Therapist Thursday: Back to School already??

Today’s Therapist Thursday comes from our friends at The Inspired Treehouse and is full of great ideas to prepare your children for school during the last few weeks of Summer!

summer activities for kids

Every year in our school based therapy practice, we create and send home summer programs for our students because we believe that practice makes perfect!   Let’s be frank, no one wants to think about school over the summer.  And when children have long breaks where they don’t have regular opportunities to practice the skills they need in school every day, they often need extra time to get back into the swing of things when they return to school in the fall.  It may take weeks to get a child back to where they left off!  Here at The Inspired Treehouse, we want kids to have what they need to start the school year confident and ready to learn. Here are 10 functional skills used every day in the school environment with some playful summer activities  that will give the opportunity for practice and development of these skills.  These summer activities for kids are so much fun, we promise your little ones won’t even realize that they’re actually doing homework! 🙂

1. STAIR CLIMBING:  Most children have many opportunities to navigate steps in their school environment on a daily basis: to get to art or music, to play on playground equipment, and even to get on the bus.  This may sound simple enough, they practice stairs everyday at home, right?  BUT, have you ever thought that, at school, there may be 20 other kiddos trying to navigate those stairs at the SAME time??  This challenges balance, motor planning, strength, and body control.  To make sure your child stays confident and comfortable on the stairs, work on stair climbing as often as possible and in as many ways as possible.
Try these activities to help develop your child’s confidence and ability on the stairs:

Child Development Quick Tip: Stair Climbing

Simple Activities for Kids Using Stairs

2. HANDWRITING AND COLORING: These skills are challenged every single day in the classroom. The expectations for handwriting grow more challenging as our children progress and as they transition to a new grade level.  Learning to write requires continual development of fine motor and visual motor/perceptual skills. Our children need to be able to grasp a pencil or crayon efficiently, sustain pressure while writing/coloring, demonstrate enough strength to hold their writing utensil for a length of time, and motor plan to create writing and drawings.  On top of that,  they need to be able to visually attend to their paper!

Try these activities to practice handwriting and coloring skills:

Ant Farm

Child Development Quick Tip: Visual Motor Skills

Super Fingers

3. TRANSITIONS IN HALLWAYS: Children need to be able to line up, walk forward in a line, maintain body awareness throughout crowded hallways and rooms, and get to and from spaces calmly and independently. This challenges motor planning, body awareness, and sensory processing skills.

Try these fun activities to practice these skills:

Rabbit Hole

Wacky Relay

Partner Obstacle Course  

4. MAINTAIN UPRIGHT POSTURE IN A CHAIR:  How many times have you been in a classroom, or in your kitchen at homework time, and noticed a child slouching in a chair with his bottom sliding toward the edge.  Or maybe he’s completely bent over with his head resting in one hand or, better yet, his head down on the table.  Is he tired?  Maybe!  But, it’s possible that this child just doesn’t have the core strength or postural stability to maintain an upright sitting position in a chair for periods of time.  Or maybe he needs more propriceptive input to tell him what exactly his body is doing.

Help your child develop stability for good posture and give him proprioceptive input for better body awareness with activities like these:

Core Strengthening Exercises for Kids

Make Me Strong Partner Yoga for Kids

5 Olympic-Inspired Strengthening Activities for Kids

5. PARTICIPATION IN GYM:  Did you know that in the U.S., kids are observed and measured against all of the other kids in the nation in gym class?  Are they performing gross motor skills to the level of their peers?  Are they confident enough in their gross motor abilities to perform them in a group setting?  Can they control their bodies to complete requested skills in their own space within a gym full of other children?  Mastery of gross motor skills is dependent on age, but there are lots of fun activities that can help to develop some common developmental motor skills.

Try some of these activities to work on skills that might be required in physical education classes in the elementary years:

Child Development Quick Tip: Jumping Jacks

How Far to the Barn?

Tire Run

summer activities for kids THERE’S MORE… For five more tips from The Inspired Treehouse, please visit the original post HERE!

Believe It Or Not . . . It’s Back-to-School time!

Max & Alphie know that many of our southern friends (especially those in Georgia) have headed back to school today to start a great new year! We wish you all a year of great success!

Even though many more of our friends have several weeks of summer vacation left, we know that most people’s thoughts turn to school when the calendar turns to August! One of the first skills that Kindergarten children work on when they start school is letter and number formation. Why not get a head start on these skills with Fundanoodle’s easy-to-use writing activity books.

Check out this video which provides an overview of the Fundanoodle writing workbooks! Our friends Max & Alphie help children learn to form letters and numbers with action words like Zip, Zoom and Buzz, while providing visual cues like red and green lines for fun, intuitive learning.

When does back-to-school hit your house? Tell us below to be eligible to win an “I Can Write!” prize package featuring all of Fundanoodle’s writing books. Extra entries for tagging Fundanoodle when you share this post on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!

Here’s to Back-to-School fun!

Therapist Thursday: Tricks for Teaching Correct Pencil Grasp

Today’s Therapist Thursday comes from Christie at MamaOT.com.  Christie is a California-based mom and occupational therapist with a background in gymnastics, psychology, and education. We love her tips and tricks for teaching correct pencil grasp and her unique perspective on all things Pediatric OT!

how to hold a pencil

Pencil grip is one of those things that is really hard to re-teach if kids initially learn it incorrectly. Though every child will end up settling on a pencil grip that works best for him or her, introducing the standard “tripod” grasp (pinching with thumb and index finger while resting on middle finger) is a good place to start. However, this can seem virtually impossible when you’re dealing with five- and six-year-olds who don’t even know their left from right, let alone how to divide up their fingers into different positions.

Given the tricky nature of pencil holding — and its impact on kids’ handwriting skills — I thought I’d share a few OT-based tricks so you can help kids learn how to hold their pencil correctly.

Trick #1: Use shorter pencils.
how to hold a pencil
A shorter pencil means less space for cramming in unnecessary fingers. It basically forces kids to pinch with thumb and index finger. This is why occupational therapists often have kids use crayons that have been broken in half if they are having trouble using an age-appropriate grasp. Click here to read more about why kids should use shorter crayons.

Trick #2: Teach them the “pinch and flip”.

If shorter pencils don’t do the trick for your little writer, then teach them the “pinch and flip”. Simply have them pinch the sharpened end of the pencil and then flip it around until it gently rests in the “webspace” (that soft skin between your thumb and index finger) in the ready position. To watch a video for a quick demonstration and to find out the 3rd trick please read the original post.

Thanks MamaOT!

Therapist Thursday: Summer Letters

Today’s Therapist Thursday post comes from Amy Bumgarner, one of the rockstar Pediatric Occupational Therapists that created Fundanoodle. We love her ideas for incorporating letters into your child’s summer play!

It is getting hot, hot, hot in Charlotte, NC! My kids and I are looking for cool activities this summer!  How about you?

Here are some “cool” ways to practice handwriting this summer!

Sponge painting with water: Using letter shaped sponges have your child practice writing words with water soaked sponges. See if they can write the word before it dries up on the hot driveway! For extra fun you could build your own letters with sponge pieces. Use the I Can Build Upper Case Kit as a model.

spongeletter

Sidewalk chalk: Sidewalk chalk is a great way to work on large muscle movements for writing.  Kids love it! You can have extra fun with sidewalk chalk by getting the tip of the sidewalk chalk wet for bolder colors.  Have fun making hopscotch with letters, playing hangman, and practice writing letters.  This is fun break in between pool and sprinkler fun!

Ice cubes and letters: Freeze small letters (such as magnetic letters) in ice cubes.  Then have fun building words with the letters before they melt in the sun.  How many words can you build before they melt?

icecubeletters

Write letters on the ground or a vertical surface, such as the fence, with sidewalk chalk. As you call out a letter, your child gets to squirt the letter off with a water squirter. Spray bottles make a great hand strengthening activity, too.  For older kids, he or she has to say a word that starts with that letter before he or she can squirt the letter off.

Sensory bin: I always love a good sensory bin!  Have fun taking this one outside.  You can use a small kiddie pool, cooler, any tub, or water table.  Fill it with water, bubbles, water toys, and plastic letters.  Little ones can find all of a specific color letters, older children can find a specific letter, and even older children can find all the letters to spell a specific word.

sensorybinAmy Bumgarner, OTR/L

 

Therapist Thursday: What Does Sensory Really Mean?

Today’s Therapist Thursday comes from Pam at The Inspired Treehouse, a team of three moms and pediatric therapists who believe that with a little help, kids can build strong, healthy bodies and minds through play. The Inspired Treehouse is passionate about creating activities and sharing knowledge to promote development and wellness in kids.

sensory-processing-1024x1024

Getting messy is a wonderful play experience for young children and highly encouraged here at the Treehouse.  But sensory integration is a lot more complicated than just getting your hands dirty.  Here’s a quick glimpse into the world of sensory processing.

The senses send information to a child’s nervous system where it is then processed in order to generate a response.  A sensory experience can “rewire” the brain, helping a child understand his environment more clearly and making him feel safe.  Or, it can be overwhelming, causing him to become defensive and withdrawn.  And, just to make things a little more complicated, no two children will ever respond to a sensory experience in exactly the same way.  For example, if I offer GAK or putty to two children, one child may squeeze it tightly running it through his fingers, enjoying the cold wet feel.  The other child may drop it immediately, irritated by the same sensation.  This is what sensory means – the way the body receives, analyzes, and responds to the signals it gets from its environment.

Does your child withdraw from certain types of play?  Does he have extreme adverse reactions to certain sensory experiences?  If so, talk to your child’s doctor or school to see if occupational therapy services might be beneficial.  An occupational therapist (OT) is trained in sensory integration and can help you learn to guide your child through sensory experiences in a safe, playful, and non-threatening manner.  The end goal is for the child to have a strong, stable, and healthy sense of himself in his environment.

Encourage your child to experience touch, sounds, sights, tastes, and all different kinds of movement during play.  Thoughtful, guided exposure to playful sensory experiences is the best way to promote healthy development of the sensory system, ensuring that little bodies learn to process, integrate, and generate appropriate responses to the sensory information in their environments.

For further information, visit some of our favorite sensory based articles and websites.
Family Education: What is Sensory Integration?
The Out-of-Sync-Child
Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation

Pam is a mother of two children, Jack (7) and Ella (5) and has  been an occupational therapist since 1997. She has worked in several environments including pediatric inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, step down NICU, and currently school based for the past 8 years. This quote has traveled with Pam to each desk she has claimed while being an OT and helps her stay focused both in her career and as a mom.  “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person who passes by leaves a mark.” For more information on the therapists at The Inspired Treehouse click here.

Therapist Thursday: Handwriting Struggles in Older Children (part 3)

Hello! And welcome back to our discussion about handwriting struggles for older students. In Part 1, we looked at a bit of research about the importance of legible handwriting, as well as the role that posture plays in an efficient handwriting style. Part 2 peeked into the significance of an efficient pencil grasp and the alternate solutions to a pencil grip.   Let’s continue with a look at Some Solutions that will help older strugglers.

Movement, Vision, and Visualization can open the door to efficient handwriting in fun and creative ways for students of all ages.  Bring the Tether Ball inside by hanging a soft ball from the ceiling on a string, any size from 5-10″ around (or a tennis ball if you aren’t afraid of breaking anything).  Practicing precision eye movements by “keeping your eye on the ball” while tapping it up or sideways in controlled patterns brings movement and vision into play.

vision tracking tube

The Vision Tracking Tube is a fun challenge for older students!

Sensory activities that involve using the hands and fingers, such as kneading bread dough or planting in the garden, as well as large muscle activities such as jumping and reaching in basketball, or running and reaching in tennis, bring movement, vision, and proprioception into the picture.  Drawing letter formations in the air or identifying those that are “written” on your back, as well as “blind writing” (drawing letters, numbers, or pictures with your eyes closed) aid in the development of visualization skills that are crucial for automatic reproduction of letters and words.  And even older students can enjoy using finger paints to practice letter formation, drawing letters in shaving cream, or finding the hidden beads in the Theraputty!  Believe me, even the adults enjoy that!

Finally, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!  No, not by pulling out a worksheet and attempting to reproduce a perfect letter time after time. (I’m not sure any of us can actually do that!) But, instead, by finding writing ideas that will utilize their creative minds to practice handwriting.  Journals, poems, stories, newspaper articles, and letters to relatives are wonderful (and useful) ways to provide meaningful opportunities for older students to practice and hone their handwriting skills.  And Cursive Clubs have begun to spring up all over as fun ways to turn handwriting skills from Practiced to Functional!

Cursive Clubs are great ways to help older children gain confidence in their handwriting skills!

Cursive Clubs are great ways to help older children gain confidence in their handwriting skills!

So, what do you think?  Willing to give it a try?  I hope so because I think that your older students and children will thank you for it…well, maybe not right away, but eventually!  Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again soon!

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in children’s handwriting and offers professional development training in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

 

Therapist Thursday: Handwriting Struggles in Older Children (part 2)

Today’s Therapist Thursday post is the second of the handwriting struggles in older children series by Katherine Collmer from Handwriting With Katherine. While Fundanoodle products are designed for preschool and early elementary students we are passionate about playing the “write” way at all ages.

Hello! And welcome back to our discussion about handwriting struggles for older students. In Part 1, we looked at a bit of research about the importance of legible handwriting, as well as the role that posture plays in an efficient handwriting style. Let’s continue with a look at Pencil Grasping Skills.

And as we are perfecting a child’s body positioning (feet, trunk, arms, shoulders, hand, wrist and fingers!), we are providing him with an efficient platform from which to utilize rhythm and movement to produce fluid handwriting strokes. With this in place, we can begin to focus on the “reinvention of the wheel,” so to speak, with pencil grip! Children with weak muscles in their upper extremities have often adapted their grips to compensate for that by grabbing hold of the pencil for dear life and pushing it into the paper! Some, on the other hand, have no idea that their grip is too loose and are frequently having to pick the pencil up off the table (or floor) as it “seems to fall out of my hand all of the time!” I’d like to say that all you need to do at this point is to find the right pencil grip. However, I’m not going to say that because…well, then we would be using a Bandaid fix right away when we should first see if we can correct the underlying cause of the problem.

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

As with any other muscle development program, exercises that are designed to address specific muscle groups are the foundational elements of a fitness plan.

But, not all fine motor skill exercises are as exciting as others!  For younger children, Theraputty, playdough, picking up pennies, or rolling pieces of paper to make a collage can be enticing and fun.  Older children…well….I’ve learned over the years that it still boils down to what they are interested in!  Ask them!  Is it Art?  Music?  Sports?  Gardening?  When you have that information in hand (excuse the pun), then you can offer activities such as modeling clay, practicing the guitar, improving his/her baseball game, or building up their gardens.  As you observe the areas where they can use improved upper extremity strength, then gather some exercises that relate to the skill and include those in their daily routine.  They won’t even know they are working on grip strength!

But what about those “gross” ways that some children hold their pencils?  Well, it’s important to first look at the practical side of things.  Not all pencil grasping patterns are created equal.  Some are efficient even if they are, well, ugly!  So, as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  However, if they are experiencing handwriting challenges, and their preferred grip appears to be one of the culprits, then it is definitely important to address it. A tripod grasp, where the pencil is held between the thumb and index finger, resting on the middle finger about an inch from the point, is a reasonably comfortable one for most writers.  One of the ways that I encourage the switch to this grip is by challenging my older students to tuck a cotton ball into the palm of their hand and to hold it there with their ring and little finger, while grasping the pencil in a tripod grasp.  They can do this in school with a penny to be more discreet.  However, either way, it does two things:  it reminds them to keep those fingers OUT OF THE WAY and it strengthens the motor memory for a tripod grasp.  Left-handed writers should hold their pencil back a bit further from the tip to encourage an appropriate wrist position.  There are other ways to reinforce a tripod grasp, such as the Rubber Band Trick, that can be used at home or in treatment sessions that are effective but might be a bit more embarrassing for a student to bring to the classroom.  But, they are worth a try!

Inconspicuous but effective!

Inconspicuous but effective!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this second segment in our discussion of handwriting struggles for older students.  Please stay tuned for Part  3, as we take a look at Some Solutions!

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in children’s handwriting and offers profession development training in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.