Kindergarten Learning and Play Activities

kindergarten activities

Below are kindergarten activities that promote development of skills needed during the kindergarten year. These are great activities to use for kindergarten readiness and to help preschool and Pre-K children build the motor skills in order to succeed in their kindergarten year. You’ll find kindergarten letter activities, Kinder math, fine motor skills to build stronger pencil grasps when kindergarteners start to write with a pencil and cut with scissors. You’ll also find kindergarten sight word activities for when that time of the Kinder year comes around. Let’s have some fun with 5-6 year old activities!

Kindergarten activities and kindergarten readiness activities

Kindergarten Activities

 What you’ll notice is missing from this massive list of Kindergarten activities, is handwriting, writing letters, and even writing names. (And writing letters in a sensory bin falls into this category too! Before kindergarten, children should not be copying letters into a sensory bin. You’ll see letters formed incorrectly, letters formed from bottom to top, and letters formed in “chunks”. The same rule applies to tracing letters and words and even “multisensory strategies” for writing. It’s just too early. Unfortunately, we see a lot of preschools and standards doing the exact opposite. You’ll even find online sites sharing preschool and Pre-K writing that is just in poor advice.
 
Here’s why: prior to kindergarten age, kids are not developmentally ready for holding a pencil, writing with a pencil, and writing words. Their muscles are not developed, and asking them to write letters, copy words, and trace with a pencil is setting them up for improper letter formation, poor pencil grasp, and weak hands. 
 
What children aged 5 and under DO need is play! They need exposure to sensory experiences, sensory play, coloring, cutting with scissors (even if it’s just snipping), puzzles, games, beads, blocks, stamps…there are SO many ways to help pre-K kids and preschool children develop the skills they need for kindergarten and beyond.
 
Kindergarten is such a fun age.  Kids in kindergarten strive when they are given the chance to learn through play and hands-on activities.  These are our favorite Kindergarten activities that we’ve shared on the site, with Kindergarten math, reading and letter awareness, Kindergarten Crafts, and Kindergarten Play.   
 
 

 

Kindergarten Functional Tasks

Kindergarten is the stage when children go off to school for perhaps the first time. That’s why prior to kindergarten, it’s great to “practice” a lot of the functional tasks that children will need to do once they go to kindergarten. Some of these may include:

Now…not all of these functional skills will be established for every kindergarten child…and that’s OK! Kindergarten can be the year to practice these tasks in the school environment. 

Kindergarten Letter Activities

Kindergarten is all about letters, upper case and lower case letters, and sounds.  They learn how letters go with sounds and work on decodable reading.  These letter learning activities will help your kindergarten student with identification, sounds, and beginning reading skills.

Kindergarten Letter activities for letter learning
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Kindergarten Math Activities

Kindergarten students work with manipulating items to discover and explore numbers and patterns.  They solve simple addition and subtraction problems, more or less, comparing amounts, and shapes.
 
These Kindergarten math ideas will be a fun way to discover math ideas with playful learning.
Kindergarten Math ideas

 

 
 
 
 
 
     
 




   
 
 
   
 
 
  
 
 
    
 

Kindergarten Sight Words and Reading:

Kindergarten students learn sight words throughout the school year. These sight word activities are fun ways to learn with play while reinforcing sight word skills.
  
 
   
 
 
   
 
 

Sight Words Manipulatives | Outdoor Pre-Reading Letter Hunt

Kindergarten Books and Activities

Extending book ideas with crafts and activities are a fun way for Kindergarten students to become engaged with reading.  Listening to an adult read is a powerful tool for pre-readers.  They learn language, speech, articulation, volume, and tone of voice.  These book related activities will extend popular stories and engage your Kindergartner.

Book ideas activities for Kindergarten
 
 
 
  
 
 
 

 
 
 

 

 

Kindergarten Fine Motor Play

Fine motor skills in Kindergarten students are essential for effective pencil control and handwriting, scissor use, and clothing and tool manipulation.  Kindergartners may have little experience with tools like scissors, pencils, hole punches, staplers, and pencil sharpeners. In fact, there are MANY fine motor skills needed at school. All of these items require dexterity and strength.  
 
In-Hand manipulation play for fine motor skills: We had so much fun with water beads.  This post shares two ideas for improving in-hand manipulation skills which are so important for dexterity in self-care, handwriting, coin manipulation…and so much more!
 
Finger isolation, tripod grasp, eye-hand coordination, bilateral hand coordination…Fine Motor Play with Crafting Pom Poms has got it all!  We even worked on color identification and sorting with this easy fine motor play activity.
 

What play ideas can you come up with using common tools? These items are GREAT ways to build hand strength and dexterity that will be needed in kindergarten for pencil grasp development and endurance in handwriting. 

  • tweezers
  • tongs
  • beads
  • toothpicks
  • hole puncher
  • peg boards
  • lacing cards

 

These fine motor activities will engage your student in fine motor skills for effective hand use in functional school tasks.
 
Kindergarten Fine Motor activities
 
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 

Kindergarten Play:

Play in Kindergarten is essential for so many areas.  Kindergartners are young students who need brain breaks from desk work.  Not only for that reason, but for turn-taking, language, social interaction, self-confidence, problem-solving, and interaction, play is an important part of your Kindergarten student’s daily lives.  

Play builds skills! Check out this post on the incredible power of play. Play helps kids learn and develop cognitive experiences and the neural connections that impact their educational career, beginning right now! Occupational therapists know that play is the primary occupation of children, but what’s more is that play builds the very skills that kids need to learn and develop.

Kindergarteners can gain valuable input through play:

  • Cognition
  • Problem Solving
  • Executive Functioning Skills
  • Attention
  • Strength
  • Balance
  • Visual Motor Integration
  • Visual Processing
  • Sensory Integration
  • Self Regulation
  • Language Development
  • Self-Confidence
  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Gross Motor Skills
  • Social Emotional Development
  • Stress Relief
  • Behavior
  • Imagination
  • Creativity

Try these play ideas in the classroom or at home for fun learning (through play)!

   
 
 
 
 
   
 

Kindergarten Crafts

Crafts in Kindergarten are a great tool for so many areas.  Students can work on direction following, order, patterns, task completion, scissor skills, fine motor dexterity, tool use, and more by completing crafts in Kindergarten.  

Kindergarten crafts can have one or more of the areas listed here to help and build skills:

  • Scissor practice (placing on hand and opening/closing the scissors)
  • Exposure to different textures and art supplies
  • Practice with using a glue stick and bottle of squeeze glue
  • Practice cutting strait lines and stopping at point
  • Practice cutting simple shapes
  • Practice cutting complex shapes
  • Coloring
  • Painting with finger paints and paint brushes
  • Experience washing hands after crafting
  • Opportunities for creative expression
  • Opportunities for rule-following and direction following
  • Multi-step directions
  • Experience copying a model for visual motor benefits

Try a few (or all!) of these Kindergarten crafts for fun arts and play with your student. 

Kindergarten Craft ideas
 
 
 
 

 

Grand Old Duke of York Craft | Process Art Monster Cupcake Liner craft | Shoe Charm craft | Caterpillar Math Craft

 
 
 
We’ll be adding more to this resource soon, so stop back to find more Kindergarten learning ideas.  

Retained Primitive Reflexes & Child Development

Retained primitive reflexes

This post is all about retained primitive reflexes, what retained reflexes look like, and how they impact child development. You’ll find specific strategies to integrate retained primitive reflexes as well. In a recent blog post, we discussed what are primitive infant reflexes, and why they are so important to infant development. Now, it is time to discuss what can happen if these reflexes hang around for too long. Remember that every case is unique, and if your child matches these characteristics, that does not necessarily mean that they have retained that reflex. If you are concerned about your child’s abilities and how they may relate to retained reflexes, we recommend talking to your pediatrician.

For more information on primitive reflexes and their impact on child development, be sure to check out some of these books on primitive reflexes.

Retained primitive reflexes

retained Primitive Reflexes

The term “retained primitive reflexes” might be a phrase you’ve heard before. But what does that mean and what do retained reflexes look like in children? Well, there is a lot to cover.

Basically, as infants develop into toddlers, their primitive reflexes should do what health care professionals call “integration”. The response that comes with the primitive reflex should integrate into a more mature or voluntary movement. When primitive reflexes are retained, those instinctive actions, movements will remain past the typical age range…they continue to exist. They are retained.

If primitive reflexes are still present long after they should have integrated, the child will display certain characteristics specific to the retained reflex, many of which limit their development and academic skills.

Just to add some background information, when we say that primitive reflexes are integrated, that means that the movements (or reflexes) are absorbed and contributing to characteristics, actions and neurological responses. To put it in other words, a reflex moves along a neurologic arc and when integration of those reflexes occurs, a process where specific stimulus results in a predictable response (or lack of that predictable response) so that movements are more efficient. This occurs so the neurologic system is connected and communicating efficiently. It’s all part of the nervous system.

PALMAR REFLEX

The palmar reflex is important for the development of purposeful grasping, something that an infant is learning throughout their first year of life. The palmar reflex can be seen when you place your finger in the palm of an infant’s hand and their reflexive response is to hold on to your finger. What an adorable reflex, right?

This is not something we want to see in an older infant or child, though. While the response is necessary for a newborn to learn how to use their hands, it limits an older infant or child to only using their hands and fingers for a strong grip.

retained palmar reflex

Children with a retained palmer reflex may:

  • Get fatigued very easily with handwriting or fine motor tasks, like stringing beads.
  • Have a sensitive or “ticklish” palm
  • Open and close their mouths while using their hands for tasks like writing or cutting with scissors.
  • Have difficulty in speech articulation

The mouth and the hands are connected via neural pathways in infancy, and that connection is still strong in those who have the palmar reflex. This is why the movements of the mouth and speech may be involved in the retained palmar reflex.

How to integrate the Palmar Reflex:

  • Tasks that encourage separate use the fingers
    • Squeeze a ball with one finger and thumb, alternating fingers to squeeze
    • Stringing Beads
    • Playing with small Legos or similar toys

MORO REFLEX

The Moro reflex is also called the startle reflex – it can be seen in a frightened infant up to about 4 to 6 months old. The reflex causes a baby to stretch out their arms and legs, and quickly bring them back in, in jerky movements. This is in response to the feeling of falling, a loud sound, or a drastic change in temperature.

Retained Moro Reflex

Children with retained Moro reflexes are often very sensitive to stimuli – sounds, tags on clothing, lights, etc. They tend to lack emotional and self-regulation skills and have a difficult time paying attention in class. Without an integrated Moro reflex, their fight or flight response can be activated very easily causing them to have deficits in many areas of life.

How to integrate the Moro Reflex:

  • Starfish Exercise
    • While seated, open up into a big “X” shape with straight arms and legs.
    • Cross right ankle over left & Cross right arm over left
    • Open up to big “X”
    • Cross left ankle over right & Cross left arm over right
    • Repeat
  • This is also how you can test for its presence! If a child has a very difficult time completing these actions, without another known cause, they may have a retained Moro reflex.

TONIC LABYRINTHINE REFLEX

The tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR) is used for head and postural control. We know that baby has poor control of their head and neck when they are born, and this reflex is part of what helps them gain control over this part of their body.

Retained Tonic LABYRINTHINE reflex

This reflex typically integrates around 4 months old, but if it persists, the following may occur:

  • Difficulties judging space, speed, depth, and distance.
  • Toe walking
  • Discoordination in simultaneous movements, such as walking or swimming.
  • Avoiding lying on their stomach.

Children with retained TLRs tend to be perceived as clumsy and often have a difficult time sitting upright and still in their chairs. This can decrease their ability to pay attention in the classroom setting.

How to integrate TONIC LABYRINTHINE REFLEX

  • Incorporate activities on their stomachs as much as possible, or for as long as they can manage each day.
  • Try reading, watching TV, or playing with a toy while on their tummies
  • Daily practice will strengthen their muscles and correct this response.

ASYMMETRICAL TONIC NECK REFLEX

This reflex is important to the initiation of crawling, as the arms and legs move as a baby turns their head while on their belly. While infants are on their bellies, and while crawling, they are exposed to a ton of visual stimulation by looking at their arms moving, looking and grabbing toys, etc. Tummy time is so important for this reason and more!

The ATNR should disappear around the time an infant is gearing up for crawling, around 6 months old.

Retained ASYMMETRICAL TONIC NECK REFLEX

If asymmetrical tonic neck reflex doesn’t integrate, the following may occur:

  • Poor Coordination during movements like skipping or riding a bike
  • Trouble crossing midline
    • Example: Moving right arm to left side of the body to buckle a seat belt.
  • Poor visual tracking = academic issues
    • Difficulty reading and writing

A quick test for a retained ANTR starts with having the child stand with both arms directly out in front of them. Ask the child to slowly turn their head all the way to the left. Their left arm will remain straight and their right arm will bend if the reflex is still present.

How to integrate the ATNR

  • Lizard Crawling Exercise
    • Start on the stomach
    • Look to your left, and bend your left elbow and left knee
    • Look to your right, and bend your right elbow and right knee

There are many more primitive reflexes, as well as postural reflexes, that are important to child development and student success. We have not covered everything here, but we hope to have given you a nice place to start building your understanding of what may happen when primitive reflexes are maintained over time.

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.

What are Primitive reflexes?

what are primitive reflexes

Have you even heard the term reflexes and wondered what are primitive reflexes? One of the many things that your newborn’s pediatrician will check periodically is their primitive reflexes. The existence of reflexes can be a great marker for neurological health in people of all ages, as they are controlled by the nervous system – the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Primitive reflexes develop in the womb and are integral to an infant’s survival and future development. Below we will break down each of these reflexes and their purpose. 

what are primitive reflexes

Related: Books About Primitive Reflexes 

What are Primitive Reflexes?

As infants develop into toddlers, these reflexes should do what health care professionals call “integration”. The response that comes with the primitive reflex should integrate into a more mature or voluntary movement. If they are still present long after they should have integrated, the child will display certain characteristics specific to the retained reflex, many of which hold back their development and academic skills. 

Let’s begin with the most easily noticeable reflex that babies have: the palmar reflex. This is also known as the grasping reflex. You will see this when you place your finger into the palm of an infant’s hand, and they hold on tight. This is an adorable response that can make you feel pretty special, but it is involuntary up until about 6 months of age when the reflex should disappear. 

PALMAR REFLEX

The palmar reflex is important for the development of purposeful grasping, something that an infant is learning throughout their first year of life. 

Fun Fact: if your baby is holding your hair in a death grip because of this reflex, stroke the back of their hand with your finger – it should initiate a release of the grasp. 

ROOTING REFLEX

The rooting reflex is one of the main “survival” reflexes. The rooting reflex can be elicited by stroking an infant’s cheek with your finger, or more likely, a bottle or breast nipple. This is because when the cheek is stimulated, the infant will turn his or her head towards that stimulation. 

If you ever need your baby to pay attention to their feeding, try giving their cheek a little stroke or tap so they turn towards the feeding source. This response should be seen in infants up until about 4 months of age. 

SUCKING REFLEX

Similar to the rooting reflex, the sucking reflex is necessary for an infant’s feeding abilities. To stimulate the sucking response, touch the roof of the infant’s mouth and they will automatically begin sucking. 

Most infants learn this skill very quickly (they do get tons of practice, after all!) and the reflex will disappear by about 2 months old. 

MORO REFLEX

This reflex is the first of three on this list that is a response to a change in body position. Also known as the startle reflex, the Moro reflex can be seen by gently dipping a baby’s head and neck backward, as if they are falling. It can also be elicited by other stimuli like a startling noise or a drastic change in temperature. 

The response that you will see in the baby is that of fear – their arms, legs, and head will reach out and then tuck back in – jerking their body back and forth. They may also open and close their hands and may even cry. The movement that is created by a startling stimulus is to protect your baby and allow them to move away from the stimuli even before they can control their own movements. Pretty cool, huh?

You may notice the startle reflex really kicking in around 1 month old. If your baby is inconsolable and moving around their body in this way, securing supporting their bottom and their head should help them realize that they are safe. By six months old, or as early as two months, this reflex will disappear. 

TONIC LABYRINTHINE REFLEX

The tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR) is used for head and postural control. We know that baby has poor control of their head and neck when they are born, and this reflex is part of what helps them gain control over this part of their body. 

The TLR can be seen when moving the head and neck forward and backward. When the head moves forward toward the chest, the arms and legs bend and the baby assumes the fetal position. When the head moves back away from the chest, the arms and legs straighten. You can see this really well during tummy time! 

The TLR will disappear by about 4 months old so that more advanced reflexes and movements can begin development. 

ASYMMETRICAL TONIC NECK REFLEX

Last on the list of movement-based reflexes is the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR). As the name suggests, this reflex has to do with the neck. You can see the reflex if you turn a baby’s head to one side while they are laying on their backs. They will reflexively straighten their arm and leg on the side that they are looking, and bend the arm and leg of the other side. That is where the asymmetrical part comes in: their left side and right side of their body are opposite. They look a bit like an archer, about to shoot an arrow. 

This reflex is important in the birthing process, as the motions of the head can control the movement of the rest of the body help the baby through the birth canal. It is also important to the initiation of crawling, as the arms and legs move as a baby turns their heads while on their belly. For this same reason, the ATNR is crucial to the development of hand-eye coordination. 

The ATNR disappears around the time an infant is gearing up for crawling, around 6 months old. 

MORE ON PRIMITIVE REFLEXES

There are a few more infant reflexes that we did not mention, and you can check them out if you are looking to learn more! The Spinal Galant Reflex, the Babinski Reflex, the Landau Reflex, and the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) are some that we missed in this article. The Landau and the STNR are actually not primitive reflexes, as they develop after the baby is born, but they are developmentally important nonetheless! 

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.

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.