Dollar store, stocking stuffers, sensory, fidgets

Dollar Store Stocking Stuffers for your Sensory Kid…

The “little” holiday gifts are sometimes the hardest to think of….

Opening my stocking on Christmas morning was one my favorite parts of the holiday.   My mom always stuffed my stocking with little nail polishes, socks, and other tiny fun things, all individually wrapped. I’m sure she spent a fortune and a ton of time wrapping every little thing, only to the five of us rip through the stockings in less than five minutes.  As we all grew up and moved out, the stocking tradition stopped, which was soooo sad.  Oh well!  Life goes on!

As I ran to the dollar store yesterday to get some tinfoil pans for the ten pounds of mashed potatoes I need to make for Thursday, I was struck by all the awesome Sensory stuff at the Dollar Tree.   In the spirit of the holiday season, I decided to share  some of my Dollar Store know-how for all you moms out there who need to stuff a stocking for your sensory kid!

Some of this stuff is “non-traditional”,  but shouldn’t stockings be individualized to the child?

So if something seems weird but might be something your child loves, go for it.

StressBalls – Tactile and great as a fidget (also great for hand strength)

Koosh balls– Tactile and great as a fidget (some kids are very defensive to Koosh balls for some reason)

Silly Putty – Stretchy and tactile, heavy work for little hands.  (also great for hand strength)

Fake Play-Doh– I say fake because it is imitation play-doh and it’s definitely not as good as the real thing.  However, it is still fun to squeeze, squish and create with.  It just won’t last too long.

Silly String – Tactile- Kind of wet and cold when it squirts; (AMAZING for hand strength – see spray snow) and so fun to play with in the snow!

Shaving Cream – For finger painting, sensory squeeze bags, or the moonsand recipe below, etc.

Body Lotion – For massages, deep pressure and tactile input (can help calm and get little ones to sleep) Dollar Tree has princess lotion!

Hair gel – For finger painting, sensory squeeze bags, etc.

Slime/Gak – These little eggs of goo are usually in the same aisle as the stress balls – they are wet, smelly, slimy, and the containers are hard to  open (need 2 hands and great practice for opening lunch/juice boxes, etc.)

Loofah – Great in the bathtub or out, loofahs can be great for tactile and sensory input

Nail files – This is a tough one to sell for any kid, but a sensory kid really can be defensive when it comes to nail hygiene.  For girls, the promise of glittery nail polish or polish that is “Anna and Elsa’s” favorite color can help persuade them for a little, soak, scrub, and file.  For  boys, sometimes watching mom or dad or an older brother can be a little helpful.  If they really hate getting their nails clipped and or filed, try to do it after a bath and use a buffer instead of a nail file (until they tolerate it).

Velvet color by number– These are fuzzy and fun for kids who enjoy coloring and the tactile feedback helps kids to color within the lines

Scratch Art – These vary by store but the concept is the same, grab your scratcher (with a perfect pencil grasp, of course) and scratch the paper until some fabulous art shows through.  It’s fun.

Chalkboard games – Many of these from the Dollar Store are cheap and don’t last long. But writing with chalk provides a kinesthetic feedback that kids don’t get to experience with dry erase, pencil, writing on a tablet, etc.  It is fun and if used consistently, can really help a child’s motor skills.

Cornstarch – This is a weird one, and your kid may think you’re crazy.

1)  You can use cornstarch to make “oobleck” ( a Dr. Suess favorite – look up the book and here is the link to the recipe)

2) You can make moonsand

Bubblewrap – so, so, fun.  I bring bubble wrap to my classes sometimes when I want to strengthen a pincer or pencil grasp. The weak kids always want to “rip” the plastic with their nails.  Not on my watch!  Get those “pinchers” moving.

Stretchy Bugs, Animals, Creatures, etc. – These are great fidgets for a kid who needs to have something in their hands all the time.

“Fidgets” – I consider mini koosh balls, tops, jacks, mini slinkys, etc. all to be fidgets.  They are small and keep little hands busy when mouths are supposed to be quiet (teacher is talking, waiting in waiting room, sitting in movie theater, etc.)

Grow In Water Pills – I buy these pills a lot when I’m at the Dollar Store – they look like an aspirin, but when they are submerged in hot water, the plastic coating around them starts to melt and then a little sponge in the shape of a bug, dinosaur, etc., pops out for kids to play with.   Because I am always looking for ways to work on hand strength, I put a bunch in a tupperware and then give my students Travel Size Water Bottles  filled with hot water so they can squeeze, squeeze, squeeze until their hands get tired.  I’m so mean, right!?  But they love it and then they get to have water play.  Also, the sponges can be used later for painting activities, etc.   You can do a lot with these little guys – and they are usually 9 pills for a buck – what a bargain!

Grow in Water Animals –  Same concept as above.  But they are bigger and cost $1 each – and they will definitely take up more room in the stocking (that’s always a plus!)

Mechanical pencils -there is something thrilling about replacing the broken lead of a mechanical pencil. That is, the first few times.  After that you start to get annoyed and then think… Maybe I shouldn’t press so hard….If you have a child that presses way too hard when he or she writes, give these a try.  The feedback from the break may be a help with that habit.  If your child is in the second grade or older, I suggest trying to get them to change the lead themselves. Resist the urge to automatically do it for them. Maybe they will be able to do it.

Highlighters – Kids love highlighters.  I think it is because they are mostly a “grown-up” thing.  However, highlighters can be great to help kids with copying, “highlight one line blue, copy it, next line yellow, copy, etc… They can also be great to help outline a shape when your child needs to “cut on the line”. They can help highlight where to write when they need to skip spaces or write smaller. They are even good to make boxes to keep your letters and words spaced properly.

Flashlights – What kid doesn’t love their “own” flashlight?  It may seem like a weird gift, but you can explain that it is their special flashlight to use if the lights ever go out. You can also use it to work on visual tracking and scanning, games like I spy, ( turn the lights off in the living room, “I spy, Daddy!,  I spy, the TV set!, etc.” Your child  has to move the beam of light (aka. tracking) and then settle on the object he is looking for.

Basting Brush – Again, this one is a little weird, but it is basically a plastic paint brush.  The bristles are a different texture for your “multi-sensory” kid and it can be just another tool to have fun and paint with.  Besides, your child doesn’t even know what basting is.

Spray Snow – Spray Snow can provide hours of fun, but obviously your child needs to be chaperoned.  Aerosol cans like these can be dangerous, but I love the position that the little hand needs to take in order to get it to “squirt”.  It is EXTREMELY difficult to hold the cylinder of a can in your thumb, middle, ring and pinky while your index sits on and squeezes the cap.   This one is for older kids (like 8 and up).


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sensory processing

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

Oral Motor

Okay, I am going to include this because so many children have weak oral motor skills and it can impact their speech,  eating habits, and oral hygiene.   That said, your house will be very loud and potentially obnoxious if you stuff your kids’ stockings with these toys.  BUT! in the spirit of the holidays…. it is supposed to be all about the kids, right?  Maybe confiscate the loud ones for “another day” when they can go outside or in the soundproof basement, etc.

Whistles – in the party favor section, there are a lot of different whistles, princess, whistles, hunting “duck” whistles, etc.

Blow toys- not sure what these babies are called exactly, but you have to control your breath so the ball goes up but not too far, etc.  This works on force modulation (if you remember from last week) and breath control.



Balloons – Kids love balloons and there are a million ways to play with them.  You can put them in their gift and then offer to blow one up and they are likely to play with the balloon longer than your other present.  For older kids, trying to blow up a balloon is a major deal, and something we totally take for granted.   Many dollar stores have them multi-colored bags or one color, which can be fun if you get your child to “help decorate” for the holidays.

Blow outs – these look like the annoying noise makers from New Years Eve, but way bigger.

Novelty straws – Straws are a great way to work on “sucking” and oral motor “strengthening”.  The Dollar Store has fun ones for both boys and girls.

Noise Horns – Again, so annoying but so strangely addicting…

Musical Instruments – On this particular trip to the Dollar Tree, there were a lot of recorders.  Blowing would be work alone, but then you have the eye-hand coordination to try to cover up the holes at the same time.


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What is your favorite Dollar $tore Stocking Stuffer?  Please leave a comment and let us know!


Happy Thanksgiving!      ~Miss Jaime, O.T.



Cooking with kids, cooking and OT

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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