Rubber Duck Painting Sensory Activity

Paint rubber ducks

This rubber duck painting activity was a fun sensory play activity using our water table and just water colors. While using these paint materials won’t permanently paint the rubber duck, it is a great fine motor and sensory play activity for kids! Below you’ll see how to paint a rubber duck while developing skills in kids with a fun summer sensory play activity.

Rubber Duck Painting

This sensory play activity is one we did years ago when my kids were small. While they had fun with the creative painting activity, they didn’t realize that at the same time, they were developing so many skills:

All we used were a few materials for this rubber duck painting activity:

  1. Water table
  2. Water
  3. Paint brushes
  4. Watercolors
  5. Rubber ducks

How to Paint a Rubber Duck

Watercolors are such a fun way to explore color and just have fun!  When the kids ask to paint, it’s usually watercolors that they want. 

Baby Girl has recently been loving to paint with watercolors.  So, when I pulled out the water colors and the water table, there was a little confusion and a lot of intrigue!   

We painted rubber ducks in the water table for a fun twist on creating art and exploring colors.  The best part was, the easy clean up…right in the water table!  

Use watercolors to paint toys in the watertable.  Wash them off when done. So much fun!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.   

Paint rubber ducks on the water table

I pulled out a bunch of our rubber ducks that we have in different sizes and put them in the water table along with watercolors and a few little cups of water. 

How to paint rubber ducks for a sensory activity with kids.

When the kids saw this, they were very excited….and a little confused.  I showed them how to paint the rubber ducks and mix colors on the toys.  The fun began!

Paint rubber ducks with watercolors

  We started out painting some of the rubber ducks all one color, and then mixing in other colors.

How to paint a rubber duck

  Baby Girl painted her rubber ducks her favorite color-purple.

Paint rubber ducks with kids

  This was such a fun way to paint and explore colors on a hot summer day.  These two were pretty serious about their painting.

Rubber duck painting with kids

  Mixing colors on the toys was so much fun!  This rubber duck got a lot of color. 

Rubber duck painting activity with kids

And this one, not so much.  We learned that less water and more paint made the colors stay put on the toys. 

Rubber duck painting is a fun sensory activity for kids using a water table.

  We had a little audience for our painting activity.   The big kids got a kick out of her rubber duckie pajamas that matched.  SO cute!

Rubber duck painting sensory activity for kids

When we were finished with our paining, we gave the ducks a little bath in the containers of water.  Perfect for the water table!

Sensory play to wash the paint off the rubber duck toys

  We left the paints and the toys out on the water table for a while and came back to painting and rinsing all afternoon.

Rubber ducks and watercolor paints
Rubber duck in watercolor water

What other toys can you bring into this painting activity?  I’m thinking we’ll bring this watercolor toy painting activity out again with lots of other toys.   It was a big hit!

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.



Homemade Colored Sand

Color sand for sensory play

Have you ever thought about making colored sand? It is possible to color sand, easily, and get the kids involved in the process, too. Here, we are covering how to color sand as a sensory play material for the sandbox, for art, and for homemade colored sand fun!

We have been playing outside so much recently.  Our sandbox is right outside and the kids are in there daily. We added a little color to some of the sand this week and have been having fun with our colored sand!

Color sand for a sensory play experience with many therapy benefits.

Color Sand for Developing Skills

Kids love to color sand, and the process is a fun motor and sensory activity to support development of a variety of skill areas, too:

  • Eye-hand coordination to pour and scoop the sand
  • Bilateral coordination to pour sand into a bag or container
  • Gross motor skills, heavy work, proprioception, and motor planning skills to shake the containers of sand and paint
  • Executive functioning skills to mix and color the sand
  • Tactile sensory play to manipulate the mixed textures of dry sand and wet paint.
  • Fine motor skills to pinch the crumbled dry clumps of colored sand
using food coloring to make colored sand

How to Color Sand

We made a simple batch of colored sand very easily.  This simple recipe is a great activity for kids to make as a cognitive and direction-following activity. Read on for directions on how to make colored sand…

Big Sister helped me with this and we had fun while the little kids were napping.   So how did we make our colored sand?  

  1. Scoop a little sand into plastic baggies.
  2. Add around 10-15 drops of food coloring.
  3. Seal the baggie and shake it up. (great for some gross motor play!!)  
  4. Let the sand dry and have fun playing.  

We left our sand right in the open baggies and let it dry overnight.  If you wanted to play right away, you could spread the sand out on a tray and it would dry much sooner.

Color sand for sensory play
add food coloring to baggies of sand

Color Sand Activities

Once you have mixed a batch of colorful sand, you can use it in various sensory and motor activities.

Make Color Sand Pictures

So the next day, we spread the sand out on a tray and played!  She loves making pictures in the sand and telling stories (like Nina on Sprout!)  This was such a fun activity.  

Practice Writing Letters with Colored Sand

We spread out the sand onto a low tray and used it as a writing tray. My preschooler told me all kinds of stories, made words, and we practiced some lower case letter formation.

Big Sister is knows how to make most lowercase letters and can copy all of the letters.  This is a great activity for letter formation and practicing handwriting.  

Use Colored Sand for Pre-Writing Skills

For kids that are still working on diagonals, crossed lines, and shapes, a sand sensory writing tray is a great tool to work on pre-writing skills. The tactile feedback offers muscle memory for forming lines and shapes.

The sand adds a sensory aspect to letter formation. Using a large tray like this one adds whole arm movements which are perfect for the young child who is just learning letter formation.  I love the contrast that the white tray adds to the colored sand.  

We played for a long time with this (again during Little Kid nap time).

colored sand on tray for child to form letters

Of course, when you have bags of colored sand, you have to mix the colors together to see what happens 🙂  

Color sand for a sensory tray.

Grade the colored sand activity for therapy

How can you grade this activity for different aged children? There are many ways to color sand and use one batch with several ages. This is especially good for families with children at various ages. Consider the contamination aspect when using a batch of colored sand in the therapy setting.

  • Toddlers would love to explore the colors and sensation of the sand on their fingers.
  • Pre-writers can copy and trace shapes, zig-zag and intersecting lines
  • Early writers can trace upper case letters.
  • Older hand-writers can copy a word from a card positioned off to the side. 
  • Practice spelling words with school-aged kids.

    We saved our bags of colored sand and will be using them again.  Have you done any projects with colored sand? 

Finally, after playing with your homemade colored sand, use the opportunity to add this tactile sensory play experience to your toolbox of handwashing activities!

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.

Working on other fine motor skills through play? Grab one of our Fine Motor Kits to get started!

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

Tag Games To Develop Motor SKills

Tag games for kids

The thing about playing tag games is that you can take a classic lawn game and make rules to change the game a thousand different ways and never play the same game twice! Chase games are a fun way to get kids moving and outside with movement, balance challenges, development of the visual system, and heavy work. Best of all? Tag activities can support developmental needs on all levels and abilities. Add these tag games to our massive list of outdoor lawn games to get kids moving, running, jumping, and building motor skills!

These tag games are powerful ways to help kids develop skills. Use the creative tag games in therapy or in summer camp activities.

Tag games

There are so many reasons why tag games are a must for summer time fun. Let’s break it down:

  • Tag games are great ways to add motor movement to kids, to get them off the screens, and outside. Running and playing tag supports gross motor coordination.
  • Tag also is a powerful way to play together as a family, adding a chance for connection and creating memories. What better way to spend some time together as a family than playing a game of tag that offers heavy work, sensory input, in the great outdoors?
  • Tag games are also great running games for physical education.
  • Tag is a fun way to support therapy goals with a small group. Use the tag games in a group therapy setting, in PE planning, or in summer camp activities.
  • Playing tag at summer camp offers a break between activities, adds heavy work, and can get kids moving and building skills. Best of all- you can modify the tag game to meet any theme or topic!

The options are limitless! Here are more summer camp ideas that tag can fit well into with therapeutic and team-building benefits.

There are many therapeutic benefits of playing tag. Use these tag games in therapy or summer camps to help kids with child development and have fun too!

Therapeutics benefits of playing tag

When kids are running, stopping, turning course, running around obstacles, there are many developmental benefits.

Let’s break down games of tags for their therapeutic benefits:

Running- running in short bursts offers cardio input that gets the blood pumping. When kids run and stop in short bursts, they are gaining heavy work input through their legs and core.

The short intervals involved in tag games build muscle strength, and allow for running at various speeds. As opposed to longer distance running, kids can be successful in running in short bursts.

This is also a great way to “reset” after being indoors for a while, on a long car ride, in the classroom all day, or on screen devices for a long period of time. We talked here about the benefits of treadmills and wellbeing, but for shorter bursts of running, the mindfulness benefits definitely exist!

Stopping and Starting- When we run and then stop abruptly or stop and turn, there are so many motor components occurring at one time.

The muscles that are actively engaged need to stop abruptly, adding heavy work input through those muscles and joints. Then the opposing muscles and core need to activate to maintain posture. The whole body is engaged in this action. Kids often play tag in a yard or park where there are trees or other stationary structures.

These provide a need to move around targets and slow running speed. This requires the visual processing system to interact with the motor tasks. When kids are running around other tag players, they are running around moving targets, which further engages muscles and visual processing system.

Stopping and starting motor skills are a challenge for:

  • Proprioception
  • Vestibular input
  • Motor planning
  • Body awareness
  • Depth perception
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Postural control

Tagging others- Tag is such a great way to interact with others in an appropriate way. You may have had a school yard experience where you were pushed down in a game of tag. When others tag you and it occurs unexpectedly or with too much force, a fall can happen!

However, by playing tag, kids get that experience with proprioceptive input, vestibular input, and visual motor skills.

  • How much force must they exert to tag without pushing over a playmate?
  • How far do they need to reach out to tag a friend without hitting their face?

All of this experience in movement is powerful! It helps kids learn about how their body moves in space, body awareness skills, visual perceptual skills, spatial awareness, and eye-hand coordination skills.

Spatial awareness- Expanding further on the spatial awareness skills, or spatial relations, body awareness, and position in space, all of these body concepts are able to be carried over to other functional tasks.

This experience allows kids to use this knowledge when walking in crowded hallways without bumping into others, spatial awareness in handwriting on a page, moving while carrying plates or heavy items. All of these experiences can be integrated for functional movement.

Executive functioning skills- Playing a simple game of tag can build executive functioning skills, too! Think about it: when you play tag, there is working memory to recall movements that allowed you to escape in a previous game or trial.

If you’re playing a fun tag game version, you need to recall specific words or phrases that were already used. Other executive functioning skills that are used in tag include planning, prioritization of movements, impulse control, task completion, initiation, processing speed, self-monitoring, foresight, mindset, and cognitive shift. What a powerful game tag is in building cognitive skills!

Motor planning- Moving, making motor plans, running around obstacles and other children…what a great game tag is to build motor planning skills.

There’s more: tag is a fast-paced game. So those motor planning sequences and movements need to happen quickly. The good news is that a game of tag offers many trials and repetitions to build motor plans and muscle memory.

Visual Processing Skills- Visual processing skills is an umbrella of visual skills and tag addresses many of these areas through play. And playing tag requires many visual processing skills under that umbrella!

Take a look at all of the visual skills needed for tag:

What a powerful game tag is!

So, now that we know the massive therapeutic benefits of tag, let’s take a look at some fun tag games for kids.

Play these creative tag games to add a twist to the classic tag game.

Fun Tag Games

Classic tag

Someone is it and chases the others in the group. When they touch someone else, that person is now “it”. The game continues.

TV Tag

One person is “it”. When they approach another person, the player yells the name of a TV show and drops to the ground. They are then safe and the person that is “it” needs to run and tag another person. This type of tag can be adjusted to call out music, songs, YouTube shows, games, sports, favorite foods, animals, etc.

Flashlight Tag

Play tag in the early evening hours with flashlights. When you shine your flashlight on a fellow tag player, that player is tagged and they are now “it”. This is a great activity for challenging visual scanning skills, visual discrimination, visual figure ground, and visual tracking skills.

Sharks and Minnows Tag

One person is the shark and the others are the minnows. When the shark touches another player, that person then turns into a shark. Now there are two sharks. Play until all of the minnows turn into sharks.

Freeze Tag-

When a person is tagged, they need to freeze in place until another player touches them to “unfreeze” them.

Cops and Robbers Tag-

A group splits into either “cops” or “robbers”. The cops chase the robbers and once tagged, they need to sit in “jail” until another robber tags them and releases them.

Pizza Tag-

One person is “it” and chases the others.  Players run from “it” and can stay safe from being tagged by naming pizza toppings and touching the ground.

Animal Walk Tag-

Players can assume an animal walk (crab walks, hop like a bunny, waddle like a penguin, sway like an elephant, etc.) and play tag!

Social Distance Tag Games

No-Touch Tag Games-

Tag games can be modified to any theme which is great for social distancing. One person is “it”. When they near another child, that person yells out a word or phrase, or completes an action like hopping, squatting, acting like an animal, touching the ground, dabbing, or completing any physical action. Tag could take any action or theme in this way.

Shadow Tag-

Play classic tag but tag one another by stepping on the shadow of others. This is a great social distancing version of tag, as well.

Social Distancing Tag-

This tag game is another way to play with others, gain the benefits of tag, and play in a socially distanced form. Simply play tag in the classic version (or use any of the fun tag versions described here) and when “it” is within 6 feet of another person, they have tagged the other player. This is a nice way to work on spatial awareness and scanning at a distance, too.

Tag Games for Different Themes

The cool thing about a classic game of tag…or any of the versions listed above, is that you can adjust the theme to fit a weekly therapy theme, a summer camp theme, or a learning theme at school. Different types of tag games can be played using all one theme to add different movement opportunities and motor planning challenges.

  • Have an ocean summer camp? Play ocean animals tag (kids call out ocean animals and drop to the ground to stay safe.)
  • Planning a space camp? Play space tag. Kids can call out planets when the “it” person is near and stay safe.
  • Creating a Pirates theme summer camp? Modify sharks and minnows tag to meet your theme.
  • Coming up with a handwriting camp to work on handwriting skills? Encourage heavy work through the arms by adding crawling, hopping, or heavy work animal walks.

What do you think? Have you played any of these tag games before? Let’s get those kids moving!

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.

Benefits of Nature Play

benefits of nature play

Research has a lot to say about nature play. When it comes to outdoor play, there is a lot that can be discussed too. Occupational therapy professionals encourage a lot of open-ended play, outdoor games, and outdoor play. There is a natural sensory aspect to outdoor play, which supports self-regulation, emotional regulation, attention, and learning, all through just playing outside! Today we are talking all about what the research has to say about outdoor sensory diet activities and outdoor play.

Benefits of nature play in developing skills in kids and adults of all ages.

Benefits of Nature Play

Taking sensory diet strategies outside is nothing new. But, doing so may just be a meaningful way to create the “just right” state of alertness and calming nature that, well, nature provides! But to take it a step further, did you know there are benefits of outdoor games? Did you know that the outdoors support executive functioning skills, self-regulation, and motor skill development…all through playing outside?

Use this information when explaining about what a sensory diet is and what a sensory diet looks like for kids with sensory needs. 

There are quite a few benefits to sensory experiences in the outdoors:

Children have a large opportunity for sensory input through playground play. But, in recent times, children experience playgrounds that are more safe, allowing for less risky play. Encouraging specific activities such as a playground sensory diet on playground equipment can be beneficial to sensory needs. 


Another item to consider is the aspect of applying sensory diet strategies within the classroom or home environments as a fix for sensory processing needs. The specific and prescribed sensory diet activities for a particular child can be very helpful in addressing specific sensory-related behaviors.

However, the use of a sensory tool such as an alternative seating system within the classroom provides only one type of vestibular and/or proprioceptive input, such as up and down vestibular input. The child who plays outdoors encounters a wide variety of sensory input across all sensory systems! 


You might even call sensory tools used to address specific needs a sensory band-aide. What if we as therapists could encourage authentic sensory input in the outdoors (or indoors, as indicated) that addresses all of the sensory systems. Using meaningful play experiences not only provide all the benefits of play. They encourage healthy development through the senses. 


Research says outdoor sensory play is beneficial in the development of children. Use these outdoor sensory diet activities to inspire outdoor activities that boost skills like motor development, attention, regulation, and more.

Research on Outdoor Play



There have been decades of research on the benefits of play in kids. The information below depicts how outdoor play impacts sensory needs in kids. This is not an exhausted review of the literature, simply a smattering of research available on the topic. 

Research shows us that some of the developmental and primary tasks that children must achieve can be effectively improved through outdoor play.

These include:

  • exploring
  • risk-taking
  • fine and gross motor development
  • absorption of basic knowledge
  • social skills
  • self-confidence
  • attention
  • language skills

Wow! Playing outside has a bigger impact than we may have thought!

Other research has shown an increase in communication, along with more observed emotions, and increased interactions in children with autism when more time was spent outdoors. 

Studies have found that dynamic and varied outdoor play offers opportunities for decision making that stimulate problem solving and creative thinking, opportunities that aren’t as easily found in the more static indoor environment.

Still other research supports the many health benefits:

  • reducing stress
  • decreasing symptoms of ADHD
  • protecting against myopia
  • boost the immune system

Outdoor Nature Play and Attention

One study found a sensory diet in outdoor play along with sensory integration therapy resulted in better functional behavior of kids with ADHD (Sahoo & Senapati). 


Using sensory activities that are specific in time and quality such as those in a sensory diet should be done in an authentic and meaningful manner in a child’s life. In this way, sensory input is motivating to the child in that it goes along with interests and the environment in which the child lives.

It’s a fact that kids are spending less time playing outdoors. From after-school schedules to two working parents, to unsafe conditions, to increased digital screen time, to less outdoor recess time…kids just get less natural play in the outdoors. 

Some therapists have connected the dots between less outdoor play and increased sensory struggles and attention difficulties in learning.

Knowing this, it can be powerful to have a list of outdoor sensory diet activities that can be recommended as therapy home programing and family activities that meet underlying needs.

From an occupational therapy perspective, nature play offers supports for underlying skill development. Children have the opportunity to develop motor skills, visual perceptual skills, confidence, executive functioning skills, and self-regulation that enables them to feel confident in their abilities. These areas of development support functioning and independence!

When heading outdoors, you can put on a coat, boots, or jacket and work on self-dressing skills. You can experience all of the motor rich opportunities for movement in the outdoors. Navigating the environment (whether in the woods or the city) offers visual perception, motor planning, and eye-hand coordination opportunities.

Just going outside for a walk is an exercise in skill-building!

Research says outdoor sensory play is beneficial in the development of children. Use these outdoor sensory diet activities to inspire outdoor activities that boost skills like motor development, attention, regulation, and more.

Outdoor Sensory Play Ideas

Knowing the benefits of outdoor games and free play, let’s cover some fun ways to offer the movement, regulation, and input from the outdoors.

Need some outdoor sensory play ideas? Try these outdoor backyard sensory diet activities that inspire free play in the outdoors while encouraging sensory input of all kinds! 

Sensory diets and specific sensory input or sensory challenges are a big part of addressing sensory needs of children who struggle with sensory processing issues. Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (sensory diet) into a lifestyle of naturally occuring and meaningful activities is so very valuable for the child with sensory needs. 

Sensory diets and specific sensory input or sensory challenges are a big part of addressing sensory needs of children who struggle with sensory processing issues. Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (sensory diet) into a lifestyle of naturally occurring and meaningful activities is so very valuable for the child with sensory needs.    That’s why I’ve worked to create a book on creating an authentic and meaningful sensory lifestyle that addresses sensory needs. The book is now released as a digital e-book or softcover print book, available on Amazon.    The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory diet creation, set-up, and carry through. Not only that, but the book helps you take a sensory diet and weave it into a sensory lifestyle that supports the needs of a child with sensory processing challenges and the whole family.   Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.

That’s where the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and Sensory Challenge Cards come into play.   They are printable resource that encourages sensory diet strategies in the outdoors. In the printable packet, there are 90 outdoor sensory diet activities, 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities, 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards. They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.  

Here’s a little more information about the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards

  • 90 outdoor sensory diet activities
  • 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities
  • 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards
  • They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input. 
  • Research tells us that outdoor play improves attention and provides an ideal environment for a calm and alert state, perfect for integration of sensory input.
  • Outdoor play provides input from all the senses, allows for movement in all planes, and provides a variety of strengthening components including eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle contractions. 
  • Great tool for parents, teachers, AND therapists!

Be sure to grab the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and use them with a child (or adult) with sensory processing needs!  

Benefits of Nature Play References:

  • Frost, J. & Sutterby, J. (2017). Our Proud Heritage: Outdoor Play Is Essential to Whole Child Development. Retrieved from: from: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/jul2017/outdoor-play-child-development
  • Hanscom, A (2017, October). The decline of play outdoors and the rise in sensory issues. OccupationalTherapy.com, Article 3990. Retrieved from http://OccupationalTherapy.com.
  • Moore, R. (2014). Nature Play & Learning Places. Creating and managing places where children engage with nature. Raleigh, NC: Natural
  • Learning Initiative and Reston, VA: National Wildlife Federation
  • Version 1.2.
  • Von Kampen, M. (2011). The Effect of Outdoor Environment on Attention and Self-Regulation Behaviors on a Child with Autism.  Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1118&context=cehsdiss
  • Sahoo, S. & Senapati, A. Effect of sensory diet through outdoor play on functional behavior in children with ADHD. The Indian Journal of Occupational Therapy. Vol. 46, (2 ) 49-54.
 






 

Summer Occupational Therapy Activities

Summer occupational therapy activities

Looking for summer occupational therapy activities to support skill building or developmental areas with a summer OT theme? Today, we have a spin on our traditional occupational therapy activities to bring you Summer occupational therapy strategies that can be used in summer sessions or in home programs for the summer.

Summer Occupational Therapy Activities

Summer OT activities may look a little different than previous years. In years past, therapists may have been gearing up for an end of another school year and a break from in-person OT sessions. In recent years, you may be seeing more pencil grasp needs, self-regulation needs, handwriting issues, and fine motor skill needs.

What hasn’t changed about the end of a school year is the carefree days of summer that are ahead. As an OT, I love the feeling of the start of summer. There is just something about back-to-the-basics play of summer. Running around the backyard, hopping on bikes, sidewalk chalk, sprinklers and water play…summer play is a goldmine of motor and sensory activities that can boost those underlying skills kids NEED.

Because of this, I wanted to put together a resource on summer occupational therapy activities that can be implemented today. These are strategies to use for your own child to boost development and challenge skills. These are ideas to use in teletherapy or in home programs. These are play ideas that help kids with the balance of screens and active play. Use the summer resources for parents, teachers, and therapists to develop underlying skills in very fun ways! These are AWESOME summer occupational therapy activities!

Let’s help kids struggling from a year of mega-screen overload meet the goals they need to thrive. Plus…take more time for you this summer by using done-for-you resources!

Occupational therapists can use these summer occupational therapy activities when planning OT home programs for for summer programs.

Summer Occupational Therapy Activities 

In many areas, schools are winding down for the year. You may have a few weeks or a few days left. The daily countdown of number of remaining school days is dwindling.

You might be wondering how to balance work-from home and making summer days count.

You might be wondering how to keep the kids busy this summer without breaking the bank.

You might be a clinician thinking about summer programming and need a few fresh ideas.

You might be thinking about summer plans and ways to encourage development in fun ways the whole family can enjoy.

You might be a therapist putting together summer home programs.

You might be a teacher who is READY for the final bell to ring this school year 🙂

I wanted to put together a list of resources for summer activities that can boost the skills kids need. The “summer slide” can happen in handwriting and other school-based therapy goal areas, too!

Summer Occupational Therapy Activity Ideas

Occupational therapy practitioners often use movement and sensory experiences in therapy sessions to challenge motor planning, motor skill development, and incorporate sensory motor activity through the primary occupation of childhood: PLAY.

Because of this, sensory motor rich activity is recommended as supplemental and everyday activity for kids of all ages to support development of skill growth. Many of the OT activity ideas listed below also support executive functioning skills, problem solving, and other cognitive aspects of functional tasks.

First, grab this summer sensory path printable packet. It’s a free sensory path printable with a summer theme. Use it in therapy clinics, home OT sessions, or in summer sensory camps!

Try adding these OT activities to your summer bucket list:

  • Make our 3 ingredient kinetic sand– Making kinetic sand offers heavy work through the hands as a self-regulation tool and offers a tactile sensory experience.
  • Make a kite craft to develop fine motor skills, visual motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and scissor skills.
  • Play TV tag (or one of these tag games)- Tag is a great gross motor activity to develop endurance, motor planning, coordination, balance, and visual motor skills while adding proprioceptive and vestibular input to regulate the system.
  • Make an ice cream craft to support hand strength and fine motor skills. This craft is great for developing scissor skills too.
  • Play sidewalk hopscotch– Use sidewalk chalk to draw a hopscotch board. Then play using rocks or bean bags. Hopscotch is a great tool to add heavy work, vestibular and proprioceptive input, and to challenge motor planning, balance, and other gross motor skills. Hopscotch is a way to teach skipping skills, too.
  • Paint rocks- This sensory experience challenges tactile input and offers a fine motor activity. Use finger paints or a paint brush to incorporate tool use and more fine motor work.
  • Wheelbarrow walk– This exercise is a heavy work exercise that helps kids with motor planning, movement, and endurance through play while adding heavy work. Use wheelbarrow walks in relay races or in obstacle courses.
  • Make a flower craft– Go on a nature walk as a motor and sensory experience. Then use the nature hunt findings to make a fine motor flower craft. There will be no two crafts alike with this fine motor activity.
  • Plant seeds- There are so many sensory benefits to gardening. Read more about sensory gardening with kids.
  • Wrap sticks in string- This simple activity is big on bilateral coordination, fine motor skills, precision, eye-hand coordination, and executive functioning skills. Go out in the yard and gather some small twigs. Then, tie a knot with the string and wrap around the stick. Switch out colors to make colorful designs and patterns. Can you cross different colored strings or yarn together to make a pretty wrapped stick? You can see how we wrapped craft sticks in string here.
  • Make lemonade- Making food with kids is a huge fine motor, sensory motor, and executive functioning tool to develop many skills with kids of all ages. Check out our cooking with kids page for tons more cooking ideas and recipes for kids as well as why each recipe supports development of skills.
  • Make a bug catcher– This fine motor activity is a huge hit with kids, and you can use the materials you have on hand. Just raid the recycle bin or grab some boxes and containers before they go into the trash can. Then, head outside to catch some bugs. This is a challenging activity that supports fine motor, visual motor, and sensory development.
  • Visit a playground- Playing at the playground has many sensory integration benefits and there are so many ways to use regular playground equipment to develop motor and sensory skill sin kids. If self-regulation is a challenge, then the playground is a wonderful summer haven for supporting specific needs.
  • Play tug of war- This heavy work game offers strengthening, balance, motor planning, and proprioceptive input that can be calming to support self-regulation needs.
  • Play in the sprinkler- A hallmark of hot summer days is playing in the hose or sprinkler. Children can practice putting on their swimming suit, applying sunscreen, and work on hopping, jumping, skipping, and moving through the sprinkler. And, don’t forget about involving the child in setting up and removing the sprinkler and hose, too. Pulling a hose is an opportunity for proprioceptive input that can be very calming.
  • Pick flowers- Go on a sensory nature walk with the family along a trail or in a park. Picking flowers supports development of visual perceptual skills, working memory, visual processing, fine motor, and self-regulation skills. Getting outside in nature can be a great overall activity that supports development and is a reset for the whole family.
  • Make lunch for your family- Develop fine motor skills, sensory experiences, executive functioning skills, and functional participation development by making lunch or dinner. Here are all of our cooking with kids recipes where you’ll find specific recipe ideas that support development, all from the perspective of an occupational therapist.
  • Chalk line obstacle course- Work on balance, motor planning, gross motor skill coordination through play using sidewalk chalk to create a driveway obstacle course. Can you hop on lily pads, tiptoe along a bridge, and animal walk on a wavy line?
  • Make DIY musical instruments- Making musical instruments are a fun way to build fine motor skills and address auditory processing skills too. Ideas include:
  • Climb a tree- Climbing on trees and limbs are a wonderful way to offer proprioceptive input, vestibular input, visual processing skills with depth perception, visual scanning, and eye-hand coordination. Holding on to a branch, pulling oneself up and over limbs, crossing midline, and bilateral coordination are developed through play. When finished, this is a powerful confidence booster!
  • Write a letter to a friend- (or a post card or email!)- Work on letter formation and other handwriting skills by writing a short letter or card to a friend this summer. It’s a very functional handwriting task that kids will be proud of!
  • Make a fairy garden- Use materials found around the home to support development of fine motor skills. The pretend play is a fun way to develop social emotional skills, too.
  • Wash the car (or a bike)- Support gross motor development by using a sponge, soapy water, and the hose to add proprioceptive input.
  • Watch and draw birds- Look for birds outdoors, in the yard, or from the windows. Address visual scanning, working memory, and pencil skills.
  • Go on a rainbow nature hunt- Use a piece of contact paper and find items of different colors of the rainbow to make a rainbow nature hunt craft. This is a great activity for fine motor, visual processing, and heavy work input.
  • Trace a friend with chalk on a driveway or sidewalk- Use sidewalk chalk to trace a friend on the driveway or sidewalk. This is a great activity to develop fine motor skills, and can support development of interoception by drawing internal organs and talking about how the body works inside and out!
  • Make bubble wands with pipe cleaners- use pipe cleaners and beads to develop fine motor skills to make a bubble wand. Then support oral motor skill development by blowing bubbles.
  • Play Red Rover- Lawn games like red Rover develop gross motor skills, visual motor skills, and executive functioning as well as adding proprioceptive and vestibular input.
  • Write the alphabet with chalk- Writing letters with sidewalk chalk supports the motor plan to create each letter and offers great proprioceptive feedback through kinesthetic learning. Writing letters with chalk or names and words can be a fun summer activity. Then spray the letters and words off with the hose or a spray bottle for more motor skill development!
  • Find shapes and images in the clouds- Look up to work on visual canning, memory, attention, and visual motor skill by finding shapes and outlines in the clouds.
  • Bake cookies
  • FInger paints
  • Fly a kite
  • Splash pad or water park
  • Write in a journal
  • Call a friend
  • Start a kickball game
  • Make leaf rubbings
  • Play hide and seek
  • Catch fireflies
  • Tie dye
  • Play cards
  • Build a fort
  • Have a sleepover
  • Play with glow bracelets at night in the yard
  • Read a book outside
  • Have a family game night
  • Draw self-portraits
  • Walk a pet

Need even more summer ideas?

~Add these hula hoop activities to therapy sessions.

~Use sidewalk chalk to support fine motor skills.

~ Print off and send home this list of 100 things to do this Summer. It’s a therapist-approved list of Summer activities!

~Print off these Summer Writing Lists to work on handwriting skills.

~Grab some of the materials in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. There is something for everyone and Summer themed activities to support all skill levels.

~ Do some or all of the activities listed here in this Sensory Summer Camp at Home plan. All of the activities and ideas are free and use items you probably already have.

~ Sneak in handwriting practice while traveling with these motivating and authentic ideas. HERE are a few MORE natural writing experiences for summer that keep those pencils moving.

~ Try some of the activities in this Summer Activity Guide designed to encourage play and creativity in activities for the whole family.

~ Practice the motor planning and fine motor skills needed for handwriting and with a sensory twist using the ideas outlined in this Sensory Handwriting Backyard Summer Camp.

~ Try these Backyard Vestibular Activities for Summer to encourage movement and sensory experiences right in the backyard.

~ Print off this June Occupational Therapy Calendar for ideas to last the whole month. (It’s from a couple of years back so the dates are off, but the activities still work!)

~ These no-prep, basically free summer activities won’t break the bank and boost the underlying skills kids NEED, in fun ways.

~ Use sidewalk chalk to boost fine motor skills.  

~Make a summer time capsule with the whole family and create memories that can be looked back on years from now.   

~Create a summer kick-off bucket filled with toys and items for months of sensory play.     

~The kids will love these frozen fruit kabob snacks. It’s a great alerting sensory snack that doubles as a healthy summer treat.

One tool to support Summer OT home programs, OT tutoring sessions, or occupational therapy summer camps is our Summer Occupational Therapy Activities Packet.

It’s a collection of 14 items that guide summer programming at home, at school, and in therapy sessions. The summer activities bundle covers handwriting, visual perceptual skills and visual motor skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, regulation, and more.

You’ll find ideas to use in virtual therapy sessions and to send home as home activities that build skills and power development with a fun, summer theme. Kids will love the Summer Spot It! game, the puzzles, handouts, and movement activities. Therapists will love the teletherapy slide deck and the easy, ready-to-go activities to slot into OT sessions. The packet is only $10.00 and can be used over and over again for every student/client!

Grab the Spring Occupational Therapy Activities Packet HERE.

NEW RESOURCE: The Summer Fine Motor Kit– This 90 page packet it specifically designed to build the motor skills kids have been limited in over the past year or so: handwriting, cutting with scissors, small motor manipulation, arch development and hand endurance, strength, pinch, and coloring. The Summer Fine Motor Kit includes different tools and materials than our other fine motor kits, but has some of the most-requested favorites in fun summer themes:

  • Summer Play Dough/Handwriting Mats (3 writing paper styles: single rule, double rule, and highlighted lines)
  • Lacing cards
  • Color and cut sensory bin cards
  • Sea Creature, Summer Play, & Summer Treats Silly Paths (great for pencil control and eye-hand coordination)
  • Tracing mazes/ Fine motor mazes
  • Symmetry drawing page
  • Fine Motor Flip Pages (flip a coin or small object and place them along a path)
  • Glue skills pages
  • Prewriting shapes sheets
  • Toothpick art activities
  • Pencil control worksheets/Fine motor placement paths
  • Scissor skills activities (simple and complex shapes)
  • Sensory bin cards

NEW RESOURCE: The Summer OT Bundle– Want to cover all your bases this summer? This bundle has everything you need for therapy planning, home programs, summer camps, Grandma’s house, or extended school year programs so you can just print and go. The bundle is $20 and includes:

The ideas listed above should help you create therapy home programs, and keep the kids loaded up on creative, open-ended, and movement-based PLAY that their little bodies NEED!

Use these summer occupational therapy activities when planning sensory activities, fine motor, and gross motor developmental ideas for kids.

Want to take summer play to the next level? Be sure to grab your copy of the Summer OT Activities Bundle!

Summer activities for kids

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

Hula Hoop Activities

hula hoop activities

A hula hoop is a great old-school toy and specific hula hoop activities can be used to not only build strength, coordination, balance, and motor planning, but can be used in other areas such as learning, sensory, and visual motor, as well as gross motor coordination. Hula hoops are versatile and inexpensive, while being colorful and attractive, to spark the interest and motivation of children. There are a wide array of hula hoop activities that can be done, in addition to the traditional method.

hula hoop activities for therapy and gross motor development

Hula hoop Activities are great!

Hula hoops can be used indoors or outdoors and with children and adults of all ages. That’s right all ages. In addition to the conventional manner, there are several imaginative and thoughtful hula hoop activities that are fun and safe for all!  

Hula hoops are cheap and easy to find. If you don’t have, or can’t find a hula hoop that’s okay, you can make your own hula hoop! The directions are included in this post. People can decorate it however they wish, making it a special craft activity too. 

Take a look at some fun, creative hula hoop activity ideas to get kids up and active, and a little ‘hoopy’ this season! 

The hula hoop games and activities below are great for outdoor lawn games this summer, but they can be included in indoor therapy obstacle courses or games to get kids moving!

Gross Motor hula hoop games:

  • The Floor is Lava Games These are fun games for home on a rainy day. Use a hula hoop as a “safe island” when playing is game. They work on jumping, leaping, hopping, rolling, and crashing.
  • Hula Hoop Jumps – provide heavy work input through the core and gross motor muscle groups, to improve regulation, and body awareness. 
  • Rabbit Hole – is a cooperative gross motor group activity that helps to teach the concept of personal space, using a hula hoop, and safety cones.  
  • Hula Hoop Run activities – use several hula hoops positioned out on the ground, or floor to create a “tire run” pathway for kids to hop, jump, or leap through. There are several pattern ideas included, which will address gross motor coordination, balance, and agility while having fun too!
  • Hula Hoop Pass – Grab some friends and a hula hoop! Children hold hands while standing in a line or a circle, while working to move the hula hoop around the group, stepping in and out of it, ducking through it, while holding hands. This works to shift the hoop to the next person, until it makes it from the first, to the last person within the group. This is an incredible coordination and motor planning activity that helps to build group cooperation and teamwork.
  • Don’t Jiggle the Spiders! Much like our spider obstacle maze, you can wrap yarn around a hula hoop and thread spider rings through the string. Then, children can move the hoop as a hand-held obstacle course has a fun way to have children work on balance and body control as they work to move through the spider web, designed on a hula hoop, and try not to ‘jiggle the spiders’ while doing so. 
  • Basket of Toys- Here is a fun twist on the traditional toy scavenger hunt. In this game, you scatter small toys or water balloons and hula hoops on the ground. Children work to move the toys and balloons using their feet to their specific hula hoop. What happens if they pop a balloon while kicking? They must visit the Toy Master (and adult or a specific player) and complete a motor task to earn another balloon. A fun way to work on gross motor skills, motor control, and eye-foot coordination. 
  • Hula Blockers is a fun hula hoop game in which each player stands in their own hoop tossing a bean bag into another player’s hoop, while simultaneously attempting to defend their own hula hoop space, blocking another player’s bean bags from landing in their space.

Add these Gross Motor Coordination Activities for more fun. Or check out these Gross Motor Toys for some fun games.

Sensory hula hoop actitivies:

  • Hula Hoop Mobile here is a fun visually stimulating idea for children with visual impairments, or other challenges, that might benefit from a colorful hanging mobile that has texture, sound, weight, and visual appeal. It can be used for individual play, or as a group activity.
  • Sensory Hula Hoop Video – need a fun sensory tool for babies? Then this Sensory Hula Hoop video might be a fun DIY for you! It includes a variety of visually stimulating materials as well, as texture and sound. It can be placed flat on the floor to encourage tummy time, or hung above a baby lying supine, to encourage reach and exploration. Note: Always choose baby-safe materials to prevent injury. 
  • Baby and Toddler Tummy Time Activity- Another spin on the sensory hula hoop activity, is to attach baby rattles and baby toys around the circle, then have babies start with tummy time in the center of the hoop. This is a great tool for adding novel activities to tummy time. The circular positioning of the toys around the hoop encourages babies to reach, visually scan, roll, and pivot on the upper body, as they move and stretch to reach, and engage with different toys. 
  • Hula Hoop Canopy – If you’re feeling really ambitious you can create a Hula Hoop Canopy with lights and sheer curtains. It makes a great addition to a calming corner.
  • Hula Hoop Tunnel Activity – Make a tunnel with several hula hoops and you can even add scarves or longer strips of streamers for children to move through making it a gross motor AND sensory experience in one!

Eye-Hand Coordination hula hoop games:

  • Hula Hoop Web – use masking tape to create a Hula Hoop Web in the hoop. Have children toss cotton balls or pom-pom balls to stick to the web.

  • Hula Hoop Target – Hang a hula hoop from the ceiling or a tree, and you have an instant target for ball tossing.
  • Hula Hoop Bullseyes- Lay different-sized hula hoops on the ground, creating a bulls-eye target. Place numbers inside the hoop to create targets, to score points when tossing a bean bag.
  • Place safety cones on the ground for children to toss a hoola hoop around the cones, to score points. 
  • Hula Hoop Basketball – Hang a few hula hoops from a basketball goal for young children to have their Hula Hoop Goal for ball play. A great way to have younger kiddos enjoy their own skill level of basketball. 
  • Flight School Create this fun game by having children fold paper airplanes, then try to fly them through hula hoops that are hung from the ceiling. Include children of all ages with this fun activity, as you can hang the hula hoops at different heights to accommodate any skill level.  Another way to play when hanging the hoops at different heights, would be to use a point system, and score points based on the different heights of the hoops.  

Learning games with a hula hoop: 

  • Around the Clock hula hoop activity is a fun way to work on time with kiddos in the classroom, during therapy, and at home! 
  • Hula Hoop Zones Activity- Use red, yellow, green, and blue hoops to work on the Zones of Regulation™ curriculum in the classroom and during therapy. Read more on this activity.
  • Find and Rhyme game is a great way to work on rhyming with young children! All you need are some hula hoops, and plastic plates. It’s similar to a scavenger hunt for words. Here is an explanation.
  • Personal space – Need to help children understand personal space? The use of a hula hoop is the perfect tool! They can sit or stand inside of it, to help them visualize their own personal space, and the space of others. I’ve seen them used while sitting at a table during snack time to help children understand their personal space.

make your own hoop

Here are the instructions for Making a Hula Hoop. They include a brief explanation of the three most common types of tubing people use to create one. If you think you need more detailed instructions for creating a hula hoop, take a look at How to Make Your Own Hula Hoop, and see how they designed their hoop using irrigation tubing. 

Want another fun idea for creating a hula hoop? I found this Snap Together Hula Hoop that children can work on building before using!  This type of hoop makes it easy to transport and adds another element of motor skills while building and deconstructing.

more outdoor fun

There’s only one last thing to say about hula hoops, remember to join in the fun yourself and enjoy some screen-free playtime with kiddos! 

Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

Join the Member’s Club today!

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!

Outdoor Sensory Activities

outdoor sensory activities

Have you ever considered what a wealth of sensory input there is in outdoor sensory play? Here, you’ll find outdoor sensory activities that would make a great addition to outdoor occupational therapy sessions, or just sensory input through playing outdoors! Consider taking the benefits of sensory play and moving them to an environment with differences in sounds, temperatures, textures, surfaces. You end up with a functional space that invites motor and sensory development!

Previously, we’ve shared how to go on a sensory nature walk, but this resource covers much more in the way of outdoor occupational therapy activities to support needs.

Outdoor sensory activities to support sensory processing

Outdoor Sensory Activities

The outdoor sensory ideas listed below include sensory activities that can naturally be found outdoors!


It’s a fact that kids are spending less time playing outdoors. From after-school schedules to two working parents, to unsafe conditions, to increased digital screen time, to less outdoor recess time…kids just get less natural play in the outdoors.

Research on outdoor sensory play tells us that playing outdoors supports development through areas such as: developmental and primary tasks that children must achieve can be effectively improved through outdoor play. These include: exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development, absorption of basic knowledge, social skills, self-confidence, attention, language skills, among others.

In fact, one study found a sensory diet in outdoor play along with sensory integration therapy resulted in better functional behavior of kids with ADHD (Sahoo & Senapati). 

Some therapists have connected the dots between less outdoor play and increased sensory struggles and attention difficulties in learning. Knowing this, it can be powerful to have a list of outdoor sensory activities that can be recommended as therapy home programing and family activities that meet underlying needs.

A note about using outdoor activities in sensory diets (and creating a sensory lifestyle…)

Sensory activities can be prescribed according to need along with environment in order to maximize sensory input within a child’s day such at home, within the community, during transitions, or within the school day. Outdoors are part of our everyday. Whether it’s walking to the car or school bus, travelling down a sidewalk, or spending time outside in the yard, there are many opportunities to support sensory and emotional regulation needs with outdoor play.

Using authentic sensory input within the child’s environment plays into the whole child that we must understand when focusing on any goal toward improved functional independence.

We’ve been talking a lot about sensory diets here on The OT Toolbox recently. Understanding what a sensory diet is and how it can be used within a sensory lifestyle is a big part of integrating sensory activities and sensory play into needed sensory input that a child needs to self-regulation, cope with his or her environment, and to attend or focus despite sensory overload or distractions.

You’ll find more outdoor sensory diet activities like these outdoor sensory diet activities for the backyard coming to the site very soon!

For specifics on how to get started with a sensory diet, and how to use these outdoor sensory processing strategies in a sensory plan, start here with this resource on how to create a sensory diet.

Outdoor sensory activities can be specific to sensory system like proprioception activities, auditory processing, vestibular sensory diet activities, and the rest of the sensory systems.

Use these outdoor sensory activities to help kids with sensory processing needs

Outdoor occupational therapy

When therapists develop a specific and highly individualized sensory diet, it’s not just throwing together a day filled with sensory input. It’s activities based on sensory need and strategizing. Each of the nature-based sensory activities above should meet specific needs of the child.

outdoor occupational therapy activities and reasoning

Imagine a world with more creative outdoor play that involves a variety of enriching sensory input. The proprioceptive input from running and jumping into puddles can calm the child who is typically overactive.

Outdoor occupational therapy supports the development of skills in a functional and natural space. When OTs venture outdoors for therapy practice, the world opens up in the way of sensory input, motor experiences, emotional regulation, and skill-building.

Occupational therapists practice outdoors for many reasons:

  • Develop confidence
  • Social skill building
  • Independence with clothing
  • Attention
  • Focus
  • Body awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Executive functioning skills
  • Safety skills
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory processing
  • Connection with others

Through outdoor occupational therapy, individuals experience all that nature has to offer while developing skills, just like one would in traditional occupational therapy services.

Below, you’ll find specifically sensory occupational therapy activities that can occur outdoors.

Sensory Activities for Outdoors

Nature, playing outdoors, and experiencing everything the outdoors has to offer supports all of the sensory systems. Let’s break this concept down:

  1. Visual System- Outside, we can see details in the trees, notice differences in plants, spot items hidden in the grass. Vision is more than just acuity. It’s through the visual sense that we learn, communicate. Visual motor activities and visual processing tasks occur naturally through play and experiencing the outdoors.

Try some of these outdoor activities to support the visual system:

  • Play I Spy
  • Hide objects and find them
  • Play tag (visual tracking and visual scanning)
  • Collect rocks or leaves (visual figure ground)
  • Watch the clouds (visual attention)
  • Look for birds
  • Collect items from nature and notice differences

2. Proprioceptive System- Another of the “Big 3” sensory systems (explained in detail in our book, The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook), is the proprioceptive system.

There are so many proprioceptive activities supported by the outdoors. Try some of these:

  • Hike of inclines or declines
  • Animal walks in the grass
  • Relay races
  • Pound and smash ice
  • Lift and carry rocks or logs

3. Vestibular System- The vestibular benefits of slowing swaying side to side on a tree vine can organize the child who is challenged by sensory overload.

Try these outdoor vestibular activities:

4. Interoceptive System- There is a connection with interoception, too. This sensory system is responsible for hunger, thirst, fatigue, digestion, sleep, toileting, and other internal systems. Sensory activities like going outdoors, experiencing differences in temperature and texture (warmth of the sun, cool breeze, wet rain drops, damp soil, etc.) on the skin receptors can impact how we feel, how mindful we are, and how the interoception system responds.

Outdoor sensory activities that impact the interoceptive system include:

  • Running/walking/crawling
  • Playing in wet sand, soil, grass
  • Feeling the breeze on skin
  • Feeling the warmth of sun on skin
  • Playing on swings
  • Going up or down a slide
  • Laying on the ground (pressure on the stomach and internal organs)
  • Rolling on the grass (vestibular and proprioceptive systems)

5. Auditory System- Outdoors, you can rest your state of mind just by listening. The outdoors offer a great mindset strategy for emotional regulation and is a way to calm the body. These backyard auditory processing activities will get you started. Try these outdoor auditory processing strategies for regulation and sensory needs:

  • Listen for birds
  • Mimic sounds
  • Play “I hear” (just like I Spy for sounds)

6. Tactile System- The outdoors offer so many tactile experiences. From walking in grass without shoes on, to playing the variety of natural tactile sources, there are so many ways to support the tactile system outdoors.

Try some of these calming or alerting sensory activities for the tactile sense:

  • Walk barefoot in grass
  • Play in a sandbox
  • Climb a damp tree
  • Pick grass
  • Dig in dirt
  • Play with messy, sensory play outside
  • Pick flowers
  • Feel and crunch leaves (also great for the auditory sense)
  • Create a tactile nature walk collection

7. Gustatory System- The gustatory sense, or the sense of taste can be incorporated into the outdoors. Think about your experience with picking berries, tasting a cool and sweet popsicle on a hot day. There are so many sensory-based memories involving tastes. Try some of these gustatory sensory activities in the outdoors:

  • Grow a sensory garden with fruits and vegetables that can be eaten outdoors
  • Eat a juicy watermelon outside- This is a great tactile activity, too
  • Make ice pops, smoothies, or ice cream using fresh fruits.

9. Olfactory System- This is the sense of smell. Outside, there are so many scents that occur and may change every day (and even based on the time of day!) Consider these olfactory sensory ideas:

  • Smell flowers
  • Smell grass
  • Identify odors and scents by location
  • Name the type of plant based on scent
  • Garden- Plant herbs such as mint, parsley, basil, lavender, etc. These are powerful scents that can be calming.
These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.


Outdoor Sensory Play

There are so many outdoor activities that incorporate play naturally while meeting underlying needs in the great outdoors! The ideas you’ll find below are naturally occurring play ideas using items found in nature, natural environments. They are outdoor activities that kids can try without any additional equipment or specialty therapy items.

The point with these outdoor occupational therapy strategies is to support motor skill development, motor planning, visual motor skills, and overall development through the natural environment of the outdoors.

Ideas for outdoor occupational therapy:

  • Hike
  • Play in the woods
  • Roll down hills
  • Balance beam on logs
  • Climb trees
  • Collect nature
  • Play at the beach
  • Nature walk
  • Play in the backyard
  • Climb on stumps
  • Jump in puddles
  • Driveway or pavement play activities
  • Swing on tree vines
  • Sensory play on a porch or enclosed space
  • Collect sticks
  • Leaf hunt
  • Water table
  • Move and carry rocks of various sizes
  • Hide and seek
  • Create with nature
  • Outdoor water play
  • Collect fireflies
  • Pour rocks
  • Build with rocks, stumps, sticks, small logs
  • Mix and create nature soup (mud, sticks, flower petals, grass clippings)
  • Mud play
  • Use more of the ideas in our Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards

The outdoor world is full of sensory input that can meet individual needs of every child. The kids with sensory needs as well as those who present as neurotypical will benefit from a lifestyle of sensory play and experiences in the outdoors.

These outdoor sensory diet activities are great for occupational therapists to use in development of a sensory diet for kids with sensory needs, using outdoor play ideas.

As always, these activities should be looked over and utilized along with assessment and intervention of an occupational therapist, as each child differs so very vastly.

Some of the ideas above are going to be described in more detail here on The OT Toolbox. Watch this space for more outdoor sensory play ideas based on the following outdoor play spaces:

Sensory diets and specific sensory input or sensory challenges are a big part of addressing sensory needs of children who struggle with sensory processing issues.

Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (sensory diet) into a lifestyle of naturally occurring and meaningful activities is so very valuable for the child with sensory needs.   

That’s why I’ve worked to create a book on creating an authentic and meaningful sensory lifestyle that addresses sensory needs. The book is now released as a digital e-book or softcover print book, available on Amazon.   

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory diet creation, set-up, and carry through. Not only that, but the book helps you take a sensory diet and weave it into a sensory lifestyle that supports the needs of a child with sensory processing challenges and the whohttps://www.theottoolbox.com/product/the-sensory-lifestyle-handbook/le family.  

Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.

Visual Tracking Games

toys for visual tracking

Visual Tracking is an important part of everything we do and visual tracking games can be a valuable resource to improving visual tracking skills! For tasks such as reading and writing, however, the ability to track visually across a line of written text is essential for reading and fluency in reading.

When kids read across a line of text in a book, they are using visual tracking skills to follow the line from word to work. When they follow a finger along lines in a book they are using visual tracking skills. When they shift their vision from one point to another, they use a combination of visual scanning and visual tracking skills. Visual tracking is a multi-faceted topic and you can read more about visual tracking and all that it entails in functional tasks here on the website.

These visual tracking games will be a useful tool in helping kids with visual tracking needs to read, write, visually scan and complete other visual motor tasks, using fun tracking games and visual tools that kids will love to use in occupational therapy activities or as part of a therapy home program for visual tracking!
 

Visual Tracking Games and Visual Tracking Activities for Kids

So when visual tracking is such an important part of function and skills, how do you address this skill area? There are adaptations that can be put into place to help, such as prompting, cues, physical assists, and other tools. One way to work on visual tracking needed for functional tasks is to use visual tracking games in play and activities.

Visual tracking games and activities can be a valuable asset for increasing this skill area in kids with visual tracking skill deficits or needs.

Read on to find out more about visual tracking games and activities that may help  kids improve their visual tracking skills.

But first,

What does a Visual Tracking Problem Look Like?

The games and activities listed below are important for kids who struggle with tracking of words and letters when reading, writing, or completing math. Visual Tracking problems may also present as difficulty with sports or coordination. Visual tracking may be evident in learning. There are many ways that a visual tracking concern can become evident. If one of these areas or functional abilities is a problem for your child, student, or client, then a visual screening can be very useful in identifying specific needs.

Need help addressing visual problems in the classroom? Here are classroom accommodations for visual impairments

Occupational Therapy Vision Screening Tool

Occupational Therapists screen for visual problems in order to determine how they may impact functional tasks. Visual screening can occur in the classroom setting, in inpatient settings, in outpatient therapy, and in early intervention or home care.
 
This visual screening tool was created by an occupational therapist and provides information on visual terms, frequently asked questions regarding visual problems, a variety of visual screening techniques, and other tools that therapists will find valuable in visual screenings.

 

 
This is a digital file. Upon purchase, you will be able to access the 10 page file and print off to use over and over again in vision screenings and in educating therapists, teachers, parents, and other child advocates or caregivers.
 
 
 

Visual Tracking Games for Kids

Kids can play visual tracking games that are free or are fun games out on the market to address this skill area and improve visual tracking skills so that reading and writing are easier.

Try some of these fun visual tracking games to help kids improve their visual tracking skills and they won’t even know they are “working”!

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

Badminton Game – Physical games and gross motor games like this one can help promote visual tracking across all visual fields including peripheral and in all directions (horizontal, vertical, circular, and diagonal).

Pop and Catch Game – Combining fine motor skills like this Pop and Catch game can bring the target close to the body to challenge convergence in kids with visual tracking needs in a visual tracking activity that the whole family can enjoy.  

Velcro Ball and Mitt – This visual tracking game combines gross motor and sensory components with resistive work that kids can use to challenge upper body strength while playing. Follow the target ball as it sails toward and away to challenge convergence of the eyes. This activity can easily be modified to meet various needs by using a brightly colored ball or moving closer or farther away. is a game kids can play indoors or outdoors while working on their visual tracking skills.

Scoop ball -Try to scoop the ball while moving, while seated or while in a variety of positions and planes to add a graded component to this visual tracking game.

Wham-O Track Ball -This classic visual tracking game is traditionally an outdoor lawn game for kids or adults, but it makes an awesome visual tracking game! When kids struggle with visual tracking skills, they can benefit from watching a moving target and challenges in visual tracking across various fields of vision. Play this visual tracking game indoors or outdoors. Why not add a prone component by playing while crawling or laying on the floor or while on a scooter board?

Light Up Bouncy Ball – While any ball could potentially be used as a visual tracking tool, this light up ball can be used in a dark room or at night for a visual tracking game that kids can’t resist! Play a slow rolling game of catch or try to invoke spontaneous visual tracking skills by bouncing the ball against a wall in a darkened room. What fun!

Glow in the Dark Ring Toss – This is another glow in the dark game that kids can play in a darkened space. The room doesn’t need to be completely dark to encourage visual tracking with this glowing game. Just close the blinds or play at night with a low light on and the glowing visual tracking can still happen! Ask the child to watch as the ring is tossed away from them. They child can also position themselves on the sidelines when they are waiting for their turn while others play, allowing for visual tracking across planes.

Zoom Ball – This is a great therapy tool because the child can control and feel when the moving target is moving toward them and away from them. Zoom ball is a visual tracking tool that requires convergence as the child watches the target move between them and another player.

Rocket Launch – There are many rocket launch toys on the market and any would work as a visual tracking tool. But this one is nice because it has the ability to change the angle so the rocket can be sent higher or at different angles. Kids can watch the brightly colored rocket as it sails through the air into unpredictable tracks and various fields of vision, including the peripheral.

Slingshot Creatures – These fun creatures can be sent at targets or at any plane as a visual tracking tool. Kids will love shooting these creatures or watching them sail across the room!

Parachute Toy – Parachute toys, flying discs, and other flying target toys are great for addressing visual tracking skills. Kids can toss them up or watch as they drop while following the target. This set includes lots of fun extras!

Glowing Finger Slingshots – Flinger slingshots are a fun tool for targeting visual tracking skills. This visual tracking activity is one kids will love to engage with! Try them in a darkened room to encourage visual tracking as the glowing toy flies across the room!

Flying slingshot copter – This is another slingshot activity that kids can shoot themselves while visual tracking as the target soars. Play indoors or outdoors. Visual tracking tools like this are motivating and a fun addition to goody bags or as a small gift idea.

Handheld helicopter drone – This indoor or outdoor drone is a nice visual tracking tool that kids will love to send up and watch as it soars.  

Need a resource to address visual tracking or need to know where to start with identifying visual tracking concerns?

The Visual Tracking Screening Tool can help therapists screen for and identify visual problems that interfere with visual tracking, convergence, and other visual skills.