Auditory Sensitivity: Tips and Tools

Auditory sensitivity in the classroom

In this blog post, we are covering an important aspect of the classroom environment: auditory sensitivity. Students with auditory sensory overload are challenged to learn and participate in classroom activities, and not only that, auditory sensitivities, or sound sensitivity can lead to anxiety, overwhelm, avoidance, self-regulation issues, and social emotional considerations. Let’s discuss auditory processing with the focus on classroom sounds with sensory tips and strategies, as well as supports to set up a classroom for success. This blog post is a great resource aligned with our post on visual noise in the classroom.

Auditory sensitivity in the classroom

What is Auditory Sensitivity?

First, it’s important to consider what auditory sensitivity means. Basically, we are referring to sensitivities to sounds, or an over-awareness of the noises around us. A noise sensitivity can lead to discomfort in the ears as well as repercussions throughout the whole body as a result of anxiety, worry, overwhelm, and hyperawareness of auditory input.

There’s more to it, though. Auditory sensitivity can refer to a hyper-awareness of sounds, a buzzing sound or tinnitus in the ears, or other considerations. Here are some red flags indicating auditory sensitivities are present:

Red flags for auditory sensitivity:

  • Overly upset over loud sounds
  • Anxious that loud noises will happen
  • Complains of buzzing in the ears, or tinnitus
  • Hyper-aware of noises happening in other rooms
  • Overwhelmed by conversations happening around us
  • Complains of discomfort as a result of sounds
  • Normal hearing but also overly aware of certain pitches of sounds or certain decibels of sounds
  • Scared of the fire alarm or door alarms, or fire drills
  • Hearing loss
  • Overly concerned about everyday sounds
  • Prefers social isolation due to potential for certain sounds
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds that most do not consider to be a distraction: the heater buzzing, a refrigerator humming, lawnmower running outside, etc.
  • Challenges with daily life due to sounds

There can be more red flags related to noise sensitivity, and these are all very individualized. No two individuals will present with the same auditory sensitivities due to personal preferences, environment, and personal experiences. 

Diagnoses with auditory sensitivities

Sensitivity to auditory input can be common with certain diagnoses. However, the list below is not exhaustive, meaning there can be other diagnoses that also have a sound sensitivity. Also, being overly aware of sounds to the point that the sensory preference impacts daily life functioning does not indicate that a diagnosis is present. It simply means that the individual has that particular sensory preference. 

Diagnoses that may have sound preferences:

  • Autism
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Lyme Disease
  • Depression
  • Head Injury
  • Phonophobia

Auditory hypersensitivity can be present in other diagnoses as well. 

How to test for auditory sensitivity

Because auditory preferences are so individualized, it’s important to seek out testing, particularly when the sensory preference impacts daily functioning or learning. 

One such tool in an individual’s toolbox is the occupational therapy practitioner. An OT can complete a sensory preferences profile using specific tests, interviews, and checklists as well as assessments to discover sensory preferences. They can then provide tools and strategies to support those auditory preferences. 

It’s also important to seek out evaluation from an audiologist. This professional can determine the frequency range the individual can hear using equipment and a sound stimulus.

Auditory Sensitivity in the Classroom

Students are VERY busy! Whether they are at home, school, or out in the community, children are affected by their surroundings. Setting up a preschool classroom for success is essential. The environment can make children “hyper”, or calm them down. Sometimes preschool (and older kids) have ears sensitive to noise that impact learning and participation in their education. Noise impacts a child’s ability to calm, that can be modified by adults in any environment. We are going to dive into how to support children who are sensitive to noise throughout this blog!

Setting up a Preschool Classroom for Success

Have you ever noticed when there is a lot going on, children tend to lose focus? A child sensitive to loud noises will be challenged to be successful in the classroom environment because the sensory need takes priority. Adults, when they have multiple senses engaged, can be overwhelmed by chaos as well.

This is especially true when there is overwhelming auditory input.

One way to look at this concept is by experience. Think about an amusement park and all of the sounds happening around you in a noisy crowd. While one of my favorite places to go is an amusement park, it can be very overwhelming! I love the rides and the shows. But, when I go to the food court, I start to get overwhelmed. Children are usually crying because they are hungry, parents are annoyed, people are talking on their phone as they wait in 30 minute lines for a $10 hot dog, and there are attendants screaming “next”, or “move along!” There is so much going on auditorily, that many adults get frustrated, and want to find a quiet corner to eat with their family. 

What is the noise like in your Classroom?

In a typical preschool classroom there might be 24 or more children running around, laughing and screaming, while a CD player is playing rambunctious music, and parents are talking about what their child had for breakfast. The preschool setup can become very noisy.

In an elementary classroom, you may have more towards 28 or more students. Kids having conversations, dropping books, running the electric pencil sharpener, screeching tennis shoes, or scraping chairs. Then there is the announcements over the loud speaker, teacher instructions, hallway noises, and the lawn mower outside the classroom window. It can get noisy, quick!

With different types of sounds echoing throughout the classroom, auditory overstimulation can affect behavior and engagement. For ears sensitive to noise, this can be huge.

According to an exploration of sensory processing and the limbic system, the sensory system receives sensory messages, like sound, and directs them to the part of the brain that needs to process them. This process is also responsible for keeping your body safe. Sometimes it will trigger an automatic safety response called a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.

This response is a protective mechanism based on our ancient ancestors who had to be on constant alert for saber tooth tigers rustling bushes. While we no longer need to worry about the threat of danger lingering in our periphery, we have this awareness of auditory input that keeps us safe in other ways. Our brain and body regulate the sensory input that comes in so it’s not too overwhelming for us.

An example; when you jump if you hear an unexpected sound.  The “sensory traffic controller” in the brain tunes in to help locate and identify the sound.  You may be instantly more alert if you hear your head teacher, or manager’s voice. Researchers think this part of the brain processes sounds differently in children or adults who are overwhelmed by sounds, noise, or auditory sensory input.

Auditory overload often occurs when there are too many sounds happening at the same time, or if the noise is at a certain frequency.  In addition, the brain can also become overwhelmed by a constant noise which has occurred over a period of time. This information is important when setting up a preschool classroom.

Tips for setting Up a Preschool Classroom

In order to create a calm preschool classroom environment, the sound needs to be purposeful! Being cognizant of all of the different environmental sounds, is key to creating a soothing classroom.  

Here Are aspects of your preschool classroom setup to keep in mind when addressing noise

  • Music – Depending on the time of day, music is a wonderful addition to any classroom. This can be through singing or the electronic media. Use calming/soft music to calm down a classroom during free play and nap time. This can include nature sounds, white noise, soft melodies and children’s music. 
  • Echoing noise – Every classroom is created differently, keep track of where there may some extra echoes. Hearing noise from multiple places at once can be very overwhelming, especially when echoes are coming from multiple children. This can be important when it comes to hallway noises, outside noises (lawnmowers), or echo within the classroom. Some ideas to support echo sensitivity include adding padding to the bottoms of shoes or desks. Felt sheets or foam sheets are inexpensive options for this. Other things to consider is going into the cafeteria, gymnasium, or area with higher ceilings and larger groups of children such as special events.
  • Sensory Headphones- One tool to support students with sensitive ears is a pair of sensory headphones. There are many on the market that can reduce the auditory stress of a child in the day to day noise of a classroom. Other options include sensory noise-reducing earplugs and noise cancelling headphones. To increase sounds try a DIY whisper phone.
  • Consider Other Students – Children are noisy, especially during free play! When indoors, encourage children to use an inside voice, while they are playing and talking. When children are focused and engaged, they tend do this naturally. Creating learning centers that support engagement is the best way to keep noise down, and children learning. Some children who have difficulty regulating their verbal output may need extra help in this area. Check out all of the learning stations (block, art, science, manipulative, sensory, dramatic play) ideas on how to set up your classroom by the age of the children you teach in this Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale.
  • Consider Other Adults – Keeping tabs the adults in the room is key when thinking about the noise in a classroom. Caregivers tend to talk loudly when around a lot of children, either to get their attention, or intervene when they see a problem about to occur. If caregivers practice talking to children, while getting down to their level, and making eye contact, the level of our voices naturally decrease. You can also try a “do not disturb” sign in the door during important lessons or instructional periods. Consider these auditory attention activities.
  • Consider Classroom Pets – Classroom pets are wonderful additions when setting up a preschool classroom. Although they are fun, they can also be noisy! The most popular classroom additions are fish tanks and guinea pigs. The sounds of the bubbles can be soothing for some, but loud to others. Guinea pigs are quiet until they start shuffling around and squeaking. When thinking about where to place a fish tank or cage, keep in mind where the children will nap, and where the quiet spaces are. 
  • Small group activities – When children are actively engaged in activities as a group, their voices tend to become loud. This is a great time to teach children how to turn taking skills, by waiting for others to ask questions. Allowing children to communicate with each other, have discussions, and engage in play, is more productive when they are using their inside voices. 
  • Consider the classroom sound system- There are many options when it comes to auditory needs in the classroom. We talked about the low tech strategies above, but along those same lines is a “high tech” classroom auditory system. This can include things like wireless voice amplifier for teachers, a classroom sound system with wireless microphone, a classroom speaker system, a voice amplifier for classroom, and other technical pieces of equipment.

Auditory input can affect behavior

Young children can feel overwhelmed by many environmental components. This can affect their behavior at home, and in the classroom. The sensory system, and the way the brain processes information, varies for each person. The ability to respond to the environment, greatly depends on how sensitive you are to sensory stimuli. 

The OT Toolbox has a great sensory processing checklist to better understand the sensory systems. You can learn more about this sensory processing checklist here.

What happens when a child is so overstimulated by their environment, they are nor able to calm down, without being redirected?

One strategy is having a safe space such as a calm down corner. Consider setting up a preschool classroom with a calming area.

Including a space in your classroom or home that allows children to take a break form their environment, along with using calming techniques (such as deep breaths, squeezing a ball, sipping water), are wonderful ways to help a child center themselves, so they can reintegrate into the classroom in a more calm state of mind. 

Enourage the use of visual, tactile and auditory calm down cues when setting up a preschool classroom, that two year olds understand. 

*If you notice a child having a hard time calming down, even with the removal of noise, they may have more sensitivities to stimuli than others. This is a sign that an Occupational Therapy evaluation might be appropriate, to determine if they need more supports with their sensory system. The occupational therapist will review the sensory systems, triggers, and behavioral outcomes.

A therapist may then suggest a sensory diet as part of the plan. For more information about a sensory diet, check out this search on the OT Toolbox. In addition, this amazing printable includes 130 different ideas on introducing a sensory diet for your child.  

Auditory classroom management is just one aspect of setting up a preschool classroom

Other aspects to consider are:

  • visual input – is your class cluttered, messy, or busy
  • tactile – is there a lot of touching going on, are children in close proximity
  • olfactory – what are all the good/bad smells in the class
  • vestibular – are there times for movement breaks and outlets for energy

Preschool classrooms are a lot of fun, and children are born to be noisy, but if caregivers take the time to create a classroom that has more soothing sounds indoors, children learn to socialize in a calm way. This allows for classroom management to be easier and more productive, supporting every child’s needs. When planning your classroom, home environment, or an outing with your child, notice the auditory stimuli, and how it is affecting your child.

Free Handout: Classroom Auditory Sensitivity Strategies

We’re coming up on the end of our Summer Handout Series here on the OT Toolbox. Want to print of a list of strategies to support auditory sensitivities in the classroom? Use this printable handout as an educational tool to support auditory needs.

This handout is also available inside our Member’s Club. Just go to the handouts section to grab it without entering your email address.

Get the handout by entering your email address into the form below:

Free Handout: Auditory Sensitivity Strategies

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    Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

    The Auditory Processing Kit is one tool to support auditory needs. Use this auditory processing kit to support learners with hyper-responsive or hypo-responsive auditory systems. Use the hands-on activities to support learning and active listening through play and handwriting tasks. Use the handouts and posters to teach about the auditory system and auditory sensitivities, with strategies to support individualized needs.

    The Auditory Processing Kit supports listening and comprehension activities into multisensory learning styles.

    Winter Crossword Puzzle

    Winter crossword puzzle

    This winter crossword puzzle is a therapy tool designed to work on visual perception, handwriting, visual attention, and so much more! Just print off the winter crossword and use it to develop so many skills all season long. Today’s post is all about winter words.  

    This free Winter Crossword Puzzle is a great addition to the blustery winter season. Upon first glance at the title; “Winter Crossword”, you might be thinking this is too difficult for your young learners, or too narrow a focus for a treatment session.  Wait until you see THIS Winter Crossword packet!

    Also be sure to grab our new tall and short worksheet which not only supports visual motor skills, but incorporates the cold thermometers of winter!

    Winter crossword puzzle

    As a related resource for the wintery season is our Winter Fine Motor Kit for winter coloring, cut and paste, sensory boxes, and fine motor fun to get through this blustery season.

    winter crossword puzzle

    We love creating resources that expand on many areas of skill development, and this winter worksheet is no different. What starts out looking like a regular winter crossword puzzle, is full of writing, coloring, visual perception, motor planning, bilateral coordination, strength, executive function, and more.

    This Winter Crossword Puzzle is not just for occupational therapists, parents, or teachers to use. Parents, educators, and speech pathologists will love teaching their learners the words that match these winter pictures, talking about what they mean, as well as practicing writing skills.

    I posted the other day in one of the winter blogs, about the narrow focus of children who have been raised in warmer temperatures. My learners did not know anything about ice skating, igloos, eating icicles, maple syrup snow, sledding, or snowshoes. Thanks to the movie Frozen, they knew about snowballs and snowmen!

    You can add this winter crossword to a collection of winter themed therapy tools:

    This Winter Crossword is a great jumping off point, leading to much discussion and learning about winter.  It is also a multidimensional task that can be adapted and modified to meet the needs of each of your learners.

    How can I modify this winter crossword puzzle?

    The possibilities are endless, however, here are a few ideas:

    • Laminate the Winter Themed Crossword Puzzle page to make it reusable.  This is efficient, environmentally friendly, and motivating for learners who love to write with markers. NOTE: Not all learners love reusable pages. Some learners feel it is important to be able to save their work and take it home.
    • Project it onto a smart board to make it a group task or work on large letters and shoulder stability.
    • Enlarge the task for beginning writers who need more writing space.
    • Shrink the task for older learners who need to learn to write smaller.
    • Try different writing utensils. This is not only motivating, but some learners work better with markers as they glide easier on paper. Did you know that golf sized pencils promote more of a tripod grasp than traditional long pencils?
    • Use different colored paper for more or less visual contrast.
    • Have learners write a sentence using each word clue.
    • Draw pictures of these items.
    • Use all or part of this task.  It can be simply a winter crossword, a writing page, a coloring worksheet, or a design copy task.

    Use a Crossword to develop skills

    Check out the skill set developed by implementing this Winter Crossword Free printable:

    • Fine motor skills: manual dexterity to hold and used a writing tool, coloring and drawing, pencil grasp, writing and copying from a model. You’ll find more winter fine motor activities here.
    • Strength: core strength, hand and wrist stability, finger control
    • Bilateral coordination: using one hand for writing and coloring, while the “helper hand” supports the paper. Keep an eye one which hand is primarily used as the dominant side.  The OT Toolbox has a great post highlighting several winter bilateral coordination activities.
    • Visual perception: Scanning to correctly fit all of the letters in their designated boxes. Visual memory is needed to remember what letters need to go in each box. Figure ground is used to determine where the letters belong in the boxes, or how to copy the shapes.
    • Executive function/behavior/social skills: Following directions, attention to detail, turn taking, waiting, social skills, compliance, behavior, and work tolerance
    • Sustained attention: Work on focus for a short period of time by setting a target to find the answer to one crossword question by setting a timer or working until the question is filled in. This is one way to work on mindful thought, or paying attention to what you’re thinking about while working on tasks. More winter mindfulness activities can be found here.
    • Dexterity: Coloring inside the lines within the small shapes
    • Handwriting: letter formation, sizing, spacing, directionality, line placement, and proportion of letters are all important factors. Check out this number tracing worksheet in case you missed it.

    handwriting and crosswords

    Each teacher, therapist, and school system seem to have a different method of teaching and working on handwriting. Some systems focus on getting the words on the paper no matter how the letters are formed. 

    They emphasize free writing to embrace the written expression. Other systems focus on spelling, with little regard to letter formation.  Some teachers do so much copying of words, their learners don’t rely on memory and kinesthetic awareness to write the letters. 

    Each system has its drawbacks and merits.  NOTE: Once a grasping or letter formation pattern has been used for a long time, it is VERY DIFFICULT to get these patterns changed. 

    My theory is to start correct letter formation and good habits while the learners are first learning to write, rather than trying to remediate later.

    Using a crossword activity like this winter crossword worksheet is a great tool for addressing letter formation because the letters can be formed inside a small area.

    If you just need a breather, the OT Toolbox has a great post on Winter Brain Breaks.  

    Free Winter Crossword Puzzle

    Want to add a copy of this winter crossword worksheet to your therapy toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below. Or, if you are a Member’s Club member, you can access this resource in our Winter Therapy Theme (Level 2) or our freebie dashboard under Handwriting Tools (Level 1 & 2).

    Free Winter Crossword Puzzle

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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 inclusivity. 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.

      Winter Color By Letter Worksheet

      Winter color by letter

      There are many reasons why a color by letter worksheet is a resource to build skills. The winter themed coloring page we made covers even more skills than your typical color by letter worksheets…This Winter color by letter supports skills in handwriting, fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and direction-following with a winter theme. Winter is still in full swing, which is a great opportunity to introduce this Winter Coloring Page, just one of our coloring pages here on the site. It is a color by letter and writing task, with a cute winter bear, since we are “bearly” through winter!

      Also be sure to grab our new winter crossword puzzle and this winter clothes worksheet to target visual discrimination and other visual perceptual skills.

      Winter color by letter sheet

      Winter Color By letter

      It is so cold out there, you might be finding more time inside doing activities rather than outside.

      This color by letter winter scene is a great addition to your winter theme. In addition to this Winter Coloring Page, the OT Toolbox has some great winter themed kits to make your treatment sessions easier. If you do venture outside, be sure to check out these Snow and Ice Activities.

      Color By Letter Worksheets

      A color by letter sheet is a printable tool to work on skills such as visual discrimination, visual figure ground, and the fine motor skills necessary to color in a small space.

      The nice thing about the winter color by letter activity below is that there is a handwriting component as well.

      The printable color by letter page asks children to write the letter that they color in each time they find the letter and finish coloring.

      This task offers several skills for children:

      • In-hand manipulation to pick up the crayon and then place it on the table to then pick up the pencil. There is a lot of manipulation of writing tools to complete these tasks. This supports development of transfer within the hand and using the writing tool to color or write.
      • Copying the letters into the sized boxes for uppercase letter formation and lowercase letter formation. This uppercase/lowercase discrimination supports handwriting and form constancy skill as well as letter sizing.
      • Visual motor skills to visually scan for the correct letter form in the color by letter page and then appropriately match the color to the space on the coloring sheet.

      Luckily for the bear in the winter coloring worksheet, he has his own built in winter coat.  No hoodie necessary!  We also have a great winter activity all about hibernation activities where this would fit in nicely.

      Why should I use this Winter Color by letter?

      To Develop:

      • Fine motor skills: Manipulating and grasping a pencil, crayon, marker, or whatever combination of writing implements you use.  Coordination to fit the letters inside the boxes.  Coloring inside the lines. Remember smaller items such as golf pencils and broken crayons help promote that tripod grasp.
      • Handwriting: Copying and writing letters, letter size, letter formation
      • Strength: core strength, hand and wrist stability. 
      • Bilateral coordination: using one hand for coloring and writing while the “helper hand” supports the paper. Keep an eye on which hand is primarily used as the dominant side to discourage switching
      • Visual perception: figure ground to pick out the letters from the field of many. Scanning to correctly find all of the letters. Visual memory to remember what color each letter section needs to be. Form constancy to recognize the letters in their different forms or sizes
      • Executive function/behavior/social skills: following directions, attention to detail, waiting, social skills, compliance, behavior, and work tolerance
      • Proprioception: how much pressure is used on the crayon/pencil/marker, and how much pressure is put on to the paper

      Use a color by letter Worksheet in therapy

      A color by letter worksheet is a powerhouse of skill building.

      What should I look for when observing or assessing this snow coloring page?

      • How many times do you need to repeat the directions so your learner can follow them?
      • How many reminders does your learner need while doing this color by letter sheet?
      • What is your learner’s frustration tolerance if they make a mistake or have to erase?
      • Is there any cheating or cutting corners going on? There always is.
      • How does your learner motor plan this task?  Do they do all the coloring first, then write all the letters, skip around, haphazardly complete the task, write the letters first, or something else?
      • While your learner switches between tasks such as writing and coloring or using different utensils, how well do they switch focus?
      • Take time to work on executive function if your learner is doing this task the hard way, being inefficient, or missing vital steps.

      Modify a Color by Letter worksheet:

      You can adapt or modify a color by letter worksheet to support different skill development:

      • There are endless utensils to use for coloring.  Markers, crayons, colored pencils, paints, watercolor, chalk, or dry erase pens all provide different input, and require different levels of fine motor skill to manipulate. 
      • Small one inch crayons are excellent for developing those tiny hand muscles.  
      • Chalk, with its grainy texture, provides sensory feedback and can be a positive (or negative) experience
      • Markers glide easily, requiring less precision and grip strength
      • Change writing utensils to appeal to different students and improve their level of motivation. 
      • Some learners do not seem to notice the black borders around coloring sections.  Highlight these with different colors, or trace around each section to demonstrate what “inside the lines” means.
      • Coloring can be assessed by noting the percentage of the item that is filled in, and the number of errors outside of the lines.  This can be tricky sometimes as there are often dozens of stray marks outside of the lines.  Try this: the learner was able to color a two inch shape with 75% coverage and greater than 5 errors out of the lines.
      • Use multiple types of work pages or activities to address each skill. An easy way to work on these skills this winter is this Snowman Activity Kit

      In addition to using this Winter Coloring by Letter Page in your treatment plan, check out the Winter Fine Motor Activities with links to activities, resources, and valuable products.

      Because many learners are resistant to doing writing tasks, try and make this color by letter winter scene multidimensional. Add a sensory component, a gross motor task, glitter, fun pencils, or a book to motivate your learners. Need to work on self regulation?

      How about a Winter Mindfulness Exercise? As you can see, there are tons of resources out there to spice up your winter themed lesson plan, without ever having to venture out into the frozen tundra.

      Stay warm and bundle up!

      Free Winter Color by letter worksheet

      Want a copy of this color-by letter worksheet? Enter your email address into the form below.

      This resource is also inside our Member’s Club. Level 1 members can find this on the Handwriting toolbox. Level 2 members can find it on the Handwriting toolbox and in the Winter Therapy Theme.

      Free Winter Color-By-Letter Sheet

        We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.
        Victoria Wood

        Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

        *The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for inclusivity. 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.

        Name Practice for Kindergarten

        name writing activities for kindergarten

        This blog discusses the developmental criteria needed prior to introducing name writing to kindergarteners, specifically name practice for kindergarten. We’re covering the related fine motor strengthening activities, and ten fun ways to work on name writing practice for kindergarten students. Be sure to check out our resource on name writing activities for more tips at different ages and abilities.

        At this age it’s important to understand the reasoning behind tracing sheets.

        name writing activities for kindergarten

        name practice for kindergarten

        Today’s Kindergarten curriculum includes increased developmental requirements than in previous years, but the opportunities to practice writing can be a “just right” level for many children at this age.

        An important thing to cover when it comes to name writing practice: name writing in kindergarten is when handwriting begins to be developmentally appropriate. In preschool, writing AND pre-writing with a pencil or writing utensil is NOT developmentally appropriate. Preschool curriculum that tell you otherwise are simply inaccurate.

        Being that this article is about kindergarten name writing, know that handwriting in kindergarten requires the establishment of pre-writing skills (which occur through play).

        Once children have developed visual/spatial awareness, pre-writing strokes, and fine motor strength, they are ready to practice writing their name. Also a common consideration in kindergarten name writing is that sometimes children may be developmentally ready, but they don’t show an interest in writing their own names.

        You can practice name writing in lots of different ways that include multisensory name creation and letter recognition games to entice even the most reluctant student.

        Let’s take a deeper look at kindergarten name practice.

        Developmental prerequisites needed for name writing

        There are many skills children need to develop before they are able to write their names. In order for greater success, they need to know the sounds and names of letters, be able to use their body correctly, know how to copy written lines, and so much more.

        For better success rates, many developmental skills are needed for handwriting to be developed before a child is able to write their name:

        • Pre-writing line formation (straight lines, circles, cross, diagonal lines, triangles, squares) 
        • Identifying letters of the alphabet
        • Visual perceptual skills
        • Visual motor skills
        • Fine motor skills to hold and manipulate a writing utensil
        • Spatial relations (positioning, placement, left to right progression)
        • Direction following
        • Eye-hand coordination to place letters on a paper
        • Visual Tracking skills 
        • Crossing midline skills
        • Bilateral coordination skills

        One of the the best ways to learn new skills is through a multi-sensorial approach.

        Letter identification and sounds can be taught through worksheets and flashcards, but kindergartners love to learn through play. 

        How do I know they are ready for name writing practice?

        One of the best ways to know when your child is ready to start writing their name, is by using an assessment tool formulated for kindergarteners.

        This handwriting observations and data collection kit has everything you need to get started. This shape formation and pre-writing screening tool can be used along with observations and data collection to assess and analyze a child’s progression in pre-writing skills.

        Remember that for some kids, in the kindergarten classroom is the first time they are picking up a pencil or any coloring tool. Others may have been “instructed” to write their name before they were developmentally ready. They might have formed inaccurate motor plans for letters. They might have a pencil grasp that is founded in an inefficient grasp due to using a pencil as a writing tool before they were ready. Kindergarten name writing can look like many different things based on these differences.

        Name practice for kindergarten can look like many different things for each kindergartener.

        Now that you have determined that your child is developmentally ready to write their name, let’s take a peek at the most enjoyable name writing practice activities available. 

        Multisensory activities for name writing practice for Kindergarten

        These 10 name writing activities are perfect for kindergarteners ready to take the next step in forming words. Kindergarten name practice can occur through play based activities that support development of underlying skills through play.

        Try some of these name practice for kindergarten.

        • Sensory bin handwriting activity: Fill up a tray with sand, shaving cream or other fine sensory material. Laminate the child’s name on a card and place it next to the tray. Using a stick or capped pen, the child can write their name in the tray material. If the material is thin enough, try putting the name card in the tray for students to uncover
        • Letter b and d reversal activities: Do you have a child that has a lowercase b or d in their name? It is common for kids to interchange these letters when learning how to write. These letter reversal activities will help them learn which letter is which
        • Waiting list: When children are waiting for a turn with a toy, or to complete a task, start a “waiting” list on a white board. When one child would like to use a toy another child is using, they can write their name on the board. When it’s their turn, they erase their name, and another child can write their name.
        • Sensory tracing bag: Place some shaving cream and food coloring in a plastic ziplock bag. Smear the shaving cream around so it takes up the entire bag. Some children love to add glitter to their bag to make them sparkle. Once, the bag is flat, have the child use their pointer finger to write their name on the bag, creating a colorful name. These bags can be made with hair gel and glitter, birdseed, dry rice, or sand.
        • Labeling artwork: Once a child is done drawing, write their name using a yellow highlighter. Have the child trace their name using a pen or marker. 
        • Sidewalk Chalk Painting: Write a child’s name in sidewalk chalk outdoors. Give them a paintbrush and water, and have them “erase” their name by tracing the letters with the wet paintbrush. When they are ready, they can write their own name with sidewalk chalk.
        • Name Kits: A name kit is a great way to organize name practice in a folder for each child in your class. To make a name kit, you’ll need letters of the name in different fonts, letter magnets, and writing strips. By adding a laminated name card, the plastic letters in their name, letter cut outs, and a few other name products, kids can grab their name kit at any time to practice the letter order and spelling of their name. We have many different letter activities available that can be used with many different students in our Letter Fine Motor Kit. The kit can be printed off and used with an entire therapy caseload, printing off the letters needed for each student. You’ll find many letter manipulatives in the kit.
        • Name Tracing Folders: Isolating the index finger to trace letters in our name, or using a writing utensil to trace letters, can help children learn the order in which the letters in their name go. 
        • Magnetic Letter Names: Use magnetic letters along with a magnetic surface such as a cookie sheet, refrigerator, or even building names on the garage door to build names using a name cards, to allow children to practice spelling their names anytime. This spoons and magnetic letters activity is another fun idea.
        • Play dough Names: Use colored play dough to roll, stretch and cut the dough. Children can spell their names with the play dough both indoors and outdoors.
        • Graph Paper Letter Boxes: Use large graph paper or letter boxes for students to write one letter of their name in each box. This helps with sizing and spacing, and is often less frustrating to the new learner.
        • Velcro letters: Add velcro to several letters. Have students find the matching letters to their name and stick them onto a board. Pulling velcro is a great finger strengthening activity

        A final note about name writing

        Name writing practice for kindergarten students is an essential part of their curriculum. Name writing is an essential skill students will need for life, but it is important to remember all of the developmental skills needed in order to write a name.

        Allowing children plenty of time to practice, and a variety of multi sensory activities, will make name writing fun. It may take a few months before children are able to write their names legibly, without tracing, because everyone develops at a different pace.

        Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

        The Letter Fine Motor Kit has many letter manipulatives to allow kindergarten students to practice name writing with different letter activities and letter cards to support name writing practice through fine motor play.

        Parallel Play: Definition, Benefits & Activities

        parallel play

        In this blog we will discuss the importance of parallel play in young children, its benefits, and ways adults can support social skill development with young toddlers through this type of play. One aspect of occupational therapy play, parallel play is both a tool and a main job of kids!

        parallel play

        What is parallel play?

        Parallel Play refers to, playing near or alongside another person. It is a developmental phase of childhood development. The act of participating in building social boundaries by playing along side a peer offers a variety of learning opportunities, especially when adults facilitate interactions through creating an engaging environment. 

        This stage of play is a crucial stepping stone in navigating friendships. It’s an opportunity to practice social interactions in a “safe” manner as young children play side-by-side. 

        parallel play age

        Parallel play occurs between the ages of 18 months to 2 years of age. Although this age range is a common stage for many children, parallel play can exist beyond the age of two years. This play age is when we see a lot of growth.

        Children of all ages can play near or alongside a peer.

        Even adults can participate in leisure activities using parallel play!

        parallel play development

        Development of parallel play

        Parallel play occurs when children play in groups, in preschool classrooms, day care centers, playdates, or in small groups, including alongside siblings. Playmates that play beside one another may be using the same toys or playthings or they may be using different toys.

        It’s an opportunity to build social skills by observing a peer, using new words and building on language development, seeing new vocabulary in action, exploring different scenarios, exploring social behavior, even at a young age.

        Parallel play is a process in social emotional learning and social emotional development, and includes practice in the social development that might not happen in stages of play prior to parallel play (unoccupied play, solitary play, and onlooker play).

        Because parallel play requires proximity to other children, it’s a great way to practice the skills needed for play stages after parallel play as well, leading to a healthy development of social awareness.

        There are six stages of play in early childhood including:

        1. Unoccupied play
        2. Solitary play
        3. Onlooker play
        4. Parallel play 
        5. Associative play 
        6. Cooperative play 

        Parallel play is the fourth stage of play development, and the beginning of children exploring relationships with those around them. Child development is centered on play and parallel play is just one of those stages

        Parallel Play is one of six stages of development!

        Parallel play is just one of the six stages of play. As children navigate sharing space and toys with peers, they are learning communication, sensory, spatial awareness and other developmental milestones in a group setting.

        History of Play development

        The history of parallel play is discussed in this blog stating that, “Parallel play (or parallel activity) is a term that was introduced by Mildred Parten in 1932 to refer to a developmental stage of social activity in which children play with toys like those the children around them are using, but are absorbed in their own activity, and usually play beside rather than with one another.” 

        There have been many different studies done on play. One of the most well-known educational philosopher, Maria Montessori, highlights the importance of all stages of play within her research.

        Benefits of parallel play

        During this parallel play stage, children in this age range learn:

        • Language and communication skills   
        • Sharing/taking turns 
        • Motor planning skills
        • Self regulation
        • Creativity
        • Fine motor skills and gross motor skills 
        • Emotions/expression 
        • Independence and confidence
        • Social cues from peers
        • Social and personal boundaries
        • Body awareness
        • Awareness of surroundings
        • Fine motor skills

        You can see how parallel play is a powerful tool for learning during the preschool years!

        Examples of Parallel Play

        You have probably seen parallel play in action in the classroom, home, or anywhere more than one child are interacting together in play experiences. 

        When observing play at a park, children between the ages of 2 and 3 engage in parallel play as they interact with toys in the same area, such as the sandbox.

        As they dig and pour the sand, children may allow others into their space, but don’t acknowledge what they are doing, or try to join their play.

        • Playing alongside one another using similar toys in a pretend play area in a preschool classroom
        • Playing in a shared space with different toys such as blocks and dolls
        • Engaging in DIR Floor Play alongside an adult
        • Playing in a shared environment with similar toys or experiences, but with individual play experiences (in a block center where each child builds their own blocks, in a play dough center where each child plays with their own play dough, etc.)
        • Playing on playground equipment at a school playground where each child uses similar or different equipment and participates in their own pretend scenarios

        While children are in the imitation stage, adults can support their development by providing large areas where many children can play near each other with similar toys. This includes investigative art opportunities, large motor play, block areas, book areas and open ended spaces.  

        Parallel Play Activities

        Here are five fun parallel play games for you to try. 

        • Investigating art – In the Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education, the atelier (art studio) is a focal point of the classroom. Children of any age, and in any play stage, benefit from exploring different types of art materials. For the child engaging in parallel play, observations of other individuals are often made. Whether indoors or out, providing children with different art supplies, will draw interest in the shared space. Set up this space by providing seating areas that are safe to explore paints, clay, recycled materials and more.
        • Sensory exploration – Parallel play development can be developed in sensory play. Sensory bins, tubs, and activities provide the opportunity for multiple children to engage in tactile exploration at the same time. Although they may not be engaging directly with the children in their group, they will be enthusiastic about standing/sitting near others. Sensory bins can be filled with a variety of items that are readily available, such as sand, rice, rocks, grass, birdseed, or water. They can also be seasonally themed, like these fall sensory ideas. Messy sensory play with shaving cream is a great tactile activity.
        • Building  areas – blocks, Legos, Lincoln logs, tinker toys, train tracks, and other building materials are fun for children of any age to promote parallel play. A block area creates a smaller space with a variety of opportunities children enjoy. A building area can be set up in the classroom or a home. Scaffolding the learning environment, where adults lay out items that encourage children to explore topics and practice new skills, is a wonderful way to support parallel play.  A block area can includes hard hats, road signs, books about building, plastic animals, and more!
        • Storybook access – A library filled with different types of books interesting to young children is a perfect parallel play environment. As children pick out the book they like, sit on a bean bag or carpet square to read, they are actively being part of a small reading group. Adding some baby dolls, stuffed animals, blankets and pillows entices young children to stay in the reading nook longer. Some classrooms put up a small tent for reading time, or build a treehouse loft in the class. 
        • Small group fine motor play- A small table with four or five chairs is the perfect spot to set up a fine motor activity for the age level you are teaching. This parallel play set up is ideal, allowing young children to have their own space, while still playing near familiar children. Examples of activities to include in this area are stacking cups, building block towers, muffin tin sorting, scissor skill activities, rainbow chain links and play dough. You can find more ideas perfect for toddlers here on the OT Toolbox.

        supporting children through conflict

        When children are playing near each other, problems don’t often occur, but what happens when one child gets too close to another, or they take a toy that another child is playing with?

        Sometimes children become frustrated with the actions of their peers, and need extra visual and tactile support to navigate calming down and problem solving. As children become more comfortable with parallel play through fun and engaging activities, they are able to develop foundational skills necessary for social and emotional development.

        As children are developing their play skills, they often need support from adults on how to communicate appropriately. Using visual and tactile tools to support calm down and problem solving skills are necessary when engaging with toddlers who are having big emotions.

        Once a child is calm, supporting their conflict negotiation skills through simple questions and narrating the situation, will help toddlers find a solution and also learn skills needed to communicate with peers in the future.

        Some short phrases to use with toddlers when helping them identify the cause of their frustration and problem solving are:

        • I see that _________ took/grabbed/kicked/etc_____________. 
        • You seem mad. What happened?
        • ___________wanted to be closer to you, but you didn’t want that. 
        • How can I help you ______________?
        • What would you like to do instead?
        • Do you need a break?
        • Would you like to try _______ instead?

        One program that includes easy-to-understand calming activities for two years olds is the (Amazon affiliate link) Soothing Sammy program I developed. 

        It includes a story about Sammy, a golden retriever, who lives in a house that children visit when they are sad or upset. Sammy supports children through processing their feelings by sharing with them a variety of sensory objects (water, cold washcloth, crunchy snack, a spot to jump, and more!)

        Although parallel play is a short term developmental stage, it is an important step that bridges the gap from independent exploration to building collaborative friendships. Teachers, caregivers, and parents play a critical role in providing safe and interesting opportunities for children to play and socialize with others. 

        Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

        Developmental Tools for Teaching Letter Recognition

        teaching letter recogntion

        This blog discusses activities for teaching letter recognition. At its most basic, letter recognition refers to letter identification. It is one of the main skills children need to know before they can name, write, or sound out the letters. The following fun letter recognition games for preschoolers are based on development and skill progression.

        Be sure to read through our blog post on name practice for kindergarten for resources and tools to support letter use and recognition in children ages 5-6 or for kids at the level where they are recognizing letters in their name.

        Use our new color by letter worksheet to further develop this letter recognition skill.

        Teaching letter recognition

        What you need to know about Teaching Letter recognition

        Letter recognition, or the ability to recognize and identify letters begins at a very young age. But did you know that teaching letter recognition skills starts way before kindergarten and and even before entering the classroom?

        Kindergarten students are many times exposed to writing and copying letters on trace worksheets, and writing pages. But before a young child can do these skills that are part of the curriculum, knowing what skills lead up to these skills is helpful.

        Even before a young preschooler is able to identify and name letters in printed context such as books or letter play activities, they are learning this skill through the immersion of seeing letters in everyday life.

        Letter identification and the ability to recognize letters in printed form might occur through exposure on television, printed media, following along while a book is being read, or while engaging with technology. 

        There is a progression in the important literacy skill of recognizing printed letters:

        • Letter recognition in isolation – example, pointing out all of the upper case letter As on a letter picture book
        • Letter recognition in every day life – example pointing out the letter S on a stop sign
        • Letter identification – identifying and stating letter’s names
        • Letter identification in text -reading and sounding out a letter’s sound in reading or sounding out written text
        • Matching upper case and lowercase letters– matching the upper case letters to lowercase, and vice versa

        Each step of teaching letter recognition skills is founded in experience and practice. This includes communication with others, exposure, and reading with caregivers. 

        Not every child learns the same way. Starting as young as preschool, caregivers can support children by using their interests and strengths to teach them new skills.

        Children don’t need to read or write until well beyond toddlerhood, but preschoolers enjoy looking at books, finding letters on walks, and learning letters through movement. 

        The best way to teach letter recognition
        The best way to teach letter recognition is by first covering the prerequisite skills.

        Prerequisites to Letter Teaching Letter Recognition

        Several areas are needed to develop letter recognition skills:

        • Object permanence
        • Form constancy
        • Visual discrimination
        • Visual figure ground
        • Working memory
        • Visual memory
        • Visual scanning skills
        • Cognitive skills
        • Physical development

        You can see that these components are founded in visual motor skills, perceptual skills, and working memory.

        Before any of this can happen (and through the process), young children should be exposed to rhymes, songs, and singing the alphabet song. (Add alphabet exercises for movement fun!) This is actually the first step in the road to literacy!

        Teaching letter recognition requires Visual discrimination Skills

        Letter recognition/identification is when a person is able to look at a letter and recall it from previous experience. Recognition of letters occurs both in uppercase and lowercase form. Additionally, there is a cursive letter recognition aspect as well. This blog post covers cursive letter recognition skills.

        This site states that even before letter identification, there are a few other skills that should be taught, including visual discrimination, so the child is able to find differences among lines and shapes. 

        Visual discrimination can be taught in isolation through books or worksheets, or in games and activities such as Memory games, matching and sorting activities, or playing “what’s the same” and “what’s different” through hidden picture activities and puzzles.  We cover this visual perceptual skill in our blog post, Wacky Wednesday book activity.

        Visual Memory Another great play-based activity to develop the visual perceptual memory skills needed for letter recognition, are games that challenge kids to notice differences. Present the child with a tray of everyday items, and ask them to memorize the items on the tray. Ask them to look away or cover their eyes. Take away one or more items, and have them recall the missing items. 

        Letter activities- Other ways to encourage letter play is through printed alphabet worksheets, puzzles, letter magnets, or other alphabet manipulatives such as letter beads. You can ask the child to sort letters based on shape, such as those that include straight lines, versus curved line, or diagonal letters. You can also sort letters by letters based on size: tall letters, short letters, and letters with a tail that hangs below the lines.

        One way to encourage functional handwriting is through addressing letter size. This tall and short worksheet has a fine motor and visual motor component that can be incorporated into whole-body movement activities to teach these concepts that carryover into letter sizing and use in handwriting.

        Prerequisites to teaching letter recognition begins in infancy

        These prerequisite skills that support letter recognition, such as visual discrimination and memory, develop as early as infancy, when young children identify 3D objects that are familiar to them like their bottle, favorite toy, or their parents. It is important infants experience tummy time in order to develop visual motor skills, and strong oculomotor skills, as a result of time spent on the belly while looking at objects.

        As children grow, their visual discrimination becomes more refined and they are able to identify pictures and written words.

        Toddlers are able to point to a picture of a puppy in a book they are reading, or identify who is hiding under the blanket.

        Object permanence and working memory

        When a child sees an object and knows what it is called, this is referred to as object permanence. This requires working memory skill development to use what is seen, remember it, and store it for later retrieval.

        While visual discrimination is the ability to detect differences and similarities in size, shape, color and pattern, cognitive ability is necessary to recognize these differences based on previous exposure, along with memory to have stored that information away in their mind’s eye to recall when needed.

        This skill is typically associated with letter formation and handwriting skills. Identifying and discriminating between differences in letters allow kids to copy and write letters from memory. However, noticing and identifying the differences in the curves, diagonal lines, and lines that make up a letter are essential build up to that skill.

        Hearing and saying the letter sounds associated with letters are part of the process, too. Phonemic awareness is developed initially through play, but this skill continues to develop and progress as reading and literacy skills are refined in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and beyond.

        Teaching letter recognition begins with the ability to recognize details in visual images

        In more depth, students should identify likeness and differences of shapes or forms, colors, as well as the position of various objects and people. Developing discrimination skills will help children learn the alphabet and then both read and print letters a lot better. 

        There are numerous types of visual discrimination that children should begin to understand and develop. These include: 

        • 3D Objects
        • Shapes
        • Drawings & Pictures
        • Colors
        • Letters and Words
        • Sequences

        Letter recognition games

        The letter recognition activities and games and listed below are fun ways to instruct children in the essential skills needed for reading and literacy. It’s literally the building block to reading.

        • Name Recognition- Start with recognizing the letters of their name. Point out letters in the child’s name and ask them to point to letters in a book or on a sign. Children can first begin with recognizing upper case letters of their name, then moving onto the lowercase letters. Working first with uppercase letters is best, because capital letters are easier to discriminate between. Lowercase letters have many similar letters, b,d,p,g,q, and j. 
        • Bean Bag Letter Toss – Affix upper and lowercase letter stickers to one side of each bean bag. Put a basket or bucket across from your child. As your child throws the bean bags into the bucket, ask them to name the letters and their sounds of the letters. Students can run around looking for matching letters scattered around the room.
        • Alphabet Play dough- Write down large letters on a piece of paper and place that paper into a sheet protector. Encourage your child to form the letters on the sheet protector with play dough of their choosing.
        • I Spy Letter Walk –Take a walk with your child and look for letters in their environment such as on license plates, street signs and building. Play, I Spy, searching for different letters, or letters in sequential order. The printable tools in the Letter Fine Motor Kit are a great resource for this activity.
        • Jumping to letters – Create a letter pathway with sidewalk chalk on a playground or sidewalk. Children can walk, run, jump, or crawl across the letters, naming them as they move forward! Change it up by asking them to walk backwards along the path. This is a fun motor planning activity.
        • Chasing the Alphabet – (Amazon affiliate link:) Sammy Chases the Alphabet is a book I wrote about Sammy the Golden Dog playing fetch with balls around his farm. Each ball has a letter on it. After you read the book, bring the story to life by adding letter stickers to ball pit balls. Toss the balls around a room or outside, and encourage your child to find them all, naming the letters on each ball they find.
        • Food Alphabet Worksheets – Pair real food items with these food worksheets. These worksheets include the letter, a food that starts with the letter, and all of the letters that make the word. As children sound out each letter, ask them to point to the letter that makes that sound.

        more letter recognition Activities

        Alphabet activities like the ones below support recognition skills through repetition. Alphabet recognition occurs through songs, play, and hands-on activities.

        • The Soundabet Song – Letter identification doesn’t just include what letters look like, it also includes what letters sound like. Can your child point to the letter name as well as the sound it makes? This Soundabet Song is a great way to teach kids how to pair the sounds of the letters to what the letters look like. 
        • Letter Push – This ABC play dough activity uses plastic letters and play dough! Add in some fine motor skills to alphabet identification, by having children push plastic letters into play dough while they name the letter. This can be done as a circle time game, where each child take a turn pushing in a letter, or a small group time where every child has the opportunity to push the play dough letters. 
        • Alphabet Sensory Bins – Nothing keeps my preschoolers entertained more then a large sensory bin! Adding alphabet letters or letter markers to the sensory bins for children to find and match, is one of the most exciting letter identification games. Check out these sensory bin base ideas to use in different letter recognition sensory  bins.
        • This alphabet sensory writing tray requires users to recognize letters by uncovering them from a sensory medium. This is a great activity for recognizing letter parts such as diagonals or the curved part of a letter as the letter is uncovered.
        • Metal alphabet tray play – My favorite is to add a metal pan to the sensory table, and ask kids to stick the magnet letters they find in the sensory materials onto the metal pan!
        • Alphabet Discover Bottle – This sensory discovery bottle can be used before naptime, bedtime, in a calm down corner, or as a learning activity. As children shake the bottle, they can name the letters that appear! 
        • Match letters- Match uppercase letters to lower case letters, match different fonts of letters, and match letters in different environments (books, signs, on television, in print, etc.)
        • Gross motor activities- Use a letter floor mat to jump on a specific letter. Ask the child to find a letter magnet and place it on the letter mat.
        • Letter recognition scavenger hunts- Use ideas like these letter clothes pins scavenger hunt for ideas.
        • Write letters in shaving cream or in sand
        • Sort letters by word families when teaching letter groups
        • Play beginning sound games- I spy with my little eye, a word that starts with /b/
        • Use dot markers to dot letters
        • Spot letters on a white board and trace with a dry erase marker
        • make letters from pipe cleaners
        • Sensory play activities
        • Trace letters on sandpaper

        A final note teaching letter recognition skills:

        Learning through play doesn’t have to be stressful. Every child learns differently, and that includes recognizing letters of the alphabet. Once a child has developed the visual discrimination, expressive and receptive language skills needed to participate in letter identification activities, notice what motivates them to learn.

        Do they like to move, cut, color, dance, or sing? Pick a letter activity that you know your child will love, and they will keep coming back for more. This will result in increasing their attention span and learning new letters daily. Follow your child’s interests and you will surely have a wonderful time!

        Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

        The Letter Fine Motor Kit is a 100 page printable packet includes everything you need for hands-on letter learning and multisensory handwriting!

        This resource is great for pediatric occupational therapists working on handwriting skills, fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and more. Use the activities to promote a variety of functional tasks.

        Teachers will find this printable packet easily integrated into literacy centers, classroom activities, and multisensory learning.

        Parents will find this resource a tool for learning at home, supporting skill development, and perfect for therapy at home!


        Grab the Letter Fine Motor Kit and use all of the senses, including heavy work, or proprioceptive input, through the hands ask kids build and manipulate materials to develop handwriting and letter formation skills.

        STEM Fine Motor Activities

        Fine motor STEM activities

        Occupational therapists work with fine motor development as a cornerstone of treatment.  With the current trend toward STEM education, it makes sense to blend the two into fine motor STEM activities and treatment in order to be more efficient and effective.

        Fine motor STEM activities

        What is STEM?

        STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 24%, while other occupations are growing at 4%.  Children in the United States score lower on science and math than students in other countries. 

        The push for STEM curriculum helps bridge the gap between genders and races, that are sometimes found in science and math fields.  Students with special needs also lag in these academic areas. Research shows there are not enough students pursuing science, technology, engineering, or mathematic degrees, as compared to the available jobs.

        According to the National Science Foundation, “In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”

        Why Fine Motor and STEM?

        Science, technology, electronics and mathematics do not just involve cognitive ability. Fine motor skills are needed for STEM careers that involve typing, building, writing, solving equations, experimenting, research, surgery, as well as everyday function. 

        STEM fine motor activities are going to be much more important to build these important skills. As technology gets more scientific and advanced, so too will the need for precise fine motor skills.  Surgeries are much more advanced than 100 years ago.  Engineers are working on tiny circuits and micro computers.

        I saw a BMW prototype last week that morphs from a car to a plane that can soar over traffic!  Imagine the dexterity it takes to build that kind of machine!

        When should I start working on STEM fine motor activities?  

        Caregivers start addressing fine motor skills in babyhood. Encouraging a passion for science and technology can start at the same time.

        Selecting a few fine motor toys for young learners that address fine motor skills while developing STEM education. 

        For example, check out this super cute (Amazon affiliate link) Frog Balancing Game that can be modified for many different levels of learners. This one game involves:

        • math – counting, sorting, adding, number recognition
        • science -measuring weight, comparison
        • fine motor skills – pick up and manipulate the small objects, hold the cards
        • visual motor skills – read the cards and process the information

        How do I make this transition to fine motor STEM?

        Change is hard. Especially for seasoned therapists who have used a certain system for a long time, or feel that what they are doing works.  The good news is, you have already been doing STEM fine motor activities with your learners. 

        Check out this link on Amazon (affiliate link) to toys/activities that address STEM fine motor activities and skills.

        On The OT Toolbox, we share tons of fine motor activity ideas to incorporate STEM into fine motor treatment. Occupational therapists do not usually correlate these activities with STEM, but they fit into both categories.  

        Remember pegboard Geo Boards?  This classic game builds fine motor strength, following directions, coordination, motor planning, visual motor skills, visual perception, frustration tolerance, and executive function.  It ALSO addresses math using measurement, shape recognition and patterns; science learning about rubber bands and tension; and engineering to create patterns from a picture.

        Fine motor STEM and Lego  

        Legos are another classic toy. Use activity analysis to break this game down into its fine motor components, as well as incorporating math, engineering, or technology. 

        There is more to LEGO bricks than being able to follow a diagram to make a Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle (love this by the way!).  Speaking of the Hogwarts castle, there was definitely math, engineering, AND fine motor skills needed to build that superstructure. 

        Learners can also make graphs of their LEGO, use them for adding/subtracting, use engineering to create items with moving parts, and that is just the beginning. 

        By thinking outside the box, learners with special needs can find their special ability using Legos also.

        classic toys for STEM fine motor activities

        The lists of (Amazon affiliate link) classic toys occupational therapists incorporate into treatment plans is endless.  Take another look at these classics to see how they fit into science, technology, engineering or math.  

        • Peg boards
        • Lacing cards
        • Magnets
        • Measuring tape
        • Swings
        • Pop the Pig, Connect 4, Trouble, Candy Land
        • Lincoln Logs, Connex, Erector Set
        • Baking
        • Slime

        Fine motor and STEM activities do not have to include experiments, games, and hands-on activities.  Worksheets serve the purpose of addressing both categories very well. 

        The OT Toolbox has great fine motor kits for each season that incorporate math and science along with addressing those needed fine motor skills. 

        More ideas from the OT Toolbox

        As a seasoned therapist myself, I may dig my heels in at the idea of changing the way I do treatment, or learning a new method. I give a heavy sigh of relief knowing I have been doing STEM all along. I just didn’t call it that. 

        Even though occupational therapists are providing the right activities to work on goal achievement, they may be running into students with lack of motivation, refusal, and general dislike of many of the treatment ideas asked of them. 

        Teachers and therapists need to help bridge this gap early on, and find a way to teach all learners a respect for STEM and fine motor education.

        You are doing a great job incorporating what you already know, into something new!

        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.

        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:

        Fun Friendship Activities for Preschoolers

        Preschool friendship activities

        The preschool setting is a place social emotional skills develop, and these friendship activities for preschoolers are sure to be a hit in the preschool classroom. We’ve covered friendship activities in the past, but these preschool activities support development during the early years. Preschool is a wonderful age, full of exploration and a thirst for knowledge, and making friends in preschool is one aspect of learning. It also comes with a set of challenges while learning to navigate social skills.

        This blog discusses the foundational social and emotional skills that support friendships in preschoolers. It also includes seven friendship building activities. If you are looking for ideas for friendship lesson plans, these ideas are founded in developmental progression.

        Preschool friendship activities

        Friendship Activities for Preschoolers

        Young children in preschool begin to practice friendship building skills with others, such as cooperation, negotiation, turn taking, communication and trust.

        Children as young as three years of age may make inseparable friendships that prove the importance of social function. While participating in specific activities designed to develop friendship skills, children are participating in social emotional learning.

        Preschool Friendship and social skills

        Emotional intelligence is part of development during the preschool years. Over the course of ages 2-5, many of these skills develop in order to support friendship.

        The emotional intelligence skills that impact friendship include:

        • Empathy
        • Awareness of others
        • Awareness of impact of self on others
        • Conversation
        • Self-management
        • Relationship management

        There are six social skills needed to make and sustain friendships at any age. Preschoolers often experience their first group experiences at the park, preschool, in a community sport, or family event.

        The more that children have opportunities to participate in group activities, their social and emotional skills develop and refine, as they prepare for less adult intervention in Kindergarten and beyond. 

        Social emotional considerations that impact friendship skills in young children include:

        1. Cooperation
        2. Negotiation
        3. Turn taking
        4. Communication
        5. Trust
        6. Emotional regulation
        Let’s take a closer look at the friendship skills preschoolers develop during the ages of 3-5, and explore friendship activities for preschoolers that support development in each of these areas:


        When children are engaging in activities with others, understanding the needs of others, while also acknowledging their own needs, they are cooperating. As described in this Zero to Three blog, “Cooperation is the ability to balance one’s own needs with someone else’s. We often think of cooperation as children doing what adults want.

        That is compliance. True cooperation means a joint effort—a give and take that is mutually satisfying. To develop a cooperative spirit in children, we need to help them understand how our requests and rules are good for everyone.”


        Negotiation is the ability to communicate with others in order to compromise on how to complete a task.  This Embracing Horizon’s blog describes the difference between negotiations and arguments. It is important to understand that negotiation is a life skill. “The art of successful negotiation is a skill which is important to social situations throughout life; going far beyond agreeing on a movie to watch with the whole family.

        Negotiation involves abilities such as listening to others, expressing empathy, and to coming to a good compromise.”

        Turn Taking

        Turn taking is a skill that often needs adult intervention, especially with preschoolers. Children who are working together, often need to take turns with toys or objects.

        Children can utilize turn taking resources, such as turn taking cards, lists, timers, picture symbols, or participate in teacher directed turn take activities, such as group games, or assignment of class jobs, to become familiar with waiting until it is their turn. My book, Sammy Learns to Share: A Lesson in Turn Taking includes some great turn taking tips and resources for the classroom. 


        As children develop communication skills, they are able to be understood, and understand other children. Communication can be verbal, gestural, non verbal, or through using picture exchange cards. When children can communicate their wants, needs, and ideas clearly to each other, they are more equipped to be able to cooperate in large group activities.

        As children advance into new developmental stages, their communication skills advance, and their play skills become more sophisticated. Lack of language skills is often a source of frustration and maladaptive behavior among small children, especially those with communication disorders.

        It’s through play that children develop skills like communication and social emotional skills. Read here about fine motor activities for preschoolers that support these areas of development.


        The foundation of any relationship is trust. If someone says they are going to do something, then they need to do it. This consistency and reliability builds trust. As preschoolers grow and engage with others, they learn to follow through with their promises, and expect others to do the same.

        They learn that adults generally do what they say they are going to do, follow routines, follow-through with promises, and offer positive reinforcements. 

        Emotional Regulation

        When young children become overwhelmed and are unable to communicate their feelings with others, completing a group task can be difficult. Children who practice calm down and problem solving skills, are more easily able to participate in a variety of group activities, even when they become frustrated.

        My book, Soothing Sammy’s Emotional Program, teaches children how to help calm down, communicate and problem solve in a positive way. 

        7 Friendship activities for Preschoolers

        Include these games and activities when developing preschool lesson plans:

        1. Friendship Hands Group Project is one of my favorite pre-K activities! The handprints are of the kids in the class, and we write down exactly what they like best about their friends inside the heart! All you need is a marker, some paint and a large piece for cardboard!
        2. Group Art- is a great way to encourage cooperation, collaboration and negotiation. Roll out a long piece of butcher paper and provide only one package of markers. Children are able to decorate the paper however they would like, but they have to take turns with the markers, discuss how they want to split up the area of the paper, and figure out where each peer will be drawing. A lot of times, the kids end up sharing the space with their peers, creating some amazing images together. 
        3. Dramatic Play Roles and Props – Creating a pretend play area in the classroom that is based off of the interest of the children, by the children, and for the children, is one of the most exciting and collaborative experiences that I have had the pleasure of taking part in. Props that preschoolers can use in play include interactive toys, sharing toys, imagination toys, and manipulatives for pretend play. As children create props, assign roles, and negotiate through the process, they are able to practice all of the components of building friendships.
        4. Friendship Gross Motor ActivitiesPreschoolers love to move. These super fun gross motor activities make building friendships fun! They include activities such as, “move like your friends,” that supports the  developing and awareness of personal space.
        5. Friendship Books – We have many friendship activities for preschoolers in our Exploring Books through Play book. Reading books about friendship is a wonderful way for children to talk about characters in a book, describe how they became friends, and what make their friendship special. Our Leonardo the Terrible Monster activity that pairs with the book, Leonard and the Terrible Monster, is fun way to extend the conversation about friendship into small group time. My book, Sammy Goes to Preschool, talks about friendship between children of all abilities. 
        6. Friendship Science Activities – These friendship science activities are bound to be a great time for everyone! They include measuring activities, fingerprints, homemade telescopes, flowers, and more! You’ll find more science and exploration activities in the book Exploring Books Through Play.
        7. Circle Time Friendship Games – When all the children in the classroom are sitting together and ready to engage, this is a great time to participate in some friendship games. Friendship games to use during circle time activities are fun. They include the Friendship Yarn Web, Friendship Matching Game, and Friendly Music Chairs!

        A final note of preschool friendships

        Building friendships takes a lot of different skills, most are learned in the early years. Preschoolers will not be able to do it on their own, so it is up to adults to help facilitate friendship skills through modeling, providing resources, and having age appropriate expectations of early childhood development. As children practice their language, social and play skills, friendships will form, and children will learn life-long skills.

        Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

        Exploring Books Through Play contains 50 hands-on, multi-sensory play-centered activities for anyone helping kids learn about friendship, acceptance, empathy, compassion, and differences in others.

        In this preschool friendship activity book, kids can develop social emotional skills resource, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books.

        Each preschool book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. The resource helps preschoolers understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play. Get Exploring Books Through Play today.