Tag Archives: Occupational Therapy

Activities That Build Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are vital for many functional activities like zippering our coats, writing our name, and opening lunch containers. In this post we will take a dive into fine motor skill development and explore toys and activities that are appropriate for every skill level.  

Level 1

Fine motor skill development begins with the simplest hand movements; reaching, swiping, and gross grasp. As development progresses things like visually guided reach, purposeful release, and a better ability to hold medium and small sized objects develops. Poking, pointing, and the ability to use the thumb and first fingers to hold small objects are major milestones during this period. For children at this developmental stage activities that support the growth of the proximal muscles (core and shoulders) are important because it is these muscles that will support later fine motor skills. Activities that are done while on the tummy and activities that involve pushing and pulling are great choices at this stage.

Level 2

The next stage of fine motor development is marked by the ability to begin to use simple tools like crayons, scissors, and spoons. Activities like the Smartmax games and Lock Boxes are still great choices but now simple arts and crafts, lacing, and building activities can also be enjoyed. These increasingly more complex activities will lend to the development of the hand skills that are needed for greater independence with self care activities like feeding and dressing.

Level 3

The next stage of development is marked by the ability to complete tasks that require the separation of the two sides of the hand; the ‘power side’ and the ‘skilled side’. The power side of the hand is what we use when we engage in activities that require strength like opening a jar; actions like squeezing a toy or playing in putty or playdough are great ways to develop these muscles.  The skilled side of the hand is what we use when we engage in activities that require refined movements like writing, tying, or fastening a button.  To develop these muscles we must engage in activities that predominantly require the use of the thumb and first two or three fingers; actions like winding the small knob on a wind up toy, using the first fingers to grab, grasp or manipulate objects, and using one finger to push a button or lever are all great ways to develop these muscle. The development of the separation of the two sides of the hands is important for academic and self care tasks.

Level 4

Hallmarks of this stage of fine motor skill development include the skilled coordination between the two sides of the body and a mature pencil grasp. Games like Froggy Feeding Fun and activities with Wikki Stix or Playdough are still great but now activities that require refined skill can also be introduced.

Choosing activities that are developmentally appropriate will ensure not only engagement but will also promote continued fine motor skill development.

The Guide to the Perfect Sensory Space

The school and classroom provide a wealth of sensory information. Whether or not your students have special needs, processing sensory information can be a real challenge and also impact their behavior (e.g. difficulty paying attention, sitting still, working cooperatively with others, etc.).

Sensory processing difficulties arise when the brain can’t sort, organize, or integrate sensory messages. It’s like a “traffic jam” in the brain, with a few snippets of sensory information “stuck in circulation”. When this happens, certain parts of the brain don’t receive the sensory information they need to do their job1.

Providing a sensory space helps students to calm down and is a way to avoid disorganization. It’s a simple solution for improving social-emotional behaviors and beneficial for cognitive development.

What is a sensory corner?

A sensory corner is a designated area inside your classroom that is dedicated to supporting the sensory development of all students. It allows the child to take refuge there completely independently. Their withdrawal into this space helps them regulate their emotions and energy level in order to be more available to learn and interact with others.

A sensory space stimulates the primary senses, sight, hearing, smell, touch, vestibular and proprioception without creating overload because the senses are chosen on a voluntary basis.

The benefits of a sensory corner clock

The very preciouses moments, lasting at least 15 minutes, improves mood management by taking care of one’s emotions, increasing feelings of security, and help reduce agitation and apathy (lack of energy). No wonder they allow for the improvement in attention and quality of concentration.

Regulating our senses is important in maintaining our mental and physical well-being and self-esteem. The sensory space allows for wonderful one-on-one or supports a moment of guided learning, if the space is sufficient to accommodate the adult and the child.

How to design a classroom sensory space tools

  • It must be welcoming, comfortable and a defined space. The area has boundaries and is large enough to accommodate at least one seat (armchair, cushion, carpet, etc.).
  • Make sure the child will be isolated from ambient noise or the hallway.
  • Make sure you can adjust the light intensity or filter it. Some children will seek intense light while others will benefit from dim lighting.
  • Try to find a corner of the class where the student can have some privacy, out of sight of their peers. To enclose this space, you could use a curtain or furniture such as a bookcase or shelf.
  • Ideally, provide storage for the items or equipment that your corner will offer. The space should not be overloaded with things.

The objective is to be able to immerse yourself in a “cocoon-bubble” atmosphere in order to experience better sensory stimulation and enjoy all the benefits.

The effectiveness of a sensory corner has nothing to do with your allocated budget. It’s therefore not necessary to invest in expensive and sophisticated equipment.

What equipment should you provide in your sensory corner?

Your sensory corner can evolve over time and according to the needs of your students. Here are some suggested items that can stimulate the senses.

Touch

Smell

  • An accessory or cushion that you can put a few drops of essential oils on (ex: lavender)
  • Scented putty
  • Small cotton sachet (for the bottom of a drawer) with different smells

Sight

You could display or make available inspirational thoughts, relaxing music, pictures to color, breathing strategies, a timer to give child perspectives about time.

And the most important part

Once your sensory space has been established, take the time to show it to your students and teach them how to use it, when, and why so that they understand the purpose of this space.

It’s also important to display the tools and resources available in the space. Don’t hesitate, for example, to demonstrate breathing techniques in a large group so that they know how to repeat them when alone.

Having a space like this is a great way to implement social-emotional learning strategies in your classroom.

And now, play on!

-The manimo team

1Sensory Spaces in School 2021. National Council for Special Education, NCSE-Sensory Spaces in Schools

RAPPER SNAPPERS AKA POP TUBES in purple, red, green, and blue

Therapy Activities On A Budget: Rapper Snappers

Rapper Snappers are a multi functional therapy tool perfect for creating fun, budget friendly therapy activities! In this post, Physical Therapist and creator of the ABCs of Movement, Laurie Gombash, PT, M.Ed, shared five different ways to use Rapper Snappers (also known as Pop Tubes) as a therapeutic tool.  Be sure to check out her video below!

Demonstration of rapper snapper activity:  pulling a pink rapper snapper open

Arm Strengthening

Place hands on either end of the Rapper Snapper and pull! Work with the arms overhead to target shoulder strength or work with arms away from the body to target core strength. Target different muscles of the upper body  by pulling in different directions. Try holding the rapper snapper in one hand, at hip level, and using the other hand to pull up and across the body. Alternatively, hold the rapper snapper at shoulder level and uses the other hand to pull down and across the body.

Pro Tip, using the fingers to scrunch the Rapper Snapper back to size is great for finger strengthening!

Self Regulation

Rapper Snappers are a fun way to learn about self regulation.  Help kids visualize concepts like fast breathing or rapid heart beat by opening and closing the Rapper Snapper rapidly. Alternatively, demonstrate slow or rhythmic breathing by slowly pulling apart  or closing the rapper snapper.

Pro Tip, the sound made by the Rapper Snappers as it is opening and closing provides great auditory feedback!

Demonstration of rapper snapper activity:  squeezing a pink rapper snapper closed

Fine Motor & Motor Planning 

Looking for a fun and engaging activity? Use Rapper Snappers to make a marble run!  Bend and twist the Rapper Snapper to make a maze, drop the marble in, and let it run through.  Using two or three fingers to grasp the marble and inserting it into the Rapper Snapper’s narrow opening is a great way to get the small muscles in the hand working.  Planning a successful maze for the marble to run through takes planning abilities!

Pro Tip: This activity can be done holding the Rapper Snapper and moving the marble through or you can use Velcro or other adhesives to adhere Rapper Snappers to a wall or other vertical surface. 

Demonstration of rapper snapper activity:  blowing into a pink rapper snapper

Oral Motor

Shape the Rapper Snapper like a smile and try to imitate it with your lips, now flip it upside down to make a frown!  Purse your lips, give a big blow, stick out your tongue!  There are so many ways to use a Rapper Snapper to help build and strengthen oral musculature! 

Academic Skills

Use the Rapper Snappers to build shapes, letters, and numbers. Connect multiple Rapper Snappers for bigger numbers or shapes. Work as a team to build a giant letter on the floor!  

Rapper Snappers are a small, easy to transport, budget friendly tool that can be used across multiple settings and to target a variety of treatment goals making them the perfect tool when creating therapy activities on a budget!

Watch the Video!