Sensory Touch

sensory touch

One of the first postnatal senses to develop is sensory touch.  There are eight senses to sensory processing, with touch being one of the more important ones.  The tactile system helps the brain understand and make sense of the world around it. Starting in infancy, people use touch to explore objects, protect themselves from danger, and safely navigate their world. Sensory touch is an important piece to looking at a sensory processing disorder checklist.

Sensory touch

Sensory touch

According to what we know about sensory processing, and looking at the sensory processing disorder chart, The body sends tactile information to the somatosensory cortex through neural pathways to the spinal cord, the brain stem, and the thalamus.

The primary somatosensory cortex is the primary receptive area for touch sensations and is located in the lateral postcentral gyrus, a prominent structure in the parietal lobe of the human brain.

Think of sensory touch and the tactile system as a set of wired pathways, similar to the inner workings of a machine. In a typical body, the wires are the correct size, go the right direction, and send the appropriate information from the touch receptors to the brain. 

Types of sensory touch

Three Types of sensory touch

There are three types of touch; light touch, deep pressure, and discriminative touch.  

  • Light touch is alerting.  It may alert you to danger such as something touching the skin, or brushing against a spider web. For those with sensory sensitivity, light touch can be bothersome, painful, and elicit negative emotions. 
  • Deep pressure tends to be calming.  Hugs, weighted blankets, and compression clothing, offer external deep pressure sensory touch. Deep pressure can also alert the body about how tight something is, if there is too much pressure, or not enough. 
  • Discriminative touch alerts the body/brain to the type of sensory touch.  It helps describe the incoming information.  Was it sticky, wet, dry, rough, bumpy, hot/cold, or smooth?

Sensory Touch Issues

How does this affect people with sensory touch difficulties?

If the sensory touch system is not functioning optimally, the wiring can be off. Some wires might be too large, sending too much information at once (sensitivity). 

Other wires may be too small, not sending enough information (sensory seeking). 

Sometimes the wires are too long, taking it longer for the messages to be sent to the brain and registered.

Other times the wires don’t go where they are supposed to, and misinformation is sent.

Slow responses to touch sensory input, or the wiring may be too long/send misinformation:

  • Doesn’t notice if hands or face are messy or dirty
  • Doesn’t cry when seriously hurt and isn’t bothered by minor injuries
  • May not notice if bumped or pushed

Seeking out touch sensory input or the wiring is too small:

  • Touching people to the point of irritating them
  • Loves messy play
  • Likes haircuts
  • Constantly touching objects, running their hands along the walls, or playing in the dirt

Sensitivity to touch sensory input or the wiring is too big:

  • Dislikes having hair cut or brushed
  • Difficulty with toe and fingernail cutting
  • Fussy with food textures
  • Avoids getting messy, wants to wash hands immediately
  • Does not explore with touch
  • Irritated with certain clothing textures, labels and seams and socks. Avoids new clothes

Sensory Touch and Function

So, how does touch affect functional tasks?

Touch is critical to making sense of the world. Along with the other senses, it teaches the brain the characteristics of an object or situation.

This is the reason babies and young children touch everything!  They can not understand a new object without physically exploring it.  

Let’s break down the definition of sensory touch terminology:

  • Stereognosis – a fancy word meaning; the ability to feel an object, and know what it is without seeing it.  An example of stereognosis is reaching into a bag to find a set of keys. 
  • Dyspraxia – difficulty with motor movements. Without the correct sensory touch information, movements and motor planning can be difficult.  Is that sand going to be soft and squishy, how close to the wall am I walking, how much force do I use when petting this puppy?
  • Tactile defensiveness Inability to tolerate touching food, wearing certain clothes, standing in line, being touched, exploring the environment, or experiencing new tactile sensations.

Another component of touch that impacts functional performance is the information about touch that keeps us safe and gives us information about the world around us. This includes touch information such as:

  • Where is a particular item touching me?
  • The sensory touch awareness that “disappears” over time (feeling your socks on your feet when you put them on, but then not constantly feeling the “feel” of the socks on your feet). This awareness isn’t always present in Autistic individuals.
  • Is this item hot or cold?
  • Is a particular item too sharp or dangerous?

Somatosensory Touch

Somatosensory touch is a physiological body process which includes several aspects of sensory touch:

  • Exteroception input which can include touch sensitivity, thermoreceptive input (heat and temperature awareness), pain receptors
  • Interoceptive perception– awareness of pressure or feelings inside the body
  • Proprioceptive perception– feelings and awareness of joints and body awareness.

Research about the somatosensory touch sense

There are several research articles available on the somatosensory or tactile system:

  1. This article covers the sensory neurons of touch, including important information about the somatosensory system which serves three major functions; exteroreceptive (perception of sensory stimuli outside the body and on the skin), interoceptive (perception of internal stimuli inside the body), and proprioceptive functions (for the perception and control of body position and balance). Of important mention is the inclusion of
  2. This article which covers the development of touch.
  3. This article which discusses the common influences of the visual and tactile systems in using similar cognitive processes to enable humans to rely merely on one modality in the absence of another to recognize surrounding objects.
  4. This article discusses how Meissner’s corpuscles work in sensory touch, and how the location and presence of the number and distribution of Meissner’s corpuscles occurs in different locations on the human body.

These are scientific journal articles which provide facts and research on theories about the sensory touch aspect of sensory processing.  To the layperson, they are difficult to read and decipher. Using the wiring example above, along with concrete examples may prove to be more beneficial to caregivers.

Sensory Integration and Touch

Sensory integration is the ability to correctly receive and interpret information from the senses. Difficulty with sensory integration, often labeled sensory processing disorder, results in misinformation about incoming information. It can be in one or more of the senses.  

Why do babies touch everything?

Babies and toddlers explore with touch.  A person who has not integrated this sense, may need to explore with touch long beyond the acceptable time frame. Learners who are developmentally delayed may exhibit “inappropriate” sensory behaviors because their system is functioning at a much lower level. 

A four year old functioning at a one year old level would be expected to explore with taste and touch. 

Infants and children who are born prematurely may also have difficulty with sensory regulation.  Their sensory systems were not developed well in utero, and it is almost impossible to mimic the womb sensations in an external NICU. 

Premature children may be especially vulnerable to sensory challenges.

Sensory Touch Preferences

Everyone has their own set of sensory preferences.  You might dislike wearing jeans, cut the tags in your clothing, love snuggling under a heavy blanket, or prefer not to get messy. 

These can be normal reactions to touch.  It becomes a problem when the reaction to sensory input impacts function. 

The person who can not wear any clothes, is not able to be around people who might touch them, or has a panic attack stepping on the sand, are on the further ends of the typical spectrum.

Their ability to lead a productive life is being compromised by their sensory difficulties. These are the people who may benefit from treatment.

What can I do about this?

The first step is understanding. Understanding a child is not “bad” or being difficult on purpose. Provide good tactile experiences to nurture and build the sensory system. 

Hands on strategies to support sensory touch:

Understanding sensory touch, along with the other seven senses is tricky and complicated. What seems like a basic human function, can be a tangled web of crossed wires and misinformation.

NOTE*The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and inclusion. This information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood, OTR/L 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.

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds for Sensory Play

How to Dye Pumpkin seeds

If you’ve ever carved a pumpkin and wondered how to dye pumpkin seeds, then you are in luck. The occupational therapists know the sensory benefits of lifting and carving a pumpkin, as well as separating pumpkin seeds from the ooey, gooey pumpkin guts. Here, we’re sharing one Fall Bucket List item must-have…dying pumpkin seeds for sensory play, pumpkin seed crafts, and pumpkin seed fine motor tasks! Read on for an easy dyeing method for pumpkin seeds that can be included in occupational therapy Halloween sessions or sent home as a home program for this time of year.

How to dye pumpkin seeds

Add dyed pumpkin seeds to your list of pumpkin activities!

How to Dye Pumpkin Seeds

This post on how to dye pumpkin seeds was one we originally created back in 2014. The thing is that colored pumpkin seeds is still just as much fun for fine motor and sensory play as it was years ago!

Dying pumpkin seeds isn’t hard. In fact, the kids will love to get in on the mixing action. They will love to use those dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory bins, for fine motor pumpkin seeds activities, or even Fall crafts like this pumpkin seed craft.

Once you dye the pumpkin seeds, use them for tons of fine motor activities, sensory play activities, and visual motor ideas, like sorting pumpkin seeds. These are fun Fall activities that will stick with kids as a memory!

I love that this recipe is simple because it is a great way to support development of specific skills when kids are involved in making the dyed pumpkin seeds. By getting kids involved in the process, you can work on several areas:

  • executive functioning skills: planning, prioritization, working memory
  • problem solving
  • direction following
  • bilateral coordination
  • safety awareness
  • spatial awareness
  • kitchen tool use
  • fine motor skills
  • functional fine motor skills: opening containers, opening a plastic bag, scooping with a spoon, closing a plastic bag
  • eye-hand coordination skills
  • proprioception skills and body awareness with shaking a bag to coat the seeds completely

We cover how using recipes to develop skills is such a powerful therapy tool in our resources on our blog on life skills cooking activities. It’s simple recipes like this one and others in our cooking with kids resources that pack a powerful punch in developing skill areas.

Be sure to check out this resource on fine motor kitchen activities to better grasp all of the fine motor skills developed through cooking tasks like this pumpkin seed dying task.

We also talked about about these skill areas in our resource on how to dye sand for sensory play.

Colorful Pumpkin Seeds

This post contains affiliate links.

We wanted to make a batch of colorful pumpkin seeds with vivid colors, so I wasn’t sure how to dye the seeds to make the colors really pop. We decided to test which method would work to really get the best colors on our pumpkin seeds.

We tested using To make our seeds this year, we used (Amazon affiliate links) liquid food coloring dye and gel food coloring.  In our tests, each type of food coloring worked really well.  

One thing to note is that if you use food coloring, technically, the pumpkin seeds are still edible. This is important if you have a child playing with the seeds that might put them into their mouth.

The problem with roasting the seeds after coloring them is that the colors don’t “stick” as well to the seed, making less vivid colors.  If you are going to roast the seeds so that they are edible for these situation, I would suggest first roasting your seeds and THEN dying them for the brightest colors.

That being said, you don’t NEED to roast the seeds in order to use them for sensory play. As long as the pumpkin seeds are dry, they will absorb the food coloring.

Use these instructions on how to dye pumpkin seeds to make colored pumpkin seeds for fine motor and sensory play with kids.

Materials to Dye Pumpkin Seeds:

To dye pumpkin seeds, you need just a couple of items:

  • raw, clean pumpkin seeds from a fresh pumpkin
  • a plastic bag (sandwich bag or a gallon-sized plastic bag)
  • food coloring
  • paper towels

That’s all of the items you need to dye pumpkin seeds! This is really a simple recipe, and one that is easy to make with kids.

Dying PUmpkin Seeds

To dye the pumpkin seeds, it is very simple:

  1. Put dry pumpkin seeds into a plastic bag.
  2. Add the food coloring.
  3. Seal the bag shut and shake the bag to coat all of the seeds with the food coloring.
  4. Pour the seeds out onto a surface covered with paper towels (A kitchen counter works well).
  5. Let the seeds dry.

Whether you use liquid food coloring dye or gel food coloring, add the seeds to plastic baggies and add the food coloring.  Seal up the baggies, mix the seeds around, (or hand them over to the kids and let them go crazy), and get the seeds coated in coloring.  

For kids that might eat the seeds during play: As we mentioned above, f there are any risks of the child eating a seed during sensory play or crafting, you can first roast the seeds.

  1. Roast the seeds before dying them. Spread the seeds out on aluminum foil spread on a cookie sheet.  
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.  Be sure to check on the seeds often to make sure they are not burning.  
  3. Then dye the seeds using food coloring as described above. If you roast them first, the colors will cover any brown spots.
Wondering how to dye pumpkin seeds and use in sensory play?


Pumpkin Seed Activities

Once you dye the pumpkin seeds, you can use them in pumpkin seed crafts and pumpkin seed activities that foster fine motor development.

Pumpkin Seed Sensory Ideas:

Pumpkin seeds are a great addition to sensory play experiences. Allowing kids to scoop the seeds directly from the pumpkin is such a tactile sensory experience!

But for some kids, that pumpkin goop is just too much tactile input. Using dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play is a “just right” challenge in exposure to carving pumpkins. It’s a first step in the tactile experience.

Some of our favorite ways to use dyed pumpkin seeds in sensory play:

  • Use them in a sensory bin
  • Use colorful pumpkin seeds in a writing tray
  • Add dyed pumpkin seeds to a discovery bottle
  • Use rainbow pumpkin seeds on a Fall exploration table

Use the directions listed above to create a set of colored pumpkin seeds. Use the colorful pumpkin seeds in a big pumpkin sensory bin to create a tactile sensory experience. Kids can draw letters in the seeds to work on letter formation. Add this idea to your toolbox of sensory writing tray ideas.

Add a few Fall themed items such as small pumpkins, acorns, pinecones, scoops, and small bowls to the sensory bin activity. Dyed pumpkin seeds are a great sensory bin medium this time of year when making an easy sensory bin.

Dyed pumpkin seeds in a sensory bin

This sensory play activity was very fun.  We couldn’t keep our hands out of the tray as we played and created.

Use dyed pumpkin seeds for sensory play with kids.
Use this recipe for how to dye pumpkin seeds with kids.
Colored pumpkin seeds are great for kids to use in sensory play.

Pumpkin Seed Crafts

Pumpkin seeds are a great fine motor tool to use in crafting.

Try these craft ideas using dyed pumpkin seeds:

Fine motor activity with dyed pumpkin seeds

We used our dyed seeds in art projects first.  Manipulating those seeds is a great way to work on fine motor skills.  Little Sister was SO excited to make art!

Add additional fine motor work by using a squeezable glue bottle to create a pumpkin seeds craft and pumpkin seed art. Squeezing that glue bottle adds a gross hand grasp and fine motor warm-up before performing fine motor tasks.

How to dye pumpkin seeds to use in a Fall mandala craft.

Use dyed pumpkin seeds to make a colorful mandala craft with fine motor benefits. Picking up the pumpkin seeds uses fine motor skills such as in-hand manipulation, separation of the sides of the hand, pincer grasp, open thumb web space, and distal mobility.

Placing the colored pumpkin seeds into a symmetrical pattern of colors promotes eye-hand coordination and visual perceptual skills such as visual discrimination, figure ground, and other skills.

Dying pumpkin seeds is a fun Fall activity for kids.

Little Guy made a gingerbread man.  Because why not??! 😉

Squeezing the glue bottle into a shape and placing the colored pumpkin seeds along the line is another exercise in visual perception and eye-hand coordination.

Colored pumpkin seeds can be used in Fall sensory play and fine motor crafts.

Little Sister made a rainbow with her seeds.

Use colored pumpkin seeds to make a fine motor craft with kids.

How to dye pumpkin seeds for sensory play for kids.

Colored pumpkin seeds are fun for Fall crafts.

Be sure to use your dyed pumpkin seeds for a few fun ideas like these:

Pumpkin activity kit
Pumpkin Fine Motor Kit

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

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

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

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

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

Small World Play Ideas

small world play

There is just something about small world play as a sensory play activity that supports skill development. Occupational therapy and play go hand in hand. When kids participate in small work play, they are building skills in creativity, fine motor skills, sensory exploration, communication, self-confidence, and so much more. Here, you’ll find small world play examples and ideas to support development in these areas.

small world play

Small World Play

Before we go further, let’s cover exactly what we mean by small worlds.

A small world is a play activity on a small scale. Kids interact with the miniature toys, small sensory tables and use imaginative play to explore and pretend on a smaller scale.

A small world can be set up in a variety of ways:

  • In a sensory bin
  • In play dough
  • On a train table or other low table
  • In a cardboard box
  • In a low tray
  • On the ground

One way to think about small worlds is a fairy house: Kids set up a fairy house area under a tree or in a corner of the yard. They can move and manipulate items to use in pretend play: natural material or commercial fairy houses, small objects like pebbles, sticks, bark, and fairy objects. These items are all part of the fairy small world.

Why Set up a Small World Play Area?

When kids play in a small world, they develop many areas.

Most likely to develop is fine motor skills, but other areas can develop, too:

  • Precision
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Finger isolation
  • Hand strength
  • Visual motor skills

small world play ideas

There are items your can use from around the home to use in small worlds. Here is a list of items to gather when creating a little world:

  • Container: bin, box, sensory table, etc.
  • River rock
  • Mini figures: animals, farm sets, train sets, dolls, etc.
  • Sand
  • Fake flowers
  • Craft materials
  • Play dough
  • Beads
  • Sensory dough or slime

The options are basically limitless when it comes to setting up a small area. Use the examples below to spark more ideas.

Small World Play Examples

Our kids love small world play.  We’ve done so many activities that involve little worlds of imagination and pretend.  Small world activities foster language development, story telling, self-confidence, fine motor skills, sensory exploration, and more. 

Outdoor small world– We set this activity up under the base of a tree. Use materials like sticks, flowers, rocks, pebbles, roots, grass, etc.

Fairy small world– set up a fairy pretend area in a sand box. Use items like craft houses, rocks, and even glittery items.

Cardboard box pretend play– Use a cardboard box for a pretend play area.

Bug small world– Use plastic bugs and a sensory bin to pretend.

Construction Sensory Table by Preschool Powol Packets  

Camping Small World by Fantastic Fun and Learning  

Erupting Volcano Science Dino Play by Adventures at Home with Mum  

Toddler Tuesday: Sensory Sink by Teaching Mama  

Dinosaur Volcano Science Sensory Bin by Little Bins for Little Hands   You also might like:

Dinosaur Small World Activity

Small World Play Dough Farm

Animals at the Lake

Bunny Small World Play

 
 
 
 
 

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

Benefits of Nature Play

benefits of nature play

Research has a lot to say about nature play. When it comes to outdoor play, there is a lot that can be discussed too. Occupational therapy professionals encourage a lot of open-ended play, outdoor games, and outdoor play. There is a natural sensory aspect to outdoor play, which supports self-regulation, emotional regulation, attention, and learning, all through just playing outside! Today we are talking all about what the research has to say about outdoor sensory diet activities and outdoor play.

Benefits of nature play in developing skills in kids and adults of all ages.

Benefits of Nature Play

Taking sensory diet strategies outside is nothing new. But, doing so may just be a meaningful way to create the “just right” state of alertness and calming nature that, well, nature provides! But to take it a step further, did you know there are benefits of outdoor games? Did you know that the outdoors support executive functioning skills, self-regulation, and motor skill development…all through playing outside?

Use this information when explaining about what a sensory diet is and what a sensory diet looks like for kids with sensory needs. 

There are quite a few benefits to sensory experiences in the outdoors:

Children have a large opportunity for sensory input through playground play. But, in recent times, children experience playgrounds that are more safe, allowing for less risky play. Encouraging specific activities such as a playground sensory diet on playground equipment can be beneficial to sensory needs. 


Another item to consider is the aspect of applying sensory diet strategies within the classroom or home environments as a fix for sensory processing needs. The specific and prescribed sensory diet activities for a particular child can be very helpful in addressing specific sensory-related behaviors.

However, the use of a sensory tool such as an alternative seating system within the classroom provides only one type of vestibular and/or proprioceptive input, such as up and down vestibular input. The child who plays outdoors encounters a wide variety of sensory input across all sensory systems! 


You might even call sensory tools used to address specific needs a sensory band-aide. What if we as therapists could encourage authentic sensory input in the outdoors (or indoors, as indicated) that addresses all of the sensory systems. Using meaningful play experiences not only provide all the benefits of play. They encourage healthy development through the senses. 


Research says outdoor sensory play is beneficial in the development of children. Use these outdoor sensory diet activities to inspire outdoor activities that boost skills like motor development, attention, regulation, and more.

Research on Outdoor Play



There have been decades of research on the benefits of play in kids. The information below depicts how outdoor play impacts sensory needs in kids. This is not an exhausted review of the literature, simply a smattering of research available on the topic. 

Research shows us that some of the developmental and primary tasks that children must achieve can be effectively improved through outdoor play.

These include:

  • exploring
  • risk-taking
  • fine and gross motor development
  • absorption of basic knowledge
  • social skills
  • self-confidence
  • attention
  • language skills

Wow! Playing outside has a bigger impact than we may have thought!

Other research has shown an increase in communication, along with more observed emotions, and increased interactions in children with autism when more time was spent outdoors. 

Studies have found that dynamic and varied outdoor play offers opportunities for decision making that stimulate problem solving and creative thinking, opportunities that aren’t as easily found in the more static indoor environment.

Still other research supports the many health benefits:

  • reducing stress
  • decreasing symptoms of ADHD
  • protecting against myopia
  • boost the immune system

Outdoor Nature Play and Attention

One study found a sensory diet in outdoor play along with sensory integration therapy resulted in better functional behavior of kids with ADHD (Sahoo & Senapati). 


Using sensory activities that are specific in time and quality such as those in a sensory diet should be done in an authentic and meaningful manner in a child’s life. In this way, sensory input is motivating to the child in that it goes along with interests and the environment in which the child lives.

It’s a fact that kids are spending less time playing outdoors. From after-school schedules to two working parents, to unsafe conditions, to increased digital screen time, to less outdoor recess time…kids just get less natural play in the outdoors. 

Some therapists have connected the dots between less outdoor play and increased sensory struggles and attention difficulties in learning.

Knowing this, it can be powerful to have a list of outdoor sensory diet activities that can be recommended as therapy home programing and family activities that meet underlying needs.

From an occupational therapy perspective, nature play offers supports for underlying skill development. Children have the opportunity to develop motor skills, visual perceptual skills, confidence, executive functioning skills, and self-regulation that enables them to feel confident in their abilities. These areas of development support functioning and independence!

When heading outdoors, you can put on a coat, boots, or jacket and work on self-dressing skills. You can experience all of the motor rich opportunities for movement in the outdoors. Navigating the environment (whether in the woods or the city) offers visual perception, motor planning, and eye-hand coordination opportunities.

Just going outside for a walk is an exercise in skill-building!

Research says outdoor sensory play is beneficial in the development of children. Use these outdoor sensory diet activities to inspire outdoor activities that boost skills like motor development, attention, regulation, and more.

Outdoor Sensory Play Ideas

Knowing the benefits of outdoor games and free play, let’s cover some fun ways to offer the movement, regulation, and input from the outdoors.

Need some outdoor sensory play ideas? Try these outdoor backyard sensory diet activities that inspire free play in the outdoors while encouraging sensory input of all kinds! 

Sensory diets and specific sensory input or sensory challenges are a big part of addressing sensory needs of children who struggle with sensory processing issues. Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (sensory diet) into a lifestyle of naturally occuring and meaningful activities is so very valuable for the child with sensory needs. 

Sensory diets and specific sensory input or sensory challenges are a big part of addressing sensory needs of children who struggle with sensory processing issues. Incorporating a schedule of sensory input (sensory diet) into a lifestyle of naturally occurring and meaningful activities is so very valuable for the child with sensory needs.    That’s why I’ve worked to create a book on creating an authentic and meaningful sensory lifestyle that addresses sensory needs. The book is now released as a digital e-book or softcover print book, available on Amazon.    The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory diet creation, set-up, and carry through. Not only that, but the book helps you take a sensory diet and weave it into a sensory lifestyle that supports the needs of a child with sensory processing challenges and the whole family.   Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.

That’s where the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and Sensory Challenge Cards come into play.   They are printable resource that encourages sensory diet strategies in the outdoors. In the printable packet, there are 90 outdoor sensory diet activities, 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities, 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards. They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input.  

Here’s a little more information about the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards

  • 90 outdoor sensory diet activities
  • 60 outdoor recess sensory diet activities
  • 30 blank sensory diet cards, and 6 sensory challenge cards
  • They can be used based on preference and interest of the child, encouraging motivation and carryover, all while providing much-needed sensory input. 
  • Research tells us that outdoor play improves attention and provides an ideal environment for a calm and alert state, perfect for integration of sensory input.
  • Outdoor play provides input from all the senses, allows for movement in all planes, and provides a variety of strengthening components including eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle contractions. 
  • Great tool for parents, teachers, AND therapists!

Be sure to grab the Outdoor Sensory Diet Cards and use them with a child (or adult) with sensory processing needs!  

Benefits of Nature Play References:

  • Frost, J. & Sutterby, J. (2017). Our Proud Heritage: Outdoor Play Is Essential to Whole Child Development. Retrieved from: from: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/jul2017/outdoor-play-child-development
  • Hanscom, A (2017, October). The decline of play outdoors and the rise in sensory issues. OccupationalTherapy.com, Article 3990. Retrieved from http://OccupationalTherapy.com.
  • Moore, R. (2014). Nature Play & Learning Places. Creating and managing places where children engage with nature. Raleigh, NC: Natural
  • Learning Initiative and Reston, VA: National Wildlife Federation
  • Version 1.2.
  • Von Kampen, M. (2011). The Effect of Outdoor Environment on Attention and Self-Regulation Behaviors on a Child with Autism.  Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1118&context=cehsdiss
  • Sahoo, S. & Senapati, A. Effect of sensory diet through outdoor play on functional behavior in children with ADHD. The Indian Journal of Occupational Therapy. Vol. 46, (2 ) 49-54.
 






 

Ultimate Guide to PLAY DOUGH MATS

Play dough mats

After reading below about the benefits of playing with play dough mats, go grab some of them for FREE. When using these fun play dough mats, you will start helping children work on important developmental skills. In addition to all the fun children will have while using these mats (which is a win), they will be developing the necessary fine motor hand skills needed for everyday functional tasks such as; fastener manipulation, classroom tool use, grasp patterns, and overall dexterity/manipulation used in multiple fine motor tasks. Be sure to check out our resource on playdough activities for fine motor skills to support this area.

Play dough mats

The benefits of using play dough mats

Play dough is an AWESOME tool in itself!  We know that in itself, there are so many benefits of play dough in building skills in kids.

With all of the attractive colors, and the sensory feel of it, playdough can be very enticing to children. With a little preparation and care, play dough mats can be almost mess-free! If pieces fall off, just tap with another blob of dough, and it blends back in with little need for clean-up. (Just avoid the carpet!) While engaging with these super fun play dough mats, children can stay occupied for a lengthy time in either independent play, or cooperative play with a partner.  

You can easily use play dough mats during an OT session, as part of a home program, or as a fine motor station in the classroom. Each mat provides a theme to compliment any learning or skill building you might be looking for. After you read about all of the benefits, you’ll want to get all of these mats and start right away, but first let’s look at those specific skills they help develop. 

Play dough can easily be made or purchased, and used with play dough mats to focus on developing so many skills.

Many Benefits of play dough mats:

  • Hand and finger strengthening skills – squeeze, press, poke, and pinch the play dough while manipulating. Hand strength is a skill needed for most functional tasks. This helps build intrinsic hand musculature, and improves fine motor endurance.
  • Grasp skills – Tools such as plastic knives, scissors, cookie cutters, pizza cutters, and rolling pins, provide the opportunity to work on varied grasp patterns.
  • Bilateral integration skills – use both hands together in a coordinated manner to manipulate the play dough, therefore building bilateral coordination. They adjust the dough’s size, shape, and weight as needed for mat play. Bilateral coordination skills are needed for functional tasks like writing, dressing, cooking, and essentially all functional participation.
  • Manual dexterity skills – manipulate the putty to shape and pinch the dough to match the theme the of each mat. This gives them the opportunity to develop precise finger movements and thumb opposition.
  • Self-regulation skills – When children squeeze, press, poke, pinch and roll out the dough, they get deep proprioceptive input, which can be soothing and calming to a child. 
  • Eye-hand coordination skills – While creating and placing the shapes on the play dough mats to match the theme, learners are coordinating their hand and eye movements, working on important visual motor coordination skills. Eye hand coordination skills can impact functional participation.
  • Gross motor skills – Engaging with play dough works the larger muscles of the upper extremity (shoulder and arm) in order to push, pull, press, and roll the dough. Don’t forget, development occurs proximally to distally, so those larger muscles need engagement!
  • Creativity and play skills – Learners use their play dough creativity and imagination to add their own details to the mats, with their own play dough creations.  They can add small beads, sequins, buttons, or pegs in addition to their playdough shapes. 
  • Social skills – If mats are used with a partner, children will have the opportunity for cooperative and collaborative play They will be learning self-control and communication, coupled with pretend play, as they work to build items together on a single mat, or by trading mats and sharing details. These would make a great tool for social skill groups!
  • Visual perceptual skills – Play dough mats work on visual figure ground skills, as learners visually scan the boards to locate the circles for play dough ball size, location, and placement. Visual discrimination skills are needed to identify any size differences in the circles, and make the play dough balls larger or smaller as indicated. 
  • Olfactory skills – Adding a little scent, such as an essential oil to the play dough will provide children some olfactory input, making the experience more multi-sensory. 
  • Tactile skills – The addition of a little glitter, rice, or sand to the play dough, will provide children further tactile input. For some learners with tactile aversion, working with playdough may be difficult at first.

Play dough does not need to be store bought. Go to our link here for some of the Best Dough Recipes.

how to use play dough mats

How to Use Play Dough Mats

Using play dough mats is pretty self explanatory. Kids love using the fun and engaging play activities and often times don’t realize they are developing skills at the same time. These steps will help with using your play dough mats in therapy, the classroom for a fine motor brain break, or in the home for a play activity:

1. You’ll need to print off the play dough mat that works for your needs. You can find different printable playdough mats for different themes.

2. Laminate the page, or slide it into a page protector sheet.

2. Select play dough, either home made or store bought. Select play dough consistency and resistance based on the individual’s needs.

3. Consider how to adapt the activity based on the needs of the individual. Some considerations include thinking about fine motor skills, bilateral coordination needs, visual motor needs, or sensory needs.

4. Position play dough mats and play dough to meet the needs and areas of development for the individual.

5. Work on opening and closing the play dough container if this is an area of concern (it’s a great functional activity!)

how to use play dough mats for occupational therapy

Adapting Play Dough Mats

Play dough mats can be used in occupational therapy to develop skills and work on goal areas through play. They can also be used to support needs and integrate adaptations in play for practice.

Play dough mats are a fun way to play and build skills at home, too. They can be used in the classroom for a brain break, a sensory break, or a tool to build fine motor skills with a classroom theme.

How can you adapt playdough mats for specific skill adaptations in OT sessions? There are so many ways…

Motor Skill Needs- For individuals struggling with motor skills, you can tape the page protector sheet to the table surface. Another idea is to use sticky tack on the back of the page protector. This can secure the play dough mat to the table and limit it’s movement during play.

Another motor skill strategy is to use a play dough mat with larger areas or smaller areas for the play dough. This can require more or less small motor movements, and can offer more or less opportunities for precision work.

Bilateral coordination needs- Encourage bilateral coordination by asking the user to hold the play dough mat on the table. This is a great way to encourage paper positioning during writing tasks, too.

Sensory needs- Play dough consistency will provide a varied tactile experience such as, sticky, slippery, firm, and partially dry. Much like different grades of thera-putty, different play dough recipes can be used to build fine motor skills or offer more or less heavy work through the hands.

Some play dough to meet tactile preferences and tactile challenges include:

Some play dough to meet tactile preferences and tactile challenges include:

Regulation needs- Building on the sensory aspect, you can offer movement-based heavy work through the hands and upper body by offering less resistant play dough (more of a silky and fluid feel to the play dough consistency) or you can offer more heavy work using a heavier grade to the resistance.

Visual needs- For users with visual processing needs, there are ways to adapt the play dough mats. Try outlining the areas where play dough is placed for a darker visual cue by using a dark marker. You can then slide the sheet into a sheet protector and play from there.

Core strength/Stability/Visual Gaze- For some, maintaining an upright posture is difficult. You can easily position play dough mats on a slant board, easel, or vertical surface using sticky tack, tape, magnets, etc. This positioning strategy can be used to either support positioning and visual gaze needs to to challenge these areas to reach a “just right” level in therapy sessions.

Free Printable Play Dough Mats

Each of the free play dough mats below can be printed off and used over and over again. A few tips for using play dough mats in therapy or in the home or classroom:

Space Play Dough Mat | gives learners the opportunity to strengthen their hands while developing essential skills that are needed for pencil writing, as well as the dexterity and precision skills that are needed for many daily, fine motor tasks. The simple thing about this outer space mat, is that it works on a specific set of muscles in the hand. 

Astronaut Play Dough Mat | can be used as part of space theme, or a solo activity. Ask your learner to pull off a small piece of play dough and roll it between the fingers and thumb of one hand. It’s important to use just that one hand as it’s part of the challenge! Doing this hand activity will help build hand strength, dexterity, coordination, and endurance of the smaller muscles of the hand and fingers. 

Play Dough City | complements any geography lesson as children fill in the circles of the city sky, while helping them to build their fine motor skills and endurance, which are needed for tasks like writing/coloring, pencil control for forming letters, functional pencil grasp, manipulation of clothing fasteners, opening/closing containers, and so much more. This cute mat can be used along with any other city activities including books, travel, and anything about city life.

Ice Cream Play Dough Mat | create small balls of play dough that fit on ice cream images, while working on hand strength and other motoric skills needed for pencil grasp, endurance for coloring, accuracy with scissors, and dexterity for manipulation of buttons, zippers, and coins. This mat can be a great take home mat for use over the summer break. Be sure to include instructions on what you want the child to do!

Toy Theme Play Dough Mat | helps children use their fingertip and thumb to roll a small ball of play dough, placing and pressing the dough onto the circles on the mat. They need just a small piece of dough to make the ball small enough to fit into the circles. This is a great activity for developing and defining the arches of the hand, strengthening the intrinsic musculature, and boosting visual perceptual skills too! This toy theme mat builds on the fundamental “job” that kids have, which is play! Use this themed mat during down time, or a rainy day, to add a little productive playtime.

Play Dough Bird Mat | gives kiddos a hand workout, while they create small balls of dough rolled with their fingers, to match the circle sizes on the mat. There are various sizes to challenge the child’s precision and dexterity. Children can count the birds and match the colors of the birds too.  Another way to use this mat is to write numbers or letters in the circles in random order and then have the child scan the mat to challenge their visual perceptual skills.

Roll and Write Play Dough Mat Bundle | all about helping kids warm-up their hands prior to handwriting. It makes handwriting more fun when using one of these 7 themed play dough mats. Children warm-up using dough, then work on letter formation, words, and sentences. 

These printable play dough mats include a themed play dough area plus a writing area. Use the play dough as a fine motor warm up and then move to the handwriting aspect.

Numbers 1-20 Sky/Ground Play Mats | helps children to work on 1-20 number formation, provides sensory input, encourages motor planning, and spatial relations. 

A-Z Sky/Ground Play Mats | work on upper case and lower case A-Z letter formation, provides sensory input, encourages motor planning, and spatial relations. 

Intrinsic Muscle Strengthening Play Dough Mat– This simple play dough mat limits the visual background and offers different sizes of circles. Users can create small balls of play dough to build intrinsic hand strength.

All of the free play dough mats are available in our Member’s Club. There, you can just click and download the play dough mats!

Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

Join the Member’s Club today!

A final note on play dough mats:

Do you want to use any of the play dough mats multiple times? Simply laminate them, or place in a sheet protector so children can use them repeatedly, any time they want. Play dough mats are a fun and engaging way for young children to work on problem-solving, pretend play, pre-academic skills, and other developmental functions. They don’t even know they are doing it, as they are having so much FUN!

Regina Allen

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

Note: Only use play dough with the appropriate aged children. take sensible precautions with small or differently abled children, as play dough and small manipulatives can be a choking hazard. Adult supervision should be provided. 

Tear Paper for Fine Motor Skills

Tear paper fine motor activity

Did you know you can tear paper to improve fine motor skills using materials you already have in your home? I have an incredibly easy fine motor activity to share: tearing paper! When kids tear paper, they are developing fine motor skills like grasp, hand strength, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, and more. So often, parents are looking for easy ways to help kids develop fine motor skills, and the very material that can improve all of these areas is found right in the home. Let’s break down tearing paper as an amazing fine motor activity for kids.

Tear paper to build fine motor skills and to use in occupational therapy activities like improving coordination, visual motor skills, and more.

Tear Paper for Fine Motor Skills

Tearing paper a simple fine motor activity that requires only scrap paper and your hands. In fact, tearing paper actually helps children develop so many essential skills: hand strength, hand eye coordination, precision, refined movements, bilateral coordination…

When a child tears a piece of paper, they improve hand strength and endurance in the small muscles in the hand.  These intrinsic muscles are important in so many fine motor skills, including those important to handwriting and coloring, managing buttons and zippers, manipulating pegs, and more.  

When paper is torn, the hands assume a great tripod grasp which is effective and a mature grasp for writing and coloring.  The non-dominant hand is assisting in the tearing and encourages appropriate assistance for tasks like holding the paper while writing, and managing paper while cutting with scissors.  

Just look at the skills kids develop with a tear paper activity:

  • Hand eye coordination
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Pinch strength
  • Arch development
  • Intrinsic hand strength
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • Open thumb web space
  • Shoulder and forearm stability
  • Precision and refined grasp
  • Proprioceptive input
  • Motor planning

Other benefits of tearing paper

Not only is ripping paper as a fine motor strategy, tearing off pieces of paper can support sensory needs, coordination, and visual motor skills.

Hand dominance- Holding paper with stability using a non-dominant hand to support the paper, and a dominant hand to make refined tears supports development of bilateral coordination skills. Depending on the intricacy of the paper tear line, more refined motor movements are used. This is a strategy to support graded precision skills.

Sensory Processing- To rip paper, strength and coordination is needed. This process offers heavy work through the finger joints, wrist as a stabile joint, and coordination and stability in the shoulder girdle. Heavy work, or proprioception allows us to know where our body is in space. But the benefits of heavy work can be calming and organizing. Ripping paper can be a sensory diet tool for some individuals.

Visual Motor Skills- To tear paper, visual motor integration is a required part of the puzzle. This includes eye-hand coordination, visual tracking, visual attention, and other areas of visual processing.

Tearing paper is an amazing fine motor activity for kids to build coordination and hand strength.

Paper Tearing Activity

In this paper tearing activity, we use recycled artwork to create Torn Paper Art that would look great on any gallery (or family dining room) wall! All you need to do is rip paper to develop skills.

Tearing strips of paper is especially a great fine motor task.  To work those fine motor skills, start with some junk mail or recycled paper materials and practice tearing.

Tear paper into strips- To tear a long sheet of paper, you need to grasp the paper with an effective, yet not too strong grasp.  Tear too fast, and the paper is torn diagonally and not into strips.

Make slow tears in the paper- Tearing the paper slowly while focusing on strait torn lines really encourages a workout of those intrinsic muscles.  

Tear different weights of paper- Paper comes in different thicknesses, or weights. Practicing tearing different thicknesses really hones in on precision skills. We tore an 9×11 piece of painted printer paper into long strips, lengthwise.  The thin paper isn’t too difficult to tear, but requires motor control. Thicker paper like cardstock or cardboard requires more strength to grip the paper. The thicker paper also requires a bit more strength to tear with accuracy and precision. Tearing paper that is thicker like cardstock, index cards, or construction paper adds heavy input through the hands. This proprioceptive input can be very calming and allow kids to regulate or focus while adding the sensory input they need.

Tear paper into shapes– Use the paper to create simple shapes like a circle, square, etc. You can make this task easier by drawing pencil lines and ripping paper along the lines. This is a fantastic way to build motor planning skills. Or, work on visual perceptual skills and try ripping paper into shapes without a template.

Vary the texture of the paper– You can add a sensory component and use different textures of paper. Try painted or colored paper. Try printed paper or a rough paper like last year’s paper calendar. Try ripping cardstock or textured crepe paper. Or, use graph paper as a thinner grade to address a different resistance. We cover all the ways to use graph paper in therapy goals and tearing paper is just one idea.

Work on tearing paper fringes- Tearing into the edge of the page, and stopping at a certain point requires refined motor work. It’s easy to tear right across the page, but requires precision and coordination to stop tearing at a certain point. To grade this activity easier, try marking the stopping point with a pencil mark.

Ripping paper has so many benefits!

tearing paper is a fine motor skills workout for kids.

Types of paper to use in tearing paper activities

There are many benefits to using different textures and types of paper. Let’s take a look at some of the possible types of paper. These are materials that you may already have in your home. Varying the paper type in torn paper activities can help to grade an activity, or make it easier or more difficult. These are great ways to vary the amount of fine motor strength and precision needed, thereby improving fine motor skills and visual motor skills.

Types of paper to use in tearing paper activities:

  • Junk mail
  • Old phone books
  • Recycled newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Flyers from school or the community
  • Printer paper
  • Notebook paper
  • Cardboard
  • Recycled food boxes (cereal boxes, tissue boxes, etc.)
  • Paper bags
  • Tissue paper
  • Crepe paper
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Napkins
  • Paper plates
  • Recycled artwork
  • Used coloring books
  • Cardboard tubes (toilet paper tubes, paper towel rolls)
  • Old calendars
This torn paper art is a paper tearing activity for kids that uses recycled artwork to build fine motor skills and motor control while tearing paper.

Torn paper art  

This ripped paper art is a craft that is so simple, yet such a fun way to create art while working on fine motor skills.  

Tear paper into strips to work on fine motor skills with kids.

You’ll need just a few materials for ripped paper art:

  • Paper (Any type or texture will do…old crafts, kids artwork, or paper that has been painted)
  • Glue
  • Paper to cardstock to use as a base
  • Your hands!

We all have piles of kids’ artwork that is gorgeous…yet abundant.  You keep the ones that mean the most, but what do you do with those piles of painted paper, scribbled sheets, and crafty pages?  You sure can’t keep it all or your house will become covered in paper, paint, and glitter.  We used a great blue page to make our torn paper art.

Making the torn paper art is very simple. It’s a process art activity that will look different no matter how many times you do the activity.

How to create torn paper art:

  1. Select a variety of paper colors, materials, and textures.
  2. Tear a sheet into long strips.  This will become the sky of our artwork.
  3. Use white paper to create cloud shapes. Tear the paper into shapes.
  4. Use green cardstock or other material to create grass. Tear small strips into the paper but not through to the edge. Create a fringe with the paper.
  5. Glue the torn paper onto the base page in layers.
  6. Use your imagination and have fun!

A few tips for creating torn paper art

Have a variety of paper types, colors, and textures available. Some ideas include using junk mail, recycled artwork, cardstock, construction paper, printer paper, crepe paper, cardboard, cereal boxes, etc.

Use your imagination. You can start with an idea to create or you can go with the flow of the art creation and start without an idea.

If you have trouble coming up with an idea for your torn paper art, try some of these:

  • Create a torn paper landscape
  • Create an object from ripped paper textures
  • Make a torn paper abstract artwork
  • Copy real life objects and make representational art
  • Create a ripped paper still life
  • Use all one color of paper in different textures to make a monochromatic artwork
  • Make abstract portraits
  • Tear the paper into shapes to make geometric artwork
  • Explore art concepts such as size, shape, color, lines, form, space, texture
  • Explore multimedia: Incorporate printed paper, painted paper, glossy paper, cardboard in different textures, crayon colored paper, etc.
Tear paper into strips of ripped paper to work on eye-hand coordination in an occupational therapy activity with recycled materials.
Tearing paper builds fine motor skills and endurance in fine motor precision, making it a fine motor workout!
Ripping paper is a fine motor activity for kids in occupational therapy or working on fine motor skills at home.

 More paper activities

Tear and paste activity with blue paper and green cardstock to create a torn paper collage.

We used one of the long strips of green cardstock to create grass by making small tears.  Be careful not to tear the whole way across the strip!  What a workout this is for those hand muscles.  

Use recycled art like painted paper to create torn art collage while building fine motor skills in kids.

 Next glue the blue strips onto a background piece of paper.  Tear white scrap paper into cloud shapes.  They can be any shape, just like clouds in the sky!

Tear paper to help kids strengthen fine motor skills.

 Grab a piece of yellow cardstock and create a sun.  This is another fabulous fine motor workout.  Tearing a circle-ish shape and creating small tears really works those muscles in the hands.

Tearing paper activity for kids

 Glue the sun onto the sky and enjoy the art.  

More paper activities that build skills:

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

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

Water Sensory Bin Ideas

Sensory water bins in therapy

When the weather is hot, you need water play ideas that build skills…and make Summer memories! These water sensory bin ideas are perfect for HOT Summer days while incorporating sensory and motor skills. Use these water sensory bin activities in therapy or in the backyard to help kids build skills this Summer…and cool off!

Sensory water bins and sensory water table ideas for water therapy with kids.

Water Sensory Bin

Now, you may be wondering what is a water sensory bin??!! A water sensory bin is a sensory play experience that uses water as a medium for holding various textures designed to promote sensory motor play and learning.

A water sensory bin inspires motor skill development through the use of materials presented in water and the manipulation of tools to scoop, pour, and manipulate water and themed items.

Water sensory bins inspire creative play, exposure to various textures, and motor skill opportunities such as laterality, bilateral coordination, grasp, precision, manipulation, grip and pinch strength, and others.

And best of all, water sensory bins are a fun way to play and explore!

Water Sensory Table

Similar to a sensory water bin, a sensory water table is a sensory play experience using water and other materials in a water table. Water tables can be great for child development for toddlers and preschoolers as they are the perfect height for standing and moving around during play.

Aquatic Therapy

Water sensory tables, like water sensory bins, can be created in a variety of themes, designed for creative play or for learning specific skills or concepts. While aquatic therapy is often thought of as a gross motor therapy tool (using water or a swimming pool as a therapy medium for whole body movements, balance, and gross motor coordination), water bins and water tables involve water therapy play into a smaller scale of aquatic therapy. With a small pool of water, kids can develop and refine so many skills!

In therapy, water tables and water bins can be used to focus on specific skills, including functional tasks. Let’s take a look at different ways that water bins and water tables can be used in therapy:

Functional Skills in Aquatic Therapy

Water therapy can be used to help kids refine and develop functional skills…making water a resistive surface that provides proprioceptive feedback, turn-taking, and self-confidence. Functional skills that can be addressed in water play in therapy include:

  • washing hands
  • drying hands
  • wiping spills
  • pouring water (liquids)
  • using cups and pitchers or scoops (tool use)
  • measuring liquids for cooking tasks
  • play
  • washing dishes

Sensory Benefits of Water Therapy

Aquatic therapy involves the sensory systems and on a small scale, water bins and water tables are a powerful therapy tool. You can focus on refined sensory input on a small scale through play using water tables in therapy.

  • Proprioceptive input
  • Tactile exploration
  • Mixed textures
  • Temperature tolerances
  • Warm water temperature as a calming sensory input
  • Cold water temperatures as alerting sensory input
  • Reduces stress through calming sensory input
  • Visual processing benefits- visual scanning, visual tracking, visual discrimination, eye-hand coordination, visual closure

Fine Motor benefits of water therapy

On a small scale, water tables and water bins offer many motor skills opportunities for kids to develop fine motor skills! Fine motor skills abound in aquatic therapy!

  • Grasp
  • Coordination
  • Pincer grasp
  • Hand strength (tong or tweezer use, squeezing water squeeze toys, syringes, spray bottles)
  • Eye-hand coordination (scooping, pouring, dumping water)
  • Water resistance

Gross Motor Skill Benefits of water therapy

Even on a small scale, there are gross motor benefits of using water tables and water bins to help with gross motor skill development. Consider these strategies for developing skills using water play:

  • Core strengthening by playing in a water bin on the ground: crouching, squatting, getting up and down from the ground
  • Upper body support through the arm and shoulder for developing strength and stability
  • Sitting crisscross apple sauce with extended reach in all directions
  • Weighted containers to pour, mix, and dump water
  • Coordination skills
  • Motor planning
  • Heavy work to dump and move water
  • Crossing midline to pour or scoop water, reach for objects in the water
  • Bilateral coordination to support and manipulate items
  • Standing with reach at a water table
  • Mobilizing along a supported surface with head and arm movements

How to use a water sensory bin in aquatic therapy

Kids will love these water bin play ideas listed below! Adding sensory play into a water bin is an easy way to explore the senses, challenge tactile and sensory systems, and encourage development of skills such as fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, crossing midline, visual motor skills, coordination, confidence, and language. Kids love so many sensory activities when you simply add water.

Water sensory bins and tables use any basic water table or can be set up with just a large tote bin, a small food casserole dish, storage bins, or any container that will hold water. The nice thing about these water play ideas is that you can create any theme or use any type of manipulative to the water to engage kids attention and interest. Place the bin on the floor for floor play and core strengthening or position the bin on a table surface for a table set-up.

Water play is so great for little kids to experience and enjoy.  The sensory aspect of getting their hands in the water and manipulating objects is great for brain development and sensory integration.  They are improving their fine motor skills, bilateral hand coordination, language development, problem solving, creative development, and even self-confidence!  

The open-endedness of water play enables learning in endless varieties.  Consider adding math or letter concepts to a bin of water.  The child is enthralled by the sensory experience and learning happens!  Just think, all you have to do is add water and there is so much learning to experience!

To encourage movement, heavy work input, fine motor skill development, try adding these materials to water sensory play experiences:

  • Scoops
  • Measuring cups
  • Spoons
  • Watering can
  • Marble run
  • Water dropper
  • Syringe
  • Spray bottle
  • Squeeze toys
  • Tweezers
  • Tongs
  • Floating toys or foam
  • Cut pool noodles
  • Balls or ping pong balls (any ball that floats)
  • Small animal toys or figures
  • Water beads
  • Scents
  • Glitter
  • Food coloring or water paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Chalk

Water Sensory Play Ideas

Below are are fun water bin sensory play ideas for kids that can be used to address a variety of skills or concepts. Scroll on to find some creative ways to encourage play and development of skills with simple water bins.

Kids of all ages will love these water play ideas…even the big kids! When the weather is hot (Or not…bring these water bin ideas indoors for more fun and sensory play!) you can add any type of learning, cause and effect, and even STEM activities, using some water and some added materials.

  • Colors/Fine Motor/Sensory Water Play– Work on bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, motor planning, precision, and proximal stability as well as tool use in this color water sensory bin.
  • Island Luau Water Party Water Bin – Use small scoops and island themed items to work on fine motor skills, scooping, pouring, and fine motor strengthening.
  • Swamp Water Bin – Explore textures in this swamp themed water bin.
  • Pool Noodles Water Bin -Incorporate cut pool noodles for fine motor work, core strengthening, and gross motor skills.
  • Color Match Water Bin – Use colors and letters to work on visual scanning, visual motor skills, visual discrimination, and learning colors and letters.
  • Rainy Summer Day: Ice Muffins Water Play – Freeze letter magnets or foam letters into ice cubes for sensory motor learning experiences. Kids can chip the alphabet letters from the ice cubes and explore letters while strengthening visual perceptual skills and fine motor strength.
  • Colors, Fine Motor, Sensory Water Play -Work on hand strength, grasp, coordination, visual perceptual skills and more with simple materials you already have in the home.
  • Ping Pong Ball Water Play for Toddlers– Work on eye-hand coordination, visual scanning, tracking, coordination, crossing midline and more.

    We are so excited to start playing away the summer with our water bins.  We’re hoping you are inspired…we are inspired, too!              

And here are links to the fun water bins over at Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails:
             Week 1: Lavender/Purple Water Bin by FSPDT
             Week 2: Beach Luau Water Bin by FSPDT
             Week 3: Swamp Water Bin by FSPDT
             Week 4: Pool Noodle Water Bin by FSPDT
             Week 5: Color Match Water Bin by FSPDT

more Sensory water bins

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

Kindergarten Learning and Play Activities

kindergarten activities

Below are kindergarten activities that promote development of skills needed during the kindergarten year. These are great activities to use for kindergarten readiness and to help preschool and Pre-K children build the motor skills in order to succeed in their kindergarten year. You’ll find kindergarten letter activities, Kinder math, fine motor skills to build stronger pencil grasps when kindergarteners start to write with a pencil and cut with scissors. You’ll also find kindergarten sight word activities for when that time of the Kinder year comes around. Let’s have some fun with 5-6 year old activities!

Kindergarten activities and kindergarten readiness activities

Kindergarten Activities

 What you’ll notice is missing from this massive list of Kindergarten activities, is handwriting, writing letters, and even writing names. (And writing letters in a sensory bin falls into this category too! Before kindergarten, children should not be copying letters into a sensory bin. You’ll see letters formed incorrectly, letters formed from bottom to top, and letters formed in “chunks”. The same rule applies to tracing letters and words and even “multisensory strategies” for writing. It’s just too early. Unfortunately, we see a lot of preschools and standards doing the exact opposite. You’ll even find online sites sharing preschool and Pre-K writing that is just in poor advice.
 
Here’s why: prior to kindergarten age, kids are not developmentally ready for holding a pencil, writing with a pencil, and writing words. Their muscles are not developed, and asking them to write letters, copy words, and trace with a pencil is setting them up for improper letter formation, poor pencil grasp, and weak hands. 
 
What children aged 5 and under DO need is play! They need exposure to sensory experiences, sensory play, coloring, cutting with scissors (even if it’s just snipping), puzzles, games, beads, blocks, stamps…there are SO many ways to help pre-K kids and preschool children develop the skills they need for kindergarten and beyond.
 
Kindergarten is such a fun age.  Kids in kindergarten strive when they are given the chance to learn through play and hands-on activities.  These are our favorite Kindergarten activities that we’ve shared on the site, with Kindergarten math, reading and letter awareness, Kindergarten Crafts, and Kindergarten Play.   
 
 

 

Kindergarten Functional Tasks

Kindergarten is the stage when children go off to school for perhaps the first time. That’s why prior to kindergarten, it’s great to “practice” a lot of the functional tasks that children will need to do once they go to kindergarten. Some of these may include:

Now…not all of these functional skills will be established for every kindergarten child…and that’s OK! Kindergarten can be the year to practice these tasks in the school environment. 

Kindergarten Letter Activities

Kindergarten is all about letters, upper case and lower case letters, and sounds.  They learn how letters go with sounds and work on decodable reading.  These letter learning activities will help your kindergarten student with identification, sounds, and beginning reading skills.

Kindergarten Letter activities for letter learning
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Kindergarten Math Activities

Kindergarten students work with manipulating items to discover and explore numbers and patterns.  They solve simple addition and subtraction problems, more or less, comparing amounts, and shapes.
 
These Kindergarten math ideas will be a fun way to discover math ideas with playful learning.
Kindergarten Math ideas

 

 
 
 
 
 
     
 




   
 
 
   
 
 
  
 
 
    
 

Kindergarten Sight Words and Reading:

Kindergarten students learn sight words throughout the school year. These sight word activities are fun ways to learn with play while reinforcing sight word skills.
  
 
   
 
 
   
 
 

Sight Words Manipulatives | Outdoor Pre-Reading Letter Hunt

Kindergarten Books and Activities

Extending book ideas with crafts and activities are a fun way for Kindergarten students to become engaged with reading.  Listening to an adult read is a powerful tool for pre-readers.  They learn language, speech, articulation, volume, and tone of voice.  These book related activities will extend popular stories and engage your Kindergartner.

Book ideas activities for Kindergarten
 
 
 
  
 
 
 

 
 
 

 

 

Kindergarten Fine Motor Play

Fine motor skills in Kindergarten students are essential for effective pencil control and handwriting, scissor use, and clothing and tool manipulation.  Kindergartners may have little experience with tools like scissors, pencils, hole punches, staplers, and pencil sharpeners. In fact, there are MANY fine motor skills needed at school. All of these items require dexterity and strength.  
 
In-Hand manipulation play for fine motor skills: We had so much fun with water beads.  This post shares two ideas for improving in-hand manipulation skills which are so important for dexterity in self-care, handwriting, coin manipulation…and so much more!
 
Finger isolation, tripod grasp, eye-hand coordination, bilateral hand coordination…Fine Motor Play with Crafting Pom Poms has got it all!  We even worked on color identification and sorting with this easy fine motor play activity.
 

What play ideas can you come up with using common tools? These items are GREAT ways to build hand strength and dexterity that will be needed in kindergarten for pencil grasp development and endurance in handwriting. 

  • tweezers
  • tongs
  • beads
  • toothpicks
  • hole puncher
  • peg boards
  • lacing cards

 

These fine motor activities will engage your student in fine motor skills for effective hand use in functional school tasks.
 
Kindergarten Fine Motor activities
 
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 

Kindergarten Play:

Play in Kindergarten is essential for so many areas.  Kindergartners are young students who need brain breaks from desk work.  Not only for that reason, but for turn-taking, language, social interaction, self-confidence, problem-solving, and interaction, play is an important part of your Kindergarten student’s daily lives.  

Play builds skills! Check out this post on the incredible power of play. Play helps kids learn and develop cognitive experiences and the neural connections that impact their educational career, beginning right now! Occupational therapists know that play is the primary occupation of children, but what’s more is that play builds the very skills that kids need to learn and develop.

Kindergarteners can gain valuable input through play:

  • Cognition
  • Problem Solving
  • Executive Functioning Skills
  • Attention
  • Strength
  • Balance
  • Visual Motor Integration
  • Visual Processing
  • Sensory Integration
  • Self Regulation
  • Language Development
  • Self-Confidence
  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Gross Motor Skills
  • Social Emotional Development
  • Stress Relief
  • Behavior
  • Imagination
  • Creativity

Try these play ideas in the classroom or at home for fun learning (through play)!

   
 
 
 
 
   
 

Kindergarten Crafts

Crafts in Kindergarten are a great tool for so many areas.  Students can work on direction following, order, patterns, task completion, scissor skills, fine motor dexterity, tool use, and more by completing crafts in Kindergarten.  

Kindergarten crafts can have one or more of the areas listed here to help and build skills:

  • Scissor practice (placing on hand and opening/closing the scissors)
  • Exposure to different textures and art supplies
  • Practice with using a glue stick and bottle of squeeze glue
  • Practice cutting strait lines and stopping at point
  • Practice cutting simple shapes
  • Practice cutting complex shapes
  • Coloring
  • Painting with finger paints and paint brushes
  • Experience washing hands after crafting
  • Opportunities for creative expression
  • Opportunities for rule-following and direction following
  • Multi-step directions
  • Experience copying a model for visual motor benefits

Try a few (or all!) of these Kindergarten crafts for fun arts and play with your student. 

Kindergarten Craft ideas
 
 
 
 

 

Grand Old Duke of York Craft | Process Art Monster Cupcake Liner craft | Shoe Charm craft | Caterpillar Math Craft

 
 
 
We’ll be adding more to this resource soon, so stop back to find more Kindergarten learning ideas.