Oral Motor Exercises

Oral motor exercises and activities for kids

There are many reasons to incorporate oral motor exercises into your therapy plan. Here, we are covering the reasoning behind several oral motor exercises and strategies to work on mobility and functioning in the mouth, tongue, lips, and jaw.

These oral motor exercises are kid-friendly and improve coordination, strength, and mobility of the mouth to facilitate feeding, oral discrimination, or sensory needs.

Why Oral motor Exercises?

When we talk about oral motor exercises, it’s important to know why we are considering specific exercises. When it comes to oral motor exercises, we are striving to improve the functioning of the mouth, jaw, lips, cheeks, and tongue so that the child can demonstrate coordination needed for sound production and articulation. Other issues can arise in manipulation (chewing, movement of foods and liquids, tolerance of various textures, and swallowing food and liquids).

When it comes to feeding issues, there can be a question of whether the feeding problems are a result of sensory processing challenges and/or oral motor considerations. Check out this resource for more information on pediatric feeding and oral motor issues or sensory issues that impact feeding abilities.

Kids who struggle with feeding may be impacted by oral awareness and oral discrimination. These skills enable us to both be aware of the motions of the muscles and joints of the mouth to enable positioning for oral sound creation as well as movements to control and mobilize the chewing and manipulation of foods and drinks of various textures.

Oral discrimination is essential for safety, efficiency, and function when eating.  When oral discrimination is a challenge, children can have resulting food aversions, be unaware of food in their mouth, or not be able to tolerate certain types of food textures, tastes, or temperatures.  They may have difficulty with managing various textures and end up with messy eating during meals. Oral discrimination also effects skills like speech and tooth brushing.

Start here by reading more about the development of oral motor skills. Typical development of oral motor skills is an important consideration when it comes to self-feeding and movements of the mouth, tongue, and lips in tolerating new foods or textures in feeding.

Specific reasons for incorporating oral motor exercises into a therapy program may include issues with the following movements:

The oral motor exercises listed below can offer additional opportunities for strength and coordination of oral motor skills, as well as heavy work proprioception through the mouth as calming input to organize the body.

Oral Motor Exercises

These activities are not the only ones that can be done to address oral discrimination issues.  Additionally, it’s important to know that therapists understand that oral discrimination is just one piece of the feeding puzzle.  Considerations such as tone, sensory processing, and oral-sensory exploration as well as many other components make up feeding.

Tips for Oral Motor Exercises

  1. These specific oral motor exercises can be selected based on the specific needs of the child. Each exercise many not work for all individuals. And, the exercises should be modified as needed to grade up or down (make them easier or harder) based on the needs of the individual.
  2. For each exercise listed below, add a repetition to complete the task. Add in a specific number of repetitions.
  3. Add the number of days these exercises should be completed each week.
  4. Incorporate function whenever possible. Working on feeding? Add real foods of interest. Use utensils or cups when possible. Incorporate the occupation of play to make the exercises motivating and fun.
  5. Consult with a pediatric occupational therapist!

Oral Motor Exercise Ideas

Remember that not all of these exercises are needed for every child’s specific needs. Pick and choose the exercises that meet the needs of the child you are working with.

  • Bring their hands and fingers to his or her mouth and lips.
  • Play tongue Simon Says with a mirror.
  • Play the “hokey pokey” with your tongue and cheeks.
  • Try messy play with food.
  • Encourage tolerance of a spoon or other feeding utensil in different parts of the mouth.
  • Open and close your mouth.
  • Move your tongue from side to side.
  • Press your lips together and then smack your lips apart.
  • Explore different types of utensil textures (plastic, metal, plastic covered, etc.)
  • Hold and play with a toothbrush, bringing the brush to their mouth and face.
  • Encourage mirror play, identifying parts of the mouth.
  • Add rhythmical, whole- body play with therapy balls, uneven surfaces such as trampolines or crash pads to improve proprioceptive input. (Great for core strengthening and stability needed for feeding, teeth brushing, etc.)
  • Explore mouth play with teething toys and tools.
  • Explore use of teething toys and tools in different positioning (prone, supine, side lying, etc.)
  • Use rhythmical music along with tapping the cheeks or lips.
  • Offer frozen fruit on a tongue depressor. Try this recipe for frozen fruit skewers.
  • Chew a straw.
  • Pucker your lips in a pretend kiss.
  • Blow a party noise maker.
  • Blow a kazoo.
  • Use a straw to pick up squares of paper and drop them into a bowl.
  • Make fish lips.
  • Apply Chapstick (scented or unscented) and press your lips together as you move your lips from side to side.
  • Puff up your cheeks.
  • Smack your lips.
  • Whisper the sounds the letters of the alphabet make from A-Z. Notice how your mouth moves. Or, spell out your name or other words by whispering the sounds the letters make.
  • Blow bubbles
  • Blow through a straw to move a cotton ball or small craft pom pom along a line. Can you move it through a maze?
  • Freeze water to a popsicle stick and lick or suck until the ice melts.
  • Try making these Shirley Temple popsicles. They are a tasty oral motor exercise tool.
  • Pour water into an ice cube tray. Add popsicle sticks to create a cube pop. Lick and suck until the ice melts.
  • Scoop peanut butter onto a spoon. Lick it off with the tip of your tongue.
  • Point your tongue to the end of your nose. Hold it there as long as you can.
  • Point your tongue to your chin. Hold it there as long as you can.
  • Push your tongue into your right cheek. Hold it there and then press the end of your tongue into your left cheek.
  • Count your teeth using your tongue. Touch each tooth with the tip of your tongue.
  • Chew gum. Can you blow a bubble?
  • Deep breathing mouth exercises. Use these printable deep breathing cards.

Themed Oral Motor Exercises

You may want to check out these themed oral motor exercises for development of motor skills in various points throughout the year. These themed exercise can be added to weekly therapy themes to increase motivation and carry through. Here are several themed oral motor exercises for kids:

Deep breathing exercise cards for oral motor skills and proprioceptive input through the mouth and lips

Want printable oral motor exercises? Grab the Deep Breathing Exercise Cards. The pack of deep breathing cards includes oral motor exercises for heavy proprioceptive input through the mouth, tongue, and lips, and oral motor activities using different themes, totaling 113 different exercises.

The Oral Motor Exercises can be done anytime, using just the mouth. These strategies offer exceptional proprioceptive input through the lips, tongue, and cheeks, making a calming heavy work activity that can be used in sensory diets to help children achieve a calm and ready state of regulation.

Click here to get your copy of the Deep Breathing Exercise Cards.

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

Oral Motor Exercises with a Cotton Ball Bunny

oral motor exercises with an easter theme using a cotton ball bunny craft

Working on oral motor exercises as a sensory processing strategy for self-regulation, or as an oral motor tool to address physical needs? Ok, so we made a cute little cotton ball bunny to use in an Easter sensory activity as a small world play area to work on fine motor skills with an Easter theme. However, using them in imagination play, but, there are so many oral motor benefits to using these little cotton ball bunnies, too. It was so much fun with that little cotton ball bunny family that we turned it into a big old collection of bunnies! That’s not all…we used them in an oral motor exercise, with major self-regulation benefits. Here is a how to for this Easter craft for kids as well as a run-down on oral motor skill work with everyday items.

oral motor exercises with an easter theme using a cotton ball bunny craft

Oral Motor Exercises with an Easter Theme

Oral motor skills play a big part of feeding. In fact oral motor problems and feeding can impact food preferences as well as ability to eat certain food textures. There is a lot of information on oral motor skills on The OT Toolbox. We’ve covered development of oral motor skills to the physical traits you may see with oral motor issues such as exaggerated jaw movements and issues that arise with stability bite patterns. Here is more information if you are wondering if feeding issues are related to oral motor skills or sensory concerns…or both.

Adding sensory work through the mouth in the form of proprioception is a powerful way to help kids recenter and gain input that is calming and regulating. That input “wakes up” the muscles of the mouth.

There is a mindfulness portion to this oral motor strategy, too. Taking deep breaths is so important in relaxation it brings awareness to your body. In this Easter oral motor activity, kids can blow through a straw to move the cotton ball bunnies while focusing on a static viewpoint at the end of the straw. Talk about centering and regulating! You can even ask the child to breathe in while you count to 5 and then breath out as they move the bunny with the power of their breath.

This oral motor exercise uses straws and cotton ball bunnies for an Easter themed

Oral Motor Exercises for Heavy work

Line up a row of cotton ball bunnies on the table. Give the child a straw and ask them to blow into the straw to push the bunny toward a target. You can ask them to move a certain number of bunnies in a specific amount of time, or they can simply move all of the bunny family with their breath.

I wanted to try a little Easter-themed game with Big Sister.  I put the cotton ball bunnies out on the table, along with the grass and some straws.    She had to blow the bunnies into the grass using a straw.  Scroll below for instructions on how to make the DIY grass matt to use in sensory play activities.

Try using different lengths of straws to change the breath power and amount of deep breathing they need to take. You can also pinch the straw to require more effort in the oral motor therapy idea. Try using different types o straws, too. Some ideas include using a large sports straw like we did in the pictures here, or a coffee stirrer straw. The options are endless and can be means of grading this activity up or down to meet the specific needs of the child.

This is a fun exercise/game for kids with oral-motor problems including poor lip closure, stability of the jaw, or muscle development of the mouth, jaw, and tongue.  Blowing through a straw can also help with sensorimotor integration. 

Older kids who constantly put things into their mouth (pencils, clothing, fingers…) may be seeking oral input/sensorimotor input that their body needs.   

This game is a fun way to work on any of these areas.  Use fatter straws at first and work toward thinner straws for a graded exercise.  If this activity to too difficult for your child with oral-motor or sensorimotor needs, try a smaller item such as a feather or a crafting fuzz ball.  

You could also work on oral motor skills and the proprioceptive heavy work with this Egg Boat activity.

Oral motor exercises like these are beneficial to add heavy work input through the mouth and lips that is calming and regulating.

These oral motor exercises have an Easter theme anc can work on oral sensory needs for self-regulation or oral motor therapy.
Make this Easter fine motor activity using a cotton ball bunny craft. Kids will love to use this in an Easter play activity with preschoolers and toddlers

Fine Motor Skills Activity

These little Easter bunny crafts were perfect to in a fine motor skills activity, too. With a tray, a handful of river rocks, and a DIY crepe paper matt, we made an Easter-themed small world to work on fine motor skills with my littlest one.

My daughter, who was a toddler in these photos, loved to explore and play as she picked up and moved the cotton ball bunnies, the rocks, and small carrots.

Easter play ideas using a DIY sensory mat and cotton ball bunny crafts for kids to use in fine motor work.

To make the grass matt, we used a roll of green crepe paper. It was glued on one side to a sheet of construction paper. I asked my preschooler to snip into the edges of the top side of the crepe paper, so it made a fringed edge. This was a great scissor activity for her.

This Easter play activity turned out to be a fun fine motor activity for toddlers and a fine motor ideas for preschoolers, too! I think the quote from my preschooler was… “Wow, this is cool, Mom!”

This cotton ball bunny craft is so much fun for fine motor skill activities and oral motor skills work.

Easter Play IDEA

Play idea for toddlers- Baby Girl especially loved playing with the little bunnies in an Easter small world play set-up.  She would move the bunnies, stones, and carrots one at a time from the bowl to the grass…and then back again.

Play idea for preschoolers- Big Sister had fun using the bunnies for imagination play, making them go into their garden, lining up the rocks, and making the bunnies steal the carrots.  

Little Guy wanted nothing to do with any of this. I guess there were not any superheroes or bad guys involved.  Cute little bunnies are not his thing 🙂  

This Easter play idea is great for workingon fine motor skills with toddlers and preschoolers.

  We are having a lot of fun with our little bunnies!

Make this cotton ball bunny craft to use in easter themed sensory play and fine motor skills activities

TO make the Cotton Ball Bunny Craft

Making this Easter bunny craft is super easy. We used a glue gun to make sure the pieces were securely attached for sensory play with my toddler. However, regular craft glue would work as well.

You’ll need a cotton ball, white foam sheet, and a pink felt sheet. Cut out two large white ears and two smaller pieces for the inner ear. Use the craft glue to hold these pieces in place. Add gentle pressure to make sure all of the pieces are securely attached.

This bunny craft came together fairly quickly, so I was able to create a whole set of the bunnies.

Then, use them to play!

This Easter craft idea is great for fine motor activities for preschoolers and toddlers with an Easter theme.

Spring Fine Motor Kit

Score Fine Motor Tools and resources and help kids build the skills they need to thrive!

Developing hand strength, dexterity, dexterity, precision skills, and eye-hand coordination skills that kids need for holding and writing with a pencil, coloring, and manipulating small objects in every day task doesn’t need to be difficult. The Spring Fine Motor Kit includes 100 pages of fine motor activities, worksheets, crafts, and more:

Spring fine motor kit set of printable fine motor skills worksheets for kids.
  • Lacing cards
  • Sensory bin cards
  • Hole punch activities
  • Pencil control worksheets
  • Play dough mats
  • Write the Room cards
  • Modified paper
  • Sticker activities
  • MUCH MORE

Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

Spring Fine Motor Kit
Spring Fine Motor Kit: TONS of resources and tools to build stronger hands.

Grab your copy of the Spring Fine Motor Kit and build coordination, strength, and endurance in fun and creative activities. Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

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

Animal Cracker Oral Motor Exercise

Do your kids like to snack constantly?  Mine are allllllways hungry.  Always.  So, when I pulled out this Animal Cracker Oral Motor activity that we designed to address oral motor sensory processing, they were just a bit excited. Make that completely-jumping-and-cheering-excited.  Anything that involves play and food makes the Best Thing of the Day column.  It’s an oral motor exercise that kids will love. Why? Because it’s an out-of-the box way to work on oral motor skills for tasks like drinking from a straw, lip closure for safety when feeding, and sensory benefits of an oral motor activity.


We used animal crackers and a couple of straws to provide calming oral input.  This was an easy way to add in an oral motor strengthening exercise, too. Here is some information on development of oral motor skills

Oral sensory processing oral motor activity that is perfect for sensory input like proprioception for calming activities and self regulation activities as well as oral motor exercises for weak cheek mussels or weak lip closure and tongue protrusion.

Oral MOTOR EXERCISE



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Problems with oral motor skills can be an indication with feeding. That seems pretty obvious, right? But when there truly is a problem with oral motor skills and feeding, real issues can result. That’s why we wanted to cover a few big issues along with this oral motor activity. Be sure to check out that link to read more about the vast area of skills that make up oral motor processing and how it impacts feeding and other areas.

Sensory processing allows us to take in information from our environment and process it appropriately.  Typically, we adjust to sensory input and adjust appropriately.  Sensory input to a person’s mouth is no exception.  We must process movement of the tongue, textures of food, adjust to drinking liquids, monitor and adjust the force required to bite and chew, and move our mouth/lips/tongue in order to speak.  


When there is a difficulty with oral sensory processing, a child might drool excessively, chew on their shirt or hair, have difficulty eating certain foods, have trouble moving their tongue to swallow all of their food, show difficulty removing all of the food from a utensil, be unable to use a straw, refuse certain food textures or tastes, or have trouble with articulation in speech. Here are tips for kids who chew on everything.


Children with proprioceptive sensory needs may present as benefiting from calming, resistive activities.  Sucking from a straw is one activity that involves the oral input and is typically effective in calming a overactive child.  

Oral sensory processing oral motor activity that is perfect for sensory input like proprioception for calming activities and self regulation activities as well as oral motor exercises for weak cheek mussels or weak lip closure and tongue protrusion.

Oral Motor Exercise

First, a quick disclosure: Be sure to provide direct observation during this activity. Use judgement in deciding if this oral motor activity is right for the child or not. This activity and all others on this website are not intended as interventions. This is for educational purposes only. Consult your physician or medical professional when oral motor interventions and assessment is needed. The OT Toolbox is not liable for any action on your part. Your reading this website and webpage indicates your understanding.

For this calming activity, we used just a few items.  Some brightly colored straws were the perfect tool for adding proprioceptive input to the mouth.  I love the bright straws for their high contrast and tendency to draw the eyes toward the mid-line.  When we added the learning portion to this activity, attention and precision were important so the bright colors helped.


You can find many fun oral sensory activities out there that involve blowing as a sensory processing activity.  The one that we did used straw sucking as a way to add proprioceptive input.  When a child sucks on a straw, their lips are forced to close while their cheek muscles tighten  and the tongue retracts.  This activity would be beneficial to a child who needs to build strength and endurance of the cheeks and muscles or a child who demonstrates tongue protrusion.

Oral sensory processing oral motor activity that is perfect for sensory input like proprioception for calming activities and self regulation activities as well as oral motor exercises for weak cheek mussels or weak lip closure and tongue protrusion.

With the straw, I had my preschooler suck in order to pick up an animal cracker.  She placed the straw flush on the cracker and sucked in order to pick the cracker off of the table.  This was a real workout for her!  She was able to figure out that turning the animal cracker over so that she placed the straw against it’s back side made the task easier.  Sucking the animal cracker up off the table in order to move it provided a lot of calming proprioceptive input.  

Oral sensory processing oral motor activity that is perfect for sensory input like proprioception for calming activities and self regulation activities as well as oral motor exercises for weak cheek mussels or weak lip closure and tongue protrusion.

To grade this activity down (to make it easier for kids who are building their oral motor musculature and can not yet pick up the animal cracker), try smaller/lightweight crackers like Annie’s Homegrown Bunny crackers.  These were much easier to move with the straw yet still provided sensory feedback to the mouth. 

Oral sensory processing oral motor activity that is perfect for sensory input like proprioception for calming activities and self regulation activities as well as oral motor exercises for weak cheek mussels or weak lip closure and tongue protrusion.

To add a bit of learning and motor planning to this activity, I provided a few small shape containers to the table.  Ours were from a local dollar store, but these shape sorter shapes would work perfectly for addressing shape discrimination and actually comes in more options than the shapes that we talked about with our containers.  We use these containers as lunch box compartments but the bright colors and shapes made a great shape recognition activity for her.  She is working on identifying a triangle and rectangle and often times gets the two shapes mixed up.  When she was doing this activity however, she was able to move the animal crackers and bunny crackers to the right shapes.  


We practiced a bunch or rounds with this activity, because she loved it so much!  


Looking for more animal cracker activities for learning and play?  Try these ideas:


Gold Fish Measurement Math Game from Learning 2 Walk

Teach Preschoolers Fractions from Preschool Powol Packets



Jelly Bean Maths Game from Mum in the Madhouse


How Many Goldfish in the Bowl Game from Play & Learn Everyday


Cheerios Number Tracing from Schooling a Monkey


Fish Cracker Color Patterns from The Kindergarten Connection

Oral sensory processing oral motor activity that is perfect for sensory input like proprioception for calming activities and self regulation activities as well as oral motor exercises for weak cheek mussels or weak lip closure and tongue protrusion.
 

You’ll love these other oral motor activities:

Plastic egg Boats

Oral Motor Road Trip Sensory Breaks

Easter Bunny Oral Processing Activity