Occupational therapy is amazing because, with a little creative thinking, you can use pretty much anything as a tool for therapy! This is really helpful when it comes to school-based OT. If your job is anything like mine, then you know that we often find ourselves working on a variety of skill areas with tons of students while only carrying a limited amount of treatment supplies with us. Plus, we often don’t even have an actual OT room to treat in! We tend to find ourselves making the best of things as we creatively adapt to our environment and treat students on playgrounds, in cafeterias, on empty stages, in empty classrooms, or even in supply closets. Talk about learning to think of your feet!
Right now, my job as a school-based OT has me evaluating and working with all OT-related students in my particular district, ranging from preschool-age all the way through eighth grade. Students’ disabilities range from minimal to severe. At one of my sites, I have a full-on OT gym which is stocked with suspended equipment and cupboards full of sensory-motor-perceptual treatment supplies. This is where I work with my preschoolers, so I don’t have to stock my box with preschool supplies. However, unless I am at that particular site I, like many school-based therapists, find myself treading across seven other campuses throughout the week while rolling my therapy box full of OT supplies behind me. The teachers can hear me coming…
So, what’s in my therapy box?
Below is a list of 60 therapy supplies (plus a few others) that I frequently use in school-based OT when I treat my Kindergarten through eighth grade students. Sixty sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It’s really not. And actually, these are really just the basics that tend to stay in my therapy box for the majority of the year. I tend to keep larger items in my car and only pull them out when I need them with specific students. And, of course, I always bring specific sensory or motor items from the cupboards or from home if I know I will need them for particular students.
Rather than provide an explanation of all the different ways you could use each therapy supply and all the skills they can address (because that would make this post forever long!), I have included brief descriptions of items and therapeutic benefits where necessary. I have included hyperlinks to other posts from some of my favorite therapy blogs that go into detail about specific supplies and, for your convenience, I have also provided links that will help you find some of these more specialized items online. Links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means if you click over and wind up making a purchase, Mama OT will receive a small commission to help keep this blog running, at no extra cost to you (thank you!). Read my full disclosure here.
Alright, here we go!
1. Stamp & See Screen from Handwriting Without Tears. Possibly my favorite specialized treatment tool for practicing capital letter formation in the school setting due to its compact size, portability, versatility, cleanliness, and ability to be easily used in conjunction with other multisensory, interactive writing experiences. Find it online here.
Okay, now let’s see what’s in the classic pencil box.
2. Mini colored pencils. Shorter pencils equal better grasp.
3. Scissors. Kid-sized scissors are a must. And I love the adaptive spring scissors (find at Dollar Tree or online here) because they strengthen little hands while squeezing closed and they also spring open to help kiddos whose hands are a little too weak to open the scissors independently.
4. Crayons. Shorter crayons that have been well loved or broken in half promote a proper pinch while coloring. Learn more here.
5. Scotch tape. Pulling, tearing, and rolling tape is quite the challenge!
6. Eraser. Because kids make mistakes.
7. Rubberbands. See photo below for one idea on how to use a rubberband to instantly promote improved pencil grasp.
8. Spinning top. Dexterity, coordination, concentration, fun!
9. Variety of pencil grips. Get a crash course in pencil grips from the Anonymous OT.
10. Glue stick with twist top. Sooooo sticky!
11. Variety of markers and highlighters. Lots of ways to use these to help with handwriting skills (such as letter sizing and baseline orientation), cutting skills (highlight, bold, or add dots to lines for cutting), and more.
12. Dry erase marker. For use on sheet protectors, laminated surfaces, windows or (obviously) whiteboards.
13. Variety of pencils. Learn more about using alternative pencils from Abby Pediatric OT.
14. Stackable crayons. Found these at the Dollar Tree, facilitates nice grasp and allows for adaptable length depending on student. Learn more here.
15. Flip Crayons from Handwriting Without Tears. Using crayons in PreK before introducing pencils helps develop good grasping habits. Learn how flip crayons help develop tripod grasp by clicking here, and find them online here.
*Below is a photo of one way you can use a rubberband (#7) with a regular length pencil (#13) to easily and instantly help a child learn to rest the pencil back on their webspace (the skin between thumb and index finger) in order to gain increased stability and control while writing, as opposed to pinching the pencil with fingertips and writing with it sticking straight up. My kids and I call it the “magic rubberband”!
Okay, let’s move to one of the buckets that lives in my therapy box…and don’t forget that you can use the bucket in therapy, too!
16. Jump rope. Find out 10 therapy activities you can do with a jump rope besides jumping rope, from Your Therapy Source.
17. Clothespins. Find lots of ideas for how to use clothespins in therapy at Therapy Fun Zone.
18. Wind-up toys. Pinch, pinch, pinch! Plus, works on developing hand dominance. Learn more about helping kids develop hand dominance from OT Mom Learning Activities.
19. Scissor tongs. Technically these are made for catching bugs and are called “Going Buggy Bug Tongs”, but I love using them to practice scissor skills in OT! I have found the best deal for them online from Oriental Trading.
20. Hole punched pieces. Use your imagination. And I somehow didn’t include a picture of the hole puncher in this post, but its use is implied for intense hand strengthening practice!
21. Slinky. So many ways to practice coordination, plus can be a sensory fidget. Several types available online (including glow in the dark!) by clicking here.
22. Puffer balls. Super versatile and, yeah, I think I could play with these all day! You can typically find these at the dollar store or the dollar bins at Target, but click here to see lots of different kinds online.
23. Tennis ball mouth. Cut a slit in a tennis ball, give it a face and a name, and you’ve got yourself a silly way to practice a variety of fine motor skills! Use tongs for added challenge.
24. Alphabet ball. Take a plastic ball pit ball and write all 26 letters of the alphabet on it. Students can be challenged to visually locate a certain letter on it before writing, or they can hold it in one or two hands and rotate the ball with their fingertips to find certain letters while really challenging their intrinsic muscles, grading of force, motor planning, and more.
25. Travel-size ball maze. I believe this was a dollar store purchase, but I have also seen it at Lakeshore Learning.
26. Dry erase crayons. One of the greatest inventions for OTs ever! Provides added proprioceptive input for engaging with dry erase surfaces. They usually erase just fine with some effort from your kiddo, but be sure to test out your particular surface just in case it’s a little tougher. You can find dry erase crayons in the school supply section at drug stores (I know CVS has them), bigger stores (like Target or Wal-Mart), or online here.
27. Medium-sized beads. Versatile supply for addressing fine motor, visual motor, and even academic skills (colors, counting, sorting, etc.).
28. Ping pong balls. Get your student prone on a scooter board and have them propel themselves while scanning and searching for the ping pong balls. Or have them pick them up while using small salad tongs. Or toss them back and forth between both hands. Or bounce and catch on a tabletop surface. Or blow them off the table or into a target with or without a straw for proprioceptive oral input to help calm and focus. Need I go on?
29. Plastic lacing string. Create letters with it, practice the steps needed to tie shoes (the stiff string is easier to learn with), or make a basic friendship bracelet for visual motor practice.
And now for another bucket you’ll find at the bottom of my box.
30. Play dough. Store bought or homemade. So versatile. Use this easy recipe for homemade play dough, learn ten ways to use play dough in therapy from Embrace Your Chaos, and follow the popular Playdough Pinterest board for hundreds of ideas for how to play with play dough.
31. Spot It! travel game. No matter which two cards you draw, they will always have exactly one picture that matches. Students love this game (super silly pictures!) and it’s a great challenge for attention, visual perceptual skills, and social skills. Several different versions of this game are available online here.
32. Posable figurine. I have no idea where this came from, but this little dude inspires some great games of copycat for body awareness, sensory processing, praxis, and movement breaks in general.
33. Snap beads. Dollar store. Or find them online here if you want some that are sturdy and actually cute.
34. Beading wire. Its stiffness makes it easier for those who really struggle with lacing, while challenging grasp more than beading with a pipe cleaner.
35. Variety of small beads. Those don’t get used quite as much as the medium-sized ones, but they are nice and age-appropriate for older students.
36. Variety of small manipulatives. Tiny rubber reptiles, small pieces of pipe cleaner, tiny plastic animals. My students and I love to use them in conjunction with tongs or the bug catchers mentioned above.
37. Wikki Stix. They are like waxy, moldable pieces of yarn. Buy them online here. Find tons of ideas for using Wikki Stix in teaching or therapy on Pinterest (including teaching shoe tying or making your own) by clicking here.
38. Lacing string. Old (clean) shoelaces work just fine, too. Use it for beading, forming letters, or a fun Halloween spider web activity.
39. Flip and Catch. I love this one! Have seen them at Lakeshore Learning, but also at the Dollar Tree sometimes. Such great practice for kiddos with poor proprioceptive awareness, timing, grading of force, or visual perception. Students always ask for this one as part of their gross motor “warm up” and they love to challenge me for how many in a row we can each catch…because I’m a pretty awesome flip-and-catch-er.
40. Travel-size Connect Four game. Travel size games easily fit in a mobile therapy box and provide perfectly sized manipulatives. Learn four fun ways to play Connect Four!
41. Small salad tongs. Get creative with strengthening little hands while stacking blocks, playing with ping pong balls, and more.
43. Straws. So versatile. Use straws for calming, focusing oral sensory input (straw soccer!), building letters, teaching kids to snip with scissors, and more! Learn ten fun ways to use straws in therapy from Embrace Your Chaos.
44. Bubbles. Amazing ice breaker, rapport builder, reward/reinforcer and, oh yeah, sensorimotor therapy tool! Learn the many benefits of playing with bubbles.
45. Tissue paper. Crumple, crumple! Learn more here.
46. Stickers you can color. Tiny pieces force kids to stabilize with one hand while coloring with the other. And what kid doesn’t like to color their own stickers?
47. Small stickers for peeling. Use for fine motor, but also as visual targets for connecting dots or cutting along lines.
48. Construction paper. Always good to have on hand.
49. Gray Blocks paper from Handwriting Without Tears. Order online here from HWT.
50. Handwriting Without Tears workbooks. Order a variety of HWT student workbooks online here.
51. “Train Tracks” classroom writing paper. Some kiddos need that middle line.
52. Raised Line paper. Special binder paper with lines that are slightly raised (kind of like if you puffy painted the lines) to help students with baseline orientation…they love it. Lots of different kinds available from Therapro.
53. Handwriting Without Tears double line paper. Order a variety of sizes online here.
55. Laminated capital letter cards from Handwriting Without Tears. Use with the HWT wood pieces or have kiddos form letters on them with playdough, dry erase marker, or dry erase crayons. Laminated cards available online here.
56. Magnetic connect-the-dot letters with stylus. The stylus is a great size for grasp, and the magnets provide good proprioceptive input. This came from Learning Express.
57. Single line dry erase board. I use this a lot for drawing or writing a visual schedule for kiddos. Picked it up from Lakeshore Learning.
59. Zoo Sticks tongs. I use these whenever I can! Learn how to make your own kiddie chopsticks, buy Zoo Sticks online from Therapro or in-store from Learning Express, and learn ten fun ways to use tongs from Embrace Your Chaos.
60. iPad with apps. Ahhh yes, the beloved iPad. Great reward/reinforcer, but also helpful for introducing basic developmental skills. My three favorite apps to use in school-based OT are Dexteria (read my review here), Dexteria Jr. (read my review here), and Ready to Print (read Abby Pediatric OT’s review here).
So those are the sixty items that always live in my therapy box. But wait, there’s more! You will always find these other therapy supplies in the trunk of my car as well, which I bring in with me as needed.
61. Zoom Ball. Oh the fun! Find online here.
62. Zones of Regulation Book. I use this ALL. THE. TIME. with certain students, particularly those with emotional regulation or executive function difficulties. Find online here.
63. Stickids Sensory Visual Icons. Super helpful for use during sessions or for creating school-based sensory programs for teachers and students. Find online at Therapro.
64. Variety of Air Cushions. Disc’O’Sit, wedge-shaped cushions, balance cushions. Find online at Therapro.
65. Balance Board. Find a variety of fun balance boards online at Therapro.
67. Playground Ball. Find a variety of them available online here.
68. Popsicle sticks. Learn ten ways to use popsicle sticks in therapy from Embrace Your Chaos. I have also used colored popsicle sticks in conjunction with the ZONES of Regulation program.
Whew. As mentioned previously these are just the basics. This doesn’t even include what’s found in the cupboards and shelves at my main campus! Many treatment tools can also be found in the student’s own classroom or on the playground.
I hope you have found this post to be helpful, whether you are a new school-based OT or whether you are a seasoned veteran. So I’m curious…what are your favorite treatment supplies for school-based OT? I am always looking for more ideas, and I know others are too, so please share in the comments below so we can all learn from each other!