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An OT’s Five Favorite Therapy Tools That Won’t Break the Bank

The dollar store (or the clearance section at Target) are some of my favorite places to find fun, therapeutic activities to use in therapy. Here are just a few of my must haves and some activity suggestions!


1. Balloons:

• Eye-Hand Coordination: Use your hands or small tennis rackets to hit a balloon back and forth. This is a great way to work on eye-hand coordination and use of appropriate force with play. This is one of my favorite activities to do with kids! Balloons are a lot easier to visually track and catch than a ball. If your child is having trouble with catching a ball, try starting with a balloon.

• Cognition: You can add an extra mental challenge to this activity by working on skills like counting or categorizing while hitting the balloon. You can come up with lots of ideas to get kids thinking! Here are some examples:

– How many times can we keep the balloon up?
– Tell the child “Each time we touch the balloon we have to count by 2’s…or name a different color, sport, subject,” etc.

2. Shaving Cream:

• Sensory Exploration: Shaving cream is great to work on sensory exploration with kids. Let’s get messy! You should never force kiddos into sensory exploration. If they are not ready to explore the shaving cream with their hands, you can try these other great options:

– Use toy cars to zoom around in the shaving cream
– Use a paint brush to explore
– Or try beans, rice, or popcorn kernels that won’t stick to their hands (which are also all fairly inexpensive items to work with).

• Fine Motor/Visual Motor Skills: You can work on drawing shapes, letters, or numbers in shaving cream too. Adding the extra tactile experience helps little ones with motor planning and learning. Again, if the child is not comfortable using their hands allow them to use a paint brush…or place shaving cream in a large plastic bag and allow them to draw on the outside of the bag.

***Apparently, it’s also really fun/funny to try and wipe the shaving cream on their therapist! So, be prepared to get messy!

3. Stickers:

• Fine Motor Skills: I have yet to meet a kid that doesn’t love stickers. Stickers are a great and easy way to practice using a mature tip pinch pattern. This pattern is an important skill needed for self-feeding and eventually for emerging mature grasping patterns for holding a pencil, scissors, or feeding utensils. You can place small dots on a piece of paper to work on fine motor control for aiming, which is good practice for prewriting and coloring skills.

• Reward Charts: I also use stickers when using a visual reward chart. Make 5 boxes on a piece of paper. For each activity the child does, they get to pick and place a sticker in the box. Once their boxes are full, they get a reward (during OT it is usually play time in the gym or with a chosen toy). This is such a great motivator for kids!

4. Pom Pom Balls:

• Fine Motor Skills activity ideas:
– Use tip pinch patterns to pick up small pom pom balls. You can even add to the challenge by using tweezers.
– Place pom pom balls into a whisk and have your little ones use their tip pinch patterns to pull them out.
– Address counting or color coordinating by placing pom pom balls into containers of the same color.
– Arts and crafts… work on gluing them on a paper to make different designs, shapes, or letters!

5. Bubbles:

• Bubbles are my go-to when I have a kiddo that is having some difficulties with regulating their emotions. Bubbles are a great tool to use for self-calming. You can blow bubbles for the child or have them blow bubbles. Blowing bubbles works on breathing strategies, appropriate force regulation, and oral motor skills.

• Motor Control and Visual Motor skills: Bubbles are also a great tool to work on visually tracking items. This is an important skill for navigating environments safely and working on anything from ball skills to reading and writing. I will often catch bubbles on the wand and work on reaching to different areas (left, right, up, down) to pop bubbles using their index finger. You can also have kids use their hands to “clap” bubbles to address bilateral coordination skills or have them reach across midline to pop bubbles.

Being creative is the difference between therapy being fun for kids and therapy being work. You don’t have to have the most expensive toys out on the market for therapy to be beneficial. These are just a few ideas to get you started and to facilitate making therapeutic activities fun while also addressing important skills needed for successful development!

– Amber Applegate, M.S., OTR/L