100 Things to do This Summer

Print off this summer activity challenge for kids and keep the kids active and screen free this summer

Having a summer bucket list that keeps kids from the inevitable summer boredom is essential…but a summer bucket list that actually helps kids develop skills and gain stronger bodies is powerful! This list of things to do with kids and families this summer is a list of therapist-approved activities that help promote stronger core muscles, refined fine motor skills, and the very skills kids need to learn, play, and develop.

Summer Bucket List

Need things to do this summer with the kids? Need therapist-approved activities for the whole family, that actually help kids develop motor skills, get off the screens, and build stronger kids? This printable list of summer activities for kids and families is just the thing to battle the boredom this summer!

I am a mom of four. I have heard, “I’m bored!” 4,000 times. Each summer. This summer might look a little different that most years, and because of that, I wanted to come up with summer activities for kids that are therapy-approved. These are summer things and active play ideas. You might call this an adventure challenge. You might call it a therapy home program. What this list of summer activities is for certain, is a way to get the kids active and off the screens. This list of 100 summer things (actually 104 summer things) costs little to no money, use the items found around the house, and meets the needs of kids. It’s part of our Wellness Challenge (More info on that coming next week!)

Print off this summer bucket list activity challenge for kids and keep the kids active and screen free this summer

100 Things to do this summer

There is just something fun about creating a summer bucket list with the kids. But, what if you could hand-pick the very summer activities that help kids gross stronger muscles, gain sensory input that helps with regulation, and motor activities that improve balance, coordination, strength, and endurance? What if your summer bucket list not only built a summer of family memories, but also stronger and more functional minds and bodies?

This printable summer bucket list does just that!

Well, here we are at the tail end of another school year. This is the time that most parents and teachers celebrate the end of school and the start of summer…maybe more than the kids. With the end of the school year, it’s a time to celebrate lazy, hazy days of summer. This year is a different. Parents are celebrating the end of distance learning. Teaching kids at home through distance learning, while working from home is simply not a sustainable task for most. The list below is 100 things to do this summer. These are activities to keep the kids (and the whole family) active, and enjoying time together in play. Play is healing. Play is a learning opportunity.

For pediatric occupational therapists, we know that play is the primary occupation of the child. Play is therapy and therapy is play. These summer activities for kids are designed to boost skills, while helping children emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Kids NEED active play. They NEED to move. Kids need to create, think outside of the box, and they need to be bored. With boredom comes creativity, interest-based thinking, and innovation. This list of 100 things to do this summer might be an idea starter.

The activities on this list fall into six categories: outdoor activities, indoor activities, water activities, games, creative “maker” activities, and imagination activities. Each summer activity challenges movement and is a summer activity that can be added to home programs.

When the kids say they are bored, send them to this summer bucket list checklist and ask them to pick something on the list. With 104 ideas, there is something for each day this summer.

Summer activities for occupational therapy home programs

Summer Bucket List for Occupational Therapy

The activities on this summer activity list inspire active play for kids. They build heavy work to add proprioceptive input. They add movement for vestibular input. They add tactile input. The activities are calming or alerting. They are sensory-based movement activities.

Use this list as a home program. The list can be sent home to parents to inspire active play each day. Or, post it on your fridge and when the kids say they need something to do, ask them to pick one activity. Your challenge is to complete as many of the activities as you can. When boredom strikes, add these activities.

Outdoor Active Play for a summer bucket list

  • Obstacle course
  • Nature walk
  • Climb a tree
  • Kick a ball
  • Driveway chalk
  • Go for a hike
  • Roll down a hill
  • Make a hideout
  • Draw the clouds
  • Run around the house
  • Pick flowers
  • Do jumping jacks
  • Fly a kite
  • Draw with chalk
  • Go swimming
  • Ride a bike
  • Watch the birds

Indoor Activities for a Summer BUCKET LIST

  • Animal walks
  • Couch cushion course
  • Balloon toss
  • Bowl plastic cups
  • Indoor balance beam
  • Freeze dance
  • Yoga
  • Build puzzles
  • Hand clapping games
  • Board games
  • Catch socks
  • Write in a journal
  • Wheelbarrow walks
  • Army crawls
  • Wall push-ups
  • Dance party
  • Play with stickers


  • Water sensory bin
  • Spray bottle art
  • Squirt gun painting
  • Paint with water
  • Swim
  • Play in a sprinkler
  • Make a sensory bottle
  • Make sponge balls
  • Play in the hose water
  • Water flowers
  • Wash a car
  • play in the rain
  • Water table
  • Water balloons
  • Play in soapy water
  • Bubbles
  • Sink or float tests

Summer Bucket List Games

  • Red rover
  • Play tag
  • Hide and seek
  • Play Uno
  • Play cards
  • Soccer
  • Catch a football
  • Board games
  • Hopscotch
  • 4 Square
  • Basketball
  • Relay Race
  • Charades
  • 7 Up
  • Mr. Wolf
  • Tug of war
  • Lawn tic tac toe
  • Bean bag toss

Creative Activities for Summer

  • Torn paper art
  • Make play dough
  • Build with LEGO
  • Finger paint
  • Make a fort
  • Make a recipe
  • STM project
  • Make lemonade
  • Paint rocks
  • Leaf resist art
  • Coffee filter butterfly
  • Toilet paper roll craft
  • Paper bag puppets
  • Make bird treats
  • Create a song
  • Write a letter
  • Bake cookies
  • Draw

Imagination Play for summer

  • Think of a goal for you to accomplish
  • Dress up
  • Make up a play
  • Invent something
  • Make up a dance
  • Act out a story
  • Write a story
  • Imagine a cardboard box is something unique
  • Pretend to be something or someone else
  • Think of a new ending to a movie
  • Imagine all the things you are grateful for
  • Imagine you had $1,000. What would you do?
  • Think of a random act of kindness. And do it
  • Imagine you were…whatever you could do or be. How can you get to that point? Make a list of the steps.

Get this list in a printable format below! Print it off, hand it out as an occupational therapy home program, or hang it on the fridge and when the kids say they are bored, direct them to the list!

use this activity challenge for kids that are bored this summer or to use in ot home programs
summer activities for kids

More things to do this summer

For more therapist-approved things to do this summer, use the Summer OT Bundle to work on all things handwriting, hand strength, fine motor skills, puzzles, scissor skills, and function in FUN and engaging ways.

If you are a therapist who just doesn’t have it in you to reinvent the wheel this summer, the Summer OT Bundle is for you.

If you are a parent who wants to work on the skills kids NEED to develop so they can write with a pencil and use scissors (but you’re tired of hearing the complaining about doing these activities), the Summer OT Bundle is for you.

If you need resources and tools to fill home programs, extended year programs, summer camps, or to have the babysitter do with the kids, the Summer OT Bundle is for you.

It’s 19 different products, resources, activities and guides to help kids gain the very motor skills they need to thrive. Read more about the Summer OT Bundle here and start having fun in effective ways this summer!

Summer Occupational therapy bundle

Click here to grab your copy of the Summer OT Bundle!

Free Summer Bucket List

Grab a copy of our Summer bucket list and send it home with therapy students for low-prep activities that support skill development. We wanted to select activities that are low budget and can be done over the Summer months. This is a great home program for carrying over skills…in a low effort way.

I love that these bucket list items are in a checklist format too…you can have your kids check off as many tasks as they do, without using a calendar that limits the students to a specific task each day.

This printable is found inside The OT Toolbox membership club (Level 1 free downloads) and Level 2.

Enter your email here to get your copy:

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    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Finger Opposition

    finger opposition

    In this blog post, we’re covering an important piece to the fine motor skills puzzle: finger opposition! Finger and thumb opposition is a dexterity and precision skill that develops from a young age, and is very important in eye-hand coordination tasks that we complete every day. Let’s cover what this term means and how to support finger to thumb opposition skills.

    finger opposition

    Finger Opposition

    Have you heard of the term “opposable thumbs”? You probably heard it as a reference to the difference between human hands and other, less advantaged animals. However, many other animals have opposable thumbs which work much like ours!

    But what does it actually mean to have opposable thumbs? What are we talking about when we say “finger opposition”? Why is it advantageous? 

    What is finger to thumb opposition?

    Finger opposition, thumb opposition, and finger to thumb opposition all refer to the same thing. When we say these phrases, we are referring to the range of motion of the thumb (thumb ROM) as is rotates and flexes (or bends) to touch the pad of the thumb to the pad of the pointer finger.

    To break it down further, the word “opposition” refers to something being placed opposite of another. So, having an opposable thumb means one has the ability to place the thumb opposite to, or across from the other digits (the fingers).

    This thumb ROM is useful in order to grasp objects between the thumb and fingers.

    Many grasps involve the oppositional movement of the thumb, think: picking up coins, grasping a baseball, or turning the pages of a book. An occupational therapist can begin to assess for strengths and weaknesses in thumb opposition by asking their patient to tap their thumbs to the tip of each finger. 

    A hand assessment typically addresses the thumb ROM to oppose several areas:

    • Thumb to tip of each finger
    • Thumb to base of each finger

    These motions allow the hand therapist to assess the ability to flex the thumb CMC joint, the thumb MP joint, and thumb IP joint for functional use in picking up and handling objects.

    Also a major part of this assessment is a detailed look at finger ROM (range of motion). The following areas will also be assessed in a typical hand therapy evaluation:

    • Finger isolation
    • Range of motion of finger MP joints
    • Range of motion of finger PIP joints
    • Range of motion of finger DIP joints
    • Pinch strength
    • Grip strength
    • Sensation
    • Edema (swelling)
    • Pain
    • Coordination and precision skills
    Development of finger opposition to thumb


    We can follow the development of an infant’s thumb oppositional skills by observing their grasps on rattles, bottles, cheerios, or whatever they may have nearby. A typically developing infant is expected to go through this timeline of grasping skills:

    Newborn: Reflexive Grasp (Palmar reflex)

    • Newborns (up to 3 months of age) will reflexively hold whatever is placed in their hands. This reflex lays the foundation for a purposeful grasp in the baby’s life! 
    • Opposition? No thumb opposition yet, as the reflexive grasp focuses on the fingers curling in. 

    4-6 Months: Purposeful Palmar Grasp

    • Little ones this age are just starting to figure out how to reach for a desired object and grab a hold of it. They tend to hold the object between the palm and fingers, which is why this is called a “palmar” grasp.
    • Opposition? No thumb opposition just yet; the thumb may begin to move towards the palm, but is usually unused in the grasp, placed away from the hand, as in a “thumbs up”. 

    6-8 Months: Radial Palmar Grasp

    • In a radial palmar grasp, the thumb is secured along the side of the palm or the side of the index finger while the fingers hold the object in the palm. This demonstrates increased strength and precision of movement.  
    • Opposition? Here we can see the beginning of oppositional skill, but we aren’t quite there yet. 

    8-10 Months: Radial Digital Grasp

    • All of these grasp names sound confusing, but do you see how we went from “palmar” to “digital”? In other words, the thumb went from touching the “palm” to touching the “fingers”! 
    • Opposition? Ladies and gentlemen, thumb-to-finger opposition has officially begun. 

    10-12 Months: Immature and Mature Pincer Grasp 

    • First, the immature pincer grasp will develop. This is the grasp when a baby will hold a cheerio (or another small item) between the thumb and the side of the index finger. 
    • Later on, the mature pincer grasp develops which means that the thumb can oppose to the index finger! This is also known as a “tip” pinch, where the tip of thumb and the finger tip are together, much like the “okay” signal. 

    Over the next several months and years, the developing toddler will hone their fine motor skills to be able to oppose their thumb to each finger and coordinate their movements to complete tasks. To support these skills, age-appropriate toddler play activities are essential.

    In most cases, the development of thumb to finger opposition is considered “complete” around age five. The average five year old should be able to demonstrate certain movements that indicate developed hands, for example: a functional pencil grasp, stringing beads, zip/unzip, button/unbutton, and various in-hand manipulation skills. 

    To promote these skills during the ages of 3-5 (and if motor skills appear to be delayed), try some of these preschool activities for age-appropriate motor tasks to support development.


    This movement is essential for how we function with the world around us. For the koala (another member of the opposable thumb family), they are skilled climbers and tree-dwellers by use of their thumb wrapping around a branch, towards their other digits, as a way to secure their bodies for safety.

    Most humans are not quite as skilled in tree climbing, but will instead use our opposable thumbs for complex skills like playing guitar, tying our shoes, and handwriting. 

    For the able-bodied, one way to feel how we may function without the use of our opposable thumbs is to try to zip or button an item without using the thumbs…it is quite the challenge! 

    Delayed Finger to Thumb Opposition

    What happens when finger to thumb opposition is delayed or a challenge for kids? 

    There are some cases where finger-to-thumb opposition becomes challenging. This could be due to weakness, injury, muscle tone, weakness, range of motion difficulties, or malformation of the hand, fingers, thumb, or wrist.

    Really, anything that leads to reduced mobility of the thumb carpometacarpal joint (the point near the wrist that the thumb rotates on) can result in reduced thumb opposition. 

    When there is a lack of thumb opposition, one solution to increase function is to provide interventions for joint range of motion and muscle strength. This can be done in play-based ways that are therapeutic but tons of fun! 

    ACTIVITIES FOR Finger to Thumb Opposition 

    Craft and play-based activities are one great way to increase thumb to finger opposition in kids. The best part, though, is that you are increasing so many more skills at the same time! We’re talking fine motor strength and coordination, visual motor skills, bilateral coordination, social skills, and more! 

    Along with the many great activities below, check out our page all about Fine Motor Skills and our Fine Motor Checklist for more information on development of these skills. 

    Activities to Open Thumb Web Space – These activities open the thumb web space so a nice round circle is seen during thumb opposition. This enable precision of motor skills and a refined pincer grasp.

    Finger Play Songs– These opposition activities promote thumb ROM and coordination of the thumb and finger movements.

    Hand Eye Coordination Activity– Precision and motor planning go hand in hand with eye-hand coordination tasks. This is where you will see thumb and finger opposition in action.

    Finger Isolation Crafts– Isolating a single finger is a refined and graded motor task that enables opposition movements from the thumb to a single finger.

    Fine Motor Travel Box– This activity is a fine motor tool that makes working on thumb and finger opposition skills fun.

    Separation of the Hand Activity– The thumb is on the precision side of the hand and along with the pointer finger and middle finger is responsible to precise motor movements and dexterity in tasks. Finger to thumb opposition is a main piece of this.

    Play Doh Fine Motor – Opposable thumb activities like this one support strengthening and thumb ROM.

    Tongs Activities– Strengthening the arches of the hands allows for a stable and supportive base for thumb opposition in functional tasks.

    Stickers for Fine Motor – Stickers are a therapist’s best friend when it comes to finger opposition activities.

    The way we move our hands can be synonymous with the way we interact with our environment. For a lot of us, the use of our hands are the way that we function in daily life!

    Build finger to thumb opposition with these activities:

    Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

    Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

    Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

    Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

    Examples of finger opposition

    Recently, we posted a couple of videos on YouTube that show finger opposition. These are designed to highlight how the fingers and thumb move in opposition tasks. I love using these short videos as exercises, too.

    This video shows finger and thumb opposition where the tip of the thumb touches the tip of each finger. As the thumb opposes each finger, thumb flexion is occurring at a greater range to reach the ulnar side of the hand.

    Finger and thumb opposition exercise

    Next, I also created a video that shows opposition of the thumb to the pointer finger. We also fully extend the thumb. This is a great exercise for opposition because the thumb takes an extension break in between each repetition. You could pair this exercise with the first one, to fully extend the thumb before opposing each digit.

    Thumb extension and opposition exercise

    Lastly, I have another finger opposition exercise for thumb opposition with finger and thumb flexion and extension. This moves the thumb opposition through the full range of an open thumb web space to a closed thumb web space. This is a great exercise because it moves through the full range.

    Thumb opposition with finger and thumb flexion and extension

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Pencil Grasp Activities with Fine Motor Play

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

    pencil grasp activities

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

    Pencil grasp activities for kids

    Pencil Grasp

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

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

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

    Click here to join the Pencil Grasp Challenge.

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

    Improve Pencil Grasp with Fine Motor Play Ideas

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

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

    Fine Motor Play Activities to Improve Pencil Grasp

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

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

    Pencil activities to help kids write with a functional grasp

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

    Pencil Grip Activities

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

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

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

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

    Strengthening activities for fine motor skills like handwriting activities

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

    Fine motor play activity using tweezers made from craft sticks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mini Circles Pencil Control Exercises

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

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

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

    Use clay to work on fine motor skills

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

    Improve hand dominance using fine motor activities.

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

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

    Fine Motor Table-Top Play addresses intrinsic muscle strengthening.

    Work on fine motor skills by playing with waterbeads

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

    Fine motor play using tissue paper

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

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

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


    Use pipe cleaners to work on fine motor skills.

    Pipe Cleaner Fun builds tripod grasp for use with handwriting.

    Use clothespins to work on hand strength.

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

    Make your own pencil control worksheets.

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


    Use dry pasta to work on fine motor dexterity

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

    Play with coins to improve fine motor dexterity.

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

    Tracing letters with sidewalk chalk improves hand strength.

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

    Use Wikki Stix to build hand strenth

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

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

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

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

    Here are games to improve pencil grasp.

    Creative ways to work on pencil grasp

    tripod grasp activities

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

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

    More ways to support this skill include the ones below.

    developing pencil grip activities

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

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

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    31 Days of Learning with Free Materials

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

    diy learning materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Creative & Playful Learning.  Be inspired.

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

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





    Distance learning ideas for learning at home with free materials.

    More Learning at Home Ideas

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

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Fine Motor Activities with Beads

    beading activities

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

    Beading activities

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

    stringing beads occupational therapy

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

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

    fine motor activities using beads

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


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

    Activities using what you have in the Home

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

    Activities using just a deck of playing cards

    Activities using just craft pom poms or cotton balls

    Activities using just paper clips

    Fine Motor Activities using Beads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read more about visual motor skills.

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

    Read more about motor planning activities for kids.

    What kind of beads help with fine motor skills?

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

    fine motor activities using beads and activities in the home

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

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

    More fine motor activities

    Beading Activities

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

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

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

    Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

    Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

    Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

    Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Sensory Handwriting Backyard Summer Camp

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

    how to run a handwriting summer camp

    How to Run a Summer Handwriting Camp

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

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

    Summer Handwriting Camp Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Grab the Summer Occupational Therapy Activities Packet HERE.

    summer occupational therapy activities for kids

    Tips to be a Handwriting Tutor

    This post contains affiliate links.

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

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

    Handwriting tutoring or Handwriting Camp Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Summer Handwriting Camp Ideas

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

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

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

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

    Tactile Sensory Handwriting Ideas:

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

    Auditory Sensory Handwriting Ideas:

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

    Olfactory Sensory Handwriting Ideas:

    Proprioception Handwriting Ideas:

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

    Vestibular Sensory Handwriting Ideas

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

    Gustatory Sensory Handwriting Ideas

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

    Visual Sensory Handwriting Ideas

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

     Sensory Summer Camp at Home themes

    What do you think?

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


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

    Summer activities for kids

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    How to make Sensory Bottles for Self Regulation

    sensory bottles

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

    sensory bottles

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

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


    This post contains affiliate links.

    What is a sensory bottle?

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


    Why do Sensory Bottles Work?

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

    Let’s break this down…

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

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

    Sensory Bottle and Polyvagal Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RELATED READ: Sensory Play Ideas

    How to make a sensory bottle

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

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

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


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

    How to make sensory bottles




    Sensory Bottle Ideas

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

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

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

    Baby Exploration Sensory Bottles made with recycled spice containers.

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

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Preschool Centers to Develop Pre-Writing Skills

    preschool center ideas

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

    preschool center ideas

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

    Preschool Center Ideas

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

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

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

    Preschool Centers for Prewriting Skills

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

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

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

    Preschool Centers and Development

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

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

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

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

    Skills to address in preschool centers

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

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

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

    Fine Motor Preschool Centers

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

    Writing Preschool Center

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

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

    Visual Perception Preschool Center

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

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

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

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

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    42 Ways to Help Students Stay Organized at School

    organization activities

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

    School Organization

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

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

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

    At school there can be supports for each step:

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

    At home, there are several stages as well:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



    How to Help Kids Organize their School Work

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

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

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

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

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

    Problem Areas leading to disorganization:

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

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

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

      Executive Functioning and Organization difficulties

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

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

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

      Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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

    Organization Tips for Students

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

    Organization Tips for the locker

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

    These organization strategies can help keep the locker organized:

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

    How to help students keep their desk organized

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

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

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

    How to Help Organize Kids Schoolwork

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

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

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

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

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.