Handwashing Activities

handwashing activities for kids

Today, we’re talking handwashing activities. These self-hygiene activities can be used as a hand washing activity for preschoolers, when teaching kindergarteners to wash their hands, and even older kids that struggle with completely washing their hands. Add these multisensory ideas to add to a hand washing lesson plan.

handwashing activities for kids

We all know that handwashing is so important. Per the Centers for Disease Control, it is the most effective method to prevent the spreading of germs. Of course, we all want children to be healthy for participation in school, daycare, and other daily life events so that their growth continues undisturbed. We want them remaining healthy to enjoy their days of play and learning while essentially building their bodies and brains!

We also know that handwashing is the last thing that a child feels like they need to do.  Younger children do not understand what purpose it serves as they do not see a direct impact on themselves (unless they can see the dirt literally wash off their hands and down the drain).  Older kiddos think that a simple handwashing is all it takes as they went through all of the steps and think, “That’s good” when really their routine didn’t wash away all those icky germs and some are still on the hands ready to move onto others. Yuck!!

how to wash hands for kids

In this post, we will look at handwashing tips, tricks, and activities that can help children of all ages, and even some adults, manage their handwashing hygiene and help to keep themselves and others healthy and well.  Essentially, getting the true ‘ick’ off of the hands and down the drain where they belong!

Handwashing Tips and Tricks:

  • Allow the child to pick their own hand soap scent and give them the opportunity to decorate the container with their own touch of stickers, glitter, marker drawings, etc.  Some children enjoy placing small plastic toys inside the dispenser as well. Take a look at these fun Lego and Halloween soap ideas. 
  • Give the child a variety of options to choose from when picking a hand soap, such as bar vs. pump, foam vs. gel, etc.  Maybe a bar of soap in a mesh baggie would help. 
  • Allow the child to choose their favorite hand drying towel or buy a special towel just for this purpose. Maybe it’s a fun themed towel or simply a fluffy towel that feels good to the hands. Think positive experience, so no scratchy towel fabric here.
  • Incorporate a fun handwashing song into their handwashing routine.   There are so many fun songs out there with some being designed to help the child wash better and longer to cleanse those germs away. Take a look at these fun Handwashing Songs!  Songs can be super helpful for younger kiddos.
  • Bring a few of their favorite toys to the handwashing routine to encourage their engagement. They can play with them after they wash their hands thoroughly.
  • Consider using a visual timer to help them wash their hands for the appropriate length of time to cleanse those germs away. This is helpful for older kiddos. Think about a visual gel timer that lasts 20-30ish seconds. 
  • Make sure the sink is comfortably accessible to the child. Can they reach the faucet? Can they place hands directly under the faucet and above the basin comfortably? Consider using foot stools, faucet handle extenders or grippers, and faucet extenders. You can purchase these in fun themes or if you are creative, make your own! Take a look at this DIY faucet extender and fun faucet set. If you prefer to have something more adult-like in theme, take a look at this simple faucet extender
  • Sometimes if a child is able to see themselves in the mirror behind the sink, they are ready to wash their hands while watching themselves. You’ll see them make funny faces, showing different facial expressions, etc.  Make sure the child is able to multi-task to do this. 
  • Consider adding a few fun window clings to the mirror that can watch the child as they work on handwashing hygiene. Let the child pick them out, maybe you can change them with every holiday.
  • Consider joining the child for the handwashing routine. This shows that that everyone must take the time to wash their hands throughout the day.
  • Create a sticker reward chart as an incentive to have the child work on handwashing skills. Maybe a reward that they would really want could be the handwashing motivator.
  • Use these free Hand Washing Posters and step by step visual schedule by Your Therapy Source to assist with teaching children proper handwashing techniques. The fun posters have a visual reminder and when it’s important to perform handwashing.  Also, they have a fun Hand Washing Activities Packet that has a variety of hand hygiene activities. 
  • Consider the water temperature as some children do not like certain water temperatures. Help them set the water temperature they like to motivate them to complete thorough handwashing.
  • If the child does not yet know how to set the water temperature, help them learn to do so. Use visual supports for water temp clarification by wrapping each handle with tape that is the color for hot (red) and the color for cold (blue).  If you have one central handle, place arrows on the sink backsplash surface with these same colors and the words ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ written on the arrows. You can also purchase some colored indicators from a hardware store, if that is your preference.

Using fun activities can help children to learn the importance of appropriate handwashing hygiene.  The activities not only serve the purpose of being fun, but they serve a more important purpose of demonstrating the need and the value of proper handwashing.  Sometimes teaching kids to wash their hands properly requires some creativity and FUN! 

Handwashing Activities

Below are some handwashing activities that help engage children in the hand hygiene process while also providing valuable learning experiences to clarify why this foundational skill is necessary in their daily lives. 

  • This sensory ‘bin’ activity involves the use of a water bin and latex gloves – Wash Your Hands – a playful exploration using latex gloves, ice, and water making it the perfectly blended sensory, science, and health activity. 
  • This Clean Hands sensory ‘bag’ activity involves the use of hands drawn on a gel-filled, pom-pom baggie and the use of bottle brush. It helps children to learn to get the hands squeaky clean by scrubbing away those pom-pom germs. 
  • This fun self-care activity – Germy Hand – is an OT activity that adds a fine motor and functional component to learning the importance of proper handwashing as the child learns a handwashing song and works on germ buttoning to dirty the hand and then follows with germ unbuttoning to cleanse the hand.
  • Read a germ book or two to help children learn about why handwashing is important. Review this 20 Germ Books for Kids post by Fun with Mama to see all of the options you could use with a variety of children.
  • Ice Cube Handwash is an OT activity that promotes tactile tolerance through extended engagement with water and ice in order to encourage a child to work on thoroughness and find enjoyment in hand hygiene. 
  • Use this Glitter Germs Activity to help children understand visually what exactly they working on washing away with proper handwashing. It involves the use of lotion and glitter and creates a fun germ-spreading game!
  • Use this fun OT Fuzzy Germ Craft activity to teach about germs. You can easily add it to your reading of a germ-themed book and you’ll have a whole lesson plan for germs! This is a great activity for older kids!
  • This bread science experiment is a disgustingly real way to teach about the importance of proper handwashing and why hand hygiene is so important. This will really convince children to wash their hands and will probably help them do it without you even reminding them!
  • This pepper science experiment is a unique way to teach younger children about why it’s so important to wash their hand and use soap to do so. 
  • Use this free Handwashing Social Story to work with individual children or even a small group of children. It is highly detailed and uses full color photos instead of more abstract clipart. 
  • Use the free step by step visual schedule printable from Your Therapy Source and cut apart the individual steps to hide around the room and have the child do a handwashing scavenger hunt. Once they find all of the steps, they place them into the correct sequence. This is a great OT activity!
  • This Icky Germs Craft makes for another fun activity that incorporates hand tracing, coloring, and cutting skills.  It also allows for some creativity with germ creations.  
  • This germy hand craft is similar to the one above, but it adds a fun little paper soap element that helps children relate to the need to use soap to cleanse away those icky germs!
use these washing hands rhymes to teach handwashing skills

Washing Hands Rhymes

Individuals that learn best through multisensory input may appreciate a hand washing rhyme. When kids are exposed to the rhythm and rhyme of a saying that teaches handwashing, the individual steps may be more likely to stick.

These washing hands rhymes ideas are great to use in teaching handwashing to preschoolers, kindergarteners…and older kids!

Each of these rhyme ideas have several goals: to get kids to learn to wash their hands, to use each step of handwashing, and to scrub with soap for a longer period of time.

This is the way we Wash Our Hands Washing Hands Rhyme

(Sung to the tune of All Around the Mulberry Bush)

This washing hands rhyme teaches kids about the hygiene concept of washing hands before eating.

This is the way we wash our hands
Wash our hands
Wash our hands
This is the way we wash our hands
Before we eat our food.

Tops and Bottoms Hand Washing Rhyme

(Sung to the tune of Frere Jacques)

This hand washing rhyme teaches kids each step of the hand washing process, including where to scrub with soap.

Tops and Bottoms, Tops and Bottoms, (Rub top and bottom of hands)
In between, In between, (Rub fingers inside on both hands)
All around our hands, All around our hands, (Wash all over)
Then we rinse. Then we dry.

Use this hand washing lesson plan to teach kids to wash their hands effectively

hand washing lesson plan

If you are teaching handwashing, using a hand washing lesson plan is one way to stay on track with teaching the correct concepts of hand hygiene, and making sure the steps of handwashing sticks with kids. Those with cognitive deficits, attention challenges, executive functioning needs, and others may struggle with each step. This is where a handwashing lesson plan comes into play.

Pick and choose the handwashing activities listed above to incorporate into a lesson plan. This could be included in an overall life skills class, a self-hygiene course, or even daily functional task lessons.

A specific handwashing lesson plan may include:

Handwashing Lesson Plan

  • Title of Lesson: Handwashing
  • Time: 1 day-1 week
  • Subject Areas: Self-Help Skills; Life Skills
  • Media: Books, Play activities, Online videos, manipulatives, handwashing station or sink, soap, water, towel, isolated sink in classroom, public bathroom
  • Objective: Student will learn to wash their hands.
  • Procedures for Lesson:
    • Read a handwashing book or germ book (see above)
    • Complete a germ experiment or multisensory activity related to germs (see above)
    • Write the list of steps for handwashing. Student can copy onto paper.
    • Discuss each step of handwashing.
    • Sing washing hands rhymes (see above)
    • Complete a how-to writing task. Student can write independently the steps of handwriting.
    • Manipulate needed materials: soap, water, towel, paper towel, sink, water handles, water temperature, air dryer.
    • Interactive activity with peers: Sort handwashing visual cards into steps.
  • Key Vocabulary:
    • Germs
    • Water
    • Temperature
    • Soap (types: liquid soap, bar soap, antibacterial, soap dispenser, etc.)
    • Dry/wet
    • Towel, paper towel, napkin, air dryer
    • Scrub
    • Rinse
  • Practice and Application:
    • Student describes steps of handwashing.
    • Practice handwashing at a sink using dry materials on the hand such as a light dusting of flour or cornmeal.
    • Practice handwashing at a sink, using all of the steps.
    • Handwashing in public space such as school bathroom where there may be other bathroom users, loud noises, and distractions.
  • Scaffolding:
    • Modeling
    • Guided practice
    • Independent practice
  • Grouping Options:
    • Individual
    • Small groups
    • Large groups
    • Peer activity
    • Partners

In this post are ample tips and tricks to try with kiddos to help them learn the importance of this foundational skill and build the motivation to do so. There are links to engaging activities to help a child learn when and why to do proper handwashing. 

However, if you should have other concerns about your child that these tips or tricks do not address, please contact an occupational therapy provider to discuss. Your child may have other underlying issues, such as sensory processing, motor planning, bilateral coordination, strength, and executive functioning needs. 

Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

Adaptive Equipment For Eating

Adaptive equipment for eating

This article covers adaptive equipment for eating, including adaptive feeding equipment, assistive feeding devices, adaptive utensils, plates, bowls, and other tools to support functional feeding skills.

One of the main paths that occupational therapists help people achieve success in their daily occupations is through adaptive equipment and technology. There are so many great feeding products and eating tools available to increase independence, and today we will start off the conversation by introducing adaptive equipment specifically for feeding. 

Adaptive equipment for eating

A great place to start with learning more about adaptive equipment for eating and the possible need for reaching out to occupational therapy for adaptive eating tools or support is this resource on Pediatric Feeding: Is it Sensory, Oral Motor, or Both?

Adaptive Equipment for Eating

When it comes to helping individuals become more independent with daily occupations, feeding and eating skills have a big role. Occupational therapy, being the holistic profession that it is, recognizes the overall piece of eating has on wellness and wellbeing, nutrition, and day to day functioning. OTs focus on both the feeding aspect for nutritional intake as well as functional eating skills in use of utensils, cups, and bowls for independence.

Let’s take a look at various adaptive equipment tools for feeding and eating:

Adaptive utensils for feeding needs

Adaptive Utensils

Adaptive dinnerware includes adjusting handles on eating utensils, adding width to the utensil handle, adding weight or length, and addressing the ability to hold a spoon, fork, or knife. Other adaptive feeding needs cover difficulty bringing food to the mouth or the ability to remove food from the utensil as a result of oral motor issues.

Let’s take a look at various adaptive utensils.

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

EazyHold Silicone Silicone Aide-Basically a silicone universal cuff, this adaptive utensil tool is perfect for feeding! The silicone texture makes it easy to clean, and it comes in sizes for newborns through adults. This piece of equipment can be placed around the hand and hold common objects like forks, spoons, markers, and paintbrushes making it a one-stop device for turning household spoons, knives, and forks into adaptive eating utensils. It can remarkably increase independence for individuals that demonstrate deficits in grip strength. 

Maroon Spoon– This adaptive feeding utensil is a classic! The maroon spoon has a shallow spoon depth that can assist in feeding for users with poor lip closure, oral hypersensitivity, or tongue thrust. 

Weighted, Thick Handled Utensils– These weighted utensils have thick handles that are great for those who can grasp a wide handle but have a harder time holding on to something smaller that requires more grip strength. If this is the case, built-up handles are a lifesaver!

You can also use Viva Foam Tubing to make any household spoon, fork, or knife handles thicker and easier to grasp. The added weight of these utensils is also great for individuals who have tremors – the extra weight helps to combat the motion of the tremor, leading to a more successful meal time. 

Textured Spoons– The texture on the spoon provides oral-motor stimulation to the mouth, increasing wanted oral movement patterns and decreasing hypersensitivity. The texture can also cue the user to engage with the tastes and textures while feeding. This spoon comes with extra-long handles to make hand over hand assist a bit easier, too! 

These bendable textured spoons are great for self-feeding and oral motor stimulation as they have a smaller, hand-held size and can offer different textures for gum and tongue sensory input.

Off- Set Spoon– This tool, and many other utensils like it, allow for easier self-feeding for individuals who have limited mobility. The angle of the spoon is turned toward the person, instead of being straight, so that they can bring their spoonful of food directly to their mouth without having to change the orientation of the spoon or their bodies. 

Adaptive plates and adapted bowls for feeding issues

Adaptive Eating Plates and Bowls

When it comes to a container to hold food, plates and bowls can look like many things. Here, you’ll find recommendations for lipped plates, suction cup

Scooper Plate– A lipped plate is just one way to help individuals scoop food from the plate surface, and not onto the table. This scooper plate is a dinner plate with a lip, or a higher edge. Here is another must-have item for individuals that have trouble scooping or stabilizing their plate or bowl.

This “scooper plate” is a plate with high walls like a bowl that have been specifically designed to make it easier to scoop and pick up food items with a utensil. Even better, there is a suction cup feature at the bottom to secure it to the tabletop for more stability while scooping. You can also get the scooper bowl here.

Plate Guard– Similar to the scooper plate, these plate guards can be added to any of your existing plates to add a wall to scoop against. This reduces spills, food waste, and time spent chasing food around with a utensil. That being said, there is much to learn from messy food play.

4-Square Meal Plate– Some feeding therapy involves increasing food repertoire for picky eaters. This plate can be a great tool to help make mealtime fun and engaging for kids. For more tips on how to improve meal times for picky eaters, check out Kids Eat in Color and ABC Pediatric Therapy Network for more resources. 

Adaptive cups and adaptive spoons for feeding needs

Adaptive Cups

Adaptive cups can help with drinking without lifting the head or chin or can help address other motor control and strength challenges. For individuals that struggle to hold a cup or sip from the edge of a cup, there are straw options as well. Below, you’ll find adapted cups that are designed for those with dysphasia or aspiration precautions. Those requiring thickness needs or safety concerns with swallowing liquids should consult a professional. Read this resource on oral motor issues and feeding needs to get started.

Flexi Nosey Cup– This is a flexible drinking cup that also has a space cut out of it to fit a person’s nose. This is a simple and effective way to improve the independence of those who are limited in their ability to tilt their head back while drinking. With the space cut out for the nose, there is no need to tilt their head back while using this cup. The flexibility of the cup can control the flow of the fluid as well, to promote safe swallowing. 

Bear Straw Cup– This kit can help teach a child how to drink out of a straw. The design keeps the liquid near the top of the straw so that less effort is required to take a sip. This can be great for those with oral motor deficits or those just learning how to suck. The kit comes with a lip block to prevent biting on the straw or having the straw enter the throat, and encourages oral motor exercise as well! 

Recessed Lid Cup– This drinking cup is designed with two handles and a recessed lid that can improve lip closure while avoiding sippy cup use. Why do we want to avoid sippy cups? Short answer: if they are used to exclusively, for too long, they can cause dental issues and speech problems. The recessed lid cup mimics drinking from an open cup without all the spillage. Plus, it improves lip closure and tongue retraction for improved oral motor function. This kind even comes with two lid options, one that is suitable for straw use, and the other for typical drinking. 

Flow Control Cup– This cup helps with oral motor control, lip closure, and tongue mobility that impacts sucking from a straw and managing the flow of liquids when drinking from a cup.

Extra-Long Drinking Straw– This flexible drinking straw is extra long, addressing mobility needs that limits an individual’s ability to move closer to a cup and straw that are positioned on the table surface.

If you are a therapist or another professional looking for brands to support during feeding therapy, take a look at Ark’s products. They make tons of oral motor tools for desensitizing and strengthening a child’s mouth to encourage the development of food repertoire and safer, more independent feeding and swallowing. 

Finally, if adaptive feeding equipment is something that needs to be further adapted to meet the specific needs of an individual, don’t forget the many uses that Dycem will have in addressing specific needs.

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.

Messy Eating

Benefits of Messy eating for babies and toddlers

Have you ever noticed that small children eat meals with recklessness? Bits of food covers the face, cheeks, hands, lap, floor, belly, and even hair. Part of it is learning to use utensils and manage food on the fork or spoon. But there’s more to messy eating too! Messy eating for a baby or toddler is actually a good thing, and completely normal part of child development. And, letting a small child get messy when they eat, and even playing with their food as they eat is OK!

Messy eating in babies and toddlers has benefits to developing tactile sensory challenges and fine motor skills in young children.

Messy eating

I’m sure that your mother never told you it was okay to play with your food at the dinner table, but I’m here to tell you otherwise. Playing with food is not only okay, it is vital to development of self feeding skills and positive engagement with food. When young children play with their food they are engaging in a rich, exploratory sensory experience that helps them develop knowledge of texture, taste, smell, changing visual presentation of foods and oral motor development.

When play with food is discouraged it can lead to picky eaters, oral motor delays and increased hesitancy with trying new foods later on.

Eating with hands- Messy benefits

When solid foods are introduced to baby, it is often a VERY messy ordeal. There is food on the chair, the bib, the floor, you…everywhere but the baby’s mouth. Often times, parents may feel discouraged or don’t like the mess that is the result, but it is OK. In fact, the messier the better.

Exploring food textures with the hands provides tactile experience to the hands, palm, and individual fingers. Are foods sticky, chunky, goopy, or gooey? All of that exposure to the hands is filed away as exposure to textures.

Picking up and manipulating foods offers fine motor benefits, too. Picking up and manipulating bits of food offers repetition in pincer grasp, graded precision, grasp and release, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, crossing midline, and proprioceptive feedback. All of this is likely presented in a baby seat or high chair that offers support and stability through the trunk and core. When that support is offered to babies and toddlers, they can then work on the distal coordination and dexterity. At first, manipulation of food is very messy as those refined skills are developed, but it’s all “on-the-job training” with tasty benefits!

Research shows that a child moves through a series of exploratory steps before successfully eating new foods. This process involves messy play from the hands, up the arms, onto the head and then into the mouth. The steps of this process cannot happen unless the child is encouraged to touch, examine and play with their food. In today’s culture of sterilization and cleanliness, this often counterintuitive to parents and a hard pattern to break.

Promoting Play with Food

Mealtimes can be rushed affairs, making it hard to play with food, but they are not the only times we engage with food throughout the day.

Cooking and meal prep are two of the most common opportunities for play and engagement with food. These activities present perfect opportunities for parents to talk about color, size, shape, texture, smell and taste of the foods that are being prepared. Use of descriptive words,
over exaggeration when talking about and tasting foods, along exploration opportunities develop a positive interest in foods.

Babies can be involved in kitchen prep as they play with appropriate utensils and kitchen items like baby-safe bowls or pots. Toddlers enjoy being involved in the food preparations and can wash, prep, and even chop soft foods with toddler-safe kitchen tools.

Explore these cooking with kids recipes to get small children involved in all the benefits of the kitchen.

Here are more baby play ideas that promote development.

Food Art

Free play with foods like yogurt, jello and applesauce are also great opportunities to promote messy play and creativity. Utilize these foods for finger painting, or painting with other foods as the brushes. This activity challenges tactile and smell regulation, along with constant changes in
the visual presentation of the food.

Creativity with Food

When presented with food for free play, or at the dinner table encourage their creativity–carrot sticks become cars or paint brushes, and raisins become ants on a log.

The sillier the presentation, and more engaged the child becomes, the more likely they are to eat the foods you have presented to them. Especially, if these foods are new, or are non-preferred foods. High levels of over exaggeration also leads to increased positive experiences with foods, which in turn leads to happier eaters, and less stressful mealtimes
down the road.

Ideas like these flower snacks promote healthy eating and can prompt a child to explore new textures or tastes in a fun, themed creative food set-up.

Messy Eating and Oral Motor Development

Not only does play promote increased sensory regulation and positive engagement with foods, it also promotes oral motor skill development.
Oral motor skill development is promoted when a variety of foods are presented and the mastered skills are challenged.

Here is more information on oral motor problems and feeding issues that are often concerns for parents. The question of feeding concerns and picky eating being a sensory issue or oral motor motor concern comes up frequently.

Foods that are long and stick like such as carrots, celery and bell peppers, promote integration of the gag reflex, along with development of the transverse tongue reflex that later supports tongue lateralization for bolus management.

Foods such as peas, or grapes promote oral awareness and regulation for foods that “pop” when bitten, and abilities to manage multiple textures at one time.

Messy Eating and Positive Mealtimes

Whether you have a picky eater, or are just trying to make mealtimes fun, play is the way to go!

Play with food is critical to development of oral motor skills and sensory regulation needed to support positive meal times. Through the use of creative play, exposure, and over exaggeration these milestones can be achieved.

Self-Care for Kids with Special Needs

Personal care tasks are part of life.  As children grow, they tend to want to “do it myself!” Sometimes however, children grow and tend to continue to require continued support to perform self-care functional tasks.  Parents, caregivers, and support staff can use varying degrees of verbal and visual cues to encourage independence in personal care tasks, but sometimes it’s just not enough.  
This month in the Functional Skills for Kids series, 10 Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist bloggers have come together to analyze and dissect personal care skills.  Take a look through the links below to find tricks, tips, developmental milestones, and creative ways to encourage independence in personal care tasks.  
These therapist-approved strategies are perfect for typically developing children and those with special needs.  
Tips and tricks for helping kids learn to take care of their own personal care skills.  These self care skills are helpful for special needs children and kids who are typically developing, part of the Functional Skills for Kids series from Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist bloggers.

How to Help Kids Learn Self Care and Personal Care Skills:


Adolescent Hygiene Challenges  | Therapy Fun Zone

Tips and tricks for helping kids learn to take care of their own personal care skills.  These self care skills are helpful for special needs children and kids who are typically developing, part of the Functional Skills for Kids series from Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist bloggers.

Tips to Help Kids Learn How to Blow Their Nose

Want to know how to teach kids to blow their nose so kids can blow their stuffy noses on their own? Many times, we see kiddos with boogery, runny noses that don’t know how to blow their nose. They might not know how to blow their nose or even how to hold a tissue. Blowing a nose is a functional skill that occupational therapists may see come up in the classroom or at home. Read on for nose blowing tips for kids from an occupational therapist will help kids blow their nose with ease!

How to Blow Your Nose

This time of year, kids get sick.  Sometimes it seems like there are more visits to the pediatrician’s office than there is to the grocery store.  With children back into the routine of school, there are more opportunities for kids to come into contact with germs from friends and teachers.  As parents, one thing we know a lot about is runny noses.  When our babies are born, it is usually not long before a runny nose has us and the sweet little baby up at night with the stuffy, congested breathing.  When kids start to progress in their self care, they can start to become more independent with the task of blowing their own nose.  

Blowing your nose includes steps that can be hard for kids to master:

  • Knowing that their nose is stuffy or full (interoception, or an awareness of the body)
  • Knowing to blow boogers instead of sniffing them up into the nose (interoception)
  • Holding a tissue at the nose without crumbling it (fine motor skills)
  • Blowing air through the nose and not the mouth (oral motor skills)
  • Pressing on one nostril and then the other (fine motor skills, interoception)
  • Knowing that all of the mucus or boogers are gone from the nose (interoception)
  • Handling a messy tissue without spreading germs (fine motor skills and tactile sensory skills)
  • Throwing away a tissue and washing hands (executive functioning skills, problem solving, sensory processing, fine motor skills)

And completing all of these tasks WHILE engaging in learning, social events, or performing other tasks. What a challenge for some of the kids we serve!

How can these steps of nose blowing be mastered by kids who struggle with fine motor skills, sensory processing concerns (including tactile or interoception issues), and executive functioning skills?

Tips to teach kids to blow their nose

Today, I’m sharing tips and tricks to help kids learn how to blow their own nose and to develop their ability to perform this portion of personal hygiene and functional skill ability.

Teaching kids to blow their own nose can be tricky.  Children who are typically developing find blowing their own nose to be difficult and children with special needs may have an especially troubling time with independent nose blowing.

There are important parts of the development of the child to consider when it comes to nose blowing.  Knowing what a child typically should be able to do in this personal care task can help parents determine if teaching nose blowing is feasible at different ages.  Other kids with sensory, fine motor, cognitive, or other struggles will fit into this developmental breakdown differently.  You can read more on these areas concerns below.

Tips to teach kids how to blow their own nose. This is great for typically developing kids and special needs kids.

When Can Kids Blow Their Nose?

Blowing a nose doesn’t come naturally. It’s a skill that needs to be taught. Parents that watch their little ones struggle with boogery, wet, runny noses often wonder when their child is old enough to blow their own nose. In fact, there are milestones that go along with this functional skill.

These are typical age ranges for the breakdown of skills needed for independence in nose care.
Age 1 –  The child allows his or her nose to be wiped.
Age 1.5- Attempts to wipe nose without actually completing the task
Age 2- Wipes nose when asked
Age 2.5-3.5- Wipes nose without request
Age 2.5-3.5- Blows nose with request

It’s important to note that kids don’t always follow these developmental milestones and that every child is different.  They typically developing child may not blow his or her own nose until age 5.  Just like any skill that a child completes, there are various ranges of development.  In this post, you will find tricks and tips to help kids develop this skill.

For the child with special needs, independent nose blowing may develop more slowly as a result of concerns in other areas.  

How to blow your nose: Fine motor skills needed 

When blowing one’s own nose, there are fine motor components that are necessary.  Eye-hand coordination, bringing the hands to midline, vision-obstructed motor control, pincer grasp, and pinch grip strength are necessary for managing a tissue. To address these needs, try building the skills needed for each area.

Here are strategies to build fine motor skills.

How to blow your nose: Sensory Skills needed

For a child, the process of blowing his or her own nose can be quite distressing.  Children with olfactory sensitivities may breathe primarily through their mouth, making the act of nose blowing difficult.  A sensitivity to scents can cause an overreaction to the tissue that needs to be held near the nose.  To accommodate for these sensitivities, try using unscented tissues.  Attempting the nose-breathing activities listed below can help.

There are tactile and olfactory sensory skills involved with nose blowing and managing a tissue, but also interoceptive skills. Interoception is a sensory processing ability that tells us how our body feels and impacts functioning skills. This skills allows kids to understand and feel what’s going on inside their body. When a child struggles with the interoceptive sense, they may have trouble knowing when their nose is full, running, or stuffed. They may not realize they have a booger on their face or when they need to blow their nose. Interoception allows us to know when we are finished blowing our nose and when a child’s  nose is empty or they’ve finished blowing.

Here is more information on sensory processing.

How to blow your nose: Cognitive skills needed

For young children, the process of completing each step of nose blowing can be a difficult process. Children need to maintain lip closure while breathing through their nose, one nostril at a time.  This multi-process task can be difficult for older children who demonstrate difficulty with cognition.  To address these problem areas, try using a social story for the steps of nose blowing.  A social story can also help children identify the appropriate time for attempting to blow their nose.

Executive functioning skills play a part in teaching kids to blow their own nose. The problem solving needed to identify when a stuffy nose impacts functioning is just one concern. Here are more ways that executive functioning impacts nose blowing:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Prioritization
  • Attention
  • Impulse Control
  • Working Memory
  • Cognitive Flexibility
  • Foresight

If a child has a runny nose when in the classroom, they need to plan out how to get a tissue. They need the foresight to know that if they don’t blow their nose, they will have a messy nose, runny boogers, or get an ear infection from sniffing too much. They need to prioritize how to stop writing or reading and how to blow their nose in the middle of the classroom, and then what to do with the used tissue. They need the impulse control to not sniffle or to throw their tissue in the garbage as opposed to the floor. They need the working memory and cognitive flexibility to return to the task at hand once they blow their nose. They need the ability to pay attention to the teacher or their assignment while they blow their nose. What a lot of executive functioning skills are involved with nose blowing!

How to Blow your nose: Oral motor skills needed

In order to blow the nose, a child needs to maintain lip closure.  This can be a very difficult task for children who exhibit oral motor problems.  Oral motor skills impact feeding and breathing through the nose (as opposed to mouth breathing), but blowing the nose is impacted by oral motor skill development as well.

Here is more information on oral motor skills.

Use these fun tips to teach kids how to blow their nose.

Strategies for helping kids learn to blow their own nose: 

1. First practice with the mouth.  Teach kids bring a tissue to their nose and practice blowing air out of their mouth.  In this way, kids understand that blowing out air can move the tissue.  They can then progress to closing their mouth and blowing air out through their nose. 

2. Teach when not sick. This is an important factor in teaching kids to blow their nose.  Parents typically do not consider nose blowing until there is congestion that interferes with breathing.  When kids are trying to learn to blow their nose and they are dealing with a runny or blocked nose, it can be overwhelming and frustrating for kids to breathe while holding their mouth shut.  Try practicing nose blowing when the child is feeling well.

3. Blow water- Teach kids that they can use their nose to blow air through one or both nostrils at a time in order to blow ripples across the surface of water.  Ask them to practice pinching their nose. 

4. Blow a tissue ball- Tear a small piece of facial tissue and crumble it into a very small ball. Place it on the table surface and ask your child to blow the tissue on the table using their nose.

5. Blow on a mirror to see the fog.  Ask your child to pinch one nostril closed and to blow air through their nose onto a mirror.

6. Teach the child about the spread of germs.  Try this children’s book and craft to get started.

7. Teach the child to hold one nostril with a tissue.  Use your hand to push down on one nostril. Kids can try this skill too, by trying to making the tissue dance with just one side of their nose. Call it a “tissue boogie” and get that tissue dancing by blowing it with the air from one nostril at a time.

8. Over-exaggerate the breathing, closing mouth, and blowing through the nose without a tissue. Sit across from the child and play a game of “Simon Says” to copy the movements to take a deep breath, hold it in, close the mouth, and blow through the nose.

9. Nose Blowing Social Story- Try this nose blowing social story to teach kids to blow their own nose.

Tips from an Occupational Therapist to teach kids how to blow their nose.

Bedtime Tooth Brushing Visual Schedule

Getting four kids tucked into bed is a nightly circus.  There are lost toothbrushes, smears of toothpaste, pajama shenanigans, and one last bounce on the beds.  Then, it’s lights out and always a few calls for one last hug from mom or dad.  

But one thing that helps with my kids is to have a routine in place.  A bedtime tooth brushing visual schedule works when there are small kids in the house! 

When the kids know what to expect, they know what is happening next. When kids know what is coming up, behaviors can improve.  It’s a phenomenon that I’ve seen in potty training three of my children, and it’s something I’ve witnessed with back-to-school morning routines.  

So, when things get a little out of control and the bedtime sillies become contagious, there is no better way to round up the sleepy troupes and go over our bedtime routine.

This bedtime routine schedule is kid-made and hands-on (literally!) and the perfect way to get kids to brush their teeth each night as part of the family routine, and an easy way to encourage parents to read out loud with the kiddos…even when getting the kids into bed seems more circus-like than calm!

This bedtime routine visual schedule will help kids learn to use good oral hygiene by making sure they brush their teeth each night, part of a great family nighttime routine.

Bedtime Routine Schedule to Nighttime Tooth Brushing and Bedtime Story

Since we’ve had so much luck with our back to school morning schedule story stones, and potty training visual schedule, we decided to try this Finger Print Bedtime Schedule.  The fact that kids get to create the schedule manipulatives and use the stickers each night allows kids to really visualize and comprehend each step of their bedtime routine.  

When you make your bedtime schedule stickers with your kids, they can see that each step of the family routine happens in a certain order.  Use the crafting time as an opportunity to talk about the steps that happen before bed, why it’s important to brush their teeth, and favorite family bedtime stories.

You’ll need just a few materials to make your own hands-on bedtime routine schedule:
Yellow washable paint
Black marker
White label sheet (Sticky back paper that is used to create labels)
Paper for making the chart

On the paper, write out the steps of the family’s bedtime routine.  We followed the three steps in our The Three Bees book and wrote out “Brush”, “Book”, and “Bed”.  

This bedtime routine visual schedule will help kids learn to use good oral hygiene by making sure they brush their teeth each night, part of a great family nighttime routine.

Next, use yellow paint to create fingerprints on the label sheet.  Fingerprint projects are an excellent way to sneak in fine motor skills, especially finger isolation.

Once the fingerprints are dry, use the black marker to draw on a smile and bee details.  This was a simple job that my eight year old loved to do.  

Cut the bees from the label paper and you’ve got instant bee stickers!  All you need to do now is wait until bedtime to work your way through the night time routine as a family.

This bedtime routine visual schedule will help kids learn to use good oral hygiene by making sure they brush their teeth each night, part of a great family nighttime routine.

We hung our bedtime routine schedule on the bedroom wall.  I had my kids stick a bee sticker after they brushed their teeth and then after we read a book as a family.  As they were tucked into bed, my husband and I stuck one last bee sticker beside “Bed” and we turned out the lights.

This bedtime routine visual schedule will help kids learn to use good oral hygiene by making sure they brush their teeth each night, part of a great family nighttime routine.

My kids got the chance to try out Orajel™ PAW Patrol™ products and were excited for a fun toothbrush and toothpaste to add to our nighttime routine.  I was happy to see their smiles and know that Orajel™ PAW Patrol™ products are a great way to transition your little one(s) to fluoride toothpaste to help protect against cavities to keep young teeth and gums healthy.”

Why use a visual schedule? 

Schedule charts are great for kids of all ages and all developmental levels, but they work especially well with children who demonstrate difficulties in the following areas: 

  • communication  
  • Learning problems
  • difficulty with flexibility
  • Behavior problems

When children are sleepy at the end of the day, it can be overwhelming to follow through with the night time routine.  A kid-made visual schedule like these bees is the perfect way to encourage healthy oral hygiene and family time through nightly books.  When it becomes routine, it’s easy to turn the night time circus into peace!

I’ve got something fun to share:  Scholastic and Orajel are teaming up to encourage parents to make reading out loud to their children and brushing their teeth part of their families’ bedtime routines.  

You can visit Scholastic.com/read2me to find tons of resources that are designed to get parents excited about including reading in the nighttime routine.  There is even a FREE Scholastic e-book called The Three Bees.  This is the book that we read and based our bee routine schedule on.  

By visiting scholastic.com/Read2Me, you’ll also find the 100 Best Read-Aloud Books and essential articles from the editors of Scholastic Parents. 

Best of all, you can join in on the Read2Me Tonight Challenge where parents take a photo or video of them reading out loud to their children as part of their bedtime routine for a chance to win all 100 Best Read-Aloud Books and a PAW Patrol™ “Brushers Bundle” from Orajel. 

Then, simply share that entry via the site to social media, earning an extra chance to win!

When you add reading to your night time routine, you are building a bond and memories that will last a lifetime. 

Be sure to visit scholastic.com/read2me and check out the resources there.  Use them to help make reading and brushing part of your child’s nighttime routine!

This bedtime routine visual schedule will help kids learn to use good oral hygiene by making sure they brush their teeth each night, part of a great family nighttime routine.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of ORAJEL. The opinions and text are all mine.

var ts=document.getElementById(‘ti-pixel-tracker’); var axel = Math.random() + “”; var num = axel * 1000000000000000000; var ti=document.createElement(“img”); ti.style.display=”none”; ti.src=”https://tracking.tapinfluence.com/trk/RMHsA/gvH2S/p.png?p=3OwVP” + String.fromCharCode(38) + “i=DYRFE” + String.fromCharCode(38) + “ord=”+ num + String.fromCharCode(38) + “s=” + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer); ts.parentNode.replaceChild(ti,ts); new TAP.CogFrame(‘/v1/cogs/ded5f9e2-dcb9-11e5-8573-22000a7d00a4/comments’).drop({“program_id”:”333b62e2-a281-11e5-a23d-22000a66c666″,”post_id”:”789611be-3f3b-11e6-acbb-22000a7d00a4″,”host”:”api.tapinfluence.com”,”apiHost”:”api.tapinfluence.com”,”sort_order”:”desc”,”limit”:”20″,”offset”:”0″,”sort_by”:”created_at”,”protocol”:”https://”});

How to teach a child to zip their coat

how to teach a child to zip a coat
Here, you’ll fid a zippering activity that can be used for how to teach a child to zip their coat. Teach kids how to use a zipper doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be a complicated functional skill for kids and process.  Managing two hands together at the belly level, using one hand to hold down the zipper chamber AND the zipper pull AND the end of the zipper…all while the OTHER hand is holding the end of the zipper and trying to thread it into the chamber…it’s a motor planning process that requires a few essential skills to say the least.  

How to teach a child to zip their coat

The simple act of zippering a coat requires: bilateral coordination, finger isolation, open thumb web space, separation of the two sides of the hand (on BOTH hands), motor planning, pinch strength, eye-hand coordination, pincer grasp, and tripod grasp (most often of the non-dominant hand). Whew! It’s no wonder that teaching kids how to zipper can be such a complicated  orchestration of fine motor skills
I have a few zipper activities coming your way, and first up is this bread tie zippering activity.  It’s a fun way to work on they physical skills needed for managing a zipper, using items you probably have in the house.
Zippering activity that works to teach a child to zip a coat using fun materials like a ribbon and bread ties.

Teaching Zipper Skills


When it comes to teaching zipper skills, there are several skills kids need to develop in order to manage a zipper.

This post contains affiliate links.
There are some nice quality zipper tools out there that will help your child learn how to zipper clothing.  Some of the best products are ones that encourage a child to become independent while practicing the skills needed to learn how to use a zipper and fasten clothing. Looking for manufactured zipper tools?  Try a zipper board, a clothing fastener vest, or a fun cargo vest with zippers for creative play and zipper practice.
Here are all of those skill areas needed for managing a zipper.  Click on each link for creative activities to build these skills:


So, you could purchase zippering products online to practice zippering, struggle with a difficult coat, or use what you’ve got:
Plastic bread ties
How to teach a child to zip a coat using a ribbon and a bread tie.
And, that’s all you need to practice zippering in a fun way.
I mean, “tools”. Really, the kids will get a kick out of this and practice the motor skills needed to pinch a zipper, hold down the end of the zipper, and the really tough part of the process: separating the tow sides of the hand holding the zipper chamber.  And, recycling those plastic bread ties makes trash into a treasured moment when a kiddo can shout, “I did it!” then next time they zipper their jacket. 
Use this zippering activity for a fun way to teach a child to zip a coat

Zippering Activity

This simple ribbon activity uses plastic bread ties.  First, knot both ends of a wide ribbon.  Pinch the ribbon and slide the bread ties onto the ribbon.  That’s it; your zipper tool is done. 
Next, we’re going to practice.  To help kids learn to zipper (a real zipper),  they need to hold the bottom of the zipper while the other side is engaged into the chamber. They need to hold the bottom of the zipper between the thumb and middle/ring fingers while pinching the chamber down with the thumb and pointer finger. 
Use the ribbon to practice this skill by holding the ribbon down strait and taunt and pinching a bread tie between the thumb and pointer finger.  We held the ribbon tightly in a couple of ways: You can pin the ribbon to your child’s shirt, or have them hold the end of the ribbon under their chin. The latter method allows them to look down while they are completing the coordinated movements, much like zippering requires. 
Then, use the other hand to pull the zipper ties all the way up and all the way down the length of the ribbon.
You could (and should!), of course, practice zippering a coat during trips outside, and during non-busy/non-rushed periods of the day.  However, this simple activity makes working on the individual parts of zippering a little more fun.  Add this activity to typical zippering practice to work on those skills.
Help kids learn how to zipper clothing using recycled materials that you probably have in your house. This activity works on all of the individual skills needed for the motor planning of zippering a zipper and uses just a ribbon and plastic bread ties.
You’ll love these DIY self-care hacks: 

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.

Ultimate Guide to Teaching Kids to Get Dressed

Kids grow up fast.  They are snugly newborns one day and before you know it, they are heading off to preschool (I don’t want to think about those older years!).  Those first few years of childhood are loaded with learning and growth. One area of independence is when kids learn to dress themselves.  Many parents have questions about when kids learn to get dressed on their own, how to help their child in this area of self-care, and what might be stopping their child when there are difficulties.  

Read all of our Functional Skills and tips for creating childhood independence here.

This month’s post in the Functional Skills for Kids series is all about teaching kids to get dressed on their own.  If you’ve been following along with this series, you know that each month ten Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists are joining together to cover functional skills of childhood.  You can catch up on all of the posts in this series here.

How to Help Kids Get Dressed on Their Own: Childhood Independence with Dressing Skills

Tips from Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist bloggers on how to teach kids to get dressed on their own with modifications to prerequisites for independence with self-dressing skills.

Tips to help kids to get dressed on their own
Be sure to stop back to see what the Functional Skills for Kids team covers next month!