Messy Eating

Benefits of Messy eating for babies and toddlers

Have you ever noticed that small children eat meals with recklessness? Bits of food covers the face, cheeks, hands, lap, floor, belly, and even hair. Part of it is learning to use utensils and manage food on the fork or spoon. But there’s more to messy eating too! Messy eating for a baby or toddler is actually a good thing, and completely normal part of child development. And, letting a small child get messy when they eat, and even playing with their food as they eat is OK!

Messy eating in babies and toddlers has benefits to developing tactile sensory challenges and fine motor skills in young children.

Messy eating

I’m sure that your mother never told you it was okay to play with your food at the dinner table, but I’m here to tell you otherwise. Playing with food is not only okay, it is vital to development of self feeding skills and positive engagement with food. When young children play with their food they are engaging in a rich, exploratory sensory experience that helps them develop knowledge of texture, taste, smell, changing visual presentation of foods and oral motor development.

When play with food is discouraged it can lead to picky eaters, oral motor delays and increased hesitancy with trying new foods later on.

Eating with hands- Messy benefits

When solid foods are introduced to baby, it is often a VERY messy ordeal. There is food on the chair, the bib, the floor, you…everywhere but the baby’s mouth. Often times, parents may feel discouraged or don’t like the mess that is the result, but it is OK. In fact, the messier the better.

Exploring food textures with the hands provides tactile experience to the hands, palm, and individual fingers. Are foods sticky, chunky, goopy, or gooey? All of that exposure to the hands is filed away as exposure to textures.

Picking up and manipulating foods offers fine motor benefits, too. Picking up and manipulating bits of food offers repetition in pincer grasp, graded precision, grasp and release, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, crossing midline, and proprioceptive feedback. All of this is likely presented in a baby seat or high chair that offers support and stability through the trunk and core. When that support is offered to babies and toddlers, they can then work on the distal coordination and dexterity. At first, manipulation of food is very messy as those refined skills are developed, but it’s all “on-the-job training” with tasty benefits!

Research shows that a child moves through a series of exploratory steps before successfully eating new foods. This process involves messy play from the hands, up the arms, onto the head and then into the mouth. The steps of this process cannot happen unless the child is encouraged to touch, examine and play with their food. In today’s culture of sterilization and cleanliness, this often counterintuitive to parents and a hard pattern to break.

Promoting Play with Food

Mealtimes can be rushed affairs, making it hard to play with food, but they are not the only times we engage with food throughout the day.

Cooking and meal prep are two of the most common opportunities for play and engagement with food. These activities present perfect opportunities for parents to talk about color, size, shape, texture, smell and taste of the foods that are being prepared. Use of descriptive words,
over exaggeration when talking about and tasting foods, along exploration opportunities develop a positive interest in foods.

Babies can be involved in kitchen prep as they play with appropriate utensils and kitchen items like baby-safe bowls or pots. Toddlers enjoy being involved in the food preparations and can wash, prep, and even chop soft foods with toddler-safe kitchen tools.

Explore these cooking with kids recipes to get small children involved in all the benefits of the kitchen.

Here are more baby play ideas that promote development.

Food Art

Free play with foods like yogurt, jello and applesauce are also great opportunities to promote messy play and creativity. Utilize these foods for finger painting, or painting with other foods as the brushes. This activity challenges tactile and smell regulation, along with constant changes in
the visual presentation of the food.

Creativity with Food

When presented with food for free play, or at the dinner table encourage their creativity–carrot sticks become cars or paint brushes, and raisins become ants on a log.

The sillier the presentation, and more engaged the child becomes, the more likely they are to eat the foods you have presented to them. Especially, if these foods are new, or are non-preferred foods. High levels of over exaggeration also leads to increased positive experiences with foods, which in turn leads to happier eaters, and less stressful mealtimes
down the road.

Ideas like these flower snacks promote healthy eating and can prompt a child to explore new textures or tastes in a fun, themed creative food set-up.

Messy Eating and Oral Motor Development

Not only does play promote increased sensory regulation and positive engagement with foods, it also promotes oral motor skill development.
Oral motor skill development is promoted when a variety of foods are presented and the mastered skills are challenged.

Here is more information on oral motor problems and feeding issues that are often concerns for parents. The question of feeding concerns and picky eating being a sensory issue or oral motor motor concern comes up frequently.

Foods that are long and stick like such as carrots, celery and bell peppers, promote integration of the gag reflex, along with development of the transverse tongue reflex that later supports tongue lateralization for bolus management.

Foods such as peas, or grapes promote oral awareness and regulation for foods that “pop” when bitten, and abilities to manage multiple textures at one time.

Messy Eating and Positive Mealtimes

Whether you have a picky eater, or are just trying to make mealtimes fun, play is the way to go!

Play with food is critical to development of oral motor skills and sensory regulation needed to support positive meal times. Through the use of creative play, exposure, and over exaggeration these milestones can be achieved.

10 Ways to Support a Child’s Milestone Development at Home!

Support milestone development in natural environments at home

Every home is different, but here are some options for you to be able to swiftly encourage milestone development during your normal, everyday life. While they do have their benefits, child growth and development doesn’t require fancy play centers, playgroups, and activity centers. Here you will find easy ways to integrate child milestone development right into the daily family life at home. Here is information on child development to get you started.

Use these easy ways to support milestone development at home when getting out of the house is difficult.

If you just read the word “milestones” and still aren’t so sure what that means, you are not alone! You can also pop on over to The Child Mind Institute to learn more about what milestones are.


You don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment to help your child reach their milestones, even if they show signs of delay. I hope that this list of ideas will spark ideas of your own so that your family’s needs can be met in ways that work for you.

That is really what the natural environment is all about. Contrary to its name, it isn’t about green trees and blue skies or organic fruits and vegetables. The natural environment is wherever your child spends their time. Often, it is considered their home, but it could be the library, or the park, or grandma’s cabin. The point is that the natural environment is somewhere that is a recognizable, comfortable, and safe place for your child.

It just so happens that this magical place is where most of their development takes place, and that is why it is so important to use these spaces effectively for the naturally-occurring learning opportunities they provide!

These strategies to support milestone development can happen in the home.

How to Support Milestone development at home

For starters, I would like to kick off this list with a few overarching ideas to support development right in the day-to-day tasks of everyday life at home. There is so much development to be had by involving your child in things that are done in and around the home.


ONE: PUT THEM TO WORK
Playing and chores alike help your child reach their developmental milestones. In order to reach fine motor milestones and gross motor milestones, those little muscles need to be challenged!


TWO: INTEGRATE INTO YOUR LIFE
If you are doing laundry, your kiddo can help push laundry baskets to develop their gross motor muscles. If you are making pancakes, they can pop little chocolate chips in one by one to work on fine motor skills. Setting aside extra time for your baby’s milestones is not always necessary.


THREE: SHARE WITH YOUR BABY
In some ways, treating your infant or toddler to a friendly conversation is all that it takes to give them a little extra boost in communicative and cognitive development. Talk to your baby, share your interests, show them your work. This will strengthen their understanding of your spoken
language, and encourage them to use their mouths and faces for communication, too!

5 WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD’S MILESTONES IN THE
NATURAL ENVIRONMENT

1. Support your child’s Development with family workouts

Family workouts are a great way to support milestone development and health and wellness of the whole family! Use at-home workouts to ensure that your baby gets in their tummy time (and more!) is to encourage your baby to work out with you. If you lift weights, your mischievous 18-month-old can lift his stuffed animals, books, wooden blocks, or whatever else may be around.

Or, maybe you are more of a yoga mom, and you and your toddler can work on balancing poses or squats like chair pose or goddess pose. You’ll feel great not only because you got in some exercise time – but also because you are helping your child become stronger!

2: Support developmental milestones in the kitchen

Use meal preparation times to your advantage! Cooking with kids in the kitchen offers powerful experiences for child growth and development. If you like to bake, offer your little one some dough to smash and squeeze between their fingers. Their blossoming fine motor skills, like handwriting, will thank you.

Baking is often rich in sensory experiences as well; the smells, the
textures, the tastes! Sensory-rich experiences like these are integral to the healthy development of the sensory system.

There’s more; cooking offers opportunities to develop direction-following and other cognitive development as well.

The next time your game-day guacamole needs smashing, you’ll know who to call.

3: Support motor skill development with chores

We know how much of your days are filled with laundry. It feels like it’s a never-ending cycle (no pun intended). Why not recruit some help? Your little one can help you out at their level. If they are able to distinguish between colors and reach, grab, and place objects, then they can
separate your whites from your colors. Maybe that is a bit too advanced: instead, they can take your sorted piles and throw them in the washing machine. When you’re done, have them push, pull, drag, carry – whatever they can manage – that laundry basket to its destination.


This strengthens so many skills. We’re talking fine motor, gross motor, cognitive, and sequencing skills. Plus, you can make something as dull as laundry day a bit more interesting.

4: Promote child development with day-to-day tasks

Supporting cognitive milestones can be done right in the home. Anytime you need to get some grown-up desk work done, your child can do their work, too! Offer them a pencil and paper – I am sure they would love it if they got to use something from your work bag – and let them get to it! Now they are kept busy so that you can have a few
moments to complete your schedule, email your colleagues, or document your tasks that week.

Allowing them the opportunity to use various writing utensils, instead of just one kind of chunky crayon, gives their little hands and fingers a challenge.

Strengthening their grasp will improve handwriting outcomes as well as things like dressing ability (hello, buttons and zippers!) and independent feeding ability. Not to mention the visual motor development that coloring can offer.

5. Support child development with downtime

Some days, all you can do is keep everyone alive. Maybe it’s putting on some Bee Gees and dancing to their classic hits because if you didn’t, mental breakdowns would ensue.

Dancing is great for growing bodies! Or maybe you just need time away inside of a good book, and your baby can cuddle your chest while you read. They can also peruse a book of their own while you take your escape. No matter their age or abilities, don’t overwhelm yourself, do what you need to do to keep your family safe and happy.

Looking for more? Click here to learn more about occupational therapy for babies!

For more ideas on milestone development and child development, head over here to get ideas for play based on your child’s age.

References

  1. Woods, J. (2008). Providing early intervention services in natural environments. The ASHA
    Leader, 13(4). https://doi.org/10.1044/leader.FTR2.13042008.14
  2. Butcher, K. & Pletcher, J. (2016, December). Cognitive development and sensory play. Michigan State University Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/cognitive_development_and_sensory_play
  3. The Center for Vision Development. (2020). Visual motor integration.
    https://www.thecenterforvision.com/visual-motor-integration/

Sydney Rearick, OTS, is an occupational therapy graduate student at Concordia University Wisconsin. Her background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about meeting your family’s needs. After working as a nanny for the last decade, Sydney is prepared to handle just about anything an infant, toddler, or child could throw at her. She is also a newly established children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

Big Life Journal for Growth Mindset

Big Life Journal giveaway

Today I’m excited to share a resource for growth mindset…a Big Life Journal! If there’s one thing that this year needs, it’s a positive outlook and a growth mindset. Our children especially, would benefit from resilience, coping skills, and coping with big life changes. The Big Life Journal does all those things!

Big Life Journal for Growth Mindset

Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.

Since we are talking all things growth mindset, and and resilience…and resilience seems to be a common topic this year, I thought I would run through some common terms when it comes to growth mindset and developing the skills of resilience in children.

mindset definitions and other skills such as empathy, mindfulness, resilience,

Growth Mindset Definitions

Empathy– Empathy is the ability to recognize and understand the feelings and perspective of others.

Mindset– Our mindset is the way that we think about ourselves and the world around us. It’s the attitude that we have about ourselves and the world. It’s our mood and the way with think about problems or tasks that we need to accomplish. Mindset is a way of looking at the problems or situations in front of us. Addressing difficult tasks and mistakes is part of mindset. Executive functioning skills play a part in mindset.

Growth Mindset– Growth mindset is the ability to confront challenges, view hard tasks as an oppourtunity and a process. Someone with a growth mindset believes they are not limited by their abilites or intelligence. When we use a growth mindset, we believe our abilities or our ability to learn new things can improve given effort.

Fixed mindset– Fixed mindset is a limiting belief that impacts our ability to solve promblems, learn new skills, react to situations, and respond to daily situations. Fixed mindset can impact wellness and well-being, as well as learning and task completion.

Mindfulness– Mindfulness is our ability to focus on our awareness and presence in any given moment. It’s our ability to acknowledge and accept our feelings, thoughts, body sensations and the world around us in any given task or activity.

Resilience– resilence refers to one’s ability to have a mental toughness, and the ability to recover quickly from difficult tasks or situations. Resilience offers the ability to bounce back or respond and react in the event of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or stessful situations.

Coping Skills– Coping skills are the specific steps one might take to react and respond to events, internal thouhgts, emotions, and daily tasks. It’s the strategies a person can use to consciousely solve personal or interpersonal problems. Coping skills can be physical methods, self-talk, sensory strategies, and other specific skills that allow for wellness and wellbeing.

Self-talk– Self-talk is that internal dialogue that is constantly running in your mind. Self-talk can be a coping skill, and it can impact mindset. This internal dialogue is influenced by your subconscious thoughts as well as conscious thoughts.  Self-talk can be both positive and negative and has the ability to impact resilience and mindfulness.

You can see how all of these terms are inter-related and how they all impact one another. When these skills are growing and developing children can accomplish tasks and not limit themselves in learning and developing as an indiviual.

All of these mindset definitions can be strengthened, using tools and specific strategies. And, by working on these various areas, children (and ourselves) can respond to challenging situations (like distance learning, for example) that require us to pivot and change.

Also connected to all of these areas are social emotional learning, executive functioning skills, and the emotional regulation part of executive functioning skills.

Critical thinking plays a big part in development of mindset and the other growth areas listed above.

So how to work on these areas to foster a growth mindset, positive self-talk, coping tools, and resilience in kids?

Mindset strategies for kids

Strategies for Mindset

Specific strategies can help, along with a plan. Below are some strategies to address mindset and the other areas listed above.

  • Work on wellness and wellbeing- Check out these wellness strategies
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Help others
  • Focus on positive self-talk
  • Identify goals and work on those areas
  • Work on perspective
  • Create a toolbox of strategies
  • Foster a positive outlook
  • Practice working memory strategies and learn from mistakes
  • Focus on the present and mindfulness

One method for working through these skills is with the Big Life Journal.

Children can use the journal as a working tool to foster specific strategies and methods for developing persistnece, growth mindset, and a positive perspective. These stragies can be a powerful way to help kids accomplish tasks, believe in themselves, and grow and develop as a person.

You can get a copy of the Big Life Journal here.

Big Life Journal

Want to add a Big Life Journal to your toolbox? Let’s get kids developing resilience, social emotional learning, and mindset.

Check out the blog comments below for ideas to help kids to develop skills in empathy, resilience, mindset, self-talk, and mindfulness.

This product was featured in our Therapy Toys and Tools Giveaway Series. (Giveaway now closed.)

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.

Gratitude Activities

gratitude activities

Gratitude activities and specific ways to teach gratitude is an important part of child development. But gratitude can be a complex and abstract topic for kids. Sometimes, putting together a few hands-on activities can be a helpful way to show children how to express gratitude for the people, things, and places in their lives that they are thankful for. There’s more; Gratitude is an early social-emotional skill that fosters children’s social emotional learning as well as a core skill that relates to successes and relationship skills later in life. Use the gratitude ideas described here to help children build this essential soft skill while targeting motor development, making activities for gratitude development fun and functional.

Gratitude activities for children and families

Gratitude Activities

These gratitude games, activities, and hands-on play ideas help children foster this soft skill.

I’ve tried to pull together several activities and ideas that help children understand thankfulness and see that feeling in action through play and activities.

You’ll find book-related thankfulness activities, gratitude games, thankfulness crafts, and other gratefulness activities to teach gratitude to children and even adults.

You’ll find a teaching gratitude therapy slide deck that occupational therapists and other child professionals can use in teletherapy to teach this skill, while targeting other areas like fine motor skills, gross motor, mindfulness, and even handwriting.

There’s more to it, though. Helping children foster gratitude helps them later in life.

Gratitude Activities Foster Social Emotional Learning

I mentioned in the first paragraph, the significance of teaching gratitude to children. This soft skill is a powerful one to start early with toddlers and preschoolers. But, teaching the ability to be self-aware, and cognizant of one’s well-being, even in difficult times is a powerful instrument in fostering grit and resilience.

More so, teaching gratitude to children allows them to build essential roadmaps to social emotional learning and prepares them for successes later in their life.

Social and emotional skills are founded on self-awareness, emotions, and the connection between the emotions, thoughts, actions that we see in children. The ability for children to manage their behaviors, thoughts, and actions (or behaviors) rests in perspective, impulse control, and self-awareness.

When children can connect the dots between other people’s perspectives and having empathy for others, they are able to maintain and build relationships. And, when children are in that mindset of being mindful of others and how their own actions, thoughts, behaviors, and actions impact others, social emotional awareness takes place. That ability to make responsible decisions about their choices can flourish when a child is grateful for what the have and their ownership in any given situation.

Gratitude leads to self-awareness, perspective of others, kindness, and empathy.

For children, having and expressing gratitude helps them to recognize the tools they have already as a way to be resilient against obstacles and challenges. When kids are aware of the things they have, the special skills they posses, or people they have in their corner, they can use those things so they are empowered, and not overwhelmed.

These are big concepts and deep connections for children!

Many adults struggle with these very same concepts. But, to say that these ideas are too deep or advanced for children doesn’t mean that we can’t work on gratitude as a building block for social emotional awareness and development. Instead, we can provide gratitude activities that help children build and establish these skills.

Research tells us that positive emotions, including gratitude, promote happiness and flourishing, creating an upward spiral (Fredrickson, 2009Seligman, 2011). This upward spiral is a tool in a child (or adult’s) toolbox for learning, development, interaction with others, and day to day success.

Gratitude Activities for Children

So, how can we foster this appreciation for the world around us? Below, you’ll find gratitude activities and gratefulness activities to help children become genuinely more thankful for people, things, and their own self-awareness.

Discuss thankfulness- Talk with children about the things, people, situations, and skills they have available to them which are things to be thankful for. Expressing gratitude for the smallest gifts that we have in our lives, of any kind, helps children communicate and establish gratitude. Try this gratitude craft to help children count their blessings and to create a physical reminder of all that they have to be thankful for.

Model gratitude- Parents can express their gratitude and be a visible example to children so they can be thankful in any given situation, even when things seem difficult or challenging. Parental examples of thankfulness despite challenging situations is a powerful reinforcement that allows children to learn gratitude by “seeing” and “doing” as they learn to use the skills and “tools” they have available to them. In this way, kids learn in the moment and see gratitude in action. This can be shown in many ways:

  • Parents can tackle difficult situations with positivity.
  • By saying thank you to others, kids see an example of gratitude in action.
  • Say things like, “I’m so grateful for…”
  • Put a positive spin on difficult situations as an example of a positive mindset: “this is hard, but I am thankful I can…”

Express gratitude on a daily basis- Being consistent with thankfulness can help children learn this abstract concepts in very concrete ways. These gratitude printable worksheets and activities can be part of a daily gratitude exercise, as a family.

Incorporate books- This Bear Says Thanks activity helps children to see gratitude in action in a childhood book and then pair the book with a fine motor activity that allows them to count their blessings.

Make gratitude part of the home- Make a gratitude tree as a way to express family gratitude. The daily reminder will become part of the home and is a reminder of all the things in life that there are to be thankful for.

Teach gratitude- Helping kids to understand what gratitude means and looks like can involve the whole body. This teaching gratitude slide deck targets fine and gross motor skills, mindfulness, and even handwriting.

Journal gratitude- We know that writing down the things that we are thankful for promotes a better mindset and overall wellbeing.  Keeping a daily journal with children can be a way wot foster the positive impact of daily gratitude. Ask children to write down just one or two things each day that they are thankful for. What would you add to that list for today?

The Impulse Control Journal is a child-friendly way to write down gratitude and to use that journaling to foster mindset and self-awareness through quick checklists where kids can write out their strengths, qualities, supports, and insights.

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox
  • Fredrickson B.L. Crown; New York: 2009. Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace The Hidden Strength Of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, And Thrive. [Google Scholar]

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.

Pencil Grasp Development

Pencil grasp development

Pencil grasp development is a common concern for many parents, teachers, and therapists. So often, we see children holding a pencil with all of their fingers wrapped around the pencil, or very awkward pencil grips and wonder what is a typical pencil grasp. But, did you know that children typically progress through pencil grasp development in a predictable pattern? It’s true! Let’s talk pencil grasp.

First, when it comes to writing with a pencil, there are a few things that therapists want parents to know about pencil grasp.

Secondly, it’s important to note that grasp development, while it can be predictable, can also vary in timing. And when grasp doesn’t follow the progression listed below…it can be ok! In fact, a functional pencil grasp is perfectly fine for children.

Pencil grasp development in kids

Pencil Grasp Development

Grasp development follows three main categories: primitive grasps, transitional grasps, and mature grasps.

Primitive Pencil Grasps

In this beginning pencil grasp, the whole arm moves the pencil. These grasps include two specific grips which are described below:

Primitive pencil grasp

 ​1. Whole Hand Grasp/Palmer Supinate Grasp- (Typically seen between 12 months-1.5 years) Child holds the crayon with their whole hand, with the writing end of the crayon sticking out near their pinkie side of the hand. I​t looks like they are holding a paint stirrer or potato masher.

Digital pronate pencil grasp

2. Digital Pronate Grasp/ Pronated Wrist Grasp- (2-3 years) Crayon is held in the hand so the tip of the crayon (or the drawing end) is held on the thumb side of the hand.

Transitional Pencil Grasps

In the transitional pencil grasp stage, the child’s forearm and/or wrist moves the pencil.

Four finger or five finger pencil grasp

1. Four Fingered Grasp- (3.5-4 years)- Crayon is held between their thumb, and tips of the pointer finger, middle finger, and ring finger. As the child progresses, these four fingers may pull down to the tip of the finger into a quadrupod grasp.

Static tripod pencil grasp is a mature pencil grasp pattern

2. Static Tripod Grasp- (3.5-4 years)- Child holds the writing utensil with the thumb, pointer finger, and rests the utensil on the last joint of the middle finger. The ring finger and pinkie fingers are tucked into the palm of the hand.

Quadrupod Grasp- If the thumb opposes the pointer finger, middle finger, and ring finger this may be called a quadrupod grasp. A quadrupod grasp can also occur with the pencil resting on the side of the ring finger.

3. Other grasp patterns- There can be many variations of grasp patterns that occur in the transitional stage, marked by the use of the wrist or forearm to move the pencil.

Mature Pencil Grasps

In the mature pencil grasp stage, the child holds and maneuvers the pencil using mobility in the fingers or the hand.

Dynamic tripod pencil grasp is a mature pencil grasp

1. Dynamic Tripod Grasp- (4-6/7 years) Thumb and pointer finger hold the pencil as it rests on the last joint of the middle finger. Pencil movements occur via manipulation of the fingers and hand. Note that a true dynamic tripod grasp may not be established up until around 14 years of age.

2. Lateral Tripod Grasp- Thumb is pressed in against the pencil (or adducted) to hold the pencil against the side of the pointer finger. The tip of the thumb may bend over (or flex) over the pencil in a “wrapped” position. This grasp is sometimes called a thumb wrap grasp because the thumb is not involved with the distal movement of the pencil. Distal mobility occurs, but it is the index and middle fingers manipulating the pencil.

3. Dynamic Quadrupod Grasp- Grasp is similar to the dynamic tripod grasp, but opposition includes the thumb, pointer finger, middle finger on the pencil shaft.

4. Lateral Quadrupod Grasp- Grasp is similar to the lateral tripod grasp, with its thumb wrapped positioning of the thumb, but uses the pointer, middle, and ring fingers are on the pencil shaft and manipulate the pencil.

Other Functional Pencil Grasps

There are other grasps that can be considered “functional” in which the child holds the pencil differently than described here, but can also write in an efficient manner.

These can include (but not be limited to) a thumb wrap grasp, thumb tuck grasp, inter-digital brace grasp, or a finger-wrap grasp.

How to help with pencil Grasp

Want to know more about pencil grasp progression, development, and strategies to use to help children build a strong, efficient, and functional pencil grasp? It’s all in the Pencil Grasp Bundle!

Pencil Grasp Bundle

The Pencil Grasp Bundle is for those struggling to help students with carryover of skills. It’s designed to make pencil grasp practice meaningful and motivating. The Pencil Grasp Bundle is 16 pencil grasp resources, guides, worksheet sets, and tools.

Pencil Grasp Success Was Never Easier.

  • It can be a real struggle to help kids address tricky pencil grasps.  
    It is frustrating and difficult to weed through all of the information and pull out what will work for a child.  
  • You struggle with kids who work on skills but can’t carryover handwriting and pencil grasp into the classroom. 
  • Therapists may search for fresh ideas to address pencil grasp needs and wonder whether a grasp is considered functional or needs changing. 
  • Therapists need pencil grasp screening and educational materials to address a huge influx of therapy referrals.
  • Parents wonder about development and skills. 
  • Teachers will love the Centers activities to incorporate into learning to impact carryover of handwriting skills.

The Pencil Grasp Bundle includes 16 products and is valued at over $73. It’s bundled together and offered at just $24.

More pencil grasp help

free pencil grasp challenge

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

The pencil grasp challenge is a free, 5 day mini course and challenge. During the course of five days, I’ll be teaching everything you need to know about the skills that make up a functional pencil grasp. You’ll learn what’s going on behind the inefficient and just plain terrible pencil grasps you see everyday in the classroom, clinic, or home. Along with loads of information, you’ll gain quick, daily activities that you can do today with a kiddo you know and love. These are easy activities that use items you probably already have in your home right now.

Besides learning and gaining a handful (pun intended) of fun ideas to make quick wins in pencil grasp work, you’ll gain:

  • 5 days of information related to pencil grasp, so you know how to help kids fix an immature pencil grasp.
  • Specific activities designed to build a functional pencil grasp.
  • Free printable handouts that you can use to share with your team or with a parent/fellow teachers.
  • You’ll get access to printable challenge sheets, and a few other fun surprises.
  • And, possibly the best of all, you’ll get access to a secret challengers Facebook group, where you can share wins, chat about all things pencil grasp, and join a community of other therapists, parents and teachers working on pencil grasp issues.

Click here to join the Pencil Grasp Challenge.

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.

Developmental Checklist

developmental checklist and milestones for kids from birth to 2 years old

Parents and therapists alike often look for a developmental checklist. Having a list of developmental milestones in physical development, emotional, and social development would be handy, right? A printable resource that acts as a guideline to child development could be useful for parents to track the milestones of their child for the first two years of life. A pediatric developmental checklist can help to identify red flags or to reference a child’s growth and development.

developmental checklist and milestones for kids from birth to 2 years old

Today, I wanted to share developmental checklists that are available here on The OT Toolbox, so you can have a one-stop spot for understanding growth and development stages in children. AND, I have a giveaway item of a birth-2 years pediatric milestones resource to share.

This giveaway is part of our Christmas in July series, and you can enter each giveaway this week.

Childhood developmental milestones

It is important to note that all children develop at their own pace; however, there are a set of developmental guidelines that are accepted steps in development by doctors, service providers and educators alike. 

Here are developmental milestone lists that we have here on The OT Toolbox. Use these to better identify any developmental concerns:

Visual Motor Integration Developmental Milestones

Spatial Awareness Development in Babies

Foster Development with Block Play

Development of Oral Motor Skills

Development of Eye-Hand Coordination

Development of bilateral coordination and how this skill impacts feeding

Executive Functioning Skill development

Boost child development with rhyming games

Scissor Skills development

Grasp development

Developmental progression of pre-writing lines

Development of Play

Developmental Milestones in Kids Getting Dressed

Knowing all of this information on typical child development, it would be very handy to have a complete checklist of aspects of developmental progression from birth to two years.

Developmental Checklist

I’m so excited to partner with Two Sparrows Learning Systems to offer this The Accommodation Station Milestone’s Checklist: Birth to Two Years Old.

This book comes in three variants – Digital PDF, Digital PDF and Spiral Bound Bundle, and a Spiral Bound only option.

This book was created to serve as a guideline, and reference, for parents to track the milestones of their child for the first two years of life. Ideally, this book will be brought to all doctor appointments in order to guide the conversation with your child’s provider in reference to their growth and development, and to any concerns which become apparent. 

It is important to note that all children develop at their own pace; however, the guidelines provided in this book are the accepted steps in development by doctors, service providers and educators alike. 

For ease of use, this book is broken down by the general developmental month span utilized in the medical community (i.e. 0-3 months, 3-6 months, etc.). This book covers the following:

  • Speech/language milestones
  • Feeding milestones
  • Fine motor milestones
  • Gross motor milestones 
  • Activities to address each of the above
  • Red flags to look for in each range
  • Pre-K readiness checklist
  • Kindergarten readiness checklist
  • Potty training tips
  • Expected stages of play
  • Pre-writing progression
  • Resources (websites and podcasts)

In addition, this book provides pull out checklists for increased ease in filing and long term record keeping for each of your children, as well as the ability for your child’s provider to make copies of, and keep the information for their own files. 

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.

Social Emotional Learning

Occupational therapists and parents can use these social emotional learning activities to help children develop positive relationships, behaving ethically, and handling challenging situations effectively.

Social emotional learning is defined as a process for helping children gain critical social skills for life effectiveness, such as developing positive relationships, behaving ethically, and handling challenging situations effectively. The specific skills that allow kids to function and complete daily occupations (such as play, learning, participating in social situations, rest, dressing, writing, riding a bike, interacting with others…) are those social emotional skills that help children to recognize and manage emotions, interact with others, think about their feelings and how they should act, and regulate behavior based on thoughtful decision making.

One piece of addressing underlying social emotional learning needs in kids is the fact that the behaviors that we see have an underlying cause that can be found as a result of regulation of emotions, making decisions, and acting on impulses. Social emotional skills are not always a cut and dry aspect of development.

Social emotional learning is an important part of child development and an essential skill that kids need to accomplish daily tasks.

Social Emotional Learning

Today, I wanted to expand on that idea. So many times, we run into children on our therapy caseloads or in our classroom (or hey, even in our own homes!) who struggle with one area…or several. Remembering that beneath the behaviors, troubles with transitions, acting out, irritability, sleep issues, inflexible thoughts, frustrations, etc…can be emotional regulation components.

Let’s consider some of the ways our kids may struggle with social and emotional competencies. We might see kids with difficulty in some of these occupational performance areas (occupational performance = the things we do…the tasks we perform):

  • Academics/learning
  • Management of stress in learning/chores/daily tasks
  • Creating of personal goals in school work or personal interests and following through
  • Making decisions based on ethical and social norms in play, learning, or work
  • Understanding/Engaging in social expectations (social norms) in dressing, bathing, grooming, etc.
  • Social participation
  • Conflict resolution with friends
  • Empathizing with others
  • Responding to feedback in school, home, or work tasks
  • Making good judgement and safety decisions in the community
  • Showing manners
  • Understanding subtle social norms in the community or play
  • Transitions in tasks in school or at home
  • Ability to screen out input during tasks
  • Cooperation in play and in group learning
  • Considering context in communication
  • Emotional control during games

Wow! That list puts into perspective how our kids with regulation concerns really may be struggling. And, when you look at it from the flip-side, perhaps some of our children who struggle with, say, fine motor issues may have sensory concerns in the mix too.

Occupational therapists and parents can use these social emotional learning activities to help children develop positive relationships, behaving ethically, and handling challenging situations effectively.

Social Emotional Learning Activities

When we equip our students with tools to identify their emotions and self-regulate, we are giving them tools for life and promoting a positive environment for learning. We can foster social emotional development through play and interactions.

What might this look like at home, in online schooling, or in a classroom setting?

1. Connect emotions to behavior- Children may not have the language knowledge or understand how to explain what they are feeling. They may need concrete examples or scenarios to help them understand how their emotions are tied to their behavior. Does a storm make them feel nervous or scared? How do they react when they feel anxious about a test or quiz? When they argue with a sibling, how do they react? Once they are able to understand their emotions and how they are feeling, they can start using emotional regulation tools and strategies.

Use this social emotional learning worksheet to help kids match emotions to behaviors and coping strategies.

2. Be flexible and patient- Flexibility is something we have all been thrown into more than usual lately. But working with children on emotional regulation and understanding their emotions takes patience and being flexible. You may need to change up how you introduce emotions, or maybe a strategy you thought would work isn’t.

3. Set the tone and share your own feelings- This may feel uncomfortable for some of us, but sharing our own feelings with our students and clients and modeling the responses and strategies we are encouraging them to use will have a huge impact.

4. Try specific social skills activities- Social skills activities are those that help kids build underlying emotional and regulation strategies so that making friends, emotions, kindness, empathy, self-awareness, self-management, and other socio emotional tools are built at the foundation.

A recent post here on The OT Toolbox has more ideas to develop social emotional learning by engaging in activities that foster emotional regulation and executive functioning skills.

…it’s ALL connected!

Another fantastic resource that can help develop social and emotional skills is the activity book, Exploring Books Through Play.

This digital, E-BOOK download is an amazing resource for anyone helping kids learn about acceptance, empathy, compassion, and friendship. In Exploring Books through Play, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books. Each book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. Help kids understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play.

The book Exploring Books Through Play, has 50 different activities based on popular children’s books. Each book is used for 5 different activities that cover a variety of areas: sensory play, crafts, gross motor activities, fine motor activities, handwriting, scissor skills, and so much more.

This book is designed to address emotional regulation and connecting with kids.

social emotional activities for kids

What’s Inside Exploring Books through Play?

We have handpicked these easy and hands-on activities to help kids develop essential social emotional learning skills.

As classroom curriculum becomes more focused on academics, social and emotional development can get lost in the shuffle. This book focuses on abstract concepts of friendship, acceptance and empathy. By using children’s books that foster understanding of these concepts through pictures and stories, we can help children understand and see these emotions in action. What if you could use books and interactive activities to teach friendship? What if you could read a book that centers on accepting differences and create or make an activity or craft that helps children see acceptance in action. What if you could explore emotions through story and interactive play? In this book, you will find books that cover abstract concepts and use play to build social and developmental skills.  The 10 books covered include:

  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee
  • Boy + Bot
  • Little Blue and Little Yellow
  • Red: A Crayon’s Story
  • Chrysanthemum
  • The Day the Crayons Quit
  • Leonardo the Terrible Monster
  • The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
  • Whoever You Are and Penguin and Pinecone

Want to help kids learn more about complex concepts such emotions, empathy, compassion, and differences?

Creative book activities that help kids develop fine motor skills and gross motor skills, while exploring books.

Exploring Books Through Play uses children’s literature as a theme to engage in fun, hands-on activities that help children and adults delve deeper into the characters and lessons, bringing the stories to life and falling further in love with literature. Read a story and then bring the characters to life while learning and building skills. Each story offers unique activities designed around central themes of friendship, empathy, and compassion.

Each chapter includes 5 activities for each of the 10 children’s books. The activities are perfect for children ages 3-8, can be used in small groups or as a whole class, and are easily adapted to a home or classroom setting.

Click here to get the Exploring Books Through Play resource.

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.

Kindergarten Readiness and Executive Functioning Skills

Kindergarten readiness and developing executive functioning skills in kindergarten

Many parents of preschoolers have questions about preparing for kindergarten. There are kindergarten checklists and loads of resources online designed to address kindergarten readiness. One area that parents might miss when getting ready for kindergarten is the concept of executive functioning skills. Executive functioning skills develop from very early in childhood! These skills can easily be developed
through fun, age-appropriate play. Sound familiar? Combining learning and play in kindergarten is essential to build skills with an age appropriate awareness and at developmental levels. This is the exact way that children should be preparing for kindergarten!

Kindergarten readiness and developing executive functioning skills in kindergarten

Kindergarten Readiness

There is immense amount of pressure for children to be ready for the academic demands of
school, even from kindergarten. From the moment they walk in the door, most kindergartners
are pushed to be “little sponges” of the academic content to meet standards. However, most of us
recognize that this may not be the most appropriate approach to take. Finding engaging executive functioning activities can be tricky. The ideas here should be a great start to add to your kindergarten lesson plans or use in kindergarten preparations.


However, there are more child-friendly things that parents can do to help their children get ready
for kindergarten. Provide children with opportunities to be independent! Teach them the steps to
wash their hands (initiation, working memory, shifting, monitoring), how to blow their nose
(initiation, working memory, and monitoring), and letter recognition (working memory). Teach
them how to follow directions (impulse control, working memory, and shifting).

PREPARING FOR KINDERGARTEN WITH EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING SKILLS

Working on some kindergarten prep through play can involved executive functioning skills at the same time. Start here to understand exactly what executive functioning skills entail, but when it comes to kindergarten aged children, here are some of the executive functioning skills that can be addressed through play as well as tasks that will help them prepare for kindergarten:

Kindergarten lesson plans can include these reading and writing activities that build executive functioning skills

Reading, Writing, and Executive Functioning

Amazon affiliate links are included below.


There are many ways to integrate reading and writing preparation into play. Have your child
match uppercase and lowercase letters in games or at the store. This encourages working
memory (what letter they need to look for). Games like Zingo are great for teaching sight words
in a fun way while also requiring a child to use their impulse control, shifting, and working
memory.

More reading and writing for kindergarten:

Alphabet Discovery Bottle

Magnetic Letter Handwriting Game

Name Soup Writing Your Name 

Fizzy Dough Letters 

Handwriting Cookie Cutters

Kindergarten lesson plans can include these math activities to develop executive functioning skills to prepare for kindergarten

Math, Science, and Executive Functioning

Early math and science skills can be fun and easy to integrate into play! If the weather is
conducive, try hopscotch, saying the numbers out loud as you jump! For mental flexibility,
change the rules of how they go through the series: hop on one foot, jump on two feet, switch
feet, and so on. For older children or those who know their evens and odds, have them only jump
on the odds or only on evens.


For science, create simple science experiments, like vinegar and baking soda volcanos! This
requires initiation, monitoring, impulse control, shifting, and planning/organizing.

More kindergarten math activities to build executive function:

Caterpillar Math Craft 

Math with Checkers 

Cardboard Tangrams 

Play Dough Math 

Counting Nature 

Play and Executive Functioning

Play is critical, but with the push to be ready for academics, play is getting pushed to the side
However, without play, children suffer. They lack the ability to find joy in learning.

Outdoor play provides the opportunity for children to develop their executive functioning while
participating in child-led adventures! Taking a bike ride or a walk around the community, or
even playing basketball in a driveway, requires a child to demonstrate strong impulse control and
monitoring skills for safety. Red light, green light is also a great opportunity to work on impulse
control.

Outdoor play also encourages children to take risks while being aware of their surroundings.
Whether determining if cars are coming, stranger danger, or appropriate clothing to wear outside,
this is an incredible opportunity to encourage executive functioning development!


Can’t play outside? Build a fort! Planning/organizing, initiation, shifting, time management, and
working memory are critical for this.

Kindergarten play ideas to build executive function

Teaching Spatial Concepts 

Bugs and Beans Sensory Play 

Outdoor Small World Play 

Painting Toys in the Water Table 

Sticks and Stones Simple Sensory Play

Use these executive functioning games in kindergarten lesson plans and to prepare for kindergarten

Games and Activities to build executive functioning skills in kindergarten


Some family-friendly games include Outfoxed (initiation, working memory, monitoring,
planning/organizing, and impulse control) and Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game.

For less structured activities, think about making something in the kitchen, like baked goods. Making slime with a slime kit is another engaging way to build executive functioning skills.

For a less structured executive functioning activity, try making a bracelet from a bracelet kit that involves patterns or low-level direction-following.

For kindergarten readiness, focus on fun! This is a time of extensive growth, including in the
area of executive functioning.

For more executive functioning activities, grab this Executive Functioning Activity Guide. It’s full of strategies to address common executive functioning areas that impact working memory, attention, impulse control, organization, and more.

executive functioning skills activity guide The OT Toolbox
The OT Toolbox contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L

This post was written by contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist in the Madison, WI area. Emily participated in the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association’s Emerging Leaders Program (2016), earned her level 1 digital badge in autism from the American Occupational Therapy Association (2017), received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Chatham University (2018), and was appointed the South-Central District Co-Chair of the Wisconsin Occupational Therapy Association (2019). Emily has presented at both state and national conferences and is passionate about professional development. While trained as a generalist, Emily particularly enjoys working with clients with autism spectrum disorder and challenges related to executive functioning skills.