Dirt Doh, sensory craft, coffee grind craft,

Y is for Yucky…

Alphabet Sensory Activities Facebook

Welcome to Alphabet Sensory Activities, hosted by The Jenny Evolution along with their partner site The Sensory Spectrum! 26 amazing bloggers have gotten together to share a sensory experience based on a letter of the alphabet every day this month. dirtdohThis post contains affiliate links.

Dirt Doh…totally yucky!  

As a contributor to the Alphabet Sensory Activities Series, I am responsible for the letter Y.  For me, the first thing I think of is  “YUCKY!”   I love to do sensory activities, especially recipes, with my class push-ins.  There are so many functional skills to work on; no matter the age of level of your students.  Stirring, Pouring, Kneading,  and Squeezing are just a few ways to work on hand strength and bilateral coordination.   Measuring, Sequencing, Calculating, and Adding are just a few ways to add Math to the Mix.

Depending on the class I am with, I like to have the children practice opening the packages, walking across the room with water from the sink, and find the measuring cups they need.  For older children, I add a math component by asking them to “double” the recipe or “half” the recipe.  If the recipe is edible, I even include daily living skills such as washing hands, setting the table, or cutting with a knife and fork.  Literally, one recipe can yield endless activities. This is one recipe that I have used in a few different ways and I am so excited to share my recipe for …

“Dirt Doh”

Dirt is Yucky! Therefore kids love it!  This is a great recipe that is also a “green” activity.  Used coffee grinds are the main ingredient, and you can switch up the recipe to change the consistency.

Here’s what you need:

1 parts used coffee grinds (wet or dry)

1 part water

1 part flour

Mix all the ingredients.  Add more flour if it’s too wet.

I’ve used this recipe in October to make a Halloween “coffin” filled with “dirt”, bones, fingers, and eyeballs. I’ve also used it in the spring as science lessons to talk about how flowers grow and how bugs live.  And worse comes to worse, just make “mud pies” because it’s fun!  Dirt Doh is so versatile!

Dirt doh, coffee grinds, sensory play

Using “dirt doh” as a spring sensory activity while learning about how flowers grow and how bugs live.

Coffee coffin, Halloween sensory

Using “Dirt Doh” to fill an under the bed storage container to make a “coffin” in October to dig for eyeballs, bones, and other Yucky stuff.

Strength, dirt doh, coffee doh

Using “dirt doh” to work on hand strength and bilateral coordination just because its fun!








Dirt is “yucky” and kids love “Yucky!!!

If you like Dirt Doh, please make sure to check out the rest of the Alphabet Sensory Activity Series on the Jenny Evolution.com.

sensory processing

Sensory Processing 101 is a vital resource for parents, teachers, and therapists who work with children with Sensory Processing difficulties.

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Miss Jaime OT

Have any other “yucky” recipes for us? Please share!                   ~Miss Jaime, OT

The “Real” Reasons Your Kid Can’t Tie Yet!


There is so much going on in the news in regards to education these days.  The Common Core Craze has changed the way teachers teach and Kindergarten is the new second grade.  That said, there are many things that teachers are teaching that are not remotely on our politicians radar.  Manners, character, and self care skills are just a few.  However, the list is endless.

Anyway, learning how to tie your own shoes is a rite of passage that turns your child into a “big girl” or a “big boy”.  Think back to when you were little and you learned how to tie.  I would bet that your parents or older sibling taught you how to tie.  It takes practice and a certain amount of motivation.  Both the adult and the child need to be motivated in order for the child to learn the skill.  The adult is usually motivated to get the child to tie for themselves so A) they aren’t tripping on their laces and B) so there is one less thing for the grown up to do.  The child is usually motivated to tie because they are excited to be a “big kid”.

When are children ready to tie?

Some children are ready to tie before they even start kindergarten.  Many are ready to learn in their kindergarten year.  Keep in mind this means children who are four and a half and five years old.  It always concerns me when I see a third grader in the halls with untied shoes and when I ask them to tie their shoes for safety, they end up telling me that no one ever showed them how.  It’s easy to buy slip on shoes and Velcro, but kids still need to learn how to tie.  I think sometimes it simply slips parents minds that they need to teach this skill, just like zipping, wiping and washing hands in the bathroom and using a fork and spoon.  Life is hectic and busy, but before you know it you have a ten year old who can’t tie.  Uh-oh!

Of course, some children have motor or learning difficulties that interfere with their ability to easily acquire this skill.  When this is the case, an Occupational Therapist may be the one who ends up teaching them, which is totally appropriate.  If you have a child that receives OT and you are concerned about their ability to perform self care skills, definitely let the OT know.  You may think that the OT should automatically know this or look at this, but the truth is that school based OTs are really supposed to work on skills that directly impact a child’s education.  Not just handwriting (MYTH!) but copying from the board, visual processing, motor coordination, using two hands to manipulate school tools and many other things that affect a child’s ability to learn the curriculum.

I’ve had parents ask me to work on riding a bike, because their child can’t ride with the family or the kids in the neighborhood.  That stinks! An OT will absolutely know how to teach a child to ride a bike, because it’s all about balance, coordination and motor planning.  However, riding a bike has nothing to do with school.  I always feel bad when I explain this to a parent.  I can work on motor planning, coordination and balance, but bicycles are on the other side of the line.

Untied shoes can be a safety issue for a child with special needs.  Shoe-tying is a self care skill and that is school appropriate. So children who have motor or learning difficulties may end up learning how to tie at school.   Everyone else will (hopefully) learn at home.  I think I’ve taught at least a hundred kids to tie over the years.  And I’ve found that there are a few simple reasons why it’s so hard for some kids to tie.

Postural stability

Children who are low tone or have weak core muscles have a very hard time holding their trunk upright and managing the steps to tie. Even children who are simply young have trouble with this.  It’s just too many things to conquer.  You may notice that your child will use one hand to kind of hold themselves up.  This obviously interferes with the ability to tie because they need to manage both laces.

The easiest way to fix this problem is to have the child sit with their back against a wall or something flat.  Try to get them to put their bottom all the way to the back of the wall. Kids often round their backs and scoot their bottoms forward, which provides less support.


Notice how she is propped against the cabinet and her left leg is tucked out of the way


So now the child is seated with their back against a wall.  What next?  Have you ever tried to do that thing where you tap your head and rub your belly at the same time?  This takes a lot of motor planning and the ability to do different things with different body parts at the same time.  Tough Stuff.  So the next tricky thing is getting the child’s body in a position that makes it easy to manage reaching their feet.   We already took care of their trunk by propping it against the wall.  Now we need to get their legs in a good position.  Decide what shoe you want to tie.  Then tuck the other leg underneath and out of the way.  Bend the knee of the tying foot up towards the chin.  The hard part here will be getting the knee to stay there.  I sometimes tell my kids that they should rest their chin on that knee.  It helps keep it in place.  For kids who are a little chunky, the knee usually falls to the side.  This also happens to kids who are low tone.  The only problem with this is that now, the bow will be on the Inside of the foot, instead of the Middle of the foot on top of the tongue.  Although this isn’t the biggest problem in the world, it’s harder to tie because the laces aren’t the same length anymore. Also, the laces will probably dangle on the inside of the foot, making it more likely that the child will trip on them or step on them. So get that knee under the chin.


Having the child place the chin on the knee keeps the leg and the bow nice and straight.

Bilateral Coordination

Some children still don’t have great bilateral coordination at the age of 5. Bilateral coordination is the ability to use two sides of your body at once. Sometimes it is hard for a child to keep their first hand holding the loop while the second hand does the next step.  I always tell the child “you have to hold onto the bunny, or he will hop away!”  As I said before, sometimes a child will take that hand away and lean on it, using it as a support.  That goes back to the postural control and positioning.  It can be hard to tell why they are taking that first hand away (difficulty with using two hands at once?  or the need to hold themselves up?) but if you get them against a wall in the right position, you may eliminate that urge to take the hand off the loop and put it behind them.

 The Laces

Length -Children’s laces should be the right length, of course.  But  very often they aren’t.  At least they aren’t the right length for a kid who is learning how to tie.  The  laces should be long enough to give the child some leeway as they are learning.  But they can’t be too long or it becomes a big mess AND they will trip on them even after they are tied.  So what is the perfect lace length?  It depends on the size of the shoe, but I recommend that the  laces should be between 11-13 inches long from the tongue (after the shoes are laced).  The Dollar Tree sells packs of laces for a dollar in all different sizes.  If your laces are too short or too long, you really should get a new pair of laces.  It makes a world of difference.  For some reason, kids want to hold the first loop or “bunny ear” with their whole fist, instead of pinching it with their two fingers.  If the laces are too short, they disappear in that little hand.  You need laces that are long enough to work with.

Texture – Now this may seem ridiculous, but it’s really true.  Some of the new funky sneakers come with cool laces that are just too silky!  They are usually round, too.   I prefer the plain old flat cotton laces. They tie easily and they stay tied.  The silky ones tie, but because of their round shape and silky texture, they come united right away.  Little kids usually don’t have great hand strength to tie the final bow super tight.  Those silky laces are like Houdini.  Out of that knot in a few minutes.

Visual Attention 

For some children, half the battle is getting their eyes to look at what they are doing.  For children with very poor visual attention, I recommend teaching one step at a time.  I find that children who are motivated and feeling successful do much better with keeping their eyes on what they are doing. By teaching only step one over and over a few times, the child learns it and then feels successful.  Feeling like something is achievable or within their reach makes it more enticing and may help with the visual focus a bit.

Visual Perception

Some OT catalogs sell toys, books, and other gadgets with laces that are two colors.  This is great for kids whop rely heavily on visual feedback.  I really prefer to teach kids to tie on their foot though.  Otherwise you end up teaching them twice.


Just one of the many tools out there with different colored laces….

If your child has difficulty with left/right or spatial concepts such as over/under, it may help to use different colored laces.  Buy two colors that are the same length.  Then cut them both in half and tie them back together with the opposite color.  Lace the shoe so the knot is at the bottom in between the first two holes.  Now when you are helping your child you can say, “the pink lace” rather than left, right, this one, that one, etc.  It just takes away one more obstacle.

Sequencing and Motor Planning

Sometimes the real problem is remembering the steps.  I like to use a story or a poem to help the child because it helps them to remember what happens next.  I prefer to use the one loop method but you can teach it however you like.  There are so many different versions of how to teach it but if you get their body in a good supported position with the other leg out of the way, you are halfway there.

I use the bunny and the snake story. First you make the letter X.  I teach the child to make the X on the shoe, not in the air, because it is more work to hold the two laces up and manipulate them than to leave them down.  Then I help the child find the lace on top.  (This is where the two colors come in handy).  The lace that is on top goes underneath and into the middle. If you tied it correctly, it should look like a piece of twisty macaroni.


Now the child has to make a loop.  This is the bunny, who sits on “macaroni hill”.   I always talk to kids about how bunnies hop on the ground, so it’s important that he doesn’t look like a flying balloon. “Bunnies don’t fly!” Don’t forget to give the bunny a nice long tail.  The other lace is the snake.  Depending on the child, you can make the snake mean and hungry (you can guess the end) or nice.  I like to have a snake in the story because I can tell the child that the end of the lace (the plastic part) is the snake’s face.  This helps them remember that they need to work with the snake’s belly, not his face, in the middle of the story.  “He might bite you!  Don’t touch his face.  Be Careful!”

The snake decides to sneak up behind the bunny.  This part of the story helps a child to remember where the lace needs to go.  “You would never walk in front of the bunny if you were trying to be sneaky…”  Then the snake loops around and hides his face in the forest.  This is the hard part for a lot of kids.  They keep wanting to pick up the end of the lace. “Watch out!  He’ll bite you.  Not his face, grab his belly!”

The snake pushes his belly through the hole that he made when he walked around.  I tell the child  to “pinch the snakes belly”.  The other hand hops to the top of the bunny ear and then both hands pull.  You can have the snake hug the bunny and invite him to lunch (awww) or eat the bunny for lunch (ewww).  You will know what your child will like and remember.

20150123_163925 (1)

It doesn’t matter what story or method you use.  But having a story with steps that help a child to sequence and motor plan their movements  really helps.

I really hope these insights will help you to help your child to tie!  Please comment and tell us if you have any other good tips! Good Luck!

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for stopping by!

~Miss Jaime, OT


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Holiday Cookies & Motor Skills for your OT kid


Making cookies can be a great way to work on OT skills with any child….


Holiday cookies are often the symbolic start of the holiday season…

When I was little the night that we made Christmas cookies was one of my favorite nights in the holiday season.  Even today, my brothers and sister and I crack up at certain songs or memories from when we were little.  Making cookies was an important tradition for my family.  In following that tradition, I had some bonding time with my nieces last night and we decided to start our holiday season by making some cookies.  I thought I’d use some examples from our night to give you all some tips and tricks….

What kid doesn’t like to make cookies?  

hmm, well a child with sensory issues might not.  And a child with poor motor skills who isn’t “good” at making cookies might not either.  Then there are the children who have dietary issues  or allergies that interfere with making and eating classic cookies.  Luckily there are a lot of ways to adapt “cookie making” to make it a holiday activity that the whole family can enjoy.


For sensory children who exhibit tactile defensiveness, cookie making can be a “persuasive”  way to get their hands dirty.  Sensory issues are not black and white and every child is different.  As an OT,  I think it’s important to desensitize children as early as possible.  Often sensory issues can be confused with and/or turn into behaviors. As a parent you have to use your judgement in regards to knowing your child and how far you can “push”.  Also, you need to pick your battles. Cookie making should be fun, so you don’t want to end up in a fight or with a tantrumming kid.  However, if you just “let  it go”, the problem may not get better.  You also don’t want your child “watching” as you make cookies or even worse, playing in the other room because they don’t want to be involved in such a “gooey” task.


Holding a cup and flipping it over is hard work for little forearm muscles…but great exercise!

Let your child pour, scoop or measure all the dry ingredients to start.  If your child is old enough, have them read the recipe and figure out which measuring spoon, cup, etc., that they need.  These are real life skills!  Kids don’t really get a chance to learn this kind of stuff in school.  (Many middle school programs have a class called Family and Consumer Sciences, or FACS, where kids will have a few opportunities to cook).   Dry ingredients are less “noxious” than wet sticky ones.  Your child will get a chance to participate but doesn’t have to get all uncomfortable right away.  You can start to push the envelope by having them pour or measure the “wet” ingredients into a measuring cup or bowl.  They  won’t mind touching the container, just the wet stuff inside.  Cracking an egg always seems to be exciting, no matter how old the child is. Obviously your chances of getting a “usable” egg with no shells, etc., will be slim, but plan accordingly and have your child attempt to crack an egg (or three) into a separate bowl.  When you crack an egg, you have no choice but to get “gooey”, so this is a good chance to work on defensiveness.



My nieces were thrilled to be able to crack their first egg for our cookie making session…

Once your wet and dry ingredients are all in the same bowl, let your defensive child use a long handled spoon to mix them.  This is great exercise for the upper body, too.  If you feel like pushing a little further, use a regular spoon. Your child will not be able to help but get some of the batter on their fingers.  If they get upset, try to blow it off and make it “no big deal”.  If there is a “ruin the night” tantrum on its way, get the bigger spoon.  If even the long handled spoon isn’t working, let your child wear small kitchen gloves or even large zip lock bags over their hands.   The really “good” sensory work comes when you start to mix your cookie dough into one big ball. This requires a lot of sensory tolerance.  Again, if you need to offer your child zip lock bags or gloves, go ahead. If you can get away with it, try not to.

Hand Strength and Dexterity, and Bilateral Coordination 

Occupational Therapists often suggest using therapy putty or clay to work on hand strength, but why not cookie dough!? Cookie dough is softer than the usual putty materials, but there is also a much larger amount.   It is much harder to “knead” a giant ball of  dough than a little silly putty egg’s worth.  Little hands can get tired fast.  And for big kids, if they have weak hands, this is a lot of work.


For children of any age, cookie making is a great way to work on intrinsic hand strength.  Your intrinsic muscles are tiny muscles located in your palm and along your fingers that help you to grasp, release and manipulate small things.  When you move your fingers away from each other or toward each other, those are your intrinsic muscles.  Look at the palm of your hand where a “palm reader” would look.  These lines are formed from the arches in your hand.  You have groups of muscles that work together to get the hand to perform certain movements.  Many children do not have good intrinsic hand strength.

arches 2

A child with weak hands and underdeveloped muscles will have trouble making a “cup” with their hand like this

arches in your hand



Look how tiny they are! It takes a lot of work to get those little guys strong. So get baking!


(If you ask a child to roll a die and they can’t; they just throw it or drop it; it is usually because they can’t make a “cup” with their hand to keep the die in place.  This is because the arches in their hands aren’t developed enough to make or keep the cup.)

Many, many children have poor bilateral skills.  They want to leave their non-dominant hand hanging useless at their side while the dominant hand attempts to do the work.  Alright, they don’t really want to leave it, they can’t help it or they don’t even realize they are doing it.  Sometimes, due to poor strength or stability, a child tries to compensate by using their other hand to support a different body part.  An example would be the child who always leans into their left arm on the chair while the right arm is writing or coloring.  If the child has poor stability or postural control, they are relying on that arm to kind of “prop” their body.   The child who always uses their hand to hold up their head probably has difficulty poor postural control.  Cookie making really involves both hands – pouring, stirring and holding the bowl, using a rolling pin, etc.   And that is before you even start working with the doh.



So enough of the technical stuff.  But I am going to tell you a few ways to “modify” your cookie making activity so that you can get both of those hands as well as those intrinsic muscles involved.

1.  Kneading dough into a giant ball – this works on both arm and hand strength.  It increases endurance and builds the small muscles in the hands.

2.  Scooping a round of dough – using utensils requires skilled movements with the forearms.  The child with mature motor skills should be able to hold a spoon (like a shovel) dig into the dough, and get a nice scoop.  Many children who do not have mature motor skills will hold the spoon incorrectly, which makes the whole task difficult.  If you see your child doing this, just change the position of the spoon for them.  Practice of good positioning can help form the habit.

3.  Making a “Snake” – Don’t be afraid to ask your child to roll the whole ball into a snake (even if you don’t need a roll, they probably don’t know that).  Get as much exercise as you can with this dough! Rolling with both hands can be tricky because they both have to roll at the same time, while pressing with the same force. So you are working on bilateral coordination and force modulation.  (The child with poor sense of force is the one who always accidentally squeezes all the juice out of the juice box before getting a sip.  They also squeeze an enormous blob of glue out of the container when they only need a dot.)

4. Cutting the snake with a knife – Children should start being exposed to using a butter knife or a plastic knife by at least the age of five.  Most children aren’t, for obvious reasons.  But if mom or dad is right there, it should be fine. Plus, using a knife (like a spoon) requires good forearm and hand skills.  It can be very awkward the first time a kid tries to use a knife.  Cookie dough is nice and soft, and all they really have to do is press down. If you are really looking to increase the hand strength, show your child this grasp below.  This grasp strengthens the small muscles of the hands and the arches.


My sweet little niece having a great time slicing up her “snake”. This is a great grasp for increasing hand strength.


You may notice that your child switches back to a “fisted” grasp.  This is normal.  Those little intrinsic muscles get tired quickly.

5. Rolling out the dough – Using a rolling pin is great for bilateral skills and force modulation too.  Plus ,it’s oh-so-fun!

6.  Rolling the dough into small balls – this is a great activity or building the arches in the hands and for using two hands together.  If your child tries to make a ball against the table, show them how to do it in two hands.  This provides double the exercise, plus it reinforces those bilateral skills.

7.  Isolating one finger at a time – Certain cookies (lindser tarts are my favorite) require a “hole” or “imprint” in the middle for jam or whatever.  Many children with poor motor skills have difficulty using one finger at a time.  Using the thumb by itself is the easiest, and then the index. The rest of the fingers are pretty hard. This is a great time to work on remembering the names of each finger for your little guys.

8.  Decorating or adding chips – Depending on what you want to work on with your child, you can adapt your decorating a million ways.

Pincer Grasp -If you want to work on using a pincer grasp (thumb and index only), have your child decorate the roll, (aka, the snake) by placing “spikes”, (aka chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, etc.) down the snakes back.  Yes, they will blend in later when you make another giant ball, unless you decide to work on knife skills to cut the snake into rounds instead of using a spoon.  You can also get crafty by using chips or sprinkles to decorate and make eyes, buttons, etc.

Pencil Grip – 1) Grab your tweezers (clean, please) and have your child sort the colored sprinkles.  Depending on your child’s age and level of skill this could be fun or it could be torture.  See how it goes.


2) Give your child a toothpick and let them “poke” a letter into the cookie.  “S for Santa, M for Mommy, etc.”)

9. Force modulation – use squeeze icing to let your child decorate.  The smaller icings usually come in “gel” and they don’t really look great after you bake the cookies, but the kids have fun creating. Plus, it works on hand strength and force modulation to get the pressure right on the tube.

10. Bilateral Coordination -Using cookie cutters is great for working on two hands.  Resist the urge to “clean the edges” away from the cutter for your child.  Show them how!  If they mess it up, oh well, roll it back into a ball, flatten it out, and try again!

11.  Visual Motor Skills and Visual Perception – Try making a design on a cookie and then having your child copy it.  Get them to draw it on paper after or before.  You can make letters, shapes, or pictures.  You can make faces, too.  You can also help your child to make a design by creating a “connect-the dot” by poking the holes with toothpicks for them.  I did this with my nieces and they followed the design using our “color-sorted” sprinkles to make these cookies.


imageHoliday cookies & OT, fine motor & cookies

Any recipe can be modified and adapted to work on hand skills!  Use these tips to guide you in helping your child work on areas that are hard for them while still having fun!

And have a great holiday!

~Miss Jaime, O.T.


Happy Cookie making!
 ~Miss Jaime, O.T.




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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,

40% off until Friday!

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?

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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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Scissors tricks- 5 tips to help your child

Scissors skills, fine motor skills 

5 Tricks to help your  child with cutting

1.   Thumbs up for good cutting!  

Teach your child that  “thumbs up” means “good job”. Then, show them that in order to cut properly, both hands should be “thumbs up” or “thumbs on top”. Most parents don’t realize that their child is”thumbs down” on the hand that holds the paper.

In order to have the best control, both thumbs should be facing up.

scissors, scissors skills, cutting tricks, fine motor

 2.  Elbows in!

Many children use their whole arm when they only need their hands. This is a sign that they are still developing shoulder stability.  You’ll notice that they may stick their elbow out,  instead of keeping it stable by their body. This is a sign that they are compensating for weak upper body strength and stability.  You can help this along by having your child spend more time on their belly when reading or doing puzzles, etc.  In the meantime when they are cutting, remind them “elbows tucked in”.  This will give them better control.

scissors skills

3.  Right side up! 

cutting, scissors, fine motor, scissors skills, cutting tricks

If your child consistently forgets to hold the scissors right side up with their thumb in the little hole, make it fun by drawing a face on their thumb or their thumbnail before they begin cutting.  Tell them that the thumb is the bus driver.  He sits in the front seat (small window)  by himself.  The rest of the fingers are the kids, they sit in the back together.  Most kids like this trick.

If they still have trouble after a few times, you can also try gluing or drawing eyes on the “little hole”.  This way, when your little one picks up the scissors, the eyes are “watching him”.  Hot glue does not last very long on plastic, but that’s ok! Hopefully, by the time the googly eyes fall off, your child will have developed the proper habit.

4. The writing hand is the cutting hand!

Children should have developed their hand dominance by the time they are four.  However, sometimes they may still switch for certain activities.  With scissors, I find that lefties often switch to “righty” to cut because the blades of typical scissors work better when cutting with the right hand. (Most lefty scissors have the blades reversed – who knew!?)  Some parents buy their child a lefty scissors to make it easier.  I highly suggest this!

But they may still switch hands.

If your child is switching hands, encourage them to use their dominant hand.  If you aren’t sure whether they are lefty or righty,  watch which hand they use to pick up their fork, crayon, or a toy.   Place objects in the middle of their body and see which hand they prefer.  Once your child has chosen a hand, encourage that hand for cutting, coloring, and using a fork.   One tip to help them remember is to use a tattoo!  Put a removable tattoo on your child’s dominant hand as a “reminder”.  Kids love tattoos and it’s an easy fix.

 5.  Get those muscles strong! 

One of the reasons that cutting is difficult for children is that they have to separate the two sides (pinky and thumb) of their hand.  This is hard work, and sometimes hard work is NOT fun.  If your little guy gets frustrated with cutting, work on their hand strength with other activities that work the same muscles.  This way, the muscles are getting stronger while your child is having fun doing something “different”.  Here are some simple everyday activities that develop separation of the two sides of the hand:

1) Fill an empty spray bottle with water and let your children spray the plants, the car, the chalk off the driveway!

2) Bring it to the beach or the pool and let your children spray you, themselves, or each other when they get hot!

3)  Same goes for old fashioned (trigger style) water guns.

4) Use your old tweezers to pick up beans, beads, or anything small.

5) Use Spaghetti  Tongs to pick up all the dirty laundry (or anything else) off the floor.

5) Use an old sock to make a sock puppet – draw a mouth and a face so your child practices “opening and shutting” the mouth as he talks.

scissors skills, fine motor

Hope these simple tricks help you to help your child with the tough task of learning how to cut!  Good Luck!

#functionalskillsforkids, toileting, potty training

~Miss Jaime, O.T.


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