Starfish Therapies

February 11, 2016

How to Make a Tennis Ball Monster

tennis ball monster

What you need: A tennis ball, scissors or knife, marker, small manipulatives such as paperclips, pennies, beads, pom poms, etc.


  1. A whole or slit needs to be cut across the ball first for the mouth. The adult should do this possibly before beginning the activity with the child. This can be difficult to do so be fully away of what direction the knife it going and how you are pushing down on it. I prefer to rotate the knife back and forth to make a puncture first. It’s then easier to put the knife into the ball and saw back and forth to make a mouth. It’s ok if it’s not straight, it will still work the same. The wider you make the mouth, the easier it will be for the child to open it. The smaller the slit the more they will have to squeeze and the difficulty increases.
  2. Let the child draw a face on the ball with a marker. They can get creative and make it into an animal instead of a person as well by drawing on ears, whiskers, etc.
  3. Have them pick different items to place in the ball. Pennies, buttons, paperclips, etc. are all going to be easier and they won’t have to squeeze open the ball as much with their other hand to place these in. Items such as pom poms, beads, and marbles will increase the difficulty level once they’ve mastered the easier manipulatives.

What this works on:

  • Fine motor strength: squeezing the ball for an extended amount of time to place all the items in can be challenging and build on fine motor strength and endurance.
  • Bilateral hand use: They have to use two hands to place the pieces in. The ball is round so they have to pick it up to squeeze and then use their other hand to place the items into the ball.
  • Pincer grasp: Picking up items off the floor and placing them into a smaller hole can encourage pincer grasp.
  • Imaginative play: They can pretend the ball is eating and make sounds or open and close its mouth to make it talk. It’s great to work on your child’s imagination if this is an area that they have trouble with.

Adapting it:

  • If they won’t use two hands to place the items in. Do hand over hand to help them hold the tennis ball, and allow them to place the items in. You’ll find you can release after awhile when they begin to get it.
  • Have them take items out of the ball instead. This still encourages them to squeeze the ball or to isolate their fingers and stick them inside. You may have to place something of high interest into the ball to work on this.

Or, if you want to buy a fabulous version, with fun games and instructions included visit Therapy Fun Zone! (Check out their other fun products and ideas as well – this site has so much to offer) And, here are a ton of blogs giving you awesome ideas for how to use this toy – the best part about this version is that you can get them wet and messy – our kids have loved playing with them in shaving cream and other messy materials!

Munchy Ball 1 Munchy Ball 2 Munchy Ball 4 Munchy Ball 5

February 20, 2015

Doing Two Things at Once


Have you ever asked your child to walk while holding their glass of milk back to the table? “Dual tasking” or doing two things a once can sometimes be a difficult task and occasionally can lead to some spilled milk! Walking has been thought to be an automatic activity. However, recently studies have shown that walking actually requires attention and that people change their walking pattern when performing a dual task.

A study published in 2007 examined pre-school children ages 4 to 6 and their ability to perform easy and difficult dual tasks. They examined the changes in the children’s walking performance while walking normally, walking while performing a motor task (carrying a tray with or without marbles), and walking while completing a cognitive task (counting forwards or backwards). The results of this study show that in typically developing children walking is affected by carrying out a simultaneous task. Children need to create stability to carry out the dual task and therefore widened their stance, take shorter steps, spend more time with both feet on the ground and slow down their walking speed in order adjust to the task. This demonstrates that children have decreased walking efficiency and compromised balance while they carry out either a motor or cognitive task.

Walking while performing a concurrent task occurs commonly and frequently in a child’s every day life, for example walking while carrying a tray of food at school, walking a glass of milk back to the table or walking while answering a question. Teachers and parents should be aware of the cost and effort that it takes for a child to walk and perform these common tasks. This knowledge can help choose suitable activities that the child can successfully complete as well as prevent an accidental fall or spilled milk. Therefore, allow your child to walk slowly, safely and carefully the next time they are walking their glass full of milk back to the table!

Cherng RJ, Liang LY, Hwang IS, Chen JY. The effect of a concurrent task on the walking performance of preschool children. Gait Posture 2007;26:231-7.

January 5, 2015

Five Ways to Use Drinking Straws


Straws are a fun and affordable way to develop fine motor skills such as cutting and stringing. Straws also can be used for fun tabletop games or for arts and crafts.

1.  Blowing bubbles: Who remembers blowing bubbles in a glass of milk as a child? Blowing bubbles are a great way for improving oral motor skills as well as improving muscle tone in cheeks and lips. An easy fun activity is adding a couple drops of dish soap with some water into a large bowl. To make it extra exciting, food coloring can be added. Have your child blow as many bubbles as possible by exhaling through the straw. A trick to make sure your child does not inhale any soapy water, is to cut a small hole near the top of the straw so the child is able to exhale but not inhale water!
2.  Cutting: Cutting different sized straws is a great way to develop scissor skills. Cutting straws helps to develop ability to snip and open/close scissors because straws are easy to hold and align. Plus there is the added fun factor that the pieces fly when cut!
3.  Stringing: Using cut up straws to string onto pipe cleaner or yarn is a great fine motor activity to increase pincer grasp skills, and bilateral hand use. Different beads can be added for color and they can make great bracelets or key chains.
4.  Painting: Place different colored washable paint dollops on a large sheet of paper and have your child blow air through a straw to create a masterpiece! The same technique can be used for blowing bubbles, cut a small hole near the top of straw to prevent ingestion of paint.
5.  Maze: Glue straws to the top of a cardboard box lid to create a maze. You can use shoe box lids, or old soda cartons. Feel free to get creative and it can be simple or complex. Place a marble in the maze and have your child hold the lid using both hands to move box in order to have the marble travel through the maze. This is a wonderful activity that addresses bilateral hand skills, motor planning, and force modulation.

December 31, 2014

Top Ten Posts of 2014


Happy New Year everyone!  Thank you for continuing to enjoy our blog as much as we enjoy producing it.  Here are the ten posts that were the most popular over 2014.  We can’t wait to see what 2015 produces!

10.  Encouraging Rolling – From Back to Stomach

9.  What Does Low Tone Mean?

8.  Core = More Than Just Abs

7.  My Child Isn’t Rolling Over:  Should I Be Concerned?

6.  Easter Egg Hunt for Motor Skills

5.  A Glossary of Sitting

4.  Having a Ball with Core Muscle Strength

3.  A Multi-Tasking Activity

2.  Motor Learning:  Stages of Motor Learning and Strategies to Improve Acquisition of Motor Skills

And the number one post this year was this amazing Guest Post from the folks over at Milestones and Miracles!

1.  Avoiding the ‘Container Shuffle’ with your Baby

April 20, 2014

Sidewalk Chalk

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 4:18 pm
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sidewalk chalk

With the weather getting nicer, you may be looking for some outdoor activities.  Sidewalk chalk is a great tool that is limited only by imagination. Just think of all the things you can do with it. Besides drawing pictures in your driveway, sidewalk chalk can be valuable tool when working on improving your child’s motor skills, the most obvious one being practicing their drawing and writing skills. But they can also strengthen their arms through weight bearing, work on their balance, learn to visually track, improve their jumping skills, and learn sequencing with a little help from this outdoor favorite. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Drawing on the ground – in order to draw on the ground, your child has to sit or lay on their belly on the ground. This means that they’ll likely be bearing weight on their non-dominate hand the entire time they are drawing and strengthening that arm. If you feeling adventurous try challenging them to draw with their non-dominate hand.
  2. Draw hopscotch on the ground – they can practice jumping together and apart in order to complete the hopscotch or hopping on one foot as their skills develop.
  3. Draw a “balance beam” on the ground – they can practice walking on the line without stepping off. If they get good at walking forward, try walking backwards or sideways. You can also try making a squiggly line.
  4. Draw a racetrack for them to ride their bike/trike, or sit and ride toy around – this will make them visually follow the line while riding in order to stay on track.
  5. If you get bored with all of these, try drawing an obstacle course and putting them all together – you can draw bases to hop between, a line to walk across, a hopscotch to jump through, and even hand and foot prints to do animal walks on.

And don’t forget all the fun you can have washing your daily activates away so you can draw new ones tomorrow! What else have you done with sidewalk chalk?

April 9, 2014

Making Use of the Junk Drawer

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 9:00 am
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Wait don’t throw that away! Our junk drawers can hold some quick and easy fine motor and visual activities for our kids. Let’s get creative with what we unknowingly have in our possession already. Here are some great ideas and activities to do with 3 things that may be in a junk drawer:

Rubber band:

  • Place the rubber band on the index finger and thumb and have them open their fingers against the resistance of the rubber band. They can also put the band on their thumb, index and middle finger to work on strengthening the tripod grasp as well.
  • Stretch the rubber bands over blocks and paint the bands for a fun stamp.
  • Stretch the rubber bands around a small white board and hang the board up or leave flat on the table in front of child. They can place anything under the bands to make their own picture. Animals, crayons, or any small item that’s available. Picking up the bands works on pincer grasp and they have to use two hands to both hold the band and place the item under. Hanging the board up would also work on reaching with bilateral hand use.


  • Make a chain of paperclips or undo a chain of clips. This works on motor planning, bilateral hand use and finger dexterity skills. You can pretend its fun jewelry after putting it together as well.
  • Hang a paperclip from a string and add a balloon to the paperclip. You can adjust the height to play different visual and gross motor games with this. Up high you can try hitting the balloon with your hand. Or use a bat or stick to make it trickier for those that have more visual difficulties. You can also have the kids jump and try and hit the bottom of the balloon with their heads. Bringing the balloon low they can work on kicking. They also can lay on their stomachs or backs and try and hit the balloon with their hands or feet together to work on flexion and extension strengthening.


  • Sorting games: you can sort the different kinds (rubber, metal), as well as the different sizes. Painting them different colors, can give them another way to sort them as well.
  • Place the washers in different spots and make a game out of collecting the washers. Give them an unsharpened pencil to walk with in one hand and they have to go around and collect the washers to place on the pencil. Increase the difficulty by having them collect in a certain pattern. This is great for eye-hand coordination, bilateral hand use and visual tracking skills.
  • Play a toss game. Taking a paper cup and placing it a small distance from your child you can play a tossing game in standing, sitting, on their belly, etc.

Next time you empty out that junk drawer, get creative and explore the different uses of everyday items that are found in your home. Your kids will love it!


April 3, 2014

The Ins and Outs of Pencil Grips

child at desk

A pencil grip can be a quick and easy fix for an awkward grasp. There is such a huge variety of them out there, but how do you know what ones to choose. Here’s some quick tips on how to choose a pencil grasp for your child.

The Simpler the Better: If your child needs a pencil grip, they are most likely having difficulty planning how to hold the pencil in the first place. Keep it simple so the grip doesn’t become as frustrating as the pencil initially was to hold. It will also make it easier to transfer from pencil to pencil if needed and recall how to hold it correctly each time.

Look at the concerns: The type of pencil grasp that your child will use is going to depend on what the areas of concern are when they are holding the pencil. Here are some common concerns, along with which direction to possibly take:

  • Low tone (fine motor weakness): This can be observed one of 2 different ways. One such way is when your child is holding the pencil too loosely and often resorts to an awkward grasp to compensate. The other way is they will look like they are actually applying too much force when writing and are using it as an over-compensation for the weakness. Thicker or jumbo grips are usually easier for these kiddos to hold onto and can cut back on some of the force when writing concerns. Weighted pencils or grips can also help in some cases, so the child doesn’t feel the need to push down the pencil so hard when writing.
  • Motor Planning: This is when your child just can’t seem to get the motor patterns correct for holding the pencil. These are the kids that the more simple the grip the better. Single grips or crossover grips would be most beneficial for these kids.
  • Kinesthetic feedback: These kids usually grip the pencil with a tight fisted grasp or barrel grasp. They’re looking for input when writing in order to fill a sensory need, as well as give them some proprioceptive feedback to assist with guiding the pencil. Wider or jumbo pencil grips or textured ones may be most beneficial for these kids.

Make it Fun: There’s different colors, shapes and even grips with glitter. You want to get the right type of grip, but you want your child to be excited about using it as well. Let them choose colors or other features of the pencil grip as long as it doesn’t impede overall function of what you wanted it to do originally.

It’s not forever: Pencil grips are just to encourage the use of an appropriate grasp for the time being and not to use as a permanent fix. It should assist your child in making the grasp more of a habit and you should be able to eventually end up with no use of no grasp at all. Just another helpful trick along the way.

March 31, 2014

Fun With Finger Play

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 1:48 pm
Tags: , , ,
finger play
Our hands perform intricate movements that allow us to manipulate various objects around us. Our hands provide us with opportunities to interact with and learn from the environment. Hand function is dependent on several different factors. The large upper body muscles in the trunk, shoulder, and forearms provide strength and stability to push, pull, lift and hold. It is also important to develop strength in the small muscles of the hand in order to position our hands in precise and delicate ways.  Finger plays are a great way to promote improved hand skills. Some of the benefits of Finger plays include:
  1. Develop arches of the hand. The arches give the hand a rounded shape and help to position the fingers for accurate use.
  2. Develop finger isolation skills. The thumb, index and middle finger need to be able to be able to perform small accurate movements while the ring and small finger are tucked toward the palm. It is important to be able to move each finger individually in order to complete mature grasp patterns.
  3. Develop the web space. The web space is the space between the thumb and index finger. The web space is important because you have to keep it open and rounded (like an “ok” sign) to perform precise movements such as picking up small objects from the table.

 In addition to hand improved hand skills, finger skills facilitate improved ability to follow directions and improved imitation skills. Finger plays are a fun and exciting way to interact with your child while at the same time encouraging skill development.

Funny Bunny:

(Author unknown)

Here is a bunny (Raise two fingers.)
With ears so funny (wiggle raised fingers)
And here is a hole in the ground. (Make hole with fingers of other hand.)
At the first sound she hears,
She pricks up her ears (Straighten fingers.)
And pops right into the ground. (Put fingers in hole.)

Ten Fingers:  I have ten fingers    (hold up both hands, fingers spread)

And they all belong to me,  (point to self)
I can make them do things-
Would you like to see?

I can shut them up tight   (make fists)
I can open them wide    (open hands)
I can put them together   (place palms together)
I can make them all hide  ( put hands behind back)

I can make them jump high   (hands over head)
I can make them jump low  ( touch floor)
I can fold them up quietly   (fold hands in lap)
And hold them just so.

Three Balls:

Here’s a ball     (make ball with thumb and index finger )

And here’s a ball   (make ball with other thumb and index)
A great big ball, I see   (put arms up and touch fingers over head)

Shall we count them?
Are you ready?
One, Two, Three    (make all three balls in succession)

Open/Shut Them:

Open, shut them, (open and shut fists)
Open, shut them,
Give a little clap. (clap)

Open, shut them, (open and shut fists)
Open, shut them,
Put them in your lap. (place hands in lap)

Creep them, creep them (walk hands up body to chin)
To your chin.
Open your mouth,
But do not put them in.

Roll them, roll them, (make rolling motion with hands)
Roll them, roll them,
Roll them just like this.

Wave them, wave them, (wave)
Wave them, wave them,
Blow a little kiss! (blow a kiss)

Where is Thumbkin?:

Where is Thumbkin? (put both hands behind back)
Where is Thumbkin?
Here I am. (bring one thumb out front)
Here I am. (bring other thumb out front)

How are you today sir? (bend one thumb as if talking to the other)
Very well I thank you. (bend other thumb as if talking back)
Run away. (put first thumb behind back)
Run away. (Put other thumb behind back)

Repeat with: Pointer, Tall Man, Ring Man, Small Man.

January 22, 2014

Fine Motor Group Ideas

IMG_2871 IMG_2870

This past summer we did a fine motor group and each of the participants left with a basket of goodies for things they could work on after the group ended.  Here is what was included on the worksheet that went with it:

What Your Fine Motor Baskets Contain



The benefits – Encourages a tripod grasp, builds up hand endurance, allows children to work on increasing and decreasing the amount of force used, encourages isolation of wrist and fingers.

Recommendations – Have your kids break the crayons to encourage a tripod grasp. Vary the sizes and textures that they are coloring on. Encourage coloring on slanted surfaces or standing at an easel to build on endurance and strength of wrist extensors.



The benefits – Texture tolerance if your kids have tactile concerns. Visual motor and pincer grasp encouragement, proprioceptive input to hands for those sensory seekers.

Recommendations – Hide beads or small items in the floam to encourage more manipulation of it. Have them squeeze it with their whole hand or pick up the small individual beads to encourage use of a pincer grasp.



The benefits – Eye-hand coordination, pincer grasp, body spatial awareness, midline crossing.

Recommendations – Stick the stickers on the back of their hands to encourage them to cross midline to get the sticker off with their other hand. Peeling the stickers off also encourages use of a pincer grasp to complete this. Sticking the stickers on different parts of their body can help their overall body awareness as they are looking for the stickers.



The Benefits: Increases grasping strength, eye-hand coordination and bilateral hand use.

Recommendations: Play some silly games to get the interest going with clothespins. Have them pin them onto your clothes so they get to make you look silly or make hair for their baskets. If they are not ready to pinch them on, you can create a game where they have to pull them off of themselves, you or another surface to work on more whole hand grasping.


Balloon Fidget:

The Benefits – Overall hand strength, regulation, sensory input.

Recommendations – Demonstrate different ways that you can utilize the fidget (pull, twist, squeeze). Use it as a regulatory tool when children are dis-regulated or over-stimulated.



The Benefits: Eye-hand coordination, bilateral hand use, pincer grasp, motor planning.

Recommendations: There are both pipe cleaners and string in the basket to match the level at which your child may be at for beading. Starting with the pipe cleaner is easier and allows them a stiffer material to work with. When ready they can progress to the string. There are large beads included but smaller ones can be threaded on as well to increase to another level of difficulty.


Finger crayon:

The Benefits – Finger isolation, quadrapod grasp.

Recommendations – Allows more stabilization when coloring for some children and gives them more control when coloring. It may not work well for some kids, but allow them to explore.

January 15, 2014

Letter Sorting Activity – Small/Tall/Fall

small tall fall

This great activity came from one of our OT’s!

This activity involves sorting letters into 3 categories:  Small, Tall and Fall.

It can help kids not only work on specific letter recognition but also:

  • visual discrimination between different kinds of letters which can help to improve their handwriting legibility
  • spatial awareness as they learn and recognize how to place letters accurately on the line (i.e under the dotted line, within the lines, going below the line)
  • fine motor because the laminated letters are small so they get to work on pincer grasp and manipulating small pieces with their hands

For kids that have challenges with working with small pieces you can enlarge everything or use letters made from different materials such as the foam sticky letters so that kids can still work on the activity but its graded for their abilities with fine motor.

Overall this task provides another option for working on letter recognition and allows a hands on approach to teaching letter placement to improve handwriting legibility.  It will also eliminate some of the motor component (actually writing the letters) than can cause some kids frustration while they are learning so that they can focus on letter placement and sorting letters.

What other ways do you use to work on letter recognition, sorting and placement?

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