Posts tagged ‘Indoor Activities’

Bouncing off the Walls

“My child is bouncing off the walls and you want me to do what?”3529498271_c44d228fbc_z

Sometimes we as occupational therapists have to start our conversations with the families of our clients with “I know this is going to sound crazy, but I’ve seen it work for your child.” The natural instinct when we see a child running and quite literally bouncing off the walls (and the couch, and the bed, and his brother), is to try and calm him down by getting him to stop moving. Sit still! Stop jumping! Stop watching TV upside down! There are times when children do in fact need assistance to slow down their “engines”, take a break and relax. However, as Gwen Wild, the creator of Sensational Brain puts it: “there are times when children need guidance in how to burn off the extra fuel in their tanks.”

Children who are under-responsive to sensory input, particularly movement and body awareness, may constantly fidget and change position. This is not just a subtle pencil tap or foot wiggle that most children will display from time to time. This is more like spontaneous somersaults across the living room and gravity-defying chair tilting on a constant basis. The vestibular system is the sensory system which helps monitor changes in head position and movement against gravity. Children who are under-responsive to this input need more intense and frequent stimulation than same-age peers. Everyday movement activities such as walking, playing or swinging are simply not enough to be satisfying and regulating. These lower intensity movements feel bland and leave under-responsive kids craving more (and higher! and faster!).

This is the reason your child’s occupational therapist may recommend sensory diet activities that provide intense vestibular input for a child who is constantly on the move. Tools such as sit-n-spins, trampolines (with appropriate supervision and safety precautions), scooter boards, animal walks or structured exercises that include inverting the head may be useful in helping your child meet that high threshold that he needs to feel regulated. Our goal in suggesting these types of activities is to provide your child with safe, structured activities to take the place of body slamming the couch at Grandma’s house. If you have questions about sensory diet activities that may be beneficial to your child, talk about it with your occupational therapist.

Multisensory Handwriting Practice

Research has shown that a multisensory approach to learning is beneficial for a wide variety of children, particularly with teaching handwriting and reading skills. Many children who struggle with the formation of letters will show reluctance to complete class work or homework and may write the shortest answer possible rather than demonstrating their full grasp of the concept.

In the clinic, we see children who glaze over at the thought of practicing letter formation and other handwriting skills but are willing to participate in novel multisensory activities such as those listed below.

  • Write or print out letters that take up an 8×11 piece of paper. Place a sticker or other indicator for where to start the letter.  Have your child drive a car or walk a stuffed animal along the letter’s path.A with push pins
  • Use the same printed letters from the first activity and place them on a cork board.  Have your child press push pins (with close supervision) into the start and end points for the strokes, then stretch elastics over the pins to create lines for the letter.
  • Assemble a rainbow salt tray.  In short, glue colored construction paper into the lid of a shoe box and pour a thin layer of salt on top.  Your child can form letters with her finger or use a paint brush or other tool to write.  For complete step-by-step instructions, visit
  • Shaving cream is a tried and true OT modality. Squirt a small amount of shaving cream on a cookie sheet, or right onto the tabletop if you don’t mind the mess. As with the salt tray, your child can use her finger or a tool to write and draw in the shaving cream.
  • Pour finger paint on a plastic plate or small tray. The paint won’t adhere to the surface and provides the opportunity to practice letters repeatedly and correct errors easily.
  • If you have a child who is over-responsive to tactile input, and therefore would run for the hills if you asked him to touch shaving cream or finger paint, try squirting hair gel in a sturdy zipper bag. Double bagging is probably the best approach.  You can add glitter or food coloring for extra visual appeal. Here is a great example:
  • Roll play-doh or other modeling clay into “snakes” and form them into the letters.  Encourage your child to build the letter in the correct stroke order, for example, to make a “T”, start by forming the vertical line and then place the horizontal line on top.
  • Wiki Sticks are a fun tool for learning letter formations.  They are a combination of yarn and food grade, non-toxic wax that can be bent into any shape you wish.  They will stick on a piece of paper, a sliding glass door, a smooth easel or the tabletop.  Start by having your child bend the Wiki Sticks to “trace” on top of a printed letter.  Then have him copy the letter by looking at an example and work up to forming the letter on his own.
  • To work on letter identification, play a mystery letter game by tracing on your child’s back with your finger.  For extra motivation, give your child 100 points for every correct guess.  Please note:  this would likely not be an appropriate activity for children who are over-responsive to light touch and tactile input.
  • Many kids have difficulty sitting long enough to practice letters and reading and need movement to stay regulated.  So you can print out letters or sight words and tape them firmly to the floor, or write with sidewalk chalk on the driveway.  Call out a letter or sight word and have your child jump on the correct answer.  Make this a little harder by giving instructions such as “Jump on the letter that makes the sound ‘sss’”, or “What does ‘lion’ start with?”.
  • For a spin on the jumping activity listed above, try the same activity but give your child a (clean) fly swatter to smack the words or letters.Wiggle Pen
  • Children who naturally have a low arousal level and children who seek intensity may benefit from using a wiggle pen. Their legibility may decrease with this pen, but it is great for repetitive assignments such as writing out spelling words.  These same children may enjoy using scented markers as well.

Why Childhood Games Matter: Memory

In an age of electronic entertainment and plugged-in play, many classic childhood games are being pushed aside. However, these classic games provide key benefits for child development. In this series of posts, we will explore how these “unplugged” activities are more than just child’s play.

playing memory


Time to clear some room on the table and pull out a set of Memory cards.  Perhaps the most evident skill this game addresses is visual memory, the ability to mentally store information in order to retrieve it for later recall.  Other visual perceptual skills practiced include discrimination (recognizing the image, matching images and categorization of the images) and tracking (scanning the entire field of cards).  Flipping over the cards requires efficient grasp, forearm rotation and release.  Children practice turn taking skills and can work on appropriate social interactions by encouraging another player.  For a personal touch, print out snapshots of familiar people, places or toys as the memory cards.

Games We Love – Cat in the Hat: I Can Do That!

Cat in the Hat

This is an adorable game perfect for preschoolers or early elementary school children who are learning to follow multi-step directions, identify right vs. left, and understand how to move their body in relation to objects.  The game includes items found in the Cat in the Hat books, such as a fish tank, a boat, and a birthday cake.  On his turn, your child picks from three piles of cards: a movement card, a prop card, and how to interact with the prop card.  Your child may be challenged to walk backwards with the fish on his head, or crawl under a foam tube with a boat under his right arm.  You could even add extra cards with new props and actions to further focus on areas that are challenging for your child.  This game is sure to bring on the giggles if you join in and try the actions along with your child.  What a fun way to work on difficult motor planning skills!

4 Fun Visual Perceptual Activities

Visual perceptual skills allow the individual to be aware of, interpret and put to use the visual information around them in order to participate in functional and meaningful daily activities.  Here are some quick activities you can do at home today – no special books, apps or equipment needed.

Visual Memory This is the skill required to retain visual information in memory for later recall. This skill is frequently used in the classroom, such as copying work from the board or copying spelling words from a book.

Activity:  Lay out 3-4 small items, such as a toy, a pencil, a sock, etc. and have your child memorize them.  Then, when your child’s eyes are closed, add one item or take one away and ask your child to be a detective to figure out what has been added or has gone missing.  To increase the challenge start with more items, or have your child try to name all the items from memory.

Visual ClosureThis skill allows a person to visually identify an item when part of the object is occluded. For example, being able to identify a shoe that is partly hidden under the bed.  This skill is also involved in reading sight words quickly and accurately.

Activity:  There are endless supplies of dot-to-dot pictures available free online. Search “printable dot-to-dot” in your search engine and you can pick from any number of themes.  Have your child try to guess what the image will be before they complete the activity.

Figure-GroundHidden picture activities are a perfect example of figure-ground skills.  This skill involves differentiating between non-essential background information and key forms and objects.  This is closely linked to visual closure and it used for daily skills such as locating a toy in a toybox or finding a pair of shoes among many.

Activity:  Time for a scavenger hunt – use puzzle pieces, board game pieces, non-perishable ingredients needed for a recipe, stuffed animals, etc.  Start by hiding the objects in one room only, or one part of the room and work towards larger areas.  To increase the challenge, look for color similarities, such as  placing a blue game piece on or around a blue pillow.

Visual Tracking This is an occulomotor skill that allows the individual to fixate on a moving object, such as a ball being thrown, or to fluidly move the eyes across a line of text without losing his place.

Activity:  Play “torch tag”.  Gather two flashlights and sit together in a darkened room.  Have your flashlights play tag.  Start by having your child’s flashlight be “It” and try to tag your light beam on the ceiling or walls.  Switch roles after you have been tagged.

Making Time for Play

Between soccer practice, karate, homework, therapies, PPT meetings, family commitments, home exercise programs, sensory diets and swim lessons, are you feeling like every waking moment is scheduled? It can be hard, but try to find a few minutes to play just for fun. Give your child a break from critique of their grasp patterns, articulation or other therapy objectives, get down on the floor or go outside together (without technology!) and just play. Feeling stuck for ideas?

Here’s a list of 75+ quick and easy activities to play, from Parenting Magazine.

Another great resource is Unplugged Play by Bobbi Conner. This book is full of 710 screen-free, cord-free, developmentally appropriate and fun activities for toddlers, preschoolers and elementary school aged children.

Have FUN!

Cooking Together

cooking together

Cooking with your child is a great way to teach about food and nutrition, math skills and science. Mixing, chopping, pouring and decorating are all opportunities for children to work on arm and hand strength as well as fine motor dexterity. Visual perceptual skills are used when searching for ingredients on a spice rack or in the refrigerator. Emerging readers can look for sight words on recipes or product labels. Cognitive skills such as sequencing a multi-step task, prioritizing tasks and managing materials are inherent in cooking activities. And perhaps most importantly, cooking together provides you the opportunity for quality time as a family.

Is your child reluctant to try new foods? Don’t worry; part of typical child development for children ages 2-6 is to avoid trying new foods. Talk with your pediatrician if you are concerned that your child’s picky eating is impacting their growth. Your OT may be able to help you assess your child’s food preferences and identify trends in texture, color, temperature or flavor, and suggest new foods to introduce. With that said, picky eaters should still be invited into the kitchen. Just being near a food provides visual input, introduces the child to the smell, how a food breaks up:  Does it crunch? Does it mush? and more. Participating in any part of meal preparation is a step towards accepting new foods.

Wondering where to start?

Here are some kitchen activities for different age groups. Keep in mind these are general activities; some children may be ready for “older” skills and others may need to master “younger” skills before moving on.

  • 2 year olds are developing control over arm movements and using two hands together.  Invite them to participate in scrubbing fruit, wiping tables or counters, tearing bread or lettuce, dipping vegetables and pouring pre-measured dry ingredients into a bowl.
  • 3 year olds are developing improved hand control and can start pouring small amounts of liquids, mixing soft batter, kneading dough, shaking pancake mix, learning to spread (it will be messy!), placing raisins or other toppings and sorting ingredients by color.
  • 4 year olds are gaining hand and finger strength.  Your child can help by peeling an orange after it is started, squeezing fruit, mashing soft fruits or vegetables, unwrapping packages, pressing cookie cutters into dough or bread, helping to count and measure, helping to gather ingredients and pressing number buttons to set a timer.
  • 5 year olds are developing more mature finger dexterity and cognitive skills.  Have your child assist with measuring ingredients, grating long carrots or large pieces of cheese (with close supervision), using an egg beater, cutting soft ingredients with a dull knife and decorating with icing or other ingredients.
  • Older children can practice math skills by doubling a recipe, figuring out how many servings a recipe will yield, and cutting a tray of brownies or bars into a given number of portions, etc. They can take ownership of a meal by planning and choosing recipes.

Things to remember:

  • Children always need supervision in the kitchen.
  • Teach your child to wash his hands before cooking or eating and after touching raw eggs or meat.
  • Expect spills and messes.
  • Expect the task to take longer than usual.
  • Repeat directions as needed.
  • Don’t forget to have your child help with clean up.

If your child is on a special diet, snack recipes can be a challenge. Here are some recipes put together by a speech pathologist, including some which are gluten or dairy free

For more articles like this, visit Penn State’s Better Kid Care website.

Indoor Fun with “Lasers”

Indoor Laser Challenge

This activity was found on Pinterest and we had to share! Tape yarn at different heights and angles in a hallway or between two pieces of furniture. Have the kids maneuver their bodies from one side to the other without being zapped by a “laser beam”. We’ve set this up in the clinic and the kids absolutely love it. This activity is a great way to work on postural control, body awareness and grading of body movements.

5 Fun Ways to Improve Fine Motor Strength

5 Fun Ways to Improve Fine Motor Strength

Clothespins: Use clothespins to move game pieces during board games. Try different types of clips too – chip clips, wooden clothespins, plastic clothespins, office clips etc. for more (or less) of a challenge.

Play Scrap Paper Basketball: Cut up small pieces of scrap paper (or better yet, have your child cut them up!), then show your child how to crumple the paper using one hand. This works on strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the hand. See who can score the most points shooting the balled-up pieces into a laundry basket or trashcan.

Spray Bottles:Spray bottles can provide year-round fun. Let your child paint on the driveway with water. Have them draw a picture with markers and spray it with water to make it “melt” into the sink. In the winter, mix a few drops of food coloring with water in a spray bottle and let your child paint the snow. In the summer, hang sponges as targets outside and use spray bottles to aim and shoot at the targets. Use food coloring to make different colors and have a competition to see who hits the sponges with greatest accuracy.

Turkey Baster:Have a turkey baster race. You’ll need a turkey baster and some cotton balls or pompoms. Have your child lay on their belly on the floor and army crawl as they use two hands to squeeze the bulb of the baster to blow on the cotton ball and push it across the floor. Use a stopwatch to see who can get to the finish line first, or use two basters and go head-to-head. You can even set up obstacles, like toilet paper tubes to go through or pillows to go around for more of a challenge.

Play-doh and Clay: Make creations out of clay or play doh. There is even a clay-like material available from craft stores that can be used as an eraser after it is baked in the oven.