What’s in my Therapy Bag?

 

I’ve been a HUGE organization kick lately. Every month or so I need to clean out my therapy bag. Inevitably, I find things out of order, things I need to change up or replace, and things that are missing pieces , etc.

I once posted a pic of the crazy amount of stuff in my bag and everyone on Facebook went crazy commenting and asking questions. I figured, why not share this “clean out” phase with all of you?

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I’m also a bit obsessed with Tiny Homes. So I love things that can be used multiple ways, are miniature, and don’t take up a lot of space.

I am in the process of moving, so I’ve also been a huge labeling kick. I am really trying to turn over a new leaf when it comes to putting things back where they belong. I don’t like to waste time in a therapy session looking through my bag for “that thing” I need (and can’t find!).

First things first, you’ve got to have a sturdy bag with a lot of compartments. I like to use a rolling backpack because:

  • It’s better for your body to pull instead of carry
  • It zippers closed so when I throw it in my trunk (which I always do) it won’t spill crayons and beads everywhere
  • I like the laptop compartment to hold my folders for each kid

One thing about the rolling backpack though, is that the fabric inside is made of a tough rayon-like material, so it’s hard to stick labels on. I’ve decided to relabel with my label maker and then cover them with packing tape. Hopefully, that will stay put. (I’m obsessed with packing tape)

My latest backpack has a bunch of compartments. This is how I organize them.

The Very Back

The “back” compartment is actually a zip-up spot where you can “hide” the straps of the backpack if you aren’t using them. I also use this spot to put my papers, dry erase board and cookie sheet (a traveling OT’s best friend).

See through packets- A Must Have!


I really like to have everything clear and see through so I can get what I need quickly, so I buy  clear zipper packets from the dollar store. I keep one in the very back section with construction paper and different kinds of writing paper. I also keep my laminated “Manipulation Dot Activity Sheets” in this spot because they are the perfect “starting” activity. I like to pull this out and keep my kiddo busy while I get out their folder and organize my materials for the session (perfect for the kid that keeps asking, “What are we doing today? What did you bring today!?”) I laminated the sheets, and they’re also perfect for keeping track of my kids’ fine motor practice.

Manipulation Dot Activity Packet

The Cookie Sheet

I use a cookie sheet 75% of the time when I work with students in their home. It’s the best dollar you’ll ever spend. It keeps messy therapy materials (like putty) in one spot and is simple to clean up glue, paint, or shaving cream. Kids LOVE tactile sensory activities like slime or shaving cream, but parents don’t want the mess. A cookie sheet is an easy fix. Just make sure that you can use the kitchen or bathroom sink to rinse it.

The cookie sheet also makes a quick magnetic surface- perfect for magnetic letters, tangrams, or puzzle pieces. Put it on the floor and have the child lay on their belly to encourage weight bearing into the upper extremities. Or, place it vertically against a wall to encourage mature grasping patterns and separation of the hand and fingers from the whole arm. I also put “chalkboard” paper on the back of mine so I could use it as a blackboard.

The Back Section of my Therapy Bag

This is the part where they think you’ll put your laptop.  It’s pretty skinny, but I fit my student’s folders in there.  I use colored folders so I can grab the one I need quickly and get right to work.

The Middle (Biggest) Section of my Therapy Bag

In this section, I put my toys, games, and “big stuff”. I like to change out these items to keep things fresh and exciting for the kids.

But, there are some things you are guaranteed to find in this section.

  1. Travel sized games: The smaller size helps me to fit more in my bag. Plus, the pieces are smaller, requiring little fingers to grasp more precisely. Win-Win. My favorite travel sized games are Connect Four, Rush Hour, Trouble, Guess Who, Perfection and Cards. For older kids, I like Battleship, Checkers, Shape by shape, and Tricky Fingers. (Heads up for my bargain hunters – 5 and Below often has imitations of these games for just 5 bucks!) You can read about the therapeutic benefits of Rush hour here.
  2. Fine Motor Toys That Require Two Hands: Many children have difficulty with fine motor skills and bilateral coordination, which is the ability to use two hands together. Toys that work on both of these things at once are a Must-Have. Some of my go-to picks are Legos, Stringing Toys, Lacing cards, Nuts and Bolts, Pop-beads, a pegboard and Bunchems
  3. Puzzles Many children struggle with spatial awareness to put puzzles together. Kids should start doing jigsaw puzzles (not inset) around the age of 4. I like the Dollar Store jigsaw puzzles with a back because the back has an outline of the shape, which is a visual cue for kids. If that outline isn’t enough, I also label each spot with a letter, shape or number, and then put a matching label on the correct piece. These puzzles also fit nicely in a zipper pocket folder (and you don’t lose the pieces).
  4. Some kind of game with letter pieces.  Such as Scrabble, Applets, Pears to Pairs, etc.  These tiny letter tiles are great for working on letter recognition, handwriting, or anything else!
  5. An ice cube tray.  Weird, I know.  But the ice cube tray is a favorite of mine. I like how it has tiny compartments for little fingers to “pinch” and put stuff in.  Use a grabber and manipulatives and the possibilities are endless – do patterns, roll dice and count to put that number in the next spot, etc.
  6. Gross Motor Supplies: Core Strength Exercise Cards, A handee band, a ball, and a beanbag. Thess are small but they are multipurpose- and can be used a ton of ways.

Front Section

My front section stays pretty consistent. This is where I keep my clear pencil cases, crayons, markers, fine motor/manipulative supplies, etc.

Pencil Case Pouches: Clear ones save time! Here’s what I have:

    • Markers, colored pencils, crayons: The smaller the better. I love Pip Squeaks from Crayola. Again, they take up less room and promote more mature grasping patterns.
    • Stickers: Big stickers, little stickers, big dot stickers, little dot stickers. Looseleaf reinforcers, too. Peeling stickers is an AWESOME fine motor and bilateral activity for kids. I like to use them as “spaces” in between words, “start spots” to show kids where to start letters, or “turn spots” when kids are trying to learn how to cut on corners. I like to use them to work on letter recognition with the Manipulation Activity Packet. And of course, they work great as rewards!
    • Playdoh and putty – Kids always love these things. I love to use it as a reward or an incentive for kids who are reluctant to begin therapy. They are also great for hand strength and sensory play. I like travel size putty because I don’t mind throwing one out if it gets boogies in it!
    • Travel size shaving cream –  A little goes a long way!
    • Manipulatives – Again, I like to keep these in little clear plastic containers so I can see what I’m grabbing.  In here you’ll find:

-Jax
-dice
-pennies
-marbles
-magnetic bingo chips
-squeeze toys
-wind up toys
-Small pegs
-small stamps and stamp pads

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Side Pockets

My backpack has two side pockets- which I love. I found that I was kind of forgetting about them, so I made some labels and put things that I don’t need all the time.

Side pocket #1: A tiny box with office supplies. I got this at a conference once as a “gift”, but I recently saw them at Dollar Tree! I bought four. Now I have one in every single bag and in my car. It literally has every office supply you could need in a quick fix. Even a stapler.

A tiny measuring tape. This is more useful than you’d imagine!

  1. Keep track of things like how far a kid can jump, how big are the floor tiles (because then I can calculate how far they ran, etc), how far is this spot from the target on the wall, etc.
  2. Measure how big chairs, desks, and tables are. Teachers often ask me to look at the furniture in the room, and this way I can say- “it’s too big, you need a 12-inch chair”. Then, the teacher knows exactly what to ask the custodian for.

Side pocket #2: A multipurpose tool. This little guy has a hammer, knife, pliers, file, and screwdriver. I use the hammer in therapy sometimes (my kids love to bang golf tees into a pool noodle or pushpins into a corkboard), and the other things I often need in a pinch. The screwdriver is great for loosening tight scissors and the knife opens or cuts cardboard boxes.

Pencil grips – I’ve got to have these on me!

Shoelaces – in case we need to practice tying and my kids only have velcro.

And that’s it!  You can fit a ton of stuff if you organize it right- I also keep a trunk organizer in my car with extra toys so I can swap them out when I need to.

KEY POCKET

My backpack has a tiny pocket at the top of the front section – it’s meant for keys, I think.  (or money?).  Anyway, I keep small pencils in there, and two tiny playdoh containers that I use to keep sponges and chalk.

The Very Front

My backpack also has a mesh front section in the very front.  I used to keep my scissors there, but inevitably, they end up cutting the fabric.  So now I keep hand sanitizer and a roll of packing tape in the front.  I love packing tape because it’s so sticky and strong.  Most often I use it to tape things to the wall or a sliding glass door – to add a vertical surface to our therapy session  Worksheets, pegboards, and dry erase boards tape easily to the wall.  Working on a vertical surface is great for fine motor skills and for encouraging mature grasping skills.

What do you keep in your therapy bag?

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How to Measure Progress with Your Child’s Manipulation Skills

What is in-hand manipulation, anyway?

In-hand manipulation is the ability to manipulate objects in the fingers and hand or adjust an object within the hand after grasping it.

There are three types of in-hand manipulation:

1) Translation – the ability to move an object from the fingers to the palm or from the palm to the fingers.  An example of this would be picking up a penny and moving it into the palm of the hand, and then manipulating it back to the thumb and fingers to put it in a bank. This skill starts to develop between the ages of 1.5 to 2.5 years old.

2) Rotation – the ability to rotate or turn an object in the pad of the fingers. Simple rotation could be turning a bead so you can put something through the hole. More complex rotation might be making “meatballs” with playdough within one hand using the thumb and fingers.  (This is one is always a challenge for my kids!)

3) Shift – the thumb and fingers manipulate an object in a linear movement after it’s been grasped.  Think of picking up a pencil near the eraser and then “shifting” or “walking” the fingers up toward the point.  (developing between 4 to 5 years)

What to Look For:

When you’re looking at a child’s in-hand manipulation skills, it’s important to note their speed and accuracy. I find that a lot of my kids drop things or “stumble” through in-hand manipulation tasks. Their speed and accuracy improve with natural development but lots of fine motor and manipulation activities are always helpful in pushing these skills along!

Kids who still haven’t developed in-hand manipulation often use compensatory strategies to accomplish the task in front of them. For instance, if they are trying to manipulate a peg into a pegboard, but it’s upside down, they may touch it to their chest to turn it. This is because they don’t have the higher-level manipulation skills to turn it within their hand.

Other compensatory strategies to look for:

  • -dropping the pegs or coins to pick them up in a different way
  • using their other hand to turn the object
  • picking up one object at a time

How do you know if they are making progress?

I like to use progress monitoring sheets to keep track of my kids’ manipulation skills.  These allow me to easily check off what activity I used, what goal I targeted, AND how my student did! 

Progress monitoring and keeping data are an important way to measure how and if your students are making progress. 

This printable Manipulation Activity Packet includes a simple tracking sheet that allows you to keep data while staying focused on your child and the exciting fine motor challenge at hand. 

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The Manipulation Dot Activity Packet is perfect for home or the classroom. Get 25 pages of fine motor activities and countless ways to address your goals. Use the progress monitoring sheet to track your child’s improvements.

Related Reading:

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The All In One Magic Magnetized Shoe-Tying Miracle

“How am I supposed to teach him to tie his shoes?”
The Occupational Therapy student’s cheeks were pink.  A concerned look creased her face.

Self-doubt was creeping in. I understood.

Sometimes you get a child on your caseload that seems to have a lot of obstacles to face, just to live a normal independent life.

This little boy was no exception.  Charlie was born with amniotic banding, a rare condition caused by fibrous strands of the amniotic sac entangling the limbs or other parts of the body, which can cause deformities in utero.  In Charlie’s case, he was born without his left hand.

How do you teach bilateral skills like cutting, buttoning, and tying to a child with only one hand?  

You adapt.   And you teach them to adapt.  There’s always a way.

    • Every child deserves to live a full and happy life.
    • They deserve to be independent.
    • And they deserve to accomplish typical milestones, such as tying their shoes for the first time.

I love to use adaptive tools to make these mountainous challenges just a bit easier for my little guys.    So I was super excited to tell my OT student about Zubits.

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“Cookie Cutter Therapy”- Why it’s OK with me….

The other day I did an autumn arts and crafts project with all of the students on my caseload.

Every. Single. One.

Kindergartners as well as fourth graders.

Very often we hear about the problem of a “cookie cutter therapist”.

Meaning – a therapist that does one thing with every single student regardless of their goals or deficit areas.

A lot of people have a problem with this and so do I – sometimes.

I might sound like I’m contradicting myself because I said I’m OK with doing the same activity with every single student but here’s the thing:

One of an occupational therapist’s best and greatest qualities is creativity and flexibility. Teachers have this gift, too!

Every single child has different goals – so tweak that activity to work for them!

Change it Up!

Here are some ways to tweak this simple fall craft.

  • For really weak fine motor skills, take one piece of tissue paper in each hand. Hold the student’s hands up in the air like a “Y”. Crunch the tissues into little balls without using his other hand or his chin or even his belly to help with the crunching.
  • To work on mid crossing midline; place the paper to the other side of the student’s body.  Put the helping hand on vacation (meaning behind his back). His dominant hand has to crossover in order to glue on the leaves of the tree.
  • My student with weak grip strength had to use a clothespin to pick up each tissue ball and place it on the tree.
  • My student with really poor scissor skills had to cut the tissue before he crunched. He also cut a piece of green construction paper to make grass for the bottom of his picture.

So – if you were a random person standing at the door of my occupational therapy room, you’d see every student come out with a picture of a tree with different colored fall leaves on it.

It might look like I’m doing cookie cutter therapy but I’m not.

It’s ok to re-use an Idea

My point is – give yourself a break! It’s OK to do the same or similar activity with different students.

Just use your creative mind to tweak it to work for that student and the needs of that student.

For teachers, this may mean creating groups of students who will complete the task in a different way. For example, the red table will use clothespins to pick up the leaves and the blue table has to crunch with two hands in the air in the shape of a Y.

Once you give yourself permission to do one activity with all the kids; you’ll see how easy it is to change it up.

Need an AMAZING Activity to do with your kids this week?

For a limited time, get a FREE E-Book of Sensory Recipes!

FREE SENSORY RECIPES E-BOOK

Available this week only!

It’s only available this week, so don’t miss it!

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5 reasons to ditch the screens and PLAY!

This is a guest post about the benefits of play, written by Jenny Silverstone.

5 Extraordinary Benefits of Playtime

Sticky sap on hands from climbing trees.

Glitter going (and staying!) absolutely everywhere.

Always, the sound of laughter.

Playtime, in all of its various forms, is a hallmark of a happy childhood. However, in today’s fast-paced society children often lose the time they need to play. Some may wonder if playtime is truly a “big deal” and has any sort of positive effect on children as they grown.

The answer is a resounding yes! Playtime has many extraordinary benefits to help children in their physical, mental, and emotional development. Here are just five benefits of play.

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9 BEST SPRINGTIME DOLLAR STORE FINDS

Spring is in the air!

That means nice weather, flowers blooming, and best of all, fun new stuff at the Dollar Store!

By this time of the year, I’m a little sick of all my toys and games. I’m ready for something different and fresh to keep my kids focused and having fun during therapy. BUT – I already spent my OT budget, so I need to keep the costs down.

Like a true budget diva, I head straight to the Dollar Store. Spring is a great time to stock up on cheap supplies that are only available at this time of the year, BUT, you can use them all year long.

I’ve made a quick list for you – along with ideas to for how to use them!

9 Best Springtime Dollar Store Supplies FOR OTs

1). Pool noodles – super cheap and easy to cut to different sizes. You can turn your pool noodle into a bat to hit balloons, use it to help position a child, or use it as a resistive material to stick buttons in. Now is the time to stock up!ot, dollar store supplies, classroom pool noodles, best springtime dollar store supplies

2) Buttons – speaking of buttons, my dollar store (dollar tree) has lots of cute buttons in spring colors. These are perfect for working on manipulation, categorizing by size or sorting by color, and of course, buttoning!

3) Garden “Kneeling pads” – these are great to use as markers for “where” kids should sit during circle time. You can also use them as a visual cue during yoga or core strength activities. My #1 favorite way to use them is to actually have kids kneel. This makes working on a vertical surface fun, or can be a fun “alternative” writing position. You can also use them as a resistive material to stick things (golf tees?) in. They are pretty big, so they last a while.

4) Balloons – Balloons are available all year long, but by now I’ve always run out. Balloons can be used with tennis rackets, pool noodle bats, or hanging on a string from the ceiling. Put your child on a therapy ball and have them cross midline to “swat the balloon”. Use them with the whole class by playing “keep it up” until the music stops. Then have the children hold their balloon and write a spelling word on it with a sharpie.

5) Ping pong balls – Where do I start? Use kitchen tongs to pick them up and cross midline to put them in a bowl. Write words on them and have the children read the words as they “grab” the ball with their tongs. Sort them in an egg carton using word families.

6) Plastic eggs – I love to write on my plastic eggs with a sharpie. Then I can work on rhyming, writing, or matching. Write a capital on one side and lowercase on the other. Putting them together and taking them apart is great for bilateral coordination, visual attention, and motor planning!

7) Jump rope- jumping rope is such a hard skill for some kids. You can also use jump ropes to teach shoe-tying to a whole class. Use them for group games, to make circles for jumping in and out, etc. Teach knot tying and untying. These are daily living skills that are really hard for some kids.

8) Egg dying kits – I love the little different colored baskets that come in the dollar store kit- I have the kids sort spring colored pom poms into the same color basket with clothespins.  The powdered dye can be used to color homemade play dough or to dye pasta for sensory activities.

9) Craft stuff – Check the craft section for all the spring colored pom poms, crafts sticks, buttons, pipe cleaners, and beads. These are perfect for Mother’s Day crafts!

I hope you found this list helpful! So tell me, what’s your favorite dollar store find?

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rush hour

The Therapeutic Benefits of “Rush-Hour” Game

The Therapeutic benefits of RUSH HOUR Game for OTs, SLps, and Educators

Don’t you just love when you find a toy that works on a ton of different skills?  As a pediatric OT, these kinds of toys are my absolute favorite!

One of my very favorite OT therapy toys is called the Rush Hour game.  It’s small so it fits right in my therapy bag.

Plus, it works on so many different skills!

  • Visual Perceptual Skills
  • Spatial Orientation
  • Left-Right Directionality
  • Direction Following
  • Sequencing
  • Problem Solving
  • Fine Motor Skills

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