Have you ever played with silly putty? Or therapy putty or even bouncing putty? What is putty and why is it so fabulous? It is a silicone base product that is often used for hand therapy activities as not only is it portable and inexpensive, it is also relatively mess free. Playing with putty can help to build hand strength, co-ordination and fine motor skills and my girls find it kind of addictive to manipulate and play with.
Actual Therapy Putty is actually available in different resistance levels – colour coded according to how firm or soft the putty is, but today’s activities work with all different types of commercial putty – or you can even make your own using this recipe.
21 Silly Putty Activities for Kids
Here are some fun ways to get fingers busy and moving with silly putty;
1. Retrieving Small Objects
One of my girls’ favourite 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, co-ordination and develops fine motor skills.
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 on 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, ‘Bubble’, 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. Bubble keeps a small tub of putty on her desk and uses it to squeeze out any tension she has and stay focused.
This activity involves fine motor work and also builds other skills such as literacy. We use letter stamps to practice Bubble’s sight words and also work her hand muscles and provide tactile input. While the stamping action is fun it also provides heavy resistive ‘work’ that helps to keep her focussed and provide sensory feed back.
This activity involves smoothing the putty into a contained surface, we like to use a container lid or a plate. This action works different hand muscles to the other activities and also provides a tactile experience.
Once the putty has been smoothed out there are many activities you can build to, such as stamping, writing in the putty using a pencil or wooden skewer, or using beads to create pictures and words. These activities involve fine motor skill and dexterity and also develop the pincer grasp.
Stamping words and then smoothing them out flat again works many different fine motor skills.
See these putty ideas in action (more below the video):
7. Dress Ups
While some children will quite happily work with therapy putty others won’t enjoy it as much for various reasons. For our youngest, ‘Squeak’, this is the case. She has low muscle tone and tires very easily of heavy fine motor work so we do activities together which are more play based but still work on building her hand strength and dexterity. One of Squeak’s favourites is to create clothes for her dolls using putty or play dough, while this activity might seem to be just a bit of a fun game but is working her hand strength in much the same way as the other activities above.
8. 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 is a favourite game at our house and can be as difficult or simple as you want it to be.
9. Ice Mould Shapes
Push putty into chocolate or ice moulds to create shapes for use in play scenes. The action of pushing the putty into the moulds and then extracting it is a great skill building activity.
10. Putty Play Scenes
Smooth putty across a tray or bench top to use as a base for LEGO or other figurine play.
11. Cold Putty Play
Keep your putty in the fridge to add extra sensory value to play time during Summer.
12-21. Keeping It Contained
While some days my daughter, Squeak, is happy to use putty or dough on other days she doesn’t like the texture and won’t enjoy using it as much. On these occasions we will put her putty inside a ziplock bag with some small objects or sequins and she can work with it this way instead. Keeping the putty contained inside a bag means Squeak can still build her fine motor skills and strength without having to handle it. Click through to see our next 10 activities that you can play with your putty contained in a plastic sandwich bag.
Written by Carrie of A Little Learning for Two.
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.