Ten Occupational Therapy At-Home Activities For Children
Home-based occupational therapy is a chance to integrate therapy into a child's daily life and routine. Sessions take place in their natural environment, giving kids and caregivers a sense of comfort, and oftentimes toys and supplies from the home are used which helps with more a seamless transition of therapy program recommendations. At-home OT can also be a great supplement to clinic-based sessions and is particularly helpful for children under three, as the home is their primary environment for their daily activities: eating, bathing, playing and socializing.
Occupational therapists also encourage functioning and independence with personal goals across all environments. It’s through occupational therapy home programs that families, parents, and teachers are encouraged to get involved with a child’s goals so they can accomplish skills at home, in the classroom, and community.
Below our team of occupational therapists share suggestions for fun and simple occupational therapy activities families can do at home. From working on fine motor skills to improving core strength to encouraging messy play, these therapeutic activities will help promote independence and develop life skills.
Incorporate Regular and Frequent Movement Breaks
This can look different based on the age of the child, but some examples include log rolling, bear crawling, jumping up and down on a trampoline, and swinging.
The benefit: Just like adults, kids attention can wane when their bodies have to remain still and quiet for long periods of of time. Incorporating movement breaks can support children to maintain concentration and attention and regulate their energy levels. Movement is essential for the development of gross and fine motor skills, physical fitness, language and communication, and learning.
Create a Letter Bead Necklace
For this activity, have your child find the letters of his or her name on letter beads. Hide their selected letter beads in Play-Doh and so they can work on finding them. Once they find all the beads, they can create a necklace!
The benefits: Promotes bilateral integration (the ability to coordinate both sides of the body for a purposeful action) and fine motor skills (the use of the small muscles controlling the hand, fingers, and thumb).
Find the Cotton Ball
Place cotton balls within a whisk, and have your child pull them out from between the wire loops.
The benefits: Promotes fine motor skills and visual perception skills (the ability to give meaning to what a person is seeing).
Clean the Windows
Fill a spray bottle with water and have them “clean” the windows! They can also spray a sponge with a spray bottle and then practice wringing out the sponge. Encourage your child to change their positions often – switching between standing, sitting and kneeling.
The benefits: Upper extremity strengthening (shoulders, arms, hands) and an independent, active daily living skill that contributes to the social environment of the family.
Cleaning can be considered “heavy work” which provides information to our muscles and then gives feedback to our bodies about where they are in space - a sense called proprioception. Proprioceptive input can also help calm a child and help them focus and attend to a desired activity.
Create an Ornament
You can create a fun decoration while your child can practice cutting simple shapes! With adult supervision, you can use a hole punch to punch holes along the perimeter and lace the shape to create an ornament.
The benefits: Encourages participation in cultural and/or family celebrations, social engagement and communication skills.
Promotes fine motor skills and visual motor integration, which includes visual perception and fine motor coordination (the controlled physical movement of the fingers and hand).
Singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”
Have your child sit on the floor, facing either the adult or another child, each holding onto one end of a jump rope or onto each other’s wrists. As both sing the song, one person leans back as the other leans forward and then the opposite, similar to a see-saw motion.
The benefits: Social engagement (tip: singing along with a caregiver increases interest and engagement), language and communication skills
Sensory regulation: singing a familiar song can be calming for children
Coordination: use of arms to imitate the “row” and balancing on a ball to engage the core as they “float on the river”
Practice a Kangaroo Kick
To practice, you will need a large therapy ball or a similar-sized bouncy ball. Have your child lie on back with their feet in the air, forearms resting on the surface. You can throw a large therapy ball toward the child’s feet, encouraging them to kick the ball upward and back towards you.
The benefits: Engages core abdominal muscles including the trunk, stomach, and pelvic area.
Decreased core strength can affect several areas of development. It may be difficult to balance, perform coordinated movements on both sides of the body, sit up straight in a chair, hold a pencil, control scissors or jump without a strong core.
Play Indoor Limbo
Limbo isn’t just a party game! Use items around your house, like a broom between two chairs, to play a round of limbo.
The benefits: Activates core abdominal muscles, encourages turn-taking and social engagement with playmates and caregivers, and promotes gross motor coordination and balance.
Create a Papier-Mâché Piñata
To create a papier-mache pinata, dip strips of newspaper into papier-mâché flour/water mixture and places them on an inflated balloon. Cover the entire surface except for a small opening at the top and leave it to harden for at least 24 hours. Once it’s dry, use the small opening at the top for popping the balloon. Paint and decorate the pinata, and fill with candy for a fun surprise!
The benefits: Social engagement with family in a cultural activity, promotes communication skills, fine motor skills (e.g., pinching and tearing paper), and upper extremity strengthening and visual skills (e.g., swinging bat at pinata).
Make your Own Playdough
Making playdough is not only enjoyable for kids, but it also addresses many important skills. Mix flour, water, salt, food coloring, and vegetable oil together. Have your child participate in mixing using their fingers or a spoon. If they do not like the feeling of touching the material, allow them to use a utensil, like a spoon, to help stir. Reassure the child by showing them it is safe to touch the messy items and keep a towel nearby to allow them to wipe their own hands.
The benefits: Cognitive skills: sequencing and following the steps of the recipe
Sensory skills: tactile (touch) input during messy play, helping reduce sensitivity to touch. Tactile sensitivity is when a child is bothered by different types of touch. This occurs because the touch receptors in the child’s skin feel different forms of touch more than the typical person.
Hand strengthening: pinching, squeezing and rolling
Visual motor skills: creating shapes, letters, and imitating forms with dough