Valentine’s Day Occupational Therapy Activities

Here, you’ll find Valentine’s Day Occupational Therapy Activities that you can use this time of year to help kids develop skills. This is the time of year that red and pink hearts are everywhere, so why not use the theme of love and friendship in therapy interventions with fun Valentines day activities? Add these heart crafts, and love ideas to your therapy toolbox to work on things like fine motor skills, regulation, scissor skills, and more, all with a Valentine’s Day theme!

Use these valentine's day occupational therapy activities in therapy planning, classroom activites, and to work on skills like handwriting, fine motor skills, scissor skills and other developmental areas.

Valentine’s Day Occupational Therapy Activities

There are so many love and heart themed activities here on The OT Toolbox. Over the years, we’ve done a lot of fun activities that double as a skill building strategy. Check out these ideas and pick a few to add to your therapy line up and plans over the next few weeks. Some of these hear crafts and sensory ideas or games would make great additions to a Valentine’s Day party that builds skills, too!

Free Valentine’s Day Printables

We love to create multi-purpose free worksheets and printable activities that support development. Worksheets can get a bad rap, but we at The OT Toolbox attempt to create occupational therapy worksheets that focus on play as a function.

When we can use a printable founded in play, the user is performing a daily occupation that is important to them, and the play is both the tool and the skill that is being developed. That’s why these Valentine’s Day worksheets are so loveable!

Valentine’s Day Hat Craft– Print off this hat template and work on coloring skills, scissor skills, and executive functioning to build and create the Valentine craft.

Valentine Hole Punch Cards– These free pintables are perfect for occupational therapy Valentine parties. Use the printable activity to build skills in eye-hand coordination, hand strength, bilateral coordination, arch development, visual scanning, and more.

Heart Deep Breathing Exercise– Print off this heart poster and use it to develop skills in mindfulness, self-regulation, and even proprioception through the chest and upper body. It’s a very calming activity that can be a great addition to the sometimes chaos and unexpected situations in a classroom Valentine’s Day party. use it to support sensory needs at a Valentine’s Day party!

Valentine’s Day Activity Sheet– This printable tool is a great activity that can be used to develop many different skills depending on the needs of the individual. Use a single activity sheet to target: visual scanning, visual memory, visual peripheral skills, form constancy, fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, dexterity, pencil control, motor planning, coloring and more.

Valentine Matching Alphabet Cards– Cut out these love letter cards and match uppercase to lowercase letters. These cards are used for cursive letters to build skills in letter recognition, visual discrimination, and more.

Valentines Fine Motor Worksheet– Print off this Valentine worksheet and build motor skills in many ways. have fine motor races with small objects like beads or mini erasers. Use tweezers to move items along the path. Work on pre-writing lines by using the paths on a vertical or diagonal. Work on a vertical plane to build core strength and shoulder stability. Use the sheets to practice letter formation by writing in the circles. There are so many ways to play and develop skills with a heart theme!

More Valentine’s Day Activities

That’s not all! Use the activity ideas below in planning OT sessions, or in Valentine’s day parties that also build skills.

One thing I love about holiday events this time of year is that kids are excited about Valentine’s Day activities. It’s fun, friendly, and full of kindness and empathy. However, there are so many ways to develop skills with the old-fashioned Valentine fun:

  • Cut out paper hearts- Cut hearts from cardstock or construction paper for more resistance
  • Fold paper hearts in half- This is great for bilateral coordination, hand strength, pinch strength, eye-hand coordination, motor planning, and visual perception.
  • Stick heart stickers on paper- Add small targets by drawing dots and placing the heart stickers on the dots. This is great for fine motor precision and eye-hand coordination. Place the paper on a vertical surface and further develop core strength and balance.
  • Write on Valentine’s Day cards- what a functional and fun way to work on handwriting and to teach kids to write their name.
  • Make a Valentine’s Day box- Don’t worry about the fancy Pinterest V-Day boxes! Some of those require way too much parent help. Help a child wrap the box in wrapping paper (anther great functional life skill!) and then cut out hearts or draw right on the box.
  • Make a Valentine’s Day snack– Work on executive functioning skills, direction following, fine motor skills, and more.

Valentine’s Day Therapy Slide Decks

Working virtually? Use a done-for-you therapy slide deck. These are therapist-created and designed to meet the needs of a variety of levels of users. Adjust the slides and therapy activities to meet your needs and the needs of the learners you are working with.

If you are needing occupational therapy teletherapy resources, check out the hands-on Valentine’s Day activities below. They are great for February parties and therapy at home activities for this time of year, too.

Valentine’s Day Sensory Activities

From sensory bottles, to discovery activities, to heart painting and more, these sensory play activities can be a fun way to help kids develop skills through the senses. How can you use these Valentine’s Day occupational therapy activities in sessions or at home?

Valentines day sensory bottle for self regulation and sensory processing or visual processing

Valentine’s Day Sensory Bottle– Use this sensory bottle activity as a way to build fine motor skills while kids help to create the sensory bottle and add materials. Then use it in self-regulation, sensory processing needs as a calm down bottle. Sensory bottles are fantastic to work on visual processing skills like visual discrimination, figure-ground, and other visual perceptual skills.

Olive You Thumbprint CraftFingerprint art is a great way to work on finger isolation, an essential fine motor skill that kids need to manipulate items and improve pencil grasp. Here is more information on how fingerprint art improves fine motor skills. Add this artwork to a card or Valentine’s Day craft for fine motor fun.

Valentines Day play dough to build fine motor skills

Valentine’s Day Play Dough Activity Use a recycled chocolates box in a play dough activity that builds skills like strengthening of the intrinsic muscles and arches of the hands. This is a fun Valentine’s Day activity that can be used in classroom parties or in the therapy room to build skills.

Bilateral coordination activity for valentines day

Bilateral Coordination Heart Sensory Tray Use sand, rice, or other sensory bin material to create a bilateral coordination and visual motor activity for kids. They can work on eye-hand coordination, motor planning, and other skills. The point of the activity is to establish direction and orientation relative to the child’s body.  The movement activity addresses hand-eye coordination in different visual fields, promotes spatial awareness and visual discrimination, addresses left and right awareness, improves peripheral vision, promotes body awareness and coordination with specialization of the hands and eyes, and works on gross motor movement skills.

Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Activities

Try these Valentine’s Day fine motor activities in your occupational therapy interventions or home programs. The activities here are fun ways to help kids develop hand strength, dexterity, precision, grasp development, and motor control.

Be sure to check out the Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Kit. In the 25 activity printable kit, you’ll fine hands-on activities to build fine motor skills. Activities include coloring and cutting cards, pencil control sheets, heart crafts, Valentine’s Day write the room activities, hole punching exercises, and so much more. Grab the Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Kit here.

Visual perception activity and heart maze for valentines day

DIY Heart Maze- Look out visual motor skills…this heart maze is one you can make and print off for your whole caseload. Adjust the use according to your kiddos. Children can place objects like paper hearts, mini erasers, etc. on the hearts in the maze to double down on fine motor work, or color in the hearts to work on pencil control. This maze is a visual processing powerhouse. Find more information on visual processing here.

Fine motor heart activity

Teeny Tiny Sprinkle Heart Activity– This is a fine motor activity that builds precision and dexterity in the hands. It’s a fine motor workout kids can use to build hand strength and endurance for fine motor tasks. Use it in math centers to work on one-to-one correspondence and counting or sorting.

Heart fine motor and eye hand coordination activity

Heart Eye-Hand Coordination Activity– Work on eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills tongs and heart s cut from cardboard. If you are like me, you have a ton of delivery boxes coming to the house. Use those boxes in a fine motor skills building activity. Write numbers or letters on the hearts to make it a sorting, math, or spelling activity.

heart keychain made with salt dough

Salt Dough Keychain– This is a fun heart craft that goes along with the children’s book, “The Kissing Hand”. Use it to help kids work on fine motor skills, and hand strengthening. This keychain craft makes a great Valentine’s Day gift idea too!

Valentines Day crafts

One Zillion Valentines Book and Craft– Pairing a book with therapy or when working on skills with kids is a fun way to open up conversation, problem solving, and strategizing to create a project or activity based on the book. This Valentine’s Day book for kids is just that. One Zillion Valentines is one children’s book that pairs nicely with a fine motor craft for kids.   Kids can work on fine motor skills, motor lanning, direction following, and executive functioning skills while folding and making paper airplanes, and the cotton clouds in this fun craft idea.

Valentines day handprint art

I Love Ewe Handprint Craft– Use a handprint art activity as a tactile sensory experience. Pair scissor skills, pencil control, direction following, and copying skills to work on various areas needed for handwriting and school tasks. Pls, this makes a great Valentine’s Day craft or addition to a card!

Valentines Day activities to build skills for kids
valentines day color sorting fine motor activity

Valentines Day Color Sorting Fine Motor Activity– Grab a couple of cookie cutters and some beads. This is a fine motor activity that kids can use to build skills like in-hand manipulation, separation of the sides of the hand, finger isolation, open thumb webspace, and more.

love bugs valentines day crafts

Love Bugs Crafts– Work on fine motor skills, scissor skills, direction-following, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, and more with these cute bug crafts for kids.

valentines day sensory bin

Valentine’s Day Sensory Bin– There are so many benefits to using a sensory bin in building fine motor skills. Pour, scoop, and stir with the hands for a tactile sensory experience. Using a sensory bin can be a great way to work on visual perceptual skills like figure-ground, visual discrimination, and other essential visual processing areas. Find and ovate objects or add a learning component by writing sight words or math problems on hearts. This is an open-ended activity that can be used in so many ways.

valentines day books

I Love You Books for Kids– These Valentine’s Day books for kids are a fun way to combine books with crafts or love themed activities. Use them to work on copying words or sentences for handwriting practice. The options are limitless. What love and heart themed books would you add to this list?

Valentines day activities to build fine motor skills
heart play dough

Valentine’s Day Crayon Play Dough– Use play dough to work on so many areas: hand strength, arch development, separation of the sides of the hand, endurance, eye-hand coordination…But have you ever had trouble getting a a really vivid red play dough when using food coloring? The answer to the red play dough problem is using vivid crayons! Here is our crayon play dough recipe that gives you the brightest colors, perfect for using in Valentine’s Day play dough activities!

heart craft to work on fine motor skills like scissor skills

Heart Bookmark Craft– This is such a fun and easy Valentine’s Day craft to use when working on scissor skills with kids. The strait lines of the bookmark and curved lines of the heart make it a great activity for kids just working on the basics of scissor skills.

Valentines day craft for kids

Heart Butterfly Craft- Work on scissor skills, handwriting, and fine motor skills to make this fun card. The directions to make this Valentine’s Day craft are over here on a guest post we did for Hands On as We Grow. Use this fun craft with a group. It’s a great Valentine’s Day party idea!

Valentines Day craft for kids to work on fine motor skills and scissor skills

Valentine’s Day Tea Craft– This Valentine’s Day craft is a fun way to work on scissor skills, handwriting, and fine motor skills. Kids can make this craft as a gift for friends or parents and work on skill development, too.

More Valentines’ Day Activities

Try some of these other ideas:

Valentine’s Day Sensory Bin with Fine Motor Paper

Valentine’s Day Snacks for Kids

Valentine’s Day Goop Painting

Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Sparkle Craft

Crunchy (Sensory Diet!) Heart Tortilla Snack

Teach Buttoning with Heart Buttons

So, what are your favorite ways to work on skills with a holiday theme? Try some of these heart activities at Valentine’s Day parties, at home when making cards for loved ones, or in therapy planning! Have fun!

Want to add more Valentine’s Day activities and movement tools to your skill-building?

he Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Kit is here! This printable kit is 25 pages of hands-on activity sheets designed to build skills in pinch and grasp strength, endurance, eye-hand coordination, precision, dexterity, pencil control, handwriting, scissor skills, coloring, and more.

When you grab the Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Kit now, you’ll get a free BONUS activity: 1-10 clip cards so you can challenge hand strength and endurance with a counting eye-hand coordination activity.

Valentines Day fine motor kit

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.

Parallel Play: Definition, Benefits & Activities

parallel play

In this blog we will discuss the importance of parallel play in young children, its benefits, and ways adults can support social skill development with young toddlers through this type of play. One aspect of occupational therapy play, parallel play is both a tool and a main job of kids!

parallel play

What is parallel play?

Parallel Play refers to, playing near or alongside another person. It is a developmental phase of childhood development. The act of participating in building social boundaries by playing along side a peer offers a variety of learning opportunities, especially when adults facilitate interactions through creating an engaging environment. 

This stage of play is a crucial stepping stone in navigating friendships. It’s an opportunity to practice social interactions in a “safe” manner as young children play side-by-side. 

parallel play age

Parallel play occurs between the ages of 18 months to 2 years of age. Although this age range is a common stage for many children, parallel play can exist beyond the age of two years.

Children of all ages can play near or alongside a peer.

Even adults can participate in leisure activities using parallel play!

parallel play development

Development of parallel play

Parallel play occurs when children play in groups, in preschool classrooms, day care centers, playdates, or in small groups, including alongside siblings. Playmates that play beside one another may be using the same toys or playthings or they may be using different toys.

It’s an opportunity to build social skills by observing a peer, using new words and building on language development, seeing new vocabulary in action, exploring different scenarios, exploring social behavior, even at a young age.

Parallel play is a process in social emotional learning and social emotional development, and includes practice in the social development that might not happen in stages of play prior to parallel play (unoccupied play, solitary play, and onlooker play).

Because parallel play requires proximity to other children, it’s a great way to practice the skills needed for play stages after parallel play as well, leading to a healthy development of social awareness.

There are six stages of play in early childhood including:

  1. Unoccupied play
  2. Solitary play
  3. Onlooker play
  4. Parallel play 
  5. Associative play 
  6. Cooperative play 

Parallel play is the fourth stage of play development, and the beginning of children exploring relationships with those around them. Child development is centered on play and parallel play is just one of those stages

Parallel Play is one of six stages of development!

Parallel play is just one of the six stages of play. As children navigate sharing space and toys with peers, they are learning communication, sensory, spatial awareness and other developmental milestones in a group setting.

History of Play development

The history of parallel play is discussed in this blog stating that, “Parallel play (or parallel activity) is a term that was introduced by Mildred Parten in 1932 to refer to a developmental stage of social activity in which children play with toys like those the children around them are using, but are absorbed in their own activity, and usually play beside rather than with one another.” 

There have been many different studies done on play. One of the most well-known educational philosopher, Maria Montessori, highlights the importance of all stages of play within her research.

Benefits of parallel play

During this parallel play stage, children in this age range learn:

  • Language and communication skills   
  • Sharing/taking turns 
  • Motor planning skills
  • Self regulation
  • Creativity
  • Fine motor skills and gross motor skills 
  • Emotions/expression 
  • Independence and confidence
  • Social cues from peers
  • Social and personal boundaries
  • Body awareness
  • Awareness of surroundings
  • Fine motor skills

You can see how parallel play is a powerful tool for learning during the preschool years!

Examples of Parallel Play

You have probably seen parallel play in action in the classroom, home, or anywhere more than one child are interacting together in play experiences. 

When observing play at a park, children between the ages of 2 and 3 engage in parallel play as they interact with toys in the same area, such as the sandbox.

As they dig and pour the sand, children may allow others into their space, but don’t acknowledge what they are doing, or try to join their play.

  • Playing alongside one another using similar toys in a pretend play area in a preschool classroom
  • Playing in a shared space with different toys such as blocks and dolls
  • Engaging in DIR Floor Play alongside an adult
  • Playing in a shared environment with similar toys or experiences, but with individual play experiences (in a block center where each child builds their own blocks, in a play dough center where each child plays with their own play dough, etc.)
  • Playing on playground equipment at a school playground where each child uses similar or different equipment and participates in their own pretend scenarios

While children are in the imitation stage, adults can support their development by providing large areas where many children can play near each other with similar toys. This includes investigative art opportunities, large motor play, block areas, book areas and open ended spaces.  

Parallel Play Activities

Here are five fun parallel play games for you to try. 

  • Investigating art – In the Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education, the atelier (art studio) is a focal point of the classroom. Children of any age, and in any play stage, benefit from exploring different types of art materials. For the child engaging in parallel play, observations of other individuals are often made. Whether indoors or out, providing children with different art supplies, will draw interest in the shared space. Set up this space by providing seating areas that are safe to explore paints, clay, recycled materials and more.
  • Sensory exploration – Parallel play development can be developed in sensory play. Sensory bins, tubs, and activities provide the opportunity for multiple children to engage in tactile exploration at the same time. Although they may not be engaging directly with the children in their group, they will be enthusiastic about standing/sitting near others. Sensory bins can be filled with a variety of items that are readily available, such as sand, rice, rocks, grass, birdseed, or water. They can also be seasonally themed, like these fall sensory ideas. Messy sensory play with shaving cream is a great tactile activity.
  • Building  areas – blocks, Legos, Lincoln logs, tinker toys, train tracks, and other building materials are fun for children of any age to promote parallel play. A block area creates a smaller space with a variety of opportunities children enjoy. A building area can be set up in the classroom or a home. Scaffolding the learning environment, where adults lay out items that encourage children to explore topics and practice new skills, is a wonderful way to support parallel play.  A block area can includes hard hats, road signs, books about building, plastic animals, and more!
  • Storybook access – A library filled with different types of books interesting to young children is a perfect parallel play environment. As children pick out the book they like, sit on a bean bag or carpet square to read, they are actively being part of a small reading group. Adding some baby dolls, stuffed animals, blankets and pillows entices young children to stay in the reading nook longer. Some classrooms put up a small tent for reading time, or build a treehouse loft in the class. 
  • Small group fine motor play- A small table with four or five chairs is the perfect spot to set up a fine motor activity for the age level you are teaching. This parallel play set up is ideal, allowing young children to have their own space, while still playing near familiar children. Examples of activities to include in this area are stacking cups, building block towers, muffin tin sorting, scissor skill activities, rainbow chain links and play dough. You can find more ideas perfect for toddlers here on the OT Toolbox.

supporting children through conflict

When children are playing near each other, problems don’t often occur, but what happens when one child gets too close to another, or they take a toy that another child is playing with?

Sometimes children become frustrated with the actions of their peers, and need extra visual and tactile support to navigate calming down and problem solving. As children become more comfortable with parallel play through fun and engaging activities, they are able to develop foundational skills necessary for social and emotional development.

As children are developing their play skills, they often need support from adults on how to communicate appropriately. Using visual and tactile tools to support calm down and problem solving skills are necessary when engaging with toddlers who are having big emotions.

Once a child is calm, supporting their conflict negotiation skills through simple questions and narrating the situation, will help toddlers find a solution and also learn skills needed to communicate with peers in the future.

Some short phrases to use with toddlers when helping them identify the cause of their frustration and problem solving are:

  • I see that _________ took/grabbed/kicked/etc_____________. 
  • You seem mad. What happened?
  • ___________wanted to be closer to you, but you didn’t want that. 
  • How can I help you ______________?
  • What would you like to do instead?
  • Do you need a break?
  • Would you like to try _______ instead?

One program that includes easy-to-understand calming activities for two years olds is the (Amazon affiliate link) Soothing Sammy program I developed. 

It includes a story about Sammy, a golden retriever, who lives in a house that children visit when they are sad or upset. Sammy supports children through processing their feelings by sharing with them a variety of sensory objects (water, cold washcloth, crunchy snack, a spot to jump, and more!)

Although parallel play is a short term developmental stage, it is an important step that bridges the gap from independent exploration to building collaborative friendships. Teachers, caregivers, and parents play a critical role in providing safe and interesting opportunities for children to play and socialize with others. 

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

What is Motor Planning

motor planning

You may have heard the term motor planning but wondered what this means and what does it look like to utilize motor planning skills in everyday activities. Here, we are breaking down this important motor skills topic. Occupational therapists are skilled at analyzing movements and underlying skills needed to perform the things we do each day, or the tasks that occupy our time, and establishing an efficient and coordinated motor plan is one of the main aspects of this assessment. 

Motor planning

Motor Planning

When we perform an action, there are movements of our bones, joints, and muscles that enable our bodies to move. It’s through this movement that the body and brain receives feedback, or a motor concept that tells the brain and body that we have moved in a certain way in order to accomplish a specific action. This is the motor plan for that particular task at work!

Let’s look at a child’s motor skills in a specific action to really explore this concept. 

Ok, so you’re walking along a hallway with an armful of bags and see a ball in your path. You walk around it and continue walking. But, hold on. That was a pretty cool ball. It was all red and shiny. It looked like a really fun ball to bounce. You stop, turn around, walk back to the ball, stoop down, put down your bags, and pick it up. Woah. It’s not only red and shiny, but it’s a little heavy too. 

It takes a bit more muscle oomph than you were expecting. You hold your arm up high, with the ball up over your head. Totally not a baseball player’s pose, but all awkward and kid-like. You know. Pure fun throwing. 

You toss that red, shiny, heavy ball as hard as you can towards a big old blank wall on one of the hallway walls. Now watch out! That red, shiny, heavy ball is bouncing around like crazy! 

It’s bouncing off of the wall and right back at you! You jump to the side and then to the left and right as it bounces back and forth between the walls of that hallway. You have to skip to the side to avoid your bags. 

The ball stops bouncing and rolls to the side of the hall. 

Well, that was fun. You pick up the ball and hold it while you gather your bags. Now, you see a boy coming down the hall who sees that red, shiny, heavy ball in your hand and says, “Hey! There’s my ball!” You smile and toss the ball as he reaches out his hand and catches. “Thanks!!” he says as you wave and start walking down the hall again.

What is Motor Planning? Tips and Tools in this post with a fun fine motor motor planning (dyspraxia) activity for kids and adults from an Occupational Therapist

What is Motor Planning?

Motor Planning happens with everything we do! From walking around objects in our path, to picking up items, to aiming and throwing, drawing, writing, getting dressed, and even dodging red bouncy balls…

Motor Planning is defined as the problem solving and moving over, under, and around requires fine motor and gross motor skills and planning to plan out, organize, and carry out an action. We must organize incoming information, including sensory input, and integrate that information into our plan. We need to determine if a ball is heavy or light to pick up and hold it without dropping it.

You might hear of motor planning referred to as praxis. 

Praxis (generally also known as Motor Planning, but also it’s more than simply motor planning…) requires observing and understanding the task (ideation), planning out an action in response to the task (organization), and the act of carrying out the task (execution). A difficulty with any of these areas will lead to dyspraxia in many skill areas. 

Praxis includes motor planning, but also involved is ideation, execution, and feedback, with adjustment to that feedback. You can see the similarities in motor planning, which refers to the conscious and subconscious (ingrained) motor actions or plans.

Motor Planning is needed for everyday tasks. Think about the everyday activities that you complete day in and day out. Each of these actions requires a movement, or a series of movements to complete. There are both gross motor movements, fine motor movements, and posture all working together in a coordinated manner.

There is a motor plan for actions such as:

  • using a toothbrush to brush one’s teeth
  • brushing hair
  • getting dressed
  • putting on a backpack
  • walking down a hallway
  • walking up steps
  • walking down steps
  • holding a pencil
  • writing with a pencil (motor planning and handwriting is discussed here.)
  • riding a bike
  • maintaining posture
  • putting on a coat or jacket (on top of other clothing such as a shirt so that in this case, there isn’t the tactile feedback available of the fabric directly on the skin’s surface)
  • performing sports actions such as swinging a baseball bat or tennis racket, running, or gymnastics like doing a cartwheel

The interesting thing is that a movement plan, or the physical action that is completed whether the action has been performed in the past or if it is a new movement. A motor plan for a new task can be completed without thinking through how to move the body because it is just inherently completed.

When we complete unfamiliar tasks and need to stop and think through how the body needs to move, is when we see inefficient movement, or motor planning issues.

Motor Planning Difficulties

Above, we talked about praxis as another term or way to name the motor plan concept. When there are difficulties with motor planning, we are referring to the opposite of praxis, or dyspraxia. 

 Dyspraxia can be a result of poor sensory integration, visual difficulties, fine motor and gross motor coordination and ability, neural processing, and many other areas.

Motor planning difficulties can look like several things:

  • Difficult ability to complete physical tasks
  • Small steps
  • Slow speed
  • Pausing to think through actions
  • Clumsiness
  • Poor coordination
  • Weakness

These challenges with motor function can exist with either new motor tasks or familiar actions. Deficits are apparent when speed is reduced so that the functional task isn’t efficient, when the motor task is unsafe, or poor completion of the task at hand.

There are diagnoses that have poor motor planning as a component of the diagnosis. Some of these disorders can include:

When motor planning difficulties exist, this can be a cause for other considerations related to movements, and demonstration of difficulties when participating in movement-based activities:

  • challenges in social interactions
  • anxiety
  • behaviors
  • social skills issues

Today, I’ve got a quick and easy fine motor activity to work on motor planning with kids. This activity is part of our 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where we’re sharing fun and frugal ideas for treatment of many OT skill areas with items you might already have in your house.

motor planning activity

Motor Planning Activity

Affiliate links are included in this post. 

Motor planning activity

To make this motor planning activity, you’ll need just a few items: 

  • a clear plastic baggie
  • white crafting pom poms
  • one red pom pom. These are items we had in our crafting supplies, but you could modify this activity to use items you have. Other ideas might be beads, pin pong balls, ice cubes, or any small item.
  1. Fill the baggie with the pom poms and squeeze out the air. 
  2. Seal the baggie.
  3. Use a permanent marker to draw on a maze from one side of the baggie to the other. You can make this as complex as you like. 
  4. Add additional mazes, or two different pom pom colors for the maze. Work the red pom pom from one end of the maze to the other.
Apraxia activity

Squeezing the pom pom is a fine motor work out for the hands. You’ll need to open up the thumb web space (the part of your hand between the thumb and fingers, and use those intrinsic small muscles of the hand. Both of these areas are important for fine motor tasks like coloring and writing.

Use this motor planning exercise as a warm-up activity before writing, coloring, and scissor activities. This is a great activity to have on hand in your therapy treatment bag or to pull out while waiting at the doctor’s office.

Motor planning toys and games

Motor Planning Activities

Looking for more ways to work on dyspraxia with your kids? These are some fun fine and gross motor activities that are fun and creative. 

The best thing about all of them is that they are open-ended. Use them in obstacle courses or in movement tasks to incorporate many skill areas. These are some fun ideas to save for gift ideas. Now which to get first…

Work on fine motor dexterity and bilateral coordination while encouraging motor planning as the child matches colors of the nuts and bolts in this Jumbo Nuts and Bolts Set with Backpack set. The large size is perfect for preschoolers or children with a weak hand grasp.

Practice motor planning and eye-hand coordination. This Button Mosaic Transperent Pegboard is a powerhouse of motor planning play. Kids can copy and match big and bright cards to the pegs in this large pegboard. I love that the toy is propped up on an incline plane, allowing for an extended wrist and a tripod grasp. Matching the colors and placing the pegs into the appropriate holes of the pegboard allow for motor planning practice.

Develop refined precision of fine motor skills with eye-hand coordination. A big and bright puzzle like this Puzzle-shaped Block Set  allows kids to work on hand-eye coordination and motor planning as they scan for pieces, match the appropriate parts of the puzzle pieces, and attempt to work the pieces into place. Building a puzzle such as this one can be a workout for kids with hand and upper extremity weakness.

Strengthen small motor skills. Kids of all ages can work on motor planning and fine motor skills with this Grimm’s Rainbow Bowls Shape & Color Sorting Activity. Use the colored fish to place into the matching cups, as children work on eye-hand coordination. Using the tongs requires a greater level of motor planning.

You can modify this activity by placing the cups around a room for a gross motor visual scanning and motor planning activity. Children can then follow multi-level instructions as they climb over, around, under, and through obstacles to return the fish to their matching bowls.

Encourage more gross motor planning with hopping, jumping, and skipping, or other gross motor tasks. This Crocodile Hop A Floor Mat Game does just that. It is a great way to encourage whole body motor planning and multiple-step direction following.

Address balance and coordination. These Gonge Riverstones Gross Motor Course challenge balance skills as children step from stone to stone. These would make a great part of many imagination play activities as children plan out motor sequences to step, cross, hop, and jump…without even realizing they are working on motor planning tasks.

Introduce multiple-step direction following and motor planning. These colored footprints like these Gonge Feet Markers support direction following skills. Plan out a combination of fine and gross motor obstacle courses for kids to work on motor planning skills.

Make hand-eye coordination fun with challenges. For more fine motor coordination and motor planning, kids will love this Chickyboom Balance Game as they practice fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and about balance and mathematics.

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.

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds for Sensory Play

How to Dye Pumpkin seeds

If you’ve ever carved a pumpkin and wondered how to dye pumpkin seeds, then you are in luck. The occupational therapists know the sensory benefits of lifting and carving a pumpkin, as well as separating pumpkin seeds from the ooey, gooey pumpkin guts. Here, we’re sharing one Fall Bucket List item must-have…dying pumpkin seeds for sensory play, pumpkin seed crafts, and pumpkin seed fine motor tasks! Read on for an easy dyeing method for pumpkin seeds that can be included in occupational therapy Halloween sessions or sent home as a home program for this time of year.

How to dye pumpkin seeds

Add dyed pumpkin seeds to your list of pumpkin activities!

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds

This post on how to dye pumpkin seeds was one we originally created back in 2014. The thing is that colored pumpkin seeds is still just as much fun for fine motor and sensory play as it was years ago!

Dying pumpkin seeds isn’t hard. In fact, the kids will love to get in on the mixing action. They will love to use those dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory bins, for fine motor pumpkin seeds activities, or even Fall crafts like this pumpkin seed craft.

Once you dye the pumpkin seeds, use them for tons of fine motor activities, sensory play activities, and visual motor ideas, like sorting pumpkin seeds. These are fun Fall activities that will stick with kids as a memory!

I love that this recipe is simple because it is a great way to support development of specific skills when kids are involved in making the dyed pumpkin seeds. By getting kids involved in the process, you can work on several areas:

  • executive functioning skills: planning, prioritization, working memory
  • problem solving
  • direction following
  • bilateral coordination
  • safety awareness
  • spatial awareness
  • kitchen tool use
  • fine motor skills
  • functional fine motor skills: opening containers, opening a plastic bag, scooping with a spoon, closing a plastic bag
  • eye-hand coordination skills
  • proprioception skills and body awareness with shaking a bag to coat the seeds completely

We cover how using recipes to develop skills is such a powerful therapy tool in our resources on our blog on life skills cooking activities. It’s simple recipes like this one and others in our cooking with kids resources that pack a powerful punch in developing skill areas.

Be sure to check out this resource on fine motor kitchen activities to better grasp all of the fine motor skills developed through cooking tasks like this pumpkin seed dying task.

We also talked about about these skill areas in our resource on how to dye sand for sensory play.

Colorful Pumpkin Seeds

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We wanted to make a batch of colorful pumpkin seeds with vivid colors, so I wasn’t sure how to dye the seeds to make the colors really pop. We decided to test which method would work to really get the best colors on our pumpkin seeds.

We tested using To make our seeds this year, we used (Amazon affiliate links) liquid food coloring dye and gel food coloring.  In our tests, each type of food coloring worked really well.  

One thing to note is that if you use food coloring, technically, the pumpkin seeds are still edible. This is important if you have a child playing with the seeds that might put them into their mouth.

The problem with roasting the seeds after coloring them is that the colors don’t “stick” as well to the seed, making less vivid colors.  If you are going to roast the seeds so that they are edible for these situation, I would suggest first roasting your seeds and THEN dying them for the brightest colors.

That being said, you don’t NEED to roast the seeds in order to use them for sensory play. As long as the pumpkin seeds are dry, they will absorb the food coloring.

Use these instructions on how to dye pumpkin seeds to make colored pumpkin seeds for fine motor and sensory play with kids.

Materials to Dye Pumpkin Seeds:

To dye pumpkin seeds, you need just a couple of items:

  • raw, clean pumpkin seeds from a fresh pumpkin
  • a plastic bag (sandwich bag or a gallon-sized plastic bag)
  • food coloring
  • paper towels

That’s all of the items you need to dye pumpkin seeds! This is really a simple recipe, and one that is easy to make with kids.

Dying PUmpkin Seeds

To dye the pumpkin seeds, it is very simple:

  1. Put dry pumpkin seeds into a plastic bag.
  2. Add the food coloring.
  3. Seal the bag shut and shake the bag to coat all of the seeds with the food coloring.
  4. Pour the seeds out onto a surface covered with paper towels (A kitchen counter works well).
  5. Let the seeds dry.

Whether you use liquid food coloring dye or gel food coloring, add the seeds to plastic baggies and add the food coloring.  Seal up the baggies, mix the seeds around, (or hand them over to the kids and let them go crazy), and get the seeds coated in coloring.  

For kids that might eat the seeds during play: As we mentioned above, f there are any risks of the child eating a seed during sensory play or crafting, you can first roast the seeds.

  1. Roast the seeds before dying them. Spread the seeds out on aluminum foil spread on a cookie sheet.  
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.  Be sure to check on the seeds often to make sure they are not burning.  
  3. Then dye the seeds using food coloring as described above. If you roast them first, the colors will cover any brown spots.
Wondering how to dye pumpkin seeds and use in sensory play?


Pumpkin Seed Activities

Once you dye the pumpkin seeds, you can use them in pumpkin seed crafts and pumpkin seed activities that foster fine motor development.

Pumpkin Seed Sensory Ideas:

Pumpkin seeds are a great addition to sensory play experiences. Allowing kids to scoop the seeds directly from the pumpkin is such a tactile sensory experience!

But for some kids, that pumpkin goop is just too much tactile input. Using dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play is a “just right” challenge in exposure to carving pumpkins. It’s a first step in the tactile experience.

Some of our favorite ways to use dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play:

  • Use them in a sensory bin
  • Use colorful pumpkin seeds in a writing tray
  • Add dyed pumpkin seeds to a discovery bottle
  • Use rainbow pumpkin seeds on a Fall exploration table

Use the directions listed above to create a set of colored pumpkin seeds. Use the colorful pumpkin seeds in a big pumpkin sensory bin to create a tactile sensory experience. Kids can draw letters in the seeds to work on letter formation. Add this idea to your toolbox of sensory writing tray ideas.

Add a few Fall themed items such as small pumpkins, acorns, pinecones, scoops, and small bowls to the sensory bin activity. Dyed pumpkin seeds are a great sensory bin medium this time of year when making an easy sensory bin.

Dyed pumpkin seeds in a sensory bin

This sensory play activity was very fun.  We couldn’t keep our hands out of the tray as we played and created.

Use dyed pumpkin seeds for sensory play with kids.
Use this recipe for how to dye pumpkin seeds with kids.
Colored pumpkin seeds are great for kids to use in sensory play.

Pumpkin Seed Crafts

Pumpkin seeds are a great fine motor tool to use in crafting.

Try these craft ideas using dyed pumpkin seeds:

Fine motor activity with dyed pumpkin seeds

We used our dyed seeds in art projects first.  Manipulating those seeds is a great way to work on fine motor skills.  Little Sister was SO excited to make art!

Add additional fine motor work by using a squeezable glue bottle to create a pumpkin seeds craft and pumpkin seed art. Squeezing that glue bottle adds a gross hand grasp and fine motor warm-up before performing fine motor tasks.

How to dye pumpkin seeds to use in a Fall mandala craft.

Use dyed pumpkin seeds to make a colorful mandala craft with fine motor benefits. Picking up the pumpkin seeds uses fine motor skills such as in-hand manipulation, separation of the sides of the hand, pincer grasp, open thumb web space, and distal mobility.

Placing the colored pumpkin seeds into a symmetrical pattern of colors promotes eye-hand coordination and visual perceptual skills such as visual discrimination, figure ground, and other skills.

Dying pumpkin seeds is a fun Fall activity for kids.

Little Guy made a gingerbread man.  Because why not??! 😉

Squeezing the glue bottle into a shape and placing the colored pumpkin seeds along the line is another exercise in visual perception and eye-hand coordination.

Colored pumpkin seeds can be used in Fall sensory play and fine motor crafts.

Little Sister made a rainbow with her seeds.

Use colored pumpkin seeds to make a fine motor craft with kids.

How to dye pumpkin seeds for sensory play for kids.

Colored pumpkin seeds are fun for Fall crafts.

Be sure to use your dyed pumpkin seeds for a few fun ideas like these:

Pumpkin activity kit
Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit

Grab the Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit for more coloring, cutting, and eye-hand coordination activities with a Pumpkin theme! It includes:

  • 7 digital products that can be used any time of year- has a “pumpkins” theme
  • 5 pumpkin scissor skills cutting strips
  • Pumpkin scissor skills shapes- use in sensory bins, math, sorting, pattern activities
  • 2 pumpkin visual perception mazes with writing activity
  • Pumpkin “I Spy” sheet – color in the outline shapes to build pencil control and fine motor strength
  • Pumpkin Lacing cards – print, color, and hole punch to build bilateral coordination skills
  • 2 Pumpkin theme handwriting pages – single and double rule bold lined paper for handwriting practice

Work on underlying fine motor and visual motor integration skills so you can help students excel in handwriting, learning, and motor skill development.

You can grab this Pumpkin Fine Motor kit for just $6!

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.

Bone Names Activity for Kids

bone identification activity

As occupational therapy students, we had to learn bone names and all about anatomy and physiology. Naming bones comes in very handy as an occupational therapist! But, if you are working in pediatrics, kids need to learn names of bones, too! For one thing, kids learn bone names in school. But did you consider the interoception aspect to teaching bone names? When it comes to internal feelings or anatomical states that impact sensory processing and internal body actions, learning names of bones supports this awareness of self. Add this fun way to learn names of bones to your anatomy and physiology games!

Use labels to teach bone names with a fun way to learn the names of bones.

Bone Names Activity

Learning human anatomy has a special place in my heart. I mean, those semesters in Human Anatomy, Anatomy lab, and clinical kinesiology bring back fond memories.  

So, when my kids ask questions like how their arm can pick up a sandwich, I have a little fun telling them about bones, joints, and muscles. This bone naming activity is just one fun way to teach bone names and teach kids about anatomy.

(Moving a sandwich is a big deal in our house!)

We’ve done a body part identification activity before, using band-aides, but these labels were a big hit with my kids.  We used them to practice for a test for my big kids.  

My Kindergartner and Second grader had a bones theme in their gym class, we had fun talking about the bones in our body, and made this Bone Identification and movement activity. (It would be great as a skeleton activities for preschoolers, too.

Bones Activity

This bone activity for kids is one they won’t forget…and when teaching human anatomy to kids, it’s one that will stick! The fun stickers help! 🙂

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I threw this activity together really quickly.  We had a few sheets of blank address labels, and I grabbed a red permanent marker.  I made a quick strip across the top and bottom of the address labels and then wrote in black marker, “Hello my name is” with the bone names below.  

If your kids are like mine, they get a kick out of those Hello My Name Is Stickers.  You could use store bought stickers, or just make your own like we did.  

bone identification

While we used this bone identification activity with kids, it would be a great way to learn bones as part of an anatomy and physiology lesson for OT or PT students, too!

This bones anatomy movement and learning activity is perfect for kids or anyone learning human anatomy and bones or musculature. Add this to a health or gym curriculum to learn body parts with kids.

list of bones in human body

After I wrote out the names of the bones, I tested my kids on what they knew. They recalled most of the bones from gym class lessons, but we had a few that needed practicing.  

For the second grade and kindergarten physical education curriculum, they had to know this list of bones in the human body

  • skull
  • humerus
  • radius
  • ulna
  • carpals
  • phalanges
  • clavicle
  • sternum
  • ribs
  • pelvis
  • femur
  • tibia
  • fibula
  • tarsals

Complete List of Bone Names

Above is just a simplified list of bone names, which can be used for teaching kids about the skeletal system. A more complete list is as follows. The bone identification activity shown below can definitely be used for this complete list of bone names and bone types. Classifying and naming the entire skeletal system requires much practice, and as occupational therapists we know the power of multi-sensory learning!

Bones in the skull (includes bones in the head and face):

  • Cranial bones:
    • frontal bones
    • Parietal bone
    • temporal bones
    • occipital bone
    • sphenoid bone
    • ethmoid bone
  • Facial bones:
    • mandible
    • maxilla
    • palatine bone
    • zygomatic bone
    • nasal bone
    • lacrimal bone
    • vomer bone
    • inferior nasal conchae

Bones in the thorax:

  • sternum
  • ribs

Bones in the throat:

  • hyoid bone

Bones in the vertebral column, or spine:

  • cervical vertebrae
  • thoracic vertebrae
  • lumbar vertebrae

Bones in the pelvis:

  • coccyx
  • sacrum
  • ossa coxae (hip bones)

Bones in the legs :

  • femur
  • patella
  • tibia
  • fibula

Bones in the feet:

  • Ankle (tarsal) bones:
    • calcaneus (heel bone)
    • talus 
    • navicular bone
    • medial cuneiform bone 
    • intermediate cuneiform bone 
    • lateral cuneiform bone
    • cuboid bone 
  • Instep bones:
    • metatarsal bone
  • Toe bones:
    • proximal phalanges
    • intermediate phalanges 
    • distal phalanges 

Bones in the middle ears:

  • malleus
  • incus
  • stapes

Bones in the shoulder girdle:

  • scapula or shoulder blade
  • clavicle or collarbone

Bones in the arms:

  • humerus
  • radius
  • ulna

Bones in the hands:

  • Wrist (carpal) bones:
    • scaphoid bone
    • lunate bone
    • triquetral bone
    • pisiform bone
    • trapezium
    • trapezoid bone 
    • capitate bone
    • hamate bone 
  • Palm or metacarpal bones:
    • metacarpal bones
  • Finger bones or phalanges:
    • proximal phalanges
    • intermediate phalanges
    • distal phalanges

Teach kids the names of bones with a bone identification activity.

We had a blast sticking the labels all over ourselves while saying “Hello my name is humerus!” in funny voices.  

While we had the labels on our body parts, we practiced the motions of that bone.  We talked about how that bone could move and what it could do.  

Yes, your humerus has a job in picking up a sandwich! (This is a very important fact when teaching bone names to preschoolers!)

Learn bone names by using this Bone identification activity and sticking bone name stickers onto a doll.
Bone identification activity with a doll.

Even the baby doll got in on the bone labeling action.

Use stickers to learn bone names

How cute are those tarsals??

This bones anatomy movement and learning activity is perfect for kids or anyone learning human anatomy and bones or musculature. Add this to a health or gym curriculum to learn body parts with kids.

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.

Sensory Activities For 1 Year Olds

sensory activities for 1 year olds

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

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

sensory activities for 1 year olds

sensory activities for 1 year olds

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

  • colorful balls
  • muffin tins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peek a Boo Sensory Activity for 1 year olds

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

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

The next sensory activity for baby was a fun one!

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

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

 

 

More sensory activities for babies

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

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

We had a ball!

(couldn’t resist that one…heehee)

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

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

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

Beautiful Oops Activity

folded paper animals

This “Beautiful Oops” activity is a preschool book craft focusing on fine motor skills with a concentration on awareness of differences, making mistakes, and not focusing on specific details, using a creative book activity based on the book, Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg. If you are looking for hands-on book related activities, this one is a big hit!

Beautiful Oops Activity

One part of social emotional development is the ability to “go with the flow”. Allowing ourselves to make mistakes and to adjust is a key part of maturity and a personality trait that can be difficult to teach unless given examples and practice. in this book activity, we read the book, Beautiful Oops! and created folded paper crafts using our mistakes.  

This book craft is part of a series of activities that help kids build social and emotional skills such as:

  • acceptance
  • friendship
  • empathy
  • understanding
  • and other important skills involved with social emotional development.

For more activities that help build these skills, check out the resource, Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance and Empathy.

Beautiful oops activity to make a folded paper giraffe craft

Beautiful Oops Craft

Beautiful Oops book by Barney Saltzberg

  This post contains affiliate links.  

What does Beautiful Oops teach?

Have you read the book, Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg?  This is a book that we completely fell in love with.  The creative process of art spills out over the pages as little (and big) “oops” messes, tears, and folds become art.  While we do many crafts that are focused on an end product, process art is something we love in many creative projects!

Beautiful Oops! is a process art guide book.   As we read the book, one of our favorite pages was the folded corner Oops that became a reason to celebrate with a cute penguin.  We decided to make folded paper animals and couldn’t stop creating!

Folded paper animal crafts for kids based on the book, Beautiful Oops


paper folding activity

To make our folded paper animals, we started with just a few materials. The best thing about this paper folding activity is that there was no “right way” to do the craft. Each paper fold was part of the process art! Just like in the book, Beautiful Oops, any fold, cut, tear, or pasted paper was part of the process to create something beautiful. When an “oops” happened when cutting the paper or folding the paper, it was just part of the fun!

Gather a bunch of materials to make the paper folding activity:

  • Paper- scrap paper, construction paper, cardstock…whatever you have on hand
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Scraps of materials

We started with a big pile of assorted cardstock, a few pair of scissors and some glue.  We started with a fold on the corner of the paper and let our imaginations go!

We cut…

…and cut some more…  

…and folded…

…and glued…

…and added details to our animal creatures.

Beautiful Oops folded paper animal crafts
Folded paper animal crafts based on the book, Beautiful Oops

  We made a feeeew animals.

Folding paper Crafts

Use this craft to build fine motor skills! When kids fold paper, they work on a variety of fine motor skills. Click each link to read more about these specific skills and how they impact function.

Fold paper to work on fine motor skills in the hands.
Monkey bookmark craft

  And then put our folded paper creatures to work holding pages in books!  

Paper bird bookmark craft
Penguin paper craft bookmark

  We had a blast with this book and can’t stop making our oops’ beautiful!   Looking for more activities and crafts based on Beautiful Oops!?  Try these from the Preschool Book Club:

Straw Blow Painting from Homegrown Friends

Painting on torn Newspaper from Buggy and Buddy

Circle and Holes Art from Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

Oops Painting from Mama. Papa. Bubba.

hands-on activities to explore social emotional development through children's books.

Love exploring books with hands-on play?  

Grab our NEW book, Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy, that explores friendship, acceptance, and empathy through popular (and amazing) children’s books!  It’s 50 hands-on activities that use math, fine motor skills, movement, art, crafts, and creativity to support social emotional development.    

GET THE E-BOOK

Get the PRINT BOOK

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.

Container Baby Syndrome

container baby syndrome

If you are a new parent, then you have probably heard that tummy time is important for your baby, but it’s so important to process the concept of container baby syndrome. In this blog post, we are covering container syndrome, what this means, and what you can do to support your most precious little one.

container baby syndrome

What is Container syndrome?

Container Syndrome is a term used to describe the lack of skill in infants who are not allowed ample movement opportunities. Container Baby Syndrome is the result of an infant being placed in a container for an excessive amount of time during the day. 

Importantly, this is not to shame use of baby containers…or to say that use of these items is to be omitted at all costs. It’s important for the wellbeing of the caretaker to put the baby down sometimes! Things need done around the home. Parents need a shower, or some time to themselves. Other children need cared for.

The important thing to know here is that we are talking about constant use of baby holders all the time, during the day and night. Moving the baby from one container to another is the issue.

Constant use of positioners, or devices is what leads to the syndrome known as baby container syndrome, not using some of these items sporadically.

This extended time leads to structural, movement, and behavioral challenges as a result. 

Baby containers include baby equipment and items such as:

  • Restrictive playpen that does not allow for movement
  • Crib
  • Car seats
  • Strollers
  • Bumbo seats
  • Bouncy seats and swings
  • Rockers
  • Nursing cushions
  • Vibrating chairs
  • Jumpers
  • Exersaucers
  • positioning pillows
  • Slings
  • Floor seats
  • Infant swings
  • Walkers
  • Jumpers

The other issue is when the devices are used for nighttime and daytime sleep.

It’s easy to fall into that trap of the newborn sleeping in the rocker chair or bouncy seat because the reclined position puts the upper body into a reclined position, which can help with reflux that a baby might have. The warmth and close sides allow the baby to fall asleep easily. But when the newborn is sleeping in this positioner all night and then wakes for a short period and then goes back to sleep in the same device, is when we see the issues with constant pressure on one side of the head and neck positioning that can lead to issues.

For support and help with newborns not sleeping through the night, be sure to check out our blog post on this topic. Occupational therapy professionals can help with sleep during the newborn stage which impacts so many aspects of functional development and family dynamics.

All of the time spent in these baby containers adds up! When in a positioning device such as the ones listed above, little ones are limited in the motor development that results from stretching, wiggling, turning, reaching, and otherwise moving.

Why Worry About Container Syndrome?

As a new parent, you might be wondering “why can’t I just use the wonderful bouncers, baby rockers, and other entertainment devices for infants and toddlers? After all, I got all of these amazing baby chairs, rockers, and positioners for my baby shower…can’t wait to use them!

Why should I put my baby on the floor? The biggest reason has to do with the benefits to development. Putting a baby in a container such as a jumper, positioning seat, bouncy seat lead to something called container baby syndrome.

It’s understandable why the baby seat or jumper seems like a better option than the floor for a baby. Parents and caregivers have shown a great deal of support for baby “containers” like bouncy seats, Bumbo seats, and activity centers. In fact, these baby holders have become so popular over the years, that a term has been coined; “container baby syndrome”. 

When babies are constantly keep in a space where they cannot freely move, how can they be expected to roll, crawl, or walk, when it is the developmentally appropriate timeframe?

Furthermore, babies need experiences where they can learn from their world in a physical way.

They need to discover “what happens when I move my arm and head like this”?’ Babies may fall over, and have some stumbles along the way, but this is how young children learn about gravity and develop postural stability.

Without those learning opportunities, children will only learn that their seat will catch them from falling, no matter how much they wiggle. 

With fewer movement opportunities, a delay may be seen in typical development and reflex integration. More serious issues may occur when we keep babies still, like a flattened head from lying down (positional plagiocephaly) or a tight neck that reduces head movement (torticollis). 

There is the visual component too. When babies are in a positioner such as a bouncy seat, they are positioned on their back with little to no neck movement. The neck, back, spine don’t receive the time (even minutes) to stretch, turn, and move. But the eyes are limited as well.

When placed on the back in a reclined position, the eyes are not strengthened to look and gaze based on head and neck movements. The eyes may stay in one place and are not challenged to focus on different depths and peripheral stimuli.

Neck movements are limited to turning from side to side, and they eyes tend to follow the neck. This limited eye movement can later impact other areas of development.

Where did container syndrome come from?

In 1992 the “back to sleep” campaign was introduced to lessen the likelihood of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).  While the rate of SIDS went down 50%, (yay!) container syndrome rose 600%, to one in seven babies! 

This is astounding. 

Parents are so nervous about SIDS, they place their babies in various containers most of the day. While this seems a safe, convenient, and supportive option, the use of too many “containers” can lead to container baby syndrome. 

Babies who have not had enough tummy time may resist this at first, giving the false impression that the container is the best place for them. 

What does container syndrome look like?

  • Head Shape Flatness. The back or the side of the head is abnormally flat
  • Facial asymmetry. The sides of the baby’s face may appear unequal as a result of skull deformity and flatness
  • Torticollis. The baby has difficulty turning the head to one side, or keeping the neck and head straight due to muscle tightness on one side of the neck
  • Decreased movement, strength, and coordination -the baby may not be able to roll, sit up, crawl,  lift the head or reach with their arms while on their tummy. 
  • Delayed milestone achievement
  • Speech, sight, hearing, and cognitive problems – Visual skills can be affected such as following moving objects with the eyes and seeing toys from different distances. Hearing can be disordered, as baby does not hear from all angles. Delayed cognitive skills may arise because the infant is not able to problem solve, explore their environment, or develop language skills
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Increased weight/obesity

How to prevent container syndrome in babies

Container baby syndrome is 100% preventable.  If you suspect your baby or a client of yours has symptoms of this syndrome, speak with their pediatrician, get a referral to a physical therapist, and begin working on exercises.

  • Allow baby plenty of supervised free time on a blanket on the floor, or in a large play yard. Encourage tummy time, reaching for toys, exploration.  Some caregivers feel unsure about putting their baby on the floor.  A blanket, sheet, or other floor covering can be placed and washed after usage
  • Limit baby’s exposure to containers. Use only when transporting the baby, or there is truly no other safe option
  • Increase supervised tummy time during the day.  Your baby may cry and resist at first, as this may be difficult or uncomfortable.  Start slowly and persevere. Colleen from the OT Toolbox has a great article on Tummy Time Myths.
  • Hold your infant in your arms, or in a sling for short periods during the day.  This will encourage movement, increased head control, and socialization
  • Rotate baby through various stations and positions during the day. Holding a baby all of the time is not healthy for a growing child either. 
  • Floor Play for Babies is another great resource from your friends at the OT Toolbox
  • Use gates and other borders to secure a safe place for baby to play, away from wandering pets, or siblings who may step on them
  • EDUCATE caregivers and other people about the danger of container baby syndrome. Encourage caregivers to provide opportunities for the baby to explore their environment freely.  Demonstrate tummy time and other appropriate movement experiences

Activities to Prevent Container Syndrome

Now that it is understood that playing on the floor is important, let’s get into the many different ways you can do it! One of the easiest ways to encourage floortime with your baby is to lay a blanket on the floor, preferably with a carpet underneath for comfort, and place a toy or two near the baby.

Depending on their age and abilities, the baby may be totally independent, rolling and playing happily. If the children are younger, or less comfortable playing by themselves, this is a great opportunity for a caregiver to step in. A fair amount of babies do not like being on their tummy for various reasons, including medical or sensory.

Babies who have gastrointestinal issues may be hesitant to engage in tummy time, as it is uncomfortable. Work through these difficulties while encouraging floor play.

How do I keep them safe down there? Prepare a safe and clean environment for movement. This may involve baby gates, barriers, or a large corral to allow freedom of movement, without risking baby falling down the stairs. Lie on the floor yourself and see what is down there at child level. You may be surprised to notice extension cords, small objects, or other unsafe objects while you are down there.

  • 2 months or younger: Talk with your baby, showing them toys, describing them, and giving them to their hand to feel and explore. Sing songs – whatever songs you know! Encourage them to wiggle their arms and kick their legs along with songs, tickles, or kisses. 
  • 3-4 months: Your baby will be able to hold tummy time for a bit longer by now. If they have trouble staying there, lay down with them! Be a part of the team, showing them how fun being on their tummy can be. Babies around this age can reach and bring toys to their mouths, so give them safe opportunities to do so.
  • 5-6 months: Rolling should be part of the baby’s physical development around this time. Encourage this movement by enticing them with something they love. Maybe it’s you, a special toy, the TV remote, or their next bottle. Try singing Five in the Bed. When the song says “Roll over!” show your baby how to roll.  During this time of development, your baby may be moving more than ever. They may even be crawling! Encourage even more floor play with these new skills. As long as the area surrounding them is safe, and you are close by, tons of fun (and important development) can be had!
  • 7-8 months: Just like rolling, encourage crawling by giving the baby lots of space on the floor (that may mean moving aside some furniture) and placing toys or books in various places. There are so many fun games to be played! Playing “Peek-a-boo” where the baby pulls a blanket or towel off to show what’s underneath, is a classic game and critical to development. This teaches baby object permanence. Scatter toys near and far to encourage looking, stretching, and moving.
  • 9-10 months: Around this age, your baby will really be on the go. Maybe a baby obstacle course is up their alley…crawl over mom’s legs, under the coffee table, around the dog, and up the step into the kitchen! Creative barriers and safety gates will likely come into play around this stage to keep young children safe.
  • 11-12 months: Almost one-year-olds may be walking, which means they will likely not tolerate being in a “container” very well anymore. Now that they are cruising on furniture, squatting to pick up toys, and participating more in play, they may likely lead the way! See what your child’s interests are during floor playtime and follow their lead. 

Need more tummy time information?  The OT Toolbox has several articles on baby play that support the development of balance and coordination through play.

Another great resource to read more on how to promote development through play is DIR Floortime as it covers strategies to support development through interest-based play.

The National Institute for Health also has a great resource on tummy time. 

Victoria Wood

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

A final note on container syndrome

While the “back to sleep” campaign has certainly been successful, it is not without pitfalls. The rule of thumb for parenting is;  everything in moderation.  Not too much screen time, sweets, or containers.  Parents do not need to be laden with guilt over container baby syndrome.  Most caregivers are doing the best they can with what knowledge they have.  As they learn more, they will do more.

NOTE* The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.