MeasurIng Activities

measuring activities

Let’s talk about measuring activities. There is a LOT of underlying skills that impact the ability to measure. There is no better way to learn about measurement than with hands-on activities and who is better to work on hands-on activities than OT?  Measuring is a practical life skill that requires underlying skills: visual motor integration, executive functioning skills, and fine motor skills. Here, we’ll cover how to support the development of measuring skills even when underlying areas may contribute to measurement errors and how to support individuals of all levels in this spatial awareness ability.

MeasurIng Activities

Measuring tasks are part of the school curriculum, but also a very functional task. We see children use measurement skills from a young age when they compare whether or not their sibling has more ice cream than they do. Measuring is a visual perceptual skill comparing who has more or less, how much to pour into a container, which person is taller or shorter, and how far did they ride their bike.

It is a skill that is learned and worked on in daily life tasks as well as being taught in the classroom.

Types of Measurement Activities

A quick review for measurement includes the forms of standard and non-standard types.

Traditionally, non-standard measurement skills are taught beginning in preschool and kindergarten. This includes spatial awareness concepts such as longer/shorter, taller/smaller, heavier/lighter, etc.

Standard measurement skills are taught over time within the academic classroom based on each child’s grasp of the concept and level of knowledge. This includes using a ruler, measuring by weight, and measuring liquids using measuring containers.

Measuring Vocabulary

With the learning of measurement comes a new vocabulary coupled with specific rules and procedures that a child must learn and apply, therefore, impacting their overall success and speed in the learning of this skill. 

Measurement activities can focus on the vocabulary terms as well as knowing how much makes up that term.

  1. Length:
  • Inch
  • Foot
  • Yard
  • Meter
  • Centimeter

2. Weight/Mass:

  • Pound
  • Ounce
  • Gram
  • Kilogram

3. Volume:

  • Cup
  • Pint
  • Quart
  • Gallon
  • Liter
  • Milliliter

4. Time:

  • Second
  • Minute
  • Hour
  • Day
  • Week
  • Month
  • Year

5. Temperature:

  • Fahrenheit
  • Celsius

6. Money:

  • Penny
  • Nickel
  • Dime
  • Quarter
  • Dollar

Measurement vocabulary words that kids know can vary depending on their age and level of development. Younger children may only be familiar with basic units of measurement, while older children may be familiar with more advanced concepts and units.

Measurement and Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy can enter the picture by helping to make the learning of this skill more hands-on and kinesthetic while also remaining educational and addressing important skill development needed for intervention. 

Measurement activities in occupational therapy are especially important when connecting the dots between function and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs). Looking at the terms listed above, you can see the connection between independence with tasks like laundry, cooking, shopping, budgeting, etc.

Measurement also plays a role in ADLs such as knowing which clothing will fit based on size, making it to school on time, following a calendar, etc.

Now, how about we just delve right into the beginnings of measurements with the use of non-standard units that OT can use during sessions that will make a huge impact on finding success in understanding basic measurement while also having some fun!

Plus, it makes learning less intimidating and less dreadful for kiddos as they engage in therapy.

Measuring Activity Ideas:

Playdough snakes – Take some playdough or therapy putty and have a child roll pieces into various lengths of snakes, they can also add some fun googly eyes and some chips or other small objects to decorate it and make it more fun.

You can guide the child by directing them to make a snake that is longer than the first, a snake that is shorter than the first, and a snake that is the same size as the first. Have them ‘clean up’ the snakes by using tongs to pull out the chips and other small objects. 

Feed a tennis ball friend – Use a sensory bin of beans or rice and gather some measuring spoons to have the child feed the tennis ball a teaspoon or a tablespoon of food or even a fraction of ¼, ½, ¾, etc.

A fun way to begin work on kitchen tool use for cooking and baking in the kitchen too. At the end of the activity, they can make the tennis ball throw up the beans or rice. Yeah, kids love doing this! 

Hopping Frogs (affiliate link)– Use hopping bunnies, hopping frogs, or even the pieces from a Tiddly Winks game and use to see how far the bunnies or frogs can hop. Talk about which of the bunnies hopped the farthest or the least amount of distance.

Place tape lines on the tabletop or the floor at different distances and have the children try to hop the bunnies to each line. How many jumped the farthest or the least? 

Trace your foot or trace your hand – Have children trace their foot and their hand onto a piece of construction paper and then have them use paper clips or blocks to measure the length of their foot and hand. For older kiddos, they can use a ruler, tape measure, or yardstick to measure the length of their hand and foot. 

Measure your school tools – Have children sort writing and other tools such as markers, crayons, colored pencils, pencils, glue sticks, glue bottles, scissors, tongs, etc., and place them on the tabletop from tallest to shortest. Then have them go around the room and collect other therapy tools to sort and measure.

Comparing the length or height of names – This one is great for a group. Have children write the letters of their names on dot stickers and then place one letter on each linking cube. Once the cubes are together, have them either stack, link, or lay on the tabletop to compare the length of everyone’s name in the group. Who has the tallest name? Who has the shortest name? Whose name is the same length? This tall and short worksheet is a great tool for this skill.

Recycle containers – Learn with recycled containers of various sizes and have children fill to the lines with use of water, cotton balls, pom-poms, beans, or rice. You can either draw the lines on the containers or wrap a rubber band around them at different heights. Think of having them scoop with a spoon to make it another fun way to fill the container. 

Play with tape – Use and peel tape (it’s a great fine motor activity!) or strips of construction paper and have children build a house on a sheet of paper. (Think about the fine motor skills needed to work on tearing or cutting the tape.) Once the house is finished, have them measure each strip of tape and write the number of objects it took on each strip. With older kiddos, you can even use a measuring tool to measure and write the number of inches on each piece. 

Toilet paper sheets – Use rolls of toilet paper and have children unroll at different lengths and measure each length by either counting each block of paper or measuring with a yardstick or a ruler. Be sure to save that paper after the activity and you can use it for cleaning up in the therapy room. Think about the gradation of force for younger kiddos to tear that paper easily. You could also use crepe paper streamers.

Activities with graph paper– The squares of the grid on graph paper can be used to cut and measure or count to determine size differences.

Use a ruler with lined paper- this ruler activity paired with handwriting can help with holding a ruler in place on a page as the pencil moves along it.

Clock activities- These tips for teaching kids to tell time work on underlying skill areas and include measurement of time.

Measuring foods– Using spoons, cups, containers to measure food for recipes is a great cooking life skill. Children can help out in the kitchen or participate in cooking tasks in OT sessions. Use our favorite OT recipes for building all kinds of skills. Cooking supports development of skills in:

  1. motor skills through cooking
  2. Executive function skills through cooking
  3. math skill through cooking

Scooping and pour with measuring cups and spoons– Use measuring cups for scooping and pouring activities using water, dry beans, rice, flour, etc. It’s a great way to foster fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.

measuring with a ruler

measuring with a ruler

One measuring activity can be the physical component of using and manipulating a ruler. Measuring with a ruler requires underling skills:

Measuring Activities

Let children explore the use of many measuring tools or even make their own. Need a few ideas? Take a look at these fun ruler ideas and some other measuring tools that can be used to build not only an understanding of measurement but those important hand skills too!

Rainbow ruler – Get some free rulers from a local company or organization then have children use Sharpies to color each one-inch section a different color. This helps them build a further understanding of measurement while using a standard ruler. Coloring each 1” section helps decrease the overall visual clutter and gives the child a more solid view of each 1” area. 

Bean ruler – Have children create a bean ruler by using large, dry white beans and then use Sharpies to write rainbow numbers on each bean. After numbers are written on the beans, have them place each bean in a row along the inside edge of clear packing tape. Once complete, they fold the tape over to secure. Children can use this bean ruler like a regular ruler, plus they love doing this! Completing this activity is a great way to work on executive functioning skills, fine motor, and eye-hand coordination. 

Linking cubes – Use linking cubes to measure objects by how many cubes long or tall an item is – helps to build hand and finger strength and bilateral coordination while the child pushes together to stack the cubes and pulls the cubes apart to clean up.

Marshmallows – Use marshmallows to measure how tall an object is on the tabletop – helps to build fine motor coordination, pinch grasp, and precision skills.

Paperclips – Use small or large paper clips to link together and measure an object – helps to build dexterity, pincer grasp, eye-hand coordination, and bilateral coordination. 

Pop beads or linking shapes – Use these fun tools to measure objects by either pinching and popping or pinching and clicking together.  Helps to build fine motor strength, eye-hand coordination, and visual skills to connect them together. Use larger beads and shapes if a child’s pincer skills are still developing. 

One last thing, do not forget the simple use of standard measuring tools too! Go ahead, it’s okay to pull out those dusty 6” or 12” rulers, tape measures, and yardsticks! They are exactly what a child needs to fully understand basic measurements!

Fine Motor Skills and Math Development

Fine motor math

Fine motor math is more than just a fine motor activity with math concepts. Here, we are covering specifically, the topic of how fine motor skills and math skills are connected. Increasing research is showing the connection between math and fine motor. Here, we’re looking at how these two seemingly different areas are closely connected. We covered some of this connection in our resource on fine motor STEM.

Fine motor math

Fine Motor Math

In young learners, we see fine motor and math more often than with older students. The ability to problem solve (an early math building block) and fine motor go hand in hand. But it doesn’t stop there. We see in early learning the use of counters to support one-to-one correspondence. 

Other early math skills that utilize fine motor skills:

  • Shapes
  • Spatial concepts
  • Math patterns
  • Same and difference
  • Number identification
  • Counting objects

These early mathematical concepts support numerical skills and more abstract thinking further along. The development of early mathematical skills builds upon itself. 

Later we see primary school children using fine motor math activities in hands-on math activities. Manipulatives like paper clips are used to measure. Counters are used to add and subtract. Snap blocks are used to grasp grouping and counting skills. 

numerical skill

What is a numerical skill?

A numerical skill is an ability to understand and work with numbers. This includes a range of math abilities, from counting and recognizing numbers to performing mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. 

While it may not seem obvious, there are underlying skills that impact numerical skill abilities and math development.

Numerical skills are essential for a wide range of tasks, from simple daily activities such as telling time and measuring ingredients to complex tasks such as calculating probabilities and analyzing data.

Some common numerical skills include:

  1. Counting: The ability to count objects and recognize number symbols.
  2. Number recognition: The ability to identify and name numbers.
  3. Comparing numbers: The ability to determine which number is greater or smaller than another.
  4. Addition and subtraction: The ability to add and subtract numbers.
  5. Multiplication and division: The ability to multiply and divide numbers.
  6. Estimation: The ability to make approximate calculations and estimations.
  7. Measurement: The ability to measure quantities such as length, weight, and volume.

Numerical skills develop gradually over time and are influenced by factors such as genetics, environment, and early experiences. 

Numerical skills can be improved through practice and instruction, and early intervention can help children develop a strong foundation in these skills that can benefit them throughout their lives.

Piaget, in his theory of play, theorized that people learn by doing.  We call this kinesthetic awareness, or the connection between the body and the brain. 

Early mathematical skill involves counting with the fingers, learning to isolate digits, and clapping/tapping out numbers. This is the beginning of fine motor skills and math development. 

Fischer, Stoeger, and Suggate concluded that, “FMS (fine motor skills) are closely related to early numerical skill development through finger-based numerical counting that aids the acquisition of mathematical mental representations.” Fischer, Stoeger, Suggate. 2017.

A relatively new math program called Touch Math, uses kinesthetic awareness by having students touch the numbers while counting the dots, in order to make a better connection to counting, rather than rote memorization. 

It has been hypothesized that early acceleration in mathematics frees brain space and working memory. This allows the brain and working memory to be utilized on more complex equations.

What does this mean?  

It means that counting on fingers is ok!  

It is a great stepping stone to moving further into math concepts using other methods such as number lines, touch math, memorization, or counting objects.  This is a critical stage in development of fine motor and math skills. 

Let’s explore some of the ways fine motor skills and math development are correlated:

  • Ancient mathematicians used an abacus method of sliding beads across a platform to calculate sums thus incorporating fine motor skills into math
  •  Modern math involves using a calculator, dependent on fine motor precision to press the correct keys in sequence
  • Stringing beads develops fine motor skills while working on patterns, copying designs, counting, and sorting
  • Unifix cubes (or snapping cubes) are used for counting, addition, and subtraction, but also involve fine motor precision to move, count, touch, stack, and sort the cubes.
  • Other tools such as a ruler, protractor, stencil, tape measure, pencil, scissors, or compass rely on accurate fine motor skills
  • Graph papernumber lines, timed tests, and lining numbers in rows all require fine motor precision
  • Flash cards, clothespins, manipulatives, and worksheets are some more tools used in math development


Educators have been using these tools forever, this is not new.  

What IS new, is the amount of children starting school with below average, or poor fine motor skills.  This is in addition to limited reading, math, and writing skills. 

Below average development in the early years  may be due to a lack of exposure, too much time on screen electronics, or a physical impairment.  The pandemic is largely to blame in recent years due to the amount of children being home, not exposed to materials, concepts, and tools.

If children are struggling to hold a writing tool, manipulate objects, or move their fingers, how are they going to focus on the higher math concepts such as long division, geometry or algebra?  

Older students may be unable to do fractions, multiplication, or larger sums, due to poor baseline skills.  These students are still trying to figure out how to count their fingers, put their numbers in columns, or do simple addition, rather than solving equations.

How can you help?

Go back to the basics. Take a break from fancy computer programs and iPad apps. Focus energy on working with math manipulatives: 

Building gross motor skills will also develop core strength, upper body strength, shoulder stability, and wrist/hand strength.

Think of all of the ways you could use paperclips, not only to develop math skills, but improve fine motor precision at the same time.  

A box of odds and ends from the junk drawer or tool shed serve as great manipulatives for both understanding math concepts, and developing fine motor skills. We have several ideas for occupational therapy kits to use for fine motor skill development. A math kit could easily support learning and motor skills.

Curriculums all around the world are shifting their focus to more computer based learning as it is “more appealing” to learners. While this might be accurate, it is not well rounded or beneficial to developing crucial skills. If you are unable to eliminate all the computer based work, add fine motor manipulatives along with these lessons to improve skills.  Worksheets are preferable to computer based programs as they incorporate pencil/crayon use, cutting, and gluing.

Check out this great Outer Space Fine Motor Pack that includes bead activities, counting, sorting, graphing, and tool use of scissors/tongs/pencils.  Building fine motor skills is not only essential for math, but handwriting, self care, and life skills.

research on fine motor and math

Research on Fine motor and math skills

Research is offering more and more evidence that there is a positive correlation between fine motor development and math abilities in children. Depending on the age of the child and the fine motor contribution, we can visibly see the impact of fine motor dexterity and hand eye coordination on math manipulatives.

While we know that fine motor development and the small motor movements of the hands and fingers, hand strength, dexterity, and coordination, several studies have found that children who have well-developed fine motor skills tend to perform better on math tasks than those who do not.

For example, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 

found that preschool children who had better fine motor skills were also better at math skills. These early math skills specifically included: 

  • counting
  • number identification
  • pattern recognition 

Specific fine motor tasks that seem to play a role in math skills (according to this study) were pegboard activities and threading beads activities. 

As occupational therapy practitioners, we know the activity analysis behind these fine motor tasks. 

To complete a pegboard activity, fine motor contributions include:

Similarly, the fine motor contributions that are needed for threading beads includes:

  • Arch development
  • In-hand manipulation
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Open thumb web space
  • Tripod grasp/pincer grasp
  • Finger isolation
  • Thumb opposition
  • Wrist extension
  • Dexterity
  • Bilateral coordination

So, when we look at the connection between fine motor skills and early math skills, we can connect the dots. 

There’s more…

According to Pitchford, Papini, Outhwaite, and Guilliford, “The influence of fine motor precision and math abilities emerges over the first year of schooling, and might be closely linked with the numeracy skills children are acquiring, and the practice children have in writing numbers, as well as carrying out other math based activities that require fine motor precision”. 

Taking this further, “Fine Motor Integration remains a significant predictor of math ability, even after the influence of non-verbal IQ has been accounted for.” Pitchford, Papini, Outhwaite, Guilliford, 2016. Through different studies, such as the one above,  there has been a correlation between fine motor skills and math development.

It might be that both fine motor tasks and math activities require the manipulation of abstract concepts.

For example, to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, manipulate fractions, shapes, decimals, and percentages, children need to grasp the concept of numerical symbols and steps to complete math processes. The child needs to think abstractly. Math requires mental manipulation of concepts, numbers, and symbols. 

In fine motor skill activities, the child needs to manipulate small objects using their hands. While the manipulatives or objects are physical items, the child needs to manipulate the object in order to accomplish a specific task. Before they can do the task, they need to see the process in their mind’s eye. 

Both math and fine motor tasks require spatial relationships, and visual processing skills. 

For some kids, this can be a real stumbling block. 

The child might be able to manipulate numbers and symbols to complete math tasks but fine motor tasks is a challenge. It’s the spatial relations and the ability to conceptualize the fine motor task in their mind’s eye followed by follow-through.  

However, some individuals can strengthen one domain by building on skills of the other. 

A child who is strong in fine motor skills but weaker in math concepts can use manipulatives to build on math skills. 

A child who lags behind in fine motor dexterity and manipulation skills can utilize math skills to build strength in fine motor.

Another study  published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities found that fine motor skills were significantly correlated with math achievement in children with learning disabilities.

In that study, the researchers found that fine motor skills in children with learning disabilities were significantly correlated with math achievement. They determined that the children with better fine motor skills had higher math achievement scores, and especially math reasoning and problem solving skills. 

The researchers used fine motor tasks like drawing lines, copying shapes, and using tweezers to pick up small objects. Children with stronger fine motor skills in those tasks were able to achieve higher skills in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems.

Tips to improve fine motor math

Modern day learners are so reliant on calculators, simple math such as making change, calculating a tip percentage, or figuring out a discounted price, requires the use of technology. 

I have had to tell shopkeepers, and people at garage sales how much change to give me while they were whipping out their phones to calculate $20.00-5.00.

While I understand we are in the technology era, it saddens me to see the foundational skills being lost or forgotten. Some classrooms have eliminated pencils/crayons/scissors entirely, in favor of using an iPad.  

We can support kids who struggle with both math and fine motor skills (or one skill area of the other…)

Other tips to support a student who struggles with fine motor skills to improve their math skills (and vice versa):

  • Incorporate math and fine motor in the classroom- Encourage parents and educators to incorporate fine motor skills into their lesson plans as this correlates to improved math and writing scores. When therapy providers utilize push-in model of therapy this can happen efficiently.
  • Use manipulatives: Manipulatives are a fine motor tool, or physical objects that students can use to represent math concepts. For example, you can use blocks, counters, or beads to help students understand numbers, addition, and subtraction. Providing manipulatives can help students with fine motor difficulties to engage with math concepts in a more hands-on way, which can enhance their understanding and make learning more accessible. By using manipulatives in math, students grasp the abstract concepts using concrete objects and are offered an opportunity to practice motor skills. For those struggling with the fine motor concept, you can modify the manipulatives to make them larger or easier to manipulate.
  • Use technology: While it’s important to reduce screen time (use this screen time checklist to support this need), the fact is that technology is here to stay. Many technology tools, such as calculators or digital math programs, can help students with fine motor difficulties to engage with math concepts without having to rely on handwriting or drawing skills. For example, a student can use a digital drawing tablet to practice writing numbers and math symbols, or use a speech-to-text program to dictate math problems. This is an adaptation for students that can help them thrive. 
  • Focus on the student’s strengths: Students with fine motor difficulties may have strengths in other areas, such as verbal reasoning or visual-spatial skills. By focusing on these strengths, you can help students to engage with math concepts in ways that are more comfortable and accessible for them. For example, you can use visual aids, such as diagrams or charts, to help students understand math concepts, or engage them in verbal discussions about math problems.
  • Focus on a student’s interests: Occupational therapy providers love to use a client’s indivudualized interests in building skills because the motivation improves when a meaningful theme is used. Try using manipulatives that support interests, or math problems that focus on a specific topic or theme.
  • Provide targeted fine motor practice: Fine motor skills can be improved through targeted practice. For example, students can practice using tweezers (like this tweezer math activity), threading beads, or drawing shapes to improve their fine motor control. By providing targeted fine motor practice, you can help students to develop the skills they need to engage with math concepts more effectively.
  • Use multi-sensory approaches: Engaging multiple senses can help students with fine motor difficulties to better understand and remember math concepts. For example, you can use music, movement, or tactile experiences to help students engage with math concepts in a more holistic way.

All of these tips can be graded to meet the individual’s needs.

In the Fine Motor Kits here on The OT Toolbox, you’ll find various fine motor numerical activities designed to support math and motor skill development.

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

Lemon Battery Science Fair Project

Lemon STEM activity

Lemon STEM is such a fun way to explore concepts and this lemon battery science fair project is a winner! By using a lemon and a few other materials, you can discover the chemical process of moving electric current through a lemon to create a lemon battery. This lemon battery is a discovery activity that makes a great science fair project because the experiment is a powerful tool for discussing science and exploration in kids. Plus, this lemon science experiment is easy to do (and clean up)!

Lemon Battery Science Fair Project

One of the best benefits to making this lemon battery science fair project is that it’s an easy way to learn about electrodes, electrons, and the chemical reaction required to fire up a battery. As an occupational therapist and mom, I love the other skill-building opportunities with this project too:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Creativity
  • Engineering and building 
  • Planning, prioritization, task completion and other executive functioning skills
  • Using different materials found around the home (accessibility!)
  • STEM activity

When kids build the lemon battery, they are building so many skills!

Introduce them to creativity through STEM?  Sounds great! Encourage my children to get excited about science and math? YES! Unleash natural potential in my girls by experiencing science projects? I like it.

lemon battery science fair project

And the best for me, was watching my girls do this together.  The baby saw her big sister in safety goggles as she learned about cathodes and electrolytes…and has been wearing the goggles every day since.  Seeing them inspire each other was just awesome.

We were making lemon powered batteries! 

What is a lemon battery?

A lemon battery is a simple science experiment kids can do to explore concepts of conduction and reaction. In the lemon-powered battery experiment, kids can see how electrolytes are conducted through the lemon and wires in order to power a light or clock. 

The experiment is simple set up, easy, and a fun way to explore science!

 You move 

Food Battery Experiment

When I first showed the girls the items and explained what we were doing, they were very excited about lemon electricity! I was surprised to read that only 1 in 1,000 girls pursue STEM careers, especially considering that out us us three sisters, two of us are in the health/science field.  Encouraging my girls to explore interests in science is important to me and I was super pumped to get my girls excited about our science experiment…and the enthusiasm was catchy!

We used a lemon in our fruit battery, but you could use any citrus fruit to make a citrus battery…oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes all work equally well in this kid-made battery experiment. 

Other fruits and vegetables can be used in this experiment too. It might be fun to explore which food is the best conductor for passing electrical energy. Try these fruits and veggies:

  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Limes
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Apples
  • Bananas

Which food battery works fastest? Which is the strongest conductor? Which food battery will work the quickest? These are all fun science fair experiments to try!

Lemon Battery Science Experiment

We created the lemon-powered battery, but then used the battery in a STEM activity by adding engineering and math to the mix. 

 To make the lemon battery, you’ll need a few items”

  • LED Bulb or a small clock, light bulb, etc.
  • 4 Lemons 
  • Knife to cut the lemon
  • Alligator Clips on Lead wires
  • Zinc Nails 
  • Copper Wire (or a penny)
  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Recording sheet

You can also try different metals instead of the copper penny. Try a galvanized nail, Copper electrodes, Aluminum foil, metal strip, or other types of metal material.

Also note that you should have adult supervision for this activity because cutting the food with a knife can be tricky!

lemon battery science fair project to make a lemon battery

And we got started on our STEM project.  The instructions are easy to follow images below.  

Make a lemon battery for a science fair project

How to make a lemon battery:

  1. Start with a clean surface.
  2. Use the knife to make a small cut in the lemon’s surface. This will be used to push the nail and copper penny into the lemon more easily.
  3. Use an alcohol wipe to clean off the lemon or other food item used for the battery. 
  4. Press the nail and copper item (penny, copper wire, etc.) into the lemon. Make sure the metal goes all the way past the peel if using a citrus fruit. You can use more than one lemon too: Push a nail into one lemon and the copper into the other lemon. 
  5. Attach the alligator clips to the nail and to the copper item. Connect the ends of one alligator clip wire to a galvanized nail in one lemon and then the other end of the alligator clip wire to a piece of copper in another lemon.  When you are finished you should have one nail and one piece of copper unattached.
  6. Finally, connect the unattached piece of copper to the unattached nail to the positive and negative connections of your light. The lemon will act as the battery. 
Lemon battery project for kids
  • Following the instructions, my eight year old build a lemon powered battery that lit up a light bulb.  We tried a few more experiments, like the mini fruit clock that came in the kit.  We used it to make a lemon clock with the circuits!
Lemon battery project is a STEM for girls activity

Lemon Stem

This Lemon STEM activity is a great fine motor STEM idea. By pushing the nails and pennies into the lemon, cutting with a knife, and clipping alligator clips, you are building fine motor strength in a functional task.

Add a few other ways to support lemon stem too: Use wooden skewers to build an elevated lemon battery.

Provide a handful of wooden skewers and ask the children to build a contraption that is strong enough to hold a lemon up off the ground. This can take a bit of creativity and trial and error, so be sure use plenty of paper towels or a wash cloth to wipe off lemon juice.

  • We pulled out some bamboo skewers and created a sky high lemon battery and lit up the light bulbs using engineering in our STEM activity.
  • Try building a clock tower with the skewers and a lemon. Explore how to make electricity run the clock even when it’s elevated or in different weather conditions like rain or freezing temperatures.
  • With all of the zinc nail-punctured holes in our lemons, we HAD to squeeze the juice.  We tried to see if we could create a lemon clock using just the lemon juice in a cup.  It worked!  
  • After the lemons were juiced, we tried to make another light bulb glow using the rinds.  This time the lights did not brighten and we decided it was because the electrolytes were squeezed away into our lemon juice and the current stopped at the rind.  

Next, we used wooden skewers to create a clock tower. Press the skewers into the lemons and create a tower. You’ll need to figure out how to get the clock tower to stand without toppling, and using lemons as the base or at the connecting points. These lemons can also be connected to one another with the alligator clips, wires, and pennies or nails to conduct through the whole tower. 

After all of these experiments, we were feeling a little thirsty.  Non-lemon powered light bulbs went off and so my four year old had a bright idea to make lemonade.  We added water and sugar and drank away the electrolytes!

It was so much fun to see my girls working together, encouraging each other, (not fighting), and being inspired in science.  Someday they might look back at our experiment day and laugh at drinking their science experiment, but I’ll remember the sticky crumbs on the table, the goggles on the one year old, and the fun we all had learning together.

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

STEM Fine Motor Activities

Fine motor STEM activities

Occupational therapists work with fine motor development as a cornerstone of treatment.  With the current trend toward STEM education, it makes sense to blend the two into fine motor STEM activities and treatment in order to be more efficient and effective.

Fine motor STEM activities

What is STEM?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 24%, while other occupations are growing at 4%.  Children in the United States score lower on science and math than students in other countries. 

The push for STEM curriculum helps bridge the gap between genders and races, that are sometimes found in science and math fields.  Students with special needs also lag in these academic areas. Research shows there are not enough students pursuing science, technology, engineering, or mathematic degrees, as compared to the available jobs.

According to the National Science Foundation, “In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”

Why Fine Motor and STEM?

Science, technology, electronics and mathematics do not just involve cognitive ability. Fine motor skills are needed for STEM careers that involve typing, building, writing, solving equations, experimenting, research, surgery, as well as everyday function. 

STEM fine motor activities are going to be much more important to build these important skills. As technology gets more scientific and advanced, so too will the need for precise fine motor skills.  Surgeries are much more advanced than 100 years ago.  Engineers are working on tiny circuits and micro computers.

I saw a BMW prototype last week that morphs from a car to a plane that can soar over traffic!  Imagine the dexterity it takes to build that kind of machine!

When should I start working on STEM fine motor activities?  

Caregivers start addressing fine motor skills in babyhood. Encouraging a passion for science and technology can start at the same time.

Selecting a few fine motor toys for young learners that address fine motor skills while developing STEM education. 

For example, check out this super cute (Amazon affiliate link) Frog Balancing Game that can be modified for many different levels of learners. This one game involves:

  • math – counting, sorting, adding, number recognition
  • science -measuring weight, comparison
  • fine motor skills – pick up and manipulate the small objects, hold the cards
  • visual motor skills – read the cards and process the information

How do I make this transition to fine motor STEM?

Change is hard. Especially for seasoned therapists who have used a certain system for a long time, or feel that what they are doing works.  The good news is, you have already been doing STEM fine motor activities with your learners. 

Check out this link on Amazon (affiliate link) to toys/activities that address STEM fine motor activities and skills.

On The OT Toolbox, we share tons of fine motor activity ideas to incorporate STEM into fine motor treatment. Occupational therapists do not usually correlate these activities with STEM, but they fit into both categories.  

Remember pegboard Geo Boards?  This classic game builds fine motor strength, following directions, coordination, motor planning, visual motor skills, visual perception, frustration tolerance, and executive function.  It ALSO addresses math using measurement, shape recognition and patterns; science learning about rubber bands and tension; and engineering to create patterns from a picture.

Fine motor STEM and Lego  

Legos are another classic toy. Use activity analysis to break this game down into its fine motor components, as well as incorporating math, engineering, or technology. 

There is more to LEGO bricks than being able to follow a diagram to make a Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle (love this by the way!).  Speaking of the Hogwarts castle, there was definitely math, engineering, AND fine motor skills needed to build that superstructure. 

Learners can also make graphs of their LEGO, use them for adding/subtracting, use engineering to create items with moving parts, and that is just the beginning. 

By thinking outside the box, learners with special needs can find their special ability using Legos also.

classic toys for STEM fine motor activities

The lists of (Amazon affiliate link) classic toys occupational therapists incorporate into treatment plans is endless.  Take another look at these classics to see how they fit into science, technology, engineering or math.  

  • Peg boards
  • Lacing cards
  • Magnets
  • Measuring tape
  • Swings
  • Pop the Pig, Connect 4, Trouble, Candy Land
  • Lincoln Logs, Connex, Erector Set
  • Baking
  • Slime

Fine motor and STEM activities do not have to include experiments, games, and hands-on activities.  Worksheets serve the purpose of addressing both categories very well. 

The OT Toolbox has great fine motor kits for each season that incorporate math and science along with addressing those needed fine motor skills. 

More ideas from the OT Toolbox

As a seasoned therapist myself, I may dig my heels in at the idea of changing the way I do treatment, or learning a new method. I give a heavy sigh of relief knowing I have been doing STEM all along. I just didn’t call it that. 

Even though occupational therapists are providing the right activities to work on goal achievement, they may be running into students with lack of motivation, refusal, and general dislike of many of the treatment ideas asked of them. 

Teachers and therapists need to help bridge this gap early on, and find a way to teach all learners a respect for STEM and fine motor education.

You are doing a great job incorporating what you already know, into something new!

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

Fall Ten Frames

Fall ten frames

These Fall ten frames are a fun math leaf activity. All you need is a few leaves from the yard and a hole punch to work on math skills, and the sensory benefits of heavy work through the hands. It’s a fun way to teach math through play with sensory math!

Fall Ten Frames

This time of year, we are on leaf overload.  Just playing in the yard, we have piles and piles of leaves in of all the Fall colors.  I love getting outside with my kids and playing in the piles of leaves each year.  It is such a sensory and just plain old fun way to experience the season of Fall. 
We used some of those colorful leaves in a fun Math Ten Frame activity that combined fine motor strengthening for a powerful fine motor punch.  
Make fall ten frames with real leaves

This post contains affiliate links.

How to make Fall Ten Frames

Gather your materials:

  • Leaves
  • Black marker
  • Hole punch
  • Die or dice

That’s it! Next, get started on creating the leaf ten frames.

First step: Go out and gather those leaves! Nature hunts rock, and the crunchy, cool weather of Fall makes memories.  
Gather pretty leaves along your way and bring them on home.  
Note: You will want leaves that are not crunchy. Those dried up leaves are perfect for a different sensory activity- working on auditory processing skills with leaves
For this activity, you’ll want to gather colorful, freshly fallen leaves or leaves still on the tree will work best for this activity.
Next: Grab a Black Marker and draw a ten frame on the leaf.  You’ll need a Hole Punch for the math, and a die.  
Draw ten frames and punch holes in leaves with a hole punch


Using Ten Frames with Older Kids

This fall math activity can be used with older kids, too on a variety of math skills.
Roll the die and have your kiddo count the dots.  They can then use the Hole Punch to mark off the correct number of dots on the ten frame.  
By rolling the die, kids can practice their ability to subsidize. 
Subsitizing refers to the math skill of knowing the number of dots on the dice by just glancing is a skill of subsidizing in math. and will help kids as they get older with math. Subsitizing helps a child advance to more advanced addition and subtraction, and allows for number sense in math.
Older kids can benefit from this activity, too.  I still use ten frames with my second grader.  They are a powerful way to introduce groups and multiplication concepts.  
Usually, I have my second grader roll the die twice or tree times and add the total before filling in the ten frame.  Ten frames also are a way to hone base ten concepts.  
How can you get a number to a base ten by “borrowing” from another number.  A math strategy like this is a good way to work on regrouping in addition.
You can grade this activity for older kids by using two dice.  Have them add the dots of both dice and punch holes from two leaves.  
Practice adding both numbers together. Ask them how to combine the numbers from both dice to form a full ten frame.  
Ask them to figure out how many holes are left over from the total.

Punch Holes in Leaves

Using a Hole Punch provides huge proprioceptive input to little hands, which is such a good way to “wake up” hands before a writing activity. This input through the hands offers heavy work input that can “wake up” the hands. The great thing about proprioception tasks like this one is that heavy work can also be used to “calm down” the nervous system.
Similarly, we used scissors to cut real leaves along lines and develop fine motor skills, scissor skills, and eye-hand coordination, which also offered sensory motor feedback through the hands. 
Combine math, handwriting, and literacy by counting out numbers on the leaves, writing numbers on paper, and creating sentences based on the numbers.  You can also tally number of the different colored leaves and write down the results on paper.
You might have seen a recent post about gross grasp and why kids need to work on this area for development.  
A hole punch is a fabulous way to work on gross grasp and other fine motor strengthening, like thumb stability and motion needed for scissor use.  
Plus when you have all of the holes punched out from the leaves, you can use pincer grasp to pick up and sort the leaf circles. This is a great precision grasp and release activity to develop dexterity in fine motor skills.
Draw ten frames on leaves for fall math


Use this activity all Fall long for math, proprioception, and fine motor strengthening!  And enjoy those crunchy Fall colors before they are gone!

Looking for more hands-on, playful math activities?  These are some of our favorites: 

 Commutative Property of Addition  How to Add with Regrouping  Use play dough in math  Bottle caps in first grade math

More fine motor fun…

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

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

Doubles and Near Doubles

doubles and near doubles craft

If you have a second grader, than you may be familiar with doubles and near doubles. This form of math facts with doubles numbers (adding two numbers that are the same) and near doubles (adding two numbers that are almost the same), can help kids quickly learn math facts with a brain trick. We created a spider activity that was a fun way to practice doubles and near doubles!

Adding Doubles and Near Doubles in Second Grade Math up to 20, with a hands-on math, spider theme.

What are Doubles and Near Doubles?

We explained this a bit, but let’s expand on these math definitions.

You might be thinking, “What!?” I have to admit, adding near doubles is a concept that I learned along with my oldest when she went through second grade.

What is Doubles and Near Doubles in Second grade math?  

Doubles are the addends that are exactly the same.  These are addition facts that second graders need to know to add within 20.

Near Doubles are those addends that are almost a double fact. So, 4+5 is very close to 4+4.  Students can easily recall that the double fact for 4+4=8 and by adding one more, they quickly know that 4+5=9.  These are math fact tools that can help second graders add within 20.

Doubles Math Facts

Doubles math facts include:

  • 0+0=0
  • 1+1=2
  • 2=2+4
  • 3+3=6
  • 4+4=8
  • 5+5=10
  • 6+6=12
  • 7+7=14
  • 8+8=16
  • 9+9=18
  • 10+10=20

Near Doubles Facts

Near doubles facts depend on the doubles that the numbers are near.

  • 0+0=0
    • 1+0=1
    • 0+1=1
  • 1+1=2
    • 2+1=3
    • 1+2=3
    • 0+1=1
    • 1+0=1
  • 2+2=4
    • 3+2=5
    • 2+3=5
    • 1+2=3
    • 2+1=3
  • 3+3=6
    • 4+3=7
    • 3+4=7
    • 2+3=5
    • 3+2=5
  • 4+4=8
    • 5+4=9
    • 4+5=9
    • 3+4=7
    • 4+3=7
  • 5+5=10
    • 6+5=11
    • 5+6=11
    • 4+5=9
    • 5+4=9
  • 6+6=12
    • 7+6=13
    • 6+7=13
    • 5+6=11
    • 6+5=11
  • 7+7=14
    • 8+7=15
    • 7+8=15
    • 6+7=13
    • 7+6=13
  • 8+8=16
    • 9+8=17
    • 8+9=17
    • 7+8=15
    • 8+7=15
  • 9+9=18
    • 10+9=19
    • 9+10=19
    • 8+9=17
    • 9+8=17
  • 10+10=20
    • 11+10=21
    • 10+11=21
    • 9+10=19
    • 10+9=19

You can see how learning just a handful of doubles facts builds a bigger repertoire of math facts. This is a particularly good path strategy for learning tricky addition facts that kids often struggle with, especially with adding the higher 6’s, 7’s, 8’s, and 9’s.

Adding Doubles and Near Doubles 

Adding doubles is a math fact memorization technique.  It is easier for kids to remember that 2+2=4, 6+6=12, 7+7=14, 9+9=18, etc.  

Kids can first memorize the doubles facts. Once they’ve got those addition facts down pat, recognizing that the near doubles facts are just one off from the double makes learning a whole new set of numbers easy.

For example:

First the student would memorize the near double of 6+6=12.

Then, when that becomes a math fact they know by sight, they can look at the math problem 6+5 and recognize that the addend 5 is just one less than the doubles fact for 6. They can know the number sense that the problem 6+5 is one less than 6+6 and easily identify the answer of 11.

Similarly, if the student is presented with the near doubles problem of 6+7, they can recognize that the addend 7 is one more than the doubles fact for 6. They can identify by number sense that the answer for 6+7 is one more than 6+6 and that the answer is 13.

Near doubles assist students with adding one more or one less than the doubles facts.

By this, we mean that once a student knows the doubles fact of 6+6=12, they then also know:

  • 6+5=11
  • 5+6=11
  • 6+7=13
  • 7+6=13

You can see how the doubles and near doubles concept builds number sense and allows students to become much more fluent and efficient at math problems.

Doubles and Near Doubles Activity

We made this near doubles activity to help with second grade math concepts, specifically in adding Doubles and adding Near Doubles., using a fun spider craft. The OT in me loves that it works on quite a few fine motor skills and scissor skills too!

I wanted to create a hands-on math activity using the doubles and Near Doubles addition facts with a spider theme.  

It’s an easy and quick activity to set up, that will help second graders realize how to quickly figure out more addition facts quite easily.  This is a math skill appropriate for Common Core Standards CCSS 2.0A.1 and CCSS 2.0A.2.  You can see those Common Core standards here.

To make your Near Doubles Spider Activity

Cut out paper strips to write doubles and near doubles addition facts.

You’ll need just a few materials for this doubles and near doubles practice activity:

  • Black construction paper
  • White colored pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Googly eyes

To make this doubles and near doubles craft, complete these steps:

  1. Cut out 8 strips of black construction paper.  These will become the spider’s legs.
  2. Using a white colored pencil, write out doubles facts on one side of the black paper strips. You’ll need to write the following doubles facts on the paper strips:
    • 2+2=__
    • 3+3=__
    • 4+4=__
    • 5+5=__
    • 6+6=__
    • 7+7=__
    • 8+8=__
    • 9+9=__
  3. On the other side of each spider leg paper strip, write with your white colored pencil:
    • 2+3=__
    • 3+4=__
    • 4+5=__
    • 5+6=__
    • 6+7=__
    • 7+8=__
    • 8+9=__
    • 9+8=__
  4. Cut out a circle out of the black paper for the head.
  5. Glue googly eyes onto the spider’s head.  
  6. Glue the legs to the spider head so the Doubles are all on one side and the Near Doubles are all on the other side.  

Kids can flip the legs over to see how closely the doubles are to the Near Doubles and how knowing the Doubles facts can quickly help them figure out the Near Double facts.

You can make multiple versions of these numbers, using the commutative property of addition

Spider craft to work on doubles and near doubles facts.

Adding Doubles and Near Doubles in Second Grade Math up to 20, with a hands-on math, spider theme.

More Hands-On Math Activities you will love:

 Commutative Property of Addition  How to Add with Regrouping  Use play dough in math  Bottle caps in first grade math

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

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

Teach Kids to Tell Time

tips to teach kids to tell time

For parents, the task teaching kids to tell time is just part of parenting. But when we teach kids to tell time, there are many other skill areas to consider. Concepts such as executive functioning, fine motor skills, size awareness, and even handwriting play into learning about time. Here, we’ll cover how occupational therapy plays a role in learning about telling time.

Teach kids to tell time with these hands-on multisensory strategies that address the impact of other underlying issues related to telling time.

Occupational Therapy and telling Time

In occupational therapy, we work on time management as well as other executive functioning skills. We also address self-care and any occupation that takes up a person’s day. So, when daily occupations need to be accomplished throughout the day, or in preparation to leave the house, time is a big component.

Time management refers to the ability to estimate how much time one has to complete a task. Time management also includes management of the time one has to complete a task in a given time.

Time management impacts occupational performance because one can overestimate how much time they have to complete a task. Or they can underestimate how long a task takes to complete. Both of these scenarios result in poor performance of the task.

Occupational therapists can address time in these ways:

  • The amount of time needed to accomplish a task
  • The amount of time needed to prepare for a task
  • Completing tasks in a given amount of time

Each of these areas relate to executive functioning and time management. There are tools and strategies that can help with these areas, such as timers, apps, calendars, planners, task checklists, visual schedules, and focusing on each of the executive functioning skills in a regimented manner (The Impulse Control Journal breaks this down for skill-building).

Occupational therapists in the schools can work with kids on learning to tell time.

For school-based OT practitioners, there can be an added challenge in the time telling saga. Children learning to tell time are tackling a very abstract concept.

Learning to tell Time and Visual Perception

Students that struggle with visual perception can be challenged by worksheets with faces of clocks. This can lead to difficulties in writing clock times or identifying time on the clock.

Typically, in second grade math, learning to tell time on a clock involves worksheets, packets, and math pages that ask students to match the analog clock to the digital clock.

But in second grade, we may see students on the OT caseload struggling with visual attention, visual memory, visual discrimination, letter and number reversals, form constancy, and other visual processing issues.

The clock face has many visual details that can impact working memory, specifically related to visual discrimination, visual attention, form constancy (many clocks have very different number fonts). Some clocks have Roman numerals that throw another wrench into the learning.

For our learners with visual perception and visual motor integration issues, clock worksheets are a real struggle.

Learning to tell time and Handwriting

Using a pencil to write clock times and minute or hour hands onto clock forms.

Second grade math involves many clock worksheets. The pencil skills needed to write time, mark hour and minute hands on paper clocks, and writing numbers can impact teaching time to kids.

Number formation is a big issue when it comes to completing those clock worksheets, and an area in which the school-based occupational therapists can support the students on their caseload.

Learning tell time and fine motor skills

Fine motors skills involved with moving clock hands on model clocks in the classroom.

Moving the minute hand and hour hand on a clock model helps kids understand how time moves, how much time is in a day, and how to identify sections of time: hours, minutes, seconds, half-hours, quarter hours, and days. These models help kids grasp the concept of time. But for the student with fine motor challenges, understanding clocks and telling time on a model clock is a struggle. To move the clock hands on a model clock, fine motor skills are needed:

  • Finger isolation
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • Precision
  • Graded grasp and movements
  • Motor planning

The visual of a model clock can become more challenging when these fine motor issues exist.

Learning to tell time and executive function

Time is a big part of executive function.

Kids learn to tell time, typically in second grade, however, without consistent use of analog clocks, kids lose that ability to tell time. When it comes to the time management aspect of executive functioning skills, there is a lot to be said for watching the minute hands tick around the clock as time passes. The passage of time on a digital clock just doesn’t have the concrete visual impact that the ticking hands has on the face of an analog clock.

Executive functioning skills such as attention, foresight, task completion, and others play a role in telling time and managing time.

We talked about time blindness in our post on adult executive functioning issues. However, time blindness impacts all of us at one time or another, and all ages, too.

Also, the number of minutes in five minute increments and the number of minutes in an hour or quarter hour can be a challenge for those with executive functioning skills to recall. Working memory plays a big part in math skills!

The abstract concept of teaching time on a clock

Kids not exposed to analog clocks. This makes an abstract concept even more abstract! Our kids that need concrete examples and visual cues to learn will struggle with this concept of learning to tell time on a clock.

Other kids need concrete examples in learning. time doesn’t offer that option.

Teaching kids how to tell time can start with the process of discovering the parts of a clock.  

Many of our young learners are exposed to only the digital clock of an Iphone, a microwave clock, stove clock, or the digital time shown on a television cable box, for example.  The important skill of learning to tell time is just not a part of the typical day for many learners.

However, what is important is the concept of time. We all have daily routines that revolve around the passage of time. 

teach Kids to tell time with a multisensory activity

Below, you’ll find resources for time teaching in the classroom or home. School based occupational therapy professionals can use these concepts and hands-on time activities to support time management needs, or to work in a push-in OT session in school-based OT services when children are learning time in school. Or, use these interactive telling time activities to support the child’s educational curriculum.

A few easy ways to make learning about time more interactive AND supporting development of underlying areas is through the fun activities listed here. Try some of these clock activity ideas.

  • Create a rock clock for heavy work input that supports the motor planning work needed for moving clock hands
  • Try a telling time apps that can support time management needs
  • Address time concepts of am and pm to help with executive functioning skills.
  • Use sidewalk chalk to create a large clock. This is a great activity for offering resistive feedback when learning about the hands of the clock
  • Use a timer to focus on time management and the passage of time needed to complete a given task.
  • Use clock puzzles
  • Work on the number of hours on a clock using playdough and a clock playdough mat
  • Young children can learn about size awareness to understand the big hand and the little hand
  • Use a hula hoop to create a large clock to focus on motor planning and gross motor skills.
  • Teach the passage of time by using a dry erase marker to color on the face of a clock. Students can see how the minute hands moves within the estimated time as they perform the task at hand.
  • Create a paper clock and use paper hour hand and minute hand to focus on fine motor skills and bilateral coordination skills
  • Move the hands of a clock and have a dance party. When the clock reaches a certain time, the students can dance.
  • Play tell time games: Ask students what time of day they  might eat breakfast, play outside, get on the school bus, etc.
  • Make a bottle cap clock for movement and learning with time telling (see below)

Teach Time with a Bottle Cap Clock

We practiced time telling with recycled bottle caps for hands on learning while building a clock.

My daughter was taught time telling this past year while in the first grade, but it was fun to work on the parts of a clock and to practice time telling to the minute.  As she heads into second grade, she’ll be learning to tell time to the minute, so we added a minute component to our time telling with the bottle caps.

Teach kids how to tell time with hands on learning in this first grade or second grade time telling activity using recycled bottle caps.  Build a clock and practice telling time!

How to teach kids how to tell time: 

This post contains affiliate links.  

We love to use bottle caps in learning activities: stamping sight wordsletter learning, or 10s counters, and are excited to add this activity to this month’s Learning with Free Materials series, part of the 31 Days of Homeschooling Tips as we blog along with other bloggers with learning at home tips and tools.

Teach kids how to tell time with hands on learning in this first grade or second grade time telling activity using recycled bottle caps.  Build a clock and practice telling time!

 To begin this time telling activity, I wrote the numbers 1-12 on bottle caps using a  permanent marker.  Find a large round placemat/charger and have your child work on positioning the numbers as they appear on the clock.  

In this hands-on clock building activity, first show your child how to place the 12, 3, 6, and 9 on the clock face.  This is a good way to teach the concept of quarter hours and half hours, as well as quarter after, quarter to, and half-past.

Show them how the other numbers can fit within the numbers 3, 6, and 9 on the clock. The space left between 12 and 3 can hold the numbers 1 and 2 and so on.

 Use the marker to write the minute numbers on the opposite side of the bottle caps.  So, when they flip over the number one, it will have “5” written on the other side.  Number 2 will have “10” written on the other side.  

Once they’ve built their clock, they can turn over all of the bottle caps and count out the minutes by fives.

Teach kids how to tell time with hands on learning in this first grade or second grade time telling activity using recycled bottle caps.  Build a clock and practice telling time!

 We then used a round glass dish to build the clock.  

Use foam craft sticks like for the minute and hour hand.  Cut one shorter than the other to teach about size awareness of the different hands on the clock.

Be sure to have your child identify the names of the hour hand and minute hand as part of this learning and clock building activity.  

On the glass plate, pour a small amount of water.  The added sensory component of the water is fun for a spin on this clock building task, because the bottle caps and the foam craft sticks will stick to the glass dish with the water.  Practice moving the hands around to tell different times.

Teach kids how to tell time with hands on learning in this first grade or second grade time telling activity using recycled bottle caps.  Build a clock and practice telling time!

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