originally written for and published on Harkla.co
If you’re reading this article, perhaps you’re a new graduate OT or considering a specialty change within the profession of occupational therapy. Maybe you’re a parent hoping to understand some of the tools your child benefits from in direct therapy. Or maybe you’re an educator looking to support your staff OT in your school setting to make sure she is fully equipped to meet her caseload needs!
Whatever your reason for reading on, know that the supplies mentioned here are subject to personal preference because to understand ‘occupational therapy,’ you need to accept that there is no prescription for one-size-fits-all treatment. Each child has different skills and each therapist has a different “bag of tricks” to get at meeting a child’s needs.
Pediatric Occupational Therapists
Pediatric occupational therapists build a child’s skills through play – because play is a young child’s number one “job!” As foundational sensorimotor skills are developed, treatment planning is sure to include a lot of gross motor and sensorimotor activity.
If you’re in a clinic-based OT situation, your resources are likely extensive – a therapy swing, ball pit, crash pad, trampoline, scooter boards, etc. If you’re in a school-based OT situation, those resources may or may not be available to you. In this case, you’ve got to target sensory and motor skills with a bit more creativity and multi-purpose supplies that can be tucked away in a closet, used in a hallway, or transported between locations!
As children age, they enter school and their new “job” involves school and learning academic skills. These more refined skills are supported by OTs with tools that foster cognitive, fine motor, and visual motor integration skills, among many others. An OT’s “bag of tricks” likely involves a combination of sensorimotor, fine motor, and visual motor activities to address skills across the wide continuum of development.
Well thought-out OT supplies can be transformed into multi-purpose therapy tools that engage a child in therapeutic activity. Here are some tried and true favorites:
· Scooter – This 4-wheeled wonder can be used to improve core strength, challenge motor planning, and work on visual motor skills. Propel the scooter using your arms and legs while positioned on your belly, pull a jump rope while seated, or lay on your back and push off a wall with your feet for an extra motor planning challenge. Endless obstacle courses, simple fine motor tasks, and hide-n-seek games can be played on a scooter. Scooters can be used in spaces large or small, over tile, wood floors, or carpeting so they are very versatile.
· Therapy Ball – If you’ve got the space to tuck one of these away, add it to your list. Creative therapists know countless ways to use a therapy ball for core strength, balance, combined sensory input, and active seating solutions. Check out this resource for therapy ball activities for some awesome ideas!
· Jump Rope – Besides the obvious uses (jumping rope!), jump ropes can be used in conjunction with your other therapy supplies for many purposes. Kids can hold on as you give them a ride on a scooter or pull themselves along by hand-over-hand pulling the jump rope using strong arms. String it between two chairs – low for motor planning animal walks over it, high for maneuvering under it, or better yet, use your clothespins to affix themed activity cards/materials. Shape it into a circle and it becomes a cue for body positioning, personal space, or a target for throwing.
· Hula hoop – Apply the same concepts as the jump rope examples, but hula hoops keep their shape when vertical so they’re great for cooperative movement activities and gross motor planning.
· Bean bags – I love bean bags of different colors, shapes, or alphabet labels so you can add a cognitive component to the activities you’re doing. Balance, throw, catch, or sort, bean bags are a must-have tool!
· Round sensory cushion – perfect for an active seating option on-the-go or when you push into the classroom, the round sensory cushions can also be used for standing balance (on 2-feet or one leg positioned on the cushion), kneeling balance, and improving seated positioning on the floor.
· Clothespins – You can clip just about anything – themed character cards, lower/uppercase letter matching, pom-pom pickups, or clip-a-cup! Add colored clothespins for color matching skill support while building fine motor strength.
· Shoelaces – String beads, lace through hole-punched theme cards, make it into different shapes or letters. Beyond boring shoe-tying practice, this tiny tool can be used in many different ways that support skill development.
· Cotton balls – Slither like a snake to blow a cotton ball across the room to your target (hula hoop! Jump rope!), use pinching fingers or clothespins! To pick up cotton balls and release them with control. Dip one in paint or use that clothespin again as a painting tool to help sensory kids tolerate messy activities.
· Therapy putty – this is a longtime favorite activity that needs little explanation besides saying – fine motor fun in all colors and resistances to build strength and finger coordination. Lots of potential in one tub of putty.
· Bodysock – Push, pull, transform your body into shapes, or just relax inside - a body sock is a versatile, packable, portable sensory tool for kids of diverse sensory interests!
More Considerations for OT Supplies
All of the play-based tools mentioned are directed at supporting skill development with therapeutic activity that engages kids. Academic skills can easily be embedded into these activities and made easier/harder depending on the individual child. For students working on tabletop skills like writing, coloring, drawing, or typing, additional OT supplies will be focused on supporting those specific goals.
Let us know what makes an impact in your OT toolbox of supplies!