Parallel Play: Definition, Benefits & Activities

parallel play

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

parallel play

What is parallel play?

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

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

parallel play age

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

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

Even adults can participate in leisure activities using parallel play!

parallel play development

Development of parallel play

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

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

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

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

There are six stages of play in early childhood including:

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

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

Parallel Play is one of six stages of development!

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

History of Play development

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

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

Benefits of parallel play

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

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

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

Examples of Parallel Play

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

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

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

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

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

Parallel Play Activities

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

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

supporting children through conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crayons for Toddlers

crayons for toddlers

One question therapists get all the time is about the best crayons for toddlers and specifically which crayons are best to support development. During the toddler years (preschool stage as well), there is a lot of motor and cognitive development happening, making it a great stage to introduce crayons. Let’s talk about the best types of crayons for the toddler years and beyond!

crayons for toddlers
Crayons for toddlers

Crayons for Toddlers

There are many benefits to coloring with crayons and for many toddlers, it is natural to want to color, making it a win-win in building sensory motor skills.

There is a plethora of  information floating around the web about correct crayons and writing utensils for young people. There are a lot of choices, some great, others not so good.

When thinking about crayons for toddlers, there is more to it than simply placing a crayon in the palm! Some things to consider include:

  • Coloring with a crayon both develops and requires a grip on the crayon. Forcing coloring too early can promote an immature grasp on the crayon when used in small hands.
  • Coloring offers resistive feedback through the hands by marking the paper. This is a great strengthening activity, but for babies and young toddlers, this can strengthen and add feedback to immature grasps.
  • Likewise, coloring at the toddler stage can be developmentally great when offering the “just right” strengthening and sensory motor feedback needed to move through grasp patterns.

If you’re thinking about shopping around for the best crayons for toddlers, you’re already in the right frame of mind, because coloring is a tool for creativity that kids need at such a young age.

Coloring with toddlers is all about the unique shape of the crayons out there on the market that are designed to fit small hands: Think rock crayons, egg crayons, and even something called honeysticks.  

Do these options surprise you? 

Then consider the other options out there to worry about:

  • Jumbo crayons vs. Triangular crayons
  • Thick crayons vs. regular sized crayons
  • 96 pack of crayons vs. 8 crayon pack
  • Brands like Crayola crayons vs. Melissa & Doug crayons
  • Washable crayons vs. paraffin wax crayons
  • Pure beeswax crayons vs. crayons with vibrant colors 
  • Non-toxic crayons vs. natural ingredients crayons
  • Large crayons vs. choking hazard sixed crayons
  • Food-grade pigments vs. non-toxic natural wax

With all of these considerations, how do you choose crayons that make THE very best crayons for toddlers??

crayons for kids
Crayons for kids based on development

Best Crayons for Toddlers

Before deciding which crayons are best for toddlers, understanding the “why and when” is most important. To do so, we need to run through the developmental stages leading up to toddlers coloring with crayons. This is important because you may see some of the earlier considerations in place when a child is not developmentally ready to color. In those situations, is a good idea to back up and build on skills from a developmental standpoint.

Birth to one year: This article from Parents magazine highlights the hand development of babies from birth to one year.  In the article it does not mention crayons at all.  

Why? Because babies’ hands are not ready for crayons of any kind. Crayons for babies exist out there on the market…but it’s just not developmentally appropriate. The hands of babies do not have the muscle control for handling objects like crayons until about 11 months. 

To prepare toddlers to use crayons to support development, the preparation is a must. Spend the time before the toddler years working on overall fine motor development through picking up objects, self feeding, exploring the environment, cause and effect toys, and dumping objects out of containers. This resource on baby play has a lot of great ideas.

If crayons are introduced too early, maladaptive grasping patterns will develop.  

From 12-18 months, the toddler stage, little ones begin to refine their hand development. You’ll see in our resource on fine motor milestones, that there is a lot happening during the toddler years. 

Around 12 months, children may find it challenging to manipulate small objects with dexterity. At this stage, they are picking up small objects like food pieces with their thumb and pointer finger in a pincer grasp. However, it is difficult for children this age to use dexterity in the fingers of the hand or by isolating fingers or hand separation.

In six months time, by around 18 months of age, manipulating objects such as toys, utensils, and household objects becomes more coordinated.

Is it time for crayons yet?  Yes and no. 

Making marks on paper, and starting to make strokes, but not with pencils or traditional crayons quite yet. 

Remember, those hand muscles are still very primitive at this point, thus the tools need to be also. Think about how large the knobs on toddler puzzles are, or how chunky beginner spoons are. Writing tools need to be designed the same for little hands.  

Here are some fine motor and coordination activities to support use of crayons for toddlers:

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

  • Writing and creating lines with fingers in shaving cream or pudding
  • Finger painting
  • Egg shaped chalk (Amazon affiliate link) like these Egg shaped pieces of chalk fit the whole hand without forcing the fingers to grasp the writing tool
  • Egg shaped crayons like these also offer resistance when coloring or marking using the whole hand to grasp rather than force a grasp using the fingers which are not ready for that stage yet.
  • Make your own crayons by melting crayons into muffin trays.
  • While there are several iPad apps for writing using finger pointing, research shows children under age 2 should have no exposure to electronics.  Stick with the basics.

Some coordination activities for 12-18 months can be used to promote eye-hand coordination, proprioceptive input, shoulder stability, and motor coordination. These activities include:

Children ages 2-3: At this stage of toddlerhood, hand development is starting to become more defined. 

This is the stage when the young child begins to develop more muscle control needed for precision and dexterity of motor skills in the hand.

You’ll begin to notice finger isolation, hand separation, and arch development. You’ll also see more refined movements with the thumb in finger opposition. This is where precision in fine motor skills is seen.

This is also a stage of visual motor growth. Children will begin to integrate the visual input with motor output needed to copy a straight line. A word of caution: at this stage, don’t be concerned with tracing letters or shapes, or copying shapes. Focus is on the simplest of lines: horizontal, vertical lines, circles, and a cross. Read here about pre-writing lines development.

Is it time for regular crayons yet? 

Again, yes and no.

Those tiny hands, while that can certainly hold a regular or chunky crayon, are not ready to do so correctly. The grasp starts out as a gross grasp, then to a pronated grasp, finally ending with a tripod grasp around age 4.

Children often get stuck in one of these primitive grasping patterns when given crayons too early. A gross grasp is an appropriate stage of hand development, as is a pronated grasp, however the grasping pattern is supposed to continue to develop to a mature tripod grasp over time.

It often fails when tiny weak hands are holding onto small pencils, crayons, or pens. 

Coloring can happen, but it’s at the child’s interest, and shouldn’t be forced.

 Here are some crayons for toddlers and preschoolers using this information:

  • Continue to use the large egg shaped crayons and chalk, as well as finger paints
  • These unusual looking rocket type crayons have a large bulb for palmer grasping that support development but also don’t force young children into holding utensils with an underdeveloped grasp.
  • I also love these crayon rocks for toddlers and preschoolers:
  • Dot markers, while fun and entertaining, also promote the gross and pronated grasps appropriate for this age.
  • Bath finger paints are a great alternative to using crayons.

Ages 4-5 the preschool age.  Is it time for crayons yet?  Yes!  However, not all children are ready for traditional crayons. 

One-two inch crayons are the best for children through elementary school.  It is almost physically impossible to get a fist around a one inch crayon. This promotes a tripod grasping pattern.

During each stage described in this blog post, but especially during the 4-5 age range, don’t feel rushed to put a pencil in the hands of a preschooler. It is common for preschool teachers to think tracing lines, doing simple “prewriting” mazes, tracing their name, and even letter writing activities (including sensory writing trays) is appropriate. Developmentally, it is not. More important at this stage and each stage before, is the PLAY. Play builds the motor, cognitive, sensory, and emotional skills needed for pre-writing.

If you have children do not like the idea of broken crayons, there are ready-made flip crayons.

What about the chunky crayons? 

You have probably seen the jumbo sized crayons out there. They are commonly offered to the kindergarten age range. You may have even seen these large, chunky sized option in a triangular shape. 

However, when it comes to oversized crayons, one size does not fit all. This goes for crayons too. The problem with handing out boxes of large, over-sized crayons to the entire kindergarten class is that, the children that are receiving these boxes of crayons have small fingers, hands, and wrists. 

In fact, some hands are much too small for chunky crayons, thus leading to more of a gross grasping pattern, or all fingers around the crayon. 

Other children are able to use a tripod grasp but need a larger size to form this grasp properly. 

The one benefit to using triangular crayons is that in the classroom setting, they don’t roll across the desk or table and fall on the floor. This is a huge benefit to using the triangular shape because at the kindergarten and first grade age, managing materials as well as body awareness can be a challenge for some kids.

What about traditional crayons? 

These can be used if your child has an appropriate grasping pattern such as a tripod, or alternate tripod with two fingers on top.

The thumb wrap grasp, underwrap, and too many fingers on the writing tool are signs your child is not ready for traditional crayons yet.

Understanding the why and when behind hand development and tool use, is critical to selecting the correct tools for each stage of development.

Important note about the ages and stages listed above: Do not rely strictly on the ages above, as children will develop at different ages. These are ballpark ranges for hand development. 

While it is going to be impossible to convince “the powers that be” to slow down preschool and kindergarten curriculum, being armed with tools and resources will help children be ready to face this onslaught of demands. 

The OT Toolbox is a great resource for articles, worksheets, printables, crafts, and thousands of ideas and products to work on development.

*The term, “child” is used throughout this post for readability, however this information is relevant for students, patients, clients, children of all ages, etc. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

Victoria Wood

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

Separation Anxiety Activities and Tips

separation anxiety activities

Today, we have a couple of separation anxiety activities that can support kids who struggle with school drop off. Many times, kindergarten or preschool drop off is full of tears, especially those first few weeks of school. Here, you’ll find a great connection activity to help preschoolers and parents find a way to make preschool drop off easier by connecting through the book, Owl Babies. Use this Owl Babies activity to help with that preschool separation stage. This post shares movement based separation anxiety activities that can help kids who are experiencing separation anxiety in preschool drop off, with ideas based on the children’s book.

Separation Anxiety in Preschool or Kindergarten

Step into a preschool classroom on the first day of school and you will likely see a few tears here an there (possibly some of those tears coming from the parents dropping off their child for the first time!).

Separation anxiety in preschool age is normal! But here’s what you need to know about that visible preschool behavior that may be fueled by something besides getting used to leaving mom/dad/caregiver for the first time…and how to help with a simple preschool self-regulation strategy.

The movement-based, sensory activity we share below can actually be used with preschool through kindergarten:

  • the 3 year old preschooler who is just being dropped off for the first time
  • the 4 year old preschool student
  • pre-k kids
  • kindergarten students
  • older, grade school students who are sad or upset on the first day of school

preschool anxiety

So, what is happening with preschool anxiety that causes tears, meltdowns, and clinging to mom or dad at the day care or preschool drop off?

You have probably seen it before:

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it’s time for preschool. The routine at home is the same: excitement, packing the bag, and gearing up for a day of learning colors, songs, preschool activities, and nursery rhymes. Getting into the car and driving to preschool is no problem.

But then you pull into the parking lot and the worries begin.

Tears, crying, clinging to Mom, negotiations, promises of seeing the little one in just 2 short hours.

Two minutes later, she is happy, playing with play dough, and dry of all nose drips.

It might even seem as if the preschool separation meltdown is just part of the morning routine.

As a momma of four, I’ve seen plenty of tear-filled drop-offs.  

And it just never stops breaking your heart.

Separation anxiety is actually considered a normal process that occurs in early childhood, as a result of a maturing physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Specifically, the areas of development that lead to a period of separation anxiety in young children include:

  • Visual processing system (visual memory, visual closure)
  • Executive functioning skills (working memory)
  • Self-regulation skills (connecting emotions with behaviors)
  • Social-emotional maturation (emotional connections, attachment, and feeling safe with certain individuals)

Despite the normal development that results in fears, worries, or flat out meltdowns following or leading up to a period of separation, severe separation anxieties do have the potential to negatively impact a child’s social and emotional functioning and this is especially true when the young child then avoids certain places, activities, and experiences that are necessary for healthy development.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Sometimes, the family, parents, or caregivers also avoid these places, experiences, and activities. This can lead to even more negative experiences. When the family supports avoiding certain places or situations because of the young child’s separation, we can have situations where separation anxiety “hangs around” longer than is part of typical development.

Officially, Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is defined as “developmentally inappropriate and excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is attached” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). However, for the young child, separation angst does not mean a disorder is present. It is only when the anxiety levels are so severe that they are not appropriate for developmental age that the official diagnosis of Separation Anxiety Disorder should be investigated.

For those with severe symptoms, Separation Anxiety Disorder may result in school refusal and a disruption in educational attainment, refusal to attend doctor’s appointments, dentist visits, or other situations where a child is separated, no matter the physical distance, from the parent or caregiver.

What causes Separation Anxiety Disorder?

There are many developmental areas that enable to progression of separation anxiety in toddlers and preschoolers from levels of worry and age-appropriate anxiety at separation to an inefficient and “disorder” level of worry.

Studies show us that some of these considerations may include:

  • Parenting behavior
  • Low parental warmth
  • Poor attachment
  • Trauma to the parent during the baby’s young years (death in the family, environmental, or other big situation)
  • Trauma to the child (Adverse childhood experiences, both large and small)
  • Insecure or anxious attachment styles
  • Diminished sense of control over one’s environment
  • Overprotective and over involved parenting behaviors
  • Parental intrusiveness- including extreme decision making on the part of the parent
  • Parental intrusiveness- including providing excessive assistance in the child’s daily activities (beyond age-appropriate ability)

Common signs of separation anxiety in kids

The natural and developmental stage of separation anxiety occurs from around age 6 months when the baby is able to notice that something is missing from their field of vision. This skill requires development of several areas:

  • Visual perception
  • Attention
  • Working memory (executive function)
  • Sensory motor

Separation anxiety typically continues from around 6 months of age to about 5 years of age, however signs of separation anxiety can persist after age 5 and through age 6.

However, the cognitive and emotional development that occurs during this age allows for kindergarten and younger elementary aged individuals to separate from their loved ones and know that they will be there even when the are not in view.

Once the underlying areas noted above develop (around 6 months of age), you may see some common signs of separation anxiety:

  • Crying when the parent leaves the room or home
  • Upset and crying when a babysitter or caregiver comes into view
  • Tantrums
  • Avoidance behaviors (refusing to participate in activities that require separation)
  • Clinging to parents
  • Refuse to attend certain situations
  • Apprehension about harm coming to parents
  • Fears the parent will leave and not return
  • Running from the classroom/school bus/appointment setting

Today, I’m sharing a simple trick for helping kids with separation anxiety at preschool or other drop-off situations like our weekly church nursery adventure.

Separation anxiety activities

separation anxiety activities



This post contains affiliate links.

Social Stories- Use social stories to create a visual narrative about how drop offs go and that parents will be back to get the child. Social stories can offer a verbal narrative for the child to use during these situations. Some of our social stories include:

Self-Regulation Strategies- Practice the regulation tools that support the individual’s emotional status with self-regulation strategies. Select a set of calming or heavy work strategies that can be used in preparation for the separation situation, whether that be using at the school bus stop (like this deep breathing school bus exercise) or while driving into school. Having those set of strategies readily available and discussing how the child feels will go a long way.

Movement-based separation activity – One fun way to work on separation anxiety in preschoolers that becomes part of the routine…here we are talking about the preschooler or kindergarten aged child that cries, clings to Mom or Dad, but then warms up to the classroom activities.

Practice routines- Do the same thing every day during the week in preparation for school, including bed times, morning routines, and transportation routines. These visual schedules can help with some individuals.

Wearable Charm- Another similar strategy is to create a DIY separation anxiety charm. Kids can make this along with the family adding heavy work through the hands. then, wear the charm to know that parents and caregivers still love and miss them even when not in view.

Get enough sleep– Practicing good sleep hygiene is important for the child as well as the parent or caregiver. This has an impact on behavioral response and self-regulation.

Books about Separation- The activity listed below uses the book Owl Babies. But we added a heavy work goodbye sign that parents and children can use at school drop offs to ease separation anxiety. Or, this activity could work for kids that struggle with the transition to the classroom, because they are missing Mom and Dad or other caregiver.

Use the book, Owl Babies by Martin Waddell!

Owl Babies Activity

We read the book, Owl Babies  and fell in love.  

The sweet little Owl Babies in the book wake up from a nap to find their mother gone from the nest.  The owl siblings go through a series of concerns and thoughts about where their mom might be with a little almost-tears.  

My older kids thought the book was pretty awesome and decided that each of the owl babies in the book were one of the girls in our family.  There were a few similar personality traits that aligned with the owls in the book and the sisters in our house.  

The idea of knowing that mom comes back when she leaves is a lesson we’re going through at Sunday School each week and one that happens so often with kids.  Just like the Owl Babies, it can be hard to stay calm and not worry when mom goes away.  

We decided to come up with an owl themed movement activity that kids could do when they are feeling anxious after leaving mom or dad.  

Try this trick to help with separation anxiety in preschoolers, based on the children's book, Owl Babies.


School Drop Off Anxiety

This activity would be perfect for preschool kids who are experiencing separation anxiety at the start of school or in a new classroom situation. For kids that cry at school drop off, or really struggle with missing Mom or Dad, this school drop off anxiety activity can help.

To do the activity, first read Owl Babies together.  Then, talk about how the owls in the book must feel when they see their mother has gone out of the nest. Finally, talk about how when the mom or dad in your family has to go away for a little while, they always come back and that they are thinking of the little one in your home while they are gone.

Try this trick to help with separation anxiety in preschoolers, based on the children's book, Owl Babies.


One easy way to help with separation anxiety is to come up with a hand signal.  We decided that making a bird wing sign would be a lot like an owl in flight.  Hook your thumbs together and spread your fingers out to create the wings of an owl.

Then, wrap both hands around your thumbs to create a little owl baby of your own.  Now, squeeze your hands tight to give them a hug.  Your child can do this motion when the are feeling sad or nervous at school.  Tell them to think about the owl babies in the book and how they felt when their mom came back.

School drop off anxiety activity for separation anxiety in students

Squeezing the hands tightly can provide a bit of proprioceptive input that is calming in a stressful situation like the preschool drop-off.  A simple hand hug might be just the thing that can help! It’s a self regulation activity that supports the whole body as a mechanism to address emotional regulation needs that show up as crying, clinging, and bolting “behaviors”.


Then, when you pick up your little baby, be sure to swoop them up in a big hug!


This activity would work with preschoolers who are a little older than my two year old.  She really enjoyed the book, Owl Babies, though and we have read it again and again!


Let me know how this tip to help with separation anxiety works with your preschooler!

Use this separation anxiety activity to support kids that struggle at school drop off with anxiety or worries.

 

Try this trick to help with separation anxiety in preschoolers, based on the children's book, Owl Babies.


 

Skipping Activities for Kids

How to teach skipping

Young children often ask to learn to skip. Here, you’ll discover skipping activities for kids, as well as specific strategies to teach children how to skip. Skipping is an important gross motor target. For some children, learning to skip is a real challenge! 

These skipping activities are fun ways to teach kids to skip.

Learn to Skip with Skipping Activities

If you have ever spent time in an elementary school, you may have noticed that the youngest members of the school community, specifically kindergarteners, hardly ever walk from place to place… they skip (and hop, jump, twirl, and gallop, too)!

Skipping is a developmental milestone or marker that generally emerges around age 5, with a range of age 4-6 years.  For many kids, skipping emerges without intervention, just the way reaching, crawling, or walking develops. 

For kids who struggle with gross motor skills and bilateral coordination, direct teaching may be necessary to develop this critical skill.  Once the basics are learned, skipping activities are a great way to practice.

learning to skip requires motor planning and sensory integration

Skipping is such a perfect example of motor planning and sensory integration.  It requires ideation (having the idea about how to move), planning (sequencing the movement), and execution (carrying out the movement).  

For a person to execute the motor plan of skipping, the coordinated effort of sensory systems and the brain is required. 

Skipping also provides excellent sensory input. No wonder kindergarteners like to skip from place to place… the vestibular and proprioceptive input they receive is a natural reward for all their hard work in mastering the skill!

what about bilateral coordination?

The ability to coordinate the two sides of the body involved in learning how to skip requires balance, strength, motor planning, and bilateral coordination. Bilateral coordination refers to the ability of the brain and body to process and integrate information from both sides of the brain to respond with movements in a coordinated manner. 

Many functional tasks and daily activities, such as feeding, dressing, and writing rely on bilateral coordination. 

Being able to coordinate both sides of the body is also a foundation skill for gross motor coordination activities such as walking, running, galloping and skipping.

Wondering how to teach skipping? This blog post breaks down the steps of skipping.

How to Teach Skipping

When you have a goal for a child to learn to skip, it is important to make sure that you address all of the components of skipping.  Teaching kids to skip starts with seeing what skills the individual is able to do. There are skills that are required to skip. Can the child balance on one foot and hop? Does the child have a dominant leg? Can they gallop or perform a different version of skipping? These are all good questions to ask when teaching skipping skills.

First, evaluate and observe the following gross motor skills needed for skipping:

  • Balance – check to make sure they can balance on either foot
  • Hopping – are they able to hop in place on each foot?  Are they able to hop forward on one foot?  Have them try to take 5 hops forward on either foot
  • Leg dominance – it may be helpful to know if they have a preferred leg for activities like hopping or kicking
  • Galloping – are they able to gallop? Can they gallop on either side?  This is more of a unilateral skill, which is often easier for kids who demonstrate difficulty with bilateral coordination skills.

If any of the above skills are weak, start with developing balance and hopping.  Then progress to galloping, followed by skipping. 

Then, use these strategies to teach skipping:

  1. To teach skipping, start by breaking down the steps for the child.  Provide a demonstration and simple verbal cues like “Step, hop, switch”.  You may need to provide a visual cue as well, using colored dots or markers on the floor, such as these (Amazon affiliate link) Little Polly Markers.

2. Once the child is able to complete the “step, hop, switch” sequence. This can be a very slow process at first. Some kids will need to think through the motor plan of each step. That’s ok! Use visual and verbal cues to work on the step with one foot, the hop, and the switch to the other foot.

3. Work to improve their fluency and speed of the step, hop switch sequence. Use these steps in an obstacle course or a relay activity to work on speed and gross motor coordination to improve fluent motor skills.

3. As they master the skill of skipping, you can encourage them to incorporate their upper body into the movement as well. Show them how to swing their arms in coordination with the legs. This will become more fluent and integrated with practice.  

Working on the coordination and motor planning to master learning to skip involves more than just a hop and a skip. Skipping is a complex task, but once you break it down and address underlying skill areas, it becomes easier. 

Skipping Activities

Here are some gross motor coordination games and skipping activities that address bilateral coordination and motor skills:

  • Obstacle courses – set up a simple hopping and jumping obstacle course inside or outside.  Use pool noodles to jump over with two feet, hop in and out of hula hoops, jump over cardboard bricks, etc.  Here is a post about Outdoor Lawn Games with lots of ideas for using backyard toys and equipment to address gross motor coordination skills.
  • This Ultra Dash Game is fun for kids of all ages!  You can set up an obstacle course in various ways and then the kids have to race to match the colors from the wand to the colored base.  You could incorporate skipping, jumping, and hopping into this game to work on those skills in a new way.
  • Use gross motor toys to work on balance, coordination, motor planning, and core strength.
  • Use a long jump rope to hop over on one foot. 
  • Stand like a flamingo. Try freeze dance games with a flamingo theme. When the music stops, players have to hold one leg up like a flamingo!
  • Simon says- Incorporate the hop and jump tasks needed in the task of skipping. Use these Simon Says commands in therapy sessions.
  • Yoga is a great activity to build body awareness, gross motor skills, and bilateral coordination.  Here are several different kids yoga resources:
  • Skip ball– this toy is a fun tool to practice skipping skills
  • Chinese Jump Rope – who remembers this classic toy? Relive your childhood while passing on this great game
  • Mini Trampoline – these are great to work on jumping, hopping, coordination, following directions, all great skills to teach skipping
  • Musical Hippity Hop Stick – this rotating stick encourages children to jump over the stick as it rotates by. If the stick touches them, the game is over. Practice this with two feet first, then try hopping over the stick
  • Hopscotch!  Don’t forget about this one!  All you need is some chalk and a sunny day to get outside and practice hopping and jumping.  This would be a great activity to set up on the playground for kids to work on skipping skills during recess. Not ready for outside play? Use painter’s tape down the hallway.

spring has almost sprung!

With Spring right around the corner, here are some Spring Gross Motor Activities to use with your students in the upcoming weeks to address gross motor coordination skills.

It’s time to get some “Spring” back in our steps!  Bring your kids outside and have some fun working on hopping, jumping, and of course…skipping!

Katherine Cook is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience primarily working in schools with students from preschool through Grade 12.  Katherine graduated from Boston University in 2001 and completed her Master’s degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study at Tufts University in 2010.  Katherine’s school based experience includes working in integrated preschool programs, supporting students in the inclusion setting, as well as program development and providing consultation to students in substantially separate programs.  Katherine has a passion for fostering the play skills of children and supporting their occupations in school. 

Audio Books for Occupational Therapists

audio books for occupational therapists

Today, I’ve got a list of free audiobooks for occupational therapists. These occupational therapy audiobook ideas can be used to develop, learn, and grow as a therapist. These occupational therapy books are audiobooks, making them great tools for learning new skills while on the go.

Therapists are short on time, so occupational therapist audio courses and audiobooks are the way to go when it comes to learning. One of the best things about growing as a professional is the ability to continue to learn. As therapists, we strive to develop in our profession to meet the needs of our ever-changing client list. Reading or listening to books for occupational therapists is just one way to learn and grow professionally.

Here, we’re covering parenting books on Audible, or audio books that OTs can recommend to parents to better understand parenting and child development.

These audiobooks for occupational therapists are great for the travelling OT, or listening to while on a commute to work, covering a variety of areas that can improve your occupational therapy practice, in educating OT clients, advocating for occupational therapy patients, and improving OT practice areas.

Audible Books for Occupational Therapists

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

Amazon has some great mindfulness audiobook resources for parents and professionals available on Audible and other formats. Audiobooks are a great alternative to paper books, as they can be listened to almost anywhere.

There are tons of resources on mindfulness in audiobooks. I tried to find ones that had good reviews, were accurate and easy to read/listen to, and provided useful strategies.

If you are an Amazon Prime member, You’re eligible to claim 2 free titles from our entire selection (one title per month thereafter) with a free Audible 30 day trial. A standard trial includes 1 credit for an audiobook download. After the Audible trial period, all members receive 1 credit per month.

Click here start your free Audible Trial Period.

Recently, I came across a few books on Amazon that are perfect for therapists looking for books to grow and learn in different aspects of occupational therapy.

These are audiobooks that can help OTs grow as a practitioner by staying on tap of hot topics. As therapists, we strive to advocate for our clients, educate parents, teachers, or others on the child’s tribe or team. These are audiobooks for occupational therapists that can help us grow as therapists!


Best of all, they are available as audiobooks for those of us looking for books to listen to while commuting, cooking, or working out!

Free Audio Books for Occupational Therapists

This post contains affiliate links.


Audible is a subset of Amazon and offers free books to members. While the membership does have a fee, there is a free 30 day trial, where books can be listened to anytime and anywhere. 


There’s more: When you sign up for the free trial of Audible, you’ll get two free books. In addition to the 2 Free audiobooks, you’ll also get 2 Free Audible Originals to get you started. 


After your free trial ends, if you do choose to continue with the membership, you’ll get 1 audiobook and 2 Originals per month after trial. You can cancel anytime and keep all your audiobooks. You’ll also get 30% off the price of additional audiobook purchases. 


So, after reading this, I had to check to see what books are available on Amazon’s Audible that would be interesting as an OT. How cool to grab a free audio book on a topic I wanted to learn more about!
 

Parenting Books on Audible

Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children– Written by occupational therapist, Angela J. Hanscom, describes children of today who have more sedentary lifestyles and desperately need outdoor play in order to develop their sensory, motor, and executive functions.

The book describes nature as the ultimate sensory experience, and helps you discover little things you can do anytime, anywhere to help your kids achieve the movement they need to be happy and healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

Sensory Processing Disorder: Not Just a Strong-Willed Child, Book 1– This audiobook is a resource for parents that therapists can recommend for those looking for more information on Sensory Processing Disorder or those striving to empower their child.

By listening to this audiobook, you’ll learn more about what is sensory processing disorder, common behaviors of different types of SPD, differences between SPD and some other look-alike conditions like ADHD, OCD, ODD and anxiety disorder, tips on how to manage SPD at home, school, and community.

Overcoming Dyslexia– This book on dyslexia helps us to understand, identify, and overcome the reading problems that so many kids struggle with in schools. In this audio book, you’ll learn exactly what dyslexia is and how to identify dyslexia in preschoolers, schoolchildren, young adults, and adults.

You’ll discover how to work productively with the teacher of a child with dyslexia or reading challenges. Included are exercises to help children use the parts of the brain that control reading, including a twenty-minute nightly home program to enhance reading. There are also ways to improve a child’s self-esteem and more.

The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success: How to Use Your Brain’s Executive Skills to Keep Up, Stay Calm, and Get Organized at Work and at Home– This audiobook helps the listener identify their executive skills profile and shares effective steps to boost organizational skills, time management, emotional control, and nine other essential skills.

This is a resource for parents and therapists who may be struggling with executive functioning skills or those working with teens or older clients. 

Smart but Scattered Teens: The “Executive Skills” Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential– This audiobook describes research-based strategies for promoting teens’ independence by building their executive functioning skills in order to get organized, stay focused, and control impulses and emotions.

Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up: Help Your Child Overcome Slow Processing Speed and Succeed in a Fast-Paced World– This audiobook is geared toward those kids who struggle with processing speed in tasks like classwork, homework, caring for themselves, motor tasks, or following directions.

Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew– This audiobook describes 10 characteristics that help illuminate, not define,  children with autism. The book describes and helps listeners  understand the needs and the potential of every child with autism. It’s been said that “Every parent, teacher, social worker, therapist, and physician should have this succinct and informative audiobook in their back pocket”.

1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s– This book shares tons of tips, strategies, tools, and resources that can be helpful to parents, teachers, and therapists working with kids with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. There are modifications for older kids to help children achieve success at home, in school, and in the community. 

The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum– This book by Dr.  Temple Grandin teaches listeners the science of the autistic brain, and with it the history and sociology of autism.

The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults– This book is described as an essential roadmap for parents, teachers, therapists, and anyone working with the child with autism. Another resource by Dr. Temple Grandin, psychologist and autism specialist Dr. Debra Moore share insight in helping kids  build on their strengths to improve motivation in real life strategies.

What’s Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life– This book by a research neuroscientist describes how the baby’s brain is formed, and when each sense, skill, and cognitive ability is developed from conception through the first five years.

The book shares development of motor skills, social and emotional behaviors, and mental functions such as attention, language, memory, reasoning, and intelligence. 

The Emotional Life of the Toddler– This audiobook covers the emotional development of kids through the toddler years, with the latest research on this crucial stage of development. This is a great resource for the pediatric OT.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting– Dr. John Gottman shares strategies to teach their children self-awareness and self-control and to foster good emotional development. This audiobook is a resource for parents and those working with families with young children.

Raising Your Spirited Child, Third Edition: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic– This audiobook is the very same as the book that has been voted one of the top 20 parenting books out there. It’s a tool therapists can use to provide parents with the tips and tools they need based on research and practical strategies for raising spirited children. It’s a book for anyone who knows meltdowns, behavior, and spirited kids!

  What are your favorite audiobooks for occupational therapy? You know, those audiobooks you LOVE that advance your practice knowledge, improve your advocacy for OT clients, and help to educate parents or teachers of  occupational therapy clients?

These audiobooks for occupational therapists are great for advancing as an occupational therapist by reading the hot topics in the field, so that you can advocate for OT clients, educate the parents and teachers of kids on an occupational therapy caseload.

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.