Category Archives: Gross Motor

child playing with blue sticky object

Keeping Skills Sharp All Summer Long: Summer 2022 Edition!

Allyson Locke M.S., OTR/L & Sarah Glovasky M.S., OTR/L

Summer is fast approaching but that doesn’t mean kids need to lose the skills they developed over the last academic year! Last year, we posted a blog filled with summer activity ideas geared toward preventing the “summer slide”.  As therapists, we know summer activities provide numerous opportunities to develop and build skills that will be needed for the upcoming school year in fun and non threatening ways.  So we are bringing back the topic with this new post.  New this year are more activity ideas and contributions from Sarah Glovasky M.S., OTR/L! As always appropriate supervision is recommended!

Get Messy!

Messy play is a great way to develop the sensory skills needed for important school tasks like handwriting and social interactions.  Summer is the best time for these messy activities because they can be done outside leaving the mess outdoors. An added bonus is that it is usually warm enough for a quick wash with the hose before going back inside.  A few ideas to try:

  • Hide objects (like rocks, sticks, or mini animals)  in a pile of mud, shaving cream, or leaves. How fast can you find them? How many can you find in 10 seconds? Not only is this a great sensory activity it helps strengthen the visual perceptual skills needed for academic tasks like reading! 
  • Stomp in rain puddles, roll down a grassy hill, or skip through a soft patch of dirt. These big body movements help develop the vestibular and proprioceptive systems which are so important for self regulation! 

When it is too hot or too rainy to go outside there are still plenty of opportunities for sensory exploration that are a bit less messy! 

  • Make a sensory collage with items found in the recycling bin or use the Sensory Collage Kit! How many different textures can you incorporate? What textures do you like to feel? As a bonus, ripping, crumpling and rolling paper, tissue, and cardboard are all great ways to strengthen the muscle of the hand.  For more ways to use recycled materials check out Second Hand Therapies
plastic container scooping water and dumping it into a yellow bin filled with water
Jug Scoop
From: Second Hand Therapies: Recyclable Strategies & Useful Tools

Make Art!

Art projects afford great opportunities to develop the small muscles in the hand.  This muscle development is critical for academic tasks like writing with a pencil and cutting with scissors. Get creative with your art projects, try:

blue turtle made of playdough with a green shell and colorful dots
  • 3D Art.  Three dimensional art helps kids build form and space concepts.  Building a fairy castle outside is a great way to learn about size concepts.  Inside, building with blocks, clay or even pillow cushions is a great way to explore how these concepts work.  To add a sensory component try using scented dough
  • Tie-Dye Prints: This is a great outdoor activity! First color an old bed sheet or large piece of paper with washable markers. Next use a spray bottle, filled with water, to squirt the drawing. Watch the colors mix and swirl together! Using a spray bottle not only helps build the muscles in the hands it is also great for bilateral coordination! For a smaller scale version, use an eyedropper to wet the paper! 
  • Draw pictures in the dirt or other mediums like pudding (great for kids who like to explore with their mouth!) Use a stick, rocks, or fingers to draw with! We still love the Ed Emberly drawing books when you need drawing inspiration, stencils are another helpful tool! Drawing is so important for early writers and is great for visual perceptual development!

Play With Bubbles!

Many skills can be targeted with simple bubble activities. Eye hand coordination and oral motor development are just a few!  Blowing bubbles is also great for attention and regulation; to learn more about this check out the book M.O.R.E.: Integrating The Mouth With Sensory And Postural Functions. For fun with bubbles, try:

  • Making Bubble Art!  Make bubble paint by putting a small amount of bubbles and a dab or two of food coloring in a bowl (use different bowls for different colors). Use a bubble wand and dip it into your favorite color. Blow the colored bubbles right at plain paper and watch the designs come alive! 
  • Play Catch! Chasing after, stomping on, and catching bubbles are great ways to get some extra energy out. It is also a great way to develop eye-hand coordination and the visual skills needed to complete academic tasks like copying from the board.  To make bubbles easier to catch try using Touchbubbles
  • Make A Mountain of Bubbles! For a fun indoor activity, fill a small dish bin or other similar size, shallow bucket with lots of dish soap and a few inches of water.  Use a straw to slowly blow into the water to make a mountain of bubbles.  To really work the muscles in the mouth try a long straw or one with lots of twists like the Krazy Drinking Straws or Connector Straws

With these fun activity ideas the learning doesn’t have to stop when school is out. Keep skills sharp and be ready for the upcoming school year! 

The Value of Therapy Balls and How Best to Store Them

by Shoshanah Shear

I have had the joy of working in four different countries and a number of different facilities. Some equipment regardless of the setting one works in or what the age of the client is. Therapy Balls definitely fit into this category. I have enjoyed using these in treatment with head-injured or stroke patients just as much as with children with learning problems, or even the blind.

I think balls of various sizes, textures, and shapes are a tell-tale sign that you have stepped into an OT room or department. They assist in meeting so many goals and certainly show how dynamic OT is and how creative we need to be with every treatment plan and session. Let’s face it, balls are fun for most ages. They are colorful and versatile. Being round means that they are dynamic, resulting in the ability to grade therapy sessions by working on an unstable surface.

Therapy balls are beneficial for improving:

  • motor control
  • muscle tone
  • trunk control or strengthening core muscles
  • upper limb function for clients with orthopedic or neurological disorders
  • introducing fun games and exercises into therapy
  • eye-hand coordination
  • righting and balance reactions
  • weight shift

Balls can encourage a child to feel excited to come into a treatment room or to prepare a blind child for hippotherapy. Balls can be just as important to an older woman needing to reduce internal scarring from repeated abdominal surgery.

There is one problem with therapy balls: storage. Without due care, your therapy room can quickly become messy, cluttered, and a potential safety hazard. We don’t want our clients tripping over equipment!

If you’ve ever worked in an OT department or been involved in developing a therapy department in limited space, then you can appreciate the need to organize physio/Gymnic balls. There are times that facilities will look into securing a suitable shelf, setting up a hammock specifically for therapy balls, or acquiring an array of other wall or ceiling fittings.

But what can do you do if your practice is in rented space that doesn’t permit attaching anything to the walls or ceilings? Or if your OT room is in a building with prefabricated walls and ceilings, reducing the strength and stability of the internal structure?

When I started in private practice, one of the first pieces of equipment I obtained was a large therapy ball with bells inside. Amongst my first private clients was a child who was blind from birth and severely sensory-deprived, hence the bells within the ball. It was wonderful to introduce a ball game in which he could participate because he could hear where the ball was.

The problem was how to store the therapy ball. I grappled with this dilemma until I discovered the wonderful Ball Stacker. It looks professional and neat and makes a good impression when a parent comes into the therapy room for the first time. Now you can use therapy balls even if you can’t attach brackets, shelves, or hammocks to the wall or ceiling.

Another valuable accessory to the therapy ball, is the Ball Handpump which offers the freedom to alter the pressure in the ball according to the goals of your client.


Shoshanah Shear

Occupational Therapist, healing facilitator, certified infant massage instructor, freelance writer, author of “Healing Your Life Through Activity – An Occupational Therapist’s Story” and co-author of “Tuvia Finds His Freedom”.

Saturday Seminar: Specialized Brain Gym and Building Block Activity Workshop

The 2018 Saturday Seminar Series kick-off on January 20 featured June Smith, OTR/L’s presentation: Specialized Brain Gym and Building Block Activity Workshop. June is a full-time clinician and mentor at South Shore Therapies in Massachusetts and is a specialist in sensory integration (SIPT certified), NDT, ocular-motor dysfunction and visual-vestibular treatment. She is a certified Brain Gym instructor and a provider for the Therapeutic Listening Program. June teaches nationally on Brain Gym and Integrated Learning Concepts to support stress-free learning and efficiency of the ocular-motor system.

Brain Gym empowers; it supports alerting and quieting using a total of 26 exercises that require only one tool – your body. June displayed a Venn diagram that aptly described Brain Gym as interlocking concepts that involve 1). a series of simple body movements that 2). integrate all areas of the brain and 3). enhance learning and self-esteem. To demonstrate these concepts with the group, June led us in an alerting activity called “thinking cap.” She feels it is a powerful way to begin a session to facilitate engagement. We started by turning our heads to the right, then left, to examine any tension in our necks. We were asked to massage our ears simultaneously by unrolling the fold of the outer ear, moving from top to bottom. We then were asked to turn our heads again to see if we felt a decreased amount of tension compared with our pretest. Most agreed that head turning was less restricted after “thinking cap.”

June demonstrated a variety Brain Gym exercises that are used in the “PACE” process, an acronym for Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic,” beginning with Energetic and working in reverse sequence (ECAP) because each of the four activities prepares you for the next. June described it as a ladder, working your way upward toward the top. She demonstrated three exercises that involved arm activation, the first assisted by using a Gertie Ball for arm extension to maintain internal rotation; a “double doodle” where one hand mimics the other, and “lazy 8s” in which the hand traces a large horizontal figure 8, crossing midline of the body using a Race the 8s large marble maze or Trace the 8s, that is based on the infinity sign. She offered suggestions for adapting the exercises for different populations to ensure success.

Several publications from Therapro were endorsed by June today including: Fraid Not: Empowering Kids with Learning Differences, by occupational therapist Pam FormosaThe Learning Gym, and Drive Thru Menus Attention & Strength (New Edition) and Drive Thru Menus Calming and Stress Busting (New Edition), by occupational therapist Tere Bowen-Irish.

June presented an interactive, stimulating seminar today that supported the philosophy that Brain Gym stimulates movement based learning. It incorporates simple, gentle movements that activate brain function. There has been much research conducted on how movement positively influences the brain and our health, and Brain Gym is a powerful tool that helps put a student in the best possible frame for learning as they become calm and organized.

Here’s what attendees had to say about June’s seminar:

“Great information! June convinced me.” – Lise S., Occupational Therapist

“Very informative, lots of practical ways to apply, fabulous ideas. Can’t wait to practically apply these strategies.” – Christin M., Occupational Therapist

“Great presenter. Very informative and interactive! FUN! – Susan P., Physical Therapist

“Fabulous. Recharged my OT battery to use in my school sessions. Used to do Brain Gym daily, changed school districts & haven’t been using.” – Jodi D., Occupational Therapist

Thank you, June!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L
January 20, 2018