“Oral motor skills include speech, coordinating breathing and swallowing, and the management of food textures. Children with low muscle tone and sensory processing differences are at risk of delayed oral motor skill development. Oral motor delays can result in developmental apraxia of speech, articulation disorders, feeding dysfunction, excessive drooling, and more.” shares Gwen Wild, OTR/L of Sensational Brain.
“Normal oral motor development begins prior to birth and continues beyond age three. By age four, most children safely consume solids and liquids without choking.” (1)
“Oral motor skills are used in speech therapy sessions to build oral motor strength for speech sound development and feeding skills. Therapy in this area typically encompasses oral awareness, oral stretches, and oral exercises to improve strength and speed of movements needed for speech.” (2)
There are a variety of oral motor exercises to develop oral awareness, strength and speed of movement. Below are a few fun ideas to get you started.
Oral-Motor Input on the Go: Fruit Roll-Up Fingers
Rebecca Whitlock of Racoon School had a little oral motor sensory seeker. Whitlock shares the following idea with Special-Ism.
“If your child seeks oral-motor input, consider enriching his sensory diet with Fruit Roll-Up Fingers.
Fruit Roll-Up Fingers are a fun and tasty activity for little oral-motor sensory seekers. Here’s a system that’s been working great for me:
Purchase Fruit Roll-Ups
There’s now a version called Stretch Island that’s a bit healthier and more natural if you are concerned of excess additives.
Cut Roll-Up into Four Equal Parts
The first time I tried to do this activity, I used the whole roll-up. It was a disaster. After trying several different sizes, I’ve found that one-fourth of the roll-up is the perfect size for the little fingers of my preschool-aged children. Plus, it also means one-fourth the sugar!
Wrap the Roll-Up around the Child’s Finger
My older child likes to do this himself, and gets a good fine motor workout in the process. My younger child needs help. They both have fun choosing which finger they want the roll-up to go onto. It’s different every time!
The goal is for the child to gradually suck the roll-up off the finger and get a nice long oral-motor workout. As you can imagine, though, it’s tempting to just bite it off and eat it.
It helps to have a contest to see whose roll-up lasts the longest.
I take a baggie full of these roll-up pieces with me everywhere I go! It’s a great alerting activity, especially in the car.”
Blow the Sheep Out of the Pen
Whitlock is chock full of ideas and offers another fun little oral-motor activity to help kids satisfy oral motor sensory seeking. Like the activity above, this activity additional serves as a wonderful exercise to strengthen and develop oral-motor skills.
“Gather up some straws, cotton balls and a hula hoop.
Throw a handful of cotton balls into the hula hoop placed on the floor.
Then have your child use a straw to blow the “sheep” (cotton balls) out of their “pen”.
Enhance the Fun
For even more fun, use a mini trampoline as your “pen”.
Place red tape around the perimeter of the trampoline.
Set a goal to have your child blow all the “sheep” outside of the red line within 3 minutes.
Add Some Challenges
Expand on this fun activity and add additional challenges. The expansion ideas are endless and only limited by your imagination…
Change Up the Blowers
Use really skinny straws, then change it up to really fat straws. If you need extra force, consider curly straws.
Blow the sheep out of the pen with cardboard tubes from paper towels, toilet paper, or wrapping paper.
Each of these different options provide the child with a unique sensation and require differing amounts of effort.
Give the Sheep a New Pen
Using construction paper, simply draw a new pen for your sheep. Your child can garner fine motor input by decorating the pen to his or her liking. Allow you and your child to get creative.
Bonus – this pen is extremely portable and can be taken with you on the go to therapy appointments, restaurants or just about anywhere.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!
Race those little sheep! Get a small group together and see who can get their sheep out of the pen the fastest! This is a great activity for small group speech therapy or even a few neighborhood pals.
With a little imagination and a few inexpensive materials, you’ll be on your way to some fantastic oral-motor input!”
Drop to the Knees for Oral Motor Input
Bonnie Arnwine, author of Starting Sensory Therapy: Fun Activities for the Home and Classroom!, shares with Special-Ism ideas for older children.
Arnwine shares, “As children get older, it can become difficult to get them to engage in sensory activities. Young children are experiential and they enjoy the process of making something. As children get older they become more purposeful and are motivated by the end product, or learning a new skill, or trick that they can show to their peers. They can be sensitive to the fact that they are different or not as skilled as their peers. It’s important when working with your child to be encouraging and use positive reinforcement.”
Balloons (If you don’t have balloons you can also use small pieces of paper.)
Chalk, string or rope to make a start and finish line.
Let the Game Begin
Have your child drop to their knees and get on all fours at the established starting line.
Instruct your child to bend down and with the straw, blow their balloon across the finish line.
Add in Social Interaction
Take it a step further and encourage social skills along with good sportsmanship. Get a few neighborhood pals together, team up and “race” against each other. Offer fun edible rewards that involve chewing for more input!”
Arnwine suggests another simple activity for older children. Use caution as this can be a choking hazard for little ones.
Gather up the following tools:
Straws of various widths as indicated above.
How to Play
You will need at least two players for this game. Divide the players into teams. Set the teams no further than 5 to 10 feet apart facing each other.
Give each player a straw and several Q-tips.
Explain that the object of this game is to shoot your Q-tips at each other. Whoever has fewer Q-tips on their side when the timer goes off – wins.
Note: If the Q-tips are too puffy to fit inside the straw, just take the cotton off one side before you start to play.
Additional Oral Motor Activities
Gwen Wild wraps up our discussion on oral motor skills and input, “In addition to speech or occupational therapy to address the oral motor delay, there are many activities parents can engage their children in at home to facilitate the development of the oral motor muscles.” Below discover some of Wild’s suggestions taken from her BrainWorks program.
The oral motor opportunities are endless. You can explore more ideas in 8 Fun Oral Sensory Activities to Improve Your Child’s Regulation. This resourceful article was picked up and featured in The Sensory Processing Anthology: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents and Caregivers of Sensational Kids.
Meet oral motor and oral sensory needs through dietary choices. Explore Pack a Lunch Loaded with Oral Sensory Input as well as Help Regulate Kids with Oral Sensory Snacks. Although these articles are designed to offer a sensory diet, many of the activities contained within offer wonderful exercises for oral motor development.
(1) Richmond,, Megan-Lynette, M.S., CCC-SLP. “Developmental Milestones.” PsycEXTRA Dataset (n.d.): n. pag. Super Duper, Inc. Super Duper Publications. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.
(2) “Speech-Language Definitions – Pediatric Therapy Network.” Speech-Language Definitions – Pediatric Therapy Network. Pediatric Therapy Network, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2016.