In their work with children who have cognitive and physical differences, occupational therapists (OTs) use fun, hands-on activities to help kids learn to self-regulate emotions, improve their fine motor skills, and reach other developmental milestones.
But it’s not just occupational therapists who can use OT activities to work with kids. Parents can incorporate therapeutic methods into their child’s daily life, using games and crafts in a way that engages the senses.
In this post, we share a variety of occupational therapy activities for children. We also offer printable Valentine’s Day–themed activities that give kids a chance to practice basic cognitive and motor tasks. These exercises not only improve engagement and learning—they can also boost kids’ self-esteem.
Ideas for Occupational Therapy Activities
With the activities below, kids manipulate objects and instruments (such as scissors and crayons) as a way to build the small muscles in the hand, wrist, and fingers. This helps kids improve their dexterity and hand-eye coordination, as well as their ability to manage their emotions.
- Tear paper into strips
- Use tweezers to pick up small objects, such as buttons or beads
- Use a hole punch to create designs in paper
- Put a puzzle together
- Drop coins into a piggy bank
- Use toothpicks to pick up small pieces of food
- Create shapes and objects with Play-Doh
- Put Cheerios™ or Fruit Loops® on a string and create an edible necklace
- Play games that involve rolling dice, such as Yahtzee
- Place fun stickers on paper
- Draw with chalk on the sidewalk
- Play with Lego® pieces and create buildings, vehicles, animals, or people
- Paint a picture with a paintbrush—or with fingerpaints
- Sort different shapes of pasta
- Play with blocks
- Work on a crossword puzzle, filling in the missing words
- Use a spoon to move dry pasta or beads from one jar into another
- Color a picture with colored pencils or crayons
- Wrap presents and tie a bow for the top
- Cut shapes in paper to make shadow puppets, then project the shapes on the wall using a flashlight in a darkened room
- Write a letter to a parent
- Play a card game, such as Uno
- Bake cookies; either form the dough into balls or roll it out and use cookie cutters to create the shapes
- Cut out pictures from calendars and magazines and glue them onto a blank sheet to make a collage
- Write out a list of favorite movies or animals
- Play catch
- Sort coins into piles
- Cut a piece of paper in half as straight as possible
- Write out a to-do list for the day
- Create a paper airplane
- Draw a picture of family members
- Draw mustaches on photos of people in magazines to make them funny
- Do a garden cleanup and pull out the weeds
- Make confetti by tearing up paper
- Practice tying shoes
- Stack coins as high as possible
- Fold clothes
- Sort shells from the beach or rocks by size
- Use Q-tips® to paint
- Make a paper airplane and try to land it in certain spots
- Shoot basketballs into a hoop
- String paper clips together
- Make water balloons and try to throw them at a particular object
- Build a sandcastle on the beach
- Write or draw pictures on a dry-erase board
- Play dress-up and try on different jackets and coats that have buttons and zippers
Occupational Therapy Activities for Valentine’s Day
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we have created four printable occupational therapy activities. Download them all below.
47. Candy Heart Placement Printable
Placement activities can be a valuable precursor to writing. Since the activity requires kids to pick up, grasp, and place small objects, it helps them improve hand-eye coordination and strengthen the small hand muscles they need for writing.
48. Cupid Tracing Printable
Tracing is a great way for kids who are just beginning to print letters to get more comfortable holding writing instruments. This activity also helps with hand-eye coordination and strengthening the small muscles in the hand. Plus, kids can color in the entire printable after they’re done tracing for added fine motor skill practice and fun!
49. Arrow-in-Heart Grid Drawing Printable
Grid drawing aids kids with observational and drawing skills. Breaking the drawing down into smaller sections helps them understand how shapes fit together and how to observe detail. Coloring in the picture will again help strengthen their hand muscles.
50. Valentine’s Day Handwriting Worksheet
Improving handwriting takes practice. It requires hand strength, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to successfully manipulate a writing utensil. Using this fun handwriting worksheet, kids can practice printing their letters and building up the skills they need to write well.
If you’re interested in helping kids achieve their fullest potential, becoming an occupational therapist is a creative, meaningful career path that might be right for you! Be sure to check out the entry-level graduate degree programs in occupational therapy offered by the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers hands-on Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) and Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degrees. Join a collaborative cohort of peers who learn under the mentorship of expert faculty-practitioners. Practice with mock patients in our state-of-the-art simulation centers and learn anatomy with our high-tech tools. Prepare for clinical practice with patients across the lifespan, as well as advanced roles in research, practice leadership, and policymaking. Residential (online coursework + in-person labs on weekdays) and Flex (online coursework + in-person labs on weekends) formats are available.
But, what does an occupational therapist actually do? Here’s a look at the roles and responsibilities of occupational therapists, as well as the required skills and education, and career outlook.
What is an Occupational Therapist?
Occupational therapy (OT) is an allied health profession that involves the therapeutic use of everyday activities, or occupations, to treat the physical, mental, developmental, and emotional ailments that impact a patient’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks.
As such, an occupational therapist is a practitioner who uses therapeutic techniques to improve, rehabilitate, or maintain a patient’s ability to perform everyday activities.
Michael Roberts, associate professor and program director for the master’s in occupational therapy program at Regis College, explains, “Our job as OTs is to help people be more independent, have better quality of life, and live with as few restrictions as possible.”
Occupational therapy differs from other healthcare professions like physical therapy or nursing in its focus on treating the whole patient, rather than treating a particular injury, ailment, or disability. For example, after a surgery a nurse might assist a patient with pain management, dressing changes, and care during recovery. An occupational therapist, on the other hand, will assess the activities that are important to the patient and teach them how to become independent again following the surgery, so that they can resume the roles that define who they are.
“What sets OTs apart is our focus on occupation as the tool we use to restore, rebuild, and enhance our clients’ lives,” notes Roberts. “When we say ‘occupation’, we mean the activities that we do every day; the roles, tasks, and goals that define who we are. Everyone has activities that define who they are, whether it’s work tasks, artistic expressions, leisure pursuits, school responsibilities, or play activities. Using those activities as therapeutic tools helps us build better lives for our patients.”
Key Roles and Responsibilities
As discussed above, occupational therapists work with their patients by taking a therapeutic approach to everyday activities. Broadly, this means that occupational therapists are responsible for helping patients develop, recover, improve in regards to a condition or injury, as well as maintain the skills needed to execute daily activities. But, what does this actually entail?
In general, OTs are responsible for a wide range of duties and tasks related to patient care. Depending on the setting in which they work, the roles of an OT often include:
- Evaluating a patient’s condition and needs
- Developing treatment plans to address a patient’s needs and help them meet specific goals
- Assessing a patient’s home and/or work environment and recommending adaptations to fit the patient’s needs and improve independence
- Training patients and their caregivers to use special equipment
- Assess and document progress for evaluation, billing, and reporting purposes
- And more
The day-to-day activities that occupational therapists take part in will also likely be influenced by the settings in which they work. Many occupational therapists work in hospital or private practice settings, however, there are many opportunities to work in other environments. For example, some practitioners work in educational settings to assist in child development or with the elderly to lessen the struggles that come along with aging. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit may even choose to open and manage their own private practice.
While occupational therapists come from all backgrounds, there are several key skills and qualities that lend themselves well to the nature of occupational therapy work. For instance, it is important for these professionals to have a strong sense of compassion and empathy in order to work with their patients’ best interests in mind. In fact, many occupational therapists are drawn to this line of work from a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
In addition to having a people-oriented mindset, there are several skills that OTs should have to be successful in the field. Among these include:
- Communication skills: OTs must have strong written and verbal communication skills in order to effectively understand the needs of their patients and explain the treatment process. Additionally, they must be able to clearly document treatment plans and progress, as well as collaborate with other healthcare professionals.
- Problem Solving: Since no two cases will ever be the same, good OTs must demonstrate excellent problem solving skills to determine the best course of action for each unique situation.
- Patience and Flexibility: Often times, occupational therapy is a long road to restoring a patient’s independence. Good OTs must be patient and flexible when dealing with the high and low points throughout this process.
Like many healthcare professions, occupational therapy requires extensive education and training in order to become a licensed practitioner. Most OTs enter the workforce with at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy, while some also choose to pursue a doctoral degree to advance further in the field.
In addition to earning a master’s degree from an accredited program, graduates must also take the national exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). While the requirements vary by location, all states require practitioners to pass the NBCOT exam to earn the title “Occupational Therapist, Registered” (OTR) and obtain state licensure.
For occupational therapists who wish to demonstrate their advanced skills in a particular area of practice, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) also offers various board and specialty certifications in areas such as:
- Mental Health
- Physical Rehabilitation
- Driving and Community Mobility
- Environmental Modification
- Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing
- Low Vision
- School Systems
Occupational therapists and those looking to enter the field can expect generous compensation and job growth over the coming years.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for OTs is expected to grow by 18 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. This change equates to roughly 23,700 more jobs in the field through the next decade.
In 2018, the BLS also found that occupational therapists earned an average annual salary of $84,270. Of course, compensation can vary substantially depending on the state in which they are employed.
The need for occupational therapists is predicted to rise in order to care for the aging baby-boom generation, as OTs play a large role in the treatment of age related ailments like arthritis and stroke. Furthermore, as patients continue to seek long-term treatment for disabilities and chronic illnesses, the demand for skilled and compassionate practitioners will continue to grow.
Becoming an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapy is highly rewarding rewarding work that is growing in demand as the healthcare landscape continues to evolve. For those considering a career in the medical field, but are unsure of the direction they should follow, occupational therapy can be a valuable opportunity.
Roberts explains, “The biggest difference between OT and many other health care professions is that ‘We do with people, not to people.’ We’re all about helping people live life to the fullest, regardless of what their life is like or who they are.”
If you are passionate about making a positive impact in the lives of others, occupational therapy might be the right path for you. To get started on this path, earning a master’s in occupational therapy is the first step in becoming a registered OT and making a difference.
Are you considering earning your master’s degree in occupational therapy and becoming an occupational therapist? Learn more about the different reasons it might be the right move for you.