Identify Emotions with Pumpkin Emotion Faces

pumpkin emotions

This pumpkin feelings activity is an OLD one here on the site. But there is just something fun about pumpkin emotion faces that little ones love! It’s a social emotional activity for preschoolers and toddlers that foster emotional development…with fun and interactive pumpkin feelings!

This fun Fall activity helps with learning to identify emotions using pumpkin emotion faces! It’s a great emotional development activity for toddlers and preschoolers. Kids love moving the faces on the pumpkins and practicing different facial expressions is a bonus.

pumpkin feelings

Pumpkin Emotions Activity

You can use interactive felt pieces to create pumpkin emotions, or facial expressions on pumpkins to create different feelings on the pumpkins. This is a great way for toddlers and preschoolers to play with facial expressions, practice emotions, and put a word to the emotion.

You’ll need just a few items for this activity:

  • Orange poster board
  • Green paint or green marker
  • Black paper
  • Tape

Time needed: 10 minutes

How to Make a Pumpkin Emotions Activity for Preschoolers

  1. Cut out a Pumpkin Shape

    Use orange poster board and cut out a large pumpkin shape. Add a few lines with a black marker for more pumpkin details if you like.

  2. Paint the stem green.

    You could use green paint or a green marker. Or, use green paper and glue the green paper over the stem area.

  3. Cut out face pieces from black paper.

    Cut out circle eyes, a triangle nose, and different smiles. You can create angry eyes, surprised eyes, a circle mouth, a frown, a smile, etc.

  4. Add tape to the back of each pumpkin emotions piece.

    Roll the tape into a donut and stick to the back of each facial expression. You could also use sticky tack.

Identification of Emotions

The tricky part of developing self regulation in preschoolers is the development of an essential skill that impacts self-regulation in later years. Giving young children the words, or the emotion vocabulary, to explain how they feel by identifying emotion faces is the perfect starting point!

That’s where these pumpkin emotion faces come into play!

Young children often have difficulty expressing their emotions.  Recently my 18 month old son has reverted to hitting, screaming, and throwing things, which is part of typical development.

I was trying to think of a way to help him learn how to express himself in a calmer more acceptable manner and that’s how this pumpkin faces emotions activity came to life.  With all the fall fine motor OT activities and Fall-inspired posts lately, I got to thinking about decorating a pumpkin…

First, let’s break down the identification of emotions aspect. 

This is an important developmental process in toddlers and preschoolers. Emotional intelligence is a skill that needs practice to develop, and is essential for social situations, communicating with others, and self-regulation of emotions and feelings. Identifying emotions is one of the first steps for young children.

One way to do this would be to pair the pumpkin feelings activity with a feelings check in. Children could identify their own feelings and match it to the pumpkin facial expressions.

There are ways to support emotions identification in preschoolers, toddlers, and older children:

  • Use this social emotional learning worksheet to help kids match emotions to behaviors and coping strategies.
  • Put words to feelings. Do you feel sad? Are you unhappy? You feel mad. I am happy.
  • Point out facial expressions and emotions in books. Picture books are a great way to talk about emotions and see facial expressions in the context of a story.
  • Another fantastic resource that can help develop social and emotional skills is the activity book, Exploring Books Through Play.

pumpkin emotion faces with a paper pumpkin activity
 
 
Paper pumpkin with a happy face
 
 
 
Preschool pumpkin emotion activity, child places paper pieces on a pumpkin to make a smile

 

 

Identifying and Expressing Emotions with pumpkin Faces

 My 4 year old helped cut out the shapes of the eyes, nose, and mouths. The different shapes and the sturdy paper (we used cardstock) makes this a great scissor skills activity for preschoolers.

After the pumpkin emotion pieces were cut out, we started identifying emotions. Happy, sad, angry, etc. We have a great resource on emotional vocabulary that helps to teach preschoolers about identifying emotions.

Then, we talked about the shapes and what those mouths looked like. We talked about positive and not so positive ways to express our feelings. “When I get sad, it is not OK to hit”. 

At the preschool age it is important for her to be able to express her feelings with words and associate them with how her actions make others feel.  Learning about feelings helps with her social emotional development.

Preschool pumpkin emotions activity using a paper pumpkin
Paper pumpkin with facial expressions
Use a cardstock paper to make a pumpkin and facial expressions for a preschool activity


“This one has a mustache!”

Sad pumpkin face for preschoolers

“This guy is sad because his sister took away his toy.”

Paper pumpkin fine motor activity

Toddler Pumpkin Emotion Activity 

This is also a great activity for helping toddlers build emotional development skills. Toddler play is where all of the development happens, and this activity is a powerhouse.

Toddlers can use the activity for several skills:

  • Spatial relations activities
  • Fine motor skills
  • Working on a vertical surface to develop eye-hand coordination, fine motor work, and core strength
  • Social emotional development

We also had fun lining up the shapes. We had a row of triangles, circles, and ovals.

Another great emotions activity for toddlers and preschoolers are our emotions playdough mats to support naming and identifying emotion names and facial expressions to match the emotion name.

Toddler playing with pumpkin face pieces on a refrigerator.

 For little guy we placed the pumpkin on the refrigerator with a magnet and tape on the back of the shapes.  He had a blast making the pumpkin fall down…over…and over…and over again!  

Toddler copying pumpkin facial expressions playing on a fridge with magnet pieces.

  I would help him put a different shape mouth on the pumpkin and mimic the face. He thought I was pretty silly, but I think he started catching on ūüôā

Toddler copying a surprised pumpkin face

  Surprised face!  

Toddler placing pumpkin facial expression magnets on a fridge.

  This also helps with learning spatial relations and where a nose, mouth, and eyes belong on a face.  He was trying to put the mouth where the nose goes…he will learn eventually!

Toddler moving pumpkin face pieces to make a smile

  We all know that babies and toddlers have feeling just as we as adults do, they just need a little help trying to figure out what they are feeling!  Hopefully this will help my little guy learn to deal with his frustrations a little better…I will keep you posted!

Pumpkins

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Dinosaur Game Kids Love

dinosaur game

If you have kids, you probably have heard of the dinosaur game on Google where a click of a button sends a T-Rex running across the screen. However, we have a dinosaur game that challenged active movement, balance, and gross motor skills. This dinosaur game is a huge hit among kids. It’s a movement-based dinosaur activity that kids of all ages love. If you are looking for creative dinosaur games to use in therapy, at home, or in the classroom, then be sure to add this dinosaur game for kids to your list!

Use the dinosaur game below along with these dinosaur exercises and other dinosaur themed activities in therapy sessions. You can even incorporate handwriting and visual motor skills into dinosaur games with this printable dinosaur visual perception worksheet.

Dinosaur game

Dinosaur Game

The dinosaur game described below is an older blog post here on the website, but it’s a gross motor activity that is well-loved for many reasons.

There is just something about the stomping and roaring of a dinosaur game that takes me back to my own kids at their preschool ages! This is an older post here on The OT Toolbox, but one that is one of my absolute favorites.

This dinosaur game is great for kids who love dinosaurs!

We read the dinosaur book, Dinosaurumpus by Tony Mitton…and created a fun dino game that the kids loved! Our dinosaur movement game inspired tons of giggles and wiggles as we moved our way through this book with a gross motor activity!  

The gross motor coordination tasks and motor planning skills make this dinosaur game the perfect addition to dinosaur physical therapy and dinosaur occupational therapy themes.

When kids play this dinosaur movement game, they build skills in areas such as:

  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Balance
  • Whole body coordination
  • Crossing midline
  • Position changes
  • Heavy work input
  • Proprioceptive input
  • Vestibular input
  • Visual scanning and visual processing skills

The specific activities in the game allow kids to develop skills such as hopping, jumping, twisting, stomping, and other gross motor tasks.

How to Play the Dinosaur Game:

We’ve included Amazon affiliate links in this post for the book and items you’ll need to create the DIY¬†Dinosaur¬†game. ¬† ¬†

Have you read the book,¬†Dinosaurumpus!? ¬†This is a book that is sure to get the kids moving with it’s loud and active rhymes as the dinosaurs dance an¬†irresistible¬†romp.¬†

Using this book and the game you’ll find here together is a great dinosaur game for toddlers and preschoolers to address listening skills, comprehension, and regulation through movement and play.

My kids couldn’t help but move and groove as I read them the story. ¬†We had to make a movement gross motor game to go along with the book! ¬†

We talked about the fact that dinosaurs have big feet and big bodies that sometimes move too fast in the space around them.

This is a great lesson on body awareness that kids can relate to while developing balance and motor planning skills!

 

Dinosaur movement game for kids. This gross motor game is based on Dinosaurumpus the book and is a great activity for auditory and visual recall in kids.

 How to make the Dinosaur Game

You’ll need just a few items to prepare the dino game for use in therapy or at home:

  • Dinosaur printable below
  • Cardstock or cardboard
  • Brad to attach the spinner
  • Mini dinosaur figures

To make the spinner for the dinosaur game:

  1. Make this game easily using our free printable for the game board. We listed out the dinosaurs in the book and the actions they did.    
  2. These went onto a game spinner that I made on  card stock.  
  3. We used dinosaur figures for part of our movement game.  These ones are a great deal!  
Free dinosaur game printable

Dinosaur Game Printable

To play the dinosaur movement game:

This is a dinosaur movement activity for preschool and older aged kids. Use in in the classroom or home as part of a story and reading activity, or use it as a dinosaur brain break in the classroom. 

First print out the free printable.  You’ll also want the game rules for easy play and the spinner piece.  

  1. Print your printable on card stock¬†OR you can use regular printer paper for the game board, but the arrow won’t spin as well. You may want to print the game spinner on paper and then glue to cardboard for more sturdiness during (active) play.¬†Make your game board and ensure the arrow spins using a¬†brass fastener.
  2. One player hides the dinosaur figures around the room or outdoor play area.  
  3. The first player spins the arrow and reads the action.  He or she then races off to find one of the hidden dinosaurs.  
  4. When she finds a dinosaur, she races back and performs the action.  

Hide dinosaur figurines and use them in the dinosaur game for preschoolers and toddlers to develop motor skills.

There will be shakes, stomps, jumps, and TONS of giggles with this gross motor activity!   

We loved this game activity for it’s gross motor action.  It would be a great activity for rainy day fun or indoor play when the kids need to get the wiggles out.  Racing off and remembering the action they must perform requires a child to recall auditory and visual information necessary for so many functional skills.  

Dinosaur game rules for kids
Kids can spin the wheel on the dinosaur game to build gross motor skills.

  We hid the dinosaurs in all sorts of fun spaces in the house.  

Spin the wheel on the dinosaur game to support fine motor skills.
Spin the wheel on the dinosaur game to support fine motor skill development, too.

The dinosaurs in the book, Dinosaurumpus! move a lot!  Get ready for stomping, shaking, diving, dancing, running, jumping, twisting, and spinning!  

Move like a dinosaur with this dinosaur game for kids

My kids love any kind of scavenger hunt game and this one, with its movement portion, was a HUGE hit!

Dinosaur gross motor movement game based on the book, Dinosaurumpus!

 Gross motor skills are important to develop through play.  It’s essential for attention and focus to build core body strength.    

More Gross Motor Games

Looking for more ways to work on gross motor skills like core strength and proximal stability for improved attention and distal mobility?

Some more of our favorite gross motor activities that you will love:  

.

If you are looking for more dinosaur activities for kids, be sure to check out our Dinosaur Jacks activity to promote more motor skills, and our Dinosaur visual perception worksheet to work on visual perceptual skills.

Dinosaur game for kids that is a great preschool dinosaur activity for gross motor skills.

Free Dinosaur Game Printable

Want to play this dino game with kids you work with in therapy or in the classroom? Print off the game pieces using the free printable. Simply enter your email address into the form below to access.

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!

Free Dinosaur Game

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    dinosaur gross motor activities

    Want to use our dinosaur games in your therapy sessions with a dinosaur theme? We’ve pulled together a few dinosaur gross motor activities that you can use to target gross motor skills and development of skills.

    Here are some dinosaur-themed gross motor activities that kids will love…In The Member’s Club, you’ll find a dinosaur therapy theme, with printable handouts, worksheets, crafts, and writing pages. Use them along with these ideas!

    1. Dinosaur Stomp: Have children pretend to be dinosaurs and stomp around like mighty T-rexes or long-necked sauropods. They can make dinosaur noises and use their arms and legs to imitate the movements of different types of dinosaurs.
    2. Dino Obstacle Course: Set up an obstacle course with dinosaur-themed challenges. Children can crawl under “dinosaur caves” (tables or chairs), jump over “lava pits” (hula hoops or cushions), and navigate through “swamps” (pools of pillows or cushions).
    3. Fossil Hunt: Hide dinosaur-themed toys or fossil replicas around a designated area. Children can search for the fossils, using their gross motor skills to move around, crawl, and reach for hidden treasures.
    4. Dino Dance Party: Play lively dinosaur-themed music and encourage children to dance and move their bodies like dinosaurs. They can stomp, sway, and wiggle to the rhythm, pretending to be different types of dinosaurs.
    5. Dino Relay Race: Divide children into teams and set up a relay race. Each team member can carry a toy dinosaur or a picture of a dinosaur as they run or hop from one point to another, passing the dinosaur to the next teammate.
    6. Dinosaur Yoga: Incorporate dinosaur-themed yoga poses into a session. Children can try poses like “T-rex stretch” (standing with arms extended out like T-rex arms), “Dino Egg” (curling up into a ball on the floor), or “Stegosaurus Balance” (standing on one foot with arms extended out for balance).
    7. Dino Limbo: Set up a limbo stick or a dinosaur-themed rope and have children take turns bending backward to go under it, pretending to be dinosaurs crouching or ducking under obstacles.
    8. Dino Footprints: Place large cutouts or drawings of dinosaur footprints on the floor. Children can follow the footprints, jumping from one to another, and imitating the movements of different types of dinosaurs.
    9. Dino Toss: Set up targets with dinosaur pictures or cutouts and have children throw soft dinosaur toys or bean bags at the targets, aiming for accuracy and coordination.
    10. Dino Parade: Lead a dinosaur parade where children can march or walk around, following a designated path, while carrying or wearing dinosaur-themed props or costumes.

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    DIY Light Box for Tracing

    DIY light table for tracing

    This DIY light box for tracing is an easy light box we put together in minutes. All you need is an under the bed storage container and a string of lights to make a tracing tool that kids will love. There are benefits to tracing and this tool is a fun way to build fine motor skills and visual motor skills as a visual motor skill leading to better handwriting.

    DIY light box for tracing

    A light box is a fun activity, and one you see in preschool classrooms, as it’s intended for hands-on play and exploring the senses. But did you know there are many benefits to using a light box for tracing (and other exploring play)?

    How to Make a DIY Light Table for Tracing

    This DIY Light Box was something I’ve seen around Pinterest and have wanted to try for a while…Once we had our Christmas lights outside, I thought we would definitely be doing this project after we pulled all of the lights back in.  So, after we brought the Christmas lights in from the outside bushes, this was easy to put together for a cold evening’s play!

    You need just two items to make a DIY light table:

    (Amazon affiliate links)

    1. Strand of white Christmas lights
    2. Clear, plastic under-the-bed storage bin

    Important: The under the bed storage bin needs to be made of clear plastic or have just a slight opaque color to the plastic. Also, the top should be smooth. Many storage bins have textured surface or a white surface. The flat, smooth lid is important for sensory play as well as tracing with paper on the DIY light table. This brand is a good one to use.

    Instructions to make a DIY light box:

    1. Plug in the lights.
    2. Place them into the bin.
    3. Either cut a hole in the base of the bin for the lights to go through or cut a small notch into the lid so the strand of lights can go under the lid.

    To make this homemade light box safer and not use plug in lights, you can use battery operated button lights inside the storage bin. Or, there are many battery operated LED lights available now too. These are a great idea because many of them have a color-changing capability and can be operated from an app on your phone.

    IMPORTANT: This homemade light box project should always be done under the supervision of an adult. The lights can get warm inside the bin and they should be unplugged periodically.

    This is not a project that should be set up and forgotten about. The OT Toolbox is not responsible for any harm, injury, or situation caused by this activity. It is for educational purposes only. Always use caution and consider the environment and individualized situation, including with this activity. Your use of this idea is your acceptance of this disclaimer.

    I put all of the (already bundled-up) strands of Christmas lights …seriously, this does not get much easier…into an under-the-bed storage bin, connected the strands, and plugged in!

     

    DIY light box for tracing

    A DIY light box made with Christmas lights
     

    Once you put the top on, it is perfect for tracing pictures!
     
    Tracing on a DIY light box
     
     

    Tracing pictures on a light table

     
    This is so great for new (or seasoned) hand-writers.  They are working on pencil control, line awareness, hand-eye coordination…and end up with a super cool horse picture they can be proud of!
     
    Use printable coloring pages and encourage bilateral coordination to hold the paper down. You can modify the activity by taping the coloring page onto the plastic bin lid. 
     
    Tracing a picture on a DIY light table
     
     Big Sister LOOOOVED doing this!  And, I have to say, that she was doing the tracing thing for so long, that we had to turn the lights off because the bin was getting warm. 
     
     
     
    trace letters on a light table
     

    Other ways to use a DIY Light Table

     
    We went around the house looking for cool things to place on top of the bin.  Magnetic letters looked really neat with the light glowing through…Baby Girl had a lot of fun playing with this.
     
    You can add many different items onto the DIY light table:
    • Magnetic letters (the light shines through them slightly)
    • Sand for a tracing table- We cover how to use a sand writing tray in another blog post and all the benefits of tracing in a sensory medium. With the lights under the tracing area, this adds another multisensory component to the learning.
    • Shapes (Magnatiles would work well)
    • Feathers
    • Coins
    • Blocks
    • A marble run
     
    letters on a light table
     
    What a great learning tool…Shapes:
     
     
    Letter Identification, spelling words:
     

     Color and sensory discrimination:
     
     
     
    …All in a new and fun manner!  We had a lot of fun with this, but have since put our Christmas lights back up into the attic.  We will be sure to do this one again next year, once the lights come back out again ūüôā
     

    Please: if you do make one of these light boxes, keep an adult eye on it, as the box did warm up…not to burning warmth, but I would worry about the lights becoming over heated.  This is NOT something that kids should play with unsupervised!

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

    Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

    Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

    Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

    Functional Play

    Functional play

    Play is the primary role of the child and so in In this blog post, we are covering functional play to support development using toys you might find in most households. Occupational therapy supports the development of individuals across the lifespan and when working with children, the main tool for supporting development of skills is functional play. Not only for young children, but throughout the lifespan there is functional play. We cover more on OT play interventions in our occupational therapy play post.

    Functional play

    Today we are talking about using everyday toy items in developing skills in therapy sessions or at home, all to promote child development.

    What is functional play?

    Functional play refers to using toys, objects, and items designed for play in their intended function to participate in play as an occupation. There are many types of play and the various functional play skills promote development in young children. Play age and stage makes a difference in the development of functional play. 

    For example, functional play is:

    • Building blocks into a tower or other imaginative construction
    • Coloring with crayons
    • Driving matchbox cars along the floor
    • Swinging a bat to hit a ball
    • Kicking, throwing, or rolling a ball
    • Pushing a doll in a play stroller
    • Using a volleyball to play a volleyball game

    Many toys can be used in ways different than their intended nature. We see this a lot in occupational therapy sessions where we think outside the box with the toys we have on hand. Toys are used in ways not exactly inline with their function, or the reason why they were created.

    • We use blocks or jump ropes to make an obstacle course path.
    • We make playdough using crayons.
    • We stack kitchen containers.
    • We climb up the slide.

    Each of these examples stretches the object’s typical use into other ways to play.

    Functional play is neither right, or wrong.

    It’s good and natural to think outside the box. Functional play offers tools for healthy development in children. The opposite of functional play, or using those very same toys in ways that they were not intended is healthy for the development of children, as well!

    Like many homes, ours has lots of children’s toys in random locations. Books under the coffee table. Light up balls in the hallway. Sports equipment by the door.

    But.  Then I remember the function that all of these toys brings to my children.  These plastic pieces, wooden blocks, and little figures are tools for learning and development.  They are the tools of functional play!

    We all use toys, tools, equipment, and materials in functional play.

    Types of Functional Play

    The types of play change over the course of development. Broken down, play includes these various stage of play as a developmental progression:

    We can break down each form of play into play activities that utilize the levels of play as a powerful tool to support development. In each level listed above, you’ll see components:

    • Creative play
    • Communication play
    • Movement-based play
    • Socio-dramatic play
    • Dramatic play
    • Imaginative play
    • Explorative play
    • Fantasy play
    • Mastery play
    • Role play
    • Historical play

    How do kids use basic toys in imagination, language development, social skills, fine motor strength, sensory integration, gross motor development, and problem solving?  

    Toys are tools of function and help to develop a child’s skills in so many areas.  Grab a cup of coffee, move the ninja turtles from their couch battle scene, and read on!

     

     

     

    Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.

     

     

     

    The Function of Play in Kids

    In Occupational Therapy, probably one of the most asked questions is, “What is Occupational Therapy?” Since hanging up my graduation cap over 15 years ago, I’ve probably answered this question a few zillion times. ¬†
     
    Occupational Therapy is rehabilitation and treatment of activities of a person’s daily living skills and occupations in order to improve function. ¬†A child’s occupations are learning to get themselves dressed, feeding themselves, and play, (among other things and depending on their age)! ¬†
     
    Whatever is important to a person, whether it be interests or to function throughout a day, is what an Occupational Therapist can work on in therapy services. 
     
    “Play is a child’s work.” ¬†It’s a phrase coined by Maria Montesorri, and a concept developed by ¬†Jean Piaget. ¬†Through play, children learn, develop, and integrate their systems and functional abilities. ¬†
     
    Today, I’m going to share how children can use those random toys scattered all over the house in development and learning.


    But first, here are a few easy play ideas we’ve shared on the blog using toys you probably have around the house:

     

    Build a Tinker Toys Pulley system and explore STEM concepts in learning with kids.Toys that will help improve pencil graspUse this gift guide to help kids who need tools and toys to help with attention and focus in the classroom, school, or at home.Hand strengthening activity for kids to play and create buildings with a asimple, no-prep activity. This is perfect for a busy bag activity for kids to do while waiting at restaurants or other places.  Also tips and ideas to work on intrinsic hand strengthening in kids, from an Occupational Therapist.

     

     

    The Role of Play for Children

    From infancy, play is a way of learning and developing skills.  A baby reaches for a rattle and discovers that their arm can move intentionally.  
     
    The sound, weight, and texture of a rattle integrates into the child’s central nervous system and establishes neural pathways. ¬†
     
    This early sensory integration and every interaction with the environment helps to work on sensory processing in a child.  As a child ages, they bounce, run, jump, and LOVE to play; their body seeks play.  
     
    From 0-2, play is solitary.  They are experiencing tastes, touch, sights, sounds, and smells.
     
     
    A one year old repeats the same play actions over and over again in play routines.  Peek-a-boo and putting blocks into a basket over and over again helps the child to master physical and sensory skills.  
     
    They develop problem solving, cause and effect, direction following, and a sense of self.
     

    Functional Play for a Baby is:

    • Peek a boo games
    • Board books with an adult
    • Cloth toys
    • Teething toys
    • Texture toys
    • High contrast toys
    • Play mats
    • Floor play
    • Balls and sorting toys
     
    Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.
     
     
     

    Functional Play for Toddlers

    Toddlers begin to imitate, pretend, and play with others. ¬†Pretend play encourages language, emotional exploration, and “job” scenes. ¬†Through pretend play, children build social skills. ¬†
     
    They can lead scenes, take turns, follow directions, explore empathy, gain more of a sense of self, build self-confidence, while working on tool use, clothing fasteners, and building and developing fine and gross motor skills.
     
    Toddlers explore their environment by walking an finding things, putting things into containers, rolling things, throwing things, turning pages, and examining the inside and outside of things.  
     
    From 2 to 2.5, children observe others but do not play with them. Kids aged 2.5-3 play alongside other children, but not with them in social situations. Starting at 3, children often times begin to interact with others in their play.  
    • Bath toys
    • Scribbling with crayons
    • Putting toys into a sorter
    • Rolling a ball
    • Carrying a bag full of toys
    • Pushing a toy shopping cart
    • Cause-effect toys
    • Board books
     
    Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.
     

    Functional Play for Preschool

     
    In Preschool aged children, kids play together with shared roles. They are curious and love to explore stories about animals and people.  
     
    Crayons, paints, scissors, clay, sand, dirt, and other things are fun!  
     
    Running, jumping, tumbling, rolling, and spinning provide movement and heavy work fun.  
     
    Functional play in the preschool years includes:
    • Pretend play with baby dolls, figures, cars
    • Building with blocks
    • Coloring with crayons
    • Painting¬†
    • Cutting with scissors and snipping paper
     
    Preschoolers love to mix and feel how things are as they explore.  Around three and four years old, imaginations begin to become awesome as they tell stories! 
     
    Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.
     

    Functional Play for School Aged Children

     
    School-aged children build cognitive skills in games as they problem solve, establish executive functions, share, build relationships, take part in winning/losing situations, and establish complex roles with other children.  
     
    They are constructive with tools, projects, and toys. 
     
    Functional play for school aged children includes:
    • Board games
    • Crafts
    • Drawing activities and supplies
    • Sports games and sporting events
    • Video games
    • Books

    Functional Play for Teenagers

    Teenagers are involved in play, too! Even during the teens, children are developing skills in executive functioning skills, and refining motor skills, motor planning, and skill use. 

    This is good information for occupational therapy for teenagers in middle school or in high school. We cover specifics in this post on middle school occupational therapy.

    Functional play in the teenage years includes:

    • Board games
    • Books
    • Video games
    • Social activities
    • Crafts
    • Cooking activities

     

    What do we learn from Functional Play?

    Play happens naturally.  A child is led to perform instinctive physical milestones through play.  
     
    A baby rolls over to reach that brightly colored shaky toy.  
     
    A toddler pushes a car around the house while crawling on all fours, providing himself with vestibular and proprioceptive input and strengthening to the arms and neck. Read here about crawling as a functional play tool and mobility as independent activity for young children.
     

    There are so many benefits to play! Just some of those naturally occurring skills include:

    • Problem-solving skills
    • Functional task practice
    • Fine motor skills
    • Gross motor skills
    • Practicing communication skills and vocabulary
    • Working through behaviors in a low-stress environment
    • Reinforcement of skill development
    • Understanding the world around the young child and getting a sense of the world as it occurs through practice
    • Repetition of skill performance through repetitive actions
    • Exploring one’s surroundings
    • Executive functioning
    • Visual motor skills
    • Hand-eye coordination
     
    These play situations happen naturally and purposefully (even if the kiddo doesn’t realize that his body is seeking out certain sensory situations!) ¬†Play should happen naturally, but there are ways to work on skill areas through play.¬†
     
    How can you build on natural play instincts with toys you already have in your house to work on developmental areas or Occupational Therapy goals?  
    • Use a child’s interests to create pretend play situations.¬†
    • Model appropriate language or problem solving.¬†
    • Encourage imitation of actions using cars or action figures. ¬†
    • Work on arm strength and shoulder girdle strength by pushing cars up a ramp. ¬†
    • Provide proprioceptive situations by playing and building couch cushion forts for dolls. ¬†
    • Respond to attempt to communicate in pretend play with animal figures. ¬†
    • Encourage turn-taking.
    • Allow your child to “lead” a play situation.
    • Encourage grasp development with toy manipulatives.
    • Discus social interactions with small figures in small worlds, like this¬†outdoors small world scene.¬†
    • Work on multi-step direction following in a pretend play situation where the bug needs to hop on the block, then go around the sticks, and get food from under the rock.

    Functional Play Toys

    The benefits of functional play occur in the natural environment for the child: the home, playground, outside, in the school classroom, etc. Play happens everywhere! So what are some functional play toys that can support this aspect of development?

    Try these toy ideas:

    • Legos
    • blocks
    • play dough
    • An empty cardboard box (great for creative play)
    • art supplies and a piece of paper
    • Playground equipment such as a swing and slide

    The benefits of play does not need much! You can foster higher-level skills with simple materials.

    What are your child’s favorite play figures or¬†imaginative¬†toys? ¬†
     
    This post is part of my 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where I’m sharing ways to work on common Occupational Therapy treatment areas using every day, free, or almost free materials.¬†
     
    Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.
     
    You will love some of these play and developmental ideas!
     
     

    Baby Play Ideas for babies and toddlers
    Toddler Play Ideas for kids aged 2-4
    School-Aged play ideas for educational learning

    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!

    Be sure to grab these printable Valentine’s Day cards, too!

    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!

    One great tool is our Valentines Day I Spy activity for visual motor and fine motor skill-building.

    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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs Day book for kids is just that. One Zillion Valentines is one children‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs Day Fine Motor Kit now, you‚Äôll 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 has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to 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. This play age is when we see a lot of growth.

    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, ‚ÄúParallel 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.‚ÄĚ 

    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‚Äôt 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‚Äôre 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‚Äôs not only red and shiny, but it‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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, ‚ÄúHey! There‚Äôs my ball!‚ÄĚ You smile and toss the ball as he reaches out his hand and catches. ‚ÄúThanks!!‚ÄĚ 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‚Ķ

    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‚Äôve 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‚Äôre 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‚Äôll 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‚Äôll 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‚Ķ

    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‚Äôs 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‚Ķwithout 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 has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to 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

    This post contains affiliate links.

    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??! ūüėČ

    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 ‚Äúpumpkins‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúI Spy‚ÄĚ sheet ‚Äď color in the outline shapes to build pencil control and fine motor strength
    • Pumpkin Lacing cards ‚Äď print, color, and hole punch to build bilateral coordination skills
    • 2 Pumpkin theme handwriting pages ‚Äď 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 has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.