Valentine’s Day Occupational Therapy Activities

Here, you’ll find Valentine’s Day Occupational Therapy Activities that you can use this time of year to help kids develop skills. This is the time of year that red and pink hearts are everywhere, so why not use the theme of love and friendship in therapy interventions? Add these heart crafts, and love ideas to your therapy toolbox to work on things like fine motor skills, regulation, scissor skills, and more, all with a Valentine’s Day theme!

Use these valentine's day occupational therapy activities in therapy planning, classroom activites, and to work on skills like handwriting, fine motor skills, scissor skills and other developmental areas.

Valentine’s Day Occupational Therapy Activities

There are so many love and heart themed activities here on The OT Toolbox. Over the years, we’ve done a lot of fun activities that double as a skill building strategy. Check out these ideas and pick a few to add to your therapy line up and plans over the next few weeks. Some of these hear crafts and sensory ideas or games would make great additions to a Valentine’s Day party that builds skills, too!

Valentine’s Day Therapy Slide Decks

Working virtually? Use a done-for-you therapy slide deck. These are therapist-created and designed to meet the needs of a variety of levels of users. Adjust the slides and therapy activities to meet your needs and the needs of the learners you are working with.

If you are needing occupational therapy teletherapy resources, check out the hands-on Valentine’s Day activities below. They are great for February parties and therapy at home activities for this time of year, too.

Valentine’s Day Sensory Activities

From sensory bottles, to discovery activities, to heart painting and more, these sensory play activities can be a fun way to help kids develop skills through the senses. How can you use these Valentine’s Day occupational therapy activities in sessions or at home?

Valentines day sensory bottle for self regulation and sensory processing or visual processing

Valentine’s Day Sensory Bottle– Use this sensory bottle activity as a way to build fine motor skills while kids help to create the sensory bottle and add materials. Then use it in self-regulation, sensory processing needs as a calm down bottle. Sensory bottles are fantastic to work on visual processing skills like visual discrimination, figure-ground, and other visual perceptual skills.

Olive You Thumbprint CraftFingerprint art is a great way to work on finger isolation, an essential fine motor skill that kids need to manipulate items and improve pencil grasp. Here is more information on how fingerprint art improves fine motor skills. Add this artwork to a card or Valentine’s Day craft for fine motor fun.

Valentines Day play dough to build fine motor skills

Valentine’s Day Play Dough Activity Use a recycled chocolates box in a play dough activity that builds skills like strengthening of the intrinsic muscles and arches of the hands. This is a fun Valentine’s Day activity that can be used in classroom parties or in the therapy room to build skills.

Bilateral coordination activity for valentines day

Bilateral Coordination Heart Sensory Tray Use sand, rice, or other sensory bin material to create a bilateral coordination and visual motor activity for kids. They can work on eye-hand coordination, motor planning, and other skills. The point of the activity is to establish direction and orientation relative to the child’s body.  The movement activity addresses hand-eye coordination in different visual fields, promotes spatial awareness and visual discrimination, addresses left and right awareness, improves peripheral vision, promotes body awareness and coordination with specialization of the hands and eyes, and works on gross motor movement skills.

Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Activities

Try these Valentine’s Day fine motor activities in your occupational therapy interventions or home programs. The activities here are fun ways to help kids develop hand strength, dexterity, precision, grasp development, and motor control.

Be sure to check out the Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Kit. In the 25 activity printable kit, you’ll fine hands-on activities to build fine motor skills. Activities include coloring and cutting cards, pencil control sheets, heart crafts, Valentine’s Day write the room activities, hole punching exercises, and so much more. Grab the Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Kit here.

Visual perception activity and heart maze for valentines day

DIY Heart Maze- Look out visual motor skills…this heart maze is one you can make and print off for your whole caseload. Adjust the use according to your kiddos. Children can place objects like paper hearts, mini erasers, etc. on the hearts in the maze to double down on fine motor work, or color in the hearts to work on pencil control. This maze is a visual processing powerhouse. Find more information on visual processing here.

Fine motor heart activity

Teeny Tiny Sprinkle Heart Activity– This is a fine motor activity that builds precision and dexterity in the hands. It’s a fine motor workout kids can use to build hand strength and endurance for fine motor tasks. Use it in math centers to work on one-to-one correspondence and counting or sorting.

Heart fine motor and eye hand coordination activity

Heart Eye-Hand Coordination Activity– Work on eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills tongs and heart s cut from cardboard. If you are like me, you have a ton of delivery boxes coming to the house. Use those boxes in a fine motor skills building activity. Write numbers or letters on the hearts to make it a sorting, math, or spelling activity.

heart keychain made with salt dough

Salt Dough Keychain– This is a fun heart craft that goes along with the children’s book, “The Kissing Hand”. Use it to help kids work on fine motor skills, and hand strengthening. This keychain craft makes a great Valentine’s Day gift idea too!

Valentines Day crafts

One Zillion Valentines Book and Craft– Pairing a book with therapy or when working on skills with kids is a fun way to open up conversation, problem solving, and strategizing to create a project or activity based on the book. This Valentine’s Day book for kids is just that. One Zillion Valentines is one children’s book that pairs nicely with a fine motor craft for kids.   Kids can work on fine motor skills, motor lanning, direction following, and executive functioning skills while folding and making paper airplanes, and the cotton clouds in this fun craft idea.

Valentines day handprint art

I Love Ewe Handprint Craft– Use a handprint art activity as a tactile sensory experience. Pair scissor skills, pencil control, direction following, and copying skills to work on various areas needed for handwriting and school tasks. Pls, this makes a great Valentine’s Day craft or addition to a card!

Valentines Day activities to build skills for kids
valentines day color sorting fine motor activity

Valentines Day Color Sorting Fine Motor Activity– Grab a couple of cookie cutters and some beads. This is a fine motor activity that kids can use to build skills like in-hand manipulation, separation of the sides of the hand, finger isolation, open thumb webspace, and more.

love bugs valentines day crafts

Love Bugs Crafts– Work on fine motor skills, scissor skills, direction-following, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, and more with these cute bug crafts for kids.

valentines day sensory bin

Valentine’s Day Sensory Bin– There are so many benefits to using a sensory bin in building fine motor skills. Pour, scoop, and stir with the hands for a tactile sensory experience. Using a sensory bin can be a great way to work on visual perceptual skills like figure-ground, visual discrimination, and other essential visual processing areas. Find and ovate objects or add a learning component by writing sight words or math problems on hearts. This is an open-ended activity that can be used in so many ways.

valentines day books

I Love You Books for Kids– These Valentine’s Day books for kids are a fun way to combine books with crafts or love themed activities. Use them to work on copying words or sentences for handwriting practice. The options are limitless. What love and heart themed books would you add to this list?

Valentines day activities to build fine motor skills
heart play dough

Valentine’s Day Crayon Play Dough– Use play dough to work on so many areas: hand strength, arch development, separation of the sides of the hand, endurance, eye-hand coordination…But have you ever had trouble getting a a really vivid red play dough when using food coloring? The answer to the red play dough problem is using vivid crayons! Here is our crayon play dough recipe that gives you the brightest colors, perfect for using in Valentine’s Day play dough activities!

heart craft to work on fine motor skills like scissor skills

Heart Bookmark Craft– This is such a fun and easy Valentine’s Day craft to use when working on scissor skills with kids. The strait lines of the bookmark and curved lines of the heart make it a great activity for kids just working on the basics of scissor skills.

Valentines day craft for kids

Heart Butterfly Craft- Work on scissor skills, handwriting, and fine motor skills to make this fun card. The directions to make this Valentine’s Day craft are over here on a guest post we did for Hands On as We Grow. Use this fun craft with a group. It’s a great Valentine’s Day party idea!

Valentines Day craft for kids to work on fine motor skills and scissor skills

Valentine’s Day Tea Craft– This Valentine’s Day craft is a fun way to work on scissor skills, handwriting, and fine motor skills. Kids can make this craft as a gift for friends or parents and work on skill development, too.

More Valentines’ Day Activities

Try some of these other ideas:

Valentine’s Day Sensory Bin with Fine Motor Paper

Valentine’s Day Snacks for Kids

Valentine’s Day Goop Painting

Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Sparkle Craft

Crunchy (Sensory Diet!) Heart Tortilla Snack

Teach Buttoning with Heart Buttons

So, what are your favorite ways to work on skills with a holiday theme? Try some of these heart activities at Valentine’s Day parties, at home when making cards for loved ones, or in therapy planning! Have fun!

Want to add more Valentine’s Day activities and movement tools to your skill-building?

he Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Kit is here! This printable kit is 25 pages of hands-on activity sheets designed to build skills in pinch and grasp strength, endurance, eye-hand coordination, precision, dexterity, pencil control, handwriting, scissor skills, coloring, and more.

When you grab the Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Kit now, you’ll get a free BONUS activity: 1-10 clip cards so you can challenge hand strength and endurance with a counting eye-hand coordination activity.

Valentines Day fine motor kit

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

Winter Sensory Stations

Winter sensory stations

We’re back with another sensory tool to add to your toolbelt: Winter Sensory Stations to print off, hang on the wall, and help kids focus and get the sensory input they need. Add these winter themed movement activities to our other seasonal sensory station archives: Christmas Sensory Stations, Spring Sensory Stations, and Fall Sensory Stations.

Winter sensory stations printable kit

If you’re a teacher, therapy provider, or a parent, you might know the impact that wiggly, fidgety kids have on focusing and completing daily tasks. That’s where this set of winter themed sensory station printables come in.

Winter Sensory stations

These winter sensory stations are designed to incorporate a winter theme into sensory motor movement. You’ve probably seen pricy sensory walks in schools or hallways. The movement-based sensory path is a great way to get kids moving and following directions to complete gross motor movement activities.

But what if you don’t have the funds available to purchase a full sensory path kit?

Grab the kit below for free!

How to Use these Winter sensory stations

That’s where these free winter sensory station printables come into play. You can grab them below…and then print them off, slip them into a page protector or laminate them. Then, hang them in a school hallway, a therapy clinic, or a home. Kids can complete these winter sensory activities to add movement breaks or gain other sensory benefits.

Use these sensory motor stations to address a few needs:

  • Use as a winter brain break
  • Use them in between learning activities
  • Use them during transitions to help with focus and attention
  • Use them in a sensory diet to incorporate proprioceptive input or vestibular input
  • Use the sensory stations to develop gross motor skills like coordination, strength, and motor planning
  • Use the winter sensory stations when outdoor play may be limited due to cold temperatures or freezing weather
  • Add the sensory stations as a movement break in between other activities in the home, classroom, or therapy session.

What’s included in the Winter Sensory stations

In these winter sensory path stations, you’ll find similar movements and mindfulness activities, similar to our other sensory station activities. However, these winter themed activities have a few differences, too. These are great ways for kids to recognize tools that they can use all year long to help them attend AND address self-regulation needs.

  1. First, you’ll find a deep breathing figure 8 with a frosty wind and snow theme. This deep breathing activity incorporates the visual sense as kids scan the figure eight. They can follow the directions on the sensory station task to breathe deeply as they follow the arrows on the figure eight. This deep breathing activity can also incorporate crossing midline and eye-hand coordination skills. Use the figure eight deep breathing task to help kids calm down or regulate emotions or behaviors.
  2. Penguin Waddle- Next, you’ll see a penguin waddle activity. This gross motor activity incorporates proprioceptive input and allows kids to challenge motor planning and direction following. They can waddle down the hallway or in a circle. The activity is open-ended to be used in any setting or physical layout. Ask kids to complete the task as they build balance and coordination skills.
  3. Snowball Wall Push-Ups- The next activity is a wall push-up task with a snowball theme. Kids can place their hands against the handprint images and complete wall push-ups against a wall surface. This heavy work activity provides proprioceptive input through the shoulders, core, and whole upper extremity. This is not only a great strengthening activity, but it can be calming to help regulate emotional needs or sensory needs.
  4. Stand on one leg like an ice skater- The next activity is a balance and coordination task that challenges balance and position in space. The vestibular sense and proprioceptive sense are engaged as the child attempts to maintain balance one one leg. Ask them to do one leg and then to stand on the other leg. You can incorporate other movements too, like loving the arms or reaching and holding a position to further challenge balance, coordination, and motor planning skills.
  5. Finally there is a snowflake themed spiral deep breathing activity. Ask the child to follow the spiral image with their finger tip or eyes and deeply breath in and out. This deep breathing exercise has many benefits that calm and engage the child.

Each of these winter sensory station activities can be calming tools to use this whole winter season.

Free Winter Sensory Station Printables

Want to add these sensory stations to your clinic, classroom, or home this winter season? Enter your email address into the form below to access these resources. NOTE that this printable is available inside our Member’s Club. If you are member, log into your account and easily download the file there…as well as hundreds of other printable resources. If you’re not a Member’s Club member, you’ll want to check it out!

Free Winter Sensory Stations

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

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

    What if you had themed, NO-PREP activities designed to collect data and can help kids build essential fine motor skills?

    Take back your time and start the year off with a bang with these done-for-you fine motor plans to help kids form stronger hands with our Winter Fine Motor Kit. This print-and-go winter fine motor kit includes no-prep fine motor activities to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. Use fun, winter-themed, fine motor activities so you can help children develop strong fine motor skills in a digital world. 

    The Winter Fine Motor Kit includes reproducible activity pages include: pencil control strips, scissor skills strips, simple and complex cutting shapes, lacing cards, toothpick precision art, crumble hand strengthening crafts, memory cards, coloring activities, and so much more.

    Christmas Sensory Stations

    Christmas sensory stations

    We love a good sensory path. With quick sensory stations, mindfulness breaks, movement, heavy work activities, and motor activities, a sensory path is an easy way to help kids that need to MOVE. We’ve shared a few sensory paths here on the website, including our Spring Sensory Stations, our Fall Sensory Stations. These printable sensory stations make up a quick sensory path that can be used in school hallways or the walk to the therapy clinic. Now we have a Christmas Sensory Path made up of quick holiday sensory stations!

    Free Christmas sensory stations for a holiday sensory path

    Christmas Sensory Stations

    This time of year, it can be hard to get kids to focus on the tasks they need to complete in the school setting.

    It can even be hard for kids to walk down the hallway!

    That’s where these Christmas Sensory Station printables come in. Print them off, laminate them (or slide them into a page protector sleeve) and hang them on the wall. They make a great movement break for the home, too.

    Let’s break down the sensory path activities in this printable packet:

    1. The first Christmas sensory station included in this free resource includes a figure 8 deep breathing activity with a holiday theme. Kids can trace along the figure 8 as they take in deep breaths and then breathe them out. There are Christmas lights decorating the figure eight. Encourage kids to take deep breaths in and out as they feel their breathing rate calm.

    2. The next sensory activity in this Christmas sensory path is a gross motor activity that incorporates proprioceptive input and vestibular input to leap like a reindeer. Kids can either get onto all fours to leap or they can stand on their feet like a reindeer taking off to soar in the Christmas night sky with Santa and the other reindeer! The printable is open-ended so you can ask kids to complete as many reindeer leaps as you like.

    3. Next, you’ll find a wall push-up activity. On the palm images are Santa’s sleigh. The sensory station instructs kids to push Santa’s sleigh to give it a hand in taking off. Kids can complete wall push-ups by pushing against the hand visuals. This offers heavy work input through their upper body as a calming motor activity. Do as many wall push-ups as needed.

    4. Then, there is a jingle bell jumping jack activity that engages the vestibular sense and gets kids active, moving their whole body, and working on coordination, motor planning, and symmetrical and asymmetrical movements gross motor movements. If kids need to “wake up” their system and become more alert, try asking them to hold real jingle bells as they do the jumping jacks.

    5. Finally, the last Christmas sensory station is an eye-hand coordination/ deep breathing activity to calm the system. It includes a Christmas tree tracing activity where kids can trace along the spiral and take deep breaths in and out. This calming activity can re-set kids and help with relaxation.

    All of these sensory station activities are open-ended so you can ask kids to say the ABCs or count as they complete the tasks. You can also rearrange the order of the sensory walk tasks or omit some of the activities is you like.

    Print off several pages and add them in a pattern down the hallway. Or, ask kids to complete each activity a certain number of times. It’s totally up to you and the needs of your kids!

    Christmas Party Sensory path

    With many schools omitting parent involvement this year and limiting visitors to the classroom, you might be looking for an EASY holiday themed movement activity. Print off these Christmas sensory stations and add them to Christmas obstacle courses or a relay game for the classroom Christmas party!

    Or, add this Christmas sensory station kit to your holiday occupational therapy ideas!

    Free Christmas Sensory Stations

    You can print off the Christmas sensory stations below. Just enter your email address into the form. A note that this printable is also found inside our Member’s Club. Members: just log into your account and download directly from the dashboard. (You can grab our Winter Sensory Stations printable while you are there, too!)

    FREE Christmas Sensory Stations for a Sensory Path

      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

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

      More Christmas Activities

      Looking for done-for you therapy activities this holiday season?

      This print-and-go Christmas Therapy Kit includes no-prep, fine motor, gross motor, self-regulation, visual perceptual activities…and much more… to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. Use fun, Christmas-themed, motor activities so you can help children develop the skills they need.

      This 100 page no-prep packet includes everything you need to guide fine motor skills in face-to-face AND virtual learning. You’ll find Christmas-themed activities for hand strength, pinch and grip, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, endurance, finger isolation, and more. 

      Best Sensory Toys

      sensory toys and sensory tools

      If you are looking for the very best sensory toys to challenge sensory exploration, tactile play, or to offer sensory input to calm or alert a child, then you are in the right place. This gift guide of toys for sensory play cover many aspects of sensory processing in fun and engaging ways. Whether you need to add a few components to a sensory diet through play, or you are looking for a gift idea that develops specific skill areas, these sensory toys, fidget toys, and movement toys cover all the bases.

      When it comes to sensory toys, many of the ideas in our gross motor toy suggestions will hit on movement and heavy work input, so be sure to check that gift list out as well. Today is all about the sensory motor play.  

      First, let’s talk Sensory Tools and Toys!

      Sensory toys and sensory tools for kids

      The Best Sensory Toys

      We had so much fun putting together our recent Gift Guide Toys to Improve Pencil Grasp, that we decided to put together this gift guide for Toys to Inspire Sensory Play.  If you follow our blog posts, you know that we LOVE messy, sensory, textural play.  


      There are so many benefits to sensory play for young children.  They can explore textures, colors, scents while manipulating with their hands, expanding language skills, developing self-confidence, and so much more.  And while they are playing, they are exploring, exploring, investigating, and creating!  


      This gift guide provides ideas to incorporate sensory play into daily play.  We wanted to provide a list of gift ideas so that sensory play can be done easily once you have all of the needed items.  What better time to stock the activity bin/closet/box than during the holidays?  


      Maybe a relative is asking for gift ideas and there is something you would LOVE your kids to play with for sensory experiences.  Direct them to this gift guide for ideas to encourage sensory play!

      Sensory Tools

      First let’s cover a bit about how these toys are sensory tools. When it comes to kids, play is their primary occupation. It’s their main job. Through play, kids learn about the world around them, they practice and develop skills, and they interact with others.

      Play is also a prime way to incorporate movement and sensory experiences, allowing kids to regulate their nervous system, calm down, focus, attend to tasks, and remember important experiences.

      Sensory tools are means of facilitating sensory input. Whether that input is calming, alerting, or something else, it’s through experiences or sensory tools that a child gains sensory input. Sensory tools can offer movement, tactile input, visual input, or input through the olfactory system, gustatory system, auditory system and interoceptive system.

      Check out this resource on sensory processing for more information on all of the senses and how they integrate to enable functional participation in day to day tasks.

      The specifically selected toys and tools below incorporate sensory input in one way or another.

      Amazon affiliate links are included below.

      Sensory Toys and sensory tools ideas for kids

      Light Tables as a Sensory TOOL

      Have you ever used a light table in therapy? It’s a fun sensory experience for kids to challenge fine motor skills, as well as cognitive skills, and even posture or balance, all with the sensory input of a light table and manipulatives.

      Light Panel in Sensory Play:
      This Portable Light Panel is great for visual sensory exploration.  Tracing and tactile manipulation can enhance math, handwriting, spatial relationships, and more through sensory play.

      You could add a few Light Table Pattern Blocks or even magnetic Imaginarium Letters & Numbers like we did in our DIY Sensory Light Box post.  Explore the shapes and textures of leaves, petals, and so much more with a light table!

      Messy Sensory Toys

      Our kids LOVE to get messy!  Not all kids do, however, and may need gradual experiences to build up their tolerance to touch and manipulate different textures.  Some of our favorite messy play materials are:

      Kinetic Sand (such a cool texture…but be warned, Moon Dough is VERY messy!)

      Educational Insights Playfoam (such a neat textural experience!)

      Aqua Sand Polar Playground is another super messy but very cool play experience.  The wet sand dries immediately, how fun!

      Glow in The Dark Slime is slimy, messy, and glow in the dark.  Add a few Marbles and you’ve got a super sensory texture. The slime and the marbles would make fun stocking stuffers!

      Scented Sensory Toys

      Scented Play is a fun way to engage and alert the senses through sensory toys.

      Remember these Mr. Sketch Scented Markers from grade school?  I can still remember that blueberry scent!  What a great way to explore the sense of smell while playing and creating art.  Have the kids draw with the markers and then spray the art work with a water bottle to see the colors run.  This would be a great sensory and process art project for kids of all ages!

      This Scented Balls Set sounds so neat!  We’ve never played with these before, but they each come in a different scent and would make an awesome stocking stuffer!

      Sensory Bin Toys

      There are so many ways to use a sensory bin in sensory play. You can offer texture challenges that meet the needs of the child AND incorporate learning opportunities.

      Color Changing Tablets for Sensory Play:
      The sense of sight is such an immediate one!  A sensory experience can be set up for the kids and as soon as they see a bright green bin of water with scoops or foam pieces, they are excited for play! 

      These Color My Bath Color Changing Bath Tablets are great for setting the stage for multi-sensory play.  We’ve used them in our Swamp Water Bin Sensory Play activity.  Watching the colors fizz and mix is such a fun experience!

      Throw these tablets into the bath tub along with a few unexpected items (Paint Brushes, fun eye droppers like these Learning Resources Twisty Droppers , or a Funnel Set) and you’ve got a great sensory play environment!

      Manipulatives In Sensory Play:
      Sensory play is such a fun way to play and learn any topic.  Exploring textures with sensory input can really instill learning. So what can you put in the sensory bin, or water bin, or in the shaving cream on a tray?  The possibilities are endless!

      Try a jungle theme and add Jungle Animal Counters.  Maybe your child LOVES dinosaurs and would go crazy to play with Mini Dinosaurs
      in a tub of birdseed.  Any theme or subject can be added to sensory play. 

      Water Beads in Sensory Play:
      There is nothing more fun than this sensory play item!  Water Beads are typically used as a vase filler because once soaked in water, they expand and become a super sensory, fun, fine motor medium. 

      We’ve used them in sensory bins of all kinds.  This set from Bundle Monster is great deal and comes in so many fun colors.  (Note: always be sure to supervise children when playing with water beads!)

      Water Tables In Sensory Play:
      Water tables are great for sensory play.  Despite it’s name, water tables are not JUST for water!  There are so many possibilities for messy play with a water table.  Goop, moon dough, birdseed,  shaving cream…the possibilities for sensory and textural play are endless! A water table is not just for outdoor play during the summer months.  We love bringing our sand and water table indoors during the cooler months and playing with bigger items like seashells, animal figures in play dough, mixing flour and a bit of water. 

      We love this Step2 Water Table for its large basin, the added water wheel (How fun to pour sand and watch it fall!). So many senses can be addressed with water table play.  We explored the textures of fall with a Fall Themed Water Table.  Since we’ve added our water table to our play, we’ve had so much sensory play fun!

      Sensory Tools in a sensory bin

      There are many materials that can be added to a bin or low tray and used as a sensory tool. Some of these can be very inexpensive, making them great tools for sensory exploration. Incorporate these materials into multisensory learning, too.

      More Ideas for sensory play:
      shaving cream
      food coloring
      scoops
      birdseed
      field corn
      split peas
      dry beans
      colored rice
      colored sand
      cotton balls
      tinsel

      Sensory Fidget Toys

      Fidget toys are a fun (and popular) way to address attention needs through small scale sensory input. Each of these fidget toys promote fine motor development by encouraging finger isolation, bilateral coordination, precision, and eye-hand coordination.

      Great stocking stuffers for sensory play:

      Sensory Balls

      Textured Sensory Fidget Toy– Great for bilateral coordination and fine moor skills.

      Wooden Puzzle Fidget

      Pull and Stretch Bounce Ball

      Sensory Toys for Calming Input

      The ideas below make great gift ideas because they add heavy work input, or calming movement input, through the proprioceptive system and vestibular sensory system. These sensory tools can be a great addition to the home.

      Alerting Sensory Toys

      These toy ideas van be alerting activities that “wake up” the sensory system. For others, through, they can calm the system, because the child gains a sensory work out when using them. Be sure to contact an occupational therapist for a sensory evaluation and suggestions for the needs of each individual.

      So, if you are looking for a few ideas to add some sensory fun to your gift giving this holiday…or have family and friends asking for gift ideas…maybe one of these sensory play toys will be just right for your little one!  This list is by no means exclusive.  There are limitless ways to encourage sensory exploration into play.  We just wanted to provide a few ideas.  Happy playing!

      More Movement sensory toy ideas

      The lists of toy suggestions in the following blog posts are geared toward specific developmental areas. But, when it comes to movement, there are many sensory components intrinsically incorporated into the play. Check out these specific toy ideas:

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

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

      Fun Dinosaur Activities for Building Skills

      dinosaur activities

      Do you know a child that is obsessed with dinosaurs? If so, these dinosaur activities are perfect for developing skills through play. Or, use the dino activities to teach dinosaurs to preschoolers, kindergarteners, and older students learning about the dinosaur age. If your kiddos are anything like mine, then dinosaurs are a year round theme that never disappoints! Finding new and engaging activities to meet that “just right” challenge, while staying on-theme, can be quite the task. We have collected a variety of free dinosaur-themed activities to add to your repertoire for all the aspiring paleontologists in your life. Use these to satisfy fine motor, gross motor, handwriting, vision, and sensory integration interventions. 

      These fun dinosaur activities develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and more.

      Best of all, when kids are interested in learning about dinosaurs, these ideas can use these ideas to encourage multi-sensory play through learning! Add these movement and play activities to introduce a dinosaur theme in the classroom or home.

      Dinosaur FINE MOTOR ACTIVITIES

      For kids that love all thing dinosaurs, these dinosaur fine motor activities develop motor skill dexterity and coordination through play. Whether it’s tracing dinosaurs, creating a dinosaur craft, or handling tools in a dinosaur dig, these fine motor activities are fun!

      Here’s the thing: fine motor skills are used every single day! They are integral to just about every occupation and a big part of what occupational therapists work on in their treatment sessions. Use the activities below to increase skills like handwriting, buttoning, zipping, typing, and more! Why NOT incorporate dinosaur fun into fine motor development?!

      Dinosaur GROSS MOTOR ACTIVITIES

      Stomping like brontosaurus, crashing like a T-Rex, and running like a velociraptor means that dinosaur gross motor skills encourage coordination, balance, endurance, and motor planning skills! 

      Gross motor movements are made by the “big” muscles in the body. Gross motor control allows for walking, running, bending, stooping, balance, and many other skills that we use every day. Not only are these movements great for a child’s development of strength and coordination, but they also strengthen the connection between the brain and the body – so, get those bodies moving with dinosaur fun! 

      • Use these ideas to have Dinosaur Brain Break. This activity encourages various gross motor movements: stomping, crashing, jumping, balancing, and more.
      • Develop your own movements, or use the options provided, to meet therapy goals in a Dinosaur Movement Game. These free printables can be used in so many ways to develop gross motor skills.
      • Use dinosaur feet to stomp, sneak, crawl, or tiptoe! Draw dinosaur feet onto paper. Place them around the room to create a dinosaur footprints path where kids can look for the next prehistoric footprint. They can hop, crawl, creep, or tiptoe along the dino footprint path!
      • Change up your wording for these exercises to dinosaur-themed ones:
        • Tight-rope walking → Velociraptor Tip Toe 
        • Boat Pose → Fallen Over T-Rex 
        • Frog Jumps → Dinosaur Jumps 
        • Flamingo/tree pose → Flying Pterodactyl 
        • Bear Crawl → Creeping Stegosaurus

      Dinosaur Crafts

      The beauty of dinosaur crafts is that they build fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, motor planning, executive functioning skills, visual motor skills, and more. All of these skills are developed through the process of creating. Best of all, when a child prefers dinosaurs as an interest, they have ownership and a sense of self-confidence with a dinosaur craft that they are proud of!

      Try adding these ideas to your dinosaur theme:

      • Make a cupcake liner dinosaur craft. Fold the cupcake liner in half. Then use it as a dinosaur head or back. Cut out smaller pieces of paper to add details like legs, scales, a long neck, or a long tail.
      • Draw dinosaur feet. Cut them out and trace onto paper. Then, you can use those dinosaur feet to make a path for gross motor play such as a balance beam.
      • Make a handprint dinosaur craft. Press the hand into green paint. Press the handprint onto paper. Then add details like an eye, long legs, a long neck, and googly eyes.
      • Make a dinosaur paper plate craft. Cut a paper plate in half to make a dinosaur’s back. Then add legs and triangles along the back. Add a small face and tail and you’ve got a stegosaurus craft that develops scissor skills.

      Dinosaur HANDWRITING Activities

      For older kids, a dinosaur theme still works! There are many ways to incorporate dinosaur literacy activities, dino letter recognition, and letter formation into handwriting tasks. Some of these include dinosaur worksheets, but others do not. That’s the beauty of these ideas: you can use what you’ve got on hand to meet the individual needs of a child or classroom. 

      Handwriting is one of the most important skills of a child. Legible handwriting is integral to the success of a student, as so much of their work is presented through written material. Occupational therapists in the schools often assist students and teachers on this subject, including working on visual and motor skills to perfect the skill of handwriting. 

      • To develop visual discrimination skills and letter form constancy, check out this Dinosaur Letter Tracing activity idea – so cute!
        • Form constancy is one skill that is necessary to understand letters and use them to write words and sentences (and to read!). Form constancy is the idea that any given letter or shape continues to be the same even when written in another environment or at an angle. For example, the letter “A” is still the letter “A” when written in a different font, on a piece of paper, or on the chalkboard. 
      • Matching uppercase to lowercase letters is a great way to assess a child’s understanding in preparation for writing with the correct letter case. It can be hard to remember – especially for letters that aren’t obvious. These Dinosaurs can help make the hard work fun!  
      • This on-theme printable handwriting book gives kids the opportunity to trace, copy, and independently write upper and lower case letters. 

      Dinosaur VISION Activities

      When it comes to adding dinosaur visual perceptual skills to play, the theme can go many ways. Use one of our dino worksheets, OR create a table-top vision activity using toy dinosaurs. These ideas are open-ended!

      Vision is a highly complex skill –  it is not just about if you need to wear glasses or not! Visual processing is the connection between the brain and the visual environment. Sometimes the way that the brain processes that visual information is not very clear, that’s where an OT can step in! Use these activities to challenge visual processing skills.

      Dinosaur SENSORY Activities

      Dinosaur sensory bins, messy fossil digs, dino small world play, and sculpting dinosaur eggs…these sensory play ideas build skills!

      Sensory processing skills are used to define the world around us – we explore our environment through sight, feel, taste, smell, and our body position. Increasing sensory awareness can improve body awareness and understanding of our environment, which can in turn help us adjust and feel comfortable. Below are some great options to explore our senses!

      • Add heavy work for body awareness, self-regulation, attention, and whole body movements with these dinosaur proprioception activities. They are great for sensory seekers and addressing interoception needs.
      • These Egg Carton Dinosaurs use bumpy muffin cups, smooth googly eyes, soft and sharp pipe cleaners, and of course, an egg carton (so many different textures possible here) to give a multi-textured experience while defining fine motor skills. 
      • Make a paper mache dinosaur egg- Mix up messy, textural paper mache with paper, flower, and water and sculpt an egg around a balloon. Let it dry and then pop the balloon. Now you can decorate your dinosaur egg!
      • Have dinosaur figures, or mini dino toys? Use them to create a dinosaur small world for pretend play, self-confidence, self-talk, and problem solving.
      • Tearing paper has always been one of my go-to activities to address fine motor and sensory concerns. This easy Tissue Paper Dinosaur activity can increase texture tolerance in a way your dinosaur-lover will appreciate.  
      • Make a dinosaur sensory bin on a train table, or in a large bin. Add materials like dry beans, corn, or shredded paper. Or add messy wet materials like slime, water beads, water, or shaving cream.
      • Use a fossil dig activity for dry sensory play. Kids can chisel and chip away at a chalky substance to find dinosaur bones. Then, use the pieces to trace and make their own fossils for more fine motor, sensory fun.
      • Can’t forget the sensorimotor activities! Dinosaur dance parties, dinosaur stomping, dinosaur copycat, the options are endless. 
      https://www.amazon.com/Dinosaurs-Are-Different-Sydney-Laurel/dp/B09HG58QDV?dchild=1&keywords=dinosaurs+are+different&qid=1633626263&s=books&sr=1-7&linkCode=ll1&tag=sugaun-20&linkId=dd1a7f4156a98354c65ad540aa9b4b57&language=en_US&ref_=as_li_ss_tl

      Dinosaur Self-Awareness Activities

      Some of the previously highlighted activities incorporate a sense of self-awareness, including the heavy work activities, and sensory play ideas. But to take self-awareness and celebrating the differences among us, is this book, Dinosaurs are Different.

      The book is a silly take that celebrates all of our differences and can be a fun dinosaur tool to address skills such as self-awareness, body awareness, internal differences and external differences in all of us.

      Use this book to incorporate into mindfulness with kids, grounding techniques, discussions on emotional awareness, social skill development, and responsibility exercises with kids.

      Dinosaur Books

      I always love to include books in our themed activities, as a way to encourage an early love of reading, but also to further develop the understanding of our topic. As you can imagine, there are TONS of dinosaur books available to further explore your dinosaur theme. 

      Here are some dinosaur books and related activities to get started:

      Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
      background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
      providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
      a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

      Fall Sensory Stations

      sensory stations Fall theme

      I have another fun freebie for you! These Fall sensory stations are printable sensory station posters that you can use in classrooms, school hallways, the home, or therapy clinics to offer sensory input and whole body movements with a Fall theme. Just hang these sensory station posters on the wall and add calming sensory input with a Fall theme!

      Fall themed sensory stations for a sensory walk in the school hallways, classroom, therapy clinic, or home.

      Earlier this year, we made these free Spring sensory stations and they were a huge hit!

      This set of sensory stations are a great addition to our Fall deep breathing exercise we shared yesterday.

      Fall Sensory Stations

      If you’ve been in a school hallway in recent years, you may have seen a sensory walk. They are fun ways to offer movement for kids, especially when they need a brain break during learning. But sensory walks can be expensive to create. So, going off the theme of adding movement, coping tools, and heavy work input through the proprioceptive system, these Fall sensory system posters for a very inexpensive cost (Hint: it’s nothing! They are free!)

      I love these Fall sensory stations because you can print them, laminate them, and place them in the hallway or on a wall for quick movement breaks. Add them to a Fall learning theme, Fall therapy activities, Fall fine motor work, or Fall crafts. They are great prep-work for these Fall writing prompts, too.

      These sensory station posters include:

      • Fall Figure 8 Breath Poster- for calming deep breathing, mindfulness, and self-regulation
      • Fall Animal Walk (Leap like a squirrel)- for motor planning input and proprioceptive input
      • Fall Wall Push-Ups- for proprioceptive input through the arms, shoulder girdle
      • Fall Jumping Jacks- for motor planning work, vestibular input, and proprioceptive input
      • Fall Trace and Breathe- for visual tracking, finger isolation, deep breathing, and self-regulation

      Free Sensory Station Posters

      Want to add these Fall sensory station printables to your therapy toolbox? You can grab this freebie and add it to your tools!

      Fall Sensory Walk Posters

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

        Want more ways to work on skills this Fall? Grab our Fall Fine Motor Kit (or any of the seasonal kits):

        About Ayres Sensory Integration

        Ayres Sensory Integration

        In this post, we are going to give you the basics of Ayres Sensory Integration. If you have never heard of it, continue reading for plenty of information and resources that will help you become more familiar with this practice. Or, if you are trained in sensory approaches and looking to refresh your knowledge, we have got you covered. Learn more about the sensory system and and sensory-based activities in this resource on Sensory.

        Ayres sensory integration and how this specialized sensory treatment impacts kids with sensory processing needs.

        WHAT IS Ayres SENSORY INTEGRATION?

        You may have heard the terms Ayres Sensory Integration, of Ayres SI. Maybe you’re familiar with the term sensory integration. But what do these terms mean?

        Sensory integration has many layers, but it can be made quite simple. In fact, everyone has experienced sensory integration! Think about your senses; the way you feel things on your skin, see bright or dim light, smell a cup of coffee, or feel dizzy on a rollercoaster. Your body senses a stimulus, for example, the feeling of your shirt against your skin. After a few moments, you don’t think about how the shirt feels on your skin. You wear it all day long without feeling it touch you.

        This is an example of sensory integration. That sensation – the touch of the shirt to your skin – was processed and organized by your nervous system, and the nervous system decided that it did not need to process it any more. In other words, it was integrated!

        But what happens if the sensation is not integrated?

        You may have heard of someone who can feel their shirt, particularly the tag of their shirt, all day long. It may bother them so much that they cut off those tags to avoid feeling that sensation.

        It may be that somewhere along the sensory nervous system pathway, the signals for processing that touch sensation are blocked, or lost. Instead of being processed and integrated as, “You don’t need to feel this any more!”, it’s stuck in a processing limbo of, “what is this that I am feeling?”.

        Much like how a sudden closure on the freeway means that you will have to find another way to your destination, those sensory signals need to learn where to go when their path is not clear.

        Sensory integration therapy can help find a new path to that destination and turn off the signals that cause the over-response to the stimuli (in this case, the shirt).

        Who is Jean Ayres? Dr. A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist, psychologist, and neuroscientist, developed this theory and practice in the mid 1970s. She recognized that a child’s sensory system can greatly impact how they perceive and interact with the world around them. Dr. Jean Ayres developed specific sensory integration interventions based on her research findings over the course of her career.

        WHO IS Jean AYRES?

        Dr. A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist, psychologist, and neuroscientist, developed this theory and practice in the mid 1970s. She recognized that a child’s sensory system can greatly impact how they perceive and interact with the world around them. Dr. Jean Ayres developed specific sensory integration interventions based on her research findings over the course of her career.

        Since 2005, Ayres Sensory Integration (ASI) has been trademarked to differentiate this particular method from other sensory-based therapies. The term Ayres Sensory Integration, or ASI, encompasses the theory, assessments, and interventions that were developed by Dr. Ayres.

        WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT Ayres Sensory Integration?

        There are reasons why ASI is trademarked and other sensory approaches are not – so what makes Ayres Sensory Integration so unique? One reason why the trademark was necessary was to clarify to the public and the academic communities which evidence to correlate with ASI.

        The evidence for sensory interventions were becoming increasingly mucky – it became difficult to discern if ASI worked because so many people were calling any sensory approaches ASI, even if they did not align with the principles (Parham et al., 2007).

        To be considered true ASI, a trained practitioner must follow a specific protocol in their evaluation and treatment of their client. To start, the practitioner would evaluate their client using methods of naturalistic observation, conducting caregiver and teacher interviews, administering standardized testing, and performing clinical observations. After the evaluation is complete, they
        will determine the ways in which sensory integration deficits may be interfering with the child’s functional performance.

        Core Elements of Ayres Sensory Integration

        After determining that ASI is an appropriate intervention method for a child, the trained practitioner will develop sensory interventions that fall within the core elements of the ASI approach:

        1. Ensures physical safety.
        2. Presents sensory opportunities.
        3. Helps maintain appropriate levels of alertness.
        4. Challenges postural, ocular, oral, or bilateral motor control.
        5. Challenges praxis and organization of behavior.
        6. Collaborates in activity choice.
        7. Tailors activity to present the just-right challenge.
        8. Ensures that activities are successful.
        9. Supports a child’s intrinsic motivation to play.
        10. Establishes a therapeutic alliance.
          (Parham et al., 2020)

        DOES Ayres Sensory Integration WORK?

        Sensory integration is an on-going research topic in the field of occupational therapy. Many recent publications have suggested that ASI can be used to improve occupational performance (Koester et al., 2014; Miller, Coll, & Schoen, 2007; Pfeiffer, Koenig, Kinnealey, Sheppard, & Henderson, 2011; Roley et al., 2015; Schaaf & Nightlinger, 2007; Schaaf et al., 2013, Schaaf et al., 2015; Watling & Hauer, 2015).

        In other words, ASI is supported by research in it’s main goal: to increase a child’s participation in their daily activities.

        ASI was originally developed as a measure to address the functional abilities of children with learning and behavioral concerns. The positive outcomes of ASI have since been well-documented for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as for children with learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delay, regulatory disorder, and developmental coordination disorder.

        The theory and practice has also been modified for use with other populations and age groups, too!

        Who Uses Ayres Sensory Integration?

        Most recent research estimates that up to 95% of children with developmental delays or disabilities have deficits in sensory functioning (AOTA, 2017). Additionally, it is estimated that sensory processing difficulties occur in 5% to 14% kindergartners, 16% of elementary students, and 10% to 12% of people of all ages with no related diagnosis (AOTA, 2017).

        In short, the relevance for sensory integration is huge, due the prevalence of sensory deficits in individuals of various populations.

        To find out if an individual can benefit from ASI therapy, the Sensory Integration and Praxis Test (SIPT) would be administered, per the ASI guidelines. The SIPT was developed by Dr. Ayres specifically to test whether or not ASI is appropriate for an individual, and to highlight specific deficits in sensory processing.

        RESOURCES on Sensory Integration

        There are many great resources available for practitioners and families alike. See the options below to discover more about the sensory system, ASI theory, and sensory-based interventions.

        REFERENCES
        American Occupational Therapy Association [AOTA]. (2017). Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about: Ayres Sensory Integration®. https://www.aota.org/-
        /media/Corporate/Files/Secure/Practice/Children/FAQAyres.pdf

        Koester, A. C., Mailloux, Z., Coleman, G. G., Mori, A. B., Paul, S. M., Blanche, E., … Cermak, S. A. (2014). Sensory integration functions of children with cochlear implants. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, 562–569.
        http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.012187

        Miller, L. J., Coll, J. R., & Schoen, S. A. (2007). A randomized controlled pilot study of the effectiveness of occupational therapy for children with sensory modulation disorder. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 228–238.

        Parham, L. D.., Smith Roley, S., May-Benson, T. A., Koomar J., Brett-Green, B., Burke, J. P., Cohn, E. S., Mailloux, Z., Miller, L. C. & Schaaf, R. C. (2020). Development of a fidelity measure for research on the effectiveness of the Ayres Sensory Integration® intervention. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65, 133-142. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2011.000745

        Parham, L. D., Cohn, E. S., Spitzer, S., Koomar, J. A., Miller, L. J., Burke, J. P. … Summers, C. A. (2007). Fidelity in sensory integration intervention research. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 216–227.

        Pfeiffer, B. A., Koenig, K., Kinnealey, M., Sheppard, M., & Henderson, L. (2011). Effectiveness of sensory integration interventions in children with autism spectrum disorders: A pilot study. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65, 76–85. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2011.09205

        Roley, S. S., Mailloux, Z., Parham, L. D., Schaaf, R. C., Lane, C. J., & Cermak, S. (2015). Sensory integration and praxis patterns in children with autism. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69, 6901220010. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.5014/ajot.2015.012476

        Schaaf, R. C., Benevides, T., Mailloux, Z., Faller, P., Hunt, J., van Hooydonk, E.,… Kelly, D. (2013). An intervention for sensory difficulties in children with autism: A randomized trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 1493–1506.
        http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/ s10803-013-1983-8

        Schaaf, R. C., Cohn, E. S., Burke, J., Dumont, R., Miller, A., & Mailloux, Z. (2015). Linking sensory factors to participation: Establishing intervention goals with parents for children with autism spectrum disorder. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69, http:// dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2015.018036

        Watling, R., & Hauer, S. (2015). Effectiveness of Ayres Sensory Integration® and sensory-based interventions for people with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69, 6905180030.
        http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2015.018051

        Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
        background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
        providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
        a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

        Oral Motor Exercises

        Oral motor exercises and activities for kids

        There are many reasons to incorporate oral motor exercises into your therapy plan. Here, we are covering the reasoning behind several oral motor exercises and strategies to work on mobility and functioning in the mouth, tongue, lips, and jaw.

        These oral motor exercises are kid-friendly and improve coordination, strength, and mobility of the mouth to facilitate feeding, oral discrimination, or sensory needs.

        Why Oral motor Exercises?

        When we talk about oral motor exercises, it’s important to know why we are considering specific exercises. When it comes to oral motor exercises, we are striving to improve the functioning of the mouth, jaw, lips, cheeks, and tongue so that the child can demonstrate coordination needed for sound production and articulation. Other issues can arise in manipulation (chewing, movement of foods and liquids, tolerance of various textures, and swallowing food and liquids).

        When it comes to feeding issues, there can be a question of whether the feeding problems are a result of sensory processing challenges and/or oral motor considerations. Check out this resource for more information on pediatric feeding and oral motor issues or sensory issues that impact feeding abilities.

        Kids who struggle with feeding may be impacted by oral awareness and oral discrimination. These skills enable us to both be aware of the motions of the muscles and joints of the mouth to enable positioning for oral sound creation as well as movements to control and mobilize the chewing and manipulation of foods and drinks of various textures.

        Oral discrimination is essential for safety, efficiency, and function when eating.  When oral discrimination is a challenge, children can have resulting food aversions, be unaware of food in their mouth, or not be able to tolerate certain types of food textures, tastes, or temperatures.  They may have difficulty with managing various textures and end up with messy eating during meals. Oral discrimination also effects skills like speech and tooth brushing.

        Start here by reading more about the development of oral motor skills. Typical development of oral motor skills is an important consideration when it comes to self-feeding and movements of the mouth, tongue, and lips in tolerating new foods or textures in feeding.

        Specific reasons for incorporating oral motor exercises into a therapy program may include issues with the following movements:

        The oral motor exercises listed below can offer additional opportunities for strength and coordination of oral motor skills, as well as heavy work proprioception through the mouth as calming input to organize the body.

        Oral Motor Exercises

        These activities are not the only ones that can be done to address oral discrimination issues.  Additionally, it’s important to know that therapists understand that oral discrimination is just one piece of the feeding puzzle.  Considerations such as tone, sensory processing, and oral-sensory exploration as well as many other components make up feeding.

        Tips for Oral Motor Exercises

        1. These specific oral motor exercises can be selected based on the specific needs of the child. Each exercise many not work for all individuals. And, the exercises should be modified as needed to grade up or down (make them easier or harder) based on the needs of the individual.
        2. For each exercise listed below, add a repetition to complete the task. Add in a specific number of repetitions.
        3. Add the number of days these exercises should be completed each week.
        4. Incorporate function whenever possible. Working on feeding? Add real foods of interest. Use utensils or cups when possible. Incorporate the occupation of play to make the exercises motivating and fun.
        5. Consult with a pediatric occupational therapist!

        Oral Motor Exercise Ideas

        Remember that not all of these exercises are needed for every child’s specific needs. Pick and choose the exercises that meet the needs of the child you are working with.

        • Bring their hands and fingers to his or her mouth and lips.
        • Play tongue Simon Says with a mirror.
        • Play the “hokey pokey” with your tongue and cheeks.
        • Try messy play with food.
        • Encourage tolerance of a spoon or other feeding utensil in different parts of the mouth.
        • Open and close your mouth.
        • Move your tongue from side to side.
        • Press your lips together and then smack your lips apart.
        • Explore different types of utensil textures (plastic, metal, plastic covered, etc.)
        • Hold and play with a toothbrush, bringing the brush to their mouth and face.
        • Encourage mirror play, identifying parts of the mouth.
        • Add rhythmical, whole- body play with therapy balls, uneven surfaces such as trampolines or crash pads to improve proprioceptive input. (Great for core strengthening and stability needed for feeding, teeth brushing, etc.)
        • Explore mouth play with teething toys and tools.
        • Explore use of teething toys and tools in different positioning (prone, supine, side lying, etc.)
        • Use rhythmical music along with tapping the cheeks or lips.
        • Offer frozen fruit on a tongue depressor. Try this recipe for frozen fruit skewers.
        • Chew a straw.
        • Pucker your lips in a pretend kiss.
        • Blow a party noise maker.
        • Blow a kazoo.
        • Use a straw to pick up squares of paper and drop them into a bowl.
        • Make fish lips.
        • Apply Chapstick (scented or unscented) and press your lips together as you move your lips from side to side.
        • Puff up your cheeks.
        • Smack your lips.
        • Whisper the sounds the letters of the alphabet make from A-Z. Notice how your mouth moves. Or, spell out your name or other words by whispering the sounds the letters make.
        • Blow bubbles
        • Blow through a straw to move a cotton ball or small craft pom pom along a line. Can you move it through a maze?
        • Freeze water to a popsicle stick and lick or suck until the ice melts.
        • Pour water into an ice cube tray. Add popsicle sticks to create a cube pop. Lick and suck until the ice melts.
        • Scoop peanut butter onto a spoon. Lick it off with the tip of your tongue.
        • Point your tongue to the end of your nose. Hold it there as long as you can.
        • Point your tongue to your chin. Hold it there as long as you can.
        • Push your tongue into your right cheek. Hold it there and then press the end of your tongue into your left cheek.
        • Count your teeth using your tongue. Touch each tooth with the tip of your tongue.
        • Chew gum. Can you blow a bubble?
        • Deep breathing mouth exercises. Use these printable deep breathing cards.

        Themed Oral Motor Exercises

        You may want to check out these themed oral motor exercises for development of motor skills in various points throughout the year. These themed exercise can be added to weekly therapy themes to increase motivation and carry through. Here are several themed oral motor exercises for kids:

        Deep breathing exercise cards for oral motor skills and proprioceptive input through the mouth and lips

        Want printable oral motor exercises? Grab the Deep Breathing Exercise Cards. The pack of deep breathing cards includes oral motor exercises for heavy proprioceptive input through the mouth, tongue, and lips, and oral motor activities using different themes, totaling 113 different exercises.

        The Oral Motor Exercises can be done anytime, using just the mouth. These strategies offer exceptional proprioceptive input through the lips, tongue, and cheeks, making a calming heavy work activity that can be used in sensory diets to help children achieve a calm and ready state of regulation.

        Click here to get your copy of the Deep Breathing Exercise Cards.

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