Occupational Therapy

Summer Sensory Activities

A summer break full of fun and sun may mean that your little one won’t actively see his or her occupational therapist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate sensory play into your warm weather routine. There are plenty of engaging activities you can introduce to keep your child entertained as you provide new sensory experiences and help him or her increase motor skill development.

First, consult with your child’s occupational therapist to ask about ideas and strategies that will suit your child’s specific sensory needs. She will be able to make suggestions for the best activities to improve fine motor and attention skills and coordination as well as assist your child in using his or her senses to explore, experiment, and problem solve.

Some fun and supportive activities your therapist may share include:

Sensory Activities to Calm

Calming sensory activities help children feel calm, increase their attention span, and promote a state of overall comfort and happiness. These activities may help your child successfully transition from screeching and screaming to a calm and organized state of mind.

  • Bubble blowing
  • Swinging on a swing or see-sawing
  • Helping with simple household chores such as vacuuming or sweeping
  • Carrying weighted toys such as plastic sand buckets filled with water or sand for short periods of time
  • Using soft pillows or cushions to apply gentle pressure to comfortably “squish” your child
  • Holding vibrating toys or applying gentle massagers on their back, arms, and legs

Sensory Activities to Alert and Arouse Attention

Alerting and arousing sensory activities enable sensory-seeking children to feel something to support positive behavior and increase attention.

  • Bouncing a therapy ball
  • Spinning in a swivel chair or on a Sit ‘n Spin play toy
  • Jumping on a trampoline or a bed while supervised
  • Walking through an obstacle course using couch cushions, inflatable pool rafts and noodles, and more fun items that offer uneven surfaces
  • Jumping and crashing into soft pillows, play mats and cushions
  • Riding a scooter or tricycle
  • Playing physical games such as Red Rover tug-of-war or Ring Around the Rosie

Sensory Tubs Suggestions

A sensory tub is a simple shoebox or storage bin filled with a variety of materials that help promote sensory exploration by introducing different textures, sights, and smells. Children can place their hands in the box or bin to feel various materials, drive toy cars through them, seek special treasures hidden inside and more. Considering adding the following items to a sensory tub for your child:

  • Dried pasta, beans or rice
  • Cooked, wet noodles
  • Shaving cream
  • Finger paints
  • Playdough in various colors
  • Colorful paper confetti
  • Foam pieces
  • Salt or sugar
  • Dry or damp sand

Add even more fun in a sensory tub with:

  • Small cars and trucks
  • Kitchen utensils like spoons, whisks, tongs or a baster
  • Food coloring
  • Wooden or plastic blocks
  • Small plastic animals
  • Straws and pipe cleaners
  • Shovels, buckets, and funnels

Water Play Ideas

Water enhances any sensory play activity and can be incorporated very easily. Ideas to consider include:

  • Filling and tossing water balloons
  • Playing with a water table with boats and small floats
  • Using water to “paint” wood or concrete with paintbrushes
  • Adding food coloring to the water to watch the color changes
  • Adding glow sticks to the bath and turning off the lights
  • Creating an outdoor obstacle course with a sprinkler, slip-n-slide and baby pool


  Filed under: Occupational Therapy, Parenting Tips

Fine Motor Skills Milestones & Activities

Buttoning, zipping, gripping, eating, cutting, writing, tying—pretty much all things accomplished with the fingers, hands, and arms—are perfect examples of our fine motor skills in action.

Involving the use and coordination of these small muscles, fine motor skills are important for many life skills as well as the self-help skills children need to complete daily tasks.

Not surprisingly, these skills also support the development of literacy and numeracy for children underscoring participation in a variety of activities such as games, arts and crafts, musical instruments, and, eventually, educational exercises on digital devices.

Fine Motor Milestones for Toddlers and School-Age Children

As with all areas of child development, there are certain fine motor milestones to watch for at all age ranges.

Toddlers—16 months to 3 years:
  • Stacks blocks and toys
  • Draws with crayons or markers using a firm fist grip
  • Uses spoon and fork to feed himself
Preschoolers—3 to 5 years:
  • Manipulates buttons and fasteners on clothes
  • Traces, draws and writes shapes and letters
  • Uses scissors
  • Establishes hand dominance
School Age—5 to 7 years of age:
  • Dresses self
  • Ties shoes
  • Prints letters, numbers and words
  • Cuts on the lines
  • Colors inside the lines


Fine Motor Skill Activities for Kids

There are a variety of simple at-home activities you can introduce and implement to help your child build hand strength and hone his fine motor skills as he grows. Some activities you can do incorporate into playtime on a daily basis include:

Pompom Play

Set up an activity with small, soft pompoms from a craft store and a muffin tin. Ask your child to place the pompoms in the muffin tin. Older children can also sort them by color or make color patterns.

Get to Gluing

Put dots of glue on a piece of paper and ask your child to stick small objects such as beans, buttons, or beads on the glue dots. Watch your child closely during this activity to ensure the small objects are put on the paper and not into the mouth.

Tweezer Time

Place a variety of small items in a bowl, muffin tin or ice cube trade and ask your child to pick them out with tweezers.

Bring on the Beads

Using colorful pipe cleaners and assorted beads, encourage your child to make a bracelet or necklace. Ask your child to string the beads by size or by color. Do keep a watchful eye on your child during this creative project to make sure the beads are not placed in the mouth.   

Pull Out Playdough

Playing with playdough offers a great opportunity for children to strengthen their fine motor muscles. Ask your child to squeeze and stretch playdough into various shapes. Hide small objects in the playdough for your child to find and pick out.

Finger Painting

Finger paintings are much more than a messy masterpiece! The process of finger painting helps a child with dexterity as well as hand-eye coordination to support fine motor skills.

Broken Crayon Coloring

Brand new crayons are great, but using small, broken crayons will encourage your child to firm up his grip and hold the crayon correctly.


Fine Motor Control Concerns

If you are concerned your child may not be meeting certain age-appropriate fine motor milestones, you should consult your pediatrician. A referral to a licensed occupational therapist may be recommended to assess your child’s fine motor abilities further and determine if he could benefit from therapy to increase his skills.

  Filed under: Occupational Therapy, Parent Education, Parenting Tips, Therapy Ideas

Small Kids, Big Backpacks

Is your child’s backpack loaded up and full of books? Is he starting to complain of backaches? Do his shoulders hurt?

Carrying too much weight in a bookbag or wearing the bag incorrectly, can lead to some issues for your student. In fact, a student’s backpack can be the culprit for a number of aches and pains as well as poor posture and weakened muscles.

While you may not be able to do anything about the workload and books your student brings home each day, you can give him some tips to ensure he’s properly using his bookbag to curb unnecessary pain.

Backpack Tips

Loading a backpack:

  • Make sure all items in the bag are needed that day
  • Place the heaviest items against the back of the bag
  • Use outside pockets to carry smaller items
  • Try to fill compartments and pockets evenly to distribute weight

Students who wear their bookbags correctly will also lessen their risk of shoulder and back pain. Make sure your child knows the right and wrong way to wear their backpack.

Wearing a backpack:

  • Utilize both shoulder straps for even weight distribution
  • Tighten the shoulder straps to ensure the bag doesn’t hang loosely on the shoulders
  • Adjust the straps, so the bag sits in the curve of the child’s lower back when worn
  • Wear both the waist and chest straps
  • Wear the backpack only when necessary

Raleigh Therapy Services Occupational Therapist Maria Georgiou added, “Your child’s backpack should not weigh more than 10 percent of his total body weight. If it does, speak with his teacher to find a solution to lessen the weight of the bag by reviewing the actual contents he needs to complete his work.” 

Buying a Backpack

Another item to consider in reducing your child’s backpack pain is to determine if you purchased the right bag for him and his school needs.

Important features to consider when selecting a backpack include:

  • Organizational pockets and compartments
  • Waist and chest straps
  • Two wide-padded shoulder straps
  • Extra back padding
  • Lightweight canvas material
  • Structure and size; a book bag should not be larger than the child’s back

Continued Back or Body Pains

If your student continues to experience back or body pains even after discussing the proper way to wear and load his bookbag, you may want to speak with his pediatrician. She may want to see him to assess your concerns and determine if an ergonomic evaluation is needed.

  Filed under: Awareness, Occupational Therapy, Parenting Tips