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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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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Products you should check out for your Sensory Kid! (affiliate links)
|FIDGIPOD HAND FIDGET||Set of 3! Tangle Fidget Toy||Pencil Tops Fidget|
Autumn: pumpkin pie, costumes, and everything else.
As an OT, I love to get into the “Halloween Spirit” of things at school with my students. Sensory recipes are always a great way to work on multiple skills at once, including Mixing, Measuring, Pouring, Stirring, and Kneading.
Sensory recipes are a non-edible method of working on all the above skills, which is perfect for school.
Food Allergies at Halloween
It’s important to make sure that none of your students have food allergies or aversions when you bring a Sensory recipe into a classroom. Some of my kids have gluten-free diets or nut allergies, so when in doubt, I send a letter home with the ingredients a week before the activity to get permission from the parent. Better to be on the safe side.
Halloween parties often include lots of candy and junk food. Instead of the typical sugar overload, why not set up a bunch of fun Sensory activities to get your kid’s friends in the Halloween Spirit?
Halloween Sensory Recipes
Here are my five favorite Sensory recipes – with a Halloween spin!
1) Halloween Dirt Doh
I’ve written about this recipe before, it’s a simple recipe with used coffee grinds. Make a large batch and it’s perfect for a Spooky Coffin!
Here’s the recipe:
2 cups used coffee grinds (wet or dry)
2 cups of water (add it little by little until you get the consistency you want)
2 cups of flour (add more if you need to make the doh a little more doughy)
I asked my local bagel store to save me all their used coffee grinds for a few days before our Halloween party. When I went to pick it up, they had three bags full. Perfect! I filled an “under the bed storage” tupperware container with my ingredients.
I let my students mix it up with spoons and their hands. Then we hid some “spooky” items in the dirt – eyeballs, fingers, and bones. Add a fake tombstone and voila!
Now you have an awesome spooky sensory activity that addresses tactile defensiveness, hand strength, and bilateral coordination. Also – used coffee grinds have a distinct odor. Kids who are picky eaters usually have a strong sense of smell, which can trigger a gag reflex. Engaging in “smelly” activities is a good way to work on desensitizing the sense of smell. Finding things that are hidden in a busy background is a visual perceptual skill called visual figure-ground.
Add a blindfold that takes away the visual component, and now you are working on stereognosis. Stereognosis is the ability to recognize an object by using tactile information. This means a person uses their tactile sense without using their vision or sense of vision or hearing to figure out what they are touching. Just like digging in your purse for your phone, while looking at something else.
Bet you do that a lot! I know I do…
2) Halloween Slime
A simple slime recipe can be altered a million different ways. Add a bit of food coloring or washable paint and you can color it to fit any holiday or theme. I used my go-to slime recipe, added a bit of orange food coloring, and gave my kiddies some cheap Halloween manipulatives to play with.
Here’s the recipe:
2 cups of Elmer’s glue
2 cups of water
2 cups of liquid starch (found in the laundry aisle)
Mix the glue and the water together to thin out the glue. Then, slowly add the liquid starch. Mix together with a spoon, then knead with hands. Add coloring to your liking. Once the starch is all blended (I let the kids take turns kneading and squeezing the whole batch), split the batch into individual portions for each child. Then the fun begins! The texture of the slime can vary, which can alter your activity. I had one class that ended up with very “stringy” slime, which reminded us of spider webs! Another class had very firm slime, which was perfect to make Jack o’ lanterns. Add some cookie cutters, manipulatives, etc. and let the kids get creative! You can even leave it white and let the kids create their own mummies or ghost faces!
3) Halloween Play-doh
– you can go simple and just buy playdoh, or you can whip some up the old fashioned way.
You can use cookie cutters to make witches, pumpkins, spiders, you name it! I like to use a chip tray to give my kids cut up pipe cleaners, wobbly eyes, and tiny spiders. The kids can make a Halloween creation of their own design.
4) Pumpkin Pie Playdoh
I am a pumpkin lover. I love the taste, but I also really love the smell! Like I said, it’s good to incorporate olfactory (smelly) stuff into your activities. It can help picky eaters to broaden their boundaries and it is a great way to incorporate multi-sensory learning into your lessons.
You can use a simple play-doh recipe and add some Pumpkin Pie Spice and some orange food coloring and you have the perfect Pumpkin Pie Playdoh!
Here’s what you need to make the doh:
2 cups of flour (you can use gluten-free if you need to)
1/2 cup of salt
1 cup of water
a dash of pumpkin pie spice (a make your own recipe listed below if you can’t find it)
a couple of drops of orange food coloring or washable paint
Mix the flour and the salt together. Add the water bit by bit and keep mixing and kneading until you get a firm, doughy texture. Add the pumpkin pie spice and the orange paint. I like to do this at the end because the kids can see where the paint isn’t mixed. This gives them a visual cue to keep kneading, twisting and squeezing until the colors are blended nicely.
To make pumpkin pie spice:
1/4 cup of ground cinnamon
4 tsp. ground nutmeg
4 tsp. ground ginger
1 tbs. ground allspice
This results in quite a bit of pumpkin pie spice – you can half it if you want, but I love to keep it around and use it to flavor my coffee. Add a teaspoon to your regular coffee grinds and you’ve got some fabulous pumpkin flavored coffee. Who needs Starbucks!? Budget Divas make their own!
5) Ghost Guts
My kids got a giggle out of this one! I took a simple sensory recipe and gave it a Halloween name. It went great!
Here’s what you need:
2 parts corn starch
2 parts shaving cream
You can give each kid a bowl or make it in one big batch. I made it in a big Tupperware bowl and let my kids do the mixing. I also hid some little white bones and spiders in there for my kids to pull out. They loved it.
I hope your Halloween party is a smashing sensory success!
Do you have any great Halloween Sensory Recipes to share with us?
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Jelly BeadZ® Water Gel Beads
Lakeshore Scented Dough
Strengthening is easy to include at school
One of my favorite exercises to do with both adults and kids is resistance band. There are dozens of ways to use resistance band to improve strength, balance, posture, and coordination. One problem that I often encounter with children is that they can’t figure out where to put their hands during the exercises. Even if I start them off in the right spot, their hands slip too far down for correct positioning. So I was thrilled to find the Handee Band, a yellow resistance band with two hand prints in the perfect spot for little hands.
An easy “Brain Break” and it strengthens, too!
I discovered the Handee Band at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) conference Expo. I was excited about the hand prints on the band, but I was even more psyched about the Handee Band booklet with exercises, stickers, and checklist for the kids to check off what exercises they’ve done. It’s so easy to use and it’s perfect for a quick brain break, warm-up, or transition activity. Kids love to move, and the Handee Band flip book and resistance band is a fun easy activity that a teacher can use throughout the day. Teachers often ask me for ideas or materials for kids that “can’t sit” during circle time, etc. I am definitely adding the Handee Band to my bag of tricks.
My mind immediately started spinning about all the games and activities I could create for my classroom push-ins. In the past, I’ve also created homework programs so that the parents of my kids could work on strengthening and fine motor skills at home. The parents and the kids have always responded really well. Of course, I started brainstorming right then and there about the homework program I could create with the Handee Band.
This is a sponsored post, which means that I was provided with materials in order to write this post and put all my ideas into play. However, all of the opinions and ideas expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. For more info, read my disclaimer.
About the Handee Band: The Handee Band exercise kit was created by an Occupational Therapist named Francesca Avalli. The booklet explains 15 different exercises, each with its own cartoon monster. Each page lists the name of the exercise with simple, easy-to-read directions to ensure that teachers and parents are helping their students to perform the exercises correctly. The booklet is a stand up easel which makes it is easy for kids to flip over the pages. It also has two checkoff pages in the back, so kids can visually track and match the monsters with the days of the week. The checkoff and dry erase marker are perfect for keeping track of how many reps of each exercise the child performed. I also find that when kids are figuring out how to do the exercises with the bands, they are working on their motor planning skills and their ability to follow directions.
Using the Handee Band for Classroom Strengthening Games:
The Handee Band exercise kit works great all by itself. It’s easy for a parent, teacher, or therapist to use the book or the E-book. Extra bands are available for separate purchase for as little as $5 so that there is enough for each child. Once I bought the Handee Band, I started using it right away. However, I am a little crazy that I like to change things up and give the kids “something different” when I push-in. The stickers in the Handee Band booklet are perfect for creating classroom games and activities. The Handee Band is also available in 5 or 10 packs, which is perfect for working in groups or with a class. You can buy extra stickers, too. They’re my favorite! So here are some of the games I came up with…
Get 15% off until May 31st, 2018
1) Handee Band Memory
I love to combine gross motor exercise with visual perceptual skills. Memory is a classic game that can be played individually or with a small group. I decided to create a “Handee Band” Memory game using the Handee Band Monster stickers. Each Monster has a Character name under his picture. I decided to adapt the game by having one version with the picture of the monster on one card and the name of the character on the other card. This was perfect for my 3rd grade self contained class. I made a simpler, more classic version for my self contained Kindergarten class. Both versions were a hit! And, after I played the game with the kids a few times, they grew familiar with which exercise each Monster represented. I was able to leave the game and the Handee Bands for the teachers to use as a warm up or a sensory break.
Instructions: Like the classic memory game, with a twist. A child attempts to find two cards that match. When any child in the group makes a match, ALL the children do the exercise that Monster represents. After the class does a set of ten, the kids get back to the next turn.
2) Handee Band Dice
My students love to play gross motor games using dice. I’ve adapted these dice from the Dollar Tree for other gross motor games in the past. So I thought, “Why not Handee Band Dice?” Again, I used the stickers to create a simple easy game to play during class Occupational Therapy sessions. The kids had a blast! I was able to leave the Dice game for the teacher to use with the kids as a reward, as a sensory break, or as a quick warm up.
Instructions: The children stand at their desks or in a circle on the rug, each with their own Handee Band. One child picks a die and rolls it. Whatever “Monster” the die lands on, everyone does a set of ten for that exercise.
3) Handee Band Spinner
Every kid loves a Spinner! Flicking a spinner is hard work; requiring separation of the two sides of the hand (pinky side and thumb side), motor planning, and dexterity. But even when a child can’t flick a spinner, they can still swipe or hit it. For this game, the children take turns flicking the spinner. When the spinner lands on a certain monster, the kids grab their Handee Bands and do that exercise ten times. As the children grow stronger, the repetitions can be increased.
The rules are simple: The children take turns flicking the spinner. Whatever “monster” the spinner lands on, the whole class does that exercise. Then the next kid gets a turn.
4) Handee Band Class Checkoff
I loved the Dry Erase Checklist in the back of the book so much that I decided to create a larger “class wide” version for the kids to use during the Handee Band classroom games. I used the stickers to copy the chart in the back. Again, the checklists require visual tracking and matching skills, so the kids are working on visual perception as they keep track of their progress. I just used a plain dry erase board . I arranged the stickers on the board and made lines so that it could serve as a Class chart.
My favorite thing about the chart is that the kids can use it to track the number of exercises they did. It also works on math skills, because the kids need to add by ten each time they do another rep. In a pinch or a rush, the teacher can keep track on the board while the kids keep working. Either way, my students love having a “chart” to represent how hard they’ve worked. When I made the chart, I made the lines with a sharpie (permanent marker), but I wrote the initials of my kids in dry erase. This way, I can use it over and over for years to come!
The E-Book comes with a downloadable checklist, perfect for keeping track of hard work!
15% off UNtil MAY 31st, 2018!
Using the Handee Band for a Homework Program:
Kids love to show off to their parents and caregivers, but they love to show off to their friends even more! Once the kids understand how to do each exercise, the Handee Band Kit is perfect to send home as “OT Homework”. I have put together homework programs for my classes before in an effort to ensure carry-over into my student’s homes. Most parents love an easy fun way to help their children grow stronger. The Handee Band Exercise Kit is the perfect lightweight homework that kids can take turns bringing home. OT’s and teachers can make an “O.T. Homework Chart” to keep track of whose turn it is to take the Handee Band Kit home. My kids love to come in in the morning and put their sticker next to their name to show that they did their “O.T. Homework”. I always include a letter to the parents explaining why the students have “O.T. homework” and why carry-over is an important part of progress.
Strengthening Homework! What a great idea!
Handee Band: Resistive Band Exercises for Kids *The Handee Band kit and E-Book are available for purchase at www.HandeeBand.com. You can also purchase individual or class packs of the bands and extra stickers. It’s perfect for home or the classroom!
Get 15% off till May 31st, 2018!
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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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