What an OT does for fun…part 1

I can’t help myself on this snowy day to scour the internet for fun therapy toys. After multiple Apert  families ask for toy ideas for their little ones… I see a toy in just about anything. Try for a second to think like a kid. Anything that makes a cool new sound or has an interesting texture can be used for fine motor enhancement or sensory integration (2 major components of your child’s occupational therapy experience). You see, Apert hands are pretty amazing.


Currently, my sons hands are fingerless. He doesn’t seem to care at all. He bends his wrist and holds my hand with his paw of a hand. It is absolutely the most precious thing. In a few short months my little man will get a few fingers after a 5 hour surgery. Three months after that he will get the rest of them, Lord willing. The crazy thing is – he will be missing the middle joint (proximal interphalangeal joint or PIP) in each finger – only your thumb does not naturally have this joint. This will make things like grasping and pinching more difficult for Jack – but definitely not impossible. I know he will amaze us by what he’ll learn to do and compensate. The reality is though, that he will have to work hard to do the things that you and I don’t even think about.

Some things for moms with Apert babies to know when thinking about fine motor skills:

1) Coordination comes from the center— out. So you start with the core (abs, back, neck) and move out to your shoulders, then down to the hands and wrists, and lastly, fingers. Weightbearing is a term that means positioning your child in an intentional way to increase the sensory input in that limb. “tummy time” is a prime example of this. It encourages children to put weight on their whole arms, legs, increases neck strength and back strength which in turn strengthens the abdomen. All this sensory input is crucial for the child to learn how to crawl and for the baby to learn how to move all four limbs.  If being flat on their stomach is too difficult for them, try putting them on the arm of couch (with your supervision) on an exercise ball (always with their elbows tucked in under their shoulders and chest). You could also have them lay on your chest and recline yourself back if they are motivated by your face/talking to them). Much much more to say on this subject. Please comment with questions or further suggestions. )I am forcing myself to stop here or you would be reading a textbook – hehe).

2) One thing I have learned as both a mom and a therapist is that one toy does not fit all. One method does not work for each child. Each one of us is unique in our interests and motivators. So keep trying different things and don’t be discouraged. Give your child a chance to catch on to what you are trying to have them do when you introduce a new toy. Let your child go at their own pace while continuing to challenge them at the next step. Don’t be trapped by the toys with all the bells and whistles either. Sometimes something as simple as cheerios or a bottle will be motivating enough for your little one. Also, older toys often encourage children’s imagination. If you don’t have nesting cups, try measuring cups for example. A great cheap toy is cutting a slit on the top of an oatmeal container and having your child (an older child) use it as a piggy bank with either coins or plastic chips. This is great for various grasps and pinching, hand/eye coordination, counting, sorting, orientation, etc…

3) Then there’s christmas and you just really want to buy your baby a toy that they will love and has lights and music and will make them dance and sing… all while being therapeutic. And let me tell you there are toys for that!  Here is the beginning of a wonderful collection of great toys that have caught my eye.

Bingo: older kids enjoy games like this and SO many more. little chips and other things that require them to pick up off a flat table are good for pinch/grasp
stacking: brings hands to midline, eye/hand coordination, sequencing, grasp/release
stacking: brings hands to midline, eye/hand coordination, sequencing, grasp/release
Younger children love the surprise so much they don’t even realize that they are working of fine motor skills
My favorite toy for pinch, grasp, isolated finger coordination, etc...
My favorite toy for pinch, grasp, isolated finger coordination, etc…
Sorting toys like this are great for cognition and fine motor skills. Look for the ones with knobs for an easier grasp
chalk has a great sensory feedback to the child’s hand. It requires more strength than markers which is good if your child needs that. If chalk is too difficult, scale back to crayons or markers… but keep working toward chalk. Also, a vertical surface (on a wall) will be easier to write on than on a horizontal (table or floor) surface. The triangular shape is easier to grasp than cylinder, and the larger the medium the easier to hold as well. Keep variour sizes and shapes to continue to challenge your little one as well.
OT’s are functional people. We like our kids to be as independent as possible. Boards like this help teach how to button, zip, tie, snap… all kinds of things.
My little guy loves toys like this that he can eat and hear rattle around. As he grows, he will also be able to practice grasp/release to put things inside the pelicans beak and tummy. Ingenious toy right here.
If one kind of rattle doesn’t work for you, try another!
I cannot stress how wonderful stamps are for grasp/release, hand strength and coordination… great activity for pre school aged kids getting ready for school!
stack stack stack! All shapes and sizes…
Us OT’s use threading beads onto string a lot in determining how good fine motor skills are. This skill requires good eye/hand coordination, good grasp/release, good pinching skills and sequencing abilities. Start with bigger beads and lace and work your way to a smaller one. Don’t worry if they can’t do it or can only do three… keep at it! Boys and girls can do this too.. not just for the ladies 🙂
Musical instruments are SOOO great for fine motor abilities and much more. Piano, recorder, drums, xylophone… even music apps on your ipad!

All toys were found at melissaanddoug.com or amazon.com (search “toys for fine motor skills”)

This is by no means an exhaustive tutorial on how to help your child’s fine motor skills improve or list of toys… come back to the site as I continue adding new fun things and tidbits from a new OT and a new mom 🙂


2 thoughts on “What an OT does for fun…part 1”

  1. Shannon, I really love this so much! Thank you so much for writing this up! I have a question about tummy time. B really does not love it and is not very good at it yet. It seems that his shoulders and elbows have trouble getting into the right position. I am not sure of the range of motion with his shoulders yet, but it seems that they don’t rotate much and he possibly can not extend his arms above his shoulders (yet!). Any tips on helping him to get in position better? Thanks so much for all your help. I am so excited to see all the amazing things our boys are going to do! 🙂

  2. I love what you shared about therapy! I agree with it and understand what you were talking about, I have ben exposed to am entirely different way of thinking since we have special meds in our family! It’s wonderful! We discover learning in everything! Jack has a great advantage with you as a mom!
    We do ABM method alternative therapy for Sylvia. It deals with nerve therapy and reflexes over repeated exercises.

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