Inside: A great big list of fun and engaging silly putty or theraputty activities and exercises for playing and learning with putty.
With two children on the Autism spectrum if there is one thing that has been tried and tested thoroughly in our family it would be therapy tools. While there are many that we find useful there is one that stands out as a firm favourite and that is theraputty.
Therapy putty or theraputty is a silicone based putty available in different resistance levels – colour coded according to how firm or soft the putty is. We use therapy putty in many different ways to address a variety of skill building and sensory needs; not only is it portable, inexpensive and relatively mess free, it is also a lot of fun to work and play with.
Our theraputty picks; (these are Amazon links)
As an alternative, you can make your own putty using our silly putty recipe to use in these activities as well.
21 Silly Putty & Therapy Putty Activities & Exercises
1. Find the Beads
One of my girls’ favorite activities involves me hiding small objects inside the putty for them to retrieve. We usually use small beads or charms which require a fair amount of work to get out of the putty, and we sometimes use a timer to see who can find all of their beads the quickest. Not only is this game fun but it also builds hand strength and co-ordination.
Hand strength is an important area of development when you consider how many things we use our hands for in daily living. Everything from climbing, dressing ourselves, holding a pencil or brushing our teeth requires certain muscle development and endurance. In the same way that certain physical activities can build our gross motor strength so to can we build fine motor strength.
2. Making Confetti
This simple activity is great for working the pincer grip and building hand strength. The girls see how much ‘confetti’ they can break their therapy putty into using their thumb and index finger, then once they have finished they use the last piece of putty to pick up all of the other pieces and roll them into a ball.
There are many actions involved in this one activity, all of which help to develop hand strength and fine motor skills, particularly the pincer grip (or grasp) which is needed for every day tasks such as using scissors, holding pencils and feeding.
3. Rolling Snakes
This is an activity most children have done with play dough or plasticine before and it works just as well with therapy putty.
The girls roll their putty into ‘snakes’ and then twist these into other shapes to help develop dexterity.
4. Squeezing – Deep Pressure Work
One of the main benefits of therapy putty for our eldest child is as a deep pressure activity that she can access during class time. Squeezing and manipulating the putty when she is feeling stressed or easily distracted in class provides her with the sensory input she needs to stay on task.
By keeping a small tub of putty on her desk, our daughter can use it at any time to squeeze out any tension she has and stay focused.
This activity requires the child to smooth the putty into a contained surface, we like to use a plastic lid or a small plate. This action works different hand muscles to the other activities and also provides a tactile feedback.
6. Putty Writing
Once the putty has been smoothed, encourage your child to try writing in the putty surface, using a pencil or wooden skewer. This helps to develop fine motor control and dexterity, as well as pencil grip.
7. Bead Pictures
Another activity to try in your smoothed putty surface is using beads to create pictures and words. Manipulating the small beads develops pincer grip and dexterity.
8. Ice Mold Shapes
Push putty into chocolate or ice molds to create shapes for use in play scenes. The action of pushing the putty into the mulds and then extracting it is a great strength building activity.
This activity involves fine motor control whilst also building literacy skills such. We use alphabet stamps to practice sight words or spelling words, and in the process work hand muscles, and provide tactile input. While the stamping action is fun it also provides heavy resistive ‘work’ that helps to keep a child focused and provides sensory feedback.
10. Disappearing Words
Smoothing stamped words out flat again works the fingertips, developing strength and control, whilst providing important sensory feedback.
11. Imprint Barrier Game
Played in pairs, one player imprints a small household object into a smoothed out piece of putty while the other player isn’t looking. The second player guesses which object made the imprint. This has become a really competitive challenge at our house, and the outcome can be as difficult or simple as you want it to be.
12. Dress Ups
While some children will quite happily work with therapy putty others won’t enjoy it as much for various reasons. Our youngest, has low muscle tone and tires very easily of heavy fine motor work so I am always on the lookout for activities which are more play based but still work on building hand strength and dexterity.
Create clothes for plastic dolls or figurines using putty or play dough is building hand strength in much the same way as the other activities above.
13. Cold Putty Play
Keep your putty in the fridge to add extra sensory value to play time during Summer.
14+. Keeping It Contained
Despite the benefits of therapy putty activities, some children really don’t like the feel of putty which will often see them avoiding these important exercises. Don’t despair! Placing the putty inside a ziplock bag can avoid this problem.
In fact, we have ten more things to do with putty ideas that work for children who don’t like the squishy texture of silly putty on their skin, that are also provide a great learning and hand strengthening challenge for those who don’t mind touching it. Plus they are easily adapted to do without the plastic bag too. Click through to see the rest of these ideas.
Please note: I am not an occupational therapist, just a parent. These are activities we do in our own home, not part of a recommended therapy schedule or sensory diet.
For more fun sensory play ideas, check out these related articles;