As a school-based occupational therapist, much of your job is focused on helping students to develop the skills necessary for everyday living. At the elementary school level, this often means helping children to develop basic fine and gross motor skills and balance. Continually developing new and interesting occupational therapy activities to incorporate into your occupational therapy job can be challenging…so we’ve curated a list for you!
- Object Tic-Tac-Toe – This traditional game can be played on a large scale for gross motor skills…it involves a big chalk Tic-Tac-Toe board drawn on a sidewalk or driveway. Use larger objects such as large toy trucks vs. cars, or stuffed bears vs. stuffed ducks. For fine motor skills, bring it down to table size, and use objects themed to the time of year. For example, pumpkins and turkeys in the fall, or plastic eggs and bunny toys in the spring.
- Cross the River – Have you ever seen a child that didn’t love to jump from one object to another? Cross the River is an activity perfect for occupational therapist to use in developing balance and gross motor skills. This game can be played indoors or out. Start with a large open space and place “rocks” on the floor. For safety, make sure the “rocks” are not going to slip (as the children will be jumping onto them.) Using masking tape or yarn to rope off the shape of a rock is a good alternative, and rubber mat squares also work well. Then, encourage the children to jump across the “rocks” to get from one side of the room or space to the other. As the children’s dexterity improves, increase the space between the “rocks.”
Fun at the Circus
Thanks to TheInspiredTreehouse.com for these circus-themed games!
- World’s Tallest Child – This activity helps an occupational therapist teach elementary-aged children to improve their balance. Starting with paper plates that the children have decorated with paint (so they aren’t perfectly flat), stack one plate on a child’s head, and keep stacking until the plates fall. See who can make the highest stack. As the children get more advanced, switch to something more challenging, like bean bags or dominoes.
- Circus Acrobats – In this activity, children will practice gross motor skills by “performing” as circus acrobats. Encourage them to do somersaults, cartwheels, hand stands, splits, etc… see who can do more than one in a row. This is also a great way to get out some pent up energy when the children are feeling restless.
- Tight Rope Walking – Place a piece of yarn or other string on the floor, and see if the children can hold their balance as they walk across the string. Once they have this mastered, try having them walk backwards (or even blind folded!) to increase the challenge of maintaining balance.
The idea of an intentional mess may make some occupational therapists cringe, but there is something to be said for allowing your students to get down and dirty every once in a while! Here are some great activities to get them started.
- Mud Pies – There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned mud pie to help with fine motor skills and increase the fun factor. Keep the mess to a minimum by using wash tubs for each student. Provide rocks and stones or other objects with different sizes and textures to allow the children to decorate or add “flavor” to their individual mud pies.
- Play Dough – Modeling clay is an excellent way to encourage elementary-aged children to develop fine motor skills while utilizing different textures. Encourage them to use different shapes and cookie cutters and even develop creativity by building things from scratch. Modeling clay now even comes in gluten free and soy free varieties (for your students with specific allergens.)
- Graffiti Wall – Cover one wall or area with a large piece of butcher paper. Using paints, stamps, crayons and other art supplies, allow the children to decorate the vertical surface. You can also do this on the underside of a table, and allowing the children to lie on their backs while they get creative.
Create your own (occupational therapy) Olympics with these fun and functional Olympic-themed activities.
- Clothing Relay Race – Parents often share with their child’s occupational therapist the concern that their child struggles to get dressed on their own. A great way to help the children learn practice this important everyday skill is through this fun activity. Gather up clean adult clothes including shirts, hats, shorts and socks. Make it more or less complex by including (or not including) clothes with buttons or buckles. Place the clothes on one end of the room and have the children race to the laundry basket and put on an item of clothing before running back. This can also be done in teams to make it a cooperation game.
- Balloon Volleyball – In this game, the occupational therapist provides a balloon to the students, and encourages them not to let the balloon hit the ground. Add more balloons as the children get better, or challenge them by not letting them use their hands.
- Balloon Tennis – In this activity, students use balloons and inexpensive plastic fly swatters to simulate a game of tennis. The game can be played in competition, or as a solo activity.
- Bean Bag Toss – For this game, you will need at least one bean bag, and a hula hoop. Each student holds a bean bag, spins around one time and then tosses the bean bag towards the hula hoop with the goal of making it into the ring. The activity can be made more or less challenging by adjusting distance or using different sized rings.
Have YOU tried any of these activities in your occupational therapy classroom? Do you have other “go-to” activities you would highly recommend? Please share your experiences here!
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