Preschool Pre-Writing Skills

pre-writing skills

This pre-writing skills resource is a resource for anyone working with preschoolers. The fact is that in the preschool years, developmentally, preschoolers should not be writing. Rather, pre-writing is the area of focus. A huge topic of discussion for pediatric occupational therapy professionals is the fact that preschool pre-writing skills are developed rather than introducing handwriting at this young age. Developmentally, there is a lot of progression in the preschool years and pre-writing skills are just one of the many areas. Refer to more information on preschool activities for other developmentally appropriate activities.

pre writing skills needed before preschoolers can write with a pencil.

Pre writing Skills in Preschool

Many times, parents of very young children don’t think about handwriting skills. It’s not typical to think about holding a pencil, writing words and sentences, and copying letters when children are just mastering building with blocks, learning to pull on socks, and creating finger paint masterpieces.  

But the truth is, when young preschoolers are playing, they are building the very important precursors to handwriting.  

The skills needed for managing a pencil, copying letter forms, and managing pencil control when copying lists and paragraphs into a space on a page are initiated in the early childhood years.  Below, you’ll find more about preschool pre-writing skills and the components of pre-writing skills that are developed through play.

Pre-writing skills development begins with preschool aged children through play.

What are Pre-Writing Skills?

Preschool is prime time to develop the underlying skills needed for handwriting. So often, the older, school-aged kids that are struggling with handwriting are missing the underlying areas that make up the skills of handwriting.

First, it’s important to recognize that handwriting is made up of so many areas. Handwriting is much more than holding a pencil (pencil grasp) and forming letters and numbers!  

There are many pre-writing skills that transfer to accuracy in written work. These areas need to be developed and refined before handwriting can be successful. These skills are pre-requisites to even holding a pencil to form shapes and then letters.

Consider the following skill areas that relate to handwriting: 

  1. Sensory Motor Pre-writing skills
  2. Fine motor pre-writing skills
  3. Visual-motor pre-writing skills 

Let’s go into each area separately.

Sensory-Motor Pre-Writing Skills- The sensory motor component is closely related. Consider the pyramid of learning and the developmental base that enables refinement in higher levels of development. The closely related areas of sensory and motor skills are pre-requisites for pre-writing before copying lines and shapes is even possible.

  • Gross motor development
  • Motor planning
  • Initial core control and core body strength
  • Bilateral arm and hand use
  • Crossing midline
  • Imitation of movements
  • Ability to learn novel motor movements
  • Tactile sensory awareness
  • Discrimination of sensation

Fine Motor Pre-Writing Skills- From holding the pencil to moving and controlling the pencil when writing letter forms, handwriting requires a variety of motor movements that all must work together.

These fine motor pre writing areas of development include:

  • Hand dominance
  • Pinch precision (using a tip to tip grasp)
  • Finger opposition
  • Finger isolation
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • Hand strength (endurance in play)
  • Fine motor development
  • Separation of the two sides of the hand, including:                    
    • Development and control of the skilled side of the hand                  
    • Development and control of the strength side of the hand stable side of the hand
  • Thumb Isolation and use as a stability point
  • Thumb dexterity and strength
  • Finger Isolation
  • Development of a dominant hand and an assisting hand
  • Manipulation of objects and dexterity of the hand with objects
  • Grasp strength

Note that preschool can begin as early as 2 years old with some preschool classes. There is a big difference in development from the 2-5 year range in all areas, including fine motor development. A young 2 year old will developmentally have more primitive fine motor skills than a 5 year old child.

Young preschoolers will develop precision and refinement of fine motor skills through play.

Visual Processing Pre-Writing Skills- Additionally, there are the eyes.  What is seen and recognized needs to be coordinated with the hand.  Visual processing has a huge component in written work!

During the preschool years, visual processing skills are developed through play. These components include:

Cognitive Pre-Writing Skills- In addition to the motor components are the cognitive skills. These include the ability to follow directions, pay attention, and focus. The cognitive areas are closely related to the motor skill prerequisites.

  • Direction following
  • Attention and focus
  • Directional concepts
  • Memory
  • Sequencing
  • Awareness of left-right concepts in books and written work

When Preschoolers are asked to write letters

When young children are asked to write, trace, or copy letters before these skills are developed, bad habits can form. In these cases, you’ll notice that older students tend to have difficulty with handwriting.

There are many things happening all at once that develop poor motor plans and bad habits. Because preschoolers are not developmentally ready to write with a pencil, you may see these issues:

  1. Immature grasp on the pencil/writing utensil
  2. Inability to form diagonal lines
  3. Forms letters from bottom to top
  4. Forms letter segmentally and inappropriately
  5. Weak grasp on the writing utensil
  6. Inconsistent hand use
  7. Weak pinch and base of support on the pinky side of the hand
  8. Poor posture
  9. Inattention
  10. Difficulty identifying letters and copying complete parts
  11. Many other issues!

These mentioned issues with starting handwriting in preschool is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to introducing letter formation before kids are developmentally ready.

Pre-Writing Lines in Preschool

It is very important to mention pre-writing lines. These are the pencil strokes that precede formation of letters. Here are some resources you’ll want to read over and utilize in this important step in preschool development:

  1. We cover a great deal about pre-writing lines here.
  2. Use this pre-writing lines activity to work on this essential step.
  3. Consider this pre-writing lines slide deck when working with preschoolers in a virtual setting.
  4. Read about the developmental progression of pre-writing lines.
  5. Use this pre-writing leaf activity to work on the development of underlying skills as well as pre-writing line formation.
  6. Use these handwriting activities to work on pre-writing skill development.

If any of these areas might be an issue for your child with handwriting troubles, consider grabbing The Handwriting Book as a resource that covers all of the underlying skill areas related to handwriting.

So how are all of these areas addressed as a pre-writing skill in preschool? 

The answer is through play!

Can you believe that all of these areas are being addressed htrough play in the early childhood development stages?  And that all of these areas are building and developing with a resulting use in handwriting?  Amazing, right?  

Pre-writing skills start to develop in preschool aged kids.

    Stop by later this week to find out easy ways to encourage development of the above skill areas in group settings in the preschool environment.  It can be difficult to address the needs of a preschool class when there are 16 four year olds that need reining in.  I’ll have easy ways to encourage development of fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and attention skills in fun and creative ways…coming soon!  

 The Handwriting Book

BUY The Handwriting Book NOW    

Want to know more about The Handwriting Book?  Click on the image above to find out how to address every underlying area related to handwriting skills.     Click here to BUY NOW.



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

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Early Intervention for Sensory Differences

Early intervention and sensory differences

Our sensory system is very complicated. A lot of times when we hear about sensory, we think about our 5 senses (taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing.) This blog will take us into a deep dive of early intervention for sensory differences and the definition of different sensory processing areas. Early Intervention services provide supports for children birth through age three who demonstrate developmental delays.

These delays could be caused by a variety of reasons, from autism, chromosome abnormalities, drug exposure, prematurity, motor impairments, language delays and more. 

Early intervention for sensory differences

Early Intervention for Sensory Differences

One of the areas that is always assessed when determining if a child is eligible for Early Intervention services is the area of sensory processing. These areas include Low Registration, Sensation Seeking, Sensation Sensitivity, and Sensation Avoidance. Also addressed are the areas of Sensory and behavioral including general, auditory, visual, touch, movement, oral and behavioral differences.

We will explore these areas in more detail throughout this blog post. Sensory diets are one of the most common and impactful ways to support children with sensory differences.

This article describes sensory diets as “A sensory diet is a set of activities that make up a sensory strategy and are appropriate for an individual’s needs.  These are specific and individualized activities that are scheduled into a child’s day and are used to assist with regulation of activity levels, attention, and adaptive responses.  Sensory diet activities are prescribed based on the individual’s specific sensory needs.”

There are four quadrants in a sensory profile. This visual clearly defines the similarities and differences between seeking, sensitivity, registration and avoidance.

The infant/toddler sensory profile is a common assessment used to determine the needs of a child in the following areas If a child is over-responsive to sensory input, they would fall in the sensory seek or slow to register sensory input sections. If a child is under responsive to sensory input, they would fall in the sensory sensitive or sensory avoider sections. 

What are sensory differences  and neurodiversity? This article explains.

What are sensory differences?

These areas of sensory diversity make up the term sensory differences. Beyond the four quadrants, however, there are other sensory differences to consider. These are described below.

All of these sensory differences described are part of the neurodiversity of human life. We all are different when it comes to sensory, and we are all sensory. Just like the diversity of physical attributes, personal preferences, characteristics, sensory differences are just one more difference that makes us who we are.

Sensory Seeking

This area determines if a child seeks out sensory input. If a child is scored higher than most in this area, you may see them move around more, look at items that spin (such as fans or toys with wheels) be attracted to fast paced and brightly colored television shows.

Here are some wonderful home ideas for children who are sensory seekers.

Sensory Sensitivity

This area determines a child’s ability to notice different senses. If a child scores higher than most in this area, you may see a child always needing a routine to stay calm, startle to certain sounds, become upset during routine hygiene activities (such as getting hair brushed or nails trimmed) and significant preferences on types and textures of foods.

Here are some ways to support children in a controlled way, who show needs in the sensitivity area.

Sensory Registration

This area determines how a child responds to sensory input from others or their environment. This article by the pediatric development center explains how important registration is for a child’s functioning and learning.

It describes registration as: “Sensory registration is the process by which children respond or attend to sensory input in their environments.  The nervous system must first notice the sensory information, once registered the memory compares it to things they have heard or seen, and thus gives new information meaning.  Children who fail to respond or have delayed responses to sensory information have diminished sensory registration.  Diminished sensory registration is often associated with one or two weaker sensory systems, such as the auditory or vestibular system.  Without sensory registration, no other learning can take place.”

If a child scores higher than most in this area, you may see a child miss sensory input more than others do. A child in this section may miss eye contact, pay attention to only specific tones, and ignore most sounds. These children are harder to engage or seem uninterested in activities. They may need tactile, auditory and visual cues to initiate engagement in conversation or an activity.

Here are some ways to support children with low registration.

Sensory Avoidance

This area determines how a child’s need to control the amount and type of sensations at any given time. If a child scores higher than most in this area, you may see a child resist playing with other children due to overwhelm, resist being cuddled when it’s not on their terms, frequently become upset if their hands are messy, have a hard time calming down in new settings and isn’t interested in trying new foods.

Here are some tips on how to support an avoider.

General Processing

General Processing items measure the child’s responses related to routines and schedules. This could include daily schedules, routine schedules or task related routines including how children respond to questions, others actions, busy situations, sleeping routines, eating patterns and hygiene needs, daily transitions and other schedule related activities.

These first/then visual boards are a wonderful tool in supporting routines and schedules.

Auditory Sensitivity

This area addresses how children respond to things they hear. Auditory input includes responding to their name,  how easily it is for someone to get their attention and how distracted they become in noisy settings. The brain processes the sounds in our environment and according to this article, sensitivity to sound could be a reaction to a part of our brain that pays more attention to sounds then it needs to. One article explains it this way:

“When there is no medical reason to explain the auditory sensitivity, researchers think that the brain is not processing sounds adequately. Researchers suggest that the part of the brain that receives and filters noise and sound, the amygdala, is working differently.  The amygdala decides on how important noises are.  It decides and which sounds we should attend to and which ones to ignore. When someone experiences sensitivity to sounds, it is thought the amygdala pays more attention to sounds than it needs to.”

Visual Sensitivity

This area addresses how children respond to things they see, including bright objects, such as lights and toys. It describes how they respond to reflections in mirrors and their responses to objects that spin or move suddenly. According to this article our brains interpret the light we see through our eyes, and:

“The visual system uses light to detect information through our eyes and then interprets or makes sense of that information in the brain. It works closely with our vestibular and auditory systems to help us safely navigate our environment by orienting us to where we are in relation to other objects. The ability to cognitively process information we take in through our eyes can be broken down into several categories, called visual perceptual skills. Those with trouble in one area of visual perception may present with strong skills in another area, meaning that deficits in processing of visual information can take on many forms.”

Tactile/Touch Sensitivity

This area addresses how children respond items that touch their skin. This includes bath/water play, getting their nails trimmed and hair brushed, touching different sensory rich objects, being messy and receiving hugs. When children have a tactile sensitivity, their skin reactors are feeling the object more intensely. According to this article:

The tactile system, or sense of touch, refers to the information we receive though the receptors in our skin. It alerts us to pain and temperature and helps us discriminate the properties of things we come in contact with, i.e. texture, shape, size, and weight. From very early on in development this sense plays a crucial role in helping us gain awareness of our own bodies and understand everything we come in contact with. And how frustrating it must be to learn new skills when you can’t adequately feel the objects you’re using!”

Movement Seeker

This area describes how children move within their environment, including if they enjoy movement activities, seem accident prone or clumsy, seek out spinning and/or preferring to walking on their tip toes. Movement is how our bodies know where we are in space and how we respond to a variety of movement activities. This article explains movement seekers as “someone who has a high threshold for vestibular input. The vestibular system is housed in our inner ear, and is responsible for sending messages to our brain about the position and movement of our head. The vestibular system is activated anytime our head is tilted, upside-down, inverted, if we spin, if we run fast or run slow, when we’re on a swing or going down a slide.

We need vestibular activation and an efficient vestibular processing system in order to maintain an upright position, feel balanced, have a full sense of our body in space and focus. Some people have low thresholds, in which they perceive vestibular activation at much higher rates (e.g. hypersensitive to movement). Others have high thresholds, which means that they need more intense, more frequent and longer duration of movement in order to register it and activate their vestibular system.”


This are addresses how children respond to new foods and different textures, if they tend to overstuff their mouths, how they control chewing/swallowing foods and liquids and if they tolerate their teeth being brushed. Our oral system is based on how our sensory receptors in our mouth recognize what is in our mouth. Some people have increased sensitivities for foods while others have decreased sensitivities to food. There are differences and optional interventions explained in this article:

“We have sensory receptors in our mouths that allow us to recognize information about temperaturetexture (e.g. smooth like yogurt, hard like chips/pretzels, or a mixture of textures like cereal with milk), and taste (e.g. sweet, salty, bitter, sour). They may be over responsive or have increased sensitivity to oral input, causing them to be resistant to oral sensory experiences like trying new foods or brushing their teeth.

Other children may have decreased sensitivity to oral sensory input and therefore seek more oral input in order to help them organize their behavior and pay attention. Our brains receive further proprioceptive input from the joint of the jaw as we bite and chew on foods with different types of resistance (e.g. a crunchy carrot or a chewy sweet/gum).  Oral sensory processing also contributes to the way we move our mouths, control our saliva, and produce sounds for clear speech.”  

Behavioral Differences

This area describes children’s behaviors such as how frequently they have meltdowns, if they are clingy, how hard it is to redirect them, if they are upset in new surrounds and how hard it is to help them calm down.  Teaching children how to calm down using a variety of sensory input, will benefit every child. Soothing Sammy provides opportunity for a child to create their own behavior support tool that is tailored to their specific needs. Weather they respond better to auditory, visual, tactile or others, Sammy the Golden Dog can make redirection to a calm down corner a positive experience for the child and the adult.

Creating a sensory diet is one of the most important ways to support children with any type of sensory difference. These sensory diet cards is a must have resource if you are working with or have a child with a sensory need. 

If you are concerned about your child, you can contact an Early Intervention provider to complete an evaluation from the day they are born all the way until they turn three years old.

Early intervention occupational therapy services support children in all areas of sensory needs, and can help caregivers create sensory diets that will help children in a variety of situations. Visual, tactile, auditory, oral and movement interventions that are supported in a controlled environment, can help every child learn how to adapt and respond to different situations and environments.

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.

Early Intervention and Autism

early intervention autism

When it comes to the early signs of autism spectrum disorder and potential interventions, early intervention for autism can cover a variety of areas. Here, you’ll discover strategies for parent advocates to add to their toolbox.

There are many different signs associated with autism, and research strongly shows the earlier a child receives intervention supports for autism, the more progress they make in all areas of their lives. Early intervention, a federally funded program, provides support for the youngest children, ages birth through three years old, who demonstrate developmental delays. This blog will talk about the early signs of ASD and interventions that support development in all areas. 

Early intervention and autism as well as early signs of autism and interventions to support development.

Early Intervention and Autism

Today, autism affects 1 in 44 children. According to the CDC, autism spectrum disorder is four times more likely to occur in boys. The best way to support children who are showing signs of a developmental delay is to get them therapy supports as early as possible. These supports are available from Early Intervention Programs, Health Insurance and private agencies. 

Every child is different and develops at different rates, so how are we supposed to determine if an Autism Evaluation is appropriate for a child under three years old?

The Early Intervention program is available to all children ages birth to three that live in the United States. The purpose of this program is to help identify and support children who have delays in all areas of development, with or without a diagnosis of autism.

One of the most commonly used questionnaires to determine if a child does have red flags for ASD is called “The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT). This questionnaire can be filled out for free by a clinician or a parents. You can find the free online version here.

The five areas typically monitored when determining if a child should be referred for an autism evaluation are joint attention, social engagement, receptive language, expressive language and behaviors. I

f there are concerns in some or all of these five areas, completing the MCHAT assessment and talking to your child’s pediatrician is the first step to determining if more testing should be administered. 

  1. Joint Attention

Joint attention is a skill that affects a child’s ability to interact with others.

The definition of Joint Attention is when two people purposefully pay attention to the same thing and for the same reason.

For example, when an adult calls a child’s name, and the child responds by looking at the adult, they are engaging in the first step of joint attention. The adult would then ask the child a question and when the child responds, the adult and child are talking to each other about the same thing, in that very same moment. The same goes for when an adult points to an object and the child follows that point to see what object the adult is showing them. Together they are able to talk about the same item.

According to the UNC School of medicine, Children who are learning social and communication skills in a typical way will often show examples of joint attention from the time they are 12 months old. Joint attention is important in helping people communicate with each other all through life. Children with autism have a hard time with this kind of communication. For these children, delays in developing joint attention skills lead to delays in developing language.”

  1. Social Engagement

As soon as a baby is born, they are in awe of their mothers voices and eyes. Infants thrive off social interaction, from playing peek-a-boo, being sung to and engaging in simple play activities.

As they grow, social skills become the foundation for other areas of development. They learn spoken words through imitation of adults and peers, babies and toddlers model behaviors of those they see around them, they get the attention of others to share their wants and needs, and they imitate other children’s play and movement.

One component of autism is a lack of social engagement, such as when a child doesn’t show interest in playing near or playing with other children or using words to communicate with primary caregivers.

  1. Receptive Language

Understanding the meaning of words is the first step to language development. Without understanding the meaning of words, children won’t be able to use spoken words to communicate their wants and needs with adults.

Children start to show understanding of words as early as 4 months old, when they look towards objects and family members when they are named. As they get older, they start following points, imitating gestures and show interest in imitating sounds and words that adults use. 

Autistic children may have a harder time engaging in social reciprocity which impacts their receptive language development. This article from Raising Children describes how joint attention directly affects receptive language development in infants:

“Autistic children might have difficulty learning language because they tend to show less interest in other people in the first 12 months of life. They might be more focused on other things going on around them. Because they might not need or want to communicate with other people as much as typically developing children do, they don’t get as many chances to develop their language skills. For example, a three-month-old baby who is distracted by a ceiling fan is less likely to tune into a smiling and tickling game with their parents. By nine months, if the baby still isn’t tuning into parents, the baby is less likely to point at things they want to share with parents. The baby is less likely to listen to their parents as they name things. This means the baby misses these chances to build vocabulary.”

  1. Expressive Language

Expressive language is the key to communicating our wants and needs with others. This can be through visuals, verbal words or using gestures.

When infants start to use gestures (such as pointing, waving “hi”, and lifting their arms to signal wanting to be picked up,) adults are able to understand what their child is wanting and respond to their requests.

From there, expressive language develops quickly into babble, jargon, word imitation and then children using one, two and three word phrases to communicate with those around them.

Children that develop early signs of autism don’t typically follow this language progression. Children might be more quiet then others, babbling less, use rote phrases (lines they hear in movies), use language that isn’t functional in nature, or label a variety of objects. This article does a wonderful job explaining the differences between a language delay and language concerns that point to Autism. 

  1. Behaviors

Behaviors associated with children who may have Autism may also be an indicator of sensory differences. An autistic child may show repetitive movements (such as rocking consistently), showing aversions to being touched or sensitivity to sounds and lights in unpredictable environments (such as the grocery store.)

Children sometimes become upset for unknown reasons and are hard to calm down. Some autistic children become fixated on objects, only wanting to complete tasks in specific ways (such as lining up toys), always wanting to hold onto specific objects or getting upset when someone else changes the play sequence. Children who show signs of ASD also tend to need consistent daily routines and become upset when their routines change. 

The most common diagnostic tool for Autism in young children is called the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Tool), a play based assessment that is completed by a clinician with the child present. This assessment can be given to a child as early as toddlerhood. There are four different modules that can be administered to young children. Clinicians determine the correct module to use based on the skill level of the child. The ADOS assessment, along with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) results will determine if a child meets the criteria that pertains to autism spectrum disorder. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is a completed diagnostic tool completed by the American Psychiatric Association that encompasses different psychiatric diagnostic criteria. The diagnostic criteria for Autism in the DSM-5 is described in this article. 

“A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history. 

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history.

C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).

D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.”

Interventions for children with a diagnosis of ASD:

  1. Early Intervention Services

The Early Intervention Program is a federally funded program that supports children in all areas of development, including language, cognition, motor skills, social skills and adaptive development.

The services available for children under the age of three are directly associated with every child’s individual needs. These could include feeding therapy, nutritional supports, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapy, social language groups and more!

If a child is enrolled in the early intervention program, their parents or guardians play a key role in the implementation therapy services. Therapies usually occur at home, with parents involved. When a child turns three, their therapies are funded through the local school district Special Education Program to support school readiness, and medical insurance to support medical needs and behavior supports at home. 

  1. Visual, Tactile, and Auditory Supports

Children with low social reciprocity and joint attention skills benefit from other forms of communication. These communication strategies utilize other senses and break down communication to simple and direct forms. If a child is having trouble calming down, creating a calm down corner using Soothing Sammy Emotions Programsupports a positive calming experience with a golden retriever dog and sensory tools. 

Visual cue cards such as these First/Then choice boards and transition cards,  give children the ability to follow daily tasks and routines in a way that is easy for them to follow, without the need to look those who are talking to them.

Early intervention services can support with strategies:

  • To increase on-task behavior or social interactions
  • To teach new skills e.g., life skills, communication skills, or social skills
  • To maintain self control and self monitoring procedures to maintain and generalize job-related social skills
  • To generalize or to transfer skills from one situation or response to another (e.g., from completing assignments in the resource room to performing as well in the mainstream classroom)
  • To restrict or narrow conditions under which interfering behaviors occur (e.g., modifying the learning environment)
  • To reduce interfering behaviors e.g., self injury

As children become more comfortable with back and forth interactions with adults, first/then boards can be used as a back up option for communication. These visual schedules help children transition from one activity to the next. 

A final note on early intervention and autism

If you have  concerns about a child’s developmental progress, it is best to seek out professional assessments through a pediatrician or an Early Intervention team. If the child is over three, requesting a developmental evaluation through your local school district is also an option.

When children receive the intervention therapy they need at an early age, their skills in all areas of development improve. There are many different interventions we can do to support even our littlest family members. 

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.

Fingerplay songs for ot

finger play songs

This post is highlighting Fingerplay Songs as an excellent developmental tool. An important skill in child development, is the ability to use the fingers individually and together. When holding a pencil, pick up cheerios, button, zip, or cut with scissors, you are using two or three fingers, and tucking the rest away! When typing on a keyboard, all of your fingers and thumbs must move individually, but at the same time, in order to type efficiently. Pay attention to what your hands and fingers do in a day, and you may be surprised!

These fingerplay songs are perfect occupational therapy activities for developing fine motor skills.


Finger skills development is essential to the preschool age, however play starts with babies! Check out this article on The OT Toolbox about Baby Play.

There are many ways to encourage this fine motor development, but one of my favorites that doesn’t get enough attention (in my opinion, of course) is fingerplay songs! I do these silly finger plays all the time with my preschoolers during their OT time, or with any of my other students who wants to have fun.

They won’t even know they are developing important motor skills while doing these finger play rhymes. Let’s break down the skills used in the most popular finger play song: Pat-A-Cake.

Fingerplay Songs and Fine Motor Skills

This is a classic finger play rhyming activity for thumb and index finger isolation! The term “finger isolation” will come up a few times in this article, so why is it important?

When babies are born, their fingers all move together as one unit, and one hand tends to copy each other! The body of an infant can be seen as one moving piece, in comparison the movement as we develop, which is a complex system of moving pieces. In order to develop skills as we age, it is important to learn to isolate the movements of our hands and fingers from each other. 

Activities that use the hands to complete motor tasks, sequencing of movements, and dexterous games include other fine motor skills too, including:

You can see why fingerplay songs support child development!

Pat-a-cake fingerplay song

First, motor plan a pattern of movement. Add motor planning and bilateral coordination skills by alternating movements of patting hands on lap and clapping hands while chanting the words:

  • Pat-a-cake pat-a-cake baker’s man,   
  • Bake me a cake as fast as you can.  
  • Roll it. (rolling hands one over the other)
  • And pat it. (patting hands to lap)
  • And mark it with a B. (Index finger isolation to draw a B with your finger)
  • Put it in the oven for Baby and me! (reaching forwards with both arms)

There are many ways to develop fine motor skills through play in addition to these fingerplay activity songs. Check out this post on Hands on Preschool Activities

WHERE IS THUMBKIN Fingerplay song for preschoolers

Where Is Thumbkin? | Songs For Kids | Sing Along With Tobee 

This video does a great job of explaining the motions to this simple, easy to learn fingerplay rhyming song. The song starts at about marker one minute and thirty (1:30) seconds. 

Fingerplay songs for fine motor

Of course fine motor development comes from more than just fingerplay songs and rhymes, here is an article on developing Fine Motor Skills.

FIVE LITTLE DUCKS interactive finger play song

Here is a fingerplay song where the individual and cohesive movement of fingers really get to shine.  This video demonstrates the hand, finger, and arm movements to be used while singing. I find it best to sing to your child once you know the song, instead of playing the video for them. Make sure to show your child how it’s done by doing it with them! This is true for all of the preschool songs and fingerplays we share. 

Five Little Ducks | Kids Songs & Nursery Rhymes | Learn to Count the Little Ducks

While you watch the video and learn the movements, notice:

  • Finger isolation while counting,
  • Cohesive movement for the “quack, quack, quack”
  • Wiggling of the fingers as the ducks waddle away

There are many books written to correspond to this song. Here is one I tend to reach for: Five Little Ducks. This one is “interactive” with little doors on the page that require a pincer grasp to pull open. This is another way to encourage important fine motor skills! 

More fine motor resources for preschool

If you are looking for more interactive books, to develop fine motor skill development, the OT Toolbox has you covered!

Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities for developing finger and hand development

ITSY-BITSY SPIDER silly fingerplay for preschoolers

This is preschool fingerplay activity is by-far my favorite way to increase finger isolation and motor patterns in reluctant kids. In the video below, check out the wrist movements, wiggling fingers, and more, while interacting with a well recognized song! 

The Itsy Bitsy Spider | Nursery Rhymes from Caitie’s Classroom

Many young children, especially those with delayed fine motor control, are not able to motor plan the spider moving up the spout as shown in the video. However, they will adapt and create their own way, using the movement of only two or three fingers, while the rest are tucked away. This pattern is the building block for mature grasps. Sometimes, I teach the spider as the index fingers and thumbs touching in a circular pattern, instead of the L shape in the video. This adaptation may be less confusing for some. See what makes your child most successful! 

boosting childhood development with action rhymes:

Boosting Child Development with Action Rhymes and Fingerplay Songs

OPEN AND SHUT THEM fingerplay chanting rhyme

“Open and Shut Them” is a song I have used for years to keep babies occupied while I change their diapers. I knew a kindergarten teacher who used it to help transition her students to carpet time. This fingerplay song is useful for many different purposes, not just fine motor development and rhyming. It is a perfect addition to this list. There are many different versions of this song you can find online, but here is a video that clearly demonstrates the many different actions the hands and fingers can do!

Open Shut Them Song| Circle Time Songs for Kids | Jack Hartmann Nursery Rhymes

Did you notice the pinky finger isolation? What about the movement of two fingers, with the rest tucked away? These are advanced movements that are motivating and fun! 

You may have noticed all of these fingerplay preschool songs are repetitive. This is perfect for increasing opportunities to practice and learn a new skill. They integrate movement of both hands and fingers in a particular sequence, which teaches and enhances motor planning. Additionally, singing songs such as these familiar preschool finger play rhymes in a group, or one-on-one develops social skills, and can build rapport with one another. It’s a win-win method to teaching important skills.

If you are interested in teaching more fine motor skills, check out these resources from the OT Toolbox:

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

Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

How to Support Self-Regulation in Preschoolers

Here we are discussing the topic of how to support Self-Regulation in Preschoolers. For our youngest students, identifying emotions, and using self-regulation strategies for preschoolers is just hard. The preschool and Pre-K years are a time to work on emotional regulation through play and experience. Occupational therapy professionals can be a support and a service for parents, teachers, AND preschoolers in OT in the preschool years. Let’s break this down a bit…

Self-regulation in preschoolers

This blog includes 5 simple ways to support a preschool child’s ability to regulate their emotions using age appropriate strategies.  

Self Regulation in Preschool

Young children feel their emotions before they know what they mean. The first step to responding to a child’s behavior is to understand what they are feeling when they are having trouble with regulation. Sometimes children need others to co-regulate while other times they need time on their own to self-regulate.

When four year old, Anglea, screams at the top of her lungs, we hear the scream, but we don’t feel what she is feeling. The first step to responding to a child’s behavior is to understand how they are feeling.

In order to do this, we need to take a step back and remember what it feels like when we become upset. Do you remember the last time that you were frustrated and wanted to scream? 

Like the time that you were running late and you had to stop at every single stop light on the way to the grocery store. You are feeling annoyed right now, but you can deal with it. Then, the only open parking spot was at the every end of the parking lot (and it was next to a HUGE SUV that parked over their side of the line.) Ugh. You feel your fists clenching a bit as you try to squeeze out of your door. 

When you walk up to the store, there are no grocery baskets. You walk back to the return basket spot in the parking lot to get a soaking wet basket. You roll your eyes as your patience is tempted. As soon as you walk into the store, you realize the shopping cart you picked is one that “squeals” across the floor. That’s it. You have had enough but you made it into the store and you are going to grab the milk that your two year old wants so she will sleep through the night tonight.

As you rush to the milk aisle, you gasp as the only 2% milk left is the one she won’t drink. Your heart starts to race and you feel like crying. The last thing you want to do is go to another grocery store after the ordeal you already have had. So you grab the off brand milk and say a little prayer that she will drink it tonight. 

You’ve had a rough day, but you are almost done. After standing in the 20 minute checkout line (because for some reason the grocery store decided to only have TWO checkout lines open at 5pm on a Friday) you are now able to load your groceries onto the conveyor belt. 

You’re next in line. You text your husband that you are hurrying as fast as you can and then the worst thing happens. Over the loud speaker, a voice says “Sorry customers. Due to a technical difficulty, we are only able to accept cash or check. No credit cards are able to be processed.” 

How do you feel now? You take three deep breaths as you are trying your best not to scream. You want to fall on the floor and maybe cry? Or you want to toss the milk to the side and run out the door screaming.

You are so upset that you are having a hard time regulating.

But you don’t. You leave the cart, walk to your car (saying some words under your breath) and head to the other grocery store for milk.

Now picture your preschooler feeling that same way. What do they do? 

Development of self regulation in preschoolers

Development of Self-Regulation Skills

Preschoolers need to practice self-regulating skills before they can control their responses. This foundational skill will help them manage their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Self-regulation skills develop over time. According to this article, even babies are able to self-regulate.

The article states that in infancy, babies are able to self-regulate through strategies:

  • Shifting attention or averting gaze when overwhelmed
  • Self-soothing by sucking fingers or a pacifier to reduce distress

As children gain new skills, they are able to self- regulate in different ways. This same article discussed the next steps in self-regulation development in the toddler years:

The article describes toddler’s abilities to self-regulate through strategies such as: 

  • Focusing attention for short periods  
  • Adjusting behavior to achieve goals  
  • Beginning to label feelings  
  • Briefly delaying gratification  
  • Turning to adults for help with strong feelings 

Self-regulation development continues in the preschool years. For kids ages 3-5, self-regulation is experienced in preschool-aged children through strategies such as:  

  • “Recognizing a growing array of feelings in self and others  
  • Identifying solutions to simple problems  
  • With support, using strategies like deep breaths and self-talk to calm down  
  • Focusing attention and persisting on difficult tasks for increased lengths of time
  • Perspective-taking and early empathy”
Self regulation strategies for preschool students

Preschool Self-Regulation

Preschoolers love to engage in hands-on activities that teach a variety of concepts. One of the most important concepts is self-regulation. This skill can be taught and practiced at home, at school and out in the community. As children experience the world, there are so many different external circumstances that can trigger a child’s emotions. Each of these experiences gives preschoolers the opportunity to practice self-regulation techniques that they have learned. 

Here are 5 ways to teach self regulation strategies to preschoolers:

  1. Soothing Sammy:

Soothing Sammy is a preschool self-regulation strategy that uses an adorable golden retriever teaches children how to use their sensory system to calm down. The book, plush and playful activities all work together to help children create their own sensory basket they can visit whenever they need some extra calm down tools. With two simple words, “Sammy Time,” your preschoolers will be redirected to visit Sammy, the plush, at his house, use a cup of water, spot to jump or other sensory materials, to calm down. Once calm, children are able to talk about their feelings and problem solve. Soothing Sammy is perfect for classrooms and homes!

2. Proprioceptive and Movement Based Input:

Taking a heavy work movement break is a great way to redirect ourselves (like when we go for a run or go to the gym to cool down). This works for preschoolers also. Our other article includes over 50 ideas on how to help children calm down, including movement based input such as taking a walk and rocking back and forth in a chair. When we include proprioceptive input while moving, joint compression increases the ability for us to calm down fast! Some ideas include stomping, squeezing playdough, and stretching! 

3. Calming Nature Sensory Bottle:

Looking at calming visuals, like this calming nature sensory bottle, helps redirect our attention to something interesting and beautiful. These easy sensory bottle creation not only supports visual aesthetics, but it also reminds children of being outdoors in nature. This sensory bottle would be a great addition to the Soothing Sammy program.

4. Emotional Vocabulary:

Understanding how to describe our feelings, not only keeps us calm, but also helps us communicate our feelings to others. When children learn the words that match their feelings, they are able to come up with solutions with peers and adults. Playing emotion games, like the ones included in this article, will help even the smallest of children remember emotion words during times of stress. 

5. Pretend Play: 

Children learn so much while they play. Playing with peers and also participating in pretend play, allows children to act out scenes from different situations. These situations can be happy ones, stressful ones, adventurous ones and so much more! The use of puppets, baby dolls and dramatic play materials helps children formulate situations, discover different responses and make plans for if certain experiences happen in real life. This article goes into more detail about the importance of pretend play in social development.

As children grow and develop, they experience the world in a variety of different ways. Sometimes everything goes as they planned, and other times, there are unexpected situations where they will need to manage their emotions. By teaching children self-regulation strategies, they will be able to respond to their emotions in a positive way, calmly plan their response and move forward with their day. 

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.

Engaging Circle Time Activities

circle time activities

In this blog post, you’ll discover Engaging Circle Time Activities for Preschoolers. These circle time ideas are structured to help preschoolers pay attention and focus to group learning in a circle time center.

Circle Time activities to engage preschoolers

Circle Time Activities

Keeping children entertained for 20 minutes or longer, isn’t for the faint of heart. As teachers, we learn to “read” children’s cues and adapt our plans to their needs. Every child, and every preschool class, isn’t the same. Sometimes our plans have to be adjusted to a child’s skill level or interest. T

he best way to keep a class of 24 preschool aged children engaged for circle time is to include sensory foundations within each of the activities. In this blog, you will learn how to do this, no matter what theme your classroom is studying. Circle time lessons can use all of the senses to engage young children.

Children don’t always show interest in learning a new skill, but when we encourage interaction and multi-sensory experiences while teaching new skills and concepts, preschoolers become more interested in the activity. This includes circle time and small group lessons. You can learn more about multi-sensory learning in this blog.

Attention during preschool circle time

Children’s attention spans grow as they age, but not by a lot. For every year old a child is, they are able to attend to a task for two to three minutes. That doesn’t seem like a long time, but let’s think of this from an adult’s perspective. 

When you are sitting in front of a powerpoint presentation, where does your brain go after 60 minutes? Do you catch yourself slipping off to daydream land or thinking of what you are going to make for dinner? Without a stretch break, 60 minutes is a long time to pay attention. 

There are four areas that are assessed when addressing attention span in preschoolers. This US National Library of Medicine article explains the four areas as:

  1. sustained attention
  2. selective attention (or focused attention)
  3. span of attention (encoding/maintaining)
  4. controlled attention (freedom from distractibility and set-shifting)

“Performance-based methods for measurement of attention in the preschool years have been developed to address most of the salient components of attention described by Mirsky, Dennis, and Posner, and include sustained attention, selective (focused) attention, span of attention, and top-down controlled attention, including freedom from distractibility and set-shifting.”

As children develop these four areas of attention span in their early years, early childhood educators are left with the job to teach children new concepts in a way that they remember. The attention facts are embedded within curriculum development from all angles.

Preschool circle times often involve a read-aloud story, group songs, and interactive actions as part of the preschool curriculum.

The average preschool story is between 30-40 pages (that’s 20 pages front at back!) The average children’s song is 4 stanzas (something that can be sung in under one minute.) The average children’s television show (without commercials) is 18 minutes long. 

Every single one of these activities includes a sensory break. Commercials allow children to stand up and move around. A song typically includes hand motions. Children’s stories include brightly colored and engaging illustrations. All of these are components that we can include in a typical preschool circle time. 

For a preschool aged child, 3-5 minutes is the maximum they can attend to a lesson where the adult is leading. A successful circle time could last up to 20-30 minutes, but each activity within that 20-30 minute time frame should be broken into 5 minute mini activities. 

Circle Time Activity Plan

Here is an example of a successful 30 minute circle time, based on what we discussed about preschool attention span.

  1. 5 minute Movement activity (like one of these YouTube brain break songs)
  2. 5 minute Story time
  3. 5 minute Songs (try one of these engaging, core strengthening songs)
  4. 5 minute Large Group Discussion
  5. 5 minute Stretch/Yoga – like these penguin yoga cards
  6. 5 minute Explanation of Centers and Dismissal

Making Circle Time Activities Engaging

The most successful way to encourage children to stay engaged in a story is to make the story interactive. Try these strategies when reading stories:

  • You can do this by changing your voice throughout the book, reading some parts of the story at different speeds.
  • Including the children in the storytelling process,  like in the books “Sammy Chases the Alphabet,” “Sammy’s Counting Adventure” and “Going on a Bear Hunt.” These three books can be created into a large group, movement game, keeping children’s attention while learning their alphabet or while counting from 1-20!
  • Incorporate movement: Ask children to do a specific action when they hear a keyword from the story.

Alphabet Circle Time Activity

Affiliate links are included below.

Try these ideas to work on letter identification, concepts of learning letters, and the alphabet using an interactive and engaging book and game, Sammy Chases the Alphabet.

  1. Sammy, the golden retriever, loves playing fetch with the alphabet around his farm. As his human throws the letter balls, he chases them and finds them near animals or objects that start with that letter. Print out these ABC balls before you start reading the story.
  2. Place the letters around the classroom. Start reading the story. When you get to each letter, have one child in the group hop, skip or jump to  the letter ball print out you are reading about, then place it in the basket. 
  3. Continue reading the story until all the letters have been found. 

Counting Circle Time Activity

Use the movement game, Sammy’s Counting Adventure to teach number words, one-to-one correspondence, and counting skills with this interactive movement game.

  1. Sammy, the golden retriever, likes to count objects while he is on a walk. He learns to count from one to twenty in English, Spanish and French. While reading this story to children in your class, have them all stand up. 
  2. On each number page, have the children complete a movement while counting each object. For example: “There are 7 colors in the rainbow- the children can jump seven times.” 
  3. Change the movement for each number you read. Movements can include: jump, spin, hop on one foot, tap your head, touch your toes… and more! 

Going on a Bear Hunt Circle Time Activity

The classic children’s book, Going on a Bear Hunt is engaging and fun for kids. Work on skills like attention, sequencing, recall, movement changes, and sensory input with this fun circle time book activity. You can even add these Going on a Bear Hunt snacks to the circle time lesson plan. (Kid-friendly preschool recipe contains peanut butter, but you can use other ingredients as a substitute.)

Going on a Bear Hunt Movement game:

  1. While reading the story, have children act out what they see on each page (slumping through the mud, climbing the tree, walking through grass and tiptoeing through the cave.)
  2. Give each child a picture that describes or depicts an action or part of the story. As that part is read, the child can place the picture in the circle. All students can complete the action, creating an interactive, group story.

Self-Regulation During Circle Time Activities

Sometimes, even with all the planning and changing activities to meet our preschoolers needs, there are some children who don’t have the self-regulation skills developed in order to attend to large group activities. Besides the attention span issues, there can be other contributions leading to behaviors during circle time that also are a part of leading a successful circle time session:

  • There are other children in the group
  • Turn taking requirements
  • Spatial awareness considerations
  • Sensory challenges
  • Postural needs or core strength issues impacting sitting on the floor

Kelly Choo reports in this article that “Attention and self-regulation are closely interlinked, with research suggesting that by improving self-regulation, it will help your children pay better attention. This is because, self-regulation gives children the skills to ignore the distractions and avoid going off on a tangent, allowing them to better focus on tasks in front of them.”

She goes on to describe the impact that self-regulation abilities have on the child’s ability to participate in tasks. These self-regulation skills allow the child to participate in social situations with specific skills displayed:

  • Focus and concentrate
  • Assess themselves
  • Initiate or persist in a task
  • Think before they act
  • Maintain social appropriateness”

If you have children that need support learning self-regulation techniques, Soothing Sammy was created to support preschoolers through visual and tactile cues, teaching them how to calm down so they can participate in daily activities.

A final note on Circle Time Activities

As you plan your large group activities, remember that children are always learning and their brain continues to develop rapidly for the first 5 years of their lives. If an activity doesn’t work well one week, then save it and try again in another month. Meeting our children where they are at, creating engaging and multi-sensory circle time sessions, will make learning fun for them, and enjoyable for us. 

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.

Preschool Occupational Therapy

preschool occupational therapy

For parents of preschool children that require occupational therapy services, there can be a lot of questions. Here, we’ll try to cover preschool occupational therapy services. OT for preschoolers and early intervention occupational therapy services can be a whole new world for parents of preschoolers!

Preschool occupational therapy information, including what OT looks like in preschool settings, and early intervention occupational therapy

Preschool Occupational Therapy

From 3-5, children are developing in so many ways. From motor skills to cognition, to language…the preschool age is a time of massive changes. Be sure to check out these preschool activities for hands-on strategies to impact learning and development during the preschool years.

For the youngest of learners, classroom concerns tend to be centered around achieving developmental milestones, learning proper social practices, and creating an environment that all children can learn and grow in.

What does OT Look Like in the Preschool?

Occupational therapists can work with teachers to improve and sustain an environment that will support the growth during this very important time in childhood.

What they learn in preschool partially determines their future success – particularly when it comes to social, emotional, and cognitive skills. In fact, studies over the years continue to show that socio-emotional intelligence in preschool and kindergarten is a great predictor of future academic success (Rhoadesa et al., 2011).

Early Intervention Occupational therapy

Typically early intervention is a service that works with children aged 3 and under. For some states in the United States, early intervention continues through age 5. For children in those states, early intervention occupational therapy can occur in preschool settings.

Early intervention occupational therapists focus on functional participation of tasks at home, in the school, and in naturally occurring environments such as daycares.

An occupational therapist working with a preschool may:

  • Complete assessments of skills of ability to achieve age-appropriate levels, developmental progression, etc.
  • Support parents, teachers, and the family unit of the child through a family-centered model.
  • Set-up the overall environment for occupational success.
  • Offer recommendations for sensory play to boost sensory integration skills.
  • Offer developmentally appropriate activities.
  • Create a library of books that promote the development of social and emotional skills.
  • Work collaboratively with preschool teachers to support the preschooler’s needs and offer support and suggestions to meet student’s needs
  • Adapt daily activities to support development.
  • Create a self-calming area and visuals such as class schedule, individual schedule, or task schedules within the home or classroom, or school-wide environment.
  • Encourage use of transition tools to help preschoolers move from one task to another.
  • Build a fine motor “gym” where students can develop fine motor skills while they play.
  • Recommend sensory deprivation materials like a tent, headphones, or sunglasses to calm an overwhelmed student. 
  • Or develop a program to boost core strength and trunk stability – both very important for sitting at a desk throughout the day.  

OT Assessments in Preschool

In preschools, occupational therapists may ask parents and teachers to complete a quick check list (with space to add comments). They will complete an evaluation and document observations made during the evaluation. They may complete a sensory profile either preschool or via a caregiver form. Evaluation may occur at the preschool, in the home, or in various locations within the school, home, or other natural settings such as daycare.

A play-based assessment will be completed to note the preschoolers abilities and levels using a variety of toys and items. Some common preschool OT assessments include the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales (PDMS–2), the Developmental Assessment of Young Children-2 (DAYC-2), the Miller Function and Participation Scales, and the Battelle Developmental Inventory, Second Edition (BDI-2).

Occupational therapy evaluations in preschool assess areas such as:

  • Reflexes- A child’s ability to automatically react to environmental events.
  • Functional Skills- A child’s ability to complete daily tasks required in the home and school as well as identify the amount of assistance the child needs.
  • Positioning, balance, posture- A child’s ability to sustain control of his or her body within its center of gravity and retain equilibrium.
  • Sensory Processing- Sensory processing abilities, baselines, and regulation during activities in the home, classroom, or other natural setting.
  • Social Emotional Development- A child’s ability to regulate emotions and behaviors in tasks and learning at age-appropriate abilities. This can include peer interaction, adult interaction, and family interaction.
  • Locomotion- A child’s ability to move from one place to another. The actions measured include crawling, walking, running, hopping, and jumping forward.
  • Object Manipulation- A child’s ability to hold and manipulate objects, toys, and materials of various sizes. Examples of the actions measured include catching, throwing, and kicking.
  • Grasping- A child’s ability to use his or her hands.
  • Visual-Motor Integration- A child’s ability to use his or her visual perceptual skills to perform complex eye-hand coordination tasks such as reaching and grasping for an object, building with blocks, and copying designs.

For more resources and tools on preschool occupational therapy and early intervention, check out this resource on OT Early Intervention.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Scoop, Pour, Transfer Activities

scooping, pouring, transferring activities

Scooping and pouring.  Toddlers pour, and dump toys (or cereal, a cup of water, a bin of diapers…) as soon as they discover that they can. It’s a developmentally appropriate skill that happens as mobility develops.  When little ones pick up a bowl or cup and turn out the contents on the floor, it may be frustrating to a mama that’s just picked up all of the toys in the house for the third time, but it is such a great function that is the occupation of play.  

Today, we’re exploring how scooping, pouring, and transferring materials benefits toddlers and preschoolers, in big ways. You can use this fun fine motor and visual perceptual motor activity with children at the toddler, preschooler, and school-aged levels to improve the precision of skills, practice math, and discover skills, all through scooping, pouring, and transferring small items.  

Use these scooping, pouring, and transferring activities to help preschoolers, toddlers, and older kids develop skills.

Scooping Activities for Toddlers

There are so many benefits to scooping, pouring, and transferring materials. These scooping activities for toddlers are an easy way to help to build motor skills in toddlers and preschoolers, at just the right stage of development. It’s during the toddler years that children develop more motor control, stronger eye-hand coordination skills. They are starting to gain more control of their arms in a coordinated manner, especially when manipulating tools like scoops, spoons, cups, and bowls. It’s through play and the weight of sensory materials that the benefits of scooping, pouring, and transferring of materials builds motor control, more refined movements, and tolerance of a variety of sensory materials.

But, you don’t need to stop at the toddler years. Manipulating tools and sensory materials to pour, scoop, and transfer is great for preschoolers, too!

Ice is a great scooping activity for toddlers to work on coordination and fine motor skills.

Benefits of Scooping, Pouring, and Transfering

Fine Motor Benefits of Scooping and Pouring– By manipulating sensory materials, cups, scoops, and bowls, toddlers and preschoolers refine and build motor experience in fine motor skills. Areas of development include: pincer grasp, precise wrist movements, arch development, wrist extension, and separation of the wrist from the elbow. Development of these areas promotes a more distal motor control while using the proximal arm (shoulder and elbow) to stabilize and support the movements of the distal arm (wrist, hand, thumb, and fingers).

This separation of the proximal stability from the distal mobility is a needed motor development for coloring with the hand and fingers instead of using the whole arm to move the crayon.

Work on hand dominance and fine motor skills with scooping, pouring, and transferring activiites.

You can show a child of this age how to dump the dry cereal from the scoop into a large tray.  Kids in the Toddler range would benefit from scooping and pouring using larger scoops or small cups.

 In order to scoop food when eating or scooping like in this play activity, kids need precision of very small wrist motions.  

Moving the wrist from side to side is called radial deviation (moving the wrist towards the thumb side) and ulner deviation (moving the wrist towards the pinkie finger side).  

In addition, slight wrist extension (the wrist slightly bent back in the direction of the back of the hand) is needed to accurately and efficiently scoop and pour.

Simply holding the scoop is an activity for grasp development by refining the arches of the hands and intrinsic muscles.

Other areas of fine motor development include

Hand dominance with Scooping, pouring, transferring Hand dominance is an area that they can be working on, depending on their age. It takes experience, or muscle memory through activities to refine and establish a dominant hand or side of the body. By scooping, pouring kids can hold the container, bin, cups, or bowls with their non-dominant hand while scooping and pouring using a spoon, cup, or bowl with their dominant hand.

As children establish a hand dominance, this refined motor coordination becomes easier to control. Toddlers can start with larger objects and larger scoops. Progressing to more fluid or smaller materials like smaller pellets, flour, or liquids can help preschoolers further refine coordination and manipulation of materials.

Self-Awareness Benefits of Scooping and Pouring– Pouring and dumping is discovery and exploration of gravity, weight, muscle control, cause and effect, and self-awareness. Not only are toddlers discover what they can do by pouring, they are learning about their environment while working on so many skills.

Motor Skills Benefits of Scooping and Pouring– Scooping small items is important in development and refinement of motions needed for managing utensils during self-feeding.  This is an important independence step in the Toddler range. The establishment of visual input and motor output results in eye-hand coordination skills.

Also needed is the muscle memory or “experience” in pouring materials. You’ll see this in action when pouring a liquid or something that really “flows”. You don’t want to pick up a pitcher of milk and pour with speed. The liquid will splash out of the cup and onto the floor. It takes motor skill development and experience to know that pouring different materials, liquids, and containers take different amount of force, accuracy, and controlled movements. 

Learning by Scooping and Pouring- Adding in learning objectives makes this play activity a bonus. You can add themed materials, counting cards, letter cards, or sensory bin cards. Add math and reading activities by counting or using sight words. Add sensory bin cards. the options are limitless when making pouring and scooping activities educational.

Scoop and Pour for Bilateral Coordination Skills- When pouring and manipulating containers, a development of bilateral coordination skills occurs naturally. A weighted material is in one hand, while the non-dominant hand stabilizes. This transfers to bilateral coordination tasks such as holding the paper while coloring or writing, using two hands in clothing fasteners, cutting with scissors and holding the paper, and the very functional task of pouring materials in cooking!

Mindfulness Benefits of Scooping and Pouring- There is a mindfulness component to sensory play too. Have you ever tried using a zen garden to rake or manipulate sand using a sand tray? If so, then you know the power of mindfully manipulating sensory materials. This mindfulness activity works with children too. Many children find a scooping and pouring activity fun and relaxing. Use the scooping and pouring activity as a heavy work activity that adds calming proprioceptive input with visual attention. Help kids to focus on the sensory material as it slowly pours from the hands or from a cup to another cup.

If kids are moving too quickly or if they become overly excited with the sensory material, add slow movement, a calm environment, a set of “rules” before beginning the scooping and pouring activity, and a broom to clean up!

Sensory Benefits of Scooping and Pouring Activities– By experimenting with pouring, scooping, and transferring materials, children gain sensory benefits. This occurs through the proprioceptive input from manipulating the materials, as well as tactile sensory input.

I’ve found pouring and scooping activities to be very calming for children.  They love to watch the beads as they fill the scoop and watch them fall into the bowl as they pour.  Other children can become overly excited by the visual stimulation of scooping beads and soon the beads will scatter all over the table.  You can eliminate mess by doing this activity in a large bin like an under the bed storage bin.  

Scooping and Pouring Activities

This post contains affiliate links, but you can use items that you already have in your home.  We used plastic scoops found in food like cocoa powder, coffee, or iced tea mixes.  For the scooping, we used plastic beads that we already had, however, this activity will work with any small item such as rice, dry beans, field corn, pebbles, or sand.  Use what you’ve got on hand to make this activity free!

Materials for this scooping and transferring activity include:

  • Recycled plastic scoops (We do love our recycled materials activities around here!)
  • Small Plastic beads OR other materials to pour and scoop (Toddler-aged kids can use dry cereal or edible items. See below.)

This activity is very easy to set up.  

  1. Simple set out a bowl or tray of beads and scoops in different sizes.  
  2. Show your child how to scoop, transfer, and pour the beads into another bowl.
  3. Play!  

Precautions for Pouring and Scooping Activities with Toddlers

Just be sure to keep a close eye on your little one. Materials like dry cereal are great for starting out. However, if you try scooping activities with other materials like beads, toys, corn, dry beans, etc, it can be easy for them to forget they are scooping beads and not cereal!  

As with any activity found on this blog, use your best judgement with your children.  This activity, while beneficial developmentally, is especially a choking hazard for young children.  Always stay within hands-reach of young children with a developmental activity like this one.

If you are concerned with your child placing beads in their mouth, simply don’t do this one and put it on hold for a few weeks of months.  

Development of Scooping and Pouring skills in Toddlers

Note: Use edible materials for this activity with Toddlers.  Dry baby cereal or broken up finger foods (like Cheerios) are great.  For Toddlers, they will be focusing on simply scooping and pouring with accuracy.    

Grasping pellets (bead-sized items) is a fine motor skill that typically develops around 11 months.  Children at that age can grasp small pellets with their thumb and the pad of their pointer finger, with their arm positioned off the table.  Holding a scoop with either the dominant or non-dominant hand typically develops around 13 months of age.  

Toddlers will use an exaggerated elbow motion when they first begin an activity like this one and until those small wrist motions are developed.  

At around 15 months, Toddlers will be able to scoop and pour from a small scooping tool, although as soon as 13 months, many children are able to complete this activity.  

Managing a spoon during self-feeding happens around this age, as well, as children scoop food and bring it to their mouth.  It is messy, but they are able to get food to their mouth.

Using a scoop to move beads or spoon to eat develops with more accuracy at 15-18 months.

At around 12-13 months, children will begin to develop unilaterality in hand dominance.  They will begin to show a preferred hand that manipulates as the other, non-dominant hand assists in holding the bowl or tray.  

(Other kids don’t define a hand dominance until later.  You can use this activity in the preschool years to work on hand dominance!) You will want to use a wide tray or large bowl for improved accuracy in both scooping and pouring.  Try using a spoon for scooping the cereal pellets, too.  

Scooping, pouring, transferring beads and developing fine motor skills and hand dominance in Toddlers, Preschoolers, and school-aged kids. Plus learning ideas to use in scooping activities.  From an Occupational Therapist.

Scooping and Pouring Preschool Activity

In the preschool years, sensory bin play with a concentration on scooping, pouring, and transferring is very powerful. It’s at the preschool age that motor skills become more refined. The dominant hand becomes stronger in preparation of pencil grasp and handwriting. The muscles of the hands are used in coloring and cutting activities.

Preschoolers can use scooping, pouring, and transferring activities for functional tasks and learning activities, but also development of motor skills needed for tool use like pencils, scissors, crayons, etc.

Helping kids establish a hand dominance can be a pivotal moment for addressing fine motor skill development concerns. Kids can refine motor actions by using a preferred hand consistently.

Preschool aged children can refine their scooping and pouring activity using beads.

there are many benefits of scooping, pouring, and transferring. Include scooping activities for toddlers and preschool.

Hand preference in Preschool

While Toddlers begin to show a hand preference, a true hand dominance doesn’t typically develop until 2 to 3 1/2 years.  That is such a huge age range!  That is because while a toddler can show a hand preference, hand usage is experimented with during different activities throughout the Toddler and Preschool years.  

There is typically variability in hand preference as toddlers and young preschoolers poke, pick up, throw, color, and play.  Another consideration is that often times, kids of this age are influenced in which hand they choose by position of toy, location of the adult or playmate, method materials are presented, and sitting position of the child.  True hand dominance may not be completely integrated in the child until around 8 or 9 years of age.   

Knowing all of this, use this activity to practice and play while working on a hand preference.  If your child shows a preferred hand, set up the activity to work on scooping with the typically used hand.  If your kiddo uses their right hand most of they time in natural situations (You will want to watch how they do things on a normal day and in a variety of activities.), then set the bowl of beads on the left side of the child and the scoop on the right side.  

When using pouring and scooping activities in preschool, try these strategies:

  • Show them how to scoop from left to right.  A set up like this one also encourages the left-to-right motion of reading and writing.
  • Use a variety of materials: dry beans, rice, beads, dry cereal, flour, sand, shaving cream, water, etc.
  • Use a variety of scoops: spoons, coops, small bowls, cups, pitchers, mixing cups, measuring cups, etc.
Use beads, scoops, spoons, and bowls to work on scooping for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarten to develop fine motor skills.
Scoop words for a multi-sensory learning activity that uses scooping and pouring in kindergarten.

Kindergarten Scooping, Pouring, and Transferring Activities

For children in kindergarten and older, scooping, pouring, and transferring activities are powerful as well! You can use this pouring and scooping activity in math, learning, and sensory play-based learning.  

  • Work on measurement
  • Work on reading, spelling, and letter awareness. This sight word scooping activity is a great multisensory reading activity for kindergarten.
  • Use scooping in math to add or subtract scoops
  • Count the number of scoops it takes to fill a container
  • Use letter or word cards in reading or handwriting activities
  • Work on prediction- Ask them to predict how many scoops it will take to fill different sized cups and bowls. They can count the number of scoops and see if their prediction was correct.  
  • Incorporate addition and subtraction as they move scoops of beads from one container to another.  
  • Address motor skill development- Scooping works on important skills like bilateral hand coordination, including using the non-dominant hand to assist as they would in holding the paper in writing, coloring, and cutting with scissors.
Work on hand dominance, bilateral coordination, motor skills, and more by scooping, pouring, and transferring activities.

Pouring, Scooping and Transferring Activities

Try these various pouring scooping and transferring activities with each age range to develop specific skill areas depending on the individual child:

Use a variety of materials for scooping besides beads to work on fine motor control and dexterity.  Other ideas include wet sand (heavier and great for coordination and strength) and a light material like foam pillow filler (for more coordination and dexterity).

Water Sensory Bin Ideas– Use a bin and water, along with some scoops and other materials to work on motor skills, coordination, and refined movements. Scooping water takes precision and control, but it’s a great functional task for children.

Scoop Nuts– Use seeds or nuts to scoop and work on scooping different sizes, different weights. This is a great activity for graded precision, sorting, and eye-hand coordination.

Scoop Ice– This simple scooping and pouring activity uses just ice, water, and scoops. Children can work on eye-hand coordination skills to scoop up ice within a bin of water to work on controlled motor skills, utensil use, visual tracking, and more.

Scoop, pour, and transfer dry corn– Grab some un-popped popcorn and some bins or spoons to transfer materials from one container to another. This simple scooping and pouring activity is easy to set up and works for all ages.

More fine motor activities you will love

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

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to