Visual Noise and Learning

Visual noise in the classroom

In this post you will be discovering how to create a calm classroom, specifically tips to avoid the visual noise that distracts learning in the school environment. Classroom décor and organization can directly effect the engagement level of children in any classroom or learning space. When the environment is too visually stimulating, a student’s ability to focus becomes difficult. Keeping children’s attention can become frustrating. When a classroom environment that is soothing and organized is created, children are better able to stay engaged. In this blog, you will learn about the three different ways to make your classroom visually calm. 

Visual noise in the classroom

What is Visual Noise?

When working with children, teachers think about all of the colors of the rainbow, and want to make classrooms bright and cheery. So many classroom theme sets have fun colors, bright designs, and patterns, contrasting bulletin board boarders, etc. Many believe that having a colorful classroom will keep children interested and engaged. 

Visual Noise is just that: a visually distracting, or “noisy” visual scene in the classroom. A lot of teachers set up bulletin boards throughout the room with cut-outs in various themes: animal/monster/any theme , alphabet stickers, and painted murals on the walls. Maybe your classroom has a circle time rug that includes the ten different color squares. Perhaps you want to make sure all the children have something they like to do, so you have 20 fine motor choices in the manipulative area. 

There is just one problem with using these types of visuals in the classroom, they are distracting! 

  • The bulletin boards all around the room are adorable, and fun to look at. So during circle time, you might find a child gazing at the wall, figuring out what new item is there. 
  • When there are rugs filled with colors, you may notice children looking down at the rug, maybe at the bright colors, while singing the color song in their head.
  • If teachers provide too many choices in one area of the classroom, children work with one toy for three minutes, then they are onto the next, without honing in, or practicing the skills that were intended.
  • For young children, and lots of adults, less is more! 

visual processing

Humans use vision from birth, to engage with the world around them. The way your brain process what you see, impacts how you interpret your interactions with the environment, and the people around you. To learn more about vision, this amazing PDF discusses visual hypersensitivity and under-sensitivity (or sensory seeking). 

There are some visual processing red flags that may indicate difficulties with visual processing or ocular motor control:

  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Easily distracted by visual stimuli, or difficulty sustaining visual attention to an activity
  • Frequently squints, rubs eyes, or gets a headache after visually demanding tasks such as reading, using a phone/tablet/computer, or watching television
  • Loses place in reading or writing
  • Trouble finding things they are looking for, even when they seem to be “right in front of them”
  • Distractions with reading
  • Difficulty tracking visual information
  • Difficulty initiating or holding eye contact
  • Difficulty focusing on one piece of visual information
  • Increased fear of, or desire for, being in the dark
  • Difficulty discriminating between similar shapes, letters, or pictures
  • Letter reversals or number reversals
  • Difficulties with handwriting such as letter reversals, sizing, spacing, or alignment of letters
  • Frequently loses their place while reading or copying
  • Often bumps into things
  • May be slow or hesitant with stairs
  • Difficulty with visually stimulating activities, i.e., puzzles, locating objects in pictures, completing mazes, word searches or dot-to-dots
  • Trouble knowing left from right or writing with both hands

How to reduce visual noise when planning your classroom

When planning out your classroom, visual stimulation is important, however there are many ways to make sure there is reduced visual noise, so the environment is not overwhelming.

Think about how you feel when you go to the spa. Those deep earthy wall colors calm your bodies and nerves instantly! The Montessori and Reggio Emilia educational philosophies advise visual components as a way to keep their classroom calm and focused.

The Reggio Emilia philosophy recognizes the environment as the child’s third teacher. What is in a child’s environment, how it’s organized, and what it looks like, directly impacts what a child will learn that day. 

two ways to make sure your environment is visually calming 

Colors – When picking out colors for your classroom, whether it be for the furniture, rugs, or wall decor, the best way to support a calm visual classroom, is to choose more natural colors. These include blues, greens and browns.

  • Choose toy baskets, or white bins, as opposed to brightly colored ones.
  • Consider turning toy shelves around or covering with neutral fabric to further reduce visual noise.
  • Choose predictable carpet rugs (Amazon affiliate link) like this one, instead of random colorful squares. Carpet samples of neutral colors are an excellent idea to create boundaries while limiting visual distraction.
  • When decorating your walls, allow for empty blank space, and use more of children’s artwork. Consider the use of cloth and fabric.

Classroom Organization – When choosing how many activities and materials to place in each are of your classroom, keep in mind that less is more! When children have too many options to choose from, this can create a short attention span, and overwhelm from choice overload.

Organization in the classroom can mean stacks of papers, tons of sticky notes, messy desks, and disorganized files, too.

In a typical preschool classroom, there are 8 areas of learning: art, fine motor, science, reading, dramatic play, block, large motor and snack! When you use furniture to visually create specific spaces for each center, the classroom is organized, and children know what is expected of them in each area.

Older classrooms may not have the toys, block areas, and motor components, but there are designated areas: group areas, centers, desks, cubbies, or lockers, teacher areas, information centers, etc. All of these areas can be considered when it comes to visual input.

This blog from Lovely Connection, on preschool classroom set up, includes important aspects to think about as you plan your classroom layout. She includes information about including noise, popularity, supervision, boundaries, space, and the race track (when kids run around the room in a circular pattern!)

What happens when children are still overwhelmed, even when the environments are visually calming?

When a child feels overwhelmed for any reason, having a calm down corner, that is easily accessible and they can stay in as long as they need, is a must have.  My Soothing Sammy Emotions Program.” is an effective calm down area because students are excited to spend time with the adorable golden retriever Sammy. Not only does “The Sammy Program” teach children how to calm down, it guides them through communication and problem solving situations in a visual way that isn’t overwhelming.

Check out this great blog about visual processing and visual efficiency from the OT Toolbox archives. When a child has visual processing difficulties, they have a harder time taking in visual information, and processing it in order to make sense of it.

This visual processing bundle, also available in the Toolbox, can support children who are demonstrating visual processing challenges. 

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook (also available on Amazon) written by Colleen Beck of the OT Toolbox, is a great resource to start understanding sensory processing disorders.

A final note about visual noise

Visual noise doesn’t only occur indoors, it can happen outdoors, especially if there is a lot of activity and sunlight. Being mindful of the visual stimuli outdoors, is just as important as setting up an indoor classroom.

If you have a child who is having a hard time visually processing their environment outside, these visual sensory activities can be completed outdoors to support their sensory system.

While considering visual sensory overload in the classroom, also be sure to check out our resource on auditory sensitivities in the classroom. Both are very useful in setting up an inclusive classroom environment for success.

Classroom themes are adorable and cute! When planning your classroom, keep in mind how “busy” and overstimulating different colors and amount of objects can be. This will help keep your students calm and engaged. Although everyone processes their environment differently, anyone can all benefit from a more calming environment, especially when learning new skills! 

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.

Separation Anxiety Activities and Tips

kindergarten separation anxiety

Today, we have a couple of separation anxiety activities that can support kids who struggle with school drop off. Many times, kindergarten or preschool drop off is full of tears, especially those first few weeks of school. Here, you’ll find a great connection activity to help preschoolers and parents find a way to make preschool drop off easier by connecting through the book, Owl Babies. Use this Owl Babies activity to help with that preschool separation stage. This post shares movement based separation anxiety activities that can help kids who are experiencing separation anxiety in preschool drop off, with ideas based on the children’s book.

Separation anxiety can occur at various ages and stages, including toddler, preschool, kindergarten, and school-aged.

For example, in the toddler years, separation anxiety is quite common. However, if there is extreme separation anxiety, this might be a toddler behavior red flag or something to look into.

Separation Anxiety in Preschool or Kindergarten

Step into a preschool classroom on the first day of school and you will likely see a few tears here an there (possibly some of those tears coming from the parents dropping off their child for the first time!).

Separation anxiety in preschool age is normal! But here’s what you need to know about that visible preschool behavior that may be fueled by something besides getting used to leaving mom/dad/caregiver for the first time…and how to help with a simple preschool self-regulation strategy.

The movement-based, sensory activity we share below can actually be used with preschool through kindergarten:

  • the 3 year old preschooler who is just being dropped off for the first time
  • the 4 year old preschool student
  • pre-k kids
  • kindergarten students
  • older, grade school students who are sad or upset on the first day of school

preschool anxiety

So, what is happening with preschool anxiety that causes tears, meltdowns, and clinging to mom or dad at the day care or preschool drop off?

You have probably seen it before:

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it’s time for preschool. The routine at home is the same: excitement, packing the bag, and gearing up for a day of learning colors, songs, preschool activities, and nursery rhymes. Getting into the car and driving to preschool is no problem.

But then you pull into the parking lot and the worries begin.

Tears, crying, clinging to Mom, negotiations, promises of seeing the little one in just 2 short hours.

Two minutes later, she is happy, playing with play dough, and dry of all nose drips.

It might even seem as if the preschool separation meltdown is just part of the morning routine.

As a momma of four, I’ve seen plenty of tear-filled drop-offs.  

And it just never stops breaking your heart.

Separation anxiety is actually considered a normal process that occurs in early childhood, as a result of a maturing physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Specifically, the areas of development that lead to a period of separation anxiety in young children include:

  • Visual processing system (visual memory, visual closure)
  • Executive functioning skills (working memory)
  • Self-regulation skills (connecting emotions with behaviors)
  • Social-emotional maturation (emotional connections, attachment, and feeling safe with certain individuals)

Despite the normal development that results in fears, worries, or flat out meltdowns following or leading up to a period of separation, severe separation anxieties do have the potential to negatively impact a child’s social and emotional functioning and this is especially true when the young child then avoids certain places, activities, and experiences that are necessary for healthy development.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Sometimes, the family, parents, or caregivers also avoid these places, experiences, and activities. This can lead to even more negative experiences. When the family supports avoiding certain places or situations because of the young child’s separation, we can have situations where separation anxiety “hangs around” longer than is part of typical development.

Officially, Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is defined as “developmentally inappropriate and excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is attached” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). However, for the young child, separation angst does not mean a disorder is present. It is only when the anxiety levels are so severe that they are not appropriate for developmental age that the official diagnosis of Separation Anxiety Disorder should be investigated.

For those with severe symptoms, Separation Anxiety Disorder may result in school refusal and a disruption in educational attainment, refusal to attend doctor’s appointments, dentist visits, or other situations where a child is separated, no matter the physical distance, from the parent or caregiver.

What causes Separation Anxiety Disorder?

There are many developmental areas that enable to progression of separation anxiety in toddlers and preschoolers from levels of worry and age-appropriate anxiety at separation to an inefficient and “disorder” level of worry.

Studies show us that some of these considerations may include:

  • Parenting behavior
  • Low parental warmth
  • Poor attachment
  • Trauma to the parent during the baby’s young years (death in the family, environmental, or other big situation)
  • Trauma to the child (Adverse childhood experiences, both large and small)
  • Insecure or anxious attachment styles
  • Diminished sense of control over one’s environment
  • Overprotective and over involved parenting behaviors
  • Parental intrusiveness- including extreme decision making on the part of the parent
  • Parental intrusiveness- including providing excessive assistance in the child’s daily activities (beyond age-appropriate ability)

Common signs of separation anxiety in kids

The natural and developmental stage of separation anxiety occurs from around age 6 months when the baby is able to notice that something is missing from their field of vision. This skill requires development of several areas:

  • Visual perception
  • Attention
  • Working memory (executive function)
  • Sensory motor

Separation anxiety typically continues from around 6 months of age to about 5 years of age, however signs of separation anxiety can persist after age 5 and through age 6.

However, the cognitive and emotional development that occurs during this age allows for kindergarten and younger elementary aged individuals to separate from their loved ones and know that they will be there even when the are not in view.

Once the underlying areas noted above develop (around 6 months of age), you may see some common signs of separation anxiety:

  • Crying when the parent leaves the room or home
  • Upset and crying when a babysitter or caregiver comes into view
  • Tantrums
  • Avoidance behaviors (refusing to participate in activities that require separation)
  • Clinging to parents
  • Refuse to attend certain situations
  • Apprehension about harm coming to parents
  • Fears the parent will leave and not return
  • Running from the classroom/school bus/appointment setting

Separation anxiety activities

Today, I’m sharing a simple trick for helping kids with separation anxiety at kindergarten, preschool, or other drop-off situations like day care, a caregiver’s home, nursery school, or a church Sunday school room. These separation anxiety strategies can be addressed in occupational therapy sessions, used in cognitive therapy, or simply trialed at home or at school.
Each of the separation anxiety activities listed below may be helpful in any situation where there is anxiety and stress as a result of separation from a parent or caregiver.

separation anxiety activities

One tool that can support separation anxiety in the classroom is starting each day with a feelings check in. This can help to get a handle on how emotions are impacting behaviors.

This post contains affiliate links.

Social Stories- Use social stories to create a visual narrative about how drop offs go and that parents will be back to get the child. Social stories can offer a verbal narrative for the child to use during these situations. Some of our social stories include:

Self-Regulation Strategies- Practice the regulation tools that support the individual’s emotional status with self-regulation strategies. Select a set of calming or heavy work strategies that can be used in preparation for the separation situation, whether that be using at the school bus stop (like this deep breathing school bus exercise) or while driving into school. Having those set of strategies readily available and discussing how the child feels will go a long way.

Movement-based separation activity – One fun way to work on separation anxiety in preschoolers that becomes part of the routine…here we are talking about the preschooler or kindergarten aged child that cries, clings to Mom or Dad, but then warms up to the classroom activities.

Practice routines- Do the same thing every day during the week in preparation for school, including bed times, morning routines, and transportation routines. These visual schedules can help with some individuals.

Wearable Charm- Another similar strategy is to create a DIY separation anxiety charm. Kids can make this along with the family adding heavy work through the hands. then, wear the charm to know that parents and caregivers still love and miss them even when not in view.

Get enough sleep– Practicing good sleep hygiene is important for the child as well as the parent or caregiver. This has an impact on behavioral response and self-regulation. Read a related blog post on supporting newborns not sleeping as sleep in young ones in the home can impact sibling and parent sleep.

Books about Separation- The activity listed below uses the book Owl Babies. But we added a heavy work goodbye sign that parents and children can use at school drop offs to ease separation anxiety. Or, this activity could work for kids that struggle with the transition to the classroom, because they are missing Mom and Dad or other caregiver.

Use the book, Owl Babies by Martin Waddell!

Use a magic number- In some cases, it can be hard for children to separate for even a very short period of time, and even in an environment such as the home. One strategy is the magic number technique. In this activity, the child and parent/caregiver can practice away time for short periods of time. Select a “magic number”. Then, move away from each other by going into a different room of the house. Use a timer or a watch to count up to that magic number. Try increasing the magic number up by a few minutes at a time until it’s less difficult to spend time apart.

Create a plan- Having a plan or set of coping strategies prepared for time apart can help. For the kindergarten separation anxiety issues, maybe looking at a picture of the family that is stashed inside a pencil box would help. For another student in kindergarten, maybe touching a special keychain attached to the shoe or belt loop would work. Having this plan prepared before heading into the kindergarten room or daycare setting is key.

Owl Babies Activity

We read the book, Owl Babies (affiliate link- As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases) and fell in love.  

The sweet little Owl Babies in the book wake up from a nap to find their mother gone from the nest.  The owl siblings go through a series of concerns and thoughts about where their mom might be with a little almost-tears.  

My older kids thought the book was pretty awesome and decided that each of the owl babies in the book were one of the girls in our family.  There were a few similar personality traits that aligned with the owls in the book and the sisters in our house.  

The idea of knowing that mom comes back when she leaves is a lesson we’re going through at Sunday School each week and one that happens so often with kids.  Just like the Owl Babies (affiliate link), it can be hard to stay calm and not worry when mom goes away.  

We decided to come up with an owl themed movement activity that kids could do when they are feeling anxious after leaving mom or dad.  

Try this trick to help with separation anxiety in preschoolers, based on the children's book, Owl Babies.


School Drop Off Anxiety

This activity would be perfect for preschool kids or kindergarten students who are experiencing separation anxiety at the start of school or in a new classroom situation. For kids that cry at school drop off, or really struggle with missing Mom or Dad, this school drop off anxiety activity can help.

To do the activity, first read Owl Babies (affiliate link) together.  Then, talk about how the owls in the book must feel when they see their mother has gone out of the nest. Finally, talk about how when the mom or dad in your family has to go away for a little while, they always come back and that they are thinking of the little one in your home while they are gone.

Try this trick to help with separation anxiety in preschoolers, based on the children's book, Owl Babies.


One easy way to help with separation anxiety is to come up with a hand signal.  We decided that making a bird wing sign would be a lot like an owl in flight.  Hook your thumbs together and spread your fingers out to create the wings of an owl.

Then, wrap both hands around your thumbs to create a little owl baby of your own.  Now, squeeze your hands tight to give them a hug.  Your child can do this motion when the are feeling sad or nervous at school.  Tell them to think about the owl babies in the book (affiliate link) and how they felt when their mom came back.

School drop off anxiety activity for separation anxiety in students

Squeezing the hands tightly can provide a bit of proprioceptive input that is calming in a stressful situation like the preschool drop-off.  A simple hand hug might be just the thing that can help! It’s a self regulation activity that supports the whole body as a mechanism to address emotional regulation needs that show up as crying, clinging, and bolting “behaviors”.


Then, when you pick up your little baby, be sure to swoop them up in a big hug!


This activity would work with preschoolers who are a little older than my two year old.  She really enjoyed the book, Owl Babies (affiliate link), though and we have read it again and again!


Let me know how this tip to help with separation anxiety works with your preschooler!

Try this trick to help with separation anxiety in preschoolers, based on the children's book, Owl Babies.

This Owl Babies activity is a fun and interactive book for kids of all ages!

Use this separation anxiety activity to support kids that struggle at school drop off with anxiety or worries.

 

kindergarten separation anxiety

Let’s go a bit further with kindergarten separation anxiety and how to support this need.

Kindergarten Separation Anxiety

One thing about kindergarten separation anxiety is that it may not rear it’s head until after school has started. Typically (in many cases, not all cases), young children and parents are very excited for their little ones to head off to kindergarten. There are a lot of new things to experience as a new kindergartener!

However, one new consideration may end up being a case of worries and anxieties after the school year has begun!

What’s going on here?

At the start of a school year, after school has been in session for a few days or weeks, things start to get old, quick. The young child has to wake up early every day. They have to spend 8 or more hours in school, paying attention, and on high alert, every day, Monday through Friday. There are new routines, new peers, new rules, new learning, new transportation, and they can be on high alert all day.

Sometimes we see kindergarten students who experience a separation anxiety from their parents or guardians as a result. This involves stress and worries that might be brought up during the night, before bed, before school, at school, or even during slow times at home.

The kindergarten child who is attached to their special parent, guardian, sibling, etc. are now spending many hours away from their person, people, and routines.

Kindergarten separation anxiety may include fears as well:

  • they are going to miss out on something at home
  • their special person will become sick or have an accident while they are not together
  • they, the kindergartener, may worry that they will become sick, lost, or hurt while away at school
  • they may worry that they will become lost in the school or on the way to school

Some things that we see with kindergarten separation anxiety may include:

  • Outbursts at home before school
  • Refusing to get ready for school
  • Outbursts or meltdowns before bed or on Sunday night
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Refusing to go on the bus
  • Refusing to sleep alone
  • Being afraid or fearful when they weren’t before
  • Refusing to do things they used to like to do like playing with friends
  • Refusing to leave the home or be away from their parent/guardian
  • Feelings of intense fear or helplessness
  • Agitated behavior
  • Anxiety that presents as crying, tantrums, shrinking away, or running away from unfamiliar people or situations
  • Excessive fear about other situations
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Reverting to younger habits such as sucking their thumb or talking in a “baby voice”
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating or paying attention
  • Worry during other times of day or night

There may be other things going on too. With the kindergarten age, it might be hard for the child to express all that they are experiencing. We can however, support separation anxiety in kindergarten students.

How to support Kindergarten Separation Anxiety

One of the most important ways to help a kindergarten student who is experiencing separation anxiety is by giving them words for what they are experiencing.

  • Talk about separation anxiety- It’s important for the child to realize and understand that we all have worries and anxiety. We all experience stress at some point or another. We can come up with tools to support and work on these worries, however, so they don’t become all that we think about. What we don’t want is for the worries to prevent participation in all of the fun activities that comes along with kindergarten!
  • Give words to the feelings that the child is feeling. This involves interoception (the sensory system that allows us to recognize internal sensations). One of these aspects is headaches that come because of worries or anxiety. Other feelings might be rapid heartbeat, stomach ache, dry mouth, sweating, cold hands, tingly fingers, etc.
  • Read books about separation anxiety in kindergarten. There are a lot of great books out there about kindergarten separation anxiety in particular. That tells us that this is a very common issue!

  • Focus on Kindergarten Friendships- One of the fun things about kindergarten is meeting new friends. But being worried and over-thinking might mean that there is less time to talk to friends and do all of the fun kindergarten things! Try helping your kindgergartener to focus on friends when they are feeling very anxious about going to school.
    • Enlist a friend to help walk them to the classroom
    • Have a buddy to get started during the day
    • Check in with a friend when they feel the worries
    • Create a social support system with a small group of friends by having playgroups on the weekends or after school.
    • Use a few friendship activities to build awareness and understanding
  • Make a Clock- Using paper, make or draw a clock with the time that the child will reunite with their adult. This visual cue can help them to see that they will return to their loved ones. Include “grace” time for a window of time to allow for the school bus, traffic, etc. Plus this is a good clock activity too!

Separation Anxiety Occupational Therapy

Just like in kindergarten, sometimes we see clients that are worried or anxious about coming into the occupational therapy space. This might especially be the case for the new child experiencing OT for the first time. For parents to better know what to expect in OT sessions, read our getting started with occupational therapy blog post.

Using some of the same strategies listed above and under kindergarten separation anxiety can support these kiddos so they can participate in therapy. Separation anxiety may need work with a child psychologist, however occupational therapy can support families and the team using meaningful and motivating strategies as well as tools that enable the individual to participate in daily functional tasks.

Other separation anxiety OT tips include:

  • Work to establish a secure relationship to the teacher/therapy provider/classroom support staff/peers with the aim of reducing dependence on parents or guardians in the school environment over time
  • Use a timer
  • Use a visual schedule
  • Allow choices in therapy sessions
  • Work together on common goals
  • Make therapy fun and engaging with therapy themes
  • Create a social story on being away from loved ones for short periods of time
  • Educate parents and educators on the limbic system and the possibility of the child being in a fight or flight state as well as tools to support the child in this manner
  • Educate and provide interventions on interoception and support the child with tools to slow a fast heart rate, etc.
  • Educate on emotional regulation along with emotional regulation strategies such as the Zones of Regulation®, the Alert Program® (How Does Your Engine Run)
  • Trial child-led strategies such as DIR Floortime
  • Inquire about the child’s sleep hygiene and support the family in this way
  • Support the child and the family in any trauma related considerations
  • Explore a sensory diet for potential needs
  • Support the child and the family as a unit with education on co-regulation

Occupational therapy empowers individuals with meaningful and motivating tasks. When separation worries interfere with the things that matter most to the child, we see the intersection with occupational therapy.

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

Identify Emotions with Pumpkin Emotion Faces

pumpkin emotions

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

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

pumpkin feelings

Pumpkin Emotions Activity

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

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

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

Time needed: 10 minutes

How to Make a Pumpkin Emotions Activity for Preschoolers

  1. Cut out a Pumpkin Shape

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

  2. Paint the stem green.

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

  3. Cut out face pieces from black paper.

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

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

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

Identification of Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Identifying and Expressing Emotions with pumpkin Faces

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

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

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

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

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


“This one has a mustache!”

Sad pumpkin face for preschoolers

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

Paper pumpkin fine motor activity

Toddler Pumpkin Emotion Activity 

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

Toddlers can use the activity for several skills:

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

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

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

Toddler playing with pumpkin face pieces on a refrigerator.

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

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

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

Toddler copying a surprised pumpkin face

  Surprised face!  

Toddler placing pumpkin facial expression magnets on a fridge.

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

Toddler moving pumpkin face pieces to make a smile

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

Pumpkins

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

Development of Eye-Hand Coordination

hand eye coordination

Hand eye coordination plays a powerful role in daily activities. Through the integration of fine motor skills and visual processing, we see intentional and controlled motor skills. But there’s more to catching and throwing a ball at a target than the coordinated use of the hands and eyes. Let’s break down hand eye coordination development skills as well as the other underlying skills needed.

hand eye coordination

We have included affiliate links to resources in this blog post on hand eye coordination milestones. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Hand Eye Coordination

Hand eye coordination refers to the coordination, or integration, of visual input and the processing of that visual information for coordinated movement of the hands. These skills impact fine motor dexterity and motor movements in functional tasks for so many tasks while manipulating movements and objects.

Eye-hand coordination is essential in handwriting, scissor use, threading beads, reading, throwing a ball, placing a cup on a shelf, coloring in lines, feeding, self-care, and much, much more.

The phrases “Hand-eye coordination” and “eye-hand coordination” are used interchangeably, however, we tend to use the phrase eye-hand coordination more appropriately, because input comes through the eyes first and the hand responds in motor tasks. However, the general population may primarily use the phrase “hand-eye coordination”.

In this blog post, we will use both phrases interchangeably, in order to reach the populations seeking information on either phrase.

In essence, hand-eye coordination, or eye-hand coordination, are the  Visual motor skills used in motor tasks.

Part of this development is the refined motor skills led by arch development in the hands. Paired with dexterity and precision skills, along with visual motor components, we see hand-eye coordination.


 
 
Eye hand coordination develops from a very young age! Here is information about the development of visual motor skills, specifically eye hand coordination in babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

 

Eye Hand Coordination Development

Eye-hand coordination development typically occurs through movement, beginning at a very young age. The visual components of oculomotor skills (how the eyes move) include visual fixation, visual tracking (or smooth pursuits), and visual scanning. These beginning stages of child development play a big part down the road in taking in visual information and using it to perform motor tasks. 

These hand-eye coordination developmental guidelines listed below are general guidelines of development based on approximate development of the visual motor skills needed for play, motor skills, and visual motor development.

Holding and talking to baby in the very young ages plays such an important part in the puzzle of visual motor skills. 


Additionally, tummy time and as the baby gains head strength and control, they eyes become stronger in their ability to fixate, track, and scan from the prone position. This is why we place toys around a baby on a baby blanket and encourage reach.

That pivotal stage when baby begins to roll is a social media-worthy time in the parent’s life. But there is more to celebrate than baby’s new rolling skills. Control of the eyes with movement is a big accomplishment and something that baby strengthens with movement. 

Hand Eye Coordination

These skill areas are broken down by months, all the way up through the preschool years. 


Disclaimer: Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.

ONE MONTH:
     Tracking a rattle while lying on back                                    
     Tracking a rattle to the side                
   
TWO MONTHS:
     Infant regards their own hands
     Tracks a ball side to side as it rolls across a table left to right and right to left.
     Tracks a rattle while lying on back side to side
   
THREE MONTHS:
     Extends hands to reach for a rattle/toy while lying on back
   
FOUR MONTHS:
     Reaches to midline for a rattle/toy while lying on back
     While lying on back, the infant touches both hands together.

hand Eye coordination and Crawling

Crawling on the hands and knees plays a vital role in hand eye coordination, too. When baby positions themselves up on all fours, they are gaining awesome proprioceptive input, strength in the shoulder girdle, core, and neck.

When crawling, baby is gaining mobility, but also using targeted movement toward a goal they visually process.

Research shows that hands-and-knees and walker-assisted locomotor experience facilitate spatial search performance. Spatial awareness, or visual spatial relations, and visual skill development is needed for coordinated use of the hands in motor tasks.


In fact, crawling improves so many areas needed for refined eye-hand coordination, including the fine motor skills, gross motor skills, gross motor coordination, balance, and strength needed for tasks like precision of in-hand manipulation, positioning in activities, and sustained endurance. We cover more on this topic in our blog post on spatial awareness for baby.

Eye hand coordination develops from infancy! Playing with baby in tummy time is a crucial element to eye hand coordination development.


SIX MONTHS:
     Brings hands together to grasp a block/toy while sitting supported on an adult’s lap
     Extends arm to reach up for a toy while laying on back
   
SEVEN MONTHS:
     Transfers a block/toy from one hand to the other while sitting supported on an adult’s lap.
     Touches a cereal piece with index finger
     Bangs a toy on a table surface while sitting supported on an adult’s lap

NINE MONTHS:
     Claps hands together

TEN MONTHS:
     Removes loose pegs from a Peg Board (affiliate link) 

ELEVEN MONTHS:
     Removes socks
     Releases a cereal bit onto table surface
     Places blocks (affiliate link) into a cup

A lot of eye hand coordination development occurs in the toddler years. Here are developmental milestones for eye hand coordination from 1-3 years.

 

Development of Eye Hand Coordination for Toddlers

Development of hand eye coordination accelerates during the toddler years because motor skills develop at an increasing pace during the years of 1-3. 

TWELVE MONTHS/ ONE YEAR:
     Turns pages in a board book
     Imitates stirring a spoon (affiliate link) in a cup

THIRTEEN MONTHS:
     Imitates tapping a spoon on a cup
     Begins to places large puzzle pieces in a beginner puzzle (affiliate link) 

FOURTEEN MONTHS:
     Scribbles on paper

SIXTEEN MONTHS:
     Imitates building a tower of 2-3 blocks (affiliate link) 

NINETEEN-TWENTY MONTHS:
     Builds a block tower, stacking 4-5 blocks (affiliate link) 

TWENTY THREE-TWENTY FOUR MONTHS:
     Imitates copying vertical lines


TWENTY FIVE-TWENTY SIX MONTHS:
     Removes a screw top lid on a bottle
     Stacks 8 blocks (affiliate link) 
     Begins to snip with scissors

TWENTY SEVEN-TWENTY EIGHT MONTHS:
     Imitates horizontal strokes with a marker
     Strings 2 Beads (affiliate link) 
     Imitates folding a piece of paper (bending the paper and making a crease, not aligning the edges)

TWENTY NINE MONTHS:
     Imitates building a train with blocks
     Strings 3-4 Beads (affiliate link) 
     Stacks 10 blocks (affiliate link) 

THIRTY ONE MONTHS:
     Builds a “bridge” with three blocks (affiliate link) 

THIRTY THREE MONTHS:
     Copies a circle

THIRTY FIVE MONTHS:
     Builds a “wall” with four blocks (affiliate link) 

Eye hand development continues in the preschool years. Here are ways that eye hand coordination develops in preschool and how to improve these visual motor skills.

 

hand Eye Coordination in Preschoolers

During the preschool years, we see even more fine motor and gross motor development. These refined skills, along with more coordinated efforts enable precision and dexterity with hand-eye coordination. Check out some of the preschool activities that we love to use to support this development.

Additional information and resources are covered in our blog post on crossing midline activities for preschoolers, as the eye-hand coordination at this age develops quickly and the sensory motor skills needed for play is an important part of development.

Preschoolers are beginning to use tools such as crayons, scissors, markers, glue sticks, and more. You’ll see greater control in using these materials. 

Preschoolers are also playing with more pretend play, and are able to use different toys with more refinement. While the preschool age may be able to use a pencil to create forms, occupational therapy practitioners prefer that handwriting is not encouraged at this age.

Read about the detrimental impact that handwriting has when pushed before preschoolers build the visual motor experience in this stage.

THIRTY SEVEN MONTHS:
     Cuts a paper in half with scissors

FORTY MONTHS:
     Lace 2-3 holes with string on Lacing Shapes (affiliate link) 
     Copies a cross

FORTY TWO MONTHS:
     Cuts within 1/2 inch of a strait line.
     Traces a horizontal line

FIFTY MONTHS:
     Copies a square
     Cuts a circle within 1/2 inch of the line
     Build “steps” with blocks (affiliate link) 

FIFTY FOUR MONTHS:
     Connects two dots to make a horizontal line.
     Cuts a square within 1/2 inch of the line
     Builds a “pyramid” with blocks (affiliate link) 

FIFTY FIVE MONTHS:
     Folds a piece of paper in half with the edges parallel
     Colors within lines


There is so much happening through regular play, interaction with babies and toddlers at each stage. What’s important to know is that the development doesn’t stop there! 


Studies have shown that eye-hand coordination impacts learning, communication, social-emotional skills, attention, and focus. Wow! 

Coordination Skills

Here are some ideas to work on eye-hand coordination for preschooler kids and older: 
This Letter Eye Hand Coordination Activity helps with bilateral coordination and the visual processing skills needed for reading and so many other skills. 

Try this scooping and pouring eye-hand coordination activity that can be adjusted to meet the needs of many ages and abilities.

More visual processing activities

For even MORE information on eye-hand coordination and activities to use in your occupational therapy practice, you will want to join our free visual processing lab email series. It’s a 3-day series of emails that covers EVERYthing about visual processing. We take a closer look at visual skills and break things down, as well as covering the big picture of visual needs.

In the visual processing lab, you will discover how oculomotor skills like smooth pursuits make a big difference in higher level skills like learning and executive function. The best thing about this lab (besides all of the awesome info) is that it has a fun “lab” theme. I might have had too much fun with this one 🙂

Join us in visual processing Lab! Where you won’t need Bunsen burners or safety goggles!

Click here to learn more about Visual Processing Lab and to sign up.


Free visual processing email lab to learn about visual skills needed in learning and reading.
Work on eye-hand coordination with preschoolers by building with blocks!
 
Try activities like geoboards, pegboards, and lacing beads to improve eye hand coordination development in kids.

References:
Kermoian, Rosanne & Campos, Joseph. (1988). Locomotor Experience: A Facilitator of Spatial Cognitive Development. Child development. 59. 908-17. 10.2307/1130258. 

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.

Spring hand eye coordination fine motor worksheets

Hand eye coordination activities can be as simple as lacing cards, hole punching activities, and paperclip tasks using printable OT activities. The ones in the image above are found in our Spring Fine Motor Kit, but there are many others in our other Fine Motor and Therapy Kits:

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

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

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

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

Auditory Sensitivity: Tips and Tools

Auditory sensitivity in the classroom

In this blog post, we are covering an important aspect of the classroom environment: auditory sensitivity. Students with auditory sensory overload are challenged to learn and participate in classroom activities, and not only that, auditory sensitivities, or sound sensitivity can lead to anxiety, overwhelm, avoidance, self-regulation issues, and social emotional considerations. Let’s discuss auditory processing with the focus on classroom sounds with sensory tips and strategies, as well as supports to set up a classroom for success. This blog post is a great resource aligned with our post on visual noise in the classroom.

Auditory sensitivity in the classroom

What is Auditory Sensitivity?

First, it’s important to consider what auditory sensitivity means. Basically, we are referring to sensitivities to sounds, or an over-awareness of the noises around us. A noise sensitivity can lead to discomfort in the ears as well as repercussions throughout the whole body as a result of anxiety, worry, overwhelm, and hyperawareness of auditory input.

There’s more to it, though. Auditory sensitivity can refer to a hyper-awareness of sounds, a buzzing sound or tinnitus in the ears, or other considerations. Here are some red flags indicating auditory sensitivities are present:

Red flags for auditory sensitivity:

  • Overly upset over loud sounds
  • Anxious that loud noises will happen
  • Complains of buzzing in the ears, or tinnitus
  • Hyper-aware of noises happening in other rooms
  • Overwhelmed by conversations happening around us
  • Complains of discomfort as a result of sounds
  • Normal hearing but also overly aware of certain pitches of sounds or certain decibels of sounds
  • Scared of the fire alarm or door alarms, or fire drills
  • Hearing loss
  • Overly concerned about everyday sounds
  • Prefers social isolation due to potential for certain sounds
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds that most do not consider to be a distraction: the heater buzzing, a refrigerator humming, lawnmower running outside, etc.
  • Challenges with daily life due to sounds
  • Overstimulation anxiety regarding noises that might occur
  • Sensory needs in the cafeteria due to peers, movement, yelling, etc.

There can be more red flags related to noise sensitivity, and these are all very individualized. No two individuals will present with the same auditory sensitivities due to personal preferences, environment, and personal experiences. 

Diagnoses with auditory sensitivities

Sensitivity to auditory input can be common with certain diagnoses. However, the list below is not exhaustive, meaning there can be other diagnoses that also have a sound sensitivity. Also, being overly aware of sounds to the point that the sensory preference impacts daily life functioning does not indicate that a diagnosis is present. It simply means that the individual has that particular sensory preference. 

Diagnoses that may have sound preferences:

  • Autism
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Lyme Disease
  • Depression
  • Head Injury
  • Phonophobia

Auditory hypersensitivity can be present in other diagnoses as well. 

How to test for auditory sensitivity

Because auditory preferences are so individualized, it’s important to seek out testing, particularly when the sensory preference impacts daily functioning or learning. 

One such tool in an individual’s toolbox is the occupational therapy practitioner. An OT can complete a sensory preferences profile using specific tests, interviews, and checklists as well as assessments to discover sensory preferences. They can then provide tools and strategies to support those auditory preferences. 

It’s also important to seek out evaluation from an audiologist. This professional can determine the frequency range the individual can hear using equipment and a sound stimulus.

Auditory Sensitivity in the Classroom

Students are VERY busy! Whether they are at home, school, or out in the community, children are affected by their surroundings. Setting up a preschool classroom for success is essential.

The environment can make children “hyper”, or calm them down. Sometimes preschool (and older kids) have ears sensitive to noise that impact learning and participation in their education.

Noise impacts a child’s ability to calm, that can be modified by adults in any environment. We are going to dive into how to support children who are sensitive to noise throughout this blog!

Setting up a Preschool Classroom for Success

Have you ever noticed when there is a lot going on, children tend to lose focus? A child sensitive to loud noises will be challenged to be successful in the classroom environment because the sensory need takes priority. Adults, when they have multiple senses engaged, can be overwhelmed by chaos as well.

This is especially true when there is overwhelming auditory input.

One way to look at this concept is by experience. This is overstimulation in adults that we have all experienced at one point or another.

Think about an amusement park and all of the sounds happening around you in a noisy crowd. While one of my favorite places to go is an amusement park, it can be very overwhelming! I love the rides and the shows.

But, when I go to the food court, I start to get overwhelmed. Children are usually crying because they are hungry, parents are annoyed, people are talking on their phone as they wait in 30 minute lines for a $10 hot dog, and there are attendants screaming “next”, or “move along!”

There is so much going on auditorily, that many adults get frustrated, and want to find a quiet corner to eat with their family. 

Just like a noisy dining hall, a classroom sensitivity can be overwhelming for some students.

That’s where tools for auditory sensitivity for the classroom come into play.

But before we explore the various tools for auditory sensitivities, we should consider what the auditory impact of the classroom is and how that input can impact learning, social emotional skills, communication, and daily functioning.

What is the noise like in your Classroom?

In a typical preschool classroom there might be 24 or more children running around, laughing and screaming, while a CD player is playing rambunctious music, and parents are talking about what their child had for breakfast. The preschool setup can become very noisy.

In an elementary classroom, you may have more towards 28 or more students. Kids having conversations, dropping books, running the electric pencil sharpener, screeching tennis shoes, or scraping chairs. Then there is the announcements over the loud speaker, teacher instructions, hallway noises, and the lawn mower outside the classroom window. It can get noisy, quick!

With different types of sounds echoing throughout the classroom, auditory overstimulation can affect behavior and engagement. For ears sensitive to noise, this can be huge.

According to an exploration of sensory processing and the limbic system, the sensory system receives sensory messages, like sound, and directs them to the part of the brain that needs to process them. This process is also responsible for keeping your body safe. Sometimes it will trigger an automatic safety response called a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.

This response is a protective mechanism based on our ancient ancestors who had to be on constant alert for saber tooth tigers rustling bushes. While we no longer need to worry about the threat of danger lingering in our periphery, we have this awareness of auditory input that keeps us safe in other ways. Our brain and body regulate the sensory input that comes in so it’s not too overwhelming for us.

An example; when you jump if you hear an unexpected sound.  The “sensory traffic controller” in the brain tunes in to help locate and identify the sound.  You may be instantly more alert if you hear your head teacher, or manager’s voice. Researchers think this part of the brain processes sounds differently in children or adults who are overwhelmed by sounds, noise, or auditory sensory input.

Auditory overload often occurs when there are too many sounds happening at the same time, or if the noise is at a certain frequency.  In addition, the brain can also become overwhelmed by a constant noise which has occurred over a period of time. This information is important when setting up a preschool classroom.

Tips for setting Up a Preschool Classroom

Once you have an understanding of what sound input is like in your classroom setting, you can then explore tools for auditory sensitivity.

In order to create a calm preschool classroom environment, the sound needs to be purposeful! Being cognizant of all of the different environmental sounds, is key to creating a soothing classroom.  

Consider the classroom set up

The classroom arrangement can impact auditory sensitivities, as well as how and where various tools for auditory sensitivity are available in the school setting.

Here are aspects of your preschool classroom setup to keep in mind when addressing noise:

  • Music – Depending on the time of day, music is a wonderful addition to any classroom. This can be through singing or the electronic media. Use calming/soft music to calm down a classroom during free play and nap time. This can include nature sounds, white noise, soft melodies and children’s music. 
  • Echoing noise – Every classroom is created differently, keep track of where there may some extra echoes. Hearing noise from multiple places at once can be very overwhelming, especially when echoes are coming from multiple children. This can be important when it comes to hallway noises, outside noises (lawnmowers), or echo within the classroom. Some ideas to support echo sensitivity include adding padding to the bottoms of shoes or desks. Felt sheets or foam sheets are inexpensive options for this. Other things to consider is going into the cafeteria, gymnasium, or area with higher ceilings and larger groups of children such as special events.
  • Sensory Headphones- One tool to support students with sensitive ears is a pair of sensory headphones. There are many on the market that can reduce the auditory stress of a child in the day to day noise of a classroom. Other options include sensory noise-reducing earplugs and noise cancelling headphones. To increase sounds try a DIY whisper phone.
  • Consider Other Students – Children are noisy, especially during free play! When indoors, encourage children to use an inside voice, while they are playing and talking. When children are focused and engaged, they tend do this naturally. Creating learning centers that support engagement is the best way to keep noise down, and children learning. Some children who have difficulty regulating their verbal output may need extra help in this area. Check out all of the learning stations (block, art, science, manipulative, sensory, dramatic play) ideas on how to set up your classroom by the age of the children you teach in this Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale.
  • Consider Other Adults – Keeping tabs the adults in the room is key when thinking about the noise in a classroom. Caregivers tend to talk loudly when around a lot of children, either to get their attention, or intervene when they see a problem about to occur. If caregivers practice talking to children, while getting down to their level, and making eye contact, the level of our voices naturally decrease. You can also try a “do not disturb” sign in the door during important lessons or instructional periods. Consider these auditory attention activities.
  • Consider Classroom Pets – Classroom pets are wonderful additions when setting up a preschool classroom. Although they are fun, they can also be noisy! The most popular classroom additions are fish tanks and guinea pigs. The sounds of the bubbles can be soothing for some, but loud to others. Guinea pigs are quiet until they start shuffling around and squeaking. When thinking about where to place a fish tank or cage, keep in mind where the children will nap, and where the quiet spaces are. 
  • Small group activities – When children are actively engaged in activities as a group, their voices tend to become loud. This is a great time to teach children how to turn taking skills, by waiting for others to ask questions. Allowing children to communicate with each other, have discussions, and engage in play, is more productive when they are using their inside voices. 
  • Consider the classroom sound system- There are many options when it comes to auditory needs in the classroom. We talked about the low tech strategies above, but along those same lines is a “high tech” classroom auditory system. This can include things like wireless voice amplifier for teachers, a classroom sound system with wireless microphone, a classroom speaker system, a voice amplifier for classroom, and other technical pieces of equipment.

Auditory input can affect behavior

Young children can feel overwhelmed by many environmental components. This can affect their behavior at home, and in the classroom. The sensory system, and the way the brain processes information, varies for each person. The ability to respond to the environment, greatly depends on how sensitive you are to sensory stimuli. 

The OT Toolbox has a great sensory processing checklist to better understand the sensory systems. You can learn more about this sensory processing checklist here.

What happens when a child is so overstimulated by their environment, they are nor able to calm down, without being redirected?

One strategy is having a safe space such as a calm down corner. Consider setting up a preschool classroom with a calming area.

Including a space in your classroom or home that allows children to take a break form their environment, along with using calming techniques (such as deep breaths, squeezing a ball, sipping water), are wonderful ways to help a child center themselves, so they can reintegrate into the classroom in a more calm state of mind. 

Enourage the use of visual, tactile and auditory calm down cues when setting up a preschool classroom, that two year olds understand. 

*If you notice a child having a hard time calming down, even with the removal of noise, they may have more sensitivities to stimuli than others. This is a sign that an Occupational Therapy evaluation might be appropriate, to determine if they need more supports with their sensory system. The occupational therapist will review the sensory systems, triggers, and behavioral outcomes.

A therapist may then suggest a sensory diet as part of the plan. For more information about a sensory diet, check out this search on the OT Toolbox. In addition, this amazing printable includes 130 different ideas on introducing a sensory diet for your child.  

Auditory classroom management is just one aspect of setting up a preschool classroom

Other aspects to consider are:

  • visual input – is your class cluttered, messy, or busy
  • tactile – is there a lot of touching going on, are children in close proximity
  • olfactory – what are all the good/bad smells in the class
  • vestibular – are there times for movement breaks and outlets for energy

Preschool classrooms are a lot of fun, and children are born to be noisy, but if caregivers take the time to create a classroom that has more soothing sounds indoors, children learn to socialize in a calm way. This allows for classroom management to be easier and more productive, supporting every child’s needs. When planning your classroom, home environment, or an outing with your child, notice the auditory stimuli, and how it is affecting your child.

Free Handout: Classroom Auditory Sensitivity Strategies

One tool for auditory sensitivity is the free printable you’ll find below.

We’re coming up on the end of our Summer Handout Series here on the OT Toolbox. Want to print of a list of strategies to support auditory sensitivities in the classroom? Use this printable handout as an educational tool to support auditory needs.

This handout is also available inside our Member’s Club. Just go to the handouts section to grab it without entering your email address.

Get the handout by entering your email address into the form below:

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.

The Auditory Processing Kit is one tool to support auditory needs. Use this auditory processing kit to support learners with hyper-responsive or hypo-responsive auditory systems. Use the hands-on activities to support learning and active listening through play and handwriting tasks. Use the handouts and posters to teach about the auditory system and auditory sensitivities, with strategies to support individualized needs.

The Auditory Processing Kit supports listening and comprehension activities into multisensory learning styles.

Developmental Tools for Teaching Letter Recognition

Letter puzzle pieces and a magnifying glass focusing on letter E. Text reads "letter identification"

This blog discusses activities for teaching letter recognition. At its most basic, letter recognition refers to letter identification. It is one of the main skills children need to know before they can name, write, or sound out the letters. The following fun letter recognition games for preschoolers are based on development and skill progression.

Be sure to read through our blog post on name practice for kindergarten for resources and tools to support letter use and recognition in children ages 5-6 or for kids at the level where they are recognizing letters in their name. These ideas are great for beginning reading for kindergarten.

Use our new color by letter worksheet to further develop this letter recognition skill.

Teaching letter recognition

What you need to know about Teaching Letter recognition

Letter recognition, or the ability to recognize and identify letters begins at a very young age. But did you know that teaching letter recognition skills starts way before kindergarten and and even before entering the classroom?

Kindergarten students are many times exposed to writing and copying letters on trace worksheets, and writing pages. But before a young child can do these skills that are part of the curriculum, knowing what skills lead up to these skills is helpful.

Even before a young preschooler is able to identify and name letters in printed context such as books or letter play activities, they are learning this skill through the immersion of seeing letters in everyday life.

Letter identification and the ability to recognize letters in printed form might occur through exposure on television, printed media, following along while a book is being read, or while engaging with technology. 

There is a progression in the important literacy skill of recognizing printed letters:

  • Letter recognition in isolation – example, pointing out all of the upper case letter As on a letter picture book
  • Letter recognition in every day life – example pointing out the letter S on a stop sign
  • Letter identification – identifying and stating letter’s names
  • Letter identification in text -reading and sounding out a letter’s sound in reading or sounding out written text
  • Matching upper case and lowercase letters– matching the upper case letters to lowercase, and vice versa

Each step of teaching letter recognition skills is founded in experience and practice. This includes communication with others, exposure, and reading with caregivers. 

Not every child learns the same way. Starting as young as preschool, caregivers can support children by using their interests and strengths to teach them new skills.

Children don’t need to read or write until well beyond toddlerhood, but preschoolers enjoy looking at books, finding letters on walks, and learning letters through movement. 

The best way to teach letter recognition
The best way to teach letter recognition is by first covering the prerequisite skills.

Prerequisites to Letter Teaching Letter Recognition

Several areas are needed to develop letter recognition skills:

  • Object permanence
  • Form constancy
  • Visual discrimination
  • Visual figure ground
  • Working memory
  • Visual memory
  • Visual scanning skills
  • Cognitive skills
  • Physical development

You can see that these components are founded in visual motor skills, perceptual skills, and working memory.

Before any of this can happen (and through the process), young children should be exposed to rhymes, songs, and singing the alphabet song. (Add alphabet exercises for movement fun!) Letter formation rhymes can support literacy as well. This is actually the first step in the road to literacy!

Teaching letter recognition requires Visual discrimination Skills

Letter recognition/identification is when a person is able to look at a letter and recall it from previous experience. Recognition of letters occurs both in uppercase and lowercase form. Additionally, there is a cursive letter recognition aspect as well. This blog post covers cursive letter recognition skills.

This site states that even before letter identification, there are a few other skills that should be taught, including visual discrimination, so the child is able to find differences among lines and shapes. 

Visual discrimination can be taught in isolation through books or letter formation worksheets, or in games and activities such as Memory games, matching and sorting activities, or playing “what’s the same” and “what’s different” through hidden picture activities and puzzles.  We cover this visual perceptual skill in our blog post, Wacky Wednesday book activity.

Visual Memory Another great play-based activity to develop the visual perceptual memory skills needed for letter recognition, are games that challenge kids to notice differences. Present the child with a tray of everyday items, and ask them to memorize the items on the tray. Ask them to look away or cover their eyes. Take away one or more items, and have them recall the missing items. 

Letter activities- Other ways to encourage letter play is through printed alphabet worksheets, puzzles, letter magnets, or other alphabet manipulatives such as letter beads. You can ask the child to sort letters based on shape, such as those that include straight lines, versus curved line, or diagonal letters. You can also sort letters by letters based on size: tall letters, short letters, and letters with a tail that hangs below the lines.

One way to encourage functional handwriting is through addressing letter size. This tall and short worksheet has a fine motor and visual motor component that can be incorporated into whole-body movement activities to teach these concepts that carryover into letter sizing and use in handwriting.

Prerequisites to teaching letter recognition begins in infancy

These prerequisite skills that support letter recognition, such as visual discrimination and memory, develop as early as infancy, when young children identify 3D objects that are familiar to them like their bottle, favorite toy, or their parents. It is important infants experience tummy time in order to develop visual motor skills, and strong oculomotor skills, as a result of time spent on the belly while looking at objects.

As children grow, their visual discrimination becomes more refined and they are able to identify pictures and written words.

Toddlers are able to point to a picture of a puppy in a book they are reading, or identify who is hiding under the blanket.

Object permanence and working memory

When a child sees an object and knows what it is called, this is referred to as object permanence. This requires working memory skill development to use what is seen, remember it, and store it for later retrieval.

While visual discrimination is the ability to detect differences and similarities in size, shape, color and pattern, cognitive ability is necessary to recognize these differences based on previous exposure, along with memory to have stored that information away in their mind’s eye to recall when needed.

This skill is typically associated with letter formation and handwriting skills. Identifying and discriminating between differences in letters allow kids to copy and write letters from memory. However, noticing and identifying the differences in the curves, diagonal lines, and lines that make up a letter are essential build up to that skill.

Hearing and saying the letter sounds associated with letters are part of the process, too. Phonemic awareness is developed initially through play, but this skill continues to develop and progress as reading and literacy skills are refined in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and beyond.

Teaching letter recognition begins with the ability to recognize details in visual images

In more depth, students should identify likeness and differences of shapes or forms, colors, as well as the position of various objects and people. Developing discrimination skills will help children learn the alphabet and then both read and print letters a lot better. 

There are numerous types of visual discrimination that children should begin to understand and develop. These include: 

  • 3D Objects
  • Shapes
  • Drawings & Pictures
  • Colors
  • Letters and Words
  • Sequences

Letter recognition games

The letter recognition activities and games and listed below are fun ways to instruct children in the essential skills needed for reading and literacy. It’s literally the building block to reading.

  • Name Recognition- Start with recognizing the letters of their name. Point out letters in the child’s name and ask them to point to letters in a book or on a sign. Children can first begin with recognizing upper case letters of their name, then moving onto the lowercase letters. Working first with uppercase letters is best, because capital letters are easier to discriminate between. Lowercase letters have many similar letters, b,d,p,g,q, and j. 
  • Bean Bag Letter Toss – Affix upper and lowercase letter stickers to one side of each bean bag. Put a basket or bucket across from your child. As your child throws the bean bags into the bucket, ask them to name the letters and their sounds of the letters. Students can run around looking for matching letters scattered around the room.
  • Alphabet Play dough- Write down large letters on a piece of paper and place that paper into a sheet protector. Encourage your child to form the letters on the sheet protector with play dough of their choosing.
  • I Spy Letter Walk –Take a walk with your child and look for letters in their environment such as on license plates, street signs and building. Play, I Spy, searching for different letters, or letters in sequential order. The printable tools in the Letter Fine Motor Kit are a great resource for this activity.
  • Jumping to letters – Create a letter pathway with sidewalk chalk on a playground or sidewalk. Children can walk, run, jump, or crawl across the letters, naming them as they move forward! Change it up by asking them to walk backwards along the path. This is a fun motor planning activity.
  • Chasing the Alphabet – (Amazon affiliate link:) Sammy Chases the Alphabet is a book I wrote about Sammy the Golden Dog playing fetch with balls around his farm. Each ball has a letter on it. After you read the book, bring the story to life by adding letter stickers to ball pit balls. Toss the balls around a room or outside, and encourage your child to find them all, naming the letters on each ball they find.
  • Food Alphabet Worksheets – Pair real food items with these food worksheets. These worksheets include the letter, a food that starts with the letter, and all of the letters that make the word. As children sound out each letter, ask them to point to the letter that makes that sound.

more letter recognition Activities

Alphabet activities like the ones below support recognition skills through repetition. Alphabet recognition occurs through songs, play, and hands-on activities.

  • The Soundabet Song – Letter identification doesn’t just include what letters look like, it also includes what letters sound like. Can your child point to the letter name as well as the sound it makes? This Soundabet Song is a great way to teach kids how to pair the sounds of the letters to what the letters look like. 
  • Letter Push – This ABC play dough activity uses plastic letters and play dough! Add in some fine motor skills to alphabet identification, by having children push plastic letters into play dough while they name the letter. This can be done as a circle time game, where each child take a turn pushing in a letter, or a small group time where every child has the opportunity to push the play dough letters. 
  • Alphabet Sensory Bins – Nothing keeps my preschoolers entertained more then a large sensory bin! Adding alphabet letters or letter markers to the sensory bins for children to find and match, is one of the most exciting letter identification games. Check out these sensory bin base ideas to use in different letter recognition sensory  bins.
  • This alphabet sensory writing tray requires users to recognize letters by uncovering them from a sensory medium. This is a great activity for recognizing letter parts such as diagonals or the curved part of a letter as the letter is uncovered.
  • Metal alphabet tray play – My favorite is to add a metal pan to the sensory table, and ask kids to stick the magnet letters they find in the sensory materials onto the metal pan!
  • Alphabet Discover Bottle – This sensory discovery bottle can be used before naptime, bedtime, in a calm down corner, or as a learning activity. As children shake the bottle, they can name the letters that appear! 
  • Match letters- Match uppercase letters to lower case letters, match different fonts of letters, and match letters in different environments (books, signs, on television, in print, etc.)
  • Gross motor activities- Use a letter floor mat to jump on a specific letter. Ask the child to find a letter magnet and place it on the letter mat.
  • Letter recognition scavenger hunts- Use ideas like these letter clothes pins scavenger hunt for ideas.
  • Write letters in shaving cream or in sand
  • Sort letters by word families when teaching letter groups
  • Play beginning sound games- I spy with my little eye, a word that starts with /b/
  • Use dot markers to dot letters
  • Spot letters on a white board and trace with a dry erase marker
  • make letters from pipe cleaners
  • Sensory play activities
  • Trace letters on sandpaper

A note teaching letter recognition skills:

Learning through play doesn’t have to be stressful. Every child learns differently, and that includes recognizing letters of the alphabet. Once a child has developed the visual discrimination, expressive language and receptive language skills needed to participate in letter identification activities, notice what motivates them to learn.

Do they like to move, cut, color, dance, or sing? Pick a letter activity that you know your child will love, and they will keep coming back for more. This will result in increasing their attention span and learning new letters daily. Follow your child’s interests and you will surely have a wonderful time!

letter identification

Today’s post addresses Letter Identification. What happens if your student copies letters, but is unable to recognize them? Can a student who can not identify letters learn to read? Letter identification is at the core of reading and writing, which are important life skills.

letter identification before copying and tracing

Many therapists and teachers work on copying and tracing long before their students can recognize the letters. Have you thought about what happens if your student copies and traces letters, but is unable to identify them?

Tracing is not going to teach number/letter formation if the learner does not know what those figures are. To a learner who does not know these symbols, they will be tracing lines and circles, not learning numbers or letters.

This holds true for copying letters and numbers. For example, the “H” becomes just sticks, while the “b” is a ball and a stick rather than recognized symbols.

Theoretically if a person writes or traces the letter “A” enough times, the body will start to recognize this pattern (through motor planning and kinesthetic awareness), and commit it to memory. 

This only works if the learner understands what is being traced or copied, and can add meaning to it.

can a student who is unable to identify letters learn to read?

Sadly students who are unable to recognize letters can learn to read, but not efficiently or effectively. Learners who are unable to identify letters will memorize the way words look as a clump, rather than using letter identification and phonemic awareness. This holds true for math. Students can learn ways to get around multiplication and division without memorizing these facts.

Because students can “get by” this is why it is critical to insure students have the necessary building blocks for learning before moving on. Pushing students through to the next grade without having the necessary skills, is an ongoing problem. How many high school students have you seen that are unable to do simple math in their head, or spell simple words? Too many.

IdentificATION OF lETTERS FOR READING

Let’s circle back to letter identification now that you have a better understanding of the need for letter identification before teaching reading, copying, writing, or tracing.

One of the pre-reading skills kids need to be a successful reader is letter knowledge.

Letter Knowledge begins with Letter Identification which is also known as Alphabet Recognition.

Students have different learning styles, therefore they need to be exposed to new information in various ways.

Learners can understand information by:

Offering several different teaching styles is the key to meeting the needs of all different types of students. Sometimes this takes many trials to find the one that sticks.

I had a reluctant learner who was unable to recall or identify his letters despite repetition, flash cards, games, puzzles, worksheets, or any other activity I presented. In the past I had used my students specific interests to spark their learning. Many lines were made making Thomas the Train tracks across the paper.

This student loved Star Wars. He could name every character. Lucky for me, there are many Star Wars characters! I paired a letter with each character. We used A for Anakin, S for Stormtroopers, C for Chewbacca, and so on. At first we worked on pairing them verbally/auditorily. Then I made flash cards with pictures of each character near their name and picture. Because this was motivating for him, my student quickly learned letter identification!

activities to teach letter idenfication

Before children are able to learn to read or identify letters, you can work with them to understand what they are. This can be done by reading stories, singing songs, telling nursery rhymes, and talking to them. Once they begin to notice that stories or other items have symbols, you can point to the words as you read them. Here are some simple letter identification activities:

  • Point out print wherever you see them. On signs, license plates, television, books, packages, clothing, or anywhere you might find written print.
  • Look for specific letters in books or magazines. Ask the child to name the letter and the sound.
  • Make arts and crafts with specific letters. Write it in sand, shaving cream, or a foggy mirror. Letter of the week crafts are fun, too. We have printable letter crafts inside The OT Toolbox Membership.
  • Practice writing letters with different toys or activities. Magnetic letters, books, magazines, puzzles, flash cards, and games like Scrabble, are handy options to have letters readily available for letter identification.
  • Form letters out of pretzel dough, play dough, popsicle sticks, pasta, or cookie cutters for sensory letter formation.
  • Play a Letter Scavenger Hunt and have students look for certain letters you have hidden around the room or house. A scavenger hunt is another great use for magnetic letters. Enhance this activity by adding finding items that start with that letter.
  • Use a keyboard to identify letters. Keyboarding skill is a great life skill tool to have. Finding and identifying letters is a great way to practice and learn the letters in a functional way.

ot toolbox resources for letter recognition

  • Developmental tools for teaching letter recognition – This blog discusses activities for teaching letter recognition
  • Here is a recent post on Learning Letters with Bottle Caps
  • The OT Toolbox Archives contain dozens of posts related to letter recognition.
  • Alphabet Movement Cards – Alphabet Movement Cards combine love of letters, along with aerobic activity to work on muscle strength, tone, focus, attention, or add a much needed sensory break between tabletop tasks. 
  • Letter Formation Themed Activities – This page includes all of our Letter Formation theme activities. You’ll find letter formation themed fine motor activities, letter printables, and A-Z therapy tools of all kinds! Plan out a week (or weeks) of activities for your whole therapy caseload. Just print and go!

Letters are everywhere!

When you start to think about letters, you realize they are everywhere! Use what is readily available to immerse your learners in knowledge. You might have to get creative once in a while, like my Star Wars guy, but that is what makes this job so fun!

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.

The Letter Fine Motor Kit is a 100 page printable packet includes everything you need for hands-on letter learning and multisensory handwriting!

This resource is great for pediatric occupational therapists working on handwriting skills, fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and more. Use the activities to promote a variety of functional tasks.

Teachers will find this printable packet easily integrated into literacy centers, classroom activities, and multisensory learning.

Parents will find this resource a tool for learning at home, supporting skill development, and perfect for therapy at home!

MULTISENSORY HANDWRITING

Grab the Letter Fine Motor Kit and use all of the senses, including heavy work, or proprioceptive input, through the hands ask kids build and manipulate materials to develop handwriting and letter formation skills.

Fun Friendship Activities for Preschoolers

Preschool friendship activities

The preschool setting is a place social emotional skills develop, and these friendship activities for preschoolers are sure to be a hit in the preschool classroom. We’ve covered friendship activities in the past, but these preschool activities support development during the early years. Preschool is a wonderful age, full of exploration and a thirst for knowledge, and making friends in preschool is one aspect of learning. It also comes with a set of challenges while learning to navigate social skills.

This blog discusses the foundational social and emotional skills that support friendships in preschoolers. It also includes seven friendship building activities. If you are looking for ideas for friendship lesson plans, these ideas are founded in developmental progression.

Preschool friendship activities

Friendship Activities for Preschoolers

Young children in preschool begin to practice friendship building skills with others, such as cooperation, negotiation, turn taking, communication and trust.

Children as young as three years of age may make inseparable friendships that prove the importance of social function. While participating in specific activities designed to develop friendship skills, children are participating in social emotional learning.

Preschool Friendship and social skills

Emotional intelligence is part of development during the preschool years. Over the course of ages 2-5, many of these skills develop in order to support friendship.

The emotional intelligence skills that impact friendship include:

  • Empathy
  • Awareness of others
  • Awareness of impact of self on others
  • Conversation
  • Self-management
  • Relationship management

There are six social skills needed to make and sustain friendships at any age. Preschoolers often experience their first group experiences at the park, preschool, in a community sport, or family event.

The more that children have opportunities to participate in group activities, their social and emotional skills develop and refine, as they prepare for less adult intervention in Kindergarten and beyond. 

Social emotional considerations that impact friendship skills in young children include:

  1. Cooperation
  2. Negotiation
  3. Turn taking
  4. Communication
  5. Trust
  6. Emotional regulation
Let’s take a closer look at the friendship skills preschoolers develop during the ages of 3-5, and explore friendship activities for preschoolers that support development in each of these areas:

Cooperation

When children are engaging in activities with others, understanding the needs of others, while also acknowledging their own needs, they are cooperating. As described in this Zero to Three blog, “Cooperation is the ability to balance one’s own needs with someone else’s. We often think of cooperation as children doing what adults want.

That is compliance. True cooperation means a joint effort—a give and take that is mutually satisfying. To develop a cooperative spirit in children, we need to help them understand how our requests and rules are good for everyone.”

Negotiation

Negotiation is the ability to communicate with others in order to compromise on how to complete a task.  This Embracing Horizon’s blog describes the difference between negotiations and arguments. It is important to understand that negotiation is a life skill. “The art of successful negotiation is a skill which is important to social situations throughout life; going far beyond agreeing on a movie to watch with the whole family.

Negotiation involves abilities such as listening to others, expressing empathy, and to coming to a good compromise.”

Turn Taking

Turn taking is a skill that often needs adult intervention, especially with preschoolers. Children who are working together, often need to take turns with toys or objects.

Children can utilize turn taking resources, such as turn taking cards, lists, timers, picture symbols, or participate in teacher directed turn take activities, such as group games, or assignment of class jobs, to become familiar with waiting until it is their turn. My book, Sammy Learns to Share: A Lesson in Turn Taking includes some great turn taking tips and resources for the classroom. 

An activity like our no sew felt cookies is a great turn taking activity for little ones, and it support communication and social and emotional learning skills through play.

Communication

As children develop communication skills, they are able to be understood, and understand other children. Communication can be verbal, gestural, non verbal, or through using picture exchange cards. When children can communicate their wants, needs, and ideas clearly to each other, they are more equipped to be able to cooperate in large group activities.

As children advance into new developmental stages, their communication skills advance, and their play skills become more sophisticated. Lack of language skills is often a source of frustration and maladaptive behavior among small children, especially those with communication disorders.

It’s through play that children develop skills like communication and social emotional skills. Read here about fine motor activities for preschoolers that support these areas of development.

Trust

The foundation of any relationship is trust. If someone says they are going to do something, then they need to do it. This consistency and reliability builds trust. As preschoolers grow and engage with others, they learn to follow through with their promises, and expect others to do the same.

They learn that adults generally do what they say they are going to do, follow routines, follow-through with promises, and offer positive reinforcements. 

Emotional Regulation

When young children become overwhelmed and are unable to communicate their feelings with others, completing a group task can be difficult. Children who practice calm down and problem solving skills, are more easily able to participate in a variety of group activities, even when they become frustrated.

My book, Soothing Sammy’s Emotional Program, teaches children how to help calm down, communicate and problem solve in a positive way. 

7 Friendship activities for Preschoolers

Include these games and activities when developing preschool lesson plans:

  1. Friendship Hands Group Project is one of my favorite pre-K activities! The handprints are of the kids in the class, and we write down exactly what they like best about their friends inside the heart! All you need is a marker, some paint and a large piece for cardboard!
  2. Group Art- is a great way to encourage cooperation, collaboration and negotiation. Roll out a long piece of butcher paper and provide only one package of markers. Children are able to decorate the paper however they would like, but they have to take turns with the markers, discuss how they want to split up the area of the paper, and figure out where each peer will be drawing. A lot of times, the kids end up sharing the space with their peers, creating some amazing images together. 
  3. Dramatic Play Roles and Props – Creating a pretend play area in the classroom that is based off of the interest of the children, by the children, and for the children, is one of the most exciting and collaborative experiences that I have had the pleasure of taking part in. Props that preschoolers can use in play include interactive toys, sharing toys, imagination toys, and manipulatives for pretend play. As children create props, assign roles, and negotiate through the process, they are able to practice all of the components of building friendships.
  4. Talk about a personal bubble with a hula hoop. Being a friend means not getting too close to other’s personal space. Use the hula hoop as a space divider, or get two kids into the hula hoop, but then move away, and talk about how a friend doesn’t want to be on top of their friends all of the time.
  5. Friendship Gross Motor ActivitiesPreschoolers love to move. These super fun gross motor activities make building friendships fun! They include activities such as, “move like your friends,” that supports the  developing and awareness of personal space.
  6. Friendship Books – We have many friendship activities for preschoolers in our Exploring Books through Play book. Reading books about friendship is a wonderful way for children to talk about characters in a book, describe how they became friends, and what make their friendship special. Our Leonardo the Terrible Monster activity that pairs with the book, Leonard and the Terrible Monster, is fun way to extend the conversation about friendship into small group time. My book, Sammy Goes to Preschool, talks about friendship between children of all abilities. 
  7. Friendship Science Activities – These friendship science activities are bound to be a great time for everyone! They include measuring activities, fingerprints, homemade telescopes, flowers, and more! You’ll find more science and exploration activities in the book Exploring Books Through Play.
  8. Circle Time Friendship Games – When all the children in the classroom are sitting together and ready to engage, this is a great time to participate in some friendship games. Friendship games to use during circle time activities are fun. They include the Friendship Yarn Web, Friendship Matching Game, and Friendly Music Chairs!

A final note of preschool friendships

Building friendships takes a lot of different skills, most are learned in the early years. Preschoolers will not be able to do it on their own, so it is up to adults to help facilitate friendship skills through modeling, providing resources, and having age appropriate expectations of early childhood development. As children practice their language, social and play skills, friendships will form, and children will learn life-long skills.

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.

Exploring Books Through Play contains 50 hands-on, multi-sensory play-centered activities for anyone helping kids learn about friendship, acceptance, empathy, compassion, and differences in others.

In this preschool friendship activity book, kids can develop social emotional skills resource, you’ll find therapist-approved resources, activities, crafts, projects, and play ideas based on 10 popular children’s books.

Each preschool book covered contains activities designed to develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory exploration, handwriting, and more. The resource helps preschoolers understand complex topics of social/emotional skills, empathy, compassion, and friendship through books and hands-on play. Get Exploring Books Through Play today.

Co-regulation

In this blog, you will learn how the environment, and the feelings of those around us, directly affects behavior. You will learn simple ways to support children in calming down, while in our care, through co-regulation. This important skill is part of our emotional intelligence and one that takes fostering and nurturing. Let’s go over what coregulation means, how this skill develops, and how we can support co-regulation through practical strategies.

Co-regulation information, facts, and references for developing this emotional intelligence skill in children and peers.

CoRegulation

The feelings and behavior of people in close proximity to us, directly impact how we feel, and respond to our own emotions. When children become upset, if those areound them stay calm, demonstrating how to calm down, the child can calm down quicker.

How would you feel if your neighbor was yelling at the mailman for stepping on their freshly cut grass?  Do you feel annoyed? Can you feel the fear the mail man is feeling?

How would you feel while walking past someone doing yoga in the park? Do you feel calm?

In the same way adults are impacted by others actions, children pick up the moods of others around them. When people around us are behaving a certain way, we can be directly affected, responding both internally and externally. 

When witnessing an uncomfortable event such as the confrontation at the mailbox, internally you might feel your heart start to pound, or clench your teeth as nervousness sets in. You might run and hide behind the window curtain to try and separate from yourself from what is making you feel uneasy (while still peeking in horror). 

Once separated, you are often able to calm down using strategies to regulate your sensory system. I like to sip water and take breaths of lavender. My husband likes to go for a run and lift weights to decompress. As adults, we have learned how to adapt and overcome these intense feelings through different strategies. Children need support to separate themselves from stressful situations, and regulate their emotions.  They are not able to understand the triggers and determine an acceptable calming mechanism.

Co-regulation definition and terms

What is co-regulation?

The definition of co-regulation is– the ability to regulate emotions and behaviors to soothe and manage stressing internal sensory input or external situations, with the support and direction of a connecting individual. Co-regulation is nurturing connection of another individual that supports regulation needs through the use of strategies, tools, and calming techniques in order to self-soothe or respond in times of stress.

Co-regulation and self-regulation are part of the developmental process. In order to move from a co-existing place to a place of independence, the child needs to develop emotional intelligence and social emotional learning. All of this is part of typical development.

Development of co-regulation

Co-regulation is a part of development. Before one can self-regulate, they need to co-regulate.

  • Co-regulation begins in infancy. Before a young child can self-soothe, they need a parent to help them. When an infant is crying a parent picks them up, holds them close, rocks, and wraps them up in a tight swaddle, and offers a pacifier. All of these strategies are tools to provide correct sensory input that calms and regulates the baby’s system. This is co-regulation; the parent is offering tools and strategies to support the infant’s needs. 

As caregivers we play a huge role in helping children calm down. When children are upset or overwhelmed, they look to us for help with regulating their emotions. This article explains how to support co regulation in infants through three year olds. A caregiver needs to project calmness in order to soothe their infant. This is very difficult for an anxious or upset parent.

  • Co-regulation in toddlers might look similar, but with more input from the child. The toddler prefers to be active and jump, run, roll, or move, rather than be held and cuddled all the time. The caregiver offers toys and activities to get the child moving in the way they enjoy. If the toddler only does these alerting activities, they might run themselves down, and move into a meltdown state. The parent then offers a calming tool such as a cool sip of water, a slow walk, singing a song, a break from the action, or a moment to stop and look at something interesting (also known as mindfulness). All of these are co-regulation strategies for toddlers. The parent offers strategies to the young child, and hopefully, the child accepts them. 

As children grow into toddlers, the most successful way to support their feelings is to calmly use words and gestures to redirect them when they are upset. When adults are feeling anxious or upset when trying to redirect the child, children respond with increased adrenaline, becoming more upset and dysregulated.

They match or mirror the energy of their caregivers. When adults stay calm, children can become calm. When children become or stay calm, they are able to listen and problem solve. 

  • Co-regulation in preschoolers can be similar to that of a toddler. As they develop, preschoolers are able to offer more input as to their preferences, interests, and dislikes. For example; the young child can request a certain sippy cup they like. They may not know why they like certain activities or items like the long straw on their favorite cup, or the weight of a plush toy, but they know that it feels good. Similarly, adults often do not understand why they choose to run or listen calming music, they just know it helps. Parents can help young children co-regulate sensory and emotional needs through providing ideas for strategies and activities. 
  • Co-regulation in older children– Preschoolers, kindergarteners, elementary aged children and teens are able to self-regulate using skills taught to them while being supported through co-regulation at a younger age. As children grow, they have more autonomy. They have more ability to move from co-regulation to self-regulation. 

The ability to self-regulate occurs through co-regulation with parents, teachers, and older peers. Typically, it’s through the first 7 years of life that children need support to regulate emotions, sensory input, and external stressors.  Even after the age of 7, most kids need help! 

Self-regulation development continues over time, but the ability to co-regulate begins to move from a supported mechanism, to an individual and independent ability.

Co-regulation parenting tips and strategies to support emotional development.

Co-regulation Parenting

The above paragraph should help explain what coregulation means in young children, but how can we help support kids with co-regulation, so they can develop these self-soothing skills?

We can focus on co-regulation parenting as a tool and a means to support our children.

Many adults struggle with self-regulation. This is where we see additional problems. When young children need support to co-regulate, sometimes the adults in their lives are not offering the tools and strategies as a support person.

If a parent responds to a young child’s meltdowns or behaviors with emotional outbursts, anger, stress, and anxiety, the young child cannot soothe themselves.

It is important for adults to take a look at stressors, internal anxiety, and emotional state so they can support the young child. 

  • How many times have you witnessed frustrated teachers/parents/caregivers yelling at children?
  • Does it calm them, or make them afraid and shut down?

This is why it is important for caregivers to step away from a situation where the toddler is “pushing their buttons”. Take a deep breath, get a date night out, go for a run, or some other mechanism of self-regulation.  I often said, “Mommy needs a time out.”

self regulation

You have probably heard the term “self-regulation” which refers to the ability to control oneself in any given situation by balancing and calming internal sensory systems within the world around us. 

Before young children can self-regulate, they need the support of adults around them to teach and help them develop the abilities to regulate on their own. They need to co-regulate, or co-exist with parents, teachers, and others, who can “show them the ropes” and learn to balance and calm their internal and external systems. Co-regulation comes before self-regulation developmentally.

Neuroscience of Co-regulation

What does co-regulation look like in the brain?

Brains are amazing machines, capable of processing the environment, including the feelings of others. Dr. Caroline Leaf, neuroscientist has stated “As you co-regulate with someone, the mirror neurons in their brain are activated, and this enables the person in the deregulated state to literally ‘mirror’ your calmness,” For long-term benefits and effective results, Johnson recommends practicing co-regulation often. “It will effectively rewire the brain so that over time, things that once were triggering or set off alarms no longer have the same effect and happen less often.” 

Wow! The brain can process the feelings of others in milliseconds, directly affecting our our own moods and behaviors. No wonder all of the children in a preschool class feel overwhelmed, as soon as one child becomes dysregulated. 

How do you prevent the whole room from becoming overwhelmed, when only one person is stressed? Co-regulation is the first step for a person to learn self-regulation. 

According to this research article by Howard Beth, “Neuroscience shows that humans develop their abilities for emotional self-regulation through connections with reliable caregivers who soothe and model in a process called “co-regulation.” … In time, the child internalizes the expectation of a soothing response which provides a foundation for learning self-regulation. “

It is the responsibility of caregivers to support co-regulation, which directly impacts a child’s ability to self soothe as they grow. When children are upset, the most important thing for caregivers to do, is remain calm.

If caregivers become upset or overwhelmed in response to another person’s behaviors or actions, everyone will continue to feel stressed, and the situation will explode.

Co-regulation activities and strategies to help kids with emotional development of cooregulation skills.

How to help kids with co-regulation

My own regulation techniques were put to the test once, when I was teaching at a preschool that backed up to a farm. The children (all 2-5 year olds) were inside eating lunch and I was setting up their nap mats. We had a futon in the classroom for children to relax and read books on.

Out of nowhere, a humongous snake slithered out from under the futon! The initial shock wore off quickly, and my nerves set in. The snake was coming towards me, and I had 24 preschoolers eating lunch only ten feet away! I calmly helped the children walk out the door to the playground with the aide, breathing and saying “It will be okay. No need to worry.” 

The kids walked out of the room curious, but not frightened. I raced to the phone and called for help (my voice was much more panicked as I talked to the janitor about the huge snake in the room)! I knew nothing about snakes, and I wasn’t about to get in its’ way. Luckily it ended up being a garter snake, removed quickly by a specialist and relocated, far away from my classroom!

At that moment, I knew that I had to “keep my cool”, so the children wouldn’t become scared. They co-regulated off of my calmness, and were able to safely follow directions and watch the situation unfold from outside.

Children learn new skills through hands-on activities. Regulation skills are learned the same way.

Regulation Strategies:

There are many more self regulation strategies than just the ones listed below. This should give you a good idea for where to start.

  1. Deep Breathing- Deep breathing exercises for kids teaches young children how to calm down through pausing, and taking large breaths. Relaxation breathing is a great strategy for adults and kids to do together. The ones on this site use a fun and engaging strategy that introduces breathing techniques using visuals and imitation. The printables in this resource form the OT Toolbox teach kids all about breath control using fun pictures, arrows, and places to pause, and hold their breath. Print out the free PDFs, show the child the picture and the arrows, and practice deep breaths. When your child becomes upset, immediately start to “breathe like a polar bear”, or “do rainbow breaths” and watch as your preschooler starts to calm down too!

Some of the most commonly used deep breathing tools include on the OT Toolbox include: 

  1. Toys and stuffed animals- Using a preferred toy or stuffed animal integrates strategies from DIR Floortime therapy strategies.  Kids gain the emotional vocabulary, and strategies to use in co-regulation, through play. I developed the Soothing Sammy (affiliate link) learning system. It is a great tool for co-regulation, because of the picture books and activities included with the emotional regulation toy. 

In my book, Soothing Sammy, a golden retriever puppy, teaches children how to calm down using a variety of sensory strategies (such as jumping in place, blowing bubbles, sipping water, singing a song and squeezing a ball or play dough). First, read the Soothing Sammy story, where children visit Sammy in his dog house. He provides them with all of the tools needed to calm down. Once calm, the children are ready to play again. Use the stickers and shipping container to have your own preschoolers create a space for their own calm down items and place Sammy, the plush dog, inside! This is your child’s very own Sammy house to visit, just like the children did in the story.  When children are overwhelmed, experiencing big feelings, they are easily redirected to these activities by saying “Sammy Time.” Help children co-regulate by creating your own Sammy House and using items to calm down when they are upset, modeling calm and soothing behaviors.

  1. Go outdoors and co-regulate!

Sometimes all we need is a little bit of fresh air to help feel better. Use these outdoor sensory diet cards to discover calm down strategies to use outside with children. These cards contain outdoor play challenges to get kids moving, experiencing various sensory systems, and receiving calming input from the great outdoors. Included, are over 180 ideas on how to calm the bod through movement. The outdoors is a great place for a sensory diet. In the backyard there is a variety of movement opportunities. A playground is another great space for calming and regulating play. Check out this blog post on sensory input at the playground

Children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, depend on adults to show them how to calm down or self-regulate.

tools for adults to learn self regulation

Being that co-regulation requires the ability to support another individual with regulation needs, it’s important to address emotional and coping needs as the adult in a parent/child (or other adult/child, peer/peer relationship). As a support person, regulating ones’ own needs can go a long way in modeling appropriate reactions, coping strategies, and following through with regulation needs.

Below are some great tools for adults to learn, or improve self-regulation so they can be models and important roles in the co-regulation relationship include:

If you’ve ever flown on a plane, taken a cruise ship, you’ve heard the safety information: In the event of an emergency, adults should place the breathing mask over their faces before they attend to their child.

Parents should put on their life jacket before they put the life jacket on their children. This seems backwards and selfish, however these life-saving mechanisms are of no use if the adult is struggling.

If they don’t put on their own face mask or life preserver first, there is no chance to support and help the child. The same is true for regulation; parents must first self-regulate in order to help co-regulate their children’s internal and external needs.

Empathy versus Empath

Empathy is being able to understand a person’s feelings, or realize why someone might be angry or sad. It is an important social skill, especially if you are the one causing the upset. Young children do not have the capacity to understand the complexity of empathy.

An empath is a person highly attuned to the feelings and emotions of those around them. Their ability to discern what others are feeling goes beyond empathy (defined simply as the ability to understand the feelings of others) and extends to actually taking those feelings on; feeling what another person is feeling at a deep emotional level.

Try this empathy activity to teach these concepts to children.

According to this article, What we do know is that researchers have discovered what they’ve dubbed “mirror neurons” in the brain which may help us to mirror the emotions of those we come in contact with.1 And it appears some people may have more mirror neurons than others; suggesting that empaths may exist.

The positives of being an empath are being able to offer support to others, knowing when someone is in need of assistance, and reading a person’s energy to see if they are a good fit for you.

The cons of this “ability” are that it is draining taking on the emotions of others around you, it feels like you are too sensitive, and you feel burdened taking on so much.

Being an empath can be described as feeling like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up the emotions of those around you, often before they realize how upset they are.

Empaths need to be experts at co-regulation because of the amount of sensory and emotional input they are “sucking in”.

A final note on co-regulation

Children aren’t born knowing how to manage their feelings in a positive way. As infants, they depend on their caregivers to soothe. As they grow into toddlers and preschoolers, children continue to depend on caregivers to teach them new strategies to calm down. When they sense how calm their caregiver is, they calm down also.

The best way for caregivers to help children develop their self-regulation skills, is to support them in co-regulation, by showing them calming activities they can learn to use on their own.

To learn more about sensory processing disorder and strategies, check out The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook and this resource on sensory processing disorder chart to understand all aspects of SPD.

Additionally, targeting parent and family education on co-regulation as an intervention strategy is highly effective in meeting self-regulation IEP goals so the individual can function in daily tasks.

*Note: The term caregiver has often been used instead of parent. This is to be inclusive. Caregivers can be parents, older siblings, grandparents, teachers, daycare workers, bus drivers, coaches, and many more.

Another great resource is our blog post on becoming a tech wise family.

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.

Perineal Hygiene

perineal hygiene and pericare tips

Here, we are covering an aspect of potty training that comes up for every parent: pericare, or perineal hygiene, and teaching kids how to wipe when toilet training. So often, a young child learns to use the toilet and other aspects of potty training, but then struggle for a long period of time with the wiping aspect. Teaching children to wipe thoroughly is a hygiene task that can be limited by many underlying areas. Here, you’ll find strategies to help wiping bottoms and interventions for perineal hygiene. Also check out ADLs for more information on daily tasks.

How to teach pericare, or perineal hygiene needed to wipe completely during toileting.

What is pericare?

For the uninitiated, pericare (or peri-care) is short for perineal care. Perineal care refers to the hygiene and self-care of the perineal area following toileting, cleaning, and wiping of the perineal area of the body is the “private parts” area. Pericare is a term for the hygienic tasks involved in this part of the body, such as wiping one’s bottom.

Anyone of any age may need help wiping their bottom with their perineal care, but it is especially important to teach our little ones the proper way to manage their bottoms as they become more independent. 

This component of toileting is one that impacts overall independence and self-care with the toileting process. So often, we cheer and celebrate making it to the toilet on time, but the perineal hygiene aspect is equally as important.

Related: Potty Training Seats for Special Needs

You may be thinking, “Why do I need to teach my child how to wipe!?!”. For something that is such a natural task for many, it can feel odd to teach somehow how to do it.

However, learning how to maintain a clean bottom is important for one’s health and confidence. Wiping properly, washing gently, and wearing appropriate clothing decreases the risk of yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and odors. Plus, discussing peri-care can open the door to many other conversations about the body, health, and safety – if that’s something you are interested in exploring with your child.   

A great time to educate your child about peri-cares is while potty training. It is easier to teach the correct way first than to re-learn how to do it later. If you are stuck on potty training, we feel you there! Check out this Toliet Training Book that can help you help your children of varying needs.

Don’t be discouraged if your child is already potty trained and they have yet to learn how to take care of their bottoms independently – it can take time and practice! 

Development of Pericare

An important area to cover first is the development of pericare skills. It is so important to remember that we are talking about young children who are learning a whole new skill with toileting. There are many considerations: autonomy, body awareness, interoception, self-awareness, the sensory processing and interoception aspect, family perspectives…potty training can be very overwhelming for kids.

Then, to break it down even further, the hygiene aspect of toileting is another ball game!

In our book, The Toilet Training Book, we cover the development of potty training and really cover what underlying skills play into potty training and independence with toileting.

But, one important thing to remember is that a three year old child may be able to make it to the toilet in time to go, flush, and wash their hands, but the wiping aspect can developmentally, come with time.

Developmentally, perineal hygiene, or wiping completely after toileting, may be a skill achieved during a range of 4-6 years. This range is so wide due to the underlying skills, sensory considerations, motor skills, and cognitive growth needed for perineal hygiene including knowing when and where to wipe after a bowel movement or urination, using enough pressure on the toilet paper to clean completely, wiping enough times to clean completely, and maturity to complete the task.

The emergence of these skills takes time, but there are ways to support development of perineal hygiene.

GET COMFORTABLE with perineal hygiene

Everyone wants a clean bottom, let’s start there. It can be smelly and embarrassing to talk about, but it is an important step to understanding personal healthcare.

We want to give you the confidence to discuss this in any way that you and your family feel comfortable with because it is a “touchy” subject for some. The more comfortable you are with peri cares, the more comfortable the child will be. 

Let’s start off the potty training wiping techniques by talking about good hygiene.

Here are some ideas to talk about perineal hygiene with kids:

  • Make it silly: Some people respond best to humor but watch out for demeaning jokes. 
  • Make the conversation about pericare hygiene scientifically accurate: It becomes less embarrassing when you hardly know what is being said! 
  • Make pericare sound similar to washing hands: We have to clean away the germs; they can make us sick! 
  • Make discussions about perineal hygiene your own: You know your family best. Think about terminology that works for the individual. In what ways can you increase trust and comfort for all? 

GENERAL GUIDELINES for teaching perineal hygiene

Here are some general tips for a healthy bottom that should be shared for children and adults alike. Please speak to your family physician if you have any questions or concerns related to your child’s unique needs. 

  • Wear breathable (preferably cotton) underwear that is not too tight. Change daily or when soiled. 
  • Don’t hold it in. While it is good to wait to “go” until you reach the toilet, holding in pee or poop for too long can result in a variety of issues
  • If it is comfortable, sit on the toilet with elevated feet. You may have heard of the (Amazon affiliate link) Squatty Potty – placing the legs in more of a squatting position helps bowel movements pass. More importantly, children should have access to a either a smaller potty or a footstool (or a box,etc.) near the toilet so that their feet do not dangle. 
  • Wipe from front to back to reduce bacteria entering the urethra. Talk about anatomy and why wiping front to back is effective and safe.
  • Wipe gently with 3-4 squares of folded toilet paper (each household can determine the amount – some kiddos use way too much!) until clean. I always recommend to look at what you are wiping away so that you learn about how much you need to wipe. 
  • Consider use of warm or cool wipes over toilet paper.
  • When bathing, wash the genital area gently with mild soap and rinse with clean water. No soap should be entering the body through the anus or the vagina. 
  • For bathing a uncircumsized child, refer to this article for great information and consult your family doctor for personalized advice.   

Pericare INTERVENTION IDEAS

Children will not know unless we lead them, so here are some fun ways to teach pericare! 

Areas that can be broken down to increase overall self-care include:

  • Address balance
  • Pulling up and down undergarments
  • Wiping front to back
  • Wiping thoroughly
  • Wiping with enough pressure
  • Gripping the toilet paper
  • Washing hands after wiping
  • Reaching around to the back

Each of these areas can include aspects of balance, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, strength, coordination, sensory processing, executive functioning skills, and visual motor skills. It’s important to look at each individual’s area of difficulty and then break it down into the underlying areas that are impacting success with pericare.

First look at the area of difficulty. Then, consider how underlying areas are impacting that particular area. Come up with intervention strategies that support that need and create a “just right” challenge to build independence and pericare functioning.

Let’s look at each of these areas of perineal hygiene…

Pulling up and down undergarments:

  • Fine motor strength and coordination fine motor activities to the rescue! There are so many fantastically fun ways to increase this skill, but here are some that are more directly associated with potty training.
    • Lei Obstacle Course: Grab some Hawaiian-inspired leis, hula skirts, or long necklaces and create a long pathway. As a child walks through the pathway (hopefully to another fun activity in the course), they must step inside the lei and pull it up as high as it will go. If it fits over their arms/head, they can wear it as a necklace. Pulling up the lei and wiggling their body through will strengthen the same skill as in pulling up pants. Reverse the challenge to mimic pulling pants down.
    • Silly Socks: Grab a variety of socks in fun colors and different sizes and see how many you can put on in one minute! Layering socks up the arms and legs (and removing them, too!) mimics the skill of pulling up and down undergarments. 
    • Stickers: Challenge them to peel off stickers all along the waistband of their pants. Don’t forget the backside! 

Pericare: Wiping Activities

Balance and reach are huge parts of perineal hygiene. Staying balanced on the potty while wiping is a big challenge for our core strength, flexibility, and range of motion. To practice this skill through play-based activities, see the ideas below! 

Play-pretend: Place peanut butter on the back of a disposable or washable diaper and have your child wipe it off. Any familiar paste will do – sun butter, nutella, cookie butter…anything to wipe! When they think they are done wiping, show them the diaper to see if they actually cleaned it. 

Art-based: Wipe a plastic plate with toilet paper to create an art project – the toilet paper acts as the paintbrush. They must wipe clean the whole plate! For an extra challenge, place the plate behind their backs, and the work of art in front of them. 

Play activity: Using static electricity, tape, or velcro, have your child squat to “pick up” pom-poms or other sticky and lightweight items on their bottoms (think: window stickers, damp tissues, etc.). They carry them carefully to a container and remove them one by one. You can really make this game your own!

Wiping Front to Back

There are so many ways to work on perineal hygiene to cover other aspects besides the balance consideration. Consider these strategies to teach kids to wipe front to back:

  • Use toys, books, clothing, and other items to work on teaching front and back directional concepts.
  • Teach children to count to help with wiping a certain number of times.

Reaching Back to Wipe During Perineal Hygiene

  • Clip and unclip clothes pins on the back of clothing to work on reaching back and around..
  • Use a pool noodle to reach around and through the legs to work on reach, visual attention, scanning, and eye-hand coordination. You can tap the pool noodle on a target and create a game.
  • Practice wiping the backside in the bathtub.
  • Put a handkerchief or scarf in their back pocket for the child to reach for and pull out.
  • Put stickers on the child’s back or pants for them to reach for and grab.

Wiping with enough pressure

  • Work on tearing paper for hand strength and eye-hand coordination to pull off appropriate sizes of toilet paper.
  • Use play dough, LEGO, tong activities to develop hand strength.
  • Wipe dry erase marker off a dry erase board. Then, position the dry erase board on the ground between the feet to bend and wipe. Then, position it behind the back to reach and wipe.
  • Wipe peanut butter or washable paint from a plastic baby doll.
  • Help kids to wipe thoroughly by painting with toilet paper with having them try to wipe a blob of paint off a plastic plate and remind them to keep going until the plate was empty.

More perineal care and potty training tips

Looking for more information on underlying considerations that impact toileting? Need strategies, supports, and tools to facilitate independence with toileting skills? Need support strategies for potty training an older child, but not know where to begin?

Looking for ways to help individuals with toileting skills when cognitive, behavioral, motor skills impact participation in independent toileting? Trying to initiate or progress with potty training when a diagnosis of Down Syndrome, Autism, or a motor skills challenge is at hand? Check out the Toilet Training Book: A Developmental Take on Potty Training for Kids of All Abilities.

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.