Parallel Play: Definition, Benefits & Activities

parallel play

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

parallel play

What is parallel play?

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

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

parallel play age

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

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

Even adults can participate in leisure activities using parallel play!

parallel play development

Development of parallel play

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

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

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

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

There are six stages of play in early childhood including:

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

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

Parallel Play is one of six stages of development!

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

History of Play development

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

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

Benefits of parallel play

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

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

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

Examples of Parallel Play

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

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

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

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

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

Parallel Play Activities

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

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

supporting children through conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Motor Planning

motor planning

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

Motor planning

Motor Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Motor Planning?

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

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

You might hear of motor planning referred to as praxis. 

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

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

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

There is a motor plan for actions such as:

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

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

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

Motor Planning Difficulties

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

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

Motor planning difficulties can look like several things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

motor planning activity

Motor Planning Activity

Affiliate links are included in this post. 

Motor planning activity

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

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

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

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

Motor planning toys and games

Motor Planning Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds for Sensory Play

How to Dye Pumpkin seeds

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

How to dye pumpkin seeds

Add dyed pumpkin seeds to your list of pumpkin activities!

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorful Pumpkin Seeds

This post contains affiliate links.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Materials to Dye Pumpkin Seeds:

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

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

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

Dying PUmpkin Seeds

To dye the pumpkin seeds, it is very simple:

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

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

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

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


Pumpkin Seed Activities

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

Pumpkin Seed Sensory Ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dyed pumpkin seeds in a sensory bin

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

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

Pumpkin Seed Crafts

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

Try these craft ideas using dyed pumpkin seeds:

Fine motor activity with dyed pumpkin seeds

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

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

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

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

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

Dying pumpkin seeds is a fun Fall activity for kids.

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

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

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

Little Sister made a rainbow with her seeds.

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

How to dye pumpkin seeds for sensory play for kids.

Colored pumpkin seeds are fun for Fall crafts.

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

Pumpkin activity kit
Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit

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

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

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

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

Colleen Beck, OTR/L 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.

Bone Names Activity for Kids

bone identification activity

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

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

Bone Names Activity

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

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

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

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

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

Bones Activity

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

This post contains affiliate links.

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

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

bone identification

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

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

list of bones in human body

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

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

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

Complete List of Bone Names

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

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

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

Bones in the thorax:

  • sternum
  • ribs

Bones in the throat:

  • hyoid bone

Bones in the vertebral column, or spine:

  • cervical vertebrae
  • thoracic vertebrae
  • lumbar vertebrae

Bones in the pelvis:

  • coccyx
  • sacrum
  • ossa coxae (hip bones)

Bones in the legs :

  • femur
  • patella
  • tibia
  • fibula

Bones in the feet:

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

Bones in the middle ears:

  • malleus
  • incus
  • stapes

Bones in the shoulder girdle:

  • scapula or shoulder blade
  • clavicle or collarbone

Bones in the arms:

  • humerus
  • radius
  • ulna

Bones in the hands:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use stickers to learn bone names

How cute are those tarsals??

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

Colleen Beck, OTR/L 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.

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 niece and 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.
  • Use a baby gym to encourage reach and play in various positions.

Container Baby Syndrome

container baby syndrome

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

container baby syndrome

What is Container syndrome?

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

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

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

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

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

Baby containers include baby equipment and items such as:

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

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

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

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

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

Why Worry About Container Syndrome?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where did container syndrome come from?

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

This is astounding. 

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

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

What does container syndrome look like?

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

How to prevent container syndrome in babies

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

  • Allow baby plenty of supervised free time on a blanket on the floor, or in a large play yard. Encourage tummy time, reaching for toys, exploration.  Some caregivers feel unsure about putting their baby on the floor.  A blanket, sheet, or other floor covering can be placed and washed after usage. Or, use toys such as a baby gym to encourage belly play.
  • 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! Read here about the types of crawling you might start to see at this age.
  • 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, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and 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. Additionally, small world areas offer children in small groups opportunities to experience parallel play in a joined environment so children can see various creative play ideas.

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 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.

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.

Be sure to read our resource on newborns not sleeping through the night, because sometimes sleep habits can carry over to toddler sleep issues that impact function, development, and family dynamics.

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. However, if there are extreme issues, regressions, or you have a gut feeling about certain developmental concerns, these may be toddler behavior red flags to explore in further detail along with a pediatrician.

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. Previously, we’ve shared the best crayons for toddlers that support this development through functional play.

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:

Or, try making a craft with 2 year olds and 3 year olds…an easy suncatcher activity using items you have in the house!

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.

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.

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    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 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.