Children can benefit greatly from occupational therapy in school. However, the challenge often lies in keeping them engaged and motivated. Although it can vary, some students may feel stigmatized and frustrated about their challenges.
As an occupational therapist in a school, the key to fostering cooperation and enthusiasm is to infuse therapy sessions with fun. There are lots of ways you can incorporate therapy focused on developing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and sensory regulation, while still keeping the session exciting. In this article, you will learn about the many benefits of play in school-based occupational therapy, as well as how to make occupational therapy fun for your students.
10 fun occupational therapy games and activities for school children
These engaging occupational therapy activities not only serve therapeutic purposes, but also help ensure that students look forward to their sessions.
1. Draw or paint pictures
Drawing or painting allows children to express themselves while working on their fine motor skills. Providing them with different mediums, such as crayons, colored pencils, or watercolors, can cater to various skill levels. As they grip brushes or pencils, they strengthen their hand muscles. The act of creating can also be therapeutic in itself, boosting self-esteem and providing a sense of accomplishment.
2. Play a board game
In today’s tech-driven world, board games might seem old fashion. They do, however, offer significant therapeutic potential. Games, such as Connect Four and Operation, can help students with fine motor skills, such as developing a mature pincer grasp. There is also a great variety of traditional board games that focus on building memorization and critical thinking skills.
Even if there is not a designated therapy room at the school where you work, most board games do not take up much space and are portable enough to be used in a small office space.
3. Use playdough or putty to create shapes and objects
Manipulating playdough or putty is not only fun, but also a fantastic way to develop hand strength and coordination. Children can mold it into various shapes, objects, or even letters, promoting creativity while working on their fine motor skills. The tactile, sensory-rich activity experience can also be soothing for many students, helping them to be more relaxed as they practice skills that have the potential to be frustrating.
4. Practice skills using a tablet or video game
Tablets and iPads can be especially beneficial when working with children in a school setting. Letter writing apps, for instance, can enhance fine motor skills by guiding children on letter formation. Occupational therapy games focused on sequencing will emphasize how to follow multi-step instructions.
The portability of these devices allows for therapy on-the-go, and in some cases, students can continue their therapy at home. Engaging them with a gaming device can be the perfect way to capture their interest, with games available to boost fine motor skills, problem-solving abilities, and attention span.
5. Sensory Bins
Occupational therapy in preschool settings often involves sensory bins filled with items like rice, beans, or sand, which can be a treasure trove of fun for younger children. Children can dig, pour, and sift, all while refining their tactile senses. By hiding small objects within the bin, you can turn it into a fun scavenger hunt, further enhancing their sensory and motor skills.
6. Stringing Beads
Stringing beads is an engaging activity that seamlessly merges fun with therapeutic benefits. By threading beads onto a string or cord, children engage in a task that demands precision, patience, and focus. The act of picking up each bead and guiding it through a thread enhances their pincer grasp, a crucial fine motor skill.
Depending on the child’s proficiency, you can introduce beads of varying sizes and textures. This not only adjusts the difficulty level but also provides a sensory experience. As an added advantage, children can craft their jewelry or decorative items, which can be a source of achievement and help boost their self-esteem.
Puzzles are cognitive boosters that challenge the mind and refine motor skills. Offering puzzles of different complexities can cater to a broad range of abilities. For younger children, peg puzzles with large pieces can be a starting point. As they progress, intricate jigsaw puzzles can be introduced.
The act of identifying the correct piece and fitting it in its rightful place hones problem-solving skills, spatial awareness, and attention to detail. Plus, the satisfaction of completing a puzzle can be a significant morale booster for children, reinforcing the idea that perseverance pays off.
8. Rhythmic Drumming
Rhythmic drumming is a captivating activity that is likely to resonate with older children. Using drums or other percussion instruments, children can explore different beats, patterns, and rhythms. This not only refines their hand-eye coordination, but also sharpens their auditory processing skills.
Listening to a rhythm and replicating it can be a challenge that tests their memory and attention span. Drumming can also serve as a therapeutic outlet for children to express emotions or release pent-up energy. When conducted in group settings, it also promotes teamwork, synchronization, and social interaction, as children learn to match their rhythms with peers.
9. Craft Projects
Whether it is sculpting with clay, creating collages, or designing greeting cards, craft projects offer endless possibilities. These activities demand precision, planning, and imagination. As children cut, glue, fold, or mold, they are unknowingly working on their fine motor skills.
Crafting can also be a sensory-rich experience, especially when using materials with diverse textures like felt, sandpaper, or sequins. Additionally, group craft sessions can foster teamwork and communication as children collaborate on projects or share materials.
10. Simon Says
The game of Simon Says is a timeless classic that is often popular with young children. Beyond its entertainment value, it is an excellent tool for enhancing attention, following instructions, and refining gross motor skills.
The game’s premise requires children to listen intently and respond only when the command starts with “Simon Says.” This sharpens their auditory processing and reaction time. By incorporating specific movements, such as hopping on one foot or touching their toes, you can tailor the game to target specific school occupational therapy goals.
Why is it important to make OT fun for students?
While it is essential to consider a student’s diagnosis, age, and IEP, it is equally vital to factor in their interests and personality. Engaging them in OT games and activities they enjoy can amplify the therapy’s effectiveness. A blend of modern technology and traditional games can make occupational therapy sessions both beneficial and enjoyable. Remember, when therapy feels less like work and more like play, students are more likely to invest effort and enthusiasm.
The role of a school-based occupational therapist is pivotal in shaping a child’s school experience. By integrating fun into therapy, you not only enhance their skills, but also instill a love for learning and growth. Check out our similar blog on the importance of play in school-based occupational therapy.
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