Back to School Activities

back to school activities

This year, back to school looks a little different than ever before. I’ve been busy behind the scenes here at The OT Toolbox building tools that you can use during the first weeks of school that will make your life easier. Here, you will find first day of school activities, first day of school printables, and back to school baseline screening activities, back to school crafts, and ideas to use in therapy or the classroom this week (and coming weeks).

Back to school activities for kids of all ages, including first day of school activities, first day of school printables, back to school crafts, icebreaker activities, and more.

Back to School Activities

These activities should keep your students (virtual or in-person) busy the first few weeks of school. Some of these activities are great for online icebreaker activities and others are wonderful ways to build rapport while assessing baseline status in areas like pencil grasp, handwriting, math, scissor skills, or other learning/school tasks.

Back to School Slide Deck- This interactive back to school slide deck works with Google slides. Enter your email address and log into your Google account. You will receive an email with a prompt to access a file for your personal use. Click the button on that pdf and the interactive slide can be copied right into your Google drive. Then, make a copy for each student and they can work through the slides in edit mode. These slides are designed to address visual perceptual skills. Kids will enjoy the back to school supply activities and won’t even know they are building skills that will help them thrive in learning.

Back to school activities for kindergarten- (and first grade, second grade, etc.) These back to school fine motor activities are fun ways to quickly screen for fine motor skills needed at school while building rapport with the students. First day of school activities for kindergarten can involved fine motor activities that are fun and get children excited about their time in therapy sessions.

Visual Schedules- There is something about having a visual schedule that makes things easier when it comes to transitions. We made these back to school story stones a while back and used them to adjust to the new routine that back to school time brings. Visual schedules can be effective in virtual sessions or hybrid learning. Why not use a visual schedule as a tool to move students between group online activities?

Online Icebreaker Activity

Back to School Writing and I Spy Slide Deck- Another interactive slide deck for back to school writing, this slide deck covers a variety of areas. Use the school supplies I Spy slide as a fun activity to get started with the school year. The icebreaker slide can be used to get to know students as they fill out an All About Me activity. The slides include handwriting tasks so students can write words and sentences while teachers or therapists assess baseline levels for each student.

Separation Anxiety Activity- After being out of the classroom for a much longer period of time this year, kids might have some worries or separation anxiety that leaves them anxious. Try this separation anxiety activity that uses a popular children’s book. Reading a book and doing a book-related activity a great icebreaker activity for kids.

Icebreaker Questions- Go through some icebreaker questions for kids. This is fun in person or in virtual settings. Use these questions as a writing prompt to work on handwriting, too.

Icebreaker questions for kids for the first day of school or therapy.

Effective online learning

Heading back to the classroom means switching gears back to online learning. Having a productive and effective online learning experience can be hard for some kids, and the same is true for virual therapy sessions. Here are tips for parents to make the most of teletherapy and online learning sessions.

Having a toolbox of coping strategies for kids can make a big difference, too. Be sure to offer brain breaks, movement activities, and have a set of rules in place to make the most of online learning and virtual therapy sessions.

These back to school sensory activities can be effective movement strategies for kids to stay alert to online learning and pay attention during virtual classroom sessions.

Staying organized- Using organization strategies is more important than ever this school year. Here are organization strategies for the school-based OT, and here are organization strategies for students.

This free editable therapy planner will keep you organized with themes and planning activities this school year.

This therapy planning interactive bulletin board might be just the thing you need to prepare virtual therapy sessions, home programs, and keeping track of therapy plans.

Back to School Crafts

School Bus Craft- This school bus craft is a simple one to set up and can be done as a group online activity or in person. Record the activity for a recorded session, too. With the simple shapes, the bus craft is great for working on scissor skills, visual motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and problem solving.

The Kissing Hand Craft- You’ve read the book The Kissing Hand, right? The book is a helpful tool to help kids with the transition to school. We made a The Kissing Hand craft that involved salt dough key chains (fine motor fun!) and be sure to check out the four other Kissing Hand crafts in the blog post, too.

Pencil Fidget Tool Craft- This pencil topper fidget is a fun craft for kids but it can double as a fidget tool, too. Making this DIY fidget tool builds fine motor skills with sensory-related benefits.

Handwriting Spacing Tools Craft- These spacing tools can be a fun way to get kids invested in spacing between letters and words. Make this spacing tool craft that kids can add to their pencil box and pull out for handwriting tasks. The best news is that making the craft builds fine motor skills too! Try this button spacing tool, this easy craft stick spacing tool, this pipe cleaner spacing tool, this clothes pin spacing tool, and this space martian spacing tool craft.

First Day of School Printables

The first day of school is exciting! Having a set of printables ready for kids of different ages makes the teacher or therapist feel a little more organized and ready for back-to-school, too. Try these first day of school printables:

Back to school printable toolkit- This set of back to school printable activities is fun for the first day of school or the first weeks of school! There are book themed hole punch cards, school supplies I Spy printable page, school materials handwriting paper, an exclusive school supplies “spot it” matching game, and a printable PDF version of the school materials match-up game. Grab the toolkit here OR, get the free back to school writing slide deck listed for a special discount price ūüôā

Emotions and Feelings Printable- Talking about feelings on the first day of school (or first weeks of school) is important, especially this year. Grab this social emotional learning worksheet to cover facial expressions and emotions with kids.

More first day of school activities

What are your favorite ways to get kids excited about the first weeks of school or therapy?

Add this set of back to school activities to your therapy or classroom toolkit…on sale now!

Back to school toolkit– school materials and activities for kids.

Back to school activities for occupational therapy or the classroom

Free Classroom Sensory Strategies Toolkit

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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.

    Recycle Activities for Kids and OT

    Use recycled materials in occupational therapy sessions.

    Using recycled materials in occupational therapy crafts is a great way to create while using items that are in the home. 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!

    Recycle Activities for Kids

    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. 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.

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

    Occupational Therapy Activities with 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. 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 Da
    y 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

    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.

    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.

    31 Days of Learning with Free Materials

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

    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. ¬†

    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. ¬†

    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!

     

     

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

     

     
    Day 16: Learn with Legos
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Day 26: Rock Time Telling
     
     

     

    Day 28: Baking Soda Paints
     
     
     
     
     
    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:

    Fine Motor Activities with Play Dough

    Fine Motor Activities with Paper Clips

    Fine Motor Activities with Craft Pom Poms or Cotton Balls

    Fine Motor Activities with Playing Cards

    Fine Motor Activities with Beads

    Fine Motor Activities with Chalk

    Flexible Seating in the Classroom

    THese flexible seating in the classroom ideas are helpful to improve attention, focus, and learning in students.

    It’s that time again when we are heading back into the school year. Teachers are getting into the classrooms and setting up room arrangements. School-based OTs are gearing up for the back-to-school chaos. When the thoughts of classroom organization and caseloads come into mind, flexible seating in the classroom ideas may not be the first thing you think of. Seating options may even be a part of a classroom sensory diet. But here’s the thing: Flexible seating ideas are always good to keep in mind! There are so many benefits to flexible seating arrangements. From DIY flexible seating ideas to types of seating ideas that can be used in classrooms…there is a lot to think about!

    flexible seating in the classroom with out of the box ideas that kids will love for learning.

    Flexible Seating Ideas for the CLassroom

    There is so much to think about when it comes to accommodating to various seating needs. Positioning and specific student needs are just part of the puzzle. Facilitating learning while encouraging collaborations among students is important and the primary concern when it comes to out-of-the-box seating arrangements. Below, you will find various flexible seating for the classroom and information on the benefits of flexible seating ideas…as well as how to adapt to this classroom sensory strategy.

    Things to consider about Flexible Seating

    When considering flexible seating ideas for the classroom, there is a lot to think about. These considerations include a variety of needs including behavior, cognitive needs, physical abilities, posture, and more.

    Many times therapists are consulted regarding specialized seating as a result of postural needs. In these cases, an individualized assessment may be warranted and aspects of seating should be analyzed before addressing specific seating needs:

    Posture and seating needs may be a result of sensory issues such as physical limitations, weakness, range of motion as a result of tone issues or spasticity, sensory impairments,or other needs.

    Physical limitation or deformities may impact seating posture and positioning. These may include posterior pelvic tilt, pelvic rotation, scoliosis, joint contractures, leg length discrepancies, head and neck positioning, extremity limitations, or other concerns. Each of these may impact learning and attention in the classroom.

    When providing a new or novel seating option in the classroom, there are considerations to keep in mind as well. A flexible seating option may not be the primary classroom seating situation. In other words, it may be the best situation for the classroom learning to occur in traditional desks. Flexible seating in the classroom can be provided for supplemental learning, small groups, independent reading, or other similar activities.

    In some cases, it’s important to consider optimal support in seating options including for those students with physical needs. As a result, some situations may not warrant a full classroom of flexible seating. Chairs and surfaces may not provide optimal postural alignment in order to provide adequate trunk support. Upper extremity mobility and positioning is important to consider if students will be using the seating arrangements for writing tasks. Additionally, considerations such as correct height/depth of the seat and the placement of both feet on the floor is needed for writing tasks.

    Flexible seating in the classroom, ideas to help kids with sensory needs.

    Benefits of Flexible Seating in the Classroom

    A primary benefit of alternative seating options is the improvement to learning and attention that can occur. There may be several reasons that various seating options offer in the classroom.

    • Opportunities for Choices- Students may find that the ability to make a choice in their seating situations makes all the difference in learning and attention. Some students may really like the option to pick where they sit!
    • Something for Everyone- When there are several options for seating in the classroom, it can be one way to meet the needs of a whole classroom. Some teachers may find that kids change in their activity or attention levels throughout the day. When additional movement or proprioceptive input is needed, an alternative seating method may be just the ticket to learning.
    • Heavy Work Opportunities- Use of various flexible seating techniques in the classroom can offer occasional or scheduled use of flexible seating options can provide opportunities for heavy work input by moving desks, bean bag seats, or other seating set-ups as students or a specific team of students move furniture from determined positions. Don’t forget the sensory benefits of moving desks and chairs!
    • No Singling Out- When there are various flexible seating options in the classroom, no child is singled out. This is important for the child with sensory issues or self-regulation needs. Some students may need extra movement or heavy input to facilitate learning, and when the whole classroom has the option to choose a beanbag for reading time, the flexible seating methods are there for everyone…and no student feels singled out based on needs.

    Flexible Seating Ideas for the Classroom

    Now that we’ve covered considerations and a few benefits of flexible seating ideas, let’s cover some specifics! Below are alternative seating methods that may work in the classroom.

    You’ll find a list of options for adding proprioceptive input to the seating system, as well as a large list of alternative seating ideas. Some of these are able to be purchased (Amazon affiliate links are included below). Other options are quite frugal or are DIY ideas. Have fun exploring and considering the flexible seating ideas!

    Flexible seating and proprioception input

    Sensory benefits play a big part of choosing the best flexible seating option. While some alternative seating options provide sensory input or feedback via the positioning, others provide heavy input by hugging the student. There are many ways to add weight that provides a calming benefit into seating ideas. Consider some of the options below in adding to a seating system:

    Tips for adding proprioceptive input or weight to a alternative seating system:

    • Add a weighted lap pad
    • Try a therapy band or bungee cord to the chair legs
    • Use a body sock or fabric tube to the legs of the chair. Done in a non-restricting way, this tube can be a place to slide legs into while sitting in a regular chair
    • Bean bag for under/over the child
    • Computer lap desk over the child’s legs (Can be used as a writing station)
    • Homemade bean bags over legs or feet. Slide these into tube socks or knee-high socks and knot two socks together to create a weighted tube to drape over legs or the shoulders.
    • Under-the-table sling
    • Therapy swing in the classroom or outdoor space
    • Add velcro wrist weights to the inside of a 4 inch binder. Use the binder as a lap writing surface.
    • Encourage tummy time writing. (Write, draw, or read while lounging on bellies on the floor. Make this a fun reading experience by asking students to bring in a flashlight from home.)
    • Try a weighted fidget tool that can be used while seated at a desk.
    • Try some of the additions listed and described below.

    Remember that finding an ideal seating system can require a lot of investigation and trial and error. Some students may benefit from one of the ideas listed here and others may require a mix of several options. Keep it individualized and remember to consult your child’s occupational therapists regarding seating ideas.

    Flexible Seating Ideas

    Bean bag chair is a flexible seating idea for the classroom

    Bean Bag Chairs- Use these on the floor or at a low table. Consider lowering a table to 2-3 feet off the ground for a low writing and reading surface. Other times, bean bags can be used in small group work or for quiet reading. Consider using a bean bag as a cover for legs to provide heavy input through the legs. There are some inexpensive bean bag seat options available. There are also a few varieties of stuffed animal bean bag covers that create seats using old stuffed animals.

    Stuffed Animal Bean Bag Seat- Ask around for stuffed animal donations from family and friends! This bean bag cover creates a bean bag seat using old stuffed animals as a seating option and can be adjusted as needed. Add more stuffed animals to fill the seat or take some out depending on the child’s sensory needs. This stuffed animal cover comes in a larger size that can be used as a lounger chair.

    Use a duvet lounger as a flexible seating idea in school.

    Duvet Lounger- Using the same concept of filling a bean bag with upcycled stuffed animals is the DIY version of using a duvet cover as a method to create a lounger seat. Fill a duvet cover with cushions, pillows, or stuffed animals and create a crash pad that can be used as a lounger seat for the classroom or home.

    A t-stool is a great flexible seating idea for the classroom.
    The Stability Tube Chair is a T-Stool seat for the classroom or home.

    T-Stools- A T-stool is a common seat seen in classrooms. The stool allows students to wobble, move, and wiggle just as their bodies need, while reading, writing, learning, and listening! You’ll find a variety of T-Stools available: The Kore Wobble Chair is great for grades K-3 and provides a larger base of support. The Stabili-T Tool Tube provides less support but requires more core contraction and work, allowing for more movement. A T-Stool Single Leg stool offers more vestibular input given a much smaller base of support and an adjustable height option.

    Single leg T-Stool offers a flexible seating option for classrooms.

    Milk Crate with a Ball Inside– Going for a multi-option flexible seating arrangement in the classroom? Adding a large kickball or small therapy ball inside a milk crate is a great option for the frugal. This is one way to create several seats for a lower cost. Line the milk create up under a low table for a centers activity or small group.

    A therapy ball makes a great flexible seating option in classrooms.

    Therapy Ball– Another frugal means of offering opportunities for movement and sensory input in the classroom is using therapy balls. There are many options available on the market and in stores. Search for yoga balls or exercise balls to find the best prices, in many cases. Worried about them rolling away or becoming massive projectiles in the classroom? Make a “station” using a hula hoop as a base.

    The peanut ball seat is a flexible seating idea for classrooms.

    Peanut Seat- A different version of the therapy ball is the peanut ball seat. Kids can use these seats in a variety of ways, sitting or lying prone on the ball. The peanut ball allows for only unidirectional rolling so they can be easier to contain in the classroom setting when compared to a round therapy ball.

    Use a sensory swing indoors or outdoors, a great alternative seating idea for the classroom

    Sensory Swing- A sensory swing is a versatile seating option for reading, small group work, individual work, or a much-needed sensory break. We’ve tried and loved the Harkla Sensory Pod Swing for it’s cozy support and use as a calm-down space. The great thing about Harkla sensory swings is the easy-to install ability to place them in a classroom. We tried ours outdoors too, for an outdoor sensory swing option. Kids love the outdoor sensory swing in a shaded area such as under a patio deck or even hanging from a tree limb.

    A portable laptop stand is a fun idea for flexible seating in the classroom.

    Portable Laptop Stand- This portable laptop stand doesn’t need to be used for just laptops! Use it as a writing station or for a small reading center. I would love to see a DIY version of this…wonder if an awesome school janitor could whip one together using scrap materials? P.S. If you have one of these stands made…or you make one yourself…let me know! I would LOVE to see it!

    Teachers can use a futon in the classroom as a flexible seating idea.

    Futon- An easy way to incorporate flexible seating options in the classroom is to add a futon. You can grab one at a big box store or on Amazon and have it shipped directly to where you need it to go. The benefits of using a futon in the classroom are endless- A “job” can be to open the futon and replace pillows after quiet reading time, adding opportunities for heavy work. Add a few weighted throw pillows and a weighted lap blanket if it’s appropriate. Sometimes lounging during instruction may be just what is needed.

    A scoop rocker chair is a great way to add flexible seating options to the classroom.

    Scoop Rocker Chairs- Kids love these scoop rocker chairs! They are versatile in that they can be used at a lowered table or during circle time. The light-weight and handle make them easy to carry from class to class or to special classes, if needed. There is a special deal on Amazon offering a set of 6 scoop rocker chairs for $48 right now. Who knows how long that price will last!

    Use a scooter board for seating needs in the classroom to add sensory input as part of a sensory diet at school.

    Scooter Board- Have a scooter board in your car trunk (If you are a mobile therapist, this totally applies to you…) or in the physical education gym/supply closet at school? Scooter boards make awesome foot fidgets for when sitting at a desk. Kids can also use them during circle time. (Provide a hoola hoop boundary!) Or to sit on at a low table or when working in a small group. You can find them at great prices on Amazon!

    Use a reading pillow or bed reading pillow  as a flexible seating idea in the classroom.

    Cushions or Pillows- Super easy to get, and at a very inexpensive cost, pillows and cushions are a fantastic way to create a cozy corner or crash area. Kids will love quiet reading time or group work when sitting on a pillow or cushion. Stalk your local resale shops for great prices. You can also ask parents to send in a small pillow or chair pad cushion (the kind you use on kitchen chairs) that can be used at desks for seated work. A reading pillow (the kind you typically use on a bed) works really well in a calm-down space, too.

    Body Pillow- A body pillow can be an inexpensive way to add movement and positioning to the classroom or home. Add it to a futon or couch in the classroom or include it in a calm-down space.

    Rocking Chair- An old-fashioned porch rocker is a wonderful addition to the classroom. There’s just something about rocking back and forth that brings back memories of quieting fussy babies during the night for this mama…but perhaps the calming effects of slow linear rocking can be just the thing to turn classroom fidgeting into focused learning. If the price tag of a traditional wooden rocking chair is a problem, consider adding a camp rocking chair or an upcycled nursery glider. You can find these baby nursing chairs on Facebook marketplace or in consignment shops for a great price.

    Use a balance cushion as a flexible seating tool in the classroom.

    Balance Cushion- Balance cushions can be used on a traditional desk seat or for floor seating. Adding this to your flexible seating line-up promotes an opportunity for attention and balance by adding movement to learning. Add more air or remove some from the cushion to provide more or less movement and stability required.

    Use a beach chair as a cheap flexible seating option in classrooms.

    Beach Chair- A beach chair is a super inexpensive way to add flexible seating options to a classroom. Set up an area with a few beach chairs for group activities or use them in circle time or morning meetings.

    Use a camp chair as a cheap flexible seating idea for the classroom.

    Camp Chair– A camp chair is another inexpensive option for alternative seating. The curved base provides a cozy and calming space for reading or listening to read alouds in the classroom or home. There are a lot of options on the market in the ways of camping chairs. From the basic camp chair to those with rockers, recliners, or loungers, the choice is yours based on needs in the classroom or home.

    Stools- There are a lot of stool options out there. Using a stool in a flexible seating arrangement provides a variety of use for addressing various needs while making arranged seating easier to change out without much effort. Some ideas for stool use in the classroom include high-stools. These can be used at a high top table which also offers an opportunity for standing. They can be arranged into circle time or small groups while offering vestibular input. Other stool ideas include a small foot stools. These can be used at low tables, in circle time, in a small group circle, or at a low table. Try using them while writing on a paper hanging on a wall or at an easel for vertical writing, which offers more proprioceptive input and movement challenges. Stackable stools are still another option. These are great in place of traditional desk chairs in some cases. The great thing about using stools as part of an alternative seating system is that students can move and set up seating options, offering built-in heavy work.

    Use a papasan chair in the classroom as a sensory seating idea for students.

    Papasan Chair– A papasan chair or a lounger seat is great for the classroom. Quiet reading or group learning can be calm and focused with a supportive and cozy seat. You can find a great price on these chairs in big box stores or on Amazon.

    A cube chair is a seating option that meets sensory needs in the classroom.

    Cube Seat- This cube seat is an option that provides support for the back and trunk while containing and providing a boundary for seated activities. This cube seat option is nice because it can be used in one direction as a low seat and flipped over to allow for a higher height or for use as a table writing surface with visual blocks when visual attention is an issue.

    Partially Inflated Beach Ball- Yes, it’s true. Grab a dollar store beach ball and blow it up just a little, so that the air in the beach ball provides a movable cushion. This seating system is appropriate for younger children, but it’s an option for testing out movement in the seat. You’ll find more about using a beach ball cushion in a previous The OT Toolbox blog post.

    Cheap flexible seating ideas for the classroom include  camp chairs, beach chairs, bean bags, and pillows.

    More Flexible seating ideas

    What are your best tricks and tips for adding movement to the classroom while meeting the needs of various students? Flexible seating in the classroom doesn’t need to be complicated. It doesn’t need to be expensive either! Stop back soon, because we’ll have a line-up of DIY flexible seating ideas coming your way very soon.

    Some of the ideas listed above are very budget-friendly, especially if you are able to find items second-hand or by upcycling items. Other budget-friendly seating options include using a cardboard box, cushions, or stadium seats, for example. We’ll have more budget-friendly seating ideas for you coming up soon!

    Budget-friendly flexible seating ideas include camp chairs, beach chairs, carpet spots, and more.

    Classroom Breaks and Behavior

    Movement breaks in the classroom ideas and activities for the classroom

    Adding movement breaks to the classroom can be a tool for helping kids focus and learn. Read below about some research related to classroom breaks and behavior, learning, and focus in the classroom. These are brain breaks that can be used as classroom breaks to take a short break from learning…OR used as a strategy to incorporate movement into learning activities!

    Classroom breaks add an opportunity to boost learning skills and reduce behaviors that interfere with academics. These movement activities and classroom breaks can be incorporated into the classroom and are evidence-based.

    Movement Breaks

    I was thinking about the cold weather we’ve been having recently. My kids have been cooped up in school and when they get home from school, it’s been FREEZING. Sure, we can bundle up and run around the yard for a bit (and I try to get all the kiddos to do this)…but it is downright cold out there. We can’t last too long when the wind chill is -4 degrees F!


    Not only that, but many schools aren’t having outdoor recess when it’s this cold. Some are getting their kids bundled up and outside, but for the most part, it’s been indoor recess for many kids.


    So when the school day is an indoor affair all day long, kids can become antsy!


    Research on Classroom Breaks



    Research tells us that activity breaks in the classroom¬†can improve classroom behavior and¬†can increase students’ overall physical activity.


    We know as therapists, that behaviors are just the tip of the iceberg. They are the sign that something bigger is causing the behavior we see. It might be anxiety, worries, sensory needs, communication issues, emotional concerns, social situations, or a myriad other underlying areas that lead to the behavior we see. 



    So, to know that science tells us that a brain break can help get out of that rut of behaviors is huge! It’s a strategy to help reduce the behavior and move toward focused learning and attention. In fact, there’s been some findings indicating¬†physical activity during the school day improves attention-to-task in elementary school students.¬†



    The evidence suggests that increasing physical activity may improve academic performance, in the forms of recess, physical education class, and physical activity in the classroom. But if indoor recess is the only option this time of year, and gym class occurs every one day out of 6 in a classroom rotation schedule, or even one day/week, where does this leave us? Movement and learning and classroom breaks seem to be the option left!



    In my research of the available evidence-based practice scenarios out there, I found some interesting points related to learning and specifically executive functioning skills and overall cognitive functions related to learning. 



    Here is some more information on physical activity and brain structure such as brain white matter and brain function. 


    Executive function is related to learning

    It seems that executive functioning skills play more into learning that just having a neat and tidy desk space or remembering homework. 


    In fact, executive function plays very much into the use of those mental skills in learning and classroom tasks. These skills can play a big role in attention levels and impulse control of kids in the classroom. They play a part in learning in many ways. Here are just a few examples:

    -Arriving to class on time
    -Staying on task in an assignment
    -Staying focused when completing minor tasks such as retrieving a pencil. Here’s a scenarios you may have seen before: A student drops their pencil. They bend to retrieve that pencil and then get distracted and lose focus on the assignment they are working on. Sound familiar?
    -Visual attention in order to scan a math worksheet and going through the assignment part by part without skipping sections or getting distracted or overwhelmed

    Activity and Learning

    • Evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the classroom subjects topics that are most influenced by physical activity. These academic areas depend on “efficient and effective executive function, which has been linked to physical activity and physical fitness”.
    • Executive function and brain health are the basis of academic performance. The cognitive functions of attention and memory are essential for learning. These executive function skills are enhanced by physical activity and higher aerobic fitness.

    Physical activity and behaviors

    It seems that when physical activity is used as a break in the classroom, whether as a brain break or , during gym class, recess time, or during active learning, attention, on-task behavior, and academic performance  improves as well. 

    How to add more physical activity to the school day 

    Some ideas for adding physical activity into the classroom in order to improve behaviors include:


    1. Offering physical activity breaks within the curriculum or learning activity


    2. Allow students to stand at the student’s discretion. This strategy should be used with a training period and even a contract signed by the student that says they will not move away from their desk and that they will perform the work that’s asked of them while standing at their desk.
     

    3. YouTube Videos- Here are our recommendations for YouTube brain breaks that can be added into classroom breaks. Some of these would be great for an indoor recess dance party, too. 


    4. Print off a collection of brain breaks and pull them out at different times during the day or as a transition activity. Here are some printable sheets of brain breaks: Bear brain breaks, Squirrel Themed Brain Breaks,  apple themed brain breaks

    5. Add a beach ball or bean bag to group activities. Toss while naming the answer to questions. 


    6. Jumping Jack Spelling Words- This is a whole-class exercise drill that gets the brain and the heart moving!


    7. Make indoor recess an active time. Here are indoor recess ideas to get the kids moving. 

    Use these classroom movement ideas to help with behaviors, learning, and to promote academic skills like math and reading.



    References:

    Grieco LA, Jowers EM, Bartholomew JB. Physically active academic lessons and time on task: The moderating effect of body mass index.¬†Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.¬†2009;41(10):1921‚Äď1926.¬†



    Mahar MT, Murphy SK, Rowe DA, Golden J, Shields AT, Raedeke TD. Effects of a classroom-based program on physical activity and on-task behavior. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2006;38(12):2086.



    Donnelly JE, Lambourne K. Classroom-based physical activity, cognition, and academic achievement.¬†Preventive Medicine.¬†2011;52(Suppl 1):S36‚ÄďS42.¬†

    Following Direction Activities

    These following direction activities are directionality activities that can help kids learn directions or spatial concepts such as left, right, up, down, and compass directions (north, south, east, and west) with a motor component. This hands-on learning activity really gets the kiddos moving and learning! 


    We’ve shared directionality activities before that help kids navigate and use maps with movement.¬†

    Following Direction Activity

    These direction following activities can help kids learn directionality such as left/right awareness, laterality, and directions needed for navigating.

    Teaching kids to follow the directions they need to physically move right, left, up, down requires development of spatial concepts such as spatial reasoning. This can be a real challenge for some kids! 


    Following directions and understanding of spatial concepts is a foundation for understanding and utilizing compass directions or the cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west, and the use of maps. 

    Left Right Confusion Direction Challenges

    It can be a real challenge for some kids who struggle with the spatial understanding of following directions, or understanding their left from right in a subconscious manner. 


    Have you come across the child who is told to raise their right and and they take a five second count to stop, think, and then raise their hand? They might hesitate when raising one hand or the other and still be uncertain whether or not they have held up the correct hand. Then, when the teacher, parent, or anyone else really, says the inevitable, “Your other right hand…”, the child feels a sense¬†of discouragement and self-consciousness¬†that doesn’t drive in the underlying need to really know the right from left!¬†


    That’s where a directionality activity¬†or following direction activity can come into play. Adding a physical component to learning directions and the difference between right, left, up, and down and what that looks like in relation to the child’s body can be such a helpful force in driving home this concept.¬†

    Why work on directions with kids?

    Working on the ability for kids to follow directions and spatial concepts is so important for kids. The direction/spatial relationship/preposition words that tell you where something is related to something else (beside, in front of, behind, over, under, around,  through, last, etc.) are very important when teaching math and handwriting concepts. Directionality and the ability for kids to follow physical directions is important for discovering where their bodies are in relationship to objects. This translates to following directions when getting from place to place by following a map or the cardinal directions.


    When kids picture a scene in¬†their¬†mind’s eye and use that image to draw a map on paper, they¬†are using higher thinking skills and¬†spatial reasoning.

    Directionality Activities

    Amazon affiliate links are included below. 


    The fun idea below comes from a new kids’ activity book that we’re devouring. It’s the new Playful Learning Lab for Kids, by the occupational therapist and physical therapist team at The Inspired Treehouse. It’s a book full of whole-body and sensory activities that enhance focus, engagement, and learning through movement and interaction.

    Playful learning Lab activities for kids to learn through whole body movements



    We used just a few materials to create this following directions activity:


    Playful Learning Lab for Kids Book
    Cardstock
    Marker
    Scissors

    Use arrows to work on following directions and learning directions or directionality.



    This is a simple activity (perfect for the classroom or homeschool when teaching directions!). First, draw and cut out large arrows from the cardstock. 


    Next, place them along the floor in a path and start playing! 

    Teach kids about directions and left right awareness or directionality through whole body movements with arrows!



    There are so many ways to use these arrows to work on following directions and directionality:

    1. Place the arrows on the floor for a fun brain break or sensory walk that uses directions as the kids work on following directions to stand in the direction the arrows are pointing. 

    Direction following activities with arrows are a fun way to teach kids directionality and teach left and right with movement.



    2. Name a cardinal direction or spatial direction and ask the child to point to the corresponding arrow. 


    3. Place the arrows in a compass rose on the floor and ask kids to “step into a map” on the floor as they move north, south, east, and west.

    Teach spatial concepts and spatial reasoning with arrows.

    4. Stick the arrows to a wall using tape. Ask the students to write out a list of words that describe the directions the arrows are pointing (left, right, up, and down).


    5. Hold up a sequence of arrows pointing in different directions. As the child to remember the pattern or order as they complete a series of side steps, front steps, or backward steps to follow the directions they see. 


    6. Work on left/right directionality by holding up an arrow pointing¬†in either the left or right directions. Kids should call out “Left!” or “Right!” when they see the direction the arrow is pointing.¬†

    Teach kids directions and north, south, east, west using arrows and directionality concepts.



    All of these following direction activities¬†are ones that can be completed as on an individual basis or with a whole group. It’s a great mini brain break for the classroom and can be incorporated into the classroom curriculum by working on cardinal directions.¬†



    Want to grab more movement-based learning ideas that you can start on today? You will love the bright pictures, sensory-based activities, and whole-body activities in Playful Learning Lab for Kids! 


    It’s available now and is the perfect way to add movement¬†to learning to improve attention, focus, brain function, remembering and learning!


    This book will shift your entire mindset so you can begin to replace sedentary, one-dimensional lessons and worksheets with whole-body, multi-sensory activities that can instantly create a classroom or house full of active, engaged learners.


    Playful Learning Lab for Kids is available on Amazon.

    Toddler Learning and Play Activities

    These are Toddler Play Ideas for Kids from those fun years of 12 months to 3 years.  New ideas are being added all the time, so stop back often!

    Scooping Ice Fine Motor Play for Toddlers

    Fine Motor Pincer Grasp Color Match for Toddlers

    Learning Ideas Using Rocks (Time Telling!)

    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 learning with rocks ideas.  (We really have a lot, believe it or not!)
    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.

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

    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.

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


    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 paint marker.  Use twigs to create the minute and hour hands and work on time telling outdoors with nature.

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

    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?

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

    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,
    and fine motor with play dough.