This post “Combining Handwriting and Play” is part of a year-long blog hop called Functional Skills for Kids. Each month, I will be working with other pediatric OTs and PTs to post on different developmental topics that impact functional skills for kids. I’m so honored to be working with some amazing pediatric bloggers to bring you a well-rounded blog hop that will ultimately result in a BOOK!
How to Make a Do-It-Yourself Weighted Fidget
I’ve been blogging a lot lately about fidgets and fidgety kids. Parents and teachers are always looking for a way to keep fidgety kids quiet and focused. Weighted items like vests or lap pads are commonly used by teachers to help kids who are fidgety, restless, and unfocused. Fidgets are another common request – they are great for keeping busy fingers quiet while the rest of a child’s body is attending to the lesson at hand.
Holiday Toy Shopping is around the corner!
The holidays can be very overwhelming. Shopping for kids who seem to already have everything can be very overwhelming too! As an OT, I have some favorite tried and true toys and games that address many educational and developmental issues. I’ve decided to make a short list for all the families out there who want to buy toys that are fun but meaningful. Toys that address motor skills, visual perceptual skills, and reading and math are always a great buy, because you are supplying some fun while also working on foundational skills that will also support their classroom leaning.
*This post contains Affiliate Links*
Toys and Games that promote Spelling, Reading and Language Development
|Boggle 3-Minute Word Game||Boggle Junior Game|
|Scrabble Classic||Scrabble Junior Game|
|Taboo Board Game|
Toys and Games that promote Math Skills
|Monopoly (80th Anniversary Version)||Froggy Feeding Fun|
Toys and Games that promote Problem Solving
|Rush Hour Jr||Rush Hour|
|Wood Labyrinth||Junior Labyrinth|
Toys and Games that promote Eye-hand Coordination & Using Two Hands
How to Draw Books
|How to Draw Cool Stuff||How to Draw Animals||How to Draw People|
Connecting & Bilateral Toys
|K’NEX Building Set||B. Pop-Arty Beapop beads||Squigz Starter 24 piece set|
|Magformers||MagWorld Magnetic Tile||LEGO Classic|
|Spirograph Deluxe Design Set||Beados Gems Design Studio|
|Creativity For Kids Quick Knit Loom||Knot-A-Quilt No Sew Craft Kit||Kids Scrapbooking Kit|
|Friendship Bracelet Maker Kit||Do-it-Yourself Jewelry|
Toys and Games that promote Hand Strength and Dexterity
|B. Pop-Arty Beads||Play-Doh Fun Factory||Play Doh Fuzzy Pet Salon|
|Finger Puppets||Poppin Peepers Cow||Play-Doh Scare Chair Playset|
|Tricky Fingers||Lite Brite Magic Screen||Helping Hands Fine Motor Tools|
Toys For Sensory Kids
|Classic Bean Bag Chair||Body Sox Sensory Bag||Fold & Go Trampoline||Kinetic Sand|
|Rocking Hammock||Indoor/Outdoor Hammock||Jump-O-Lene Bouncer|
|Sunny Tunnel||Castle Play Tent|
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Busy Hands for a Fidgety Kid
Fidgets, Fidgets, Fidgets!
If you’ve been reading my latest posts, you’ll notice that I’ve been talking a lot about fidgets, fidgeting, and all things fidgety. Teachers are constantly asking how to help their students focus and how to keep them in their seats. Parents are looking for sensory toys to help their child succeed at school. There are many simple fidgets that you can supply a student with to keep busy hands quiet during class activities.
As I’ve recently posted, there are great little toys you can get at the dollar store that will do the job. But, sometimes you need something more. Something sturdy, durable, washable, AND fidgety. Today I’m excited to write about a new product I found called Fiddle Focus™ for Busy Fingers. It’s made by Creative Educational Strategies and Services. I had a great experience with one of my most fidgety Kindergarten kids ever. This product did the trick, so I’m happy to share my good luck with you.
*This post contains affiliate links
The Busy Hands tactile fidget is a tactile strip with four different patterns and materials set next to each other in a horizontal row. There is velcro attached to the back, so you can stick it to the underneath of a desk or a table if that is convenient.
My Fidgety Kindergarten Case
“Danny” was a 5-year-old boy who presented with all the classic symptoms of ADHD. He was inattentive, impulsive, and had a constant need to be moving. I worked very closely with the special education teacher in his co-teaching kindergarten classroom to make sure that Danny’s environment was set up so that he could learn. We tried a Seat Cushion for him, which helped him stay seated for longer periods of time. Then we added TheraBand to the legs of his chair, so he could kick while sitting at his Kindergarten work table. We gave him a weighted vest to wear during circle time, which he loved. So we had most of our bases covered.
Except for his hands.
Those fingers would seek out anything they could during lessons, resulting in untied shoelaces, tiny crayon wrappers all over the desk, you name it. I decided to try out the Busy Fingers from Fiddle focus. We had already tried Velcro under the table as a tactile fidget. The problem was that he kept peeling it off. Simply rubbing the Velcro wasn’t enough.
The Busy Fingers tactile strip turned out to be perfect. It comes with a velcro strip, so we stuck it to the underneath of his kindergarten table right at his seat. Now it was out of view, which didn’t make all the other kids ask about it.
But, when he got up to go sit on the rug, he was able to peel it off and take it with him. This way, his fingers were busy while the teacher taught her lesson of the day. Now, with the vest, the cushion, and the Busy Fingers, we had the tools we needed to help Danny focus. On a side note, Danny’s mom was on board with us trying all this stuff. He was just as inattentive and fidgety at home.
Danny’s special ed teacher told me that Danny was doing great with the Busy Fingers. She said “he’s playing with it while the teacher is teaching but he hears everything she says. It’s under the table so the other kids aren’t distracted, but he loves to reach for it in between lessons”. Sometimes it’s hard to understand that a child can still hear everything you say even if they aren’t looking at you. But the same is true for us. How often do we watch TV, read a book and have a conversation with someone at the same time? Not everyone’s brains are wired to concentrate on one thing at a time. That’s okay. As long as you get done what needs to get done, it’s all good.
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|What is your favorite fidget? Please share!|
|~Miss Jaime, O.T.|
Wiggly Kids Need Fidgets to Learn
In the “olden days”, kids were expected to sit still and listen. When they didn’t, they were in big trouble. Nowadays, teachers and parents understand that kids need to move in order to learn. Children who have special needs may have particular difficulty listening or maintaining attention to topic for what educators consider “appropriate” periods of time. Thankfully, fidgets have become more and more commonplace in the classroom. Teachers have changed their classroom routines to include movement breaks and “brain breaks” so kids can get their “wiggles out”. But when it’s time to sit and listen, nothing beats a fidget for keeping busy hands still.
Simple Fidgets from the Dollar $tore
Teachers (and O.T.’s) spend a ton of their own money every year to make sure their kids have everything they need to learn. As one of those “teachers” AND a total Bargain-Hunter, I spend a lot of time at the Dollar store. I’m teaching a class for teachers in a few days about sensory processing and I want to drive home the importance of letting kids fidget. So I decided to start the class by giving each teacher (aka student in my class) a fidget to play with during the lecture part of my class. I decided to share my favorite budget fidgets on my blog to help other teachers as well as all the parents of those wiggly kids.
— AOTA (@AOTAInc) November 20, 2015
Fidgets keep wiggly hands busy. So the kids aren’t looking at you when you talk, Who cares!? They know what you look like. And very often, they can still answer your question. So why not give them something to fidget with?
Ok, so here goes: Miss Jaime, O.T.’s Top Ten Dollar $tore Fidgets
1) Bubble Wrap– The best fidgets are silent, but there is really something so satisfying about the “POP” of bubble wrap. It also works on the “pincer” grip that OT’s are always looking for. It works on hand strength, too. A word of caution, kids with weak hand strength have difficulty popping the bubbles. So they tend to “sneak” a pop by using their nails to cut the bubble. Not on my watch – oh no you don’t. Pads of the fingers only, kiddies!
2) Car Wash Mitt – this is a weird one, but if you look past the name on the label- it’s a perfect simple fidget. the soft material just begs for fingers to play and rub and the little nubs are the perfect size for little hands. If you wanted to take it a step further, you could open it and put some rice or beans in there. Then it’s not only tactile, but a weighted fidget, too.
3) Microfiber Hand Towels – the ones I found at the Dollar Tree by me (in the Baby section) have these cute little character faces on the ends. Just one could be a nice quiet fidget. Or you could sew two together and make a weighted lap pad.
4) Cold Compresses – Again, in the baby section. Most people wouldn’t think of these as a fidget, but why not? They are filled with little gel balls that are fun to squish around, and they are Quiet!
5) Pop beads– in the Kiddie toy or “goody bag” section – there are usually pop beads available. Now, I can’t pretend that Dollar Store Pop beads are as good as really good pop beads from a therapy catalog. BUT – sometimes budget pop-beads do the job. They are quiet. Plus, they work on eye-hand coordination and bilateral coordination.
6) Stretchy animals – Again – in the toy section or maybe the goody bag section, there are usually lots of yucky stretchy worms, spiders, frogs, etc. They tend to be seasonal. But they are always there. They are quiet and small enough to fit in a pocket for silent fidgeting.
7) Silly Putty – Silly putty is almost always available at the dollar store and it’s a great simple fidget. It’s quiet and so satisfying to stretch and roll in between fingers. It fits in the little “egg” to keep it nice and clean in the child’s supply box.
8) Loofah – My favorite part about being an OT is that I am able to look at things further than seeing what they are usually used for. Everyone knows a loofah is great in the tub, but why not in the classroom? They are quiet, they are fun to fiddle with. Sometimes they have little animal heads on them, which makes it seem more like a toy and less like a hygiene tool. But either way, they are great for busy fingers.
9) Tiny Koosh balls – I like these because they fit right in a little palm or a little pocket. They are quiet, and they are usually colorful. The tiny spikes feel good when you roll them in your hand or against a desk. My Dollar Store usually has them in the goody bag section. They usually come ten in a bag, so ten fidgets for a dollar, which makes a budget diva like myself very happy!
10) Large Squishy balls – these are usually in the toy section. They come in fun loud colors and are sooo fun to squish, stretch, and smash. I do like these fidgets, but I find that they are a little more distracting than the little ones. They don’t fit in a pocket, either.
A lot of teachers who aren’t used to giving out or allowing fidgets will say to me “how do I explain to the other kids that only Johnny is allowed to have this toy”? I like to tell kids that every student is different and they all need different tools to learn. One child might need a special cushion seat and another might need special crayons. Everyone is different and just because one child has something doesn’t mean you all need it. I love the book “Arnie and his School Tools” for this reason. It basically explains this to the kids in a cute story about Arnie, a very fidgety kid!
|Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions That Build Success|
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Wait! You should read these!
Products you should check out for your Sensory Kid! (affiliate links)
|FIDGIPOD HAND FIDGET||Set of 3! Tangle Fidget Toy||Pencil Tops Fidget|
I can’t believe that Back to School is around the corner. In honor of back to school this year, I’ve decided to share my 5 best back to school tips! They may seem simple, but they work! So here goes!
1) For the child who doesn’t hold their pencil correctly…
This is a great tip for kindergarten, first, and second-grade teachers. Kids still need reminders to hold their pencils correctly. Why not make it fun? Rather than spending money on an expensive pencil grip that the kids lose, chew, and pick apart; simply take a sharpie and use it to make a face on each pencil. For the Kindergarten teacher who spends an hour sharpening every pencil to get ready for the first day of school, this should only take another ten minutes. For the mom of the child who needs reminders, it takes 30 seconds. And it works!
|Drawing a face on the pencil is a simple visual cue. Kids love it when I ask them what kind of face they want: girl or boy? happy or sad?, etc.|
|The thumb goes on one eye, index goes on the other. It’s a quick trick that works wonders!|
One of my favorite things about Occupational Therapy is that there are no limits to how you can help a patient achieve their goals. It depends on what the patient wants to achieve and what they are interested in. You can use activities like gardening, scrapbooking or crocheting to work on motor skills. You can use yoga, dance, or karate to work on strength and coordination. The list goes on. One of the coolest ways to help a patient achieve their goals is on horseback.
There are a number of places right here in Long Island that offer Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Riding. When I learned that a PT friend of mine does therapeutic riding lessons on the side, I just had to go see what it was all about. And of course, I loved it!
Hippotherapy vs. Therapeutic Riding
So here is what I learned:
Hippotherapy is different than “therapeutic riding”. The American Hippotherapy Association defines Hippotherapy as a physical, occupational, or speech and language therapy treatment strategy using a horse. A horse is incorporated into the treatment to “engage the sensori-motor and neuromotor systems to create a functional change in their patient” (http://www.americanhippotherapyassociation.com/2015).
So basically, a therapist takes their treatment goals and uses the movements of a horse (rather than a swing, scooter, etc.) to facilitate the achievement of that goal. From an OT’s perspective, let’s say I wanted to work on visual perceptual skills, teaching left and right and reaching across midline. I could set up puzzle pieces on both sides of my patient (and the horse) and have them reach across midline following my directions to get a piece from the left or right and then walk the horse forward to where the puzzle is to insert the piece. A physical therapist might use this same activity to work on postural control, balance or trunk rotation. A speech therapist might use it to facilitate language in a patient.
Movement and vestibular input can be very calming and organizing. I have seen children who are almost non-verbal sing and say new words after swinging on a swing for a few movements. The movements of a horse can have the same effect.
According to the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA), there are only about 7 certified Hippotherapists in the Long Island Area. A board certified Hippotherapist has earned the letters HPCS after their name, which stands for Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist. Hippotherapists can be licensed physical therapists, occupational therapists, or speech and language pathologists who have been practicing their profession for at least three years. They must have 100 hours of Hippotherapy practice within the three years prior to application. Application fees apply, and a multiple-choice examination must be passed.
“Hippotherapy is not a horseback riding lesson. It is therapy prescribed by a physician and delivered by a team that includes a licensed, credentialed therapist (occupational therapist, physical therapist, or speech-language pathologist), a professional horse handler, and a specially screened and trained therapy horse. There is direct hands-on participation by the therapist at all times. The horse‘s movement is essential to assist in meeting therapy goals.” (Apel, 2007).
There are also many PATH certified therapeutic riding instructors all through the Long Island area. The “PATH” organization stands for Professional Association Therapeutic Horsemanship. PATH offers three levels of certification for therapeutic riding instructors: Registered, Advanced and Master. The requirements for each level include skills in Equine Management, Horsemanship, Instruction, Teaching Methodology, and Disabilities. Instructors who are “PATH” certified have completed online coursework, self-study exams, and 25 mentored hours with a PATH Intl. Certified Riding Professional instruction as well as an on-site workshop and certification. (http://www.pathintl.org/resources-education/certifications)
“Therapeutic riding is recreational horseback riding lessons adapted to individuals with disabilities. It is completed by a professional horseback riding instructor in conjunction with volunteers.” (Apel, 2007) “Recreational riding is used to enhance the quality of life through physical and emotional stimulation while the client learns horsemanship skills.” (Meyer, 2006).
Observing Therapeutic Horseback Riding
I observed two therapeutic riding lessons at MyShine in Old Bethpage, Long Island
One of the things that struck me right away was the staff to child ratio. There were three staff members assisting the child and even more watching from outside the rail. I was so honored to meet a teenager named Caroline and her mom. She is diagnosed with Autism and Seizure Disorder. Her mom brings her every week for her half-hour lesson and watches from the rail as Caroline mounts the horse with help, walks around the course, and practices making the horse stop, go, and turn. My friend Stephanie (PT) taught the session. I could see how Caroline had to use the muscles in her legs to give the “signals” and the muscles in her arms to manage the reins and make the turns. The staff worked with her on spatial concepts very naturally, with directions such as “go between the cones”, “turn around” and “make a left”, which was Caroline’s favorite. Caroline seemed happy and proud to be on the horse, even though she’s been doing it for years. She had trouble focusing and following the directions at times, but the staff was amazing about redirecting her. They had such a great rapport; it was easy to see. Caroline went up into the woods on a trail with the staff, which was relaxing even to me who followed on foot. The environment of being outside on a beautiful sunny day, walking on a trail through the trees was very peaceful after a crazy day. I can totally understand how this activity can reduce stress and anxiety for anyone!
Stephanie’s mom, Mary, taught the next session. I had the opportunity to meet with a teenager named Gina and her dad. Gina is a fifteen-year-old who has been attending either hippotherapy or therapeutic riding since she was 3 years old. She is diagnosed with Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SLO). Gina is non-ambulatory and has very high tone in her legs, so she rides without a saddle. Stephanie told me that the tone of her legs improves when she rides. Gina has decreased strength throughout her body, so riding is a great workout for her. Stephanie explained to me that hippotherapy is usually done bareback, while therapeutic riding is usually with a saddle. However, Mary uses a bareback pad with Gina even though it’s therapeutic riding because that is what Gina needs. Mary and the staff supported Gina from all sides as she went up on the trail. One of my favorite moments was when one of the staff members put on a Justin Beiber video on their phone for her. The way her eyes lit up and the burst of giggles that came out of her mouth was so endearing. What a typical teenage girl! It was interesting to see how the staff placed Gina’s legs so that she was sitting “traditional style” with her legs on either side of the horse, then with both legs on one side in a “side-sitting” position, then backwards, then side-sitting on the other side, and finally back to facing front. Stephanie explained that this is called “around the world”, and it is Gina’s favorite thing to do.
Gina’s mom told me that she learned about hippotherapy from Gina’s Early Intervention PT. It was difficult to find a program for her at such a young age, but Gina’s mom was very motivated by the research and documentation she found. Her first session on a horse was at the age of 3. It was with an experienced rider and the instructor sat in the horse with Gina and they rode together. Gina’s mom reported that Gina finds it very relaxing and when she was young she would often fall asleep (thumb in mouth) and out like a light on the horse. Over the years, Gina has participated in both hippotherapy and therapeutic riding with a PT, and an OT. They reported that they saw the biggest changes when they started at MY Shine. She began holding the reins (not mouthing her hands or her shirt) and becoming thoroughly engaged! Gina’s mom also reported that they see increased trunk control, better posture, maintaining contractors in her legs (which is preventing surgery), and decreased mouthing her hands (which is a constant challenge). Overall, Gina is a happy girl when she is on a horse!
The benefits of horseback riding
There are many benefits to horseback riding for people of all ages; both with and without disabilities. Horseback riding can help to improve speech and language, sensory processing, and muscle tone and strength. It addresses balance, motor coordination, and reflexes. Horseback riding can be used to address cognitive and mental health goals as well. There is a lot of research about how animals can facilitate progress in children and adults with physical, cognitive, social, psychiatric, and developmental disabilities. Articles report increased socialization, improved mood, decreased anxiety, and improved communication (both verbal and non-verbal) when animals or pets are incorporated into a patient’s therapy or care (Rosetti & King, 2010).
Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Riding Resources
“American Hippotherapy Association, Inc.” American Hippotherapy Association Inc. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2015. <http://www.americanhippotherapyassociation.com/>.
Apel, L. (2007, 06). Hippotherapy and therapeutic riding highlight! The Exceptional Parent, 37, 28-34. Retrieved from http://proxy.nbcot.org:2048/docview/223497887?accountid=143111
Long Island facilities that offer Hippotherapy or Therapeutic Riding:
HorseAbility Center for Equine Facilitated Programs
223 Store Hill Rd
*HorseAbility offers both Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Riding, as well as many other equine assisted activities. Click the link for more information.
Great Strides Long Island, Inc.
41 Coram-Swezeytown Road
Middle Island, NY 11953
*Great Strides believes in the benefits of equine assisted activities for everyone – children, adults, and veterans of all abilities. Great Strides is currently running a recreational therapeutic riding program using PATH certified instructors. They also offer programs to veterans free of charge. Click the link for more information.
Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, Inc.
* Pal-O-Mine offers hippotherapy, therapeutic riding and other equine assisted activities. Click the link for more information.
SPeech IN Motion
Speech Language Pathology in Motion has been offering Hippotherapy as a speech therapy treatment strategy for over 5 years. They are the only place on long island set up as a therapy practice.
Locations in Islandia and Hauppauge, NY
ph: (631) 479-3393 Ext. 3
fax: (631) 479-3358
alt: (516) 395-8610
Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End (Ctreeny)
*Ctreeny offers therapeutic riding lessons from “PATH” certified instructors. They do not accept insurance, but they do offer scholarships. Riders start with core balancing riding at age 3 and there is no limit on older ages. Riders must have good sitting balance and our restrictions are listed on our new rider paperwork.
IRIE Therapeutic Horseback Riding
Disclaimer: Part of my goal in developing this blog is to offer resources to families in my community of Long Island, NY. Miss Jaime OT is not employed by or associated with the above organizations. These organizations were contacted for permission to be included on this blog post. If you have information about another resource in Long Island that should be added, please let me know.
For more information about Hippotherapy, click here.
For more information about “PATH” click here.
~Miss Jaime, O.T.
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