Occupational Therapy Activities For Tots Using Stuff Around Your Home

Work those tiny hand muscles.

Originally Published: 
We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

There are many reasons why a parent might look into occupational therapy activities for their toddler — perhaps they feel their child needs help fine tuning their pincer grasp or there is a legit medical concern at play. For me, it’s the latter: My 3-year-old son has mild cerebral palsy and sees an occupational therapist twice a week. We started these sessions two years ago, when virtual sessions were our only option. Not being familiar with pediatric OT exercises at all, one concern I had was that my husband and I would have to invest in a fleet of specialized toys and equipment to nurture my son’s development. Turns out, nearly everything we needed for our toddler’s OT sessions were already in our home.

In general, what my son works on during these OT sessions are exercising his fine motor skills (there’s a lot of pincer grasp action), improving his coordination, and strengthening his core. Sure there are a couple adaptive tools we bought because the therapist recommended them (like loop scissors and therapy putty), but 90% of the items mentioned in this list were already in our home. In fact, when our sessions were virtual, the therapist purposely tried to make use of items they knew families would likely have in their household already. But even now, where my son is receiving OT at a very well-equipped facility, most of the items used during his sessions are still basic household items, with a few store-bought game sets thrown in.

Read on for OT activities for toddlers and see just how much you can do with stuff you already own like dried beans, play-dough, q-tips, and broken crayons (yes, really).

Dinosaur eggs

Anne Vorrasi

Materials: play-dough, a small toy and/or dried beans

Embed 1-inch dinosaurs (or even dried beans)in egg-shaped play dough balls and encourage your child to use their fingers to dig out the toys.


Materials: a shoelace (or yarn) and manila folder (or any paper, preferably thick)

Take a manila folder, punch some holes in it with a hole punch and have your child thread the shoelace through the holes. The stiff end of the shoelace makes this activity easier for less articulate hands, but if it’s broken off or you’re using a piece of yarn, you can wrap a piece of tape around the end to give them a little more control.


Materials: spray bottle and water

Using a spray bottle helps strengthen hand muscles. Fill it with water and enlist your child to help spray the house plants or anything and everything outdoors.

Tennis ball monster

Anne Vorrasi

Materials: tennis ball and monster “food” like pompom balls or dried beans

Cut a slit halfway down the middle of a tennis ball (to create a mouth) and take a sharpie to draw two eyes. Have your child squeeze the tennis ball with one hand (you might have to help them) to open the monster’s mouth, and they can use their other hand to feed “food” into its mouth.

Bean bank

Materials: toy tea pot and dried beans

Have your child push the beans through the spout of the tea pot from the outside (so that they land into the teapot)


Materials: broken crayons and paper

Every OT I’ve worked with has recommended we use short or broken crayons (anything not long enough for them to wrap their entire first around) to encourage strengthening the pincer grasp from an early age. As they get older, you can tuck a pompom under their ring and pinky fingers and have them hold it in place while they’re coloring.

Shaping play-dough

Anne Vorrasi

Materials: play-dough

Some things we do with dough during our sessions to exercise hand muscles

  • Roll it out into a long snake
  • Roll it out into a log, lay it down horizontally, and pinch the top to make a fin (we call it a Spinosaurus)
  • Use the palm of your hand to flatten it out
  • Squeeze it so that it oozes out through your fingers


Materials: two bowls, a serving or scooping spoon, and dried rice, dried beans, or kinetic sand

This activity focuses on engaging and strengthening the core by practicing crossing the midline (the vertical line running down the center of their body). Put two bowls in front of them (equidistant from their body, but about 6-12 inches away from each other), and add in something they can scoop (dried rice or beans or kinetic sand and) and is the least annoying for you to clean up (because they will make a mess). They can scoop contents from the right bowl to the left or vice versa — the point is that they are crossing their arm back and forth across the midline of their body.

Gluing or painting with Q-Tips

Materials: Q-Tips cut in half, plate or bowl, school glue, paint, paper

Add a dollop of glue in a plate or bowl. Instead of a full-size Q-Tip, cut them in half so that your child is forced to practice his pincer grasp and not trying to fist the entire Q-Tip in his fist. The Q-Tip will act as the paint brush, and the glue the paint.

Peeling glue

Materials: non-toxic school glue, like Elmer’s

Spread a thin layer of glue (on your child’s palm and let it try. Have your child pick and peel away the glue from their hand.


Materials: scissors and paper

Practicing cutting is a great way to engage hand muscles. These adaptive loop scissors for toddlers (make sure you get the right size) is one of the few specialty items we’ve bough for our son, who isn’t quite yet ready for standard children’s scissors

Putty squeezing

Materials: Theraputty

This OT-recommended dough comes in varying degrees of firmness (we are currently using the extra-soft level in yellow). The consistency is like Silly Putty, so it can be stretched, squished, rolled, and more. The one drawback about this product is that it is difficult to clean, so if any of it ends up where it isn’t supposed to (the floor, clothes, hair), clean it up as quickly as possible.

Cylinder blocks

Materials: Knobbed cylinder block

This is a mini version of the knobbed cylinder blocks that are a staple in early childhood Montessori classrooms. The small knobs, just slightly larger than a dried bean, help small hands focus on grasping small objects with 2-3 fingers.

Play-dough creatures

Materials: play dough and Colorations BUILDME Creative creatures

These play dough accessories require practicing the pincer grasp and moving small items with intention and help extend play-dough-playing time. We already had these in our toy closet, but we didn’t get them thinking they would be great for working that pincer grasp.

Peeling stickers

Materials: stickers

Peeling stickers is a great exercise. If you don’t have a reusable sticker book already, my son gets a kick out of these large sticker pads from Melissa & Doug. But really, this exercise can simply be done with any sticker, whether they’re fun designs from a sheet or peeling a label off something you just picked up from the store.


As you can imagine, holding a toddler’s attention for extended periods of time can get tricky. During each session, my son will probably do anything from five to 10 different activities, and along with the OT activities mentioned above, his therapist will sometimes incorporate games. Here are some of the OT-approved games for kids my toddler enjoys.

Every parent wants the best for their child, no matter their age and skill level. If working on your toddler’s fine motor skills is a priority or concern, know that there are plenty of items you’ve got around the house that can be used to help your child exercise specific muscles and practice certain skills.

This article was originally published on