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 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, 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 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.

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Teach Kids How to Use a Zipper

Teach kids how to use a zipper. 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.  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.
Teach kids how to use a zipper and 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.

Skills Needed for Zippering 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

Teach kids how to use a zipper and 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.
And, that’s all you need to practice zippering in a fun way.

To practice zippering with trash.

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. 

Teach kids how to use a zipper and 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.

Bread Tie Zipper 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.
Love this idea? Share it on Facebook!

Don’t forget to visit all of the creative ways to work on the skills needed for independence with zippering:

pincer grasp, and 

You’ll love these DIY self-care hacks: 

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!

Independence with Self-Dressing and Fine Motor Skills

“I can do it myself!”  

It’s a phrase that most parents hear at one time or another as their child begins to develop the skills needed for independence in self-care.  Sometimes, however, there are factors that interfere with appropriate development of function.  Parents may wonder when their child will begin to pull on their shirt or don shoes and socks with independence.   The ability to dress one’s self with independence requires the development of many fine motor skills.

This month in the Functional Skills for Kids series, we are exploring Dressing as an activity of daily living. Stop by to see all of the posts in the series here.

Fine motor skills needed for independence with dressing. Kids and parents will like these ideas to build independence. Part of the Functional Skills for kids series by Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy bloggers.

Dressing Tasks that Require Fine Motor Skills

Pulling on socks, managing buckles, and tugging on a hat.  There are many portions of self-dressing that require fine motor skill development;

  • Pulling socks off requires a pinch grip, strength in the hands, and bilateral coordination.
  • Putting socks on requires arch development, opposition of the thumb, intrinsic hand strength, bilateral coordination, wrist extension and ulnar deviation.
  • Pulling pants up requires eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, and wrist and hand stability.
  • Fastening snaps and pulling up zippers on pants (Clothing fasteners will be addressed in another month’s topic)
  • Donning and doffing undergarments requires pinch grasp
  • Threading a belt through belt loops requires bilateral coordination, prehension grasp, pincer/tripod/functional grasp and wrist positioning
  • Fastening a belt buckle requires tripod grasp and bilateral coordination, hand dominance or preference, extended wrist and ulnar deviation.
  • Donning and doffing a shirt requires bilateral coordination, crossing midline, extrinsic and intrinsic muscle strength of the hands, and forearm supinaton and pronation.
  • Donning an doffing a coat requires bilateral coordination, crossing midline, extrinsic and intrinsic muscle strength of the hands, and forearm supination and pronation.
  • Clothing fasteners such as buttons, zippers, snaps, buckles, and ties require intrinsic and extrinsic muscle strength, prehension grasp, in-hand manipulation, hand preference and bilateral control and eye-hand coordination.
  • Pulling on boots requires a hook grasp of the hand, strength, and proximal stability.
  • Donning a winter cap requires precision grasp, bilateral coordination, and motor planning.
If it seems as though every step of dressing requires fine motor skill development, that is because it’s true!  Each step of each dressing task requires many fine motor skills.

Fine motor skills needed for independence with dressing. Kids and parents will like these ideas to build independence. Part of the Functional Skills for kids series by Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy bloggers.

Fine Motor Manipulation Skills that are Necessary for Independence in Self-Dressing

Let’s break down these fine motor skills a bit to see how they are helping a child complete tasks independently.  
Fine Motor Skills Needed in Dressing: 
  1. Extrinsic Muscle Strength: The extrinsic muscles move the fingers and thumb in full flexion and extension.  They enable a power grasp on functional items. The extrinsic muscles are essential for cohesive work alongside the intrinsic muscles of the hands during dynamic grasp patterns.
  2. Intrinsic Muscle Strength: The intrinsics allow us to use graded movements, shape the arches of the hands, and enable dexterity and precision.  They control the flexion and extension of the Metacarpophalandeal joints and power movements such as finger adduction, finger abduction, thumb abduction, thumb adduction, thumb flexion and thumb opposition.
  3. Prehension: There are three types of prehension grasps-static grips, gravity dependent grips, and dynamic grips. 
  4. In-Hand Manipulation: This fine motor skill typically develops around two years of age.  Between 2-3 the child progresses in palm-finger translation and shift.  However, at this age, they may prefer to manipulate objects between two hands instead of within one.  Read more about in-hand manipulation skills here.
  5. Hand Preference and Bilateral Control: From the age of 2-3, a child will switch hands to avoid crossing the midline,  They may show use of a preferred hand, but it may switch between activities.
  6. Eye-Hand Coordination:  Eye-Hand Coordination is accuracy of reach and control of the arm in space, guided by vision.  During dressing tasks or any funcional skill, the reach should be accurate and controlled, and directed by the shoulder’s stability and mobility.  In reaching for items, the hands and eyes should work together with smooth visual tracking of the hand and with the eyes guiding the hand. 
  7. Precision of Release: There should not be immature releasing patterns noted during dressing tasks.  These might include flinging or dropping objects.  Rather, the child should be able to release items while their arm is positioned in space and with controlled motions.  Read more about precision of release.
  8. Motor Planning: During functional tasks, there should be coordinated movements with appropriate positioning and posturing.  Read more about motor planning here
  9. Separation of the Two Sides of the Hand: Separation of the two sides of the hand allows for stability and power with precision of the thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger. 
Fine motor skills needed for independence with dressing. Kids and parents will like these ideas to build independence. Part of the Functional Skills for kids series by Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy bloggers.

Biomechanical Postural Control of Fine Motor Movements

Before the fine motor skills can be used in functional tasks, such as dressing, there are biomechanical skills that are prerequisite.  These are proximal stability skills that enable distal precision and control.
  • Postural Control- Proximal to the arm is the upper body.  Postural instability will effect the use of the forearm, wrist, hand, and fingers and complicate the motor planning and use of the hands in functional reach.  When we reach with two hands, we shift our weight and move our body’s center of gravity.  Without dynamic control of one’s posture, shifts in weight will result in over or under reach of distal motions.
  • Shoulder stability with motion- Fine motor use of the hands requires stability of the shoulder joint.  The joint needs to maintain stability even during motion and in all planes for controlled arm positioning.
  • Control of the forearm- The arm between the elbow and wrist moves in supinated and pronated motions.  Supination is essential for many precision tasks and allows us to see what our fingers are doing in tool or fastener use.  Pronation is typically used for power grasps and hook grasps in functional tasks.
  • Wrist Position-  A functional wrist position is essential for precision grasp and manipulation. Extension of the wrist controls the length of the finger flexor muscles to an optimal positon for grasp and precision.  Positioning the wrist in 40 degrees of wrist extension allows for efficient muscle function.  The wrist also moves with radial and ulnar deviation.  A position of 15 degrees of ulnar deviation promotes stability and force in the ulnar side of the hand.
  • Palmer Arches- While palmer arch development is a component of fine motor skill development in itself, it is also a proximal stability source for precision of the distal fingers.  Appropriate arch development provides positioning and stability to allow for fine motor dexterity of the fingers.  
Fine motor skills needed for independence with dressing. Kids and parents will like these ideas to build independence. Part of the Functional Skills for kids series by Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy bloggers.

Tips to Promote Independence in Dressing Skills

When fine motor skills are the problem area behind decreased independence in self-dressing, it is helpful to build individual skills.  Children should be provided with many repetitions of self-care skills in environments where dressing tasks are happening naturally. 
  • Dressing practice happens at the beginning and end of the day but there are many opportunities for working on the fine motor skills needed in dressing tasks.  
  • Donning shoes and socks can happen before going outdoors and when coming into the home.
  • Toileting is a way to practice lower body clothing management throughout the day.  
  • Children can further build independence with dressing through pretend play by using dress-up clothes.  
  • Repetition can be a strategy for increasing opportunities for practice.  
  • Provide various dress-up clothes in different social roles for many ways to practice dressing skills. 
  • Encourage role play as a technique to build fine motor skills in dressing: Children can dress a baby doll.
  • Provide alternate opportunities to practice fine motor skills needed for dressing such as toys to help kids practice dressing skills.
Stop by to see what the other Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists have to say about dressing:

Fine motor skills needed for independence with dressing. Kids and parents will like these ideas to build independence.
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Tips For How to Teach Kids Potty Training

Potty Training.  It can be a frustrating and difficult time for parents.  All children need to learn and finding out the best potty training tips and ways to help with teaching kids to potty train.  Today, I’m sharing a collection of everything you need to know for the functional skill of potty training.
Read everything you need to know about functional skills for kids
This is the second topic in a year-long series by 10 pediatric Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists.  Each month we are exploring a functional skill of childhood.  Visit last month’s series all about Handwriting.  You can see the whole series here.
Potty Training tips and ideas to help kids learn to potty train from Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists


Potty Training Tips and How to Help Kids Learn to Potty Train:

Visit all of these links for all of the potty training information you need:
Potty Training tips and ideas to help kids learn to potty train from Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists
Looking for more functional ideas for kids?
 Child's development of playPrerequisites that are necessary for kids (or adults!) to effectively and efficiently use tools in fine motor and self-care tasks, like scissor use, handwriting, hair brushing, self-feeding, tooth brushing, and more.  From an Occupational Therapist. Ages of typical development for children in getting dressed. Developmental milestones for independence.