Gross Motor Toys

gross motor toys

If you are looking for the best gross motor toys to challenge coordination, balance, motor planning through whole-body movement and heavy work play, then you are in luck with these occupational therapy toys. Each one is designed to develop gross motor skills: strength, coordination, balance, posture, and more.

PLUS, head to the bottom of this blog post for Day 2 of our therapy toy giveaway. We’re giving away a gross motor kit with agility cones, tossing loops, bean bags, and hula hoops, perfect for gross motor, balance, coordination, and even heavy sensory play through whole body movements.

We started off the fun with yesterday’s fine motor toy ideas. Today is all about the gross motor play.

First, let’s talk Gross Motor Toys!

You’ll also want to check out our blog post on Gross Motor Activities for Preschoolers because many of the gross motor toy ideas listed in this post would be great for the preschool years (and beyond!).

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Gross Motor Toys

Kids need gross motor movement for so many skills. Today, I have gross motor toys to share! Here, you’ll find the best whole body toys and ideas to help kids with balance, core strength, stability, coordination, and endurance. Scroll on to check out some therapist-approved toys that help gross motor skill development!

Gross motor toys to help kids develop skills in running, hopping, jumping, skipping, crawling, and more.

Gross Motor Toy Ideas

This list of toys for gross motor skills pairs well with our recent list of Fine Motor Toys. Today however, you’ll find toys that develop a few areas that are essential to areas of child development:

Bilateral Coordination– Kids need bilateral coordination in whole body movements to move their body in a coordinated way. These whole body movements can include coordination of the upper and lower body, or both arms, or both feet, and all of the above! Here are bilateral coordination toys to address this specific area.

Motor Planning– Motor planning with the whole body allows children to move in a room without crashing into objects or other people. Gross motor motor planning allows children to climb steps, navigate obstacles, or any movement-based task. Here is more information on motor planning and motor planning toys to address this specific sub-area.

Gross motor coordinationCoordination of gross motor skills is needed for tasks such as kicking or catching a ball, riding a bike, getting dressed, or any task that uses the entire body. Here are hand eye coordination toys to address this particular sub-area.

Proprioception– Integration of proprioceptive input allows children to know where their body is in space. It tells the body how much effort is needed to pick up and move objects. Proprioception allows us to understand the body’s position as it moves in a coordinated manner.

Vestibular input- Integration of vestibular input allows children to navigate the world around them as they move. Going up or down steps or bleachers is an example of this. Moving into different positions during tasks is another example of vestibular integration. Movement through different planes requires integration of vestibular input.

All of these areas work together in functional tasks and all are rooted in gross motor skills.

Related: This dinosaur gross motor game is a skill builder, as well.

Toys for Gross Motor Skill Development

So often, therapists and teachers purchase items to use in their work using their own money. This giveaway offers a chance for you to win an item that will be useful in helping kids thrive.

And, given that kids are on screens more than ever before with all of the virtual learning and hybrid learning models being incorporated all over the world, therapists are seeing more need for active, physical play.

These are gross motor toys that you will find in therapy clinics. There is a reason why…because they are gross motor powerhouses! So, if you are looking for toy recommendations that build whole body motor skills, this is it!

Amazon affiliate links are included below. You can read more about these items by checking out the links.

Zoom ball is a great gross motor toy for kids.

Zoom Ball– This classic toy is such a great way to work on many skills. A zoom ball can be used in different positions to challenge balance and vestibular input. Try using the zoom ball games in sitting, standing, kneeling, standing on couch cushions, a slant…again, the options are limitless! Address skills such as:

  • Bilateral coordination
  • Core strength
  • Shoulder stability
  • Visual convergence
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination
Pop and catch toys can help kids develop gross motor skills.

Pop and Catch- Use this coordination toy indoors or outdoors to get kids moving. This toy can be played with while the child is standing, sitting, kneeling, or in a half-sit to challenge the core and eye-hand coordination in a variety of planes. Try playing on all fours on the floor for a shoulder girdle stability activity. Another use for this toy is by playing by standing at a table while the child shoots the ball across the table surface as they play like a ping-pong type of game. There are many uses for this pop and catch activity:

  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Motor planning
  • Vestibular input
  • Core strength
  • Stability of core
  • Stability of shoulder girdle
use bucket stilts to help kids develop gross motor skills.

Bucket Stilts– These bucket stilts are perfect for helping kids develop gross motor skills. I love this set because there are 6 colored buckets that make a great gross motor obstacle course tool, too. You could use them as stepping stones to challenge balance and coordination, too. Here are gross motor skills that you can work on using these bucket stilts toys:

  • Core strength
  • Vestibular input
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Stabilizing
use agility cones to help kids build gross motor skills in obstacle courses and more.

Agility Cones– Sports cones are such an open-ended gross motor toy that can be used to develop so many skills: hopping, jumping, skipping, running, climbing, crawling…the options are endless. Use these agility cones in therapy obstacle courses, challenges, drills, and more. I chose these particular cones because they can go very nicely with a Zones of Regulation activity! Use cones to support these areas:

  • Motor planning
  • Vestibular input
  • Coordination
  • Core strength
  • Endurance
Use carpet markers to build gross motor skills with gross motor obstacle courses, motor planning, and more.

Carpet Markers– These carpet markers are an occupational therapist’s dream toy! Use the colored marker spots to help kids work on so many movement skills in obstacle courses, visual perceptual skill activities, direction following, sensory movement breaks, positioning guides, and so much more. The arrows are perfect for addressing directionality. Use them to work on crawling, hopping, jumping, stopping on a point. Just some of the areas that these carpet spots support:

  • Core strength
  • Shoulder stability
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination
  • Endurance
  • Proprioception
A parachute is a great gross motor toy for kids.

Parachute– A parachute is another open-ended gross motor toy that the kids just LOVE. This one is small enough for small groups, but builds motor skills in a big way. Use the parachute to help kids develop:

  • Core stability
  • Arm strength
  • Motor planning
  • Endurance
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Proprioceptive input

Toys for Core Strength

Toys that develop core strength get kids moving in a variety of positions. These toys support and challenge the vestibular and proprioceptive systems so they can be calming activities as well. Strength and stability in the core is needed for almost all functional tasks. Challenge kids with these core strengthening toys by getting them moving, on the floor in floor play or strengthening the core muscles through movement and balance coordination. Some ideas for developing and strengthening core strength include:

Toys for balance

Toys that challenge movement changes, stepping from high to low and low to high, and movement with vestibular input offer opportunities to challenge and develop balance and coordination skills.

Gross Motor Coordination Toys

Encourage movement, whole body play, and gross motor coordination with throwing, tossing, and hand-eye coordination or foot-eye coordination skills with these gross motor coordination ideas:

Obstacle Course Toys

All of the gross motor toys listed above could be used in obstacle courses…and what a great way to encourage so many skills! These are perfect additions to your obstacle course ideas, and challenge balance, coordination, motor planning, and add sensory input. Use these obstacle course toys to vary movement and encourage the specific skills kids need:

Want to add these toys to your home, classroom, or therapy practice? I am SO happy to fill your toolbox so you can help kids thrive and build and develop the skills they need!

More therapy Toys

Check out the other therapy toy recommendations in the list below:

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


Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support gross motor development?

As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

Your therapy caseload will love these GROSS MOTOR toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!

Image of turtle stepping stones toy with text reading "gross motor toy giveaway"

Gross Motor Toy Giveaway

Want to enter our Therapy Toys and Tools Giveaway for a chance to win a gross motor toy? Enter your email address into the form below. You’ll also get a free printable list of gross motor toys.

Today’s toy is a (Amazon affiliate link) Stepping Stones Turtle balance set. These Turtle Stepping Stones are great for targeting gross motor skills, as well coordination and balance, motor planning, muscle tone, body awareness, and MORE! This easily adaptable toy set gets kids running, walking, jumping, etc. to further develop their crucial gross motor skills. They could certainly be used as an engaging step in an obstacle course and this specific set even comes with activity cards which transforms the stepping stones into a game that can be played with multiple children! When you’re done using them, they come with a durable bag to make it easy to store and travel with!

This giveaway runs from 11-25-23 through 12-5-23. A winner will be chosen on 12-6-2023.

Gross Motor Toy Giveaway

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

    Enter all the giveaways here:

    Check out the blog comments below to see tips and ideas from readers telling us which gross motor toys they would love to use with the kids they work with and love. Have other gross motor favorites that aren’t listed here? Tell us about them!

    Indoor Balance Beam Ideas for a Rainy Day

    DIY balance beams

    Some of our favorite ways to work on gross motor skills are with a simple balance beam, and having indoor balance beam ideas on hand is key to throwing together a therapy plan or movement activity on the go. With the start of cooler weather, the kids may not get a chance to be outdoors so this is when gross motor coordination tasks is a must for self-regulation and movement needs. 

    As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    We have many balance activities here on The OT Toolbox, and one of our favorites is a DIY balance beam that targets interests to making things meaningful and motivating through play.

    You’ll also want to check out our outdoor balance beam ideas for more information and inspiration.

    However, sometimes, it’s impossible to get outside when the weather is rainy.  Other times, kids need a break from very hot temperatures.  It’s a great idea to work those core muscles as well as balance with sensory vestibular input through play with balance beam play weather the kids are playing indoors or out. These ideas would work for rainy indoor days, too!

    You’ll want to check out our blog post on crossing midline for preschoolers because the balance beam can be a tool for supporting sensory motor needs and abilities such as maneuvering over a balance beam.

    Indoor Balance Beam Ideas

    Kids love balance beams!  There is a good reason to promote them, too. Balance, core strength, and bilateral coordination are all addressed with just a simple balance beam.  You can find out more about these areas in our How Balance Beams Help Kids.

    One thing to be aware of is how balance develops. For younger children a balance beam may be more difficult than it is beneficial in building strength or coordination.

    If you are looking for more information on how core strength helps with attention in kids, read this Core Strength and Attention activity that we did previously.

    Related, this Brain Gym Bilateral Coordination activity is a great way to get both sides of the body moving in a coordinated manner through play. 

    Balance beams are a great activity for preschool because of the development happening at this age. You can start with a floor balance beam and then move on to a raised beam. A 2×4 wooden beam is all it takes. Read about indoor gross motor activities for preschool for more ideas and information.

    Indoor balance beam ideas for a rainy day


    Indoor Balance Beam Ideas for a Rainy Day

    Indoor balance beams are a great way to encourage vestibular and proprioceptive movement through play and gross motor work. 

    This post contains affiliate links. 

    Cut paper or cardboard into shapes. You could also use pieces of contact paper that sticks to the floor or shelf liner paper so the targets won’t slip when stepped on.

    Kids can cut out these shapes and tape them to the floor to create an indoor balance beam on a rainy day.  

    Some of these ideas would work:

    Another idea is to use the theme of a playground balance beam in an indoor setting. Our playground balance beam therapy slide deck does just that and it’s great for indoor play or in a virtual therapy setting, too.

    Rainy day ideas including indoor balance beams for kids

    Let’s take a look at some DIY balance beams…these are great indoor balance beam ideas!

    Some of our favorite DIY balance beams use items found around the home.

    DIY balance beam ideas

    There are so many DIY balance beam ideas that you can use indoors or even outdoors.

    One tip is to consider the space between steps that a child has to make. You can move the surface that they are walking on closer together or further apart.

    Mix up the surfaces. Use pillows or foam mixed with hard surfaces like cardboard or a wooden board.

    Encourage students to bend, crouch, or swing their feet along the side of the balance beam to encourage the user to challenge more balance and gross motor work.

    • Make a DIY balance beam using foam cutouts like these flowers.
    • Stick painters’ tape to the floor in a balance beam, using zig zag lines.
    • Rope balance beam- Use a jump rope on the floor. Balance along the jump rope. You can also use thread, twine, yarn, or other forms of string.
    • Paper plates- Tape them down so they don’t slide, or use them on a carpet for a sliding balance beam challenge!
    • Pillow Balance Beam- Place a line of pillows across the floor. You can easily grade this by using bigger pillows or smaller pillows. Even couch cushions would work.
    • Use a Sheet- Make a path using a sheet for a wide balance beam. Fold a bed sheet into a long strip and use to to walk across the floor.
    • Roll up a blanket or sheet as a balance beam like this Gross Motor Apple Tree Balance Beam.
    • Use a 2 by 4 piece of wood. You can place this right on the ground for a low DIY balance beam, or raise it up by using two other small pieces of wood.
    • Make a chalk balance beam outside on the driveway or on the sidewalk. Here are more ideas for an outdoor sensory diet using a driveway.
    • Get creative and make a Wikki Stix obstacle course like we did with our wikki stix race car path. While this is not the traditional balance beam, it is a huge skill-builder because crawling on the floor on all fours or on three points (two knees and one arm as the child pushes a car along a path) develops core strength and stability.
    • Pool Noodle Balance Beam:
      1. Cut pool noodles in half lengthwise.
      2. Place the pool noodle halves in a straight line on the ground.
      3. Duct tape them together to form a stable balance beam.
    • Cardboard Box Balance Beam:
      1. Cut cardboard boxes into strips or squares.
      2. Tape the cardboard pieces together to make a path along the floor.
    balance beam toys

    Balance beam toys are another way to develop core strength, stability, and balance, and they can be graded to meet the needs of each child.

    Balance Beam Toys

    Other balance beam toys are out there on the market, that are inexpensive tools for developing balance, coordination, visual convergence, body scheme, crossing midline, and more.

    These skills can be challenged by changing the balance surface, encouraging stepping down and up from the balance beam toy, or using a variety of different balancing toys in a series.

    Occupational therapy obstacle courses do this really well.

    As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases. The links below are Amazon affiliate links.

    • This Folding Beam (affiliate link) is great for storage concerns. Add creative balance beam activities like transferring items from a bucket at one end to a bucket at the other end.
    • Balance Pods (affiliate link) can be positioned in any room or activity. Encourage big and little steps by spacing them closely and further apart.
    • Stepping Buckets Balance (affiliate link) challenge motor planning. Place obstacles in between the buckets for more visual tracking while working on vestibular sensory integration.
    • The BSN Gymnastics Curve-A-Beam (affiliate link) can be reconfigured in many patterns and directions.
    • Gonge Riverstones (affiliate link) are a great challenge to the vestibular system with various sloped sides.
    • Connected Balance Beams– (affiliate link) This balance beam toy encourages different balance motor plans, including stepping across an open space.
    • Balance Pods (affiliate link) can be used in many different ways. Position them close together to make a beam, or space them apart to challenge the child with a more difficult balance path.

    Looking for more ways to move and play indoors?  Try these ideas:

    Indoor Tee Pee

    3 Ingredient Kinetic Sand

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

    Beach Ball Wiggle Cushion

    beach ball sensory seat

    One trick up my occupational therapy sleeve is using a beach ball cushion as a cheap sensory seat alternative. A beach ball wiggle cushion is actually a DIY occupational therapy seat cushion that offers all of the sensory input that a typical wiggle cushion offers but at a much more affordable cost. This is an OT tip that I’ve used time and time again to support sensory needs in the classroom. Let’s explore this occupational therapy sensory seat alternative!

    This blog post was originally published May 11, 2016 and updated in 2023.

    As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    beach ball sensory seat

    Beach Ball Cushion

    You’ve probably seen a wiggle seat or other occupational therapy sensory cushion in use. However, have you ever seen a beach ball cushion in action?

    Let’s explain…

    Sensory strategies in the classroom are not always easy to use. There are many factors at play for the school based OT: items get lost, the price of sensory items, the carryover…there are a lot of factors that impact the use of sensory strategies such as wiggle seat cushions! However, the need for calm down items in school environments are prevalent.

    Flexible seating in the school environment is one area that school based OTs address, because of the impact that seating may have on learning:

    • Posture and sitting balance
    • Handwriting and fine motor skills
    • Attention and focus in learning
    • Sensory input and needs
    • Vision needs
    • Other

    However alternatives to seating can be pricy. That’s why having a few DIY flexible seating options are handy.

    Affiliate links are included in this post.

    occupational therapy seat cushion

    Take a look in a classroom or an Occupational Therapist’s clinic.  You might see a few interesting occupational therapy seat cushions that are used to support sensory and regulation needs. 

    There are bright blue disk cushions, wedges (affiliate link) of different sizes, and even giant therapy balls (affiliate link), wiggle stools, and even sensory chairs.  All of these sensory seating ideas are perfect for vestibular input during sitting.  

    Each of these occupational therapy cushions are designed to promote movement and wiggling to allow for improved attention and needed sensory input.  

    Wobbly seat cushions, or “wiggle cushions” like these are used for self regulation and allow students to attend to classwork or sit at the dining room table while participating in functional tasks because their body has an opportunity to fidget with calming or alerting sensory input.  

    These types of seats allow kids to keep their mind focused and help kids who can’t seem to sit still. 

    Address vestibular needs with this easy therapy hack!

    Therapy discs or cushions are perfect for so many kids. There is no denying that they help many children and even whole classrooms stay on task.  But, the biggest issue with these types of therapy seating options is the price.  At $25/cushion (or more!), it can become a pricey option for better attention.  

    Cheap sensory seating hack to help kids with attention, fidgeting needs, and sensory vestibular sensory input needs. This sensory hack is perfect for kids with SPD, and neurotypical children, too.


    Cheap Sensory Seat Cushion

    Today, I’ve got a simple sensory hack for therapy cushions.  This is a tip that I’ve recommended for years as a pediatric Occupational Therapist.  School districts that simply could not afford to purchase one therapy cushion were able to use this therapy hack to help with attention and sensory needs.  

    Enter the beach ball.

    Every time I’ve shared this tip with parents, teachers, and administrators, I’ve gotten wide eyes and a “ooooh” type of response.  


    1. Grab a beach ball from your nearest dollar store.  
    2. Inflate it with only one or two breaths.  
    3. Place the beach ball on a chair.  

    Watch your little one wiggle and move while attending to their math homework, spelling list, or dinner conversation.

    Some classrooms that I’ve serviced as an Occupational Therapist had decided to use partially inflated beach balls with many of the students.  

    This sensory hack is an easy fix for every child, whether they exhibit attention or sensory needs or are neurotypical children.  

    Moving and fidgeting is an attention strategy that every one of us uses. Try this inexpensive sensory hack with your kiddo.

    Sitting on the partially inflated beach ball adds an unstable seating surface and allows for just enough movement that children can better focus and attend.  They are given vestibular input through their trunk to help with fidgeting needs. 

     Cheap sensory seating hack to help kids with attention, fidgeting needs, and sensory vestibular sensory input needs. This sensory hack is perfect for kids with SPD, and neurotypical children, too.

    Need more movement ideas? Try balance beam activities.

    Another idea for that $1 beach ball:
    Place it on the floor for a movement surface for the feet.  Given the chance to move the feet, most kids are able to better attend to desk work.

    NOTE: A $1 beach ball will NOT last forever.  It will pop at some point.  Excessive sitting and standing with force will shorten the lifespan of your sensory seating hack.  Be aware that while this is a great seating option for kids with attention and sensory needs, it is not the intended use of a beach ball.  Inflating the beach ball more than a few breaths will make the seating surface more firm, however, it will make the beach ball more prone to popping.

    TIP: Some kids might tend to slide forward into a slouched position when sitting on the partially inflated beach ball. Add a sheet of dycem (affiliate link) to the surface of the seat to keep the beach ball from sliding.

    Cheap sensory seating hack to help kids with attention, fidgeting needs, and sensory vestibular sensory input needs. This sensory hack is perfect for kids with SPD, and neurotypical children, too.
    Are you looking for more information on Sensory Processing or any of the body’s sensory systems and how they affect functional skills and behavior?  This book, Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, will explain it all.  
    Activities and Resources are included.  Get it today and never struggle to understand or explain Sensory Integration again.  Shop HERE.

    Looking for MORE sensory hacks to help with fidgeting?  Try these along with your occupational therapy seat cushions:

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

    Farm Brain Breaks

    farm brain breaks

    Today we have a fun addition to our brain break collection here at The OT Toolbox: Farm Brain Breaks! Brain breaks are such a useful tool for boosting attention and focus in the classroom. This is just one of the farm activities that we love as a therapy tool for building skills in kids. So, check out the Farm Brain Break activities below, along with the fun ways to use these movement activities in farm obstacle courses, farm stations, and more!

    As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    farm brain breaks

    Farm Brain Breaks

    We love this printable set of farm themed brain breaks because a farm theme is great for this time of year. Kids LOVE cows, chicken, roosters, pigs, and so adding a twist to the regular brain break activities makes the skill-building fun and engaging.

    You can probably think of a dozen or more animal walks, but having a set of farm animal brain breaks all in one place is perfect as a therapy tool for supporting self-regulation and heavy work needs.

    Why Farm Brain Breaks?

    Here’s the thing: Taking a sensory-based movement break in between learning tasks is a great way to help kids with sensory needs and without re-group and attend to classroom work.  

    Brain breaks are a great gross motor coordination activity, too. For the child that needs to work on skills such as the ones listed below, these farm gross motor activities do the job!

    • Balance
    • Standing on one foot
    • Hopping
    • Skipping
    • Squatting and standing back up
    • Building core strength
    • Balance in a dynamic position

    This month in the Virtual Book Club for Kids series, we read the fun book, Little Blue Truck and created farm animal themed brain breaks that are perfect for movement and sensory needs like vestibular activities in the classroom.

    Sometimes creative movement can be just the movement and gross motor exercise that kids can use as a sensory tool for effectively addressing needs in the classroom.  

    Brain Breaks use vestibular and proprioceptive input to address the sensory needs that can help kids with their attention and focus during classroom tasks. This can also support body awareness.

    Kids that need to boost their level of alertness with fast movements.  Those kids that seem to droop and lose attention during classroom work may benefit from a vestibular sensory movement activity that uses the whole body.

    Children that need to calm their body’s movements and regulate their sensory system may benefit from slow, rocking movements using the vestibular sensory system or heavy work gross motor activities that utilize the body’s proprioception system.  


    farm brain breaks


    Little Blue Truck and farm themed brain breaks for attention, focus and sensory needs in the classroom based on farm animals.



    Little Blue Truck Farm Themed Brain Breaks

    We came up with the brain break ideas in our farm theme based on the book, Little Blue Truck. This is a fun way to explore books in occupational therapy sessions to keep things fun and engaging.

    This post contains affiliate links.

    With the animals in Little Blue Truck (affiliate link), we focused on the farm animals and how they move and work to help our friend, the little blue truck.  There are many ways that kids can use the typical movements of farm animals to address sensory and attention needs in the classroom.


     Little Blue Truck book activity

    In the book, Little Blue Truck (affiliate link), we meet each of the farm animals that say a friendly “hello” to the little blue truck.  When he ends up stuck in the mud, the animals are the one that come to help their truck friend.  

    This book is such a fun way to look at the way friends can work together in small ways to help make big things happen.  What a great way to look at the way the class works together to make changes.  

    A group of classroom students that each do their part to pay attention and focus can make the whole classroom a better place. 

    We decided to use the movements of the animals in Little Blue Truck (affiliate link) to create gross motor, movement-based brain breaks.  These are activities that can be done in conjunction with the book and used all year long for attention and focus in the classroom.

    Little Blue Truck and farm themed brain breaks for attention, focus and sensory needs in the classroom based on farm animals.

    How to use Farm themed Brain Breaks

    Print off your brain break printable sheet.  The form is at the bottom of this blog post. Simply enter your email address and the printable will arrive in your inbox.

    Then, cut out the cards and start to play! These animal brain break cards can be used to add movement within the classroom.  They can be used at home or in therapy sessions. We love to use these along with other farm activities and crafts.

    Some fun ways to use these farm brain breaks are below:

    Farm Obstacle Course

    One way to support gross motor skills is with a Farm obstacle course:

    1. Place the farm brain break cards in an obstacle course. 
    2. Ask the child to go through the course by crawling as they push a tractor or pretend to be a tractor, doing animal walks, or moving on a floor scooter.
    3. When they get to a brain break, they should stand up and complete the brain break action. 
    4. They can then move onto the next activity.

    Farm Stations

    Set up stations around the room using the farm brain break cards. Here’s what this entails:

    1. Place the brain break activities in various places around the room. These will be the farm stations.
    2. The child can go to the first farm station and pick up the brain break card. They can collect a small farm animal figure in their hand.
    3. Ask them to copy the name of the animal onto paper.
    4. Then they should complete the gross motor farm animal action.
    5. If it’s an animal walk, they can use that farm animal walk to move to the next station. 
    6. Ask them to take the animal figure with them to encourage in hand manipulation as they collect more and more animal figures.
    7. At the end of all of the farm stations, the child can then place the animal figures into play dough like we did in our farm play dough sensory bin.

    Farm Writing Prompts

    Use the brain breaks as a warm up for handwriting. 

    1. Select one of the farm brain break cards. 
    2. Then ask the child to follow the directions to complete the brain break action.
    3. Next, use that card as a farm writing prompt. They can write a sentence or two about the animal such as their favorite thing about that animal, the role it plays on a farm, etc.
    4. Or grade the activity down by simply asking the child to write the name of the animal as the farm writing prompt.

    Little Blue Truck Activities

    Use these brain break activities based on the animals in the book (Amazon affiliate links) Little Blue Truck (affiliate link):

    Little Blue Truck book activity with gross motor movement brain breaks based on animal movements.

    Cow Walk: Stand on you hands and knees.  Walk across the room while shaking your head from side to side and up and down like eating grass.

    Sheep Crawl: Lie on the floor with your feet and arms tucked under you.  Inch yourself forward in a slow and steady crawl.

    Frog Hop: Hop like a from across the room.  Hop back again.

    Horse Gallop:  Stand on your feet.  Gallop across the room with one foot leading.  Gallop back with the other foot leading.

    Pig Roll: Lay on the floor and roll like a pig in the mud.

    Hen Flap: Tuck your hands under your arms to make wings like a hen.  Flap your wings as you strut across the room.

    Goat Kick: Stand on your feet and place your hands on the floor.  Walk across the room as you kick out your heels.

    Duck Waddle: Place your heels together with your toes apart.  Place your hands at your sides and waddle across the room.

    Print out your printable animal brain break cards.

    Add heavy work to these activities by pushing against the wall like the animals in the book (affiliate link) push against the little blue truck to help their friend out of the mud. 

     These farm animal themed brain breaks would work for any of these farm book. 

    Looking for more movement and learning brain breaks?  You’ll love this dinosaur version based on the book, Dinosaurumpus! (affiliate link)

    Little Blue Truck and farm themed brain breaks for attention, focus and sensory needs in the classroom based on farm animals.

    Looking for more farm themed activities? 

    These Farm brain breaks go very well with our Farm Therapy Kit! It has 93 pages of farm activities and therapy resources: 

    • Farm connect the dot pages
    • Farm crafts
    • Farm visual motor activities using bales of hay
    • Farm sensory motor movement tasks
    • Farm handwriting activities
    • Farm visual discrimination tasks
    • Farm executive functioning tasks
    • Farm letter cards
    • And much more!

    Get your copy of the Farm Therapy Kit here!


    Free Farm Brain Breaks

    Print off the farm brain breaks page and get started with gross motor activities! This item is also found in our membership under Level 1 along with all of the other free printables on our site. It’s also found in Level 2 under Farm Theme.

    Not a member yet? Join us today!

    FREE Farm Brain Breaks

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

      Back to School Sensory Activities

      back to school sensory activities

      It’s that time of year and having a few back to school sensory activities up your sleeve can make all the difference in a stuffy, hot classroom when kids need self-regulation tools after a long summer break. Whether you are looking for classroom sensory diet strategies, or sensory strategies for the school-based OT, putting a back-to-school spin on “sensory” is a hit during the Fall months.

      back to school sensory activities

      Back-to-School Sensory Activities

      The back-to-school season is a prime time to dust off those sensory cobwebs and consider how sensory motor input supports students.

      In this blog post, you’ll find a list of ways to support sensory needs using a back-to-school theme. The ideas are great for this time of year when welcoming a new roster of students into the classroom.

      • Our free sensory strategy toolkit is another great resource that supports school-based OTs, educators, and parents of students with sensory needs.
      • You’ll also find many resources, including a printable sensory activity sheet here on this article about calm down strategies for school.
      • These ideas for sensory seekers can be adapted to meet school-based needs (or used in the home for homework time, the after-school period, or homeschooling)

      Why Use Back-to-School Sensory Activities?

      Heading back into the school year can throw some kids for a spin.  The first few weeks can be a change in routine from the safety of home. For kids who are starting up on a homeschool routine, it can be difficult to pay attention when sensory needs and distractions are in the next room. This can lead to self-regulation needs that support the student’s ability to concentrate and learn after a summer off from the routines of school.

      Other reasons for using sensory strategies during the back-to-school season include:

      • Earlier wake-up times after a summer of staying up late and sleeping in. A quick sensory motor brain break can make all the difference.
      • A new routine may throw some students for a loop.
      • The transition period can be a real challenge for some children. It might be the early alarm clock or using time management in the morning that is a challenge. For other kids, moving to a new school, or even just going back to the classroom in general can be a challenge. Try these transition strategies to support these needs.
      • Distractions and Technology: With the prevalence of screen time in kids, and the use of technology/devices, students may find it difficult to focus on schoolwork without being distracted by social media, video games, or other online activities. A quick sensory break can help with attention and distractions.
      • Social-emotional needs: Social emotional dynamics can change over the summer, and students may feel pressure to fit in or establish their social identity when school resumes. This pressure can affect their self-esteem and confidence. The ability to regulate emotions might lead to challenges with learning due to the emotional regulation and executive function connection.

      You may have a child of your own that “crashes” after a week of school during this time of year. There is a lot happening that is just exhausting during the return to school. Sometimes, all it takes for an easy transition into the back to school days is a sensory strategy that meets the needs of the sensory child. Let’s explore these ideas below…

        Classroom sensory activities and sensory strategies for back to school or throughout the school year.



      back to school sensory ideas and strategies for the classroom that teachers can use with sensory kids.

      Back-to-School Sensory Ideas

      These sensory activities are ones that can easily be used in the classroom or homeschool room.  They are strategies that can be incorporated into the student’s daily routine within the school environment.  

      These school sensory activities are presented in list form for ease and planning, but they can be used in a classroom sensory diet or in various strategies.  

      The ideas below are ones that easily allow the child to meet their sensory needs in a natural way, so that it is not an interruption to the classroom or other students.  

      Rather, some of these sensory strategies are movement and heavy work-based ideas that can easily be adapted for the whole classroom for brain break type of activities. 

      As always, these sensory ideas are ONLY ideas and should be regarded as a reference.  Every child is different and has different sensory needs.

      The ideas presented below are not regarded as Occupational Therapy treatment and should only be used in addition to and along with an individualized Occupational Therapy plan made following assessment. 

      Sensory Activities for Back to School

      This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

      1. Wall Push-Ups- Show the student how to push against the wall while doing “push-ups” from a standing position.  This is a great heavy work activity, or a quick “brain break” activity that provides proprioceptive input for heavy work for improved focus, calming, and self-regulation.

      2. Desk Fidget- Use a DIY fidget or a store bought hand fidget toy (affiliate link) to allow the child tactile sensory or proprioceptive input to the hands for improved attention and focus while sitting and performing desk work.

      3. Chair Push-Ups- Allow the child to push up from the seat with his arms, keeping the elbows strait.  Pushing up through the arms provides proprioceptive heavy work through the upper body.

      4. Move desk/furniture.

      5. Erase the chalkboard or dry erase board.

      6. Sensory errand- Carry milk crates or plastic bins full of books or supplies from center to center around the classroom or from room to room in the building. Some schools have an “important message” to other classrooms or the office in the form of a folder. Just moving, taking a quick walk through the hallway, to deliver a note or other message can offer a much-needed sensory break. For more heavy work input, add a tote bag filled with books or ask the student to push a cart with materials.

      7. Shoe laces fidget-  Add a couple of beads to the child’s shoe laces for a fidget toy that can be used discretely while sitting in floor circle time or during desk work.

      8. Manual Pencil Sharpener-  Turning and sharpening pencils with a manual pencil sharpener provides proprioception to bilateral upper extremities.  This can be a good task prior to writing tasks.

      9. Backpack for carrying supplies from room to room-  Students can carry supplies to other classrooms in a backpack for heavy input.  This can be a calming strategy while walking the hallways to other areas in the school as well, such as while walking to the lunch room or special classes. The hallway can be an overwhelming and high-sensory environment so deep pressure to center the child can be helpful.

      10. Stapler heavy work- Staple paper or remove staples from a bulletin board for upper body proprioceptive input.

      11. Sensory seat- Air cushion seating such as a wiggle seat cushion (affiliate link) or a frugal, DIY version using a $1 wiggle seat cushion option. Here are more ideas for alternative seating options and even some DIY flexible seating ideas.

      12. Place chairs on rugs.  Sliding chairs on classroom floors can lead to auditory overload for some sensory kids.  Try using carpet squares under each individual chair.  When the child pushes his chair out, he can slide the chair right on the carpet square out from the desk.  

      13. Hallway March-  Get the whole class involved in a “walk this way” activity.  They can march from the classroom to specials or the lunchroom.  Try other brain break and whole body movements while walking in the line down the hallway, too: Try high knee lifts, toe walking, heel walking, elbows to knees, and patting the knees while walking.

      14. Sports bottles for drinking- Sipping water through a long straw or sports bottle (affiliate link) can allow the students to focus and attend given proprioceptive input through the mouth. This is a great whole classroom strategy for helping with attention and self-regulation. Read more about using a water bottle as a sensory tool.

      15. Movement breaks in the gym or classroom- A quick brain break can help kids focus during periods of desk work.

      16. Push mats in the gym- Moving those big gym mats is a great whole body proprioception activity. Or, ask students to move desks or other equipment that uses the whole body.

      17. Auditory support- Headphones for limiting auditory stimulation during center work or times when there is a lot of chatter in the classroom. Here are more tips for auditory sensitivity in the classroom.

      18. Visual picture list- Knowing what to expect is a non-traditional sensory strategy. But when you think about it, the visual input is a support when it comes to knowing what is next, how much time is left until lunch, and how much longer the day will last. A visual schedule can be a benefit for the whole classroom.  Try this daily pocket chart schedule. (affiliate link)

      19. Simon Says Spelling-  Try practicing spelling words with a movement and vestibular sensory input Simon Says version. Try these Simon Says commands if there are a few extra minutes to use up during the school day or between transitions.

      20. Play dough math for proprioceptive input through the hands.  Try a math smash type of activity and use a heavy resistive dough like this DIY proprioception dough. There are many benefits of play dough and sensory input is just one of them!

      21. Kneaded eraser for sensory input through the hands- Use a kneaded pencil eraser (affiliate link) for a hand-held fidget that doubles as an eraser with proprioceptive input.

      22. Crunchy snack break- Try snacks like pretzels, crackers, kale chips, popcorn, or roasted chickpeas for an alerting snack. Oral motor exercises offer calming or alerting input and using a crunchy (or chewy) snack can support these needs.

      23.  Sensory bin for math or sight words-  Create a sight word sensory bin or even use a sensory bin for math or spelling words. This can be a fun and unexpected way to dive back into spelling after the summer break! Add tactile sensory input to learning using a variety of sensory bin fillers.  Ideas include shaving cream, shredded paper, crafting pom poms, among many other ideas.

      24. Vibrating pen rainbow writing for sight word or spelling practice-  Proprioceptive input to the hands can be very helpful for many kids, especially if they are writing with too much pencil pressure.

      25. Jump/move/hop in hallway- Take a movement and brain break with a hallway movement activity.  Add learning aspect with spelling, facts, or math.

      26. Roll a ball on the legs-  Add a vestibular aspect to vocabulary or themed learning, including history, English language arts, or science.  Kids can answer questions and when they answer the question, they roll the ball along their legs by bending down to roll the ball on their thighs.

      27. Hopscotch Math-  Add a hopping proprioception activity to the classroom with a hopscotch board created right in the classroom using masking tape.

      28.  Graph Paper Writing-  Add a visual sensory twist to handwriting, math, spelling, or any written work by using graph paper.  The added lines can be just the visual spatial prompt needed for kids with visual sensory processing concerns. Here are more sensory based reasons to use graph paper.

      29. Make a desk sensory diet box-  Use a dollar store pencil case to create customized sensory diet bins that can fit right into the desk. Items would be used specific to the child’s needs, but might include resistive putty, paper clips for fidgeting, or movable toys (affiliate link). Use these occupational therapy kits for more ideas.

      30. Wash desks with spray bottles. Squeezing a spray bottle to wash desks or water plants offers heavy work through the hands.

      31. Cut classroom decorations from oaktag. Heavy input through the hands by cutting thicker paper is a great way to add a quick and functional movement break. Students will love to see their handiwork on the walls, too.

      32. Create a calm down corner in the classroom This can include fidgets, mindfulness centers, books, and many more sensory tools. Plus try these other calm down strategies for school.

      33. Try a sensory swing- Sensory swings for modulation can be used when applicable and recommended by an occupational therapy provider. Sometimes, you’ll see these in a sensory room or in a therapy room in the school. Here is more information on types of sensory swings.

      34. Use the playground! Getting those students outside can make a great sensory movement break. Check out how to use the playground for sensory input and read this resource on sensory diets at the playground.

      All of these ideas support sensory needs and are great activities to use during the back-to-school time. We love that they are fun, functional, and the whole classroom can benefit!

      Want more ideas to support sensory needs at school? Grab a free copy of our Classroom Sensory Strategy Packet.

      Free Classroom Sensory Strategies Toolkit

        Are you interested in resources on (check all that apply):
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        Related resources include our blog post on Ayres Sensory Integration. This is a great place to start with gathering information on the sensory processing systems and the related behavioral, emotional, physical, and cognitive responses that we see.

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

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

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

        Matching Uppercase and LowerCase Letters

        uppercase and lowercase letter matching

        This interactive and hands on game to teach matching uppercase and lowercase letters is a fun gross motor game for preschool and kindergarten. Use this interactive letter activity along as an alphabet matching with objects and a sensory-motor learning activity!

        Matching uppercase letters to lowercase letters is a literacy task that supports reading skills, but also challenges visual discrimination skills, form constancy, and visual scanning, all of which are visual processing skills needed for handwriting and reading comprehension. What’s fun about this activity is that it builds these skills in a fun way!

        Be sure to grab our color by letter worksheet to work on letter matching, visual discrimination skills.

        Uppercase and lowercase letter match activity

        Matching Uppercase and Lowercase Letters

        Learning letters and matching upper and lower case letters is a Kindergarten skill that can be tricky for some kids.  We made this easy prep letter identification activity using items you probably already have in the house.  If you’ve seen our blog posts over the last few days, you’ve noticed we’re on a learning theme using free (or mostly free) items you probably already have.  

        We’re sharing 31 days of learning at home with free materials this month along with 25 other bloggers in the 31 days of homeschooling tips series.  

        Today’s easy letter learning activity can use any letters you have around the house or magnetic letters and coffee filters.

        Matching upper and lower case letters and alphabet letter identification can be difficult for kindergarteners.  Use this letter matching game to prepare for kindergarten skills and gross motor play along with visual scanning. Uses magnetic letters and coffee filters for easy prep and set-up.  Great letter matching ideas and activities here!

        While this activity is almost free if you’ve got the items at home already, we’re sharing the affiliate links for the items in this post.

        Matching upper and lower case letters and alphabet letter identification can be difficult for kindergarteners.  Use this letter matching game to prepare for kindergarten skills and gross motor play along with visual scanning. Uses magnetic letters and coffee filters for easy prep and set-up.  Great letter matching ideas and activities here!

        How to play this interactive letter matching activity

        You’ll need just a few items for this letter matching activity:

        • Magnetic letters
        • marker
        • coffee filters (but paper towels or recycled paper would work as well.

        To set up the activity, there are just a few steps:

        (Amazon affiliate links included below.)

        1. Grab the magnetic letters from the fridge and 26 coffee filters.
        2. Use a permanent marker to write one lower case letter of the alphabet on each coffee filter.
        3. With your child, match the magnetic letters to the lowercase letters on the coffee filters.
        4. Ask the child to help you crumble each letter inside the coffee filter that has its matching lowercase letter.
        5. Continue the play!
        Matching upper and lower case letters and alphabet letter identification can be difficult for kindergarteners.  Use this letter matching game to prepare for kindergarten skills and gross motor play along with visual scanning. Uses magnetic letters and coffee filters for easy prep and set-up.  Great letter matching ideas and activities here!

        More ways to match uppercase and lowercase letters

        By matching the magnetic uppercase letter to the lowercase letter on the coffee filter, kids get a chance to incorporate whole body movements and gross motor activity while looking for matching letters.

        With your child, first match up each lower case coffee filter letter to the upper case magnetic letter.  

        You can spread the filters out to encourage visual scanning and involve movement in the activity, OR you can stack the coffee filters in a pile and one by one match up the letters.  This technique requires the child to visually scan for the upper case magnet letters.  

        Try both ways for more upper/lower case letter practice!

        We then wrapped the coffee filters around the magnets in a little bundle.  There are so many games you can play with these upper and lower case letters:

        • Match the same letter– match uppercase letters to uppercase letters and lowercase letters to lowercase letters.
        • Alphabet matching with objects– Match an object that starts with the letter of the alphabet. Use small objects inside the coffee filter and match it to lowercase letters written in the coffee filter with uppercase magnet letters.
        • Match the picture with the letter– Print off pictures of words that start with each letter of the alphabet. Then match the picture with letters of the alphabet using lowercase letters written on the filter and uppercase letters in magnetic letter form.
        • Play a letter memory game– Hide letters around the room and challenge kids to find the letters in order to match the uppercase letter to the lowercase letters.
        • Letter sound matching– Make a letter sound and challenge kids to find the letter that makes that sound.
        • Letter Hide and Seek- Hide the bundled up letters around the room while your child hides his eyes.  Send him off to find the letters and ask him to open the bundle and identify the letter.
        • Letter Toss Activity- Toss the coffee filter bundles into a bucket or bin.  Any letters that make it into the bin are winners!
        • Name the letters- Unwrap the bundles and name the letters.  Spread the coffee filters out around the room.  Toss magnetic letters onto the matching lower case letter.  
        • Letter toss game- Toss a bean bag onto the coffee filters.  The child can identify the lower case letter, then go to the pile of magnetic letters and find the matching upper case letter.  
        Matching upper and lower case letters and alphabet letter identification can be difficult for kindergarteners.  Use this letter matching game to prepare for kindergarten skills and gross motor play along with visual scanning. Uses magnetic letters and coffee filters for easy prep and set-up.  Great letter matching ideas and activities here!

        Can you think of any more ways to work on upper and lower case letter matching with coffee filters and magnetic letters? 

        Matching Big and Small Letters

        The nice thing about this activity is that you can teach the concepts of big and small letters. When we say “big letters” and “small letters”, we are showing the concept of letters that touch the top and bottom lines, or the upper case letters.

        And teaching children the difference between those big letters and the small letters which touch just the middle point are part of the visual discrimination process that is needed for handwriting on the lines, or line awareness skills.

        You will enjoy more alphabet posts from our archives:

        Looking for more interactive letter activities to match uppercase and lowercase letters? The Letters! Fine Motor Kit is for you!

        Letters Fine Motor Kit
        Letter Kit for fine motor, visual motor, and sensory motor play.

        This 100 page printable packet includes everything you need for hands-on letter learning and multisensory handwriting!

        This digital and printable packet includes these multisensory handwriting and letter formation materials:

        • A-Z Multisensory Writing Pages
        • Alphabet Fine Motor Clip Cards
        • Cut and place Fine Motor Mazes
        • A-Z Cotton Swab Cards
        • A-Z Pattern Block Cards
        • Fine Motor Letter Geo-Cards
        • A-Z Color and Cut Letter Memory Cards
        • Color By Size Sheets
        • A-Z Building Block Cards
        • A-Z Play Dough Letter Formation Cards
        • Graded Lines Box Writing Sheets
        • Alphabet Roll and Write Sheets
        • Pencil Control Letter Scan
        • Color and Cut Puzzles

        Crossing Midline Activities

        Crossing midline activities

        In this blog post, we are covering all things crossing midline activities…but what is crossing midline?? We’ll get into that too, as well as some fun ways to develop midline crossing skills and specific exercises that kids (and all ages) can do to support development of this motor skills task that is huge in the way of gross motor coordination.

        Crossing midline is one of those motor skills we do constantly throughout the day, but never really give a second thought. And that automaticity of motor movements is a good thing, too! Imagine processing the action to use one hand to pull a door open. Imagine the time it would take to shower, dress, put on and tie your shoes if you had to process through the action to move your hands fluidly across the middle line of your body.

        As therapists, we hear “crossing the midline” all the time.  Have you ever wondered what the big deal is?  Why is crossing the midline so important?  In this post we will delve into what crossing the midline is, what causes issues, and how it impacts daily function, especially schoolwork.

        Before we get started, if you are doubting the validity of crossing the midline, tie one hand behind your back and go about your day.  How much did you reach across your body to get something?  You reached across, diagonal, up and down to interact with your environment.  While a two-handed person does not do this much crossing the midline, there is still a fair amount.

        Crossing midline activities and exercises for crossing the midline.

        What is Crossing Midline?

        Crossing midline refers to moving the body (hand/arm/foot/leg across an imaginary line that runs vertically down the center of the body to the other side (and vise versa). Additionally, crossing midline also refers to twisting the body in rotation around this imaginary line, as well as leaning the upper or body across the middle of the body.

        Let’s break it down further:

        Midline of the body is an imaginary line that drops from the middle of the head, straight down over the nose, to the belly button and divides the body into left and right sides.  Imagine a line that starts at the middle part of your hair and runs straight down your forehead and ends at the core of your abdomen. This imaginary line effectively divides your body into a symmetrical (mostly) left side and a right side.

        Crossing the midline” is a simplified way to indicate that part of the body moves over that imaginary line. This can look like 3 different aspects of movement:

        1. Reaching an arm/hand or foot/leg across the middle of the body to the other side of the body (Example: Reaching the right arm across the body for an object placed on a table to the left side)
        2. Rotating the body around the midline in a rotary motion in order to twist at the hips. This can look like putting your hands on your hips and rotating your upper body around at the abdomen (Example: reaching for a seatbelt involves reaching the hand and arm across the midline but it also involves twisting at the hips)
        3. Leaning the upper body over the middle line as in doing a side crunch. The head and shoulders move over the middle of the body (Example: Bending sideways at the waist while getting dressed or reaching while sitting for an object that’s fallen to the floor)
        What is crossing midline and why is it important to a child's development?

        Crossing the midline is a motor skill that requires using both hands together in a coordinated manner (bilateral hand coordination) allows kids to cross midline during tasks. This bilateral coordination ability is deeply connected to crossing midline.

        Why is Crossing Midline Important?

        Midline crossing is a developmental ability that is important for so many fine motor and gross motor tasks. This relates to functional skills in a major way. When a child has difficulty with crossing midline, they will demonstrate challenges in practically every functional task.

        When a child does efficiently cross the midline, they can use their dominant hand in skilled tasks.  They develop a dominant hand and the other extremity becomes the assisting hand.  They can manipulate objects in the world around them through all planes. They can demonstrate sensory integration by motor skills with vestibular, proprioceptive, and visual input.

        In particular, crossing the midline offers vestibular input. Moving the head from center plane shifts position of the inner ears. When bending, twisting, and moving from center, the vestibular system is at work.

        When the child does not cross the midline, they tend to use both hands equally in tasks like handwriting, coloring, and cutting with scissors. They may demonstrate awkward movements by moving the body to position itself so they don’t need to cross the middle line.

        Challenges with this motor skill impact learning, social skills, play, and self-care.

        In particular, we might notice sensory motor challenges at different age levels. For example, for children aged 3-5, we might see specific midline red flags that impact learning and play. We cover this specific age group in our blog post on Crossing Midline Activities for Preschoolers.

        Child crossing midline to place one hand on opposite knee

        Crossing Midline Occupational Therapy Asessments

        Occupational therapists perform individualized evaluations and assessments of underlying skills as they impact functional performance in every day tasks. Because of this, crossing midline is an essential skill that will be observed and looked for in every OT evaluation.

        Occupational therapists can complete a standardized evaluation, but most often, their skilled abilities will enable them to identify when crossing midline is a problem through play and interaction during the evaluation process.

        When you are watching for midline crossing, you should observe kids playing in normal situations.  A child will demonstrate a tendency to avoid crossing midline in activities or tasks, but if “set up” to cross the midline (i.e. setting items to the left of the body and asking them to reach over the midline with their right hand), they will typically be able to complete the requested movement pattern, but not carry over the action in a normal situation.

        If they have difficulty with crossing midline, a child will switch hands during handwriting because both hands get practice with pencil manipulation.  

        The child might rotate their whole body instead of twisting at the trunk or shift their weight in a task rather than leaning the upper body over the midline.  

        You can often times observe a tendency to avoid midline crossing in activities such as kicking a ball, throwing beanbags, switching hands in coloring, difficulty with putting on pants and shoes independently, and difficulty with visual tracking and reading.

        Crossing the midline exercise for child

        Crossing Midline Activities

        So, what do you do when crossing the midline is an issue? There are many ways to support the development of this skill.

        The ideas listed below are fun ways to play and develop motor skills by crossing midline, however they have a sensory component too.

        We mentioned above the aspect of vestibular input and proprioceptive input that occurs in crossing the midline. These midline activities have those sensory motor considerations through play.

        • Rotate the body in a twisting motion.
        • Bend the upper body side to side.
        • Play Simon Says. Use these therapy Simon Says commands to get you started.
        • Play hand clapping games
        • Thread lids on a long string – Position string and beads or lids at different placements to encourage crossing the midline.
        • Wash a large wall with big swooping arm motions.
        • Erase a large chalkboard.
        • Scoop balloons in a water bin.
        • Wash a car.  Encourage the child to use large circular motions with the sponge.
        • Kick a ball.
        • Yoga
        • Dinosaur Gross Motor Game
        • Brain Gym Bilateral Coordination activities
        • Toss bean bags -Encourage upper body movement! Bend through the legs, turn sideways, reach back behind you, rotate side to side…encourage vestibular input by bending and rotating.
        • Squirt gun activities at targets.
        • Play with magnets on the garage door.
        • Play Twister.
        • Slow motion cartwheels- Place both hands on the floor to the side, kick legs over. By doing the cartwheel in slow motion, the body is forced to move sequentially, adding midline crossing at the trunk.
        • Hit a ball with a bat.
        • Use pool noodles to hit a ball- think hockey and hitting the ball into a target on the floor
        • Play catch with rolled socks- Use a bucket or bin to catch the rolled socks. They will fly high, low, left, and right!
        • Play flashlight tag.
        • Catch lighting bugs or butterflies.
        • Show the child how to write their name in the air with large arm movements.
        • Bend over at the waist and swing the arm side to side, in large circles, and in figure 8 motions.
        • Play with scarves to music.
        • Move a ribbon wand to music.
        Midline march. Crossing midline gross motor activity to help with handwriting, and bilateral hand coordination skill.

        Crossing the Midline Exercises

        I love this crossing midline exercise below, because it has a ton of different movement options with one fun activity.

        We had fun one winter day with a few crossing the midline exercises, including marching, crossing arms over, and stomping out some wiggles.

        Our midline march activity was a marching parade with “Stop Stations”.  We marched along to music and when I turned off the sound, the kids had to do a midline exercise.    

        The midline exercises included:

        • Place left hand on right knee
        • Place right hand on left knee
        • Stand and bend to touch the opposite foot
        • Standing and place right elbow on left knee
        • Standing and place left elbow on right knee
        • Crunches with touching right elbow to left knee
        • Crunches with touching left elbow to right knee
        • Cherry picker crunches- lay on the back slightly bent forward at the hips so the upper body is off the ground. Move a ball or small toy from the right side to the left side.

        Because we were doing these midline exercises to music that quickly stopped and started, the thought process was quick. The kids had to quickly complete the exercise without much forethought.

        This quick start and stop activity allowed them to practice crossing midline without over-thinking about the action.

        Child crossing the midline with hand on knee
        Child crossing midline with hand on opposite knee

        Fine Motor Crossing Midline Exercises

        Crossing the midline can be done on a small scale, too. This activity is similar to the midline marching activity described above, but it uses paper, pencil, and small colored dots such as stickers or a small circle drawn with markers.

        1. Draw dots on the left margin of a paper using colored markers or colored stickers. There should be one of each color going down the left margin.
        2. Draw dots using the same colors going down the right margin. Use each color only once.
        3. Turn on music. The student can draw to music on the center of the page using their pencil or markers.
        4. Turn off the music. When the music stops, call out a direction: “Left hand, yellow!” The student should put down their marker and touch the yellow dot on the right margin using their left hand.
        5. Turn on the music to draw again and repeat.

        This activity is similar to the gross motor midline exercise because it requires the child to think on the spot. They have to listen to several instructions, but also process the motor skills and cross the midline automatically.

        You can adjust this activity by numbering the dots, using less colors, or less dots, and reducing the amount of instructions. This activity can be used with any level by grading the activity.

        Child bending to touch hand to opposite foot to cross the midline.

        This post is part of the Gross Motor A-Z series hosted by Still Playing School. You can see all of the gross motor activities here.

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

        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 are many benefits of 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 benefits of outdoor play 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. Here are some outdoor play ideas that tick all of the boxes.

        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:
        • Hanscom, A (2017, October). The decline of play outdoors and the rise in sensory issues., Article 3990. Retrieved from
        • 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:
        • 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.

        What are your favorite outdoor play ideas?

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