read fluently. Today’s post is focusing on scanning activities for reading. 

Visual scanning impacts reading in many ways.

  • The child who struggles with letter reversals
  • The child who labors with reading and commonly skips words or lines of words when reading.
  • Saccadic eye movement, or visual scanning, is necessary for reading a sentence or paragraph as the eyes follow the line of words.
  • Visual scanning allows us to rapidly shift vision between two objects without overshooting as when shifting vision during reading tasks.
  • In copying written work, this skill is very necessary.
  • Skips words or a line of words when reading or re-reads lines of text
  • Must use finger to keep place when reading
  • Poor reading comprehension

All of these aspects of reading can be an issue because of scanning challenges.

So what’s going on here, visually?

Visual scanning is one of several visual perceptual skills. These have been highlighted in posts before, but as a reminder, they are:

  • Visual Attention: The ability to focus on important visual information and filter out unimportant background information.
  • Visual Discrimination: The ability to determine differences or similarities in objects based on size, color, shape, etc.
  • Visual Memory: The ability to recall visual traits of a form or object.
  • Visual Spatial Relationships: Understanding the relationships of objects within the environment.
  • Visual Sequential-Memory: The ability to recall a sequence of objects in the correct order.
  • Visual Figure Ground: The ability to locate something in a busy background.
  • Visual Form Constancy: The ability to know that a form or shape is the same, even if it has been made smaller/larger or has been turned around.
  • Visual Closure: The ability to recognize a form or object when part of the picture is missing

All of these areas combined make up visual perception, and is part of the bigger picture of how our eyes work functionally.

Visual perception is the ability to organize and interpret the information that is seen and give it meaning.  This is a common thread in therapy treatment, as it is the foundation for many activities addressed daily.

Visual perception is essential for reading, writing, math, self care tasks, instrumental activities of daily living, and play.

How to develop SCANNING Skills FOR READING

There are ways to support the development and accuracy of visual scanning skills.

  1. Reading Readiness Skills- When my girls were young, the summer reading list meant a chance to earn a ticket to Six Flags from the school!  It also meant a dollar per chapter book from mom and dad.  I was out $61.00 just from one kid that summer.  It was worth it. 

In preparation  we did a lot of scanning activities for reading readiness.  These included worksheets like the ones offered on the OT Toolbox, as well as games.  Amazon has their (affiliate link) visual perceptual games chunked into one search category. 

This might include using reading prompts, desired books, and short reading passages.

Other strategies include working on scanning the environment for details. Ask kids to look for items that are all one color, for example.

Another reading readiness activity that supports reading is I Spy activities like these I Spy colors game, I spy with real toys, and printable pages (Many are found in our Membership).

2. Visual Scanning Games- Some activities to develop scanning skills for reading include:

  • Tricky Fingers
  • QBitz
  • Where’s Waldo
  • Highlights Magazine
  • Spot it Games.

3. Vision Activities– Also be sure to check out these vision activities for kids to support all of the underlying skills that impact reading and learning.

Specifically, be sure to check out these visual scanning activities that cover the full gamut!

4. Take a Deeper Look at What’s Going On- When assessing for reading difficulties, once you have ruled out visual acuity issues, use a screening tool or assessment to test for visual perceptual deficits

The Motor Free Visual Perceptual Test, as well as the Test of Visual Perceptual Skills, assesses the different visual perceptual skills, broken down into different areas. 

5. Visual Scanning Exercises- The free spring weather visual scanning exercise (grab it below!) is just a sample of the larger packet offered HERE on the OT Toolbox.  

Below you’ll find a free downloadable spring visual scanning exercise you can use to support visual scanning needed for reading skills. These activities include a weather and Spring theme, but you can use them all times of year. The sun and clouds themes work for everyone!

This visual scanning exercise is a great scanning activity for reading. It relies on visual attention, discrimination, memory, visual-sequential memory, and figure ground.

For more scanning work, grab the Spring Fine Motor Packet. This 97 page no-prep packet includes everything you need to guide fine motor skills in face-to-face AND virtual learning. Includes Spring themed activities for hand strength, pinch and grip, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, endurance, finger isolation, and more. 

6. Visual Perception Activities- There are several posts this month highlighting Visual Perceptual Activities for Spring. 

For some therapists, parents, and educators these will be great worksheets for spring break, on those long rides to Grandma’s house.

Others will find these PDF sheets great for a spring lesson plan. Make a great packet of pages to send home, or do during class.  You can laminate these pages to make them eco-friendly and reusable. Some people project these onto smart boards, however I personally prefer the added skills involved in writing on paper.  However you choose to motivate your learners is the key to success.

DATA COLLECTION during scanning activities

Scanning activities for reading readiness are great for data collection. It is easy to measure the number of correct/incorrect guesses.

Of course it gets tricky when other factors such as impulsivity, attention, and compliance skew the data. Be sure to document these aspects of scanning that impacts reading skills as a functional task:

  • Document the number of errors, while adding narrative about the learner’s behavior. 
  • Provide several different types of visual perceptual tasks to try and determine which specific skills (or combination) are deficient.  This way your treatment can be more efficient, if you can hone in on one or two skill areas, such as visual memory, or scanning. 

DOCUMENTATION of Scanning tasks to support reading

  • Does your learner scan in sequential order, or all over the page?
  • Are items completely missed when scanning?
  • Is your learner taking their time, or making random guesses?
  • Does your learner thoroughly look at all the choices before giving an answer?

Some of these questions are not easy to answer. Continue to provide different types of exercises in order to measure progress. 

Progress is often the answer we seek, rather than “why do they do that?”  Often doctors do not know the why, but have to try different things until they find something that works. 

Use spring break (if you are lucky enough to have one) to rest and recharge for all of the fun spring activities that can be added to your treatment plans and OT Toolbox!

Free scanning activity Download to support reading skills

Want to add this printable tool to your therapy toolbox?

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This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

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FREE Visual Scanning for Reading Exercise

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    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.

    NOTE*The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and inclusion. This information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

    How to Create a Sensory Diet

    How to create a sensory diet

    Here you’ll discover how to create a sensory diet through information on sensory diets as well as a powerful resource to set up and establish an effective sensory diet lifestyle that works for kids. We’ve shared a lot of information about creating a sensory diet. There is a valid reason. Besides the growing need for sensory support for kids with sensory processing disorder or sensory challenges, there is a real need for parents and teachers to understand exactly what a sensory diet is and how it can help address sensory needs.  

    The tips below are strategies for creating a sensory diet that can be effective and helpful in enabling a successful sensory lifestyle. Understanding how does a sensory diet help is many times, the first step in addressing sensory related needs!

    How to Create a Sensory Diet

    Whether you are wondering exactly what a sensory diet entails or why a sensory diet can be effective in addressing underlying sensory needs, knowing how to create a sensory diet using the tools a child needs is essential. 

    Below, you’ll find answers to questions about how to create a sensory diet and what exactly a sensory diet is. If you are wondering how does a sensory diet work, then read on! 


    Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

    The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.

    What is a sensory diet? 

    First, it can be helpful to explain exactly what a sensory diet is. A sensory diet is a specific set of sensory activities designed to meet specific needs of the individual. Creation of a sensory diet requires assessment and trial followed by analysis and continued monitoring of strategies and their effectiveness. 

    Studies support the use of active participation in multi-sensory activities for at least 90 minutes per week to improve occupational performance and autism symptoms and behaviors (Fazlioglu & Baran, 2008; Thompson, 2011; Woo & Leon, 2013; Wuang, Wang, Huang, & Su 2010).

    Children who have a toolbox of sensory activities available to them for daily use may benefit from prescribed sensory activities. A sensory-based strategy guide can help.

    Sensory diets are a commonly known strategy for addressing sensory needs. The term “sensory diet” was coined by Patricia Wilbarger in 1984 to explain how certain sensory experiences can improve occupational performance and help to remediate disruption of the sensory processing systems. A sensory diet is a means to adjust sensory input in relation to an individual’s needs.

    Sensory diets can include various sensory strategies and supports that help the individual to regulate. Some additional movements, or activities can include:

    A sensory diet is a meaningful set of strategies for developing sensory programs that are practical, carefully scheduled, and controlled in order to affect functioning. Sensory diet activities provide appropriate sensory input based on the needs of an individual.

    Just as a healthy diet consists of a variety of foods, a sensory diet is a balanced set of sensory information that allows an individual to function. A person cannot survive on broccoli alone. Similarly, a child cannot function with only one type of sensory activities.

    Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

    Why Create a sensory diet?

    There are many reasons why a sensory diet should be used to support specific needs. This resource covers the goals of a sensory diet.

    Sensory diets are effective for addressing many sensory-related behaviors. Just a few reasons for using a sensory diet may include:

    • Emotional overreaction
    • Meltdowns
    • Aggression
    • Hyper-attention
    • Difficulty with transitions
    • Inattention
    • Sleep issues
    • Impulsivity
    • Sensory-seeking behaviors
    • Sensory-resisting behaviors
    • Resistance to textures/food/clothing
    • Poor social Interactions

    This blog post on sensory processing includes a sensory processing disorder checklist that covers many reasons and reactions that can be impacted by sensory needs.

    Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

    Make a Sensory Diet Template

    One important piece of the sensory diet puzzle is the successful implementation of strategies. This is the part of actually using sensory activities, brain break, movement activities, calm down corners, sensory tools, etc.

    We’ll go into how this looks in more detail below, but it’s important to remember that the sensory diet template plays a big role. Actually scheduling strategies and implementing them into day to day tasks is part of the sensory lifestyle.

    There is more to a sensory diet than applying sensory input or encouraging a child to participate in sensory play activities. Knowing how and why a sensory diet should be created is essential to success, safety, and carryover of sensory strategies.

    As individuals, we tend to choose activities and experiences that are pleasurable. We enjoy snuggling up under a thick blanket at the end of the day. We tend to shy away from unpleasant sensations such as a static shock that happens every time we use that certain blanket.

    Likewise, some of us are thrill seekers and enjoy experiences like jumping from airplanes or bungee jumping. Others like to stay firmly on the ground and play it safe when it comes to leisure activities.

    Similarly, our clients or children who struggle with sensory processing can present with different preferences, as discussed in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.

    Steps to Create a Sensory Diet

    The key to successful integration of a sensory diet is ensuring the clinical strategizing and application are fit into the specific needs of the individual. However, combining the needs of an individual with interests and preference along with application of specific steps ensures successful creation of a sensory diet.

    There are specific steps to creating a sensory diet. Let’s go through the process:

    1. Analyze/Identify
    2. Strategize
    3. Sensory Diet Template/ Apply Sensory Strategies
    4. Monitor

    Step 1: Analyze/Identify- The first level in creation of a sensory diet requires identification of sensory related behaviors, attention issues related to impaired sensory input, challenges with focus or emotional regulation as a result of sensory needs, or meltdowns that impair functioning.

    This level of sensory diet creation requires assessment and identification of each challenging issue. Sensory behaviors should be identified and charted. This includes jotting down when specific behaviors occur, the setting where meltdowns occur, and antecedent to the behavior.

    Make detailed notes that describe the action, the environment, the disabilities, and the impact on function, safety, learning, social participation, etc. When taking the time to analyze sensory impact on function, it’s important to look for issues that may be impacting the individual’s functional performance.

    Make notes on things such as:

    • Actions/behaviors- how is the individual responding in situations?
    • Environment- where is the situation occurring
    • Timing- when does the behavior occurring? What happens just before the behavior or actions?
    • Co-existing considerations- what else is occurring during the behavior or action?

    Sensory related issues can be charted in a methodological manner or they can simply be written down on a scrap paper. The point is to identify the issues through analyzation and to record them.

    Identifying sensory needs when beginning the sensory diet process is much like keeping track of a food diary or sleep diary. In these situations, you’ll also want to mark down every detail including how one is feeling emotionally, physically, and other considerations. Just like these types of diaries help to identify what is really going on in a food diet, a sensory diary can help to support and identify needs for creating a sensory diet.

    The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook contains printable data collection forms that can be used to analyze and identify sensory-related actions, behaviors, and resulting issues.

    After dysfunctional behaviors are identified, the reason behind the behaviors should be described.

    Step 2: Strategize/Reasoning- The next level in creating a sensory diet involves identifying the “why” behind the behaviors. Think about why the individual may be responding, or reacting to sensory input or environmental input in the way that they are. Can you come up with rationale that describes actions?

    Ask yourself questions to strategize on the “why” behind sensory-related behaviors:

    • Is it an unmet sensory need that causes a child to bolt down the hallway?
    • Is the reason the child chews on all of their clothes because they need more proprioceptive input?
    • Did the child not get enough sleep?
    • Is the routine off?
    • Was a transition done without warning or preparation?
    • Was the individual at a level of stress?

    Use this information to come up with predictions and opportunities to support the individual with specific accommodations or modifications to the environment.

    In The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, you will find printable sensory-based behavior screening tools that can be used to identify the underlying sensory needs leading to a behavior or action.

    Additionally, resources in the book allow for strategizing to address existing sensory challenges for an individual. The best part is that the pages can be printed off and used over and over again for a single individual or for many individuals. 

    Step 3: Create a Sensory Diet Template and Apply/Trial Various Sensory Strategies- In this stage of sensory diet development, strategies need to be trialed for effectiveness within the lifestyle of the child and family. Sensory strategies need to be incorporated as indicated across a variety of settings, based on various sensory needs as they change throughout the day.

    Scheduling sensory diet strategies is an important step. If a box of sensory supplies is offered, but no schedule put into place, the sensory diet immediately is set up for failure.

    Each strategy should be assessed for effectiveness. A simple checklist can be completed in the classroom or at home. When a sensory strategy is determined to work, that activity can be added to the child’s sensory diet.

    If a particular sensory activity is determined to be ineffective, return to level one.

    Remember that this part of the sensory diet creation process is very fluid! There will be trials, adjustments, periods of re-trialing, and monitoring. It can seem like this stage goes on and on! The thing to remember is to persist and don’t give up!

    As adults who work with or raise children, we know the fluidity of childhood. Needs, strengths, interests, environment, and other areas can change as a child develops and grows. In the same manner, a sensory diet needs fluidity. Applying various strategies at different levels of growth in a child is a must.

    Readers of The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook will find the Sensory Diet Schedule in the Addendum of the book to be a useful tool in creating a checklist for sensory diet activities. This is another series of printable pages that can be utilized over and over again as needed.

    Step 4: Monitor- At this stage in development of a sensory diet, strategies should be monitored for effectiveness. Strategies should be monitored on a frequent basis with regard to effectiveness. As part of the monitoring process, a subjective assessment can be completed by adults who oversee the child’s sensory diet strategies.

    Additionally, carryover of sensory strategies must be monitored. A list of prescribed activities that are not completed because they require exhaustive effort are not an effective strategy within the life of a family.

    Carryover of sensory strategies is extremely important in both the home and in the classroom. If activities are not able to be carried out, then a different sensory strategy should be incorporated into the child’s sensory diet.

    When using The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook to create and monitor sensory diets, users will find the Daily Sensory Diet Sheet and the Sensory Diet Schedule to be effective tools for carryover and monitoring strategies.

    Use the Sensory Diet Effectiveness Tool, found in the Addendum of this book, to monitor sensory diet results and strategies. This form should be completed after a sensory diet has been in effect for two weeks. 

    If creating a sensory diet and turning it into a sensory lifestyle sounds like a strategy that is needed in your home, classroom, or clinic, then The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a tool that you may need to get there! Check out more on The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook HERE. 

    Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

    The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a strategy guide for sensory processing needs. With valuable insight into the sensory system and the whole child, the book details how sensory diets can be incorporated into a lifestyle of sensory success. 

    The tools in this book provide intervention strategies to support and challenge the sensory systems through meaningful and authentic sensory diet tactics based on the environment, interests, and sensory needs of each individual child.   

    Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

    So often, we hear that sensory recommendations are not carried over into the home or classroom. The tips and tools in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook uses child-led interests and daily life interactions so kids WANT to participate in sensory diet activities their bodies need…because it’s part of play!

    Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

    Using a sensory diet in various environments

    A sensory diet is an important strategy and tool to support learning needs in the classroom environment. Here is a resource on creating sensory diets for the classroom.

    Occupational therapists can be a great resource for sensory diets that flow from the home to the school environment.

    In fact, using a set of sensory diet cards as a resource where the student pulls various sensory supports to use at specific times or during transitions in the classroom can be very helpful.

    The best type of sensory diet utilizes sensory aspects of everyday functional tasks within the activity as it occurs. This is covered specifically in the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook. But consider this: if one is outside or in the home and needs to address regulation needs, using activities and everyday objects is ideal. These backyard sensory diet strategies is one way to incorporate the outdoors into sensory needs.

    Related, a sensory diet can include recess activities as a tool to support emotional or sensory regulation needs. This resource on recess sensory diets covers this concept in more detail. Running on a blacktop surface at recess, playing with hula hoops, balls, or building blocks at a key part of the day is scheduled into the students’ schedules every day they are at school. When you think about it, each student has a sensory diet of their own in the way of recess!

    At home, recess isn’t an option, but heading outside is! The outdoor sensory diet strategies can really impact self-regulation, emotional needs, attention, and sensory processing needs.

    Another environmental consideration is the playground. A park or playground area offers sensory diet equipment and tools that can be used on a scheduled basis. Consider adding a trip to the playground to the schedule on specific days of the week. Maybe a visit to the playground is in order for Friday afternoons after the student’s spelling test and the end of the school week. Or, a playground visit can occur every Sunday afternoon as a way to wrap up the weekend. Perhaps a walk to a local park can occur each evening after dinner. It’s all about what the individual needs and what works for the family’s lifestyle.

    Another location for sensory diets can be the woods or a wooded outdoor area. This is a great way to incorporate nature into sensory needs, and should be scheduled according to availability, time available, and family lifestyle.

    Another related resource on this site is the concept of sensory diets at the beach. When we travel, there can be a lot of different or novel sensory experiences. When hot weather, wind, and scratchy sand impact sensory needs at the beach, these are all important considerations.

    Another support for travel is the sensory diet on the go! This easy to create sensory support is individualized and includes the materials and strategies that support the individual’s needs. Read how to create a travel sensory diet toolbox.

    Occupational Therapy Jokes and Puns

    Occupational therapy jokes

    Looking for a funny occupational therapy joke to help celebrate occupational therapy month? Look no further, we’ve got you covered when it comes to funny

    Needing occupational therapy (OT) is no joke.  It is tough to be dependent on someone else, or below average in skill development. April is OT month, a time to advocate for the profession and let people know what we can do.  

    If you love these jokes, you’ll also love these occupational therapy memes with informative graphics that describe the OT profession, and these occupational therapy quotes. All three blog posts are stock full of material that perfect for promoting the profession during OT month (and all year round!)

    Occupational Therapy Jokes

    Let’s get on with the funny stuff!

    We all know the power of therapeutic use of self. It’s a huge component in the OT profession. Similarly, the therapeutic use of humor in occupational therapy has been found by researchers to serve a purpose in client outcomes. Another research review found that humor use in occupational therapy can and should be used in moderation effective educational humor needs to be integrated into the topic and used in moderation, and when used appropriately, humor has many purposes:

    • Humor can be used therapeutically to gain attention
    • Humor can facilitate creative thinking and memory
    • Humor can motivate students to attend class, and promote learning outcomes

    Humor and funny time in therapy can serve so many purposes to help clients thrive!

    And, when we put a therapeutic use of self and a humor spin on promoting the progression, Wow…Winner winner, chicken dinner!

    That being said, a day of therapy without humor is incomplete. If you can not laugh about the funny things kids say, the mishaps, mistakes, and near misses, you will burn out quicker than a match.  To alleviate the pressure of ‘fixing” everyone, I have compiled a few occupational therapy jokes and puns to entertain you.

    Occupational therapy month joke

    What is occupational therapy anyway?

    According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); “Your life is made up of occupations—meaningful everyday activities. These occupations can include many roles, such as being a parent, a friend, a spouse, a tennis player, an artist, a cook, or a musician. We generally don’t think about our daily occupations until we have trouble doing them.”

    “Everyone has occupations— from the toddler whose occupations are play and learning to develop important skills, to the older adult whose occupations are engaging with family and friends and managing his or her home. If you are recovering from an accident or injury, your valued occupations may be disrupted. Occupational therapy incorporates your valued occupations into the rehabilitation process.”

    not funny OT joke

    Not so funny occupational therapy jokes

    I am sure all of you have heard people say they know what Occupational therapy is (wink, wink…this is not what occupational therapy is!)

    Occupational therapy meme about what OT is
    • Just like PT
    • A therapy to help you figure out how to get a job
    • Fixing your job
    • Helping kids with things
    • I’m getting fat, I think I need one of those sensory diets

    Insert eye-roll…but if you roll with it, you’ve got yourself a funny OT meme or two, and a great opportunity to promote the profession!

    joke about knowing what occupational therapy is

    As a pediatric occupational therapist, it would be easy to get caught up in the sadness, unfairness, and struggle our kiddos face. Without laughter and fun, this profession would weigh us down on a daily basis. I take time to ride the tricycles, play in the ball pit, make arts and crafts, and ride on a swing once in a while. Occupational therapy jokes are a way to lighten the situation.

    OT jokes in my case are; kids say and do the funniest things.”

    • Who was the first president of the United States?  Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Close but not exactly correct.
    • While a young girl was seated at a table she yelled “HELP, I’m stuck in a tree!!!” Her word finding skills were not quite there yet.
    • A little boy was doing an alphabet puzzle, and exclaimed, “I am putting this right in the A hole!”
    • Then there was the little girl who left her underwear in the bathroom.  She was wearing a dress and I happened to look up onto the playground and notice.  That was a first.
    • I asked a boy why he wanted to drink out of the toilet.  The water is so COLD was his reply!

    What funny things have your clients said to you?

    joke about fine motor skills
    “Actually, the crumbs are intentionally left on the floor to develop fine motor skills.” –Source

    Jokes only an OT would understand:

    If you are an OT you probably chuckled at those occupational therapy jokes (memes). 

    funny occupational therapy meme
    “I’m glad you’re my valentine. How’d you know I like big hugs? I read your sensory profile.”

    The T-Rex holding reachers is an unstoppable OT joke. Perfect for recreating in the outpatient or hospital setting to bring a smile to a client’s face!

    T-Rex reacher joke for occupational therapy

    What are some of the mishaps and near misses you have faced during your career?  

    • There was this time I saw a little girl jump on a therapy ball and fly across the room
    • The time I thought getting kids all hyped up during 8pm evening sessions was the right thing to do!
    • One little boy who ate a huge bite of shaving cream, thinking it was whipped topping, before I realized what was happening
    • Dozens of kids that have been covered head to toe in shaving cream during my sessions
    • Kids trying to work on dressing skills, stuffing both legs into the same pant hole.  Here comes the mermaid look!
    • Cooking errors like using salt instead of sugar, a cup of oil instead of a teaspoon, or egg shells in the batter. The teen who repeatedly did this just loved her cooking!
    When you meet a patient for the first time and they claim that they “don’t need” to wear the gait belt.
    I don’t always transfer a max assist X2 patient to a wheelchair…but when I do they’re sitting on their seatbelt.

    If you can’t laugh at yourself sometimes, right??

    When that shower transfer doesn’t go quite as well as you had expected.

    The level 2 jokes…Oh, we have to laugh at ourselves right? I can think of an “intervention” or two that were…interesting!

    When I think back on the “interventions” I came up with as a level 2 student.
    When that patient is currently max assist for ADLs asks if they are safe to go home alone. That’s a no from me.

    How about the fact that we never really get away from our profession? There are Occupational therapy memes and jokes about the fact that we are always wearing our OT hat!

    therapy joke
    I don’t always watch the Olympics. But when I do I kineseo tape all of my patients the next day.
    You know you’re an Occupational Therapist when you analyze children at the park based on the way they play in the sandbox.

    Who hasn’t done this on vacation?  I have to literally close my eyes when I go to the beach.

    Thank you Cracker Barrel, for unknowingly improving my 9-hole peg test score.

    Tell me you haven’t analyzed this task while dining at Cracker Barrel!

    OT’s even have pick up lines!!

    Hey girl, I saw you coloring inside the lines earlier and I’ve just got to say, you put the fine in fine motor!
    Billy listen, I’m tactile seeking and you’re tactile defensive. Either we go see an occupational therapist or this relationship is over.

    How about some occupational therapy jokes only an OT would understand?

    You know you are an OT when you justify trips to the casino as a way to increase ROM, strength, cognition, and social emotional well being.
    Me: I should really go ahead and type some notes before lunch. Me to me: No save them all until the end of the day, surely you’ll remember everything.

    That moment when you realize your patient’s goal of preparing a 4 step meal is more advanced than any meal you’ve made last week.
    When you manage to build a rapport with the patient who hates everyone…

    Check out this website for cute Occupational Therapy Joke stickers!  It has sayings like:

    • No I’m not the physical therapist
    • OT, I thought you said Oh, tea
    • I’m nacho PT, I’m your OT
    • Nacho average occupational therapist
    • Yes I’m an occupational therapist, no I can not help you find a job
    • Occupational therapist, because FREAKING MIRACLE WORKER is not an official job title
    • No thanks, I’m on a sensory diet

    Believe it or not, the internet is FULL of jokes only occupational therapists will understand!

    The OT Toolbox has some past posts full of Occupational Therapy jokes  and quotes.  Check it out.  

    OT Quotes

    A tribute to Occupational Therapy Month

    A final thought as we celebrate, educate, advocate, commiserate, and tolerate (bad jokes) the occupational therapists in our lives:

    Occupational therapy meme. We do it all!
    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.

    Autism Acceptance Month

    Autism acceptance

    April is Autism Acceptance Month! For school based therapists, the end of the school year is in sight.  But the start of Spring brings forth a chance for new beginnings and new growth, even as we start to wind down the school year.  Every April, we celebrate Occupational Therapy Month.  It is a chance for us to celebrate our profession, inspire each other to remember the reasons why we chose a career in occupational therapy, and to show the world the gifts we have to offer in supporting individuals with the things that matter the most! 

    Go for gold Autism acceptance month

    Autism Acceptance Month

    April is also Autism Acceptance Month. So, this is a perfect time to reflect on Occupational Therapy’s role in working with autistic individuals and how we can support neurodiversity acceptance in the places we work, with the clients and students we support, and in our world!

    Not only in April, but all year long is a great time to support, advocate for, and help others understand, embrace, and connect with the unique qualities of autistic individuals.

    Not sure where to start?  It can be overwhelming to take in all the information that comes at us each day through the news and social media, but occupational therapy practitioners can continue to do what we have always done…

    • listen to our clients and listen to the autistic voices that are in the media
    • use a strengths based approach
    • focus on environmental modifications
    • identify meaningful goals and work towards improving participation
    • use evidenced based practice
    • and advocate for our autistic clients

    We can also take a look at what we have done in the past and what we should look to do in the future.  Like the old saying goes, “When you know better, DO BETTER!”  So let’s take a look at what we know and what steps we can take to support neurodiversity.

    Autism Neurodiversity

    The prevalence of autism has significantly increased over the last 20 years, with the most drastic changes happening in the last 10 years.  Currently,  The CDC reports the prevalence of autism as 1 in 44 children in the United States.  It is the most rapidly growing developmental disorder and is more common in boys than girls.  

    Identity First Language

    Historically, occupational therapy practitioners were trained to use “person first” language, so you may have heard us say things like “my students with autism”.  Kenny, L. et al (2015) found that medical professionals, family members, and friends preferred using person first language.  However, autistics report that person first language doesn’t recognize that autism is part of their identity. 

    Although identity first language is preferred by many autistics, it is not the preference of all.  So, what can you do? 

    To know better and do better, you can ask the individual. You can ask and honor the preferences of your students.  You can educate yourself on the neurodiversity movement which suggests that brain differences can be challenges, but they can also be strengths.

    Going for gold in April instead of “lighting it up blue”

    Autism Speaks is the largest organization that claims to support autistic individuals and their families.  They are also probably the most widely known and started the campaign to “light it up blue”.  However, the work they have done to bring awareness to autism, has come with criticism from autistic adults for their focus on finding a cure. 

    Autistics are frustrated by the lack of representation within the Autism Speaks organization.  Much of the funding at Autism Speaks does not actually support autistic people. Most concerning is the lack of support for self-advocacy with a focus on the negative implications of living with autism.  

    Light it up Gold instead of Light it up Blue.

    The autistic community is trying to change the way we think about Autism awareness and acceptance.  While the color blue (seen as sad) or the puzzle piece symbol (seen as something is missing) has historically represented autism awareness, autistic adults have embraced using gold (whose chemical abbreviation is “Au”) to spread autism acceptance. 

    Gold is regarded as having high value and represents authenticity.  

    Here are some links to read more about promoting autism acceptance:

    How can we use this information to improve our practices?

    If you’re not sure what to do next, consider attending professional development opportunities or check out audiobooks for occupational therapists to learn how to support autistic clients and neurodivergent students. 

    As you grow in your knowledge, don’t forget that the domain and process of occupational therapy will continue to frame your work.  

    • Evaluate your students using a top-down, strengths based approach.  Use what we know about sensory preferences and visual supports to highlight the strengths of our autistic students.  Check out this resource: Sensory Strategies for the School Based OT.
    • Listen to your autistic students as individuals in order to develop meaningful outcomes.  What are their goals?  What aspects of school are important for them?
    • Support neurodiversity- Don’t forget to assess the environment and make modifications to support neurodiversity using Sensory Diet Strategies for the Classroom.
    • Promote and educate on neurodiversity- Expand our inclusive practices to educate and promote acceptance in the school community about autism and neurodiversity.  Perspective taking goes both ways.
    • Embrace interests of the individual. Find out what interesting, meaningful for a shared connection. Integrating interests into therapy is exactly what occupational therapy is!

    OT as an Autism Advocate

    Lastly, we must use our occupational therapy voices to advocate for autistic students and neurodivergent learners. 

    • Talk to the administrators at your school about inclusion, acceptance, and perspective taking amongst all students. 
    • Educate families with autistic children about resources and supports that are available to them. 
    • Start conversations with coworkers who may not be as familiar with current trends related to autism and neurodiversity. 
    • Most importantly, teach and support your autistic students to share their perspectives and self advocate for their needs. 

    Let’s honor autism and occupational therapy month by reflecting on the important work that we do and celebrate the amazing students we get to work with everyday!

    Kenny, L., Hattersley, C., Molins, B., Buckley, C., Povey, C. & Pellicano, E. (2015). Which terms should be used to describe autism? Perspectives from the UK Autism community. Autism: 1-21.

    Katherine Cook is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience primarily working in schools with students from preschool through Grade 12.  Katherine graduated from Boston University in 2001 and completed her Master’s degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study at Tufts University in 2010.  Katherine’s school based experience includes working in integrated preschool programs, supporting students in the inclusion setting, as well as program development and providing consultation to students in substantially separate programs.  Katherine has a passion for fostering the play skills of children and supporting their occupations in school. 

    Beaded Feather Fine Motor Activity

    beaded feathers fine motor activity

    This beaded feather activity is a fine motor task that we created YEARS ago. WE love it because beads and feathers are common craft materials found in many pediatric occupational therapy professionals’ therapy toolbox. In fact OTs love crafts as a fine motor strategy and this feather bead activity is a powerhouse!

    Beaded Feather Activity

    If you need a quick and easy little activity for the kids while you are making dinner, or just something fun for the kids to keep practice a few fine motor skills, then this is a great activity for you.  Simple to set up and easy to clean up, this one will get those little muscles going and moving with fine motor dexterity!

    Beading with feathers

    This activity works on several grasps, color awareness, counting, sorting, visual scanning, and eye-hand-coordination.  How can you beat such an easy activity with so many benefits??  


    Fine motor activity for kids using beads and feathers.
    This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
    You’ll need just two craft materials for this fine motor activity:



    Preschoolers and Toddlers can match beads to feathers to learn colors.
    Get your feathers and some coordinating beads and lay them out on the table.  I started a few feathers to show the kids what we were doing and had the invitation to start ready to go. 
    They came over to check it out and would bead a bit here and there throughout the day.  It was kind of like a therapeutic little break from bouncing off of couch cushions and each other. 
    Their little bodies needed a chance to slow down and re-group before getting back into the routine of regularly scheduled chaos.
    But maybe that’s just my kids?
    Sorting colored beads to match colored feathers is a fun way to learn colors.


    Pincer Grasp Activity With Beads and Feathers

    You could also put out a big old tray of all kinds of beads with different colors, shapes, sizes to work with. 
    This slightly makes the activity just a little more difficult as the child has to visually scan for the colors needed and pick out the beads that they want with a neat pincer grasp
    Using the tips of the index finger and the thumb in a precision grasp to manipulate beads from a big tray of colors is great for eye-hand coordination
    Want more ideas to work on neat pincer grasp or eye hand coordination?  We’ve got plenty!
    Threading colored beads on feathers is a great way for prechoolers and toddlers to work on colors and fine motor skills.


    Beading Feathers Bilateral Coordination Activity

    Holding the feather and the beads requires two hands to work together in a coordinated way (bilateral hand coordination). 
    This is a great way to practice pre-writing skills and those requirements needed for self- care like managing buttons, zippers, shoe-tying, and scissor skills.
    Beads and feathers are a fun way to practice colors and fine motor skills with kids.


    Bead Feathers to learn colors

    Younger children (Baby Girl is just getting this!)  can learn colors and practice naming colors as they pick out the beads and match to the color of the feather. 

    How many other ways can you think of to make this a learning opportunity? 

    Patterns, sorting, counting…this is a fun learning op and a great way to get those little hands moving!

                                    Kids can work on fine motor skills and color matching awareness while beading feathers.


    Fine motor activity for kids using beads and feathers.
    More Fine Motor activities you will love:


    The beaded feather activity and the other fine motor tasks listed above are a great addition to our popular Fine Motor Kits:

    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:

    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