Gross Motor Toys

gross motor toys

If you are looking for the best gross motor toys to challenge coordination, balance, motor planning through whole-body movement and heavy work play, then you are in luck with these occupational therapy toys. Each one is designed to develop gross motor skills: strength, coordination, balance, posture, and more.

PLUS, head to the bottom of this blog post for Day 2 of our therapy toy giveaway. We’re giving away a gross motor kit with agility cones, tossing loops, bean bags, and hula hoops, perfect for gross motor, balance, coordination, and even heavy sensory play through whole body movements.

We started off the fun with yesterday’s fine motor toy ideas. Today is all about the gross motor play.

First, let’s talk Gross Motor Toys!

Gross Motor Toys

Kids need gross motor movement for so many skills. Today, I have gross motor toys to share! Here, you’ll find the best whole body toys and ideas to help kids with balance, core strength, stability, coordination, and endurance. Scroll on to check out some therapist-approved toys that help gross motor skill development!

Gross motor toys to help kids develop skills in running, hopping, jumping, skipping, crawling, and more.

Gross Motor Toy Ideas

This list of toys for gross motor skills pairs well with our recent list of Fine Motor Toys. Today however, you’ll find toys that develop a few areas that are essential to areas of child development:

Bilateral Coordination– Kids need bilateral coordination in whole body movements to move their body in a coordinated way. These whole body movements can include coordination of the upper and lower body, or both arms, or both feet, and all of the above! Here are bilateral coordination toys to address this specific area.

Motor Planning– Motor planning with the whole body allows children to move in a room without crashing into objects or other people. Gross motor motor planning allows children to climb steps, navigate obstacles, or any movement-based task. Here is more information on motor planning and motor planning toys to address this specific sub-area.

Gross motor coordinationCoordination of gross motor skills is needed for tasks such as kicking or catching a ball, riding a bike, getting dressed, or any task that uses the entire body. Here are hand eye coordination toys to address this particular sub-area.

Proprioception– Integration of proprioceptive input allows children to know where their body is in space. It tells the body how much effort is needed to pick up and move objects. Proprioception allows us to understand the body’s position as it moves in a coordinated manner.

Vestibular input- Integration of vestibular input allows children to navigate the world around them as they move. Going up or down steps or bleachers is an example of this. Moving into different positions during tasks is another example of vestibular integration. Movement through different planes requires integration of vestibular input.

All of these areas work together in functional tasks and all are rooted in gross motor skills.

Related: This dinosaur gross motor game is a skill builder, as well.

Toys for Gross Motor Skill Development

So often, therapists and teachers purchase items to use in their work using their own money. This giveaway offers a chance for you to win an item that will be useful in helping kids thrive.

And, given that kids are on screens more than ever before with all of the virtual learning and hybrid learning models being incorporated all over the world, therapists are seeing more need for active, physical play.

These are gross motor toys that you will find in therapy clinics. There is a reason why…because they are gross motor powerhouses! So, if you are looking for toy recommendations that build whole body motor skills, this is it!

Amazon affiliate links are included below. You can read more about these items by checking out the links.

Zoom ball is a great gross motor toy for kids.

Zoom Ball– This classic toy is such a great way to work on many skills. A zoom ball can be used in different positions to challenge balance and vestibular input: Try using the zoom ball in sitting, standing, kneeling, standing on couch cushions, a slant…again, the options are limitless! Address skills such as:

  • Bilateral coordination
  • Core strength
  • Shoulder stability
  • Visual convergence
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination
Pop and catch toys can help kids develop gross motor skills.

Pop and Catch- Use this coordination toy indoors or outdoors to get kids moving. This toy can be played with while the child is standing, sitting, kneeling, or in a half-sit to challenge the core and eye-hand coordination in a variety of planes. Try playing on all fours on the floor for a shoulder girdle stability activity. Another use for this toy is by playing by standing at a table while the child shoots the ball across the table surface as they play like a ping-pong type of game. There are many uses for this pop and catch activity:

  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Motor planning
  • Vestibular input
  • Core strength
  • Stability of core
  • Stability of shoulder girdle
use bucket stilts to help kids develop gross motor skills.

Bucket Stilts– These bucket stilts are perfect for helping kids develop gross motor skills. I love this set because there are 6 colored buckets that make a great gross motor obstacle course tool, too. You could use them as stepping stones to challenge balance and coordination, too. Here are gross motor skills that you can work on using these bucket stilts toys:

  • Core strength
  • Vestibular input
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Stabilizing
use agility cones to help kids build gross motor skills in obstacle courses and more.

Agility Cones– Sports cones are such an open-ended gross motor toy that can be used to develop so many skills: hopping, jumping, skipping, running, climbing, crawling…the options are endless. Use these agility cones in therapy obstacle courses, challenges, drills, and more. I chose these particular cones because they can go very nicely with a Zones of Regulation activity! Use cones to support these areas:

  • Motor planning
  • Vestibular input
  • Coordination
  • Core strength
  • Endurance
Use carpet markers to build gross motor skills with gross motor obstacle courses, motor planning, and more.

Carpet Markers– These carpet markers are an occupational therapist’s dream toy! Use the colored marker spots to help kids work on so many movement skills in obstacle courses, visual perceptual skill activities, direction following, sensory movement breaks, positioning guides, and so much more. The arrows are perfect for addressing directionality. Use them to work on crawling, hopping, jumping, stopping on a point. Just some of the areas that these carpet spots support:

  • Core strength
  • Shoulder stability
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination
  • Endurance
  • Proprioception
A parachute is a great gross motor toy for kids.

Parachute– A parachute is another open-ended gross motor toy that the kids just LOVE. This one is small enough for small groups, but builds motor skills in a big way. Use the parachute to help kids develop:

  • Core stability
  • Arm strength
  • Motor planning
  • Endurance
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Proprioceptive input

Toys for Core Strength

Toys that develop core strength get kids moving in a variety of positions. These toys support and challenge the vestibular and proprioceptive systems so they can be calming activities as well. Strength and stability in the core is needed for almost all functional tasks. Challenge kids with these core strengthening toys by getting them moving, on the floor in floor play or strengthening the core muscles through movement and balance coordination. Some ideas for developing and strengthening core strength include:

Toys for balance

Toys that challenge movement changes, stepping from high to low and low to high, and movement with vestibular input offer opportunities to challenge and develop balance and coordination skills.

Gross Motor Coordination Toys

Encourage movement, whole body play, and gross motor coordination with throwing, tossing, and hand-eye coordination or foot-eye coordination skills with these gross motor coordination ideas:

Obstacle Course Toys

All of the gross motor toys listed above could be used in obstacle courses…and what a great way to encourage so many skills! These are perfect additions to your obstacle course ideas, and challenge balance, coordination, motor planning, and add sensory input. Use these obstacle course toys to vary movement and encourage the specific skills kids need:

Want to add these toys to your home, classroom, or therapy practice? I am SO happy to fill your toolbox so you can help kids thrive and build and develop the skills they need!

More therapy Toys

Check out the other therapy toy recommendations in the list below:

  1. Fine Motor Toys
  2. Gross Motor Toys
  3. Pencil Grasp Toys
  4. Toys for Reluctant Writers
  5. Toys for Spatial Awareness
  6. Toys for Visual Tracking
  7. Toys for Sensory Play
  8. Bilateral Coordination Toys
  9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills
  10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
  11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
  12. Toys for Attention and Focus 

PRINTABLE LIST OF TOYS FOR GROSS MOTOR

Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support gross motor development?

As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

Your therapy caseload will love these GROSS MOTOR toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!

Therapist-Recommended
GROSS MOTOR TOYS HANDOUT

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

    Check out the blog comments below to see tips and ideas from readers telling us which gross motor toys they would love to use with the kids they work with and love. Have other gross motor favorites that aren’t listed here? Tell us about them!

    Bedtime Relaxation Stretches for Kids

    Relaxation stretches for bedtime

    In this post, you will find calming bedtime relaxation stretches for kids and families, based on the popular children’s book, Time for Bed. These activities are perfect for helping kids calm down before bed. We know the power of sleep hygiene in child development, but let’s consider the powerful impact of stretches before bed have on children.

    Relaxation Stretches for Kids Sleep

    An important thing to cover when it comes to helping children fall asleep and stay asleep at night is the concept of pre-bedtime yoga. When kids participate in bedtime stretches as part of their bedtime routine, it’s a sensory diet that supports sleep.

    relaxation stretches for bed time
    Use animal theme yoga poses to support relaxation at bedtime.

    One thing that we’ll cover here is the impact that the interoception sensory system has on sleep.

    Related is our resource on the role occupational therapy professionals can play in sleep for the whole family, when it comes to supporting a baby or newborn not sleeping.

    Relaxation Stretches for Kids Sleep

    An important thing to cover when it comes to helping children fall asleep and stay asleep at night is the concept of pre-bedtime yoga. When kids participate in bedtime stretches as part of their bedtime routine, it’s a sensory diet that supports sleep.

    I love to bring this concept together for kids by first talking about how everyone needs sleep. Kids, adults, and even pets and animals. Sleep supports growth, learning, and allows our brains to rest. You can even use a few of our hibernation activities to take this concept further with kids, depending on the interest level.

    Use these relaxation stretches for bedtime to incorporate calming sensory input.

    One thing that we’ll cover here is the impact of the interoception sensory system has on sleep.

    Children can get a little wound up before bed.  All it takes is one rouge energy burst and you’ve got giggling kids bouncing from every surface imaginable.  

    Couch cushions? check. They are jumping up and down.  

    Running from room to room? Check. There’s two of them chasing one another back and forth will the occasional knee slide across the hardwoods.  

    Practicing the living room tumbling skills? Yep and check. There’s one more doing somersaults across the room.

    Why must they gang up on me with their endless energy during those exhausting pre-bedtime hours?

    Having a set of bedtime relaxation stretches in the nightly routine can support sensory needs and promote a sense of calm before bedtime, just when children are wound up and excitable.

    benefits of stretching before bed

    We know that sleep is a necessary occupation for all of us, but for children sleep patterns and healthy sleep cycles support so many aspects of development.

    • Cognition
    • Learning
    • Behavior
    • Nutrition
    • Emotional development
    • Social development

    When children don’t get enough hours of sleep, or if they don’t get quality sleep on a consistent basis, there are several things that can occur:

    • Poor focus
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Attention and behavior problems
    • Poor academic performance in school
    • Excess weight or increased food intake
    • Problems paying attention
    • Health problems: obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor mental health, and injuries
    • Decreased physical activity
    • Poor mental health
    • Unhealthy risky behaviors related to decision-making
    • Risk-taking behaviors, bullying, school violence-related behaviors, and physical fighting
    • Higher risk of unintentional injury

    There are several studies describing the benefits of stretching before bed. Kids can benefit from a pre-bedtime stretching sessions to integrate sensory processing systems and the calming benefits of slow movement, heavy work as a regulation tool. This calms the body and helps with relaxation before bed.

    Stretching before bed supports sleep quality. One review of multiple studies found that mindfulness meditation practices that incorporate gentle stretching, such as yoga and tai chi, generally improve sleep quality.

    Another study found that older adults reported improved sleep quality after performing low level physical and cognitive activity. The researchers found that gentle stretching resulted in better sleep than when the participants performed more strenuous exercises, such as aerobics.

    Bedtime stretches help kids stay asleep. A study into resistance exercise training and stretching found that exercises could improve symptoms of insomnia. In the study, the participants performed stretching in 60-minute sessions three times per week for a period of 4 months. The results showed improved sleep quality when stretching in the evening.

    Better sleep supports learning and executive functioning skills. Other studies tell us that better sleep hygiene in children support development of executive functioning skills.

    yoga poses for stress relief

    Today, I’m sharing a great way to calm kids down before bed so that quality sleep is possible. These yoga poses for stress relief and bedtime relaxation promote organizing heavy work through the proprioceptive sensory system and gentle movement through the vestibular sensory system.

    Another contributing factor is the interoceptive system which connects our internal systems such as digestion, heart rate, circadian rhythms, and muscle tension. All of these factors play a vital role in impacting sleep, with both the ability to fall asleep, and the ability to stay asleep throughout the night. This study shares more on the interoceptive system’s role in sleep.

    These organizing and calming yoga poses stretch the muscles and joints to offer feedback to regulate an overactive system.

    If you’ve ever participated in a yoga session, you know the benefits of certain yoga poses in reducing stress and anxiety.

    It’s important to make the connection between stress responses, anxiety, over-active thoughts, and a hyper-response to stimulation and emotional responses. The difficulty in identifying and describing emotions in self (a huge part of social emotional learning and development) is referred to as Alexithymia.

    This ability develop social emotional skills occurs with age, and social skills interventions.

    Specifically, alexithymia is defined as difficulty identifying and describing emotions in self. We know that noticing and understanding internal body signals (aka interoception) is crucial to a bodily systems, so it makes sense that if interoception is affected, using or showing emotions, and identifying emotions in self will be affected.

    Interoception influences emotions by it’s control and underlying influence on internal processes of the body: toileting, hunger, thirst, and sleep!

    When interoception impacts sleep, it then further impacts emotions:

    • stress
    • getting angry or frustrated easily
    • anxiety
    • fear
    • worry
    • overly emotional responses
    • sadness
    • over-excitability
    • hyperactive responses

    All of these emotional responses are normal and good feelings to experience. However, when sleep is reduced, they can move into an area of impacting other functional tasks or everyday occupations.

    You’ll also find information and resources in this article on the limbic system including the stress response. You can see how all of these concepts fit together to impact daily functioning.

    How to use yoga poses for stress relief with children

    Using yoga to support relaxation at bedtime is not a new concept. Yoga naturally supports relaxation through the heavy work input of the proprioceptive sense.

    However, yoga also adds the benefit of deep breathing exercises to calm and center the body as an organization tool.

    When it comes to bedtime, adding anything to the nightly routine can mean a delayed bedtime, so making the relaxation stretches part of the routine that is already in place is important. If you read a book together each night, incorporate stretches into that. If brushing teeth and going to the bathroom are the only tasks that happen each night, use the time just after those jobs to do a few stretches.

    Adding bedtime stretches for the purpose of relaxation doesn’t need to be difficult. The most important thing here is to make it work for your situation and home. down the somersaults and hardwood floor stunts into relaxing bedtime.  

    Here are some tips to support relaxation at bedtime:

    • Use bedtime relaxation stretches in a nightly routine. A visual schedule can be helpful with some kids.
    • Dim the lights and turn on soothing music
    • Read a book before bed
    • Drink a warm drink as a calming food/sensory tool.
    • Set the mood for sleep with a calming bedroom or sleep space: snuggly blankets, cozy pillows, or cool temperature, depending on the individual’s preferences.
    • Use the relaxation stretches listed below.

    One way that helps to get kids relaxed before bed is reading a great book.  When kids can listen to an engaging story that is read aloud, their bodies can’t help but slow down.  

    Bedtime Relaxation Stretches for Kids

    These bedtime relaxation stretches are a combination of relaxing yoga moves and heavy work that helps to ground the body through proprioceptive input to the body’s sensory receptors in the muscles. 

    Performing these relaxing stretches can help transition kids to a calmed state that allows for a better sleep.

    Below are forms of yoga poses for children.

    We decided to use one of our favorite going to bed books, (Amazon affiliate link) Mem Fox’s Time for Bed

    In the book, we hear a rhyming verse about each animal’s transition to sleep.  It’s such a beautiful book to snuggle up with kids during night time routines.  In fact, Time for Bed can easily become one of those books that you read over and over again.

    We loved looking at the watercolor pictures in Time for Bed and picturing each animal as it got ready for sleep.  

    To go along with the book, we tried some of these bedtime relaxation stretches. 

    Grab your copy of the free printable below by entering your email address into the form, or going to The OT Toolbox Member’s Club and heading to the Mindfulness Toolbox.

    Time for Bed book by Mem Fox and relaxation stretches for bedtime

    To do these exercises, simply cut out the printable on the lines, and create a small stack of stretches.  Kids can do one or more of these relaxation stretches to calm down before settling in with the Time for Bed book.

    Simply pull out a couple of the stretches and join your child on the floor to perform each stretch.  The stretches are designed based on the animals in the book.  

    When doing the stretches, hold the stretch for 2-3 minutes while maintaining deep breathing. 

    Bedtime relaxation stretches
    Print off these relaxation stretches for a bedtime calm down session for kids.

    As we all know, kids will be kids.  If your child is getting too wound up from the stretches (because sometimes the sleepy sillies take over and make concentrating on stretches and relaxing deep breaths nearly impossible!) simply put the stretches away and try them another day.

    Bedtime stretches with an animal theme
    Relaxation stretch for kids, incorporating yoga poses for stress, anxiety, or to calm down before bed.

    Your child will love doing these bedtime relaxation stretches with you and the whole family!

    Bedtime stretches to do before bed

    Little Goose Stretch– Lie on the floor on your back, with your feet raised up on the wall.  Keep your knees straight.  Spread your arms out on the floor like a goose.  Bend and point your toes slowly.

    Little Cat Stretch– Snuggle in tight!  Sit criss cross applesauce on the floor.  Bend forward at the hips and place your head on the ground.  Stretch your arms out on the floor over your head.

    Little Calf Stretch– Grasp both hands together behind your back.  Bend forward at the hips and raise your arms up behind you.

    Little Foal Stretch– Lie on your back and pull your knees in with your arms.  Hold the position and whisper about your day.

    Little Fish Stretch–  Take a deep breath. Hold your breath in your cheeks and puff out those cheeks.  Slowly let out your breath with pursed lips.

    Little Sheep Stretch–  Stand facing a wall and place your feet shoulder width apart.  Place your hands flat on the wall, shoulder width apart.  Push against the wall by bending and straightening your elbows.

    Little Bird Stretch–  Close your eyes.  Think about your day and take deep breaths.  Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Add a “wing” component by raising your arms up high as you breathe in and lowering them as you slowly breathe out.

    Little Snake Stretch–  Lie on your back on the floor.  Keep your legs straight and cross them at the ankles.  Place your arms over your head on the floor.  Cross them at the wrists.  

    Little Pup Stretch–  Get into a downward dog yoga position.  

    Little Deer Stretch– Sit on the floor with your legs straight. Spread them far apart and bend at the hips to touch one foot.  Hold it and then stretch to touch the other foot.

    Try this tonight!  Do a few stretches and then snuggle up while reading Time for Bed!

    Calming bedtime books for kids

    MORE relaxing bedtime books for kids

    These relaxing bedtime books for kids are other ideas to use to support calming sensory input in a relaxation bedtime routine:

    Amazon affiliate links are included below:

    Free Printable set of relaxation stretches for bedtime

    Use the Time For Bed book and relaxation stretches we used above in a bedtime routine of your own. Get a printable PDF of these stretches by entering your email address into the form below. Or, members in The OT Toolbox membership club can grab this PDF by logging in and heading to Brain Break Tools.

    Free Time For Bed Relaxation Stretches

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      One more thing! If you are into creative ways to extend and learn based on books, you will LOVE this resource! 50 activities based on books that address friendship, acceptance, emotions…This ebook is amazing for covering all things emotional development through play!

      Get yours!  

      Read more about the book here.

      Exploring Books through Play helps kids develop fine motor skills and gross motor skills while learning about empathy and compassion.

      Fall Ten Frames

      Fall ten frames

      These Fall ten frames are a fun math leaf activity. All you need is a few leaves from the yard and a hole punch to work on math skills, and the sensory benefits of heavy work through the hands. It’s a fun way to teach math through play with sensory math!

      Fall Ten Frames

      This time of year, we are on leaf overload.  Just playing in the yard, we have piles and piles of leaves in of all the Fall colors.  I love getting outside with my kids and playing in the piles of leaves each year.  It is such a sensory and just plain old fun way to experience the season of Fall. 
       
      We used some of those colorful leaves in a fun Math Ten Frame activity that combined fine motor strengthening for a powerful fine motor punch.  
       
      Make fall ten frames with real leaves
       

      This post contains affiliate links.

      How to make Fall Ten Frames

      Gather your materials:

      • Leaves
      • Black marker
      • Hole punch
      • Die or dice

      That’s it! Next, get started on creating the leaf ten frames.

      First step: Go out and gather those leaves! Nature hunts rock, and the crunchy, cool weather of Fall makes memories.  
       
      Gather pretty leaves along your way and bring them on home.  
       
      Note: You will want leaves that are not crunchy. Those dried up leaves are perfect for a different sensory activity- working on auditory processing skills with leaves
       
      For this activity, you’ll want to gather colorful, freshly fallen leaves or leaves still on the tree will work best for this activity.
       
      Next: Grab a Black Marker and draw a ten frame on the leaf.  You’ll need a Hole Punch for the math, and a die.  
       
      Draw ten frames and punch holes in leaves with a hole punch

       

      Using Ten Frames with Older Kids

      This fall math activity can be used with older kids, too on a variety of math skills.
       
      Roll the die and have your kiddo count the dots.  They can then use the Hole Punch to mark off the correct number of dots on the ten frame.  
       
      By rolling the die, kids can practice their ability to subsidize. 
       
      Subsitizing refers to the math skill of knowing the number of dots on the dice by just glancing is a skill of subsidizing in math. and will help kids as they get older with math. Subsitizing helps a child advance to more advanced addition and subtraction, and allows for number sense in math.
       
      Older kids can benefit from this activity, too.  I still use ten frames with my second grader.  They are a powerful way to introduce groups and multiplication concepts.  
       
      Usually, I have my second grader roll the die twice or tree times and add the total before filling in the ten frame.  Ten frames also are a way to hone base ten concepts.  
       
      How can you get a number to a base ten by “borrowing” from another number.  A math strategy like this is a good way to work on regrouping in addition.
       
      You can grade this activity for older kids by using two dice.  Have them add the dots of both dice and punch holes from two leaves.  
       
      Practice adding both numbers together. Ask them how to combine the numbers from both dice to form a full ten frame.  
       
      Ask them to figure out how many holes are left over from the total.
       

      Punch Holes in Leaves

      Using a Hole Punch provides huge proprioceptive input to little hands, which is such a good way to “wake up” hands before a writing activity. This input through the hands offers heavy work input that can “wake up” the hands. The great thing about proprioception tasks like this one is that heavy work can also be used to “calm down” the nervous system.
       
      Similarly, we used scissors to cut real leaves along lines and develop fine motor skills, scissor skills, and eye-hand coordination, which also offered sensory motor feedback through the hands. 
       
      Combine math, handwriting, and literacy by counting out numbers on the leaves, writing numbers on paper, and creating sentences based on the numbers.  You can also tally number of the different colored leaves and write down the results on paper.
       
      You might have seen a recent post about gross grasp and why kids need to work on this area for development.  
       
      A hole punch is a fabulous way to work on gross grasp and other fine motor strengthening, like thumb stability and motion needed for scissor use.  
       
      Plus when you have all of the holes punched out from the leaves, you can use pincer grasp to pick up and sort the leaf circles. This is a great precision grasp and release activity to develop dexterity in fine motor skills.
       
      Draw ten frames on leaves for fall math

       

      Use this activity all Fall long for math, proprioception, and fine motor strengthening!  And enjoy those crunchy Fall colors before they are gone!
       

      Looking for more hands-on, playful math activities?  These are some of our favorites: 

       Commutative Property of Addition  How to Add with Regrouping  Use play dough in math  Bottle caps in first grade math
       

      More fine motor fun…

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

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

      Calm Down Corner

      calm down area in classroom

      For young (and old) children, a great calming classroom tool that supports learning, social participation, and school tasks is the calm down corner. A calming corner in the classroom can be a great sensory strategy to support emotional regulation needs in students. Let’s go over fun calm down corner ideas to support various regulation needs in the classroom.

      Calm down corner ideas and tips

      Calm Down Corner

      A classroom calming area can include a variety of movement and sensory based activities or tools. 

      • Flexible Seating tools – bean bag chair, movement seat, deflated beach ball seat, couch, soft chair, floor mats, large pillows
      • Soft surfaces – yoga mat, gymnastics mat, or soft rug
      • Headphones – with or without music, sound machine
      • Visual schedule of sensory strategies
      • Emotions Playdough mats can be a great tool for a calm down corner.
      • Things to look at – books, magazines, pictures, lava lamp (refrain from electronics that have a screen, as they are alerting)
      • Calming corner printables and other visual calming strategies – Check out these calming sensory stations for Spring
      • Timer – visual timers with countdown options are great
      • Preferred sensory items such as tactile toys, chewing items, plushies, fidgets, etc.

      This list is just the beginning! A calm down corner can include any item from the list above or classroom sensory diet strategies, based on the needs of the individual student.

      This article on supporting self regulation in preschoolers offers valuable information on this topic.

      Calm down corners can be quiet soothing areas to decompress for certain learners, while others need a more active calm down area in classrooms.

      How to Add movement to a calm down corner

      There are many different ways that children can calm down. Movement is one of the most beneficial and complicated ways to manage feelings and emotions.

      There are two different types of movement patterns that support the sensory system.

      Both of these types of movement activities increase awareness of where a body is in space, calms the central nervous system and regulates emotions in an amazing way. Movement is complicated as it can be alerting and calming. Picking the right activity for the desired outcome is tricky, but effective.

      Help your learner understand what they need for self regulation, rather than bouncing all over the calm down corner.

      How is movement calming?

      Have you noticed that children seem to pay attention longer after moving around for a while? This isn’t just because they are tired after completing an active task. Children and adults are able to attend for longer periods of time when movement breaks are embedded into their daily schedules due to the sensory benefits it provides.

      For adults that have desk jobs, it is widely known that every 20 minutes, they should stand up. This not only helps blood flow, but also awakens the body. When children are engaged in circle time, implementing movement based activities within circle (like freeze dancing, jumping and marching) is beneficial to improving attention.

      Movement has many benefits, including helping calm down when feeling overwhelmed with emotions. 

      When the sensory system becomes overstimulated due to internal feelings and frustrations, some people are quick to seek out movement activities to calm down. Adults may go for a walk or run, chew gum, lift weights or kick a ball. This strategy directly affects proprioceptive input.

      There are many ways the body processes movement. This impacts the central nervous system in different ways.

      • Proprioceptive inputs is one of the ways the body processes movement. It tells the brain where the body is in space. Proprioception is guided by skin, muscle, and joint receptors in the body, to connect to the brain through the nervous system. In this way, a person knows where their body is in space, and what the body is doing, without needing to watch the body parts move. A great example of proprioception, is being able to walk down the stairs without looking at ones legs or feet
      • Heavy work, or tasks that involve heavy resistance, offers input to the muscles, joints, and connective tissue, and is essential to regulating the sensory system
      • In this article on neuroplasticity, evidence suggests the sensorimotor cortex that governs proprioception is not fixed, and can be changed through external manipulation.
      • Vestibular movement, like proprioception, also helps alert us where our body is in space. This system operates through the inner ear, passing information to the brainstem, affecting many areas of the body. If a person starts jumping, rocking to music, or dancing to calm the body, it activates the vestibular system. This article on vestibular activities does a great job explaining this system.

      more about the vestibular system

      Receptors in the inner ear, found in two structures (the otolith organs and the semicircular canals), respond to linear/angular/rotational movement, gravity, head tilt, and quick movement changes. 

      The receptors in the ear, provide information to the central nervous system about the body’s position in space. Information is used to:

      • control posture, eye, and head movements
      • correct the eyes with head and body movements
      • muscle tone and postural adjustments
      • perceive motion and spatial orientation, and integrates somatosensory information

      Through the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, the body processes information about where it is space, interprets movement patterns, and recognizes touch and joint pressure. These senses greatly impact the ability to calm down by triggering pressure points through movement (such as rocking or swinging). 

      When a child (or adult) becomes upset or overwhelmed, it is helpful to utilize the vestibular and proprioceptive systems as intervention tools. This helps a person calm and self regulate, in order to process their feelings and problem solve. 

      Because children often need sensory strategies to self regulate, having a designated calm down area set up in the home/classroom makes redirecting children to the appropriate calming activities much easier.

      The Soothing Sammy program is a great way to encourage children to take part in creating their own calm down corner through a story about a dog, Sammy, a golden retriever. As children help build Sammy’s calm down area to use when overwhelmed, they are gently taught that it is okay to have a variety of feelings. As children look through the book, they learn how to use objects in their calm down corner when needed, including drinking water, wiping their face with a cloth, jumping on a small mat (proprioceptive and vestibular input) and much more. 

      There are so many items that we can add to a calm down corner and every calm down corner will be different based on individual children’s needs. In the Soothing Sammy curriculum, there are recipes for lavender bubbles, slime, tactile fidgets, paint, and others.

      Proprioception Calm Down Corner Ideas

      Here are some great proprioceptive strategies to include in a calm down corner:

      • Calming Corner Printables- Print off the sensory stations listed below. These support heavy work needs (and vestibular input)
      • Jumping mat or small trampoline. When children jump, they put pressure on their joints 
      • Weighted blanket. Weighted blankets provide deep pressure over the entire body, making this activity one of the an effective whole-body proprioceptive strategies to help children calm down
      • Watering plants. Lifting a watering can, can impact joints all over the body. As children stoop down to pick up the watering can, moving it over plants of different heights, they are getting great input
      • Weighted ball. Lifting and rolling over a weighted ball increases proprioceptive input in the hands, arms, shoulders, and core. 
      • Play Dough. Squishing, squeezing and pulling apart playdough or clay, increases proprioceptive input in hands and small joints. 

      Some of these activities can be alerting or calming, therefore some trial and error may be needed.

      Vestibular Calm Down Corner Ideas

      Movement with changes in positioning can be calming as well. Think slow, rocking movements. Here are some Vestibular strategies to include in a calm down area:

      • Farm Brain Breaks These simple, yet fun activities, provide visual ways to complete vestibular activities
      • Calming Corner Printables- Movement like yoga poses or those offering brain breaks can be just the calming input needed.
      • Swinging – Help your child move and sway in different directions with an indoor or outdoor swing. A Sensory Swing for modulation is an amazing way to provide an option to swing in a home or preschool setting
      • Trampoline – Provide a small trampoline for your child to jump on. (Amazon affiliate link:) This toddler trampoline with handle is perfect for indoors spaces
      • Dancing – Any type of movement to music, including freeze dancing or shaking instruments (such as a tambourine, bells, maracas) or using scarves, are wonderful additions to a calm down corner
      • Yoga Poses – There are several themed yoga poses perfect for children. Add a yoga book or cards like these Unicorn Yoga Poses to any calm down area

      Calming Corner Printables

      Over the years, we’ve created seasonal sensory stations that support regulation needs. We’ve received wonderful words of thanks and feedback letting us know how loved these sensory stations have been.

      Check out each of these seasonal calming corner printable packets. Pick and choose the ones that support your needs in the classroom, therapy clinic, or home:

      1. Summer Sensory Stations
      2. Fall Sensory Stations
      3. Winter Sensory Stations
      4. Christmas Sensory Stations
      5. Spring Sensory Stations

      Additionally, other calming corner printables might include deep breathing posters. We have many free deep breathing exercises on the website, including:

      Finally, a brain beak printable like our popular alphabet exercises makes a great wall poster for a calming corner of the classroom.

      A final note on setting up a calming corner in classroom

      Calm down areas should incorporate all the senses, as every mood, trigger, situation and response is different. Equally important is the co-regulation aspect, which relates to responding to the mood and behavior of those around us, or the peers that may be present in a classroom or home setting.

      By utilizing a variety of calming tools in a calming corner, or calm down space within the classroom, children will be able to identify what they need, the moment they need it, while still engaging in active learning.

      It can be daunting and complicated providing for the needs of all of your different learners, however, by incorporating vestibular and proprioceptive materials in a calm down corner, children are able to use these powerful movement strategies when they need them the most, all while taking a multisensory approach to academics.

      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.

      Body Awareness Activities Using Proprioception

      Body awareness activities

      Let’s talk body awareness activities using proprioception, or heavy work to bring awareness to where the body is, how the body moves, and awareness of self. Proprioception is one of the senses that is involved with everything we do. This sensory system plays a major role in body awareness. Below you’ll find body awareness occupational therapy activities to support this motor concept.

      Take a quick moment to stop and consider the position you are in right now.  Are you lounging back on a couch?  Sitting at a desk?  Bouncing on a city bus as you glance at your mobile device?  Are you perched in an office chair with your legs folded under you? Are you hanging out at the playground and glancing at your phone while your kids run in circles?

      What is Body Awareness?


      Body awareness refers to being aware of the body’s position in space at rest and during movement. This concept can be broken down into having an awareness of body parts by name, movement, discrimination of sides of the body, and movement throughout space.

      Related, are the concepts of dominance and mixed dominance vs. ambidexterity.

      How does body awareness work?

      Let’s break it down:

      Being aware of our body position is something that happens automatically and naturally.  That body awareness occurs naturally.  The proprioceptive sense allows us to position our bodies just so in order to enable our hands, eyes, ears, and other parts to perform actions or jobs at any given moment. Proprioception activities help with body awareness.

      The proprioceptive sense sends information about our body’s position to the brain so that we inherently know that our foot is tapping the ground as we wait on the bus or that our leg is curled under the other on the couch even while we do other actions or tasks.


      This awareness allows us to walk around objects in our path, to move a spoon to our mouth without looking at it, and to stand far enough away from others while waiting in a line at the grocery store.  It enables a student to write without pressing too hard or too lightly on their pencil when writing, and it helps us to brush our hair with just the right amount of pressure.


      Proprioception is essential for everything we do!


      Sometimes, the proprioceptive system does not do it’s job.


      When the proprioceptive system isn’t functioning properly, body awareness and motor planning can be a problem.

      Kids need heavy work and propriocpetion to help with body awareness needed for skills like standing in line, motor control, and spatial awareness in school and in the community.

      When a child needs to pay attention to where their body is in space at all times, they can not attend to other important information like what is happening in their world around them.  He or she can not automatically adjust to environmental changes.  The child then needs to visually compensate in order to adjust his or her body.  This can result in a child being clumsy, fearful, are even scared in certain situations.

      Examples of Body awareness



      Below are two situations that describe a child with proprioception challenges.  In both, imagine a child who struggles to know where their body is in space.


      Body awareness navigating bleachers- Imagine you are sitting on a set of bleachers in a crowd of wiggly, moving, and LOUD students.  There is a lot going on around you, whether you are at a sporting event or in a gymnasium.  

      But, you also notice the bleachers don’t have a bottom to the steps; that is, you can see directly down to the ground below you.  Kids are standing up, sitting down, jumping, roughhousing, and you are SCARED.  

      Your body doesn’t know how to position itself in a safe manner. You don’t know what action will come next and you don’t know where to look. You don’t know where your feet are or if your hands are supporting you.

      Climbing up and down the bleachers is downright terrifying! For the child with proprioceptive struggles, just sitting on a set of bleachers can be challenging and overwhelming.


      Body awareness sitting at a classroom desk- Now think about the child who is sitting at their desk and is required to write a journal entry.  For the child with proprioceptive challenges, this can be a task with many “self-checks”.

      They need to look at their feet to make sure they are under their desk so they don’t get in trouble for almost tripping someone between the desk aisles.  They need to make sure they are sitting upright in their chair and that their back is touching the chair’s backrest.  

      They need to hold the paper and the pencil like they were taught.  They need to align the paper and the words and then think about how hard to press on the paper, how to make the lines for individual letters, and how to string together letters to make words.  

      What a workout it is just to get settled in and started on a writing task!  By now they might have lost several minutes of the writing time and they still don’t know what they are even writing about!


      Both of these situations happen on an every day basis.  

      For the child with proprioception difficulties, the ability to be aware of their body in space and plan out motor actions is very much a struggle.  These kids might appear fidgety, unsure, overwhelmed, clumsy, awkward, uncoordinated, or lazy.



      Body awareness is related to visual spatial relations.

      How to use proprioception activities to help with body awareness

      Body Awareness Goals in Occupational Therapy

      When children or adults struggle with awareness of body positioning or movement patterns during activities, functional tasks can be a struggle. Every day tasks are difficult or impaired.

      Occupational therapists work with individuals of all ages on functional tasks that occur in all aspects of daily living. Movement is part of the daily task completion, so it is likely that if body awareness is an issue, there are functional impairments at play.

      Occupational therapy professionals will focus body awareness goals on the functional task that is impaired.

      OT goals for body awareness can be specifically focused on improving body awareness during those functional tasks. Activities that address those goals can include heavy work, attention to task, motor planning, fine or gross motor skills, sensory input in the way of organizing proprioceptive input or vestibular input, visual cues and prompts. There are many ways this skill area can be addressed and these goals will be individualized for the child or adult.

      Additionally, OT goals for body awareness may focus on motor planning. Proprioception is very closely aligned with body awareness and motor planning.

      Need more information on proprioception and the other sensory systems and how they impact independence? Grab this free sensory processing disorder information booklet and free email series on sensory processing. 

      CLICK HERE to get the free sensory processing information booklet.

      Body Awareness Activities

      In this blog post, we are specifically discussing how to use proprioception activities to help with body awareness.

      The proprioceptive system is alerted through heavy work activities that involve heavy pressure, firm sensations, large, forceful motor movements, and pushing or pulling activities. These actions can be calming and organizing.

      Try these proprioception activities to help with body awareness at home, in the classroom, or in play.

      Proprioception activities at home

      • Carry full laundry baskets to the laundry area
      • Empty wet clothes into the dryer
      • Change sheets
      • Pull weeds
      • Pull garbage cans to and from the curve
      • Carry in grocery bags
      • Carry donations to the car
      • Wash windows
      • Scrub carpets
      • Shovel snow
      • Rake leaves
      • Mop floors
      • Vacuum
      • Rearrange furniture

      Proprioception activities in the classroom

      • Carry piles of books
      • Rearrange furniture
      • Help gym teacher move mats
      • Carry bin of lunchboxes to/from the lunch room
      • Wall push-ups
      • Chair push-ups
      • Clap erasers
      • Stack books in the library
      • Place chairs on desks at the end of the day, pull them down again in the morning

      Proprioception games and actions

      Looking for more ways to add proprioception activities into play and therapy? Try the ideas below. Just click on the images to read more. 

      proprioception sensory dough marshmallow   Snowball Shot Put Sensory Play for Kids
       
       
      DIY Ice Wobble Balance Disk for Proprioceptive and Vestibular Sensory Play  After school brain breaks and activities for kids 
       
       
      Travel Sensory Diet Proprioception and Handwriting 
       
      Fine Motor Proprioception Play Dough Rocks Frozen Play Dough

      In the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, we cover motor planning and body awareness concepts as they are deeply related to sensory processing. Much like the body awareness activities listed in this blog post, the book discusses how to integrate functional tasks within the day that offer organizing and regulating input through functional activities.

      Not only are these activities regulation tools, they are also activities that support development of body position in space and awareness of the body’s movements.

      Click here to get your copy of the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.

      The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.

      The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.

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

      Sensory Blanket Activity

      sensory tortilla blanket

      This sensory blanket activity is a simple home sensory diet activity that offers heavy work input using only a blanket. Did you know you can use a blanket as a calming sensory tool? One way that I love to help regulate and calm down over-responsive sensory systems is through heavy work activities

      Use a tortilla blanket (or any blanket) to make this sensory blanket burrito as a sensory tool for kids.

      Calming Proprioception Activity with a Blanket

      Using a blanket as a sensory tool is one of the easiest ways to offer heavy work , or proprioceptive input, through the whole body as a calming strategy.

      There are a few reasons why using a blanket works to calm the sensory systems.

      Rolling a child up in a blanket is a great way to provide deep input to a child’s whole body. This is calming and organizing.

      Additionally, the warm temperature helps to calm the body.

      A benefit to this sensory strategy is that every home has a blanket of some type. 

      Use this proprioceptive activity to offer calming input to help self-regulate emotions and sensory needs by rolling up in a blanket, either on the floor or with additional heavy work input. Check out all of our proprioception activities here.

      How to use a blanket for calming sensory input:

      1. Grab a blankets and spread it out on the floor.  
      2. Ask the child to lay down on the blanket, near one edge.
      3. Roll your child up like a burrito. Keep rolling until the whole blanket is used. Wrap the blanket tightly.  
      4. Add additional proprioceptive input for calming and regulating by piling pillows on top of your child after they’ve been wrapped up in the blanket.  Press evenly and gently, but firmly, with both hands to provide deep pressure input.

       

      Tortilla Blanket Sensory Activity

      Have you seen the (Amazon affiliate link) tortilla blankets? These are a great, fuzzy blanket to use in this sensory blanket activity! Kids can be the burrito as they are wrapped up in the tortilla blanket. Plus, the warmth from this fleece blanket is extra cozy and calming!

      Use the tortilla blanket to make a kid-sized burrito that adds calming sensory input!

      Another sensory activity using blankets is to use the blanket roll as a balance beam  or to lay on (without the child inside).

      For more heavy work activities using materials already found in the home, check out these low-prep heavy work exercises!

      Heavy Work Exercise Cards
      Heavy Work Exercise Cards- 50% off!

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

      Pencil Pressure When Writing

      If you’ve worked with kids teaching handwriting or fixing handwriting issues, they you probably have come across a common handwriting problem area…Pencil pressure when writing. Handwriting pressure can play a huge role in legibility, whether pressing too hard when writing or writing too lightly. 

      Pencil Pressure in Handwriting

      Some kids press too hard on the pencil. They may press so hard on the pencil that the pencil tears the paper when they write. When they try to erase, there are smudges that never really go away.

      Other students use too little force when writing. Or, you might see pencil pressure that is so light that you can’t discern letters from one another.

      Either way, pencil pressure plays a big part in handwriting legibility.

      Here are tips for pressing too hard when writing…and tips for helping kids write darker. Scroll down for everything you need to know about writing with that “just write” pencil pressure…Typo intended  🙂

      These writing tips are great for kids that press too hard when writing or write too lightly.

       

      Pencil Pressure with Writing

      Learning to write is a complex task.  Choosing a hand to hold the pencil with, pencil grasp, managing the paper with the assisting hand, sitting up straight.

      And then there is the physical task of marking letters: letter formation, line awareness, letter size… this is multi-level functioning for a child!  

      Yet another aspect to consider is the pressure one exerts on the paper when writing.  Press too lightly and the words are barely able to be seen.  Press too hard, and the letters are very dark, the pencil point breaks, lines are smudged, and when mistakes are erased, they don’t really erase all the way, the paper tears, and frustration ensues!  

      Sometimes, when it comes to pencil pressure, simply helping kids become aware that they are writing too lightly or writing with too much pressure can make a big difference. Here is one simple activity to work on pencil pressure. All you need is a sheet of foam crafting paper. 

      Pencil pressure is dependent on proprioception, one of the sensory systems.  With October being Sensory Processing Awareness month, this is the perfect time to talk sensory and handwriting!
       
      As an occupational therapist in the school setting, I’ve come across many school-aged children showing difficulty with pencil pressure.  There are reasons for these dark pencil marks and some tips and tools for helping with this handwriting difficulty. 

       

       
      Tips and tools for kids who write with too much pressure in handwriting.  Does your child write or color so hard that the pencil breaks?  Writing too hard makes handwriting difficult to read and effectively write.
       
       
       
      This post contains affiliate links.  

       

      Proprioception and Handwriting


      The proprioceptive system receives input from the muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, stretch, movement and changes in position in space.  Our bodies are able to grade and coordinate movements based on the way muscles move, stretch, and contract. 

      Proprioception allows us to apply more or less pressure and force in a task. Instinctively, we know that lifting a feather requires very little pressure and effort, while moving a large backpack requires more work.  

      We are able to coordinate our movements effectively to manage our day’s activities with the proprioceptive system.  The brain also must coordinate input about gravity, movement, and balance involving the vestibular system.


      When we write, the pencil is held with the index finger, middle finger, and thumb, and supported by the ring and pinkie finger as the hand moves across a page.  

      A functioning proprioceptive system allows us to move the small muscles of the hand to move the pencil in fluid movements and with “just right” pressure.  

      We are able to mark lines on the paper, erase mistakes, move the paper with our supporting arm, turn pages in a notebook fluidly, and keep the paper in one piece.

      Heavy Pencil Pressure

      When students press too hard on the pencil, handwriting suffers. Sometimes, children hold their pencil very tightly. Other times, they are seeking sensory feedback.  You’ll see some common signs of heavy pencil pressure:

      • They press so hard on the paper, that lines are very dark when writing.  
      • The pencil point breaks.  
      • When erasing, the pencil marks don’t completely erase, and the paper is torn.  
      • The non-dominant, assisting hand moves the paper so roughly that the paper crumbles.  
      • When turning pages in a notebook, the pages tear or crumble.
      • Movements are not fluid or efficient. 
      • Handwriting takes so much effort, that the child becomes fatigued, frustrated, and sore.  
      • It may take so much effort to write a single word, that handwriting is slow and difficult. 

      All of these signs of heavy pencil pressure are red flags for pencil pressure issues. They are not functional handwriting

      Below, we’ll cover ways to reduce  pencil pressure? 

      Writing Pressure: Too Light

      The other side of the coin is pencil pressure that is too light.

      Writing with too little pencil pressure is another form of non-functional handwriting. Some signs of too little pencil pressure include:

      • Kids may write so lightly that you can’t read the overall writing sample.
      • You can’t discern between certain letters.
      • The writing pressure is just so light that the child’s hand or sleeve smudges the pencil lines and the writing sample is totally not functional or legible.
      • The student starts out writing at a legible pencil pressure, but with hand fatigue, the writing gets lighter and lighter.

      All of these signs of too light pencil pressure and too much force when writing can be addressed with some simple tips. Working on proprioceptive input and hand strengthening can help with too light pencil pressure. Try some of the writing tips listed below.

      Pencil pressure and Messy handwriting

      Messy handwriting can be contributed to many factors.  Decreased hand strength, Visual motor difficulty, motor planning issues, visual memory difficulties, or impaired proprioception. 

      Difficulty with grading the movements required in drawing or making letters in a coordinated way may present as messy, smudged, illegible handwriting.
       

      Writing Tips for Pencil Pressure

      Bringing the writer aware of what’s occurring is one way to support pencil pressure issues. Proprioceptive activities allow the muscles to “wake up” with heavy pressure.

      Moving against resistance by pushing or pulling gives the muscles and joints an opportunity to modulate pressure.  

      Resistive activities before and during a handwriting task can be beneficial for children who press hard on the pencil. 

       

      Pencil Pressure Activities:

      Some of these pencil pressure activities are writing strategies to help kids become more aware of the amount of pressure they are using when writing.

      Others are tools for helping the hands with sensory needs. Still others are tools for strengthening the hands. Try some or a mixture of the following ideas to addressing handwriting needs.

      • Stress balls or fidget toys can help to strengthen pinch and grip strength. 
      • Use carbon paper or transfer paper to help kids become more aware of the amount of pressure they are exerting through the pencil when writing. Here is some easy ways to use a Dollar Store find to use carbon paper to work on handwriting
      • resistive bands- Use these as an arm warm-up to “wake up” the muscles of the whole upper body. They are great for positioning warm ups too. 
      • theraputty with graded amount of resistance (speak to a license occupational therapist about the amount of resistance needed for your child. An individual evaluation and recommendations will be needed for your child’s specific strengths/needs). 
      • Gross grasp activities- These activities can be a big help in adjusting the grasp on the pencil, helping the hands with sensory input and strengthening the hands to help with endurance when writing. 
      • Some children will benefit from using a liquid gel pen for fluid handwriting marks. The gel ink will provide feedback when gobs of ink are dispensed when writing too hard.
      • Still others will benefit from a gel pen, marker, or using a dry erase marker on a dry erase board. This can be beneficial as a tool for teaching about pencil pressure or as an accommodation for those writing too lightly.
      • Pencil Weights or Weighted Pencils- Weighted pencils can be helpful in providing sensory feedback through the hands.
      • A vibrating pen provides sensory feedback to the fingers and hand and helps to keep children focused on the task. 
      • Practice handwriting by placing a sheet of paper over a piece of sandpaper. The resistance of the sandpaper is great heavy work for small muscles of the hand. 
      • Practice writing on a dry erase board with dry erase markers to work on consistent pencil pressure- Pressing too hard will make the marker lines wider and press down on the tip of the marker. Can the learner keep a consistent line with their writing or drawing?
      • Use a grease pencil- These pencils are commonly used to marking wood or used in construction. The lead of the pencil is very soft and can be a great alternative for those that press too hard on pencils.
      • Cheap eyeliner pencil- One cheap alternative to a grease pencil is using an inexpensive eye liner pencil from the dollar store. Get the kind that you sharpen with a turn sharpener (almost like a hand held pencil sharpener). Kids can use that pencil to draw lines and match the amount of pressure they are using. This is a good activity for those that press too hard when writing, too.
      • Practice Ghost Writing: Encourage the child to write very lightly on paper and then erase the words without leaving any marks. The adult can try to read the words after they’ve been erased. If the words are not able to be read, the writer wins the game. 
      • Hand exercises are a great way to “wake up” the hands before a handwriting task. Encourage the child to squeeze their hand into a fist as tight as he can. Then relax and stretch the hand and fingers. Repeat the exercise several times. Practice holding the pencil with the same type of tight and relaxed exercises Practice writing on tissue paper. A very light hand is needed to prevent tears. Discuss the amount of pressure needed for writing on the tissue paper. 
      • This will provide the child with awareness and words for the way they are holding the pencil. 
      • Wrap a bit of play dough or putty around the pencil as a grip. Encourage the child to hold the pencil with a grasp that does not press deeply into the dough. Encourage using a “just right” pressure. 
      • Provide terms for they way they write. Encourage “just right” writing and not “too hard” or “too soft” marks. 
      • Use a lead pencil to color in a small picture, using light gray, medium gray, and dark gray. Talk about how using different amounts of pressure changes the shade of gray. 
      • Instead of writing on a notebook, pull a single sheet from the pages and place on a hard table or desk surface. The firm surface will limit the amount of pressure. You can also slip a clipboard between pages of a notebook to provide that hard surface, if sheets must remain in a notebook.
       
      Help kids with pencil pressure and handwriting problems with these writing tips to work on heavy pencil pressure or writing too light.

      Need more tips and tools for addressing handwriting needs? Be sure to check out all of our handwriting activities here on The OT Toolbox.

      More Handwriting Tips

      For a comprehensive resource on handwriting, check out The Handwriting Book. This e-book was written by pediatric occupational therapists and physical therapists who focus on function and take a developmental look at handwriting.

      In The Handwriting Book, you’ll find practical suggestions to meet all needs that arise with messy or sloppy handwriting. The developmental-based approach to teaching handwriting focuses on strategies to support common issues with written work.

      Click here for more information on The Handwriting Book.

      The handwriting Book

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

      Make a Play Dough Snake to Build Fine Motor Skills

      play dough snakes

      If you’ve ever played with Play Doh then you may have made a play dough snake. But did you ever stop and think about the various fine motor skills being developed with that simple play dough creature? Here we have a super simple and fun activity using play dough and rocks: Making play dough snakes! When you make a play dough snake so many skills are developed.

      play dough snakes are an easy way to work on fine motor skills with kids.

      Play Dough Snakes

      We are big fans of play dough.  Adding in fun little extras (like making play dough snakes!) is a great way to keep it interesting, and get those fingers moving with fine motor work.  We shared a picture of this activity on Instagram and it was such a hit, that we had to share our play in a blog post!  We used regular play dough this time, but a batch of homemade play dough recipe would be perfect for this activity, too. 

      The thing is that Play Doh snakes can be made with any type of play dough, homemade dough, slime, or even kinetic sand.

      Simple therapy tools like play dough can support big goal achievement. Similar to these games with paper clips, using play dough to build hand strength and fine motor skills is easy and fun.

      {This post contains affiliate links.  

      Play Dough Snakes and Fine Motor Skills

      Baby Girl loved this!!  I pulled out a few colors of play dough and a basket of  River Rocks.  She got started sorting, picking out her favorites, and pushing them into the play dough. 

      I showed her how to roll a play dough snake to really work on those fine motor skills. 

      By rolling a snake from playdough, so many fine motor skills are developed:

      Pinching those play dough snakes and pressing the stones into the play dough really works the intrinsic muscles of the hand, and upper body strength.  It’s a fun way to practice tripod grasp, too.

      How to Make a Play Dough Snake

      To roll a play dough snake, all you need is a lump of play dough. Then, follow these directions to support fine motor skill development:

      1. Use both hands to roll play dough on the table surface. Both hands should work symmetrically together (bilateral coordination)
      2. As the play dough is rolled, it gets longer.
      3. Use varying amounts of pressure through the palms of the hands to make sure the play dough snake is even. (Graded pressure)
      4. As the playdough snake gets longer and thinner, use the finger tips to roll with more precision. (Precision skills)

      Rolling a snake from play dough is a great way to strengthen the muscles of the hands, lengthen the muscles inside the hand (intrinsics), and work on grasp, and finger isolation.

      Here is another way to work on intrinsic strength using play dough.

       I made a play dough snake and pressed rocks along the length.  Baby Girl watched and started making her own. 

      More skills with Play Dough Snakes

      After you’ve made a few snakes from play dough, you can continue the skill-building.

      Freeze the play dough to make a stronger resistance. Freezing play dough for heavy work play is a great opportunity to challenge fine motor skills and add more resistive feedback through the hands.

      Cut the Play Dough Snake- After you have a nice long ribbon of playdough created, use scissors to create marks along the length. Cut the play dough snake along those textured marks to work on scissor skills and visual motor skills. The play dough offers great feedback through the hands.

      Add rocks to the play dough snake- Pushing the rocks into the play dough is a great fine motor proprioception activity.  This resistive activity really “wakes up” the small muscles in the hands.  What a great way to warm up the hands before a handwriting activity for older kids.  Proprioception activities like this one are a good way to calm and organize your child.  This activity would be a great addition to a Sensory Diet or a Sensory Lifestyle.  

      We made our snakes into faces, too. I made a play dough face and Baby Girl was able to copy one to make her own.  We talked about all of the parts of the face.  Such a fun way to play and learn!

        After she made her play dough face, she made them talk to each other…”hi, how are you…” and conversation back and forth.  Language development is fun with play dough!

      These cuties were best buds by the time we were done!

      Let us know if you do this activity at your home or school. 

       
      Create and explore proprioception with kids in this fine motor activity with play dough
       
       
       

      More play dough ideas you may like:

       

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

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