Playground Balance Activities

playground balance activities

Today I have a fun activity for kids…playground balance activities! This virtual playground activity has various movement and coordination tasks that challenge kids to work on posture, position changes, coordination, core strength, and much more. While playing at the playground is the way to go to develop gross motor skills, sometimes getting outdoors is just not possible. That’s where this playground therapy slide deck comes in!

Playground balance activities for sensory play and coordination when going to the playground isn't possible. Use these in a playground theme in therapy activities.

Playground Balance Activities

When you think about playing at the playground, you think climbing, stooping, sliding, and balancing, right? There are so many ways that playing on playground equipment is such a powerful way to develop gross motor skills, balance, coordination, and overall strength.

But, sometimes it’s just not possible to get out to the playground. Things like weather can impact playground use. Other times, limitations in using public spaces impacts use of the playground in the school setting. And, for therapists running therapy sessions, sometimes you want to incorporate all of the fun of a playground setting in the therapy clinic!

When you access this playground balance activity slide deck, you get to pretend you are at the playground no matter what setting you are in. Then, by following the commands on each slide, children can get all of the benefits of stooping, crawling, balancing, and changing postures.

Each slide on this free slide deck asks kids to follow the visual cue. There are visuals for different playground task. Things like:

  • Balancing on one leg by monkey bars
  • Stooping to pick up a ball
  • Kicking a ball
  • Squatting to play in the sandbox
  • Climbing on playground equiptment
  • Throwing a ball
  • Climbing on a merry-go-round
  • Jumping rope
  • Reaching up for monkey bars.

Playground theme therapy

By going through the playground exercises, kids work on a variety of areas:

  • Bilateral coordination
  • Motor planning
  • Core strength
  • Stabiliyt
  • Position changes
  • Sequencing
  • Motor control
  • Graded positioning
  • Posture
  • Balance
  • Direction-following

These skills impact daily functioning in kids! Why not use a playground theme to work on these skill areas?

When kids follow the directions on each slide, they are also gaining whole-body movements and heavy work input that can be calming as a regulation tool.

If creating a weekly therapy theme works for your plans, then this playground theme is one you’ll want to add to your line up of occupational therapy activities and PT activities. You can use these playground balance exercises in therapy sessions to incorporate a therapy theme.

  1. Try using these visual playground strategies in between other tasks in a therapy session. Work on handwriting, scissor skills, and other functional tasks. And then come back to the balance activity. Then do another task and come back to the balance activity.
  2. Kids can work through the slides and try to remember all of the movements.
  3. Call out a piece of playground equipment and the child can recall the specific balance exercise. This is a great way to work on working memory and attention to detail.
  4. Incorporate handwriting: Ask students to list out all of the playground equipment. Work on letter formation, legibility, spacing, and line use. Then they can go through the slides and do the balance exercises.
  5. Add these activities to a sensory diet that helps kids regulate sensory input. Our outdoor sensory diet cards are the perfect combination to a playground theme!

Free Playground Balance Activities Slide Deck

Want to access this free therapy resource? It’s just one of the many free slides here on the website. All you need to do is enter your email address into the form below. You’ll receive a PDF containing a link to a Google slide deck. Copy it onto your drive and you are good to go! Start playing on the playground no matter where you are!

Playground Balance Activities

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

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

    Tear Paper for Fine Motor Skills

    Tear paper fine motor activity

    Did you know you can tear paper to improve fine motor skills using materials you already have in your home? I have an incredibly easy fine motor activity to share: tearing paper! When kids tear paper, they are developing fine motor skills like grasp, hand strength, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, and more. So often, parents are looking for easy ways to help kids develop fine motor skills, and the very material that can improve all of these areas is found right in the home. Let’s break down tearing paper as an amazing fine motor activity for kids.

    Tear paper to build fine motor skills and to use in occupational therapy activities like improving coordination, visual motor skills, and more.

    Tear Paper for Fine Motor Skills

    Tearing paper a simple fine motor activity that requires only scrap paper and your hands. In fact, tearing paper actually helps children develop so many essential skills: hand strength, hand eye coordination, precision, refined movements, bilateral coordination…

    When a child tears a piece of paper, they improve hand strength and endurance in the small muscles in the hand.  These intrinsic muscles are important in so many fine motor skills, including those important to handwriting and coloring, managing buttons and zippers, manipulating pegs, and more.  

    When paper is torn, the hands assume a great tripod grasp which is effective and a mature grasp for writing and coloring.  The non-dominant hand is assisting in the tearing and encourages appropriate assistance for tasks like holding the paper while writing, and managing paper while cutting with scissors.  

    Just look at the skills kids develop with a tear paper activity:

    • Hand eye coordination
    • Bilateral coordination
    • Pinch strength
    • Arch development
    • Intrinsic hand strength
    • Separation of the sides of the hand
    • Open thumb web space
    • Shoulder and forearm stability
    • Precision and refined grasp
    • Proprioceptive input
    • Motor planning
    Tearing paper is an amazing fine motor activity for kids to build coordination and hand strength.

    Paper Tearing Activity

    In this paper tearing activity, we use recycled artwork to create Torn Paper Art that would look great on any gallery (or family dining room) wall!

    Tearing strips of paper is especially a great fine motor task.  To work those fine motor skills, start with some junk mail or recycled paper materials and practice tearing.

    Tear paper into strips- To tear a long sheet of paper, you need to grasp the paper with an effective, yet not too strong grasp.  Tear too fast, and the paper is torn diagonally and not into strips.

    Make slow tears in the paper- Tearing the paper slowly while focusing on strait torn lines really encourages a workout of those intrinsic muscles.  

    Tear different weights of paper- Paper comes in different thicknesses, or weights. Practicing tearing different thicknesses really hones in on precision skills. We tore an 9×11 piece of painted printer paper into long strips, lengthwise.  The thin paper isn’t too difficult to tear, but requires motor control. Thicker paper like cardstock or cardboard requires more strength to grip the paper. The thicker paper also requires a bit more strength to tear with accuracy and precision. Tearing paper that is thicker like cardstock, index cards, or construction paper adds heavy input through the hands. This proprioceptive input can be very calming and allow kids to regulate or focus while adding the sensory input they need.

    Tear paper into shapes– Use the paper to create simple shapes like a circle, square, etc. You can make this task easier by drawing pencil lines and ripping along the lines. This is a fantastic way to build motor planning skills. Or, work on visual perceptual skills and try ripping paper into shapes without a template.

    Vary the texture of the paper– You can add a sensory component and use different textures of paper. Try painted or colored paper. Try printed paper or a rough paper like last year’s paper calendar. Try ripping cardstock or textured crepe paper.

    Work on tearing paper fringes- Tearing into the edge of the page, and stopping at a certain point requires refined motor work. It’s easy to tear right across the page, but requires precision and coordination to stop tearing at a certain point. To grade this activity easier, try marking the stopping point with a pencil mark.

    tearing paper is a fine motor skills workout for kids.

    Types of paper to use in tearing paper activities

    There are many benefits to using different textures and types of paper. Let’s take a look at some of the possible types of paper. These are materials that you may already have in your home. Varying the paper type in torn paper activities can help to grade an activity, or make it easier or more difficult. These are great ways to vary the amount of fine motor strength and precision needed, thereby improving fine motor skills and visual motor skills.

    Types of paper to use in tearing paper activities:

    • Junk mail
    • Old phone books
    • Recycled newspapers
    • Magazines
    • Flyers from school or the community
    • Printer paper
    • Notebook paper
    • Cardboard
    • Recycled food boxes (cereal boxes, tissue boxes, etc.)
    • Paper bags
    • Tissue paper
    • Crepe paper
    • Toilet paper
    • Paper towels
    • Napkins
    • Paper plates
    • Recycled artwork
    • Used coloring books
    • Cardboard tubes (toilet paper tubes, paper towel rolls)
    • Old calendars
    This torn paper art is a paper tearing activity for kids that uses recycled artwork to build fine motor skills and motor control while tearing paper.

    Torn paper art  

    This ripped paper art is a craft that is so simple, yet such a fun way to create art while working on fine motor skills.  

    Tear paper into strips to work on fine motor skills with kids.

    You’ll need just a few materials for ripped paper art:

    • Paper (Any type or texture will do…old crafts, kids artwork, or paper that has been painted)
    • Glue
    • Paper to cardstock to use as a base
    • Your hands!

    We all have piles of kids’ artwork that is gorgeous…yet abundant.  You keep the ones that mean the most, but what do you do with those piles of painted paper, scribbled sheets, and crafty pages?  You sure can’t keep it all or your house will become covered in paper, paint, and glitter.  We used a great blue page to make our torn paper art.

    Making the torn paper art is very simple. It’s a process art activity that will look different no matter how many times you do the activity.

    How to create torn paper art:

    1. Select a variety of paper colors, materials, and textures.
    2. Tear a sheet into long strips.  This will become the sky of our artwork.
    3. Use white paper to create cloud shapes. Tear the paper into shapes.
    4. Use green cardstock or other material to create grass. Tear small strips into the paper but not through to the edge. Create a fringe with the paper.
    5. Glue the torn paper onto the base page in layers.
    6. Use your imagination and have fun!

    A few tips for creating torn paper art

    Have a variety of paper types, colors, and textures available. Some ideas include using junk mail, recycled artwork, cardstock, construction paper, printer paper, crepe paper, cardboard, cereal boxes, etc.

    Use your imagination. You can start with an idea to create or you can go with the flow of the art creation and start without an idea.

    If you have trouble coming up with an idea for your torn paper art, try some of these:

    • Create a torn paper landscape
    • Create an object from ripped paper textures
    • Make a torn paper abstract artwork
    • Copy real life objects and make representational art
    • Create a ripped paper still life
    • Use all one color of paper in different textures to make a monochromatic artwork
    • Make abstract portraits
    • Tear the paper into shapes to make geometric artwork
    • Explore art concepts such as size, shape, color, lines, form, space, texture
    • Explore multimedia: Incorporate printed paper, painted paper, glossy paper, cardboard in different textures, crayon colored paper, etc.
    Tear paper into strips of ripped paper to work on eye-hand coordination in an occupational therapy activity with recycled materials.
    Tearing paper builds fine motor skills and endurance in fine motor precision, making it a fine motor workout!
    Ripping paper is a fine motor activity for kids in occupational therapy or working on fine motor skills at home.

     More paper activities

    Tear and paste activity with blue paper and green cardstock to create a torn paper collage.

    We used one of the long strips of green cardstock to create grass by making small tears.  Be careful not to tear the whole way across the strip!  What a workout this is for those hand muscles.  

    Use recycled art like painted paper to create torn art collage while building fine motor skills in kids.

     Next glue the blue strips onto a background piece of paper.  Tear white scrap paper into cloud shapes.  They can be any shape, just like clouds in the sky!

    Tear paper to help kids strengthen fine motor skills.

     Grab a piece of yellow cardstock and create a sun.  This is another fabulous fine motor workout.  Tearing a circle-ish shape and creating small tears really works those muscles in the hands.

    Tearing paper activity for kids

     Glue the sun onto the sky and enjoy the art.  

    More paper activities that build skills:

    Want more ways to work on fine motor skills? Grab our seasonal Fine Motor Kits! Each kit includes different activities that can work on areas like fine motor strength, grip, precision, pinch, and coordination.

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

    Coin Activities for Kids

    Coin Activities

    These coin activities are fun ways to develop fine motor skills AND functional money skills. The fact is that coin sorting activities and counting coins activities are functional…they are tasks kids need to develop for daily living skills. But, did you ever stop to think about the fine motor benefits of playing with coins? There are a handful! So, grab a handful of coins and use these coin activities to help kids with fine motor skill development!

    Coin activities for counting coins and sorting coins as an occupational therapy tool and a functional task for kids as they use money in IADLs.

    Coin Activities

    This is an older blog post on the website, but one that has so many fine motor activities using just coins. You’ll find coin sorting activities, coin rubbing art, money counting skills, and counting coin activities that build math and money skills as well as fine motor skills.

    But, I also wanted to go into detail on the various ways kids can use a stack of coins to develop skills needed for fine motor tasks.

    You may have seen a previous blog post detailing the use of plastic gold coins to develop fine motor skills…today’s article covers real coins you have in your purse or pocket, and can be used for teaching money to kindergarten or first grade students.

    Coin Sorting Activity

    A warm-up activity with sorting coins is a nice start to the therapy session because it can help to connect with the child and that they are engaged in the process, using a functional task that is needed for IADLs.

    Coin Sorting Activity #1

    A nice warm-up to an occupational therapy session is this coin sorting activity: Once we’ve said hello and I have checked in with how my client is doing its time to ‘show me the money’. Place a pile of coins on the desk, and spend some time sorting coins into piles. I ask the child to show me the coins that match and we discuss what pictures we can see on the coins, what numbers we can see and how much the coins are worth. Sorting coins is a great task to work on a variety of skills:

    • Visual discrimination
    • Form constancy
    • Size awareness
    • Visual closure
    • Visual figure-ground
    • Visual memory

    Coin Sorting Activity #2

    Once we have looked through all our coins I ask the children to place the coins in a pile in front of them and close their eyes. With their eyes closed they must pick a coin and show me which one they have collected.

    I have a list of corresponding whole body, gross motor exercises that they must perform depending on the coin they have selected. These exercises will target specific gross motor goals that we are working on.

    The gross motor skills addressed with these coin sorting exercises include:

    • Core stability
    • Shoulder stability
    • Balance
    • Bilateral coordination
    • Posture and positioning changes
    • Vestibular input
    • Proprioceptive input
    • Eye-hand coordination 

    Grab this handout by entering your email address into the form at the bottom of this blog post.

    Coin Activities for Fine Motor Skills

    Once we are all warmed up and feeling focused and attentive, we are ready to work on our fine motor skills. One aspect of money counting skills that can be difficult for children is the fine motor component. These coin activities take into consideration, all of the fine motor skills needed for counting and sorting coins.

    In-hand manipulation activities are a great way to boost fine motor skills needed for tasks like managing clothing fasteners, using a pencil when writing, manipulating items like coins or beads, and more. 

    The dexterity that is worked on when picking up coins from a flat surface is huge!  You need to pick up the edges with a tip-to-tip grasp and perform in-hand manipulation to “squirrel away” the coin into the palm of the hand.  In-hand manipulation is moving an object within the hand, without help from the other hand. This resource explains ways to work on in-hand manipulation with coins.

    Stacking coins is another great exercise.  We put the quarters into piles and counted out dollars.  But at the same time, we were working on translation of the coin from the palm of the hand to the tips of the fingers.   Translation is a type of in-hand manipulation that you use when moving an object from the finger tips to the palm and vice versa.  Stacking requires a lot of controlled dexterity!  

    Stack coins for a fine motor workout and to improve coin sorting skills.

    Why are these skills important? Kids need to refine their fine motor skills and in-hand manipulation in order to manipulate the pencil with slight movements while writing, erasing, and coloring.  They need the small motor control to manage fasteners like zippers, snaps, buttons, and shoe ties. 

    Using coins is a wonderful way to work on so many fine motor skills. You can target selective finger movements, tactile discrimination, in hand manipulation and finger strengthening. 

    For these fine motor coin counting activities, ask the children to count out a certain number of coins. I have been working with the number range between 10 and 20 depending on the child’s age. 

    1. Use plastic coins to build fine motor skills– This blog post includes a free printable handout detailing coin activities. This is a great home exercise program for parents.
    2. Count coins. Use these ideas to work on counting money and building fine motor skills.
    3. Use coins to work on patterns and skip counting, but also finger isolation skills. This blog post includes a free handout to use in skip counting with coins.
    4. Coin road – line the coins up in a row as quickly as you can using only your right hand. The children enjoy competing with me during this task. Once completed ask them to perform this activity again using their left hand. 
    5. Coin flip – line the coins up in a row. Using only one hand flip each coin over starting at one end and flipping each coin until you reach the end of the row. Work from left to right to reinforce directionality. Repeat with the other hand.
    6. Coin stack – see how high you can stack your coins. Keeping going (and counting) until your stack falls over.
    7. Coin grab – using one hand see how many coins you can pick up and keep safe in your hand. Don’t drop any coins while you are collecting. 
    8. Coin counting – this requires a piggy bank or a parent to assist with making a simple money counting receptacle from a cardboard box or recycled container. See you many coins you can count within a time limit. 
    9. Playdough and coins – this activity requires the addition of playdough. Where this is available encourage children to make impressions of their coins with playdough, roll small balls of playdough and build coin sandwiches or roll snakes of playdough and stand coins in the roll to represent the scales. 
    10. Dice and coins – If your child has a dice available try the following activities. Roll the dice and see if you can pick up the number of coins the dice lands on. Roll the dice and set out your coins in the same position as the dots on the dice (re-create the dice number pattern).
    Make coin rubbing art to work on learning coins, and building fine motor skills in kids.

    Coin rubbing art

    Coin rubbing art is a fine motor activity with huge benefits that you can add to your math art ideas. Rubbing the textures of coins onto paper builds so many fine motor skills: precision, bilateral coordination, pinch and grip strength, and eye-hand coordination skills.

    To make a coin rubbing, you’ll need a few materials:

    • A handful of coins
    • Paper
    • Crayons
    1. First place the coins on a table. Be sure to place some coins heads side up, and others tails side up. This helps children to identify both sides of the coin.
    2. Place a piece of paper over the coins.
    3. Use the side of a crayon to rub the texture of the coin through the paper. The image of the coin will show up on the paper.

    Work on holding the coin below the paper without moving the coin (bilateral coordination.

    Work on rubbing the crayon at the “just right” level of pressure (proprioceptive input)

    Read more about the benefits of coin rubbing art projects in this sight word crayon rubbing activity that we did.

    Coin Activities for Visual Perception

    An important part of money lesson plans is identifying different images on the coins, to enable counting and money use. But, visually discriminating between coin size and images can be very difficult for some children. Then consider that each coin has a different “heads” side and a different “tails” side. Then, consider that there are different versions of each coin. In the U.S. for example, each state has it’s own version of the quarter. This can make coin counting very difficult for children with visual perceptual skill challenges.

    Visual perception Coin sorting – this is a great way to work on visual discrimination. I ask my children to draw four or five circles on a piece of paper depending on the different denominations of the coins. Then we sort out pile of coins into the different denominations. Each circle is home to a certain denomination of coin.

    The coin whole body movement exercises listed in the form below is a fantastic way to work on discriminating between coin differences. Sometimes adding movement to learning is a game changer, and this multi-sensory learning activity is sure to be a hit.

    Coin activities for kids to improve fine motor skills, gross motor skills, pencil control, and visual discrimination.

    Teaching Money to Children and Pencil control  

    Finally, the following money activities incorporate the skill of pencil control. Right around kindergarten and first grade level, students are gaining more precision and dexterity with pencil control. Why not work on both coin sorting and coin identification AND pencil control for a doubled functional task?

    Coin decorating – Ask your child to write their name in large letters and then place coins over each letter to decorate their name. This can be done with individual letters or numbers if you are working on number formation or letter formations

    Coin race track – encourage your child to draw a race track. Use the coin as a car and demonstrate how to drive the car along the track using an individual finger. Each finger can have a turn to drive the car. 

    Coin rubbings – place a few coins on the table and place a piece of paper over the coins. Rub over the coin with a crayon or pencil to produce the impression of the coin on the page.

    Free coin exercises or learning money with multisensory learning.

    More Activities for a Money Lesson Plan

    Occupational therapists know the value of multisensory learning and this list of coin counting and sorting activities are sure to build knowledge and functional skills in children. For a whole-body, movement based resource on learning coins, grab this coin exercise handout.

    Free Coin Sorting Exercises

      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

      Be sure to wash hands after manipulating coins!  And as always, keep a close eye on your child when coins are part of fine motor play to ensure safety.

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

      Weaving Projects for Kids

      weaving projects for kids

      Recently, I was looking into new ways to challenge fine motor skills for my clients – especially ones that did not require purchasing new materials. I wanted something that could challenge scissors use, problem solving, sequencing, attention, and could be used in prep for ADL skills, like buttoning. Then, it came to me: weaving!

      Weaving projects for kids including simple weaving and complex weaving activities to work on fine motor skills.

      Weaving Projects for Kids

      Weaving projects and craft are so simple, yet so effective – even the clients that I thought would be frustrated by this old-school craft were super proud of their work. Weaving is something you can do in many different ways, typically dependent on skill level and desired outcomes.

      Since we are talking about buttoning skills, I am offering two different options: an advanced one for the kiddos that are almost ready to button independently, and a
      beginner version for those who are not quite ready to button yet. I hope you adapt these crafts as needed to meet the “just-right” challenge!

      Related: Feathers and Burlap Weaving activity that builds bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, pinch, grip, and dexterity.

      Complex Weaving Instructions

      1. With two pieces of paper of different colors, cut strips of any thickness or length you’d like – just make sure you have an even number. The thinner and longer you cut them, the bigger the challenge. I like to use two different colors to make the task easier to understand and add visual interest.
      2. Cut holes for threading. Half of your strips (or all of one color) need holes for threading. Have your kiddos figure out how big the cuts need to be in order to fit the other strips of paper through.
      3. Fold the paper in order to cut two holes, side by side, throughout the strip of
        paper. This will be where you weave the other strips of paper through.
      4. Begin Weaving.
      5. Weave the remaining strips of paper (the ones without the holes) into the paper
        with the holes, making a basket-weave pattern.
      6. Here is where those buttoning skills come into play! The practice of moving the
        strip of paper through one hole and up and over through the next hole mimics the actions of buttoning and unbuttoning.

      If you are creating a specific craft, here is where you can make the weaved pattern into your kids’ desired shape! If you are unsure what you could offer, see the examples below.

      1. Draw the desired object on top of the weaved pattern OR use simple print out to guide the scissors.
      2. Cut the object out.
      3. Add extra paper or decorative objects with glue to seal the edges if you’d like!

      Does this sound a bit too challenging for one of your kids? You can lower the difficulty in a few different ways, but below is one idea that is particularly useful if your child demonstrates difficulty with visual motor or perception skills that are required for buttoning.

      Simple Weaving Instructions

      1. With two pieces of paper of different colors:
        a. Cut multiple, 1-inch thick straight lines to the edge of one piece of paper, leaving about an inch uncut on one edge to “hold” all the strips together.
        b. Cut 1-inch strips of the other piece of paper.
      2. Simply overlap the loose strips of paper onto the other cut paper, every other to make a checkerboard pattern.
      3. Maybe add a gluing or stapling component to challenge them in a different way!

      Weaving Projects for kids

      I know that it’s so much easier to motivate kids to complete a craft or activity if it is related to a season, holiday, or something that they are personally interested in. That’s one reason why I love weaving crafts – they are so simple at their base, that they can truly be used for anything!

      Fall Weaving Crafts- Plaid shirts, apple baskets, spider webs, or hay bales.
      Winter Weaving Crafts- Sweaters, holiday gifts, Christmas Stockings, or candy canes
      Spring Weaving Crafts- Easter baskets, Spring dresses, umbrellas, or raincoats
      Summer Weaving Crafts- Picnic blankets, picnic baskets, or beach towels.

      Or for the sporty kiddos in your life, make basketball hoops, soccer goals, tennis rackets, or hockey goalie helmets! The possibilities with weaving projects really are endless.

      Here are some additional weaving and buttoning crafts to get the ball rolling!

      More Fine Motor ideas to build skills:

      Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

      Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

      Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

      This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

      This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

      • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
      • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

      The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

      Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

      Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

      Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

      Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
      background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
      providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
      a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

      Water Sensory Bin Ideas

      Sensory water bins in therapy

      When the weather is hot, you need water play ideas that build skills…and make Summer memories! These water sensory bin ideas are perfect for HOT Summer days while incorporating sensory and motor skills. Use these water sensory bin activities in therapy or in the backyard to help kids build skills this Summer…and cool off!

      Sensory water bins and sensory water table ideas for water therapy with kids.

      Water Sensory Bin

      Now, you may be wondering what is a water sensory bin??!! A water sensory bin is a sensory play experience that uses water as a medium for holding various textures designed to promote sensory motor play and learning.

      A water sensory bin inspires motor skill development through the use of materials presented in water and the manipulation of tools to scoop, pour, and manipulate water and themed items.

      Water sensory bins inspire creative play, exposure to various textures, and motor skill opportunities such as laterality, bilateral coordination, grasp, precision, manipulation, grip and pinch strength, and others.

      And best of all, water sensory bins are a fun way to play and explore!

      Water Sensory Table

      Similar to a sensory water bin, a sensory water table is a sensory play experience using water and other materials in a water table. Water tables can be great for child development for toddlers and preschoolers as they are the perfect height for standing and moving around during play.

      Aquatic Therapy

      Water sensory tables, like water sensory bins, can be created in a variety of themes, designed for creative play or for learning specific skills or concepts. While aquatic therapy is often thought of as a gross motor therapy tool (using water or a swimming pool as a therapy medium for whole body movements, balance, and gross motor coordination), water bins and water tables involve water therapy play into a smaller scale of aquatic therapy. With a small pool of water, kids can develop and refine so many skills!

      In therapy, water tables and water bins can be used to focus on specific skills, including functional tasks. Let’s take a look at different ways that water bins and water tables can be used in therapy:

      Functional Skills in Aquatic Therapy

      Water therapy can be used to help kids refine and develop functional skills…making water a resistive surface that provides proprioceptive feedback, turn-taking, and self-confidence. Functional skills that can be addressed in water play in therapy include:

      • washing hands
      • drying hands
      • wiping spills
      • pouring water (liquids)
      • using cups and pitchers or scoops (tool use)
      • measuring liquids for cooking tasks
      • play
      • washing dishes

      Sensory Benefits of Water Therapy

      Aquatic therapy involves the sensory systems and on a small scale, water bins and water tables are a powerful therapy tool. You can focus on refined sensory input on a small scale through play using water tables in therapy.

      • Proprioceptive input
      • Tactile exploration
      • Mixed textures
      • Temperature tolerances
      • Warm water temperature as a calming sensory input
      • Cold water temperatures as alerting sensory input
      • Reduces stress through calming sensory input
      • Visual processing benefits- visual scanning, visual tracking, visual discrimination, eye-hand coordination, visual closure

      Fine Motor benefits of water therapy

      On a small scale, water tables and water bins offer many motor skills opportunities for kids to develop fine motor skills! Fine motor skills abound in aquatic therapy!

      • Grasp
      • Coordination
      • Pincer grasp
      • Hand strength (tong or tweezer use, squeezing water squeeze toys, syringes, spray bottles)
      • Eye-hand coordination (scooping, pouring, dumping water)
      • Water resistance

      Gross Motor Skill Benefits of water therapy

      Even on a small scale, there are gross motor benefits of using water tables and water bins to help with gross motor skill development. Consider these strategies for developing skills using water play:

      • Core strengthening by playing in a water bin on the ground: crouching, squatting, getting up and down from the ground
      • Upper body support through the arm and shoulder for developing strength and stability
      • Sitting crisscross apple sauce with extended reach in all directions
      • Weighted containers to pour, mix, and dump water
      • Coordination skills
      • Motor planning
      • Heavy work to dump and move water
      • Crossing midline to pour or scoop water, reach for objects in the water
      • Bilateral coordination to support and manipulate items
      • Standing with reach at a water table
      • Mobilizing along a supported surface with head and arm movements

      How to use a water sensory bin in aquatic therapy

      Kids will love these water bin play ideas listed below! Adding sensory play into a water bin is an easy way to explore the senses, challenge tactile and sensory systems, and encourage development of skills such as fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, crossing midline, visual motor skills, coordination, confidence, and language. Kids love so many sensory activities when you simply add water.

      Water sensory bins and tables use any basic water table or can be set up with just a large tote bin, a small food casserole dish, storage bins, or any container that will hold water. The nice thing about these water play ideas is that you can create any theme or use any type of manipulative to the water to engage kids attention and interest. Place the bin on the floor for floor play and core strengthening or position the bin on a table surface for a table set-up.

      Water play is so great for little kids to experience and enjoy.  The sensory aspect of getting their hands in the water and manipulating objects is great for brain development and sensory integration.  They are improving their fine motor skills, bilateral hand coordination, language development, problem solving, creative development, and even self-confidence!  

      The open-endedness of water play enables learning in endless varieties.  Consider adding math or letter concepts to a bin of water.  The child is enthralled by the sensory experience and learning happens!  Just think, all you have to do is add water and there is so much learning to experience!

      To encourage movement, heavy work input, fine motor skill development, try adding these materials to water sensory play experiences:

      • Scoops
      • Measuring cups
      • Spoons
      • Watering can
      • Marble run
      • Water dropper
      • Syringe
      • Spray bottle
      • Squeeze toys
      • Tweezers
      • Tongs
      • Floating toys or foam
      • Cut pool noodles
      • Balls or ping pong balls (any ball that floats)
      • Small animal toys or figures
      • Water beads
      • Scents
      • Glitter
      • Food coloring or water paints
      • Paint brushes
      • Chalk

      Water Sensory Play Ideas

      Below are are fun water bin sensory play ideas for kids that can be used to address a variety of skills or concepts. Scroll on to find some creative ways to encourage play and development of skills with simple water bins.

      Kids of all ages will love these water play ideas…even the big kids! When the weather is hot (Or not…bring these water bin ideas indoors for more fun and sensory play!) you can add any type of learning, cause and effect, and even STEM activities, using some water and some added materials.

      • Colors/Fine Motor/Sensory Water Play– Work on bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, motor planning, precision, and proximal stability as well as tool use in this color water sensory bin.
      • Island Luau Water Party Water Bin – Use small scoops and island themed items to work on fine motor skills, scooping, pouring, and fine motor strengthening.
      • Swamp Water Bin – Explore textures in this swamp themed water bin.
      • Pool Noodles Water Bin -Incorporate cut pool noodles for fine motor work, core strengthening, and gross motor skills.
      • Color Match Water Bin – Use colors and letters to work on visual scanning, visual motor skills, visual discrimination, and learning colors and letters.
      • Rainy Summer Day: Ice Muffins Water Play – Freeze letter magnets or foam letters into ice cubes for sensory motor learning experiences. Kids can chip the alphabet letters from the ice cubes and explore letters while strengthening visual perceptual skills and fine motor strength.
      • Colors, Fine Motor, Sensory Water Play -Work on hand strength, grasp, coordination, visual perceptual skills and more with simple materials you already have in the home.
      • Ping Pong Ball Water Play for Toddlers– Work on eye-hand coordination, visual scanning, tracking, coordination, crossing midline and more.

          We are so excited to start playing away the summer with our water bins.  We’re hoping you are inspired…we are inspired, too!              

      And here are links to the fun water bins over at Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails:
                   Week 1: Lavender/Purple Water Bin by FSPDT
                   Week 2: Beach Luau Water Bin by FSPDT
                   Week 3: Swamp Water Bin by FSPDT
                   Week 4: Pool Noodle Water Bin by FSPDT
                   Week 5: Color Match Water Bin by FSPDT

      more Sensory water bins

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

      Pinwheel Painting is Sensory Painting

      pinwheel painting

      This pinwheel painting is a sensory painting art activity is one that we actually did YEARS ago.  It was such a fun messy, creative art activity and a fun one to add to your summer painting ideas, and I wanted to be sure to show you all!  My kids still talk about painting with pinwheels, so we’ll be doing this one again soon, especially now that the weather has warmed and we can get back outside for sensory play with the kids!

      Pinwheel Painting

      Pinwheel painting is a creative art painting experience with kids!  This is a cute art project for a letter "P" preschool theme and a great sensory painting activity for summer.

      This post contains affiliate links.  

      Kids love this painting with pinwheels messy art activity for sensory painting fun.

      Painting with pinwheels is such a simple and fun outdoor painting activity for summer.  Or, if you’re looking for a “letter P” theme for preschoolers, painting with pinwheels would be perfect!

      You can definitely take this painting activity indoors, with paper spread over the table surface.

      To paint with pinwheels, there is just steps to set up this sensory painting activity:

      1. Set the stage- Find a space to work in the grass or on a table which can be wiped down. This is a messy sensory painting activity! Consider using a wipeable plastic table cloth.
      2. Pour a little washable paint into bowls. (Click here for our favorite paint for it’s bright colors that don’t fade as they dry.)
      3. Prepare your paper or canvas. We used a giant roll of paper for big art.
      4. Dip the pin the pinwheels into the paint.
      5. Roll, blow, spin, and tap the pinwheels onto the paper with color mixing. This is such a fun and creative painting activity!  

      Sensory Painting Activity

      The paint coated pinwheels make the paint spray, especially as kids start getting more into the activity and discover that blowing the pinwheels makes paint spray in super artistic ways!    

      Pinwheel painting is a great activity to add to a summer of sensory play!

      There are many sensory benefits to this Sensory painting activity:

      Oral motor benefits- When children blow out through their mouth with concentrated effort, they are gaining proprioceptive input through their mouth. This is a calming and regulating sensory input that can help to organize and calm down. Read here about the development of oral motor skills. And, check out these oral motor activities for summer play.

      Visual Convergence benefits- When we visually track an object as it nears our eyes (such as a pinwheel), and then track it as it moves away from the eyes, visual convergence is occurring. This visual processing skill is needed for functional tasks that we do throughout the day. Here is more information on convergence insufficiency and here are more activities to promote visual convergence skills.

      Painting with Pinwheels Art activity for sensory painting.

       Let us know if you do this Pinwheel Painting art with your kids or your class.   More creative sensory painting techniques you may enjoy: 

      Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

      Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

      Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

      This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

      This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

      • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
      • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

      The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

      Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

      Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

      Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

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

      Color Sorting Activity

      Color sorting activity

      This color sorting activity is a powerful fine motor activity and a super easy way to learn and play for toddlers and preschoolers.  We’ve done plenty of activities to work on fine motor skills in kids.  This straw activity is the type that is a huge hit in our house…it’s cheap, easy, and fun!  (a bonus for kids and mom!)  A handful of straws and a few recycled grated cheese container are all that are needed for tripod grasp, scissor skills, color naming, and sorting.  SO much learning is happening with color sorting activities. Read on…  

      Fine Motor Color Sorting Activity with Straws

      This color sorting activity is great for toddlers and preschools because it helps to develop many of the fine motor skills that they need for function.

      I had Baby Girl (age 2 and a half) do this activity and she LOVED it.  Now, many toddlers are exploring textures of small objects with their mouths.  If you have a little one who puts things in their mouth during play, this may not be the activity for you.  That’s ok.  If it doesn’t work right now, put it away and pull it out in a few months. 

      Color sorting activity with straws

      Always keep a close eye on your little ones during fine motor play and use your judgment with activities that work best for your child.  Many school teachers read our blog and definitely, if there are rules about choking hazards in your classroom, don’t do this one with the 2 or 3 year olds. 

      You can adjust this color sorting activity to use other materials besides straws, too. Try using whole straws, pipe cleaners, colored craft sticks, or other objects that are safe for larger groups of Toddlers.  

      There are so many fun ways to play and learn with our Occupational Therapy Activities for Toddlers post.

      Kids can work on scissor skills by cutting straws into small pieces.

        color sorting activity using straws

      We started out with a handful of colored straws.  These are a dollar store purchase and we only used a few of the hundred or so in the pack…starting out cheap…this activity is going well so far!  

      Cutting the straws is a neat way to explore the “open-shut” motion of the scissors to cut the straw pieces.  Baby Girl liked the effect of cutting straws.  Flying straw bits= hilarious!  

      If you’re not up for chasing bits and pieces of straws around the room or would rather not dodge flying straw pieces as they are cut, do this in a bin or bag.  Much easier on the eyes 😉  

      Kids love to work on fine motor skills through play!

       Once our straws were cut into little pieces and ready for playing, I pulled out a few recycled grated cheese containers.  (Recycled container= free…activity going well still!)   We started with just one container out on the table and Baby Girl dropped the straw pieces into the holes. 

      Here are more ways to use recycled materials in occupational therapy activities.

      Toddlers and preschoolers can work on their tripod grasp by using small pieces of straws and a recycled grated cheese container.

      Importance of Color sorting for toddlers and preschoolers

      Color sorting activities are a great way to help toddlers and preschoolers develop skills for reading, learning, and math.

      Sorting activities develop visual perceptual skills as children use visual discrimination to notice differences between objects.

      By repeating the task with multiple repetitions, kids develop skills in visual attention and visual memory. These visual processing skills are necessary for reading and math tasks.

      The ability to recall differences in objects builds working memory too, ask kids remember where specific colors go or the place where they should sort them.

      These sorting skills come into play in more advanced learning tasks as they classify objects, numbers, letters, etc.

      And, when children sort items by color, they are building What a great fine motor task this was for little hands!  Sorting straws into a container with small holes, like our activity, requires a tripod grasp to insert the straws into the small holes of the grated cheese container.   

      These grated cheese containers are awesome for fine motor play with small objects!

      Sorting items like cut up straws helps preschoolers and toddlers develop skills such as:

      • Fine motor skills (needed for pencil grasp, scissor use, turning pages, etc.)
      • Hand strength (needed for endurance in coloring, cutting, etc.)
      • Visual discrimination (needed to determine differences in letters, shapes, and numbers)
      • Visual attention
      • Visual discrimination
      • Visual perceptual skills
      • Left Right discrimination (needed for handwriting, fine motor tasks)
      • Counting
      • Patterning
      • Classification skills

      Preschoolers can get a lot of learning (colors, patterns, sorting, counting) from this activity too.  Have them count as they put the pieces in, do a pattern with the colored straws, sort from smallest to biggest pieces and put them in the container in order…the possibilities are endless!

      Cut straw into small pieces and provide three recycled containers to sort and work on fine motor skills with kids.

      Color Sorting Activity with Straws

      Once she got a little tired of the activity, I let it sit out on the table for a while with two  more containers added.  I started dropping in colored straw pieces into the containers and sorted them by color. 

      Use colored straws to sort and work on fine motor skills with recycled containers.

      Baby Girl picked right up on that and got into the activity again.  This lasted for a long time.  We kept this out all day and she even wanted to invite her cousin over to play with us.  So we did!  This was a hit with the toddlers and Little Guy when he came home from preschool.  Easy, cheap, and fun.  I’ll take it!

      Looking for more fun ways to work on color sorting?

      You’ll find more activities to build hand strength, coordination, and dexterity in this resource on Fine Motor Skills.

      Coffee Filter Butterfly Craft

      coffee filter butterfly craft for kids

      This coffee filter butterfly craft is a great fine motor and bilateral coordination activity for kids. If you are looking for butterfly life cycle crafts, this one is a great addition. Or, if you are seeking Spring OT activities, be sure to add this colorful fine motor butterfly craft to your list.

      Coffee filter butterfly craft to build fine motor skills in kids.

      Coffee Filter Butterfly Craft

      This coffee filter craft is a nice one to develop skills because it works on so many areas that are covered in therapy sessions:

      • Pinch and grip strength
      • Eye hand coordination
      • Bilateral coordination
      • Motor planning
      • Crossing midline
      • Precision and dexterity
      • Open-thumb web-space
      • Arch development
      • Separation of the sides of the hand
      • Finger isolation
      • Thumb IP joint flexion (great for pencil grasp!)

      How to make a coffee filter butterfly craft

      This was an easy set-up and fun craft we did one afternoon recently.  You’ll need the following materials:

      • Coffee filters
      • Water color paints/water
      • A straw
      • Clothes pin
      • Pipe cleaner
      • String (to make a banner)

      Directions: Use a paint brush to add a bit of water to the wells of a water color paint pallet. To really work on fine motor skills, use your thumb to drop water droplets into the paint tubs. Using the straw to drip water into the water colors can be a challenging fine motor task but one that really develops separation of the sides of the hands, thumb IP joint flexion, and motor planning skills. Read more about the thumb IP joint and thumb wrap grasp in pencil grip. This craft is a powerful way to work on this functional grasp skill!

      Make a coffee filter craft and build fine motor skills with kids using a straw to paint.

      Little Guy and Big Sister both loved dropping the water into the color wells.  Big Sister felt pretty good about showing her little brother how to drop the water into the color wells using her straw. 

      Use straws to paint with watercolors and work on fine motor skills with kids.

      This is a great activity to work on thumb isolation and control of the thumb during fine motor activities. 

      Next, dip the edges of the coffee filters into the colors so the water creeps onto the edges of the coffee filter.

      Other ways to add the color can use the straw end or the paint brush. This craft is nice because it can be adjusted for many different kids.

      When kids drip the color on with a paintbrush, or drop color with the straw, it’s fun to try different ways to color the filters and see the colors blend together.  

      Work on fine motor strength with clothes pins to make a butterfly coffee filter craft.

      Next, use clothes pins to pinch the middle of the coffee filter together in the middle. This is a great hand strengthening and eye-hand coordination task.

      Finally, add a pipe cleaner to the end of the clothes pin for the antenna of the coffee filter butterfly. Bend the pipe cleaner around the clothes pin and twist it up to make antenna.

      Coffee filter butterfly craft for building fine motor skills.

      If you like to create several butterflies in a variety of colors, you can clip them onto the string for an other bilateral coordination task.

      They look pretty!  Big Sister wanted to hang them on the ceiling of her room.  We strung the butterflies on yarn and taped them to her ceiling.  This would be a great way to display a whole client caseload of coffee filter butterflies and really show off those fine motor skills!

      Add this butterfly craft to a butterfly theme in therapy or home programing.

      These heavy work cards include a page of butterfly life cycle activities that incorporate calming heavy work activities for motor planning and proprioceptive benefits.

      Or, in the Spring Fine Motor Kit, you’ll find butterfly and caterpillar activities that are designed to build a variety of fine  motor manipulation, dexterity, and strengthening tasks.

      Butterfly coffee filter craft

      Spring Fine Motor Kit

      Score Fine Motor Tools and resources and help kids build the skills they need to thrive!

      Developing hand strength, dexterity, dexterity, precision skills, and eye-hand coordination skills that kids need for holding and writing with a pencil, coloring, and manipulating small objects in every day task doesn’t need to be difficult. The Spring Fine Motor Kit includes 100 pages of fine motor activities, worksheets, crafts, and more:

      Spring fine motor kit set of printable fine motor skills worksheets for kids.
      • Lacing cards
      • Sensory bin cards
      • Hole punch activities
      • Pencil control worksheets
      • Play dough mats
      • Write the Room cards
      • Modified paper
      • Sticker activities
      • MUCH MORE

      Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

      Spring Fine Motor Kit
      Spring Fine Motor Kit: TONS of resources and tools to build stronger hands.

      Grab your copy of the Spring Fine Motor Kit and build coordination, strength, and endurance in fun and creative activities. Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

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