Winter Brain Breaks

winter brain breaks

Need Winter Brain Breaks for the kids? Here, you will find energizing brain breaks are gross motor activities that can break up the school day or be added to the classroom schedule. Mix some of these movement breaks into the classroom to help kids focus and stay on task while getting a chance to get a short mental break from the class schedule. With more online time and increased screen time than ever before, and the added piece of wintery weather, brain breaks are needed more now than ever.

winter brain breaks

Winter Brain Breaks

I love that these movement breaks can give kids a chance to weave activity right into learning. Whether you are looking for stretches or specifics like activities that fit your curriculum, most of these brain break ideas can be modified to meet your classroom needs!

For more winter activities, try using these ideas to help kids develop specific skill areas:

Winter Fine Motor Activities – Use winter crafts, activities, snowflake crafts, and even paper icicles to work on fine motor skill work.

Indoor Recess Activities– These indoor recess activities get kids moving when it’s too cold to go outside.

Winter Bilateral Coordination Activities get kids moving with both sides of the body.

Winter Mindfulness Activities help to focus and attend to the task at hand, as well as help with coping needs.

And, you’ll want to check out our new Winter Fine Motor Kit. It’s an amazing resource of 100 pages designed to help kids move and build the skills they need. While focused on the fine motor aspect, this kit includes play dough mats, toothpick art, lacing cards, crumble art, I Spy pages, and more, all which can be used in indoor brain break types of activities.

Now, on to the winter brain breaks! Check out these Winter Brain Breaks for movement-based activity in the clinic, classroom, virtual therapy session, or home!

1. Build a snowman- This winter brain break requires imagination and some large motor skills! Students may need verbal cues and maybe a visual model when first doing this snowman brain break. Here’s what  Pretend to roll a ball of snow. Then another big snowball. Ask students to place their pretend snowballs on the first one to build the snowman. Next, pick up a carrot and some “rocks” from the ground. Press them into the snowman’s head. Next, look on the “ground” to find some sticks for arms. Press them into the sides of the sides of the snowman. Add any additional details like a scarf, hat, or boots. 

2. Winter Toothpick Art– Use the Winter Fine Motor Kit materials to get kids moving with the toothpick art activities. These can be used on cardboard or a carpeted area to help kids build fine motor strength and tripod grasp.

3. Penguin Freeze Dance- This winter brain break activity is a great addition to an arctic theme in the classroom! Take 5 minutes to move and groove, penguin-style! Turn on some music and the students can waddle like penguins! Then suddenly stop the music and all of the classroom penguins need to FREEZE! Play for about 5 minutes and then get back to learning.

4. Dice Roll- Write numbers 1-6 on the chalkboard. Assign each number to an action movement like hop up and down, touch the ground, stand on one leg, do a funny dance, jumping jacks, etc. Then roll the dice and everyone needs to do the action. Keep rolling and moving for 3-5 minutes. Some more action ideas include: turn in two circles, do a burpee, do a push-up, and sit on the floor then stand up very quickly.

5. Winter Crumble Art- This is another fun fine motor activity for indoor recess. Use bits of tissue paper or crumbled up construction paper to create a winter picture. These sheets are in the Winter Fine Motor Kit, too.

6. Winter Yoga- Add movement breaks to the classroom with some calming yoga moves. Winter themed yoga stretches can be a nice break in the classroom schedule when it’s too cold to go outdoors.

7. Winter Play Dough Mats– While not a traditional brain break, the winter play dough mats in our new Winter Fine Motor Kit allow kids a chance to move and gain essential proprioceptive input through their hands.

8. Snowman Says- Play a quick game of Simon Says with a snowman theme! Imagine you are part of a classroom full of snowmen who are moving their snowman parts. Use your imagination and stretch, move, and move that snow body!

9. Polar Bear Brain Breaks- This polar bear gross motor slide deck is wintery fun! We’ve shared a bear brain breaks free printable sheet here on The OT Toolbox. Use it with a polar bear theme! Hint: Do the same brain break activities and call it a polar bear move 🙂

10. Winter Brain Break YouTube Videos- There are some great break break ideas that are movement and activity videos on YouTube to get the kids up and moving so they are ready to learn. The YouTube brain break videos add movement and gross motor work. The ones listed below are winter themed. 

Winter Brain Breaks on YouTube

Baby Shark, Winter Edition:

Penguin Dance Brain Break: 


  The Sid Shuffle- Ice Age Continental Drift:

  Small Foot- Do the Yeti:  

I’m a Penguin- Brain Break for Kindergarten:  

Add winter brain break ideas to the classroom to add movement breaks so kids can learn and focus with better attention, all with a winter theme!

Need more Brain Break Resources? 

Follow our Brain Break Pinterest board.

Here are more brain break videos (not winter-themed), but great for any time of year.

Check out our past brain break activities here on The OT Toolbox and add them to your toolbox:

I hope these ideas are helpful in creating opportunities for movement and activity during these indoor recess months at school! 

winter fine motor kit


To end out the Winter Week here on The OT Toolbox, I wanted to create a fine motor worksheets that are a true resource during the winter months. The Winter Fine Motor Kit contains fine motor worksheets that cover a variety of different fine motor abilities:  

These reproducible activity pages include: pencil control strips, scissor skills strips, simple and complex cutting shapes, lacing cards, toothpick precision art, crumble hand strengthening crafts, memory cards, coloring activities, and so much more.

Play Dough Roll Mats- We’ve shared some free play dough mats before. They are perfect for developing fine motor skills and hand strength needed for tasks like coloring with endurance, manipulating small items, and holding a pencil. Kids can roll small balls of play dough with just their fingertips to strengthen the intrinsic muscles. The Winter Fine Motor Kit contains 6 winter play dough mats that can be used all winter long!  

Pinch and Grip Strength Activities- Includes: glue skills page, tong/tweezer activities, lacing cards, finger puppets, 1-10 counting clip cards, 10 toothpick art pages, find & color page, 5 crumble art pages. TARGET SKILLS: Precision, pinch and grip hand strength, tripod grasp, arch development, bilateral coordination, open thumb web-space.

Pencil Control Worksheets- Connect the arctic animals or winter items and stay on the pencil path lines while mastering pencil control. Some of the lines are small and are a great way to strengthen the hands, too.  

Arctic Animal Cutting Strips and Scissor Skills Sheets- Work on scissor skills to cut along lines to reach the arctic animal friends or snowflakes, snowmen, and mittens. This is a great way to strengthen the motor and visual skills needed for cutting with scissors.   Also included are 7 scissor skills strips with graded precision designed for data collection and accuracy development, 2 color & cut memory cards, 4 pages simple cutting shapes in small/med/large sizes, 3 pages complex cutting shapes in small/med/large sizes, 2 small and 2 large cutting skills puzzles. These worksheets help kids develop graded scissor skill accuracy and precision, visual perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, crossing midline, bilateral coordination.

Handwriting Sensory Bin Materials- You and the kiddos will love these A-Z uppercase and lowercase tracing cards with directional arrows, 1-10 tracing cards with directional arrows, 1-10 counting cards. Using the sensory bin materials can develop tactile handwriting, letter and number formation, finger isolation, crossing midline, sensory challenges. These materials in the Winter Fine Motor Kit are a great brain break idea for kids.

“I Spy” Modified Paper- Includes: Color and find objects in two themes: winter items and arctic animals; 3 styles of modified paper for each theme: single rule bold lines, double rule bold lines, highlighted double rule. Use these pages to develop handwriting, pencil control, line and spatial awareness, legibility, visual perceptual skills, visual memory.

Fine Motor Handwriting Sheets- Try the 4 Find/Color/Copy pages in different styles of modified paper, rainbow writing pages in 3 styles of modified paper. These handwriting worksheets use the winter theme to help with handwriting, visual perception, pencil control, visual memory, visual attention, precision, pencil control, functional handwriting.

Write the Room Activities- Using a winter theme, these Write the Room cards includes: 5 lowercase copy cards, 5 uppercase copy cards, 5 lowercase tracing cards, 5 uppercase copy cards, 6 cursive writing copy cards, 2 styles of writing pages. TARGET SKILLS: Letter formation, pencil control, visual motor skills, visual attention, visual memory, line placement, functional handwriting at all levels and stages.

All of this is available in the Winter Fine Motor Kit.

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

Gross Motor Toys

Gross motor toys

If you are looking for the best gross motor toys to challenge coordination, balance, motor planning through whole-body movement and heavy work play, then you are in luck!

We started off the fun with yesterday’s fine motor toy ideas. Today is all about the gross motor play.

First, let’s talk Gross Motor Toys!

Gross Motor Toys

Kids need gross motor movement for so many skills. Today, I have gross motor toys to share! Here, you’ll find the best whole body toys and ideas to help kids with balance, core strength, stability, coordination, and endurance. Scroll on to check out some therapist-approved toys that help gross motor skill development!

Gross motor toys to help kids develop skills in running, hopping, jumping, skipping, crawling, and more.

Gross Motor Toy Ideas

This list of toys for gross motor skills pairs well with our recent list of Fine Motor Toys. Today however, you’ll find toys that develop a few areas that are essential to areas of child development:

Bilateral Coordination– Kids need bilateral coordination in whole body movements to move their body in a coordinated way. These whole body movements can include coordination of the upper and lower body, or both arms, or both feet, and all of the above! Here are bilateral coordination toys to address this specific area.

Motor Planning– Motor planning with the whole body allows children to move in a room without crashing into objects or other people. Gross motor motor planning allows children to climb steps, navigate obstacles, or any movement-based task. Here is more information on motor planning and motor planning toys to address this specific sub-area.

Gross motor coordinationCoordination of gross motor skills is needed for tasks such as kicking or catching a ball, riding a bike, getting dressed, or any task that uses the entire body. Here are hand eye coordination toys to address this particular sub-area.

Proprioception– Integration of proprioceptive input allows children to know where their body is in space. It tells the body how much effort is needed to pick up and move objects. Proprioception allows us to understand the body’s position as it moves in a coordinated manner.

Vestibular input- Integration of vestibular input allows children to navigate the world around them as they move. Going up or down steps or bleachers is an example of this. Moving into different positions during tasks is another example of vestibular integration. Movement through different planes requires integration of vestibular input.

All of these areas work together in functional tasks and all are rooted in gross motor skills.

Related: This dinosaur gross motor game is a skill builder, as well.

Toys for Gross Motor Skill Development

So often, therapists and teachers purchase items to use in their work using their own money. This giveaway offers a chance for you to win an item that will be useful in helping kids thrive.

And, given that kids are on screens more than ever before with all of the virtual learning and hybrid learning models being incorporated all over the world, therapists are seeing more need for active, physical play.

These are gross motor toys that you will find in therapy clinics. There is a reason why…because they are gross motor powerhouses! So, if you are looking for toy recommendations that build whole body motor skills, this is it!

Amazon affiliate links are included below. You can read more about these items by checking out the links.

Zoom ball is a great gross motor toy for kids.

Zoom Ball– This classic toy is such a great way to work on many skills. A zoom ball can be used in different positions to challenge balance and vestibular input: Try using the zoom ball in sitting, standing, kneeling, standing on couch cushions, a slant…again, the options are limitless! Address skills such as:

  • Bilateral coordination
  • Core strength
  • Shoulder stability
  • Visual convergence
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination
Pop and catch toys can help kids develop gross motor skills.

Pop and Catch- Use this coordination toy indoors or outdoors to get kids moving. This toy can be played with while the child is standing, sitting, kneeling, or in a half-sit to challenge the core and eye-hand coordination in a variety of planes. Try playing on all fours on the floor for a shoulder girdle stability activity. Another use for this toy is by playing by standing at a table while the child shoots the ball across the table surface as they play like a ping-pong type of game. There are many uses for this pop and catch activity:

  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Motor planning
  • Vestibular input
  • Core strength
  • Stability of core
  • Stability of shoulder girdle
use bucket stilts to help kids develop gross motor skills.

Bucket Stilts– These bucket stilts are perfect for helping kids develop gross motor skills. I love this set because there are 6 colored buckets that make a great gross motor obstacle course tool, too. You could use them as stepping stones to challenge balance and coordination, too. Here are gross motor skills that you can work on using these bucket stilts toys:

  • Core strength
  • Vestibular input
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Stabilizing
use agility cones to help kids build gross motor skills in obstacle courses and more.

Agility Cones– Sports cones are such an open-ended gross motor toy that can be used to develop so many skills: hopping, jumping, skipping, running, climbing, crawling…the options are endless. Use these agility cones in obstacle courses, challenges, drills, and more. I chose these particular cones because they can go very nicely with a Zones of Regulation activity! Use cones to support these areas:

  • Motor planning
  • Vestibular input
  • Coordination
  • Core strength
  • Endurance
Use carpet markers to build gross motor skills with gross motor obstacle courses, motor planning, and more.

Carpet Markers– These carpet markers are an occupational therapist’s dream toy! Use the colored marker spots to help kids work on so many movement skills in obstacle courses, visual perceptual skill activities, direction following, sensory movement breaks, positioning guides, and so much more. The arrows are perfect for addressing directionality. Use them to work on crawling, hopping, jumping, stopping on a point. Just some of the areas that these carpet spots support:

  • Core strength
  • Shoulder stability
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination
  • Endurance
  • Proprioception
A parachute is a great gross motor toy for kids.

Parachute– A parachute is another open-ended gross motor toy that the kids just LOVE. This one is small enough for small groups, but builds motor skills in a big way. Use the parachute to help kids develop:

  • Core stability
  • Arm strength
  • Motor planning
  • Endurance
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Proprioceptive input

Toys for Core Strength

Toys that develop core strength get kids moving in a variety of positions. These toys support and challenge the vestibular and proprioceptive systems so they can be calming activities as well. Strength and stability in the core is needed for almost all functional tasks. Challenge kids with these core strengthening toys by getting them moving, on the floor in floor play or strengthening the core muscles through movement and balance coordination. Some ideas for developing and strengthening core strength include:

Toys for balance

Toys that challenge movement changes, stepping from high to low and low to high, and movement with vestibular input offer opportunities to challenge and develop balance and coordination skills.

Gross Motor Coordination Toys

Encourage movement, whole body play, and gross motor coordination with throwing, tossing, and hand-eye coordination or foot-eye coordination skills with these gross motor coordination ideas:

Obstacle Course Toys

All of the gross motor toys listed above could be used in obstacle courses…and what a great way to encourage so many skills! These are perfect additions to your obstacle course ideas, and challenge balance, coordination, motor planning, and add sensory input. Use these obstacle course toys to vary movement and encourage the specific skills kids need:

Want to add these toys to your home, classroom, or therapy practice? I am SO happy to fill your toolbox so you can help kids thrive and build and develop the skills they need!

More therapy Toys

Check out the other therapy toy recommendations in the list below:

  1. Fine Motor Toys
  2. Gross Motor Toys
  3. Pencil Grasp Toys
  4. Toys for Reluctant Writers
  5. Toys for Spatial Awareness
  6. Toys for Visual Tracking
  7. Toys for Sensory Play
  8. Bilateral Coordination Toys
  9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills
  10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
  11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
  12. Toys for Attention and Focus 

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

Check out the blog comments below to see tips and ideas from readers telling us which gross motor toys they would love to use with the kids they work with and love. Have other gross motor favorites that aren’t listed here? Tell us about them!

Movement Activities Monster OT Slides

Recently, I’ve been sharing some occupational therapy slide decks with you. These slide decks are OT activities that can be used in teletherapy sessions as part of distance OT or distance learning. Today, I’ve got movement activities with a monster theme to share. These are monster themed occupational therapy activities that cover a variety of areas. When you access the OT slide deck, use in to work on OT activities like a therapy warm-up, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills, visual motor skills, and finally, a self-regulation check-in. Each activity in the collection involves movement activities that build specific skills. Scroll to the bottom of this post to enter your email to access the latest free occupational therapy slide deck.

Movement activities for occupational therapy sessions with a free OT slide deck that incorporates fine motor, gross motor, coordination, visual motor skills, regulation and other movement in monster theme activities.

Movement activities

As always, my mission here at The OT Toolbox is to help you help kids thrive through the use of easily accessible tools and resources.

try these monster activities for a lesson plan for writing, letter identification through movement.

The slides included in this set are acceptable movement activities for preschoolers because they use letters, helping preschoolers to recognize and identify letters. The slides would also work as a movement activity for kids in older grades as well, using the handwriting and visual motor activities to build specific skills like visual motor skills needed for handwriting tasks, copying lists of words, and visual perceptual skills needed for reading.

Monster Movement Activities for Kids

The slide deck promotes movement activities for kids in several ways. These are the slides and an agenda of activities to use in therapy sessions:

Warm-Up– Use the gross motor movement activities as a warm up to help with body awareness and a sensory tool to add proprioceptive and vestibular input. Kids can copy the body positioning to challenge balance and coordination, as well as motor planning. I’ve added a visual perceptual component to the warm-up movement slides by asking children to identify a partially hidden letter as they do the whole-body movements. This challenges visual perceptual skills including visual discrimination, visual figure-ground, visual closure, form constancy, and visual memory. Read more about these skills that are needed to complete hidden pictures activities, for example.

Monster activity with movement activities for preschool and movement activities for kids of all ages.

Writing- The writing slides in this slide deck ask kids to identify the month they are born and the first letter of their name to create a wacky monster name. They can write this word phrase to practice handwriting. The visual scanning and tracking involved in this activity really challenges the visual processing skills and visual efficiency of the eyes. The movement activity of writing their name incorporates a functional task that they may be working on in their OT goals.

Kids will love to work on handwriting with this monster name activity.

Fine Motor- The fine motor portion of this movement activity slide deck involves tearing paper into small pieces. By ripping paper, kids are building hand strength, bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, and efficiency of grasp. I’ve added a visual motor component to this activity by asking the child to use those paper scraps in shaping and copying specific shapes. The whole fine motor activity adds much-needed fine motor movement and eye-hand coordination to a shape building activity.

Visual- The visual portion of this occupational therapy slide deck is a favorite for some kids (My own kids included!) Use the slides to work on visual perceptual skills as they find matching shadows for the monster figures in a series of three slides. After the child completes each slide, ask them to jump and and cheer!

A monster visual perception activity for ot sessions.

Calm Down/Check-In- Lastly, you’ll find a calm down slide that incorporates the colors of the Zones of Regulation program. Children can complete the calm down movement activities shown on the slides and then choose a color to check in for their state of feelings.

Work on self-regulation activities with a monster theme.
Use the zones of regulation with a monster theme

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    Heavy work movement activity cards

    Monthly movement activities

    Teletherapy activities for kids

    Work on fine motor skills in teletherapy

    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

    Pumpkin activity kit
    Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit

    Grab the Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit for more coloring, cutting, and eye-hand coordination activities with a Pumpkin theme! It includes:

    • 7 digital products that can be used any time of year- has a “pumpkins” theme
    • 5 pumpkin scissor skills cutting strips
    • Pumpkin scissor skills shapes- use in sensory bins, math, sorting, pattern activities
    • 2 pumpkin visual perception mazes with writing activity
    • Pumpkin “I Spy” sheet – color in the outline shapes to build pencil control and fine motor strength
    • Pumpkin Lacing cards – print, color, and hole punch to build bilateral coordination skills
    • 2 Pumpkin theme handwriting pages – single and double rule bold lined paper for handwriting practice

    Work on underlying fine motor and visual motor integration skills so you can help students excel in handwriting, learning, and motor skill development.

    You can grab this Pumpkin Fine Motor kit for just $6!

    Upper Body Strength

    upper body strength

    In occupational therapy, addressing upper body strength can iffy for some. All OT interventions must be functional and based on daily tasks that make up a person’s day. OT is occupation! So when it comes to upper body strengthening, the question can arise whether the strengthen is functional. BUT, when you think about functional tasks, upper body strength is a must. When upper body strength results in less function of daily occupations, upper body exercises relate back to the functional task, making skilled strengthening activities part of the OT treatment plan. Let’s look at upper body strength and upper body strengthening activities that are used in occupational therapy sessions.

    Upper body strength activities for kids that develop upper body strengthening through play.

    These upper extremity activities for toddlers can get you started on some ideas for strengthening the upper body through play.

    Upper Body Strength

    The other day I was working on hand strength with a young child in one of my therapy sessions and I noticed how difficult it was for him to keep his arm in position while he was trying to complete the activity. I was reminded once again of how important upper body strength is when we are working towards improving fine motor skills.

    Upper body strength is made up of the muscles in the upper chest, muscles in the upper back and muscles attached to the shoulder joint. All of these muscles work together to create stability at the shoulder joint. This shoulder girdle stability is essential for establishing a solid anchor for the rest of the arm. Without this anchor it is difficult to develop good control in the lower arm, hands and fingers. In therapy-speak we talk about developing proximal stability before we can achieve distal control. 

    The stronger body enables functional performance in purposeful activities.

    Development of upper body strength

    Upper body strength emerges as young toddlers and children engage in movement activities. In the first few months of life babies push up on their arms when lying on their tummies.

    This early weight-bearing leads to strengthening and allows them to progress to four-point kneeling and eventually crawling. Upper body strength is very important as babies pull themselves into standing and begin to cruise along the couch or coffee table. This upper body strength continues to develop as children learn to climb jungle gyms, hold on to swings and learn to ride bicycles. The importance of play and movement in the early years reinforces the need for parents and caregivers to provide opportunities for young children to move and grow.

    Read more about the power of play and the impact that the occupation of play has on strength development in kids.

    Upper body strength remains vital in school-aged children as they tackle the challenge of refining their fine motor skills. 

    How to develop upper body strength

    When focusing on developing upper body strength in children the vertical surface will become your new best friend!   

    Working on a vertical surface places extra demands on the upper body as these muscles have to move against gravity to complete the task. Working on a vertical surface has the added bonus of placing the wrist and fingers in a good position for drawing or writing.

    A vertical surface can be a wall, a door, a mirror, a blackboard or a white board.

    Have a look at the following activities (and purposeful, functional tasks) that you can complete on a vertical surface:

    1. Draw or color pictures

    Use tape to stick a piece of paper or picture on the wall. Use chalk, crayons, pastels or pencil crayons to draw a picture or color a picture in. When working for upper body strength try to encourage big movements that incorporate a wide range of movement for the shoulder muscles. Big bold rainbows and large lazy eights work very well.

    Remember that the physical demands of working on a vertical surface are much greater than working at a table or a desk so give your child a chance to build up stamina and endurance. 

    Read more about coloring as a functional occupation and the development of coloring skills.

    1.  Playdough press

    I like to use a mirror or white board for vertical playdough activities. Playdough lends itself to endless creative outcomes and working against a vertical surface adds a new fun dimension. Playdough pieces can be used to fill in outlines of pictures or playdough creations can be stuck onto the white board. A large piece of playdough can be stuck onto the vertical surface and impressions can be made using everyday objects e.g. spoon, pencil. We have even had fun making handprint and footprint impressions.

    Also try these play dough activities for improving upper body strength through play. 

    1. Stickers 

    There are many reasons why stickers improve skills. Using stickers adds some refined pincer grip control, pinch strength, eye-hand coordination, wrist stability, shoulder girdle strengthening, and more. Place a page or picture on a vertical surface and use stickers to decorate. You can give verbal instructions to add listening skills and spatial concepts to the task e.g. place the blue sticker next to the cat. 

    1. Painting

    Painting is another functional task that improves hand and upper body strength. Occupational performance includes leisure activities such as painting and art. Painting is a great functional way to improve upper body strength. Complete your painting activity on an easel or vertical surface.  

    1.  Shaving cream on a mirror

    This fun, messy activity is a firm favorite with children. Spray a dollop of shaving cream into their hands and encourage them to spread it across the mirror to create a shaving cream drawing board. Draw pictures, shapes and patterns across the mirror. 

    1. Whiteboard activities

    Use whiteboard and white board markers to practice letter or number formations. To improve hand and upper body strength, use the whiteboard to play games like tic tac toe, word searches, and more.

    1. Tearing and sticking

    Stick the outline of a picture or shape on the wall. Tear small pieces of paper from a magazine and use a glue stick to paste the pieces onto the shape to fill the shape. Tearing paper strengthens the hand, wrist, shoulder girdle, and upper body. To make this a functional task, try using junk mail as a paper tearing activity.

    1. Body shapes

    This works well on a mirror. Ask the child to stand with their back up against the mirror. Use a Koki to trace the outline of the child. Encourage the child to add in the facial detail and clothing in order to complete the picture.

    1. Race tracks 

    Draw a race track on a chalkboard or on a large piece of paper stuck to the wall. Drive a small car along the race track. Older children can draw their own race tracks. Try this race track activity using wikki stix. Playing on the floor strengthens the upper body, core, shoulder girdle, and wrist. Using wikki stix to pinch and peel on the floor while incorporating upper body support is a great way to build upper body strength through play.

    Kids also love this garage door activity where we used magnetic letters on the garage door. What a great activity for using a vertical surface to strengthen the upper body through play.

    1. Tic Tac Toe

    This can be played on a vertical surface.  Encourage your child to draw the grid before playing the game. Engaging in these activities on a vertical surface will contribute to the development of upper body strength. Many of the games and activities that you have at home or in the classroom can be adapted to ‘vertical’ activities with a bit of tape or prestik. 

    For more functional upper extremity exercises using functional activities to strengthen the upper body for pencil grasp, scissor use, dressing, clothing fasteners, and more, be sure to grab our seasonal Fine Motor Kits. Each one includes resources for upper body strengthening but can be used on vertical surfaces for shoulder and core strengthening.

    These Heavy Work Activity Cards promote full body movement and strengthening through play. Add them to your therapy toolkit.

    Contributor to The OT Toolbox: Janet Potterton is an occupational therapist working predominantly in school-based settings and I love, love, love my job. I have two children (if you don’t count my husband!), two dogs, one cat, two guinea pigs and one fish. When I am not with my family or at work I try to spend time in nature. The beach is my happy place.

    Playground Balance Activities

    playground balance activities

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

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

    Playground Balance Activities

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

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

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

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

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

    Playground theme therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Free Playground Balance Activities Slide Deck

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

    Playground Balance Activities

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      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

      Paper Plate Activities

      Paper plate activities and paper plate crafts for occupational therapy

      In occupational therapy, paper plate activities are one of those OT intervention tools that are low-cost and can be used in a multitude of ways to support many different developmental skills. From paper plate interactive activities, to scissor activities, to fine motor development, paper plate crafts and sensory activities can be used to promote many skill areas in occupational therapy interventions or at home and in the classroom.

      Paper plate activities and paper plate crafts to develop skills like fine motor skills, social emotional skills, and gross motor skills.

      Paper Plate Activities

      I get really excited when I talk about the next subject – paper plate activities! Paper plate crafts and activities are so fun and often require very little materials with the end result being so wonderful for kids! 

      Paper plates can easily be used for arts and crafts, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, subject or topic learning, visual motor and perceptual skills, emotions and self-regulation as well as a myriad of games.

      Paper plates can be a go-to when you need a quick activity in any setting or on those cold, rainy days when you need something to keep the kids busy. They are a great motivator for kids and can help build important skills that a child needs to continue to learn and to grow. 

      Paper plates are a thrifty tool for therapy to build those motor and perceptual skills while providing a fun activity that any child will want to engage in during sessions. The use of paper plates in the classroom can be for exploring emotions and self-regulation, creating after reading a book and lots of subject and topic learning fun. Their use in the home can include arts and crafts, instrument making, and games that result in some fantastic family entertainment.

      Paper plates will give you the variety you need to help many kiddos on your caseload, in your classroom, or in your household. So, the next time you’re at the store, grab some plain or even festive paper plates and see what fun you can create with kids and you may find that you enjoy the fun too! 

      Use these paper plate crafts to work on scissor skills, hand strength, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, and more.

      Paper Plate Crafts

      In occupational therapy interventions, we often use crafts as a medium for developing skills (taking us back to our roots of our profession!) These paper plate crafts are great for developing fine motor skills, scissor skills, bilateral coordination, motor planning, executive functioning skills, and more.

      • Mini Beach– Work on hand strength, utensil use, and more to make a paper plate beach craft.
      • Paper Bowl Scarecrow Craft– Use this paper plate craft to work on fine motor skills like precision, dexterity, and mixed medium use. Add in emotional learning to make the scarecrow personalized. Kids can take this craft and add their own unique twists for a multi-sensory craft with open-ended results.
      • Paper Plate Snail Craft– Work on precision, in-hand manipulation, arch development, and other fine motor skills with this paper plate snail craft.
      • Paper Plate Cars This craft is great for addressing scissor skills.
      • Paper Plate Baseball Craft– Improve scissor skills with this paper plate baseball craft.
      • Paper Plate Bubble Gum Machine Craft– Work on eye-hand coordination skills.
      • Thanksgiving Feast Plate – Use this craft to work on functional tasks such as meal skills and utensil use, as well as hand strength.
      • Tin Foil Moon– This is a great craft for working on graded hand strength and bilateral coordination skills.

      Paper Plate Activities for Emotions and Self- Regulation

      The best thing about occupational therapy professionals is that they can use ANY material to work on a variety of skill areas. Use paper plates to address social emotional learning and self-regulation skills!

      Paper Plate Fine Motor Activities

      Paper plates are a great fine motor activity to support hand strengthening, scissor skills, bilateral coordination, and more.

      Paper Plate Gross Motor Activities

      Paper plates can be used in therapy to support gross motor skills, too.

      Paper Plate Learning Activities

      Use these activities to work on functional tasks and executive functioning skills needed in daily occupations such as learning, math, using a phone, telling time, name writing, and more.

      Paper Plate Auditory Processing with Paper Plate Instruments

      You can use paper plates to work on auditory processing, too.

      Paper Plate Visual Motor Activities

      Paper plates are a great tool to use in therapy to address visual motor skills.

      Now, what are you waiting for? Go grab some paper plates and pick an activity!!

      Regina Allen

      Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

      Sports Gross Motor Exercises

      sports gross motor exercises and sports motor planning activities

      Working on gross motor skills, motor planning, or self-regulation? These sports gross motor exercises are perfect for kids that love all things sports! Use the football, baseball, hockey, and other sports activities to add athletic themed brain breaks and whole body movement.

      Sports gross motor exercises and motor planning activities for kids

      Sports Gross Motor Exercises

      These sports gross motor activities are a free therapy slide deck to use in virtual therapy sessions or in face-to-face sessions with an outline of activities.

      There are so many ways you can use these sports movement activities to promote development of gross motor skills:

      • Copy the athlete to work on motor planning
      • Go through several slides to encourage sequencing and memory skills
      • Use the sports activities as heavy work in sports themed brain breaks
      • Copy the athletes on each slide to work on bilateral coordination, crossing midline, and segmenting the body.
      • Address posture, position changes, coordination, balance, and endurance
      • Use these sports exercises in a sports themed therapy session and encourage functional tasks like ball catching and throwing
      • Ask students to copy the words and work on handwriting with a sports related brain break between each word
      • How would you use these sports exercises in therapy?

      Sports Exercises Slide Deck

      This resource is a free Google slide deck that you can download and add to your Google drive. Open the slide deck in your Google classroom or right on your computer/device to encourage gross motor activities.

      This is a great addition to other free slides that we’ve shared here on the website, and a fun weekly therapy theme when you’ve got a sports fan on your caseload.

      To access this free therapy slide deck, enter your email address into the form below. You’ll receive an email containing a download. Save that PDF so you can use this again and again! Then click the link on the PDF and copy the exercises to your Google drive. Then get ready to lead therapy kiddos through motor planning and gross motor exercises that build skills!

      FREE Sports Gross Motor Exercises

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        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

        What are Visual Spatial Relations

        spatial relations activities

        Visual Spatial Relations is an important visual perceptual skill that is important for many functional tasks.  Spatial relations allows the organization of the body in relation to objects or spatial awareness.  This is an important part of spatial awareness in handwriting and many other movement-based activities.  An important part of visual spatial relations includes laterality and directionality. In general, these spatial relationship terms refer to left-right body awareness and the ability to perceive left/right relationship of objects. 

        Spatial Relations is being aware of oneself in space. It involves positioning items in relation to oneself, such as reaching for items without overshooting or missing the object. Most of us realize as we walk through a doorway that we need to space ourselves through the middle of the door.

        Some with poor visual spatial skills may walk to closely to the sides and bump the wall. It also involves the fine motor tasks of coordinating handwriting with writing in spaces allowed on paper, placing letters within an area (lines), and forming letters in the correct direction.

        What are spatial relations?

        Spatial relations, or visual spatial awareness, refers to an organization of visual information and an awareness of position in space so the body can move and perform tasks. Spatial relations are needed for completing physical actions, moving in a crowded space, and even handwriting.

        Knowing which shoe to put on which foot.  Understanding that a “b” has a bump on the right side.  Putting homework on the left side of the take home folder before putting books into a locker beside the gym bag.  Visual spatial relations are everywhere!

        More examples of spatial relations

        Here are more everyday examples of spatial relations at work:

        • Letter formation and number formation
        • Writing letters without reversal
        • Reading letters without reversal
        • Sports
        • Completing puzzles
        • Walking in a crowded hallway without running into others
        • Standing in line without bumping into others
        • Left/right awareness
        • Understanding spatial reasoning concepts such as beside/under/next to/etc
        • Reading without losing one’s place
        • Copying written work with appropriate spatial awareness
        • Reading maps  

        Visual spatial skills in occupational therapy activities are an important skill.  

        Visual Spatial Skills and Handwriting

        Spatial relations, and the ability to organize physical movements related to visual information impacts handwriting.

        You might be thinking: “Movement and handwriting!? What?? I want my kiddo to sit still and copy his homework into his planner without wiggling all over the desk!”

        Ok, ok. Here is the thing: We are asking our kids to write way to early. Preschoolers are being given paper with lines and are asked to write their name with correct letter formation. Kids are being thrown into the classroom environment with expectations for legible written work an they are missing the necessary basics.

        When kids are not developing the skills they need to hold a pencil, establish visual perceptual skills, and organize themselves, they are going to have struggles in handwriting.

        NOTE: There are a few other baseline tools that kids need in order to establish a base for better handwriting. Fine motor experiences, positioning, attention are just a few of these areas.

        Here are a few easy hands-on strategies to help with spatial relations in written work:

        1. Read this resource on hand dominance and laterality.
        2. Then check out this post on what you need to know about writing with both hands.
        3. Finally, check out this movement activity for direction following that involves spatial relations.

        These resources are all connected and can impact spatial relations skills!

        Another resource is this post on Hand Aerobics and Fine Motor Skills Needed in the Classroom

        You can find all of our handwriting posts here.

        Spatial Relations Quick Tip:
        Write a letter on the student’s back using a finger or a pencil eraser. Ask the student guess what letter it is. Then, ask the child to air write the letter. (While holding a pencil, with large motion, whole arm motions AND very small with just the fingers!) Finally have him write the letter on paper.

        • These activities all require the ability to perceive an object in space.  The way they interpret position in space to their body and to other objects in the environment impacts motor skills.    
        • Spacing pieces of a puzzle amongst the others and writing in relation to the lines is one way to work on this skill.

        Fine Motor Quick Tip:
        Encourage pinching activities. So many kids are exposed to screen technology from a young age. Screen interaction uses the pointer finger in isolation or just the thumb. These digits become strong and a dynamic pencil grasp is limited. Promote strengthening of the intrinsic muscles by pinching clay or tearing and crumbling small bits of paper. Read more about intrinsic muscle strengthening here.

        What are visual spatial relations and how are visual relationships and visual concepts needed for functional tasks?

        Spatial Relations Activities

        Try these movement-based spatial relations activities to work on the visual spatial skills needed for writing and completing everyday tasks:

        • Create a paper obstacle course. Draw obstacles on paper and have your child make his /her pencil go through the obstacles.
        • Draw circles, holes, mud pits, and mountains for them to draw lines as their pencil “climbs”, “jumps”, “rolls”, and even erases!
        • Create an obstacle course using couch cushions, chairs, blankets, pillows to teach left/right/over/under.
        • Write words and letters on graph paper. The lines will work as a guide and also a good spacing activity.
        • Use stickers placed along the right margin of to cue the student that they are nearing the edge of paper when writing.
        • Highlight writing lines on worksheets.
        • Draw boxes for words on worksheets for them to write within.
        • Play Simon Says.
        • Practice directions. Draw arrows on a paper pointing up, down, left, and right. Ask your child to point to the direction the arrow is pointing. The child can say the direction the arrows are pointing. Then create actions for each arrow. Up may be jumping. Down may be squatting. The Left arrow might be side sliding to the left, and the Right arrow might be a right high kick. Next, draw more rows of arrows in random order. Ask your child to go through the motions and try to go faster and faster.
        This map activity is great for building and developing spatial concepts and higher level thinking right in the backyard, using a map and lights to develop spatial relations. Teaching Spatial Concepts to Preschoolers and Toddlers through play. Over, under, around, and through and their need in functional tasks like shoe tying and handwriting. Visual Perception and spatial awareness in kids.  What is Spatial awareness and why do kids have trouble with spacing between letters and words, reversing letters, and all things vision.  Great tips here from an Occupational Therapist, including tips and tools to help kids with spacing in handwriting. What is spatial awareness?  Tips and tools for handwriting, reading, scissors, and all functional skills in kids and adults, from an Occupational Therapist.

        Other activities to incorporate spatial relations include:

        Try these other activities that challenge visual spatial relations:

        Movement and spatial relations worksheet to improve spatial awareness in kids

        Free Movement and Handwriting Worksheet

        Today’s free printable shares movement based activities to help kids improve their spatial relations. These are the skills kids need to write legibly. It includes tips and activities to improve spatial relations, that were mentioned above. This free handout is a great resource to add to your occupational therapy toolbox.

        You will receive this handout when you join the Handwriting Tips and Tricks series. Each day over the course of 5 days, you’ll receive a free handwriting worksheet to use in addressing common handwriting issues.

        Join the free handwriting series!

        handwriting handouts

        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