Digital Content Creation Program: Sell Your Digital Products on The OT Toolbox

Digital content creation program on The OT Toolbox

If you have ever thought about using your knowledge and experience in digital content creation, then you are in the right place. While most of the blog posts on this site relate to all things pediatric occupational therapy, this one is a bit different. It’s likely that at one point or another, you’ve accessed one of our printable resources, or purchased a digital product. Did you ever wonder if YOU could create a digital resource for others? Did you know that The OT Toolbox has a team of digital content vendors in our shop marketplace? Those creators started out just like you: wondering how to sell resources online! That’s what we’re talking about in this blog post! Read on for information on how to create a passive income using what you know, experience, and are passionate about!

We go deep into how to sell what you know on our Digital Product Professionals page.

Do you LOVE being creative? Do you make resources for the clients on your caseload and know that there are others out there that would benefit as well? Want to make money online but don’t want to deal with customer service, starting a website? Did you know that we love to support other therapy professionals by selling resources on our shop?

Digital content creation program on The OT Toolbox

Digital Content Creation

Do you LOVE being creative? Do you make resources for the clients on your caseload and know that there are others out there that would benefit as well? Want to make money online but don’t want to deal with customer service, starting a website?

Let’s break down HOW and WHY to sell digital products on The OT Toolbox as a vendor in our marketplace.

First, you may or may not know about all of the contributing factors that play a role in running a website and selling resources online. Just to quickly cover all the bases, website management includes:

  • Web hosting
  • Building the technical side of a website including plugin management
  • Managing costs of hosting fees, website fees, email list fees, etc.
  • Managing customer service including the email management
  • Content creation
  • Coming up with a content marketing strategy
  • Graphics creation
  • Writing articles
  • Editing and formatting articles
  • Speaking to target audiences (Here on The OT Toolbox, we create content geared toward therapy providers, parents, and educators, as well as other professionals- counselors, administrators, etc.)
  • Publishingblog content
  • Creating and maintaining a digital marketing strategy
  • Brainstorming content ideas
  • Working with a graphic designer
  • Building a following on social media platforms and working on social media engagement on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, and YouTube
  • Writing blog posts geared toward web traffic- Speaking to the search engines, or meeting search engine optimization (SEO) needs. This includes keyword research.
  • Working among trends such as Tiktok, Facebook reels, or Instagram videos, etc. 
  • Creating infographics for social media posts
  • Using publishing tools such as photoshop or Canva
  • Coming up with a publishing schedule for the website and social media platforms
  • Working on different types of content: articles in Google docs, video, digital products, etc.

That’s a lot to manage! 

When it comes to running a website and managing all of the working pieces, there is a lot to juggle. 

Sell digital products on The OT Toolbox website

Digital Content Creators on The OT Toolbox

The mission of The OT Toolbox has always been to provide tools to support the healthy development of kids. We initially started out by supported occupational therapy providers with resources and tools to help their clients thrive. That audience has since moved on to other therapy professionals such as physical therapy, speech therapy, and mental health therapy as well as all of the types of readers. We did this by offering tools, tips, and resources that not only support their clients, but themselves as professionals. 

 Over time, we have started to support other therapy providers in additional ways, including offering our shop as a platform to sell digital content.

Selling digital products on The OT Toolbox as a digital content creator is a great way to not only make money, but also transfer your skills, knowledge, and experience to other professionals. It’s a literal ripple impact that can change lives!

There are other good things about creating digital content, too! These could be considered the “pros” to digital content creation.

  • Earning money as an online shop
  • Supplementing other income sources (especially true for new digital creators) This is great for the school based therapy provider seeking income over the summer months, or while on school breaks.
  • Passive income. Much about digital content creation as a vendor meaning creators who host products on The OT Toolbox earn money passively.
  • Using your creative resources to support other professionals all over the world to help others thrive

Plus, when you list your digital products on The OT Toolbox shop, we take care of all the details:

1. Hosting and listing the digital product- You don’t need to build a website and deal with the tech side of things or pay all of the hosting and plugin fees. We also list the product on our shop. You don’t need to worry about copywriters or target keywords on the product listing. We take care of that for you.

2. Marketing- we take care of the promotional side of things too. We have a digital content strategy in place so all you have to do is submit your product and sit back to wait for the payments each month. We market on our email newsletter, our social media platforms, and on the blog posts.

3. Customer service- Dealing with deliverability issues, refunds, and customer questions is a necessary thing when you have a shop and business. However, these service considerations take a LOT of time. We handle all of these aspects of product sales.

4. Credit card fees and taxes- When you sell on The OT Toolbox marketplace, we take care of the fees and taxes that are related to digital product sales. 

5. Passive income- You can market products as little or as often as you like on your own social media channels, but there is no obligation to do so. When you list products in The OT Toolbox marketplace as a digital content creator, it can be all passive income. We’ll pay you at the beginning of each month for any sales that your product had during the previous month.

6. Your products will show up in our shop- If you’ve listed a digital resource on Teachers Pay Teachers or Etsy, then you know the pain of publishing a product only to have it sit somewhere in the depths of the website. There is just SO much content on those sites that it’s hard to get your product in front of eyeballs even with SEO tools or influencer marketing on social media. On The OT Toolbox shop, your product will show up by search and it will get in front of web traffic guided by our monthly search volume on the site.

7. Start now- If you have a product already created, you can start right away. If you don’t have a product and have no idea where to begin with making digital products, the Digital Product Creation for Professionals Toolkit is for you. 

How to be a Digital Content Creator and Sell on The OT Toolbox?

The cool thing is that this opportunity is open to everyone. If you’re slightly interested in selling products online, and you have knowledge, experience, and a passion to create a resource, the creator marketplace is for you. 

There are two options, depending on where you are in this process: 

If you already have a digital product… 

…and you want a place to sell it that has a hot audience:

This option is great if you sell products on Teacher Pay Teacher, Etsy, or your own website and you want to get it in front of The OT Toolbox.

Just send us an email at with a copy of your product so we can make sure the item is a good fit for our audience. Then, we’ll get back to you with details and a contract to put all of the details onto paper. We’ll create a vendor account for you and list your item. Then, you earn each month depending on the sales of your product. At any time, you can log into your vendor account and see sales on your dashboard.

One other tip that I would encourage for vendors on The OT Toolbox is to write a blog post on the topic that your product covers. Our vendors that write blog posts promoting their product sell up to 3 times more than the vendors that don’t. Why?

  • Blog posts cover a lot of the “why” behind a product, which is what people are looking for through search
  • A blog post goes deep on how to support a specific need. Readers that arrive at that blog post are looking for answers to a specific question. Your product or resource can be the solution to that problem
  • When a digital content creator covers the many benefits of a product in high-quality content of an article, you can go deep on why specific issues are happening, what the end user might see, red flags that are involved, and then explain in detail how a solution to that problem might be a product that was created by a professional with experience in that area. 
  • You can create different blog articles based on the various topic ideas that a product was intended to solve. For example, most professionals have created products based on years of experience working with a specific issue or problem area. And typically, those resources solve several aspects of the issue at hand. Blog content can go deep on these different issues through a blog series, which targets each aspect of the product. A series of articles related to a single product is an asset to the marketing.

In exchange for the services listed above (hosting, marketing, product delivery, customer service, etc.) we do take a percentage of the product’s pricing. Marketplace vendors earn 65% of the product price. 

This percentage is consistent or better than other online marketplaces such as TPT or Etsy, plus you’ll have the additional benefit of reaching a consistent market and audience. 

Even with that percentage of administration and hosting fees, we have digital vendors earning hundreds of dollars each month, all as passive income. 

If you might be interested in writing a blog post related to your digital product, please reach out to us at We can walk you through the process and come up with some content creation tools that might help. 

If you don’t have a digital product yet…

…and you would like to create one (but don’t know how):

This option is perfect for anyone wanting to explore their creativity, and use what they know, as well as experience, and zones of genius into a resource that they can sell to toothers. We’ve walked many creatives through the process and decided to put the instructions, the systems, and the step-by-step roadmap into a course. The Digital Product Creation Program is a creator academy of sorts. It’s a toolkit with blueprints, workbooks, and roadmaps to support your journey in getting started as an online creator. 

Digital Product Creation Program
All of these resources and more are included in the Digital Product Creation Program.

In the Digital Product Creation Program, we have several stages of product development with resources, ebooks, and templates to support your journey to creating and selling digital products. It includes 5 stages:

  1. Product Development- This section of the toolkit includes types of digital content that you can make based on your experience, passions, and knowledge. This is a great brainstorming space if you know you want to make something, but don’t know exactly what…or how! You’ll also find tutorials on all of the tech so you don’t hit a stumbling block by not knowing how to manage the technology aspect of digital content creation. One tool that is especially helpful is “How to Write an Ebook in 30 Days”. So often, as professionals, we have amazing experiences and know-how that could be a huge resource to others in ebook format. We walk you through getting your information into a consumable format.
  2. Business Development – This stage of the process takes out the unnecessary tasks and streamlines the things you really need to worry about. We cover how to protect your product legally. We also include workbooks and planning books so you can stay on track to get your digital product completed. This is a huge time saver for the whole content creation process. 
  3. Product Template Library- This section includes hundreds of product templates for everything from ebooks, to courses, to worksheets, to handouts, screening tools, forms, and so much more. You can use these templates and plug in the information you know and love to teach others about. These templates are literally done-for-you product templates.
  4. Sell Your Products- This section of the toolkit offers strategies for selling that supports all levels, whether you’ve sold products before, are already on Teachers Pay Teacher, or if you are just getting started and have no idea where to begin. We have created a blueprint for submitting your products to The OT Toolbox and Your Therapy Source, so you can submit your product once and be done. 
  5. Digital Marketing- In this section of the program, we’ve put together a library of templates to plug your product into so you can start marketing on social media. Social media content creators will love this section because the design is already done for you. Open up the templates and start marketing.
  6. Bonuses- There are several bonuses included with this program, including frames and backgrounds for digital content creation. These include all commercial rights so you can use the materials in products that you sell anywhere. We also have put together a top secret, data-backed list of needed digital products. These are materials that are just not that prevalent out there in the market, but they are much-needed.

You can find out more about Digital Product Creation for Professionals here

How to sell Digital Content Creations on The OT Toolbox

We love to support occupational therapy professionals and supporting professionals by allowing them to create and serve others, while building an income on the side is just one way to do that!

The process is really simple. Margaret from Your Therapy Source and I walked through this process (and had a great chat!) about how vendors can apply to sell their products on our websites, to our email lists, and on our social media channels. Check out our chat here: 

Margaret from Your Therapy Source and I talk about how to become a digital content vendor in the shops on our websites.

Basically, the process to sell your digital content creations on The OT Toolbox is this:

  1. Send an email to Include your product name and attach it to the email. Tell me about yourself…I love to hear from other digital content creators out there!
  2. We will review the product to ensure it fits with The OT Toolbox. We’ll get back to you via email.
  3. If the product is accepted as a resource to include on our shop, you’ll get a digital contract. The contract basically says it is your product and you can sell it in other places online or in person, that the product is yours, and The OT Toolbox is only a marketplace to list the product. We also outline the percentage of earnings, and other information we’ve listed in the video above. 
  4. You will return the signed contract along with a product description, a cover images of the product, and any other images that will help the resource sell. 
  5. We will take care of the rest! We’ll list the product on The OT Toolbox shop, create a product listing, market the product in our newsletter, on social media, and in related blog posts.
  6. You will get paid. We pay through Paypal and will send out payments once a month. 

It’s a great stream of passive income for professionals that love sharing their experiences and knowledge!


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

Christmas Occupational Therapy Activities

Christmas occupational therapy activities

This time of year, it’s all about the Christmas trees, holiday spirit, and festivities, so these Christmas occupational therapy activities are sure to brighten therapy caseloads! Many years ago, we created a free December calendar with OT activities for Christmas, and you’ll want to grab that resource, too. But if you need extra therapy ideas to plan our a whole month of OT sessions, you’ll find tons of ideas here. Below, you’ll find activities and ideas to use in occupational therapy planning during the Christmas season while building skills in fine motor, visual motor, gross motor, and more.

Christmas occupational therapy activities

Christmas occupational therapy activities

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting into the Christmas spirit. Whether you are trying to think up some fun Christmas occupational therapy activities to add to the mix this month, or are looking for Christmas activities that kids and the whole family will love, it’s a fun time of year for adding creative Christmas ideas! 

That’s why I wanted to put together some therapist-approved Christmas activities for kids. These are ideas that add a motor component to learning and play. Stay tuned, because this week is all about Christmas activities for kids here on The OT Toolbox! 

First, let’s share some of our favorite free Christmas occupational therapy activities.

The team behind The OT Toolbox has been BUSY. There are new free resources you can grab:

These are all fun ways to support specific skills through play.

These Christmas OT activities would be a great way to get ideas for home programs or holiday break activities, too! 

These Christmas activities for kids are perfect for using in occupational therapy activities, in home programs, in the OT clinic, or in the classroom. All of the occupational therapy Christmas activities are designed to promote motor development including fine motor, gross motor, visual motor, and sensory, all with a Christmas theme!

Christmas Activities for Kids

Each of the Christmas activities below target specific skills such as sensory, fine motor, visual motor, etc. OR, they target age groups like toddler Christmas activities or preschool Christmas activities.

All of the activities and ideas you’ll find here are perfect for the occupational therapist looking for Christmas themed fine motor activities, sensory challenges, visual motor activities, gross motor ideas, brain breaks, and more!

I’ll link to all of the posts this week here but be sure to stop back each day to see the activities and ideas that you can use in therapy treatment sessions, in the classroom, and in the home. 

Christmas Activities for Toddlers– These toddler Christmas activities support development for younger children and support OT goals or the areas of development in toddlers.

Christmas Craft Ideas for Kids– Use these holiday crafts to build fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, sensory moor skills, visual motor skills. Crafts are a powerful therapy tool and these Christmas OT crafts work on hand strength, scissor skills, and so much more.

Christmas Activities for Preschoolers– These Christmas OT activities for preschoolers develop skills in kids ages 3-5. These moor skill activities can be used in preschool occupational therapy programming or in occupational therapy early intervention.

Christmas Party Games for Kids– These holiday activities are great for occupational therapy sessions, but they are prefect for planning Christmas parties in the classroom, from the perspective of an occupational therapist mom! Use these fun holiday ideas at home, for family time too.

Christmas Sensory Activities– These Christmas sensory bins, Christmas sensory bottles, writing trays, and sensory dough activities support tactile sensory play during the holiday season. Use these sensory activities at home, in the therapy clinic, or at school to support skill building this time of year.

You’ll also love:

Christmas Fine Motor activities
Christmas fine motor activities to build hand strength.

Christmas Fine Motor Activities– These fine motor activities support eye-hand coordination, hand strength, motor planning skills, separation of the sides of the hand, finger isolation, and much more!

Christmas calendar

Be sure to grab our Christmas Occupational Therapy Calendar that is full of therapist-approved Christmas activities for kids this season.

NOTE-All of the activities and ideas indicated in this article as well as those listed are to be used as ideas to meet the individual needs of each child. All activities should be used according to the child’s individual evaluation and interventions.

More Christmas Activities

Working on handwriting with kids this Christmas season? Grab your copy of the Christmas Modified Handwriting Packet. It’s got three types of adapted paper that kids can use to write letters to Santa, Thank You notes, holiday bucket lists and much more…all while working on handwriting skills in a motivating and fun way! Read more about the adapted Christmas Paper here

The Modified Christmas paper is available inside the Member’s Club, in our Christmas Therapy Theme. Members can log in and grab all of those paper formats there.

Use these Christmas activities for kids in occupational therapy while working on skills like fine motor skills, gross motor skills, visual motor skills, sensory concerns and other occupational therapy goal areas!

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

Spider Activities

spider activities

This time of year, spider activities are a fun way to learn, develop skills through a a weekly occupational therapy theme, and even use in an occupational therapy or classroom Halloween Party ideas! Here, we’ve got you covered on all things spiders…spider crafts, spider fine motor activities, spider gross motor, spider tasks, and even spider themed foods!

Spider Activities

Kids love the fall activities and the themes that come with the season. With festivals, trick or treating, and classroom parties, kiddos will soon be into all things fall and Halloween.  In fact, if you are looking for Halloween occupational therapy activities, then these spider activity ideas fit right into the season.

With this seasonal fun, kids will love engaging in some spider activities galore.

Whether doing crafts, motor activities, or sensory breaks, children will find these spider activities intriguing and adults will find them exceptionally skill building. So, it’s a win-win for all!  

We certainly have you covered with all kinds of creepy, crawly activities with this activity round-up. 

In this post, you’ll find a myriad activity ideas that can help address so many great skills with kids. Do you need fine motor or gross motor activities? We’ve got you covered. Are you looking for skill-building arts and crafts?  We’ve got you covered. Are you needing sensory goodies to work on tactile skills or to provide a sensory break? We’ve got them! Do you want some fun snack ideas for a classroom party?  Check out the ideas below. 

Spider Fine Motor Activities 

Use these Spider fine motor activities to build stronger hands, intrinsic hand strength, dexterity to manipulate tools like crayons, glue bottles, scissors, clothespins, and more.

Spider Gross Motor Activities

These spider gross motor activities support development of balance, coordination, stability, endurance, position changes, and motor planning with large muscle groups. Include these activities in Halloween obstacle courses and even Halloween parties!

Spider Crafts

These spider crafts, spider art activities are fun ways to paint, and craft this time of year. Use the spider crafts to build executive functioning skills, like working memory, organization, direction following, planning, prioritization, and more.

While making the spider crafts, kids also develop fine motor skills and sensory input through the tactile sense.

Spider Sensory Activities

These spider sensory activities are fun ways to challenge the tactile sense, but also add sensory input through the vestibular, proprioceptive sense, and visual sense. Add these activities to a sensory diet this time of year, or use as a brain break with sensory input.

Spider Snacks

Kids can help to make these spider snacks as a way to develop executive functioning skills.

We hope that you have found these ideas perfect to make your October lesson planning a little easier and whole lotta spidery skill-packed fun!

Spider Activity Clip Cards
Spider Activity Clip Cards-free download!

Free Spider Activity Cards

These spider activity cards are designed to promote additional skills:

  • Bilateral coordination
  • Crossing midline
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Pinch and grip strength
  • Hand strength
  • Visual perception
  • Scissor skills
  • Coloring skills
  • and more

Want to get a free set of these spider activity cards? Enter your email address into the form below to access this free download. This printable is also available inside The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Members can log into their account and access the PDF on our Halloween Therapy Theme page.

Free Spider Activity Clip Cards

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    More Spider Activities

    With the Halloween Therapy Kit, you’ll find spider activities, but also all kinds of Halloween motor skills, scissor skills tasks, and fine and gross motor activities.

    Get more Halloween therapy tools including spider activities to support development using the Halloween Therapy Kit!

    Regina Allen

    Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

    Managing Resistance in Therapy

    client resistance in therapy

    So often, we see a child of therapy evaluation and find a need for therapy intervention, but that’s where the resistance begins. Here we are talking how to manage resistance in therapy, and not only that; but how to engage with kids so that we get the truly motivated buy-in for engaging in occupational therapy interventions

    Address client resistance in therapy

    Resistance in therapy

    If you’ve worked in OT for even a short time, you have probably experienced resistance from your clients. There are many reasons for barriers to participation in occupational therapy intervention. From differing perceptions to the outcomes of OT interventions, to not understanding what occupational therapy is and what it can do for the client, understanding therapy process is just one aspect of client resistance. 

    There are so many different reasons why a therapy client my object therapy participation. Encouraging participation in therapy sessions and functional engagement in daily tasks can be a couple of underlying areas that we are trying to address in therapy sessions. But what’s more is that beyond client resistance, there may truly be functional occupations that are being missed or delayed as a result of resistance to therapy.

    Additionally, when children are asked to participate in a therapy activity or to stop doing a preferred activity and transition to another, sometimes it is hard to get their “buy in,” but it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Let’s cover various techniques to support children showing resistance in therapy sessions. We’ll also cover how to support follow transitions and make engaging in therapy fun through meaningful games and some simple resources to utilize to make sure therapy activities happen smoothly throughout the therapy session. 

    Why do clients show resistance in therapy?

    Before we get into strategies to encourage functional participation, let’s break down why we may see failure to participate during therapy sessions.

    Therapy makes the client look and feel “different” than everyone else- Going to a therapy session is not something that every child or teen does, so attending therapy can be a reason that makes them look different. This can lead to resistance to participate and a feeling of dread when it comes time for therapy sessions. 

    Especially for our middle school students receiving OT services, and for individuals who are very much aware that they are doing something that not everyone else is, this can be a big deal.

    Don’t understand occupational therapy- Many times, we as therapy professionals are ready to evaluate or treat a resistant client and the individual states something like, “why are you here?” or “what is occupational therapy” or “who are you and why are you asking me these questions?”!

    Do any of these questions sound familiar? Many times clients/patients/students are referred to occupational therapy evaluations without knowledge. This is the case in hospital or clinical situations when OT orders are part of the inpatient process. In the school based scenario, a student is referred to occupational therapy by the IEP team or a child’s parent.

    Many times, the individual has no idea they are going to be seen by OT. This can lead to refusal and a resistance to participate. Whether you are working with a child in the classroom setting in a push in model or pulling a child out of the classroom, this can be a reason that resistance to participate in therapy occurs. 

    Therapy is hard- Therapy tasks aren’t always easy, especially if your child is participating in an activity that they love doing. If asked to step away from an activity before they are done, they may become upset and non compliant. This can be true with the child working on handwriting tasks or working on strengthening. It is HARD to write and copy all of those sentences. It requires a lot of concentrated effort doing something difficult.

    The same is true for strengthening tasks that require engagement and consistent use of muscle groups. It’s easier to regress to that comfortable and “easy” positioning. As an adult, if you are working on a project on your computer, how much advance notice would you like before you have to finish what you are working on and move to a new activity?

    Therapy is a change from the normal day to day activities- Even if the typical day to day functions is something that is being worked on, including participation and functional performance, it can be a change from the “norm” to engage in therapy sessions.

    Would you appreciate your coworker walking in while you are typing mid sentence, closing your laptop lid, taking you by the hand stating “it is time for the staff meeting. Let’s go!”

    Or would you rather they say “just letting you know that you have five minutes before the staff meeting, see you there!”

    My guess is that you would like to have some advanced notice before you have to stop working. This is the same for a child who is playing. When they are actively engaged in an activity, they have a plan and don’t appreciate being interrupted in the middle of it. This could be anything from playing with play dough, to completing a puzzle or pretend play. 

    Therapy challenges the unexpected- Sometimes when kids or teens participate in therapy sessions, they don’t know what to expect. They know that they are working on specific skills, but what if that skill of task is so new and novel that the fear of the unknown exists.

    This can be particularly true with things such as toileting. For the child with interoceptive sensory considerations, they may have no idea how a bowel movement on the toilet feels.

    This fear of the unknown can be a real area of resistance. 

    Clients Resist certain parts of therapy

    What if children don’t want to stop what they are doing and resists participation in some therapy activities?

    You have probably seen this in action when a child LOVES a specific therapy game or activity. It might be that they love anything to do with a therapy swing. But what might really be happening is that the child is overly focused on that item because it’s been a cause for positive feedback in the past.

    Or maybe, if the item is a sensory activity like a sensory swing, that the child receives the sensory input that they crave.

    Or, perhaps the preferred activity is a highly motivating activity because it’s a theme or character that the child really loves. In these cases it can be very difficult to move from the preferred activity to a non-preferred activity. 

    In many cases, the child even becomes overstimulated or dysregulated as a result of focusing on that one particular activity, or as a result of reciting too much stimulation or a certain type of sensory input from that one activity. 

    When a child feels like they don’t want to transition to a new activity or that they didn’t have enough time to finish the task they were completing, they may become upset and hard to calm down. 

    In these cases, using a positive redirection activity that will give children the ability to comfort themselves and they are feeling overwhelmed.

     Giving them time and space to calm down is very important, especially in a non-threatening way. If the child is upset, part of the therapeutic process is to support the child to calm down, identifying feelings and emotions, and offering support. Therapy professionals can guide them through communicating how they are feeling and participating in solving the problem at hand. 

    How to engage the child that resists therapy sessions

    Whether you are working in a clinic, hospital setting, or school-based, resistance to therapy happens. When giving instructions and laying out transition expectations to young children, it is important to keep in mind their individual and collective developmental age range in order to give clear and concise directions.

    The following are strategies to engage the child or teen showing resistance in therapy. 

    This can include components of getting buy-in that are important to include in every direction given to a young child. 

    1.Clear and concise expectations- Having a plan of expectations and then using clear directions in those expected task completion is a key way to support engagement.

    Use these tips to support and give clear expectations with clients:

    • When giving a statement or direction to a child, make sure that it is easy to understand.
    • Keep in mind the age of a child and their receptive language skills.
    • Using one or two step directions, children will be able to remember what is being told to them.
    • When giving the directions, make sure you are in the same room as the child (not yelling “it’s time for dinner” from the kitchen area), preferably kneeling down at their eye level.

    Additionally, certain tools can support the “flow” of therapy sessions and offer a visual cue for participants with concrete expectations. Strategies that can support these expectations in therapy include:

    2. Stick to Routines. When we work on daily routines, such as bedtime, clean up time, morning routines, leaving the house, etc., we use routines to make sure that the routine of events is the same every time. This strategy can carryover to therapy interventions. Using a similar routine for therapy sessions can include premeditated steps in order to allow children to feel successful and prepared for what is coming next.

    Here is a great example of a therapy session routine:

    1. Arrive to therapy
    2. Check in
    3. Sit in the same spot in the waiting room
    4. Move to the therapy clinic area
    5. Hellos and talk about last session
    6. Discuss areas that the client wants to work on
    7. Warm up activities
    8. Address identified needs
    9. Preferred activity
    10. Cool down activities
    11. Discuss home program and plan for next visit

    Another schedule strategy that can be used for countering resistance to participation in therapy includes staggering preferred activities with non-preferred tasks. For the child that struggles with handwriting and really is resistant to handwriting tasks, you can stagger preferred activities (while selecting options that also address underlying areas of need or other goal areas). You can come up with a treatment intervention plan that includes options for the client to select from that are both preferred and non-preferred.

    This strategy can look like:

    • Arrive to therapy
    • Check-in
    • Select activities to address based on goal areas
    • Preferred activity
    • Non-preferred activity
    • Preferred activity
    • Non-preferred activity
    • Preferred activity
    • Cool down activities
    • Discuss home program and plan for next visit

    One of the best ways to make transitioning from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity is to make it FUN! When the transition process is exciting, children will join right in. 

    You can find more examples of daily routines that are used for functional participation here on the website. 

    3. Utilize Auditory Cues– To make sure that the child in therapy hears what you are saying, when you are giving them the directions, have them stop and look at you.

    A fun way to do this with young children is to have a saying such as “1,2,3 FREEZE” where they put their finger over their lips and look at you. There are so many other fun “stop and listen” sayings and games that you can find in this video.

    Games for Resistance in Therapy

    Here are four games that make participating in therapy interventions fun. Use these ideas to counter resistance to therapy activities.

    1. Timer Games – Using timer games are great for making clean up time fun. These games include: “How fast can you clean up all the toys?” or “Can Charlee put all the blue blocks away faster than Henry can put all the green ones away?” When children are engaged in a game during clean up, it’s not so boring!  
    1. Movement Songs – Pairing movement and music together to get children to a specific place will make the transition very exciting. I love using songs like “We are the dinosaur marching marching” or  “Flap your arms like a butterfly to the line” or “Jump like a bunny  all the way, over to the _____.” When pairing a movement activity with a direction and melody, children learn that transitioning to the new activity location is just as fun as what they have been doing! 
    1. Jobs – Making children an active part of the next activity, but giving them a very specific job, makes them feel important and gives them purpose for moving to the next activity. For example, if you want your child to transition to nap time, they can help pick out the books that are going to be read to the children, or they can put a new pillow case on their pillow. If children are transitioning to mealtime, they can set the table, or hand the other children their name cards. There are so many different jobs that allow children to become part of the new activity.
    1. Visual Supports- When creating a routine for the classroom or at home, there are several ways to include visual supports to make transitions easier for the children and for you. Using a visual schedule will make your days so much calmer! You can create a visual schedule for different parts of your day (such as morning and bedtime routines) or for your full day. The visual schedule will help children understand what is coming next. 

    Every day children are asked to transition at least 50, maybe 100 times. That is A LOT! Children don’t always have a lot of control over what is going to happen during their day, but allowing them time in between new activities, making the transition fun, and giving them a job to feel important, will make transitions feel less like a chore. As adults, if we stay consistent, giving children directions while being mindful of their developmental level, our days will become less stressful and more fun!

    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

    Occupational Therapy for Teenagers

    occupational therapy for teenagers

    Occupational therapy for teenagers can look a lot different than OT interventions for preschoolers. Middle school occupational therapy and high school occupational therapy sessions focus more on transitional stages as children age into teenagers and beyond.

    occupational therapy for teenagers

    Occupational Therapy for Teenagers

    In the younger grades, school occupational therapy practitioners go into the school setting armed with playdough, scissors, pencils, crayons, glue, fidgets, and a few games/puzzles. 

    What about the middle school occupational therapy population…and those years following in the high school OT interventions?  These teenagers are not motivated by crayons, Candyland, letter formation exercises, or cut and paste activities.  Nor should they be.  Unless your middle school caseload is in a self contained classroom functioning at a preschool level, these games and activities are not appropriate or practical. This post will explore the tricky transition from elementary to middle school occupational therapy.

    Starting in late elementary school, many therapists transition their caseload from a direct to indirect, or consultative therapy model at this time, especially if they have been working with a particular student for several years.

    Reasons OT for teenagers moves to consultation

    When a student remains on the OT caseload into the middle school setting, therapy typically does transition to consultation. Why? There are several valid reasons for doing so.  There are many reasons why transitioning from direct services to a consultation model is appropriate for teenagers (in middle school and high school). The primary reasons for transitioning to a consultative model are:

    • Teenagers are self conscious and do not care for a therapist coming into their general education classroom to sit by them, observe, or ask questions. A consultative model allows the student to take ownership over their therapy recommendations.
    • Middle school schedules are busy. It can be difficult to ensure carryover of occupational therapy goals when there are many different teachers on the student’s schedule. Therapists make suggestions but then the recommendations may not be carried over to each class. Additionally, pulling a student for individual therapy weekly means they are missing valuable learning time.
    • Handwriting habits are set and unlikely to change at this age. Pencil grasp development and letter formation skills are often formed by the age of eight, making adjustments in middle school difficult. The same is true for Visual perceptual skills.
    • Students do not want adaptations that make them stand out from their peers. They will resist noise cancellation headphones, a scribe for written notes, alternative seating, weighted items, or noticeable fidgets.
    • Executive function – many middle schools already incorporate these skills into their program through schedules, planners, online classrooms, and reminders.
    • Students in the middle school and high school settings are most likely using technology, virtual classrooms, and email to do much of their school work by this point.
    • Students have often been receiving services since early elementary school.  Changes are less likely to happen at this stage, if they have not already.

    Direct interventions Occupational Therapy for teenagers

    Middle school occupational therapy is not a one size fits all model.

    There are several reasons to keep a student on a direct therapy service model during middle school and the high school years. It’s important to realize that moving from direct services to consultation should not occur simply because the student ages out of the elementary buildings.

    Teenagers receiving occupational therapy services may continue on with the direct therapy model for several reasons:

    • Self contained students work at a different pace than their mainstreamed counterparts. They may continue to need more intervention.
    • Lower level learners will need to be transitioning to a life skills or self help model, if they have not already. This means new objectives and goals to address. Some of these areas to address include: life skills cooking tasks, starting at the beginning with cursive name writing, changing clothing for gym or swimming at school, perineal care to address menstruation needs, or other skills.
    • Middle schoolers are a different breed of people. There are new social expectations, hormonal changes, levels of independence, and increased demands for self help skills or self-regulation skills.
    • It may take time to educate families and caregivers about this change in service model, and expectations. Automatically moving everyone to an indirect model, or discharging them, may be too abrupt for anxious parents or overwhelmed teachers

    The Role of the occupational therapist with teenagers

    The teenage years bring many changes that impact functioning abilities that impact the education in middle school or high school.

    Seruya and Ellen write about the Role of the Middle School Occupational Therapist.  They highlight several important factors or strategies to intervention

    • Involve your learner in decision making about goals and objectives. These will be more meaningful and motivating to your students.
    • Transition away from typical handwriting goals to more functional goals
    • Teach typing and word processing.
    • Address motor skills use of calculators, rulers, graph paper, etc.
    • Address organization of locker and homework planner.
    • Provide adaptations if your learner is not able to complete work in an effective manner. A scribe to write notes for them, word processing versus written documentation, lessen the workload if writing is too labor intensive, preferential seating to improve attention.
    • Address any lingering or new sensory concerns.  Provide adaptation for these with preferential seating, alternative seating, gum or fidgets for self regulation, ear plugs to reduce incoming sounds, and organizational tools.
    • Address important life skills – learners need to know their emergency contact information, effectively groom themselves, take care of feminine hygiene issues, advocate for themselves, and follow a schedule.
    • Some interventions may require private therapy to be more appropriate such as meal preparation, laundry, ordering from a menu, shopping, budgeting, or filling out an application. These would be appropriate goals for students in a self contained classroom.

    how to improve handwriting for teenagers

    There are times when therapists are called to continue to address handwriting in their middle school population.  Intervention needs to be functional, beyond basic letter formation. Functional handwriting can mean learning to write the letters in a name in print or cursive, filling in forms, and essential handwriting life skills.

    Handwriting help for middle schoolers

    Miss Jamie, a school based OT, has written a post about Addressing Handwriting in Middle Schoolers.  She has gone so far as to write a second post here.  

    One handwriting goal for middle schoolers, or even handwriting in high school may address the letter formation or number formation to write identifying information such as name, address, phone number.

    For example, a handwriting goal for teenagers may be:

    “This student will be able to independently write identifying information (name, address, phone number) without a model with 80% legibility.”

    Another handwriting goal might be:

    “The student will be able to write or access information to fill out a form independently.” 

    The OT Toolbox has a great post about filling out forms. (Coming soon)

    Transition to middle school and high school occupational therapy

    What can you do to help this transition to middle school occupational therapy and high school occupational therapy?

    • Educate – teachers, parents, and other caregivers may not understand the role of the occupational therapist in middle school.  It may be time for a little education on the services provided and the therapeutic model. 
    • Empathy – reducing therapy minutes may feel like the student is not going to improve, or they are being given up on.  It is tough for parents to imagine their learner may never write a sentence, read independently, or live alone.  This is the time to gently begin this conversation.
    • Collaborate – work with educators and families to determine what are appropriate functional goals and needs in the classroom, and how they can be addressed. This blog on collaboration between OT and educators can assist.
    • Continue Direct Intervention– There may be a need for direct therapy intervention. Keep your students motivated with relevant and important treatment activities. 
    • Address life skills.  The OT Toolbox has a series of life skills posts including cooking, laundry, filling out forms, and social stories.

    Working with teenagers in occupational therapy can be challenging. A few final tips for the OT working in middle schools or high schools:

    1. Remember teenagers are suddenly big and somewhat awkward.
    2. Keep goals and objectives focused on relevant and functional skills.
    3. Educate staff and caregivers about the role of the OT in schools.
    4. Provide resources, and make adaptations to the educational environment to help students better access their curriculum. 
    5. Try not to be in the hallways when they are transitioning between classes!  

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

    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.

    Sensory Activities For 1 Year Olds

    sensory activities for 1 year olds

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

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

    sensory activities for 1 year olds

    sensory activities for 1 year olds

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

    • colorful balls
    • muffin tins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Peek a Boo Sensory Activity for 1 year olds

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

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

    The next sensory activity for baby was a fun one!

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

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



    More sensory activities for babies

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

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

    We had a ball!

    (couldn’t resist that one…heehee)

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

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

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

    DIR Floortime and Floor Play

    DIR Floortime

    Have you heard of DIR Floortime as a tool for helping children thrive and achieve their greatest potential?  Occupational therapy professionals often use Floortime, or the DIRFloortime (or Floortime for short) as one of the tools in their therapy toolbelt. The fact is that floor play for infants, babies, and toddlers is so effective in many aspects of play, but we wanted to cover a bit more about the Floortime approach to development and learning.

    In this post we will explore the various types of floor play, including DIR Floortime, for children of all ages, as well as explain why playing on the floor with your child is important. 

    What is Floor Play?

    First, let’s cover what we mean by floor play. In this blog post, what we mean by floor play is just that: play on the floor!

    Children will play just about anywhere – most are skilled at making any landscape their personal playground. The most commonly accessible playground, however, is the floor! So much play and movement can happen on the floor, which makes it a perfect location for developmental milestones to occur in little ones. Older children continue to be drawn to the floor as they sit down to play with trucks, dolls, and build forts.

    When babies and infants are on the floor, they can develop and learn during tummy time, but also while on a play mat in a variety of positions.

    Older babies strengthen their bodies and learn how their movements are in their own control while playing on the floor. They learn about the world around them this way. They gain motor skills and begin to engage with toys through play on the floor.

    Toddlers develop social emotional skills, refined motor skills, strength, coordination, and eye-hand coordination skills through floor play.

    Older children build more strength, endurance, postural control, social emotional skills, confidence, self-regulation, and executive functioning skills through floor play.

    There are so many benefits to getting down on the ground with your child an engaging in floor play, no matter the age!

    Related, this article on parallel play describes additional information on play at different ages and stages.

    Floor Play For Babies

    Why should I put my baby on the floor? Isn’t it dirty? How do I keep them safe down there? 

    Check out this post on Floor Play for Babies for a specific floor play idea for young children.

    For young children, movement may be reduced as a result of placing babies in “containers” or seats. This limited movement opportunity can impact typical development and reflex integration.

    Floor Play Activities

    Isn’t it dirty? Some floors are dirty. Some houses have dirt floors. Never take for granted that your patient has a great/clean environment to play on the floor. Provide a washable tablecloth, sheet, blanket, or large mattresses on the floor to encourage movement.

    In fact, playing on the floor with our children is so important that a model was born from it, called DIR Floortime. 

    What is DIR Floortime? 

    DIR Floortime stands for Developmental, Individual-Differences, and Relationships. It is a model used primarily to guide caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As you can imagine, this model guides parents to use the most important place for child-led play,…the floor! 

    The DIR Floortime model emphasizes the importance of following a child’s lead, joining them on the floor, at their height, playing with them based on their choices.

    dir floortime is different than other programs

    Many programs for Autistic children are designed to help them change, in order to act more like children without Autism. However, this can be an area of concern. Floortime therapy encourages acceptance and appreciation of who the child is, and highlights that caregivers can best support the child by following their lead.

    Through this type of interaction, caregivers can build strong relationships, and improve the social-emotional skills of the child. 

    DIR Floortime training is a certification process that teaches and promotes an approach to intervention. The training is appropriate and targeted for therapy professionals working in preschool through school-aged students. Through the DIR/Floortime principles, therapy professionals learn and intervene through practice, self-reflection, and mentorship, while meeting the needs of their clients in different environments and settings.

    Although DIR Floortime interventions are primarily used as a model to better understand and build relationships between an ASD child and their caregiver, I find it a great model for any child-adult relationship.

    Learn more about DIR Floortime principles on their website

    Playing on the floor with your child not only leads to gains in motor development, but as DIR Floortime and various researchers report, playing on the floor is also integral to the development of social and emotional skills! It’s a win-win-win. 

    floor time Activities by Age:

    As your baby ages into a toddler and into a child, they will continue to benefit from playing on the floor with you.

    Infants and Babies

    Floorplay activities for babies is a good resource to check out when it comes to development and the infant/baby. It’s during the early years that the young baby support development of motor, sensory, and cognitive skills. It’s important to engage with your baby during floor play time, both when laying in tummy time or on their backs or sides.

    Babies should be interacted with during floor time play, and not just placed on the floor with some toys or a play mat.

    Some activities for this age include playing on the floor and engaging with baby by:

    • Singing songs
    • Getting close to baby’s face and making eye contact
    • Baby massage
    • Rubbing baby’s back while humming or singing

    During the vast stages of baby development, floor play is about engaging with your little one. Tummy time can still be a challenge for this age, but keep going! This is a great age to engage with eye contact, physical contact while supporting emotional development and continued motor and cognitive skills.

    Spend a lot of time talking to baby during floor play. Use different tones of voice, and make sounds with your mouth and tongue when talking and playing to baby. This is a great way to develop auditory processing skills, too.

    Floor play during the first year can include (among many other play ideas) a means for motor skill development too:

    • Play mats
    • Toys scattered on the floor to encourage reaching, rolling, and sitting
    • Sing and speak nursery rhymes and gently move baby’s arms and legs during floor play
    • Supporting baby on lap and reading books, talking, and interacting/engaging with baby
    • Mirror play

    For older children: toddlers, preschoolers, and older kids, floortime is a fantastic way to support development through engaging with the little one in a respectful and playful way. Floorplay is fun! It’s a joyful way to support a young child’s development.

    When it comes to specific activities and play ideas, the most important thing to remember is to make the play time meaningful. This looks like themes or activities that align with the individual’s interests.

    Consider the following when coming up with floor time activities:

    • Favorite topics
    • Favorite characters (from TV, movies, books, games, videos, etc.)
    • Favorite colors
    • Preferred activities
    • Sports
    • Seasonal activities

    While floortime can cover any topic or theme, the most important piece is getting down on the floor with the child and playing! Let the play be guided by the child and

    the best part of floor play

    The best part of floor play, is how easy and inexpensive it is to support your child by playing on the floor with them. You don’t need the “best” toys or even any traditional toys at all. Your body, voice, household objects (blankets, paper, remote control, books), creativity, and a positive attitude will go for miles.

    For even more ideas of how to play with your infant or child on the floor, check out this great post for toddler play ideas.

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

    Supporting Student Strengths in the Classroom

    student strengths in the classroom

    When working with kids, we as professionals support students in many ways, but one of the most important ways to support kiddos is by highlighting individual student strengths in the classroom. We’ve all been there: feeling down about our own insecurities. That negativity impacts our mood, behavior, and the way we respond to others, including co-regulation. For kids that struggle with various areas, they may constantly be aware of how they are challenged to learn, make friends, participate in classroom activities. We as occupational therapy professionals can bring positivity and support through the simple act of highlighting the good. Our students on every ability level will thrive when using their strengths as meaningful motivation!

    Student strengths in the classroom to support learning and classroom tasks using student's personal strengths

    Here, we are talking about how to support students by identifying student strengths, understanding how to use those strengths to support the child, and how professionals can identify individual strengths for each student.

    Student Strengths in the Classroom

    School professionals and paraprofessionals do so much for our students, and it is not always easy. One way to bring some positivity to the classroom is to highlight all of the wonderful strengths you see.

    Student strengths in the classroom environment are obviously an important aspect of school performance. We all thrive when we feel we do something well. It makes us want to learn more about the topic. Doing a job or task well makes us want to achieve because we know we are good at that particular thing.

    We know that using a strengths-based approach works for Autistic learners, trauma-informed therapy interventions, specific diagnoses such as cerebral palsy, and essentially everyone!

    What Are Student Strengths

    Let’s start with defining exactly what are student strengths and how to facilitate functional skills and learning through the use of strength-based participation.

    Student strengths are exactly that; the strengths of the individual student! So often, we talk about the challenges a student has. We see the behaviors, the deficits, and weaknesses, and the diagnosis. These negative aspects are what the student is reprimanded on. It’s what makes them stand out (in the eyes of the student) and makes them different than their peers. But when we highlight strengths, we are shifting the focus to the positive.

    All students have strengths. Every one has interests, positive aspects, special skills, and abilities that make them unique. Student strengths are any personal trait that makes them who they are!

    When an individual’s personal strengths are highlighted, there is a ping of dopamine that offers feedback through the nervous system. There is a feeling of “good” that travels through the brain and body. This positive feedback can support regulation, mood, emotions, behavior, communication, and participation.

    When student strengths are highlighted in the classroom, students thrive.

    When student strengths in classrooms are highlighted, not only do individual students thrive in academic learning but in these other areas, but the whole classroom can be impacted too. The classroom can grow and develop together as a unit when they see that each student’s special skills and abilities play a role in their teamwork. Each student brings something special to the table and when these special skills are identified, students can empathize with more understanding.

    A student that struggles with attention and has physical behaviors or anger might be very talented at drawing. That special interest can be used to create a classroom poster that shows how we are all different, but all of us have some unique qualities that make us who we are as individuals.

    Simple wording that highlights the positive aspects of a student go much farther than the constant barrage of negative messaging. Our students pick up on this wording. So, when we put a positive spin on the terminology or ways we describe a child’s positive qualities, we are doing a benefit for not only the student, but the whole classroom’s view of the world around them.

    Highlighting student strengths can support teamwork and empathy. It develops individuals into leaders, teammates, and supports conflict resolution.

    Let’s take a closer look at student strengths…

    List of Student Strengths

    A child may be constantly in motion, but they can also be described as active or energetic. A student might be impulsive or take risks but they can also be described as adventurous or confident. Simply putting a different, positive spin on skills and abilities can make a difference.

    Some student strengths include:

    • Artistic
    • Accepting
    • Confident
    • Self-assured
    • High self-esteem
    • Friendly
    • Sociable
    • Outgoing
    • Creative
    • Imaginative
    • Capable
    • Insightful
    • Perceptive
    • Talented
    • Intellectual
    • Deep thinkers
    • Daring
    • Energetic
    • Honest
    • Friendly/Makes friends easily
    • Talkative
    • Articulate
    • Kind
    • Loving
    • Empathetic/Sensitive to the needs of others
    • Affectionate
    • Fun-loving
    • Active
    • Loyal
    • Determined
    • Organized
    • Resilient
    • Humble
    • Caring
    • Helpful
    • Introspective
    • Reserved
    • Thoughtful
    • Altruistic
    • Trusting
    • Modest
    • Affectionate
    • Warm
    • Sympathetic to others, including to strangers
    • Benevolent
    • Predictable
    • Thorough
    • Ambitious
    • Consistent
    • Grateful
    • Forgiving
    • Patient
    • Original
    • Innovative
    • Clever
    • Curious
    • Strong
    • Tactful
    • Brave
    • Calm
    • Optimistic
    • Funny/humorous
    • Polite
    • Loyal
    • Persistent
    • Conscientious
    • Self-disciplined
    • Leader
    • Reliable
    • Resourceful
    • Hard-working
    • Persevering
    • Controlled
    • Goal-oriented
    • Unselfish
    • Mindful
    • Amiable
    • Considerate
    • Happy/cheerful
    • Great interpersonal skills
    • Communicator
    • Critical Thinker
    • Problem Solver
    • Great at Public Speaking
    • Teamwork
    • Collaborator
    • Accountable
    • Active Listener
    • Adaptable
    • Decision-maker

    You can see how this list could go on and on…and on! Highlighting the positive aspects of students in the classroom is powerful!

    How to identify Student Strengths

    As student supporters – whatever role that may be – we should harness those individual strengths into greater achievement for all of our students.

    One easy way to identify strengths of an individual student is to think about each subject, unit, or specials class. How does the student behave in each?

    What is their engagement like in music versus physical education; math compared to reading? Maybe they are the first to raise their hand during social-emotional learning or cringe when they know writing time is next. No strength is too small; maybe they are not academically achieving in any traditional subject but are a leader on the playground or in the hallway. 

    Let’s say our student, Charlie, loves science class for the action. They show great strength in exploring and understanding scientific concepts. However, they hate writing because they never know what to say and are not confident in their penmanship yet. 

    As a supporter of this student, our role is to find ways to bring their favorite aspects of one subject into their least favorite. For example, Charlie really does cringe at the idea of writing, so I try to break that down. If they present with reduced fine motor or visual motor skills and therefore handwriting is a challenge, how can we use their strength in science to increase their writing skills? 

    The first thing that comes to mind is to intentionally and meaningfully include writing in the science lesson. It’s technically “science” time, but guess what: we are going to be strengthening fine motor skills with eyedroppers and writing the results of our experiment! 

    The best part about integrating one subject into another is that it is a universal approach – all children will benefit from combined learning! 

    How to Use Student Strengths as Motivation  

    We all know how difficult it can be to motivate students. My favorite word that correlates with motivation is ‘meaningful’. If you can make something meaningful to someone else, it becomes motivating. Using a student’s strengths is a great way to create meaningful learning. 

    One method to ease into meaningful learning is to make a list of preferred topics.

    We can use Charlie again here – you see that all of their folders are superhero-themed. They are always donning Super Mario or Minecraft and talking about their beloved cat during their free time.

    Taking the time to make a list of preferred topics for each of your students may take some time, but it will be so worthwhile! Make the list of ideas accessible to all those who work with this student, and most importantly, to the student themselves. 

    With a list of their favorite things in hand, Charlie always has preferred options of what to write about. Even when not writing, there is always the comfort of having meaningful subjects nearby. Better yet, they are from a teacher (or another supporter) who wants to connect with them – how cool is that? 

    This doesn’t always have to be simply based on what a student likes; if a student is a good leader, give them more autonomy or leadership roles to produce quality work. Or if a student is a strong speller, de-scrambling words as a part of the writing process could be motivating. 

    The just-right challenge is often most motivating: it is just easy or familiar enough to initiate a task (using our strengths)…but just hard enough to still learn, grow,  and feel accomplishment! 

    ENVIRONMENT: Student STRENGTHS in the Classroom Environment

    A person’s environment is a big deal to occupational therapists. We participate in functional tasks in so many different environments and those places impact function in a major way.

    One model of occupational therapy is called the Person-Environment-Occupation model and it is used in many different settings, including schools.

    This model is exactly what it sounds like; the combination of a unique person and all their traits, PLUS the environment they are in, PLUS the occupation that they are doing. All of this results in performance. The big picture here is that the environment plays a huge role in how well we perform. 

    Simply put, the Person/Environment/Occupation model breaks down who we are, where we are, and what we are doing.

    Unique person and all their traits + environment + occupation = performance 

    Simple equation using the Person-Environment-Occupation model used in occupational therapy to focus on occupational performance.

    When you take a look at this performance model, and consider the use of personal strengths to support successful performance, we can help individuals thrive. Adding personal strengths to the equation supports completion of the task, buy-in, motivation, and meaning.

    Strengths-based Classroom Environment-

    Thinking back to our example student from above, let’s go a bit further by using this model to look at how to add student strengths into occupation:

    What can we do to make Charlie’s environment optional based on their strengths and weaknesses? They are a great direction-follower and do not get distracted easily, so their seat may be best near peers that could use a positive role model. In addition to this, they have good eyesight so do not need to be placed at the front of the room. 

    Charlie’s room job is to turn on and off the lights, so the pathway should be clear and perhaps a seat close to the light switches may be nice. Charlie is very organized and that is apparent when you look at their desk area! 

    Because Charlie has reduced writing skills, placing their seat in view of the helpful visuals (wall dictionary or alphabet, grammar posters, etc.) will be important.

    To increase their engagement in writing, offer various pencils or erasers in a communal spot, and bring their love of drawing (a stone’s throw away from writing) into the classroom by offering time to decorate the classroom walls or their locker. 

    A final note on student strengths in the classroom

    Again, these recommendations are universal and can be applied to all students. There is a careful balance to be had, however, to make the environment optimal for students of varying needs and abilities. 

    Whenever possible, start with a student’s strengths. It can be so easy to fall into what is challenging about a student’s behaviors or grades, but dwelling on the negatives never produces many positive results. We hope to have given you a new outlook on student strengths and how to best integrate their use into day-to day school life! 

    List of student strengths in the classroom handout

    Free List of Student Strengths in the Classroom

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    FREE Handout: Student Strengths in the Classroom

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