Sugar Aunts
You may recall that we love handwriting activities around here.  It's a topic I've loved to cover since my days as a school-based Occupational Therapist. I love to take an activity that works on the skills needed for functional tasks and build them through creative play and development.  It's just fun to be creative!   

There are a ton of creative ways to build handwriting skills here.

But sometimes, all it takes to improve letter formation, line awareness, spatial skills, and overall legibility is practicing using the skills that have been built and developed through therapeutic activities.  

Today's post is a creative and fun way to sneak in practice on a daily basis.  We made this handwriting clipboard to work on written work with an alphabet theme.  It's one of the activities that we found in the (affiliate link) 101 Fun and Easy Learning Games for Kids  book that two fellow bloggers have recently published.  Read more about that here

sneaky handwriting ideas for kids who need to practice writing but just don't want to. This A-Z list can be taken anywhere for writing practice on the go!

A-Z Handwriting Activity for Kids 

Kids sometimes need a little motivation to practice and work on their handwriting.  A fun activity like this A-Z writing sheet can help.  Simply ask kids to write out a word for each letter of the alphabet, based on a single topic.  You might walk through a grocery store together while completing the week's shopping as your child writes out words of foods that he sees in the store.  You could take a walk in the park and come up with a list of A-Z words based on things you see and hear around you.  The possibilities are endless for this handwriting prompt.  

We decided that if we were to walk through a store and write out a list of items, we would need a clipboard or some kind of stable surface for writing.  From there, came our DIY cardboard clipboard!

DIY cardboard Clipboard

Make up one of these clipboards on the cheap and have a writing surface for all of your portable handwriting practice sessions. 

Cardboard (We used a recycled shirt box.)
Paper Clips

To make the cardboard clipboard: Cut the cardboard to the appropriate size.  Slice a hole  and thread ribbon into the cardboard.  You'll want the ribbon to be long enough for comfortable writing. Knot the ribbon.  Tie the other end of the ribbon to a pencil.  Attatch paper to the clipboard using paperclips.  Your cardboard clipboard is done!

Take the clipboards out and think of A-Z topics to write about while practicing handwriting.  Places and topics to include in an A-Z writing list might include:
Foods at the grocery store
Cars on the highway
Things at the park
Animals at the zoo
Things at the beach
Sights on vacation
Names of people
Book titles in the library
Toys in the toy store

Want MORE sneaky (and totally fun!) ways to incorporate handwriting into play and activities while making handwriting practice not-boring?  Try our Sensory Handwriting Summer Camp.  It's packed with a summer full of handwriting fun.

handwriting practice idea for kids with a DIY cardboard clipboard

sneaky handwriting ideas for kids who need to practice writing but just don't want to. This A-Z list can be taken anywhere for writing practice on the go!

What A-Z writing prompt lists can you think of?

Want to find more creative ways to learn through play and games?  Grab your copy of 101 Fun and Easy Learning Games for Kids .  This book is packed to the brim with creative learning ideas that are complimented with colorful images. You need this book!

This activity has been reprinted with permission from the publisher from book 100 FUN & EASY LEARNING GAMES FOR KIDS. I received a copy of the book from the publisher.

You'll love these handwriting activities

We're plugging along as the end of this school year arrives and the start of summer is right around the corner.  Are you ready for a summer with the kids?  It can be hard to stay on track with Occupational Therapy goals during the carefree days of summer.  This month, with the June Occupational Therapy calendar, I wanted to bring you easy ways to keep up on therapy goals.  

There is nothing better than the whole family getting involved with a game or an outing. Family time is memory-making time and so this month's  Occupational Therapy calendar is focused around family activities.  

In fact, I've created a whole summer of OT activities that the get the family involved!  These are sensory-based treatment activities that build on skills that may make up your child's Occupational Therapy goals.  The nice thing about these activities is that you can adjust the activity to meet individual goals. 

June Occupational Therapy calendar of activities for the family

June's calendar is a quick download.  You can get it by joining our mailing list. You'll want to then grab your Summer Occupational Therapy Family Activities handbook.  It's a huge resource of sensory-based family activities that will last the whole summer.
Summer Occupational Therapy Family activities

Add to Cart

Here's what you get in the handbook for only $3.99:
  • A summer plan of Occupational Therapy activities
  • 71 Activites based on sensory systems including:
  • 34 Proprioception activites 
  • 18 Vestibular activities 
  • 13 Tactile activities 
  • 6 Oral Defensiveness activities
  • Each activitiy is family friendly and designed to get the whole family involved in therapy activities and goals.
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The playground offers a unique environment.  There is so much development and therapeutic growth that can happen in an environment like a playground.  With it's slides and swings, surroundings, slope, surfaces, and colors, no two playgrounds are exactly alike.  Just as all playgrounds are different,the childhood development that can occur using the equipment at a playground is vast.  

This month in the Functional Skills for Kids series, ten Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists have teamed up to discuss the playground and childhood.  

The links below will guide you through childhood development of capabilities at the playground, the fine motor development that can occur at a park, gross motor requirements for safety and independence, sensory therapy strategies that can be done at the playground, modification ideas, playground games for extending therapy, rules to break for developing progress, social skills that occur at the playground, and visual skill development that can develop at a playground.

What a resource for families and therapists!

The ultimate guide to kids on the playground, including fine motor, gross motor, visual skill, and social skill development, sensory integration therapy, modifications, and more.

Stop by to see all of the playground posts from the Functional Skills for Kids team:

The ultimate guide to kids on the playground, including fine motor, gross motor, visual skill, and social skill development, sensory integration therapy, modifications, and more.

Try these outdoor play ideas:


Teach kids how to use a zipper. It can be a complicated process.  Managing two hands together at the belly level, using one hand to hold down the zipper chamber AND the zipper pull AND the end of the zipper...all while the OTHER hand is holding the end of the zipper and trying to thread it into the's a motor planning process that requires a few essential skills to say the least.  The simple act of zippering a coat requires: bilateral coordination, finger isolation, open thumb web space, separation of the two sides of the hand (on BOTH hands), motor planning, pinch strength, eye-hand coordination, pincer grasp, and tripod grasp (most often of the non-dominant hand). Whew! It's no wonder that teaching kids how to zipper can be such a complicated  orchestration of fine motor skills

I have a few zipper activities coming your way, and first up is this bread tie zippering activity.  It's a fun way to work on they physical skills needed for managing a zipper, using items you probably have in the house.
Teach kids how to use a zipper and Help kids learn how to zipper clothing using recycled materials that you probably have in your house. This activity works on all of the individual skills needed for the motor planning of zippering a zipper and uses just a ribbon and plastic bread ties.

Skills Needed for Zippering a Zipper

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There are some nice quality zipper tools out there that will help your child learn how to zipper clothing.  Some of the best products are ones that encourage a child to become independent while practicing the skills needed to learn how to use a zipper and fasten clothing. Looking for manufactured zipper tools?  Try a zipper board, a clothing fastener vest, or a fun cargo vest with zippers for creative play and zipper practice.

Here are all of those skill areas needed for managing a zipper.  Click on each link for creative activities to build these skills:

So, you could purchase zippering products online to practice zippering, struggle with a difficult coat, or use what you've got:
Plastic bread ties

Teach kids how to use a zipper and Help kids learn how to zipper clothing using recycled materials that you probably have in your house. This activity works on all of the individual skills needed for the motor planning of zippering a zipper and uses just a ribbon and plastic bread ties.

And, that's all you need to practice zippering in a fun way.

To practice zippering with trash.

I mean, "tools". Really, the kids will get a kick out of this and practice the motor skills needed to pinch a zipper, hold down the end of the zipper, and the really tough part of the process: separating the tow sides of the hand holding the zipper chamber.  And, recycling those plastic bread ties makes trash into a treasured moment when a kiddo can shout, "I did it!" then next time they zipper their jacket. 

Teach kids how to use a zipper and Help kids learn how to zipper clothing using recycled materials that you probably have in your house. This activity works on all of the individual skills needed for the motor planning of zippering a zipper and uses just a ribbon and plastic bread ties.

Bread Tie Zipper Activity

This simple ribbon activity uses plastic bread ties.  First, knot both ends of a wide ribbon.  Pinch the ribbon and slide the bread ties onto the ribbon.  That's it; your zipper tool is done. 

Next, we're going to practice.  To help kids learn to zipper (a real zipper),  they need to hold the bottom of the zipper while the other side is engaged into the chamber. They need to hold the bottom of the zipper between the thumb and middle/ring fingers while pinching the chamber down with the thumb and pointer finger. 

Use the ribbon to practice this skill by holding the ribbon down strait and taunt and pinching a bread tie between the thumb and pointer finger.  We held the ribbon tightly in a couple of ways: You can pin the ribbon to your child's shirt, or have them hold the end of the ribbon under their chin. The latter method allows them to look down while they are completing the coordinated movements, much like zippering requires. 

Then, use the other hand to pull the zipper ties all the way up and all the way down the length of the ribbon.

You could (and should!), of course, practice zippering a coat during trips outside, and during non-busy/non-rushed periods of the day.  However, this simple activity makes working on the individual parts of zippering a little more fun.  Add this activity to typical zippering practice to work on those skills.

Help kids learn how to zipper clothing using recycled materials that you probably have in your house. This activity works on all of the individual skills needed for the motor planning of zippering a zipper and uses just a ribbon and plastic bread ties.

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Don't forget to visit all of the creative ways to work on the skills needed for independence with zippering:

pincer grasp, and 

You'll love these DIY self-care hacks: 
What is finger isolation and how do these adorable button rings help build fine motor skills?  If there is ever an easy craft that you and the kids make, this is it.  These button rings are as cute as they are effective in developing the skills needed for tasks like maintaining a pencil grasp, shoe tying, and managing clothing fasteners.

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What is finger isolation? Use these button rings to work on using fingers one at a time in fine motor activities with kids!

What is finger isolation? 

Finger isolation is the ability to isolate and use the fingers one at a time in functional tasks. Counting one finger at a time, finger games like "Where is Thumbkin?", and typing on a keyboard require finger isolation.  

Many small children are efficient at using tablets and phone apps with finger isolation.  When kids are scrolling the screen, they are using finger isolation.  However, when a child uses their finger in isolation on a tablet, they typically use only one finger (the index finger) and do not exert strength on the screen.  

Finger isolation typically develops in the baby at around 6 months of age as they begin to pick up small pieces of cereal. It progresses to pointing, and then separation of the two sides of the hand with in-hand manipulation. Finger isolation is so important in fine motor dexterity in every task that the hands perform. 

How do you help fine motor skills?

SO, how can you build and develop finger isolation?  There are many ways to build finger isolation skills. Get a ton of ways to develop finger isolation skills here.

These super cute button rings are a craft that my kids loved making.  They wore these rings every day for a while there. (This mom did, too!)

You'll need just a few items for this craft:
Pipe cleaners
Buttons (We had a bunch in our sewing supplies, but used buttons we received from, too).

What is finger isolation? Use these button rings to work on using fingers one at a time in fine motor activities with kids!

To make the rings, cut the pipe cleaners into small pieces.  You'll want them small enough to fit little fingers, but a little longer in order to add the buttons.  Thread the buttons onto one end of the pipe cleaner.  Twist the two ends together and tuck the end of the pipe cleaner on the outside of the ring (so it won't rub up against the skin).

You can add extra buttons and layer different colored buttons for fun rings. 

When wearing the rings, incorporate finger isolation by placing rings on different fingers.  Ask your child to hold up the finger with a specific colored button or pipe cleaner.  Try tapping fingers with the rings one at a time by calling out a colored ring and asking your child to play a "SIMON" type of memory game.  

How would you use these button rings to help with finger isolation skills?

What is finger isolation? Use these button rings to work on using fingers one at a time in fine motor activities with kids!

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You'll love these fine motor activities, too:
It can be frustrating as a therapist and parent to have a child or client with sensory integration needs when therapy equipment resources are unavailable or too expensive for home or treatment spaces.  It would be nice to refer a child to a fully equipped sensory integration gym but sometimes that is just not possible.  Children with sensory needs may receive therapy only in the school setting or at home in early intervention and would benefit from overhead swivel swings, balance beams, and bolsters.  There is a way around this expensive therapy equipment and it involves a trip to the local playground.  Try sensory integration therapy strategies at the playground.

Try these sensory integration therapy ideas at the playground for vestibular and proprioceptive sensory input.

Sensory Integration Therapy at the Playground

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First, and most importantly, it is necessary to receive an assessment and therapist recommendations from an Occupational Therapist.  Specific strategies meeting the individual's needs are needed for safety and appropriate intervention.  Sensory integration therapy can be detrimental for the child with gravitational insecurity or the child who becomes overly responsive to vestibular input. Always consult an Occupational Therapist for individualized recommendations.  The child's therapist can make appropriate recommendations while guiding the child rather than pushing interactions on playground equipment.

Read more HERE about sensory systems and hyper- and hypo-responsiveness to sensory input. 

It is important to note that simply going to the playground to play is not effective sensory integration therapy.  A typically developing child with appropriate sensory integration responses is provided with the sensory input he needs simply through the function of play.    The child with sensory integration dysfunction has difficulty processing sensory input and can not respond to play in a way that is organizing and appropriate.  The sensory information that a child with sensory processing disorder needs specific interventions to meet his needs (Ayres, 1979). 

What is Sensory Integration therapy?

Sensory integration processes information from our environment and our body in order to organize sensory input and allow us to respond appropriately.  Sensory integration organizes information from our eyes, ears, joints, skin, mouth, nose, and our body's position in space.  It allows our body to pull all of this information together to enable us to respond to sensory input in purposeful function. 

When there is a problem with sensory integration, the brain does not process or appropriately organize the sensory information in a way that provides allows for effective behavior. Without effective sensory integration, a person feels uncomfortable about himself and responds to ordinary environmental demands with stress (Ayres, 1979).

There are many functional skills that are diminished as a result of sensory integration difficulties: "Children with sensory integration impairments may have difficulty orienting to and registering sensory input, filtering stimuli, or habituating to familiar stimuli.  They may struggle to organize a response to the sensory environment that is logical and appropriate from an observer's viewpoint.  With inaccurate sensory processing in the CNS, praxis and motor output impairments may manifest in delayed gross and fine motor development and diminished sensory discrimination abilities (such as visual perception, tactile discrimination, and auditory discrimination)." (Tomchek, 2001)

In Sensory Integration Therapy, a therapist guides the child into activities that help the child organize sensory information and allow the child to perform adaptive responses.  Therapy is a manner of helping the child to function with through activities that the child wants to do.  While sensory integration therapy involves many aspects that should be completed in various environments (such as vibration, deep pressure, joint compressions, brushing, as well as gustatory and olfactory sensory activities), there are SI therapy ideas that can be done at the playground that challenge or meet the needs of some children, depending on their specific needs. 

Try these sensory integration therapy ideas at the playground for vestibular and proprioceptive sensory input.

Vestibular and Proprioceptive Sensory Input at the Playground

The playground provides equipment in a natural environment that can effectively address vestibular needs.  Some children may need to arouse his vestibular system.  Children with typical sensory integration are able to determine their body's position in space and determine the amount of force needed for play.  The child with sensory processing disorders can not sense how to play on equipment that challenges his sensory systems.  Use playground equipment to provide vestibular and proprioceptive input in these ways:

  • Swings- Full body movements can be developed through gravitational insecurity on the swings.  Lying in a prone (superman) position on the swings is organizing in a forward/back motion on the swings. Slow swinging in the prone position helps to normalize a child with tactile defensiveness.  
  • Swings- Encourage the child to look up in front of them and even toss bean bags into a bucket. Ask the child to notice things around them in the playground area and play games like "I Spy" while slowly swinging back and forth in the prone position.  
  • Swings- Spinning on playground swings requires strength of the arms and upper body to maintain an upright position.  The vestibular stimulation received from spinning is intense and shouldn't be utilized for more than 10 minutes. 
  • Swings- Position the child sideways in the swing so the swings are straddling the seat of the swing.  Children can then be slowly pushed side to side as well as front-to-back. 
  • Slide- Riding down a slide promotes use of position in space as the child holds themselves up against the pull of gravity.   
  • Slide- Another idea for using the slide in sensory integration therapy is to have the child lay prone on the slide without movement.  Use the upward ramp of the slide as a positioner for art creation or eye-hand coordination games like rolling a tennis ball up the slide and catching it as it rolls back down. 
  • Slide- Walking and crawling up the slides while looking upward is a test of gravity while encouraging bilateral coordination and core body strength.
  • Tunnels- Encourage crawling and scooting through playground tunnels with eyes up and looking out of the tunnel so that the child's head and neck are resisting gravity and vision is guiding movement. 
  • Merry-go-round- Spinning on a merry-go-round can be done in a seated, prone, or supine position.  Holding onto the bars and maintaining upright posture is a strengthening exercise and a source of proprioceptive input. 
  • Balance Beam- Balance beams can be used in obstacle courses and are a great source of vestibular and proprioceptive input while encouraging visual changes.  Show the child how to look up forward as they walk along a balance beam.
  • Steps- Many playground equipment sets have small sets of steps to reach different levels.  Children can climb the steps, using the banister for support if needed.  Try having the child pull themselves up the steps using the banister for a change in body and head position that promotes proprioceptive input, using the body's weight against gravity.
  • Picnic Bench-Lying prone on the seat of the picnic bench while the hands are dropped to the ground is a way to work against gravity through the arms in a ball tossing game, or drawing in the dirt with a stick.  Ask the child to scoot forward on the bench so that they need to work harder for efficiency of the vestibular system and against gravity. This type of activity promotes use of the eyes in an activity while the back, arms, head, and neck are used against gravity and help to build visual perception. 
  • Vertical Ladder- Climbing a ladder to monkey bars requires strength, bilateral coordination, and provides vestibular input.  Using the child's own body weight is effective in providing proprioceptive input.  Children can look up with neck extension to further adjust vestibular receptor response to movement in space.
  • Ramps-  Many playgrounds have ramps built in within the playground. Crawling, scooting, walking toe-to-toe, and sliding up and down these ramps provide many different sensory input opportunities.  Try rolling a ball up or down these ramps into a target or to a friend.
Other children may require vestibular sensory input in order to modulate excessive vestibular activity and will avoid equipment that provides a sense of gravitational insecurity.  These children tend to avoid movement and changes in position.  In these cases, children should be guided by an Occupational Therapist in treatment techniques that allow modulation of vestibular input. 

Try these sensory integration therapy ideas at the playground for vestibular and proprioceptive sensory input.

A word of caution about vestibular sensory input:

Vestibular sensory input can have a late-effect on children.  They may not appear to respond to sensory input immediately, so children should be monitored and carefully watched for the effects of vestibular stimulation. Vestibular input (especially spinning) can evoke a powerful response in children and too much input can be overwhelming and disorganizing for children. These tools can be overpowering for children and the children should always be monitored for overreactions to sensory input.  It is for this reason that sensory integration strategies at the playground should be initiated by an Occupational Therapist.  The OT can train parents, teachers, or student aides in appropriate sensory strategies at the playground, all while making adaptations to the vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile experiences. 

Continued play over and over again on playground equipment in manners that are designed to integrate the sensory systems can help the child with sensory processing disorders to respond appropriately through memories of motor plans.  The sensory experiences at the playground can have a lasting impact on organization of sensory integration.  

The playground provides a wide variety of opportunities for movement through crawling, climbing, reaching, swinging, and sliding.  The playground provides a fun environment for establishing confidence in the child's response to movement activities. 

This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids series that myself and  nine other Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapists are completing.  Each month, we are covering a different childhood function.  You can see all of the past topics here.

Stop by to see all of the playground posts from the Functional Skills for Kids team:

Ayres, A. J. (1979). Sensory integration and the child. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.
Tomchek, S.D. (2001). Assessment of individuals with an autism spectrum disorder utilizing a sensorimotor approach. In R.A. Heubner (Ed.), Autism: A sensorimotor approach to management (pp. 103-138). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers

Looking for more ways to add sensory play to your day?  Try these favorites: