by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L
on the School Tools From Your Pediatric Occupational Therapist Blog
Happy November! By now the school year is off and running and routines have been established (we hope!). Parents are coming into our school this month for parent-teacher conferences for first quarter report cards. When I meet with parents, the most common question I get asked is “How can I help my child carry over therapy techniques at home?” My answer almost always is “Make it fun and it won’t seem like homework!” Carryover activities should not appear to be one more thing to do in a long list of many homework assignments.
One of my favorite home program activities is our school’s Handi-Tool Kits. I had always envisioned my students having a type of lending library of therapy toys. I wanted them to be able to borrow toys or activities for the weekend and bring them back after showing mom and dad how awesome they were to play with. They never knew that they were improving their hand skills at the same time! So, I contacted our town’s Men’s Club, a local charitable group, and met with them to review my proposal for funding. Then, I put together a kit of hand tools and toys to help improve fine motor control. We put together a content list and wrote out directions for accessing and using each toy. After we purchased items for a number of kits, we put them together in lunch box sized cases and started reviewing how to use and play with the items in our therapy sessions. When we were ready to start sending the kits home, we sent a letter to the parents beforehand to make sure that particular weekend would be a good time for them to explore the Handi-Tool kit with their child. My students love taking the Handi-Tool kits home and parents get to see some therapy items and become more familiar with hand skills when they read the cards included in each kit. This is a win-win for all of us!
Core and upper body strengthening are two other developmental areas that I always encourage parents to work on at home. I emphasize that at home they need to make sure that their children are sitting properly when they work at a table and are eating meals. Their backs should be straight and resting against the back of the chair with their feet flat on the floor and their head and eyes positioned forward. I point out that it is not acceptable for children to hold their heads up with their hands or to have their heads lying on the table or desk when they are writing. Step stools or books/boxes for footrests are helpful to maintain correct posture. During writing activities, the non-dominant hand needs to stabilize the paper at all times.
To help increase core or upper body strength and stability, I suggest that parents try some of these activities:
- wheelbarrow walking around the house or yard: Have them measure how far they can go.
- crab walk forward, backward, and sideways
- knee or wall push ups: have them keep count of how many they can do.
- climb the jungle gym or monkey bars at their public or elementary school playgrounds
- work on their tummies when watching TV, drawing, or writing: have them lie on the floor on their stomachs holding themselves up using their elbows and forearms propped on the floor. Do not allow them to hold their heads up with hands.
- write/draw/paint on a chalkboard or easel or any vertical surface such as a wall or window
- complete household chores such as carrying in groceries or yard work
Another area to focus on is hand skills. Parents should encourage their children to hold pencils and utensils correctly. Constant reminders are needed for those who have difficulties. At school, we encourage children to “pinch” the pencil at the tip with thumb and index finger. This is the most mature and efficient position for handwriting and tool use. For students who tend to have difficulty with this, we recommend the following fun activities:
- use an eye-dropper with colored water for painting or coloring activities
- use tweezers to pick up macaroni, goldfish, cheerios, rice, or pasta and place them in a cup –or in their mouth!
- spin tops by pushing the thumb and index fingers in opposite directions to make them spin
- flick coins, ping-pong balls, tiddily winks, or cotton balls with their thumb and pointer fingers: make this a game of hockey or try to aim for a target
- snap fingers: start with the dominant hand and then both hands
- use a spring clothespin to pick up small objects and place them into a container
- play with clay, play dough, or theraputty: hide small items such as buttons or coins for them to find
Even in today’s computer world our children still need to learn to write legibly. It is extremely important that they form the letters in the correct direction. I encourage parents to remind their children to take their time when writing and forming letters. They should ask their child’s teacher or OT for a visual model from the handwriting program they use in school to encourage carryover at home.
To improve letter formations parents can:
- write letters on the wall with a flashlight
- write letters in a tray or pan filled with salt, sand, shaving cream, whipped cream, or pudding
- write on the shower walls with shaving cream, soap, or tub paints
- mystery writing: One person holds a piece of chalk or a pencil and then closes their eyes. The other person moves their hand to write a letter or word. Or one person can write a letter with their finger on the other person’s back or palm of their hand.
- rainbow writing: Write a word or letter on the paper or chalkboard and have their child trace it several times in different colored chalk or crayons.
I stress to parents that they should always remember that these activities should not be viewed as “homework” but rather as games that are fun and can help to increase skills critical to classroom success. They should think of the outdoor games such as tag, kick the can, hopscotch, or jump rope that they enjoyed as a child and teach them to your children. We never knew that having all that fun was good for us! The best piece of advice I have for parents is “Have fun “working” with your child!”
Marie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA. She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources. Photos are the property of the author or contributors on other sites. Their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.