Raccoon Craft for Math and Fine Motor

racoon craft

We made this racoon craft many moons ago, when my oldest was in second grade. She’s now a sophomore in high school, and I have to say that those years went by like a flash. This post was originally written in October, 2015 and I’m just updating it now with some tips about how to use the racoon craft to support fine motor development. One thing is for certain; this fine motor math craft still remains as cute as it did all those years ago!

This is a clothespin activity that supports development of many areas of motor skills AND learning regrouping in math!

racoon craft

Racoon Craft

I love that this racoon craft supports fine motor skills. Not only by making the craft, but by playing with the racoon clothes pin, there are some big fine motor benefits. Plus, it’s a fine motor STEM activity that kids seem to love.

There are so many benefits to using the clothes pin as a fine motor tool in math (and in kids crafts)!

For example, when manipulating clothes pins, fine motor contributions include:

Similarly, the fine motor contributions that are needed for threading beads includes:

  • Arch development
  • In-hand manipulation
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Open thumb web space
  • Tripod grasp/pincer grasp
  • Finger isolation
  • Thumb opposition
  • Wrist extension
  • Dexterity
  • Bilateral coordination

We made a video that shows how manipulating and pinching clothes pins promotes grasp development. Check it out here:

In the video, we show how to use the clothes pins to work on pinch strength and grip strength. You can use your racoon clothespin craft to do these things!

Regrouping Math Activity

Second grade.  They say it’s the old third grade in public schools.  My second grader is our oldest, so I’ve no previous school years to compare the class work or curriculum to.  We are plowing through the first few months of school though.  We are well into a routine with schedules, homework, and have only missed the bus once.  (This is our best year so far in that area!)  

While my second grader might be doing the stuff that third graders used to do, she is a trooper.  She works hard and she loves her teacher and her friends.  I mean, she even comes home from a long day of school and PLAYS school with her siblings.  While they have zero interest in regrouping addition problems, they are cooperative little students.

 
 Raccoon craft with a clothes pin for use in second grade math: this Regrouping Raccoon will help with regrouping double digit addition math problems!
 
 
 

Raccoon Craft

This Raccoon craft made the perfect tool to practice a math skill with my second grader: Regrouping Double Digit Addition Problems.  It was a fun craft to make alongside my daughter and turned out to be a pretty fun second grade craft, too!

Raccoon craft with a clothes pin for use in second grade math: this Regrouping Raccoon will help with regrouping double digit addition math problems!

 

What is Regrouping Double Digit Addition?

So, we actually did a regrouping activity last year when my little future teacher was in first grade.  That activity was about regrouping single digits in addition.  Now, a whole year later, we’re regrouping double digits and feel like big shots.  Ok, not really.  But it IS a whole other column of numbers that we are adding, here! 
 
Now, I’ve said it before.  I am not a teacher by trade.  In fact, I’m an Occupational Therapist.  So I don’t have a huge understanding of teaching techniques or educational standards and the like.  But, I do have the motivation that only a mom has when it comes to making homework fun, and easy.  I am so over pulling teeth to get homework done.  Let’s do a creative and playful activity to build on school-found skills and I’m good.  And really, when we pull in my OT-ness to the play and fun, it’s even better.  Fine motor skills, here we come!

Ok, ok back to what is regrouping question.  

Essentially, regrouping in math is borrowing or carrying a digit to aide in a math operation. In addition, digits from the ones column are added to the tens column to add single or double digits. 

My second grader is adding double digit numbers.  When the ones column of those double digits add up to more than 9, there is another tens to add to the tens column.  

Regrouping in Math Activity

Now, to practice regrouping double digit addition problems, you could do page after page of worksheets.  But if your kiddo is like mine (and any other kid out there), that will not go over well.  We made this sneaky little raccoon clothes pin craft to practice regrouping in math practice.
 
It’s a pretty easy craft that your second grader will love to try.  You’ll need just a few materials: (These are affiliate links.)

Raccoon craft with a clothes pin for use in second grade math: this Regrouping Raccoon will help with regrouping double digit addition math problems!
Raccoon craft with a clothes pin for use in second grade math: this Regrouping Raccoon will help with regrouping double digit addition math problems!
 
To make the racoon craft:
 
  1. Start by cutting a strip of newspaper to fit on the front of the clothes pin.  
  2. You’ll also want to cut a small circle for the raccoon’s head, and a tail-ish shape.  
  3. Glue the newspaper strip to the front of the clothes pin.  
  4. From the black cardstock, cut small strips to make the raccoon’s eye mask, tow triangle ears, and stripes for the tail.  
  5. Glue all of these paper pieces into place.  
  6. Add the googly eyes and draw on a cute little smile.  That raccoon is done and ready to help with regrouping. 


Regrouping Raccoon and Double Digit Addition

We decided that since raccoons are pretty sneaky and sometimes steal garbage from trash cans, that our Regrouping Raccoon would be the perfect buddy for stealing numbers from the ones column and placing them over in the tens column.  We practiced with a problem or two and added up the ones column.  If the total had 10 or more, than that sneaky little raccoon helped us move the ten over to the tens column.  Fun, right?
 
Now, grab a sheet of regrouping addition problems.  We used a homework page, but you could just write out problems on a piece of paper.  
 
As my daughter did the double digit math problems, I had her clip the raccoon onto the edge of the paper if it was a regrouping problem.  For the problems that did not require regrouping, we just left the raccoon in place.  

Raccoon craft with a clothes pin for use in second grade math: this Regrouping Raccoon will help with regrouping double digit addition math problems!
 
We ended up making a few more raccoon pinch clothes pins and had a family of raccoons!
 
Raccoon craft with a clothes pin for use in second grade math: this Regrouping Raccoon will help with regrouping double digit addition math problems!
 
 
 
 
 
More second grade activities you will love:
 
 
 
 
 
 
We have a few other resources that might help as well. These are free tools you can find on The OT Toolbox and all three include free downloads. These would go great with our racoon craft activity!
forest sensory path

Use the forest sensory path with our racoon craft to support self regulation needs.

shadow matching worksheet with forest animals theme

Add our forest animal visual discrimination worksheet to your therapy toolbox to work on visual scanning, visual form constancy, and other visual perceptual skills.

free forest animal worksheets

And, use our forest animal puzzles to work on scissor skills and visual motor skills.

I hope the racoon craft and all of the tips in this activity supports development! Have fun!

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.

31 Days of Learning with Free Materials

This blog post on learning at home with materials found around the home is a great resource for school based OT providers because many of the skills we work on in therapy sessions need to be carried over at home to ensure results. It’s the everyday practice that makes skills stick! Here you will find our top picks for DIY learning materials using items found around the home. These are great items for occupational therapy at home, too. The thing is that I love to share activities that build skills using everyday items.

diy learning materials

We are big fans of using free and recycled materials in our crafts and activities.  Many times, people ask: “How do you do so many fun activities without spending a fortune?!” Most of our learning, crafts, and activities involve using free or almost free materials.  While we are not a homeschooling family, we do SO many learning through play activities and homework extension skills that work on the skills that my kids are doing at school.  

Some of our top picks using items found in the home include:



We’re excited to join homeschooling bloggers with 31 Days of ideas for learning at home.  In this series, we share 31 days of Learning at Home with Free (or almost free) Materials.  Each day, we’ll bring you tips and ideas to use materials you already have in learning and school extension activities. Most of these materials are household items you may already have in the house and others will be recycled materials.

Use these learning at home ideas using free materials or items already found in the home.

All of the activities will be using free (or almost free) items to build on learning concepts that are age appropriate for our kids.  We will be sharing ways to use these items in different age ranges, as well.  

These activities are sure to be a fun way to work on skills over the summer to prevent an academic “summer slide” and ways to creatively learn and extend on school homework and homeschool curricula during the year.  Be sure to stop by each day in July for creative learning ideas as we fill in our month with Free Learning!

 
31 days of learning with almost free materials.  Learn at home through play with recycled and free materials.

 
 

Learning with Free (or almost Free) materials at home:

This series is about easy learning ideas that you can make your own.  Your child’s needs and interests will make these ideas work in your family.  My hope for the 31 Days of Learning with (almost) Free materials is to bring you creative ideas.  

Start with these games with paper clips to use an everyday material found in most junk drawers.

Creative & Playful Learning.  Be inspired.


31 Days of Learning with Free Materials (items you probably already have):


Click on the images below and the list of posts for our month of learning at home!

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Distance learning ideas for learning at home with free materials.

More Learning at Home Ideas

These learning with free materials ideas use items you probably have in the home right now to work on math or writing concepts, AND build fine motor skills. Try some of these learning ideas using items in the home, including:

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.

Snowy Farm Sensory Bin

farm sensory bin

Welcome to a winter wonderland on the farm! In today’s blog post, we’re diving into the magical world of sensory play with a snowy farm sensory bin. This delightful activity combines the charm of a farm theme with the sensory joys of winter, creating an engaging and therapeutic experience for children. This is one of our favorite winter sensory bins because you can focus on so many different underlying skills through play.

Farm sensory bin

Whether you’re a parent looking for creative winter activities or a therapist seeking effective tools for skill development, this farm sensory bin is tailored to captivate young minds while addressing various therapeutic areas. Read all about sensory bins in general as a therapy tool to support skill development.

Farm Sensory Bin

We love a great occupational therapy sensory activity because cold winter temps and less daylight hours mean you might not have a chance to get little ones outside as often as you might like. Plus, a farm sensory bin goes great with a Farm theme in preschool or in occupational therapy sessions.

This farm sensory bin has a winter theme, but you could actually set up a farm sensory bin any time of year. In fact, we loved this play dough farm activity that goes along with a farm theme and supports fine motor skills as well as sensory input.

The base of shredded paper sets the stage for a snowy landscape, providing a tactile experience that stimulates sensory exploration and fine motor skills.

This winter-themed sensory bin features a collection of farm toys and mini figures, turning the snowy setting into a farm scene ready for imaginative play.

Farm Animal Sensory Bin

The farm animal sensory bin takes the excitement a step further, introducing miniature figures of beloved farm animals. As children dive into the bin, they engage in hands-on exploration, feeling the textures of the shredded paper, maneuvering the farm toys, and creating their own farm stories.

This sensory-rich experience enhances tactile input, encouraging self-confidence as children express themselves through play.

Farm Theme Sensory Bin Setup

Setting up the farm theme sensory bin is a breeze:

  1. Begin with a large container filled with shredded paper to create a snowy base. You could also use other sensory bin base materials if you don’t have shredded paper on hand.
  2. Add farm toys such as barns, tractors, and mini figures of animals to bring the farm to life.
  3. Encourage creativity by incorporating small props like faux trees or fences. This simple yet effective setup provides a canvas for endless imaginative scenarios.

Before this weekend, we’ve had a super cool spring.  With a handful of days where it snowed.  We are ready for outside play in short sleeves, running in the yard, and grass stained knees.

But, we have been loving this fun play activity too 🙂

We had a boat load of shredded paper from doing taxes recently.  It came in pretty handy for a small world snowy farm scene!

We put some farm animals, the Little People barn, and of course, Little Guy’s construction vehicles.

(how else can the farmer move allll that snow??)

Little Guy went to farm-town with imagination stories and pretend play.

Baby Girl loves to make the animal sounds and had a blast finding them in the shredded paper.

Why This Farm Sensory Bin Helps Development


Beyond simply playing in the sensory bin, this farm sensory bin serves as a therapeutic tool to foster development in various areas.

You can target areas in:

Fine motor skills are particularly important in early childhood development, as they lay the foundation for more complex tasks in the future. 

Tactile discrimination, exploration, and sensory desensitization are effectively addressed with sensory bins as they are playful and present in a non-threatening way. The playful nature of sensory bins allows children to control their tactile experiences, fostering confidence in their interactions with materials and gradually increasing their comfort with different sensations. 

The hands-on nature of the activity promotes fine motor skills as children manipulate the farm toys and engage with the sensory materials. Communication skills blossom as they create farm narratives, fostering language development.

In addition, occupational therapy providers love sensory bins because they can offer a unique and enjoyable way to engage reluctant children who may initially be hesitant about engaging in the sensory elements of tactile defensiveness challenges.

Tactile input and sensory exploration contribute to a holistic sensory experience, supporting overall sensory processing.

 

 
 
 
 
My fun-loving Baby Girl instigated this little incident…
 
she just couldn’t help herself 🙂
 
 
What are we learning through play?

Imagination Play

Pretend Play

Learning Animals

Animal Sounds

Visual Scanning

Sensory Play

 

Farm Sensory Bin Ideas

You can pair this farm sensory bin with other therapy ideas, too. Use some of these tools and resources to support skills like gross motor skills, coordination, brain breaks, and more:

  • These Farm Brain Breaks can add movement and gross motor input to a child’s day and fit in great with a farm animal theme. Print off the cards and use them in the classroom or home.
  • These heavy work cards includes a set of 8 farm themed heavy work activities that can be used as a brain break or added proprioceptive input.
  • Free Farm Scissor Skills Packet
  • This barn craft is fun because kids can make a barn and use it in the farm animal sensory bin.
  • This Farm Fingerprint art activity supports visual closure, visual tracking, and visual scanning activity, too.
  • The Farm Therapy Kit has a bunch or activities to support sensory needs, handwriting, motor skills, dexterity, and more.

Get your copy of the Farm Therapy 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.

Dinosaur Game Kids Love

dinosaur game spinner and toy dinosaurs on white background with text that says "dinosaur gross motor 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!

dinosaur game spinner and toy dinosaurs on white background with text that says "dinosaur gross motor game"

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.

toy dinosaurs beside game spinner. Text reads "dinosaur game"

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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.

Plastic toy dinosaurs laying on white table with game spinner. Text reads "dinosaur movement game"

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:

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!?  (affiliate link) 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. (affiliate link)
  3. We used dinosaur figures for part of our movement game.  These ones (affiliate link) 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 (affiliate link) 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 (affiliate link).
  2. One player hides the dinosaur figures (affiliate link) 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
Child's hand spinning a game spinner  for a dinosaur game with words for gross motor skills: stomp, shake, run, dance.

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

Child spinning a game spinner with words like dive, jump, twist, spin, shake, stomp like dinosaurs.
Spin the wheel on the dinosaur game to support fine motor skill development, too.

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

Child jumping in a living room

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

Three plastic dinosaur toys beside dinosaur game spinner

 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.

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.

We wanted to touch on the skills that you can develop by playing a version of this dinosaur game, depending on the individual needs of the child you are working with in therapy sessions, or at home.

Dinosaurs have captivated the imagination of children and adults alike for generations…and many kids are fascinated by dinos of all types! That’s what makes this dinosaur therapy game a hit. You can develop specific skills with a fun dinosaur activity.

Let’s take a look at how you can target enhancement of gross motor skills, balance, visual scanning, endurance, and coordination.

Our featured dinosaur game provides an immersive experience that not only thrills young players but also becomes a valuable tool in the hands of therapists. Let’s delve into the therapeutic benefits it brings to the table.

Dinosarur game Gross Motor Skills

In the world of dinosaurs, movement is key. Players are prompted to engage in activities that encourage reaching, stretching, and crawling, promoting the development of essential gross motor skills.

These movements are fundamental for a child’s overall physical development, making the game a dynamic tool for therapists targeting this aspect.

Mastering Balance

Surviving in the dinosaur era requires a keen sense of balance, right? Kids can play this dinosaur game and challenge skills like balancing on one foot, staying in one position, freeze dancing, and balancing on their tip toes.

The game incorporates elements that challenge players to maintain equilibrium, fostering the improvement of balance skills.

Therapists can leverage these challenges to enhance a child’s ability to control their body’s position, a skill crucial for everyday activities.

Work on grading skills and challenging balance development by targeting more difficult tasks like:

  1. Single Leg Stance:
    • Description: Standing on one foot.
    • Purpose: Enhances static balance and weight-bearing control.
  2. Tree Pose:
    • Description: A yoga pose involving standing on one leg with the other foot resting on the inner thigh of the supporting leg.
    • Purpose: Challenges static balance and encourages weight shifting and offers proprioceptive input.
  3. Tip-Toe Standing:
    • Description: Rising onto the balls of the feet.
    • Purpose: Strengthens the muscles in the lower extremities and promotes ankle stability during daily activities.
  4. Half Kneel Position:
    • Description: Kneeling on one knee while keeping the other foot flat on the ground.
    • Purpose: Improves dynamic stability and challenges core strength during functional tasks.
  5. Squats:
    • Description: Bending the knees and lowering the body as if sitting back into a chair.
    • Purpose: Targets lower body strength and stability to build base of support and stability during functional mobility.

These activities are tailored to address different aspects of balance and can be adapted based on individual needs and progress. When implementing these exercises, it’s crucial to consider the client’s abilities and gradually progress the difficulty of the activities as their balance improves.

Enhance Visual Scanning

Dinosaurs are not always easy to spot when it comes to pre-historic land! But dinos aren’t the only ones that need to scan their environment.

Visual scanning skills impact learning, reading, social and emotional skills, and practically everything we do throughout our day.

This dinosaur activity supports the development of visual scanning skills as players to search for items, dinosaurs, or clues.

This element contributes significantly to the development of visual attention and scanning skills, addressing therapeutic goals for children with specific needs in this area.

Endurance Skills with Dinosaur theme

Roaming the prehistoric landscape demands stamina just like a T-Rex or Brontosaurus. Certain activities within the game encourage continuous physical activity, contributing to the development of endurance.

This aspect is particularly beneficial for children undergoing endurance training, aligning the game with therapeutic goals for enhanced stamina and managing deferent surfaces.

Try adding an unstable surface during the dinosaur game tasks:

Here are other balance beam ideas to incorporate.

Dinosaur Coordination Skills

Navigating the dinosaur world requires precision. The game’s mechanics challenge players with obstacles and control requirements, promoting precise movements and coordination.

Therapists can use these aspects to target coordination skills, crucial for a child’s ability to execute controlled and purposeful movements.

In conclusion, our dinosaur game transcends the realms of entertainment to become a valuable therapeutic tool. By incorporating elements that support the development of gross motor skills, balance, visual scanning, endurance, and coordination, therapists can harness the excitement of dinosaurs to achieve therapeutic goals.

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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    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.

    Easy No-Sew Felt Christmas Cookies

    felt Christmas cookies on a baking tray

    This holiday season, why not incorporate no sew felt crafts with a set of felt Christmas cookies? Many years ago, we created these felt Christmas cookies as a holiday dramatic play activity with pretend Christmas cookies. Not only is this a fun Christmas dramatic play idea, it’s also a way to build skills this time of year…making it a fun Christmas activity for occupational therapy!

    felt Christmas cookies on a cookie tray with kitchen utensils

    Felt Christmas Cookies

    In this blog post, we will explore the world of no-sew felt crafts, delve into the realm of Christmas cookie dramatic play, and understand how these activities contribute to the development of essential skills in children, including fine motor, bilateral coordination, and eye-hand coordination.

    There are so many dramatic play benefits, and these felt Christmas cookies fit the bill!

    No Sew Felt Craft

    No-sew felt crafts like the felt Christmas cookies that we made are a tool for creating imaginative and interactive projects. Felt is a great tool because it is a soft and pliable fabric, and wonderful for fine motor skill work.

    For parents, educators, and occupational therapists alike, no-sew felt crafts offer a chance to engage children in a hands-on, mess-free activity that stimulates creativity and fine motor skills.

    Christmas Cookie Dramatic Play

    These felt holiday cookies are perfect for a Christmas cookie dramatic play, where children get to experience the magic of the holiday season through imaginative scenarios.

    This pretend play activity involves crafting felt cookies that look remarkably real, providing a multisensory experience for children. From rolling out felt dough to “baking” and decorating cookies, this activity fosters creativity, social skills, and cognitive development.

    We love this activity because it builds skills through play.

    Engaging in felt Christmas cookie activities is more than just play; it’s a learning experience that targets key developmental areas in children.

    1. Fine Motor Skills: The intricate nature of crafting felt cookies requires children to use their fingers with precision. Cutting, shaping, and decorating felt pieces contribute to the refinement of fine motor skills, essential for tasks such as writing, buttoning, and tying shoelaces.

    Manipulating felt pieces during play can contribute to the refinement of fine motor skills. Studies have indicated that engaging in fine motor activities positively impacts hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity in children.

    2. Bilateral Coordination: Rolling out felt dough, cutting shapes, and assembling cookies involve the use of both hands in a coordinated manner. This promotes bilateral coordination, crucial for activities like tying shoelaces, using scissors, and participating in sports.

    3. Eye-Hand Coordination: The process of crafting felt Christmas cookies encourages children to visually guide their hands as they manipulate the felt pieces. This enhances eye-hand coordination, a fundamental skill for tasks such as handwriting, drawing, and playing musical instruments.

    4. Social and Emotional Skill Development: Collaborative felt play, where children work together on projects, can contribute to social and emotional development. Research suggests that cooperative play helps children develop interpersonal skills, including communication, negotiation, and teamwork (Guralnick, 2011).

    These skills are listed on our social skills checklist resource.

    Incorporating felt Christmas cookies into your child’s playtime not only adds a festive touch to the holiday season but also promotes skill development in a fun and engaging manner. Through no-sew felt crafts and Christmas cookie dramatic play, children can explore their creativity, refine motor skills, and lay the foundation for future cognitive and social success.

    How to make Felt Christmas Cookies

    This was the play invitation I had set up for Big Sister today.  It was so easy to make these No-Sew Felt cookies…15 minutes tops.  And, with an hour+ of imaginative play time, I think it was a good investment!

     

     

     
    Christmas Cookie Pretend Play No Sew Felt Food. By Sugar Aunts
     
     
     
    I had the felt here at the house, but I’ve seen packs of multi-colored (Amazon affiliate link) felt sheets at the dollar store.  You could make a bunch of these little cookies for less than a buck.
     
    Christmas Cookie Pretend Play No Sew Felt Food. By Sugar Aunts
     
    I don’t have any pictures of the process of making the cookies, because it seriously was so easy to make…
     
    1. Trace the (Amazon affiliate link) cookie cutters onto the felt sheet.
    2. Cut the shape just inside of your pen mark.
    3. Trace another of the same shape on the “icing” color.
    4. Cut the “icing” color about 1/2 inch smaller than your pen mark.
    Done!
     
    Add some of your (Amazon affiliate links) whisk, spatula, cookie sheet, oven mitt, and get ready for some cheers in your house 🙂
     
     
     
    Mixing up a little gingerbread dough with the whisk requires bilateral hand coordination to hold the bowl and stir the whisk.
     
     
    After mixing, you cut out the shapes with the cookie cutters.
     
     
     
     
    Then, “spread” on the icing!
     
     
     
    These cookies were perfect for pretend play, multi-step direction following, child-led play, bilateral hand coordination, and imagination.
     
     
     
    Big Sister had so much fun making cookies for Baby Girl and me…adding sprinkles, matching the icing shape to the cookie shape.  It’s a new addition to the play kitchen food.  I’m ready for lots of yummy fuzzy cookies 😉
     
     

     

    UPDATE to this post: We’ve been playing with these felt cookies all year long and they are still staples in the kitchen pretend play.  We’ve been enjoying fuzzy cookies all year long!

    Looking for more Christmas-themed play? Try scented snowman playdoh!

    Looking for done-for you therapy activities this holiday season?

    This print-and-go Christmas Therapy Kit includes no-prep, fine motor, gross motor, self-regulation, visual perceptual activities…and much more… to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. Use fun, Christmas-themed, motor activities so you can help children develop the skills they need.

    This 100 page no-prep packet includes everything you need to guide fine motor skills in face-to-face AND virtual learning. You’ll find Christmas-themed activities for hand strength, pinch and grip, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, endurance, finger isolation, and more. 

    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.

    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 🙂

    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.

    DIY Light Box for Tracing

    Child tracing letters with a pen on a light table. Text reads 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.

    Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    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 (affiliate link) 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 (affiliate link) 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 🙂
     

     

    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!

    Conversation Heart Sort– Print off this sorting worksheet for a fine motor activity with conversation hearts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More Valentine’s Day Activities

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

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

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

    Valentine’s Day Therapy Slide Decks

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

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

    Valentine’s Day Sensory Activities

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

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

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

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

    Valentines Day play dough to build fine motor skills

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

    Bilateral coordination activity for valentines day

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

    Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Activities

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

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

    Visual perception activity and heart maze for valentines day

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

    Fine motor heart activity

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

    Heart fine motor and eye hand coordination activity

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

    heart keychain made with salt dough

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

    Valentines Day crafts

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

    Valentines day handprint art

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

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

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

    love bugs valentines day crafts

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

    valentines day sensory bin

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

    valentines day books

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

    Valentines day activities to build fine motor skills
    heart play dough

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

    heart craft to work on fine motor skills like scissor skills

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

    Valentines day craft for kids

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

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

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

    More Valentines’ Day Activities

    Try some of these other ideas:

    Valentine’s Day Sensory Bin with Fine Motor Paper

    Valentine’s Day Snacks for Kids

    Valentine’s Day Goop Painting

    Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Sparkle Craft

    Crunchy (Sensory Diet!) Heart Tortilla Snack

    Teach Buttoning with Heart Buttons

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

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

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

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

    Valentines Day fine motor kit

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L 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.