What is Motor Planning

motor planning

You may have heard the term motor planning but wondered what this means and what does it look like to utilize motor planning skills in everyday activities. Here, we are breaking down this important motor skills topic. Occupational therapists are skilled at analyzing movements and underlying skills needed to perform the things we do each day, or the tasks that occupy our time, and establishing an efficient and coordinated motor plan is one of the main aspects of this assessment. 

Motor planning

Motor Planning

When we perform an action, there are movements of our bones, joints, and muscles that enable our bodies to move. It’s through this movement that the body and brain receives feedback, or a motor concept that tells the brain and body that we have moved in a certain way in order to accomplish a specific action. This is the motor plan for that particular task at work!

Let’s look at a child’s motor skills in a specific action to really explore this concept. 

Ok, so you’re walking along a hallway with an armful of bags and see a ball in your path. You walk around it and continue walking. But, hold on. That was a pretty cool ball. It was all red and shiny. It looked like a really fun ball to bounce. You stop, turn around, walk back to the ball, stoop down, put down your bags, and pick it up. Woah. It’s not only red and shiny, but it’s a little heavy too. 

It takes a bit more muscle oomph than you were expecting. You hold your arm up high, with the ball up over your head. Totally not a baseball player’s pose, but all awkward and kid-like. You know. Pure fun throwing. 

You toss that red, shiny, heavy ball as hard as you can towards a big old blank wall on one of the hallway walls. Now watch out! That red, shiny, heavy ball is bouncing around like crazy! 

It’s bouncing off of the wall and right back at you! You jump to the side and then to the left and right as it bounces back and forth between the walls of that hallway. You have to skip to the side to avoid your bags. 

The ball stops bouncing and rolls to the side of the hall. 

Well, that was fun. You pick up the ball and hold it while you gather your bags. Now, you see a boy coming down the hall who sees that red, shiny, heavy ball in your hand and says, “Hey! There’s my ball!” You smile and toss the ball as he reaches out his hand and catches. “Thanks!!” he says as you wave and start walking down the hall again.

What is Motor Planning? Tips and Tools in this post with a fun fine motor motor planning (dyspraxia) activity for kids and adults from an Occupational Therapist

What is Motor Planning?

Motor Planning happens with everything we do! From walking around objects in our path, to picking up items, to aiming and throwing, drawing, writing, getting dressed, and even dodging red bouncy balls…

Motor Planning is defined as the problem solving and moving over, under, and around requires fine motor and gross motor skills and planning to plan out, organize, and carry out an action. We must organize incoming information, including sensory input, and integrate that information into our plan. We need to determine if a ball is heavy or light to pick up and hold it without dropping it.

You might hear of motor planning referred to as praxis. 

Praxis (generally also known as Motor Planning, but also it’s more than simply motor planning…) requires observing and understanding the task (ideation), planning out an action in response to the task (organization), and the act of carrying out the task (execution). A difficulty with any of these areas will lead to dyspraxia in many skill areas. 

Praxis includes motor planning, but also involved is ideation, execution, and feedback, with adjustment to that feedback. You can see the similarities in motor planning, which refers to the conscious and subconscious (ingrained) motor actions or plans.

Motor Planning is needed for everyday tasks. Think about the everyday activities that you complete day in and day out. Each of these actions requires a movement, or a series of movements to complete. There are both gross motor movements, fine motor movements, and posture all working together in a coordinated manner.

There is a motor plan for actions such as:

  • using a toothbrush to brush one’s teeth
  • brushing hair
  • getting dressed
  • putting on a backpack
  • walking down a hallway
  • walking up steps
  • walking down steps
  • holding a pencil
  • writing with a pencil (motor planning and handwriting is discussed here.)
  • riding a bike
  • maintaining posture
  • putting on a coat or jacket (on top of other clothing such as a shirt so that in this case, there isn’t the tactile feedback available of the fabric directly on the skin’s surface)
  • performing sports actions such as swinging a baseball bat or tennis racket, running, or gymnastics like doing a cartwheel

The interesting thing is that a movement plan, or the physical action that is completed whether the action has been performed in the past or if it is a new movement. A motor plan for a new task can be completed without thinking through how to move the body because it is just inherently completed.

When we complete unfamiliar tasks and need to stop and think through how the body needs to move, is when we see inefficient movement, or motor planning issues.

Motor Planning Difficulties

Above, we talked about praxis as another term or way to name the motor plan concept. When there are difficulties with motor planning, we are referring to the opposite of praxis, or dyspraxia. 

 Dyspraxia can be a result of poor sensory integration, visual difficulties, fine motor and gross motor coordination and ability, neural processing, and many other areas.

Motor planning difficulties can look like several things:

  • Difficult ability to complete physical tasks
  • Small steps
  • Slow speed
  • Pausing to think through actions
  • Clumsiness
  • Poor coordination
  • Weakness

These challenges with motor function can exist with either new motor tasks or familiar actions. Deficits are apparent when speed is reduced so that the functional task isn’t efficient, when the motor task is unsafe, or poor completion of the task at hand.

There are diagnoses that have poor motor planning as a component of the diagnosis. Some of these disorders can include:

When motor planning difficulties exist, this can be a cause for other considerations related to movements, and demonstration of difficulties when participating in movement-based activities:

  • challenges in social interactions
  • anxiety
  • behaviors
  • social skills issues

Today, I’ve got a quick and easy fine motor activity to work on motor planning with kids. This activity is part of our 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where we’re sharing fun and frugal ideas for treatment of many OT skill areas with items you might already have in your house.

motor planning activity

Motor Planning Activity

Affiliate links are included in this post. 

Motor planning activity

To make this motor planning activity, you’ll need just a few items: 

  • a clear plastic baggie
  • white crafting pom poms
  • one red pom pom. These are items we had in our crafting supplies, but you could modify this activity to use items you have. Other ideas might be beads, pin pong balls, ice cubes, or any small item.
  1. Fill the baggie with the pom poms and squeeze out the air. 
  2. Seal the baggie.
  3. Use a permanent marker to draw on a maze from one side of the baggie to the other. You can make this as complex as you like. 
  4. Add additional mazes, or two different pom pom colors for the maze. Work the red pom pom from one end of the maze to the other.
Apraxia activity

Squeezing the pom pom is a fine motor work out for the hands. You’ll need to open up the thumb web space (the part of your hand between the thumb and fingers, and use those intrinsic small muscles of the hand. Both of these areas are important for fine motor tasks like coloring and writing.

Use this motor planning exercise as a warm-up activity before writing, coloring, and scissor activities. This is a great activity to have on hand in your therapy treatment bag or to pull out while waiting at the doctor’s office.

Motor planning toys and games

Motor Planning Activities

Looking for more ways to work on dyspraxia with your kids? These are some fun fine and gross motor activities that are fun and creative. 

The best thing about all of them is that they are open-ended. Use them in obstacle courses or in movement tasks to incorporate many skill areas. These are some fun ideas to save for gift ideas. Now which to get first…

Work on fine motor dexterity and bilateral coordination while encouraging motor planning as the child matches colors of the nuts and bolts in this Jumbo Nuts and Bolts Set with Backpack set. The large size is perfect for preschoolers or children with a weak hand grasp.

Practice motor planning and eye-hand coordination. This Button Mosaic Transperent Pegboard is a powerhouse of motor planning play. Kids can copy and match big and bright cards to the pegs in this large pegboard. I love that the toy is propped up on an incline plane, allowing for an extended wrist and a tripod grasp. Matching the colors and placing the pegs into the appropriate holes of the pegboard allow for motor planning practice.

Develop refined precision of fine motor skills with eye-hand coordination. A big and bright puzzle like this Puzzle-shaped Block Set  allows kids to work on hand-eye coordination and motor planning as they scan for pieces, match the appropriate parts of the puzzle pieces, and attempt to work the pieces into place. Building a puzzle such as this one can be a workout for kids with hand and upper extremity weakness.

Strengthen small motor skills. Kids of all ages can work on motor planning and fine motor skills with this Grimm’s Rainbow Bowls Shape & Color Sorting Activity. Use the colored fish to place into the matching cups, as children work on eye-hand coordination. Using the tongs requires a greater level of motor planning.

You can modify this activity by placing the cups around a room for a gross motor visual scanning and motor planning activity. Children can then follow multi-level instructions as they climb over, around, under, and through obstacles to return the fish to their matching bowls.

Encourage more gross motor planning with hopping, jumping, and skipping, or other gross motor tasks. This Crocodile Hop A Floor Mat Game does just that. It is a great way to encourage whole body motor planning and multiple-step direction following.

Address balance and coordination. These Gonge Riverstones Gross Motor Course challenge balance skills as children step from stone to stone. These would make a great part of many imagination play activities as children plan out motor sequences to step, cross, hop, and jump…without even realizing they are working on motor planning tasks.

Introduce multiple-step direction following and motor planning. These colored footprints like these Gonge Feet Markers support direction following skills. Plan out a combination of fine and gross motor obstacle courses for kids to work on motor planning skills.

Make hand-eye coordination fun with challenges. For more fine motor coordination and motor planning, kids will love this Chickyboom Balance Game as they practice fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and about balance and mathematics.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds for Sensory Play

How to Dye Pumpkin seeds

If you’ve ever carved a pumpkin and wondered how to dye pumpkin seeds, then you are in luck. The occupational therapists know the sensory benefits of lifting and carving a pumpkin, as well as separating pumpkin seeds from the ooey, gooey pumpkin guts. Here, we’re sharing one Fall Bucket List item must-have…dying pumpkin seeds for sensory play, pumpkin seed crafts, and pumpkin seed fine motor tasks! Read on for an easy dyeing method for pumpkin seeds that can be included in occupational therapy Halloween sessions or sent home as a home program for this time of year.

How to dye pumpkin seeds

Add dyed pumpkin seeds to your list of pumpkin activities!

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds

This post on how to dye pumpkin seeds was one we originally created back in 2014. The thing is that colored pumpkin seeds is still just as much fun for fine motor and sensory play as it was years ago!

Dying pumpkin seeds isn’t hard. In fact, the kids will love to get in on the mixing action. They will love to use those dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory bins, for fine motor pumpkin seeds activities, or even Fall crafts like this pumpkin seed craft.

Once you dye the pumpkin seeds, use them for tons of fine motor activities, sensory play activities, and visual motor ideas, like sorting pumpkin seeds. These are fun Fall activities that will stick with kids as a memory!

I love that this recipe is simple because it is a great way to support development of specific skills when kids are involved in making the dyed pumpkin seeds. By getting kids involved in the process, you can work on several areas:

  • executive functioning skills: planning, prioritization, working memory
  • problem solving
  • direction following
  • bilateral coordination
  • safety awareness
  • spatial awareness
  • kitchen tool use
  • fine motor skills
  • functional fine motor skills: opening containers, opening a plastic bag, scooping with a spoon, closing a plastic bag
  • eye-hand coordination skills
  • proprioception skills and body awareness with shaking a bag to coat the seeds completely

We cover how using recipes to develop skills is such a powerful therapy tool in our resources on our blog on life skills cooking activities. It’s simple recipes like this one and others in our cooking with kids resources that pack a powerful punch in developing skill areas.

Be sure to check out this resource on fine motor kitchen activities to better grasp all of the fine motor skills developed through cooking tasks like this pumpkin seed dying task.

We also talked about about these skill areas in our resource on how to dye sand for sensory play.

Colorful Pumpkin Seeds

This post contains affiliate links.

We wanted to make a batch of colorful pumpkin seeds with vivid colors, so I wasn’t sure how to dye the seeds to make the colors really pop. We decided to test which method would work to really get the best colors on our pumpkin seeds.

We tested using To make our seeds this year, we used (Amazon affiliate links) liquid food coloring dye and gel food coloring.  In our tests, each type of food coloring worked really well.  

One thing to note is that if you use food coloring, technically, the pumpkin seeds are still edible. This is important if you have a child playing with the seeds that might put them into their mouth.

The problem with roasting the seeds after coloring them is that the colors don’t “stick” as well to the seed, making less vivid colors.  If you are going to roast the seeds so that they are edible for these situation, I would suggest first roasting your seeds and THEN dying them for the brightest colors.

That being said, you don’t NEED to roast the seeds in order to use them for sensory play. As long as the pumpkin seeds are dry, they will absorb the food coloring.

Use these instructions on how to dye pumpkin seeds to make colored pumpkin seeds for fine motor and sensory play with kids.

Materials to Dye Pumpkin Seeds:

To dye pumpkin seeds, you need just a couple of items:

  • raw, clean pumpkin seeds from a fresh pumpkin
  • a plastic bag (sandwich bag or a gallon-sized plastic bag)
  • food coloring
  • paper towels

That’s all of the items you need to dye pumpkin seeds! This is really a simple recipe, and one that is easy to make with kids.

Dying PUmpkin Seeds

To dye the pumpkin seeds, it is very simple:

  1. Put dry pumpkin seeds into a plastic bag.
  2. Add the food coloring.
  3. Seal the bag shut and shake the bag to coat all of the seeds with the food coloring.
  4. Pour the seeds out onto a surface covered with paper towels (A kitchen counter works well).
  5. Let the seeds dry.

Whether you use liquid food coloring dye or gel food coloring, add the seeds to plastic baggies and add the food coloring.  Seal up the baggies, mix the seeds around, (or hand them over to the kids and let them go crazy), and get the seeds coated in coloring.  

For kids that might eat the seeds during play: As we mentioned above, f there are any risks of the child eating a seed during sensory play or crafting, you can first roast the seeds.

  1. Roast the seeds before dying them. Spread the seeds out on aluminum foil spread on a cookie sheet.  
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.  Be sure to check on the seeds often to make sure they are not burning.  
  3. Then dye the seeds using food coloring as described above. If you roast them first, the colors will cover any brown spots.
Wondering how to dye pumpkin seeds and use in sensory play?


Pumpkin Seed Activities

Once you dye the pumpkin seeds, you can use them in pumpkin seed crafts and pumpkin seed activities that foster fine motor development.

Pumpkin Seed Sensory Ideas:

Pumpkin seeds are a great addition to sensory play experiences. Allowing kids to scoop the seeds directly from the pumpkin is such a tactile sensory experience!

But for some kids, that pumpkin goop is just too much tactile input. Using dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play is a “just right” challenge in exposure to carving pumpkins. It’s a first step in the tactile experience.

Some of our favorite ways to use dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play:

  • Use them in a sensory bin
  • Use colorful pumpkin seeds in a writing tray
  • Add dyed pumpkin seeds to a discovery bottle
  • Use rainbow pumpkin seeds on a Fall exploration table

Use the directions listed above to create a set of colored pumpkin seeds. Use the colorful pumpkin seeds in a big pumpkin sensory bin to create a tactile sensory experience. Kids can draw letters in the seeds to work on letter formation. Add this idea to your toolbox of sensory writing tray ideas.

Add a few Fall themed items such as small pumpkins, acorns, pinecones, scoops, and small bowls to the sensory bin activity. Dyed pumpkin seeds are a great sensory bin medium this time of year when making an easy sensory bin.

Dyed pumpkin seeds in a sensory bin

This sensory play activity was very fun.  We couldn’t keep our hands out of the tray as we played and created.

Use dyed pumpkin seeds for sensory play with kids.
Use this recipe for how to dye pumpkin seeds with kids.
Colored pumpkin seeds are great for kids to use in sensory play.

Pumpkin Seed Crafts

Pumpkin seeds are a great fine motor tool to use in crafting.

Try these craft ideas using dyed pumpkin seeds:

Fine motor activity with dyed pumpkin seeds

We used our dyed seeds in art projects first.  Manipulating those seeds is a great way to work on fine motor skills.  Little Sister was SO excited to make art!

Add additional fine motor work by using a squeezable glue bottle to create a pumpkin seeds craft and pumpkin seed art. Squeezing that glue bottle adds a gross hand grasp and fine motor warm-up before performing fine motor tasks.

How to dye pumpkin seeds to use in a Fall mandala craft.

Use dyed pumpkin seeds to make a colorful mandala craft with fine motor benefits. Picking up the pumpkin seeds uses fine motor skills such as in-hand manipulation, separation of the sides of the hand, pincer grasp, open thumb web space, and distal mobility.

Placing the colored pumpkin seeds into a symmetrical pattern of colors promotes eye-hand coordination and visual perceptual skills such as visual discrimination, figure ground, and other skills.

Dying pumpkin seeds is a fun Fall activity for kids.

Little Guy made a gingerbread man.  Because why not??! 😉

Squeezing the glue bottle into a shape and placing the colored pumpkin seeds along the line is another exercise in visual perception and eye-hand coordination.

Colored pumpkin seeds can be used in Fall sensory play and fine motor crafts.

Little Sister made a rainbow with her seeds.

Use colored pumpkin seeds to make a fine motor craft with kids.

How to dye pumpkin seeds for sensory play for kids.

Colored pumpkin seeds are fun for Fall crafts.

Be sure to use your dyed pumpkin seeds for a few fun ideas like these:

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!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Bone Names Activity for Kids

bone identification activity

As occupational therapy students, we had to learn bone names and all about anatomy and physiology. Naming bones comes in very handy as an occupational therapist! But, if you are working in pediatrics, kids need to learn names of bones, too! For one thing, kids learn bone names in school. But did you consider the interoception aspect to teaching bone names? When it comes to internal feelings or anatomical states that impact sensory processing and internal body actions, learning names of bones supports this awareness of self. Add this fun way to learn names of bones to your anatomy and physiology games!

Use labels to teach bone names with a fun way to learn the names of bones.

Bone Names Activity

Learning human anatomy has a special place in my heart. I mean, those semesters in Human Anatomy, Anatomy lab, and clinical kinesiology bring back fond memories.  

So, when my kids ask questions like how their arm can pick up a sandwich, I have a little fun telling them about bones, joints, and muscles. This bone naming activity is just one fun way to teach bone names and teach kids about anatomy.

(Moving a sandwich is a big deal in our house!)

We’ve done a body part identification activity before, using band-aides, but these labels were a big hit with my kids.  We used them to practice for a test for my big kids.  

My Kindergartner and Second grader had a bones theme in their gym class, we had fun talking about the bones in our body, and made this Bone Identification and movement activity. (It would be great as a skeleton activities for preschoolers, too.

Bones Activity

This bone activity for kids is one they won’t forget…and when teaching human anatomy to kids, it’s one that will stick! The fun stickers help! 🙂

This post contains affiliate links.

I threw this activity together really quickly.  We had a few sheets of blank address labels, and I grabbed a red permanent marker.  I made a quick strip across the top and bottom of the address labels and then wrote in black marker, “Hello my name is” with the bone names below.  

If your kids are like mine, they get a kick out of those Hello My Name Is Stickers.  You could use store bought stickers, or just make your own like we did.  

bone identification

While we used this bone identification activity with kids, it would be a great way to learn bones as part of an anatomy and physiology lesson for OT or PT students, too!

This bones anatomy movement and learning activity is perfect for kids or anyone learning human anatomy and bones or musculature. Add this to a health or gym curriculum to learn body parts with kids.

list of bones in human body

After I wrote out the names of the bones, I tested my kids on what they knew. They recalled most of the bones from gym class lessons, but we had a few that needed practicing.  

For the second grade and kindergarten physical education curriculum, they had to know this list of bones in the human body

  • skull
  • humerus
  • radius
  • ulna
  • carpals
  • phalanges
  • clavicle
  • sternum
  • ribs
  • pelvis
  • femur
  • tibia
  • fibula
  • tarsals

Complete List of Bone Names

Above is just a simplified list of bone names, which can be used for teaching kids about the skeletal system. A more complete list is as follows. The bone identification activity shown below can definitely be used for this complete list of bone names and bone types. Classifying and naming the entire skeletal system requires much practice, and as occupational therapists we know the power of multi-sensory learning!

Bones in the skull (includes bones in the head and face):

  • Cranial bones:
    • frontal bones
    • Parietal bone
    • temporal bones
    • occipital bone
    • sphenoid bone
    • ethmoid bone
  • Facial bones:
    • mandible
    • maxilla
    • palatine bone
    • zygomatic bone
    • nasal bone
    • lacrimal bone
    • vomer bone
    • inferior nasal conchae

Bones in the thorax:

  • sternum
  • ribs

Bones in the throat:

  • hyoid bone

Bones in the vertebral column, or spine:

  • cervical vertebrae
  • thoracic vertebrae
  • lumbar vertebrae

Bones in the pelvis:

  • coccyx
  • sacrum
  • ossa coxae (hip bones)

Bones in the legs :

  • femur
  • patella
  • tibia
  • fibula

Bones in the feet:

  • Ankle (tarsal) bones:
    • calcaneus (heel bone)
    • talus 
    • navicular bone
    • medial cuneiform bone 
    • intermediate cuneiform bone 
    • lateral cuneiform bone
    • cuboid bone 
  • Instep bones:
    • metatarsal bone
  • Toe bones:
    • proximal phalanges
    • intermediate phalanges 
    • distal phalanges 

Bones in the middle ears:

  • malleus
  • incus
  • stapes

Bones in the shoulder girdle:

  • scapula or shoulder blade
  • clavicle or collarbone

Bones in the arms:

  • humerus
  • radius
  • ulna

Bones in the hands:

  • Wrist (carpal) bones:
    • scaphoid bone
    • lunate bone
    • triquetral bone
    • pisiform bone
    • trapezium
    • trapezoid bone 
    • capitate bone
    • hamate bone 
  • Palm or metacarpal bones:
    • metacarpal bones
  • Finger bones or phalanges:
    • proximal phalanges
    • intermediate phalanges
    • distal phalanges

Teach kids the names of bones with a bone identification activity.

We had a blast sticking the labels all over ourselves while saying “Hello my name is humerus!” in funny voices.  

While we had the labels on our body parts, we practiced the motions of that bone.  We talked about how that bone could move and what it could do.  

Yes, your humerus has a job in picking up a sandwich! (This is a very important fact when teaching bone names to preschoolers!)

Learn bone names by using this Bone identification activity and sticking bone name stickers onto a doll.
Bone identification activity with a doll.

Even the baby doll got in on the bone labeling action.

Use stickers to learn bone names

How cute are those tarsals??

This bones anatomy movement and learning activity is perfect for kids or anyone learning human anatomy and bones or musculature. Add this to a health or gym curriculum to learn body parts with kids.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

How to Hold a Spoon and Fork

How to hold a fork and spoon

Teaching a child how to hold a spoon and scoop food requires several motor skills that must be developed before a toddler can use utensils themselves. Even older children struggle with holding a spoon and scooping food to feed themselves. Here, we’re covering sensory motor skills needed to hold a spoon, fork, knife, and other utensils. You’ll also find some creative activities and play ideas to develop the underlying skills that play into using utensils.

How to hold a fork and spoon
How to hold a fork and spoon with efficient grasp patterns.

Note that these strategies and skill areas are needed across the lifespan when it comes to self-feeding. Older children and even adults who may have had a physical or cognitive impairment can benefit from addressing the underlying skill areas needed for using utensils. No matter the age, noting how an individual holds a spoon and fork is part of a comprehensive feeding evaluation.

how to hold spoon and fork

Before we get to the skills in play when holding a spoon or using a fork, let’s cover the specifics on how to hold these utensils. Why? Because often, we see older children who hold a spoon with a gross grasp or hold a fork with the whole hand. These grasp patterns can impact functional performance, but can also be a cause of concern for parents.

Note that the way an individual holds a spoon or holds a fork can differ when adaptive equipment for eating is used.

How to hold a spoon
How to hold a spoon.

how to hold a spoon

To hold a spoon, one needs to grasp the utensil with their dominant hand. The spoon is placed along the lateral edge of the middle finger or pad of the middle finger. The pointer or index finger typically rests over the top of the neck of the spoon, and guides movements when scooping. The thumb rests and stabilizes the flat handle of the spoon on the top, above the pointer finger in a modified lateral key grasp. The scoop of the spoon is pointing out toward the direction the thumb points, and the handle is above the thumb web space. In this position, one can scoop with refined movements and graded precision using the pad of the thumb on the flat part of the spoon handle. When the spoon is properly placed in the hand, the wrist is slightly pronated and slightly flexed.

You can see from the image below that there are many different grasp patterns used when holding a spoon, which progress as the child develops more refined fine motor skills. The most efficient grasp pattern is the “adult grip”, however, the other grasp patterns are typically part of a progression as the toddler or young child gains experience with eating with a spoon.

Using a spoon is likely one of the first functional tools that a small child has experience with, and while messy eating will ensue, it is important to allow the baby or toddler experience with holding and manipulating a spoon, even if they are not getting actual food into their mouth at first.

Grasp patterns for holding a spoon
Grasp patterns for holding a spoon.
No source was found for this image, may be subject to copyright

Inefficient grasp on a spoon- When the handle end of the spoon is UNDER the thumb web space, the grasp moves into a poor position for function and accuracy of scooping. In this case, the hand moves into a gross grasp pattern, and in order to gain motor control with graded precision, the elbow tends to pop out as the shoulder abducts. In this poor functional grasp pattern, you’ll see the wrist fully supinated.

Activities to move from an inefficient grasp pattern to an efficient grasp pattern include PLAY:

How to hold a fork
How to hold a fork.

how to hold a fork

Next, let’s cover the proper grasp pattern required to effectively hold a fork. Note that there are different ways to hold a fork, depending on location, no one way of these different style being better or worse for functional performance to hold and use a fork to stab and eat food.

To hold a fork, the fork is held in the dominant hand much like a pencil is held. The thumb stabilizes the narrow part of the fork handle, or the neck of the fork. This area is located above the prongs, or tines of the fork. The neck of the fork rests on the lateral side of the middle finger or the pad of the middle finger.

Like holding a spoon, the end of the fork is above the back of the hand, and not under the thumb web space into the palm.

The wrist of the hand should be slightly pronated and slightly flexed.

Note that when holding a fork to scoop food, a different grasp pattern is used than when using a fork to stab food, and still another grasp pattern is used to stabilize food when using a knife to cut.

To stab food with a fork, the fork rotates in the hand and skills of in-hand manipulation are used.

To stabilize food with a fork, in order to hold food stabile so a knife can cut the food item, the fork continues to rotate within the hand using in-hand manipulation, but the addition of finger isolation of the index finger is used to hold the fork steady.

Inefficient grasp on a fork– When the end of the fork handle is under the palm, the hand tends to pull into a gross grasp on the fork, which is a more primitive grasp pattern, and is less functional for refined and graded movements. Similar to the motions used with a spoon held in this manner, a fork held in a gross grasp will include elbow and shoulder.

Much like using a spoon, progression from inefficient grasp patterns on a fork is developmental and requires practice. Allowing kids to use and hold a fork with verbal and visual prompts is helpful. Other fine motor and eye-hand coordination tasks will support development from inefficient grasp patterns when holding a fork to more efficient and refined motor skills:

Prerequisites to hold a spoon and fork

Before a child can use fine motor tools such as a spoon, fork, knife and other self-care tools (hair brush, toothbrush, pencil, scissors…) independently, there are certain physical, cognitive, and emotional prerequisites that must fall into place.

These self-care skills include many of the same sensory motor components, so in this blog post, we’re covering primarily the skills needed to hold a spoon and fork.

Toddlers and young preschoolers that sit at the table, probably have taken notice of how adults and older children at the table eat. This is actually part of the developmental process. When sitting at a table, a baby and toddler is observing and noticing how older siblings and parents use forks to stab food, spoons to scoop, and knives to cut.

Toddlers often want to take part in the action!

Using a spoon and fork during the Toddler years is a natural development of self-awareness and self-control.  Using utensils is part of that progression of feeding developmental milestones that children go through. A child becomes more aware of the skills that they are developing and that they can assert their own independence. 

Likewise, using a spoon to eat at first can lead to messy eating with young children, and that’s totally normally, developmentally.

But, before these areas of independence arise, there are certain prerequisites that need to be in place. Using tools in self-feeding, brushing one’s own teeth, using a knife, crayon, pencil, or other tool requires development in a few areas. 

Speaking of using crayons to develop motor skills, these crayons for toddlers support fine motor development and coordination skills through play.

 

Prerequisites that are necessary for kids (or adults!) to effectively and efficiently use tools in fine motor and self-care tasks, like scissor use, handwriting, hair brushing, self-feeding, tooth brushing, and more.  From an Occupational Therapist.

This post contains affiliate links.

Skills Needed to Hold a spoon and fork

When you take a look at the motor breakdown of using a spoon and fork, there are several components you’ll see in action:

  • Posture
  • Grasp Development
  • Hand Preference
  • Cognition
  • Attention
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Somatosensory experience
  • And even play!

Let’s cover each of these areas needed to hold a spoon and fork in more detail:

  • Posture- When using a tool like a fork, pencil, scissors, toothbrush, paint brush, knife…postural control is essential.  Like anything else, it all starts at the center and at the body.  You can’s use your hands in fine motor play activities if your upper body is slumped or slouched.  If postural support is the issue, work on getting into a better sitting position. Speak to an Occupational Therapist for individualized assessment and recommendations.                   
  • Grasp Development- For using tools, a child needs prehension skills and  precision skills, including grasp, release, and the ability to stabilize their arm and write while moving the hand.  Sometimes a pinch or required muscle movement is too much for an unstable arm/wrist and that required muscle effort makes the upper body slouch.  Start over with posturing is this happens.
  • Hand dominance–  A true hand dominance doesn’t typically become established until 5-6 years.  And that is a good thing!  A child’s body is developing strength, balance, muscle tone, and sensorimotor abilities at an even and symmetrical rate in the early years.  We want that to happen!  If a very strong preference of dominance is noticed at an early age, ask your pediatrician or occupational therapist for assessment of asymmetry or delay.
  • Cognitive prerequisites– Appropriate ability to follow simple directions is a must in order for use of tools in typical ways.  Sure, a fork makes a great hair brush.  A spoon is an excellent drumstick. But, inappropriate use of utensils can be dangerous.
  • Attentional Prerequisites– Appropriate attention span is needed for using tools in functional tasks. This blog post covers more on attention needed during meals.
  • Constructive play– What? A child needs functional play in order to use a pencil? Yep!  Building with blocks, combining toys, and pretending provides the base of fine motor development, skilled use, strength, imagination, and creativity that is needed to problem solve and use tools appropriately.
  • Eye Hand Coordination– More play!  Catch a ball and use crayons to establish the base of hand eye coordination needed for skilled maneuvering of tools to the mouth, paper, hair, or teeth.
  • Somatosensory Experience– Playing and experiencing the senses in typical every day activities are essential for the child to build on their awareness of textures, weights, manipulating objects, and sizes.

Given all of these areas that a child must have in place before showing success with tools in functional tasks, it’s important to work on certain areas.

Below, you’ll find a great printable resource that covers all of these skill areas that are needed for using a spoon and fork. This is a great handout to use especially when working with families of young children who are learning to hold a spoon and fork.

You can enter your email address into the form below and access this printable handout, or The OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can log into their accounts and access the handout in the Educational Handouts Toolbox area.

Prerequisites that are necessary for kids (or adults!) to effectively and efficiently use tools in fine motor and self-care tasks, like scissor use, handwriting, hair brushing, self-feeding, tooth brushing, and more.  From an Occupational Therapist.

Scooping food with a spoon

Teaching kids how to hold a spoon is the first step, but then actually scooping food, getting the food to the mouth, clearing the food from the spoon, and then repeating the process is part of the functional task of eating.

Remember that eating is a developmental process, and that this is another occupation in which practice is key to functional performance!

To improve use with a spoon and fork (and then spoon, fork, and knife!), it’s important to have various opportunities for practice.

Provide opportunities to use tools like spoons in scooping items.  You’ll find more information on the topic of scooping in our blog post on scooping and pouring.

These black beans are a great way to practice tool use and all of the skills needed in managing tools.  See the bottom of this post for more ideas.

Be sure to provide your little one with lots of opportunities to use tools in activities and play!

Related activities that you will love for teaching kids to use tools:

  • Sight Word Scoop– this scooping activity encourages users to develop the eye-hand coordination needed to use a spoon to scoop an object in a liquid, much like scooping the remaining cereals in a bowl of milk, or scooping food from a soup broth.
  • Toddler Visual Motor Scoop (Ping Pong balls)– This activity is another great way to teach toddlers to use a spoon, using a large and bright object with high visual contrast.
  • Invitation to Scoop and Pour– In this activity users can use a spoon with graded precision and refined movements to scoop grains of corn which can be a great way to practice motor skills to hold a spoon.
  • Field Corn Sensory Bin– Another activity using spoons to scoop field corn, this activity offers proprioceptive feedback through the joints and muscles of the hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
  • Moon Dough Scooping– In this activity, users use a spoon to scoop and pick up a moist and dry material. This can be a great way to practice using a spoon with different materials.
  • Scooping Ice– Using a spoon to pick up ice is a fun way to practice using a spoon with a different material that also offers precision and refinement in using a spoon or scoop.
  • Relaxing Lavender Water Bin– Kids love this sensory bin, but therapists love the functionality! Use a spoon to pick up small items in a liquid, developing eye-hand coordination skills with sensory benefits.
  • Invitation to Scoop, Pour, Transfer Nuts– Use a spoon to pick up nuts with a fun sensory activity that offers feedback with movement.
  • Scooping Dyed Alphabet pasta– Kids can pick up dry pasta with a spoon and practice motor skills.
  • (Amazon affiliate link) Learning Resources Handy Scoopers are colorful and bright and a great way to practice the prerequisites for tool use in many ways.
How to hold a fork and spoon handout
Get this free handout on skills needed to hold a fork and spoon below or in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club

Free Handout- Skills Needed to Hold a Spoon and Fork

Want a printable handout of the skills kids need to hold a spoon and fork? Working with families on teaching kids how to hold a fork and spoon and need actionable tips and strategies in a handout format?

You can enter your email address into the form below and access this printable handout, or The OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can log into their accounts and access the handout in the Educational Handouts Toolbox area.

Free Handout: Using a Spoon and Fork

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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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Bedtime Relaxation Stretches for Kids

    Relaxation stretches for bedtime

    In this post, you will find calming bedtime relaxation stretches for kids and families, based on the popular children’s book, Time for Bed. These activities are perfect for helping kids calm down before bed. We know the power of sleep hygiene in child development, but let’s consider the powerful impact of stretches before bed have on children.

    Relaxation Stretches for Kids Sleep

    An important thing to cover when it comes to helping children fall asleep and stay asleep at night is the concept of pre-bedtime yoga. When kids participate in bedtime stretches as part of their bedtime routine, it’s a sensory diet that supports sleep.

    relaxation stretches for bed time
    Use animal theme yoga poses to support relaxation at bedtime.

    One thing that we’ll cover here is the impact that the interoception sensory system has on sleep.

    Relaxation Stretches for Kids Sleep

    An important thing to cover when it comes to helping children fall asleep and stay asleep at night is the concept of pre-bedtime yoga. When kids participate in bedtime stretches as part of their bedtime routine, it’s a sensory diet that supports sleep.

    Use these relaxation stretches for bedtime to incorporate calming sensory input.

    One thing that we’ll cover here is the impact of the interoception sensory system has on sleep.

    Children can get a little wound up before bed.  All it takes is one rouge energy burst and you’ve got giggling kids bouncing from every surface imaginable.  

    Couch cushions? check. They are jumping up and down.  

    Running from room to room? Check. There’s two of them chasing one another back and forth will the occasional knee slide across the hardwoods.  

    Practicing the living room tumbling skills? Yep and check. There’s one more doing somersaults across the room.

    Why must they gang up on me with their endless energy during those exhausting pre-bedtime hours?

    Having a set of bedtime relaxation stretches in the nightly routine can support sensory needs and promote a sense of calm before bedtime, just when children are wound up and excitable.

    benefits of stretching before bed

    We know that sleep is a necessary occupation for all of us, but for children sleep patterns and healthy sleep cycles support so many aspects of development.

    • Cognition
    • Learning
    • Behavior
    • Nutrition
    • Emotional development
    • Social development

    When children don’t get enough hours of sleep, or if they don’t get quality sleep on a consistent basis, there are several things that can occur:

    • Poor focus
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Attention and behavior problems
    • Poor academic performance in school
    • Excess weight or increased food intake
    • Problems paying attention
    • Health problems: obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor mental health, and injuries
    • Decreased physical activity
    • Poor mental health
    • Unhealthy risky behaviors related to decision-making
    • Risk-taking behaviors, bullying, school violence-related behaviors, and physical fighting
    • Higher risk of unintentional injury

    There are several studies describing the benefits of stretching before bed. Kids can benefit from a pre-bedtime stretching sessions to integrate sensory processing systems and the calming benefits of slow movement, heavy work as a regulation tool. This calms the body and helps with relaxation before bed.

    Stretching before bed supports sleep quality. One review of multiple studies found that mindfulness meditation practices that incorporate gentle stretching, such as yoga and tai chi, generally improve sleep quality.

    Another study found that older adults reported improved sleep quality after performing low level physical and cognitive activity. The researchers found that gentle stretching resulted in better sleep than when the participants performed more strenuous exercises, such as aerobics.

    Bedtime stretches help kids stay asleep. A study into resistance exercise training and stretching found that exercises could improve symptoms of insomnia. In the study, the participants performed stretching in 60-minute sessions three times per week for a period of 4 months. The results showed improved sleep quality when stretching in the evening.

    Better sleep supports learning and executive functioning skills. Other studies tell us that better sleep hygiene in children support development of executive functioning skills.

    yoga poses for stress relief

    Today, I’m sharing a great way to calm kids down before bed so that quality sleep is possible. These yoga poses for stress relief and bedtime relaxation promote organizing heavy work through the proprioceptive sensory system and gentle movement through the vestibular sensory system.

    Another contributing factor is the interoceptive system which connects our internal systems such as digestion, heart rate, circadian rhythms, and muscle tension. All of these factors play a vital role in impacting sleep, with both the ability to fall asleep, and the ability to stay asleep throughout the night. This study shares more on the interoceptive system’s role in sleep.

    These organizing and calming yoga poses stretch the muscles and joints to offer feedback to regulate an overactive system.

    If you’ve ever participated in a yoga session, you know the benefits of certain yoga poses in reducing stress and anxiety.

    It’s important to make the connection between stress responses, anxiety, over-active thoughts, and a hyper-response to stimulation and emotional responses. The difficulty in identifying and describing emotions in self (a huge part of social emotional learning and development) is referred to as Alexithymia.

    This ability develop social emotional skills occurs with age, and social skills interventions.

    Specifically, alexithymia is defined as difficulty identifying and describing emotions in self. We know that noticing and understanding internal body signals (aka interoception) is crucial to a bodily systems, so it makes sense that if interoception is affected, using or showing emotions, and identifying emotions in self will be affected.

    Interoception influences emotions by it’s control and underlying influence on internal processes of the body: toileting, hunger, thirst, and sleep!

    When interoception impacts sleep, it then further impacts emotions:

    • stress
    • getting angry or frustrated easily
    • anxiety
    • fear
    • worry
    • overly emotional responses
    • sadness
    • over-excitability
    • hyperactive responses

    All of these emotional responses are normal and good feelings to experience. However, when sleep is reduced, they can move into an area of impacting other functional tasks or everyday occupations.

    You’ll also find information and resources in this article on the limbic system including the stress response. You can see how all of these concepts fit together to impact daily functioning.

    How to use yoga poses for stress relief with children

    Using yoga to support relaxation at bedtime is not a new concept. Yoga naturally supports relaxation through the heavy work input of the proprioceptive sense.

    However, yoga also adds the benefit of deep breathing exercises to calm and center the body as an organization tool.

    When it comes to bedtime, adding anything to the nightly routine can mean a delayed bedtime, so making the relaxation stretches part of the routine that is already in place is important. If you read a book together each night, incorporate stretches into that. If brushing teeth and going to the bathroom are the only tasks that happen each night, use the time just after those jobs to do a few stretches.

    Adding bedtime stretches for the purpose of relaxation doesn’t need to be difficult. The most important thing here is to make it work for your situation and home. down the somersaults and hardwood floor stunts into relaxing bedtime.  

    Here are some tips to support relaxation at bedtime:

    • Use bedtime relaxation stretches in a nightly routine. A visual schedule can be helpful with some kids.
    • Dim the lights and turn on soothing music
    • Read a book before bed
    • Drink a warm drink as a calming food/sensory tool.
    • Set the mood for sleep with a calming bedroom or sleep space: snuggly blankets, cozy pillows, or cool temperature, depending on the individual’s preferences.
    • Use the relaxation stretches listed below.

    One way that helps to get kids relaxed before bed is reading a great book.  When kids can listen to an engaging story that is read aloud, their bodies can’t help but slow down.  

    Bedtime Relaxation Stretches for Kids

    These bedtime relaxation stretches are a combination of relaxing yoga moves and heavy work that helps to ground the body through proprioceptive input to the body’s sensory receptors in the muscles. 

    Performing these relaxing stretches can help transition kids to a calmed state that allows for a better sleep.

    Below are forms of yoga poses for children.

    We decided to use one of our favorite going to bed books, (Amazon affiliate link) Mem Fox’s Time for Bed

    In the book, we hear a rhyming verse about each animal’s transition to sleep.  It’s such a beautiful book to snuggle up with kids during night time routines.  In fact, Time for Bed can easily become one of those books that you read over and over again.

    We loved looking at the watercolor pictures in Time for Bed and picturing each animal as it got ready for sleep.  

    To go along with the book, we tried some of these bedtime relaxation stretches. 

    Grab your copy of the free printable below by entering your email address into the form, or going to The OT Toolbox Member’s Club and heading to the Mindfulness Toolbox.

    Time for Bed book by Mem Fox and relaxation stretches for bedtime

    To do these exercises, simply cut out the printable on the lines, and create a small stack of stretches.  Kids can do one or more of these relaxation stretches to calm down before settling in with the Time for Bed book.

    Simply pull out a couple of the stretches and join your child on the floor to perform each stretch.  The stretches are designed based on the animals in the book.  

    When doing the stretches, hold the stretch for 2-3 minutes while maintaining deep breathing. 

    Bedtime relaxation stretches
    Print off these relaxation stretches for a bedtime calm down session for kids.

    As we all know, kids will be kids.  If your child is getting too wound up from the stretches (because sometimes the sleepy sillies take over and make concentrating on stretches and relaxing deep breaths nearly impossible!) simply put the stretches away and try them another day.

    Bedtime stretches with an animal theme
    Relaxation stretch for kids, incorporating yoga poses for stress, anxiety, or to calm down before bed.

    Your child will love doing these bedtime relaxation stretches with you and the whole family!

    Bedtime stretches to do before bed

    Little Goose Stretch– Lie on the floor on your back, with your feet raised up on the wall.  Keep your knees straight.  Spread your arms out on the floor like a goose.  Bend and point your toes slowly.

    Little Cat Stretch– Snuggle in tight!  Sit criss cross applesauce on the floor.  Bend forward at the hips and place your head on the ground.  Stretch your arms out on the floor over your head.

    Little Calf Stretch– Grasp both hands together behind your back.  Bend forward at the hips and raise your arms up behind you.

    Little Foal Stretch– Lie on your back and pull your knees in with your arms.  Hold the position and whisper about your day.

    Little Fish Stretch–  Take a deep breath. Hold your breath in your cheeks and puff out those cheeks.  Slowly let out your breath with pursed lips.

    Little Sheep Stretch–  Stand facing a wall and place your feet shoulder width apart.  Place your hands flat on the wall, shoulder width apart.  Push against the wall by bending and straightening your elbows.

    Little Bird Stretch–  Close your eyes.  Think about your day and take deep breaths.  Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Add a “wing” component by raising your arms up high as you breathe in and lowering them as you slowly breathe out.

    Little Snake Stretch–  Lie on your back on the floor.  Keep your legs straight and cross them at the ankles.  Place your arms over your head on the floor.  Cross them at the wrists.  

    Little Pup Stretch–  Get into a downward dog yoga position.  

    Little Deer Stretch– Sit on the floor with your legs straight. Spread them far apart and bend at the hips to touch one foot.  Hold it and then stretch to touch the other foot.

    Try this tonight!  Do a few stretches and then snuggle up while reading Time for Bed!

    Calming bedtime books for kids

    MORE relaxing bedtime books for kids

    These relaxing bedtime books for kids are other ideas to use to support calming sensory input in a relaxation bedtime routine:

    Amazon affiliate links are included below:

    Free Printable set of relaxation stretches for bedtime

    Use the Time For Bed book and relaxation stretches we used above in a bedtime routine of your own. Get a printable PDF of these stretches by entering your email address into the form below. Or, members in The OT Toolbox membership club can grab this PDF by logging in and heading to Brain Break Tools.

    Free Time For Bed Relaxation Stretches

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      One more thing! If you are into creative ways to extend and learn based on books, you will LOVE this resource! 50 activities based on books that address friendship, acceptance, emotions…This ebook is amazing for covering all things emotional development through play!

      Get yours!  

      Read more about the book here.

      Exploring Books through Play helps kids develop fine motor skills and gross motor skills while learning about empathy and compassion.

      Sensory Activities For 1 Year Olds

      sensory activities for 1 year olds

      This blog post is one of the oldest posts on the site, but the sensory activities for 1 year olds that we shared way back when are just as fun now! When this post was written, the babies that played with the balls and muffin tins were just 11 months and going on 1 year. Those little ones are now 11 years old! This is such a great brain building activity for babies that I wanted to reshare the idea for the latest crop of babies out there!

      If you are looking for more Baby activities, try the fun over on our Baby Play page. You’ll also find some great ideas for different ages on this post on baby sensory play.  We’ve been busy!

      sensory activities for 1 year olds

      sensory activities for 1 year olds

      This sensory activity for 1 year olds is an easy activity to set up. You’ll need just a few items:

      • colorful balls
      • muffin tins

      You can add create another sensory activity for the babies with the same colorful balls and a cardboard box or basket. We also used an empty cereal box with hole cut into the sides.

      Each sensory activity here supports development of eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, core strength and stability in dynamic sitting, positioning and seated play on the floor (floor play).

      Baby and Toddler Brain Building activity using balls and a muffin tin. Perfect for developing fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills in an active activity for sitting and mobile babies.

      An important consideration is the use of baby positioners as they can impact powerful movement-based play in babies.

      The best for sensory play for 1 year olds is just playing on the floor! There are so many benefits to playing on the floor with a basket of balls and a few muffin tins.

      Baby and Toddler Brain Building activity using balls and a muffin tin. Perfect for developing fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills in an active activity for sitting and mobile babies.

      What do babies love to do? Take things out and put them back into containers.

      We have a bunch of different colored and sized balls that are so fun to play with in so many ways. I had my nephew here one day and we needed something different to do. My nephew and my Baby Girl are both 11 months old and they absolutely loved this play activity! 

      I pulled out my muffin tins and they had a blast putting the balls into the tins, taking them out, putting them back into the box, and pulling them out again!

      Little Guy (my 3 year old ) loved joining in too. Really, who could resist playing with all of these colorful balls???

      Peek a Boo Sensory Activity for 1 year olds

      What else do babies love? The peek-a-boo game!

      It’s at this age (around one year) that babies often struggle with separation anxiety when being dropped off at a caregiver’s when separated from their parents or caregivers. You will even see signs of separation angst when a parent goes into another room, which can especially happen when the baby is tired.

      The next sensory activity for baby was a fun one!

      We had an empty cereal box that I cut circles into. They had a ton of fun putting the balls into a hole, and pulling a different one out as the box moved around…there were a lot of little hands in there moving that box around 🙂

      The it’s-there-then-it’s not of a great game of peek-a-boo (or peek-a-ball in this case!) is awesome in building neural pathways of the brain. 

       

       

      More sensory activities for babies

      Other sensory activities for 1 year olds and babies include using small baskets or boxes to transfer the balls from one container to the other.

      Transferring from box to box…working those hands to pick up different sized/weighted/textured balls.  Dropping the ball to see what happens is so predictable, but it is important in learning for babies. Just like when baby drops the cup from her highchair a million times…

      We had a ball!

      (couldn’t resist that one…heehee)

      Baby and Toddler Brain Building activity using balls and a muffin tin. Perfect for developing fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills in an active activity for sitting and mobile babies.

      Need more sensory ideas for 1 year olds? Try these:

      • Sensory tables- put interesting toys, textures, scoops, and containers on a low table like a coffee table. The new cruiser or early walker can stand at the table and explore the textures
      • Messy play on a highchair- Strap baby in and encourage messy food play. Thing about apple sauce, pudding, or mashed potatoes.
      • Textured fabrics- Put a bunch of fabric scraps into a box and invite the one year old to pull them out and put them back in.
      • Play with cups and spoons– with supervision- This is a great activity for eye hand coordination skills.

      Bilateral Integration

      bilateral integration

      Bilateral Integration is an area that kids need for so many tasks…but it’s not a developmental milestone that stands out unless a problem is necessarily noticed unless there is a problem. What we do notice in as our kids grow and develop are the motor skills that impact functioning. We notice use of both hands, fluid and efficient movements in tasks like playing, getting dressed, and interacting with peers. Let’s take a look at bilateral integration and dissect how to support this essential sensory motor skill.

      Another resource that supports this information is our blog post on bilateral coordination. You’ll find many bilateral integration activities in that blog post.

      Bilateral integration resources and information

      Bilateral Integration

      From writing and holding the paper, to holding a art project and cutting with scissors, to zippering a jacket, coordinating both sides of the body in an efficient manner is a skill that is necessary for almost everything we do.

      Bilateral coordination develops from a very young age. When babies begin to bring both hands together at their mouth, you are seeing coordinated efforts begin. When the infant pushes up on both arms while lying in a tummy time position, the integrated movements of both hands and legs occurs along with strength and control.

      Research tells us that motor tasks like jumping, jumping jacks, riding a bike, hopping, etc. become easier and more fluid with age as children develop. It’s through play, sensory input, motor skill experience, and activities that these skills are developed.

      Below, you will find bilateral integration activities that can be incorporated at various ages. Use these bilateral coordination activities to promote coordinated and efficient movements in meaningful activities.

      What is Bilateral integration?

      Bilateral integration refers to the ability of both sides of the brain to work together in a coordinated manner. We see this ability when the skills associated with the left side of the brain are done in conjunction with skills associated with the right side of the brain.

      Skills associated with the left side of the brain:

      • Speech and language- Understanding using language (listening, reading, speaking and writing)
      • Comprehension
      • Math problems and facts
      • Handwriting
      • Linear thinking
      • Memory for spoken and written messages
      • Logic
      • Verbal language
      • Sequencing

      Skills associated with the right side of the brain:

      • Creativity and imagination
      • Creative thinking
      • Spatial skills
      • Intuition
      • Art, drawing, and creative artistic skills
      • Musical skills

      Then, when other aspects of functional performance are added to the mix and the individual is still able to complete the task, this is bilateral integration in action.

      Those other considerations include:

      • Attention and focus
      • Proprioceptive input
      • Vestibular input
      • Visual information
      • Motor targets achieved, or motor control shown by fluid movements
      • Praxis- movements thought about and completed in coordinated manner

      When both sides of the body work together in a coordinated manner so that the individual can manipulate objects such as cutlery with various amounts of force modulation, taking in sensory stimuli such as sights, sounds, tastes, and proprioceptive and vestibular input, and managing posture, coordination, and body awareness, bilateral integration is visible.

      When bilateral coordination or bilateral integration is intact and progressing appropriately through development, it is an indicator that both sides of the brain are communicating effectively and sharing information during functional tasks. 

      Tasks that require bilateral integration

      Knowing what we covered above, it is easy to see how some daily tasks are impacted by coordinated and integrated motor skills requiring both sides of the body. Each of these skills requires and has input from other sensory systems and cognitive systems as well, such as proprioceptive input, executive functioning, attention, and even creative thinking and problem solving.

      • Writing and holding the paper in a stable position
      • Cutting and holding the paper steady and at an appropriate height
      • Putting on a coat while holding a backpack (or other item)
      • Tying shoes
      • Pulling up pants and not losing balance
      • Putting socks on
      • Jumping jacks with coordinated movements
      • Turning a page and writing or copying work
      • Typing
      • Squeezing toothpaste and brushing teeth
      • Flossing teeth
      • Playing an instrument
      • Using a knife and fork
      • Pouring water from a pitcher into a cup
      • Cooking skills: chopping, cutting, slicing, peeling, taking food out of packages, putting food into the microwave or stove, taking food out of the fridge
      • Reaching for objects
      • Stabilizing an object with one hand while manipulating another object with the other
      • Jumping rope
      • Catching a ball
      • Riding a bike
      • Swimming
      • Many more tasks!
      These bilateral integration activities are creative ways to help kids with bilateral integration needed for fine motor tasks like handwriting, scissor use, and other functional skills.

      Bilateral Integration Activities 

      Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.

      First, let’s talk about some ways that coordinated use of the arms and legs are needed for coordinated movements. These are skills and tasks that can easily be performed by some children. Others, who struggle with motor planning, core strength, posture needs, left-right discrimination, visual motor skills, or many other areas can struggle. It’s easy to see that simply addressing some areas won’t fix the issue when an underlying concern is present.

      To promote the skills needed for these tasks, try some of the activities listed below to promote bilateral integration:

      Related Read: Here are are some additional bilateral coordination activities with a winter theme.

      Bilateral Integration Activities for Babies

      Bilateral movements are part of everyday life for baby! From turning, creeping on the floor, rolling, sitting, crawling, cruising on furniture, and taking first steps, babies are developing bilateral integration skills from birth.

      Encourage these bilateral integration activities with babies:

      There are ways to support child development at this stage through age-appropriate play that will support the child’s progression at later stages, too.

      • Provide various toys and objects appropriate for young babies. Include bold colored objects including black, white, and red items or contrasting colors, toys, or pictures on a blanket or play mat during tummy time. This black and white board book can be propped up or used while on an adult’s lap.
      • Provide gentle infant massage during and after bath time, and on all extremities. Here is a resource book on infant massage.
      • Provide toys and age-appropriate objects for reach and grasp. This banana toothbrush teether has molded handles that make it a great teething item for little ones.
      • Provide teething toys as baby brings hands together at their mouth.
      • Provide toys that are appropriate for mouthing that can be held in both hands.
      • Provide hand-held toys while the child is seated in a high chair. This one has a suction cup base to keep it stable, but has a black and white ring at the base that babies can grasp with one hand while manipulating with the other hand.
      • Provide toys of various weights when seated upright to provide resistance against gravity and to promote strengthening of the upper extremities. Blocks, rings, sorting toys, or something like this quality teething toy made of heavier materials can be useful to provide variances in weight, while still allowing the baby to manipulate the item.
      • Provide toys available on a high chair or table surface at various distances to provide opportunities for depth of perception when reaching for toys and bringing them to the mouth.
      • Continue tummy time while playing in prone to promote strength and stability in upper extremities.
      • Use the ideas in our baby play library for more ideas.

      Bilateral Integration Activities for Toddlers

      Provide toys requiring one hand to stabilize a base while the other hands manipulates an object. Shape sorters are great for this.

      Other toys include:

      • Peg Boards
      • Blocks- These press and stay sensory blocks are perfect for encouraging one hand to use as a stabilizer and one hand as a
      • Play Dough
      • Drawing/coloring- Here is more information on the benefits of coloring.
      • Use these crayons for toddlers to support bilateral coordination skills during coloring.

      Bilateral Integration Activities for Preschool

      Preschool is a time for building hand strength, coordination, eye-hand coordination, and improving motor skills needed for the upcoming years. You can find many preschool activities here on our website, but some specific ways to support bilateral integration include:

      • Encourage kids to participate in cooking activities.
      • Use play dough to cut with scissors and roll out play dough snakes or balls of play dough.
      • Age-appropriate crafts and craft sets are great for this age.
      • Play with stickers of various sizes.
      • Make “snow angels” on a carpet or fluffy blanket
      • Simon Says is a great game for encouraging novel and varied motor combinations. Use these Simon Says Commands to get started.
      • Play various song and movement games such as the Hokey Pokey, Farmer in the Dell, etc. Here are movement and song activities that can be used in circle time, warm-ups, centers, or in group activities. All of these move and dance songs promote core strength and stability.
      • Climb on outdoor play areas at playgrounds and in low trees.
      • Add sensory! Try this table top bilateral coordination activity to draw shapes.
      • Draw with both hands! This four leaf clover activity is a powerful one as it covers a variety of skills.

      Bilateral Coordination Activities for School-Aged Kids

      In schools, development of bilateral integration is important for tasks like putting on a coat or jacket and backpack, holding a paper with the supporting hand and writing, and using scissors. There are many other bilateral integration tasks that happen throughout the day.

      Some ways you can support development of these skills include:

      Try these bilateral integration activities and coordination ideas to promote use of both hands together in activities such as handwriting, cutting with scissors and so many other tasks!

      Last thoughts on encouraging bilateral integration

      The best way to encourage and promote integration of both sides of the body? Movement and play! Get the kids active, moving, and experiencing various planes against resistance and with exposure to all types of sensory experiences.

      The combination of proprioceptive input into a play experience that promotes strengthening in a fun way provides all of the benefits kids need to improve bilateral coordination skills. Add personal interests as the child grows. And finally, have fun!

      Use these bilateral coordination activities to promote bilateral integration needed for skills like writing and holding the paper and any activity that uses one hand to manipulate an object while stabilizing with the other hand.

      Beautiful Oops Activity

      folded paper animals

      This “Beautiful Oops” activity is a preschool book craft focusing on fine motor skills with a concentration on awareness of differences, making mistakes, and not focusing on specific details, using a creative book activity based on the book, Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg. If you are looking for hands-on book related activities, this one is a big hit!

      Beautiful Oops Activity

      One part of social emotional development is the ability to “go with the flow”. Allowing ourselves to make mistakes and to adjust is a key part of maturity and a personality trait that can be difficult to teach unless given examples and practice. in this book activity, we read the book, Beautiful Oops! and created folded paper crafts using our mistakes.  

      This book craft is part of a series of activities that help kids build social and emotional skills such as:

      • acceptance
      • friendship
      • empathy
      • understanding
      • and other important skills involved with social emotional development.

      For more activities that help build these skills, check out the resource, Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance and Empathy.

      Beautiful oops activity to make a folded paper giraffe craft

      Beautiful Oops Craft

      Beautiful Oops book by Barney Saltzberg

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      What does Beautiful Oops teach?

      Have you read the book, Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg?  This is a book that we completely fell in love with.  The creative process of art spills out over the pages as little (and big) “oops” messes, tears, and folds become art.  While we do many crafts that are focused on an end product, process art is something we love in many creative projects!

      Beautiful Oops! is a process art guide book.   As we read the book, one of our favorite pages was the folded corner Oops that became a reason to celebrate with a cute penguin.  We decided to make folded paper animals and couldn’t stop creating!

      Folded paper animal crafts for kids based on the book, Beautiful Oops


      paper folding activity

      To make our folded paper animals, we started with just a few materials. The best thing about this paper folding activity is that there was no “right way” to do the craft. Each paper fold was part of the process art! Just like in the book, Beautiful Oops, any fold, cut, tear, or pasted paper was part of the process to create something beautiful. When an “oops” happened when cutting the paper or folding the paper, it was just part of the fun!

      Gather a bunch of materials to make the paper folding activity:

      • Paper- scrap paper, construction paper, cardstock…whatever you have on hand
      • Scissors
      • Glue
      • Scraps of materials

      We started with a big pile of assorted cardstock, a few pair of scissors and some glue.  We started with a fold on the corner of the paper and let our imaginations go!

      We cut…

      …and cut some more…  

      …and folded…

      …and glued…

      …and added details to our animal creatures.

      Beautiful Oops folded paper animal crafts
      Folded paper animal crafts based on the book, Beautiful Oops

        We made a feeeew animals.

      Folding paper Crafts

      Use this craft to build fine motor skills! When kids fold paper, they work on a variety of fine motor skills. Click each link to read more about these specific skills and how they impact function.

      Fold paper to work on fine motor skills in the hands.
      Monkey bookmark craft

        And then put our folded paper creatures to work holding pages in books!  

      Paper bird bookmark craft
      Penguin paper craft bookmark

        We had a blast with this book and can’t stop making our oops’ beautiful!   Looking for more activities and crafts based on Beautiful Oops!?  Try these from the Preschool Book Club:

      Straw Blow Painting from Homegrown Friends

      Painting on torn Newspaper from Buggy and Buddy

      Circle and Holes Art from Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

      Oops Painting from Mama. Papa. Bubba.

      hands-on activities to explore social emotional development through children's books.

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      Grab our NEW book, Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy, that explores friendship, acceptance, and empathy through popular (and amazing) children’s books!  It’s 50 hands-on activities that use math, fine motor skills, movement, art, crafts, and creativity to support social emotional development.    

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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 contact@theottoolbox.com.