How to Use Visual Reward Charts

Visual reward chart ideas for visual schedules

Visual reward charts are a powerful tool in helping kids accomplish tasks like potty training, tying shoes, chores, or other tasks, and can be used in conjunction with visual schedules. The use of this hands-on visual schedule can be effective in building intrinsic motivation and even executive functioning skills. Here, we’ll take a better look at visual reward charts, how to create one, and other tips for visual schedules with an identified reward.

Use visual reward charts in visual schedules.

In OT, we talk about personal motivators as a therapeutic intervention. We ask our clients what they want to work on as their therapy. We take what is important to them and strive to accomplish personal goals. Visual reward charts that use personal goals as an end result is very much aligned with occupational therapy. A visual reward chart can be a great motivator when integrating a personal goal with therapeutic interventions (or working on specific tasks at home, like chores, making the bed, potty training, or other tasks).

Visual Reward Charts

I discovered early on in my occupational therapy journey that positive reinforcement and visual reinforcement were powerful ways to shape behaviors and to achieve goals. When I become a mom I found that rewarding targeted behaviors also worked incredibly well with my own children.

This tool really appealed to me because I am a visual, goal-orientated person. I love to make lists and tick off the tasks that I have completed and I have the habit of putting a star or smiley face on my calendar when I make it to gym and manage to squeeze a workout into my day.

I gain a sense of achievement when I look back over the month and see the stars dotted throughout the weeks. I am also motivated to try harder when I look back at the month and there are not that many smiley faces staring back at me!

Reward charts can be highly motivating and very helpful in establishing specific behaviours and reinforcing necessary habits. But reward charts have also received a fair amount of criticism from those who are concerned that children will expect to receive a reward at every turn. The worry that children will become completely reward-focused has been followed up with research on extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation in the early years of development.

While it is clear that both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators are necessary in shaping children’s willingness to learn the role of reward charts remains under review.

Why Visual Reward Charts?

Visual reward charts build intrinsic motivation. In my experience each child I work with is completely unique. Some children are self-driven and easy to motivate and reward charts aren’t necessary. Some children are inspired by working towards a goal and visually tracking their progress. In these cases reward charts have been an absolute hit.

Develop executive functioning skills– Visual schedules that offer a personal goal or reward at the completion can be an effective way to shape a child’s actions in a given situation. Visual reward charts can provide a clear outline of the steps toward a goal that the child wants to accomplish. This can be a powerful tool in addressing initiation, task completion, and other executive functioning skills.

Visual schedules improve functioning- You’ve probably seen potty schedule reward charts, chore charts, reading reward charts, or savings charts (kids save up their money in order to purchase a wanted item). All of these visual charts use the concept of a visual schedule; Complete tasks for a certain period of time and at the end a benefit is gained. The benefit is personal autonomy.

There are many forms of reward charts that work to a functional goal:

  • Potty training chart
  • Chore charts
  • Reading reward chart
  • Math facts reward chart
  • Money savings chart
  • Tying shoes chart
  • Brushing teeth chart

Visual prompts are helpful in teaching the steps of toothbrushing.

Visual schedules can help with toilet training.

Schedules can get kids organized an on time for morning routines.

Visual charts offer a picture so children can “see” their progress– Working on a task can be abstract, especially for those with communication challenges. Visual chart that show time spent completing each therapy item, first-then charts, and visual schedules for autism or other neurodiverse individuals that need a visual breakdown of where they are in accomplishing a specific task.

Visual reward charts offer multisensory feedback- When children accomplish a portion of a task or complete a job in an activity (such as completing each activity of the therapy session, practicing handwriting for a certain number of trials, or performing steps of a task like potty training, they can move velcro image pieces to a visual chart, place stickers on a reward chart, or mark off that they completed those trials. That physical movement, plus the visual component, plus possible auditory feedback (Good Job!) offers positive reinforcement with multisensory feedback to the child. They will be motivated to continue and feel a sense of pride for moving the needle toward their goal.

How to Set up a Visual Reward Chart

There are strategies that impact how successful a reward chart is when it comes to achieving personal goals.

  • The reward chart must be simple and specific. To really gain the benefit of a reward chart you need to engage the child in the process of drawing up the chart.
  • The targeted task needs to be specified and not unrealistic for the child to achieve. The performance tasks should be discussed with the child and the child needs to understand why they are important for them to complete the activity. Explaining why the behavior is important makes the chart more meaningful for the child.
  • Only target one action or behavior at a time and focus on tasks that will have a positive impact on the child and family’s well-being.
  • Once the child has a clear understanding of what is expected of them, create a visual reminder of what that task is. Take a photograph of them performing the activity or draw a picture of it.
  • For older children’s description can be written on the chart.
  • Next decide on the number of times the action needs to be performed in order for them to receive a reward. Keep the number low for younger children and children who are new to reward charts. Expecting them to complete an activity 40 or 50 times before receiving a reward is unrealistic. Chances are they will give up long before they reach their goal.
  • Then decide on the reward. Most children have an idea of something they would like to work towards and this should be mutually agreed upon at the beginning of the exercise. A few of my children have said ‘surprise me’ and the added anticipation of not knowing their reward has been motivating for them.
  • When deciding on a reward make sure that it’s realistic and in keeping with the task. No trips to Disneyland for brushing your teeth. I try and avoid rewarding with sweets so that I don’t encourage a dependence on unhealthy food. Every child is unique but if you connect with the child you will find the right thing to get them working towards completing their chart.
  • Place the chart somewhere that is visible to the child and you are ready to go.
  • Make sure that you mark the chart as soon as the targeted behaviour is performed. Children become despondent if they have done their part and they have to wait three days to their action to be acknowledged.
  • Next be involved as the child completes the chart and focus on providing positive comments about the targeted behaviour they are performing.

When the chart is complete tell them how proud you are of their efforts and make a fuss of the fact they have worked towards achieving their goal. It is important that don’t become reliant on rewards and but focusing on the process they went through. Then, you can shift some of that extrinsic motivation to an awareness of how capable they are.

For other ideas on how to use positive reinforcement in conjunction with reward charts have a look at this resource.

A reward chart in action

The reward charts that I use are usually tailor made for the child and specific behaviour we are working towards. As I have already mentioned it’s important to keep the reward chart simple and specific.

A recent example of a chart I developed was to encourage a young four year old to get dressed in the morning. We established that he was capable of putting on his underwear, shorts and shirt but was really not interested in dressing himself each morning.

I took a photograph of him in his clothes and we stuck it on a page. This provided a clear simple visual of the outcome we were working towards.

We drew ten circles on the page and agreed that when he woke up and dressed himself in the morning he could color in a circle. This number of circles seemed attainable to the child. Remember that a visual chart with hundreds of blocks on it can be daunting.

We spoke about the fact that once all the circles were colored in he would have dressed himself independently ten times. Here we were focusing more on the process that the reward chart would be encouraging.

He loves dinosaurs and when we discussed a reward he asked if he could receive a dinosaur T-shirt when all of the circles were colored in. This seemed like a relevant reward given the task he was completing! We stuck a small picture of a dinosaur at the bottom of the page so he could remember the goal he was working towards. And that was his reward chart.

He was very excited about his chart and managed to complete the chart in eleven days. He woke up in the mornings and apart from one morning that he was feeling quite grumpy he dressed himself independently! His mom made a big deal of how proud she was and how grown up he was that he had dressed himself so well. She made a show of sending a message to his grandparents to tell them about his accomplishment as well. And she bought him a dinosaur shirt which is a firm favorite of his. What a cool reminder of what he is capable of!

In this case the reward chart worked well. It was presented in a positive way and the child was fully immersed in the process. Adjusting the reward chart according to the child’s age, interest and goal will go a long way towards helping them establish good habits.

Main points to remember about visual reward charts

  • Engage the child in the process
  • Target a specific behaviour
  • Have a visual representation of the behaviour
  • Decide on an appropriate number of repetitions of the behaviour
  • Decide what the reward is
  • Place the chart in a visible spot
  • Mark the chart as soon as the behaviour is performed
  • Praise the child’s efforts
  • Provide them with the reward when the chart is completed

Contributor to The OT Toolbox: Janet Potterton is an occupational therapist working predominantly in school-based settings and I love, love, love my job. I have two children (if you don’t count my husband!), two dogs, one cat, two guinea pigs and one fish. When I am not with my family or at work I try to spend time in nature. The beach is my happy place.

Kindergarten Learning and Play Activities

kindergarten activities

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

Kindergarten activities and kindergarten readiness activities

Kindergarten Activities

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


Kindergarten Functional Tasks

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

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

Kindergarten Letter Activities

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

Kindergarten Letter activities for letter learning

Kindergarten Math Activities

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




Kindergarten Sight Words and Reading:

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

Sight Words Manipulatives | Outdoor Pre-Reading Letter Hunt

Kindergarten Books and Activities

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

Book ideas activities for Kindergarten




Kindergarten Fine Motor Play

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

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

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


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

Kindergarten Play:

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

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

Kindergarteners can gain valuable input through play:

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

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


Kindergarten Crafts

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

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

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

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

Kindergarten Craft ideas


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

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

What are Visual Spatial Relations

spatial relations activities

Visual Spatial Relations is an important visual perceptual skill that is important for many functional tasks.  Spatial relations allows the organization of the body in relation to objects or spatial awareness.  This is an important part of spatial awareness in handwriting and many other movement-based activities.  An important part of visual spatial relations includes laterality and directionality. In general, these spatial relationship terms refer to left-right body awareness and the ability to perceive left/right relationship of objects. 

Spatial Relations is being aware of oneself in space. It involves positioning items in relation to oneself, such as reaching for items without overshooting or missing the object. Most of us realize as we walk through a doorway that we need to space ourselves through the middle of the door.

Some with poor visual spatial skills may walk to closely to the sides and bump the wall. It also involves the fine motor tasks of coordinating handwriting with writing in spaces allowed on paper, placing letters within an area (lines), and forming letters in the correct direction.

What are spatial relations?

Spatial relations, or visual spatial awareness, refers to an organization of visual information and an awareness of position in space so the body can move and perform tasks. Spatial relations are needed for completing physical actions, moving in a crowded space, and even handwriting.

Knowing which shoe to put on which foot.  Understanding that a “b” has a bump on the right side.  Putting homework on the left side of the take home folder before putting books into a locker beside the gym bag.  Visual spatial relations are everywhere!

More examples of spatial relations

Here are more everyday examples of spatial relations at work:

  • Letter formation and number formation
  • Writing letters without reversal
  • Reading letters without reversal
  • Sports
  • Completing puzzles
  • Walking in a crowded hallway without running into others
  • Standing in line without bumping into others
  • Left/right awareness
  • Understanding spatial reasoning concepts such as beside/under/next to/etc
  • Reading without losing one’s place
  • Copying written work with appropriate spatial awareness
  • Reading maps  

Visual spatial skills in occupational therapy activities are an important skill.  

Visual Spatial Skills and Handwriting

Spatial relations, and the ability to organize physical movements related to visual information impacts handwriting.

You might be thinking: “Movement and handwriting!? What?? I want my kiddo to sit still and copy his homework into his planner without wiggling all over the desk!”

Ok, ok. Here is the thing: We are asking our kids to write way to early. Preschoolers are being given paper with lines and are asked to write their name with correct letter formation. Kids are being thrown into the classroom environment with expectations for legible written work an they are missing the necessary basics.

When kids are not developing the skills they need to hold a pencil, establish visual perceptual skills, and organize themselves, they are going to have struggles in handwriting.

NOTE: There are a few other baseline tools that kids need in order to establish a base for better handwriting. Fine motor experiences, positioning, attention are just a few of these areas.

Here are a few easy hands-on strategies to help with spatial relations in written work:

  1. Read this resource on hand dominance and laterality.
  2. Then check out this post on what you need to know about writing with both hands.
  3. Finally, check out this movement activity for direction following that involves spatial relations.

These resources are all connected and can impact spatial relations skills!

Another resource is this post on Hand Aerobics and Fine Motor Skills Needed in the Classroom

You can find all of our handwriting posts here.

Spatial Relations Quick Tip:
Write a letter on the student’s back using a finger or a pencil eraser. Ask the student guess what letter it is. Then, ask the child to air write the letter. (While holding a pencil, with large motion, whole arm motions AND very small with just the fingers!) Finally have him write the letter on paper.

  • These activities all require the ability to perceive an object in space.  The way they interpret position in space to their body and to other objects in the environment impacts motor skills.    
  • Spacing pieces of a puzzle amongst the others and writing in relation to the lines is one way to work on this skill.

Fine Motor Quick Tip:
Encourage pinching activities. So many kids are exposed to screen technology from a young age. Screen interaction uses the pointer finger in isolation or just the thumb. These digits become strong and a dynamic pencil grasp is limited. Promote strengthening of the intrinsic muscles by pinching clay or tearing and crumbling small bits of paper. Read more about intrinsic muscle strengthening here.

What are visual spatial relations and how are visual relationships and visual concepts needed for functional tasks?

Spatial Relations Activities

Try these movement-based spatial relations activities to work on the visual spatial skills needed for writing and completing everyday tasks:

  • Create a paper obstacle course. Draw obstacles on paper and have your child make his /her pencil go through the obstacles.
  • Draw circles, holes, mud pits, and mountains for them to draw lines as their pencil “climbs”, “jumps”, “rolls”, and even erases!
  • Create an obstacle course using couch cushions, chairs, blankets, pillows to teach left/right/over/under.
  • Write words and letters on graph paper. The lines will work as a guide and also a good spacing activity.
  • Use stickers placed along the right margin of to cue the student that they are nearing the edge of paper when writing.
  • Highlight writing lines on worksheets.
  • Draw boxes for words on worksheets for them to write within.
  • Play Simon Says.
  • Practice directions. Draw arrows on a paper pointing up, down, left, and right. Ask your child to point to the direction the arrow is pointing. The child can say the direction the arrows are pointing. Then create actions for each arrow. Up may be jumping. Down may be squatting. The Left arrow might be side sliding to the left, and the Right arrow might be a right high kick. Next, draw more rows of arrows in random order. Ask your child to go through the motions and try to go faster and faster.
This map activity is great for building and developing spatial concepts and higher level thinking right in the backyard, using a map and lights to develop spatial relations. Teaching Spatial Concepts to Preschoolers and Toddlers through play. Over, under, around, and through and their need in functional tasks like shoe tying and handwriting. Visual Perception and spatial awareness in kids.  What is Spatial awareness and why do kids have trouble with spacing between letters and words, reversing letters, and all things vision.  Great tips here from an Occupational Therapist, including tips and tools to help kids with spacing in handwriting. What is spatial awareness?  Tips and tools for handwriting, reading, scissors, and all functional skills in kids and adults, from an Occupational Therapist.

Other activities to incorporate spatial relations include:

Try these other activities that challenge visual spatial relations:

Movement and spatial relations worksheet to improve spatial awareness in kids

Free Movement and Handwriting Worksheet

Today’s free printable shares movement based activities to help kids improve their spatial relations. These are the skills kids need to write legibly. It includes tips and activities to improve spatial relations, that were mentioned above. This free handout is a great resource to add to your occupational therapy toolbox.

You will receive this handout when you join the Handwriting Tips and Tricks series. Each day over the course of 5 days, you’ll receive a free handwriting worksheet to use in addressing common handwriting issues.

Join the free handwriting series!

handwriting handouts

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

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

Visual Efficiency and Vision Problems You Can Not “See”

Visual efficiency visual processing and other vision problems

This post describes visual efficiency, including visual problems such as convergence insufficiency or other visual processing issues impacting functional tasks. These visual processing problems may present in ways that are not obvious but do lead to trouble with reading and learning.

Visual Efficiency

A child struggles with handwriting.  They work hard in school and can verbalize answers to spelling tests or spout off vocabulary meanings and math facts.  But when it comes to reading assignments, creative writing tasks, or writing a list of words on a spelling test, you notice it.

This child seems distracted in the classroom.  They resist homework.  In-class assignments are not completed on time and when he needs to silently read a passage and recall the details, he seems distrait.

Sometimes, these learning problems are an indication of a vision problem. Sometimes, the child is not complaining of trouble seeing and they have passed vision tests, yet there might be a hidden vision problem.

Visual processing and visual efficiency are hidden eye problems that might not seem obvious when a child goes about his day. A child who needs glasses for acuity will squint his eyes of complain about headaches or blurry words on the page.  A child with visual processing or visual efficiency difficulties may slip through the fuzzy visual cracks.

Visual perceptual skills are needed for so many functional skills. You’ll find easy and fun ways to work on visual perceptual skills through play here. 

Visual processing, visual efficiency, and learning including how vision is related to reading and writing.

What is Visual Efficiency

Lets start by discussing the differences between visual processing and visual efficiency.

Visual Processing
Visual processing is a large way to describe many visual skills. When a child has a problems with visual processing, they have difficulty taking in information and processing that visual information in order to make sense of it. 

Visual processing includes visual tasks such as laterality, directionality, form perception, visual memory, visual closure, and visual motor integration. These are the kids who have trouble with letter reversals, difficulty learning the letters of the alphabet, has poor comprehension skills, has poor recall of visual information, has trouble with writing spelling words and vocabulary, or has sloppy handwriting.

Visual scanning can be one of these processing skills impacting the retrieval of visual information.

Taking in and processing that information can include visual efficiency.

Visual Efficiency
Visual efficiency refers to the ability to effectively view visual information.  While visual efficiency refers to nearsightedness and farsightedness, it also includes problems with how the eyes move in order to focus on visual information:

  • Visual focusing
  • Visual tracking
  • Visual tracking
  • Eye teaming
  • Convergence insufficiency

Visual efficiency problems may present as squinting, complaints of blurred vision, inattention, looses place when reading, poor reading comprehension, moving head when reading, or skipping lines when reading.

You can see how the ability to effectively track, focus, use the eyes together, and converge on information plays a huge role in processing that information for perceptual information so it can be used functionally, in conjunction with motor tasks (visual motor skills).

These are the types of problem areas that often times present later in the elementary school years or when students are required to read a significant amount of information.  

Visual processing, visual efficiency, and learning including how vision is related to reading and writing.

What to do about vision problems

If a child is suspected of having problems in these areas, it is important to have them tested by an optometrist who is qualified to treat learning related vision problems.  Kids can overcome problems with visual processing and visual efficiency through help, tutoring, adaptations, modifications, and corrected vision problems.

Here is more information about strategies to address visual perceptual skills and handwriting.

Visual Efficiency Activities

Because the visual processing skills are so closely related (taking in information, visual perception, visual efficiency, and visual motor skills), activities are often combining all of these areas, and involve functional tasks as well.

Play is a favorite occupation of kids, so many of these activities incorporate play as a therapeutic activity to develop visual efficiency and visual processing skills.

Visual Motor Integration Bilateral Coordination Activity

Eye-hand coordination activity with letters

DIY Lacing Cards for Bilateral Coordination

Visual Closure Bug Worksheets

Scooping Eye-Hand Coordination Activity

Practice “b” and “d” with sensory writing

Color shape discrimination Sort

Coin discrimination

Real toy I Spy game  

You will find MANY more visual processing activities on our Visual Processing Page.

Here are some fun ways to help with visual efficiency concerns:  

Visual processing, visual efficiency, and learning including how vision is related to reading and writing.

These Visual Processing and Visual Efficiency tools are perfect for building skills that are needed in reading, writing, and learning tasks:

Visual Processing Bundle

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

Color Sorting Activity

Color sorting activity

This color sorting activity is a powerful fine motor activity and a super easy way to learn and play for toddlers and preschoolers.  We’ve done plenty of activities to work on fine motor skills in kids.  This straw activity is the type that is a huge hit in our house…it’s cheap, easy, and fun!  (a bonus for kids and mom!)  A handful of straws and a few recycled grated cheese container are all that are needed for tripod grasp, scissor skills, color naming, and sorting.  SO much learning is happening with color sorting activities. Read on…  

Fine Motor Color Sorting Activity with Straws

This color sorting activity is great for toddlers and preschools because it helps to develop many of the fine motor skills that they need for function.

I had Baby Girl (age 2 and a half) do this activity and she LOVED it.  Now, many toddlers are exploring textures of small objects with their mouths.  If you have a little one who puts things in their mouth during play, this may not be the activity for you.  That’s ok.  If it doesn’t work right now, put it away and pull it out in a few months. 

Color sorting activity with straws

Always keep a close eye on your little ones during fine motor play and use your judgment with activities that work best for your child.  Many school teachers read our blog and definitely, if there are rules about choking hazards in your classroom, don’t do this one with the 2 or 3 year olds. 

You can adjust this color sorting activity to use other materials besides straws, too. Try using whole straws, pipe cleaners, colored craft sticks, or other objects that are safe for larger groups of Toddlers.  

There are so many fun ways to play and learn with our Occupational Therapy Activities for Toddlers post.

Kids can work on scissor skills by cutting straws into small pieces.

  color sorting activity using straws

We started out with a handful of colored straws.  These are a dollar store purchase and we only used a few of the hundred or so in the pack…starting out cheap…this activity is going well so far!  

Cutting the straws is a neat way to explore the “open-shut” motion of the scissors to cut the straw pieces.  Baby Girl liked the effect of cutting straws.  Flying straw bits= hilarious!  

If you’re not up for chasing bits and pieces of straws around the room or would rather not dodge flying straw pieces as they are cut, do this in a bin or bag.  Much easier on the eyes 😉  

Kids love to work on fine motor skills through play!

 Once our straws were cut into little pieces and ready for playing, I pulled out a few recycled grated cheese containers.  (Recycled container= free…activity going well still!)   We started with just one container out on the table and Baby Girl dropped the straw pieces into the holes. 

Here are more ways to use recycled materials in occupational therapy activities.

Toddlers and preschoolers can work on their tripod grasp by using small pieces of straws and a recycled grated cheese container.

Importance of Color sorting for toddlers and preschoolers

Color sorting activities are a great way to help toddlers and preschoolers develop skills for reading, learning, and math.

Sorting activities develop visual perceptual skills as children use visual discrimination to notice differences between objects.

By repeating the task with multiple repetitions, kids develop skills in visual attention and visual memory. These visual processing skills are necessary for reading and math tasks.

The ability to recall differences in objects builds working memory too, ask kids remember where specific colors go or the place where they should sort them.

These sorting skills come into play in more advanced learning tasks as they classify objects, numbers, letters, etc.

And, when children sort items by color, they are building What a great fine motor task this was for little hands!  Sorting straws into a container with small holes, like our activity, requires a tripod grasp to insert the straws into the small holes of the grated cheese container.   

These grated cheese containers are awesome for fine motor play with small objects!

Sorting items like cut up straws helps preschoolers and toddlers develop skills such as:

  • Fine motor skills (needed for pencil grasp, scissor use, turning pages, etc.)
  • Hand strength (needed for endurance in coloring, cutting, etc.)
  • Visual discrimination (needed to determine differences in letters, shapes, and numbers)
  • Visual attention
  • Visual discrimination
  • Visual perceptual skills
  • Left Right discrimination (needed for handwriting, fine motor tasks)
  • Counting
  • Patterning
  • Classification skills

Preschoolers can get a lot of learning (colors, patterns, sorting, counting) from this activity too.  Have them count as they put the pieces in, do a pattern with the colored straws, sort from smallest to biggest pieces and put them in the container in order…the possibilities are endless!

Cut straw into small pieces and provide three recycled containers to sort and work on fine motor skills with kids.

Color Sorting Activity with Straws

Once she got a little tired of the activity, I let it sit out on the table for a while with two  more containers added.  I started dropping in colored straw pieces into the containers and sorted them by color. 

Use colored straws to sort and work on fine motor skills with recycled containers.

Baby Girl picked right up on that and got into the activity again.  This lasted for a long time.  We kept this out all day and she even wanted to invite her cousin over to play with us.  So we did!  This was a hit with the toddlers and Little Guy when he came home from preschool.  Easy, cheap, and fun.  I’ll take it!

Looking for more fun ways to work on color sorting?

You’ll find more activities to build hand strength, coordination, and dexterity in this resource on Fine Motor Skills.

Virtual Visual Motor Room

Visual Motor Skills Virtual Therapy Room

If you are looking for online games to target visual perceptual skills, and ways to build visual motor skills when working virtually, then this virtual visual motor room (or virtual visual perceptual skills therapy room) is for you. This virtual therapy room is based on our virtual sensory room and is designed to develop and strengthen visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills, and eye-hand coordination. Let’s play!

This Visual Motor Skills Virtual Therapy Room is going to be a hit with your caseload.

Free virtual visual motor activities for online occupational therapy activities

Online Visual Motor Activities

For therapists working in teletherapy, online puzzles, virtual games, and remote therapy games are one way to help kids build the skills they need for visual perception, visual motor, eye-hand coordination, and even executive functioning.

That’s where this virtual visual motor room comes in.

Therapists can access the free virtual therapy room from their Google drive and use the tools in teletherapy sessions.

This slide deck is just one of the many free slide deck collections available here on The OT Toolbox.

For more teletherapy games and tools that can be done remotely with kids on your therapy caseload, check out this resource on virtual therapy games.

Virtual Visual Motor Activities

There are so many awesome visual motor resources that can be used in occupational therapy teletherapy. In the virtual therapy room, you can find games and activities like these:

  • Online Sudoko
  • Virtual Connect 4 game
  • Online Snakes and Ladders
  • Virtual Bingo
  • Qwirkle
  • Uno
  • Yahtzee
  • Online Tic Tac Toe
  • Tangrams
  • Connect the dots
  • Geoforms
  • Shape building activities
  • Counting and graphing activities
  • Visual memory activities
  • Mazes
  • Word searches
  • What’s missing puzzles
  • MUCH more

All of these virtual therapy activities can be used to challenge kids’ visual perceptual skills, visual motor skills, and motor skills.

You’ll also see links to hands-on visual motor activities listed here on The OT Toolbox as well as a link to our free visual perception packet. Use these hands-on and printable therapy tools along with the virtual games and activities.

Virtual therapy room for visual motor skills.

When you click on the images in the virtual therapy room, you’ll be sent to links to videos, exercises, and resources to promote visual perception activiites and visual motor activities. T

This therapy room is a great resource for kids of all ages. You’ll find therapy activities for all levels of visual perceptual skills and visual motor integration.

Free virtual therapy room slide deck

Want to add this therapy slide deck to your OT toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below and you can access this resource from your email.

NOTE: Lately email addresses from school districts, organizations, and those with strict security walls have had our slide decks blocked. Consider using a personal email address to access this slide deck.

Free Virtual Visual Motor Room!

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    Add heavy work with these heavy work exercises to incorporate many themes into therapy and play.

    heavy work cards for regulation, attention, and themed brain breaks

    Click here to grab these heavy work cards.

    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

    Visual Schedules

    Visual schedules for kids

    Visual schedules are a tool that help kids in so many ways. As an adult I am constantly writing notes on post it’s to remind me to do things. It helps to be organized. When a child is learning to sequence, they may forget steps. A visual schedule is a great way to increase a child’s independence with toileting, that way they don’t have to rely so much on you for every step. visual schedule is used to help guide them in learning the sequence of steps.

    Visual schedules for kids

    What is a visual schedule?

    A visual schedule is just what it sounds like, a schedule or sequence, that uses pictures. Now the pictures used can by real photos, often I will take pictures with my phone an then print those out to use them. Or you can use clip art. A visual schedule is a way to show a child the beginning of a task and the end of the task. Visual cues that show a specic task can be beneficial for many children, of all ages, abiliies, and cognitive levels.

    Visual prompts are helpful in teaching the steps of toothbrushing.

    Visual schedules can help with toilet training.

    Schedules can get kids organized an on time for morning routines.

    Or, visual schedules can be used to plan and schedule sensory diet activities.

    Visual checklists can be used for classwork, assignments, or chores.

    You can use a visual schedule with any multistep functional task or during a series of tasks. Visual schedules are helpful in the classroom, home, in the community, or during therapy sessions. Other tasks such as homework assignments, projects, recipes, or multistep activities can work well with visual prompts.

    What is a visual schedule

    Reasons to use visual schedules

    There are many reasons to use a visual schedule

    1. Visual schedules can be used with all levels and abilities.
    2. Visuals are consistent.
    3. Visual schedules can reduce worries and anxiety by offering a constant direction.
    4. Visuals allow time for language processing.
    5. Visual prompts can offer a visual image and written word to meet the needs of a variety of student’s abilities.
    6. Visual schedules can promote self-confidence after success
    7. Visuals can help your child with transitions and know “what’s next”.
    8. Visuals help your child see what you mean.
    9. Visual prompts offer a chance to order tasks to take away impulse control.
    10. Visual cues offer strategies to impact planning, prioritization, working memory, organization, attention, and other executive functioning skills.
    11. Visuals help to build independence.
    12. Visual prompts can be flexible.
    13. Visuals are transferable between different places.
    14. Visuals have no tone.

    How to use a visual schedule

    Other students benefit from a checklist of sorts. This can occur with a visual description of the activity or task or simply a list of actions that are to be completed. An example would be toileting. You can start with 2 visuals and work up to as many visuals as needed.

    Pictures can be made into a visual schedule. You can cut the pictures out and then glue them to a piece of paper and have it in the bathroom, showing your child the exact sequence of steps.

    Remember lots of praise and encouragement with visual schedules, especially when setting up a plan.

    For functional tasks like shoe tying, getting dressed, or toilet training, you can have the child pull off the picture each time they complete a task and put it in the “all done” envelope or you can just point to the steps as they do them.

    If you want to be more specific and break down a task even more you just add more pictures for the steps. Here is an example of a handwashing visual schedule, which is great for children who often forget all the steps to handwashing.

    Another way to get a child to participate in toileting is to use a first then schedule. You put what the task is you want them to do, and the “then” would be the reward. For example, I would say, “First you go to the bathroom, then you get to play ball”.

    If you have tried a visual schedule and your child is having some behaviors I would suggest reading this article Attention and Behavior considerations in Toileting and Potty Training the Child. Sometimes there many be other factors that contribute to difficulty with step-by-step tasks such as toilet training.

    Visual Cards

    If adding sensory processing activities to a sensory diet or just to incorporate calming and regulating sensory input into daily activities is necessary, try adding these visual schedule cards into the day-to-day.

    Sensory Diet Cards - The OT Toolbox

    About Christina: Christina Komaniecki is a school based Occupational Therapist. I graduated from Governors State University with a master’s in occupational therapy.   I have been working in the pediatric setting for almost 6 years and have worked in early intervention, outpatient pediatrics, inpatient pediatrics, day rehab, private clinic and schools. My passion is working with children and I love to see them learn new things and grow. I love my two little girls, family, yoga and going on long walks.