How to Increase Oral Motor Skills

By Christina Schnell
A juice box makes using a small straw especially appealing.
A juice box makes using a small straw especially appealing.

Oral motor skills enable children to do things like pronounce words correctly and eat and drink. There are dozens of muscles throughout the mouth, tongue and jaw used to complete these activities, and weak muscles make performing simple tasks like drinking without spilling or saying new words especially frustrating. Children with poor oral motor skills may exhibit symptoms such as excessive drooling or teeth grinding. They may also be "late talkers," according to SchoolHealth. Strengthening these muscles through various activities and exercises can help improve oral motor skills.

Silly Faces

Make silly faces with your child in front of the mirror so she can practice controlling the muscles around her mouth, lips and tongue. Have her purse her lips together and puff her cheeks full of air like a puffer fish or make fish lips. Make big, oversized smiles together and equally overly exaggerated frowns. As she practices manipulating her mouth in different ways, she'll become more aware of different muscle groups. Contorting her lips, chin and cheeks repeatedly in various positions will also strengthen her oral muscle tone, according to ARK Therapeutic Services.


Blowing through a straw or plastic whistle requires lip protrusion and tensing the cheeks, two important skills for saying most vowels. Line up a few cotton balls and have your little one blow at them through a straw to move them a few inches or feet away. Have her blow bubbles through a traditional bubble wand that's small enough that she has to form her lips into an "O" position. Let her practice blowing on a whistle or kazoo using the same motion with her lips and tongue.

Feeding and Drinking Activities

Help your child improve her oral motor skills by eating and drinking on her own. Instead of a spout-based sippy cup, give her one with a pop-up straw or if she's old enough, a regular straw in her drinking cup, according to ARK Therapeutic Services. Have her practice sucking cool soup from a ladle or deep oversized spoon to strengthen the muscles in her lips, tongue and cheeks.

Funny Sounds

Making exaggerated -- but controlled -- motions with the tongue lips and cheeks helps strengthen oral motor skills, according to ARK Therapeutic Services. Make these exercises appealing by seeing how many silly sounds you and your child can make together. Clucking her tongue, making "pop" sounds by pursing and releasing her lips are just a few motions that target oral motor skills. Practice making vowel sounds by pretending to be animals, such as "ooh ooh ahh ahh" like a monkey or "oink oink" for a pig.

About the Author

Christina Bednarz Schnell began writing full-time in 2010. Her areas of expertise include child development and behavior, medical conditions and pet health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international relations.