Winter’s here! And with it, comes a plethora of creative ways Occupational Therapists (OTs) can address our students’ fine, visual, and gross motor skills.
The fun winter occupational therapy activities below are some favorites OTs on the Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) team enjoy using in the warmth of the physical or virtual classroom. They are easy to prepare, can be used over multiple sessions, and make great at-home activities for families to enjoy during winter break!
Our OTs’ Forecast for Winter Activities: Let it Snow!
I told you I’d be sharing winter OT activities, but let’s face facts…when we think winter, we think SNOW! Even for kids in warm climates, the idea of having fun with snow is captivating.
Playing in the snow is an extremely sensory experience:
- Feeling frosty air on your face.
- Stomping around in snow boots—heavy work!
- Pushing, packing, and lifting snow to build snowmen and snow forts.
- Whizzing down a hill on a sled.
So much activity and rich sensory input!
As OTs, we can conjure much of snow play’s sensory-rich aspects while staying warm and dry indoors. Take a look at these winter activities:
- Make Your Own Snow
Common household ingredients can become a bundle of sensory fun. Here are three options:
- Pour 1/2 cup white hair conditioner. Stir in about 3 cups baking soda with a fork. The resulting snow packs well—perfect for building snow people!
- Mix equal parts shaving foam (not gel) and cornstarch. You’ll get a dense, foamy, easily moldable snow.
- Buy dehydrated snow powder (sold under various brand names). Pour in water, and voila! Flaky fun for everyone!
It doesn’t matter which variety of faux snow you choose. Students playing with it at your sensory table can sharpen their literacy skills as they read the recipes, their visual perception as they measure out ingredients, and their fine motor skills as they manipulate it.
See? Speech Language Pathologists aren’t the only ones who get to have fun using science in their sessions!
- Stockpile Some Yarn “Snowballs”
Let the indoor snowball fights begin! Search the internet for “yarn snowballs” and you’ll find no shortage of simple, DIY instructions for this iconic winter craft. Some of your students might be able to help you make the snowball stash. The cutting, wrapping, knotting, and fluffing of the yarn makes the project an excellent fine-motor activity for kids.
But, all your students are sure to enjoy throwing their snowballs at such targets as collapsible mesh laundry baskets or inflatable snowmen. This fun gross motor and coordination activity makes for lots of fun therapy sessions on those inclement days!
- Stage Snowball Target Practice
Once your students have their yarn snowballs, build some towers of paper cups for them to knock down—cut snow people faces in the cups first to practice scissor skills. This OT activity not only lets students practice the “step and throw” skills foundational to physical fitness but also lends itself to purposeful cleanup. Use snowball makers or hand grippers to find the snowballs now scattered around your therapy room.
- Find Myriad Uses for “Mini-Snowballs”
They may look like marshmallows or cotton balls. But, when Jack Frost’s nipping at your imagination, they become miniature snowballs useful for an almost endless number of OT activities.You can:
- Have students practice their grip skills by stuffing empty plastic water bottles with cotton balls.
- Reinforce counting skills by instructing students to add marshmallows to pictures of hot cocoa.
- Encourage students to use mini-snowballs to decorate the art they’ve created when practicing their scissor skills. For example, you can create simple snow globes with a cut-out triangular base beneath a cut-out circle, with a favorite picture pasted in the center.
- Share the Sensation of Cold
Touching something cold can be a very alerting proprioceptive sensation for some students. I’ve seen several clever OT activities capturing snow’s coldness incorporated into therapy sessions. Here are just two:
- Freeze dehydrated water beads in plastic sandwich bags. Have students separate the beads while holding the bags. This clean and reusable activity offers both tactile and auditory feedback.
- Ask students to sort frozen, fun-shaped plastic ice cubes to help them hone their sorting, categorizing, and pattern reinforcement skills.
“Hide Your Work in Play” as a PTS Occupational Therapist
Snow can be pretty exciting stuff. But don’t overlook calming winter occupational therapy activities, either.
Kids could make their own calm-down jars, for instance, filled with a water-glue medium and glitter (and naturally, snowflake-shaped confetti.) Or, lead a winter-themed visualization with meditative music while students rest on a floor mat with a weighted blanket. It may be exactly what an escalated student needs to bring her back to the “ready to learn” state so she can finish her school day.
However, when you take advantage of winter—especially the snow—in your therapeutic activities, have fun! As Occupational Therapists, we are fortunate because we’re able to hide our work in play.
If you’d like to know more about working and playing as an OT with PTS at any time of year, check out our currently available positions and contact us today!