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What do occupational therapists do on a daily basis? (Part 2)

Whether your child is just starting therapy or they have been in therapy for years I’m sure you’ve wondered…what is occupational therapy? What do pediatric occupational therapists do? Do they help my child with job skills?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The name can be somewhat misleading, especially when it comes to pediatrics. But did you know, it’s all in the name? Occupational therapy is based on occupation, or how you “occupy” your time. For children, play is how they occupy most of their time. Play is their number one occupation even if that play looks different for each child.

In other words, pediatric occupational therapists help children play! But what else do they do? Play doesn’t occupy all of their time. Pediatric occupational therapists also help children with the following skills we will talk about in part 2 of this article!

  • Strengthening
  • Handwriting
  • Sensory Processing
  • Social skills
  • Executive functioning
  • Life skills


Strengthening includes building up muscle strength and endurance in order to engage in functional tasks with increased core, hand, shoulder, and neck strength. Pediatric occupational therapists come up with fun and creative ways to help children develop strength.

  • Rolling, squeezing, or manipulating play dough
  • Squeezing tweezers or tongs
  • Spraying with a spray bottle
  • Building with blocks
  • Finding hidden objects in TheraPutty
  • Popping bubble wrap
  • Squeezing sponges
  • Crumbling  or tearing paper or tissue paper
  • Monkey bars
  • Scooter board
  • Coloring


Pediatric occupational therapists help to evaluate and identify underlying components of handwriting such as poor postural control, muscle strength, motor planning, visual memory, or endurance. A lot of therapists teach children how to copy simple or complex pre-writing shapes such as lines, circles, squares, rectangles, diamonds, and other shapes or patterns. They also focus on more complex forms of handwriting such as writing uppercase or lowercase letters, numbers, and writing sentences.

Sensory Processing

Sensory processing is the ability to process input from the environment. This can include sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight. Pediatric occupational therapists work with children and parents to increase processing and tolerance of such input when it disrupts patterns of daily routine. Therapists will establish a sensory diet dependent on a child and their needs. Sensory diets include physical activities for children to implement into their daily routine to help with self regulation and sensory processing needs. Some examples of sensory diet activities include the following:

  • Swinging
  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Sliding
  • Biking
  • Lifting weights
  • Calming space or environment
  • Music
  • Finger painting
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Animal walks
  • Climbing a rock wall
  • Monkey bars
  • Crash pad
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Deep breaths
  • Hanging upside down
  • Pushing/pulling something heavy
  • Playing in shaving cream
  • Rolling up in a blanket
  • Weight vest, lap pad, or blanket
  • Compression vest or sheet

Social Skills

Social skills involve making friends, getting along with peers, and understanding social contexts or cues. Pediatric occupational therapists help children achieve such social skills through play, social groups, or social stories.

Executive Functioning

Executive functioning involves decision making, planning, organization, and task initiation. This is a component of self regulation that also impacts the ability to attend, follow, or complete directions. Pediatric occupational therapists work with children to plan, initiate, and complete steps of activities for increased independence at home, school, and in the community. Examples of executive functioning tasks might include the following:

  • Board games
  • Interlocking puzzles
  • Following direction worksheets
  • Simon Says
  • Crafts

Life Skills

Life skills include time management, money management, and meal preparation. Pediatric occupational therapists typically work with pre-teen or adolescent age children to become as independent as possible in life skill tasks. Some examples of  life skill activities include the following:

  • Folding laundry and putting it away
  • Identifying coin and bill amounts
  • Making a simple purchase
  • Learning to tell time
  • Making a simple snack or meal
  • Completing daily chores

As you can see, pediatric occupational therapists not only love to teach children to play, but to become as functional and independent in other occupations of life as well. Should you have any questions about pediatric occupational therapy and the skilled intervention therapists provide please don’t hesitate to reach out to your therapist. We would love to answer any questions you might have!


Christa Olson, MS, OTR/L
Pediatric Occupational Therapist