We know it can be hard to find ways to engage your child in occupational therapy activities at home. In many cases, children find their home to be a safe space to do the activities they prefer in an environment they can wind down in outside of day-to-day activities such as childcare, school and therapy sessions.
Occupational therapy is grounded on the idea that we assist people in engaging in activities that they find meaningful and ensure they reach their full potential. For children, these often revolve around play, learning new skills, and increasing independence in enjoyable tasks.
Within the home, OT activities and ideas are all around you. There are many simple ways to apply OT principles during your kiddo’s daily gross and fine motor tasks around the house. Here are five ways to integrate OT principles into your home:
Now I know this can often result in rolling eyes as obstacle courses can lead to household messes. Still, I can guarantee that designing a course on a rainy day is worth it. Obstacle courses not only provide an opportunity for children to develop their gross motor skills (i.e., jumping, climbing, crawling), they also offer a chance to improve positional awareness and planning movements.
OT cooking activities are the best! Start small and simple, so your kitchen doesn’t turn into a flour explosion! I suggest banana muffins or pancakes for a special treat. Cooking with kids is a great way to work on fine motor skills (i.e., finger and hand strength, coordinating both hands, in-hand manipulation, and grasp) through using different cooking utensils, such as wooden spoons, measuring cups and bowls. Cooking is also a great way to provide children with an opportunity to develop their social skills through turn taking, asking for help, and building resilience if things go wrong.
Bath time is a great way to provide children with a range of sensory input whilst also completing a personal care task. Many of us understand that bath time can be one of those dreaded tasks in the home. Try using bubbles or skin-safe food colouring to add interest to the water. To turn bath time into an occupational therapy activity, you could use your child’s favourite toy to add interest and teach and identify which body parts of their own need to be washed. Outside of bath time placing shaving foam all over your child’s body can act as a visual cue and turn into a great activity to identify which body parts need to be cleaned.
Any child who has sensory sensitivities can benefit from a sensory diet. This type of diet is a set of activities that help a child receive the sensory input they require to function in day-to-day life. OT heavy work activities (i.e., pulling or pushing against the body, animal walks, rolling an exercise ball over the top of the child) playing with different tactile toys (i.e., playdough or sand, bubble blowers) jumping on a trampoline, or swinging are all great options.
Story time is great for less than ideal weather or to wind down after a long day of occupational therapy activities. It provides children with the opportunity to develop their imaginative play skills, increase attention and concentration. Depending on the book, you may be able to incorporate additional learning skills as well. Your book choice will depend on the child’s age, interests, and attention levels. I suggest finding a book where you can count the objects, trace the faces, or describe the story through the pictures to add a little more learning to story time.
Having your children perform tasks on vertical surfaces like chalk boards, white boards, easels and even your kitchen refrigerator can have many therapeutic benefits. These include:
Tip: Encourage your child to change their positions often – switching between standing, sitting and kneeling – while working at the vertical surface.
A common question our OTs hear is, “How do I get my child to try more foods?” When working with “picky eaters,” we often have to think outside of the box and encourage children to explore foods by using all of their senses when they are ready.
Sometimes a little creativity and fun can go a long way. Here are some ideas for using lollipops to encourage your child to try novel or non-preferred foods.
Tip: Remember to follow your child’s lead and never force feeding experiences!
We hope these activities inspire you to incorporate more occupational therapy at home into your children’s daily routines. Not only will your child enjoy them, but they each have a therapeutic objective in mind which may be beneficial for children with autism among other diagnoses. Find more of our favorite therapist-approved toys and activities in the NAPA blog:
Gemma has a strong passion for hands-on occupational therapy and values being a part of the NAPA Melbourne clinic where she knows she will gain lifelong skills as a therapist and person, all while having fun.