April is Occupational Therapy Month! Let’s Celebrate!

You may have noticed via our waiting room that we are celebrating all month long. What are we celebrating exactly?? Occupational therapy! April is OT month and at Positive Steps we like to celebrate by sharing fun activities, some information about OT, and some information about our therapists. Last year we wrote an entire article about our OT month extravaganza which was published in “OT Advance”. You can check out that article here.

This year we added in some new activities and this post will explain all about them. (We are hoping you will like a few enough to try them at home!) Often times the games we play in OT look like very creative games, but not necessarily “therapy”. The magic and genius of a therapy session happens when these games are intrinsically motivating to the children we are working with. In this post we are pulling the curtain away from the therapy Wizard of Oz and explaining the why and how of what we have done in our OT Month waiting room games.

  • Flower Garden: One of the many skill sets that occupational therapy addresses is fine motor skills. This activity was compromised of a plastic colander and plastic flowers. Children were invited to put the flowers into the holes of the colander to make a “garden”. It is a great activity to work on fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and creativity! Pinching the flowers will help to develop mature grasping patterns and placing the flowers in the teeny hole of the colander will help to develop motor control. In the fall you can exchange the flowers for feathers and make a Thanksgiving turkey.
  • Pom-pom sort: For this game we painted paper towel tubes and taped them to the edge of a small rectangular container. We provided children with pom-poms and tongs (the pom-poms were a variety of matching colors to paper towel tubes). Using tongs (if possible) kids matched the pom-poms to the correct tube. If your child has trouble using tongs, they can use their fingers to pick up the pom-poms. They will still be working on a pincer grasp and matching skills! As with the flower garden, this game is working on fine motor skills. Things are taken up a notch with the introduction of tongs. Tongs really get at strengthening intrinsic hand muscles and help to set the foundation for adaptive grasping patterns. You can use kitchen tongs, zoo sticks, or clothespins. This game also addresses visual-perceptual and matching skills. As children get older this will translate to reading, pre-writing, and writing.
  • Gel Sensory Bags: In this activity we address sensory processing, more specifically our tactile system. We started off our waiting room celebrations explaining what OT means, and as part of that listed our 7 senses around the room.
    • Tactile/Touch
    • Vision
    • Auditory/Hearing
    • Olfactory/Smell
    • Taste
    • Vestibular
    • Proprioceptive

If you aren’t sure what vestibular and proprioceptive systems are check out our post on it by clicking here. The gel bags consist of hair gel (think LA Looks sports gel) and different small tactile manipulatives (googly eyes, mini erasers, buttons). We put the gel and small manipulatives, with some glitter for extra fun, in large Ziploc bags (2 bags for extra protection). The bag is super fun to smush around in your hands and you can play games like trying to pinch the googly eye or try to move it across the bag. Some children find this type of sensory input to be very organizing and can attend better when their hand are busy like this. Just be careful to not squish too hard because that could cause the bag to burst! (Which is a whole other tactile sensory experience.) Practicing squeezing not too hard, but hard enough where you can get the manipulative to move in the bag translates to how tight we hold our pencil and how hard we push down with it.

  • It Feels Board: This board continues to address our tactile sensory system. The board contains handprints of different textures. You don’t have to recreate an entire board at home to play this game. When your child touches something soft, hard, rough, squishy, sticky, or anything else you can think of, talk about it! Point out, “wow this cotton ball is so soft” or “my fingers are super sticky from the maple syrup”. You will be sneaking in a little bit of “OT” into your day.
  • Balance balls on golf tees: We are continuing to work on fine motor skills (grasping patterns) and grading pressure in this activity. Golf tees are placed in a Styrofoam block. Your child has to balance a small bouncy ball on top of the tees.
  • Ice Cream Cone Maker: Who doesn’t love ice cream! (Even if it’s only pretend). This activity used cotton balls (the ice cream), an ice cream scooper, and toilet paper rolls (ice cream cones). Children make “ice cream cones” with some fun toppings such as pipe cleaner sprinkles and red pom-pom cherries. All of the scooping and sprinkling incorporates a ton of fine motor strengthening. Scooping gets the forearm rotating, these muscles and movements are an important component of using your hands, specifically during handwriting, coloring, cutting, and dressing skills (think buttons, zippers, etc.) Sequencing skills and planning skills also come into play here. For example, you have to put the ice cream in the cone before you add the sprinkles. Although you could easily re-create this ice cream activity at home, making a real ice cream cone will also work on the same skills. (That’s right, we just said making an ice cream cone is a little bit of occupational therapy, how great is that!) This may get a little messier, but that would be adding in some tactile sensory play J
  • Play Dough letters: There are many creative ways to learn how to write, many of which do not include using a pencil. For younger children or children who struggle with holding a pencil, these activities are paramount. Although we think everyone could really benefit from “non pencil” letter writing practice. Children place small pieces of straws on letters that are imprinted on play dough. Pinching the straw is a great activity for intrinsic hand muscle development. Make sure to have your child place the straws in the correct order (top to bottom). You could also roll out pieces of play dough to make letters. Another great way to strengthen intrinsic hand muscles and work on letter formation with no pencil in sight!
  • Balloon Board to feel textures: In this activity we have filled balloons with a variety of textures (cornstarch, maple syrup, coffee beans, sand….). You feel the balloon from the outside and use your senses to try and guess what is inside!

We hope you enjoyed our OT Month celebration as much as we do! The best therapy is fun therapy. Please let us know if you tried out any of the activities at home and how things went :)

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: