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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Marnell, OTD, MBA

Telehealth Activities Using Household Objects!

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

So many of us find ourselves in this situation: At home. Trying to master new technology. Treating an OT caseload or teaching a classroom of students - ONLINE!

When teaching sessions and creating online activities, one challenge is that different families have different "supplies". When a family doesn't have kids' scissors, pipe cleaners, or snap cubes some activities are "off the table". Yet working on fine motor, visual, executive function, and other skills must still take place. The problem is that it's difficult to think of creative activities on the fly. In this blog post I am sharing ways to work on five skill areas using simple, everyday objects that all families should have.

Activities in this blog will be based on using these (and only these) materials. If possible, draft and send an e-mail to parents ahead of time to ask them to have these items ready to use in your session.

Fine Motor Skills:

Household Materials:

* Paper (any kind)

* Coloring writing tools (crayons, markers, colored pens)

* Paper clips or binder clips

Folding paper is a challenging activity, but a wonderful way to work on hand strength and functional grasp. Ripping or tearing paper is an effective, go-to approach that works on fine motor dexterity and strength. Since paper is an everyday staple, try these activities to work on fine motor skills via telehealth:


In this activity, children pretend they are writing and then they fold the paper and send a secret message to another spy. You can incorporate handwriting work into this activity as you have the child write the note. Or you can simply tell them to write a couple of words and then focus on folding the paper. Show kids how to make the corners of the paper meet while they are folding. With this activity you can have a child write several "secret messages", so he or she will improve their folding skills with more practice.


Ask children to tear paper into small pieces. Now, they pretend the pieces are seeds and they gather them together. Older children can try to place pieces together in a paper clip or binder clip. Younger kids, or those with weaker fine motor skills, can try to stack them together into tiny piles. Now, shift gears and pretend kids are gathering leaves, or flower petals, or pine needles. Turn this into a pretend Fairy Tale and tell them they are gathering bread crumbs like the bird who follows Hansel or Gretel. They can pretend they are gathering gold pieces that they found at the end of a rainbow.


Since therapy sessions are taking place in the home, and because we have asked kids to tear up lots of little pieces of paper, we need to ensure we don't leave a mess behind! Ask children to pretend they are vacuum cleaners and have them pick up every little piece of paper they see. This works on visual scanning skills as they look on the table, the chair, the floor. This is also great practice for kids to work on their dexterity as they pick up the small pieces.

Bilateral Skills:

Household Materials:

* Fork and (safe, dull, or plastic) knife

* Play-doh or putty or a soft food such as a banana or soft cookie

* Ziplock bags

* Plastic (Tupperware) EMPTY containers

* Plastic condiment containers WITH food (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise)

Bilateral skills can be easily practiced using kitchen items. Teach children that our two hands have different "jobs". One hand is the "working hand" and the other is the "helping hand". Try these simple activities.


This activity is for older children (who will follow directions and not eat non-food items). Also, this should be done only if an adult is preset. Show kids how to cut their food with a knife and fork. Place the putty, Play-doh, or soft food on a plate and ensure that the child is seated in an ergonomic position with feet flat on the floor and hips bent at ninety degrees. Using the fork, show them how to pierce the "food" and hold it steady on the plate. Then gently slide the knife back and forth to cut off a piece. Have the child practice, pretending with a fun theme such as "Feast at the King's Castle" or "Dinosaur Diet" or "Bunny Snacks".


Using Ziplocks and empty containers, there are a few ways to practice opening and closing skills. Make it a race: Open three ziplocks and then close them again. Time the child and see if he or she can beat her record. Show the child how to open a Tupperware container. Open your own container. Pretend you have trouble. Ask her to tell you how to open it then close it, step by step. Incorporate opening and closing condiment containers with a snack. Does ketchup taste good on a cracker? How about on a piece of pepperoni?!

Visual Skills:

Household Materials:

* Paper and writing instrument

* Small items such as blocks of Lego pieces.

Visual skills can incorporate visual motor skills (when a child uses his or her vision to guide hand movements as when writing letters or cutting with scissors) or visual perceptual skills (when a child uses vision to perceive and make sense of the environment as when identifying the similarities and differences between alphabet letters).


Ask an adult who is supervising a child to mark 20 dots on a piece of paper. Now, if the child is able, ask the child to draw circles around 10 dots and squares around the other 10 dots. Choose other shapes if the child is more advanced, such as diamonds or stars. Now, the child will attach all dots with one shape together and all dots with another shape together. When done, ask the child to step back and try to see an object or shape with this picture. Does he see one? Do you?


This is a simple activity to play - using paper and a pencil, we can ask an adult to make a grid and we can play this with a child. They write their letter. And they write our letter too! Start this activity using the traditional X and O, but then move on to other letters which are more challenging for kids to form, such as "f" and "j". Alternatively, a child can play this game with a caregiver or parent, writing the letters for them, too. Visual perceptual skills are addressed as children have to try to "see" when there are three letters in a row. Also, writing the letters for an adult means kids have to listen and determine which box an adult is describing (such as the "box above the middle spot").


Using visual perceptual skills in everyday life is seen when a child crosses a cluttered room. Does he bump into tables and chairs? Can she locate the sight words posted at the end of the classroom. Obstacle courses are helpful for children to learn to visually attend to their environments. With telehealth, miniature desktop obstacle courses are nice warm-ups to work that requires visual perceptual skills, such as math worksheets, handwriting, mazes, and dot to dots.

Place several small items, like blocks or lego pieces on the table top. Have the child start on the left side of the table and try to "weave" his way through the items with a finger or action figure he holds. Make it easier or harder as needed. This also works on visual motor skills as a child must control hand movements while completing the activity.

Executive Function Skills (Organization):

Household Materials:

* Gather 10 common household objects (big and small) such as toys, school supplies, safe kitchen items (like spoons or strainers), bathroom items (like toothpaste and a washcloth)

* Child's backpack

* Child's school binders

Organization skills improve when a child learns to think in categories. Organizing schoolwork, for example, is made easier when kids learn to sort their work according to subject. This come easily to many some people. But is a challenge for others.

Practice organization skills via telehealth at home in these ways:


Have child "show" you the items gathered. This, in itself, is an exercise in organization. How does your student go about this task? Does he or she place the items to one side after they are described? Are any items forgotten?


Tell the child to think of a way to organize these items into categories. After she places them into categories, can she think of more ways to categorize them? What categories can be used? By size? By color? By material (soft or hard, shiny or dull)? By use? By the part of the house where the items were found? This activity is fun for kids, stimulates their thinking, and can be repeated in subsequent sessions to continue to work on organization skills.


Next a child can bring out his or her backpack. Re-organizing materials in a backpack is a functional and important task for all of us to master. Can the items in a backpack be placed into categories? Can items in folders be taken out and re-organized? Discuss whether or not these items belong together.

Executive Function Skills (Working Memory):

Household Materials:

* Gather 10 relatively small kitchen and school supply items such as spoons, forks, pens, pencils, erasers, markers, crayons.

* Paper towels or napkins

Working memory entails holding important information in one's memory as one completes different steps of a task. Despite its importance, working memory is not typically a skill we explicitly practice with kids. Try these activities to work on working memory via telehealth.


Have the child place the ten items in front of him or her. Using a finger to point ask the child to label each item. Now, have the child place one (or two) items under a paper towel (a plate or bowl can be used). At this point give the child 5 simple directions such as "Put the spoon beside the fork" or "Lay the pink eraser on top of the white eraser". Incorporate more advanced motor planning skills if you would like, such as "Hold the pencil in both of your palms while your palms face up". You may need to demonstrate the movement or body position if language is an issue. After 5 directions, ask the child to remember what object (or objects) were hidden. This activity can be modified to be more simple or far more complex. For example, show the child a movement like placing one hand on your head and one hand on your cheek and ask him to remember this movement for later.


With this activity, think of a small sequence of movements, perhaps 3 or 4, and show them to a child. It may be something like, touch one elbow, touch the other elbow, clap your hands, pick up the red pen. This sequence has many parts to it. Ask the child to watch you again and then try to break the task down himself and tell you (or show you) the steps. This can be made easier or more complex, and you may use more or less language, depending on the child.

I hope that these go-to telehealth activities are helpful! As always, feel welcome to touch base with me by e-mail at

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"Today's Foundation is Tomorrow's Success!"

Lisa Marnell MBA, MS, OTR/L

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