Prone Extension Activities

Prone extension… this is a topic that comes up often when talking about occupational therapy activities! So often, we see kiddos who struggle with sensory modulation, core strength and core stability, body awareness, endurance, sensory processing needs. Prone extension activities can help strengthen and address other areas like those mentioned, and more.

Below, you’ll find various prone extension activities that can be incorporated into occupational therapy treatment sessions and included in home programs.

Child in a prone extension position in a therapy tube

We also love to use these movement ideas in targeting gross motor coordination skills in occupational therapy obstacle courses.

Prone Extension Activities for Kids

Use the following prone extension activity ideas in games, play, and activities to improve skills like body awareness while providing proprioceptive and vestibular input. Many times, prone extension activities can be incorporated into learning activities too, or used to compliment other therapy goals such as visual memory or other visual perceptual needs.

What is prone extension?

Prone extension is the position that you probably know as “superman pose”. When a child lies on their stomach and raises their arms and legs off the floor, they are assuming prone extension. This means that the body is in a prone position on the floor and the arms and legs are in extension.

The superman pose is positioning in an anti-gravity movement that promotes and requires an both the sensory systems and motor skills to work in an integrated manner. A prone extension position can occur in other locations beyond the floor. For example, a therapy ball, mat, swing, etc. can all be valuable tools in promoting and eliciting this movement pattern.

When assuming a sustained prone extension position, there is fluent and effective use of both the inner AND outer core musculature.

Observation of this position as well as other motor patterns are typically looked at during an occupational therapy evaluation in order to assess strength, sensory and motor systems, body awareness, motor planning, bilateral coordination, as well as other areas.

Prone extension activities are a great way to encourage vestibular input as well as other areas mentioned above. Additionally, a prone extension activity can be an easy way to add proprioceptive input to a child seeking heavy work pressure.

To encourage longer periods of prone extension positioning, try adding additional activities such as games, puzzles, or reaching activities while in the prone position to encourage the hands and arms to reach forward for longer periods of time.

Examples of Prone Extension

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

Adding prone positioning into play can be easy. Try some of the ideas listed below:

1. Use a scooter board. Ask the child to hold onto a rope with “strong arms” as they are pulled down a hallway. To further extend this activity, ask the child to pull themselves along a length of space while lying in prone on the scooter board. Add additional resistance by using the scooter board on a carpeted surface.

2. While lying on a therapy ball or bolster, as the child to place bean bags or other objects into a bucket that is placed on a raised surface such as a scooter board. Move the scooter and bucket to various positions to encourage additional reach and extension. Once a bean bag makes it into a bucket, go in for a high five! What an encouraging way to promote that prone extension!

3. While lying on a mat or other surface, ask the child to toss rings onto a target area. This could be a hula hoop positioned on the floor or another type of target.

4. Using a chair or ottoman (couch cushions on the floor work well, too), show the child how to lay on their belly on the cushions. This provides an uneven surface. Some children will want to keep their toes on the floor to steady themselves. Others may want to lift their legs and feet for additional vestibular input. Ask the child to reach out and pop bubbles.

5. For the child that appreciates vestibular input, ask them to lay their belly on an office stool type of chair. Using their hands, they can push away from a wall to make the chair move backwards. Other children may like this activity on a scooter board.

6. Ask kids to lie on their stomachs as they use straws to blow cotton balls or craft pom poms into a target. This is an exercise in oral motor skills and deep breathing, too. Deep breaths in can promote the stability needed to sustain a prone extended position. However, breathing out in a lengthy, slow breath to move those cotton balls provides a chance to really engage those inner and outer core muscles.

7. Kids can hit targets (both high and low) using a pool noodle while in a prone position. Reaching forward with those hands to hit targeted areas promotes eye-hand coordination, while really engaging that core!

8. Add a home program with fun exercises that promote posturing, movement challenges, and activities.

 The options are endless when it comes to adding vestibular and proprioceptive input through prone extension positioning and activities. Think outside of the box to come up with fun and unique ideas that provide heavy work input while addressing all of the other areas kids so often need!

What are your favorite prone extension activities for kids?


 
Prone extension activities are great for adding vestibular input and proprioceptive sensory input through heavy work. There are so many other benefits of activities using prone extension in occupational therapy and in promoting development in kids!
 
 
 
Try these prone extension activities to help kids develop bilateral coordination, strength, motor planning, and other skills while getting sensory input in the form of vestibular and proprioception.
 

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.

Outdoor Sensory Path Ideas

Now that the weather has started to get warmer, you might be looking for some outside activities. I know a lot of people have 101 reasons not to go outside (too hot, too cold, pollen, etc.) but being outdoors provides such great sensory input. Without adding any activities, the outdoors provides natural input; there is sunshine, wind, birds, flowers, dirt, water, and more. For those looking for more than environmental sensory input, in this post you will find some great sensory path ideas.

This is a Summer occupational therapy activity you can use for many goal areas.

outdoor sensory path ideas

There are so many ways to gain the benefits of sensory motor skill work using an outdoor sensory pathway!

What is a Sensory Path?

Before diving right into outdoor sensory path ideas, we need to take a step back to define a sensory pathA sensory path is a defined path, or walkway that directs users to complete a variety of sensory-motor tasks. The activities that make up a sensory path are typically gross motor tasks that incorporate proprioceptive inputvestibular input, and visual input, in order to meet sensory needs. These sensory systems are powerful regulating tools to organize and this is why motor movements in a sensory path engage these systems. It’s a great tool for supporting gross motor coordination.

Using an outdoor sensory path is a motor skills task. Read more about kinesthetic learning as a tool for skill development.

A sensory path is typically a literal pathway on the ground; it may be painted onto a sidewalk or schoolyard. It may be stickers or images stuck to a floor or hallway in a school. Or, it might even be a chalk path on a sidewalk or driveway.

Many of you are familiar with the  the (Amazon affiliate link) sensory pathways displayed on walls and floors of the school building. These are available commercially, or sensory paths can be made with paint and stickers.  The fun does not have to end there!  This Sensory Obstacle Path book is a great resource for getting started.

Other ideas include using our printable version of sensory stations. These PDFs, when hung on a hallway or as part of an obstacle course, become an interactive sensory pathway. The ones you’ll find on The OT Toolbox include:

Outdoor Sensory Path Ideas

Many children (and their caregivers) do not know where to begin when playing outside.  Unfortunately, people have become so accustomed to technology, they have forgotten how to play.  Creating a sensory path gives defined boundaries to an activity.  Children really do thrive on structure and repetition. 

With these outdoor sensory path ideas, you can create great occupational therapy obstacle courses with defined limits.  Set up the path, then determine how many times it needs to be completed in succession.  I love the idea of having students use counters or objects to define how many rotations they have done. I use puzzle pieces, coins, clothespins, or any other small item that can be slipped into a pocket.

A lot of the following games use sidewalk chalk, but feel free to use rope/tape/paint/string or cones and buckets to define your space. We have other ideas in our indoor obstacle course post.

Hopscotch

This is a classic game. I hope it continues to be passed along from generation to generation. All you need is a piece of chalk, a couple of counters, and a little space. It’s easy to set up as a sensory path:

  1. Draw out your grid. 
  2. Learners can hop on one foot, jump with feet together, jump left and right or feet apart, squat to retrieve objects and turn around.

Hopping and jumping are great proprioceptive activities that help to organize the sensory system.  Feel free to make your hop scotch permanent with paint, although changing the obstacle courses frequently adds to their appeal.

Outdoor sensory path ideas – The Sensory road

How about using that same chalk and creating a road to travel? Dust off the Big wheels or scooter boards, draw a path/road with chalk, and add some obstacles. If you use a scooter board, you can incorporate some prone extension activities.

Have kids pick up objects along the way and deposit them in another container. Put cones or buckets in the road to navigate. Attach a wagon filled with weights to increase the workout.  You can use chalk, tape, rope, chain, or whatever you have handy. 

You can even create a temporary space or paint the road on your space for long lasting fun. When my kids were young, we used a roll of masking tape to create a road in our unfinished basement. They would move their ride on toys around the basement along the masking tape road.

Activity obstacle course

  • Another outdoor sensory path idea is an obstacle course. Think; relay races from field day or P.E class.  Use a large spoon to carry rocks or pinecones from one end to another.  This can be the entirety of the game, or spice it up with more obstacles.  Carry the pinecone, jump over the sticks, go around the bushes, crawl under another obstacle. Add calisthenics such as sit ups, pushups, jumping jacks, or side hops to the sensory path.
  • Amazon (affiliate link) has a nice Obstacle Course in a Box if you are looking for a prepackaged idea.  Here is a kit of simple staple supplies such as rings, bean bags, and cones.
  • Animal Walk Sensory Path- Another idea I love is using an animal walk theme, where the child can move through a sensory path with different animal walks. It prompts you to think about adding items for jumping, hopping, throwing, kicking, crab walks, crawling and more.
  • What do you have around the house you could turn into an obstacle course?  Once, we made a string maze with rope/string for learners to climb their way through. This is a great activity for supporting motor planning skills.
  • Use these pool noodle ideas to create a course of rings and hoops. They show ideas for the pool, snow, and more.

Outdoor sensory walk

  • Check out these garden sensory paths that tie nature and sensory input into a delightful garden feature. These sensory paths feature the tactile sense. Take those shoes off and get your feet in the earth.  Create a path with different textures: grass, pebbles, stepping stones, concrete, pea gravel, sand, mud, wood planks, shells, sticks and more. There are some nature sensory paths that people have built into their landscape, as well as temporary ones build into carboard boxes or trays.
  • Temporary outdoor sensory walk – You can create an outdoor sensory path that can be removed when the play is done. Get different plastic tubs, fill them with different textures, and create a fun tactile path.  Ideas might include: rocks, water, pebbles, grass clippings, sand, birdseed, leaves, sticks, and more.
  • Benefits of Nature Play – This post highlights outdoor sensory path ideas using nature play.  Use what is already available to enlighten the senses and create some great outdoor play.
DIY ninja warrior course ideas- wooden pallets, slack line, climbing structures, playground equipment, stepping stones

Another idea for a sensory walk is a ninja warrior course.

Ninja Warrior courses

With the rise in popularity of American Ninja Warrior, kids and adults are really getting into fitness through obstacle course training. Have you ever thought about making your own DIY ninja warrior course?

Build your own course or purchase ready-made pieces you might have around the house. Some ideas include:

  • wooden pallets
  • Wooden boards like a 2×4 in different lengths
  • Slanted wood balanced on rocks or bricks
  • Climbing walls

You can also purchase Ninja Warrior materials and create a backyard ninja course:

Chalk walk ideas

I love using a chalk walk as a sensory path because it requires just chalk and an outdoor space. You can target so many skills with a single chalk walk!

Chalk Walk

We mentioned a few ideas to create a chalk walk (hopscotch, making a road, or an outdoor chalk line path), but what are some specific ways to incorporate different movements using just chalk? Here our our ideas to support proprioceptive, vestibular, and visual input?

Where to make a Chalk Walk?

Another nice thing about a chalk walk as a therapy tool is that all you need is a box of sidewalk chalk. We’ve made chalk walks at different places:

  • Sidewalk
  • Driveway (Read about our driveway sensory diet for more inspiration!)
  • Park or playground
  • Empty parking lot
  • Cul-da-sac in a neighborhood
  • Playground basketball court

You can incorporate different sensory motor tasks that are inspired by sensory integration therapy, using just the chalk and a large writing space. Some ideas include:

Hopscotch: Create a hopscotch grid with different shapes or numbers to promote balance and coordination.

Balance Beam: Draw a straight or wavy line for kids to walk on, encouraging balance and body awareness. Here are more balance beam ideas to add to your list.

Obstacle Course: Design a chalk obstacle course with different challenges like hopping, spinning, and tiptoeing.

Alphabet Path: Write the alphabet in a path for children to follow, promoting letter recognition and movement.
Number Line Jump: Draw a number line and have kids jump to specific numbers, integrating math skills with physical activity.

Shape Jumping: Draw various shapes and have kids jump from shape to shape, enhancing spatial awareness and motor planning.

Simon Says Path: Create a path with different actions written in each section, like “spin,” “hop,” or “crawl.”

Color Hunt: Draw different colored circles or shapes and ask children to run to specific colors, integrating color recognition and Animal Walks: Draw animal footprints and have kids imitate the movements of different animals as they follow the path.

Emotional Faces: Draw faces with different emotions and ask children to move to the face that represents how they feel, integrating Sensory Tracing: Draw large letters or shapes for children to trace with their fingers, enhancing tactile feedback and fine motor skills.

Breathing Circle: Draw a large circle and practice deep breathing exercises while walking around the circle.

Dynamic Paths: Create paths with different textures by adding elements like sand or water to the chalk, stimulating tactile senses.

Chalk Mazes: Draw mazes for children to navigate, enhancing problem-solving skills and spatial awareness.

Jumping Dots: Place dots in varying distances for kids to jump between, promoting proprioception and muscle strength.

Shadow Tracing: Use chalk to trace shadows at different times of the day, combining sensory input with outdoor exploration.

Body Part Path: Draw a path with labels for different body parts (e.g., “touch with left hand,” “step with right foot”), promoting body awareness.

Spiral Walk: Draw a large spiral for kids to walk or run around, providing vestibular input and promoting balance.

Toss at a Target: Draw circles with letters inside. Throw a pebble into a circle and then write that letter with chalk. Here is a letter writing activity with chalk.

Inclusive Chalk Walk

The nice thing about creating a chalk walk for kids is that you can individualize it to meet the needs of the kids you are working with. So, for some kiddos that require more inclusive ideas, you can definitely create a chalk walk that supports their needs. You could also incorporate self regulation strategies like deep breathing breaks in the task, or make it smaller or bigger. It really depends on the kids you are supporting!

Grade the Chalk Walk Down– Grading down a chalk walk to make it more inclusive for lower-level kids involves simplifying tasks. This is something we do naturally as occupational therapy providers, right? We can offer the support level needed AND ensure that the activities are achievable and engaging, because that’s what helps the child achieve their goals! This is what we call the “just right challenge“.

Here are some strategies that support occupational therapy goals of gross motor coordination, fine motor skills, sensory motor skills, and executive functioning skills:

  • Wider paths: Draw wider lines or paths to make it easier for children to walk on without losing balance.
  • Simpler shapes: Use basic shapes like circles and squares instead of more complex patterns.
  • Shorter distances: Reduce the length of the path or the distance between tasks to avoid overwhelming the child.
  • Fewer steps: Limit the number of steps in a sequence to keep tasks manageable and less confusing.
  • Visual aids: Add visual cues or markers, such as arrows or footprints, to guide children along the path.
  • Lower jumps: Create lower hopscotch squares or stepping pads to reduce the height children need to jump.
  • Verbal prompts: Use clear, simple verbal instructions to guide children through each activity.
  • Physical support: Provide hand-holding or use a handrail for balance and support as children navigate the path.
  • Use of props: Incorporate props like balance beams or stepping stones with tactile feedback to aid movement.
  • Repetitive patterns: Use repetitive patterns that children can easily recognize and follow.
  • Reduced speed: Encourage children to move at their own pace, focusing on slow and deliberate movements.
  • Inclusive themes: Integrate themes or characters that the children are familiar with to make the activities more engaging.
  • Stationary tasks: Include more stationary tasks like tracing shapes or drawing within a specified area.
  • Sensory breaks: Incorporate sensory breaks with simple tasks like sitting and deep breathing or stretching.
  • Pairing up: Pair children with a buddy for guidance and encouragement.
  • Positive reinforcement: Provide immediate positive feedback and encouragement to build confidence.
  • Adapted challenges: Offer different levels of challenges for each task so children can choose according to their abilities.
  • Consistent routines: Use a consistent order for tasks to help children anticipate and feel more comfortable with the activities.
  • Use of color: Utilize bright, contrasting colors to make the paths and shapes more visually distinct and easier to follow.
  • Minimize distractions: Ensure the environment is calm and free of excessive distractions to help children focus on the activities.

Then, to grade the activity up, or add more challenging tasks to the chalk walk, use one or more of the items above and make it more challenging for the chalk walk user. This is how we can support individual needs and work on developing those goals!

Sensory Chalk Walk

In addition to the motor skills that a chalk walk supports, you can also add in sensory integration strategies that offer specific tasks for vestibular input, proprioceptive input, visual input, and even tactile input. For more information on this, check out our resource on Ayres Sensory Integration Therapy.

For example, we used a wet chalk activity to add a messy sensory play experience. This was a fun way to work on visual motor skills while addressing sensory defensiveness. You could also make liquid driveway chalk paint to add sensory writing tasks to the fun.

  • Spirals for spinning around a central point
  • Maze for finding the way out
  • Wavy lines for tiptoeing
  • Hopping pads for both feet
  • Single line for walking or crawling on either side of the line
  • Zigzag paths for jumping side to side
  • Alphabet stepping stones
  • Numbered hopscotch squares
  • Dotted lines for skipping
  • Animal footprints to follow
  • Balance beam lines
  • Twisty lines for galloping
  • Shapes to jump into (circles, squares, triangles)
  • Arrows for direction changes
  • Line with stopping points (large circles) to take deep breathing breaks or a prompt to do a motor task like hopping 5 times)
  • Concentric circles for jumping in and out
  • Ladder rungs for stepping up and down
  • Patterns for matching (left foot, right foot)
  • Start and finish lines for timing races
  • Swirly lines for crawling
  • Parallel lines for jumping over
  • Star shapes for jumping to different points

More outdoor sensory path ideas:

The weather does not have to be perfect to use your outdoor sensory path ideas. Kids do not mind rain, wind, mud, temperature changes, or snow. “Back in my day” we used to get sent out no matter what the weather had in store for us.  It was great for our sensory system, along with building valuable skills. 

Sidewalk chalk obstacle course

Free printable set of resources!

Free Chalk Walk Sensory Kit

We created a free printable resource just for sensory motor skill development…a Chalk Walk Kit! This activity guide has chalk drawing figures designed to support proprioceptive, vestibular, and visual input for calming and organizing sensory input.

Pick and choose the chalk walk options to create an individualized sensory path to meet specific needs.

Work on motor planning, coordination, balance, midline crossing, and much more…all with just a piece of sidewalk chalk.

To get this resource, enter your email address below. Member Club Members will find this resource inside The OT Toolbox Membership Club!

Free Sidewalk Chalk Sensory Path

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    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.

    Sensory Meltdowns

    sensory overload and sensory meltdowns

    Overcoming sensory meltdowns can be a real challenge. For parents in a household where sensory challenges are common, having an understanding of what’s really going on with self-regulation and sensory processing is even better. Today, I have information on sensory overload meltdowns as well as a powerful tool for addressing this sensory need in families, so that the child struggling has resources and strategies available to them. Understanding meltdowns is one of the first steps in addressing sensory challenges. A sensory meltdown is sensory overload in action! Another way to look at this is sensory dysregulation that has reached a point where the individual erupts.

    sensory overload and sensory meltdowns

    Sensory Overload

    There is a lot to consider when it comes to sensory meltdowns. Think of it like a volcano that is building up under the ground. We might not suspect that below the surface, things are building up and brewing a storm where we see the explosion. Just like that volcano, sensory input might be building and building.

    Then, there might be Overstimulation anxiety for potential overload…it’s a cycle!

    We see sensory overload and then we have the meltdown.

    Many things can led to sensory overload, especially in the school environment:

    1. Noisy classrooms
    2. Busy hallways
    3. Visual noise or visual clutter
    4. Fireworks
    5. Fire alarms
    6. Noisy buses
    7. Smells from the cafeteria
    8. Crowded spaces
    9. Bright or flashing lights
    10. Loud music or sound effects
    11. Strong odors (perfumes, cleaning products)
    12. Scratchy or uncomfortable clothing
    13. High-pitched noises (whistles, sirens)
    14. Sudden or unexpected touches
    15. Television or computer screens
    16. Chaotic environments (malls, playgrounds)
    17. Multiple people talking simultaneously
    18. Heavy traffic noise
    19. Vibrations from machinery or vehicles
    20. Intense weather conditions (strong wind, heavy rain)
    21. Sports crowds or pep rallies
    22. Cluttered spaces
    23. Physical constraints (tight spaces, restraint in seats)
    24. Unstructured play areas
    25. Overwhelming choices (large menus, toy options)
    26. High-demand situations (tests, performances)
    27. Interpersonal conflicts
    28. Physical exertion without breaks
    29. Changes in routine or unexpected schedule changes

    Auditory sensitivities and sensory needs can impact learning because of sensory overload. This is where the school based OT comes in. Having a sensory diet or sensory solution to the auditory input can support sensory needs before meltdowns occur.

    Sensory meltdowns, information on self-regulation and sensory processing, as well as questions that parents have about meltdowns.

    Sensory Meltdowns

    I’ve shared before the difference between a sensory meltdown vs a tantrum…but that defining line can be hazy when it comes to sensory overload.

    I’ve also shared many meltdown tips and tricks to address sensory meltdowns in children, as well as coping tools and sensory strategies that can help children.

    There are also many sensory diet tools and resources here on this website, which can be valuable resources for the child with sensory processing challenges.

    But all of these self regulation strategies, resources, and tools can be inconsequential if you are missing an important piece of the sensory puzzle.

    Understanding what’s really going on behind a meltdown is the key component to helping children who struggle with sensory overload.

    There’s more; Once you’ve got a handle on really understanding a meltdown and the specifics on what might cause them, it’s important to know how to help the child that does launch into meltdown mode.

    Because, even with all of the understanding in your back pocket, there will still be those moments where a meltdown is inevitable. So, having the resources and tools available to help a child debrief after a meltdown is crucial.

    Debriefing with your child after a meltdown is such an important step for both of you. Having the ability to compose oneself following a meltdown and really understand what might have caused that overload empowers your child so that they can discover their own self-regulation strategies. What an empowering concept, right?

    Not only that, but getting an understanding along with your child of that sensory meltdown gives you both specific strategies and tactics to help overcome those sensory meltdowns the next time they might occur. You can define and discover their triggers. 

    All of this makes sense, right? But if working as a pediatric occupational therapist has taught me anything, it’s that addressing feelings of overwhelm with sensory processing take some time.

    Parents often have questions about sensory meltdowns. Understand sensory meltdowns and resources to help.

    Sensory Questions

    There are so many common questions that parents have about sensory processing and sensory meltdowns. Below are listed some common sensory questions that parents have. Sometimes just knowing you are not alone in your questions and concerns is helpful! So, those questions that oftentimes come up include:

    Parents often times feel overwhelmed or stressed with how to respond to their child’s meltdowns. If this sounds familiar, you might be questioning if your child’s behavior is sensory or if it’s defiant behavior. 

    Parents wonder if the behaviors their child has is a temper tantrum or if it is a response to sensory overload and having a meltdown.

    Many times, parents see meltdowns that seem to come out of nowhere. You can’t seem to figure out what the triggers are. Where do you even start?

    Or, maybe you know your child’s meltdowns are sensory related, but nothing you’ve tried seems to work. You wonder if maybe you’re Googling the wrong things or if there is something you’ve missed.

    Parents often feel like their child is just trying to get attention, and that it’s behavioral rather than sensory related.

    Another question that parents often have is regarding the aggressive behaviors they see from their child. What can cause a child to act out so physically with hitting, spitting, head banging, biting, scratching, and yelling? These actions are physically and emotionally exhausting for both you and your child.

    Still other questions that parents have regarding meltdowns is how to better understand their child and help them feel accepted?

    Parents often wonder how they can better recognize the signs of sensory overload so they can prevent it from happening in the first place.

    A big question parents have is how they can stay calm in the moment when their child is in the midst of a meltdown. How can they help their child without “losing it” themselves.

    Sometimes, just knowing that others have the same questions is so helpful.

    Overcoming Sensory Meltdowns

    If any of these questions sound familiar, I’ve got a resource for you. The thing is that sensory overload is one of the leading causes of sensory meltdowns, but it is far from the only cause. And, actually, there are sound principles that can help children in the midst of a meltdown.

    There are tools you can have in your back pocket so you can address meltdowns when they are happening, and can shorten the duration and intensity of a meltdown. You can even help your child to recognize what’s going on when a sensory meltdown occurs.

    Part of the strategy to get the answers to better understand exactly what’s going on behind meltdowns is to get to the root of the sensory needs.

    This course can help you feel confident and overcome meltdowns with proven sensory integration tips, tools, and strategies to help your student self-regulate and give you both a toolkit of ways to minimize sensory related issues and even catch them before they escalate.

    Sensory Overload Meltdown

    To better understand what’s happening in a sensory overload meltdown, it helps to understand sensory integration.

    This refers to the organization of sensation for use within the brain and body. Our body and sensory systems give information to our brain on the body in the environment.

    The brain organizes all of that information it gets from the sensations. When the sensations flow in a well organized manner, the brain forms all sorts of perceptions, behaviors, and learning can occur. We can participate in the world around us.

    However, there’s more to it. The nervous system operates best at an optimal arousal state. This means that the nervous system is able to attain, maintain, and regulate that information so we can complete meaningful and functional tasks. When the brain is not able to organize the incoming sensory information, it can become too much for the brain and body.

    As a result, we see sensory compensations. The body attempts to compensate for organizing the information in ways that look different, but work for the individual. There may be sensory defensiveness. However, sometimes neurodiverse responses to the information isn’t sustainable and we see overload. This is the sensory meltdown.

    A few tools we have is a school sensory room, or a sensory diet to plan for sensory needs.

    This is a very simplified explanation that explains a sensory overload meltdown.

    Check out the blog comments below to discover common questions about about sensory meltdowns.

    Sensory Meltdown Strategies

    There are many ways to support the individual and their sensory needs before sensory overload and meltdowns occur.

    • Preparing for the event- talking about what is going to happen at the fireworks event or celebration
    • Using noise cancelling headphones or earbuds
    • Sensory diet tools like deep breathing exercises or weighted blankets to regulate and organize sensory needs
    • Sensory chaining techniques
    • Using sensory friendly clothing
    • Earplugs
    • Chewlery
    • Personal space away from crowds

    Would you like to use some strategies designed to offer organizing input? Our sensory strategies resource has some great ideas.

    Free Classroom Sensory Strategies Toolkit

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      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.

      Visual Noise and Learning

      Visual noise in the classroom

      In this post you will be discovering how to create a calm classroom, specifically tips to avoid the visual noise that distracts learning in the school environment. Classroom décor and organization can directly effect the engagement level of children in any classroom or learning space. When the environment is too visually stimulating, a student’s ability to focus becomes difficult. Keeping children’s attention can become frustrating. When a classroom environment that is soothing and organized is created, children are better able to stay engaged. In this blog, you will learn about the three different ways to make your classroom visually calm. 

      Visual noise in the classroom

      What is Visual Noise?

      When working with children, teachers think about all of the colors of the rainbow, and want to make classrooms bright and cheery. So many classroom theme sets have fun colors, bright designs, and patterns, contrasting bulletin board boarders, etc. Many believe that having a colorful classroom will keep children interested and engaged. 

      Visual Noise is just that: a visually distracting, or “noisy” visual scene in the classroom. A lot of teachers set up bulletin boards throughout the room with cut-outs in various themes: animal/monster/any theme , alphabet stickers, and painted murals on the walls. Maybe your classroom has a circle time rug that includes the ten different color squares. Perhaps you want to make sure all the children have something they like to do, so you have 20 fine motor choices in the manipulative area. 

      There is just one problem with using these types of visuals in the classroom, they are distracting! 

      • The bulletin boards all around the room are adorable, and fun to look at. So during circle time, you might find a child gazing at the wall, figuring out what new item is there. 
      • When there are rugs filled with colors, you may notice children looking down at the rug, maybe at the bright colors, while singing the color song in their head.
      • If teachers provide too many choices in one area of the classroom, children work with one toy for three minutes, then they are onto the next, without honing in, or practicing the skills that were intended.
      • For young children, and lots of adults, less is more! 

      visual processing

      Humans use vision from birth, to engage with the world around them. The way your brain process what you see, impacts how you interpret your interactions with the environment, and the people around you. To learn more about vision, this amazing PDF discusses visual hypersensitivity and under-sensitivity (or sensory seeking). 

      There are some visual processing red flags that may indicate difficulties with visual processing or ocular motor control:

      • Increased sensitivity to light
      • Easily distracted by visual stimuli, or difficulty sustaining visual attention to an activity
      • Frequently squints, rubs eyes, or gets a headache after visually demanding tasks such as reading, using a phone/tablet/computer, or watching television
      • Loses place in reading or writing
      • Trouble finding things they are looking for, even when they seem to be “right in front of them”
      • Distractions with reading
      • Difficulty tracking visual information
      • Difficulty initiating or holding eye contact
      • Difficulty focusing on one piece of visual information
      • Increased fear of, or desire for, being in the dark
      • Difficulty discriminating between similar shapes, letters, or pictures
      • Letter reversals or number reversals
      • Difficulties with handwriting such as letter reversals, sizing, spacing, or alignment of letters
      • Frequently loses their place while reading or copying
      • Often bumps into things
      • May be slow or hesitant with stairs
      • Difficulty with visually stimulating activities, i.e., puzzles, locating objects in pictures, completing mazes, word searches or dot-to-dots
      • Trouble knowing left from right or writing with both hands

      How to reduce visual noise when planning your classroom

      When planning out your classroom, visual stimulation is important, however there are many ways to make sure there is reduced visual noise, so the environment is not overwhelming.

      Think about how you feel when you go to the spa. Those deep earthy wall colors calm your bodies and nerves instantly! The Montessori and Reggio Emilia educational philosophies advise visual components as a way to keep their classroom calm and focused.

      The Reggio Emilia philosophy recognizes the environment as the child’s third teacher. What is in a child’s environment, how it’s organized, and what it looks like, directly impacts what a child will learn that day. 

      two ways to make sure your environment is visually calming 

      Colors – When picking out colors for your classroom, whether it be for the furniture, rugs, or wall decor, the best way to support a calm visual classroom, is to choose more natural colors. These include blues, greens and browns.

      • Choose toy baskets, or white bins, as opposed to brightly colored ones.
      • Consider turning toy shelves around or covering with neutral fabric to further reduce visual noise.
      • Choose predictable carpet rugs (Amazon affiliate link) like this one, instead of random colorful squares. Carpet samples of neutral colors are an excellent idea to create boundaries while limiting visual distraction.
      • When decorating your walls, allow for empty blank space, and use more of children’s artwork. Consider the use of cloth and fabric.

      Classroom Organization – When choosing how many activities and materials to place in each are of your classroom, keep in mind that less is more! When children have too many options to choose from, this can create a short attention span, and overwhelm from choice overload.

      Organization in the classroom can mean stacks of papers, tons of sticky notes, messy desks, and disorganized files, too.

      In a typical preschool classroom, there are 8 areas of learning: art, fine motor, science, reading, dramatic play, block, large motor and snack! When you use furniture to visually create specific spaces for each center, the classroom is organized, and children know what is expected of them in each area.

      Older classrooms may not have the toys, block areas, and motor components, but there are designated areas: group areas, centers, desks, cubbies, or lockers, teacher areas, information centers, etc. All of these areas can be considered when it comes to visual input.

      This blog from Lovely Connection, on preschool classroom set up, includes important aspects to think about as you plan your classroom layout. She includes information about including noise, popularity, supervision, boundaries, space, and the race track (when kids run around the room in a circular pattern!)

      What happens when children are still overwhelmed, even when the environments are visually calming?

      When a child feels overwhelmed for any reason, having a calm down corner, that is easily accessible and they can stay in as long as they need, is a must have.  My Soothing Sammy Emotions Program.” is an effective calm down area because students are excited to spend time with the adorable golden retriever Sammy. Not only does “The Sammy Program” teach children how to calm down, it guides them through communication and problem solving situations in a visual way that isn’t overwhelming.

      Check out this great blog about visual processing and visual efficiency from the OT Toolbox archives. When a child has visual processing difficulties, they have a harder time taking in visual information, and processing it in order to make sense of it.

      This visual processing bundle, also available in the Toolbox, can support children who are demonstrating visual processing challenges. 

      The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook (also available on Amazon) written by Colleen Beck of the OT Toolbox, is a great resource to start understanding sensory processing disorders.

      A final note about visual noise

      Visual noise doesn’t only occur indoors, it can happen outdoors, especially if there is a lot of activity and sunlight. Being mindful of the visual stimuli outdoors, is just as important as setting up an indoor classroom.

      If you have a child who is having a hard time visually processing their environment outside, these visual sensory activities can be completed outdoors to support their sensory system.

      While considering visual sensory overload in the classroom, also be sure to check out our resource on auditory sensitivities in the classroom. Both are very useful in setting up an inclusive classroom environment for success.

      Classroom themes are adorable and cute! When planning your classroom, keep in mind how “busy” and overstimulating different colors and amount of objects can be. This will help keep your students calm and engaged. Although everyone processes their environment differently, anyone can all benefit from a more calming environment, especially when learning new skills! 

      Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

      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
      • MUCH MORE

      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.

      Easter Activities

      It’s that time again!  Easter is around the corner and so you may be searching for a few Easter activities. These spring activities are ones that have a movement and play component so that kids build skills they need while celebrating the season. Below, you’ll find Easter ideas, Easter crafts, egg activities, songs, and bunny games are all themed on Easters, eggs, and bunnies. Things like our Easter scissor skills activity are just part of the fun. So if you’re planning a few fun activities for the kids this Easter, look no further.  We have got you covered on the bunny cuteness overload!

      Easter Activities for Occupational Therapy

      Sensory Input- Add sensory input for a functional sensory diet or self regulation needs using these sensory egg dying activities.

      Scissor Skills– Use fake Easter grass to work on scissor skills.

      Visual Perception/Fine Motor– Work on visual discrimination, bilateral coordination, and hand strength with this color matching egg hunt.

      Oral Motor Skills/Proprioception– Build oral motor skills and add calming proprioceptive input through the mouth with this bunny race activity.

      Oral Motor Skills/Fine Motor– Use plastic eggs to make boats that really float and are powered by breath, a great calming self-regulation activity. It’s a fun fine motor STEM activity, too.

      Intrinsic Hand Strength– After dying eggs, use the extra egg cartons to build in-hand manipulation and precision in dexterity with this fine motor activity.

      Open Thumb Web-Space/Eye-Hand Coordination– Build motor skills in the hands using egg dying tongs to sort and manipulate small objects.

      Fine Motor Skills– Use pipe cleaners to make mini-bunnies and mini-carrots for fine motor manipulatives.

      Shoe Tying– Or, use that egg carton to work on shoe tying.

      Pre-Writing Lines– Grab some wikki stix and work on pre-writing lines and handwriting with an egg theme.

      Easter activities, crafts, and games that build skills for occupational therapy sessions and goal areas.

      Easter Crafts

      These Easter craft ideas use everyday materials, so you can easily set these up for your therapy sessions.

      Make bunnies and carrots from pipe cleaners for an Easter occupational therapy tool.

      Make a set of these pipe cleaner Bunny and Carrots to use in fine motor activities, play, counting, and imagination play. 

      Easter fine motor manipulative to help with fine motor skills in kids.

      Try these cotton ball bunny craft manipulatives to use in play, fine motor activities and imagination play.

      RELATED READ: Simple Spring Sensory

      Easter Bunny Activities for Kids

      This 5 Little Bunnies Finger Rhyme from Let’s Play Music is a great way to work on finger dexterity and coordination.

      Bunny lacing activity to build fine motor skills

      Easter Lacing Cards from Totschooling helps with bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, visual motor skills, and more. Here is more information on the benefits of lacing cards for kids

      Easter activity with plastic easter eggs

      Plastic Egg craft- Use plastic Easter eggs to make boats with a sensory benefit. It’s a calming sensory activity that kids will love.

      Grab a handful of Easter eggs and use them to work on color identification in a color scavenger hunt.

      Easter writing activity to help kids wrok on pre-writing lines and pencil control with an Easter egg theme.

      Use this Easter egg writing activity to help kids work on pre-writing lines and pencil control, as well as coordination and visual motor skills.

      Gross motor easter activity

      Try this Bunny Hop ABC Game from Fantastic, Fun, and Learning to add gross motor skills, motor planning, and coordination skills in outdoor play.

      Easter activity with coloring pages and dot to dot pages

      Try these Bunny Coloring Pages from Kids Activities Blog for visual perception, visual motor skills, pencil control, and more.

      Use this bunny activity to work on bilateral coordination, eye hand coordination and fine motor skills.

      Grab a pair of Bunny Tongs from the dollar store for a fine motor Easter activity that builds scissor skills and eye-hand coordination. 

      Bunny craft for kids at Easter time, using toilet paper tubes to make an Easter craft while building fine motor skills.

      Make Toilet Paper Roll Bunnies like this Easter craft from Toddling in the Fast Lane for a fine motor workout with cute results.

      Easy Easter Activities

      Busy occupational therapy practitioners know that time is limited. So coming up with a few therapy activities that work with the whole caseload is key.

      Here are some of my favorites:

      • Egg Decorating: Using stickers to decorate plastic Easter eggs. This activity supports fine motor precision, bilateral coordination, and hand-eye coordination.
      • Egg Transferring: Use spoons to transfer small eggs from one basket to another. This activity works on visual motor skills and grasp precision. This is a nice activity if helping kids to hold a spoon and fork when eating.
      • Easter Egg Cutting: Draw a simple oval on paper and ask kids to cut out the shape. This activity focuses on scissor manipulation and hand-eye coordination.
      • Paper Easter Baskets: Children can cut out and assemble paper baskets by weaving strips of paper.
      • Egg Hunt Obstacle Course: This one is one of my favorites! Hide plastic Easter eggs in different places in an occupational therapy obstacle course. You can really focus on different gross motor skills as kids move through the course and collect eggs. Then, ask them to go back through the course and re-hide the eggs to work on memory skills.
      • Matching Games: Use the egg matching cards in the Easter Egg Therapy Kit and have your students connect two sides of plastic eggs to match the colors on the cards. The kit has pre-colored cards or you can use the blank template to have kids color their own color mix ups.
      • Easter Sensory Bins: Fill sensory bins with items like Easter grass, plastic eggs, and small toys, allowing children to explore different textures and sensations.
      • Egg Shakers: Fill plastic eggs with dry beans or beads and tape the eggs shut. Children can create their own egg shakers using plastic eggs filled with various materials like rice or beans, which provides auditory and tactile feedback.
      • Planning an Easter Craft: Encourage children to plan and execute an Easter craft, which can help develop their organization, sequencing, and problem-solving skills.
      • Easter Cooking Activities: Following a cooking with kids recipe to make Easter-themed snacks can enhance planning, sequencing, and task initiation.
      • Easter-Themed Yoga: Incorporate yoga poses inspired by Easter themes (like bunny hops or egg stretches) to help children practice self-regulation and body awareness. We have activities like this in The OT Toolbox Membership.

      One resource we love is our $5 therapy kit…the Plastic Egg Therapy Kit! It has 27 printable pages of activities with an Easter egg theme. In the kit, you’ll find fine motor activities, handwriting prompts, letter formation pages, pencil control sheets, plastic egg activities, matching cards, graphing activities, STEM fine motor task cards, and more. There are several pages of differentiated lines to meet a variety of needs. This therapy kit has everything done for you.

      Get your copy of the Easter Egg Therapy Kit here.

      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
      • MUCH MORE

      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.

        Snowy Farm Sensory Bin

        farm sensory bin

        Welcome to a winter wonderland on the farm! In today’s blog post, we’re diving into the magical world of sensory play with a snowy farm sensory bin. This delightful activity combines the charm of a farm theme with the sensory joys of winter, creating an engaging and therapeutic experience for children. This is one of our favorite winter sensory bins because you can focus on so many different underlying skills through play.

        Farm sensory bin

        Whether you’re a parent looking for creative winter activities or a therapist seeking effective tools for skill development, this farm sensory bin is tailored to captivate young minds while addressing various therapeutic areas. Read all about sensory bins in general as a therapy tool to support skill development.

        Farm Sensory Bin

        We love a great occupational therapy sensory activity because cold winter temps and less daylight hours mean you might not have a chance to get little ones outside as often as you might like. Plus, a farm sensory bin goes great with a Farm theme in preschool or in occupational therapy sessions.

        This farm sensory bin has a winter theme, but you could actually set up a farm sensory bin any time of year. In fact, we loved this play dough farm activity that goes along with a farm theme and supports fine motor skills as well as sensory input.

        The base of shredded paper sets the stage for a snowy landscape, providing a tactile experience that stimulates sensory exploration and fine motor skills.

        This winter-themed sensory bin features a collection of farm toys and mini figures, turning the snowy setting into a farm scene ready for imaginative play.

        Farm Animal Sensory Bin

        The farm animal sensory bin takes the excitement a step further, introducing miniature figures of beloved farm animals. As children dive into the bin, they engage in hands-on exploration, feeling the textures of the shredded paper, maneuvering the farm toys, and creating their own farm stories.

        This sensory-rich experience enhances tactile input, encouraging self-confidence as children express themselves through play.

        Farm Theme Sensory Bin Setup

        Setting up the farm theme sensory bin is a breeze:

        1. Begin with a large container filled with shredded paper to create a snowy base. You could also use other sensory bin base materials if you don’t have shredded paper on hand.
        2. Add farm toys such as barns, tractors, and mini figures of animals to bring the farm to life.
        3. Encourage creativity by incorporating small props like faux trees or fences. This simple yet effective setup provides a canvas for endless imaginative scenarios.

        Before this weekend, we’ve had a super cool spring.  With a handful of days where it snowed.  We are ready for outside play in short sleeves, running in the yard, and grass stained knees.

        But, we have been loving this fun play activity too 🙂

        We had a boat load of shredded paper from doing taxes recently.  It came in pretty handy for a small world snowy farm scene!

        We put some farm animals, the Little People barn, and of course, Little Guy’s construction vehicles.

        (how else can the farmer move allll that snow??)

        Little Guy went to farm-town with imagination stories and pretend play.

        Baby Girl loves to make the animal sounds and had a blast finding them in the shredded paper.

        Why This Farm Sensory Bin Helps Development


        Beyond simply playing in the sensory bin, this farm sensory bin serves as a therapeutic tool to foster development in various areas.

        You can target areas in:

        Fine motor skills are particularly important in early childhood development, as they lay the foundation for more complex tasks in the future. 

        Tactile discrimination, exploration, and sensory desensitization are effectively addressed with sensory bins as they are playful and present in a non-threatening way. The playful nature of sensory bins allows children to control their tactile experiences, fostering confidence in their interactions with materials and gradually increasing their comfort with different sensations. 

        The hands-on nature of the activity promotes fine motor skills as children manipulate the farm toys and engage with the sensory materials. Communication skills blossom as they create farm narratives, fostering language development.

        In addition, occupational therapy providers love sensory bins because they can offer a unique and enjoyable way to engage reluctant children who may initially be hesitant about engaging in the sensory elements of tactile defensiveness challenges.

        Tactile input and sensory exploration contribute to a holistic sensory experience, supporting overall sensory processing.

         

         
         
         
         
        My fun-loving Baby Girl instigated this little incident…
         
        she just couldn’t help herself 🙂
         
         
        What are we learning through play?

        Imagination Play

        Pretend Play

        Learning Animals

        Animal Sounds

        Visual Scanning

        Sensory Play

         

        Farm Sensory Bin Ideas

        You can pair this farm sensory bin with other therapy ideas, too. Use some of these tools and resources to support skills like gross motor skills, coordination, brain breaks, and more:

        • These Farm Brain Breaks can add movement and gross motor input to a child’s day and fit in great with a farm animal theme. Print off the cards and use them in the classroom or home.
        • These heavy work cards includes a set of 8 farm themed heavy work activities that can be used as a brain break or added proprioceptive input.
        • Free Farm Scissor Skills Packet
        • This barn craft is fun because kids can make a barn and use it in the farm animal sensory bin.
        • This Farm Fingerprint art activity supports visual closure, visual tracking, and visual scanning activity, too.
        • The Farm Therapy Kit has a bunch or activities to support sensory needs, handwriting, motor skills, dexterity, and more.

        Get your copy of the Farm Therapy Kit.

        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.

        Christmas Light Tunnel

        Christmas light tunnel is a sensory tunnel made with a cardboard box and lights

        This sensory light box is an old blog post here on The OT Toolbox, but this Christmas light tunnel is one that my kids still talk about.

        Creating a sensory-rich environment is essential for promoting optimal child development, and one innovative way to achieve this is through a DIY project like the one we made many years ago… the sensory light tunnel made from a cardboard box with Christmas lights.

        Christmas light tunnel is a sensory tunnel made with a cardboard box and lights

        Christmas Light Tunnel

        This sensory play activity, often referred to as a “sensory light box” or “sensory light tunnel,” can be a fun addition to a child’s play space, providing both visual and tactile stimulation.

        A Christmas light tunnel is exactly what you might imagine it to be…a tunnel made from cardboard boxes lit by Christmas lights that poke through holes in the box.

        Making a sensory light tunnel is easy and inexpensive for parents and caregivers, making it a fantastic DIY project. Most of us have cardboard boxes available to us from deliveries, and Christmas lights are often times a household item.

        The cardboard fort ideas we came up with many years ago come to life after the holidays when we were putting away Christmas lights for the year. WE used a few cardboard boxes, and taped them together to form a tunnel, creating a unique and inviting space for play.

        Incorporating Christmas lights not only adds a festive touch but also introduces sensory lighting to the environment, fostering visual engagement and exploration.

        Sensory Light Box for Babies

        A sensory light box for babies and toddlers involves transforming a simple cardboard box into a magical tunnel of lights. The light box sensory play is designed to captivate young minds and enhance their sensory experiences. This DIY Christmas light tunnel serves as an indoor box fort, offering a cozy and imaginative space for children to explore.

        The therapy providers will love this activity because it can be a calming and regulating sensory space in a home or in a calm down corner. For younger children, it’s a great way to encourage crawling.

        Research supports the benefits of sensory play for child development. According to studies, sensory experiences contribute to cognitive, emotional, and social development in young children. The sensory cardboard box for babies provides opportunities for them to develop fine motor and gross motor skills, enhance spatial awareness for babies, and stimulate their senses in a safe and controlled environment.

        For parents seeking research-backed information to support their child’s needs, this DIY light tunnel aligns with the principles of sensory processing, a well-established approach in occupational therapy for children with sensory processing difficulties. By incorporating Christmas lights into the sensory play, the child’s visual system is engaged, promoting attention, focus, and exploration.

        We love this sensory light tunnel made from a cardboard box and Christmas lights for babies and toddlers.

        It’s a great, inexpensive occupational therapy tool to use in therapy sessions and as a DIY recommendation for project for parents and caregivers, emphasizing the positive impact on child development through sensory play and exploration.

        How to make a Christmas Light Tunnel

        (Or a Light Tunnel from a cardboard box…)

        I made this light tunnel for Baby Girl’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star party. Babies love crawling through tunnels, playing in boxes.  When I saw this, I knew my kids would love it in so many ways.  

        We used this light tunnel for the party, but have had it in our living room ever since the party and have used it in so many play activities.  

        All you need for this project is:

        • A large cardboard box (or several boxes)
        • Christmas lights
        • A Screwdriver or pencil
        • Duct tape (optional)

        To make the Christmas Light Tunnel:

        1. Use a screwdriver or pencil to poke holes into one side of a cardboard box. This side will be the top of the sensory tunnel, so think about which way you’ll want to position the box.
        2. Poke each individual light of the Christmas light strands through the holes and into the box.

        If you are creating a tunnel and have a second box, you can cut off the ends of the box to create a tunnel. then, use the duct tape to attach the boxes.

         
         
        Carboard box with Christmas lights poking through the box
         
         
        I started with two boxes and stuck them together by cutting a hole in one.  I wanted two entrances since we have so many little little kids in our family.
         
         It would be fun for them to crawl in one entrance and out the other.  One box was a double stroller box that my sister-in-law had at her house. The big box, I grabbed up at an appliance store (before they crushed it down, apparently this happens fast when they unload appliances…the boxes go right into the compactor).
         

         

        I stabbed the boxes with a screwdriver and stuck the Christmas lights in.  Pretty easy!   

         

         
         
        This is what the Christmas light tunnel looks like from the outside.
         
        Since the party, we have been using this as a calm down place to chill out with some pillows, blankets, and great books.

         

         
         
        Today, I pulled out our bin of corn.  The Big kids thought this was a really fun idea.  They were so excited to put the corn in the light box.  
         
        This is a great regulation station for home or for therapy.

         

         
         

         

         

         

         
        Doesn’t this look like so much fun???
         
         

         

         We played with dinosaurs, cars, and construction vehicles in the corn. 
         
         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
         
        Clean up was easy, just tilt the box to pour the corn back into the container.  I think we’ll be doing this again 😉
         

         

        For more ideas on incorporating sensory input into the everyday, check out our resource, 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.