Blog

Featured

Interactive Handwriting Notebook

Hello,

I finally finished and uploaded my first Interactive Notebook for handwriting. I decided to focus on lowercase letters for my first Interactive Notebook. Lowercase letters are the ones we read and write the most and harder to learn. So, I put my focus lowercase letters first. Lowercase letters need to be the right size, started in the right spot and the strokes need to be completed in a specific sequence. Uppercase letters can be started from the bottom and the sequence of strokes can vary with the letters still ending up legible. They are all the same size too.

I’ve been creating and testing different pages and interactive ideas for almost a year. I’ve narrowed it down to the pages that are in the notebook.

The first activity is a uppercase and lowercase matching activity. Then it progresses to practicing the basic handwriting strokes. Don’t rush through learning the basic strokes.

The letters are grouped by the starting stroke of the letter. I started with lines and then progressed to the a circle stroke. I finished with a half circle stroke for the letters f and s. These can be grouped with the circle stroke letters. All of those letters start with a counter-clockwise curved stroke.

Then I finished with a sorting letters by size activity. It’s really important to get the sizing correct. Think about it, if all the letters are the same size and mushed together handwriting can be unreadable.

I really want feedback on my first interactive notebook. So, I’ve offered it for free for 30 days. I want to make it better and better. That’s hard to do without feedback. I’ve included a couple of pages because it can be hard to see on Teacher Pay Teachers.

Interactive Handwriting Notebook Cover

Tall Line Letter

circle stroke practice page

Tall Letters under the Tall Letter Foldable

m page completed

UC and LC letter pageI hope these photos are helpful and give you a better idea of the overall notebook.

Thanks for Reading!

 

Featured

Jumping for Numbers

Hello,

I’ve got another quick and inexpensive sensory activity to share. Mini-trampolines are great and can be found in most therapy clinics, therapy rooms and classrooms. They work well because sensory needs can be met in a small space and small amount of time. I wanted to add something besides just jumping to the trampoline. Combining functional/purposeful activities with sensory activity is at the heart of Occupational Therapy.

I do sensory circuit training with the students. I always start with a minute of jumping followed by a minute of wall push-ups. Then I will do crossing mid-line activity, I call it Cross Touch or a Wheel barrel walk to the table. It gets them ready to write or do other fine-motor stuff.

Anyway, I wrote the numbers 1 to 20 on small sticky notes and taped them on the wall next to the trampoline. Then jump and touch the numbers in order to add a visual-motor component. The students have really enjoyed it. I move the numbers around depending on height and jumping height of the student. Some jump high and others jump low. I even arranged them in a circle this week as a pre-writing activity. I might go ahead and make nicer ones and laminate them. I could even make letters. There are lots of possibilities and the cost is low. That’s a win-win in my book. Here’s a few photos.

trampoline with numbers taped to the wall

close up of numbers on sticky notes taped to the wall.

super close up of numbers on sticky notes taped to the wall

another close up of numbers on sticky notes taped to the wall

Update:

I finally laminated the numbers and created some more sticky notes with lowercase letters. The kids seem to like the numbers better. I was talking to the Speech Therapist about incorporating some language or articulation items. It’s a work in progress.

Thanks for Reading!

Featured

New Therapy Bag Items

It’s that time of year. I’ve been shopping and getting ready for the new school year. I like to shop for versatile stuff. I don’t have lots of space to store stuff at school or in my car.

I added a jump rope, finger puppets, and numbered bottle covers from Ikea. Ikea is great for inexpensive things that can be used multiple ways.

finger puppets from Ikea
Finger Puppets
black jump rope from Ikea
Jump Rope
lycra wraps wit numbers to put on water bottles
Lyra Numbers for Water Bottles

Then I picked up some primary ruled composition books, wide ruled composition books, folders with tabs and red marking pencils. I already have lots of colored pencils, regular pencils, scissors and glue. I use the red marking pencils to make notes on work samples. They can be used instead of a highlighter to make strokes and letters for students to trace. The thin line of a pencil works better for some students. The pencil makes thinner lines and it doesn’t bleed through the paper. It can be a better alternative when writing on notebook paper.

primary and wide ruled composition books
Primary and Wide Ruled Composition Books
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
four folders blue green yellow and red
Folders with tabs

I also picked up some clear storage bins from the Container Store. I want everything organized and easy to find. Clear bins don’t need labels. I don’t pulling out every bin to discover what’s in it.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Play Catch with a Little Extra Weight

Play catch with weight!

I have a 4lb weighted ball in my therapy cabinet. I use it often with students who benefit from heavy work to decrease arousal and improve focus. We simply roll or toss the ball up and down the hallway in the therapy area. The weight of the ball is great to build muscles and it doesn’t roll away as far as regular balls. Even my most reluctant movers will play catch with me for a few minutes. The ball is small enough that I can use it  for ‘bowling’ games. It sounds simple but it really works.

4lb weigthed ball
This one weighs 4 lbs and is filled some sort of gel.

Try it!

Update

I used 10 empty, clean plastic bottles and filled them with sand and plastic pellets. I put the number sleeves from Ikea over the bottles. I now have an improved bowling activity.

plastic bottle with numbered sleeve They can roll the weighted ball and knock the “pins” over! It’s been a fun activity. Some did better than others but it is easy to modify. They can get closer if they don’t have enough strength. They can alter how they line them up to make it easier or harder. One of my students stacked them for a bigger fall. Setting and lining up the bottles is part of the activity. We also worked on turn taking and cooperation.

plastic bottles with numbers and a weighted ballMy total investment was about $10.00. Not including the drink in the bottle which would have been bought anyway. It’s good to show kids how to reuse stuff  and make play out of simple things.

Thanks for Reading!

Featured

Standing Desk for Less

Hello,

If any of you are like me, you spend a lot of time in front of the computer. Which means, too much time sitting on my rear. When I was younger, it was called Secretary Spread.  I tend to sit when I work with students too.

I’ve tried putting my laptop on the kitchen counter and that works but I have to clean-up when I need to cook or prepare food. I wanted to do something with my desk/table in the office. The options were to put something on the desk to raise the computer or buy a new desk. Neither of the options was cheap. Plus, I wasn’t sure if a standing desk would work for me long-term. My back starts hurting when I stand for an extended period of time.

How could I adjust my current desk? My desk is actually a small table from Ikea. Then it came to me while sitting on an airplane. Probably because I was sick of sitting. Anyway, I bought Bed Risers. There were a few options of height and features. I bought the least expensive at $12.00. I then bought an adjustable height stool for $50.00. So far it’s working pretty good. I’m not tall and I didn’t need maximum height. I did see some risers that were taller and some they could be stacked to make them higher.

I can now, stand or sit when working. I’ve even used the stool to prop a leg up on to change positions and take pressure off my back. I think, I’ll  buy more risers for my desk at school. I might even try it with a student desk.

wood table on bed risers

table on bed risers and adjustable stoolThanks for Reading!

Featured

Another Use for the One-finger Spacer

Hello,

I found another use for one of my favorite therapy tools, One Finger Spacer

One Finger SpacerI needed something quick to help a student write his letters smaller. His letters are nice but big. He really needs visuals to keep his letters a certain size. He has used the finger spacer to work on spaces between words but I needed something to block the top and bottom lines. So, I grabbed another one, and put it just above the top line. I put the other one just under the bottom line with the finger pointing down.

Two One Finger SpacersSurprisingly, it worked really great. I showed him twice and explained why. He was able to copy the words onto the second line independently. I tried Write Guides but that didn’t work with him. I always keep multiple One-Finger Spacers in the box with pencils and erasers. It keeps them handy and I have found lots of ways to use them.

two one finger spacers used to block top and bottom line.Yes, I know his pencil grasp needs help. He really wanted to use the Super Hero lead pencil.

Give it a try!

Featured

Wall Push-ups

Hello,

Wall push-ups are frequently used and recommended as a way to get calming sensory input without any equipment. It’s also quick and easy to work into a schedule.
I like to incorporate them into a circuit routine. I have kids jump on a trampoline for a minute and then do wall push-ups for a minute. I’ve noticed over the years that when a child needs movement, especially if their attention span is short, they don’t jump long enough to get the input they need. Same thing with wall push-ups. If you prompt them with a specific number of push-ups then they go quickly and really don’t do good push-ups. When I use a timer, I can get them to focus on quality rather than quantity. Same thing with jumping. Jumping for a minute also increases endurance. I’ve also like to incorporated a vestibular activity like spinning for a minute and a mid-line cross activity, like touching a hand to the opposite knee. The minute circuit works well with small groups.

Back to the push-ups, I add painters tape to the wall and floor to help with hand and foot placement.

Painters tape on the floor and wall for wall push-ups
How simple and inexpensive can it get?

Instead of keeping their hands on the wall while doing the push-ups, I have kids come all the way back to standing. The tape needs to be far enough back that the hands don’t touch the wall with arms fully extended. There are several benefits for this style of push-up. It adds a small amount of calf stretch. It helps with grading force of control. If a child pushes too hard they will end up stepping backwards to catch themselves. If they don’t push enough they won’t come back fully to standing. Hand position can also be changed while doing the push-ups to place more emphasis on different arm and shoulder muscles. The hands can be wider, narrower, fingers can be turned in or out during the minute.

So, if you never tried wall push-ups or never tried them coming all the way back to standing. Give them a try!

Featured

Handwriting Paper

Hello,

About 7-8 years ago, I started taking classes in Web and Graphic Design. I wanted a career change but I couldn’t quit my day job. I loved the classes and still love taking classes. There is always something new and challenging. What I didn’t know, is that the classes would change my OT career and how I approached it. As I learned how to use graphic design programs, I started designing things for the students. I had long been frustrated that I couldn’t find the things that were in my mind. I was tired of using a hi-lighter and graph paper to make things easier for the students.

I started with making handwriting paper and progressed from there. Finally, I was making the things that I had envisioned. It was so empowering to be able to revise and adjust as needed. I can create for a specific student or many. The students starting making real progress when I started creating things for them.

I’ve been playing around with positive and negative space. I’ve been playing around with the paper size. I posted a new portrait oriented paper set with positive and negative space. The negative space with grey filled blocks and a white outline has been working well. My students that struggle with skipping a block between words have an easier time. The paper is geared to the upper elementary student, 3rd grade and up. Many older elementary students still need assistance to size and space their writing. I have been working on paper for composition books but it’s not ready yet. The set of paper is available from Teacher’s Pay Teachers.

PortraitBlockPaper

Here is one of the original designs. It’s works well and I use it regularly.

paper with white boxes and grey outline

Here is one of the updates with grey blocks. I made a similar version last year for a teacher. She uses it regularly.

paper with grey blocks in the lowercase spaceSo, if you are looking for something for older students that are struggling with notebook paper. Here is something that might help. I don’t have access to a color printer at work. So, it print on a black ink printer and they work fine.

Thanks for Visiting!

Featured

Quick Scissor Modification

Hello,

I wanted to add this quick, easy scissor adaptation. I use this when children can open/close scissors but need to work on smoother cutting. I wrap a rubber band, (the one pictured is 4 inches). It came from a rubber band ball bought at the local office supply. You could also use a rubber gasket from the hardware store. The rubber band gives a little assistance to open them. By preventing the scissors from closing all the way and the rubber band helping to open, children are better able to follow the line they are cutting. When the scissors are opened, they more naturally open into the cut.

When the scissors close all the way, they end having to re-position the scissors for every cut or cut with just the tips. Either way the cutting is more choppy and less accurate.

child scissors and a rubber band

Scissors with rubber band around the handle

tip of scissors with closed with rubberband

This method doesn’t work if a child truly can’t open and close a pair of scissors. A pair of scissors with spring works better for them.

Thanks for Reading!

Featured

Cutting Tips and Tricks

Hello,

I recently tried something I found on Pinterest that actually worked (link at the bottom). I modified it a little, with extra dots to show students where to start cutting. I usually draw the line from the bottom of the page and up to the circle. I find students don’t always know where or how to start when cutting shapes especially circles. It helps to give them a lead in spot.

Start with drawing a circle and then placing dots on the line.
Start with Circle with Color Coding Round Labels
Cutting around the circle and cut the dots in half
Cut around the circle on the dots

Here is an example of cutting guide lines added with a high lighter. The lines go all the way to the edge on purpose. It is easier and gets a better result if the side is cut off instead of turning the corner.

guidelines for cutting out a large squareHere is an examples of cutting when I didn’t add the cutting guidelines. The top left corner was completely cut off.

example of cutting when guidelines weren't provided.Here is another example from the same student 2 weeks later when I added the cutting guide lines. The overall result was much better.

Cutting example with cutting lines

Then in order to collect data on cutting accuracy and progression of skills, I put the circle back together. Putting a shape back together can be like Humpty Dumpty sometimes. I find myself grabbing the bits of paper as they cut. Then I divide the circle or any other shape into 8 sections. Then each section is graded. If they stay on the line they get a check and if not they get an X. The precise grading is often dictated by the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and how the cutting objective is stated. I prefer cutting be on the line and not within a certain measurement of the line. Many IEP’s set the criteria to within a 1/4″ inch of the line. Then I get a percentage based on how many sections were good divided by the total number of sections. This is the best way I’ve been able to come up with to get an accurate percentage for cutting accuracy.

Circle in the original piece of paper
Put the cut out circle into the original piece of paper
circle divided into 8 sections
Divide the circle into 8 sections or pieces. Grade each section for accuracy.

Here are a few real examples of cutting different shapes and grading them.

Cutting out a Triangle

Example of cutting and grading a circle, square and a triangle

I made a worksheet to make it even more precise for data collection. The worksheet is part of a set of worksheets that I designed to make data collection easier. It’s available from Teachers Pay Teachers.

cutting out a circle and a square to grade.

Link to original Pin

Featured

Apps!

Hello,

I’ve been watching lots of Webinars from ATIA and AOTA lately,  getting ready to renew my National Board Registration. If you are anything like me, I don’t always feel like I get a lot of stuff I can really use. I’ve been surprised and really gotten some good information. I watched a Webinar on apps for OCD and Anxiety by Therese Willkomm. Most of them are geared towards adults but I download a few apps for the students I work with at school.

My favorite app is Pocket Pond 2. It does calm some of my students. I wasn’t expecting it to work on improving visual attention and focus with students who have Autism. One of my students sat and patiently waited for the fish to eat the food. Of course, not all of them liked it. The student I downloaded it for didn’t like it. He thought it was scary. You just never know until you try something.

The most surprising reaction was from a young man with limited movement due to CP. He loved it! The great thing, the app uses the whole iPad screen. No matter where he touched the screen, the app reacted. He loved watching the fish and making the water move. Being able to do something instead of having everything done to him was wonderful. I’m looking for similar apps for him.

You never can tell who is going to like something until you try.

Screen shot of app, Pocket Pond

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Spray Rubber

Hello,

Recently, I looking for something to keep  paper on a plastic clipboard from sliding around. I had a student that was struggling to keep worksheets from sliding while clipped on the board.  In the past, I had used painters tape but I wanted something more permanent that wouldn’t ruin or tear the paper. I have a clipboard while dycem glued to it and it works great. I needed something quick and for less money.

So, I went wandering around a home improvement store. I found spray on rubber in the paint section with the regular spray paint. I had seen the dip form of this in the past but it wouldn’t work for what I needed.

photo of plasti dip can
Can of Plasti Dip

It was only a few dollars. So, I took it home and tried it out. My first attempt was good but not long-lasting. I didn’t sand before hand and I didn’t use enough coats. My next attempt is going much better.

First: Sand a plastic clipboard with a fine grit sandpaper. I used 220 grit.

sanding the clipboard
Sand with a fine grit paper like 220

Second: I wiped off the clipboard with a soft cloth.

wipe off the clipboard with a soft cloth
Wipe the clipboard with a soft cloth after sanding.

Third: I sprayed 4 coats of the rubber and let it dry about 30 minutes between each coat.

picture of clipboard drying
Clipboard with rubber drying. About 30 minutes for each coat.

So far this is working pretty well. I sprayed the front and back of the clipboard. The spray on the board keeps the clipboard from sliding around.

Then I started looking around for other things to spray. We have wooden boxes at school for kids to step up on and put their feet on while seated. The boxes get them in a good position at the table but the boxes slid out from underneath them. I repeated the sanding, wiping and spraying on both sides of the boxes. It definitely helps but we still get a little sliding. I used 4 coats on each side, it may need more. Here are the photos:

foot box
Foot box
box with sand paper
Sand and then wipe with a soft cloth.
box with drying rubber
Box with rubber drying about 30 minutes per coat.

I’m not sure about how long it will last. I will have to give an update. It’s definitely quicker and cheaper.

Thanks for Reading!

Featured

Tip for Letter Reversals- b, d, p & q

This is a little trick I use to help with a common reversal problem. When I was in school, I learned to write a lowercase d from the top. Starting the letter d with a circle stroke really does help. Then I use my hands to demonstrate the b and p starting with lines. You can even say, ” big line” because the line of the b is just shifted under the bottom line. Then I make a circle with my thumb to illustrate the d and q starting with a circle stroke. The “big line” comment can also be used with the d and q. It’s quick and no equipment is required which makes it easy to use as a gestural cue.

Letter Reversal
Letter Reversal

I hope this helps others. It’s quick but effective.

Thanks for Reading!

Featured

Name Writing at the Top of a Page

Hello,

I wanted to write about a strategy that I tried last semester that worked really well.

A lot of my students have trouble writing their names on worksheets. On most worksheets, students are only given a bottom line to write their names. In fact, most worksheets only give students bottom lines to write on.

I want to focus on the name part. So, I worked closely with some of my students to write their names on the marker board with only a bottom line. I then took a picture it. I uploaded, edited, printed and  laminated the photo. My students kept this sample at their desk as reminder of how their name should look when they write. It worked! We save lots of improvement in one semester.  It worked because they had written it and they knew they could do it.  Instead of a video model, it’s a picture model.

So, I’m trying it with some of my new students this year. Hopefully, I will see more good results. I’ve included a few samples of the pictures that I laminated.

jayden-name evan-name douglas-name

As you can see, it’s not perfect. It just needs to be their best writing. As they improve, I can redo the name model to raise expectations.

Thanks for Reading!

Featured

Card Games

Hello,

I wanted to write about card games as a therapy activity to improve fine-motor skills, processing speed and visual-perceptual skills. The skills worked on vary depending on the game. It’s also a great social activity. My Grandparents played cards and Dominos all the time. It was their main social activity. When I was a kid, we would have Sunday dinner and then the table was cleared for an evening of cards. As an itinerate therapist it’s easy to keep a deck of cards in my bag.

Learning to hold the cards in a fan shape is great to strength the small muscles in the hands. The are small muscles in the hands are essential for more refined, delicate movements. Sorting and dealing cards is an opportunity to develop pinching. Shuffling cards is a great bilateral challenge. So, the whole process of shuffling, dealing and playing is a therapeutic activity. I don’t care if we have less time to actually play a game. The whole activity is important.

One of my favorite games is Speed (PDF directions below). It probably has other names but that’s what I call it. War, Rummy, Old Maid and Concentration are all classics and easy for younger students to learn. Many of these games are available as apps but they don’t develop fine-motor skills like actual cards. So, I’ll hang onto my cards.

Here is the directions for Speed. It’s great because the players don’t take turns which helps processing speed both fine-motor and cognitive. It’s a game for 2 players and requires only one deck.

Directions for Speed

 

Featured

Connected Letters

Hello,

I wanted to write about something I’ve been doing with my students over the past year, connecting letters instead of cursive. I write in cursive most of the time. It is so much faster than print. So, I really want my students to be able to write and read in cursive. However, I do get push back from them and my school system in general. Parents ask about cursive and most can’t believe that it’s not really taught.  Maybe we should rethink cursive instead of just abandoning it. By looking abroad, I found something my students like and want to learn.

Connected letters are a bridge between print and cursive. Having lived outside the United States, I have seen various types of print and connected letters. I rediscovered Connected Letters when I downloaded the app, School Writing. The app has a wide variety of fonts (28) to choose from including fonts from Australia. At the same time, I was looking for ways to progress the handwriting of my second grade and older students. They didn’t want to practice the same thing over and over and over. Connected Letters has been a great way to challenge and progress their skills. My students prefer it over cursive. They also like learning something before their classmates and be at the head of the class for a skill.

My favorite font on the School Writing app  is, Aus: NSW/ACT Cursive. The letters have many of the same formation sequences as print letters in the United States. The connections are added where it is easy to connect them. There aren’t any loops. The only letter that a little tough is the k. The uppercase letters are the same as print. So, it’s not a big change for them. Cursive seems like big leap to them.

Whenever I write something for them to copy, I write it 3 ways and the students select which way they want to write. Most of the time, they select connecting letters over print and cursive.

I have included a comparison sample of print, connected and cursive writing. Writing by hand remains an important skill. Connecting letters has been a great addition for students. So, give it a try!

handwriting sample
Print, Connected and Cursive Sample

Thanks for Reading!

 

Featured

Combining Technology and Paper

Hello,

I want to talk about one way I combine technology and paper.

There has been a tremendous push towards technology. The makers of the tech products would love it if we got rid of paper. Plus, kids love tech. Adults love tech. I love it but I still use a paper calendar. I set alerts on my phone. My regularly scheduled therapy sessions are in Outlook, for all to see. The stuff that no one else needs to see, goes on the paper calendar. I use my paper calendar to plan therapy sessions and to track my never-ending To-Do List.

Penmanship is no longer a priority in education. That’s not new news. But why do I get so many questions, referrals and requests for assistance? Students still do much of their work on paper. The kinesthetic aspect of writing is important but often ignored. Many of us learn best through motor action or doing. I had a boss that use to say, “watch it and then do it”. I was learning how to make splints. Handwriting is doing.

Students have to be able to write before they can write. Students who struggle with handwriting are often reluctant writers. They write as little as possible because handwriting has not had enough instruction or practice. Once handwriting is learned the quality of their written work often improves. Technology and paper can be combined, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I have students who truly have delayed visual-motor skills and need the assistance of technology. My goal for those students is to get them writing well enough to complete simple worksheets by hand and type anything longer than a sentence.

So, I’ve been working on combining my worksheets and handwriting apps. I use the app from Zaner-Bloser most of the time. This combination has been especially useful for my students who haven’t established a consistent motor-plan for writing letters. The app provides the visual and the writing provides the kinesthetic or motor aspect. The students are able to work more independently with the app to assist with instruction. They can choose to watch formation instruction or just get hints on how to make a letter before writing it. It’s great to watch students work with less assistance from me and be really motivated to complete a handwriting worksheet. Sometimes, they do become more focused on the app and need reminders to keep working on the writing. When it comes together, it’s very exciting.

Here’s a picture of how it works. I have written a sentence for the student to copy on the marker board. The student is independently using the app for instruction and writing on paper. I have found it helpful to put the sentence or letters being copied and the iPad on a slant board.

student copying a sentence

This next photo, the student is working completing a sight word worksheet. There isn’t anything written on the marker board. Sometimes, I will write on the marker board for additional assistance. The student choose to watch instruction for the lowercase i.

student writing sight words

So, those are two examples of how I combine technology and paper. I have plugged the iPad into a Smart Board for whole class or group instruction. The students can write on paper or on a marker boards. There are lots of possibilities.

Thanks for Reading!

Featured

Handwriting with Primer Sight Words

Hello!

After 6 months of designing, testing and redesigning, I have posted a new set of handwriting worksheets. I call it, Start Dot Matching. I used Pre-Primer and Primer Sight Words for this set. I like working at the word level with handwriting. It puts emphasis on how letters look within a word and in relation to each other. The short letters should be half the size of tall letters and drop letters should have a little tail under the line. The drop letters are some of the toughest to learn.

Also, starting a letter in the correct spot is key to making the letter correctly. Think about it, if the letter m or n starts at the bottom it’s usually just a curved line. The short line will be missing or drawn in as the last stroke. When that happens, the letter isn’t made in one fluid stroke, the lines probably don’t touch and it looks like an apostrophe. The letter b should start at the top and the letter d should start in the middle. Different starting spots help decrease the chances of reversing those letters. The same goes for z and e. If the horizontal line goes from left to right, the chances of reversal decreases.

The new set of worksheets has 3 levels of each word group. Level 1 is the easiest with only one letter missing per word, words are in alphabetical order and the words are at the bottom of the page. Level 2, more letters are missing, the words are in random order and the words are listed at the bottom. Level 3, is same as Level 2 except the words are not listed at the bottom. A separate answer sheet is included for Level 3. Each worksheet is labeled with the level and with the first letters of the word group. The words were grouped by similar starting dots. The answer sheet can also be used for tracing practice. I wanted the worksheets to look similar to allow differentiation that wasn’t so obvious.

Here are some examples:

AnswerSheet-on-one-our-out-said-saw-say-see-so-soon copy Level1-all-am-and-are-at-away-did-do-does-down copy Level2-want-was-went-well-we-where-yellow-you-up-under copy Level3-in-into-is-it-that-this-three-to-too-two copy

For the most part, my students enjoy doing these worksheet because it’s not just drills. It’s almost like doing a word search.

Enjoy!

The Cool OT

Featured

Letter Size and Spacing Tips

Hello,

I want to spend some time on letter size and spacing. This is a very common problem with all grade levels especially older students. Individual letters are fine but their writing is still difficult to read. Often the letters are too large for the space and/or there is no spacing between words.

Many students still need top/middle/bottom lines through elementary school. Most worksheets beyond Kindergarten only provide a bottom line. I see young students writing in journals with lines that are too small for them. Interactive notebooks are very popular but for students that struggle with fine motor skills it can be very frustrating. The frustration can lead to refusals and avoidance.

I have a few tricks that might help. First, I use a One-Finger Spacer but not the way it was designed to be used. I flip it upside down and use it to block the top line when writing on notebook paper. I like to use Cursive Ruled paper but it works the same on notebook paper. The upside down spacer keeps the letters from being too tall. Blocking the top line helps keeping letters from running together and overlapping from top to bottom. It gives that little bit of space needed for improved legibility. The composite image below shows the spacer being used. The first sentence shows how it looks when the spacer is used to block the top line. The second sentence was written with the tall letters touching the top line. I circled the overlap. By blocking the top line overlaps are less common.

Spacer on Cursive Ruled Paper

The spacer can also be used on worksheets. It provides a “top”  line to keep the letters from being to large. How can a student start at the top if there isn’t a top?

Spacer with a WorksheetThese are 2 common tricks I use to help get the sizing and spacing readable. I have been working on my own spacer but I haven’t perfected it yet. I hope this helps. The One-Finger Spacer and Cursive Ruled paper can be found on Amazon.

Thanks for Reading! Happy Holidays!

Featured

Motor Planning and Handwriting

Hey!

I wanted to talk about motor planning as it relates to handwriting. I was at work the other day working in a pre-school classroom. I had a discussion with the assistant on the importance of writing horizontal lines from left to right and vertical lines from top to bottom.

So, lets start with the definition for motor-planning from Wikipedia;

Motor control is the process by which humans and animals organize and execute their actions. Fundamentally, it is the integration of sensory information, both about the world and the current state of the body, to determine the appropriate set of muscle forces and joint activations to generate some desired movement or action.

What does that have to do with handwriting? When kids are first learning to make strokes and lines they establish a motor plan. The motor plan once established is executed quicker and with less consious thought. The action becomes automated. If kids establish a motor plan of drawing horizontal lines from right to left, they are more likely to use that motor plan to form letters. Right to left horizontal lines increases the likelihood that letters will be reversed. The e and z are common reversals for students who have established a right to left motor plan. The same is true for circles, children who make circles clockwise rather than counter-clockwise are more likely to reverse many letters like, a, d, g,q,c, s and f. So, when I see a lot of reversals I don’t automatically think dyslexia or a learning disability. I look at motor-planning first.

It takes a lot to establish a new motor plan and takes consistent reminders from all the adults who work with a student. That’s why I decided to write this post. I want to raise some awareness of a basic skill that is often overlooked.

This school year, I’m going to increase my focus on basic strokes and shapes formed correctly. All of the handwriting programs have this element but I don’t think it is really emphasized. They want to jump into writing letters before the basic stroke, motor plans are thoroughly established. The extra time early is worth the effort.

It’s important not to progress quickly with handwriting. Direct instruction is key. Sticking with paper with top, middle and bottom lines through second grade is better. Notebook paper should be saved for 3rd grade and beyond. I can go on and on about paper. I will save that for another post.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

Everyday Activities to Improve Hand Strength and Fine Motor Skills

Hello!

I’ve was trying to come up with some activities for grasp strength and fine motor skill development. I was making list of things like, drawing with sidewalk chalk or playing in a sandbox. When it occurred to me, it wasn’t the activities themselves but it is how I use the activities that makes the difference. That’s what gives the activities more value. There are plenty of activities out there in toy stores, craft stores, blogs, Pinterest and websites. I even have some on Teachers Pay Teachers.

When I’m using play dough, I don’t just open the container and put the dough on the table. I want the child to open the box, open the container, spread out the plastic, get the dough out of the tub and dump it on the table. All those little things build strength and skill. Yes, the child might rip the box but it can be tapped back together, with them assisting. Tearing painters tape is a great bilateral task. Learning how to open a box with a tab is a useful skill. I’ve had many kids hand me the tub and ask me to get the dough out. While it’s a great language skill for them to ask, I want them to get it out. It’s great problem solving and motor planning.

When we finally get it out, I play with them in order to demonstrate how to roll it out, use cutters and other tools. If a tool is difficult to use, I will use it and have them help me. If a child doesn’t have enough strength to push a cutter through the doh, we push together with their hand on top. I do the same process when it is time to clean up. Getting the lid on the tub, to keep it from drying out, is another useful skill.

I use the same type of approach with gross motor activities. A scooter board is a good example. Part of the therapeutic value is having the child figure out how to get on and center themselves. The same thing goes for the Dizzy Disc and swings. I don’t put them on the equipment, I help them get on.

There is therapeutic value in daily activities. It’s in how you approach the tasks that makes the difference. An an Occupational Therapist, I am trained and use to breaking down tasks. I help with the parts that are difficult with demonstration and directions. I let them do what they can. Sometimes, I have to stop myself and put my hands in my lap. One of my biggest challenges is to get teachers and especially teaching assistants to step back and let the child do the activity. I hear, they can’t do it and then I hear, I can’t do it. Then I say, it’s okay, just try. I’ll help if you have trouble.

Thanks for Reading!

Featured

More Grasp

Hello,

I’ve  been taking some pictures of hands in order to illustrate the hand and grasp strength. My research has been very unscientific. I have made circles to highlight the thumb and small finger muscles in the hand. The small muscles in the hand allow us to complete small movements and actions. Which of the hands below doesn’t have a good tripod or writing grasp?

Hand 3 Hand 2 Hand 1

Correct Answer is #2.

The point is,  you have to work on hand strength in order to develop better fine motor skills. The amount of strength that can be gained depends with each individual. Some of us naturally have more muscle tone that others. Going to the play ground is an excellent way to develop more grasp strength. Take what a child is interested in and find opportunities to develop strength throughout the day.

I once had a parent insist that I work on handwriting primarily. I told her that I had to work on strength and that the child’s hands needed to be fat and happy before I could work on handwriting. She started laughing but she understood my point. She eased up and I was able to get the results by working on strength first. We did lots of climbing and digging. I had the child tear up painters tape to make letters and other activities. My focus was on building strength. I spent about 10 minutes of each 1 hour session on handwriting.

I hope everyone’s summers have gotten off to a good start.

Thanks for reading.

Featured

Grasp

Hello!

I’ve been thinking about grasp strength and fine motor skills. I thought to start with the basics and write about the structure of the hand.

The hand is complex, with a lot of moving parts. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and bones all working together. When something goes wrong or is out of balance fine motor skills can be negatively affected.

Some hand muscles start at the elbow. Some are just in the hand. Other muscles start in the forearm. Nerves come from the spinal cord. Ligaments keep it all attached. Skin keeps it all in. Bones provide the structure.

At the most basic level, grasp strength comes from the muscles that start at the forearm and elbow. More refined movements come from the smaller muscles in the hand. Of course, all the muscles work together to perform most everyday tasks. The thumb has muscles (thenar) and the small finger has muscles (hypothenar). The index finger has a separate muscle just to make it extend or point is called the Extensor Indices.

The hand is separated into sides. The Ulna and Radial sides. The Ulna bone and the Radial bone are the bones in the forearm. The Ulna bone ends on the small finger side and the Radial ends on the thumb side. The Ulna side stabilizes the hand even further so the thumb, index and middle fingers can hold a pencil or other tool.

Developing good grasp strength is essential. Just as the shoulder and arms muscles stabilize the arm, good grasp strength stabilizes the hand so fingers can complete more refined tasks. Grasp strength is normally developed with everyday activities like going to the playground, eating or playing with toys.

I wanted to provide a foundation for further posts on grasp strength and fine motor skill development. I will get some photos that will better illustrate the structure of the hand and arm for my next post.

Thanks for reading!

Featured

More Shoulder Stability

I decided to take to post some photos of a Dizzy Disc and a bolster. I didn’t want to post pictures of the children. So, I added some stick figures to illustrate how I use these therapy items. My stick figures are not the most artistic but hopefully convey give a good idea.  I use puzzles, bean bags, stacking discs or blocks for the children to grasp and then walk back on their hands. I would love to hear some additional suggestions.

bolster
Bolster illustrated with a child in prone.
dizzydisc
Child in prone on a Dizzy Disc.

Miss Vicki

Featured

Shoulder Stability

Happy New Year!

After re-reading my last post. I realized it would take multiple posts to tackle handwriting. I decided to tackle the need for shoulder stability and strength for this post.

A strong shoulder keeps the arm stabilized and allows the hand to complete fine motor tasks. Think about it. If the shoulder is weak it will affect many aspects of daily life. For children, they will start writing with the whole arm, the letters will be large and fatigue quicker. Besides handwriting, play will be impacted.  For example, a little girl will have a hard time dressing/undressing her favorite doll. Or a little boy will have a hard time putting the tracks of a racetrack together. Of course, girls can like racetracks and boys can like dolls.

Early childhood is a good time to focus on shoulder stability. Babies start with tummy time but young children can benefit from doing things while on their tummies. They can put a puzzle together or  play with cars. Many children will do this naturally. Going to a playground is excellent because children climb ladders to the top of a slide. They hold onto the chain of a swing and learning to pump the swing involves holding on tight and pulling with the arms. There are also lots of other benefits to swinging but that is for another post.

Cooking is great when they can help stir or use a icing bag with icing. They also seem to eat more when they participate in the cooking. Helping around the house with chores like laundry or dusting (depending on age). An additional benefit of doing chores. Boys and some girls like to help in the garage. Just holding a light for Dad helps to build shoulder strength. For kids who don’t like sports learning to play an instrument can be helpful. Think about the shoulder stability needed to play drums. Of course, it could drive parents crazy.

In the therapy setting, I like to use balls or a bolster for the student to walk out on their hands to grasp a toy or puzzle piece. They can then walk back to add the piece to the puzzle or put the toy in a bucket. Dizzy discs are also great, the child can be in prone and complete an activity. Of course, many just like spinning and in prone its a great way to strengthen back and neck muscles. Scooter boards in prone can be really great for building shoulder muscles. If they are not strong enough to propel themselves, holding onto a ring attached to a rope and being pulled can work well. Once they get stronger, they will often start propelling themselves.

I didn’t mention swings suspended from the ceiling because many therapists including myself don’t have access to one. Not that they aren’t a wonderful tool.

Those are just a few things about shoulder stability and strength. I could go on but I don’t want this post to get too long.

Happy New Year!

Miss Vicki

Featured

Handwriting-A Few Things I Know

For this post I wanted to talk about a very frequent subject that I encounter; Handwriting (groan now). While in OT school the idea of developing any sort of expertise with handwriting never crossed my mind. Actually, when I first started working in the public schools OT’s didn’t do handwriting (dating myself). We worked on underlying skills. Over the years things have changed. Now, it feels like, no one is concerned with underlying skill deficits except me. Handwriting objectives and data are the top concerns. Show me your data!

However, there are a few basic things about handwriting that I know to be true and if ignored progress will be minimal:

1. Handwriting requires direct instruction that is often lacking or given minimal attention in public schools.

2. Children are being asked to write before they are developmentally ready.

3. Proximal shoulder stability and trunk stability are needed.

4. A dynamic tripod grasp is good to have but kids can learn to write with grasps that differ from the norm.

5. Ability to follow 2-3 step directions.

6. Students have to understand position words; top, middle, bottom, up, down, left and right.

7. Students need top, middle and bottom lines to guide letter size and formation through at least second grade.

8. Let’s not forget motor-planning. Repeated tracing to establish the motor-plan for each letter until it becomes automatic.

These are just a few that were at the top of my mind. No wonder handwriting is so hard especially for children with underlying deficits. Who can add to the list?

Next question, What do we do about it? I’ll save that for the next post.

Miss Vicki

Raising Money for a Good Cause

Hey everyone! 

In addition to being an OT, I foster dogs rescued from death row at local animal controls. My most recent foster is a cute puppy that broke with Parvo less than 24 hours of getting her out of animal control. Her sister and run mate broke out with Parvo a day later. 

I’ve never seen a dog with Parvo. It is very scary to see a puppy throw up again and again. She was almost dead 6 hours after she started throwing up. I had to carry her limp body into the vet. A puppy that should be running around couldn’t even lift her head. Thankfully she got treatment in time but it’s expensive. Dogs with Parvo have to be put in isolation because the virus is very contagious. She was at the vet for 5 days. Her sister Princess was there for 6 days. 

Both dogs are improving but now the rescue is sick with worry trying to pay the bill, $2,000.00. They can’t rescue anymore dogs until this bill is paid. Please help Niagara Dog Rescue. You donation is tax deductible. 

Thank you!!!! 

Vanilla and Princess need your help https://www.youcaring.com/niagaradogrescue-872303 via @youcaring

Heavy Work Activity

Hello Everybody!

I had been racking my brain this past week trying to come up with some heavy work activities for one of my students. He needs a huge dose of sensory input in the mornings to get things started off in the right direction. If he doesn’t get it, he will seek it in unsafe ways. Then it goes down hill from there. He broke a mini-trampoline last week from jumping on it so hard.

I’m trying to get more sensory input incorporated into his day which is a big struggle. I can get the teachers and assistants to understand the need sensory input but then I get the line, “I don’t have time”. In addition, as an Occupational Therapist, I always want activities to have a purpose. I wanted him to push something heavy. So, I taped together some carpet squares, cleaned out a recycle bin and taped the bin to the carpet squares with double sided tape.

Recycle Bin   We put all the weighted sensory items from the classroom into the bin. There is a weighted blanket, lap weights, seat cushions and weighted snakes in the bin.

The student’s new “job” is to push the bin to and from the therapy room to his classroom in the morning and at dismissal. The therapy area is close to the cafeteria. So, the location works well. The first 2 trials went well and we went the long way to the therapy room at the end of day 1. The student loved having a job.

Now, I just have to get the adults to remember his job. Sometimes, that is the hardest part. They forgot Friday afternoon. I went and got it after dismissal and put it in the therapy area. Hopefully, not having their sensory stuff first thing Monday will help. I’ll post updates on progress.

Thanks for Reading!

Update

I ended up switching to a plastic tub instead of the recycling tote. I don’t have a picture.