The Frugal OT Series: Let It Snow!

January’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: Snowflakes

This craft is a classic, snowflakes made from craft sticks. They are super simple to make! All you need is 4 craft sticks. Using two craft sticks, make a cross and glue them together in the middle where they meet. Then make an oblique cross (an X) using the other two craft sticks. Glue them together where they meet. Done! The addition of a few Dollar Tree finds creates the perfect fine motor boost. Build fine motor strength and coordination by placing two mini clothespins on the ends of select craft sticks to make the dendrites of the snowflake. Ditch paintbrushes and create a greater fine motor demand by using a pump spray bottle to paint the snowflake. Add another element of design and motor challenge by using an eye dropper to apply glitter. Embellish with buttons, beads or whatever you have handy. I used glass mosaic tiles. So many fine motor skills are addressed in this fun winter themed activity. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • hand strengthening
  • hand separation
  • finger isolation
  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • spatial relations
  • pressure grading (how much force to apply)
  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)
  • pre-writing skills (+ and x)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

craft sticks

paint

glitter

faux snow

mosaic tile

Dollar Tree Fine Motor Boosters:

dropper bottles

pump spray bottles

mini clothespins

Staples Needed:

glue

hot glue gun with close supervision (if preferred)

Snowflake Supply List
Dollar Tree Fine Motor Boosters
Staples Needed

How To Make the Snowflakes:

Frugal OT: Snowflakes

Present the child with a model to copy when assembling the craft sticks to make the snowflake.

  • Use two craft sticks to make a cross.
  • Glue the sticks together where they meet in the middle.
  • Use two more craft sticks to make an X.
  • Glue the sticks together where they meet. If using school glue, let the snowflake dry before continuing.
  • Apply two clothespins to the ends of select sticks to make the dendrites or branches.
Assembling Snowflakes

How to Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • If the child doesn’t have enough strength and coordination to handle the pump spray bottle, sponge paint the snowflake instead. Using a small sponge is also a great way to build fine motor skills. To make, simply cut a large sponge into small squares.
  • Apply glue.
  • Sprinkle with glitter.
  • Embellish with buttons, beads or whatever you’d like! I used glass mosaics.

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

For older or more skilled children:

  • Put tempura paint in the pump spray bottle. Dilute with water. Place a mat under the snowflake and hold upright (the bottle will not spray if not held in an upright position). Using the pump spray bottle, spray paint the snowflake. You may need to secure the snowflake to the mat using a clip or pin if the child is unable to do so while holding upright.
  • Apply glue.
  • Use the dropper to apply glitter where desired.
  • Embellish with whatever you choose, I used glass mosaics.
Offering the Just Right Challenge

Embellish

If you’d like to offer another element of challenge, have the child assemble the snowflake to match a model. Place several embellishments on the model to challenge visual scanning and tracking skills. Present the task as a fun game by saying, “Can you make your snowflake match mine?”

As always, have fun!

The Frugal OT Series: Holiday Bonus Activity

Fine Motor Mementos

Who doesn’t love a sweet homemade holiday memento, made by the precious little ones in your life? I know I absolutely adore taking the ornaments made by my kids out of the box every Christmas. Instant memories are recaptured and experienced again as I examine each one. I love reminiscing about the time when they gave it to me or the time spent making it together. I fondly decorate my tree with the love each ornament represents. Holiday trees feels especially meaningful when adorned by homemade ornaments. Children love making gifts for their family, and feel super proud when they see their contribution hanging on the tree.

The memento presented in this post can be fun for younger and older children. I often feel like older kids are forgotten during the holiday season. You no longer see the cute little crafts coming home in their backpacks. But they still like making festive crafts, just like the littles do. This charming holiday ornament appeals to all ages. Numerous fine motor skills are addressed, both simple and complex, making it an appropriate fine motor feat many. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home with your little one. An of course, all the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • bilateral coordination
  • visual tracking
  • hand strengthening
  • in-hand manipulation (shift)
  • eye-hand coordination
  • hand separation
  • spatial relations
  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

Staples Needed:

  • craft sticks
  • yarn
  • star beads
  • pom-poms
  • scissors
  • glue
Fine Motor Momento Supplies Needed
Fine Motor Memento Staples Needed
Fine Motor Momentos

How To Make the Memento:

Fine Motor Mementos
  • Glue three craft sticks together to make a triangle (tip: do beforehand to allow to dry. This is an excellent pre-activity to do with preschoolers who are working on prewriting strokes/drawing triangles).
  • Wrap yarn around a single craft stick and put aside. Tie the yarn to the stick to get started. Glue the end of the yarn to secure. This will serve as the base of the tree later.
  • Tie a piece of yarn to the top of the triangle. This will be used to hang the ornament on the tree.
  • Tie yarn to one of the craft sticks on the inside of the triangle. Slide it to the very top. Now start wrapping the yarn around the triangle until you reach the bottom. Secure the end of the yarn with glue.
  • Glue the star to the top and decorate the tree with pom poms.
  • Glue the yarn wrapped craft stick made earlier to base of the tree.
  • Have the child write their name and the year on a craft stick and glue it to the base of the tree on the back.

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

Adult sets up the yarn on the triangle. The child begins with wrapping the yarn around the triangle.

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

Work on building visual perceptual and visual-motor integration skills by having the child make their tree to match a model.

Build In-hand manipulation skills

Translation is the ability to move objects from the palm of one’s hand to the fingertips and from the fingertips to the palm. By ages 6 to 7, children are able to manipulate and secure multiple small objects within their hands. Practice this skill with the pom-poms. Using one hand, have the child pick up one pom-pom at a time and move it from fingertips to palm. Try collecting 5 and then place them onto the tree.  

As always, have fun!

8 Tips To Help Neuroatypical Kids Cope With Holiday Stress

Along with the holiday season comes bright lights, loud noises, large gatherings, and much excitement.  Routines are often disrupted to attend special events and winter vacation from school.  Home, school, and most places change in appearance with festive decorations.  Streets, stores, and neighborhoods are adorned with bright, colorful lights to celebrate this jubilant time of year.  Children who thrive on structure and routine may find all the change quite overwhelming.  Not to mention the sensory challenges that the holidays may bring.  

This post is about how to reduce holiday stress and meltdowns in children with autism, ADHD,  anxiety disorder, executive functioning, and sensory issues.  Therapists and educators, please share this post with your parents!

For most, the holiday season is a joyful and memorable time of year.  It should be for neuroatypical kids as well.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or something else, stress comes along with all the cheer and excitement.  Knowing how to manage stress is key during the holiday season.  

Here are 8 tips to help you and your child have a more pleasurable holiday experience:

  1.  Pick your battles, don’t set too many behavioral expectations.  Limit the expectations and try to be flexible.  Decide on what is most important and leave it at that.  
  1. If your child is sensitive to visual sensory input, do not overwhelm with lots of holiday decorations and lights in the home.  Be mindful of this when decorating.  Involve your child in the process if possible.  Allowing your child to have some input in the decision making process can be helpful.   Make gradual changes over time.
  1. Do not force your child to dress up or wear clothing that will cause discomfort when going to special events or for the holiday dinner.
  1. At special events and holiday dinners, make sure there will be food the child likes to eat.  If you have a picky eater, the holiday dinner is not the time to try to introduce new foods.  If having dinner at home, prepare foods that you know your child will eat.  If going to a family or friend’s house for dinner, bring the familiar and preferred food with you.  
  1. Make sure there is a pre-determined quiet place your child can take respite if he/she feels the need to.  If visiting with family or friends, it’s a good idea to identify the calm down area upon arrival.  Clear it with the host, and take your child there.  Explain to your child that this is where he/she can go if they need a break from all the excitement.  
  1. Bring a favorite toy or item.  Having a familiar, preferred item will bring comfort to your child under unsettling conditions.  Allow for the use of AirPods or headphones as this is an excellent way to filter out over-stimulating ambient noises.
  1.  Always provide a heads up before transitions.  For example, “we will be heading to Uncle’s house for our holiday dinner in 10 minutes.”
  1. Prepare your child by creating a social story that clearly defines the course of events, including behavioral expectations (where they will go if they need to take a break).  Include photos of family and or friends they will see.  You know your child best.  Think about what aspect or event of the holiday season your child struggled the most with last year.  Make sure to include this in your social story.  Or it may be necessary to write a social story just for a particular event or situation.  Need help creating a social story?  Here are a few resources that will help.  

These websites offer free social stories that you can customize to prepare your child for the holiday season:

Florida Autism Center

5-social-stories-for-the-holidays

Fusion Autism Center

5-social-stories-for-the-holidays

A Day In Our Shoes

Social-stories-christmas

Have you found a strategy or tip that really works for your child?  I’d love to hear about it!  Help other parents through your experiences.    Please share in the comments below. Your input is greatly appreciated.

Happy Holidays

The Frugal OT Series: Festive Fine Motor Trees

December’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: Festive Fine Motor Trees

This super cute holiday tree packs a lot of bang for your buck. So many fine motor skills are addressed in this time efficient craft. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home with your little one. Children will be pleasantly challenged by the fine motor demands that will result in a sweet holiday craft ready to gift to a loved one. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • hand strengthening
  • hand separation
  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • visual tracking
  • spatial relations
  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

Staples Needed:

  • paper plates
  • craft sticks
  • curling ribbon
  • paint
  • pom-poms
  • paper hole punch
  • scissors
  • glue
  • tape
Festive Fine Motor Tree
Supply List
Festive Fine Motor Tree Staples Needed

How To Make the Holiday Trees:

Festive Fine Motor Tree
  • Paint the paper plate green (tip: do beforehand to allow to dry)
  • draw lines on the backside of the plate to separate it into thirds
  • cut the plate along the lines to make three triangles
  • punch holes into each triangle
  • cut the ribbon and lace it through the holes
  • tape the ribbon to the backside of the triangle to secure
  • glue each section together to form a tree
  • glue pom-poms onto the tree to decorate, add a yellow pom-pom to represent the star
  • tape two craft sticks to the back of the tree to make the trunk

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

Adult draws the lines to separate the plate into thirds, then have the child cut

Adult punches the holes if the child’s strength isn’t adequate to manage the hole puncher

Adult cuts the ribbon and tapes it to the plate to get the child started with lacing

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

Work on building visual perceptual and visual-motor integration skills by having the child make their tree to match a model. Place several pom-poms on the model to challenge visual scanning and tracking skills.

Build In-hand manipulation skills

Translation is the ability to move objects from the palm of one’s hand to the fingertips and from the fingertips to the palm. By ages 6 to 7, children are able to manipulate and secure multiple small objects within their hands. Practice this skill with the pom-poms. Using one hand, have the child pick up one pom-pom at a time and move it from fingertips to palm. Try collecting 5 and then place them onto the tree.  

As always, have fun!

How to Create a Sensory Smart Classroom or Home

When teachers and/or parents think of how they can support the sensory needs of their students or child, they often have ideas of elaborate sensory rooms that boast expensive fancy equipment. I am here to tell you that while this is a fantastic option, it is not the only option!  You can provide meaningful sensory experiences using regular household and or classroom stuff.  If you haven’t read part one of this series: Sensory Processing Skills Unveiled and Explained be sure to do so.  Having an appreciation of what sensory processing disorder is and what it might look like is paramount before implementing any type of sensory strategy for children.  Understanding the why behind behaviors is the key to handling it, and may I say, how to keep your cool when managing it.  

How Sensory Supports Can Help Children

First, I must say some children need the expertise of an occupational therapist to develop a specialized sensory program designed to meet their individual needs.  This post is not intended to replace individualized care, but rather to provide generalized insight and practical sensory strategies that can be implemented as support at school or home.  

A child may gravitate to one or several types of sensory input based on their individual needs.  All children are different and therefore will have unique sensory preferences.  Here I will break down the various types of sensory input and how you can support both over-responsive (think sensory avoiders) and under-responsive behaviors (think sensory seekers).

Types of Sensory Input

Types of Sensory Tools
Types of Sensory Tools

Remember the behaviors that you see in children with sensory processing disorder have a purpose.  They are trying to regulate themselves but do not know how to do so appropriately.  Providing meaningful and appropriate sensory experiences will teach children how to safely and effectively get what they need to regulate themselves. 

Replace the behavior with a healthier and safer sensory outlet
Replace the behavior with a healthier and safer sensory outlet

For example, let’s say a child is seeking oral motor input by chewing on pencils throughout the day.  You want to replace this behavior with a healthier and safer sensory outlet.  You may provide the child with alternatives such as a chewy necklace that can be worn daily.  Also, you may offer hard and crunchy foods at snack time that will provide intense oral motor input.  Explain why you are offering alternatives to the child so he/she will gain insight on how to appropriately self regulate.  The hope is that they will be able to make better choices on their own eventually.

How Can You Help a Child With SPD?

This is my favorite part of this series. What can you do to help a child with sensory needs? Here I will discuss each type of sensory input and share activities, tools and environmental modifications that can be provided to give the child the type of input they need.

Vestibular Input (Movement)

Vestibular Input
Vestibular Input

The word vestibular can be intimidating. Vestibular input is any activity that causes a change in the movement, position, or direction of the head. To keep it simple, just think movement. The child needs to move! What types of activities can you do to support a vestibular system?  This is dependent upon whether or not the child is over-responsive or under-responsive to vestibular input.  If you believe your child has a compromised system that may be impacting his or her ability to function, seeking the advice of an occupational therapist is highly recommended.  Sensory integration is a type of treatment offered by occupational therapists to help those who struggle with processing sensory information, including vestibular input. Every child’s needs are unique and call for a treatment plan that is designed to meet their specific and individual needs.  Providing information to meet child-specific needs is beyond the scope of this post.  Generally speaking, for those who are over-responsive or hypersensitive to vestibular input, introducing movement in a slow rhythmic pattern following a  horizontal plane is a good start. Gradually progressing to movement in a vertical plane and finally rotational movement. Children who are under-responsive may benefit from lots of movement throughout the day.

Some ideas are: 

  • trampoline (you do not need to invest in a large backyard trampoline, mini trampolines work great as well)
  • swings
  • rocking horses or rocking chairs for older kiddos
  • Sit-and-spin
  • bouncing on an exercise ball
  • spinning on an office chair
  • wheelbarrow walks
  • jogging in place
  • jumping jacks
  • running, jumping, skipping, galloping
  • wiggle cushion
  • hanging upside down or sitting upside-down on the couch
  • somersaults or cartwheels
  • yoga poses like downward dog
  • jump rope
  • sensory paths
  • Go Noodle

Therapist Tip: Provide Choices Visually

Movement Choice Board
Movement Choice Board

Helping children learn how to self-regulate is the ultimate goal. Children with SPD tend to be visual learners, so providing information visually is often successful. Children are able to see what their options are and make choices. The picture above is a sample of a visual choice board that can be posted in your classroom or home. How does it work? Cut out and laminate each vestibular or movement choice that you have or can make available to your students or child. Discard any pictures of items you do not have and can’t offer as a choice. Apply Velcro to the backing. Apply Velcro to the choice board below, and affix the sensory options.

Sensory Choice Board
Sensory Choice Board

Post or place the sensory choice board in your classroom or home where it is easily accessible. Present the choice board to the child when their behavior indicates that they may need a sensory break.

Sensory Break Card
Sensory Break Card

Have the child choose their sensory break by pulling off the visual and placing it on their break card. You determine how you’d like to structure the break based on the child’s needs and the setup of your classroom or home. For example, you may set the timer for a 3-minute trampoline break. Once done, the child moves the sensory choice to the “all done” side of the break card. If more than one break card is needed, use more.

Sometimes the entire classroom may demonstrate the need for a movement break. Have all the students take a time out Research has shown that all kids benefit from movement breaks, so giving the entire classroom a “Go Noodle” break is always a winner. Of course you would not need to utilize the break cards under these circumstances. The break cards are designed to support individual student’s needs.

Visual Input

Visual Input
Visual Input

Visual input is anything that we capture with our eyes, our sight.   Visual input is the light, color or movement that we see in our environment. Lighting is very important as it can be very overwhelming to a sensory vulnerable child.  Natural lighting is ideal.  Choose artificial lighting that best mimics natural light.  Avoid lights that flicker or make a buzzing noise.  This can be hard to pick up on if it doesn’t bother you, but some lighting, particularly fluorescent lighting, can be very hard to tolerate because of this.  You can buy filters for fluorescent lighting that will reduce the harsh effect

Dim rather than bright lighting is often the best choice. When decorating, avoid overbearing paint colors on the wall or furniture.  Red, for example, can be too intense for someone with sensory sensitivities.   Instead, opt for calming neutrals and blues.  Try to keep your classroom or home organized and clutter-free.  Having excess items in the home can be overwhelming and distracting.  

Visual sensory tools: 

  • study carrell
  • I-spy
  • Spot It
  • timers
  • vision Bottles
  • visual Prompts
  • colored overlays
  • fidget spinners
  • reading strips
  • colored paper
Visual Choice Board
Visual Sensory Choice Board

DIY Vision Bottle: Vision bottles are super easy to make.  Don’t toss your empty water bottle in the recycle bin, instead fill it about one-third full with water. Add a few drops of food coloring, whatever color the child fancies.  Swirl the food coloring to mix it well with the water.  Add a few fun items like small toys, beads, really anything that you think the child will like that will fit inside the bottlenose.  Then fill the rest of the bottle with baby oil. Seal the lid with a hot glue gun or superglue. There are so many variations of vision sensory bottles.  You can make them using wet or dry materials (i.e use a funnel for dry materials such as different colors of kinetic sand).  They can be a hit with visual sensory seekers.

Here are a couple of videos that share great ideas:

Autism Speaks DIY: Sensory Bottle

How to Make Calm Down Sensory Discovery Bottles 

Tactile Input

Tactile Input
Tactile Input

Tactile input is anything that we touch or anything that touches us.  The tactile system registers temperature, pressure, tickle, itch, vibration, as well as pain.  Tactile input or touch can be light or firm, wet or dry.  It is the feel of various textures.

There are several ways to provide sensory opportunities for tactile seekers:

  • sensory bins (fill a large container with flour, sugar, sand, rice, pasta, beans, water; hide small toys/items in the contents and have the child try to find them using their hands) 
  • touch fidgets:  items with varying textures (bumpy, smooth, hard, soft, rough, sticky, coarse, slimy) of fabrics, paper, feathers, sandpaper
  • Play-doh, clay, finger paints, Kinetic Sand
  • tactile Play:  play in dirt or sand, cooking, gardening
  • vibration:  vibrating toys, massagers, Squiggle Wiggle Writer Pens
  • poppers
  • stress Balls
  • textured fidgets
  • pencil toppers
Tactile Choice Board

Auditory Input (Hear)

Auditory Input
Auditory Input

Auditory input is sound or anything that we hear.

How to provide auditory sensory supports:

  • Noise-canceling headphones or earbuds to filter out ambient noise and make it more bearable
  • Some children respond well to auditory input as a calming and organizing method.  Classical music, mindfulness playlists, ocean sounds, etc. can be used to facilitate calm.  Listening via headphones or ambient sound are options based upon the child’s preference.

Olfactory Input (Smell)

Olfactory Input
Olfactory Input

Olfactory input is anything that we smell.

Some olfactory sensory supports are:

  • Oil diffuser
  • Scented markers/crayons
  • Essential oils
  • Scented lotions
Hear/Smell Choice Board

Proprioceptive Input

Proprioceptive Input

Proprioception is our sense of body awareness.  It is the ability of our body to know how it is moving and where it is in space. Children who have a poor sense of body awareness have trouble knowing where their body is or how it is moving in space. Proprioception is also an intimidating word. Think of deep pressure input, or any type of activity that involves pushing or pulling. Proprioceptive input provides our bodies with the information needed to modulate.  In other words, proprioceptive input helps to improve body awareness.  It helps children process sensory information and deliver an appropriate response.  

Some activities for classroom and home are:

  • mini trampoline
  • wall push ups
  • wipe the board clean
  • squeezable/squishy fidgets
  • resistance bands on chairs
  • Kinetic Sand/Play Doh
  • chair dips
  • body sock
  • weighted lap pad
  • carry a weighted backpack during transitions (not to exceed 20% of child’s body weight)
Deep Pressure Choice Board
Deep Pressure Choice Board

Oral Motor/Gustatory Input

When we think of oral input most of us think of taste and flavor.  But there are actually three different types of sensory input received orally.  Of course, taste is one of them.  We also receive tactile input, anything that touches our oral cavity, meaning our lips, tongue, teeth, inner cheeks, and gums.  The joints that move our mouth, our jaws, also receive sensory input known as proprioception.  Chewing on something hard for example provides a lot of proprioceptive input orally.  Sucking is another way of gaining this type of input.

There are several ways to provide oral motor input to our sensory-seeking kiddos.

  • chewy tubes, necklaces 
  • hard crunchy snacks such as pretzels, carrots, and celery sticks
  • intense flavors like sour lemons, Lemon Heads, Sour Patch Kids candies
  • lollipops
  • hard candy
  • sucking beverages through a straw
  • chewy snacks like Twizzlers candies

I LOVE the chewable pendants available at Munchables. They offer such a wide selection, and the chewables look like actual jewelry, so it doesn’t stand out or look different. Click on the link to check out their online store!

Oral Motor Choice Board
Oral Motor Choice Board
Play Detective

Having several of the supports described in this post available for children is how you create a sensory smart classroom or home.  Again, be sure to review part one of this series: Sensory Processing Disorder Unveiled and Explained which spells out the “why” behind behaviors that stem from sensory issues. Play detective by observing behaviors and trying to figure out what sensory need the child is seeking or avoiding.  Offer choices that may be a more appropriate and safer sensory outlet.  For example, Jimmy is chewing on his collar, offer him a hard crunchy snack or perhaps a chewy necklace that he can wear throughout the day.  Let’s say Billy keeps crashing into things, the wall, other kids, furniture.  He may be seeking deep pressure or proprioceptive input.  Perhaps Billie should take a wall push up break, or complete 25 or so jumping jacks.  If you have a mini trampoline in your home or classroom, maybe suggest Billy take 5 on the trampoline.

It’s a good idea to offer choices, ideally presented visually because many children with SPD are visual learners.  The break cards pictured above are a great way of involving children in the self regulation process.   This way the child may choose their sensory fix and also develop an awareness of the sensory tools they need to self-regulate. 

Feeling like this is too much information to absorb at once? I completely get that! Here is a helpful visual that summarizes each sensory system along with the corresponding list of sensory tools.

Free PDF: Sensory Smart Tools at a Glance

Fun Strokes Freebie:  Sensory Smart Tools
Sensory Smart Tools At a Glance

I am thrilled to offer the entire Sensory Smart Toolkit for free! A comprehensive sensory program for classroom or home.

Everything you need to provide sensory solutions for your little ones today!

Sensory Smart Toolkit

Fun Strokes Freebie:  Sensory Smart Toolkit
Sensory Smart Toolkit

How to use the Sensory Smart Toolkit:

HOW TO USE THIS PACKET:
Cut out and laminate each sensory option that you have or can make available to your students or child. Discard any pictures of items you do not have and can't offer as a choice. 
Apply Velcro dots to the backing. Apply Velcro to the choice boards, and affix the sensory options. 
Post or place the sensory choice board in your classroom or home where it is easily accessible. Present the choice board to the child when their behavior indicates that they may need a sensory break. 
Have the child choose their sensory break by pulling off the visual and placing it on their break card. You determine how you'd like to structure the break based on the child's needs and the setup of your classroom or home. For example, you may set the timer for a 3-minute trampoline break. 
Once done, the child moves the sensory choice to the "all done" side of the break card. If more than one break card is needed, use more. 

PLEASE NOTE:  SOME CHOICES MAY BE UTILIZED AS A NATURALLY OCCURRING PART OF THE DAY AND NOT AS A BREAK I.E. ADAPTIVE SEATING (BALL, DISC) FIDGET TOPPERS, CHEWY NECKLACES, COLORED PAPER, ETC.
How to Use the Sensory Smart Toolkit
Sensory Toolkit Example 1
Cut & Laminate
Sensory Toolkit Example 2
Post in classroom or home

Get Yours Today!

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Disclaimer:

All information on the Website is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitution for medical advice from your physician or pediatrician. Please consult with an occupational therapist or medical professional if you are concerned about any medical or developmental issues with your child. The information on the Websites does not and is not intended to take the place of the therapist and client relationship that would be provided in a one-on-one treatment session. The Website does not and is not intended to replace an individualized plan of care that would be offered based on a professional evaluation. The information provided on the Website is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied.

All medical information on the Website is for informational purposes only. Do not rely on the information on the Website as a replacement for guidance from your medical professional or healthcare provider. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment as a result of any information provided on the Website. 

Fun Strokes is not liable for any injury when replicating any of the activities found on the Website. The activities shared on the Website are intended for completion with adult supervision. Be sure to use your own judgment and do not provide objects that could pose a choking hazard to young children. Never leave a child unattended while he or she is engaged in these activities. Please comply with all age recommendations on all products used in these activities. 

Sensory Processing Disorder Unveiled and Explained

In this post, I will explain what sensory processing disorder (SPD) is in simple, everyday terms. My hope is to bring insight and understanding to this very complex, often confusing, condition that many children have. About 1 in 20 children have SPD.

Sensory Processing Disorder Unveiled
Sensory Processing Disorder Unveiled

What is sensory processing disorder?

Sensory processing disorder is diagnosed in children who display difficulty with organizing (processing) and responding (reacting) to information that is received from our senses. Sensory processing is a neurobiological process that occurs at every moment of the day.  We all need to process and react to sensory information at all times.  Neurotypically developed children and adults process sensory input spontaneously.  Like breathing, we don’t need to think about how to do it, we just do.  Children with SPD are challenged by processing sensory input resulting in atypical or unexpected responses.  Some children are over-responsive or hypersensitive to sensory input.  Some children with SPD are under-responsive or hyposensitive.  Some children with SPD are a combination of both.

What is sensory input? 

Sensory input is the information that we take in through our senses.  What we see, what we hear, what we smell, what we touch, what we taste, even what we feel happening inside our bodies (hunger, pain, etc.)  Children with SPD can experience varying degrees of over and under-responsive behavior.  Sometimes the response may be subtle and does not interrupt day-to-day functions.  On the other hand, some sensory experiences may lead up to what we call  “sensory overload” or a feeling of being overwhelmed and upset.  Sensory overload may often be mistaken for a temper tantrum because children may scream or hit themselves or others, etc.  Oftentimes, however, children are reacting to a major sensory event or a build-up of several minor sensory events.  They do not know how to process the information from their environment and appropriately react to it, resulting in a meltdown.   Sensory overload may be caused by one or a combination of common triggers:

  • loud, unexpected noises
  • bright or flickering strobe lights
  • scratchy tags on clothing
  • scratchy clothing like wool sweaters
  • certain textures and/or scents of food
  • light touch and/or unexpected light touch
  • needing to move when expected to sit still
  • ambient scents or odors
  • tactile defensiveness
  • gravitational insecurity

The list is endless. All children are unique, and what one has a sensory aversion to probably won’t be the same as the next, but being aware of these struggles and learning how to notice them and address them is paramount.

So let’s approach this in everyday terms and real-life situations.  More often than not, in real life scenarios, other triggers may also be present. For example, while at school, there may be many other factors present that may cause a child to feel upset, confused,  annoyed, etc.  Peer relations can often be a challenge for many kids.  Just regular kid stuff like “she stole my pencil”, “he cut the line” “she keeps looking at me”.  Or, perhaps the content may seem too hard, and the child feels like he/she just doesn’t get it.  The problem is, when you combine these everyday aggravations with SPD, the chances of a meltdown become far greater.

What behaviors will you see in children with SPD?

What behaviors will you see in children with SPD?
What behaviors will you see in children with SPD?

There are two main behaviors that you will see in children with sensory processing vulnerabilities. They are sensory avoiding and sensory seeking.

Sensory Avoiding:  The child will not engage in activities or tasks involving the trigger, for example:  

  • will not touch certain textures
  • will not eat certain foods
  • will not wear certain types of clothing
  • will not engage in certain activities like climbing playground equipment or getting on the swings
  • may cover their ears in response to certain sounds
  • may squint or cover their eyes in certain lighting
  • may avoid brushing hair or teeth
  • may avoid playing in the water

Sensory Seeking:  The child may excessively engage in activities or tasks, for example:

  • bumps into people and things
  • invades the personal space of others
  • fidgets often
  • appears clumsy
  • always moving, can’t sit still
  • plays roughly/extreme risk-taker
  • likes super sour or spicy foods
  • runs their fingers along the wall during school transitions
  • has an extreme tolerance for pain
  • applies extreme pressure when writing
  • always retraces over letters when writing
  • may stare at flickering lights
  • may stare at objects with rotational movement (i.e. blades of a fan)

This is just to name a few.  Really, the list goes on and on because every child is unique resulting in different reactions and behaviors. 

What are the various types of sensory input?

Types of Sensory Input

There are several types of sensory input:  vestibular, visual, proprioceptive, tactile, oral-motor/gustatory,  olfactory, auditory, and interoception.  Here I will provide a brief summary of what each sensory system entails.

Interoception: 

Sensory Processing Explained:  Interoception
Sensory Processing Explained: Interoception

Interoception is not as well known as the other senses we mostly talk about.  It is the awareness of sensations from the organs inside our bodies. For example, how fast our heart is beating, how rapid we our breathing, and whether or not our bladder is full. Interoception also includes the awareness of how our autonomic nervous system is responding to our emotions. For example, if our heart beats faster in response to fear, or if we begin to sweat because we are nervous. Basically, interoception is the ability to feel and understand what is happening inside our bodies.  The organs inside our bodies have receptors that let us know if we are hungry or full, hot or cold, etc.  Children with SPD may have trouble with processing the information the receptors send to the brain.  Children who struggle with interoception may have difficulty with potty training because they may not feel the pressure of a full bladder. They may have an extremely high tolerance for pain. It’s important to be aware that there may be hidden issues when trying to figure out what is going on with your student or child.   

Proprioception (Deep Pressure):

Sensory Processing Explained:  Proprioception
Sensory Processing Explained: Proprioception

Proprioception is our sense of body awareness.  It is the ability of our body to know how it is moving and where it is in space. For example, being able to close your eyes and touch your nose with the tip of your index finger.  Our body knows how to do this because the sensory receptors in our muscles and joints send information to the brain.  This vital information relays how our body is moving, where each body part is in space, and where each body part is in relation to the other.  Try closing your eyes and touching your fingertip to your nose.  Pretty amazing, right?

Children who have a poor sense of body awareness have trouble knowing where their body is or how it is moving in space.  You may notice behaviors like slamming doors, bumping into things, leaning against furniture and walls, and climbing on everything.  They are seeking proprioceptive input or deep pressure.  This type of input provides our bodies with the information needed to modulate.  In other words, proprioceptive input helps to improve body awareness.  It helps children process sensory information and deliver an appropriate response. I’ve covered this topic in great detail in my post about heavy work.  Read more about it here:

What Are Heavy Work Activities And Who Should Do Them?

Vestibular (Movement):

Sensory Processing Explained:  The Vestibular System
Sensory Processing Explained: The Vestibular System

This is any kind of input that causes a change in the movement, position, or direction of the head.  This type of input causes the fluid in the ear canals to move which activates the receptors that are located in the inner ear. The vestibular system largely supports our balance.  When our vestibular system is functioning efficiently we are able to engage and enjoy activities like riding a bike, swinging on a swing, riding in a car or boat, climbing a rock wall, sliding down a slide and many other vestibular activities.  We can enjoy these activities because we naturally feel safe without even thinking about it.  We feel safe because our body and our brain have excellent communication with each other.  This allows us to have a good sense of where our bodies are in space.  When we are threatened by loss of balance, for example, tripping over that toy your little one left in the middle of the floor, your muscles quickly send that information to the brain, and your brain processes that information and tells your muscles what to do in response.  This is called our righting reaction and it happens in a wink of the eye, super fast.  A well-functioning vestibular system is very efficient and keeps us safe.  What happens when our vestibular systems are compromised?  Over-stimulated sensory systems can cause dizziness, car sickness, motion sickness, fear of heights and/or gravitational insecurity, poor balance, and/or frequent falls.  Children may avoid playground equipment like slides, see-saws, and swings, get sick often when riding in the car, appear clumsy or bump into things often.  An under-responsive vestibular system may result in one actively trying to get this type of input (seeking).  Behaviors you may see are rocking in place, spinning in circles, crashing into objects, running into things.  Vestibular input seekers may have difficulty standing or sitting still, so they may wiggle a lot or may demonstrate fidgety behavior.  Children with a compromised vestibular system may not get dizzy after spinning or engaging in rotational movement.

Olfactory (Smell):

Sensory Processing Explained:  The Olfactory System
Sensory Processing Explained: The Olfactory System

Olfactory input is anything that we smell. Our sense of smell is very important and serves many functions.  The receptors in the nose send information to our brain that tells us if what we are smelling is strong or subtle, threatening or pleasant. Our sense of smell also supports taste.  If it smells good, more than likely it is good.  And if we can’t smell food, the flavor just isn’t as intense, much like when we have a stuffy nose.  Emotion and memories are largely connected to our sense of smell via the limbic system.  This is why most of us find the smell of apple pie baking in the kitchen quite comforting.  Whenever I smell a roast cooking in the oven I am immediately taken back to my childhood years when my mom would prepare delicious Sunday dinners.  I can hear the football game playing on the TV as my dad watched, the scent of potatoes and carrots simmering alongside the meat wafted throughout the house.  It is a very fond memory.  Our sense of smell is an integral part of our sensory system.  The olfactory system keeps us safe by helping us understand and process what is happening in our environment. For example, if we smell smoke in the air, our brain will process that information and tell us there may be a fire in our environment. If we smell a gaseous odor, we know we need to take action to protect ourselves.  

Like with other sensory systems, children with sensory processing dysfunction may be over-responsive (hypersensitive) or under-responsive (hyposensitive) to olfactory input.  Children that are hypersensitive may have an adverse reaction to certain scents and/or odors.  They may show signs of irritation to scents that go unnoticed by other people.  For example, the scent of detergent used to clean a child’s clothing may be too harsh, triggering a maladaptive response or misbehavior.  The child’s teacher may not recognize the behavior as a sensory aversion, particularly if she can not detect the smell.  Some responses may be incredibly intense, stimulating the gag reflex causing the child to vomit.  Children who are over-responsive to olfactory input may avoid sensory experiences involving this type of input (sensory avoiding).  They may refuse to eat foods with strong scents and flavors.  They may decline to engage in activities involving scented materials i.e. Strawberry Shortcake dolls, scented slime, or Play-Doh.  They may not be able to tolerate using highly fragrant soaps and/or shampoos, or being near someone wearing perfumes and/or colognes,

Children who are hyposensitive to olfactory input may look for olfactory opportunities (sensory seeking).  You may observe these children smelling peculiar objects like crayons, markers, erasers, really just about anything!   Some scents may trigger a pleasant response, even though it is not safe to smell, like markers and cleaning supplies.  With both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity to olfactory input, safety may be compromised because the information sent to the brain may not trigger an appropriate response.   

Vision (Sight):

Sensory Processing Explained:  The Visual System
Sensory Processing Explained: The Visual System

Visual input is anything that we capture with our eyes, our sight.   Visual input is the light, color or movement that we see in our environment. As with all types of sensory stimuli, children with SPD may be over-responsive or under-responsive to visual input.  Children who are hypersensitive to visual input may be distracted by busy or cluttered environments. They may overwhelmed by certain types of lights, flickering lights or intense colors. They may not be able to focus on everyday activities like schoolwork because the environment is too visually distracting. They may avoid visual input by covering their eyes, squinting, or avoiding the input all together i.e refuse to enter a room with adverse lighting or colors (sensory avoiding). Children who are hyposensitive to visual input may not notice the details of their environment. They may get lost when presented with information visually. They may seek visual input by staring at objects or moving things (sensory seeking).  

Tactile (Touch):

Sensory Processing Explained:  The Tactile System
Sensory Processing Explained: The Tactile System

Tactile input is anything that we touch or anything that touches us.  The tactile system registers temperature, pressure, tickle, itch, vibration, as well as pain.  Tactile input or touch can be light or firm, wet or dry.  It is the feel of various textures. Through touch, we are able to explore and navigate our environment.  Children may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to tactile input.  Those who are hypersensitive may avoid tactile experiences (sensory avoiding).  What behaviors will you see?  Children may refuse to engage in any type of messy play or will refuse to get dirty during any activity.  You may see signs of distress like grimacing, crying or even screaming.  Children with tactile vulnerabilities may not wear certain types of clothing or may be irritated by tags on clothing. They may dislike brushing teeth or combing hair. They may avoid activities where their hands get messy like finger painting or carving a pumpkin. They may not touch or will barely touch soap and water when washing hands.  They may not tolerate the application of lotion. Children with tactile defensiveness may avoid foot to floor contact by toe walking.  Children who are hyposensitive to tactile input will seek out this type of input in attempt to regulate themselves.  These kids are constantly touching things.  For example, when walking down the hallway, they are running there hands along the wall.  They may touch everything around them, for example the objects on the table they are sitting at, the furniture in the room, and oftentimes other people/peers.  They may crave hugs, and invade personal space by standing to close to others.  You may see children with tactile hyposenstivity constantly fidgeting with the items in their hands.  

Auditory (Hear):

Sensory Processing Explained:  The Auditory System
Sensory Processing Explained: The Auditory System

Auditory input is sound or anything that we hear.  Our ears receive  auditory information and sends it to the brain.  Our brain tells us how  to respond.  For example, if someone calls our name, our brain processes that information and we respond by turning our head in the direction of the sound and answering the person.  Sounds can make us aware of a dangerous situation, like the ringing of a smoke alarm.  Sounds can impact our mood, like when putting a baby to sleep by playing calming lullabies.  Children with a well-functioning auditory system are able to discern what sound is important and what sound should be filtered out or ignored.  For example, a child is able to tune in to what the teacher is saying and filter out the noise buzzing from the air conditioner’s motor.  They are able to adapt to noisy or loud environments and do what is expected of them.  For example, children with well-functioning auditory systems are able to eat lunch in the noisy cafeteria without signs of aversion.  For children with auditory sensitivities, eating lunch in the cafeteria is an arduous feat.  

Children can be over-responsive to auditory input and some may be under-responsive.  Loud noises like fire trucks speeding down the street, smoke alarms, and construction sites can be overwhelming for those who are over-responsive to this type of input. You may see signs of distress like covering ears, grimacing, or trying to avoid the sound altogether by fleeing the area (sensory avoiding). Children who are under-responsive to auditory input may look for auditory experiences in attempt to regulate themselves (sensory seekers).  Auditory seekers may talk loudly, make humming sounds, and sing to themselves frequently. 

This is not to be confused with auditory processing disorder which is a condition that impacts how the brain processes and understands speech.  Auditory processing disorder makes what people are saying difficult to understand.  A study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that symptoms of auditory processing disorder were largely unrelated to auditory sensory processing.

Oral Motor/Gustatory (Taste):

Sensory Processing Explained:  Oral Motor Gustatory
Sensory Processing Explained: Oral Motor/Gustatory

When we think of oral input most of us think of taste and flavor.  But there are actually three different types of sensory input received orally.  Of course, taste is one of them.  We also receive tactile input, anything that touches our oral cavity, meaning our lips, tongue, teeth, inner cheeks, and gums.  The joints that move our mouth, our jaws, also receive sensory input known as proprioception.  Chewing on something hard for example provides a lot of proprioceptive input orally.  Sucking is another way of gaining this type of input.  Again, some children may be over-responsive or under-responsive to oral input.  Those who are under-responsive may present as oral sensory seekers.  You may see these children chewing on their collars, chewing on pencils, chewing on or licking random objects, pocketing food, and constantly putting things in their mouths.  Those that are under-responsive to oral input will present quite differently.  Typically these children will demonstrate sensory avoidance behaviors.  They may dislike brushing their teeth. They may avoid eating foods with various textures and flavors.  Behaviors may be quite challenging during oral hygiene, meals, and snacks.  Children with intense food aversions may have very limited tolerance for varied foods, eating only a few items.  Most often this requires the attention of the child’s pediatrician who may then refer to an occupational therapist that specializes in feeding disorders.

Types of Sensory Input at a Glance:

Types of Sensory Input at a Glance

Fun Strokes Freebie: Types of Sensory Input PDF

If you are a visual learner like me, you’ll enjoy these free PDFs which explain the types of sensory input at a glance!

Fun Strokes Freebie: Types of Sensory Input PDF

How can you help a child with sensory processing disorder? Stay tuned for Part Two of the Sensory Series: “How to Create a Sensory Smart Classroom or Home”. In this post I will offer practical sensory solutions that can be readily implemented in your classroom or home. Free printables and PDFs will be included. You don’t want to miss it!

References

Coulter RA. Understanding the visual symptoms of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Optom Vis Dev 2009;40(3):164- 175.

How Scent, Emotion and Memory are Intertwined and Exploited https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/02/how-scent-emotion-and-memory-are-intertwined-and-exploited/

Light Sensitivity and Autism, ADHD, SPD, and Developmental Delays https://epidemicanswers.org/light-sensitivity-and-autism-adhd-spd-developmental-delays

Krusemark, E. A., Novak, L. R., Gitelman, D. R., & Li, W. (2013). When the sense of smell meets emotion: anxiety-state-dependent olfactory processing and neural circuitry adaptation. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 33(39), 15324–15332. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1835-13.2013

Moore, D.R, Ferguson, M.A, Edmondson-Jones, M.A., Ratib, S., & Riley, A. Nature of Auditory Processing Disorder in Children.  Pediatrics published online Jul 26, 2010; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-2826

Price, C. J., & Hooven, C. (2018). Interoceptive Awareness Skills for Emotion Regulation: Theory and Approach of Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy (MABT). Frontiers in psychology9, 798. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00798

The Frugal OT Series: Fine Motor Monsters

Dollar Tree Find of the Month: Fine Motor Monsters

These cute little monsters are perfect for building fine motor skills. Run to your local Dollar Tree and grab a container of Play Doh. Pop over to the craft section and toss some wiggle eyes into your basket, grab a bag of beads and a box of toothpicks and you are all set! Children will enjoy making a cute little monster of their own. Of course, while working on the following fine motor skills.

  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)
  • strengthening
  • hand separation
  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • pressure grading (figuring out how much force to apply)
  • spatial relations

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

  • Play Doh
  • Wiggle Eyes
  • Toothpicks
  • Beads
The Frugal OT Series. Fine Motor Monsters Supply List
Fine Motor Mosters Supply List

How To Make the Monsters:

Open the Play Doh container and pull out the contents. Pinch off a nice size piece which will serve as the base or head of your monster. Use both hands to roll the Play Doh into a nice round ball. Push one or more of the wiggly eyes into the ball. Push toothpicks into the Play Doh to form the antennae. Place beads on the toothpicks for a colorful spin.

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

Pinch off the Play Doh for the child

Use the table surface instead of hands to form a ball with the Play Doh

Use beads with a larger diameter to assist the child with placing the beads onto the toothpick 

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

Work on building visual perceptual and visual-motor integration skills by having the child build their monster to match a model. Place several beads on the toothpicks to work on visual scanning and tracking skills.

Build In-hand manipulation skills

Translation is the ability to move objects from the palm of one’s hand to the fingertips and from the fingertips to the palm. By ages 6 to 7 children are able to manipulate and secure multiple small objects within their hands. Practice this skill with the beads. Using one hand, have the child pick up one bead at a time and move it from fingertips to palm. Try collecting 5 and then place them onto the toothpick.  

Frugal OT Series Fine Motor Monsters

As Always, have fun!

How to Teach Kids of ALL Abilities How to Tie Shoes: Modified Techniques

Learning how to tie shoes can be quite daunting for a child with fine motor issues.  It may not seem like it, but there are many underlying skills needed in order to master this complex task.  Typically developing children are usually able to accomplish this skill around the age of 4-5 years old.  By kindergarten, it is expected that children will be able to manage their own laces when they’ve come untied.  Oftentimes, children with fine motor difficulties and/or executive functioning difficulties have a very hard time learning to tie shoes. I see a lot of parents give up on teaching their kids how to tie their shoes because it seems like they just won’t get it or it takes too much time. If a child can’t tie shoes, there are many fashionable alternatives today. Elastic, no- tie laces have come a long way! But before you go down that road, please try the methods in this post. Five methods are presented here. The first two are rather traditional methods, the final three are adapted to make it much easier. Before throwing in the towel, give these methods a shot. If successful, it will surely build your child’s confidence and independence with their self-care skills.

Skills required for shoe tying:

  • Bilateral coordination
  • In-hand manipulation skills (shift)
  • Hand dexterity
  • Visual-motor integration
  • Visual perception (figure-ground)
  • Hand strength
  • Working memory-needed to remember all the steps required to tie shoes

If a child is lagging in one or more of these areas, chances are they will struggle with learning how to tie shoes.  You may see the following:

  • Using their whole hand instead of the pads of fingertips
  • Awkward fumbling over the laces
  • Making unintentional knots, then unable to untie those knots 
  • Loose knots that come untied as soon as the child takes a few steps

Shoe Tying Methods

Method #1:  Bunny Ears

Traditional method using fun verbal prompts.  

  • Cross the laces to make an X
  • Top lace goes under
  • Pull to make the first knot
  • Make two bunny ears
  • Cross the ears
  • Push the top ear under and through the rabbit hole
  • Pull ears tight
Modified Shoe Tying Technique: Bunny Ears

Method #2:  Dog and Tree

  • Cross the laces
  • Make a tunnel
  • Dog goes under the tunnel, pull tight
  • Make a tree (loop)
  • Dog runs around the tree from front to back
  • Dog goes through the hole to make a loop
  • Pinch each loop and pull tight
Modified Shoe Tying Technique: Dog and Tree

Method #3:  Easy Tie

This is a modified method for those who have not had success with traditional methods.

  • Cross the laces
  • Make an X
  • Put top lace under and pull tight

Repeat:

  • Cross the laces
  • Make an X
  • Put top lace under and pull to make a loose knot
  • Push the end of one lace through the knot to make a loop
  • Do the same with the other lace
  • Pinch each loop and pull to make a tight knot
Modified Shoe Tying Technique: Easy Tie

Method #4: Easier Tie

  • Insert the ends of both laces into the first hole to make loops
  • cross the loops to make an X
  • top loop goes under and pull tight
  • repeat, top lace goes under and pull tight
  • pull the tip of the lace out of the first hole
  • Voila! Double knotted in all!

Modified Shoe Tying Technique: Easier Tie

Method #5:  Easiest Tie (When all else fails, this is often the answer!)

  • Pull the laces out of the first hole on each side
  • Insert both laces back in from the opposite end to form two loops
  • Cross the loops to make an X
  • The top loop goes under and pull tight
  • Repeat, the top loop goes under and pull tight
Modified Shoe Tying Technique: Easiest Tie

Therapist Tips: 

  • Parents/teachers/caregivers should watch the video to learn the modified technique, then teach the child at their own pace. Skip to method 5 (Easiest Tie) for those who are really struggling. Sometimes it may be necessary to set up the laces for the child (push the lace through the first hole to make the loops). Once set up, you won’t need to do it again.
  • Oftentimes it is better to start teaching shoe tying on a tabletop surface. The laces are easier to see and manage this way. Make sure the shoe is facing away from the child as it would be on their foot (as seen in the videos above). Once the child is able to tie the shoe on the tabletop surface, begin practicing with the shoe on their foot.
  • Use two different color laces to support those with visual perceptual needs, it makes it a lot easier to differentiate between the laces.
  • Try practicing for a few minutes each day, practice really does make perfect. The more opportunities the child gets, the better.

I hope you’ll find this post useful! Have a success story? Please share in the comments below!

The Frugal OT Series: Puffers for Pennies

Dollar Tree Find of the Month: Puffers for Pennies

Pufferfish made out of pool noodles, how fun!  Run to your local Dollar Tree and grab a few pool noodles, one goes a long way.  You can make 20 or so pufferfish from just one pool noodle.  Pop over to the craft section and toss some wiggle eyes into your basket, grab a box of toothpicks and you are all set! Children will enjoy making a cute little pufferfish of their own. Of course, while working on many fine motor skills.

Visual of materials needed to make pufferfish
Puffers for Pennies Supply List
Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
  • Pool noodle (one pool noodle makes about 20 fish)
  • Toothpicks (10-15 for each pufferfish)
  • Wiggle eyes (2 for each pufferfish)
  • Pipe cleaners (one for each pufferfish: cut into three pieces, one half, 2 quarters)
Staples Needed:
  • scissors
  • glue

How to Make:  

Puffers for Pennies

Cut the pool noodle into 2” pieces.  Glue the eyes onto the pool noodle first and let dry.  Bend the pipe cleaner (quarters) to make round fins.  Insert one on each side.  Bend the third pipecleaner (halve) to form a triangle, insert into the back of the pool noodle.  Break the toothpicks in half and stick into the top of the pool noodle.  

Use judgement, the pufferfish are prickly and can poke little hands.

Skills Addressed:

This fun activity addresses the following skill areas:

  • pincer grasp and 3 jaw chuck (tripod grasp)
  • hand separation 
  • bilateral coordination 
  • finger strengthening
  • pressure grading (figuring out how much force to apply)
  • eye-hand coordination 
  • spatial relations

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

Break the tooth picks for the child 

Make holes in the pool noodle and have the child insert the toothpicks in the hole

Pre-make the pipecleaner shapes 

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

Build in-hand manipulation skills:

Translation is the ability to move objects from the palm of one’s hand to the fingertips and from the fingertips to the palm. By ages 6 to 7 children are able to manipulate and secure multiple small objects within their hands. Practice this skill with the toothpicks. Using one hand, have the child pick up one toothpick at a time and move it from fingertips to palm. Try collecting 5 and then move up to 10.  

In-hand Manipulation Skills: Translation

Do you know of a fun pool noodle craft? Please share in the comments section below. I’d love to hear about it!

What Are Heavy Work Activities and Who Should Do Them?

What is heavy work?

Heavy work is any type of activity that provides resistance to the body by way of pulling or pushing.  Resistance could be created by something pushing against the body like water in the swimming pool, or the body pushing against the floor such as doing push-ups.  Pulling on resistance bands, and hanging on monkey bars are also examples. Heavy work activities offer many benefits because they provide proprioceptive input. 

What is proprioception?

Proprioception is our sense of body awareness.  It is the ability of our body to know how it is moving and where it is in space. For example, being able to close your eyes and touch your nose with the tip of your index finger.  Our body knows how to do this because the sensory receptors in our muscles and joints send information to the brain.  This vital information relays how our body is moving, where each body part is in space, and where each body part is in relation to the other.  Try closing your eyes and touching your fingertip to your nose.  When you really think about it, it’s pretty amazing.

Why are heavy work activities beneficial?

Heavy work activities provide proprioceptive input or information to the body that helps with feeling centered and grounded.  This input provides a sense of organization and calm.  Many children benefit from heavy work activities for this reason.  When a child feels organized, tasks become easier.  For example, proprioceptive input can help a child understand how to grade pressure.  Know any kids who push really hard on crayons when coloring a picture?  Many times their hand will hurt and fatigue before they are finished.  When children have a lack of body awareness, it can be hard to determine just how much pressure to put on the crayon when coloring.  

Who should partake in heavy work activities?

Heavy work activities may benefit all children.  Heavy work is a form of movement and exercise, which we all need.  

Heavy work activities can be particularly helpful and effective for children who have sensory processing difficulties.  Sensory processing is the ability of our body to receive and interpret sensory information and deliver an appropriate response.   Children who have sensory processing difficulties have trouble with taking in information from their environment, and sometimes their own body, making sense of it, and figuring out how to respond to it.   You may notice these children slamming doors, bumping into things, leaning against furniture and walls, and climbing on everything.  Proprioceptive input provides their body with the information they need to modulate.  In other words, proprioceptive input helps children process sensory information and deliver an appropriate response.  

Children who have deficits in motor planning may also benefit from heavy work activities.  This is often referred to as dyspraxia. Motor planning is the ability to know what steps to take, in what order, and then carry out the novel motor action needed to execute the plan.  Proprioceptive input can help children with this disorder gain a greater awareness of where their body is in space which in turn helps with movement and coordination.  

Heavy work activities can also be employed to reduce stress and anxiety because they facilitate calm via organizing and regulating the sensory system.  

How often should children participate in heavy work activities?

Heavy work breaks can be offered to all children, however, the amount of time, frequency, and intensity will vary.  All children are unique and therefore have different needs.  There is no one-for-all approach.  Offering heavy work options during breaks is generally a good idea.  It is not uncommon for special education and even some general education teachers to offer heavy work activities as breaks to their students.  Brain breaks for example very well may consist of heavy work activities that the entire classroom will benefit from.  Parents may decide to have their children engage in heavy work activities at home. This can be particularly beneficial during homework, morning and bedtime routines, or anytime you need your child to settle down. Ever had a hard time keeping your little one under control in the grocery store? Of course! Kids sometimes have too much energy and not enough patience for what you are trying to do. Heavy work activities can be beneficial in the grocery store as well.

However, if you have or work with a child who has a sensory processing disorder, consulting with an occupational therapist is recommended.  Sensory needs can be complex and the expertise of a therapist is needed. Sometimes it is necessary to develop a sensory diet tailored to meet the specific needs of the child.  A sensory diet provides lots of opportunities for the child to engage in meaningful sensory-based activities. Sensory diets provide the input needed for the child to modulate sensory information and produce appropriate responses.  Each sensory diet varies based on the child’s needs.  It typically is carried out throughout a child’s day.  Some may include scheduled breaks, while other sensory opportunities are designed to occur as a natural part of the day.  

What are some heavy work activities that can be done in the classroom?  

Here are some of my favorite activities because I feel that they are practical, doable, and easy to incorporate into your classroom routine.

  • A stress ball or squeezable/squishy fidgets (having a designated “fidget box” with several options is a good idea)
  • Resistance bands on chair legs (students push their feet or legs against the bands while seated)
  • Chair dips
  • Seated push-ups or desk push-ups (child places both hands on the chair or desk and lifts their body off the seat or floor)
  • Movement breaks: tug-of-war, jumping jacks, yoga poses
  • Squeeze and squish:  Kinetic Sand, Play-Doh
  • Trampoline (investing in a mini trampoline for your classroom is so worth it)
  • Crumple paper and shoot for the trash basket (this is great to incorporate while your student is cleaning his/her desk)
  • Wipe the chalkboard or whiteboard clean
  • Wall push-ups (these are just like regular push-ups except the child is leaning against the wall)
  • Recess:  monkey bars, any type of climbing equipment, climb up the slide instead of using the ladder
  • Carry a weighted backpack during transitions (mustn’t exceed 20% of child’s body weight)
  • Hold an exercise ball against the wall using your back
  • Animal walks (crab, bear, seal, etc.)
  • Body sock
  • Weighted lap pad or lap animals

Heavy Work Activities for the Classroom At a Glance

Heavy Work Activities for the Classroom Infographic

What are some heavy work activities that can be done at home?  

Here are my suggestions.  These activities can easily be incorporated into your day.

  • Jump rope
  • Kinetic Sand
  • Push-ups 
  • Wall push-ups (these are just like regular push-ups except the child is leaning against the wall)
  • Stress ball or squeezable/squishy hand fidgets
  • Crumple paper and toss into wastepaper basket (a great opportunity to get rid of your never-ending supply of junk mail)
  • Tug-of-war
  • Jumping on the bed
  • Trampoline 
  • Chair dips
  • Swimming
  • Playground:  monkey bars, any type of climbing equipment, climb up the slide instead of using the ladder
  • Jumping jacks
  • Yoga poses
  • Squish and squeeze Kinetic Sand, Play-doh
  • Animal walks (crab, bear, seal, etc.)
  • Pull wagon filled with something heavy like books or stones
  • Hold exercise ball against a wall using back
  • Steamroll:  Roll exercise ball over child’s back and legs while he/she is laying on the carpet/rug; make it fun by saying “I’m going to turn you into a pancake”
  • Jump and crash into pillows or sofa cushions placed on the floor
  • Blanket burrito:  tightly wrap your child in a blanket to create a nice squeeze; make it fun by saying “I’m going to turn you into a burrito”
  • At the grocery store have your child carry a basket and gather some of the things on your list.  Or you can have your child push the cart.  They will probably love being a helper.
  • Crunchy Snacks:  Offer snacks that provide intense oral motor input like pretzels, carrot sticks, and celery sticks.
  • Chores:  Yes, I said chores!  Chores are a great way to get some heavy work in.  My favorite is vacuum cleaning because vacuums tend to be heavy.  Mopping and sweeping the floor are also options.  Doing yard work?  Have your child dig using a shovel, or pull weeds.  Pushing a wheelbarrow is also a great option.  

Heavy Work Activities for Home at a Glance

Heavy Work Activities for Home Infographic
Heavy Work Activities for Home

Therapist Tip:

Let the Child Choose The Activity

It’s also a good idea to allow children to become vested in their self-regulation journey by choosing what activity they’d like to partake in.  If the child is getting an adequate amount of input, you and the child will probably notice a difference in behavior.  For example, the child is able to remain seated if needed, stay on task longer, and get his/her independent work done.  Over time, he or she will begin to understand what they need to self-regulate.  

You can offer choices by presenting the child with visuals of heavy work activities like in the example below.

Heavy Work Activities Choice Board For the Classroom

Present the child with a sensory choice board like the one below. Cut out the images and laminate them. Use velcro to attach the images to the boxes.

Sensory Choice Board

When a heavy work break activity is needed, or when it is time for a scheduled break, the child makes a choice by removing the laminated picture from the sensory choice board and placing it on their break card. Once they have finished the break they put it on the “all done” side of their break card.

Heavy Work Activity Break Card
Heavy Work Activity Choice Boards and Break Cards
Heavy Work Activity Choice Boards and Break Cards

Would you like a FREE copy of my interactive heavy work activity choice boards and break cards? Enter your email address and get full access to the preview shown!

Have any heavy work suggestions that you like to do in your classroom or home?  Please share in the comments section below, I’d love to hear about it.

Disclaimer:

This blog is intended for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has sensory processing needs, please consult an occupational therapist.

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