“School Tools” from your Pediatric Occupational Therapist – Tips for Typical Development

Marie Toole, OTR/L

“School Tools” from your Pediatric Occupational Therapist

Marie L. Toole, MS, OTR/L



In this new blog, I plan to share some of the teachings I have done over the years for parents in hopes of providing you with information that is timely and relevant.  As a school-based occupational therapist with over 20 years experience, I have seen lots of children …and counseled lots of parents… on what to expect from their toddlers through first graders.  With the pressure of “high-stakes testing” looming before them, many parents want their child to exceed expectations and may set unrealistic hopes and dreams for him or her.  Today’s blog will help you sift through the details of developmental milestones and remind you that they are children first, and that they will reach those milestones when they are ready.  If we expect them to do too much, too soon, we are asking for frustration.  It is okay to slow down and enjoy the journey of childhood.  It is not a race to the top.  We need to remember to let them be kids.  If we could only convince the makers of those high-stakes tests that they are little children and not widgets coming off the assembly line, we might have much happier children and parents!.  No two children learn alike nor will they do every activity at exactly the correct age or time frame.  The activities I will share today are meant to be guidelines to help all of us remember how these baseline skills will affect future school performance.   Try some of them out with your children today!


Typical Development of the 2-6 year old:  The Importance of Play

Preschoolers and kindergarteners should be playing more.  The benefit of fine motor play helps build wrist stability, aids in the development of the arches and web space of the hand, helps with separation of the sides of the hand, and builds an understanding of delicate touch when needed.  The benefits of gross motor play help increase endurance, increase core strength, and improves mobility, as well as wards off childhood obesity.  

Terrific Two’s Fine Motor Skills include:

  • Developing wrist stability, as well as the small muscles and arches of the hand, by picking up small objects like cereal or feeding self with a spoon.
  • Beginning to use both hands at midline where one hand holds the object and the other hand manipulates it, such as opening containers and popping hand-shaping iwanna pixabaybeads.
  • Repeatedly “dumping” and “filling” cups or buckets to build wrist stability and grasping skills.
  • Beginning to use playdough or clay by rolling and shaping with help to build finger and hand strength.
  • Stacking blocks starting with large blocks and moving to one-inch to build grasping and visual-motor skills.

Gross Motor Skills include:

  • Walking forward, backward, and up steps.  It’s fun to try marching or Simon Says to make it interesting!
  • Walking down steps with both feet, one step at a time.
  • Running without holding on.
  • Kicking a ball.
  • Throwing a ball into a box.
  • Moving pedal-less riding toys.
  • Walking up and going down a slide.

Thunderous Three’s Fine Motor Skills include:

  • Stringing one inch beads.  Begin with pipe cleaners and move on to shoelaces.
  • Folding paper.  Try making easy Origami shapes with tissue paper, foil, or wrapping paper.
  • Building a tower of 6-9 blocks then making trains and bridges out of blocks.origami DevilsApricot pixabay
  • Snipping with scissors.  Start with play dough logs and work up to different types of papers, such as construction or plain bond.
  • Tracing and copying basic shapes with large crayons or sidewalk chalk.
  • “Painting” the house or wall with water using large strokes and brushes.
  • Creating easy pegboard designs with large or fat pegs.
  • Using glue to complete simple art projects such as a collage.

Gross Motor Skills include:

  • Walking a straight line.  Try using a jump rope or chalk line as a guide.
  • Walking upstairs with alternating feet.
  • Walking tip-toe for 10 steps.  Playing games like “Mother May I” is fun!
  • Balancing on each foot for 2-4 seconds.  Yoga poses work well for this activity.
  • Throwing a ball overhand.  Start with playground balls and move towards tennis balls.
  • Catching a 9-inch ball using both arms and the body for support.
  • Jumping up with both feet together in games like Jumping over sticks, ropes, or cones.
  • Hopping 1-2 times on one foot.  Dancing to music can be exhilarating!
  • Pushing and pulling a wagon or similar type object 10 feet.
  • Riding a tricycle.

Fearless Four’s Fine Motor Skills include:

  • Using a four-fingered grasp on hand tools such as large crayons or chalk.
  • Stringing ½ inch beads.
  • Completing simple puzzles, first those with peg handles and then moving on interlocking puzzles.puzzle Efraimstochter pixabay
  • Drawing simple designs using a circle or a square.  Paint, chalk, or shaving cream are excellent mediums!
  • Coloring a simple picture such as a house, an animal, or simple basic shapes.
  • Cutting on a straight line. Remember:  thumbs up for cutting!
  • Picking up small objects or toys like paper clips or small pegs with finger tips.

Gross Motor Skills include:

  • Walking down stairs using alternating feet.
  • Balancing on each foot for 4-6 seconds.
  • Completing a broad jump.
  • Hopping 5 times on one foot.
  • Galloping.

Fabulous Five’s Fine Motor Skills include:

  • Refining grasp (3 or 4 fingers) on tools such as pencils, crayons, or paintbrushes.
  • Cutting more precisely with scissors using pictures or designs with more intricate details.
  • Completing mazes and dot-to-dot activities.
  • Playing target games such as bean bags or velcro toss.
  • Using Magna Doodles, Etch-A-Sketch, or iPad apps for fine motor control.

Gross Motor Skills include:

  • Walking on a straight line using heel-toe action.  Try a balance beam or a line of tape on the floor!
  • Balancing on each foot for 8-10 seconds.
  • Catching a 9-inch ball with hands only.
  • Jumping backwards 6 times.  Try jumping rope!
  • Hopping on one foot 2-3 yards.
  • Skipping with alternating feet.
  • Hanging from bars using an overhand grip for 5 seconds.
  • Running and avoiding objects on an obstacle course.

Sensational Sixes’ Fine Motor Skills include:

  • Using a mature 3-fingered grasp for tool use on pencils or crayons.
  • Picking up and sorting small objects, such as coins, pegs, or marbles.large pegs alexas_Fotos Pixabay769283_1280
  • Using tweezers to pick up objects such as small blocks or play dough balls.
  • Using a paper punch to make designs and pictures.
  • Snapping fingers.
  • Using squeeze bottles to create art. Try colored water on the snow or driveway.
  • Sorting and turning over playing cards.


Gross Motor Skills Include:

  • Completing one full sit up and one push up.  Family work out time!
  • Carrying objects down stairs.
  • Beginning to ride a 2-wheeler with training wheels.
  • Learning to swim.
  • Throwing and catching softball-sized balls.
  • Climbing trees, pumping high on swings, crossing monkey bars, or participating in acrobatics or gymnastics.


Understanding each developmental stage will help you as a parent to support your child’s learning.  When you know what your child is capable of and what is developmentally appropriate, you can set realistic expectations for skills and behaviors.  If you are concerned about your child’s development, please consult with your healthcare provider for additional supports and services.  Your local school system can assist with services once your child turns 3 years old.  


Marie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at toolem@sau25.net.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.


 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  
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“School Tools” from your Pediatric Occupational Therapist – Tips for Typical Development

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