Oral Motor Exercises with a Cotton Ball Bunny

bunny craft

Working on oral motor exercises as a sensory processing strategy for self-regulation, or as an oral motor tool to address physical needs? Ok, so we made a cute little cotton ball bunny to use in an Easter sensory activity as a small world play area to work on fine motor skills with an Easter theme. However, using them in imagination play, but, there are so many oral motor benefits to using these little cotton ball bunnies, too.

It was so much fun with that little cotton ball bunny family that we turned it into a big old collection of bunnies! That’s not all…we used them in an oral motor exercise, with major self-regulation benefits. Here is a how to for this Easter craft for kids as well as a run-down on oral motor skill work with everyday items.

One thing I love about this is that we were blowing cotton balls with straws as a calming and regulating activity, but it was a lot of fun, too!

You’ll also want to check out our other Bunny Activities:

oral motor exercises with an easter theme using a cotton ball bunny craft

Oral Motor Exercises with an Easter Theme

Oral motor skills play a big part of feeding. In fact oral motor problems and feeding can impact food preferences as well as ability to eat certain food textures. There is a lot of information on oral motor skills on The OT Toolbox.

We’ve covered development of oral motor skills to the physical traits you may see with oral motor issues such as exaggerated jaw movements and issues that arise with stability bite patterns. Here is more information if you are wondering if feeding issues are related to oral motor skills or sensory concerns…or both.

Adding sensory work through the mouth in the form of proprioception is a powerful way to help kids recenter and gain input that is calming and regulating. That input “wakes up” the muscles of the mouth.

There is a mindfulness portion to this oral motor strategy, too. Taking deep breaths is so important in relaxation it brings awareness to your body. In this Easter oral motor activity, kids can blow through a straw to move the cotton ball bunnies while focusing on a static viewpoint at the end of the straw.

Did you know that blowing cotton balls with straws can do all of this??

Talk about centering and regulating! You can even ask the child to breathe in while you count to 5 and then breath out as they move the bunny with the power of their breath.

This oral motor exercise uses straws and cotton ball bunnies for an Easter themed

Oral Motor Exercises for Heavy work

To do this self regulation activity, it’s actually pretty simple.

  1. Line up a row of cotton ball bunnies on the table.
  2. Give the child a straw and ask them to blow into the straw to push the bunny toward a target.
  3. You can ask them to move a certain number of bunnies in a specific amount of time, or they can simply move all of the bunny family with their breath.
bunny craft

Oral Motor Exercise

I wanted to try a little Easter-themed game with Big Sister.  (She didn’t know that it was actually an oral motor exercise that supports development!)

I put the cotton ball bunnies out on the table, along with the grass and some straws.    She had to blow the bunnies into the grass using a straw. 

Scroll below for instructions on how to make the DIY grass matt to use in sensory play activities.

To make the oral motor exercise easier or harder:

  1. Try using different lengths of straws to change the breath power and amount of deep breathing they need to take.
  2. You can also pinch the straw to require more effort in the oral motor therapy idea.
  3. Try using different types of straws, too. Some ideas include using a large sports straw like we did in the pictures here, or a coffee stirrer straw.

The options are endless and can be means of grading this activity up or down to meet the specific needs of the child.

This is a fun exercise/game for kids with oral-motor problems including poor lip closure, stability of the jaw, or muscle development of the mouth, jaw, and tongue.  Blowing through a straw can also help with sensorimotor integration. 

Older kids who constantly put things into their mouth (pencils, clothing, fingers…) may be seeking oral input/sensorimotor input that their body needs.   

This game is a fun way to work on any of these areas.  Use fatter straws at first and work toward thinner straws for a graded exercise.  If this activity to too difficult for your child with oral-motor or sensorimotor needs, try a smaller item such as a feather or a crafting fuzz ball.  

You could also work on oral motor skills and the proprioceptive heavy work with this Egg Boat activity.

Oral motor exercises like these are beneficial to add heavy work input through the mouth and lips that is calming and regulating.

These oral motor exercises have an Easter theme anc can work on oral sensory needs for self-regulation or oral motor therapy.
Make this Easter fine motor activity using a cotton ball bunny craft. Kids will love to use this in an Easter play activity with preschoolers and toddlers

Fine Motor Skills Activity

These little Easter bunny crafts were perfect to in a fine motor skills activity, too. With a tray, a handful of river rocks, and a DIY crepe paper matt, we made an Easter-themed small world to work on fine motor skills with my littlest one.

My daughter, who was a toddler in these photos, loved to explore and play as she picked up and moved the cotton ball bunnies, the rocks, and small carrots.

Easter play ideas using a DIY sensory mat and cotton ball bunny crafts for kids to use in fine motor work.

To make the grass matt, we used a roll of green crepe paper. It was glued on one side to a sheet of construction paper. I asked my preschooler to snip into the edges of the top side of the crepe paper, so it made a fringed edge. This was a great scissor activity for her.

This Easter play activity turned out to be a fun fine motor activity for toddlers and a fine motor ideas for preschoolers, too! I think the quote from my preschooler was… “Wow, this is cool, Mom!”

This cotton ball bunny craft is so much fun for fine motor skill activities and oral motor skills work.

Easter Play IDEA

Play idea for toddlers- Baby Girl especially loved playing with the little bunnies in an Easter small world play set-up.  She would move the bunnies, stones, and carrots one at a time from the bowl to the grass…and then back again.

Play idea for preschoolers- Big Sister had fun using the bunnies for imagination play, making them go into their garden, lining up the rocks, and making the bunnies steal the carrots.  

Little Guy wanted nothing to do with any of this. I guess there were not any superheroes or bad guys involved.  Cute little bunnies are not his thing 🙂  

This Easter play idea is great for workingon fine motor skills with toddlers and preschoolers.

We are having a lot of fun with our little bunnies!

Make this cotton ball bunny craft to use in easter themed sensory play and fine motor skills activities

TO make the Cotton Ball Bunny Craft

Making this Easter bunny craft is super easy.

  1. We used a glue gun to make sure the pieces were securely attached for sensory play with my toddler. However, regular craft glue would work as well.
  2. You’ll need a cotton ball, white foam sheet, and a pink felt sheet.
  3. Cut out two large white ears and two smaller pieces for the inner ear.
  4. Use the craft glue to hold these pieces in place.
  5. Add gentle pressure to make sure all of the pieces are securely attached.

This bunny craft came together fairly quickly, so I was able to create a whole set of the bunnies.

Then, use them to play!

This Easter craft idea is great for fine motor activities for preschoolers and toddlers with an Easter theme.

Spring Fine Motor Kit

Score Fine Motor Tools and resources and help kids build the skills they need to thrive!

Developing hand strength, dexterity, dexterity, precision skills, and eye-hand coordination skills that kids need for holding and writing with a pencil, coloring, and manipulating small objects in every day task doesn’t need to be difficult. The Spring Fine Motor Kit includes 100 pages of fine motor activities, worksheets, crafts, and more:

Spring fine motor kit set of printable fine motor skills worksheets for kids.
  • Lacing cards
  • Sensory bin cards
  • Hole punch activities
  • Pencil control worksheets
  • Play dough mats
  • Write the Room cards
  • Modified paper
  • Sticker activities

Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

Spring Fine Motor Kit
Spring Fine Motor Kit: TONS of resources and tools to build stronger hands.

Grab your copy of the Spring Fine Motor Kit and build coordination, strength, and endurance in fun and creative activities. Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

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

Coping Strategies for Kids

coping strategies

Whether it’s the classroom, home, or day to day life…coping strategies for kids are needed. Coping strategies are mechanisms or tools to adjust and respond to emotions, stressors, and unbalance so that one can function and complete daily occupations, or everyday tasks. Coping tools help to balance and regulate a person. Coping strategies can look different for every individual and that’s why this giant list of coping skills will be powerful in building a toolbox of strategies for kids (or teens and adults!)

Coping strategies like the ones listed here can be used in conjunction with an emotions check in and feelings check in to support self awareness and self regulation skills.

the strategies that we’ve shared here are great for adding to a budget sensory room in the school environment, or a calm down corner at home.

Coping strategies

What are Coping Strategies

We all need coping strategies! It can be difficult to cope with stress or worries as a child.  Most of the time, it can be hard to just figure out what is going on with the mood swings, frustration, behaviors, and lack of focus.  Most of these problems can be a result of a multitude of problems!  

And, helping kids to understand the size of the problem is part of this because then we can help them know how to cope.

Self regulation strategies use coping mechanisms to support various states of emotional and behavioral levels. The Zones of Regulation and the Alert Program both use coping tools to support emotional and behavioral needs.

From emotional regulation concerns, to sensory processing issues, to executive functioning struggles, to anxiety, communication issues, or cognitive levels–ALL of the resulting behaviors can benefit from coping strategies.

Here on The OT Toolbox, I’ve shared sensory coping strategies for anxiety or worries. These can be used for so many other underlying concerns as well.

It’s not just overstimulation anxiety or worries that causes a need for sensory-based coping strategies. Emotional regulation, an unbalanced sense of being, stress, situational or environmental issues…the list of concerns that would benefit from sensory coping tools could go on and on.

Incorporating sensory strategies and sensory play into a coping toolbox can help kids with a multitude of difficulties.  Try using some of these ideas in isolation and use others in combination with one or two others.  The thing about coping strategies is that one thing might help with issues one time, but not another.

Coping strategies for kids that help kids with regulation, emotions, stress, worries.

Coping Strategies for Kids 

One thing to remember is that every child is vastly different. What helps one child cope may not help another child in the same class or grade.  Children struggle with issues and need an answer for their troubles for many different reasons.  The underlying issues like auditory processing issues or low frustration tolerance are all part of the extremely complex puzzle.

Other contributions to using coping strategies include a child’s self-regulation, executive functioning skills, self-esteem, emotional regulation, and frustration tolerance. That makes sense, right? It’s all connected!

Coping Skills for Kids meet needs

Coping skills are the tools that a person can use to deal with stressful situations. Coping strategies help a us deal with occupational unbalance, so that we can be flexible and persistent in addressing those needs.

Coping skills in children can be used based on the needs of the individual child.  Also, there is a lot to consider about the influence of factors that affect the person’s ability to cope with areas of difficulty.  Likewise, feedback from precious coping efforts relates to the efficacy of a coping plan. (Gage, 1992).

Coping skills in kids depends on many things: wellness, self-regulation, emotional development, sensory processing, and more.

Having a set of coping skills benefit children and adults!  Every one of us has stress or worries in some manner or another.  Children with sensory processing issues, anxiety, or social emotional struggles know the stress of frustration to situations.  It’s no surprise that some of these issues like sensory processing disorder and anxiety are linked.

Research on wellness tells us that child well being is dependent on various factors, including parental resources, parental mental health, parental relationship quality, parenting quality, father involvement, family types, and family stability. What’s more is that taking a look at the overall balance in a family and the child can provide understanding into things like stress, frustration, anxiety, and overwhelming feelings. The wellness wheel can help with getting a big picture look at various components of overall well-being.

Coping Flexibility

In fact, studies tell us that coping flexibility may be an important way to investigate coping. Coping flexibility, or an individual’s ability to modify and change coping strategies depending on the context, can be impacted by executive functioning difficulties including flexible thinking, working memory, impulse control, emotional control, and self-monitoring.

And, having more coping strategies in one’s toolbox coping may be an important precursor to coping flexibility, especially because having flexibility in coping abilities can only be obtained if an individual is able to access and use different coping strategies. It’s the chicken or the egg concept!

Another study found that children who used problem solving or constructive communication were better able to manage stress and that those who used maladaptive strategies like suppressing, avoiding or denying their feelings, had higher levels of problems related to stress. It makes sense. The most effective coping strategies are ones that adapting to the stressors rather than trying to change the stressors.

So, how can we help with stress and frustrations?  One tool is having a set of sensory coping strategies available to use in these situations.    

Types of coping skills

All of this said, we can break down coping skills for kids into different types of coping strategies that can be added to a coping toolbox:

Physical- exercise, movement, brain breaks, heavy work are some examples. Physical coping strategies might include pounding a pillow in frustration, using a fidget toy, running, yoga.

Sensory- While there is a physical component to sensory coping strategies (proprioception and vestibular input are just that: physical movement…and the act of participating in sensory coping strategies involves movement and physical action of the body’s sensory systems) this type of coping tool is separated for it’s uniqueness. Examples include aromatherapy, listening to music, mindfulness (interoception), and sensory play.

Sensory strategies that are motivating can be a big help for some kids. Try these train themed sensory activity ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Emotional- Thinking about one’s feelings and emotions is the start of emotional regulation and social development. Acting out feelings, talking to a friend or teacher…communication is huge!

These social skills activities are a great way to build awareness of self and others and can double as coping tools too.

Communication- Talking about feelings, talking to others, writing in a journal, singing. Have you ever just had to “vent” your feelings about a situation? That ability to “let it all out” is a way to process a situation and talk through solutions, or find common ground in a situation.

Use this list of coping skills to help kids build a coping skills toolbox.

List of Coping skills

1. Move- Get up and run in place, jog, do jumping jacks, or hop in place.

2. Fidget tools in school– Use learning-friendly fidget tools, perfect for the classroom or at-home learning space. Here is one desk fidget tool that kids can use while learning.

3. Talk- Talk about it to a friend, talk to an adult, or talk to a teacher.

4. Snuggle- Grab a big cozy blanket and pile pillows around you to build a fort of comfort!  The pressure from the blanket and pillows provides proprioceptive input.

5. Take a bath or hot shower.

6. Blow bubbles.  The oral sensory input is organizing.

7. Sensory water play.

8. Scream into a pillow.

9. Pound play dough.  Try a heavy work dough like this DIY marshmallow proprioception dough.

10. Use a keychain fidget tool. This is a DIY fidget tool that kids can make while building fine motor skills. Attach it to a belt loop, backpack, or even shoe laces for circle time attention.

11. Exercise. This alphabet exercise activities can be helpful in coming up with exercises for kids. Use the printable sheet to spell words, the child’s name, etc. This alphabet slide deck for teletherapy uses the same letter exercises and offers exercises for each letter of the alphabet. Use it in teletherapy or face-to-face sessions or learning.

12. Look at the clouds and find shapes.

13. Deep breathing. Deep breathing exercise are a mindfulness activity for kids with benefits… Try these themed deep breathing printable sheets: pumpkin deep breathing, clover deep breathing, Thanksgiving deep breathing, and Christmas mindfulness activity.

14. Take a walk in nature.

15. Play a game.

16.  Build with LEGOS.

17. Listen to the sounds of the ocean on a soothing sounds app or sound machine.

18. Count backwards.  Try walking in a circle while counting or other movements such as jumping, skipping, or hopping.

19. Drink a cold drink.

20. Drink a smoothie. There are proprioceptive and oral motor benefits to drinking a smoothie through a straw. Here are rainbow smoothie recipes for each color of the rainbow.

21. Squeeze a stuffed animal.

22. Listen to music.

23. Hum a favorite song.

24. Blow bubbles.

25. Chew gum.

27. Tear paper for fine motor benefits and heavy work for the fingers and hands.

28. Smash and jump on ice cubes outdoors.  Jumping on ice is a great activity for incorporating prioprioceptive sensory input.

29. Journal.  The Impulse Control Journal is an excellent tool for self-awareness and coming up with a game plan that works…and then keeping track of how it all works together in daily tasks.

30. Guided imagery.

31. Think of consequences.

32. Stretch.

33.  Go for a walk.

34.  Write a story or draw a picture. Sometimes it helps to crumble it up and throw it away!

35.  Blow up balloons and then pop them.

36. Take a time out.

37. Animal walks.

38. Imagine the best day ever.

39.  Swing on swings.

40.  Name 5 positive things about yourself.

41. Draw with sidewalk chalk. Drawing can relieve stress.

42. Try a pencil topper fidget tool for focus during written work.

43. Add movement- This monster movements slide deck uses a monster theme for core strength, mobility and movement breaks. It’s perfect for teletherapy and using as a coping strategy.

44. Try this easy coping strategy that only uses your hands.

45. Take a nap.

46. Sensory-based tricks and tips that help with meltdowns.

47. Use calm down toys.

HEAVY WORK coping skills

Brain breaks are a powerful and effective way to address regulation needs, help with attention, and impact learning into the classroom or at home as part of distance learning.

The impact of emotions and changes to routines can be big stressors in kids. They are struggling through the day’s activities while sometimes striving to pay attention through sensory processing issues or executive functioning needs. Brain breaks, or movement breaks can be used as part of a sensory diet or in a whole-classroom activity between classroom tasks. 

This collection of 11 pages of heavy work activity cards are combined into themed cards so you can add heavy work to everyday play.

heavy work cards for regulation, attention, and themed brain breaks

Coping strategies for kids printable

Want a printable list of coping tools for kids? This list of coping skills can be printed off and used as a checklist for building a toolbox of strategies.

Get the printable version of this list.  It’s free!

Try these sensory coping strategies to help kids with anxiety, stress, worries, or other issues.
Printable list of sensory coping strategies for helping kids cope.

Coping strategies can come in handy in many situations:

When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

Free Classroom Sensory Strategies Toolkit

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    Gage, M. (1992). The Appraisal Model of Coping: An Assessment and Intervention Model for Occupational Therapy, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46, 353-362. Retrieved from : oi:10.5014/ajot.46.4.353 on 5-24-27.

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

    Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise for Halloween Mindfulness

    Pumpkin deep breathing exercise

    This Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise is the very first visual breathing tool that we created here on the website. We now have many more deep breathing exercises designed to support self-regulation, mindfulness, and brain break needs. We’ve recently updated this Halloween mindfulness activity to include more information on WHY this pumpkin deep breathing strategy works. We’ve also updated the printable to include a pumpkin breathing poster and a pumpkin mindfulness coloring page! This printable deep breathing exercise is a great Halloween Mindfulness mindfulness activity.

    You can get both below or access them in our Member’s Club.

    Pumpkin Deep breathing exercise

    Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise

    This Halloween activity is one that I came up with while thinking about our recent Halloween Occupational Therapy activities post. So often, we see kids who struggle with coping strategies and require tools to improve self regulation.

    This can occur at school or at home. What if we could combine a child’s interest in all things Halloween with a deep breathing exercise that can be used as a coping strategy, or a calm down activity?

    That’s where this pumpkin deep breathing exercise comes in.

    This deep breathing exercise uses a pumpkin for a coping strategy for kids that is a calm down strategy this Halloween.

    Halloween Mindfulness Activity

    We’ve created many breathing exercises to calm down kids (and adults) here on the website, and this pumpkin themed mindfulness strategy is just one of the tools in the toolbox.

    So often, parents and teachers ask for strategies to use as a coping mechanism. When kids have coping tools in their toolbox for addressing sensory needs, worries, and getting to that “just right” state of regulation, a self-reflective state can occur.

    Addressing specific needs like sensory overload, worries or anxiety, fears, or nervousness can be as simple as having a set of sensory coping strategies on hand. One way to do this is using mindfulness and positive coping skills like this deep breathing exercises.

    Using deep breathing exercises to support mindfulness and coping skills works for several reasons:

    • When kids are taught about how their body feels and reacts in certain situations, they can self-reflect on past responses.
    • They can better understand who they are and how their body reacts to stressful or sensory situations.
    • By better understanding their states of regulation, they can be mindful of things that may set them off, but better yet, know how to respond.
    • Having a coping strategy on hand can set them up for success in learning or social situations.

    Practicing mindfulness activities and coping strategies can be powerful for kids!

    Mindfulness is the ability and awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as our body responds or reacts in thought, feeling, and sensations. Mindfulness is being present in the moment in any given situation with full awareness of inward and outward sensations. Practicing mindful awareness through deep breathing exercises is one way to notice how our body is reacting in a given moment and provides a tool to reset. Coping skills for kids may include deep breathing as just one strategy.

    Here are some mindfulness videos on YouTube to help kids better understand what coping strategies and mindfulness in action looks and feels like.

    Deep breathing acts as a coping tactic and a calming activity. It’s an easy coping strategy for kids because taking deep breaths with mindful breathing can be done anywhere and without any equipment.

    Taking controlled breaths with deep breathing can give kids a sense of control that helps them rest and address self-regulation or emotional regulation when they are upset, worried, or feel a need to calm down.

    Halloween Breathing Exercise

    So now that we’ve covered deep breathing and why it’s a helpful coping strategy for kids, let’s talk about a fun Halloween themed coping strategy that kids will love to try.

    The deep breathing printable activity uses a simple picture of a pumpkin, but you can use a real pumpkin, too.

    Use a real pumpkin for more sensory benefits.

    The small decorative gourds or pie pumpkins are perfect for this activity, because kids can hold the small pumpkin in their hands and feel the weight of the pumpkin as they complete the breathing strategy.

    1. Hold a small pumpkin in the palm of your hand.
    2. Use your pointer finger of your other hand to slowly trace up a ridge and breathe in.
    3. Then trace down another ridge and breathe out.
    4. Continue tracing the ridges of the pumpkin while deeply breathing in and out.

    Take the breathing exercise a step further by trace the lines up toward the stem while taking a deep breath in. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then trace a line down another section of the pumpkin while slowly breathing out. Hold that breath for a few seconds. Repeat this process as you slowly trace up and down the sections of the pumpkin.

    What’s happening with this pumpkin breathing exercise?

    Several sensory systems are at work here when using a real pumpkin in this Halloween mindfulness strategy:

    Heavy Work- The weight of the pumpkin on the arches of the palm of the hand= PROPRIOCEPTIVE sensory system.

    Calming Tactile Cues- Engaging the tactile sensory system to trace the ridges of a smooth surface. Think about how some individuals like rubbing specific textures like a silky blanket or the calming strips of a fidget tool. Running a finger along the groove of a smooth pumpkin surface engages that calming tactile input.

    Belly Breathing- Deep breaths combined with a visual focus offers proprioceptive input through the lungs and diaphragm. Engage belly breathing by taking in fully breaths to fully engage the lungs. Then hold the breath for a second or two before releasing the breath. When belly breathing is engaged, the lungs continue to expand for a moment and add further pressure throughout the ribcage and internal organs. This breath control evokes the interoceptive system.

    Bilateral Coordination- When holding the pumpkin and tracing with a finger on the other hand, both sides of the body are at work in a coordinated manner, otherwise known as bilateral coordination. Holding the pumpkin with one hand and tracing with the other hand engages bilateral use of both sides of the body.

    Whether you are using a pumpkin picture or real pumpkin, show kids how to use deep breathing as a coping tool by taking calming breaths while they trace the lines of the pumpkin.

    Pumpkin deep breathing poster and coloring page
    Pumpkin deep breathing poster and coloring page

    Halloween Deep Breathing Poster

    In this newest update to our calming breathing exercise, we created both a pumpkin deep breathing poster and a coloring page.

    1. The poster can be printed out and hung in a classroom, therapy clinic or home.

    2. Use the deep breathing exercise as a brain break during the month of October.

    3. It’s a great tool for using during Halloween parties as a therapist- approved activity that supports underlying needs, too.

    4. Many times, children can become overstimulated during classroom Halloween parties, and the days leading up to Halloween. Use the pumpkin deep breathing visual as a tool for the whole classroom to organize their sensory systems and focus on the learning that still needs to happen.

    5. This printable page is full color and makes a great addition to a calm down corner this time of year.

    6. You can even add the pumpkin breathing poster to our Fall Sensory Stations, and include this in a hallway or therapy clinic this time of year.

    7. One final way to use this pumpkin mindfulness exercise is during the actual trick or treating. Kids with sensory or self-regulation needs can become overstimulated during trick or treating on Halloween. There is a lot of sensory stimulation out there! From lights, to fog machines, children running in the streets, and lots of strangers in the neighborhood, trick-or-treating is an overloading environment for many kids and adults! Print off a copy of this pumpkin deep breathing tool and use it calm down, engage focused breathing strategies, and cope as needed!

    Pumpkin Breathing Coloring Page

    In the new download below, you’ll also find a page that is a pumpkin breathing coloring page. We know there are many benefits of coloring and one is the calming ability that coloring has.

    Adding heavy work by coloring in pages can be a great way to calm the sensory system through heavy work in the hands.

    Print off the coloring page and use it in several ways this time of year:

    • Color in at occupational therapy sessions
    • Use as a whole class activity
    • Kids can color in the breathing exercise page and use them as individual brain break tools
    • Hang the coloring page on a bulletin board for Halloween that explains sensory self-regulation strategies
    • Include in a Halloween party
    Use a pumpkin as a deep breathing exercise for a coping strategy for kids.

    This printable Halloween mindfulness activity supports coping needs.

    Free Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise

    Want to get this free Pumpkin breathing exercise in both a color Poster format AND a coloring page? You’ve got it! Just enter your email address into the form below to access both printable pages.

    This resource is also inside our Member’s Club. Members can log into their accounts and download the file directly without the need to enter an email address. The printable pages are located on our Pumpkin Therapy Theme page and our Mindfulness Toolbox.

    Not a member of the Member’s Club yet? JOIN US HERE.

    Pumpkin Deep Breathing Exercise

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      Grab the Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit for more coloring, cutting, and eye-hand coordination activities with a Pumpkin theme! It includes:

      • 7 digital products that can be used any time of year- has a “pumpkins” theme
      • 5 pumpkin scissor skills cutting strips
      • Pumpkin scissor skills shapes- use in sensory bins, math, sorting, pattern activities
      • 2 pumpkin visual perception mazes with writing activity
      • Pumpkin “I Spy” sheet – color in the outline shapes to build pencil control and fine motor strength
      • Pumpkin Lacing cards – print, color, and hole punch to build bilateral coordination skills
      • 2 Pumpkin theme handwriting pages – single and double rule bold lined paper for handwriting practice

      Work on underlying fine motor and visual motor integration skills so you can help students excel in handwriting, learning, and motor skill development.

      You can grab this Pumpkin Fine Motor kit for just $6!

      Halloween Mindfulness Activities

      Use this printable pumpkin deep breathing exercise as a Halloween mindfulness activity. Other printable Halloween mindfulness activities include:

      Halloween Hand Breathing Technique

      We also have a new deep breathing exercise for the Fall or Halloween season. If using a printable to achieve Halloween coping skills isn’t ideal (sometimes you don’t have the printable version with you…or for some kids it might be hard for them to picture a pumpkin as they are coping with some self-regulation needs…), then having another tool in your toolbox is a must.

      We’ve come up with a Halloween Hand Breathing Technique to fit the bill!

      All you need is your hands and fingers to using this hand tracing breathing strategy.

      We talk a bit about using the Hand Breathing Technique for a self-reset to address coping skills, mindset, offset worries or anxiety, and as a deep breathing strategy.

      Check out our video over on YouTube, or you can see it below. If you can’t view the video due to blockers on your computer or device, check out our Pumpkin Hand Breathing Technique over on YouTube.

      To complete the Halloween Hand breathing technique, you can use the same pumpkin deep breathing strategy, but trace a pumpkin on the palm of your hand. We also included a pumpkin tracing task to create a motor plan for the pumpkin shape that is incorporated with deep breaths in and out.

      Have fun!

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

      Self-Reflection Activities

      self reflection activities

      In this blog post, we are addressing self-reflection activities as a tool to support self-understanding, self-awareness, and personal insight. In young children, this is a challenge that progresses as development occurs. But for some, the personal perspective becomes an area of frustration when empathy, executive functioning, and the ability to self-evaluate is a challenge. Challenges in the ability to self-reflect impact functional performance, social emotional skills, and learning. Let’s cover self-reflection activities and specific self-awareness exercises as a tool for development and personal growth.

      self reflection activities

      Self-Reflection Activities

      Self reflection leads to growth.  Without looking back at failures and successes, growth is inhibited. If you are one of the few who are actually perfect in every way, you can stop reading.  For the rest of the world, read on.  The start of a new year often brings bouts of goal setting and self reflection.  


      Self-reflection is a tool that kids and adults can benefit from. Reflecting on one’s actions and behaviors is a great way to grow as an individual and to meet personal goals. Think about a time you’ve set a personal goal. Maybe you wanted to start exercising and lose a few pounds.

      By self-reflecting on a day’s events, you can determine what worked in meeting your goal and what didn’t work. You can intentionally put a finger on the parts of your day that helped you meet your goal of going to the gym and what stood in the way of eating healthy meals.

      Self-reflection is essential for goal-setting! Most of these occupational therapy activities are free or inexpensive ways to address self-reflection in kids.

      Whether this is the start of a school year, or the turning of the calendar to a new year, self reflection activities and resolutions begin to surface.  For some, self reflection comes naturally, searching for meaning, purpose, and ways to become a better person.  Others find reflection difficult.  

      This post is full of self reflection activities to spark conversation, goal setting, and prompt growth.

      It has been said that the first stage of recovery or change, is to recognize there is a problem.  

      Many people are unable or unwilling to change because they do not believe there is a problem.  Becoming aware takes a lot of self reflection.  

      People need to recognize the skills they have, and those they are lacking.  They need to keep an open mind about who they are and where they are going. 

      These self-reflection activities can be a vehicle for helping kids to address areas of functioning in several areas. Improving self-reflection can help kids with self-regulation, knowing what coping strategies to pull out of their toolbox, how to act with impulse control, how to better pay attention, how to improve executive functioning skills, and how to function more easily. It’s the ability to stop and think before acting or responding, based on internal knowledge and experiences.

      Additionally, self-reflection pays a part in mindfulness. If we are practicing attentiveness in the moment and attending to internal and external experiences, we can self-reflect on what worked, what didn’t work, and how to make things work better next time.

      Self-reflection can be so helpful in social-emotional skills, academic learning, functional task completion, organization, and well-being! An awareness of self and the impact one’s own actions has on others is part of the stages of empathy development, too.

      According to Dean Graziosi, New York Times best selling author, “Self-awareness is the ability to understand your thoughts, emotions and core values, as well as realize how these elements impact your behavior. It requires emotional intelligence, and it’s about objectively evaluating yourself and aligning your actions with your internal standards.  To be self-aware is to be able to realistically assess your strengths and weaknesses while maintaining a positive mindset. It’s the ability to judge where you are in life, determine where you would like to be and set goals to achieve your vision.”

      To become self-aware, you must be able to:

      • See yourself honestly, flaws and all
      • Identify and control your emotions
      • Realize your strengths and weaknesses
      • Take strides toward growth – having a growth mindset helps

      One tool for supporting awareness of emotions in general is by doing an emotions check in where the student (or any one, this can be done at any age), identifies how they feel and what their emotions are based on the situation, setting, and triggers. Another tool which is similar but different, is the feelings check in.

      Self-Reflection Activities for Kids

      One of the first steps in raising self-reflection to to help kids be more self-aware. They can use tools to improve mindfulness to notice how they feel, how the react, or how they behave. Most kids will struggle with this ability in the moment (It’s tough for adults, too!) but they can identify what worked and what didn’t work in a particular situation through conversation.

      Using self-control strategies like the Zones of Regulation can be helpful in talking about feelings and self-awareness.

      Explore along with the child. When a child is playing or exploring their environment, it can be helpful to play right along with them. Use play experiences to communicate through play.

      Use play experiences to mirror actions. When a child is playing, play right along with them! Mimic their actions and words to be more aware as a caregiver of the details of a child’s interactions and to bring awareness for the child. Use this tactic only when the child is in a positive mood. Mirrored actions should not be completed when a child is behaving poorly or to bring attention to behaviors.

      Reflect on the day as a family. Plan a family meeting and talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the day. It’s a good way to talk about ways to work on areas of need.

      Create a Choice Collection. Come up with options that include coping strategies or tools to use in different environments. These could be part of a sensory diet or self-regulation strategies.

      Work on impulse control. The impulse control journal can help.

      Use a journal to self-reflect through words or drawings.

      Act out situations and how the situation played out. Consider adding dolls or toys for characters in the situations.

      Model appropriate behaviors and self-reflection through conversation.

      The sensory-based strategies outlined in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook can be a beneficial tool for addressing self-reflection in kids.

      Executive Functioning Skills

      Positive Self-Talk for Kids

      Impulse Control Strategies

      Finally, try some of these self awareness games to build skills through game-playing.

      reflection about personal development

      Children, teens, and adults of all ages develop in different ways. It’s said that we never stop learning, and this is true at every age and stage. Through learning experiences, there is either success or failure, with some level in the middle. This development occurs whether learning a new skill, trying something new, or trying a new way of doing something. 

      When there is learning, there is personal development. 

      As participants in an activity, we can utilize self-awareness skills to monitor successes or challenges that lead to goal achievement. 

      We can use that information to identify areas of need, or specific areas that we need to try again in a different way. 

      This allows us to create a feedback analysis of sorts that supports further growth in an area. 

      Some ways to reflect on personal development include tactics that are used for self-awareness and goal achievement. These strategies are types of reflection exercises and include:

      • Self-talk
      • Monitoring progress
      • Goal mind maps
      • Goal ladders
      • Identifying next steps
      • Talking with others for constructive feedback
      • Addressing negative feedback


      Self-reflection activities are not just focused on the negative perspective.

      There is a certain stigma to self reflection activities that they are just focusing on the negative things that need to change.  There is positive self reflection also.  What did you do well that you need to encourage yourself to keep doing?  What did you learn that will be a great asset to your skillset?

      Positive self reflection takes as much practice as reflection for growth.

      Theoretically is your glass half full or empty?  Do your learners search for problems, look for drama, or doubt themselves?  By answering these questions we can come up with tools to support habits that our learners might be challenged with. Self-awareness activities are strategies to support self-reflection.

      Encourage positive self reflection by trying some of the following activities: 

      • Write three positive things about yourself each day
      • Journal about positive experiences
      • Practice acts of kindness
      • Don’t compare yourself to others, solely reflect on your own abilities
      • Start a gratitude journal along with various gratitude activities
      • Ask yourself self reflection questions
      • Positive self talk activities for kids
      • I am….- learners write positive statements starting with “I am”
      • Post positive affirmations around the room, class, social media, or wherever it helps to self reflect on positive thoughts and actions
      • Teach learners to flip a negative into a positive – I am bad at math, could be turned into I am a great reader, or I can count to 1000
      • Use a mirror for positive self talk – practice affirming while looking at yourself
      • Create a positive self talk morning ritual – The Miracle Morning is a powerful resource


      Everyone has room for growth. Some have the personality type that limits self-reflection and personal awareness, while others have a stream of consciousness that easily enables self-reflection. We are all unique individuals, and these different types of traits are totally ok!

      I bet the number one athletes in the Olympics believe there is room for growth.  Practice does not make perfect, it makes it better.  When I am evaluating students, I often start by asking them why they think I am seeing them.  Most of them have some idea, even if they have no idea what Occupational Therapy is.  That is my jumping off point.  I find out what they believe to be their weaknesses and strengths, and go from there.  They may not be accurate, but it is their belief, so it can be shaped.  

      • The key to shaping beliefs and setting goals is to set measurable ones.  The acronym SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timebound.  
      • Use metrics and data to gather correct information about skills and deficits
      • Learners who have an unrealistic view of themselves, may need counseling to work through this.  Body dysmorphia is one such example.  People suffering from BD see flaws that no one else sees.  They set unrealistic expectations and goals for themselves trying to reach an imaginary goal
      • Teach The Power of Yet – I may not be the best chess player YET.  I could be with more practice and instruction
      • Ask useful questions – create writing prompts starting with key questions:
        • What am I afraid of?
        • I struggle when . . .
        • One of the most important things I learned was . . .
        • Being myself is hard because . . .
        • I wish I were more . . .
      • Letter to future self – what would your learners tell their future self?
      • Create a realistic self view – while some learners feel they are all bad, others feel they are amazing.  It seems counterintuitive, but the second group will need some help to realize everyone has growth potential.  Gently shape these learners to also see their weaknesses as well as their strengths without squelching their self confidence
      • Take a step back – electronics spoon feed information, making it readily available.   The answers are just a click away.  While this is great in some ways, it is not teaching self control, reflection, and the power of doing nothing
      • Utilize the individual’s passions as a vehicle for addressing self-awareness. If they have a hobby or skill where they are successful, how did they learn the ability to complete aspects of that skill? How did they accomplish goals? How would they support another learner who is at the beginning of this skill learning? Sometimes when shifting the perspective to a teaching role, we can all use creativity in supporting self-reflection skills. 
      • Focus on emotional vocabulary as a tool to support students’ reflections of themselves, whether they are looking at personal achievements in a positive light or a negative light. This is an important skill to encourage, as we all have moments of doubt and moments of high confidence and assurance. Emotional learning is one tool in the toolbelt for supporting self-reflection in daily functional tasks.

      A FINAL THOUGHT on self-reflection activities

      Mindfulness is not new, but it has resurfaced as people have forgotten how to slow down.  Monks have been using this technique for centuries.  They can sit for an entire day doing and thinking nothing.  They are able to clear their mind for hours.  I have tried this and can make it about 30 seconds before my mind is racing.  It even races while I sleep.  Self reflection takes the same discipline and focus to make it meaningful.  

      As with anything new and different, change takes time and practice.  The act of self reflection itself, can be your first goal!

      Use these self-reflection activities for kids to help kids reflect on behaviors and identify coping skills or self-regulation strategies that work in the home or classroom.

      Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

      The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

      When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

      When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

      When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

      When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

      Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

      How to Encourage Growth Mindset Mistakes

      growth mindset mistakes

      When using a growth mindset mistakes can help you grow! Rather than thinking our intelligence is fixed and unchanging, the growth mindset encourages people to see their abilities as things that can improve. Here, we’re covering why it is important to teach students the growth mindset. You’ll also find strategies to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset when mistakes happen.

      Growth mindset mistakes

      Growth Mindset Mistakes

      In life we strive to be perfect. Some of the best inventions have come from mistakes.  For children (and adults), it can be a real challenge when simple mistakes happen. Errors happen all day long: in math problems, in conversation, in the classroom, or in a myriad ways!

      The problem is when these mistakes become a setback in emotional or behavioral self-regulation

      Mistakes are part of the learning process!

      Developing a growth mindset is about what you are going to do, not what you can’t do. Try again, or make the most of what you have already.  

      Learning from mistakes examples:

      Some inventors decided to make the most of what they had created by accident.  They learned something valuable from their mistakes. Check it out!

      • Penicillin – Alexander Fleming was a medic through WWII.  He was used to using antiseptics to treat infections, but was trying to find a safer alternative. He was studying staphylococci in several petri dishes. He stacked them on top of each other and went on vacation. When he returned, he discovered there was a fungus growing on several of the dishes that had destroyed the staphylococci infection. His poor housekeeping skills and growth mindset mistakes lead to the discovery of penicillin!
      • Microwave – Percy Spencer was working on magnetron technology. When he stood too close to the magnetron he noticed his candy bar had melted in his pocket. He tried popcorn, eggs, and other foods next to the magnet and voila! The microwave was invented.
      • Potato Chips – This was the result of trying to please a picky customer.  Cornelius Vanderbilt repeatedly sent back his potatoes to the chef because they were too soggy. After several returned attempts, the chef decided to slice the potatoes really thin and fry them as a joke. The customer loved these fried potatoes, and the potato chip was born.
      • Velcro – George de Mistral was walking his dogs and noticed several burrs sticking to their fur. He marveled at the way these burrs clung to the dogs. After a few trials and mistakes (including chopping bits and pieces off of the material), he created what is now known as velcro.
      • Post it Notes – Dr. Spencer Silver was trying to invent an extremely strong adhesive. What he ended up with was an adhesive that stuck but could easily be unstuck and repositioned. He deemed this mistake a failure, until someone suggested reusable book marks and notepads.  The classic yellow color was born from the only available colored paper at the time!
      • Coca Cola – This popular drink was born from nerve tonic. This was supposed to cure all ailments. Unfortunately it had alcohol in it, and in the age of prohibition it had to be removed. A little sugar was added and the carbonated beverage was advertised as making people healthier. We now know that this beverage definitely does not make one healthier, it does the opposite. However, in moderation, it is a sweet treat with a boost of caffeine.
      • Slinky – Richard James was attempting to invent a spring that would stabilize equipment on Navy ships. He accidentally knocked it off his table and was delighted to see how it slinked down to the floor.  While the Navy rejected his invention, millions of children throughout the world have owned at least one Slinky.
      • Silly Putty – During WWII James Wright was trying to invent a cheap alternative to synthetic rubber.  He accidentally spilled boric acid into silicone oil and created a stretchy bouncy product.  This toy has morphed into Theraputty, a helpful tool for strengthening and stretching muscles. Check out these theraputty exercises for ideas to use this tool!)
      • Playdough – This craft staple and children’s favorite building material was designed as a wallpaper cleaner. With the decline in popularity of wallpaper in recent years, the company is thankful they rebranded this as the playdough we know today! And, we all know the benefits of play dough, so this is a wonderful mistake that was made!

      These are just a few of the inventions made while trying to invent something else.  The products were born from people learning from mistakes. There are dozens more including; Crazy glue, popsicles, artificial sweetener, Viagra, Smart Dust, ice cream cones, the pacemaker, and more.  

      Why are these mistakes important? We can help kids see that there is importance of mistakes happening. Otherwise these products would never have been invented!

      What else did these inventors learn from their growth mindset mistakes?

      A growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and understanding can be developed” (Mindset Works, n.d.). Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get smarter, stronger, and more talented through putting in time and effort.

      This way of thinking became popular through the work of Carol Dweck in her book (Amazon affiliate link) Mindset.  She teaches about the “power of yet.” This mindset shifts the focus away from all the things one can not do, to what one can not do YET.

      The power of yet teaches people:

      • they can learn
      • learning takes time and effort
      • results come from hard work
      • giving up isn’t an option 

       This is huge when we think about the kids we serve and the ability to develop and strengthen self-esteem.

      These inventors believed they could learn new skills with enough effort and practice. Giving up was not an option for them. If they had given up on their “mistakes”, and not persevered with their ideas, they would not have invented some amazing products!   

      I don’t believe these inventors “got lucky” or “were in the right place at the right time”. Perhaps they did have a little fortune on their side in their innovation, but most of them had the growth mindset, and will to succeed.  

      If they had not invented what they did, they probably would have gone on to create something else, or reach other an achievement. 

      Mindset is the difference between those who excel and those who give up. The issue is that there can be discomfort in making errors…and then persevering.

      Learning from mistakes and moving forward drives people to succeed. It offers a chance to reframe mistakes into another chance, a new opportunity, or another try. Some people innately have this drive, while others need to develop it. 

      Mindset Tools for Mistakes

      Below are some mindset tools to help us make mistakes with a growth mindset. These are new strategies, but also tools to support mindset.

      As therapy professionals, educators, or parents, we can drive the enthusiasm in persevering or trying again. The obstacles kids struggle with are part of the course, and we can support that development with words of encouragement. The OT Toolbox is featuring several posts involving mindset to help create a treatment plan for yourself, or the learners you work with.

      Use these tools in a growth mindset lesson to support self-awareness skills.

      Develop Brain Skills- Brain activity happens with learning, and making mistakes is part of that learning process. Using persistence to complete a task is not only an executive functioning skill, it’s also an opportunity to develop grit, or resilience. This is an important life skill!

      • Amazon (affiliate link) has a great Growth Workbook for Kids. It is a fun and engaging activity book, for ages 8 to 12, that can help you train your brain and develop creative problem-solving skills through practice and perseverance. You’ll learn how to foster a “can-do” attitude and celebrate your mistakes as a path to ultimate success.
      • Mindsetkit has a great presentation on the critical role of mistakes.  

      Give yourself permission to make mistakes- Switch thinking from an error that means starting over is a bad thing. Mistakes can be permission to achieve a new skill. 

      Sometimes, as humans, we view mistakes as something bad. But when we stretch mistakes into something good, it’s switching the perspective in our brains. We can try a different strategy. We can use new skills that we learned as a result of that mistake. 

      Working with kids is a great opportunity to try again, but an important one that can have a huge impact!

      Learn from mistakes- There is always an AHA-moment mistakes allow. At some point, maybe long after the mistake has happened, that we have a moment of “Aha!” where we learn something about ourselves. We can ask ourselves a few questions as part of this mistake learning:

      • What have you learned from making mistakes?  
      • What did the mistake teach me?
      • What did I do that contributed to this mistake?
      • What can I do differently next time?
      • What tools can I use next time?
      • Was this a “big mistake” or a “small mistake”?
      • What did I learn from this mistake?

      Talk about different kinds of mistakes- Not all mistakes are life threatening, or high-stakes mistakes! We can work with kids to identify different types of mistakes. Ask kids to identify different scenarios on a scale of intensity.

      • small mistakes
      • big mistakes
      • life-threatening situations 
      • learning curve errors
      • sloppy mistakes

      Find courage to try again- I have learned that there is not much that can not be undone or fixed. This gives me the courage to try. Talking about this concept of trying again can be helpful for kids. We can even bring up times in our life that we as therapists have had to try again.

      • Don’t like that paint color in your bedroom you just painted?  Paint over it.
      • Not sure about the tattoo you just had done? Get it removed or “painted over”
      • Not thrilled with the way your hair color/cut came out? It will grow back, or try again with another color.
      • Cookies came out overdone? Chop them up and sprinkle over ice cream, or feed them to the goats.

      Mistakes can be spun as a trial run. Every mistake is good practice for the next time!

      Use self-talk- Kids can use self-talk as a strategy to hush that inner critic that tends to “beat up” our emotional state. Instead of repeatedly thinking “I’m so dumb”, “How could I make this mistake”, or “I’ll never be good enough”, we can teach kids the emotional regulation strategy of self-talk to support their mindset. 

      Positive self-talk is a huge asset to teach to switch the perspective of mistakes as a bad thing to just part of the learning and living process. There is power of the word that  we speak to ourselves!

      A final note on growth mindset mistakes 

      I once took a pottery sculpting class years ago on a whim (actually after a bad breakup).  My coil pot was crooked, bumpy, and leaning to the side.  Instead of becoming discouraged, I took a step back.  It kind of looked like the sorting hat from Harry Potter.  I painted it and proudly display it as a sorting hat replica!  What could have been a mistake and failure, turned into a one of a kind art piece.

      Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

      Breathing Star


      This breathing star coloring page is perfect for Christmas Mindfulness and winter mindfulness activities…but today, we’ve got star breathing tool for you.

      Discussing mindfulness for kids is a powerful strategy in addressing so many needs. Kids with sensory processing needs or self-regulation needs, or even emotional regulation needs may benefit from this holiday awareness activity.

      Breathing Star

      First, let’s talk about what a breathing star is.

      A breathing star is a visual prompt that allows kids to follow a star design with their eyes or fingers to guide mindful and deep breathing. The breathing star can be a variety of shapes or forms, but the benefits are the same.

      A breathing star might include:

      • A breathing star drawn on paper while doodling
      • A printable star coloring page like the one below
      • A star with arrows that a user can follow with deep breaths
      • This Star of David deep breathing tool

      It’s a free printable Christmas coloring page with benefits! Scroll below to grab your printable page.


      This mindfulness tool goes along well with our wreath breathing exercise,  Pumpkin deep breathing exercise, and Thanksgiving mindfulness activity.

      what does mindfulness for kids mean?

      Why Use a Breathing Star?

      First, let’s talk about what mindfulness means. Mindfulness in children is the ability to be aware of one’s actions and self in the moment. 

      Mindfulness for kids is an important part of self regulation and the ability to regulate our senses, feelings, and body.

      Consideration of well-being is important in addressing occupations across environments. OT practitioners can address mindfulness as a means for improving regulation, self-efficiency, stress, anxiety, trauma exposure, or other issues the child may face. Some mindfulness strategies for kids include breath awareness, body sweep, and labeling of feelings.

      One such mindfulness tool for children includes deep breathing. Combining this with stress-reducing coloring or focused activity can be a means for helping kids to become aware of how their body is responding to outside input or stressors.

      You’ve probably seen the variety of coloring books out there designed as coping tools for stress or anxiety. These can be a way to teach kids about focused awareness and mindfulness in the moment.

      It allows us to focus on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting what’s happening on the inside: in our feelings, thoughts, or sensations. This can be a tough skill for kids to master and why a breathing star can support that need.

      For kids, mindfulness is a skill that allows them to be aware of their body and how it’s responding in the moment. Mindfulness for kids is important for them to have the ability to pay attention and responding to input from the world around us.

      Mindfulness in kids means noticing their body and the things happening around them. It has a lot to do with impulse control. Just like any other skill, mindfulness is an ability that develops over time.

      It’s easy to see how this skill relates to so many other areas that occupational therapists address: self-regulation, self-confidence, attention, social-emotional skills, coping skills, sensory processing, impulsivity and inhibition, and overall well being.

      Also be sure to check out these Mindfulness for Kids YouTube Videos.

      How to Use a Breathing Star Visual Support

      A tool like this self regulation star is easy to use:

      1. Start with a pointer finger pointing at any of the points on the star.
      2. Take a deep breath in as the finger traces along the arrow.
      3. When you reach one of the points of the star, pause and hold your breath.
      4. Then, trace along the arrow to the next point as you breathe out.
      5. When you reach the next point of the star, your lungs will be empty. Pause and hold your breath with empty lungs.
      6. Continue as you trace along the outer edge of the star, pausing to hold your breath at each point.

      How Does a Breathing Star Work?

      The best thing about the printable breathing star is that it is a visual cue that can be used in any situation or no matter the environment.

      We cover how a printable tool like this sensory breath star can support a variety of needs in our resource on breathing exercises.

      The benefit of the breathing star is the pause points at the end of each star’s point. This pause point allows for breath control. As the breath is held after filling the lungs or emptying the lungs, the lungs continue to expand as does the rib cage. This offers interoceptive awareness as heavy work fills the chest area.

      We cover this sensory strategy in our resource on relaxation breathing.

      Occupational therapy practitioners working with children are interested in the well-being and the whole child. Functioning and independence in daily occupations are impacted by the “whole child”. The breathing sensory star offers the tool to support these needs.

      Christmas star mindfulness for kids activity and coping strategy for deep breathing and awareness.

      Below is a free printable coloring page for holiday mindfulness. Pair this with our Christmas Mindfulness coloring page for a mindfulness exercise for kids.

      Get a Christmas Star Mindfulness Coloring Page

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        Thanksgiving Mindfulness Activity

        Turkey exercise for a mindful thanksgiving

        Having a mindful Thanksgiving is so important, but have you ever considered HOW to achieve Thanksgiving mindfulness during a time when abundance is everywhere? Today, we have a few tips on holiday mindfulness, but also a great turkey exercise. This Thanksgiving deep breathing exercise is a tool to use when the overwhelming feelings of a big holiday event can overcome emotions and behaviors. Add this turkey activity to your Thanksgiving occupational therapy plans.

        Thanksgiving Mindfulness

        This time of year, being mindful is a huge part of the gratitude of Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving Mindfulness activity doubles as a deep breathing coping strategy but also is helpful in teaching kids to be mindful during a time of year when the holidays can get the best of them.

        A few weeks ago, you may have seen a Pumpkin deep breathing exercise on The OT Toolbox. This mindfulness strategy is inline with that coping tool. Use it to talk to the kids about mindfulness or as a sensory strategy.

        You can also use this activity along with our Thanksgiving tree to work on mindset and gratitude.

        Thanksgiving mindfulness activity with deep breathing exercise to use as a coping strategy with kids.

        During the time of year when signs of a feast is everywhere (from a family get together to a feast in the classroom), it can be easy to become overwhelmed by tensions, boundaries of others, and even the over-abundance.

        For our kiddos with sensory needs, we see this play out in emotions, behavioral meltdowns, and sensory regulation needs.  

        However, for ALL of us, sometimes having an open mind and mindful strategies can support a complex season. 

        Mindfulness for kids can be a creative way to address common concerns with attention, self-regulation, self-awareness, coping skills, and concentration.

        Mindfulness activities can be a way for kids to be more present in the moment, and more aware of themselves in every situation, including in the home, in the classroom, and while performing everyday activities.

        With the turkey exercise below, we use a few areas of mindful attention:

        • Deep breathing
        • Coloring (if using the coloring page)

        Deep breathing exercises can improve a child’s attention, emotional regulation through mindful attention to Breath Control

        Breathing exercises are a coping tool to support relaxation by attentive breathing. When focused breathing occurs with breath control to inhale a deep, diaphragmatic breathing strategy, and then held for a moment to hold the breath at full capacity, there are many calming benefits, which can slow a racing mind. This relaxation breathing is a breath control mechanism.

        Mindfulness Strategies for Big Holidays

        There are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. You can still honor the spirit of Thanksgiving or other big holidays even when overwhelm and a racing mind are at play.

        Here are some of our favorite mindfulness tools for holidays:

        • Fun Mindfulness activities for kids–  creative mindfulness exercises that can help kids feel better, reduce stress, address anxiety, and have a greater awareness of their body and mind. Mindfulness activities for kids can be used as a self-regulation tool or a coping strategy. 
        • Go for a quick walk to add movement, heavy work through the body, and the opportunity to take a few deep breaths.
        • Make a list of things you are grateful for. Use that gratitude to pray, give thanks, or use in gratitude meditation.
        • Talk about gratitude with kids. This Bear Says Thanks activity is a great hands-on activity for this lesson.
        • Take a walk in nature and practice gratitude while walking
        • Talk about gratitude. You don’t need to save thankfulness for the Thanksgiving table. Talk about the things you are thankful for each day.
        • Consider mindful eating during big meals or family meals.
        • Winter Theme Mindfulness Activities–  Use these tips for mindfulness in the classroom and creative mindfulness exercises with a winter theme. 
        • Mindfulness Videos on YouTube– Use these YouTube videos to help kids pay attention and responding to input from the world around us, including emotionally and cognitively. 
        • Make gratitude and mindfulness a habit. 
        • Adding a quick morning meditation can help with overall wellbeing.
        • Hug your friends and family. Did you know there are benefits to giving and receiving hugs? Not only do they offer proprioceptive input through deep pressure, but they can be very calming.

        Turkey Exercise for Mindfulness

        This mindfulness activity is a fun one for kids this time of year. Like our pumpkin deep breathing exercise, we used a visual graphic of a turkey paired with directions to breathe deeply as a sensory coping strategy. Use the turkey deep breathing activity to teach kids mindfulness and awareness.

        Use the printable along with these free Thankful Turkey Templates for hands-on play.

        What better activity is there for Thanksgiving and the season of gratitude?

        • Kids can use this Thanksgiving mindfulness activity to wind down after a busy day, cope with sensory overload, and be more aware of things they can express gratitude for.
        • Use the printable turkey exercise as a breathing tool during the chaos of a family dinner.
        • Use this Thanksgiving themed mindfulness tool to address sensory issues such as sensory overload. It’s a great way to add a mini-sensory break into busy days filled with family and festivities. Simply taking a few moments to add deep breathing exercises can help with feelings of overwhelming sensory overload and add the calming moment a child might need.
        • It works for kids of all ages, too…take a few moments with your kiddos to step back, breathe deeply, and express gratitude or awareness.

        It’s a great way to introduce mindfulness to children with a visual representation of the deep breathing strategy and awareness of the world around them.

        Ok, so how does this work? Let’s try this mindfulness meditation task!

        How to Use this Turkey Exercise for Mindfulness

        Print off the turkey exercise by entering your email address into the form below. This resource is also available in our OT Toolbox Member’s Club, on the Thanksgiving Therapy Theme page.

        1. Use the visual graphic to follow the arrows as you take deep breaths in and out.
        2. Pair the deep breathing with thoughts of things that you are thankful for with each breath.
        3. For each feather on the turkey, you will concentrate on one thing, person, or aspect that you are thankful for. Maybe it’s a warm house. Maybe you are thankful for the sun shining outside. Maybe it’s a frantic house filled with family and friends. Maybe it’s a job that pays the bills.

        Thinking about whatever it is that you are grateful for is a simple way to pair the benefits of slow deep breaths with intentional thoughts.

        Use the Thanksgiving mindfulness with kids as a group or individually. You can set this up in several ways. Ask them fist to list out some things they are thankful for. Then, quietly say an item with each breath break.

        Use the Turkey Deep Breathing Exercise in a Group

        This exercise is a great addition to group gratitude activities.

        As a mindfulness group activity, use the turkey graphic and explain that they will be pairing deep breathing with a focus on gratitude. Come up with a list of things the group is thankful for and as you work through he deep breathing exercise, the children in the group can focus on things that they are thankful for personally.

        Or, you could invite the child to think in their head about some things they are thankful for and then with each breath in, they intentionally concentrate on that thing/person/idea.

        Adding the deep breathing exercise with intentional thoughts makes this a Thanksgiving Mindfulness activity that can be so helpful for kids (and adults) of all ages!

        Thanksgiving mindfulness activity for kids

        Thanksgiving Exercise for Deep Breathing

        When focusing on gratitude and mindfulness during the Thanksgiving holiday, having an exercise with a turkey theme is a fun way to support self-regulation needs.

        If you include this Thanksgiving exercise with gratitude and mindful breathing, it’s a great sensory tool, especially when worries or overthinking is happening. Gratitude and mindfulness can be powerful coping tools for anxiety by helping individuals shift their focus from negative thoughts and worries to more positive and present-moment experiences.

        Pair this Thanksgiving exercise with gratitude by asking the user to think of things they are thankful for as they complete each breathing exercise.

        This can help the user because mindful breathing and gratitude helps us to be present in the moment, promotes relaxation, and supports emotional regulation.

        Free Thanksgiving Mindfulness Exercise

        You can print off a version of this turkey exercise deep breathing tool. Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can access this resource inside our Member’s Club on the Thanksgiving Therapy Theme page.

        Free Thanksgiving Mindfulness Turkey Exercise

          Are you interested in resources on (check all that apply):
          We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

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

          Self Regulation Strategies

          Self-regulation is a crucial skill that influences a child’s ability to manage emotions, behavior, and attention. As occupational therapy practitioners, professionals working with kids with emotional and behavioral needs, teachers, and parents, understanding effective strategies to support children in developing self-regulation skills is essential.

          This blog post explores evidence-based approaches for therapists working with children on their caseloads, offers insights for teachers in the classroom, and provides practical tips for parents to implement at home.

          image of a face breathing in and arrow pointing to the brain and the body

          What is a self regulation Strategy?

          Self-regulation strategies refer to techniques and behaviors individuals use to manage their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to achieve specific goals or respond adaptively to different situations. These strategies empower individuals to stay focused, control impulses, and navigate challenges effectively.

          Developing self-regulation is often challenging for many children and even adults. Throughout the day, individuals face various situations demanding a keen awareness of themselves and others, coupled with the ability to exercise self-control.

          Self-regulation involves managing, sustaining, and adjusting one’s arousal levels, emotions, and behaviors. It hinges on impulse control, working memory, and the general capacity to keep oneself in check. The process of experiencing emotions, understanding desires, and making decisions based on these concepts necessitates motivation, willpower, and higher-level thinking.

          Ideally, children should attain an optimal level of self-awareness and mindfulness, enabling them to recognize their inner feelings and emotions. This awareness is crucial for effective self-regulation. Children must learn strategies and techniques tailored to their needs, aiding them in transitioning from a less optimal state to a readiness for action.

          Understanding how sensory processing impacts behaviors and emotions is key when it comes to sensory dysregulation and meltdowns or regulation needs.

          Read about interoception here. This is important because of the role of the limbic system, the vestibular system, proprioceptive system, and overall sensory processing systems in functional tasks.

          To support this process, additional mindfulness activities are beneficial, serving as valuable additions to a child’s “Regulation Toolbox.”

          Understanding Self-Regulation

          Before delving into strategies, it’s important to grasp the concept of self-regulation. According to Zelazo and Carlson (2012), self-regulation involves the ability to manage and modulate emotions, behaviors, and attention in response to environmental demands. This skill is fundamental for a child’s success in various life domains.

          Be sure to read about emotional regulation and behavioral regulation.

          Another key point to understand is the connection between executive functioning skills and emotional regulation.

          Self Regulation strategies for Therapy

          School-based occupational therapy professionals (OTs) play a crucial role in supporting students’ self-regulation and overall participation in their education.

          Their involvement extends beyond direct intervention with students to collaborating with teachers and other professionals, such as school social workers or guidance counselors. Here’s how school-based OTs contribute to the team:

          1. Assessment and Intervention for Individual Students:
            School-based OT assess students’ sensory and motor skills, identifying any challenges that may impact self-regulation and participation. Based on assessments, OTs/OTAs develop individualized intervention plans to address specific needs. Interventions may include sensory strategies, fine motor, gross motor coordination activities, and adaptive tools to support self-regulation in the classroom (Case-Smith et al., 2015). This can also look like using self awareness games and activities to support self-reflection skills when needed.
          2. Collaboration with Teachers:
            School-based occupational therapy professionals collaborate closely with teachers to integrate strategies that enhance self-regulation within the classroom environment. This collaboration may involve providing teachers with information about a student’s sensory needs, suggesting modifications to the classroom setup, and offering guidance on incorporating sensory breaks or activities that promote attention and focus (Morrison et al., 2020).
          3. Professional Development and Training:
            OT professionals contribute to the professional development of teachers and other school staff by offering training sessions on topics related to sensory processing, motor skills development, and self-regulation. This empowers educators with the knowledge and skills to implement supportive strategies for all students, not just those receiving direct OT services (Murray et al., 2016). Using programs such as Zones of Regulation, The Alert Program, (Amazon affiliate links) Test Drive, and The Sensory Connection.
          4. Consultation with School Staff:
            Collaboration between school-based occupational therapy professionals and paraprofessionals, educators, specials teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, etc. is essential to address the holistic needs of students. OT professionals can provide valuable insights into how sensory and motor difficulties may contribute to these challenges. Joint planning and consultation help create comprehensive support plans for students (Parham et al., 2011).
          5. Incorporating Sensory Strategies in the Classroom:
            OTs assist teachers and other professionals in integrating sensory strategies seamlessly into the classroom routine. This may involve providing sensory tools, creating sensory-friendly spaces such as a self regulation station or a calm down corner, or suggesting activities that promote self-regulation. By embedding these strategies into the daily routine, students can benefit consistently (Mulligan, 2018).
          6. Advocacy for Inclusive Environments:
            School-based OTs/OTAs advocate for inclusive practices that support the participation of all students. This includes working with teachers and administrators to create environments that are accessible and accommodating to diverse sensory and motor needs. Through advocacy, occupational therapy contributes to fostering an inclusive and supportive school culture (Polatajko et al., 2012).
          7. Data Collection and Progress Monitoring:
            OT professionals collaborate with teachers to collect data on the effectiveness of interventions and make data-driven decisions. Regular progress monitoring ensures that strategies are tailored to meet the evolving needs of students, and adjustments can be made as necessary (Case-Smith et al., 2015).
          8. Using a variety of calm down toys based on interest and motivation.

          Other ideas include:

          School-based OTs are integral members of the education team, contributing their expertise to create environments that facilitate self-regulation and maximize students’ participation in their education. Their collaboration with teachers and other professionals ensures a holistic and inclusive approach to supporting the diverse needs of students.

          Self Regulation Strategies for Teachers

          Self-regulation strategies are crucial in the classroom setting for several reasons, as they significantly impact a child’s academic and social development. Here are key reasons why implementing self-regulation strategies in the classroom is essential:

          1. Enhanced Learning Readiness:
            Self-regulation is closely linked to attention and focus. Children who can regulate their emotions and behaviors are better able to engage in learning activities. According to Blair and Diamond (2008), self-regulation supports cognitive functions, including working memory and flexible thinking, which are essential for academic success.
          2. Improved Classroom Behavior:
            Effective self-regulation strategies contribute to positive classroom behavior. When students can manage their emotions and impulses, disruptions are minimized, creating a more conducive learning environment for all. This aligns with the findings of Raver et al. (2011), who highlight the connection between self-regulation and behavioral outcomes in the classroom.
          3. Social Skills Development:
            Self-regulation is integral to the development of social skills. Children who can regulate their emotions are better equipped to navigate social interactions, resolve conflicts, and collaborate with peers. Gaining control over impulsive behaviors fosters positive relationships with teachers and classmates (Murray & Rosanbalm, 2017).
          4. Reduction of Stress and Anxiety:
            The classroom can be a source of stress for many students. Teaching self-regulation strategies helps children cope with stressors and anxiety, creating a more emotionally supportive learning environment. The work of Durlak et al. (2011) emphasizes the positive impact of social-emotional learning programs, which often include self-regulation components, on reducing stress in students.
          5. Long-Term Academic Success:
            Self-regulation skills cultivated in the classroom have long-term implications for academic success. Research by Moffitt et al. (2011) suggests that early self-regulation is a strong predictor of academic achievement and positive life outcomes in adulthood.
          6. Individualized Learning Support:
            Different students may require varying levels of support in developing self-regulation skills. Implementing strategies tailored to individual needs allows teachers to provide targeted support, fostering a more inclusive and effective learning environment (McClelland et al., 2010).
          7. Preparation for Life Skills:
            Beyond academic achievement, self-regulation is a life skill with broad applications. Teaching self-regulation in the classroom equips students with the tools they need to succeed not only academically but also in various aspects of life, including future employment and personal relationships (Jones et al., 2015).

          There are many ways to support these needs in the classroom setting.

          1. Classroom Environmental Modifications: Teachers can create a supportive environment by implementing sensory-friendly classroom modifications. This aligns with the findings of Dunn et al. (2016), emphasizing the impact of the environment on a child’s self-regulation.
          2. Visual Supports and Schedules: Utilizing visual supports and schedules helps children understand expectations and routines, promoting self-regulation (Smith et al., 2015). This can be particularly beneficial for children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
          3. Incorporating Movement Breaks: Research by Mahar et al. (2006) suggests that brief movement breaks during the school day can enhance attention and self-regulation. Teachers can integrate short physical activities to support students’ regulatory needs. Read about movement activities in the classroom for ideas.
          4. Sensory-Based Interventions: Occupational therapists can incorporate sensory-based interventions to help children regulate their emotions. Research by Case-Smith et al. (2015) highlights the effectiveness of sensory integration techniques in improving self-regulation in children. This can include fidget tools, brain breaks, etc.
          5. Mindfulness and Yoga: Introducing mindfulness and yoga practices in therapy sessions can positively impact self-regulation. The study by Felver et al. (2015) emphasizes the benefits of mindfulness interventions in reducing emotional reactivity and enhancing attention. This can also include deep breathing exercises, sensory paths, etc.
          6. Social Skills Training: Building social skills is crucial for self-regulation. Therapists can employ social skills training programs, as suggested by Gresham and Elliott (2008), to enhance a child’s ability to navigate social situations successfully.

          Self-regulation strategies are essential in the classroom setting to create an optimal learning environment, foster positive behavior and social skills, reduce stress, and lay the foundation for long-term academic success and life skills development.

          Self Regulation Strategies for Parents:

          Self-regulation is essential at home for various reasons, as it significantly influences a child’s overall well-being and development. Here are key reasons why self-regulation is crucial in a home setting:

          1. Emotional Well-Being: Self-regulation helps children manage their emotions effectively. At home, where a child experiences a range of emotions, from excitement to frustration, the ability to regulate these emotions contributes to a more positive and emotionally stable environment (Denham et al., 2012). This results in overall family wellness.
          2. Positive Social Interactions: Developing self-regulation skills enables children to navigate social interactions at home. It involves understanding and respecting others’ perspectives, turn taking, and resolving conflicts peacefully. These social skills foster positive relationships within the family and contribute to a harmonious home environment (Graziano et al., 2007).
          3. Academic Success: Self-regulation is not only crucial for emotional and social aspects but also for academic success. Children who can regulate their attention and focus are better equipped to engage in learning activities and complete homework tasks. This, in turn, supports their academic achievement (Blair & Diamond, 2008). Here are tips for fidgeting during homework.
          4. Independence and Responsibility: Self-regulation fosters independence and a sense of responsibility. Children who can manage their time, complete tasks independently, and make appropriate decisions are better prepared for the increasing responsibilities they face as they grow (Zelazo & Carlson, 2012).
          5. Healthy Lifestyle Habits: Self-regulation extends to health-related behaviors, such as eating habits and sleep routines. Children who can regulate their impulses are more likely to make healthy choices, contributing to their overall well-being (Riggs et al., 2010).
          6. Parent-Child Relationships: Self-regulation positively impacts parent-child relationships. When children can express their needs and emotions in a regulated manner, it fosters open communication and understanding between parents and children. This, in turn, strengthens the parent-child bond (Denham et al., 2012).
          7. Preparation for Life Skills: The self-regulation skills learned at home have broader implications for a child’s future. The ability to regulate emotions, manage stress, and make thoughtful decisions prepares children for success in various life domains, including relationships, education, and future employment (Moffitt et al., 2011).
          8. Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Home environments can sometimes be sources of stress for children. Self-regulation skills help children cope with stressors and anxiety, creating a more emotionally supportive and calming atmosphere at home (Durlak et al., 2011).

          Some strategies to support self regulation at home may include:

          1. Establishing Consistent Routines: Consistent routines at home contribute to a child’s sense of predictability, aiding in self-regulation (Fiese et al., 2002). Parents can create daily schedules that include predictable activities.
          2. Promoting Emotional Literacy: Parents play a crucial role in helping children identify and express emotions. The work of Denham et al. (2012) emphasizes the importance of promoting emotional literacy for better self-regulation outcomes. For more information, read about emotional intelligence. An activity like our lion and lamb emotions activity can help.
          3. Collaboration between Parents and Therapy Providers: Effective communication between parents and therapists is vital. Collaborative efforts, as recommended by Bundy et al. (2016), ensure a holistic approach to supporting a child’s self-regulation across different settings.

          Enhancing self-regulation in children requires a collaborative effort from therapists, teachers, and parents. By implementing evidence-based strategies tailored to each setting, we can empower children to develop essential skills for emotional and behavioral self-regulation

          The resources in the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook really go into detail on this concept, in using movement and sensory tools as regulation strategies and coping strategies help kids function, within their daily functional tasks. For example, it is possible to incorporate regulating activities within the classroom, home tasks like self-care or chores, and the community. Check out the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook for more information on this concept.

          Research on Self Regulation

          • Blair, C., & Diamond, A. (2008). Biological processes in prevention and intervention: The promotion of self-regulation as a means of preventing school failure. Development and Psychopathology, 20(3), 899-911.
          • Case-Smith, J., Weaver, L. L., & Fristad, M. A. (2015). A systematic review of sensory processing interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 19(2), 133-148.
          • Denham, S. A., Bassett, H. H., & Wyatt, T. (2010). The socialization of emotional competence. In Handbook of socialization (pp. 614-637). Guilford Press.
          • Dunn, W., Little, L., & Dean, E. (2016). Sensory processing in autism: A review of neurophysiologic findings. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 28(3), 272-282.
          • Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.
          • Fiese, B. H., Tomcho, T. J., Douglas, M., Josephs, K., Poltrock, S., & Baker, T. (2002). A review of 50 years of research on naturally occurring family routines and rituals: Cause for celebration?. Journal of Family Psychology, 16(4), 381.
          • Felver, J. C., Celis-de Hoyos, C. E., Tezanos, K., & Singh, N. N. (2015). A systematic review of mindfulness interventions for youth in school settings. Mindfulness, 6(6), 1241-1256.
          • Gresham, F. M., & Elliott, S. N. (2008). Social skills improvement system. In Handbook of psychoeducational assessment (pp. 647-678). Guilford Press.
          • Graziano, P. A., Reavis, R. D., Keane, S. P., & Calkins, S. D. (2007). The role of emotion regulation in children’s early academic success. Journal of School Psychology, 45(1), 3-19.
          • Jones, S. M., Bailey, R., & Jacob, R. (2015). Social-emotional learning: From research to practice. Applied Psychology, 7(1), 62-79.
          • Mahar, M. T., Murphy, S. K., Rowe, D. A., Golden, J., Shields, A. T., & Raedeke, T. D. (2006). Effects of a classroom-based program on physical activity and on-task behavior. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(12), 2086-2094.
          • McClelland, M. M., Cameron, C. E., Duncan, R., Bowles, R. P., Acock, A. C., Miao, A., & Pratt, M. E. (2014). Predictors of early growth in academic achievement: The head-toes-knees-shoulders task. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 599.
          • Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., & Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), 2693-2698.
          • Morrison, J., Cosbey, J., George, N., & Thomas, J. (2020). Occupational therapy’s role in mental health promotion, prevention, & intervention with children & youth: A scoping review. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 36(1), 30-49.
          • Mulligan, S. (2018). Tools for the sensory connection program: A sensory processing disorder parent training. Academic Press.
          • Murray, D., & Bundy, A. (2016). Sensory integration: Theory and practice. F.A. Davis.
          • Murray, D. W., & Rosanbalm, K. (2017). Promoting self-regulation in the first five years: A practice brief. OPRE Report 2017-77. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
          • Parham, L. D., Coyne, L., & West, S. (2011). Sensory processing difficulties in children with functional constipation: A retrospective chart review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65(4), 472-479.
          • Polatajko, H. J., Davis, J. A., & Marushak, J. P. (2012). Designing and implementing a model for delivering school-based occupational therapy services. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, 32(3_suppl), S3-S11.
          • Raver, C. C., Garner, P. W., & Smith-Donald, R. (2007). The roles of emotion regulation and emotion knowledge for children’s academic readiness: Are the links causal?. In Cognition and emotion (pp. 1-30). Psychology Press.
          • Riggs, N. R., Greenberg, M. T., Kusche, C. A., & Pentz, M. A. (2006). The mediational role of neurocognition in the behavioral outcomes of a social-emotional prevention program in elementary school students: Effects of the PATHS curriculum. Prevention Science, 7(1), 91-102.
          • Smith, C. J., Rozga, A., Matthews, N., Oberleitner, R., Nazneen, N., & Abowd, G. D. (2015). Investigating the accuracy of a novel gesture-based child-computer interaction system for classroom use. In Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (pp. 252-255).
          • Zelazo, P. D., & Carlson, S. M. (2012). Hot and cool executive function in childhood and adolescence: Development and plasticity. Child Development Perspectives, 6(4), 354-360.

          For specific self regulation strategies related to each daily task that can be implemented right in the functional task, check out The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.

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

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

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

          School Bus Deep Breathing Exercise- A Stress Relaxation Tool

          School bus deep breathing exercise for stress relaxation on the bus

          Whether you are needing a bus stop activity to keep the kids calm and collected near a busy street or a sensory diet activity for the rides to school on the bus, this   school bus deep breathing exercise fits the bill. The school bus setting is unpredictable for sensory kids and this breathing activity is an easy stress relaxation tool that kids can add to their toolbox of coping strategies.

          Time for school buses, school supplies, backpacks, new teachers, new friends, and new stressors.  While school can be fun and educational, it can also be a time of stress and overwhelm.  Teaching self regulation is important for school success.  Students and teachers love these Deep Breathing Exercises

          School bus deep breathing exercise self regulation tool for stress relaxation on the bus.
          Use this printable school bus deep breathing page as a sensory strategy for the school bus!

          Just in time for back to school, the OT Toolbox has a great new School Bus Deep Breathing Exercise page to share. AND, it includes a school bus coloring page, too!

          Stress Relaxation

          One benefit of this sensory school bus strategy is the use in stress relaxation strategies in response to fight, flight, freeze, and other autonomic responses.

          What do we mean by stress relaxation?

          First, let’s cover how this works. When faced with an unfamiliar, unwanted, or overwhelming challenge, the central nervous system employs its fight, flight, or freeze response.  This is an automatic brain stem response to input.  Because everyone’s central nervous system is different, people respond differently to input.  Some people startle easily, are afraid of bugs, don’t tolerate loud noise or crowds, and are very sensitive. 

          Others take life in stride, nothing tends to bother them. 

          While this School Bus Deep Breathing Exercise is targeted for those who need to slow their central nervous system, everyone can benefit from taking a break once in a while to reset. When a body is in its fight, flight, or freeze mode, the central nervous system takes over.

          The following may be symptoms of this autonomic response:

          • The heart rate may increase
          • Increased breathing rate 
          • Elevated heart rate/blood pressure/temperature 
          • Sweating
          • Hiccups
          • Excessive emotional outbursts
          • Decreased cognitive skills as all energy goes into protecting the body
          • Digestive issues

          Because of this autonomic or automatic response to stimuli, people can make a conscious effort to combat these symptoms.  One quick and easy way to slow down heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and emotional outbursts is by using deep breathing exercises to relax the stress response. 

          Education on self regulation is an important step of sensory based treatment.  Teaching a person to understand their body, triggers, and response to input will help them choose an appropriate treatment method, and a perfect time to use it. 

          The use of stress relaxation strategies is a work in progress, and takes a long time to achieve self regulation.  Adults as well as children need help and reminders along the way when they are feeling out of control.

          We have other fun and motivating breathing exercises for kids in the school setting on the site, too. These include:

          School Bus Deep Breathing Exercise

          The OT Toolbox is full of Breathing Exercise Worksheets.  The newest one, The School Bus, comes at a great time of year. It’s the perfect tool to use in stress responses on the school bus. Add this sensory strategy in school environment to the bus environment which can be unpredictable, full of loud sounds, vibration and unpredictable movements, and an opportunity for sensory overload.

          Use the school bus sensory strategy to support different needs:

          • A sensory diet for the school bus
          • Waiting for the bus activity
          • Stress response to a simulating school bus environment

          Have learners place their finger on a white dot.  Instruct them to breathe in while sliding their finger across the arrow.  On the next arrow, they are instructed to breathe out.  Learners can go around the bus as many times as it takes for them to feel more in control of their body.  

          We’ve also included a deep breathing coloring page, in this set, too. Use it to work on coloring skills and pull in other areas of development such as fine motor skills and visual motor skills. Kids can then use the deep breathing coloring page as a coping strategy tool they have created and have ownership over.

          How does this work?

          These Deep Breathing Exercises are more than just working on breathing. Think about the following sensory systems that are activated using this free printable:

          • Deep breathing slows the heart rate
          • Visualizing the bus creates a distraction, or changes the learner’s focus
          • Listening to the sound of deep breathing can help tune out other stimuli
          • Counting breaths or holding for a number of seconds also creates a shift in focus
          • Themed breathing opens a door to change the subject and talk about the picture
          • Slowing the body down during the exercise, helps with regulation
          • Following a rhythm is organizing to the central nervous system

          How to use the School Bus Deep Breathing Exercise Worksheet

          Strategies such as breathing exercises are not as easy as handing your learner a piece of paper.  There is a lot of teaching, education, practice, and trial/error that goes into any of these treatment methods.

          • Initiate the activity BEFORE total meltdown or shut down occurs.  Once shut down occurs, it may not be easy for your learner to tolerate, listen, or sit and focus on this task
          • Use these exercises as part of your prescribed sensory diet, proving them at regular predictable intervals during the day, such as before/after transitions. We cover transitions for children extensively in another blog post.
          • Learner does not have to sit in a chair to work on deep breathing. They may lay on the floor, do yoga poses, climb under a blanket, sit in a rocker, or a comfy beanbag
          • If this exercise does not work for your learner, either try again at a different time, or move onto another strategy.  The OT Toolbox is full of ideas for self regulation

          Thematic lesson or treatment planning is motivating for students, and a way for educators to organize their daily teaching. Back to school is a popular theme using school buses, school tools, and apples to get to know your students.  It is a great segue into the fall theme.

          Other Back to School Activities from the OT Toolbox:

          Free printable stress relaxation for the school bus

          Want to add this printable stress relaxation tool to your therapy toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below.

          This item is also available inside the Member’s Club. Members can log into their account and access the tool by heading to Mindfulness Tools. Grab this stress relaxation exercise as well as others including unicorn deep breathing, pencil deep breathing, rainbow breathing, and more.

          FREE School Bus Deep Breathing Exercise

            We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

            Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.