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!
Communication: the key to success!
Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I’ve decided to share my best advice for improving communication with your child’s therapist. Parents sometimes feel helpless because they don’t know what their child is doing in OT, PT, or Speech. You can’t be with your child all day long, so you don’t know if they had therapy that day, if it was cancelled, if he/she did a great job, etc. If your child is non-verbal it’s even more of a mystery.
Communicate from the beginning!
My best advice for starting the year off right is to communicate with the therapist. I like for parents to send in a notebook so I can write a short blurb about what we worked on. I like to give handouts for suggestions at home and let them know how their child is progressing.
However, some therapists don’t like notebooks. For example, my sister-in-law is a speech therapist. She sees children in groups of five. That means that at the “end” of her session, she would need to write in 5 different books. With 7 therapy periods a day, that would be 35 notebooks a day. Now, what is more important? Writing in the books or working with the kids? You can guess the answer.
For me, I see children individually or in a group of two. So it only takes a few minutes to jot down what we worked on and how the child did. I have some parents who write me back or put a checkmark every time I write. Then I have a few others who don’t do anything. Now I don’t know if they read my note or even saw it. Did the book even go home? After a few of these, I have to be honest: I am less motivated to write in that book. Because 1) why bother if you are not reading it and 2) it takes time away from your child.
Communication Notebooks don’t always work
Sometimes parents send in a book and then they get annoyed when the therapist doesn’t write in it. Here is my advice for that:
1) Write to them first. Tell them you want to communicate and would love feedback about how your child is doing. You would love suggestions for home, etc.
2) If it’s been a few weeks and you haven’t heard from your therapist, write a note to the teacher. Maybe the book is lost or maybe your child sticks it in his desk instead of his backpack.
Sometimes the schedule (the therapist’s or the child’s) interferes with writing in the book, too. In Long Island, most districts do not have their own OT’s and PT’s. So the therapists are from contract agencies, working in multiple buildings and even multiple districts in one day. This means that sometimes they eat lunch in their car in between schools. Life is chaotic.
Anyway, my point is that a day in a therapist’s life is often rushed and scheduled down to the very minute. So is your child’s. They have to fit your child’s OT or PT session around lunch, literacy block, other therapies, resource room and specials. This means they may pick up your child straight from music and then bring them right down to lunch. Maybe they go straight off the bus to the OT room and then the class picks them up on the way to art. The child isn’t in their classroom and therefore they couldn’t grab their notebook.
Communication: Don’t believe what you hear!
Then there is also this scenario:
Mom: “What did you do in OT today?”
Johnny: “We colored”.
The OT: “Johnny colored in a color-by number sheet to work on visual perceptual skills and matching while laying on his belly to increase upper extremity strength and stability. He is working to increase his endurance for writing.”
Mom: “What did you do in OT today?”
Johnny: “We played games!”
The OT: “We’ve been working on visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills. Johnny has trouble tracking from left to right when copying from the board. We played “Battleship” because it works on all of those skills at once. We also played it laying our bellies to improve Johnny’s shoulder stability.”
See the difference? Kids work hard to sit it school all day, so OT and PT are a great chance for them to move and “have fun”. So most therapists try to work on their therapy goals while incorporating movement and fun for the child. To the outsider it looks like all fun and games. But there is some hard work going on.
Your therapist isn’t going to tell your child all the things they are really working on. So your child won’t tell you.
Communication is KEY to progress and carryover. Your child’s therapist wants them to succeed and so do you. If the notebook doesn’t work, ask if you can email. Some districts don’t want teachers to email, so if that’s the case ask for monthly updates or a phone call once in a while. Keep in mind that your child’s therapist may have between 20-60 other kids on their caseload.
Do you have any tips for communicating with your therapists? Please share!
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Why you should chuck your Jumbo crayons and Chalk…
“Just say NO to jumbo crayons and chalk!”
*This post contains Affiliate Links
Do you remember when your child first started coloring?
Babies and toddlers use their whole arm to scribble. You may remember the very large crayons and pencils from when you first learned how to color or write your name. It may be surprising to learn that handwriting experts and occupational therapists actually recommend using small golf pencils and tiny broken crayons for your child as they begin to write and color more often. Jumbo crayons and pencils are actually age appropriate for toddlers to use!
Bigger isn’t better!
Why no Jumbo crayons or CHALK?
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Toddlers use their whole arm to move the pencil or crayon. They hold it in a fist and use all of the muscles in their arm to make the marks on the paper.
As children begin to develop improved fine motor skills, they use their wrist and fingers to move the pencil or crayon. This is the natural development of shoulder stability. Between the age of three and four, they should be resting their arm on the table and using the small muscles of their hand to do the work.
Imagine how much heavier those Jumbo crayons and pencils are for those little hands! Using golf pencils instead of Jumbo pencils allows a child to manipulate the pencil more easily, which discourages them from using too many fingers, pressing too hard, or scribbling outside the lines. Very often, children who have difficulty holding their pencil correctly have weak muscles in their hands. To compensate for this weakness, they use more fingers or more pressure! Ouch!
These old fashioned “Jumbo” pencils are only appropriate for babies who are learning how to make a mark on a paper. They are expected to use their whole arm, so it’s okay. Once they start scribbling, it’s time for a regular pencil or a golf pencil.
So what crayons should kids use?
Good old regular crayons are fine. BUT – if you see that your child is using too many fingers, you may want to go with broken crayons. Broken crayons should be an inch or smaller. Many moms cringe at this (teachers too) because we remember the awesome feeling of getting a brand new pack of crayons. There was nothing better than that! If the broken crayon thing bothers you, there are a lot of cute new crayons that are good for encouraging a proper grip.
How can you help your child to develop the proper grip? There are a lot of things you can do. First, practice coloring. This sounds too simple, and moms who have children who don’t like to color may say, “he won’t color”. There are tons of sneaky ways to get a kid to color. Go online and google “free coloring pages” and get a picture of their favorite cartoon character. It’s more motivating (and less overwhelming) than opening a whole coloring book. Tell your child that Grandma asked for a new picture for her refrigerator. Or Aunt Susie’s birthday is coming and she wants a picture, etc.
Is coloring absolutely necessary? Well, no. There are many ways to learn how to write besides coloring. BUT – Coloring is a fine motor skill. It is exercise for those little muscles in the hand. If your child refuses to color, it could be because it’s hard for them. They may need some hand strengthening activities to work those little hands so it’s not such a chore. Play-doh, clay, and cookie making are all good for hand strengthening.
Another great way to help your child develop shoulder stability (the ability to use their hand without using their whole arm) is to have them color while laying on their belly. This will be hard at first because it takes muscle! Keep at it.
I hope this gives some motivation to chuck those jumbo crayons! Or at the very least – break ’em! The smaller the better. Have fun!
Want more great tips to improve your child’s skills? Check out The Handwriting Book, written by a team of ten pediatric OTs and PTs to help parents, therapists, and teachers just like you!
Don’t forget to read this: Two Magical Crayons that will change your child’s grasp
~Miss Jaime, O.T.
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5 Tricks to help your child with cutting
1. Thumbs up for good cutting!
Teach your child that “thumbs up” means “good job”. Then, show them that in order to cut properly, both hands should be “thumbs up” or “thumbs on top”. Most parents don’t realize that their child is”thumbs down” on the hand that holds the paper.
In order to have the best control, both thumbs should be facing up.
2. Elbows in!
Many children use their whole arm when they only need their hands. This is a sign that they are still developing shoulder stability. You’ll notice that they may stick their elbow out, instead of keeping it stable by their body. This is a sign that they are compensating for weak upper body strength and stability. You can help this along by having your child spend more time on their belly when reading or doing puzzles, etc. In the meantime when they are cutting, remind them “elbows tucked in”. This will give them better control.
3. Right side up!
If your child consistently forgets to hold the scissors right side up with their thumb in the little hole, make it fun by drawing a face on their thumb or their thumbnail before they begin cutting. Tell them that the thumb is the bus driver. He sits in the front seat (small window) by himself. The rest of the fingers are the kids, they sit in the back together. Most kids like this trick.
If they still have trouble after a few times, you can also try gluing or drawing eyes on the “little hole”. This way, when your little one picks up the scissors, the eyes are “watching him”. Hot glue does not last very long on plastic, but that’s ok! Hopefully, by the time the googly eyes fall off, your child will have developed the proper habit.
4. The writing hand is the cutting hand!
Children should have developed their hand dominance by the time they are four. However, sometimes they may still switch for certain activities. With scissors, I find that lefties often switch to “righty” to cut because the blades of typical scissors work better when cutting with the right hand. (Most lefty scissors have the blades reversed – who knew!?) Some parents buy their child a lefty scissors to make it easier. I highly suggest this!
But they may still switch hands.
If your child is switching hands, encourage them to use their dominant hand. If you aren’t sure whether they are lefty or righty, watch which hand they use to pick up their fork, crayon, or a toy. Place objects in the middle of their body and see which hand they prefer. Once your child has chosen a hand, encourage that hand for cutting, coloring, and using a fork. One tip to help them remember is to use a tattoo! Put a removable tattoo on your child’s dominant hand as a “reminder”. Kids love tattoos and it’s an easy fix.
5. Get those muscles strong!
One of the reasons that cutting is difficult for children is that they have to separate the two sides (pinky and thumb) of their hand. This is hard work, and sometimes hard work is NOT fun. If your little guy gets frustrated with cutting, work on their hand strength with other activities that work the same muscles. This way, the muscles are getting stronger while your child is having fun doing something “different”. Here are some simple everyday activities that develop separation of the two sides of the hand:
1) Fill an empty spray bottle with water and let your children spray the plants, the car, the chalk off the driveway!
2) Bring it to the beach or the pool and let your children spray you, themselves, or each other when they get hot!
3) Same goes for old fashioned (trigger style) water guns.
4) Use your old tweezers to pick up beans, beads, or anything small.
5) Use Spaghetti Tongs to pick up all the dirty laundry (or anything else) off the floor.
5) Use an old sock to make a sock puppet – draw a mouth and a face so your child practices “opening and shutting” the mouth as he talks.
Hope these simple tricks help you to help your child with the tough task of learning how to cut! Good Luck!
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