What’s in my Therapy Bag?


I’ve been a HUGE organization kick lately. Every month or so I need to clean out my therapy bag. Inevitably, I find things out of order, things I need to change up or replace, and things that are missing pieces , etc.

I once posted a pic of the crazy amount of stuff in my bag and everyone on Facebook went crazy commenting and asking questions. I figured, why not share this “clean out” phase with all of you?

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I’m also a bit obsessed with Tiny Homes. So I love things that can be used multiple ways, are miniature, and don’t take up a lot of space.

I am in the process of moving, so I’ve also been a huge labeling kick. I am really trying to turn over a new leaf when it comes to putting things back where they belong. I don’t like to waste time in a therapy session looking through my bag for “that thing” I need (and can’t find!).

First things first, you’ve got to have a sturdy bag with a lot of compartments. I like to use a rolling backpack because:

  • It’s better for your body to pull instead of carry
  • It zippers closed so when I throw it in my trunk (which I always do) it won’t spill crayons and beads everywhere
  • I like the laptop compartment to hold my folders for each kid

One thing about the rolling backpack though, is that the fabric inside is made of a tough rayon-like material, so it’s hard to stick labels on. I’ve decided to relabel with my label maker and then cover them with packing tape. Hopefully, that will stay put. (I’m obsessed with packing tape)

My latest backpack has a bunch of compartments. This is how I organize them.

The Very Back

The “back” compartment is actually a zip-up spot where you can “hide” the straps of the backpack if you aren’t using them. I also use this spot to put my papers, dry erase board and cookie sheet (a traveling OT’s best friend).

See through packets- A Must Have!

I really like to have everything clear and see through so I can get what I need quickly, so I buy  clear zipper packets from the dollar store. I keep one in the very back section with construction paper and different kinds of writing paper. I also keep my laminated “Manipulation Dot Activity Sheets” in this spot because they are the perfect “starting” activity. I like to pull this out and keep my kiddo busy while I get out their folder and organize my materials for the session (perfect for the kid that keeps asking, “What are we doing today? What did you bring today!?”) I laminated the sheets, and they’re also perfect for keeping track of my kids’ fine motor practice.

Manipulation Dot Activity Packet

The Cookie Sheet

I use a cookie sheet 75% of the time when I work with students in their home. It’s the best dollar you’ll ever spend. It keeps messy therapy materials (like putty) in one spot and is simple to clean up glue, paint, or shaving cream. Kids LOVE tactile sensory activities like slime or shaving cream, but parents don’t want the mess. A cookie sheet is an easy fix. Just make sure that you can use the kitchen or bathroom sink to rinse it.

The cookie sheet also makes a quick magnetic surface- perfect for magnetic letters, tangrams, or puzzle pieces. Put it on the floor and have the child lay on their belly to encourage weight bearing into the upper extremities. Or, place it vertically against a wall to encourage mature grasping patterns and separation of the hand and fingers from the whole arm. I also put “chalkboard” paper on the back of mine so I could use it as a blackboard.

The Back Section of my Therapy Bag

This is the part where they think you’ll put your laptop.  It’s pretty skinny, but I fit my student’s folders in there.  I use colored folders so I can grab the one I need quickly and get right to work.

The Middle (Biggest) Section of my Therapy Bag

In this section, I put my toys, games, and “big stuff”. I like to change out these items to keep things fresh and exciting for the kids.

But, there are some things you are guaranteed to find in this section.

  1. Travel sized games: The smaller size helps me to fit more in my bag. Plus, the pieces are smaller, requiring little fingers to grasp more precisely. Win-Win. My favorite travel sized games are Connect Four, Rush Hour, Trouble, Guess Who, Perfection and Cards. For older kids, I like Battleship, Checkers, Shape by shape, and Tricky Fingers. (Heads up for my bargain hunters – 5 and Below often has imitations of these games for just 5 bucks!) You can read about the therapeutic benefits of Rush hour here.
  2. Fine Motor Toys That Require Two Hands: Many children have difficulty with fine motor skills and bilateral coordination, which is the ability to use two hands together. Toys that work on both of these things at once are a Must-Have. Some of my go-to picks are Legos, Stringing Toys, Lacing cards, Nuts and Bolts, Pop-beads, a pegboard and Bunchems
  3. Puzzles Many children struggle with spatial awareness to put puzzles together. Kids should start doing jigsaw puzzles (not inset) around the age of 4. I like the Dollar Store jigsaw puzzles with a back because the back has an outline of the shape, which is a visual cue for kids. If that outline isn’t enough, I also label each spot with a letter, shape or number, and then put a matching label on the correct piece. These puzzles also fit nicely in a zipper pocket folder (and you don’t lose the pieces).
  4. Some kind of game with letter pieces.  Such as Scrabble, Applets, Pears to Pairs, etc.  These tiny letter tiles are great for working on letter recognition, handwriting, or anything else!
  5. An ice cube tray.  Weird, I know.  But the ice cube tray is a favorite of mine. I like how it has tiny compartments for little fingers to “pinch” and put stuff in.  Use a grabber and manipulatives and the possibilities are endless – do patterns, roll dice and count to put that number in the next spot, etc.
  6. Gross Motor Supplies: Core Strength Exercise Cards, A handee band, a ball, and a beanbag. Thess are small but they are multipurpose- and can be used a ton of ways.

Front Section

My front section stays pretty consistent. This is where I keep my clear pencil cases, crayons, markers, fine motor/manipulative supplies, etc.

Pencil Case Pouches: Clear ones save time! Here’s what I have:

    • Markers, colored pencils, crayons: The smaller the better. I love Pip Squeaks from Crayola. Again, they take up less room and promote more mature grasping patterns.
    • Stickers: Big stickers, little stickers, big dot stickers, little dot stickers. Looseleaf reinforcers, too. Peeling stickers is an AWESOME fine motor and bilateral activity for kids. I like to use them as “spaces” in between words, “start spots” to show kids where to start letters, or “turn spots” when kids are trying to learn how to cut on corners. I like to use them to work on letter recognition with the Manipulation Activity Packet. And of course, they work great as rewards!
    • Playdoh and putty – Kids always love these things. I love to use it as a reward or an incentive for kids who are reluctant to begin therapy. They are also great for hand strength and sensory play. I like travel size putty because I don’t mind throwing one out if it gets boogies in it!
    • Travel size shaving cream –  A little goes a long way!
    • Manipulatives – Again, I like to keep these in little clear plastic containers so I can see what I’m grabbing.  In here you’ll find:

-magnetic bingo chips
-squeeze toys
-wind up toys
-Small pegs
-small stamps and stamp pads

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Side Pockets

My backpack has two side pockets- which I love. I found that I was kind of forgetting about them, so I made some labels and put things that I don’t need all the time.

Side pocket #1: A tiny box with office supplies. I got this at a conference once as a “gift”, but I recently saw them at Dollar Tree! I bought four. Now I have one in every single bag and in my car. It literally has every office supply you could need in a quick fix. Even a stapler.

A tiny measuring tape. This is more useful than you’d imagine!

  1. Keep track of things like how far a kid can jump, how big are the floor tiles (because then I can calculate how far they ran, etc), how far is this spot from the target on the wall, etc.
  2. Measure how big chairs, desks, and tables are. Teachers often ask me to look at the furniture in the room, and this way I can say- “it’s too big, you need a 12-inch chair”. Then, the teacher knows exactly what to ask the custodian for.

Side pocket #2: A multipurpose tool. This little guy has a hammer, knife, pliers, file, and screwdriver. I use the hammer in therapy sometimes (my kids love to bang golf tees into a pool noodle or pushpins into a corkboard), and the other things I often need in a pinch. The screwdriver is great for loosening tight scissors and the knife opens or cuts cardboard boxes.

Pencil grips – I’ve got to have these on me!

Shoelaces – in case we need to practice tying and my kids only have velcro.

And that’s it!  You can fit a ton of stuff if you organize it right- I also keep a trunk organizer in my car with extra toys so I can swap them out when I need to.


My backpack has a tiny pocket at the top of the front section – it’s meant for keys, I think.  (or money?).  Anyway, I keep small pencils in there, and two tiny playdoh containers that I use to keep sponges and chalk.

The Very Front

My backpack also has a mesh front section in the very front.  I used to keep my scissors there, but inevitably, they end up cutting the fabric.  So now I keep hand sanitizer and a roll of packing tape in the front.  I love packing tape because it’s so sticky and strong.  Most often I use it to tape things to the wall or a sliding glass door – to add a vertical surface to our therapy session  Worksheets, pegboards, and dry erase boards tape easily to the wall.  Working on a vertical surface is great for fine motor skills and for encouraging mature grasping skills.

What do you keep in your therapy bag?

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“Cookie Cutter Therapy”- Why it’s OK with me….

The other day I did an autumn arts and crafts project with all of the students on my caseload.

Every. Single. One.

Kindergartners as well as fourth graders.

Very often we hear about the problem of a “cookie cutter therapist”.

Meaning – a therapist that does one thing with every single student regardless of their goals or deficit areas.

A lot of people have a problem with this and so do I – sometimes.

I might sound like I’m contradicting myself because I said I’m OK with doing the same activity with every single student but here’s the thing:

One of an occupational therapist’s best and greatest qualities is creativity and flexibility. Teachers have this gift, too!

Every single child has different goals – so tweak that activity to work for them!

Change it Up!

Here are some ways to tweak this simple fall craft.

  • For really weak fine motor skills, take one piece of tissue paper in each hand. Hold the student’s hands up in the air like a “Y”. Crunch the tissues into little balls without using his other hand or his chin or even his belly to help with the crunching.
  • To work on mid crossing midline; place the paper to the other side of the student’s body.  Put the helping hand on vacation (meaning behind his back). His dominant hand has to crossover in order to glue on the leaves of the tree.
  • My student with weak grip strength had to use a clothespin to pick up each tissue ball and place it on the tree.
  • My student with really poor scissor skills had to cut the tissue before he crunched. He also cut a piece of green construction paper to make grass for the bottom of his picture.

So – if you were a random person standing at the door of my occupational therapy room, you’d see every student come out with a picture of a tree with different colored fall leaves on it.

It might look like I’m doing cookie cutter therapy but I’m not.

It’s ok to re-use an Idea

My point is – give yourself a break! It’s OK to do the same or similar activity with different students.

Just use your creative mind to tweak it to work for that student and the needs of that student.

For teachers, this may mean creating groups of students who will complete the task in a different way. For example, the red table will use clothespins to pick up the leaves and the blue table has to crunch with two hands in the air in the shape of a Y.

Once you give yourself permission to do one activity with all the kids; you’ll see how easy it is to change it up.

Need an AMAZING Activity to do with your kids this week?

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For the Hardworking Therapists Who Work With Children with Special Needs

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I’m sure you’ve heard of Mom guilt, Daughter Guilt, and Irish Guilt, but have you ever heard of Therapist Guilt?

I may have invented it…

You’ve probably read letters and blog posts written toward the parents of children with special needs; talking about how strong they are and how hard they work to help their children.

It’s true.  But many of those selfless parents still have “The Guilts”.


When you have “the guilts”,  there is always something you feel guilty about.   It could be about not having a spic-n-span house, not being able to go to loud family events, or losing your patience with a child with special needs.  The guilt is always there.

It’s often there for therapists, too.

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Spring is in the air!

That means nice weather, flowers blooming, and best of all, fun new stuff at the Dollar Store!

By this time of the year, I’m a little sick of all my toys and games. I’m ready for something different and fresh to keep my kids focused and having fun during therapy. BUT – I already spent my OT budget, so I need to keep the costs down.

Like a true budget diva, I head straight to the Dollar Store. Spring is a great time to stock up on cheap supplies that are only available at this time of the year, BUT, you can use them all year long.

I’ve made a quick list for you – along with ideas to for how to use them!

9 Best Springtime Dollar Store Supplies FOR OTs

1). Pool noodles – super cheap and easy to cut to different sizes. You can turn your pool noodle into a bat to hit balloons, use it to help position a child, or use it as a resistive material to stick buttons in. Now is the time to stock up!ot, dollar store supplies, classroom pool noodles, best springtime dollar store supplies

2) Buttons – speaking of buttons, my dollar store (dollar tree) has lots of cute buttons in spring colors. These are perfect for working on manipulation, categorizing by size or sorting by color, and of course, buttoning!

3) Garden “Kneeling pads” – these are great to use as markers for “where” kids should sit during circle time. You can also use them as a visual cue during yoga or core strength activities. My #1 favorite way to use them is to actually have kids kneel. This makes working on a vertical surface fun, or can be a fun “alternative” writing position. You can also use them as a resistive material to stick things (golf tees?) in. They are pretty big, so they last a while.

4) Balloons – Balloons are available all year long, but by now I’ve always run out. Balloons can be used with tennis rackets, pool noodle bats, or hanging on a string from the ceiling. Put your child on a therapy ball and have them cross midline to “swat the balloon”. Use them with the whole class by playing “keep it up” until the music stops. Then have the children hold their balloon and write a spelling word on it with a sharpie.

5) Ping pong balls – Where do I start? Use kitchen tongs to pick them up and cross midline to put them in a bowl. Write words on them and have the children read the words as they “grab” the ball with their tongs. Sort them in an egg carton using word families.

6) Plastic eggs – I love to write on my plastic eggs with a sharpie. Then I can work on rhyming, writing, or matching. Write a capital on one side and lowercase on the other. Putting them together and taking them apart is great for bilateral coordination, visual attention, and motor planning!

7) Jump rope- jumping rope is such a hard skill for some kids. You can also use jump ropes to teach shoe-tying to a whole class. Use them for group games, to make circles for jumping in and out, etc. Teach knot tying and untying. These are daily living skills that are really hard for some kids.

8) Egg dying kits – I love the little different colored baskets that come in the dollar store kit- I have the kids sort spring colored pom poms into the same color basket with clothespins.  The powdered dye can be used to color homemade play dough or to dye pasta for sensory activities.

9) Craft stuff – Check the craft section for all the spring colored pom poms, crafts sticks, buttons, pipe cleaners, and beads. These are perfect for Mother’s Day crafts!

I hope you found this list helpful! So tell me, what’s your favorite dollar store find?


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Effortless art crayons

Effortless Art Crayons

“Effortless Art Crayons”  is a sponsored post

“Every time he wants to change colors, I have to waste two minutes adapting the crayon.  It’s such a waste of time!”

Occupational therapists and special education teachers are magicians when it comes to adapting stuff for our kids with weak motor skills, developmental delays, or atypical grasp patterns.  But sometimes it’s just a pain in the neck!

The main goal is to help children be independent.  So if an adult has to step in every few minutes to put the grip on a new crayon or adjust a child’s fingers so they are in a functional position, it goes against what we are working toward (Independence!)

It’s easy to keep a grip on a pencil, but what about crayons?  The child wants to change colors every few minutes- that’s half the fun!

I’ve found the solution. 

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9 Fabulous Fine Motor Fads to Revive on the Playground

Thank goodness the fidget fad is fading.

Even though every child has one hidden away in their pocket or backpack, the intense obsession with every kind of fidget spinners is slowly dwindling.

A few months ago, when fidgets were more popular than  big hair in the 80’s, parents and teachers kept asking me, “What do you think of these fidget spinners?

Truthfully, a fad is a fad.  Fidgets can be helpful for some kids in some situations.  I can see how some teachers would find them a complete nuisance in the classroom.  BUT, on the other hand, it’s awesome that another fine motor fad made its way back to popularity.

As an OT in a public school setting, I find that children’s fine motor skills are growing weaker and weaker.  Children are playing with Ipads and other techy toys that don’t require motor skills or dexterity.  It takes spinning, flicking, and using in-hand manipulation to move those spinners, so I look at it as a good thing.

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A Valentine’s Day Motor Monday: Super Simple Hand Strengthening

I have a confession: I love the Dollar Store.  I just do.

The problem is that it’s impossible to leave without a few extra things.

BUT – that’s how I ended up with my latest and greatest Valentine’s Motor Centers.  

I swear I just went in there for a couple of birthday cards, but when I saw the “seasonal section” filled with Valentine’s Goodies, I couldn’t resist.

These adorable pink and red Valentine’s Day “table scatter” hearts were the perfect size for little hands to work on grasping.  I just started adding to my basket.  


Why resist?  It’s for the children!

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