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!

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:

  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.

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.

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

Benefits of Nature Play

benefits of nature play

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

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

Benefits of Nature Play

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

Research on Outdoor Play



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

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

These include:

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

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

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

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

Still other research supports the many health benefits:

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

Outdoor Nature Play and Attention

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoor Sensory Play Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Nature Play References:

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






 

How to Create a Sensory Diet

How to create a sensory diet

Here you’ll discover how to create a sensory diet through information on sensory diets as well as a powerful resource to set up and establish an effective sensory diet lifestyle that works for kids. We’ve shared a lot of information about creating a sensory diet. There is a valid reason. Besides the growing need for sensory support for kids with sensory processing disorder or sensory challenges, there is a real need for parents and teachers to understand exactly what a sensory diet is and how it can help address sensory needs.  

The tips below are strategies for creating a sensory diet that can be effective and helpful in enabling a successful sensory lifestyle. Understanding how does a sensory diet help is many times, the first step in addressing sensory related needs!

How to Create a Sensory Diet

Whether you are wondering exactly what a sensory diet entails or why a sensory diet can be effective in addressing underlying sensory needs, knowing how to create a sensory diet using the tools a child needs is essential. 

Below, you’ll find answers to questions about how to create a sensory diet and what exactly a sensory diet is. If you are wondering how does a sensory diet work, then read on! 

 

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

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.

What is a sensory diet? 

First, it can be helpful to explain exactly what a sensory diet is. A sensory diet is a specific set of sensory activities designed to meet specific needs of the individual. Creation of a sensory diet requires assessment and trial followed by analysis and continued monitoring of strategies and their effectiveness. 

Studies support the use of active participation in multi-sensory activities for at least 90 minutes per week to improve occupational performance and autism symptoms and behaviors (Fazlioglu & Baran, 2008; Thompson, 2011; Woo & Leon, 2013; Wuang, Wang, Huang, & Su 2010).

Children who have a toolbox of sensory activities available to them for daily use may benefit from prescribed sensory activities. A sensory-based strategy guide can help.

Sensory diets are a commonly known strategy for addressing sensory needs. The term “sensory diet” was coined by Patricia Wilbarger in 1984 to explain how certain sensory experiences can improve occupational performance and help to remediate disruption of the sensory processing systems. A sensory diet is a means to adjust sensory input in relation to an individual’s needs.

Sensory diets can include various sensory strategies and supports that help the individual to regulate. Some additional movements, or activities can include:

A sensory diet is a meaningful set of strategies for developing sensory programs that are practical, carefully scheduled, and controlled in order to affect functioning. Sensory diet activities provide appropriate sensory input based on the needs of an individual.

Just as a healthy diet consists of a variety of foods, a sensory diet is a balanced set of sensory information that allows an individual to function. A person cannot survive on broccoli alone. Similarly, a child cannot function with only one type of sensory activities.

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

Why Create a sensory diet?


There are many reasons why a sensory diet should be used to support specific needs. This resource covers the goals of a sensory diet.

Sensory diets are effective for addressing many sensory-related behaviors. Just a few reasons for using a sensory diet may include:

  • Emotional overreaction
  • Meltdowns
  • Aggression
  • Hyper-attention
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Inattention
  • Sleep issues
  • Impulsivity
  • Sensory-seeking behaviors
  • Sensory-resisting behaviors
  • Resistance to textures/food/clothing
  • Poor social Interactions

This blog post on sensory processing includes a sensory processing disorder checklist that covers many reasons and reactions that can be impacted by sensory needs.

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.

Make a Sensory Diet Template


One important piece of the sensory diet puzzle is the successful implementation of strategies. This is the part of actually using sensory activities, brain break, movement activities, calm down corners, sensory tools, etc.

We’ll go into how this looks in more detail below, but it’s important to remember that the sensory diet template plays a big role. Actually scheduling strategies and implementing them into day to day tasks is part of the sensory lifestyle.

There is more to a sensory diet than applying sensory input or encouraging a child to participate in sensory play activities. Knowing how and why a sensory diet should be created is essential to success, safety, and carryover of sensory strategies.

As individuals, we tend to choose activities and experiences that are pleasurable. We enjoy snuggling up under a thick blanket at the end of the day. We tend to shy away from unpleasant sensations such as a static shock that happens every time we use that certain blanket.

Likewise, some of us are thrill seekers and enjoy experiences like jumping from airplanes or bungee jumping. Others like to stay firmly on the ground and play it safe when it comes to leisure activities.

Similarly, our clients or children who struggle with sensory processing can present with different preferences, as discussed in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook.

Steps to Create a Sensory Diet


The key to successful integration of a sensory diet is ensuring the clinical strategizing and application are fit into the specific needs of the individual. However, combining the needs of an individual with interests and preference along with application of specific steps ensures successful creation of a sensory diet.

There are specific steps to creating a sensory diet. Let’s go through the process:

  1. Analyze/Identify
  2. Strategize
  3. Sensory Diet Template/ Apply Sensory Strategies
  4. Monitor

Step 1: Analyze/Identify- The first level in creation of a sensory diet requires identification of sensory related behaviors, attention issues related to impaired sensory input, challenges with focus or emotional regulation as a result of sensory needs, or meltdowns that impair functioning.

This level of sensory diet creation requires assessment and identification of each challenging issue. Sensory behaviors should be identified and charted. This includes jotting down when specific behaviors occur, the setting where meltdowns occur, and antecedent to the behavior.

Make detailed notes that describe the action, the environment, the disabilities, and the impact on function, safety, learning, social participation, etc. When taking the time to analyze sensory impact on function, it’s important to look for issues that may be impacting the individual’s functional performance.

Make notes on things such as:

  • Actions/behaviors- how is the individual responding in situations?
  • Environment- where is the situation occurring
  • Timing- when does the behavior occurring? What happens just before the behavior or actions?
  • Co-existing considerations- what else is occurring during the behavior or action?

Sensory related issues can be charted in a methodological manner or they can simply be written down on a scrap paper. The point is to identify the issues through analyzation and to record them.

Identifying sensory needs when beginning the sensory diet process is much like keeping track of a food diary or sleep diary. In these situations, you’ll also want to mark down every detail including how one is feeling emotionally, physically, and other considerations. Just like these types of diaries help to identify what is really going on in a food diet, a sensory diary can help to support and identify needs for creating a sensory diet.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook contains printable data collection forms that can be used to analyze and identify sensory-related actions, behaviors, and resulting issues.

After dysfunctional behaviors are identified, the reason behind the behaviors should be described.

Step 2: Strategize/Reasoning- The next level in creating a sensory diet involves identifying the “why” behind the behaviors. Think about why the individual may be responding, or reacting to sensory input or environmental input in the way that they are. Can you come up with rationale that describes actions?

Ask yourself questions to strategize on the “why” behind sensory-related behaviors:

  • Is it an unmet sensory need that causes a child to bolt down the hallway?
  • Is the reason the child chews on all of their clothes because they need more proprioceptive input?
  • Did the child not get enough sleep?
  • Is the routine off?
  • Was a transition done without warning or preparation?
  • Was the individual at a level of stress?

Use this information to come up with predictions and opportunities to support the individual with specific accommodations or modifications to the environment.

In The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, you will find printable sensory-based behavior screening tools that can be used to identify the underlying sensory needs leading to a behavior or action.

Additionally, resources in the book allow for strategizing to address existing sensory challenges for an individual. The best part is that the pages can be printed off and used over and over again for a single individual or for many individuals. 

Step 3: Create a Sensory Diet Template and Apply/Trial Various Sensory Strategies- In this stage of sensory diet development, strategies need to be trialed for effectiveness within the lifestyle of the child and family. Sensory strategies need to be incorporated as indicated across a variety of settings, based on various sensory needs as they change throughout the day.

Scheduling sensory diet strategies is an important step. If a box of sensory supplies is offered, but no schedule put into place, the sensory diet immediately is set up for failure.

Each strategy should be assessed for effectiveness. A simple checklist can be completed in the classroom or at home. When a sensory strategy is determined to work, that activity can be added to the child’s sensory diet.

If a particular sensory activity is determined to be ineffective, return to level one.

Remember that this part of the sensory diet creation process is very fluid! There will be trials, adjustments, periods of re-trialing, and monitoring. It can seem like this stage goes on and on! The thing to remember is to persist and don’t give up!

As adults who work with or raise children, we know the fluidity of childhood. Needs, strengths, interests, environment, and other areas can change as a child develops and grows. In the same manner, a sensory diet needs fluidity. Applying various strategies at different levels of growth in a child is a must.

Readers of The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook will find the Sensory Diet Schedule in the Addendum of the book to be a useful tool in creating a checklist for sensory diet activities. This is another series of printable pages that can be utilized over and over again as needed.

Step 4: Monitor- At this stage in development of a sensory diet, strategies should be monitored for effectiveness. Strategies should be monitored on a frequent basis with regard to effectiveness. As part of the monitoring process, a subjective assessment can be completed by adults who oversee the child’s sensory diet strategies.

Additionally, carryover of sensory strategies must be monitored. A list of prescribed activities that are not completed because they require exhaustive effort are not an effective strategy within the life of a family.

Carryover of sensory strategies is extremely important in both the home and in the classroom. If activities are not able to be carried out, then a different sensory strategy should be incorporated into the child’s sensory diet.

When using The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook to create and monitor sensory diets, users will find the Daily Sensory Diet Sheet and the Sensory Diet Schedule to be effective tools for carryover and monitoring strategies.

Use the Sensory Diet Effectiveness Tool, found in the Addendum of this book, to monitor sensory diet results and strategies. This form should be completed after a sensory diet has been in effect for two weeks. 


If creating a sensory diet and turning it into a sensory lifestyle sounds like a strategy that is needed in your home, classroom, or clinic, then The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a tool that you may need to get there! Check out more on The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook HERE. 

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.


The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a strategy guide for sensory processing needs. With valuable insight into the sensory system and the whole child, the book details how sensory diets can be incorporated into a lifestyle of sensory success. 

The tools in this book provide intervention strategies to support and challenge the sensory systems through meaningful and authentic sensory diet tactics based on the environment, interests, and sensory needs of each individual child.   

Wondering how to create a sensory diet? Use these steps to create a sensory diet for children with sensory needs that result in meltdowns, attention challenges, struggles with regulation, and other sensory processing related difficulties. Perfect for the occupational therapist who works with kids with sensory needs.


So often, we hear that sensory recommendations are not carried over into the home or classroom. The tips and tools in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook uses child-led interests and daily life interactions so kids WANT to participate in sensory diet activities their bodies need…because it’s part of play!

Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

Using a sensory diet in various environments

A sensory diet is an important strategy and tool to support learning needs in the classroom environment. Here is a resource on creating sensory diets for the classroom.

Occupational therapists can be a great resource for sensory diets that flow from the home to the school environment.

In fact, using a set of sensory diet cards as a resource where the student pulls various sensory supports to use at specific times or during transitions in the classroom can be very helpful.

The best type of sensory diet utilizes sensory aspects of everyday functional tasks within the activity as it occurs. This is covered specifically in the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook. But consider this: if one is outside or in the home and needs to address regulation needs, using activities and everyday objects is ideal. These backyard sensory diet strategies is one way to incorporate the outdoors into sensory needs.

Related, a sensory diet can include recess activities as a tool to support emotional or sensory regulation needs. This resource on recess sensory diets covers this concept in more detail. Running on a blacktop surface at recess, playing with hula hoops, balls, or building blocks at a key part of the day is scheduled into the students’ schedules every day they are at school. When you think about it, each student has a sensory diet of their own in the way of recess!

At home, recess isn’t an option, but heading outside is! The outdoor sensory diet strategies can really impact self-regulation, emotional needs, attention, and sensory processing needs.

Another environmental consideration is the playground. A park or playground area offers sensory diet equipment and tools that can be used on a scheduled basis. Consider adding a trip to the playground to the schedule on specific days of the week. Maybe a visit to the playground is in order for Friday afternoons after the student’s spelling test and the end of the school week. Or, a playground visit can occur every Sunday afternoon as a way to wrap up the weekend. Perhaps a walk to a local park can occur each evening after dinner. It’s all about what the individual needs and what works for the family’s lifestyle.

Another location for sensory diets can be the woods or a wooded outdoor area. This is a great way to incorporate nature into sensory needs, and should be scheduled according to availability, time available, and family lifestyle.

Another related resource on this site is the concept of sensory diets at the beach. When we travel, there can be a lot of different or novel sensory experiences. When hot weather, wind, and scratchy sand impact sensory needs at the beach, these are all important considerations.

Another support for travel is the sensory diet on the go! This easy to create sensory support is individualized and includes the materials and strategies that support the individual’s needs. Read how to create a travel sensory diet toolbox.

Sensory Blanket Activity

sensory tortilla blanket

This sensory blanket activity is a simple home sensory diet activity that offers heavy work input using only a blanket. Did you know you can use a blanket as a calming sensory tool? One way that I love to help regulate and calm down over-responsive sensory systems is through heavy work activities

Use a tortilla blanket (or any blanket) to make this sensory blanket burrito as a sensory tool for kids.

Calming Proprioception Activity with a Blanket

Using a blanket as a sensory tool is one of the easiest ways to offer heavy work , or proprioceptive input, through the whole body as a calming strategy.

There are a few reasons why using a blanket works to calm the sensory systems.

Rolling a child up in a blanket is a great way to provide deep input to a child’s whole body. This is calming and organizing.

Additionally, the warm temperature helps to calm the body.

A benefit to this sensory strategy is that every home has a blanket of some type. 

Use this proprioceptive activity to offer calming input to help self-regulate emotions and sensory needs by rolling up in a blanket, either on the floor or with additional heavy work input. Check out all of our proprioception activities here.

How to use a blanket for calming sensory input:

  1. Grab a blankets and spread it out on the floor.  
  2. Ask the child to lay down on the blanket, near one edge.
  3. Roll your child up like a burrito. Keep rolling until the whole blanket is used. Wrap the blanket tightly.  
  4. Add additional proprioceptive input for calming and regulating by piling pillows on top of your child after they’ve been wrapped up in the blanket.  Press evenly and gently, but firmly, with both hands to provide deep pressure input.

 

Tortilla Blanket Sensory Activity

Have you seen the (Amazon affiliate link) tortilla blankets? These are a great, fuzzy blanket to use in this sensory blanket activity! Kids can be the burrito as they are wrapped up in the tortilla blanket. Plus, the warmth from this fleece blanket is extra cozy and calming!

Use the tortilla blanket to make a kid-sized burrito that adds calming sensory input!

Another sensory activity using blankets is to use the blanket roll as a balance beam  or to lay on (without the child inside).

For more heavy work activities using materials already found in the home, check out these low-prep heavy work exercises!

Heavy Work Exercise Cards
Heavy Work Exercise Cards- 50% off!

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

Indoor Ice Skating Activity for Gross Motor Skills

indoor ice skating activity

This indoor ice skating activity is an older blog post on The OT Toolbox, but the gross motor benefits are perfect for today! Did you know you can use an indoor balance and coordination activity like paper plate ice skating (and the inside skating task below) to challenge and integrate proprioceptive input, vestibular sensory input, and work on various gross motor skills.

Use this indoor ice skating activity to challenge gross motor skills, balance, endurance, and add sensory input.

Indoor Ice Skating Activity

Sometimes, you come across a play activity that provides many skill areas and is just plain old fun.  These indoor ice skates proprioception and vestibular activity is one of those.  

A few years ago, we shared a bunch of winter sensory integration activities.  This is on of those movement sensory ideas (that we’re just getting around to sharing this year!)

With this indoor ice skating activity, you can play indoors AND incorporate proprioceptive input, vestibular input, crossing midline, visual scanning, motor planning, among other therapy areas…all with play.  


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

This is a great indoor therapy activity for challenging balance and endurance.

  • Ask kids to follow a specific path to work on memory, sequencing, and motor planning.
  • Ask the child to move the indoor skates along a straight line and then bend and stoop to retrieve objects.
  • Incorporate the indoor skating activity into an Olympics therapy theme.
  • Use the indoor skates to move in circles, curved lines, and move as a real ice skater.
  • Ask the skater to carry objects from one point to another.

In this skating activity, kids are really challenging strength and balance. The carpeted surface is a slick and slippery surface when sliding with a non-resistant surface when sliding on a paper plate, wax paper, or cardboard. TO slide, you need to move the legs along without lifting along the carpet, using core strength to maintain balance.  

To move the feet, kids need to engage muscles of the core help maintain balance without falling or sliding.  

Indoor Ice Skates proprioception and vestibular sensory play activity

Tissue Box Ice Skates

This is an activity that I remember doing as a kid.  When the weather is too cold or icy to get outdoors, adding any vestibular or proprioception input can be just what the child with sensory needs craves.

To make your own indoor ice skating activity, all you need is a couple of cardboard tissue boxes and a carpeted floor.

If you don’t have tissue boxes, you can use other materials to make indoor ice skates. Or, try some of these ideas. The options are limitless:

  • Tissue boxes
  • Cereal box cut in half
  • Paper plates
  • Styrofoam plates
  • Two pieces of wax paper
  • Pieces of cardboard delivery box
  • 2 plastic frisbees
  • Padded delivery envelopes (think Amazon delivery pouches)
  • Any cardboard box!

Depending on the material and the user’s motor skills, you may need to strap the cardboard pieces onto shoes with pieces of tape. Other users can slide their feet to move the materials along carpeted surface by sliding their feet.

There are many skills that are developed with this indoor ice skating activity. Let’s cover those therapy skill areas:

Indoor ice skates with cardboard boxes add proprioception and vestibular sensory play.
Use cardboard boxes to make a pair of indoor “ice skates” that work on a carpet.

Indoor Ice Skating and proprioception

Use empty tissue boxes to create ice skate “boots”.  Moving the feet along the carpet requires heavy work, coordination, balance, and awareness of position in space.

Incorporate proprioceptive input by using a blanket and pull your child around a carpeted area.  Ask them to squat down to a skater’s ready position as you pull them, too.


Try skating with the tissue boxes as an adult pulls the child along with a blanket or towel.  Play tug of war with the blanket, too.

Read more about proprioception activities and how they impact functional skills.

Indoor Ice skating and Vestibular Sensory

A child can work on vestibular input by skating fast from one target to another. Encourage them to position themselves in different ways as they skate around a carpeted room.  

This activity works on crossing midline as the child “skis”.  Sometimes you might see children with vestibular difficulties who have difficulty determining proper motor planning in activities.  They might have trouble crossing midline in functional tasks as well as difficulties with reading and writing.  


A movement activity that challenges the body’s position in space like this one can help with these problem areas.

Read more about vestibular sensory activities and how these therapy tasks impact functional skills.

More Winter activities to use in occupational therapy

Add this indoor ice skating activity to these other winter ideas for occupational therapy sessions or home programming:

Snowman Therapy Activity Kit
Snowman Therapy Kit

This print-and-go snowman-themed therapy kit includes no-prep fine motor, gross motor, sensory, visual processing, handwriting, self-regulation, and scissor skill activities to help kids develop essential skills. Includes everything you need for therapy tasks, home therapy sessions, and movement-based learning.

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

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!

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!

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 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 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 

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

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!

Outdoor Sensory Activities for the Backyard

outdoor sensory activities for kids with sensory processing challenges.

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

outdoor sensory activities for kids with sensory processing challenges.

Outdoor Sensory Activities or a Sensory Diet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoor Sensory Activities

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

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

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

Bakyard Sensory Activities

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

Backyard Sensory Equipment

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

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

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

Outdoor Sensory issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to help with summer sensory overload

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

More about outdoor sensory diet activities

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

Get The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook here.

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a resource for creating sensory diets and turning them into a lifestyle of sensory success through meaningful and motivating sensory enrichment.
These outdoor sensory diet activities are good sensory experiences to meet the needs of children with sensory processing needs or those who struggle with sensory related behaviors, perfect for a home exercise program or occupational therapy activities.

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

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