by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L
on the School Tools From Your Pediatric Occupational Therapist Blog
It is April…and Happy Occupational Therapy Month. I’ve just returned from the AOTA conference in Chicago—one of the biggest conferences to date. It is always exciting to go to the national conference and be amongst 10,000 colleagues and find the newest products out there or to listen to the latest trends and see the exciting research being done in our field. It is an exhausting four days but invigorating at the same time. If you get a chance to go to an AOTA conference take it….it is worth it!
So this got me thinking about how we, as school-based OT’s, can promote our profession year round. Not just once a year in the month of April by putting up a bulletin board, but how do we keep OT in the forefront of the students, staff, and parents’ minds? Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling…
August: Desk and Chair checks
At the beginning of each school year, I go into most of the classrooms and make sure all the students fit properly into their desks. I use the “10 feet on the floor” rule: the student’s 2 legs and the 4 legs of the chair and desk all need to be on the floor at once. The classroom teacher and I make sure the chairs fit first and then find desks to match. We have the students sit at their desks with their elbows resting on it. In this position, they should be able to comfortably rest their chins on their open palm. We try to mix and match within the classroom, but our custodians are great about moving desks up or down a few notches when needed. Remember to check the computer lab too. Since that room serves children from all grades, often the chairs do not fit properly. As an adaptation, we often have foot rests (phone books duct taped together) for the students to rest their feet on. For those classrooms I cannot reach, I always send an email reminder about how to properly size desks and chairs for students.
September: Backpack Awareness Events
AOTA has wonderful resources for BackPack Safety Awareness Day. As occupational therapists, we are in a perfect position to remind students and parents about proper purchasing and packing of backpacks that fit properly and do not weigh too much. Backpacks are often too heavy for our little ones. They should weigh no more than 15% of a child’s weight. (100 pound child=15 pound backpack, 50 pound child =7 pound backpack). In the past, I have weighed backpacks as students come off the bus in the morning. I make sure the principal puts a reminder in her weekly note to parents and I send home a flyer to parents as well. Educating parents and students to “pack it light, pack it right” is always good advice.
October: “Arnie and his School Tools”
By this point in the school year, the students have settled in somewhat and the routines have been established. I try to get into the classrooms and read one of my favorite books “Arnie and his School Tools”. This story is about a little boy who struggles to maintain attention and fidgets all day long. His “teachers” help him to find tools and activities that help him. I am sure that his OT helped him as well! “With the right tools, everybody’s day goes a little smoother.” We talk about different tools and strategies available in each classroom and how to use them as tools and not toys.
November: Parent teacher Conferences
At the beginning of the school year when I send home my introductory letter to parents, I let them know I would love to come to their parent-teacher conference in November. We find a mutually convenient time with the classroom teacher when I can give my OT update as well as find out how my students are doing in all other areas of the curriculum. I love to connect with parents as early as possible in the school year to build that relationship.
December: Cool Down strategies
The holidays are upon us and the students are very excited! At this time of year the classroom teachers often request some ideas for cool down strategies. When I have time, I like to go in and review classroom rechargers. It is helpful to remind them that heavy work activities such as monthly warmups need to be done slowly and in control. Deep breathing techniques that will keep our students in the just right zone for learning will make this month more manageable for everyone. We encourage beefing up the use of Zones of Regulation tools and strategies during December to help everyone out!
Now the cold and snow has settled in and there seems to be endless indoor recess days. Now is the time to add more movement into the school day. Click on the guy at the left to see my past blog post for ideas.
February: Awards Days
All throughout the school year, I leave little awards for some of my students. When their desk is clean and neat when I check it, I leave the “Clean Desk Award.” When I see children holding their pencils correctly and using good spacing and line placement, I give out the “Golden Thumb Award.” My favorite way to recognize students is called the “Sparkle Fairy.” It is an opportunity for awarding students by catching them doing kind things for one another. Once a week I dress up in a tutu and give out “Sparkles” in the cafeteria during every lunch period. Both students and staff can win Sparkles and I am the lucky one who gets to award them weekly! Students see me in the hallways during the week and are reminded to “fill a bucket” with sparkles!
March: Test taking strategies
We start our statewide testing in March. I send home a “test taking strategies” tip sheet to parents of all third and fourth graders. It includes some general reminders about getting a good night’s sleep and eating properly as well as reading the entire question and taking a deep breath. The first and second grade classrooms “adopt” one of the third and fourth grade classrooms and decorate the classroom doors and leave little notes and cards on each day of testing. As a school, we are all in this together and we try and support each other. As occupational therapists, we are in a great position to remind both students and staff about stress management strategies.
Click here for a sample handout for
April: OT Month
Ahhh…my favorite month of the school year! Bulletin boards outside the OT office tout some of the fun activities we do in OT. Parents are in for conferences again, as well as the Book Fair, so lots of people see this. I have my students write about the fun things they like best about OT for our monthly writing prompt. At staff meeting this month, I will be giving out balloon buddies that a few fourth grade students and I made out of play-doh and balloons. I wear my OT T-shirts as often as I can and I am participating in a Twitter challenge to post a picture a day for the month of April about what I do as a school-based OT. Follow me on Twitter at @MarieTooleOTNH.
May: Field Days
Does your school have Field Days? The physical education teacher runs our field days and they are a blast! A day filled with fun water games, races, and skills that every student participates in with their class. You might think this is a perfect opportunity to get some paperwork done as your students are busy. Wait…go play with them! The students love to have the grownups in the buildings play alongside them. Some of our students may have sensory overload and may just need a break or an easy tweak to an activity to enable them to still participate. What better staff person than the OT can help with that? Get out there and have some fun…you deserve it after the year you have had! Field Day is one of my most favorite days of the school year!
June: Summer Packets and Activity Calendars
As the school year comes to a close, I always put together a packet with some worksheets for practicing letters or maybe mazes or journaling pages. Think rainy day fun ideas. I also put together a calendar of fun activities for July and August so when the boredom sets in they can always find something to do on the calendar. If the students bring back their calendar at the beginning of next yea,r they get to go into the prize box (pencils and awesome hand toys) which they love! Parents always ask for ideas for summer fun. If you make it fun and interesting they will want to keep at it.
So these are just a few ways to be noticed throughout the school year. As school-based OT’s, we have an opportunity to interact with our “clients” whether they be staff, administrators, students, or parents on a regular basis. Parents and community members are in our schools all the time. Let your OT light shine all year through! I think we have the best job in the world…let your world know that all year! Happy OT Month!
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 site owners and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.
Photo Credits: Movement by Peggy_Marco on Pixabay.
Desk and Chairs: https://pixabay.com/en/children-kids-sitting-chair-little-483146/