Why you should teach your child clapping games…

Clapping games are an awesome way to work on motor skills…

Remember all the clapping games you used to play when you were little?  Nowadays, kids have a hard time playing with nothing.  Meaning, if they don’t have a toy or an Iphone to keep them occupied, they don’t really know what to do with themselves.  As a little kid, my friends and I spent hours playing clapping games during recess.  We thought they were so fun and loved all the silly lyrics that went along with the clap sequences.  What we didn’t know is that we were also developing foundational motor skills that would benefit us for years to come.

As a school-based OT, I use clapping games often with individual children, small groups, and whole classes.  The things that I can learn about a child from watching them learn a clapping game are amazing.  I thought I would break it down for the rest of the world so I can spread the love of clapping games!

Motor Planning

Motor planning is a prerequisite to learning any new skill.  A difficulty with motor planning, also known as dyspraxia, can interfere with a child’s ability to learn everyday tasks such as getting dressed, writing, and playing games with other children.  In order to motor plan, a child has to come up with an idea, figure out how to do it, and then actually physically complete the task.

For example, a child unfamiliar with a playground slide decides he wants to try it.  Now he has to get himself to the ladder, hold onto the railings, get himself up the steps, and then coordinate his body from standing at the top step to sitting at the top of the slide.  Then he has to shift his weight to actually slide downward.    Who knew there was so much involved?  Clapping games involve a lot of motor planning, too.  The child has to practice the movements over and over before they become automatic.

hopscotch, motor planning, playing, playground

Crossing Midline

The midline is an imaginary line down the center of your body (picture through your nose to your belly button).   As an infant, a child starts to bring his hands to midline (usually to put something in their mouth).  Then they start to develop the ability to cross over the midline.  Once a child begins to develop a hand dominance, they should be able to cross over the midline to get a preferred toy, a crayon, etc.   If they don’t cross the midline, they will use their left hand to pick up something on their left side, and their right hand to pick up something on their right side.  This can interfere with a child’s ability to develop a “strong” side because they are using both sides equally.  I have had a few parents say to me “I think he’s ambidextrous!”.   Ambidexterity is rare.  Usually, it’s a midline deficit.

I swear that the original clapping game “Patty-cake” was invented by an OT. Okay…, maybe not, they didn’t have OT back then.

BUT – the very simple clap hands together, hit both your hands to your babies hands was designed to work on getting a baby to bring their hands together in the midline, then take them apart.   It’s very “OT-esque”.




When a child sequences, they put events, ideas, and/or objects in a order.  Many children’s songs involve a particular sequence.  The Wheels on the Bus, Old MacDonald,  The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, Head-Shoulder-Knees, and Toes, etc.    Most clapping games tell a story in a particular sequence, which helps a child to remember the lyrics.  Miss Mary Mack has to ask her mother for 15 cents before she can see the elephants jump over the fence.  

The more challenging clapping games involve different motor movements at a particular part of the song.  This would be for older children; who are capable of remembering the words, singing them in the correct order, using their body to clap in a rhythm, and motor planning to do the right moves at the right time.   Whew! Who knew there was so much involved?  But there is…  

clapping games, motor planning, bilateral coordination

 Bilateral Coordination

The ability to use the two sides of your body together in a coordinated manner to complete a task is a foundational skill that we use every day.  We need to use our two hands together for everyday tasks like opening a bottle, putting on an earring, or tying our shoes.  It is even harder when the two hands have two separate jobs.  Clapping games help children to develop solid bilateral coordination skills because they consistently require the two sides of the body to perform the same task over and over.  Plus, the two hands have to meet in the middle (working in midline) and cross over the middle (crossing midline).   This practice is great for kids who have trouble with everyday bilateral activities in their lives such as using scissors,  opening snack, holding the paper while they write, sharpening a pencil, pulling their pants down in the bathroom, etc.   Using your hands to do the same thing at the same time is easier than using both hands to do something different.  But first thing is first!  Learn the easy way and then make it more challenging.

bilateral coordination, holding the paper

Visual tracking

Many children with learning disabilities have a hard time with visual tracking activities.  Attention problems, sensory issues, developmental delays and weak eye musculature can all interfere with a child’s ability to track appropriately from left to right.  This of course affects their ability to read, write, and copy from the board down the road.  Children who have difficulty crossing midline with their arms and hands usually have difficulty tracking across midline.  An example would be if you held your finger ten inches to the left of their face and asked them to keep their eyes on your finger and then you slowly moved your finger straight across to the right side.  Their eyes may not be able to  follow your finger after the midline.   Sometimes it’s just a quick glance away at midline and sometimes it’s a “shoot-ahead” movement all the way to the right. But either way you can see when they lose their visual attention on your finger.  Children should be able to easily move their eyes without moving their head by the third grade without losing place and without faltering at midline.  However, by kindergarten, children should beginning to move their eyes without complete head movement.   During a clapping game, the child’s eyes continually move from their left hand  to the right hand, to left, to right. It’s great practice for tracking in school.  Plus, because there is a rhythm, they are learning to track smoothly and rhythmically, like they need to when they are reading.

Rhythm and Beat

The ability to keep a beat and understand a rhythm is a skill that will impact a child’s life for years to come.  A beat is a repetitive hit or pulse (think of a heart beat).  A rhythm is a pattern of music and movement through time.  My favorite music teacher at school (Shout out – Mrs. Wade!) often helps me to problem solve how to plan activities for my kids who to her have no “rhythm” and to me have no “coordination”.   I find it helps to add music because 1) it’s more fun and 2) somehow they seem to “get it” when there is music involved.  She taught me that the beat is like marching “left, right, left, right” and the rhythm  is the call and response song that the soldiers sing while marching to the beat.  The ability to hear a beat is important in social activities like singing, dancing, and clapping, in unison.  Keeping the rhythm of motor movements are important in learning new repetitive movements to learn a dance or other gross motor skills like hopscotch (feet in, out, in, out).   This is why music can be such an amazing teaching tool.  Clapping games require the rhythm and beat skills because the child is singing (rhythm) as well as keeping performing their motor movement “clap, cross, clap, cross” (beat).  So clapping games can help your child by building the foundational skills that they will need later to learn a dance, play an instrument, etc.   A child needs to keep the beat when singing the lyrics to the song (Miss MARY, Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in BLACK, black, black, etc.).  They also need to keep the rhythm with the words of the song (clap, cross right, clap, cross left, clap). This seems so simple until we try to teach it a child.  Rhythm and Beat can be very hard work!  Kids start to develop the ability to hear beat very early- My good friend who is both a Kindergarten teacher and a Dance instructor (shout out- Miss Smith!)   told me that even her Kindergarten dance kids learn to count the beat pretty quickly.

children dancing



Most clapping games involve just two children, but many can be done with a whole class.  Part of my job as a school based OT is to work with the self contained classes.  I love to use clapping games with them because they have no idea that they are working on so many important skills!  No matter how old they are, they all laugh and have fun.  They consider it a “break” from school work, but as the OT, I am satisfied that I am addressing many important skills at once.  When working with one other child, you have to develop a “rhythm” with your partner in order to keep going.  Often, one child will be more advanced than the other.  No matter!  When the one child is “off” a bit, the other always reaches a little faster, or crosses a little farther in order to keep up with the class.  We try to sing the songs all at the same time.  Usually in the beginning it’s a big mess, but after a few tries, they do much better. A few of the girls may know a song or two, and they help to teach the kids who are unfamiliar.  Plus all the staff, it all comes together!  It’s hard not to laugh and have fun as you make eye contact with your partner, sing silly words, and have a grand old time for a few minutes.  Even us teachers end up giggling and having fun.  The kids need that movement and the “break”, but they also need the socialization and “playtime”. (Even though it’s a very therapeutic task!)

Sometimes I will get the whole class in a big circle and we play “quack-didly-oso”.  The kids have to put one hand on top of their friends (on the left) hand and the other under the other friend hand (on the right).  This concept alone takes a few minutes as we have to go over left, right, under, over (spatial language and awareness!).  Once we get started playing, I can see who has difficulty with focus, with motor planning, directionality, etc. And meanwhile the kids love it!

 How to Modify a Clapping Game

No game is fun if it’s way above your level.  But all clapping games can be simplified by slowing down the movements and the words.  The motor movements can also be simplified.

Here are a few examples from easiest to hardest

1) Simple patty cake motions – clap your own hands together, then use both hands to clap both your partners hands.  Then back to your own clap.  A simple 1,2,1,2  pattern.

2) More complex patty cake motions –  clap your own hands together, then clap your right hand to your partners right hand, then clap your hands together, then clap your left hand to your partner’s left hand.  1,2,1,3,1,2,1,3

3) Getting harder – adding more motor movements make it even more challenging. Clap your own hands together, then clap your right hand to your partners right hand, then clap your hands together, then clap your left hand to your partner’s left hand. Next, form an “X” over your chest by crossing your two arms to touch your shoulders.  Then, clap your hands together and start again.

4)  Really hard – Clap your own hands together, then clap your right hand to your partners right hand, then clap your hands together, then clap your left hand to your partner’s left hand. Next, form an “X” over your chest by crossing your two arms to touch your shoulders.  Then, clap both hands to both your lap. Then start again.

* If you have a child who just can’t seem to “get it”, or they keep confusing their left and right sides, you can try putting a colored sticker on each child’s right hand.  This way you are providing a visual cue as to which hands need to hit.

Here are some links to some of the most common clapping games if you need a refresher.

Miss Mary Mack https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-Xcw3T-vQs
Miss Mary Mack- Just music and lyrics – you can use whatever motor pattern you want https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ESAj1fVruY
Quack Didli-Oso – Great for a group or partners https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnxqOH3nam8
“Slide” – Very Complex! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXJsX7T8fYM
“Down Down Baby” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCyBMztWUFk
“Sally Was  Baby” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSOxq1eovtw
Patty Cake  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yULp0Vnzblc

logo                                                                           Get Clapping!

~  Miss Jaime, OT

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Shoulder stability: a necessity for good fine motor skills!

Shoulder stability provides an important foundation for fine motor skills!

It’s really the first thing I look at as an OT when a teacher asks me to “screen” a child for OT difficulties.  Shoulder stability should be established by the time a child starts kindergarten.

When it isn’t, it can lead to difficulties in the classroom, especially for writing and drawing.

What you need to know about child development…

“Shoulder Stability”

This toddler has her arm up off the table - that demonstrates lack of shoulder stability.

This toddler has her arm up off the table – that demonstrates lack of shoulder stability.

Do you remember when you first started coloring?

Toddlers use their whole arm to scribble. Then, as the child progresses developmentally, they begin to rest their forearm on the table. This helps them to start using their hand and fingers (instead of their shoulder and arm) to control the crayon.

They develop the ability to keep their shoulder stable during fine motor activities, which helps them to use the small muscles of their hand. This is called shoulder stability. Shoulder stability is an important developmental milestone for children who are learning to color and write. A child should be able to rest their arm on the table and use only their fingers to move the pencil by the time they enter kindergarten.  Check out your child – is their elbow off the table?  Are they moving their pencil with their fingers or their whole arm?

Interesting Fact:

Babies who don’t crawl for very long or can’t tolerate “tummy time” are often delayed in developing shoulder stability. This makes it harder for them to learn how to write. As they reach first or second grade, they often complain that they are too tired or that their arm hurts during writing assignments. That’s because they are using their entire arm to try to make a tiny letter, which is very hard work!

prone tummy time stability

Tummy time is really important as a baby. It helps children to develop shoulder stability and good fine motor skills down the road.

core strength, shoulder stability,

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So what can you do to help?

Encourage your child or your student to write on a vertical surface, such as a chalkboard or a dry erase board. Tape a worksheet to the board or a wall and let them write standing up. Did you know that they make the chalkboard and dry erase contact paper?  This is a great way to encourage shoulder stability.  The child will lean on the wall which forces them to use their fingers! Give your student a slant board or a six-inch binder that slants downward to the child.  This forces the wrist to extend upward, forcing the fingers to do the work. For younger children, encourage laying on the tummy to read, play games, do puzzles. Encourage crawling, wheelbarrow walking and using their arms to hold their body up.

tunnel, stability stability, crawling
stability on a vertical surface wall coloring, stability

Writing on the Wall is a Big Help!

Laying on your belly to color and play helps to develop shoulder stability

Tummy Time Works!  Here is my one of my success stories.  Look at that perfect Shoulder Stability!

One of my favorite students who spent A LOT of time on his belly with me. Mom followed through at home and NOW he is a Kindergarten Success Story!

One of my favorite students who spent A LOT of time on his belly with me. Mom followed through at home and NOW he is a Kindergarten Success Story!

I hope you try some of these techniques – remember developmental progress takes time and patience, but it happens!

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Positioning, Motor Skills & Table Manners – What’s the Connection?

positioning, and mealtime

Do Motor Skills and Positioning impact Table Manners? Absolutely!

Many children have a little difficulty with “table etiquette”.    Every family is different, and different cultures have different expectations of how a child should behave at the table.

But, putting all that aside, sometimes a child’s motor skills are the reason for their poor “table manners”.

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience

FunctionalSkillsforKids (1)

This post is part of a 12-month series called Functional Skills for Kids written by  pediatric OTs and PTs to post on different developmental topics that impact functional skills for kids.

This month’s topic in the  “Functional Skills for Kids” blog hop is the Mealtime, so check out the landing page for the rest of our posts and information on all things related!

Positioning and Table Manners

Kids with poor postural control and weak core strength have trouble sitting up at the table without leaning on something for support.  This may cause them to sit all the way back in the chair, causing food to fall in their lap on the very long trip from the table to their mouth.  Or, they may lean all the way forward, so their belly is against the table, causing mom to say “sit up!”  But they can’t.  Not that they won’t try.  But it is the same thing as when your trainer tells you to hold the plank and not let your belly sink toward the floor.  It just goes.

positioning, and mealtime

 Furniture SIZE Affects Positioning 

As I mentioned in previous posts, grown up furniture is not meant for little people.  It is hard for them to reach, they can’t sit comfortably, and their bodies are just too little for our big dining room and kitchen furniture.  If they have difficulty with motor skills too, they are balancing all kinds of struggles.  Obviously, it makes no sense to buy small kitchen furniture.  However, be aware of the sizing of the chairs and tables when it comes to your kids.

A booster seat helps them to be sitting in the proper position to let their arms reach the table and for their feet to have a place to rest.   Even though your little one may feel “too grown up” for a booster seat, it’s important that they are in an appropriate position to learn how to eat properly.  Unfortunately, eating habits and table manners can be difficult to change.  For one thing, they are very used to doing something “their way” and getting satisfactory results (not hungry anymore).

under chair booster

I love the “Kaboost” booster from Amazon. It raises the kids up higher to the table without upsetting them that they are still in a Booster!

Also, if you do something a certain way multiple times a day every day, that becomes the way you do it.   If you have child-sized furniture (Miss Jaime is a BIG fan), let your kids eat a few meals there.  My best friend has four kids and lots of nieces and nephews.  She actually bought a kindergarten table for them to color and play at!  Love her.  This is also the “Kiddie table” at family parties.  It works out great.


There are many kinds of booster seats out there.  It’s up to you to decide what works for you and your child.  If you see that your child has difficulty sitting at the kitchen table with the family, you may want to consider some other options.

  1. Child-size furniture for lunch or independent snacking. (There is no substitute to family mealtime at the table together).
  2.  A seat cushion for a child who tends to wiggle, sit on their feet or stand up while eating.
  3. A booster seat that provides support for the back and feet.

Body Awareness, Positioning, AND MealTIme

Kids with poor body awareness don’t feel things as acutely as we do. They may be sitting in a totally awkward position and don’t even realize that it’s uncomfortable (it’s really not, they barely feel it).  Their pants are falling down and they have no idea.  These children are often behind in potty training because they don’t “feel” that their bladder is full or that they need to go.   Kids with poor body awareness end up with food on their fingers, their shirts, their faces and they simply have no idea because

A) they don’t feel it when it’s happening and

B) they don’t feel it after it happens so it doesn’t feel funny or uncomfortable.

I once sat across from a seventh-grade boy who was eating fries (with his fingers, of course) and noticed that every single time he went to dip his fry in ketchup, he dipped it so hard that his fingers went all the way into the ketchup.  He had no idea (and probably wouldn’t have cared if he did notice).  I thought “how uncomfortable!? ….to have sticky ketchup all over your fingers the whole meal?”  But it wasn’t uncomfortable (for him anyway).

I thought “how uncomfortable!? ….to have sticky ketchup all over your fingers the whole meal?”  But it wasn’t uncomfortable (for him anyway).

Positioning, and mealtime

It’s totally cute when they are a baby! But when they are getting older? uh-oh!

EYE-HAND COORDINATION, Positioning, and Mealtime

Eye-hand coordination is involved in getting the food to your mouth, reaching for a drink without knocking it over, and in spearing the piece of food that you want.  If the child has poor body awareness and poor eye-hand coordination, they accidentally get some food on their chin on the way into their mouth and THEN, they don’t feel it.   These kids often end up with what my sister calls “the Ronald McDonald” red juice mouth.


The EZPZ suctions to the table or highchair, maintaining it’s position no matter what! This limits those knocked over bowls, flying food, and stained up clothing. Click here for 10% off your EZPZ purchase.


Copy the promo code to get 10% off any EZPZ product. Click the picture to go to EZPZ.com

This often leads to a messy mealtime.  One quick fix for that is to use the EZPZ, an all-in-one bowl and tray that suctions to the table.  Position the EZPZ on the table or highchair right in from t of the child.  It makes it impossible to knock the bowl of food over (or  even move), which makes it a little easier for little ones who are trying to learn to eat with utensils.  Read more about the EZPZ and get a 10% off promo code here. 
EZPZ and mealtime

Fine Motor Skills, Grasping, Positioning AND mealtime

The position of  the fork and spoon has a lot to do with how much control your child has.  This is directly related to how they hold their pencil.  Many kids who hold their pencils incorrectly tend to wrap their thumb around the rest of their fingers (this is called a thumb wrap grasp).  Usually, these kids make the same mistake with their fork and spoons.  This leads to a “shovel grasp”.

Many children don’t develop the muscles in their hands as well as they should because they don’t hold their forks and pencils properly.

Back to the trainer and the plank – if you do the plank every day, but you do it incorrectly, you don’t develop those rock-hard abs you were hoping for.  Same thing with the fork and the pencil.

If your child  writes and colors every day, but they aren’t holding the pencil properly, they aren’t using the right muscles, and they don’t develop the hand strength and the hand skills that they should.

Moral of the story? Correct the way your kid holds their pencil and their fork – it will help them in the end!

For more information about fine motor skills and Mealtime, check out this wonderful post from

Okay, so I think you get the picture.   Here are some other reasons that positioning and motor skills impact your table manners at mealtime.

Positioning, and mealtime

Bilateral Coordination, POSITIONING, and MeALTIME

Bilateral coordination is the ability to use the two sides of your body together in a coordinated manner.  Think of  using one hand to hold your fork and the other to steady your plate, or one hand to hold your food steady with your fork and the other hand to cut it with a knife.

Many children tend to leave their non-dominant hand hanging by their side during mealtimes because they haven’t developed good consistent bilateral coordination.   You may notice this when they are writing or coloring as well as when they are eating.   By the age of four or five, your child should be starting to use two hands all the time.

One is a dominant hand, and the other is a stabilizer (holding things steady for the dominant hand to do its job).  If your child isn’t doing this, always give them verbal reminders to use their “helping hand” when coloring, writing, and eating.  It will result in a neater, more precise job every time.  Now your paper isn’t wiggling, your plate isn’t moving, etc.

Check your child’s position.  If both hands aren’t “working”, give them verbal reminders to use their “helping hand” when coloring, writing, and eating.  It will result in a neater, more precise job every time.  Now your paper isn’t wiggling, your plate isn’t moving, etc.

positioning, and mealtime

Children need be positioned to use BOTH hands during fine motor activities. This includes eating, painting, coloring, etc. Remind your child, “Use your helping hand!”


This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids series.  Check out all of the bloggers who are participating and learn more about the series by clicking on the link above.

To read all of Miss Jaime, O.T.’s posts in this series, check out my Functional Skills for Kids landing page.

For more information on the components and considerations related to Mealtime, stop by and see what the other Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists on the Functional Skills for Kids team have to say:

Fine Motor Skills For Mealtimes  | Therapy Fun Zone

Postural Control, Gross Motor Development and Mealtime  |Your Therapy Source

Attention, Behavior, and Meal Time Problems | Sugar Aunts

4 Ways to Modify Meal Times for Fussy Eaters  | Your Kids OT

Mealtime Skills, Rituals & Play – Nurturing a Love for Food | Kids Play Space

15 Tips for Picky Eaters | The Inspired Treehouse

Visual Perceptual Skills Needed for Independent Feeding | Growing Hands-On Kids

This post contains affiliate links.

I hope that these tips have alerted you to some of the reasons kids have difficulty sitting and eating with the “best” manners.  It can be a lot of work!     Please comment if you have any tips or tricks!

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