31 Days of Learning with Free Materials

This blog post on learning at home with materials found around the home is a great resource for school based OT providers because many of the skills we work on in therapy sessions need to be carried over at home to ensure results. It’s the everyday practice that makes skills stick! Here you will find our top picks for DIY learning materials using items found around the home. These are great items for occupational therapy at home, too. The thing is that I love to share activities that build skills using everyday items.

diy learning materials

We are big fans of using free and recycled materials in our crafts and activities.  Many times, people ask: “How do you do so many fun activities without spending a fortune?!” Most of our learning, crafts, and activities involve using free or almost free materials.  While we are not a homeschooling family, we do SO many learning through play activities and homework extension skills that work on the skills that my kids are doing at school.  

Some of our top picks using items found in the home include:

We’re excited to join homeschooling bloggers with 31 Days of ideas for learning at home.  In this series, we share 31 days of Learning at Home with Free (or almost free) Materials.  Each day, we’ll bring you tips and ideas to use materials you already have in learning and school extension activities. Most of these materials are household items you may already have in the house and others will be recycled materials.

Use these learning at home ideas using free materials or items already found in the home.

All of the activities will be using free (or almost free) items to build on learning concepts that are age appropriate for our kids.  We will be sharing ways to use these items in different age ranges, as well.  

These activities are sure to be a fun way to work on skills over the summer to prevent an academic “summer slide” and ways to creatively learn and extend on school homework and homeschool curricula during the year.  Be sure to stop by each day in July for creative learning ideas as we fill in our month with Free Learning!

31 days of learning with almost free materials.  Learn at home through play with recycled and free materials.


Learning with Free (or almost Free) materials at home:

This series is about easy learning ideas that you can make your own.  Your child’s needs and interests will make these ideas work in your family.  My hope for the 31 Days of Learning with (almost) Free materials is to bring you creative ideas.  

Start with these games with paper clips to use an everyday material found in most junk drawers.

Creative & Playful Learning.  Be inspired.

31 Days of Learning with Free Materials (items you probably already have):

Click on the images below and the list of posts for our month of learning at home!





Distance learning ideas for learning at home with free materials.

More Learning at Home Ideas

These learning with free materials ideas use items you probably have in the home right now to work on math or writing concepts, AND build fine motor skills. Try some of these learning ideas using items in the home, including:

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

Vegetable Quesadilla Learning with Cooking

This recipe for making a vegetable quesadilla with the kids was originally published in July 2015. We updated it in April 2024 with resources on using the quesadilla recipe for developing life skills and executive functioning. The easy quesadilla recipe is a great tool for developing brain skills in the kitchen.

Cooking with the kids in the kitchen is such a wonderful learning opportunity. The sights and smells of new and interesting foods and the textures and tasks of cooking provide children with a rich  experience.  Then there is the awareness of accomplishment. Kids can help to prepare the food that feeds the family.  Kids can learn the steps of cooking a meal from start to finish.  All of this is so supportive to developing executive functioning skills and life skills.

Life skills recipe for OT- an easy vegetable quesadilla recipe

Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe Kids Can Make

This week in our Cooking With Kids A-Z series where we made a recipe for each letter of the alphabet, we are exploring Mushrooms. We made a vegetable quesadilla while learning along the way.

I love to use cooking tasks like the simple veggie quesadilla to support skill development. We’ve previously explained how cooking tasks support fine motor skills. Just like all of the scooping, dicing, and mixing strengthens motor control and coordination, the process of preparing a recipe’s ingredients, using kitchen tools, using safety in the kitchen, washing hands and dishes, and preparing the food are all areas of development for daily life skills.

Cooking is functional and function is cooking! Love that as an OT!

So, when you allow kids to cook and prepare foods, they are gaining so much more than just a snack!

This post is part of our month-long Learning with Free Materials series where we are sharing learning ideas for homeschoolers and school-extension activities using items that are free or mostly free (i.e. CHEAP or you already have in the home), and is part of the 31 Days of Homeschooling Tips as we blog along with other bloggers with learning at home tips and tools.  While the food needed to create this meal is not free, you do need to feed your family.  So, while doing the chore of making dinner, why not learn along the way?  

The educational opportunities that go along with cooking are a free lesson in math, process, direction following, listening skills, and safety.

This post contains affiliate links.

Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!
Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!

How can kids learn when cooking?

When cooking with kids, there are so many learning opportunities.  Create a list of steps for the recipe and have your child read as they work.  Children can check off completed steps.  Stress the importance of completing the recipe in order.  Oral and verbal direction following are worked on while kids cook.  Kids can learn about safety while cooking.  Shredding cheese with a grater, using a knife, and cooking at the stove are opportunities for safety lessons. 

Did you know that occupational therapy learn to use cooking tasks as a therapy modality in their education? It’s true! We have entire courses dedicated to activity analysis and often times, cooking tasks play a huge role in those lessons.

We learn to use a simple cooking task to support many areas, from safety and motor skills, to balance, to practically every underlying area that supports function and development of skills.

In fact, executive functioning skills and cooking are pretty much co-existing, so a task like our simple veggie quesadilla is the perfect modality for supporting development. It’s practical and engaging!

When we cook, executive functioning skills are in motion, including cognitive processes such as planning, organization, task initiation, problem-solving, working memory, attention to detail, and self-monitoring. These skills are crucial for daily living and can be developed and enhanced through various activities, including cooking.

We included information on this aspect in each of the steps listed below. We also included information on the life skills components for each step of this recipe. Talk about activity analysis!

Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!
Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!

Easy Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe

First, you’ll want to gather the ingredients for the vegetable quesadilla recipe. Planning and Organization: Before starting a cooking task, the individual needs to plan by gathering all the necessary ingredients and cooking tools. This step requires thinking ahead and organizing the workspace.

Life Skills Application- You can’t cook without ingredients and you can’t complete daily life tasks without your materials! Just as organizing ingredients and tools is crucial for cooking, being able to organize one’s belongings, workspace, or schedule is essential in daily life. This can translate to managing personal items, setting up a workspace for efficiency, or planning a daily agenda.

Life Skill Activity– Ask your kiddos to conduct a safety audit in the kitchen, identifying potential hazards.


  • 2 Tortillas
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Vegetables (peppers, mushrooms, onions, etc)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • salsa, ranch dressing, or sour cream to dip 


  1. We began our Vegetable Quesadilla recipe by shredding a cup of cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese. Put these aside on a plate.
  2. Chop, dice, and slice green peppers, red peppers, yellow peppers, onion, and mushrooms.  The nice thing about a vegetable quesadilla is that you can substitute and add any vegetable.  Add in tomatoes, squash, beans, hot peppers, or eggplant…your produce department or garden is the limit!

Attention to Detail: Paying attention to the size and uniformity of the chopped vegetables can enhance focus and attention to detail.

Life Skill Application- Chopping, dicing, and all of the fun of cooking requires fine motor control and concentration, similar to tasks such as writing, typing, or assembling small parts. The precision needed for chopping can improve one’s ability to perform tasks that require attention to detail, like filling out forms or crafting.

Life Skills Activity- Try chopping and cutting with different kitchen tools.

Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!
Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!

3. Next, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pan.  Sauté all of the vegetables except the mushrooms. Task Initiation and Self-Monitoring: This means that adjusting the heat to the correct temperature requires self-monitoring for safety. And, the ability to start a task promptly is needed to stay on task.

Life Skill Application- When you cook, you have to keep an eye on the stove or there can be huge safety issues! Starting and then monitoring the sautéing process supports life skills tasks like beginning a laundry cycle and checking on it periodically. It teaches us to start tasks independently and monitor their progress, adjusting as needed.

4. After 2-3 minutes, add the mushrooms to the pan.  Continue cooking until soft. Teach the kids about safety with the oven at this point!

5. Warm a Quesadilla Maker and place a tortilla on the bottom.  

6. Spread out the cooked vegetables over the tortilla.  Working Memory: Remembering the order of ingredients and where they are placed on the tortilla engages working memory.

Life Skill Application- Placing ingredients on the tortilla in a specific order involves understanding sequences and spatial relationships, and this is a skill we use day in and day out! Think about life skill tasks like organizing a drawer or planning how to pack a suitcase efficiently.

Life Skills Activity- Manage a small budget for a project or a shopping list, making sure to stay within the set limits.

7. Sprinkle cheese all over the vegetables and layer a second tortilla on top of the cheese.  Close the lid to the quesadilla maker and allow it to cook until the light changes, indicating done-ness (about 4-5 minutes).  Problem-Solving: Deciding when to check on the quesadilla in the quesadilla maker uses problem solving. If you are cooking in a pan on the stove top, you’ll need to flip the quesadilla at this point. This ensures it is cooked evenly without burning involves problem-solving and decision-making skills.

Life Skill Application- Cooking each side for the right amount of time requires time management, similar to allocating time for different tasks throughout the day. Adjusting the heat if the quesadilla is cooking too quickly or too slowly involves problem-solving, which is applicable in situations like adjusting plans when an unexpected event changes the day’s schedule.

Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!

8. Slice the quesadillas along the section lines using a pizza wheel.  Goal Achievement: Completing the cooking process and serving the quesadilla provides a tangible result, reinforcing the concept of following through to achieve a goal.

Life Skill Application- Cutting and serving food is a huge life skill! This is one that you will use several times a day.

Life Skills Activity- Prepare the food and ask the kiddos to focus on the layout and organization of the content to make it appealing.

Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!

Serve with salsa, sour cream, or ranch to dip.

Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!
Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!
Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!
Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!
Vegetable Quesadilla Recipe with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and two kinds of cheese, a great dish for kids to eat and make in the kitchen.  Cooking with kids is a great learning opportunity in so many areas!

With a vegetable quesadilla, children get the opportunity to try new vegetables that might be new to them.  The hand-held finished dish is a fun one to eat.  

Dipping the quesadilla slices into ranch, salsa, or sour cream may encourage your child to try this recipe and new tastes.  Have fun experimenting with vegetable combinations!


Here are more recipes that kids can make to support skill development:

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

Vision Books for Developing Skills

Vision books to develop visual processing skills

In this post, I have highlighted references to vision books that can specifically be used in therapy interventions to support the development of visual processing skills. These are the Top 9 Books for addressing vision concerns, that might be incorporated into visual therapy, or occupational therapy activities.  Each of these visual skill building books covers aspects of visual perception, visual processing, and visual motor skills. 

Start by reading, “Visual Problems or Attention” to help decipher the cause of visual processing difficulties.

After reading Visual Problems or Attention, check out the Visual Screening Packet available on the OT Toolbox to further assist in diagnoses and treatment.

For more information on vision skills, check out this post from the OT Toolbox archives.

Vision books to support visual processing development

Vision Books

Looking for books on vision, visual motor integration and visual perceptual skills? Check out the list of books below that are chock full of information and treatment ideas! 

Many of these books have reproducible pages, or can be laminated/placed into plastic sleeves to be reused.

Vision Book: Eyegames

The list of vision books below are linked to Amazon affiliate links for ease of searching, however they can be also found by googling the titles.

An OT and Optometrist Offer Activities to Enhance Vision! (affiliate link) By Lois Hickman and Rebecca Hutchins is an easy and fun vison book with games and exercises for developing visual skills.

This vision book is an easy read about vision deficits, and how they impact function. It has a checklist of red flags to be on the lookout for. There are also loads of great therapy activities to target each skill deficit. Activities are geared for a variety of function levels, along with easy task gradation. Activities are designed to be completed in the home, clinic, or school settings. 

Vision Book for Visual Tracking Exercises

Visual Perception, Visual Discrimination & Visual Tracking Exercises for Better Reading, Writing and Focus (affiliate link)

The next set of vision books are created by Bridgette Sharp, and Bridgette O’Neil. These books make for a great set of tools to have in your bag. 

The Visual Tracking Exercises Book is a beginner book for developing tracking skills. As a bonus, you can use this with learners who are working on left/right awareness as well. Worksheets are varied with numbers, shapes, patterns, color, and black and white fonts, to help keep things interesting. 

Vision Book for Scanning Skills

Advanced Visual Scanning Exercises (affiliate link)

As it says in the title, this visual perception book is for your advanced learners who are continuing to work on strengthening their eye muscles, gearing up for chapter book reading, and increased desk work. Patterns become more complex, and are in black and white only. 

It can be helpful to read more on what is visual scanning and check out the red flags section and then use this vision book if needed.

Visual Scanning Exercises for Young Students (affiliate link)

This visual scanning beginner book has a variety of simple grid patterns with large colorful pictures for younger children, beginning learners, pre-readers, and children who are behind in reading readiness due to tracking and scanning issues. The images are large, colorful, and have plenty of variety to keep them engaged in therapy.

Vision Books, Visual Scanning for Students  (affiliate link)

This Ready to Scan vision book is for more advanced scanners, or for kids/learners who are skipping lines when reading or copying. It’s a great resource for building endurance and eye muscle strength. As a bonus, use the patterns for reversal training and directionality! 

BIG BOOK: Beginners, Intermediate & Advanced Visual Scanning Exercises (affiliate link)

Like it’s title says, this book has something for everyone. This is a great place to start your toolbox for visual skills. Patterns work through a progression, starting with large images, moving onto smaller images. They present a variety of pictures and geometric shapes, both in color and black/white. This book is a great place to create home programs with and homework from each session. 

Vision Book for Visual Tracking

Vision books, Visual Tracking Exercises with 100 High Frequency Sight Words (affiliate link)

If you’re looking to change it up from geometric patterns and pictures, this book is a great option. The book consists of a variety of exercises using sight words. Use the pages to work on discrimination and word shape training as well. 

Start by reading up on what visual tracking is and then go from there with this vision workbook.

Visual Skills Book for Reversals

Letter reversals are related to vision skills. You’ll want to start by reading more on p and q reversals or b and d reversals. Others who write letters backwards can benefit as well.

The visual skills book, Brain Training for Reversals, is a brain training vision book consists of exercises specifically for reversals of b-d-p-q. Exercises range in complexity to address all skill levels. These brain training worksheets can also be used for scanning, to practice reading, and directionality. You can also use these worksheets similar to an eye spy game, by having the child look for all of one letter. 

Visual Discrimination Book

Visual discrimination is a visual skill that impacts reading, writing, math, comprehension, and learning.

The Visual Discrimination book is great for grades 2-8 and focuses on finding patterns and solving problems through the use of colorful geometric patterns and images. This is great for critical thinking skills, along with working on spot the difference (visual disclination) tasks.

Book 9 is a higher level book, so save it for your older, more high functioning learners, or adult learners who are working at this reading level.

Spot the Difference Vision Books

Another great resource are “spot the difference” books! (affiliate link) There are hundreds of spot the difference books to choose from. These books not only address visual discrimination, but can also be used to work on following directions, scanning, item location in a busy environment, and general visual processing skills.

The OT Toolbox is offering a FREE visual perception packet to download and use with your learners.

Visual Closure Book

The Visual Closure Workbook is a 65 page digital file designed to impact visual perceptual skills for reading comprehension and efficiency, and the ability to visualize a complete image or feature when given incomplete or partial information.

Visual closure skills are essential for reading with fluency.  It’s necessary for written work to happen without concentrating on each letter’s lines and curves. Visual Closure allows us to comprehend words and letters without actively assessing each line.

Challenges with puzzles, identifying sight words, copying in handwriting, math tasks, and other reading or writing activities require visual closure skills.

This workbook includes:

  • Information on visual closure and visual processing
  • Red Flags Indicating a Visual Closure Problem
  • 15 ways to use the workbook and strategies
  • More Visual Closure Activities (use these tactics to grade the visual closure activities to meet individual needs, challenge, users, and support the development of skills)
  • Workbook – Level 1
  • Workbook – Level 2
  • Workbook – Level 3

This workbook is designed to provide background information on visual closure as a tool for understanding this visual perceptual skill. It’s a guide for advocating for common visual closure difficulties through the included screening tool broken down as “red flags”.

NOTE* The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and inclusion. The previous information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages, or whomever could benefit from these resources.

Contributor: Kaylee is a pediatric occupational therapist with a bachelors in Health Science from Syracuse University at Utica College, and a Masters in Occupational Therapy from Utica College. Kaylee has been working with children with special needs for 8 years, and practicing occupational therapy for 4 years, primarily in a private clinic, but has home health experience as well. Kaylee has a passion for working with the areas of feeding, visual development, and motor integration.

Truths About Toddlerhood The OT Wants You To Know


The toddler years can be a struggle! From the age of one year to 3 years, toddlers grow and develop immensely. But when parents are in the midst of toddlerhood, it can seem like the never-ending tantrums, meltdowns, sometimes crazed attempts at independence, and picky eating, sleep issues, etc… never end. Not to mention learning new words (with little-to-no filter), sleep changes, appetite and eating considerations, toddler years can be a real challenge to parents. But as an occupational therapist, there is a very real developmental need for these toddler antics.

Be sure to read our resource on newborns not sleeping through the night, because sometimes sleep habits can carry over to toddler sleep issues that impact function, development, and family dynamics.

Toddlerhood gets a bad rap with terms like the “terrible twos” and the “three-nager years”. But is it all bad? Here’s what your friendly OT wants you to know…

Strategies for toddlerhood

Toddlerhood Development

So, what is it about the toddler years? These cute packages of rolly, squishy, no-longer babies are little people with BIG emotions, BIG personalities, and BIG smiles. Some of the sweetest memories I have from when my kids were younger come from the toddler stage, when little voices pronounce words totally incorrectly…but in the cutest way possible. Those big teethy smiles and non-stop play was nothing but learning and developing skills.

As a mom, I loved to watch my littles learn. I loved to kiss their sweet heads to sleep each night. Oh, there were meltdowns, demanding, whining breakdowns that these cuties experienced (daily). There were messes, spills, diaper issues, and the house was in a constant state of disaster zone.

But as the occupational therapist? I knew this was all part of the stage of development and toddlerhood means messy repetition. (i.e. Yes, we will need to practice cleaning up blocks 37 times a day. Yes, we will do it again tomorrow).

But, from that perspective of a pediatric developmental professional, there is so much more to say about the toddler years. ALL of that pushing buttons, whining, changing minds, meltdowns, carrying purses full of toys, getting into the kitchen cupboards, streaking naked through the house…it’s all essential toddler development! Really!

We have a great resource on child development that covers developmental milestones. From that blog post, you’ll discover the toddler developmental stages that occur from 1-3 years.

This developmental checklist can help to define specific milestones.

Early childhood is a critical time when children develop skills they will use throughout their lives. These areas of development include:

  • physical
  • cognitive
  • communication/language
  • emotional
  • social skills

It is during the first years of life that children show a tremendous level of growth in each of these areas.

Occupational Therapy and Toddlerhood…

As a pediatric OT, there are a few sticking points that is important to remember.

The toddler years get a bad rap for behaviors, saying “no”, tantrums, going “boneless” as we used to say about sudden tantrums where the toddler flops on the floor in refusal for some task, activity, or thing like getting dressed. However, if there are extreme issues, regressions, or you have a gut feeling about certain developmental concerns, these may be toddler behavior red flags to explore in further detail along with a pediatrician.

But, here are a few things about the “good” of toddlerhood…

  1. Have patience with your toddler.

Because of the tremendous amount of development, it is easy to become overwhelmed by skills (running, hopping, getting dressed, manipulating toys and materials, self-feeding…the list goes on and on!) Plus, young children want to exhibit independence in these areas. They want to do what mom or dad or big siblings are doing, but they may not have the skills to do so. Frustration ensues!

Things to remember is that the child is developing in all of these areas at once. By watching routines, listening to parents talking, watching siblings, they learn to throw, carry, put away, wash, color…these are multi-faceted skills. There is sensory, motor, cognitive, visual all happening at once with daily tasks.

Plus, the cognitive development occurring at the same time means that following directions are not always on target with what the small child wants to do. They want a piece of toast for breakfast. Then they don’t. It can be easy to lose patience as the toddler has a tantrum on the floor, but they are managing emotions, thought processes, decisions, and communication challenges all at once. It can be a lot to process! Be patient as the adult in the situation.

Patience is key as your little toddler develops skills at the rate that is right for them.

That brings us to our next point.

2. Remember that each child is different.

Toddlers grow and develop at a fairly predictable course and rate. There are general developmental expectations that happen during the toddler years, called developmental milestones. However, not all child achieves these milestones at the same time. And that’s ok!

It can be easy to become upset as a parent when a friend’s child achieves skills or abilities. Remember that each child is on their course of development. From birth to three years, a child visits the pediatrician many times.

You’ll experience many questions on development during those visits, where the doctor or staff ask about milestones. If there is a concern with development, or evident delay, this is where you can explore services to support needs.

Even through each toddler is different and development occurs in different stages, it’s all part of showing independence. This can mean picky eating, throwing food, saying “NO!” or any other aspect of showing independence.

3. Development occurs through play.

Occupational therapy practitioners use play as a tool to promote more play! And it’s through play that toddlers develop skills.

It’s through play that toddlers achieve stability, build relationships with parents, siblings, and others.

They test boundaries and explore the world around them.

Play offers opportunities to use their reflexes, transform motor skills, and distinguish refined motor skills (i.e. using their arms and legs to achieve a desired action such as getting up those stairs!)

Sensorimotor skills expand and toddlers gain control in play objects and tool use; They begin to use crayons, spoons, forks, and manage clothing. Previously, we’ve shared the best crayons for toddlers that support this development through functional play.

Young children are fascinated by mastering new skills and learning new things. You might see them drawn to activities or experiences that offer sensory experiences, are repetitious, or involve exploration. But even though novel opportunities support child development, routine is essential.

Read about the power of play for more ideas to support your toddler.

Physical Development during toddlerhood

Going back to the development aspect, you can generally expect to see the following skills developed during toddlerhood:

12-18 months

  • First steps
  • Walking
  • Climbing stairs

18-24 months

  • Running

24-36 months

  • Jumping
  • Begin to ride a tricycle

3 years

  • True run with both feet leaving the ground
  • Walk upstairs with alternating feet
  • Walk downstairs
  • Able to remove most clothing

Cognitive Development During Toddlerhood

From 1-3 years of age, so many cognitive skills are built and expanded upon. You’ll notice in the list below that many of these cognitive skill components are grounded in play. Remember that play builds skills! Let’s break down the skills by age:

12-18 months

  • Includes others at recipients of play behaviors
  • Imitates new behavior

18-24 months

  • Demonstrates invention by combining mental combinations
  • Finds hidden objects (separation skills)
  • Shows differed imitation
  • Uses toys or dolls in pretend play

24-36 months

  • Substitutes objects in pretend play
  • Integrates themes in play

3 years

  • Begins operational thinking
  • Counting words up to 5
  • Can solve nesting cup problems

Language Development for Toddlers

The first few years are a huge time for development of receptive language and expressive language. Here are some specifics:

12-18 months

  • Expresses self through jargon, sounds, cries

18-24 months

  • Understands multi-word phrases/sentences
  • Uses multi-word phrases to express thoughts (“Me up” to indicate a desire to be picked up; “Mommy go” to indicate that mommy has left the house)

24-36 months

  • Initiates a conversation with words or phrases
  • Uses 2 part sentences or phrases (“Me go home.”)

3 years

  • Understands positional terminology (in, on, under)
  • Uses more complex sentences
  • Distinguishes between images and words or text on paper or in books
  • Begins to generalize rules for verb tenses and using plurals

Toddler Social-Emotional Development

Social emotional development occurs even from the young age in toddler years. Social skill development occurs through interaction with others, play, and day to day tasks. Here are some milestones you may see:

12-18 months

  • Experiences peak of separation anxiety

18-24 months

  • Demonstrates less separation anxiety
  • Begins to show empathy for another person, animal, toy

24-36 months

  • Begins to respond with empathy to another person’s distress
  • Includes others in pretend play

3 years

  • Shows physical aggression over verbal aggression when distressed or upset

Toddlerhood Tips

So, how can you and your toddler thrive during these hectic years? A pinch of patience, play, play, and more play! We actually have actionable strategies over on our toddler play page, including fun ways to play with your toddler that inspire development.

Some quick tips (described in more detail over on that main toddler page) include:

  1. Meet the level of the child.
  2. Set up a toddler safe space.
  3. Be a balanced play partner.
  4. Enjoy & have fun with the play.
  5. Limit screens. (Or use in moderation.)

Transforming Toddlerhood With Play

Ask any occupational therapist and you’ll see that play is the way and the means to develop skills during these years. Looking for therapist-approved activities to inspire learning through play for toddlers? These are some of our favorite ideas:

Or, try making a craft with 2 year olds and 3 year olds…an easy suncatcher activity using items you have in the house!

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

ABC’s of Summer Learning

ABCs of summer

Summer is a time to relax and have fun, but with a little thought, play can inspire learning! We created this ABCs of Summer list of summer alphabet activities years ago, but it is still a fun resource! Go through the activities week by week, or use switch to a new letter every few days. The best thing about this list of A-Z summer activities is that it’s very open-ended! Pick the ones that work for you!

ABCs of summer activities for kids

ABCs of Summer

This list of a-z summer activities was inspired when our kids were preschoolers. We wanted to pull together a list of fun alphabet themed play ideas that could be a Summer Bucket List of sorts.

With the end of summer looming and back-to-school fall schedules not so far off, we thought it would be fun to present an A to Z list of fun, creative, and educational play and learning activities. 

That’s where this summer alphabet comes into play!

There are so many reasons why messy, sensory play supports development and learning. Not only are kids learning the alphabet, they are developing skills in other areas, too:

  • Learning the letters of the alphabet
  • Fine motor skill development
  • Visual motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Sensory input for self-regulation
  • Handwriting or pre-writing skills
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Confidence
  • Body awareness
  • Connection with others
  • Attention and focus
  • Executive functioning skills

We wanted to pull together a list from around the web and share playful and fun activities to make the most of summer before those fall schedules start up again.  Now is the time to make a few memories.  

Kids learn through play so the best learning comes through playful activities.  Let’s wrap up the summer with a full alphabet of fun.   Here we have it…the ABCs of Summer Learning! 

ABCs of summer for kids

How to Do ABCs of Summer

 These ideas can be done all throughout the summer, but it’s very open-ended.

You can look through the list and pick and choose a few activities to extend out the dog days of summer. 

Motor Skills- Encourage movement. You can use our alphabet exercises to get started with ideas. Pick a letter, do the letter exercise, and then do an activity or two based on that letter. Then repeat in a few days with a different letter.

Sensory-Based- The alphabet summer ideas listed below are mainly sensory-based play, meaning that they involve texture exploration, messy play, and getting the hands and body involved in the play. This is designed to inspire learning! Consider making an alphabet sensory bottle to start off your summer ABC theme. Shake up the bottle, find a letter, and do the activities associated with that letter until you complete the whole alphabet. You could select a random letter or you could look for a specific letter. It’s up to you!

Incorporate Handwriting– For children in kindergarten and above, adding in writing practice is a good idea. Use these letter formation strategies for practicing each letter…also grounded in movement and sensory experiences to promote motor memory of letter formation. For children in preschool, addressing pre-writing skills over letter formation is recommended, based on development. Simply go through the abcs of summer based on the lines used in letters. Our recourse on letter formation covers recommended progression of letters based on development and lines. Older kids can even just write some of the words that start with that letter, for additional practice with copying words, writing on lines, and spacing.

Writing Trays- Speaking of writing practice, there is more than one way to practice forming letters or the lines that make up letters. Use one of our many writing trays for handwriting as an added way to incorporate motor and sensory movements to form individual letters or pre-writing skills associated with the letters. (lines, diagonals, shapes, line changes, etc.)

One final tip: Summer is meant to be a time to slow down on the schedules, lists, educational tips and pointers…and  a time for the kids to just have fun being kids.  So be sure to make this FUN and a way to connect through play.

With these tips in mind, let’s get started on the ABCs of Summer!

Summer Words that Start with A:

Summer Words that Start with B

Summer Words that Start with C

Summer Words that Start with D

Summer Words that Start with E

Summer Words that Start with F

Summer Words that Start with G

Summer Words that Start with H

Summer Words that Start with I

Summer Words that Start with J

Summer Words that Start with K

Summer Words that Start with L

Summer Words that Start with M

Summer Words that Start with N

Summer Words that Start with O

Summer Words that Start with P

Summer Words that Start with Q

  • Sort and Manipulate Quarters 
  • Play the Quiet Game
  • Make a fort with a Quilt

Summer Words that Start with R

Summer Words that Start with S

Summer Words that Start with T

Summer Words that Start with U

  • Plan an Under The Sea Party
  • Use an Umbrella in the rain or sun
  • Help Unload the dishwasher
  • Blow bubbles with a straw underwater

Summer Words that Start with V

Summer Words that Start with W

Summer Words that Start with X

Summer Words that Start with Y

  • Go for a walk and Look For Yellow
  • Name the months in the Year   
  • Play in the yard
  • Visit a yard sale

Summer Words that Start with Z

What are your favorite summer activities?

Audio Books for Occupational Therapists

audio books for occupational therapists

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

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

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

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

Audible Books for Occupational Therapists

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

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

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

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

Click here start your free Audible Trial Period.

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

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

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

Free Audio Books for Occupational Therapists

This post contains affiliate links.

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

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

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

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

Parenting Books on Audible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also be sure to check out our blog post on dyslexia and occupational therapy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colleen Beck, OTR/L 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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

How we Can Tell Time Through Rocks (hands on learning)

Use rocks to make a rock clock

In this activity, we can use rocks to tell time! It’s true…not by shadows and watching the sun as it passes by, but by physically moving and manipulating rocks as a time telling tool. In this rock and learn math activity, we can use rocks found around the home with heavy work input as a clock building time telling activity! This is just one more way to teach kids to tell time through hands on play.

Tell Time Through Rocks

It’s always nice to play and learn with the kids when the supplies are completely free.  Learn and play with rocks from your backyard or natures walks with a few fun ideas to Learn using Rocks!   You might have seen a few of our other rock activities.  (We really have a lot, believe it or not!)    

In this activity, though, we are asking kids to lift rocks that offer heavy work input, or proprioceptive input while learning to tell time using a simple rock.

Learn with rocks, including teaching kids to tell time, math, literacy, fine motor, sensory.

Teach kids for free using rocks!

This post is part of our month-long Learning with Free Materials series where we are sharing learning ideas for homeschoolers and school-extension activities using items that are free or mostly free (i.e. CHEAP or you already have in the home)…and rocks are most certainly free!  

This series is part of the 31 Days of Homeschooling Tips as we blog along with other bloggers with learning at home tips and tools.  We do have affiliate links in this post for your convenience.

While using rocks in clock building not time telling, but to learn the concepts of time is fun, it’s also functional. Kids can play to learn and learn to play with rocks!

Use rocks to tell time

  There are a ton of ways to learn at home, either through homeschooling, or as school-based enrichment activities using rocks from your own backyard. 

Let’s take a look at more ideas for rocks:  

Math with Rocks

  • Count rocks in a line.
  • Add and subtract with rocks.
  • Sort rocks by characteristic.
  • Arrange rocks and pebbles into patterns with AB, ABA, ABBA, ABAB, and more complex patterns.
  • Create charts on the ground using rock markers.
  • Write numbers on rocks as a manipulative in math problems.
  • Tell Time with rocks.
Build a clock with rocks to teach kids to tell time, including minute hands, hour hands, and numbers on the clock.

Teach Time Telling with a Rock Clock

We used smooth rocks to create and build a clock.  Clock building and time telling is a fun and common activity for us recently, so building a clock with rocks was a challenge when the rocks didn’t have numbers written on them.  

Teach kids to position the “3”, “6”, “9”, and ” 12″ rocks first then fill in the other “numbers”.  

You could also write the numbers on the rocks using a (Amazon affiliate link) paint marker.  Use twigs to create the minute and hour hands and work on time telling outdoors with nature.

Use pebbles to teach time with rocks. This is a fun hands on activity for kids learning to tell time.

Use smaller pebbles to teach time with rocks. We found smooth pebbles from a garden that worked well as the numbers on a clock.

Kids can move them around to the correct position on the rock clock face. This is a fun hands on activity for kids learning to tell time.

Engineering with Rocks

Rocks are a great material in STEM for kids:  

  • Build towers.
  • Create bridges using rocks.
  • Explore balance.  How does one rock balance on another.  Will a different rock stay put in the same way?
  • Explore force and movement. How can rocks move items?

Building a small tower of rocks is a great eye-hand coordination and fine motor activity, and you can show kids how to mark shadows from the sun to mark the passing of time.

As the sun moves across the sky and the shadow from the rock tower moves along the ground, kids can associate the passage of time with this visual. Then move the hands on the clock to show how much time has passed.

Use rocks to teach like telling time with rocks.

Rocks in Literacy

  • Use that paint marker like we did here to build letter blends.
  • Use the rocks in a letter sensory bin.
  • Use rocks and pebbles in pretend play and story telling literacy activity by creating story-based small worlds.

  More learning ideas using rocks: Use rocks in sensory play,  pretend play sensory bins,  and fine motor with play dough.

A final note on this rock clock activity

While teaching time isn’t something that is always addressed in occupational therapy, we can support the need to learn time as it relates to time management and functional task completion. After all, if one can’t note the time on the clock, they can’t be out the door to school or an appointment, resulting in many issues.

OTs do support their clients in the educational space, and sometimes telling time is a challenge, especially for those with executive functioning issues, visual perceptual issues, or cognitive impairments. So in theses cases, OT can intervene to support the educational curriculum or to offer alternatives that help the individual to succeed at their goals.

When working with this clock activity, learners or clients can build on educational goals as well as executive functioning skills.

These kids rock ideas develop many skill areas:

  • They can learn clock concepts
  • Participants can manipulate small objects to develop fine motor skills.
  • Clients or students can use the hands-on approach to develop motor planning and eye-hand coordination skills while learning time to the nearest five minutes
  • They can develop and learn relationships between time elements.
  • Participates can learn through play.
  • Students can develop and create, using rock manipulatives as a models to support learning.
  • Participates can develop skills and experience in using symbols in learning, organization, working memory, communication, mathematical skills, and more.

How will you use this rock clock activity to teach time or time telling skills through play?

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

Recycle Activities for Kids and OT

Recycle materials in occupational therapy

Having a few recycle activities up your sleeve is great as a busy OT, teacher, or parent…The thing is you can always find a way to use recycled items in crafts or play that supports the development of fine motor skills! Using recycled materials in occupational therapy crafts is a great way to create while using items that are in the home.

Some of the therapy ideas here include projects made from recycled materials, and others are activities that use recycled items in actual therapy tools. Still others are recycling activities for kids.

These recycle activities for kids are crafts that can be used in occupational therapy sessions to work on fine motor skills, direction following, motor planning, eye-hand coordination, and other OT goal areas. Many of the ideas below are activities using recycled materials you probably have in your recycling bin right now. Start saving those egg cartons, plastic containers, used water bottles, newspapers, and paper, because these crafts and activity ideas build skills!

These are great to add to your Spring occupational therapy activities: Think Earth Day fun!

Using recycled materials in occupational therapy for Earth day activities and building skills and OT goal areas through the use of recycled materials.

Recycle Activities In Occupational Therapy

Be sure to check out the list of recycled materials for art projects and fine motor activities, too. You can pass this list on to parents so they hold onto items like paper towel tubes to be used in OT home programs or teletherapy sessions. 

For more ideas, check out this ultimate occupational therapy teletherapy resource. We’ve shared a bunch of ways to play and build skills by using recycled items in therapy activities, like this gross motor grasp activity with plastic containers.

There are so many ways to use recycled materials in occupational therapy activities. When you think about the task of recycling, this is a very occupation-centered daily task.

activities using recycled materials

In OT, we address the functional tasks that one participates in throughout the day. Cooking, hygiene, and home management are those types of tasks. And, when participating in those daily tasks as an independent and functional being, there is trash that results as a result. That’s where activities using recycled materials comes into play.

When part of that task completion is the clean-up, or home management portion, you can insert activities using recycled materials, while recycling. So, managing recyclable refuse is part of that task completion. You can get your therapy clients involved in these recycling activities for kids while coaching towards goal areas.

In occupational therapy, we can cover the management of recycling.

There are many OT areas that can be addressed in therapy sessions (for all ages):

  • Sorting recycling
  • Identifying recyclable items
  • Cleaning out recyclable materials
  • Creating a recycle center in the home
  • Taking out recyclables along with the trash
  • Hand washing

And, part of that task process can be using recycled materials in therapy activities to address other goal areas, such as fine motor skills, strength, coordination, and balance.

Consider the possibilities of using recycle items in crafting and play!

Save this page, because you have a collection of activities in your toolbox using everyday items that are heading to the trash!

Use recycled materials in occupational therapy sessions.

Check out the past posts listed below to find tons of creative and fun ways to learn and play with recycled materials and a few projects made from recycled materials:

Kids will love these simple developmental and learning crafts and activities made with recycled materials

projects made from recycled materials

In therapy or in learning activities, crafts are a great way to build specific skills like scissor skills, crossing midline, eye-hand coordination, motor planning, executive functioning, bilateral coordination, and other skills. Here is our giant collection of craft ideas for kids that can be used in OT sessions.

Below, you will find craft ideas using recycled items. Below, I’ve broken down OT activities by the recycled materials.

Use the ideas listed here as recycling activities for toddlers, preschoolers, and older ages, too.

Some of these ideas are great for a physical education lesson using recyclable materials, and even balance, coordination and motor planning skills needed in physical therapy sessions.

One way that I love to use these activities is to create a handwriting portion. You can ask the clients to list out materials used and then add a piece on “how did i use recycled materials in this activity?” It’s a great way to include functional handwriting.

You’ll find a section for OT activities using egg cartons, ideas using recycled containers, OT ideas with paper towel tubes, etc. Each material has so many ways to build common goal areas. Let’s get started…

These recycled materials are good to have on hand for helping kids build skills and work on occupational therapy activities.

Egg carton crafts and activities for kids:

Save those egg cartons! Whether you are building hand strength, working on eye-hand coordination, or building motor planning skills, recycled egg cartons can be a powerful tool to add to your therapy toolbox. Try some of these ideas in OT sessions or in the classroom or home to build skills.

Work on intrinsic hand strength with an egg carton– We used pieces of straws to build hand strength, but you can use other small items like toothpicks, beads, small toys, or even rolled pieces of paper.

Speaking of hand strength, this robin craft and fine motor activity uses an egg carton and pipe cleaners to build strength and endurance in the hand with a focus on precision and an extended wrist.

Work on buttoning with kids? Teach buttoning with an out-of-the-box activity using a recycled egg carton.

Take shoe tying to another level by teaching kids to tie shoes with an egg carton. Tying shoes can sometimes be difficult when switching to different shoes. Try practicing shoe tying on a different medium for something fun, while still working on skills such as bilateral coordination, motor planning, pinch, and sustained grasp.

Egg carton fine motor color sorting– We painted the egg carton and used colored jingle bells to work on in-hand manipulation, grasp, precision, and eye-hand coordination, but you could use any small item, and painting is totally optional.

More egg carton activities include:

  • Cut the sections and stack them in a tower
  • Clip clothes pins to the edges
  • Write a number or letter inside the carton. Place the correct number of small items in each section.
  • Sort letters written on pieces of paper
  • Cut the egg tray so it contains 2 rows of 5 sections. Use it as a hands-on 10 frame for teaching kindergarten math skills.

Egg Carton Crafts

Use an empty egg carton to build skills with a craft material that you might already have in your home right now. From egg carton flowers to fine motor power tools, these are recycled egg carton crafts that are therapist-approved.

Flower feather craft~ fine motor skills, direction following, multi-step feather art

Egg carton caterpillar craft- This classic recycled egg carton craft is a fun one for kids. We used it to build math skills, too.

Spring tulip craft with recycled egg cartons~ tripod grasp, multi-step direction following

Snowman math activity~ fine motor pincer/tripod grasp while working on math skills

Painted rainbow recycled egg cartons– Paint egg cartons and then use them in other crafts or sorting activities. Painting the sections of the egg carton tray requires precision and coordination.

Egg carton pumpkins– This is an OLD post here on the website, but one that is such fun. Kids can use golf tees to hammer into the sections of the egg carton, making pumpkin stems while building coordination and motor skills.

Fine motor egg carton Christmas tree~
Work on building tripod grasp to thread a Christmas tree from egg cartons. You could also just stack the recycled egg carton sections into a tower if you want to build this activity year-round.

Use toilet paper tube crafts in occupational therapy activities to help kids build motor skills.

Toilet Paper tube crafts and activities for kids:

Cardboard tube crafts using recycled paper towel tubes or toilet paper rolls are a great way to use what you’ve got while building fine motor skills. These toilet paper tube crafts have got you covered. You can also use paper towel tubes for many of these recycled materials activities and crafts. The paper tube provides a great material for young children to practice cutting, while positioning their scissors correctly and promoting bilateral coordination. When cutting a cardboard tube, kids have to start at their midline and work away from their body while holding onto the tube. It’s a great starter project for children.

  • Clip paper clips to the edges
  • Stack them up and knock them over by rolling a ball to work on coordination
  • Drop small items through the tubes into a target bin or basket
  • Use a hole punch to punch holes in the sides. Thread pipe cleaners through the holes
  • Slit the edges and create a building toy
  • Practice scissor skills by cutting down the edge
  • Clip clothes pins to the edges

Toilet paper rolls and paper towel tubes make a great item to use in OT sessions. Here are ways to use paper tubes visual tracking exercises with kids.

Build gross grasp and coordination with paper tubes and small balls or toys. Kids can balance the items on the cardboard rolls while building skills.

Toilet Paper Tube Crafts

Olympic rings craft with paper tubes– Kids can cut toilet paper rolls into small circles and create an Olympic ring craft.

Spring chick juice box cover~ tip to tip grasp, multi-textural craft for Spring

Rainbow recycled cardboard tube craft~ Color the sides of the toilet paper tube with crayons, paints, or markers and build fine motor skills, imagination, pretend play, language skills

Cardboard tube zebra craft– Cut a toilet paper tube into an animal shape and turn it into a zebra craft.

Rainbow binocular
s~ imagination, pretend play, fine motor skills

Cardboard tube turkey napkin ring~
fine motor work with a napkin ring craft. we made a turkey, but you could make any animal.

Recycled cardboard tube turkey juice box cover~
Use a paper towel tube to make a juice box cover. we made ours into a turkey, but you could create any animal. This craft builds tripod grasp, multi-step craft

Cardboard tube stamp painting~
Work on gross grasp, fine motor skills, and coordination.

Recycled cardboard tube pumpkin stamps~
Use a paper towel tube or a toilet paper tube to paint pumpkins in this fine motor craft.

Cardboard tube apple stamps~
Use a toilet paper tube to paint apples in a coordination craft. What other round objects could you paint by using a paper roll?

Use recycled containers such as plastic bottles to build fine motor skills like in-hand manipulation and coordination.

Recycled Plastic container activities for kids:

Use recycled bottles in fine motor activities– Plastic bottles like shampoo bottles, soap bottles, and other squeezable bottles are great for building gross hand grasp.

Fine motor color sorting activity with recycled grated cheese container~ tripod grasp, color, pattern, and sorting learning skills. This is a great early math activity!

In-hand manipulation activities ~uses a grated cheese container and a recycled two liter drink container to develop in-hand manipulation and translation skills.

Play dough cupcakes ~using a recycled cupcake container with strengthening and fine motor  development.

Outdoor snow restaurant activity with recycled containers~ imagination, pretend play, language skill development. Don’t have snow? Use play dough, slime, or even homemade kinetic sand.

Fine motor play with plastic bottle and crafting poms~ tripod grasp, color, sorting, and pattern learning

Recycled milk container ghost catch game~ gross motor, eye-hand coordination, and visual motor catch game

Plastic bottle and tissue paper fine motor play~ tripod grasp, auditory processing activity with colors

Fine motor sensory water play with recycled water bottles~ color learning in a multi-sensory activity with fine motor (tripod grasp) components

Spy sight word sensory bottle~ visual scanning activity to work on language. This is a great eye-hand and visual-motor activity!

Fine motor tripod grasp activity~ Tripod grasp and in-hand manipulation skills with a grated cheese container

Recycled plastic water bottle pipe cleaner fine motor activity~ Tripod grasp, fine motor skill development with an auditory component…all while working on colors.

Use recycled materials in occupational therapy sessions such as styrofoam as a base to press toothpicks into while building fine motor skills.

Styrofoam activities for kids:

Use recycled bubble wrap to work on hand strength and auditory processing with kids.

Recycled Bubble wrap activities for kids:

Finger dexterity game with recycled bubble wrap~ fine motor skills to strengthen thenar muscles of the thumb with visual scanning, tracking, crossing midline.

Sensory paint play with recycled bubble wrap~ Challenge the tactile sense with creative play while working on language development, color learning, and fine motor skill play

Mess-free bubble wrap painting~ Build fine motor skills such as tripod grasp, tip-to-tip grasp, and index finger isolation work while engaging in creative painting.

Fine motor and auditory bubble
wrap activity~ Address color learning, visual tracking and scanning, eye-hand coordination with an auditory component.

Use recycled materials in occupational therapy activities and to build skills such as fine motor skills or sensory play.

Recycled Shredded paper crafts and activities for kids:

Sight word sensory bin with shredded paper~ Use recycled paper from the paper shredder in tactile sensory play while learning and identifying sight words, visual scanning activity

Shredded paper snowy farm sensory bin~ Build language, creative expression, and imagination through pretend play with a sensory bin using recycled paper as a sensory bin base.

Valentine’s Day shredded paper sensory bin~ This sensory play activity uses colors, fine motor work with tools, imagination, and pretend play.

Use a recycled cardboard box to build fine motor skills.

Cardboard crafts and activities for kids:

Small world activity with a cardboard box~ imagination, pretend play, language development

Valentine’s day door banner craft~ Multi-step direction following with fine motor work

Fine motor with pipe cleaners and a cardboard box ~ tripod grasp, eye-hand coordination, tip-to tip- grasp

Cardboard box golf tee hammering~ eye hand coordination, tool use, strengthening, letter learning, visual scanning, visual motor activity

Cereal box fine motor coordination~ tripod grasp, visual motor play

Pretend play pizza shop~ imagination, pretend play, language development

How to create a craft bin from recycled materials~ process art with imagination

recycle bin flower craft~ fine motor development

Make a recycle bin project using items you find in the recycling bin. This is a great activity to inspire creativity and imagination!

Use recycled bottle caps to work on occupational therapy activities or address learning such as letter identification, fine motor skills, and more.

Bottle cap crafts and activities for kids:

Christmas stamps with recycled bottle caps~ fine motor development

Recycled bottle caps fine motor activity– We used dry chick peas to build fine motor dexterity with recycled bottle caps, but you can use any small object.

Bottlecap Spinning Tops- These fine motor power tools are great for precision, dexterity, grasp, in-hand manipulation, and arch development of the hands

Use bottle caps in visual tracking– Recycled materials can be used with big visual processing benefits to address visual scanning and tracking.

Recycled bottle cap sight word stamps~ sight word learning, visual scanning, matching

Bottle cap flower craft– Build precision and eye-hand coordination with bottle caps.

Bottle Cap DIY Toys– Recycle bottle caps into DIY toys with fine motor benefits.

Letter learning with recycled bottle caps~ letter learning, visual scanning, matching

Recycled Materials List for Parents

Working wiht children on an Occupational tehrapy home program or in OT teletherapy sessions? You can ask parents to hold on to some of these recyceld materials to use in OT sessions or to work on specific recommended activities;

  1. Toilet paper tubes
  2. Paper towel tubes
  3. Plastic containers (spice jars, Parmesan cheese containers, squeeze jars, shampoo bottles, berry containers, cupcake containers, etc.)
  4. Bottle caps
  5. Cardboard tissue boxes
  6. Delivery cardboard boxes
  7. Egg cartons (cardboard or Styrofoam egg trays)
  8. Styrofoam take-out containers
  9. Shredded paper
  10. Old worksheets, paper that’s been used on just one side
  11. Paper bags
  12. Cereal boxes

What would you add to this list?

Looking for more ways to work on specific skills in teletherapy? Check out this ultimate occupational therapy teletherapy resource to guide a wide variety of treatment ideas.

Earth Day Crafts

Any of these recycled crafts make a great Earth Day craft…why? Kids are using recycled materials in crafting and they are learning to use what they have on hand!

For more seasonal crafts to use in OT sessions, you’ll love our Spring Crafts library!

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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

How to Take a Multisensory Approach to Acedemics

Using a multisensory approach to learning is easy and motivating for kids plus there is a huge benefit to adding sensory academic activities into the classroom.

Here we are covering easy ways to take a multisensory approach to academics. Occupational therapy and multisensory learning go hand in hand. And, when using the fundamental benefits of a several sensory areas in academics, the learner benefits. Let’s go a bit deeper, and then share 10 Fun Sensory Academic Activities.

Using a multisensory approach to learning is easy and motivating for kids plus there is a huge benefit to adding sensory academic activities into the classroom.

A multisensory Approach to academics

Sensory rich activities can teach children academic skills, even if they don’t like to sit down and do worksheets. This blog includes 10 exciting ways to teach preschoolers new skills using sensory rich components such as tactile, visual, auditory and movement based components. 

As a preschool teacher, I am always looking for new ways to teach academic skills to the children who aren’t interested in sitting and attending to small group activities. Tracing letters, taking turns with manipulatives and completing teacher directed tasks aren’t easy for some children. But I want to make sure they are learning the skills they need for Kindergarten readiness. 

Read our resource on tracing sheets for a multisensory approach to learning letters.

When teachers use a multisensory teaching approach, there are many benefits that can be covered.

This blog explains the benefits of sensory play. “Sensory play offers many benefits. It expands children’s vocabulary as they learn about descriptors or attributes, like warm, rough, smooth, and slimy. It’s a great way to teach your children how to describe the world around them.

This type of exploration also supports development of fine and gross motor skills. When children are squeezing dough or holding a paint brush, they’re engaging the small muscles in their fingers and hands. During puddle jumping, they’re using their larger muscle groups.

Because sensory play is open-ended, it naturally fosters independence. They can explore the world and get creative with objects they are playing with. There’s no right or wrong way to play.”

As we work with these children becoming interested in group and social foundations (such as turn taking and participating in adult led activities)  there are some other ways to teach foundational academic skills to these children using sensory rich components.

When children use multiple senses to learn new skills, they are not only able to remember the new skill more easily, they are able to attend to the activity longer. This article explains how sensory and attention are connected

Try adding these multisensory approaches to learning.

10 ways to take a multisensory approach to learning

Now that we’ve covered why a varied sensory offerings impact learning, let’s cover various ways to integrate the senses into a learning environment. Here are ten ways to impact learning through a multi-sensory approach.

1. Offer multisensory instruction with a sensory bin

Sensory bins are a novel environment for students to explore a new concepts. With a sneosy bin includes textures, movement, changes in body positioning, there are manu senses that are used at once while discovering a theme, concept, or idea. Learners can challenge the tactile sense, visual sense, proprioceptive sense, vestibular sense, and even olfactory sense in a sensory bin.

For preschoolers and older kids, try these ideas for multisensory learning using sensory bins:

Visual cues are such an important sensory component that we often forget about. When we see items, we learn how to differentiate them from others. A quick way to incorporate multisensory approach to learning colors, for example, can involve using colored sand or colored rice, to enhance the visual sense, tactile sense, and proprioceptive sense. Not only will children enjoy sorting the objects by color, they will be able to explore the items using their hands. They can scoop, stir, and pour the heavy medium while incorporating colored letters, different colored scoops, colored sensory bin cards, and other materials. Add some scoops to the bins to encourage fine motor development. 

2. Add Nature for a multisensory approach to math

A favorite nature game, this activity uses the tactile sense to encourage movement, motor planning and number sense. Have the child use a bucket gather items they see while outside on a nature walk. They can gather rocks, pinecones, leaves, sticks, flower petals, etc. When you make it to the end of the walk, sort the items out into piles. Now, count how many of each item you have. Which one do they have the most of? The least of? 

A nature-based sensory approach to adding, subtracting, sorting, patterning, shapes, etc. involves several sensory systems: auditory, tactile, visual, proprioceptive, vestibular, and olfactory.

A nature sensory walk can be applied to other learning concepts too, like in this nature rainbow hunt idea.

3. Use a movement-based approach in learning

One way to incorpoate the proprieoceptive and vestibular senses into learning (or kinesthetic learning, as some may consider this approach), is with a game-based learning experience. This can be accomplished with tossing bean bags, throwing a beach ball, balancing, or kicking a ball.

For example, Kick and Count is a game that teaches one to one correspondence to those kids that love to move! All you need are 5 balls and an outdoor area. Line of the 5 balls in a row and ask the child to count each ball before they kick it as hard as they can! You can even add in description words: 

“Kick the ball hard, soft, slow, fast, up, straight, to the left, to the right, backwards… etc)

With any movement approach, add spelling words, facts, sight words, colors, names, etc. to the movement task.

4. Gross Motor Learning

Similar to the specific movement-based approaches listed above, a gross motor obstacle course type of learning activity can be used with learning concepts. The difference? This multisensory approach gets those heart rates up, integrating the interoceptive sense into learning.

For example, students can move around the room to find information cards, letters, spelling word cards, or other visual. More specifically, for kids that are learning to identify letters, match upper and lowercase letters, or write letters, you could use this alphabet bundle. In Alphabet Chase: Sammy Chases the Alphabet, kids can run, donkey kick, crab walk, or hop around the room to locate letter visuals.

After reading the story “Sammy Chases the Alphabet” place letter stickers onto ball pit balls and through them around the room. Have children find them, naming the letters that they find. This game is so much fun every child will enjoy learning their letters. Once children have identified the uppercase letters, switch out the alphabet on the ball pit balls to lowercase letters. Chasing after the alphabet is so much fun!

5. Take a multisensory approach to learning using games

There are so many great games that can be used in learning. Whether you are addressing math, phonetics, handwriting, reading fluency, science, or other area, games can be integrated into learning in some way. Take a look at these various ways to use games in learning. Coming from an OT’s perspective, we’ve been sure to include how these games complement functional skill areas and the senses.

Try to think of ways to use games like Simon Says, Head Bandz, Twister, Seven Up, Checkers, Connect 4 in learning. There are SO many ways to adapt a single game to meet the curriculum needs. Use these printable Simon Says commands.

6. Use cooking as a multisensory learning experience

Using cooking tasks for learning is a motivating and meaningful strategy for learning through the senses. Getting kids involved with cooking tasks is a must. Cooking offers not only a multisensory approach…there are SO many senses involved with cooking! But, cooking is a powerful learning tool, too.

When kids are active in the kitchen, they can look at math, reading, fractions, executive functioning skills, problem solving, eye-hand coordination, visual motor skills, fine motor skills and more. All of these cognitive skills and motor skills impact overall functioning.

7. Use Play Dough mats as a multisensory learning approach

For kids working on handwriting, fluency, comprehension, a quick way to add heavy work input is with a play dough warm-up. In therapy sessions, a handwriting play dough mat can be used for writing prompts. Work on letter formation, line use, spacing and other handwriting needs after heavy work input through the hands.

  • This play dough mat deal is a steal with printable handouts for working out the hands and then working on handwriting.
  • Address letter formation with these letter play dough mats that include a “sky line” and “dirt line” for line and size awareness in teaching letter formation.

8.Incorporate visual and auditory cues into learning

With the Soothing Sammy curriculum, you can address emotional regulation within learning experiences to help kids calm down using visual and auditory cues.

A learning experience that adds visual cues using a flashlight or pointer light plus auditory prompts adds to a typical classroom experience. Consider these tactics:

  • Use a highlighter and black light for a fun visual twist
  • Incorporate music
  • Add low lights to learning for a change in the classroom environment
  • Use the game “telephone” to pass on information
  • Use whisper phones for reading

9. Utilize heavy work input using LEGO in multisensory learning strategies

Novel experiences like bringing in a bin of LEGO offers a fun and engaging learning experience. But when you stop to consider different ways to use one material, you get the wheels turning. Better yet, building with LEGO offers sensory input in many ways: proprioceptive input through the hands to click LEGO together and take them apart, visual processing, tactile input, and auditory processing as the bricks click together.

Use these learning with LEGO ideas for math, literacy, letter formation, pre-writing lines, and more.

How many ways can you think of to incorporate LEGO blocks into a multisensory approach to learning?

10. Use recycled containers in a multisensory approach to learning

One of the easiest ways to incorporate a variety of textures (tactile sense), weights (proprioceptive sense), colors (visual sense), and movement (vestibular sense) is by using a variety of materials. And, one trip to the recycle bin can fill your toolbox with the materials you need for learning at a no-brainer cost (FREE!).

These sensory-rich activities will engage any child and teach new skills through play. We all know how important it is for children to attend to tasks in circle time, group time and other important instances throughout the day.

A final note on using a multisensory approach

As teachers, our goal is for all of our students to succeed. This list of 10 sensory rich academic activities can be used at home, at school or in therapy settings. With these ideas as a starting point, how can you adjust the multisensory themes to meet the needs of your classroom, educational curriculum, and students? Plus, don’t forget the power of brain breaks in learning. With many ideas out there, you can usually find a themed brain break that fits in with educational topics.

As children start to love learning, they will become more interested in participating in more adult directed tasks, preparing them for Kindergarten and Beyond. What is your favorite sensory-rich academic game?

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