By Laura Spanel, Occupational Therapist
Toys can cost a lot of money, but they don’t have to cost anything! Look around your house — with a little imagination and creativity, there can be no end to the amount of fun you can have with your child and everyday household items!
Let’s start in the kitchen. As families, we probably spend a lot of time passing in and out of the kitchen without even realizing what treasures are hidden inside our cabinets and drawers. Find anything with a lid and you can cut various shape holes or slits to make container toys. Some examples include Cool Whip tubs, old Rubbermaid/Tupperware containers, Parmesan cheese containers, ketchup bottles, dip containers, takeout containers, etc. Search for various sizes that your child can grasp. You might have to run to the store and purchase some items to turn these containers into fun toys, but the cost should be small. Some examples include pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks (color the tips, draw shapes, write letters), straws, colored paperclips, pompoms, toothpicks, etc. to work on matching skills as you insert through the slot.
I saw a neat idea on Pinterest with an old Parmesan container. The pinner glued on wiggly eyes and a red tongue to turn the container into a pretend frog. They then found little pretend ants and used a chip bag to catch and feed the frog by dropping inside the mouth.
More ideas include making homemade paint and filling ketchup or other condiment containers to squeeze. Use spray bottles to fill with water and make water “monsters” on the sidewalk. You can even pop bubbles with the water spray.
All these activities are great to promote hand strength to the entire hand and the small muscles that control the fine movements when we draw, write or color. You can get out your baking goods for some more fun. Muffin tins make excellent tools to promote the use of the thumb and index finger together. Wire cooling racks are also great to work on lacing skills by threading colorful ribbon though or work on coloring between lines. Wire whisks would be great to work on using two hands to mix together soap and water to make a mountain of toys where treasures await to find inside. Using two hands together is an important skill needed for cutting and stabilizing paper when coloring, drawing or writing. Icing papers, rolling pins and cookie cutters are just a few more examples. Think big! Have a balloon volley ball back and forth using the rolling pin to hit. This is a great way to develop arm muscle strength.
The bathroom is next. Not your typical place to think of fun but think of all the ideas that you can do with cotton balls, Q-tips, eye droppers, empty pill containers, makeup sponges, etc. You can pull apart cotton balls to make a July Winter Wonderland on paper. You can also practice your grasping skills with cotton balls to paint pictures. Use Q-tips to paint. Have science experiments with eye droppers (this might require the use of the kitchen too). Use the eye dropper to suck up vinegar and drop on baking soda. Watch it explode. Combine different colored water and see what happens.
Now let’s move to the office. The office is more than just a place where mom and dad go to get their work done. Hole punches, post-it notes, staplers, rubber bands and paper clips can go far to develop fine motor skills. Create art punching holes in paper. Put inside balloons to make confetti and pop them outside where making a mess is allowed. Write secret codes on post-its that are folded up for your child to unfold and decode. Practice stretching your hands wide with rubber bands to make them strong. Make colorful bracelets and jewelry with paper clips.
The last room we will take a look at is the garage. Think of all the fun you can have with those garden tools and seeds. Make mosaic art with the different seeds. Get down and dirty and work on all those arm and hand muscles gardening. Use painter’s tape to make obstacle course paths. Practice walking different ways on the tape. Get out your paintbrushes and make some art. Hammer some nails in a board and practice balancing marbles on top to develop fine motor control within your hand.
About the Author
Laura Spanel has her Masters in Occupational Therapy from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. She graduated in 2009 and started her career as a pediatric occupational therapist at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley. She has experience working in both the clinic and the school as well as in the home environment for children birth through three years. Laura is SIPT (Sensory Integration and Praxis Text) certified and has worked with numerous children with sensory processing disorders, autism, attention deficit/hyper activity, developmental delay and neurological disorders. She has taken classes regarding various sensory treatment modalities including the “How Does Your Engine Run?” program, Zones of Regulation, and the CO-OP (Cognitive Orientation to Occupational Performance).