Ball Pit Activities

Colorful plastic ball pit balls with words reading Ball Pit Activities for Therapy

This article details ball pit activities to use in therapy sessions (and at home) to support skills like sensory needs, gross motor skills, and other occupational therapy goals areas.

Are you lucky enough to have a ball pit at your disposal?  Maybe one at your clinic, school, or neighborhood fun park? A ball pit does not have to simply be a place to blow off some steam. There are great ball pit activities out there that work on critical skills while your learner is having fun. Follow along with this post to find out some great ball pit activities, plus some ideas to create a ball pit on a budget. I probably cannot help with your space restrictions, but a ball pit does not have to be enormous to have some great effects.

Imagine being submerged in the balls, which provide a deep-pressure sensation and a sense of calm. Gross motor and fine motor skills, sensory-motor skills, social interactions, speech and language development, and symbolic play are just some of the domains you can work on while in the ball pit. The calming effect of swimming in a ball pit can be a self-regulation strategy, too.

Colorful plastic ball pit balls with words reading Ball Pit Activities for Therapy

Ball pits are a great occupational therapy tool and you can incorporate OT goals into ball pit play in many ways.

Ball Pit Activities and my win for OT

Before jumping right into ball pit activities, I want to share my “OT win” with you.  I work in a school system, so you understand the rules are high and the budget is low. Imagine if I asked for a $2,500 ball pit? Can you hear the administration laughing and shaking their heads from there? I won a grant to provide some sensory equipment for our school therapy gym and wanted a ball pit but did not want to blow my $1500 budget on one piece of equipment. I ordered a (Amazon affiliate links) cool enclosed mini trampoline, and a few hundred ball pit balls to go inside. 

Not only do my students get the tactile and proprioceptive input from the ball pit (more about that later), but they get great input from bouncing on the trampoline at the same time. 

Because it is enclosed in a net, I do not have to worry about kids falling out, or balls going everywhere.  There are less expensive ways to create a ball pit (read below), but this feels like a big victory for the OT/PT room in our K-2 school. 

Different types of ball pits with words reading ball pit ideas

Different types of ball pits

Of course, there are your traditional ten-thousand-dollar ball pits found at larger clinics and play areas. These are the gold standard of ball pits, and the possible activities in them are endless. Options include:

  • Clinic ball pit frames
  • Budget ball pit options (see below)
  • Soft play ball pits- soft foam pits
  • Inflatable ball pits
  • Foldable ball pits
  • Ball play pens
  • Toddler ball pit tent

Two of the clinics I work at had huge ball pits connected to a climbing frame and pirate ship.  Picture something like a giant pit found in therapy clinics with cushioned foam walls that would hold foam blocks.

My kiddos could jump off the platform into a huge pit of balls, then swim to the other side. I tried to get the boss to add a zip line into the ball pit (like this one), but they were worried about safety. Here is a zipline kit on Amazon. Be sure to install correctly.

There are also options for indoor slides that can be incorporated into a ball pit. There are endless ideas if you have a great budget and a big space.

While not every home or clinic can have a giant, padded clinic ball pit, there are many options available.

budget Ball Pit Options

There are inexpensive options for setting up a ball pit in a home, sensory room or calm down corner, or clinic. Some of these ideas can be used in an outdoor sensory space, too.

Cheap ball pit options include (Amazon affiliate links listed below):

  • Large ball pit with a slide going into it – These can be found in sensory play spaces for kids. However, you can make this as an inexpensive version using a large blow up pool. Add a large 5 foot slide with climbing rope web for added vestibular input. Instead of just playing in the balls, your learners can climb then crash into them!
  • Blow up ball pit – Little Tykes has this blow-up version of a slide/ball pit combination. It probably looks better than it is, but feel free to check it out
  • Inflatable pool ball pit– This option is nice for the home or smaller intervention space. Head to the dollar store and grab a blow-up kiddie pool.  Fill it with balls and you have a small portable ball pit. You can also use a baby pool indoors with this option.
  • Sensory bin with cut up pool noodles– We used an (Amazon affiliate link) under-the-bed storage unit. This ball pit option is on the smaller size, making it nice for toddlers.
  • Pack n Play or laundry basket (Amazon affiliate links)– small toddlers will enjoy ball play in a small enclosure.
  • Foam pit (Amazon affiliate link)- These ball pits are an inexpensive option.
  • Foldable tent– These options are nice because you can buy an inexpensive foldable tent, pop it open, and fill it with balls. The balls stay in the tent for the most part and you can fold up the tent to store it.
  • Play Space Jungle Gym with Tunnel– These are inexpensive ways to add crawling, slides, and small spaces for sensory input and can be used indoors or outside.
  • Trampoline ball pit– A trampoline ball pit can come in any size, depending on the number of ball pit balls you add. There are foldable options, indoor trampolines, or mini trampolines. The trampoline ball pits have mesh walls to hold in the ball pit balls.
  • Rentable ball pits – if you need a pit just for a few days, there are rentable options. I am not sure if you can purchase these as well, but they probably come with a big price tag.

ball pit balls

Once you have a ball pit container, next you fill it up with ball pit balls, or other sensory options.

You can fill your ball pit with most anything soft. You do not have to stick to balls to make a fun pit.

Think outside of the box (or ball pit!). Some ideas include shredded paper, foam cubes, pool noodle bits, small stuffed animals, pillow stuffing, pillows, bean bags (be sure to check out our upcoming bean bag activity post).  I saw a post about a woman who filled hers with aquarium and pea gravel.  That just sounds dangerous AND uncomfortable.  We went to a fair and they had a pit made of feed corn.  It was neat.

Here are some ideas to fill a ball pit:

  • Plastic play balls- You’ll need more than you might think! The plastic play balls can create a single layer in the ball pit, but if you want to sink down into the ball pit, you’ll need more. You can purchase commercial ball pit balls in bulk to fil the ball pit. Here is a set of (Amazon affiliate link) 1500 plastic play balls.
  • Foam cubes– Many gymnastic studios have pits full of foam cubes. Check out local furniture makers to see if they have extra chunks of foam sitting around.
  • Pool noodles – cut up pool noodles to fill your ball pit. This is an inexpensive way to fill a ball pit. Here’s an Amazon affiliate link for a set of 20 pool noodles that can be cut into small pieces.
  • Soft play balls
  • Shredded paper
  • Pool noodles cut into small pieces
  • Stuffed animals
  • Pillow stuffing
  • Pillows
  • Bean bags

Ball pit activities

Once you have found/bought/begged for the perfect ball pit, you might need some fun ideas of what to do in there besides jumping around having fun. Make time for that too, because fun is part of a kid’s occupation. 

  • Seek and find- See if your learners can find items you throw into the ball pit.  This could be puzzle pieces, stuffed animals, action figures, or weighted balls.
  • Obstacle course- Use your ball pit as part of a larger occupational therapy obstacle course. Learners must wade through the balls to get to the next obstacle. I like having kids carry weighted balls through the obstacle course for a heavier workout.
  • Sorting- Ask your kids to find as many of one color as they carry and fill their basket. This could be a solo or race activity. You can come up with many color sorting activities using colorful plastic ball pit balls.
  • Ball toss- Add a basket or basketball net to encourage target practice.
  • Add language- Have learners yell out the colors as they toss the balls, or count a certain number of balls. Work on expressive language and receptive language.
  • Heavy work– Wading through the ball pit provides resistance. Have your learners move objects from one end to the other while wading through the ball pit.
  • The fort game- Use a sheet or other item to divide your pit in half. Set a timer. Learners throw their balls to the other side. At the end of the time, the side with the least balls wins.
  • Catch and throw- Use a cut off milk jug or bucket to catch and throw the balls in the pit while trying to remain standing/sitting/lying down. Here’s a tutorial to make a milk jug catch game.
  • Explore different positions- Learners can work on crawling, rolling, walking, running, or swimming through the ball pit. How fun would it be to make “snow angels” in the ball pit?
  • Jumping in- Set up a slide or tall item next to the ball pit. Learners jump off the item, or slide into the pit. This adds to the proprioception and vestibular input.
  • Add a ball tube using a PVC pipe- Get a large PVC pipe to put in or around your ball pit. Little children love the cause-and-effect game of putting items in and watching them come out. This is a great way to work on hand eye coordination by dropping the plastic ball pit balls into the tube and then catching them at the bottom. Here’s an idea.

Ball pit activities to explore sensory skills

Your sensory seeker often loves being submerged in the ball pit.  The sensory avoider, not so much.  To the body and all its’ sensory systems, a ball pit hits many of them.

  • Tactile– Touching and feeling the balls
  • Auditory Processing– the sound of the balls rustling together
  • Proprioception– Balls have a weight to them that provides a hug type of feeling which is often calming to the sensory system
  • Vestibular– The vestibular system is activated as you roll around in the ball pit
  • Sight– If your pit is full of colorful balls, imagine the amount of visual input this provides. Our pit has “macaroon” colored balls to be softer on the eyes. I find it much more calming than the traditional red, yellow, and blue varieties
  • Smell and taste- These are not the typical sensations you would expect in a ball pit, but everyone explores in different ways

As you can see, the sensory seeker loves this type of activity for all the systems the ball pit alerts. For the avoider, or person who experiences too much, this can be a nightmare. Imagine all those sensory receptors triggered at once!  It can be a intervention that actually leads to sensory dysregulation for some individuals.

Tactile can feel like light unexpected touch, the weight of the balls can feel suffocating, the rustling of the balls can seem like nails on a chalkboard, and it is easy for someone to lose their position in space (proprioception), when their feet are not touching the ground. Body awareness can impact daily activities and the ball pit can be a tool to support needs in this area.

Read about tactile defensiveness and how to support this challenge that might impact daily functional tasks.

Cleaning the ball pit balls

There are several ways to clean the ball pit balls. The classic way is to put them in bags and hose them off.  How about filling up your hot tub with them for a rinse?  Or the washing machine? 

I saw a post idea in which clinic owners filled the back of their pick-up truck and sent it through the car wash!  Not sure if the people were inside the truck, or with the balls, but a fun and smart idea just the same.

ball pits in occupational therapy

There are so many ways to support occupational therapy goals using the ball pit as an intervention tool!

After researching this, I am jealous of the places that have amazing budgets to build or buy great playgrounds with ball pits for their sensory gyms, or neighborhood play palaces.  Forget about all the germs and gross stuff floating around these ball pits and jump right in!

Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and 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.

Simon Says Commands

Simon Says Commands

If you’ve ever run a therapy session with a fun game of Simon Says, than you know the challenge of coming up with effective Simon Says commands on the spot. The beauty of a good game of Simon Says is that you can target any gross motor, fine motor, sensory motor, and visual motor skill area that you need to, making it the perfect gross motor coordination game that supports a variety of skills.

Simon Says commands

Simon Says Commands

Woohoo, it’s Simon Says for OT! Who doesn’t love a good game of Simon Says? It’s a classic game that builds a variety of skills without kiddos knowing it.

Below, you’ll find a great list of therapist-approved Simon Says game commands and, you can grab a Simon Says commands pdf so you can print off these game ideas and use them in any therapy session, or as a brain break in the classroom or home, too.

Let’s cover all of the Simon Says ideas!

How to play Simon Says in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy to develop skills.

How to Play Simon Says

If you’ve never heard of Simon Says or don’t have a clue what it is, it’s a fun game that is easy to implement in any location. 

First, you identify one player for the role of Simon and that player will give the other players commands for actions to perform. (There are many targeted goal areas identified with commands listed later in the post.) 

Second, the game has a trick with it, Simon MUST preface the command by saying, “Simon Says”, or the command is NOT to be followed.

If a player follows that direction and completes the movement when “Simon” doesn’t say “Simon Says”, they are out of the game or can lose one of their tally strokes or chips that is given to each player before play.

If they DO NOT follow one of the stated Simon Says commands, they are out or lose a stroke or chip too. 

Third, the last player standing or the player with the last chip or tally stroke is the winner. 

Simon Says Examples:

  • Simon: “Simon Says hop on one foot.”
  • Other players: Correctly follow the direction and hop on one foot.
  • The players that completed the correct action stay in the game or can stay in the game and do not lose a token or tally chip/tally mark.
  • Simon: “Simon Says hop on one foot.”
  • Other players: Incorrectly do not follow the direction.
  • The players that did not complete the correct action are out of the game or can stay in the game and lose a token or tally chip/tally mark.
  • Simon: “Hop on one foot.”
  • Other players: Incorrectly follow the direction and hop on one foot.
  • The players that completed the incorrect action (Simon didn’t say “Simon Says”!) are out of the game or lose a token or tally chip/tally mark.
  • Simon: “Hop on one foot.”
  • Other players: Correctly do not follow the direction and do not hop on one foot.
  • The players that did not complete the incorrect action (Simon didn’t say “Simon Says”!) stay in the game or do not lose a token or tally chip/tally mark.

Easy, right? Not too fast friends! A child’s (and adults’) attention, impulsivity, and patience can play a role in their ability to listen, act, and wait while playing this game. 

Simon Says is actually a really great game for executive functioning skills, and specifically a game to

Think about each child and what kind of commands you may need to give them to help them play successfully.

Younger students or those working to improve the cognitive skill of following sequences can improve these areas with certain adaptations. Give them simple commands that have few words and one step. Think about saying something like, “Simon Says clap your hands” vs. saying, “Simon Says spin around and then clap your hands”, see the difference? This will help a child focus on one skill at a time and then build from there as they age or become better at following multiple directions. 

If a child struggles with verbal or processing skills, consider the use of a visual choice board, like this one by Panda Speech Therapy, that displays someone speaking coupled with a visual that demonstrates the action that Simon Says to do. This is a great modification to help children that need this type of support to be successful during play or even those who are new to learning how to play the game. 

Think about the OT skills that can be facilitated with this game: 

Target whatever area you need to with children based on their goals and you’ve got a fun time with focus!

Think about the social skills that can be targeted while following and giving multiple skill-driven directions – don’t forget to either simply say the direction or add, “Simon Says” to give kiddos the true direction to DO vs. the fake direction to REMAIN STILL. 

Simon Says ideas for therapy

Simon Says Ideas

The list of Simon Says ideas below are separated by area of development. You’ll find specific movement ideas for:

  1. Visual motor skills
  2. Fine motor skills
  3. Gross motor skills
  4. Sensory motor skills
  5. Social skills
  6. Emotional skills
  7. Oral motor skills

Simon Says Commands to Target Visual Motor Skills

  1. Draw a row of circles
  2. Draw a face
  3. Draw a person
  4. Trade drawing tools with your neighbor
  5. Use different colors and write the letters of your first name
  6. Write the ABCs 
  7. Build a block tower
  8. Build block stairs
  9. Build a block pyramid
  10. Write the numbers 1-10
  11. Toss a ball up to self and catch
  12. Walk a ball on the wall

If you need more visual motor command ideas to help, look at these fun resources:

Rainbow Visual Motor Slide Deck at The OT Toolbox

Flower Visual Motor Slide Deck at The OT Toolbox

Simon Says Commands to Target Fine Motor Skills

  1. Do finger taps to the thumb on both hands
  2. Make the okay sign
  3. Make the telephone sign with each hand
  4. Snap your fingers
  5. Push your fingertips together
  6. Clap your hands
  7. Rotate a pencil from writing to erasing
  8. Do pencil push-ups
  9. Do pencil walk up and down the shaft
  10. Wiggle the fingers on both hands
  11. Do finger pull-ups on both hands
  12. Do victory sign
  13. Make the ‘I love you’ sign

If you need more fine motor command ideas to help, look at these fun resources:

Fine Motor Skills Needed for School at The OT Toolbox

Heavy Work for Little Fingers at Your Kids OT

Simon Says Commands to Target Gross Motor Skills

  1. Do 10 wall push-ups
  2. Do 5 sit-ups
  3. Do 5 planks
  4. Do 8 body bridges
  5. Do 5 lunges
  6. Do 8 squats
  7. Do 6 hand presses
  8. Do 8 cross crawls
  9. Walk like a crab
  10. Walk like a bear
  11. Hop like a kangaroo
  12. Walk like a cat

If you need more gross motor command ideas to help, look at these fun resources:

Sports Gross Motor Slide Deck at The OT Toolbox

Superhero Gross Motor Slide Deck at The OT Toolbox

Simon says Commands to Target Sensory Motor Skills

  1. Stretch to the sky and then to the floor
  2. Wiggle your body all around
  3. Give yourself a hug
  4. March in place
  5. Sway your body left to right
  6. Spin around in a circle
  7. Do 5 deep breaths
  8. Do 5 long blows
  9. Do floor push-ups
  10. Sit and rock back and forth
  11. Army crawl in a line
  12. Walk forward and backward 

If you need more sensory motor command ideas to help, look at these fun resources:

Alerting and Calming Sensory Strategy Cards at The OT Toolbox

Heavy Work Movement Cards at The OT Toolbox

Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards at The OT Toolbox

Deep Breathing Exercise Cards at The OT Toolbox

Simon Says Commands to Target Social Skills

  1. Look to your neighbor and say, “Hello.”
  2. Shake your neighbor’s hand
  3. Say a positive affirmation statement to the group
  4. High-five a friend
  5. High ten your therapist
  6. Look at a neighbor and smile
  7. Look at a neighbor and give a thumbs-up 
  8. Look at a neighbor and introduce yourself
  9. Look at a neighbor and say, “Thank you.” 
  10. Give a compliment
  11. Give an apology
  12. Invite someone to play

If you need more social command ideas to help, look at these fun resources:

Self-Awareness Activities Slide Deck at The OT Toolbox

Simon Says Commands to Target Emotions

  1. Make a smiley face
  2. Make a frowning face
  3. Make a scared face
  4. Make an angry face
  5. Make a surprised face
  6. Make a tired face
  7. Show being shy
  8. Show being worried
  9. Show being embarrassed
  10. Show being sick
  11. Show being proud
  12. Show being scared

If you need more emotional command ideas to help, look at these fun resources:

Emotions Cards at Growing Hands-On Kids 

Simon Says Commands to Target Oral Motor Skills

  1. Stick out your tongue
  2. Open and close your mouth
  3. Wiggle your tongue from side to side
  4. Blow a kiss 
  5. Blow bubbles
  6. Smack your lips together
  7. Touch your nose with your tongue
  8. Massage your jaws with your fingertips
  9. Pull the corners of your mouth into a smile
  10. Scrunch up your lips and nose
  11. Push your tongue into your right cheek
  12. Push your tongue into your left cheek

If you need more oral motor command ideas to help, look at these fun resources:

Oral Motor Exercises at The OT Toolbox 

Themed Oral Motor Activities and Exercises at the OT Toolbox:

Simon Says Ideas for the Alphabet

If you are looking for a combination of Simon Says Commands that address multiple areas, you can find a list of these below from A-Z.  Enjoy!

A – Air write your name

B – Blow pretend bubbles

C – Cross crawls or crunches

D – Deep breaths

E – Excited body movements

F – Fingertip taps to thumb

G – Give a compliment 

H – High 5 someone

I – ‘I love you’ hand sign

J – Join hands or arms with someone

K – kangaroo hops

L – Lick your lips all around

M – Make a sad face

N- Number 8’s in the air 

O – One leg stands each leg

P – Print the alphabet 

Q – quick run in place

R – Roll out a playdough square

S – Stick out your tongue

T – Twirl around

U – Up on toes stretch

V – Valentine’s heart hands

W – Wave to someone

X – XO to give self-hug

Y – Yawn for feeling tired

Z – Zig-zag line in air

Lastly, you can also be creative and think about how you can use Simon Says Commands with commercial board games, like Operation, Perfection, Twister, Whac-A-Mole, Spot It, Avalanche, or Kerplunk. Think about just changing it up by using Simon Says commands or NOT, to direct the child in what they should or should not do.  It’s a new approach to some common board games used in pediatric OT and the kids will love it!

Popsicle stick labels Simon Says Commands
Free printable Simon Says Commands for craft stick labels.

Free Alphabet Simon Says Popsicle Stick Labels

I am so excited to share this newest resource. All you need is a printable page with the popsicle stick Simon Says commands and craft sticks. We used the larger-size popsicle sticks to make the popsicle stick commands.

Kids can pull a craft stick out of a cup and use the command to create actions based on movements for each letter of the Alphabet. This set goes with our Alphabet Exercises blog post where each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding exercise or motor action.

Want a copy of these popsicle stick exercise labels? Enter your email address into the form below. OT Toolbox members can also find this printable inside the Member’s Club (along with the full list of Simon Says cards listed above in printable card form AND in popsicle stick label format).

Free Simon Says Popsicle Stick Labels

    Are you interested in resources on (check all that apply):
    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.
    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!

    pool noodle Games and activities

    pool noodle activities

    If you are looking for fun gross motor coordination activities, then these pool noodle games and activities are a great therapy tool to support skill-building. The pool noodle games are great activities to add to therapy sessions, use in home programs, or to add to Field Day or summer therapy camps. Check out these pool noodle games that support development, learning, and sensory motor skills.

    Use these pool noodle activities and games to build skills.

    Pool Noodle Games

    A pool noodle is a swim toy that can be used to build swim skills or have pool-time fun. It can also be used as an OT tool to help build hand/finger skills, overall body strength/coordination, as well as balance, and motor planning skills.

    Because they are readily available in stores during the Spring and Summer months, pool noodles are a great addition to your Summer occupational therapy activities.

    Pool noodles are a versatile toy that can be cut, divided, and shaped into many tools to benefit children in their skill development, and overall needs. These toys are colorful, inexpensive, and attractive to children, which make them motivating, and facilitates engagement in pool noodle activities created with them.

    This is a gross motor toy you’ll want to add to your therapy toolbox, and we’ll cover why that is below.

    In addition, imagine all of the equipment needs that can be addressed to help with daily living skills using these noodles.  

    Add pool noodles to a few other ideas here on the website for a Summer of fun:

    pool noodle activities

    pool noodles Activities and Games

    Pool noodles can be used by a variety of children, for many needs, and for several purposes.  They can easily be used indoors or outdoors, in the home, the classroom, and therapy room. Pool noodle activities can be used with all ages, and in all environments. That’s right all ages. Maybe not in the conventional manner, but there are many imaginative and thoughtful activities that are fun and safe for anyone!  

    The best part? Pool noodles are cheap, cheap, cheap. They can be more challenging to find, if you look for them off season. My helpful tip to you is to buy them in bulk when they go on clearance at the end of the summer season, and you’ll have them whenever you need them. Sometimes you can even find them on clearance for just a few cents, that’s right, A FEW CENTS! 

    Let’s take a look at some fun, creative pool noodle activity ideas to get kids up, moving, active and a little ‘noodley’ this season! If you do not need them for pool noodle activities, but want some creative tool ideas instead, I’ve got you covered there too. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you’ll find some innovative ideas for equipment and tools. 

    Gross Motor pool noodle activities:

    These gross motor pool noodle ideas offer strategies to support motor planning and body awareness. It is by adding a simple pool noodle to play activities that can offer challenging motor tasks, while encouraging coordination, balance, body awareness, and motor planning skills.  

    make a pool noodle tunnel for obstacle courses and gross motor skills.
    • Pool Noodle Tunnel- Use a few pool noodles down a hallway and create a fun pool noodle tunnel for kiddos to crawl under, take a look here at our blog post Play Tunnel Activities. Use skewer sticks to secure noodles outside, and create a pool noodle hurdles.
    • Pool Noodle Wand- Create a Pool Noodle wand for reaction time, coordination, and balance. All of these skills can be addressed with the simple use of a pool noodle and PVC pipe to create the stick.

    • Pool Noodle Hurdles- We shared how to make pool noodle hurdles in our Family reunion activities post. Simply cut a pool noodle and use paint stirrers to stick small pieces into the ground. Then balance a long pool noodle on top for a balance, coordination, and gross motor activity that kids can step over, jump, or hop over in an obstacle course.
    • Pool Noodle Relay Race- This pool noodle game is great for lawn games, outdoor sensory diets, and family fun. Divide players into teams. Each team has a pool noodle. Players can race to a certain spot and then turn around and pass the noodle to the next player in the line. The first team to get all of their players to run with the pool noodle is the winner. This game can also be played in the swimming pool.
    • Pool Noodle Balance Game- Cut a pool noodle into smaller pieces (about one half of a pool noodle). Each player receives a piece. Balance a ball on top of the pool noodle hole. The players should race across the lawn or room while balancing the ball on their pool noodle. This is also a great addition to an obstacle course while challenging changes in positioning.

    • Balance Beam- A pool noodle is a great way to create a DIY balance beam, which provides balance opportunities, works on core strength, and provides vestibular input to help improve regulation.

    • Wobble Board- Use a pool noodle as a wobble board by adding a platform or boogie board over the noodle. Here’s another great idea for a DIY wobble board.
    • Pool Noodle Limbo- Want to limbo this season? Use a pool noodle for a fun game of limbo at home, or during therapy. Have children perform animal walks under the limbo stick. Easy, simple, effective and FUN! This one allows kids to work on multiple body skills. 
    • Gross Motor Drum Sticks- Use pool noodles as gross motor drum sticks. When you use pool noodles as desk drumsticks, you address core strength, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, and motor planning.  Desk drumsticks can build fitness, and give a quick movement break to the entire class, with very little effort and cost. Now, that’s a winner in my book! To add gamification to this pool noodle idea, add music and play to the music. When the music stops, everyone needs to stop playing. It’s a great auditory processing activity.

    • Pool Noodle Skipping- You can use pool noodles as a tool to teach skipping.

    Here are several more gross motor coordination activities to add to your toolbox. Don’t forget to stock up on gross motor toys when treatment planning.

    Fine Motor activities using pool noodles

    Pool noodles can be used on a small scale, too to work on fine motor skills. Try some of these ideas.

    • Pool noodles and rubber bands – Cut a pool noodle into smaller pieces. Use rubber bands to wrap around the pool noodle. This is an easy fine motor activity that you can create. Learners work on stretching the bands around the noodle, which will provides a fun, but effective fine motor strengthening tool, and a good bilateral coordination activity.
    • Press pipe cleaners into pool noodles- This is another easy, but fun activity to work on important fine motor, and bilateral coordination skills. Slide beads onto the chenille stems (pipe cleaners) to work on threading, or have them string in a specific order to add an opportunity for working on listening and following directions. 
    • Threading activity- Use those same pipe cleaners pressed into the pool noodles and add beads, buttons to place onto the pool noodles. Learners will work on fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and finger strengthening with these fun activities. You can also thread pool noodles on a jump rope like we did with this pool noodle sensory bin idea.
    • Pool noodle and pom-pom transfer is just what you are looking for if you need a child to work on tong use, or practice pre-scissor skills using a pair of tongs. Children use tongs to transfer pom-pom balls into the holes of the pool noodle slices. Not only is this for fine motor skill development, but look at the built-in eye hand coordination too!
    • Put a cork in it! is a super fun activity that works on finger strengthening and bilateral coordination, as children will work to twist and push corks into the holes of pool noodle slices. Where do you find corks without having to drink dozens of bottles of wine (which is not terrible). Go to any craft store and they are available for purchase.
    • Pool noodle pom-pom shooter is a fun pool noodle activity that works on fine motor strengthening, as children work to pull the rubber band back to shoot the pom-pom from the pool noodle chunk. It most cases, the farther they pull the rubber band backwards, the farther the pom-pom will go. Set up a target using a laundry basket or box, and see if they can shoot the pom-poms into the target to score points. 
    • Make a creature- Cut a pool noodle into small pieces. Affix or draw monstors or pictures of people or animals onto the pieces. Learners can then mix and match creature blocks with pool noodle chunks to build their own creatures. You can take pictures of completed creatures and have children attempt to copy the picture by stacking the appropriate pool noodle pieces, they work on visual perceptual skills.

    Sensory pool noodle activities:

    • Sensory Bins- Use pool noodles as part of a Pool Noodle Sensory Bin to give the illusion of the ocean, and/or bubbles that you see in the ocean. Children can stack, fill, or squeeze them. 
    • Pool Noodle Boats- How about some pool noodle boats for bathtub time, in a water bin? Take a look at how easy making these pool noodle boats are, and what fun they will be to play with during water playtime. 
    • Letter Scoop Race- Cut a pool noodle into small pieces. Write letters on the outside of each piece. Then, place the noodle pieces into a sensory bin or on a tray. Ask the learner to scoop letters and as fast as they can match upper case letters to lower case letters, or letter to letter. They can stack the matching letters on top of one another to work on fine motor skills.

    Eye-Hand Coordination using pool noodles:

    • Marble Maze- After an adult slices the pool noodles in half, have kiddos work on taping a variety of pool noodle pieces onto the wall with painter’s tape to create a fun Pool Noodle Marble Maze. Kiddos can change it up, making new mazes. It makes for a great STEM activity that builds problem-solving, and eye-hand coordination. This is a great DIY marble run for a visual scanning activity.
    • Pool noodle track- Easily create a visual tracking and bilateral coordination activity with use of a pool noodle circle track which requires a pool noodle sliced in half, taped together in a circle, and a marble inserted for rotating around the track. Making your own race track is a fun and challenging pool noodle activity, as you have to keep the speed of the marble going around the track so it will not fall out. Definitely for higher level learners, but a fun one!
    • Pool noodle batting is a simple activity using pool noodle pieces and a balloon or a beach ball suspended from the ceiling with a string. This provide a great opportunity to work on eye-hand coordination, upper extremity strengthening, and range of motion. 
    • Javelin Throw– Use pool noodles to create a pool noodle javelin throw activity to work on visual motor skills as children throw a pool noodle javelin through a circled pool noodle suspended from the ceiling.  
    • Pool Noodle Bowling- In this bowling game all you have to do is cut pool noodles into equal sized pieces, and you have a set of bowling pins! Anyone can use a set of simple bowling pins for a fun eye-hand coordination activity. You can use pool noodle slices stacked into a pyramid shape for the same purpose!

    Here are some outdoor fun lawn games to round out your activity plan.

    Pool noodle Tools or equipment Ideas: 

    Everything listed here is all about tools, adaptations, apparatus, or simple equipment ideas to children at home or school. Take a peek, and see if any of these ideas can help your learners. 

    • Pool Noodle Card Holder- Know a child that has a hard time grasping and holding a set of cards? Make this great pool noodle card holder just for them! It can be used in the classroom, during therapy, and at home. Have a child that cannot hold cards, but needs to see them? Try this quick hands-free card holder adaptation. 
    • Pool Noodle Adapted Seat- Maybe you need a pool noodle seat for a kiddo that has difficulty knowing where their seat ends due to poor body awareness.  If so, this simple pool noodle seat will give them the physical cue they need to help with body awareness and balance within a chair. You know that one kiddo who frequently falls out of their chair? Try this and see if it helps! Here are more flexible seating ideas and DIY adapted seating (perfect for pool noodles!)
    • Pool Noodle Feet Positioner- How about a quick feet fix when a kiddos feet do not quite touch the floor, or they need a little movement for their feet while seated. Check out this pool noodle feet positioner.
    • Pool Noodle for High Tone Seating Needs- Sometimes there is that one kiddo that needs a little flexion positioning due to their excessive extension pattern, due to have high tone. Take a look at how to use a simple pool noodle and bungee cord to provide a little buffer for the excessive extension.  
    • Therapy Ball Seat Positioner- If you tape a pool noodle into a circle, you can use it as a pool noodle ball chair by placing the therapy ball on top of the pool noodle to hold in place. Kiddos can still move slightly on it, just not excessively. This makes the ball less distractive, and kept within their personal space at their desk! 

    Summer is fast approaching, run and stock up on pool noodles now. One last thing that I want to remind you about pool noodles, remember to purchase them now, or when they are on clearance at the end of the season! They are just a few cents and you can use them all year long whenever you need them!  

    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!

    The terms kids, kiddos, and children are used throughout this post. These pool noodle activities can be used for learners of all ages and developmental levels.

    Hula Hoop Activities

    hula hoop activities

    A hula hoop is a great old-school toy and specific hula hoop activities can be used to not only build strength, coordination, balance, and motor planning, but can be used in other areas such as learning, sensory, and visual motor, as well as gross motor coordination. Hula hoops are versatile and inexpensive, while being colorful and attractive, to spark the interest and motivation of children. There are a wide array of hula hoop activities that can be done, in addition to the traditional method.

    hula hoop activities for therapy and gross motor development

    Hula hoop Activities are great!

    Hula hoops can be used indoors or outdoors and with children and adults of all ages. That’s right all ages. In addition to the conventional manner, there are several imaginative and thoughtful hula hoop activities that are fun and safe for all!  

    Hula hoops are cheap and easy to find. If you don’t have, or can’t find a hula hoop that’s okay, you can make your own hula hoop! The directions are included in this post. People can decorate it however they wish, making it a special craft activity too. 

    Take a look at some fun, creative hula hoop activity ideas to get kids up and active, and a little ‘hoopy’ this season! 

    The hula hoop games and activities below are great for outdoor lawn games this summer, but they can be included in indoor therapy obstacle courses or games to get kids moving!

    Gross Motor hula hoop games:

    • The Floor is Lava Games These are fun games for home on a rainy day. Use a hula hoop as a “safe island” when playing is game. They work on jumping, leaping, hopping, rolling, and crashing.
    • Hula Hoop Jumps – provide heavy work input through the core and gross motor muscle groups, to improve regulation, and body awareness. 
    • Rabbit Hole – is a cooperative gross motor group activity that helps to teach the concept of personal space, using a hula hoop, and safety cones.  This is a great way to teach about personal bubbles.
    • Hula Hoop Run activities – use several hula hoops positioned out on the ground, or floor to create a “tire run” pathway for kids to hop, jump, or leap through. There are several pattern ideas included, which will address gross motor coordination, balance, and agility while having fun too!
    • Hula Hoop Pass – Grab some friends and a hula hoop! Children hold hands while standing in a line or a circle, while working to move the hula hoop around the group, stepping in and out of it, ducking through it, while holding hands. This works to shift the hoop to the next person, until it makes it from the first, to the last person within the group. This is an incredible coordination and motor planning activity that helps to build group cooperation and teamwork.
    • Don’t Jiggle the Spiders! Much like our spider obstacle maze, you can wrap yarn around a hula hoop and thread spider rings through the string. Then, children can move the hoop as a hand-held obstacle course has a fun way to have children work on balance and body control as they work to move through the spider web, designed on a hula hoop, and try not to ‘jiggle the spiders’ while doing so. 
    • Basket of Toys- Here is a fun twist on the traditional toy scavenger hunt. In this game, you scatter small toys or water balloons and hula hoops on the ground. Children work to move the toys and balloons using their feet to their specific hula hoop. What happens if they pop a balloon while kicking? They must visit the Toy Master (and adult or a specific player) and complete a motor task to earn another balloon. A fun way to work on gross motor skills, motor control, and eye-foot coordination. 
    • Hula Blockers is a fun hula hoop game in which each player stands in their own hoop tossing a bean bag into another player’s hoop, while simultaneously attempting to defend their own hula hoop space, blocking another player’s bean bags from landing in their space.

    Add these Gross Motor Coordination Activities for more fun. Or check out these Gross Motor Toys for some fun games.

    Sensory hula hoop actitivies:

    • Hula Hoop Mobile here is a fun visually stimulating idea for children with visual impairments, or other challenges, that might benefit from a colorful hanging mobile that has texture, sound, weight, and visual appeal. It can be used for individual play, or as a group activity.
    • Sensory Hula Hoop Video – need a fun sensory tool for babies? Then this Sensory Hula Hoop video might be a fun DIY for you! It includes a variety of visually stimulating materials as well, as texture and sound. It can be placed flat on the floor to encourage tummy time, or hung above a baby lying supine, to encourage reach and exploration. Note: Always choose baby-safe materials to prevent injury. 
    • Baby and Toddler Tummy Time Activity- Another spin on the sensory hula hoop activity, is to attach baby rattles and baby toys around the circle, then have babies start with tummy time in the center of the hoop. This is a great tool for adding novel activities to tummy time. The circular positioning of the toys around the hoop encourages babies to reach, visually scan, roll, and pivot on the upper body, as they move and stretch to reach, and engage with different toys. 
    • Hula Hoop Canopy – If you’re feeling really ambitious you can create a Hula Hoop Canopy with lights and sheer curtains. It makes a great addition to a calming corner.
    • Hula Hoop Tunnel Activity – Make a tunnel with several hula hoops and you can even add scarves or longer strips of streamers for children to move through making it a gross motor AND sensory experience in one!

    Eye-Hand Coordination hula hoop games:

    • Hula Hoop Web – use masking tape to create a Hula Hoop Web in the hoop. Have children toss cotton balls or pom-pom balls to stick to the web.

    • Hula Hoop Target – Hang a hula hoop from the ceiling or a tree, and you have an instant target for ball tossing.
    • Hula Hoop Bullseyes- Lay different-sized hula hoops on the ground, creating a bulls-eye target. Place numbers inside the hoop to create targets, to score points when tossing a bean bag.
    • Place safety cones on the ground for children to toss a hoola hoop around the cones, to score points. 
    • Hula Hoop Basketball – Hang a few hula hoops from a basketball goal for young children to have their Hula Hoop Goal for ball play. A great way to have younger kiddos enjoy their own skill level of basketball. 
    • Flight School Create this fun game by having children fold paper airplanes, then try to fly them through hula hoops that are hung from the ceiling. Include children of all ages with this fun activity, as you can hang the hula hoops at different heights to accommodate any skill level.  Another way to play when hanging the hoops at different heights, would be to use a point system, and score points based on the different heights of the hoops.  

    Learning games with a hula hoop: 

    • Around the Clock hula hoop activity is a fun way to work on time with kiddos in the classroom, during therapy, and at home! 
    • Hula Hoop Zones Activity- Use red, yellow, green, and blue hoops to work on the Zones of Regulation™ curriculum in the classroom and during therapy. Read more on this activity.
    • Find and Rhyme game is a great way to work on rhyming with young children! All you need are some hula hoops, and plastic plates. It’s similar to a scavenger hunt for words. Here is an explanation.
    • Personal space – Need to help children understand personal space? The use of a hula hoop is the perfect tool! They can sit or stand inside of it, to help them visualize their own personal space, and the space of others. I’ve seen them used while sitting at a table during snack time to help children understand their personal space.

    make your own hoop

    Here are the instructions for Making a Hula Hoop. They include a brief explanation of the three most common types of tubing people use to create one. If you think you need more detailed instructions for creating a hula hoop, take a look at How to Make Your Own Hula Hoop, and see how they designed their hoop using irrigation tubing. 

    Want another fun idea for creating a hula hoop? I found this Snap Together Hula Hoop (affiliate link) that children can work on building before using!  This type of hoop makes it easy to transport and adds another element of motor skills while building and deconstructing.

    more outdoor fun

    There’s only one last thing to say about hula hoops, remember to join in the fun yourself and enjoy some screen-free playtime with kiddos! 

    Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

    This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

    Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

    Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

    Join the Member’s Club today!

    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!

    Spring Gross Motor Activities

    Spring gross motor activities

    This blog post on Spring gross motor activities is part of our collection of Spring activities for occupational therapy. Here, we’ve got gross motor ideas that have a Spring-theme, including balance, coordination, stability, and gross motor coordination tasks like skipping, hopping, jumping, and throwing. You’ll find throwing activities, ways to work on the eye-hand coordination needed for catching a ball, bilateral coordination ideas, core strengthening activities, and more.

    These are the gross motor skill ideas that you can use in so many ways to address the skills kids need to succeed at home, at school, and in the community! Get the ideas below!

    These spring gross motor activities are great ways to build strength in kids, including posture, stability, core strength, shoulder stability, and coordination, balance, and posture.

    Spring Gross Motor Activities


    Before we cover the gross motor ideas for Spring, be sure to check out  our Spring Fine Motor Activities collection. You can add ideas from each of our Spring Occupational Therapy Activities… because we’re loading you up on different ways to address developmental skill areas with a Spring-theme!

    Remember, if you are looking for fun ideas to incorporate into therapy sessions, at home, or in the classroom, our Spring Fine Motor Kit is on sale right now. It’s 100 pages of spring ideas for addressing sensory processing, gross and fine motor skills, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills, handwriting, and more. The packet will last you all season long and can be used over and over again. 

    Grab the Spring Fine Motor Kit here. AND get the bonus Spring Break Kit, filled with handouts for Spring break activities, handwriting prompts, brain breaks, and a Spring homework sheet.

    Spring Gross Motor Activities

    Let’s get right to those Spring-themed Gross Motor Skills.

    Shoulder and wrist stability are such a necessary part of fine motor control and precision. You’ve probably seen it before; a kiddo that writes or colors with their arm “floating” up off the table surface.

    You probably know a child that writes with their whole arm as opposed to moving those fingers. You might recall a child manipulating small items like beads with their elbows smashed into their sides in order for them to have support and control…It’s all shoulder stability that is lacking!

    We’re also talking about core stability, postural control, and balance. You might know a student that slouches at their desk.

    What suffers? Handwriting legibility, reading comprehension, and the ability to copy materials without missing items.

     You may have seen a kiddo that is fearful on uneven surfaces like when maneuvering on bleachers, or struggles with active games in gym class. What may be the culprit to these coordination skills?
    It just might be postural control, core strength, and stability.

    The gross motor activities below provide opportunities to improve bilateral coordination, core strength as part of improving  postural stability, balance, coordination, shoulder stability, and shoulder girdle strengthening.
    The activities follow a Spring-theme to use this time of year. 

    These general activities combine movement combinations and motor planning that can be used as a fun brain break in the classroom, or a party game idea:

    Create a Bunny Hop Gross Motor Game much like our Dinosaur Gross Motor Game! Just make the activities actions like Hop like a bunny, jump like a bunny, stomp your bunny feet, etc. You can add other spring animals too, like a lamb, baby chicks, or robins.

    Make a DIY Dance Stick using ribbons, crepe paper, and string. Then, practice forming letters or writing spelling words with the dance stick. It can be decorated like a May Pole, too. Incorporate bilateral coordination and eye-hand coordination to wrap the stick with ribbon all the way up and around a dowel rod. 

    Bean Bag Activity- We made ice cream cones, but carrots would be super easy, too…or just pretend the bean bags are carrots 🙂  Here are some bean bag games to use when working on midline crossing, core strength, motor planning, and other gross motor areas.

    Build shoulder and wrist stability 

    Shoulder stability is an area that so many kids can struggle with! Writing with their arm “floating” up off the table surface, using the whole arm to manipulate and move a pencil, and other small motor actions. Sometimes, kids that do activities and tasks quickly are compensating for weakness in the shoulder girdle. 

    Use Wikki Stix to build Easter Eggs by sticking them to a wall. Position the child at a seated position facing the wall so shoulder flexion occurs at eye height. This is a great way to work on shoulder and wrist stability and mobility. 

    Use Spring cookie cutters and small pieces of chalk on a chalkboard or easel. This activity is great for drawing and writing at shoulder height and uses both hands at midline. Working at the vertical surface promote core strength as well as shoulder stability and wrist extension. Bunnies, Easter eggs. hearts, and colorful circles or rainbows are fun this time of year.

    Try Spring Yoga- There are some Yoga positions with a Spring theme described and listed in the Spring Occupational Therapy Activities Packet. Add fun animal names and positions to basic yoga positions.

    Use a scooter board in prone. Push and pull the scooter board across the floor to transport Spring items into a basket. The dollar store is a good place to find small items. Better yet, use bunny tongs or other tools to transport the items.

    Roll a small ball or a therapy ball up and down a wall. Use painters tape to make a ball maze or a strait line like the stem of a Spring flower. “Walk” the ball up the wall to shoulder height and then back down again. Get the ball to the top of the step to create the flower!

    Spring Animal Walks- Do the bunny hop, frog jump, and lamb crawl from one side of the room to the other. Think: wheelbarrow walks, crab walks, donkey kicks, and bear walks with a Spring theme!

    Color or play on the ground- Use Easter grass to create a sensory space on the floor. Use a large, low tray such as a jelly roll pan to create a sensory bin. Kids can use tongs to find hidden items such as mini-erasers.

    Spring Posture and Balance Activities

    Posture and trunk stability is essential for positioning in the classroom and in functional tasks in general. Postural control is needed to enable the student to sit upright at their desk, allowing for better handwriting, reading, and copying skills.

    Kids who struggle with postural control and balance will be uncoordinated in fine motor tasks, activities requiring sustained positioning, have trouble with motor planning, and may be fearful of tasks that require mobility or uneven positioning such as maneuvering on bleachers or during active play.

    Try some of the Spring themed gross motor activities below to improve postural control and balance:

    Spring Obstacle Course- Use the printables in our Spring Sensory Stations (free download) to create motor planning tasks that build balance and coordination. Add in jump ropes to hop over, sand buckets to navigate around, and brain breaks (from our Spring Break Kit bonus) to make gross motor planning tasks.

    Spring Heavy Work Activities- Add heavy work that challenges motor planning, balance, endurance, positioning changes, and motor skills. These can be used in Simon Says games, obstacle courses, and gross motor play. Print off a copy of these free Spring heavy work cards and get started. You’ll also like these therapy Simon Says commands.

    Spring Caterpillar Pose- Assume the “superman pose” on the floor, but call it a caterpillar pose! You can be a caterpillar in the Springtime, gaining strength to start crawling and munching on leaves. Relax rest but then return to the extended arms, legs, and head positioning as you wake up again! 

    Balloon Pass- Lie on your back and pull the hips and knees into flexion, toward the belly. Try to hold a ball or balloon between your feet. Then, pass the ball to a friend lying opposite on the floor. Pass the ball into a hoop or large basket. 

    Egg Pass- Sit on a partially inflated beach ball and try to balance a plastic egg on a spoon. Try to pass the egg to a friend and then drop it into a basket. 

    These spring gross motor activities are great ways to build strength in kids, including posture, stability, core strength, shoulder stability, and coordination, balance, and posture.

    Spring Fine Motor Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

    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 (affiliate link) 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 (affiliate link)- this toy is a fun tool to practice skipping skills
    • Chinese Jump Rope (affiliate link) – who remembers this classic toy? Relive your childhood while passing on this great game
    • Mini Trampoline (affiliate link)- 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. 

    Occupational Therapy for Down Syndrome

    Occupational therapy interventions for down syndrome

    Occupational therapists (OT practitioners) provide skilled services to help many different people, with or without a diagnosis. In this article, we will talk about Down syndrome, more specifically common interventions and strategies when providing occupational therapy for Down syndrome.

    Occupational therapy interventions for children with Down syndrome.

    Occupational Therapy For Down Syndrome

    Occupational therapy practitioners work with many diagnoses. In pediatrics, the diagnosis of Down Syndrome may be seen in early intervention services, in school-based therapy, or in the outpatient setting.

    An occupational therapist will perform an evaluation and develop an individualized plan of action designed to meet specific needs. Occupational therapy interventions may be related to areas such as:

    • Oral motor concerns impacting feeding
    • Positioning and feeding techniques
    • Physical motor skills including gross and fine motor skills
    • Achievement of motor milestones including rolling, sitting, position changes, and use of the arms and legs, etc.
    • Facilitation of self-care skills
    • Refinement of fine motor skills
    • Sensory needs
    • Social or emotional needs
    • Self-regulation needs

    This list may not include every area addressed in occupational therapy. Let’s go into more detail about OT and the individual with Down syndrome.

    First, let’s cover the diagnosis of Down syndrome.


    Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by additional copy of chromosome 21. In regard to functional performance, the typical characteristics of Down syndrome include:

    • Low muscle tone
    • Relatively short limbs, including hands, fingers, and thumbs
    • Mild to moderate intellectual disability
    • Developmental delays

    People with Down syndrome are often active members in their communities, able to participate well in school and social events, and can raise a family. Each case is unique, and health professionals such as occupational therapists are available to help improve functional independence along the way. 

    what is Occupational therapy for Down syndrome?

    In order to fully understand the involvement between the occupational therapist and person with Down syndrome, it is critical to learn the role of the OT.

    During the initial evaluation of a person with Down syndrome, the occupational therapist will assess many different skills to determine the specific needs. They will try to answer broad questions like, “How independent is the person with activities like eating, dressing, and playing?”, and specific questions, such as, “What types of grasps do they use?”.

    Developmentally appropriate assessments will be used to measure fine and gross motor skills, cognition, and sensory regulation. 

    down syndrome: Fine Motor Skills

    The whole body is responsible for strong fine motor skills; starting with core then shoulder strength, moving down toward strength and mobility in the hands and fingers.

    The general decrease in muscle tone and joint stability that is common in those diagnosed with Down syndrome, makes the development of fine motor skills more challenging. 

    Physical features impacting fine motor skills

    The hands of a child with Down syndrome have a typical pattern of development, including shorter hands, fingers, and thumb than the average child, that can further decrease dexterity.

    The palms may also lack the curvature that is required for skills like thumb opposition. We call these the arches of the hand, and they are useful during any skill that requires the hand to move around an object, big such as a water glass, or small like buttons. 

    Because of these physical features, coupled with general muscle weakness and loose joints, occupational therapy for Down syndrome will likely offer activities to increase fine motor skills.

    Gympanzees has a great article on developing fine motor skills for children with Down Syndrome.

    Dexterity and Down Syndrome

    • Use small items, like beads/pompoms/Cheerios/buttons, to pinch, place, string, glue down, or count.
    • You can increase the challenge by encouraging holding onto multiple items in one hand, but only placing one at a time – much like we hold a set of coins and use a singular hand to find and place the correct coin. This is referred to as in-hand manipulation

    Joint Protection and down syndrome

    • Braces or splints may be used to help support the joints in a functional position, while the child continues to build strength. 

    Arm Strength and down syndrome

    • Weight bearing through the arms is a great way to build shoulder strength for fine motor development – try animal walks, wheelbarrow walking, or crawling through tunnels!

    Hand Strength and down syndrome

    • Get those fingers moving by shaping playdough or putty; roll, squeeze, poke, smash, and pinch it! Increase the challenge as the skills develop by selecting firmer putty or by adding additional steps to the activity. 
    • The OT Toolbox has great resources for overall fine motor hand development

    Gross Motor Skills for down syndrome diagnosis

    Just like fine motor skills, the base of gross motor skills is the core. A person needs that proximal stability first, before they can build movement skills.

    Increasing the core strength leads to improved balance, coordination and dynamic movement control. These areas are addressed as they impact functional participation in feeding, self-care, learning in the school setting, and participation in functional tasks.

    Individuals with Down syndrome tend to have a more challenging time with strength and motor planning to move from one posture to the next due to low tone.

    For example, moving from a seated position on the floor to standing. The sequence should be: seated on the bottom, to a 4-point crawl position, to kneeling, to a single leg kneels, then standing. This sequence and combination of movements may pose an extra challenge due to limited mobility, strength, and muscle tone.

    Below are some ways to improve occupational therapy for Down syndrome can improve gross motor skills. 

    Core Strength and down syndrome

    • There are so many play-based activities that strengthen the core. Almost any activity can be done in prone (on the tummy), which can improve core strength and offer some weight-bearing in the arms at the same time
    • When you think core strength, think balance. Use balance beams, one-foot stand, wobbly surfaces, etc. Just make sure to prioritize safety and comfort. 

    Positional Changes and down syndrome

    • The more change, the better. Set up a game or obstacle course that encourages movement up/down, side-to-side, rolling, or scooting.
    • The most important goal is to get that body moving!

    down syndrome and Sensory Regulation 

    Are children with Down syndrome more or less likely to experience sensory differences? Yes. This is the reason occupational therapy for Down syndrome and sensory regulation will be an important part of the treatment process.

    There is one clear reason why people with a diagnosis of Down syndrome may experience more sensory processing difficulties – low muscle tone again. Individuals with low muscle tone may have a harder time processing proprioceptive input. This is the sense that our muscles and joints pick up to tell the body where they are in space. 

    Because of this decreased proprioceptive input, people with Down syndrome frequently need more input in order to grade the force of their movements.

    For example, they may experience difficulties in choosing how hard or how soft their movements should be. They may knock something down by pushing too hard, or drop something by mistake by not holding tight enough. 

    This can also skew how an individual with Down syndrome eats food. They may not feel the food in their mouth very well until it is full, and start over-eating or pocketing food in their cheeks. People diagnosed with Down syndrome often grind their teeth as a way to get more input and stability through the jaw.

    • Increased proprioceptive input
      • Weighted items: vests, lap pads, blankets 
      • Exercise, weight bearing, jumping 

    In addition to low tone, another common comorbidity to Down syndrome is hearing loss. This is important to address as a sensory need because an individual may react strongly or under react to auditory stimuli. Sensory tools should be trialed for a few weeks to see what will work best to regulate the child’s sensory system. These tools should be used intermittently throughout the day, and never forced on a child. In order to be effective, they should be voluntary and not be used as a reward or punishment. 

    • Auditory Processing Strategies 
      • Noise reducing headphones
      • Auditory feedback tube (like this)
      • Assistive technology for hearing loss

    A Sensory Diet is a great treatment option for sensory processing and Down syndrome. The OT Toolbox also has a great resource called the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook to address and understand sensory processing needs.

    For more play-based ideas for early intervention for working with learners with Down syndrome, here is a fun article on outdoor sensory activities.

    If you are a fan of the OT Toolbox, you can access all of these resources much easier by becoming a member. As a member, you will:

    • Be able to download each of them with a single click (No more re-entering your email address and searching through folders!)
    • Receive early access to new printables and activities before they’re added to the website (You’ll find these in the What’s New section.)
    • Receive a 20% discount on all purchases made in the The OT Toolbox shop!

    For all of these skills, the most important part of occupationl therapy for Down Syndrome is to meet the child where they are. An Occupational therapist will make an assessment of their learner’s current level of functioning, providing a “just right” challenge, that is motivating for that particular learner. Because of potential delays in cognitive ability, and the physical difficulties associated with Down syndrome, these new skills may not develop quickly, and may not progress at all. Occupational therapy can help with adaptations to approach these tasks in a different way, or modifications to the environment to increase independence. 

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

    Snowflake Activities

    snowflake activities

    Who doesn’t love snowflake activities? Here, you will find all of the snowflake activities we have shared on the OT Toolbox, linked in one place. When working on creating a classroom or therapy session using a snowflake theme, you can pop right to this post and find everything snowflake related. From snowflake games and crafts, to sensory motor activities, and fine motor fun. You’ll find gross and visual motor activities too! Simply add any of these ideas to a winter snowflake treatment plan, and you’ve got interventions and fun for the whole season, with winter occupational therapy plans! 

    Whether it is a wintery day or just chilly outside, add these snowflake lesson plans. Learners of all ages will be able to get out some energy, while developing important skills. 

    Snowflake activities for occupational therapy during winter months.

    Snowflake Activities

    If you are looking for a fun snowflake game, or maybe some snowflake art, these skill-based wintery ideas from the OT Toolbox will have you covered! 

    Pair these ideas with our My Snow Globe worksheet for winter handwriting practice.

    Marbled Milk Paper Towel Snowflakes | By creating these snowflakes, there is a little science and art involved (check out STEM learning) while learners swirl a toothpick around in the food coloring and milk. Children will work on light touch as they swirl the toothpick, and pick up/drape the snowflakes to dry. This is a fun craft that is beautiful to display! 

    Winter Snowflake Stamp Art | Make winter snowflakes using pipe cleaners (chenille stems) creating art that is wintery, beautiful, and unique! Stamp art promotes fine motor skills as learners work on a functional grasp, separation of the two sides of the hand, arch development, and an open web space. A creative winter painting idea that has a sensory component, too! Here’s how to paint snow for more winter fun.

    Craft Pom Pom Snowflake Line Awareness Craft | This snowflake activity is a great one for preschoolers or novice learners, as it promotes a variety of grasp patterns when manipulating the pom-pom balls. It is a fun craft that uses pom-poms placed on the outline of a snowflake to create a colorful design that can be hung at home, or given to family/friends. The learner works on placing the pom-poms directly on the line, they are working on line awareness, which is important for drawing and handwriting. 

    Snowflake Party | Have a fun snowflake party with children while creating several snowflakes using a variety of materials, working on a variety of skills. A few of these ideas include snowflake sensory play, snowflake art and crafts, and snowflake snack food. Check out the post to see what we did at our party. It was FUN!

    DIY Snowflake Stampers | Use different foam stickers to create these fun stampers for art projects. 

    Kindergarten Sight Words with Winter Tic Tac Toe | The adult can either make the tic tac toe board, or work with the learner and make it together.  Either way, when using the board, the learner will be working on visual perceptual skills that are needed for forming and writing letters. 

    Gross Motor Snowflake Activities

    Snowflake balance beams, catching snowflakes, and throwing or dancing with snowflakes are great gross motor snowflake activities to add to occupational therapy sessions during the winter months. Try these wintery activities:

    Snowflake Balance Winter Gross Motor Indoor Play Therapy Idea | Learners will benefit from the vestibular input this activity provides as they play. The use of balance beams challenges the vestibular system. Work on balance and motor planning while using their visual skills to scan the balance beam, tracking the snowflake line they need to walk along. 

    Super Simple Snowflake Frisbee Indoor Play  | This basic activity creation uses paper/Styrofoam plates, tape, and a paper snowflake. This activity provides vestibular input as learners perform slight head movements as they throw the frisbee to their partner. Frisbee also promotes upper extremity coordination to grasp/hold/release the frisbee, flex/extend their wrists, cross midline, and use good postural control. 

    Proprioception Winter Activity Throwing Snowflakes | Are you working on scissor skills? If so, try this paper snowflake activity that goes along well with this winter theme. You can make them the typical way with copy or cardstock paper, or try using cupcake liners instead! This helps to boost hand strength, and provide proprioceptive input with the end reward of a pretty, colorful snowflake! 

    This collection of snowflake themed activities will provide enough activities for your classroom, therapy sessions, or at-home programming to use all season long. They provide a range of skill development with a bunch of craftiness all your learners will enjoy! 

    more great Winter resources!

    Add our Winter Fine Motor Kit from the OT Toolbox to your wintery treatment plan to help learners develop their fine motor strength and endurance, grasp, and dexterity skills while engaging in these easy, no-prep activities. Just print and go! 

    Check out the OT Toolbox Snowman Therapy Activity Kit to your cold weather lesson planning to help children work on core strengthening, motor planning, hand skills, visual motor skills while also getting some sensory input too! Just download, print, and go!

    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!

    *The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for consistency, however this information is relevant for students, patients, clients, children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.