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.  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

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.

Small World Play Ideas

small world play

There is just something about small world play as a sensory play activity that supports skill development. Occupational therapy and play go hand in hand. When kids participate in small work play, they are building skills in creativity, fine motor skills, sensory exploration, communication, self-confidence, and so much more. Here, you’ll find small world play examples and ideas to support development in these areas.

small world play

Small World Play

Before we go further, let’s cover exactly what we mean by small worlds.

A small world is a play activity on a small scale. Kids interact with the miniature toys, small sensory tables and use imaginative play to explore and pretend on a smaller scale.

A small world can be set up in a variety of ways:

  • In a sensory bin
  • In play dough
  • On a train table or other low table
  • In a cardboard box
  • In a low tray
  • On the ground

One way to think about small worlds is a fairy house: Kids set up a fairy house area under a tree or in a corner of the yard. They can move and manipulate items to use in pretend play: natural material or commercial fairy houses, small objects like pebbles, sticks, bark, and fairy objects. These items are all part of the fairy small world.

Why Set up a Small World Play Area?

When kids play in a small world, they develop many areas.

Most likely to develop is fine motor skills, but other areas can develop, too:

  • Precision
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Finger isolation
  • Hand strength
  • Visual motor skills

small world play ideas

There are items your can use from around the home to use in small worlds. Here is a list of items to gather when creating a little world:

  • Container: bin, box, sensory table, etc.
  • River rock
  • Mini figures: animals, farm sets, train sets, dolls, etc.
  • Sand
  • Fake flowers
  • Craft materials
  • Play dough
  • Beads
  • Sensory dough or slime

The options are basically limitless when it comes to setting up a small area. Use the examples below to spark more ideas.

Small World Play Examples

Our kids love small world play.  We’ve done so many activities that involve little worlds of imagination and pretend.  Small world activities foster language development, story telling, self-confidence, fine motor skills, sensory exploration, and more. 

Outdoor small world– We set this activity up under the base of a tree. Use materials like sticks, flowers, rocks, pebbles, roots, grass, etc.

Fairy small world– set up a fairy pretend area in a sand box. Use items like craft houses, rocks, and even glittery items.

Cardboard box pretend play– Use a cardboard box for a pretend play area.

Bug small world– Use plastic bugs and a sensory bin to pretend.

Construction Sensory Table by Preschool Powol Packets  

Camping Small World by Fantastic Fun and Learning  

Erupting Volcano Science Dino Play by Adventures at Home with Mum  

Toddler Tuesday: Sensory Sink by Teaching Mama  

Dinosaur Volcano Science Sensory Bin by Little Bins for Little Hands   You also might like:

Dinosaur Small World Activity

Small World Play Dough Farm

Animals at the Lake

Bunny Small World Play

 
 
 
 
 

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.

Truths About Toddlerhood The OT Wants You To Know

toddlerhood

The toddler years can be a struggle! From the age of one year to 3 years, toddlers grow and develop immensely. But when parents are in the midst of toddlerhood, it can seem like the never-ending tantrums, meltdowns, sometimes crazed attempts at independence, and picky eating, sleep issues, etc… never end. Not to mention learning new words (with little-to-no filter), sleep changes, appetite and eating considerations, toddler years can be a real challenge to parents. But as an occupational therapist, there is a very real developmental need for these toddler antics.

Toddlerhood gets a bad rap with terms like the “terrible twos” and the “three-nager years”. But is it all bad? Here’s what your friendly OT wants you to know…

Strategies for toddlerhood

Toddlerhood Development

So, what is it about the toddler years? These cute packages of rolly, squishy, no-longer babies are little people with BIG emotions, BIG personalities, and BIG smiles. Some of the sweetest memories I have from when my kids were younger come from the toddler stage, when little voices pronounce words totally incorrectly…but in the cutest way possible. Those big teethy smiles and non-stop play was nothing but learning and developing skills.

As a mom, I loved to watch my littles learn. I loved to kiss their sweet heads to sleep each night. Oh, there were meltdowns, demanding, whining breakdowns that these cuties experienced (daily). There were messes, spills, diaper issues, and the house was in a constant state of disaster zone.

But as the occupational therapist? I knew this was all part of the stage of development and toddlerhood means messy repetition. (i.e. Yes, we will need to practice cleaning up blocks 37 times a day. Yes, we will do it again tomorrow).

But, from that perspective of a pediatric developmental professional, there is so much more to say about the toddler years. ALL of that pushing buttons, whining, changing minds, meltdowns, carrying purses full of toys, getting into the kitchen cupboards, streaking naked through the house…it’s all essential toddler development! Really!

We have a great resource on child development that covers developmental milestones. From that blog post, you’ll discover the toddler developmental stages that occur from 1-3 years.

This developmental checklist can help to define specific milestones.

Early childhood is a critical time when children develop skills they will use throughout their lives. These areas of development include:

  • physical
  • cognitive
  • communication/language
  • emotional
  • social skills

It is during the first years of life that children show a tremendous level of growth in each of these areas.

Occupational Therapy and Toddlerhood…

As a pediatric OT, there are a few sticking points that is important to remember.

The toddler years get a bad rap for behaviors, saying “no”, tantrums, going “boneless” as we used to say about sudden tantrums where the toddler flops on the floor in refusal for some task, activity, or thing like getting dressed.

But, here are a few things about the “good” of toddlerhood…

  1. Have patience with your toddler.

Because of the tremendous amount of development, it is easy to become overwhelmed by skills (running, hopping, getting dressed, manipulating toys and materials, self-feeding…the list goes on and on!) Plus, young children want to exhibit independence in these areas. They want to do what mom or dad or big siblings are doing, but they may not have the skills to do so. Frustration ensues!

Things to remember is that the child is developing in all of these areas at once. By watching routines, listening to parents talking, watching siblings, they learn to throw, carry, put away, wash, color…these are multi-faceted skills. There is sensory, motor, cognitive, visual all happening at once with daily tasks.

Plus, the cognitive development occurring at the same time means that following directions are not always on target with what the small child wants to do. They want a piece of toast for breakfast. Then they don’t. It can be easy to lose patience as the toddler has a tantrum on the floor, but they are managing emotions, thought processes, decisions, and communication challenges all at once. It can be a lot to process! Be patient as the adult in the situation.

Patience is key as your little toddler develops skills at the rate that is right for them.

That brings us to our next point.

2. Remember that each child is different.

Toddlers grow and develop at a fairly predictable course and rate. There are general developmental expectations that happen during the toddler years, called developmental milestones. However, not all child achieves these milestones at the same time. And that’s ok!

It can be easy to become upset as a parent when a friend’s child achieves skills or abilities. Remember that each child is on their course of development. From birth to three years, a child visits the pediatrician many times.

You’ll experience many questions on development during those visits, where the doctor or staff ask about milestones. If there is a concern with development, or evident delay, this is where you can explore services to support needs.

Even through each toddler is different and development occurs in different stages, it’s all part of showing independence. This can mean picky eating, throwing food, saying “NO!” or any other aspect of showing independence.

3. Development occurs through play.

Occupational therapy practitioners use play as a tool to promote more play! And it’s through play that toddlers develop skills.

It’s through play that toddlers achieve stability, build relationships with parents, siblings, and others.

They test boundaries and explore the world around them.

Play offers opportunities to use their reflexes, transform motor skills, and distinguish refined motor skills (i.e. using their arms and legs to achieve a desired action such as getting up those stairs!)

Sensorimotor skills expand and toddlers gain control in play objects and tool use; They begin to use crayons, spoons, forks, and manage clothing.

Young children are fascinated by mastering new skills and learning new things. You might see them drawn to activities or experiences that offer sensory experiences, are repetitious, or involve exploration. But even though novel opportunities support child development, routine is essential.

Read about the power of play for more ideas to support your toddler.

Physical Development during toddlerhood

Going back to the development aspect, you can generally expect to see the following skills developed during toddlerhood:

12-18 months

  • First steps
  • Walking
  • Climbing stairs

18-24 months

  • Running

24-36 months

  • Jumping
  • Begin to ride a tricycle

3 years

  • True run with both feet leaving the ground
  • Walk upstairs with alternating feet
  • Walk downstairs
  • Able to remove most clothing

Cognitive Development During Toddlerhood

From 1-3 years of age, so many cognitive skills are built and expanded upon. You’ll notice in the list below that many of these cognitive skill components are grounded in play. Remember that play builds skills! Let’s break down the skills by age:

12-18 months

  • Includes others at recipients of play behaviors
  • Imitates new behavior

18-24 months

  • Demonstrates invention by combining mental combinations
  • Finds hidden objects (separation skills)
  • Shows differed imitation
  • Uses toys or dolls in pretend play

24-36 months

  • Substitutes objects in pretend play
  • Integrates themes in play

3 years

  • Begins operational thinking
  • Counting words up to 5
  • Can solve nesting cup problems

Language Development for Toddlers

The first few years are a huge time for development of receptive language and expressive language. Here are some specifics:

12-18 months

  • Expresses self through jargon, sounds, cries

18-24 months

  • Understands multi-word phrases/sentences
  • Uses multi-word phrases to express thoughts (“Me up” to indicate a desire to be picked up; “Mommy go” to indicate that mommy has left the house)

24-36 months

  • Initiates a conversation with words or phrases
  • Uses 2 part sentences or phrases (“Me go home.”)

3 years

  • Understands positional terminology (in, on, under)
  • Uses more complex sentences
  • Distinguishes between images and words or text on paper or in books
  • Begins to generalize rules for verb tenses and using plurals

Toddler Social-Emotional Development

Social emotional development occurs even from the young age in toddler years. Social skill development occurs through interaction with others, play, and day to day tasks. Here are some milestones you may see:

12-18 months

  • Experiences peak of separation anxiety

18-24 months

  • Demonstrates less separation anxiety
  • Begins to show empathy for another person, animal, toy

24-36 months

  • Begins to respond with empathy to another person’s distress
  • Includes others in pretend play

3 years

  • Shows physical aggression over verbal aggression when distressed or upset

Toddlerhood Tips

So, how can you and your toddler thrive during these hectic years? A pinch of patience, play, play, and more play! We actually have actionable strategies over on our toddler play page, including fun ways to play with your toddler that inspire development.

Some quick tips (described in more detail over on that main toddler page) include:

  1. Meet the level of the child.
  2. Set up a toddler safe space.
  3. Be a balanced play partner.
  4. Enjoy & have fun with the play.
  5. Limit screens. (Or use in moderation.)

Transforming Toddlerhood With Play

Ask any occupational therapist and you’ll see that play is the way and the means to develop skills during these years. Looking for therapist-approved activities to inspire learning through play for toddlers? These are some of our favorite ideas:

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.

Apple Brain Breaks

apple brain breaks for kids

These Apple Brain breaks are a resource that has been popular on the site for many years. During the fall months, all things apple theme is the way to go, so when it comes to adding themed resources into a Fall, harvest, farm, or back-to-school theme, apple themed exercises and movement activities are the way to go!

Apple brain Breaks

Many of you have used the brain break activities that we have here on the OT Toolbox help kids focus and pay attention in the classroom environment. Movement in the classroom is helpful for learning and helping kids with movement needs such as fidgeting or attention. The brain break activities listed below can go along really nicely with an apple theme. Try adding the Apple themed brain breaks in between activities, lessons, and other classroom tasks.

Apple themed brain breaks can be a great way for kids to extend on an Apple theme activity while adding movement into the classroom.

Other brain breaks you might enjoy include:

Apple Theme Brain Breaks

apple brain breaks for kids

Looking for brain break videos for the classroom or home? Here are the best brain break videos on YouTube.

Related read: These visual perception apple theme shape stamps are a perfect way to work on visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills with DIY stampers.

Apple themed brain breaks for kids to use in the classroom or as part of an apple theme in learning and play.

How to Use Apple Brain Breaks

Get this list of apple theme activities as a printable sheet to use in the classroom. Print them off, glue them to cardstock or index cards and laminate for durability. Kids can complete apple brain breaks as a group or individually.      

In the PDF below, you’ll find printable cards that you can cut out and use over and over again as a movement break for kids. Other ways to use these fall brain breaks?

  • Incorporate into an apple tree life cycle curriculum or any apple lesson plan
  • Use with talking about Johnny Appleseed during the Fall months
  • Use as a Johnny Appleseed game
  • Add to a harvest theme or visiting the Farm during the Fall
  • Use as a transition activity between classroom activities
  • Use along with our Fall sensory stations kit (another great Fall brain break!)
  • Indoor recess activities during the Fall months
  • Great for waiting activities or transitions in an apple themed classroom!
  • Use when waiting periods during classroom breaks
  • Add as sensory motor activities to promote attention, focus, re-direction, or needed heavy work input

These apple theme exercises can be added to a weekly therapy theme when planning occupational therapy lesson plans, and then individualized based on the child’s needs and interests.

Apple Exercises

The brain break cards include activities like these ones. These apple theme exercises can be adapted or modified as needed to meet specific needs.

Here are some apple think brain break activities that can be used at movement into the classroom using an Apple theme:  

1.) Reach and climb- Ask students to stand up beside their desks and pretend to climb a ladder. Students can reach up high with alternating arms as they climb in place. Imagine climbing up a ladder to reach the top of an apple tree.

2.) Pick apples- Ask students to imagine reaching up to grab an apple from an apple tree’s branch, and  then bend down to drop it into a basket. Ask students to repeat this motion repetitively reaching up high and then bending down low to the ground.

3.) Peel and toss apples- Ask students to imagine peeling an apple as they roll their arms over and over again at the elbows. Then ask them to toss an imaginary apple into a bucket. They can imagine the buckets are at different levels and distances as they pretend tossing apples. Continue this exercise for one minute.

4.) Apple dash – Ask students to run in place and imagine running at an apple farm. Students can pretend they are delivering bushels of apple from a tree to a barn as they run in place while carrying an imaginary bucket. Ask them to imagine hopping over logs or running faster or slower.

5.) Make a pie- Ask students to imagine picking an apple and buffing it with their sleeve. Ask them to buff an apple on their left sleeve and then their right sleeve. Doing this activity encourages crossing of the midline. They can then pretend to slice the apple, roll out dough, pour the apple slices into the pie pan, and putting the pie into an oven.

6.) Apple spell- Ask students to form the letters used to spell the word “apple” using their arms and legs. To make an “A”, the student can reach up over their head putting their hands in the middle and stretching their legs wide next. Next, make a “P” by standing with feet together and arms curved toward the side to create the bump of the letter. Complete the same movement again for the second P in the word apple. Next, form a letter L using by sitting on the floor and bending at the waist stretching legs out straight. Finally, create a letter E by sitting on the floor bent at the waist with leg s extended straight and feet together. Put one arm out at the waist and reach the other arm out overhead bent at the elbow.

7.) Spell and clap- To the tune of “BINGO”, spell the word apple. After singing a round, replace one letter with a clap of the hands. Each round adds another clap in place of a letter. Try adding other movements in place of clapping such as hopping in place or stomping a foot.

8.) I’m a Little Apple- Use the song “I’m a little teapot” only pretend you are an apple. Kids can sing  “I’m a little apple small and round. Here is my stem and here is my leaf. When I get so red, I fall from the tree. Reach down low and pick me up.” Add movements to go along with the words.

Can you think of any other apple themed brain breaks?

Squirrel Themed Brain Breaks may be another fun movement idea that you are looking to pair with a book.  

Apple themed brain breaks for kids to use in the classroom or as part of an apple theme in learning and play.

Free Apple Brain Break Cards

Want a copy of these apple brain break cards to add to your toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below to access these printable tools.

This freebie is also available inside our Members Club! Members have easy access to all downloads on the site, in one place, without the need to enter your email address for each item.

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!

Member’s Club not for you? No worries. You can still access this free resource. Enter your email address into the form and the apple brain breaks will be delivered to your inbox.

Free Apple Brain Breaks

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

     

     

    More Apple Theme Activities for Kids:

     
    You will love these apple activities to go along with an apple theme.
     
    Ten Apples Up on Top pre-writing activity
     
     
    Apple fine motor strengthening activity and fall math with hands-on learning.
     
     
     
     
    Gross Motor Apple Tree activity for learning red and apples with toddlers and preschool children. Kids love this in the Fall!
     
     
     
     

    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.

    The Incredible Power of Play

    child development through play

    Did you ever stop and think about the power of play? There are so many ways child development progresses through every day play. We know as occupational therapists that play is the primary work of the child, but it is also through play that essential skills are developed and refined.

    Play Development

    We’ve covered the development of play in various places across this website, breaking areas down by age:

    As well as play activities by skill area:

    The Power of Play

    Play is the essence of childhood and it’s the means for children to develop and grow! The incredible power of play is a tool and a means to children development.

    It’s through play that kids learn. Kids delight in games, toys, and creative play while developing skills like fine and gross motor development. They learn to self-regulate. They learn to communicate, manage their emotions, and gain valuable sensory input. Play is powerful for kids!

    Let’s go over the importance of children’s play

    Here are 5 ways play builds child development in gross motor skills, fine motor skills, executive functioning, self-confidence, and sensory processing.

    The Power of Play

    Not long ago, I was asked by Radio Flyer to represent occupational therapy as an Expert Play Panelist. Such fun! As occupational therapists, we KNOW the power of play. We KNOW that kids need to move, climb, run, and experience all of their senses in order to grow and develop. Play is the means. Play is very simply, what kids do. It’s their job to play, and play is the way they develop skills they need throughout their life.

    Play is powerful!

    You can read the blog post over at Radio Flyer that describes the impact that play has on child development.

    In that blog post, I discussed the power of play on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, self-confidence, sensory processing, and executive functioning skills. All of these areas (and more!) areas by play.

    This play meme is perfect for sharing the immense power of play through getting dirty, playing inthe mud, jumping in puddles, and outdoor sensory play.

    Play is a learning tool. Play-based learning is one way that children can learn valuable lessons through play, however it’s more than that. It’s through play that children learn about the world around them.

    Kids learn how things work, move, and interact through play. Movement-based learning offers kids an opportunity to learn through gross and fine motor activities, but while they are moving, they are learning how their body works, too. They develop motor skills at the same time.

    Play Development

    Here’s the thing. Children develop play skills as they grow. But play also develops skills! It’s a win-win situation.

    Play Develops Gross Motor Skills

    Gross motor skills occur during play as kids innately practice moving in a variety of positions. Gross motor coordination, balance development, endurance, motor planning, proximal stability, and visual motor skills are all developed through play.

    Whole body movements begin to develop from birth, through tummy time and play supports that. But as a baby begins to explore the world around them, they crawl, stand, and walk and all of this is rooted in play. These early gross motor milestones support development of later skills, too.

    Play Develops Fine Motor Skills

    Play develops fine motor skills through tool use, manipulating toys and pretend materials, and engaging in play activities. Take a look at this fine motor milestones list and see how many of the developmental milestones are rooted in play and exploration of the world using the hands and fingers.

    Children can gain strength and precision in their hands through play so that coordinated and efficient use of a pencil or scissors becomes fluid and natural.

    Play develops core strength and stability, refined precision skills, and endurance in the hands for managing clothing fasteners and other everyday items.

    Play Develops Executive Functioning

    By playing with new activities, games, or acting out pretend play situations, children can try new things, practice tasks they’ve observed grownups doing, and explore, gaining self-confidence and resilience.

    Play offers experiences for developing executive functioning skills such as:

    • impulse control
    • coping skills
    • organization
    • problem solving
    • attention
    • planning and prioritization
    • task completion
    • working memory

    Play is a way to practice jobs, too. Think about the child that plays house, construction worker, race car driver, or shopping. All of these occupations require executive functioning skills to plan the activity, carry out tasks, and complete the play sequence. This pretend play is a huge role in development of skills.

    Play Develops Sensory Processing

    Through play, children understand how their body works as they learn and integrate sensory information.

    Dr. A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist, psychologist, and neuroscientist, developed her Ayres sensory integration theory and practice in the mid 1970s. She recognized that a child’s sensory system can greatly impact how they perceive and interact with the world around them, through play.

    Play allows kids to become aware of their body awareness and body movement as they jump, roll, spin, and tumble upside down.

    Play that offers a variety of movements and heavy work opportunities offer proprioceptive and vestibular input that impacts self-regulation. These sensory systems, through play are related to interoception, or internal awareness of the body’s functions.

    Play also develops the visual motor system as children move through space and coordinate hand and eye information.

    Play Develops Self-Confidence

    By playing with new activities, games, or acting out pretend play situations, children can try new things, practice tasks they’ve observed grownups doing, and explore, gaining self-confidence and resilience.

    Self-confidence allows us to try new things.

    And trying new things (and trying the hard things!) is important for kids.

    Self-confidence is an aspect of emotional intelligence. It’s part of social emotional skills that allow us to participate in tasks, interact with others, understand and recognize emotions, and essentially function!

    All of these areas: motor skills, cognitive skills, social emotional skills, sensory processing skills…they are all founded in childhood, established at a young age through the very fun occupation of PLAY! What’s cool is we are lead as humans to do meaningful and motivating tasks, and play is just that! It makes us WANT to participate so we can learn and develop!

    Play meme: Play has an extremely powerful role in child development.

    The Role of Play in Child Development

    Ok, you might be thinking, “Right. Kids play. That’s nothing new.”

    And you’re right. Play is so natural. Some of your earliest and best memories may be of play situations in your own childhood. Play happens instinctively. But the thing is that play is suffering in kids. If you’re in an educational setting or an occupational therapist, you might be nodding your head right now. Kids are different than they were in the past. And play is at the root, once again.

    Play's powerful role in child development.

    But Play has Changed.

    Times change. We know this. Technology advances, knowledge progresses, and the world transforms. However, play being the root of child development, learning, and pediatric skill acquisition doesn’t change.

    Here are a few ways that play has changed and how that may look in kids today:

    Almost all creativity involves purposeful play. Quote by Abraham Maslow on the power of play.

    Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning. A great play quote by Mr. Rogers.

    Less Time for Kids in Nature

    Kids spend less time outdoors- Do you remember playing outdoors for the entire day and coming home when the streetlights came on? Kids are spending more time indoors. After school hours aren’t spent outdoors or in free-play. They are spent indoors, at child care centers, or after-school programs. Sometimes, it’s the fact that kids need to complete their homework so they can dart off to sports practices or appointments. Other times, it’s not safe for children to play outside in the yard on their own. Kids miss out on the free running space, climbing, running, rolling, and motor development.

    Kids are spending more time in the car, running back and forth to organized activities- There are wonderful benefits to spending time on a team or learning an instrument.

    However, for children now, they are a member of several sports teams, participating in various activities, clubs, and other organized activities. Sports teams sometimes have more than one practice or game per week. Kids are being run to and from sports practices, instrument lessons, clubs, appointments, and more. All of that time spent in the car limits free and creative play.

    This isn’t’ to say that sports and clubs aren’t good for kids! It’s just a point of awareness that time spent in these organized tasks limits free play, outdoor experiences, and growth in learning through the senses and motor experiences.

    There are so many benefits to nature play!

    Less recess time- Are you seeing this too? Kids in my district are limited in outdoor recess time by the weather. So, when it’s cold or raining, they don’t get to go outdoors to play. And that lack of monkey bar time at recess can be an issue with the afternoon learning. Students in the older grades don’t even get recess in our district.

    From grades 4-6, there is a limited time for recess. In fact, recess and lunch time is shared. So if children need extra time to eat, they miss out on recess. Not cool for our kids that are “big kids”!

    Kids need that outdoor play.

    Are you seeing less recess time at your schools?

    Play sparks learning, communication, discovery, motor development, insight, and jowy. And that's just the beginning.

    Kids are spending more time on technology- The screens are taking over! So often, a child has a phone or tablet screen in front of them rather than spending time playing games, playing with friends, they are playing digital games or watching videos. They are limiting themselves in motor and sensory experiences. Movement and creative play are impacted.

    Don’t take this the wrong way: Technology is awesome! It’s a way of life. We are lucky to be alive during this time of knowledge and awareness granted by technological advancements. Kids can learn from devices…some of them know more about technology than their adults. The point is that being aware of time spent in a head-down position holding that phone limits interaction with the world around them. Awareness of this time is key.

    There are more changes that we’ve been seeing in kids today. This is just a short list but one to be aware of as practitioners, parents, and teachers. As the adults in the room, we need to make the change that kids need.

    We need to be vigilant in making play available to kids…the power of play is essential to child development!

    We need to guide children to play.

    Because, the organized sports and scheduled activities are fun. It’s fun to play on a team with friends. It’s easy to fall into the day-to-day-life that daily schedules require. It’s fun and exciting to watch YouTube videos and play games with friends online.

    It’s our job as parents, teachers, therapists…adults to see the impact these life changes are having on our kids.

    Our kids deserve it!

    Learning Through Play Quotes

    In this blog post, we covered more than just the power of play. You’ll also fine learning through play quotes and memes about play. These quotes about play are just one way to advocate on the power of play.

    I’m sharing great social media graphics about play that you can share online. These are importance of sensory play quotes, quotes about play, and play development memes. (Just link to this page as your source!) I’m also talking about the incredible benefits of play in kids.

    There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Outdoor play is so essential for child development!
    “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
    A fresh mindset about kids and how play impacts their development.
    “A fresh start is not a place, it’s a mindset.”

    We can take a fresh start on offering play opportunities for our kids. Let’s expose them to the power of play!

    Kids are growing up in a world where play is restricted or limited. We can change that!
    “I wouldn’t change you for the world. But I would change the world for you.”

    We as parents, educators, and therapy professionals have the opportunity to take a stand on making the power of play more powerful! Let’s change current practices of limited recess time, lack of outside play opportunities, and busyness! Let’s change the world and its expectations and perspectives so we can promote the power of play as a means for supporting child development.

    In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Quote by Mary Poppins
    “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”

    This quote from the Mary Poppins book and movies equates with the through of play being the work of the child, but it’s through play that development happens and is practiced. Not only can we play to support development, we can make the process therapeutic and fun! It’s all connected!

    Play and therapy looks like just playing, but it's so much more! Play is learning, growint, building skills, gaining confidence, obtaining strategies.
    “Yes, we play in therapy. No, we are not just playing. We are becoming independent, growing stronger, building skills, learning, gaining confidence, obtaining coping strategies, transforming lives…”

    This play quote by Colleen Beck, OTR/L at The OT Toolbox shares why play is so powerful and benefits development in children. Play offers tools that a child will use throughout their lives.

    Almost all creativity involves purposeful play. quote about kids.
    “Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.”

    Creativity is play and play is creativity. Both are interconnected but also a way to support play development.

    Childhood is a journey, not a race.
    “Childhood is a journey. Not a race.”

    That childhood journey involves much development; cognitively, physically, emotionally…This is a process and it’s through play that the child has the opportunity to learn and practice essential skills.

    Occupational therapy uses play in practice to build essential skills.
    “I play with shaving cream, toys, and a ball pit at work. I am an occupational therapist.”

    Play is the work of the child, and for the pediatric occupational therapist, play is a tool to support development.

    It seems that play is one of the most valuable tools for learning.
    “It seems that play is one of the MOST valuable tools for learning.”

    This is one of my favorites of the learning through play quotes. Learning happens through all aspects of play.

    Play builds skills that kids need to build skills.
    “Children have a superpower. It’s this morphing ability to take on amazing powers. If we tell them they are capable, they become capable. If we tell them they are kind, they become kind. Let’s power our kids with the tools they need!”

    This play based learning quote is so powerful. We can support the development of kids through play and we can guide them to develop the skills they need!

    child development through play

    Free Handout on The Power of Play

    Being that we as therapy professionals, teachers, or parents have this knowledge on play and child development, we can be advocates for our kids. Not only that, but by promoting play as a tool for child development, we serve other children as well. It’s an enormous ripple effect that has the power to impact a generation and generations following.

    That’s why I wanted to put the information in this blog post into handout form.

    Let’s share what we know about the power of play to teach others how play supports essential child development skills.

    Print off this handout in either black and white, printer-friendly version or the color copy. They can be used as educational handouts to teach others on the power play has on child development skills.

    To get your copy, just enter your email into the form below.

    This handout set is also available in our OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Current Membership Club members can log into your account and head to the dashboard toolbox labeled “Educational Handouts“. Print off the handouts without the need to enter an email address.

    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 Handout: The Power of Play on Child Development

      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

      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.

      Summer Occupational Therapy Activities

      Summer occupational therapy activities

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

      Summer Occupational Therapy Activities

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

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

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

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

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

      Summer Occupational Therapy Activities 

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

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

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

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

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

      You might be a therapist putting together summer home programs.

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

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

      Summer Occupational Therapy Activity Ideas

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

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

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

      Try adding these OT activities to your summer bucket list:

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

      Need even more summer ideas?

      ~Add these hula hoop activities to therapy sessions.

      ~Use sidewalk chalk to support fine motor skills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      ~ Use sidewalk chalk to boost fine motor skills.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Grab the Spring Occupational Therapy Activities Packet HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Summer activities for kids

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