Occupational Therapy with Home Materials

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There are many things you can do in your home, with materials you already have, that can support your child’s education, growth and development. In this week’s newsletter we will go through each room/area of your home and name everyday materials you can use to engage your child in “therapeutic” activities. This list is not geared towards one age group, so choose what seems like a good fit for your child!

Kitchen

  • Tongs:Tongs are a longtime friend of OTs. Have your child squeeze the tongs to pick up their toys (ie: matchbox cars), small balls or really anything. The squeezing and releasing of the tongs is excellent for hand strengthening.
  • Turkey Baster: This is another hand strengthening task. Have your child suck up and squeeze out liquid, maybe moving it from container to container in the sink. If you place the cups/containers on the left and right side of your child’s body they will also get some opportunities to practice crossing midline!
  • Cracking Eggs: Stay with me on this one. We know when you allow your child to crack an egg it may equal an egg shell and yolk mess. However, by allowing them this opportunity your child will get the chance to practice grading their pressure. This translates to how hard or light we use our hands, think handwriting pressure. So the next time you are making eggs, pancakes or cupcakes take a deep breath and let your child help with cracking the eggs. They will get better with practice!
  • Cutting/Tearing Vegetables or Fruit: This will depend greatly on your child’s age and safety awareness. If you are looking for a set of child friendly knives, “Curious Chef” makes a great and affordable set (available on Amazon). Cutting is a great way for your child to practice using their two hands together, a skill called “bilateral coordination”. Have them stabilize the fruit or veggie with one hand and use the other to cut. You can do anything from banana slices (somewhat easier) to strawberries (getting slightly more challenging) to an apple (requires the most skill and strength). Cooking dinner? Have your child slice the mushrooms or snap ends off of string beans. Have a little one who you wouldn’t dare let use a knife of any variety? Have them use their 2 hands together to rip lettuce into smaller pieces. The salad spinner is often a great reward for my toddler after tearing lettuce, he loves to push the top (great strengthening and sensory input) and then watch it spin!
  • Sorting silverware: If your household is anything like mine the dishwasher is getting some serious use right now. Sorting silverware is an excellent way to develop your child’s visual perceptual skills (and you get some kitchen help). Take out all of the extra sharp utensils and set your child up with the utensil holder in your dishwasher and whatever you use to keep your utensils. If you don’t have a dishwasher simply set your child up with the clean utensils. While sorting encourage your child to use words like “big” or “small”. For older kids, you can have them help with the more breakable items like dishes and glasses.
  • Setting the Table: This task again works on visual perceptual skills by placing the plates, utensils and napkins centered in front of the chair/seat. While doing this your child will also naturally have opportunities to cross the midline of their body and work on multi step directions. You can make the activity easier or harder by the way  you give directions. For a younger child you might say “put this plate in front of my seat”. For an older child you might say “give everyone a plate”.
  • Spray bottles: This activity can really be used in any room of the house. If you are comfortable with your child using your cleaning products have them spray the area you want cleaned (kitchen table, counter, glass doors, etc). The squeezing of the spray bottle provides great hand strengthening. Then they take whatever you want them to use to wipe (paper towel or rag) and wipe the area. These big motions will provide shoulder girdle strengthening, crossing midline opportunities and some proprioceptive input (input to their joints and muscles). If you feel uncomfortable with your child being in close proximity to your cleaning products you can use water or check out the company Branch Basics.
  • Upside down colander: Have your child place feathers or ribbons in an upside down colander. This is a great activity for fine motor skills and visual perceptual skills.
  • Sorting Trays: If you have a sorting tray or sectioned off platters of any variety have your child sort! You can give them different types of pasta or beans to sort. If you have small tongs or tweezers ask them to use those to pick up the materials for extra fine motor strengthening.
  • Tupperware/Container Tops: Every time I have to find the matching bottom or top of a container I am reminded of the saying ¨those that can´t do, teach¨ because this task challenges me! Take out all of your food storage containers and tops, spread them out and have your child put them back together. This is the ultimate puzzle and excellent for visual perceptual skills. You can also save empty glass jars/containers that have twist tops and set this up as an activity. The twist tops provide some extra fine motor work from rotating your wrist.
  • More Empty Containers: Empty containers provide a variety of DIY OT tasks. If you have a container with a plastic lid you can cut some thin openings in the top and have your child push through small manipulatives (coins, pom-poms, cotton balls). If you have a parmesan cheese container that has 3 holes on one side, once it is empty you can have your child push small pom-poms and cotton balls through the holes. All of these activities encourage bilateral coordination by holding the container with one hand and working with the other. As well as fine motor strengthening opportunities via the picking up and pushing of small materials.
  • Bowling: If you have plastic cups set up bowling and use a soup can being rolled/pushed as the bowling ball for some extra heavy work.

Living Room & Basement:

  • Vacuum: Again this can be done in any room of this house really. And no, I’m not trying to get your child to clean endlessly. However, cleaning provides not only excellent life skills practice but tons and tons of opportunities for development. Pushing a vacuum is a great upper body and core strengthening task, it provides some heavy work and some visual perceptual skills are addressed. You can challenge your child to vacuum up and down in straight lines to help them learn how to organize their approach to a task.
  • Couch Cushion Play: Your couch cushions are a hidden sensory obstacle course waiting to happen. Take them off the couch and on to your floor. Have your child jump up and down to a rhythmic beat ( a favorite in our house is ¨I Like to Move It” from Madagascar). Set the cushions up in a line and have your child jump to and from each cushion. Have your child stand on the edge of the couch and let them jump crash or forward flip into cushions. (Obviously ensure your child can safely do this!) Give your child some deep pressure by placing a couch cushion over their back and pressing down firmly. If you checked out our Instagram stories last week you would see one of our parents ¨tossing”their child into the couch cushions for some vestibular and proprioceptive input. When my son was learning to crawl we put the cushions on the floor for him to have a different surface to push off of and get different types of sensory input. This activity truly spans the ages!
  • Blanket play: For younger (lighter) kids, have them lay in a blanket. You will need 2 people to pick up either side of the blanket and swing your child. You can also make your child a ¨burrito¨ blanket. Have them lay at one end of the blanket, roll them up inside of it and then roll them out.
  • Laundry: Laundry provides yet another development and sensory processing opportunity. Sorting laundry is an excellent visual perceptual task and can be used to help teach colors. Putting laundry in the washer or even better yet, heavy wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, is an excellent way to sneak in some heavy work. But the fun doesn’t stop there, laundry baskets are a home sensory program´s best friend. Fill your laundry basket up  with heavy items (or a younger sibling) and push/pull them around. Everyone gets plenty of heavy work and vestibular input with this one! Pinning clothes on a clothesline is an excellent fine motor and motor planning task as well.

Bathroom:

  • Qtips: The possibilities with Qtips are endless. You can use them for painting. Holding on to such a small surface is an excellent fine motor strengthening activity. You can use Qtips to build letters on construction paper. If you are familiar with Handwriting without Tears Wooden Letters, this is a great way to recreate that task. Take an empty spice container (with small holes on top) and have your child try to push the Qtips through the top.
  • Cotton Balls: Glue and cotton balls can turn into a tactile sensory experience. Have your child pull the cotton balls apart and glue them on paper to make clouds, snow or spiderwebs in a picture. Have your child pick up cotton balls with a clothespin and put into a bowl/container for fine motor strengthening.
  • Bath/Shower: I recently read that when your child is having a difficult time get them outside or give them water (a glass of water, water play, bath/shower). In general water play can be very entertaining and can provide tons of great sensory input. However, there is a slight difference between a bath and shower. A bath will provide more deep pressure input by moving one´s body against the water or just letting it settle over your child as they soak. This is often very calming and soothing. A shower provides lots of little pieces of input as the individual water pellets land on one’s body. This can be alerting for children; however, you can use this information to your benefit. Some kids benefit from more input before bedtime to help their body calm down, in this case a shower may help them. Play around with each type of input and even at different times of the day and see what helps your child most!
  • Electric Toothbrush: Have your child hold or use an electric toothbrush for some extra proprioceptive input.

Outdoor:

  • Taking a Walk: The outdoors is your best friend right now and always really. It provides endless opportunities for sensory input. Go for a walk and take the dog or push a wagon for some extra input. Go on a scavenger hunt to get in some visual perceptual and scanning work. Practice walking on the curb to work on balance.
  • Outdoor Chalk: Draw a hopscotch board on the sidewalk with chalk. Draw the letters of the alphabet in an open space and have your child jump in alphabetically order or jump to the letters of their name. Have your child lay down and trace them and then let them trace you. Fill in body parts and improve body awareness.
  •  ¨Grounding¨ is a term for being barefoot on the grass and Earth and getting benefits from this connection that we are so often missing. Grounding is great for kids and adults of all ages, especially as we are all spending more and more time engaging with technology. Laying down in the grass and looking up at the sky provides a totally different perspective on a space you may have spent lots of time in already.
  • Outdoor animal walks: Similar to grounding, this involves a different sensation. Have your child do their indoor animal walks outside. Grass is different from concrete/sidewalk is different from a deck or patio. Consider safety awareness as doing these. Try a bear walk on all different surfaces and talk about how it felt different on each one.
  • Water play: As mentioned above, there appears to be something magical about water for kids (and adults). Have your child help water the garden, grass or plants using a hose or watering can. Both activities will provide heavy work.
  • Gardening: Let your child dig and help plant as best they can. The digging and moving the dirt provides hand strengthening as well as sensory input.
  • Washing the Cars: The big arm motions needed to wipe side to side help with crossing midline and shoulder girdle strengthening. This entire activity will give a lot of heavy work and sensory input. Have your child wring out a large sponge or rag for some added fine motor strengthening.
  • Weighted Walks: We often recommended weighted walks as a calming activity that provides a good amount of proprioceptive input. Take a backpack and collect different rocks, etc to weigh it down. Wash out a large container and again go searching for rocks and other materials (have your child carry the container).

Miscellaneous:

  • Cardboard Boxes: Cut some holes out of a large cardboard box to make a bean bag toss game. Lay a box flat on the ground and draw a ¨road¨ to drive cars and toys on. Take the draw a person activity mentioned outside and move it inside to trace on box. You can even use smaller boxes to represent different body parts. Decorate a box to be a place for school supplies and when the school day is over have your child clean their workspace.
  • Empty tissue box: Fill an empty tissue box with different common household materials (ie: keys, paper clip, small toy, ball, etc). Have your child reach in and try to identify what each item is without using their vision. This is a skill called ¨stereogenesis¨. If this activity is one you want to do more of with your child, there is a great game called ¨Ned’s Head¨ that is available on Amazon.
  • Tennis Ball: Cut a small slit in a tennis ball, your child can squeeze the ball to open the slit even more and push in coins or other small manipulatives for fine motor strengthening and bilateral coordination work.

We hope some of these ideas sound fun and helpful. Oftentimes therapy can feel like such a specialized thing but the best therapy is the one you can do all of the time. Please let us know what ideas you try and what questions you have!

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Written and Compiled by Jessica Addeo with help from the therapist´s at Positive Steps.

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