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.

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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

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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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