Turning Oral Motor Activities into Play

Stephenie GomezChild Development, Play Time

Our goal in Early Intervention is to encourage imitation skills in children because we know that children learn and practice by imitating their models. As adults, we model various gross motor, fine motor, and oral motor skills throughout the day to encourage our children to imitate us, and before long they begin to carry out those skills spontaneously. Oral motor exercises may be implemented into your child’s therapy program for various reasons, whether it be to increase muscle tone and/or strength, stability, movement, or to increase overall awareness for feeding and/or speech production.  Often times these types of activities are recommended to build your child’s awareness of his mouth and how his tongue, teeth, lips, and jaw work together to produce speech sounds and words.  Children can be easily stressed or defensive when a hand or object is presented to their lips or mouth, especially when demands are placed on them to participate in something that is uncomfortable or difficult for them, such as oral motor activities.

Through my experiences with young children and their families, I have observed that children are more willing to participate in activities that are fun and motivating. When is it that a child is having the most fun? When he is playing! Play is motivated by pleasure and it provides endless learning opportunities for a child.

So how do we make oral motor activities fun? By choosing activities that are enjoyable to encourage him to want to participate, and to want to “practice” the activity again and again. If a child is enjoying the activity, he will not as easily recognize that a demand is being placed on him. Parents and their children are actually participating in oral motor activities and modeling oral motor skills during their daily routines without even being aware of it. Here are some fun ways to target oral motor skills during play and daily routines with your child that provide multiple opportunities to practice each skill and are fun for everyone!

Lip rounding/pursing:

  •    “kisses” in the mirror or kisses for mommy/daddy/favorite doll or animal
  •    using a straw to blow paint on paper or a ball across a table
  •    blowing bubbles, whistles/horns, pinwheel, balloons, feathers
  •    blowing on a window/mirror to make fog, then letting child draw with his finger in the fog
  •    playing hockey/soccer with a cotton ball on the table (blowing the cotton ball into the goal)
  •    pretending to be a monkey and making the monkey sound
  •    pretending to cool something off by blowing on it
  •    making the choo-choo sound when playing with trains
  •    blowing dandelions when playing outside
  •    blowing a handful of soap bubbles during bath time
  •    with little girls, pretending to put on lipstick while pursing lips

 Lip closure/seal:

  •   saying “mmm” when eating or when pretending to eat with play food/play kitchen
  •   vibrating lips when making vehicle noises (brrrmm) when driving cars/trucks/tractors
  •   pretending to blow kisses to someone
  •   making the elephant sound when pretending to be an elephant
  •   putting on chapstick and puckering to taste the flavored chapstick
  •   using a straw for drinking fun drinks of various consistencies and temperatures

Tongue movement –Protrusion (sticking tongue out) and Lateralization (moving tongue side to side):

  •    licking a lollipop, Popsicle or high interest food on a spoon or a stick
  •    making silly faces in the mirror or in a window reflection
  •    pretending to be a snake or a dog (panting)
  •    licking lips (pretend play in the play kitchen/play food)
  •    making “raspberries”
  •    imitating each other sticking tongue out during diaper change

 Jaw movement:

  • singing “Old McDonald” with exaggerated movement for vowels during the chorus, “e, i, e, i, o”
  • chewing movement when pretending to eat
  • practicing biting with chew tubes or biting on straws that are frozen with yogurt/juice in one end
  • producing incidentals (“uh oh”, “oh no”, “oh man”, “oh boy”) and/or repeated
  • syllables in play (“hop hop hop”, “go go go”, “pop pop pop”, etc.}



Ebert ,Cary. (2011). The Power of Play; Effective Play-Based Therapy and Early Intervention.  Attended Cross Country Education Course in 2012.

Searcy, Karyn. (2006).  Early Intervention for Children with Communication Disorders.  Attended Cross Country Education Course in 2006.