Vertical Velcro Pull for Finger, Hand, & Shoulder Strengthening

Vertical Velcro Pull - DIY Strengthening OT Exercise.

This vertical pulling activity is a simple way for your little ones to work on upper extremity strength in their shoulders, wrists, and hands.


1.  Cut 3 strips of velcro, about 12 inches each.

2.  Securely attach the strips vertically to a vertical surface.  We attached them to a section of our tactile sensory board (full post on this coming soon).  Although velcro has a sticky label on the back side, we used hot glue for extra “stick.”

3.  For variety, attach the first and last strip with the fuzzy half facing out, and the middle strip with the scratchy half facing out.  This way, when you peel the velcro apart, there will be two different textures left on the wall to touch and feel.

4.  Instruct the child to pull the velcro strips off of the wall, starting at the top and pulling each strip completely off of the wall.

Voila!   You now have a simple DIY occupational therapy activity that works well in a clinic setting, at school, and/or at home.
. Continue reading Vertical Velcro Pull for Finger, Hand, & Shoulder Strengthening

10 Simple Fine Motor Exercises for Putty & Play Dough

10 Easy & Creative Fine Motor Exercises for Putty / Play Dough.

Putty, play dough, and other hand manipulatives are classic occupational therapy tools for fine motor work and sensory play.  Not only are they fun, but they can also be used to work on a whole host of developmental skills, such as hand strength, finger isolation and dexterity, bilateral coordination, imaginative play, and much more.  Here are some of our favorite play-dough games/exercises/tricks:

Continue reading 10 Simple Fine Motor Exercises for Putty & Play Dough

Easy “Birthday Cake” Fine Motor Activity

Easy "Birthday Cake" Fine Motor Activity

The best therapy exercises are the ones where the child doesn’t know it’s an exercise, which is why every pediatric speech and occupational therapist’s “bag of tricks” is mostly full of toys and games and other fun activities.

Play dough is one of these staple activities.  There are endless possibilities of what you can do with it, one of which is creating a “birthday cake” for imaginary play and to work on fine motor skills.

So, let’s throw a birthday party!

•   Be enthusiastic and involve the child in every step of the process.  Ask him/her who’s coming to their party, what kinds of games they’ll play, where it will be hosted, etc. Continue reading Easy “Birthday Cake” Fine Motor Activity

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Craft

Turkey Fine Motor Play-do Craft

This friendly turkey is a quick and easy craft, both for Thanksgiving and beyond.  You’ll need:

  • Play dough of your choice (funky colors welcome)
  • Two eyeballs
  • Pasta of your choice

If you don’t have eyeballs, you can substitute for beads, etc.  If you don’t have the pasta shown, you can substitute for almost anything you do have.  There’s no “right way” to do this.  The beak we made from a broken shell-shaped pasta piece.

Have the child pick up each piece individually and place it in the play dough to practice fine motor skills.  Use textured pasta to add a sensory component to the activity.  Give the child one or two step instructions to practice following directions and sequencing.  And of course, this turkey is a great opportunity to practice language skills as well!

Therapy Quick Tip: How to Hack a Puzzle

How to Hack a Puzzle

This puzzle wasn’t early-intervention-friendly enough for me – the insets were just a boring tan / wooden color!  So I colored in the insets to give kids more of a visual cue to complete the puzzle.  Now they can match the blue dog puzzle piece to the blue dog picture, the green fish piece to the green fish picture, etc.

Bear Puzzle Hack

If the puzzle doesn’t have any images in the insets at all, just take a picture of the puzzle piece, print and cut it out, and tape/glue it in the inset.  In the above picture, for instance, the small beach ball and bear are cut out of paper.

You can also added velcro for an extra fine motor, tactile, and sensory element.  Simply attach a fuzzy piece of velcro to the back of each puzzle piece, and a corresponding scratchy piece of velcro to the insets.  This way the fingers have to work a bit harder to remove the pieces.  Velcro is also very sensory – both in the sound it makes to pull it off, and in how it feels to the touch.  As an added bonus, the puzzle pieces are less likely to get lost now, too!


Cork Button Castles – A Fine Motor Activity

Cork & Button Fine Motor Activity

These Cork Button Castles are a fun and effective DIY fine motor activity.  Not only are the fingers and the fingertips in charge, but the Velcro also provides an added level of resistance to really make their intrinsic muscles work.  A big thank you to the amazing blog No Time for Flashcards for the inspiration!

What you’ll need:  Velcro circles, tapered corks, and buttons (these cute ones are from Michael’s)

Continue reading Cork Button Castles – A Fine Motor Activity

Fine Motor Activity for Finger Isolation – Feed Mr. Owl

DIY Fine motor activity for finger isolation

Finger isolation is the ability to move certain fingers independently from the rest of your fingers.  It’s an important skill in a variety of everyday activities, such as pointing, activating toys, pressing the button in the elevator, dialing a phone, writing with an efficient grasp, etc.  And also for more complex tasks such as typing or playing the piano.

The index/pointer finger is what we focus more on in OT for the development of appropriate play and the pincer grasp.  Isolating just the index finger is usually developed by 9 or 10 months.  Isolating all fingers should be developed by age 5.

One of my favorite ways to practice finger isolation is with the DIY below.  It’s simple yet effective, and has been in my OT bag for years:

  • Source a cute container.  This particular one was perched on a shelf at JoAnn’s Fabric.  The Dollar Store is also a great place to look.  Technically any container with a flexible lid will work, but character-themed ones tend to be more appealing and motivating for kids.  With this one, for instance, we can say, “It’s time to feed Mr. Owl!” Or, “Mr. Owl is hungry, he needs his lunch!”

Continue reading Fine Motor Activity for Finger Isolation – Feed Mr. Owl

DIY Noodle Snake & Fun Activities for Bilateral Coordination

Simply put, bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of your body together in an organized, coordinated manner.  Most children pick up this skill naturally, but sometimes there can be a disconnect.  Why is this a problem?  Most of what we do on a daily basis involves bilateral coordination: tying shoelaces, typing, opening a water bottle, playing, writing, etc.  So only being able to use one hand at a time can be very limiting.

Luckily, since so many activities require bilateral coordination, there are endless opportunities for you to work on this skill both in therapy and at home:

The kitchen is definitely a “both hands” kind of place.  Roll out dough with a rolling pin.  This is an easy activity to start with because it’s symmetrical, and the pin acts as a guide.  Mix something in a bowl – stir with one hand and stabilize the bowl with the other.  Chop foods – hold the knife in one hand and stabilize the food with another.  If necessary, give them softer foods to start with, as these will be easier to cut through (cheese, bananas, steamed veggies, etc.). Curious Chef makes a blunt knife that’s designed to be safe for kids.

Swimming, jumping, hopscotch, and sports in general – all require both sides of the body to move at the same time, working together.

With art projects, the dominant hand will do most of the work, but the other hand also works as a stabilizer.  For example, you manipulate scissors with one hand, while the other hand holds the paper.  Pinterest is a great resource for craft ideas.  As a bonus, many of these crafts double as fine motor activities.

Build sand castles.  Manipulate putty or hide objects in putty for the hands to find.  Stretch pop toobs in and out.  Play with pop beads, slinkies, or lacing toys.  Thread beads onto pipe cleaners, pasta onto necklaces, or… make your own pool noodle snake!

Noodle Snake for Bilateral Coordination

This is a very easy DIY bilateral tool that will be in your “bag of tricks” for years.  You’ll need: heavy rope, pool noodle, and duct tape.

1.  Cut the rope to approximately 30 inches in length (you can go a bit longer, but making the length longer than your child’s reach may make the activity too challenging).

2.  Use a serrated knife to cut the pool noodle into 1 to 2 inch sections.  You can cut as many pieces as will fit on the rope, but typically 6-8 is just fine.

3.  Tie one end of the rope into a knot; it needs to be big enough so that the noodles can’t slide over it.  You can also loop the rope through one of the noodle pieces and then tie a knot – this will act as the anchor / stopper for the other pieces.

4.  Wrap duct tape around the opposite end of the rope to prevent it from fraying.  Layering the tape 3 inches down the rope will also make a firm end to assist your child in guiding the rope into the noodle.

5.  Encourage children to take each noodle piece in their right hand and thread it onto the ‘snake’.  Once all of the pieces are on the snake, have them pull each piece off, one at a time with their right hand.  Then flip the game around and have them do the same with their left hand.

With this activity (and any other), watch to make sure that the child is utilizing his “helper hand” – the non-dominant hand that is assisting (the hand that holds a water bottle while you open it, or a piece of paper while you write).  Tell the child that this is his “helper hand” so that you can verbally cue him to “use your helper hand!”  If necessary, touch the elbow of the helper arm for a tactile cue or use hand over hand assistance.  Keep reminding him to use it until bilateral coordination becomes motor memory, and their body remembers that their hands must work together.

Have patience, keep practicing, and most importantly – have fun!


Easy DIY Piggy Bank Fine Motor Activity

Make your own “piggy bank!”  This DIY fine motor activity involves just two easy steps:

1.  Cut a slit into the lid of any old food container (this is an almond can).

2.  Use poker chips, play money, or real money to push into the bank.

DIY fine motor piggy bank

Unlike store-bought piggy banks that have a wide slot for coins, the thin slit here provides resistance when you push items through for both hand strengthening and proprioceptive feedback.  Idea courtesy of the latest member of our team, Mary Black, MS, OTR/L.  Thanks Mary!!