Pre-vocational Tasks: Folding Paper, Stuffing Envelopes and Attaching Labels

Folding Paper

The illustrations shown in this post are from my book The Recycling Occupational Therapist. Folding paper, stuffing envelopes and attaching labels - all work on fine-motor skills that might prove functional in an individual's daily life or to perform prevocational tasks.  The following adaptations are designed to promote  learning, fine-motor and pre-vocational skills.

Folding paper to insert inside an envelope is easier when materials are

  • extra large
  • made of material that does not easily rip-such as a a soft plastic or cardboard and
  • the "paper" has visual or physical markings such as Velcro that indicate where to crease and fold.

The "paper" shown in the above illustration is either

  • folded along the center where the Hook and Loop Velcro meet OR
  • the individual is presented with the closed pieces that can be ripped open.

Ripping them open is a great  bilateral, strengthening activity that also provides proprioceptive sensory stimulation. Closing them reinforces the visual motor skills required to fold paper.

The folded pieces may also function as "envelopes" ready for insertions. Teach the student or client to either open or close these simulated papers or envelopes- depending on the person's skill level and preference. Otherwise, the individual may become confused as to which they are doing (i.e. opening or closing).

Folding them may be more challenging than ripping them open because the Velcro needs to be lined up with edges meeting. Using smaller amounts of Velcro will make ripping them open easier if the individual has decreased hand strength.

Directions to Make

Cut a rectangular piece of cardboard or soft plastic or vinyl.  Shower curtains, old flotation toys or shelf liner are good sources for vinyl.  Attach strips of Velcro along the side edges (See A above) Have clients fold so that Velcro meets and adheres- forming an "envelope" (see B above).

Folding into Thirds

Obviously, folding into thirds is more challenging and should be taught after skills are proficient to fold in  half. Graduates can then move on to folding into fourths!

Use the Creases of Manila Folders or Cardboard Boxes

The following photos show how a small cardboard box is cut to create the folding piece with 2 creases. I made 4 of these out of a single box.

Many of my clients love insertion tasks, so I teach them how to fold before inserting through a container slit.

Ripping open the following plastic folded into thirds- reveals a cute photograph of children!

Stuffing Envelopes

Stuffing envelopes is a popular and functional prevocational task that develops bilateral coordination. Envelopes made out of plastic or cardboard can be of any desired size and will NOT easily rip during the learning process. The following plastic "envelope" is made from baby wipe containers.

Directions to Make

  1. Place one box lid inside another.  Use duct tape along 3 sides to securely attach them in place (See B). The lip of the covers will create a space inside that makes it easier to insert and remove contents.
  2. Cut away one long edge from the top so that it is easier to see and feel the opening  (See B below).
  3. Cover the insertion edge with colorful duct tape (See C.) This color contrast will make it even easier for the client or student to see and/or feel where to open the envelope to insert or remove contents. Cut rectangular "paper" which will be stuffed into the envelope.


  1. Baby-wipe containers are available in different colors. Try using the same color for envelopes (i.e. pink) and a different color for all the inserts  (i.e. blue). Then individuals may sort them into corresponding color bins after removing inserts.
  2. Grade the insert size according to the individual's skill level. For greater challenge, make the insert only slightly smaller than the envelope.
  3. As individuals gain skill, use inserts that are less stiff. Try regular paper covered with Contact adhesive vinyl. Use pieces cut from plastic place mats, index cards, and lightweight cardboard, manila folders and eventually offer regular construction paper.

Attaching Labels

Placing or ripping the "labels" made of Velcro off the "envelopes" made of plastic or cardboard is easy and fun. Many individuals love the simplicity and sensory feedback provided when using force to pull off the labels. Ripping also strengthens hands.....These materials are easy to make and perfect for individuals who like to be busy with  simple repetitive, sensory-based fine-motor task.

Directions to Make

  1. Cut an envelope-sized plastic or cardboard panel from containers.
  2. Place a strip of stick-back Velcro hook tape in the center of the panel.
  3. Cut a matching strip of sticky-back Velcro Loop tape.
  4. Cover the sticky side of the loop tape with colorful Contact paper (See yellow label and stamp in photo below).
  5. Demonstrate how to place and press the "labels" in place.


The "envelope" shown above has a smaller "stamp" and longer "label" to match to the Velcro backings. This creates a size/length discrimination activity.

  1.  Try using different colors for the stamps (i.e. all red) and labels (i.e. blue). After they are removed, the stamps can go into a red container and all the blue labels into a blue container.
  2. If an individual has a poor grasp, measure the loop tape so that it is longer than the strip to which it is attached. This will create an extension tab to pull when removing them.
  3. Provide a container with lots of sensory items (i.e. marbles, cut up sponges, pennies, cut up bubble wrap AND the Velcro pieces that are used to create the labels and stamps. Show students or clients how to search for the needed materials inside the "sensory soup".

A Few Additional Thoughts

    1. Pre-creased paper such as a manila folder is also great for teaching how to cut on a line.
    2. Plastic containers shaped cubes or rectangles may also be cut to provide plastic with creases that can be folded. The containers shown in the following video held Thick-It powder. I found lots of uses for these containers!

3. Creased cardboard can also be folded to  creating a triangular easel.

4.The lacing board shown below is designed to practice folding into thirds, as well as for lacing. Notice how the holes are extra large to promote success.

Directions to Make

  • Cover the cardboard with contact paper, color or decorate in some other manner.
  • Velcro may be added to keep the folds in place.
  • Cut extra large holes
  • Tie cord to one of the holes for lacing.
  • Students may remove the cord and fold into thirds before putting lacing board away.

5. Individuals with cognitive impairment due to dementia might enjoy the repetitive tasks of folding or ripping Velcro off backings. Click here to learn more about sensory stimulating activities.

I think that it is super fun to create and adapt activities. I'm sure that you will never look at baby wipe containers or cardboard boxes in the same way!


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