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.  

Pinwheel Painting is Sensory Painting

pinwheel painting

This pinwheel painting is a sensory painting art activity is one that we actually did YEARS ago.  It was such a fun messy, creative art activity and a fun one to add to your summer painting ideas, and I wanted to be sure to show you all!  My kids still talk about painting with pinwheels, so we’ll be doing this one again soon, especially now that the weather has warmed and we can get back outside for sensory play with the kids!

Pinwheel Painting

Pinwheel painting is a creative art painting experience with kids!  This is a cute art project for a letter "P" preschool theme and a great sensory painting activity for summer.

This post contains affiliate links.  

Kids love this painting with pinwheels messy art activity for sensory painting fun.

Painting with pinwheels is such a simple and fun outdoor painting activity for summer.  Or, if you’re looking for a “letter P” theme for preschoolers, painting with pinwheels would be perfect!

You can definitely take this painting activity indoors, with paper spread over the table surface.

To paint with pinwheels, there is just steps to set up this sensory painting activity:

  1. Set the stage- Find a space to work in the grass or on a table which can be wiped down. This is a messy sensory painting activity! Consider using a wipeable plastic table cloth.
  2. Pour a little washable paint into bowls. (Click here for our favorite paint for it’s bright colors that don’t fade as they dry.)
  3. Prepare your paper or canvas. We used a giant roll of paper for big art.
  4. Dip the pin the pinwheels into the paint.
  5. Roll, blow, spin, and tap the pinwheels onto the paper with color mixing. This is such a fun and creative painting activity!  

Sensory Painting Activity

The paint coated pinwheels make the paint spray, especially as kids start getting more into the activity and discover that blowing the pinwheels makes paint spray in super artistic ways!    

Pinwheel painting is a great activity to add to a summer of sensory play!

There are many sensory benefits to this Sensory painting activity:

Oral motor benefits- When children blow out through their mouth with concentrated effort, they are gaining proprioceptive input through their mouth. This is a calming and regulating sensory input that can help to organize and calm down. Read here about the development of oral motor skills. And, check out these oral motor activities for summer play.

Visual Convergence benefits- When we visually track an object as it nears our eyes (such as a pinwheel), and then track it as it moves away from the eyes, visual convergence is occurring. This visual processing skill is needed for functional tasks that we do throughout the day. Here is more information on convergence insufficiency and here are more activities to promote visual convergence skills.

Painting with Pinwheels Art activity for sensory painting.

 Let us know if you do this Pinwheel Painting art with your kids or your class.   More creative sensory painting techniques you may enjoy: 

Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

  • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
  • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

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.

Outdoor Sensory Activities for the Backyard

outdoor sensory activities for kids with sensory processing challenges.

If you are looking for outdoor sensory activities, this is the place to start. Here, you’ll find outdoor sensory ideas to address each sensory system. Also included are sensory play ideas to use in the backyard when creating an outdoor sensory diet for children.

outdoor sensory activities for kids with sensory processing challenges.

Outdoor Sensory Activities or a Sensory Diet?

So often, kids are sent home from therapy with a sensory diet of specific activities and sensory tools that are prescribed for certain sensory processing needs. When a therapist creates a home exercise program, they do their best to ensure carryover through small lists of activities, parent education, and 
motivating activities that are based on the child’s interests and personal goals.

The important thing to recognize is that there is a difference between sensory play and sensory diets. Read here for more information on what a sensory diet is and isn’t.

When therapists develop a specific and highly individualized sensory diet, it’s not just throwing together a day filled with sensory input. A sensory diet  is a specific set of sensory tools used to meet and address certain needs of the individual based on sensory need and strategizing.

Each of the sensory diet activities above should meet specific needs of the child. Every child is different so applying sensory input to one child may look very different than that of another. Parents should use the tactics below along with your child’s occupational therapist.

So, using sensory diet tools within the context of environments or activities that are deeply meaningful to a family and child such as play that is already happening, can be the meaningful and motivating strategy to actually get that sensory diet task completed. And it benefits the child along with the whole family. 

These outdoor sensory diet activities are good sensory experiences to meet the needs of children with sensory processing needs or those who struggle with sensory related behaviors, perfect for a home exercise program or occupational therapy activities.

Outdoor Sensory Activities

These outdoor sensory activities are those that can be included into backyard play. That may look like independent play by the child or it might mean family time on a Sunday afternoon. Use these outdoor sensory diet activities in the backyard to as sensory tools that double as playtime for the child while he/she learns and grows… or to meet the sensory needs of the child while creating memories and enjoying time together!

Below is a huge list of outdoor sensory activities, but to focus on each sensory system, check out these resources:

These outdoor sensory activities are good sensory experiences to meet the needs of children with sensory processing needs or those who struggle with sensory related behaviors, perfect for a home exercise program or occupational therapy activities.

Bakyard Sensory Activities

  • Slide down a hill on cardboard
  • Grass sensory bin
  • Use a magnifying glass to inspect the grass and dirt
  • Mud kitchen
  • Roll down hills
  • Animal walks with bare feet
  • Create nature “soup” with grass, flower petals, sticks, etc.
  • Pick flowers
  • Cartwheels and tumbling on the grass (barefoot or with shoes!)
  • Water Table with nature
  • Cartwheel or tumbling 
  • Target games
  • Outdoor lawn games
  • Bean bag games
  • Relay races
  • Hide and seek games
  • Simon Says games
  • Tag 
  • Bell parade
  • Kazoo sound hunt
  • Listening for birds or animals
  • Record backyard sounds and playback the recording. Try to recognize and name the sound and where it was located in the yard.
  • Fill containers with items from the backyard.  Shake plastic containers or even paper bags with the items and see if your child can name the objects.
  • Play Marco Polo in the yard!
  • Auditory backyard games like: Neighborhood Listening Scavenger Hunt, Auditory Hide and Seek, Listening Tag, Noisy Toy Positioning Game
  • Create with recycled materials and make arts, crafts, and activities.
  • Pull plastic ware out of the cupboards and sort the lids onto the containers. Mix colors with food coloring in water.
  • Blow bubbles
  • Jump rope
  • Play Kickball
  • Throw a book picnic: grab snacks, a blanket, and a pile of books and head outside.
  • Dress up with old fancy dresses and clothes from mom’s closet (then throw them in a bag and donate!)
  • Bake
  • Poke holes in a cardboard box and push pipe cleaners through the holes
  • Bowl with recycled plastic water bottles
  • Act out a favorite nursery rhyme
  • Play tag games for heavy work, spatial awareness, and body awareness.
  • Put dollhouses or play sets into a bin of shredded paper.
  • Play hide and seek
  • Climb trees
  • Watch and draw clouds
  • Tell stories where one person starts a story and each person adds a sentence to continue the story.  Write it down and illustrate your story!
  • Make and deliver lemonade to neighbors
  • Go birdwatching
  • Make creative firefly catchers and then catch the fireflies that night.
  • Play charades
  • Act out a favorite book
  • Create with finger paints (make your own with flour, water, and food coloring or washable paint!)
  • Sing songs
  • Turn on music and dance
  • Pick flowers and give them to neighbors
  • Make summer crafts that build skills.
  • Have an art show and invite friends.
  • Create a spatial concepts map
  • Spin in circles.
  • Swing side to side on a swing set.
  • Hang upside down from swing set equipment.
  • Swing on a hammock.
  • Backyard dance party.  Encourage lots of whole body movements and spinning.
  • Cartwheels
  • Tumbles
  • Hopscotch
  • Play Leapfrog
  • Mini trampoline (or the big sized-trampoline) Catch a ball while standing, sitting, swinging, rolling a ball, catching between legs, etc.
  • Hit a tennis racket at a target including bubbles, falling leaves, large balls, small rubber balls, and balloons
  • Catch butterflies in a net
  • Bubble pop, including popping bubbles with a toe, knee, foot, head, finger, or elbow  
  • Play with goop
  • Draw in shaving cream on a cookie sheet outdoors. Then squirt off in the hose.
outdoor equipment for sensory input in the backyard

Backyard Sensory Equipment

There are outdoor play items you may have already that can be repurposed to use in outdoor sensory play. These are common backyard toys or things that might be in your garage! It can be fun to re-think these items for a means of adding sensory input.

Make a bin of outdoor toys that are readily available in your garage or storage area so that sensory play experiences are at your family’s fingertips. For example, all of these items could be used in an outdoor balance beam.

  • Hoola Hoops
  • Jump Ropes
  • Balls
  • Bat
  • Tennis Racket
  • Butterfly Net
  • Baby Swimming Pool
  • Tarp or Slip and Slide
  • Water Hose
  • Scoops and cups
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Bike
  • Scooter
  • Skateboard
  • Cardboard
  • Target or net
  • Shovels
  • Buckets
  • Play wheelbarrow
  • Swing set
  • Climbing structure
  • Flashlight
  • Magnifying glass
  • Cones
  • Bubbles
  • Bean bags

Outdoor Sensory issues

Summer can mean sensory processing issues that impact kids with sensitivities or over responsiveness to sensory input. For autistic children or anyone with a neurodiversity that impacts sensory processing, summer can mean a real hatred for being outside in the hot summer months.

So what are some of the reasons that sensory kids have issues with being outside during the summer?

It can be hard to encourage outdoor play (and gain all of the benefits of outdoor play) when the summer months add a different level of sensory input. Here are some of the reasons that sensory kids are challenged in the summertime:

For kids with sensory needs, it can be overwhelming to have an open space full of sights, sounds, scents, and textures.

  • Tolerance of the cuffs of shorts or sleeves
  • Tight bathing suits
  • Sensation of sunscreen
  • Sensation of socks or other clothing in hot weather
  • Humidity changes
  • Summer thunderstorms (can change the air temperature)
  • Short clothing that brushes on legs or arms
  • Sandals or open-toed shoes
  • Crowds or places where others are in close contact
  • Wearing a mask in warmer temperatures
  • Honking horns, barking dogs, and other sounds that frequent the backyard or lawn can be too much for the child with sensory sensitivities
  • Bright sun that is at a different angle in the sky than other months of the year
  • Overwhelming smells: cut grass, lawnmower gas, sunscreen, sweat, body odors, garbage scents
  • Interoceptive issues with body temperature, increased need for water, less hunger due to heat

All of these sensory issues can occur unexpectedly and that unexpectedness of sensory input can be overwhelmingly alarming for those with autism or neurodiversity.

How to help with summer sensory overload

  • Visual schedule
  • Help the child know what to expect
  • Wear shoes instead of sandals or bear feet
  • Proprioceptive input such as firm touch to the shoulders
  • Limit time outdoors
  • Know triggers for sensory overload and plan ahead when possible
  • Oral motor jewelry
  • Communicate travel or outdoor time needs
  • Calming vestibular sensory input such as side to side or forward-front slow swinging
  • Play that involves throw and play catch with a weighted ball
  • Bucket of water to rinse hands if child is sensitive to messy hands or dirt
  • Sheltered area if child is sensitive to wind blowing on skin
  • Wear a lightweight wind jacket
  • Bring a water bottle with straw for proprioceptive input
  • Calming or alerting snacks
  • Portable fan to help with overheating if needed
  • Hat with brim to reduce bright light or intense light in eyes or on face
  • Umbrella to deflect direct sun rays and prevent overheating
  • Sunscreen with firm touch before going outdoors
  • Scent free sunscreen
  • Sunscreen lotion vs. spray sunscreen (or vice versa depending on the particular needs and preferences)
  • Sensory friendly clothing, bathing suits, goggles
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Wear headphones to reduce background noise
  • Be aware of freshly cut grass which as a strong scent
  • Wear thin gloves for tactile activities
  • Use water shoes or crocks instead of sandals

More about outdoor sensory diet activities

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.
These outdoor sensory diet activities are good sensory experiences to meet the needs of children with sensory processing needs or those who struggle with sensory related behaviors, perfect for a home exercise program or occupational therapy activities.

Working on building skills this summer? The Summer OT Bundle is for you!

Summer occupational therapy activities bundle

Work on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, scissor skills, and much more so that kids can accomplish self-care tasks, learn, and grow through play all summer long.

This bundle is perfect for the pediatric occupational therapist who needs resources and tools to use in summer therapy sessions, home programs, or extended school year therapy plans.

This bundle is perfect for parents, grandparents, and caregivers looking to provide developmental fine motor activities designed to help kids build skills.

  • Send kids back to school in the Fall without worrying about the “Summer Slide”.
  • Use these materials to work on areas like hand strength, fine motor development, scissor skills, handwriting, pencil control, pencil grasp, sensory play experiences, and much more. Just pull out the pages or activities you need for your child, and develop skills through play!

The Summer OT Bundle includes 19 resources that you can print and use over and over again:

Helping children develop and achieve functional skills this summer was never so easy (or fun!)

Be sure to grab the Summer OT Bundle, a HUGE resource of therapy tools and activities for all things building skills this summer.

Grab the Summer OT Bundle here.

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.

Tactile Defensiveness

Tactile defensiveness and what you need to know about tactile sensitivities

Today, I have an update on a very old blog post for a specific reason. This fake snow messy sensory play activity is a valuable tool in addressing tactile defensiveness, or tactile sensitivity. In general descriptions, this simply means an over-sensitivity to touch, or over-responsiveness to touch sensations. For kids with sensory issues, this can be a very big deal. Tactile defensiveness can mean poor tolerance to certain clothing, textures, food sensitivities, closeness of others, wearing socks or the feel of seams or clothing. Sensitivity to these touch sensations can look like many different things! Today we are discussing all about tactile sensitivity, what that looks like in children, and a sensory challenge that can be used for tactile sensitivity.

If you are looking for more information on sensory processing, start here with our free sensory processing information booklet.

tactile sensitivity sensory challenge with fake snow

What is Tactile Defensiveness

I briefly explained the meaning of tactile defensiveness above, but let’s break this down further.

The tactile system is one of our 8 sensory systems: touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing, proprioception, vestibular, and interoception. The sense of touch is a very big piece of the whole picture.

The Tactile Sensory System is one of the earliest developed
senses of the body, with studies telling us this sensory system begins to develop at around 8 weeks in utero. The sense of touch completes its development at around 30 weeks in utero when pain, temperature, and pressure sensations are developed.

Types of touch

The skin performs unique duties for the body, based on different types of touch input, and tactile sensitivity can be considered to occur in the various aspects of touch. These types of touch include: light touch, pressure, discrimitive touch, pain, temperature.

Most importantly for our ancient ancestors, especially, the skin protects and alerts us to danger and discriminates sensation with regard to location and identification. This is important because touch sensations alerts us to both discrimination and danger. These two levels of sensation work together yet are distinctively important. And furthermore, the skin is the largest and the most prevalent organ.


Touch discrimination- Discrimination of touch allows us to sense where on our body and what is touching us. With discrimination, we are able to
discern a fly that lands on our arm. We are able to sense and use our fingertips in fine motor tasks. We are able to touch and discern temperatures, vibrations, mount of pressure, and textures and shapes of objects.

Danger perception– The second level of the tactile system alerts us to danger. It allows us to jump in response to the “fight or flight” response
when we perceive a spider crawling on our arm. With this aspect of touch, we are able to discern temperature to ensure skin isn’t too hot or cold. We can quickly identify this temperature or sharpness of an object and quickly move away to avoid burning, freezing, or sharp objects.

When either of these levels of sensation are disrupted, tactile
dysfunction can result. This presents in many ways, including
hypersensitivity to tags in clothing, a dislike of messy play,
difficulty with fine motor tasks, a fear of being touched by
someone without seeing that touch, a high tolerance of pain, or a
need to touch everything and everyone.

Sensitivity to touch can mean over responding to touch input in the form of textures, temperatures, or pressure. Touch sensitivities mean that the body perceives input as “too much” in a dangerous way. The touch receptors that perceive input are prioritized because the brain believes we are in danger. The body moves into a state of defensiveness, or safe-mode in order to stay safe from this perceived danger. This is tactile defensiveness.

What does Tactile Defensiveness looks like?

Hyper-responsiveness of the tactile sense may include a variety of things:

  • Overly sensitivity to temperature including air, food, water, or
  • objects
  • Withdrawing when touched
  • Avoids certain food clothing textures or fabrics
  • Dislikes wearing pants or restrictive clothing around the legs
  • Refusing certain food textures
  • Dislike of having face or hair washed
  • Dislikes hair cuts
  • Dislikes having fingernails cut
  • Dislike seams in clothing
  • Excessively ticklish
  • Avoidance to messy play or getting one’s hands dirty
  • Avoidance of finger painting, dirt, sand, bare feet on grass, etc.
  • Avoids touching certain textures
  • Clothing preferences and avoidances such as resisting shoes
  • Resistance to nail clipping, face washing
  • Resists haircuts, hair brushing
  • Dislikes or resists teeth brushing
  • Overreacts to accidental or surprising light touches from
  • others
  • Avoids affectionate touch such as hugs
  • Dislikes closeness of other people

As a result of this avoidance, development in certain areas can be delayed, in a way that functional performance of daily tasks is impacted. What you see in as a result of a poorly integrated tactile sensory system:

  • Delayed fine motor skills
  • Rigid clothing preferences
  • Behavioral responses to tasks such as putting on shoes or coat
  • Impaired personal boundaries
  • Avoids tactile sensory activities
  • Poor body scheme
  • Difficulty with praxis
  • Poor hand skill development

More information on sensory processing of each of the sensory systems and how that impacts daily life can be found in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook. You’ll also find practical strategies for integrating sensory diets into each part of every day life, in motivating and meaningful ways. Check out The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook for moving from sensory dysfunction to sensory function!

How to help with tactile sensitivity

There are ways to help address these areas, so that the child is safe and can function and perform tasks in their daily life. While addressing tactile sensitivities doesn’t mean changing the child’s preferences, it can mean understanding what is going on, what the child does and does not prefer in the way of sensory processing, and it can mean providing tools and resources to help the child.

This should involve an occupational therapist who can take a look at sensory processing and integration and make specific recommendations.

Some strategies that can impact tactile sensitivity include:

  • Understanding the child’s sensory systems, and integration in the daily life of the child. Grab the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook to read more on sensory diets that are meaningful and motivating. These are sensory activities that can be integrated right into tasks like baths, tooth brushing, hair brushing, dentist visits, clothing changes, etc.
  • Take a look at clothing sensitivity red flags for areas of sensitivity to clothing that stand out for the individual child.
  • Read more on proprioception and the connection of heavy work input as a calming and regulatory tool for sensitivities.
  • Work on touch discrimination with activities at the level of the child.
  • Provide verbal input to warn the child prior to light touch
  • Provide visual cues and schedules for tasks that must be completed such as tooth brushing or hair brushing.
  • Trial tactile experiences at a graded level, introducing various sensory experiences in a “safe space” at a just right level for the child.

Tactile Defensiveness Sensory Activity

That’s where this messy sensory play activity comes in. By taking out the “messy” part of this sensory experience, children who dislike messy play or touching certain textures can explore the sensory activity and challenge tactile exposure. In this way, they are experiencing a new and novel texture (temperature and squishy, messy experiences), but at a safe level, or “just right” level for them.

This snow sensory play activity has the opportunity for tactile challenges, but it uses a plastic bag to contain the actual mess, allowing for a mess-free sensory experience, at different grades of texture exposure.

Fake snow for sensory play

Fake Snow Recipe

We made fake snow one recent weekend, when we had a big cousin sleep over.  There were six kids aged five and under staying overnight at our house.  I had this activity planned for us to do together, (because I procrastinated ) and had to get it together to take to a Winter Festival at our church the next day.  It was a fun messy play idea for indoor snow.

We’ve made this fake snow before and I have the recipe listed on our Messy Play Day post.  

This fake snow is easy, because it includes only 2 ingredients:

  • Toilet paper
  • Ivory soap

With these two ingredients, there are many opportunities for tactile sensitivity challenges, and each child can experience sensory exploration at a level that suits their preferences. Some children may enjoy experiencing the dry texture of the toilet paper. (See the kids below…they sure enjoyed this texture.)

Other children may prefer (or avoid) the tactile experience of touching and manipulating the squishy, warm soap texture.

Others may tolerate mixing the two textures together.

Still others, may prefer none of these textures. In this case, move to the last level of this tactile experience, which is placing the fake snow into the plastic baggie. Then, they can squeeze and touch the sensory fake snow with a barrier in place. they will still experience the warm temperature and firm, heavy work of squeezing through their hands, but they will experience this sensory input in a “safe” level with that plastic bag barrier.

Fake Snow Dry sensory Bin

Step 1: Tear the toilet paper into shreds. Keep this in a bin or large container. We used an under-the bed storage bin because I was making a large quantity of fake snow for our Winter Festival.

We shredded the toilet paper and the kids had a BLAST! It started out so neat and kind.  Tearing the toilet paper is a fantastic fine motor activity for those hands, too. It offers heavy work input through the hands which can have a regulating, calming impact on the joints of the hands. This can be a nice “warm up” exercise for the tactile challenge of exploring and manipulating the dry toilet paper texture.

For kids with tactile sensitivities, this might be “too much” for them to handle. Try using tongs and ask them to explore the toilet paper shredding sensory bin to find hidden items. Some of the paper cards and winter words in our Winter Fine Motor Kit are great additions to this sensory bin.

How to make fake snow using toilet paper for a fun sensory challenge to the hands.
Kids can make fake snow for a tactile sensory experience.

 And then turned in to this.  

Use toilet paper in a dry sensory bin for tactile sensitivity and fine motor strengthening.

  And this.  

Slightly off-course in our sensory bin, but of course it did.   Why wouldn’t it when you have 6 cousins together?  ((Ok, that part of this post was NOT mess-free…the end result is mess-free. I promise.)) So, then we popped the Ivory soap into the microwave…

Fake Snow Wet Sensory Experience

Step 2 in the tactile sensory experience is the wet fake snow portion. Following the fake snow recipe, we popped a bar of ivory soap into the microwave and ended up with a cloud of sensory material.

Ivory soap in the microwave for a tactile defensiveness sensory challenge and to use in making fake snow.

Children can touch and explore this sensory material for a warm, sensory experience.

Step 3 in the tactile challenge is mixing the dry material with the wet material. This can definitely be a challenge for those with tactile defensiveness or touch sensitivities.

If it is too much of a sensory challenge, invite the child to mix with a large spoon or to touch with a finger tip.

Other children may enjoy this part of making fake snow. The melted soap can be mixed with the toilet paper…to make fake snow!    

How to make fake snow with ivory soap and toilet paper

 

Fake Snow Sensory Play for Tactile Sensitivities

THIS is the mess-free part that many children with tactile defensiveness may enjoy. 🙂

Simply place some of the fake snow material into a zip top plastic bag. You can tape the top shut to keep the material in the bag.

By manipulating the fake snow in a safe sensory manner, kids get exposure to a calming warm temperature. This is one low-level challenge to the tactile system. The warm temperature is a calming, regulating aspect that can be powerful in self-regulation.

Children can also squeeze, manipulate, pound, and spread the fake snow within the plastic baggie. This offers heavy work input through the hands and upper body in a way that is calming and regulating.

By placing the fake snow into a bag for sensory play, kids are exposed to tactile experinces in a way that may help with tactile discrimination by incorporating the proprioceptive sense.

Challenge motor skills further by adding items such as foam snowflake stickers, glass gems, and glitter.  This was so much fun for my crew of kids and nieces/nephews and I hope it’s a tactile experience you get to play with as well!

Make fake snow for a mess free sensory experience that kids with tactile defensiveness will enjoy
Fine motor sensory experience with fake snow.

 

Products mentioned in this post:

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is your strategy guide for turning sensory diets and sensory activities into a sensory lifestyle.

A Sensory Diet Strategy Guide The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a strategy guide for sensory processing needs. With valuable insight to the sensory system and the whole child, the book details how sensory diets can be incorporated into a lifestyle of sensory success. The thoughtful tools in this book provide intervention strategies to support and challenge the sensory systems through meaningful and authentic sensory diet tactics based on the environment, interests, and sensory needs of each individual child.

winter fine motor kit

The Winter Fine Motor Kit Done-for-you fine motor plans to help kids form stronger hands.

This print-and-go winter fine motor kit includes no-prep fine motor activities to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. This 100 page no-prep packet includes everything you need to guide fine motor skills in face-to-face AND virtual learning. Includes winter themed activities for hand strength, pinch and grip, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, endurance, finger isolation, and more. 

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.

Writing Trays for Handwriting

Writing trays are sensory activities to teach handwriting

Writing trays are a fantastic way to help kids work on handwriting, letter formation, and pre-writing skills.  There are so many benefits to a sand tray (or other sensory writing materials) in helping with letter formation and handwriting. There is a reason that writing trays are a popular way to encourage fine motor skills and an introduction to handwriting; They use a tactile sensory strategy to encourage movement in learning in a multi-sensory way.  Writing Trays make letter formation fun and meaningful in a play-based manner.


Try this easy rice writing tray for a simple sensory writing experience.

Writing trays are sensory activities to teach handwriting

What is a writing tray?

I’ve used writing trays in my occupational therapy interventions and with my own kids for years. Writing trays are such a powerful tool to add a multi-sensory component and moveemnt to learning to write.

Writing trays are a dry or wet sensory material in a low tray or bin type of container. Children can use their finger or a tool such as a pencil, paint brush, or other item to draw, write letters, or form numbers into the sensory material.

Writing Trays are a creative way to help kids learn to write letters, numbers, shapes, and pre-writing strokes.  There are a ton of different ways that writing trays can be set up and used in letter formation. Essentially, a writing tray uses a low container (or TRAY) and a medium that can be moved and shifted for writing.

Sensory writing trays can contain sensory fillers of any type. If you are able to move the material in a way that letters can be drawn in the tray, then the sensory writing tray is a success. With a sensory writing tray, children can write letters independently or copy letters from a visual letter card.

You can find them used in schools, clinics, preschools, early learning centers, and homeschool dinging rooms.  

Writing tray sensory filler ideas for handwriting

Writing Tray Sensory Filler Material

Affiliate links are included in this post.

What is in a Writing Tray? (Writing Tray Fillers)

Writing Trays are filled with a filler that us manipulated and shifted so that letters or writing lines are visible.  Some ideas for filling a writing tray include the sensory materials listed below.


Sand
Colored Sand
Rice
Dyed Rice
Salt
Dyed Rice
Play Dough
Other Doughs
Sugar
Flour
Cornmeal
Slime (Check out the fun we had with slime in a writing tray!)
Spices
Crushed Chalk


While sometimes, a child can use their finger to form the lines in their writing tray, a writing tool is typically recommended. (More on that below.)
Use writing trays for handwriting and letter formation

Sensory Writing Tray Benefits

Kids can use writing trays to practice letter formation, or pencil control and stroke sequence in writing letters.  Typically, they will be provided with a visual cue or cue card for copying the letters/numbers/shapes.  Other times, kids can form the letter/number/shape independently when prompted to make a specific letter. This is a great way to work on visual memory and independent letter formation.
 
Be sure to verbally prompt children to form letters or build letters with correct stroke sequence.  This is essential for carryover of accuracy with letter formation in handwriting.  Otherwise, the child is simply playing in the sensory tray and not effectively using the writing tray as a tool for improved handwriting.  Encouraging the child who is learning pre-writing strokes and beginning letter formation can use a writing tray as a base for forming letters independently. Try using visual and verbal cues to promote correct letter construction.
 
A few more must-dos when using a writing tray for addressing letter formation:
  • Make sure letters are not formed in parts.  In other words, don’t allow kids to make a circle and then a line to form an “a”. 
  • Make sure letters are formed from top to bottom. 
  • Realize that the motor plan to form letters with your finger is different than the motor plan to form letters with a pencil or other pencil-like writing tool.

The nice thing about writing trays is that they are very versatile. Students of all ages can use writing trays to work on different levels of handwriting. Some ways to work on handwriting include:

  • Copying pre-writing lines
  • Copying shapes 
  • Letter identification
  • Uppercase letter formation
  • Lowercase letter formation
  • Letter copying
  • Letter writing from memory
  • Cursive letter formation
  • Cursive letter writing from memory
  • Word copying
  • Sight word writing
  • Spelling word writing
Writing trays for handwriting, letter formation, and fine motor skills.

 

Fine Motor Skills and Writing Trays

A writing tray can be an effective tool in boosting fine motor skills.  Kids can use their finger to form lines and letters while strengthening finger isolation and separation of the two sides of the hand, including an opportunity for the ulnar side fingers to tuck into the palm for a more effective pencil grasp when writing.
 
Children can also use a tool to form letters in a writing tray.  This can be an opportunity to develop pencil grasp.  However.  There are a few items that should be mentioned about using a writing tray to address pencil grasp and appropriate motor plan for letter formation.
 
Writing Trays are a common tool.  But if you just place a writing tray in front of a child, you will likely see an inefficient writing activity.  You will probably see most kids forming letters with an awkward grasp on the writing tool, a flexed and deviated wrist, an abducted shoulder, and generally ineffective positioning.  


Positioning absolutely carries over to letter formation and handwriting.
 
A writing tray can be used to address pencil grasp and handwriting needs.  However, it is essential to use the tray in a proper manner.  There are a few ways to do this:
  • Place the writing tray on a slight slant. Try using a DIY slant board.
  • Use a low edged tray.
  • Use verbal, physical, and visual cues for appropriate positioning. 
  • Position the writing tool in your child’s hand with an appropriate tripod or modified tripod grasp.
  • Show the child how to hold the tool at the end of the tool as if they were holding a pencil.
Once you’ve got your writing tray set up and positioning taken care of, it’s on to the fun stuff…making a writing tray!
 
 

How to make a Writing Tray

Making a writing tray to gain benefits of teaching sensory handwriting is easy. You can use materials found around the home. The options are limitless when it comes to writing tray combinations! You can create a writing tray in any theme or to meet any need. You’ll need just a few items: a container, a filler, a tool, and letter cards.

Writing Tray Ideas

First, you’ll need a low tray, basket, bin, or other container. We’ve used a variety of containers in our sensory writing trays. You’ll want a container that will hold the sensory writing material within its edges. In some cases, you can even scatter the sensory material on a flat surface like a table or a plastic table cloth on the floor. For example, we used dyed rice right on the kiddie picnic table for a pre-writing and hand strengthening activity.

Kids will be using a tool or their hands to write letters and the sensory material can scatter. Some specific ideas include:

  • Kitchen baking trays (jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with edges)
  • Food storage containers
  • Melissa and Doug wooden puzzle boxes
  • Cardboard boxes cut low on the sides
  • 9×11 cake pan
  • Shirt box
  • Tray
  • Low basket

Writing Tray Tools

Next, you’ll need a tool to use to write the letters. This can be items found in the home as well.  Some writing tray tools include:

  • Finger
  • Eraser end of a pencil
  • Paint brush
  • Feather
  • Straw
  • Pointer stick
  • Stick from a tree
  • Craft stick
  • Chopsticks
  • Toothpick
  • Craft pom pom attached to a clothes pin

Writing Tray Letter Cards

Next, an important part of a writing tray is the letter model. As mentioned above, writing trays are great for copying pre-writing lines, shapes, letters, numbers, and words. 

Cards can be used as a visual model for forming letters or words. Some cards include direction arrows. Others might include a sight word or spelling word for the child to copy. These cards can be positioned in different positions to address different needs. 

  • Position the letter cards right in the tray for near-point copying.
  • Position the writing tray cards in a vertical position near the writing tray to challenge vision shift. 
  • Hang the writing cards on a wall for far point copying to work on visual shift, visual attention, visual memory, and copying from a distance. 

Writing Tray Fillers

You’ll also need a sensory material to act as a filler. This is the material that the child will actually “write” in. When we say “write”, they are using the tool to form letters as the sensory filler moves in the tray. They will not actually write a letter with a pencil or other marking device. Sensory filler material can be as creative as you let it. Some writing tray fillers include these materials:

Click each link for ideas on how to set up these creative writing trays.

 
 
 
 
Dyed Rice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
As you can see, the ideas are limitless when it comes to sensory handwriting! Use a theme or materials that meet the needs of your child or client and are motivating and fun!
 

More sensory Handwriting Activities

Sensory Writing Bag

Sensory Handwriting Camp at Home

Teach letters with sensory textures

Pencil pressure activities

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

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.

Peppermint Moon Dough Recipe

Moon dough recipe is a peppermint dough recipe for Christmas sensory play.

I have something fun to share today. This moon dough recipe is an old post here on The OT Toolbox, and one that we loved looking back at. Have you made your own moon dough?  This stuff is seriously messy and majorly fun!  We made our Peppermint Moon Dough recipe a little different than the usual moon dough recipe that is out there.  This moon dough recipe is very soft and fun even for moms to play with!  It’s a great companion to our peppermint play dough recipe from years ago, too.

Moon dough recipe is a peppermint dough recipe for Christmas sensory play.


Moon Dough Recipe

We started with what we had on hand.  When it comes to kid-related messy play and making these sensory play activities, we love to use something that otherwise would be thrown away.  Likewise, waste in these activities is not something we are big fans of.  So, when ever possible, we’ll re-use sensory play materials for other activities and save things like dyed pasta and rice for future sensory activities.  

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  

This moon dough recipe used something that would otherwise be headed to the trash bin…I had some scented lotion that I had for a while… I really didn’t care for the scent.  That and some corns starch were all that were needed to make the base of our moon dough!  

Moon Dough Ingredients

There are only four ingredients in this easy moon dough recipe. You could even omit the food coloring and make this a 3 ingredient moon dough recipe!


To make the consistency of moon dough, use a 4:1 ratio of corn starch to lotion.  This will make a nice and fluffy, but moldable moon dough. 

We added a few drops of peppermint extract and some red food coloring.  We used the gel type of food coloring, but only because that is all we had on hand.  I’m sure liquid food coloring would work just as well, although with the added liquid of scent and food coloring, a little extra corn starch might be needed. 

Also to note when making your moon dough recipe is that different brands of lotion may effect this recipe.  As you mix the ingredients together, you many need to use more or less corn starch depending on the consistency.

Moon dough recipe that kids can make for a Christmas sensory activity. Make this candy cane scented sensory dough with kids.

Half of the moon dough, I kept plain white and the other half got the red food coloring for a very candy cane look.   Add a few little bowls and spoons for scooping, and a couple of Candy Cane cookie cutters, and we were ready to play!

Peppermint dough for Christmas sensory play with an easy moon dough recipe.

We all got busy scooping, fluffing, and mixing.  This was such a fun sensory play experience (for mom, too!)  The lotion made this dough very soft and with the peppermint scent, you could no longer smell the lotion’s scent.

Peppermint moon dough recipe that kids can use to scoop and pour for fine motor work.

Baby Girl (age 2) especially loved to scoop the moon dough.  She used the spoons and filled one cup after another.  And what great fine motor skills this was for her!  She liked to mix the red and the white colors together, dump it all out, and start scooping again!  Here is information on the developmental benefits of scooping and pouring with toddlers.

We played right on the hard wood floor of our dining room for an easy clean up.  Any stray moon dough bits were easy to broom right up.  

Moon dough activity for kids to scoop and pour for a holiday sensory activity.

Little Guy’s favorite part was making the candy cane molds.  We packed the moon dough into the cookie cutters and then pulled it up.  The moon dough would hold it’s shape of the candy cane.  There were a bunch of little moon dough candy canes before we finished!

Candy cane moon dough is a sensory material that smells so fresh for holiday family fun.

    The scent of peppermint candy canes filled the room!  We had so much fun playing with this moon dough!   

Christmas sensory dough with a 4 ingredient moon dough recipe.

When we were finished playing, I poured all of the moon dough into a storage bad and saved it to make a new play activity.  We’ll be using it again, soon!

Have you made moon dough? How about candy cane scented moon dough? 

Looking for more fun candy cane scented sensory play? 

More Christmas sensory ideas

You’ll find more Christmas sensory activities here, but be sure to try some of these sensory dough materials this holiday season.

Christmas modified paper

Christmas Modified Paper Pack

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.

Tearing Paper Awesome Fine Motor Activity

Tearing paper activity for kids

So often, parents are looking for easy ways to help kids develop fine motor skills. Tearing paper is an amazing fine motor activity for kids.  It’s 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…

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

Tearing Paper

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 paper tearing activity:

  • Hand eye coordination
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Pinch strength
  • Intrinsic hand strength
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • Shoulder and forearm stability
  • Precision and refined grasp
  • Proprioceptive input
  • Motor planning
tearing paper is a fine motor skills workout for kids.

Paper Tearing Activity

We use recycled artwork to create this Torn Paper texture art that would look great on any gallery (or family dining room) wall!

Paper tearing activity for kids uses recycled artwork to build fine motor skills and motor control while tearing paper.

Torn paper art work using recycled art:

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

Fine motor art craft for working on intrinsic muscle skills and tripod grasp with kids while using all of that recycled artwork, too!

 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.

For this paper tearing activity, first tear a sheet into long strips.  This will become the sky of our artwork.

Use kids artwork to create a paper tearing activity that builds fine motor skills.
Tearing paper builds fine motor skills and endurance in fine motor precision, making it a fine motor workout!

Torn paper Collage

Tearing strips of paper is especially a great fine motor task.  

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.

Tearing the paper slowly while focusing on strait torn lines really encourages a workout of those intrinsic muscles.  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.

This is a fantastic way to build motor planning skills.

Tear paper in a torn paper collage artwork for kids. Tearing strips of green paper to build motor skills.

 Vary the texture of the paper and add green cardstock.  The thicker paper requires a bit more strength. Tearing paper that is thicker like cardstock, index cards, or construction paper adds heavy input through the hands. This propriocpetive input can be very calming and allow kids to regulate or focus while adding the sensory input they need.

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.  

Tearing paper 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.

Use 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 a piece of 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:

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.