By: Sarah Attanasio OT/s and Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L
NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist
With the holiday season in full swing, families will soon be faced with the significant routine change that comes with school vacation. During this time, it is important to continue working on skills gained and techniques learned during school and therapy. Occupational therapy (OT) sessions often include activities to promote different skills, including visual perception, sequencing problem solving, and more! OTs also utilize movement activities to target sensory modulation, bilateral coordination, and force modulation to name a few. Here are some functional activities to do with your children at home to continue promoting skills learned in school and therapy while still getting into the holiday spirit.
Setting the table
OT skills addressed: visual perceptual skills, bilateral coordination, task sequencing, problem solving, force modulation, attention
Setting the table is an easy and functional way to promote the above essential life skills in the home environment. First, this task requires children to problem solve and decide what items they need to set the table. Children then scan their environment to locate and gather all necessary items. Next, children must safely carry all items to the table, which typically requires them to use both hands together. While doing this, they also scan their environment to make sure there are no obstacles in the way. Finally, children have to use an appropriate amount of force when placing items onto the table to ensure that these items do not break. They have to pay attention to the task at hand and problem solve where the correct spot on the table is for these items. To make this easier for children, try focusing on fewer skills, such as providing them with a picture of the proper place setting or laying items out on the counter already. To make this harder for children, have them carry heavy items to the table, such as a full pitcher of water or create obstacles for them to avoid on their way to the table.
OT skills addressed: meal prep skills, task sequencing, direction following, tool usage, bilateral coordination, force modulation, sensory integration
Baking cookies is not only an entertaining activity for children, but it also promotes many important life skills! Making cookies requires children to follow the directions of a recipe. It also requires children to pay attention and appropriately measure the correct amounts of ingredients. They also have to explore how to appropriately and safely utilize various tools, such as a measuring cup, whisk, spatula, cookie cutters, a hot baking tray, etc. Cookie dough may be an unpleasant texture for some children since it is gooey or sticky. This activity gives children the opportunity to explore an unpleasant texture and trial strategies, such as wearing gloves, taking deep breaths, taking turns manipulating dough, etc., to better tolerate interacting with various unpleasant textures. Rolling the dough using both hands together and utilizing cookie cutters are two great ways to encourage bilateral coordination and increase hand strength. To incorporate more skills into this activity, such as visual perceptual skills, have your child decorate the cookies with icing and/or sprinkles making sure they stay within the boundaries of the cookie.
Decorating with paper snowflakes
OT skills addressed: task sequencing, visual perceptual/motor skills, bilateral coordination, scissor skills, coloring skills, hand eye coordination, hand strengthening
Paper snowflakes are a holiday decoration staple, and the process of making them promotes various life skills. First, this task requires children to problem solve what kind of design they want their snowflake to be and fold the paper accordingly. They then are required to use their hands together to cut out their desired design while holding the paper in one hand and the scissors properly in the other hand. Try having your child draw a pattern on the snowflake for them to follow while cutting or coloring in their snowflake within the boundaries. This can be done once it is cut out to further promote visual perceptual/motor skills and hand eye coordination.
OT skills addressed: handwriting skills (grasp, letter formation/line placement/sizing/spacing/legibility, writing utensil usage, handwriting posture)
A handwritten note is a simple gesture that is always appreciated by all. Writing cards allows children to practice their handwriting skills in a functional way at home. First, it is important to maintain proper posture when doing any handwriting activity. Proper handwriting posture follows the 90-90-90 rule: feet are flat on the floor with ankles forming a 90-degree angle with the floor. Knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, and the hips and torso form a 90-degree angle. Using an elevated/slanted surface is also helpful in placing children in the optimal 15 degrees of wrist extension for handwriting activities. To promote proper grasp, have your child use broken crayons or a grip on their writing utensil. Provide your child with lined paper so they have a visual of where to place letters. The addition of a “worm line” underneath the bottom line is sometimes helpful for placing letters, such as g, j, p, q, and y. If handwriting is too high of a skill for your child, have them draw a picture including shapes, such as squares, triangles, and circles as these are necessary pre-writing skills to master.
Playing family games
OT skills addressed: rule following, turn taking, cooperative play
What better way to bond as a family than a family game night?! Games are great for children as they require rule following, tolerating an occasional change of rules, tolerating winning/losing, and turn taking. Many games also incorporate essential fine motor skills in terms of functional grasp, such as hi ho cherry-o, candy land, mancala, etc. and gross motor skills, including balance and coordination with games like twister, yoga games, ring tosses, etc.
Play in the snow
OT skills addressed: sensory modulation, force modulation, gross motor skills, proprioceptive input for body awareness
If we are lucky enough to get snow this holiday season, playing in the snow is a great, versatile activity for children. Have children engage in a friendly snowball fight or throw snowballs at targets. This will promote hand eye coordination and force modulation ensuring that they aren’t throwing snowballs too hard to the point where they hurt someone or break something. Have children make snow angels to promote bilateral coordination and body awareness. Ask them questions like: Does the snow feel cold or hot on your body? Where do you feel the snow on your body? Is the snow wet or dry? Does the snow smell/taste/sound like anything? This line of questioning promotes body awareness and sensory modulation. Shoveling snow is also a great functional (and helpful!) heavy work activity that provides children with proprioceptive input (pressure on their joints) to help them better understand where their body is in space and promote overall body/spatial awareness. Another great heavy work activity is making a snowman, as it requires children to use both of their arms together to push large, heavy balls of snow along the snow-covered ground. The possibilities of functional activities involving snow are endless!
This list offers just a few ideas of the many activities you can do with your children over school vacation. Many activities and games can be therapeutic and easily graded to any child. The trick is to find the just-right challenge to work on the skill area desired through fun and motivating means. We recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist for more activity ideas to motivate your child over break!
About the Author
Lauren Zeitler is a licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatric occupational and feeding therapy. Ms. Zeitler joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2020 to offer occupational therapy assessment and treatment for children of all ages, as well as to work in conjunction with Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, on the feeding team.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.