Ice Cube Jump and Smash

Image has colorful ice on a cutting board. A child's hands are holding a hammer and smashing ice. Text reads "sensory ice smash"

This ice cube jump and smash is a great ice play activity with major sensory benefits. The heavy work built through smashing ice cubes or jumping on ice cubes is huge! Plus, kids love the novelty of this sensory motor activity. Let’s break this activity down…

This was originally an activity we did during the cold winter months, BUT we also love adding a fun sensory ice smashing activity to our Summer occupational therapy idea list. Why? because during the hot summer months, smashing ice with a hammer is a fun activity to get kids moving.

Plus, this is a heavy work activity that supports emotional and behavioral regulation. You could even use colored ice that matches the colors of the Zones of Regulation.

Image has colorful ice on a cutting board. A child's hands are holding a hammer and smashing ice. Text reads "sensory ice smash"

Smashing ice with a hammer is a fun sensory activity for kids.

Ice Cube Jump and Smash

We’ve been sharing some fun sensory play activities recently, part of our January Occupational Therapy calendar.  The proprioception and vestibular activities linked up in the free calendar are sure to provide sensory experiences and input that will keep your child moving all winter long.  Hey, you can do most of these activities in warmer weather too, so be sure to save this one for hot summer days!  


This Ice Cube Proprioception Jump and Smash activity will provide proprioceptive input through movement and heavy work that can help with regulation of sensory seekers.  It’s also a great way to incorporate body awareness through proprioception. This happens when holding and moving that hammer to hit a target (the colorful ice cube!)

Try making these bright and vividly colored ice cubes and playing with sensory input today!

When you add hopping or jumping to smash the ice, like my kids did, you get the bonus benefit of the movement of jumping and hopping adds a vestibular activity component to this fun activity.

Another benefit is the eye hand coordination work from holding hitting with the hammer.

Ice Cube Proprioception and Vestibular Activity for kids that need sensory input. This is fun for typically developing children (and the adults) too!
 

 

 

Proprioception Activity with Ice Cubes

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  
 
I used a couple of mini muffin tin to make colored ice cubes.  
Fill the tins with water and then add one or two drops of liquid food coloring to each section.  Kids love this activity and it is a real experiment of color mixing.
 
Use a toothpick to mix the colors and try to achieve various shades of color by mixing more or less food coloring.
 
Once the ice cubes are frozen, turn the muffin tin
over in the sink and run warm water.  The ice cubes will pop out after a moment.  
 
Place the colored ice cubes in a bowl or on a large cutting board and take them outside.  This is a messy activity and it will stain your floors, so take big precautions if you decide to do this one inside!
 
We kept the ice cubes on the cutting board and used a hammer to smash the colored ice cubes.
 
This activity was a huge hit with my preschooler.  She loved lining up the hammer and smashing the ice cubes into chunks.  
 
Using the hammer is heavy work for a child and she needed to use two hands to hold and use the hammer, but she was able to smash the ice easily.  
 
While smashing ice cubes, my daughter remembered a similar proprioception and strengthening activity we did last year using peanut shells.  It’s another messy, yet fun activity that is worth trying!
 
Be sure to clean up any ice pieces before they melt because the liquid food coloring will dye any surface.  You may want to do this activity in the grass. NOTE: For a mess-free option, use liquid watercolors to dye the water. The colors will wash away with soap and water.
 
Related Read: Find out more about proprioception here.
 
Ice Cube Proprioception and Vestibular Activity for kids that need sensory input. This is fun for typically developing children (and the adults) too!
Ice Cube Proprioception and Vestibular Activity for kids that need sensory input. This is fun for typically developing children (and the adults) too!
 

Ice Cube Jumping

Get the kids moving with this outdoor vestibular activity.  Take the ice cubes outside and place them in the grass. Be sure to keep them away from sidewalks and driveways because the food dye will stain the surface until the rain and weather has cleared the dye away! 
 
Kids can jump on or over the ice cubes.  Ask them to jump up high with both knees bent.  For other vestibular challenges, have the child side jump or skip over and around the ice cubes.  
 
Ice Cube Proprioception and Vestibular Activity for kids that need sensory input. This is fun for typically developing children (and the adults) too!
 
Be sure to stop over and see the January Calendar for more sensory activities to do with the kids this winter! You can get it and all of our free resources by joining our newsletter subscriber list, found in the upper corner of this website.

 

Shamrock St. Patrick’s Day Balance Beam for Vestibular Sensory Input

Make a balance beam easier or harder

This article on shamrock balance beam ideas was originally written in March 2016. We updated it in March 2024 and included new information on how to grade up or down a balance beam, and balance beam ideas for preschoolers and toddlers.

This shamrock balance beam uses foam shamrocks we found at the dollar store. It’s a fun indoor balance beam to use with a St. Patrick’s Day theme or a Spring theme in occupational therapy. In fact, you could use this gross motor activity along with our Spring sensory walk and you’ve got a great obstacle course for therapy sessions.

This shamrock activity is a great balance beam for preschoolers because when the child steps along the shamrocks, their movements are very precise. One way that I actually like to use it as a path to follow a few leprechaun activities in OT sessions, too!

Shamrock Path Balance Beam Activity

There is just something about easy sensory play that makes mom and kids happy.  Balance beams are a way to incorporate vestibular sensory input into a child’s day, allowing them to refocus, improve behavior and impulsivity, regulate arousal levels, improve attention, Improve balance, and help with posture

One thing we see a lot in schools or in therapy clinics is the need for vestibular input. There are sensory red flags that come up a lot. And while not every child has every red flag show up…and red flags might not mean there is for sure an issue that needs addressed. (This is where the OT eval comes into play!)

Some things to consider about vestibular challenges…

Children with vestibular problems might seem inattentive. These are the kiddos that appear lazy, showing excessive movements, anxious, or attention seeking. They might have trouble walking on uneven surfaces, changing positions, or resist certain positions.  

One way to address these needs is with a balance beam, like this Shamrock St. Patrick’s Day balance beam.

A while back we shared a snowflake balance beam for indoor vestibular sensory input…And we’ve been on a balance beam kick ever since! 

 Add these resources to the ones you can find here under sensory diet vestibular activities to meet the sensory needs of all kids. 

Try this Shamrock St. Patricks Day balance beam for vestibular sensory input.

St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Activity

children tiptoeing along a balance beam on the floor



This post contains affiliate links.  


For our balance beam, we used foam shamrocks along the floor. Position them as close to each other as your child needs.  To extend the activity a bit, move them further apart or add curved and turns to your balance beam.

For our balance beam, we used foam shapes. You can adapt this to any theme by cutting foam shapes or using any type of foam piece in place of the shamrock. Then, you can help preschoolers and toddlers develop skills all year round, with the same activity.

It’s very possible to create a beginner balance beam using shapes or tape along the floor.

You can modify a balance beam to make the balance activity easier, or harder, depending on the needs of the child.

Check out the strategies below each section below. While we have them listed as toddler balance beam and preschool balance beam, this is just a way to classify the modification and activity tips to support developmental progression. Don’t worry about the names “toddler” and “preschooler”. This is just a developmental age range and you can definitely challenge balance and coordination skills at any age! Remember that the development of balance occurs through play.

Toddler Balance Beam

Walking along a balance beam can be a challenge for some kids with vestibular sensory needs.  This is a great balance beam for toddlers and preschoolers because it’s flat on the ground and not raised up at all like a foam balance beam or a gymnastics balance beam. 

You can really add some modifications to this activity to help a toddler gain skill sin balance and coordination. During toddlerhood that young children develop so many gross motor skills through play. My own kids loved this type of activity as 2 and 3 year olds!

Try these activity ideas to help motor skills development with a toddler:

  • Ask the toddler to tip toe along the shapes
  • Use different color shapes and ask them to name the color or the shape. You can use any foam or paper piece, as long as they are stuck to the floor with a bit of tape.
  • Ask the toddler to hold their arms out at their shoulder height. 
  • Ask the toddler to walk sideways or backwards

To modify, or make the balance activity easier or harder:

  • Change the thickness of the balance line
  • Make the balance beam or balance line closer to the floor (flat on the floor) or raise it up with a board and blocks
  • Use bigger stepping stones or stepping images.
  • Encourage other movements or easier movements (hopping, tip toe, stepping, etc.)

Preschool Balance Beam

We love using this easy balance beam with preschoolers because you can really challenge preschool skills, too.

To further challenge your child, try some of these ideas:

  • Add arm motions.
  • Ask your child to look up at a fixed point instead of down at their feet.
  • Add curves and turns to the balance beam.
  • Position the shamrocks on pillows for an unsteady surface.
  • Raise the surface with a long board.
  • Try walking on tip toes, balls of the feet, or heels.
  • Walk the balance beam backwards or sideways.
  • Hop along the balance beam.  (Be sure to tape the shamrocks to the floor.
  • Use crab walking or other animal walks along the balance line
  • Include upper body movements along with walking

To modify, or make the balance activity easier or harder:

  • Encourage different walking movements
  • Make the shapes or the walking line thicker
  • Make the steps closer together
  • Use the suggestions above from the toddler section.
Try this Shamrock St. Patricks Day balance beam for vestibular sensory input.

More Vestibular Sensory activities you will love:

 

 
 
 

Vestibular Frisbee

Attention Exercises

Sensory Processing and Handwriting

Snowflake Balance Beam

Our favorite ways to work on gross motor skills:

Dinosaur Gross Motor Game

Brain Gym Bilateral Coordination

Gross Motor Apple Tree Balance Beam

How Balance Beams Help Kids

Core Strength and Attention

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

Exercises for Focus and Attention

exercises for focus and attention

This is an old blog post from January 31, 2016 on the benefits of movement and various sensory exercises to improve focus and attention. We’ve updated this article as of January 22, 2024 to include more resources and strategies to support attention.

Exercises for focus and attention depend on the individual’s unique needs, but there are underlying areas that can support the cognitive skills needed for learning, safety, and behaviors.

Occupational therapy providers may use toys for attention because of the primary role that play has in the occupations of a child. Therapy providers can also offer their expertise in the role sensory motor development plays in daily tasks like learning and occupational performance.

While these exercises for focus and attention are not a cure-all (in fact, the tools you’ll find here are simply a therapy support), there should be a plan in place to support unique needs. Going through a few sensory motor exercises likely won’t result in improved attention and focus on their own.

Saying that, it’s important to recognize the whole-body component that impact focus and attention. There are many factors at play here…Ask any occupational therapy provider about how occupational therapy supports the whole being, not just the physical components or the cognitive components of function. It all goes together…

What Impacts Focus and attention in kids?

Some of the factors at play include:

Certainly, let’s delve deeper into each area and discuss how they impact children’s learning and behaviors. Critical thinking skills is another resource to check out on this topic.

  1. Neurological Factors:
  • Brain Structure and Function: The prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive functions, undergoes significant development during childhood. Immature executive functions may lead to difficulties in sustaining attention.
  • Neurotransmitters: Imbalances in neurotransmitters like dopamine can affect a child’s ability to stay focused. For example, lower dopamine levels may contribute to attention deficits.
  1. Developmental Factors:
  • Child Development: Attention evolves as children grow. Younger children may have shorter attention spans, gradually improving with age.
  • Executive Functions: Developing executive functions, such as working memory and inhibitory control, directly impact a child’s ability to pay attention and control impulses.
  1. Environmental Factors:
  • Stimuli: A stimulating environment with age-appropriate learning materials can enhance attention. Conversely, an overly distracting environment may hinder focus.
  • Noise Levels: Excessive noise, common in busy classrooms, can be a significant distraction for some children.
  1. Psychological Factors:
  • Emotional State: Emotional well-being is closely tied to attention. Children experiencing stress or anxiety may struggle with concentration, while positive emotions can enhance focus. An individual’s emotional state refers to their ability to notice and adjust for emotions, or the ability to self-regulate. This is a huge component in attention. We can’t focus or attend on a task or conversation when our emotions are in control.
  • Motivation: Intrinsically motivated children are more likely to engage and sustain attention during learning activities.
  1. Individual Differences:
  • Learning Style: Recognizing and accommodating diverse learning styles can optimize attention. For instance, visual learners may benefit from visual aids.
  • Attentional Control: Children with better attentional control can transition between tasks more efficiently, positively impacting learning.
  1. Health Factors:
  • Sleep: Inadequate sleep affects cognitive performance. Children who don’t get sufficient sleep may exhibit difficulties in attention, memory, and behavior.
  • Nutrition: Proper nutrition, including omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, has been linked to better cognitive function in children.
  1. Technology Use:
  • Screen Time: Excessive use of screens, particularly in younger children, may contribute to shorter attention spans. Monitoring and regulating screen time are crucial for healthy cognitive development.

Understanding these factors is vital for educators, parents, and healthcare professionals working with children. Interventions should be tailored to address the specific needs of each child, considering their unique combination of factors.

It’s important to note that these factors often interact, and a holistic approach considering multiple aspects is crucial in interventions related to attention and focus.

One tool in our therapy toolbelt is exercises to improve attention and focus.

Why use exercises for focus and attention?

Now that we’ve explored what all goes into focus and attention in kids, let’s take a look at one support strategy.

Using physical exercises to improve focus and attention links the sensory, motor, and cognitive components. Think about it this way: after a big lunch, you might feel sluggish and unmotivated. That’s interoception at work.

We all experience this feeling, and our kids are no different. The fullness feeling after a big meal is just one example, though. There can be many things that lead to inattention or difficulty focusing.

Paying attention is hard for some kids.  There are a few different reasons for inattention during school work or homework, or when just participating in listening activities like conversations or reading.  

Learning disabilities, distractibility, poor core body strength, an overload of visual stimulation, poor working memory, ineffective executive functioning skills,  and even temperament can contribute to poor attention (among other reasons).


Numerous diagnoses like ADHD, Autism, sensory processing disorders, and more also have symptoms aligned with inattention.  

But sometimes, attention problems can be confused with diagnoses typically associated with poor attention.  Sometimes, the reason for trouble paying attention is something else.

Whatever the reason, there are easy ways to help your child pay attention. Today, I’ve got a simple way to play and work on core muscle strength and proprioceptive input through a sensory movement activity.  This super easy movement activity is so much fun that your kids will want to play again every day.  And, that’s a good thing, because the movement, proprioceptive input, and core strengthening involved will help them work toward improved attention.

Do you know a little one who can’t focus on school work?  Someone who is always distracted or forgets details of a task?  A little one who starts a project but easily gives up, never to return to the activity?  A student who is always daydreaming or wiggling in their seat and misses key information?

The DIY fidget toy is one type of “exercise” that supports attention.


Many children have trouble with paying attention and it can seem like it is only getting worse.

Attention and the Pyramid of Learning

If you take a look at the Pyramid of Learning, by Williams and Shellenberger, you will see that the base of the pyramid is the sensory systems.

Sensory Systems:

The next level of the Pyramid, which is labeled Sensory Motor Development is some of the components of attention and focus.

Sensory Motor Development:

  • Postural Security (Posture and control)
  • Bilateral Body Awareness (dominant side, coordination)
  • Motor Planning (complex and new activities)
  • Body Scheme (body structre and awareness)
  • Reflex Maturity (elimination of primitive reflexes)
  • Ability to Screen Input (selectively take in stimuli)

This last bullet point is extremely relevant when it comes to filtering out information and identifying relevant and important information. This is the essence of attention and focus. It’s neat to see that all of the motor skills in this level are at the same consideration as this screening skill, which is a cognitive ability. There is true connection between the motor and the cognitive.

The next level of the pyramid also has a huge role in attention and focus and again includes motor skill areas. This level is labelled as Perceptual Motor Development.

Perceptual Motor Development components include:

  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Ocular Motion Control
  • Postural Adjustment
  • Auditory Language Skills
  • Visual Spatial Perception
  • Attention Center Functions

Again, the last component is a huge red flag because it’s labelled as the very skill that we’re covering in this article: Attention. The motor and physical skills in this level are again related to the jobs of the attention focus center.

At the very top of the pyramid is the cognition and intellect.

Cognition and intellect includes:

  • Daily Living Activities
  • Behavior
  • Academic Learning at the very pinnacle of the pyramid

It’s interesting to note at this point that the sensory base supports the sensory motor skills (attention screening), which supports the perceptual motor skills (attention functions). The cognitive skills are supported by all of these other areas. In other words, you can’t have learning, daily functioning, and behaviors without all of the rest of the underlying skills. Powerful stuff!

Sensory and Attention in Learning

We talked about how sensory is an underlying skill of motor, perceptual skills, cognition, and function. So, we can see that sensory integration challenges negatively impact learning, including attention and focus.

Sensory integration interventions, especially in relation to the vestibular sensation, improves academic scores in children with learning disorders. Additionally, there is a relationship between academic performance and sensory seeking/low energy behaviors. (Ayres, 1972; Bar-Shalita, Vatine, & Parush, 2008; Chien et al., 2106; Polatajko, Law, Miller, Schaffer, & Macnab, 1991).

Other research has determined that physical activity and learning have improvements in attention, executive function, information processing speed, academic scores, and on-task behavior.

For individuals in a learning environment, a sensory ball, or stability ball (therapy ball) is a flexible seating option that provides physical activity (CDC, 2010; Erwin, Fedewa, Ahn, & Thorton, 2016; Mead, Scibora, Gardner, & Dunn, 2016; Kahn & Hillman, 2014; Tomporowski, Davis, Miller, & Naglieri, 2008).

One research review on the use of therapy balls as a flexible seating option found that some populations, including ADHD, found that there was increased engagement and in-seat behavior when a therapy ball was used as a seating option. And, this review found that improved attention, on-task behavior, in-seat behaviors, and improved reaction time occurred when a stability ball seating option was used. (Fedewa & Erwin, 2011; Messinger, 2014; Schilling & Schwartz, 2004; Schilling, Washington, Billingsley, & Deitz, 2003).

exercises for focus and attention

Sensory Ball Activities for Proprioception

One technique that is often recommended by Occupational Therapists for some children is the use of a large therapy ball for sitting and movement.  The therapist can guide the child in specific activities and exercises.  For our activity, we used a large and partially deflated Playground Ball similar to this one
for a simple sensory movement.


Proprioceptive input adds deep pressure to the body’s muscles and joints for a calming and organizing input.  Using a large ball like this one can help some children with inattention issues by promoting a postural reaction to a moving surface and heavy work input.

A calming corner can be a space to use these types of exercises.

Attention and Focus Exercise

Attentional Flexibility, also known as Flexible Thinking, refers to the capacity to shift focus during a task, contemplate things from a novel or diverse perspective, adapt to alterations, adjust in problem-solving scenarios, and integrate fresh information into plans or ideas. This cognitive skill involves various aspects of executive function (EF) such as working memory, attention, shift, praxis, metacognition, and more.

Here’s one example of a mental flexibility exercise:

  1. Copy or repeat a series of letters: tspjkl.
  2. Add these sets of numbers: 3 and 1, 6 and 2, 8 and 4.
  3. Subtract the paired numbers.
  4. Arrange playing cards facing up on the surface: Flip over all the cards with even numbers.
  5. Next, flip over all the cards with odd numbers.

Observe for seamless transitions between tasks. Keep a record of the number of errors. Document instances of verbal prompts (e.g., “Have you completed the task?”) and physical prompts (e.g., pointing gestures).

This task is designed to assess and enhance attentional flexibility, a crucial component in cognitive functioning.

stability ball exercises for focus and attention

Sensory Ball Exercises for Focus and Attention

We’ll go through a few different exercises to improve focus and attention below. Some of these are sensory motor exercises, designed to get the individual to a calm and regulated state.

Others are cognitive exercises that support attention and focus.

Sensory Ball Activity for Attention

You can use the proprioceptive and vestibular input of a sensory ball or therapy ball in core body strengthening.

A sensory ball is also known as a stability ball, a therapy ball, or a yoga ball. Essentially, we are talking about a large ball that you can sit on or use in movement activities.

When it comes to theory, a stability ball or a sensory ball is used as a tool in offering sensory input. Sensory input means there is nourishment for the brain, according to Ayres sensory integration theory. This occurs through the sensory systems: tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular.

A tool like a stability ball can provide input. Ayres goes on to say that sensory integration is the “organization of sensation for use”. In our case, the use we’re talking about is attention during learning or functional participation.

Inattention can be a result of core weakness of the body.  The core is the child’s trunk and midsection and is needed for support and ongoing positioning in functional tasks.  

With a weak core, a child may slump in their seat, or have trouble maintaining and changing positions.  Exercises like these with a ball can help work on the core muscle strength to help the child focus and attend while writing, cutting, and learning.

Incorporating stability ball exercises that leverage both vestibular and proprioceptive input can be beneficial for promoting balance, gross motor coordination, and overall stability.

Here are some therapy ball exercises that integrate these sensory systems of proprioception and vestibular input:

  1. Seated Bouncing:
    • Sit on the stability ball with feet flat on the ground.
    • Gently bounce up and down while maintaining a stable posture.
    • This activity provides both vestibular and proprioceptive input.
  2. Ball Rolls:
    • Lie on your stomach over the stability ball.
    • Place your hands on the floor and use them to roll the ball forward and backward.
    • The rolling motion engages both vestibular and proprioceptive systems.
  3. Balance Challenge:
    • Stand with one foot on the stability ball.
    • Try to maintain balance for a set duration.
    • This exercise combines proprioceptive and vestibular challenges.
  4. Sitting and Reaching:
    • Sit on the stability ball and reach for objects placed at different heights.
    • This engages both proprioception and vestibular input as you shift your body position.
  5. Stability Ball Squats:
    • Stand with the stability ball between your lower back and a wall.
    • Perform squats by bending your knees and lowering your body.
    • This exercise provides proprioceptive input while enhancing stability.
  6. Rolling Planks:
    • Assume a plank position with your hands on the stability ball.
    • Roll the ball in different directions while maintaining a stable plank.
    • This challenges both vestibular and proprioceptive systems.
  7. Stability Ball Circles:
    • Sit on the ball and make circular movements with your hips.
    • This activity engages the vestibular system while promoting core stability.
  8. Knee Tucks:
    • Start in a plank position with your shins resting on the stability ball.
    • Pull your knees toward your chest, engaging both core muscles and proprioceptive input.

Super Easy and Fun Movement Exercises

All you need for this activity is a large ball. You could use a Balance Ball
or just grab a bouncy playground ball like this one from your child’s outdoor play equipment.  

We partially deflated our ball and drew a heart on one side using a dry erase marker.  The heart provided a visual prompt for where to sit or push.  It made a fun activity even better as we tried to squish the heart!

Use the ball to sit, bounce, and squash for proprioceptive input and strengthening.

A few core exercises that you can try:

  • Sit on the ball and bounce.
  • Sit on the ball near a wall and have your child pick up their feet.  Use the wall to stabilize.
  • Lay belly down and roll side to side.
  • Lay belly down and roll the ball front to back.
  • Lay belly down on the ball and bounce.
  • Squash the ball against the wall with the child’s chest.
  • Squash the ball against the wall with the child’s back.
  • Stand on the ball against a wall, using the wall for support (use close adult supervision and contact for this one.)

Exercises for Self-Awareness Skills

Another type of exercise for focus and attention are those that offer self-awareness skills. This includes body awareness but also the ability to be aware of listening skills (auditory processing) and speaking skills. This includes the ability to attend to receptive language and carry that attention and focus over to expressive language.

These self-awareness skills include exercises that include crossing the midline. There are many self awareness games as well that support development of this area.

When we are involved in a conversation or other back and forth communication that uses both external and internal feedback, we have active listening. This means we don’t “drift off” during a conversation or learning experience where we need to listen and take in information, and then respond.

You probably can remember a time when you were supposed to be listening to an in-service or a lesson and you’ve felt your eyes and mind glaze over. This happens when we lose attention and drift off in focus. However for students that have this happen on a common basis, we have learning and comprehension issues.

The part of attention that allows us to listen, comprehend, and respond (either with actions or words) is a feedback-feedforward loop. It involves internal thoughts and responses as well as external motor responses. This involves self-talk as well.

Active Listening Exercises

While these exercises are more of an auditory processing activity, you can incorporate movement too. This involves whole body learning.

Auditory attention is a sub-component of attention.

These active listening exercises can be graded up or down, depending on the needs of the individual.

  1. Sound Discrimination Games:
    • Play games that involve distinguishing between different sounds. For example, you can use everyday objects that make distinct sounds and ask the child to identify them.
  2. Auditory Memory Challenges:
    • Create listening challenges that require the child to remember sequences of sounds or words. Start with short sequences and gradually increase the complexity.
  3. Musical Activities:
    • Engage in musical activities like rhythm games, clapping to a beat, or playing simple instruments. These activities can enhance auditory processing and attention.
  4. Listening to Instructions:
    • Provide verbal instructions for various tasks and ask the child to follow them. This can be done through games or daily activities, reinforcing both listening skills and attention. This can include games like Simon Says.
  5. Storytelling with a Twist:
    • Tell a story with pauses and ask the child to fill in the missing parts. This not only improves auditory processing but also encourages active listening. You can also do this with nursery rhymes or fill in the blank song lyrics.
  6. Echo Games:
    • Create echo games where the child repeats patterns of sounds or words. This helps in honing auditory discrimination skills.
  7. Listening Walks:
    • Take the child on a listening walk outdoors. Encourage them to focus on and identify different sounds in their environment. This supports auditory discrimination skills.

 
Try these sensory movement activites and exercises for helping kids learn to pay attention.  Easy ball therapy exercises using proprioception and core muscle strengthening with a frugal and easy alternative to a therapy ball.  Occupational Therapy tips for kids.
 



Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.



 






 

 

Try these sensory movement activites and exercises for helping kids learn to pay attention.  Easy ball therapy exercises using proprioception and core muscle strengthening with a frugal and easy alternative to a therapy ball.  Occupational Therapy tips for kids.
 



 
 
Try these sensory movement activites and exercises for helping kids learn to pay attention.  Easy ball therapy exercises using proprioception and core muscle strengthening with a frugal and easy alternative to a therapy ball.  Occupational Therapy tips for kids.
 
Other exercises for focus and attention can be specifically play-based. Here are some ideas: 
 
 
Coke bottle water xylophone Teach kids to tie their shoes the fun way egg carton craft Creative Pencil Grasp Activities Organization, Attention, and Sensory Processing

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

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.

These gross motor games and toys support a variety of skill areas and functional tasks. Gross motor toys can be used to strengthen balance, coordination, motor planning, position changes, and other areas.

And, when you see kids struggling to kick a ball, walk in a line at school, jump, skip, ride a bike…that’s where therapeutic play comes in!

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 

PRINTABLE LIST OF TOYS FOR GROSS MOTOR

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!

Therapist-Recommended
GROSS MOTOR TOYS HANDOUT

    We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

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

    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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

    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.  

    Ready?  

    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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

    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

      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

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

      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):
        We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

        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 contact@theottoolbox.com.

        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.