Fall Therapy Ideas for Toddlers…Squirrels!
Squirrel Therapy Activities for Toddlers
Can you believe it’s November already? You’ve probably used all of your standard therapy ideas for this time of year by now, so this week I want to share a few of my favorite fall therapy ideas for toddlers to carry you through the home stretch into Thanksgiving.
Today’s ideas are rich with opportunities to introduce new vocabulary for toddlers and young preschoolers with language delays. I’ve used each of these activities with success with individual children, as well as small groups of children in homes (think siblings!), daycare, and in classroom settings.
Circle Time or Music Activity
Channel your inner cheerleader and “chant” this catchy poem. Chanting is a fantastic alternative for a child with auditory sensitivities who dislikes hearing you sing!
I love this little song for so many reasons, but before I list those, here are the directions. Stand up while singing for more fun!
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel, Shake your bushy tail. (Shake your booty!)
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel, Shake your bushy tail. (Shake it again.)
Wrinkle up your little nose, (Point to your wrinkled nose.)
Put a nut between your toes, (Point to your toes.)
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel, Shake your bushy tail.
Now for all the great reasons this song “works” as a therapy activity:
1. “Squirrel” is probably a new word for most of the children you see. Even if a child lives in the city, if he’s outdoors at all this time of year, he’ll likely see a squirrel. With a little coaching from you, you’ve given his parents something new to look for and talk about. Because this is a new word, to help a child link meaning for the word squirrel, catch and bring in a live squirrel for… I’m kidding! However, it will help to find a life-like photograph and talk about a squirrel before and after you sing the song. Google and print a picture.
Say something like, “Look! See! Here’s my squirrel. It’s an animal. A squirrel. This squirrel is gray. Look! Where’s his tail? Let’s find his nose. Does he have toes? I see his toes right there. Squirrels live outside in trees. Squirrels like to eat nuts. I know a song about squirrels…”
2. When you’re performing the motions to the song, you’re teaching imitation with body movements. Imitating is THE critical first step to help a nonverbal child learn to talk. Imitation doesn’t begin with words either. It starts with imitating actions and body movements.
If that’s new information for you, let me direct your attention to my book, Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers, to outline why and how this process works.
3. You can modify the color word in the song to teach new vocabulary for a child who is obsessed with colors and you’re using his fascination with color words as your “in” for teaching language. If the child knows the color “brown,” sing that version instead. OR introduce the “gray” for a child who is ready to expand his repertoire of color words. I would stick to the color in your picture of the squirrel so as not to confuse the child. OR for a child who is ready, you can teach that squirrels can be different colors. See more ideas to below in Expansion Activities for teaching this concept.
4. You’re also teaching and reinforcing body parts here with the words “nose” and “toes” and even “tail!”
1. To solidly introduce that squirrels can be different colors, print two coloring pages of a squirrel and color (or paint if you’re really brave!) one brown squirrel and one gray squirrel. Some toddlers will NOT be developmentally ready to understand this complex idea. For those kids, color or paint the squirrel the same color as your picture and song.
2. Another super fun related activity is to play with a squirrel stuffed animal. I bought several at Dollar Tree 12 years ago when I ran a playgroup program for toddlers and they were a big hit. I retired those poor things last year because they were too worn, but I found a great alternative with an “Alvin and the Chipmunks” set. I removed the clothes and have used those as my “squirrels.” Toddlers won’t be too picky about squirrels vs. chipmunks! Take a walk outside and gather real nuts for the squirrels to pretend to eat. You can also target verbs and teach run, jump, and climb.
3. My FAVORITE follow-up activity for this song is playing a newer board game called “The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game.” I bought mine at Amazon, but I’ve seen it this year in several stores, including my local Kroger Marketplace. Here’s a picture and with several suggestions for goals.
For children with coordinated fine motor skills, use the squirrel tongs to place nuts in the tree stumps. Most of the toddlers I see cannot manipulate the squirrel tongs, so I’ve used well-worn toddler tongs. More often, I’ve let them use their fingers, which is challenging enough for many of our kids! Older preschoolers may be ready to spin the spinner and understand how to play the game and follow the rules. Most of the time, I totally disregard the rules and play in whatever way I think will hold the child’s attention. An obvious cognitive goal is to teach or practice color matching.
I always work on requesting with this game. Hold the nuts in your hand or place the nuts in a Ziploc bag and give the child a nut after he requests using your carefully selected target word or sign. If a child is new to therapy, choose easy words and signs like “more,” “please,” or “nut.” If a child loves colors and already knows some of those words, let him request by saying the color he wants. If he’s working on phrases, you can easily incorporate that goal here with several different phrase combinations.
This is a great game for helping a child become more spontaneous with requests because you can sit and playfully withhold the bag or close your hand until he asks for another nut. Don’t overuse that strategy though, or you may lose him altogether!
Another fun word I’ve successfully taught with this game is “NO!” You can purposefully mismatch the colored nuts and exaggerate shaking your head and finger while saying, “Does it go here? NO!!! NO!!! NO!!!”
That’s all for today!! Look for posts later this week for a darling song about turkeys and ideas for your remaining pumpkins!
Let me know how these activities have worked for you!
Do you want more ideas like this?
My Best Tips for Making Circle Time Successful so toddlers can successfully participate in small group activities at preschool, daycare, or little gym or library programs
Watch my Therapy Tip of the Week Videos for recommendations, goals, and instructions with specific toys for toddlers and young preschoolers.
Or go straight to my Videos Page to watch lots and lots of clips including Therapy Tip of the Week without the posts.