communication, therapists, schools

How to Improve Communication From Your Kid’s School Therapist

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!

Miss Jaime OT

Have a great year! ~Miss Jaime, OT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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back to school tricks

5 Back to School Tips Every Parent and Teacher Should Know

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!

  pencil grip trick
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.
pencil grip tricks,
The thumb goes on one eye, index goes on the other. It’s a quick trick that works wonders!

 

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What parents need to know about jumbo crayons

Do you remember when your child first started coloring?

You may remember using jumbo crayons and pencils when you first learned how to color or write your name. You may be surprised to learn that handwriting experts and occupational therapists don’t recommend them. Jumbo crayons and pencils are actually age appropriate for toddlers to use!

When learning to write, bigger crayons aren’t better crayons!

So learn why not and what to use instead!

crayons, jumbo crayons, grasping, fine motor skills

Why should you chuck your Jumbo crayons and 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.

DSC_0377b copy (1)

Toddlers use their whole arm to color, it’s natural! Laying on their belly helps them to start using their fingers, instead of their shoulder.

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! 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.

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!

Just say NO to jumbo crayons and chalk!

pencilbigvslittle

The Jumbo pencil is more than twice the size of the golf pencil. Too big!

So what crayons should kids use?

Which ones are the best crayons for kids? I recommend two Magical Crayons that will change your child’s grasp, but good old regular crayons are fine too. 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.

large crayon rocks

Crayon rocks are perfect for little fingers! They automatically put your fingers in a “pinch” position so kids don’t get in the habit of “fisting” their crayons.

flip crayons

Handwriting Without Tears makes these cute little “flipz” crayons which are perfect for preschool to school age children! Kids have to use in-hand manipulation to “flip” them over and change color.

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!

*This post contains Affiliate Links

One of my favorite students who spent A LOT of time on his belly with me. Mom followed through at home and NOW he is a Kindergarten Success Story!

One of my favorite students who spent A LOT of time on his belly with me. Mom followed through at home and NOW he is a Kindergarten Success Story!

 

 

~Miss Jaime, O.T.


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hair pulling

Ask Miss Jaime OT: How do I stop my child from pulling/playing with hair at naptime?

 

Hair pulling during nap time…

Question from Jamie  in Naples, Florida:

“Hey Miss Jaime! Wondering if you have any sensory ideas to keep my daughters hands busy. She will be three in April.  She would always play with her hair when she was tired and during self soothing before bed, but it’s escalating to some pulling of her hair at school during nap time out of boredom I believe since she will no longer take naps. I suggested giving her books to read, but is there anything else you would recommend?”

Replace the behavior…

Thank you so much for taking the time to write in. Most children (and adults for that matter) have habits or self soothing behaviors that they find calming. Using her hands to play with her hair seems to be your daughter’s way of relaxing. Books are a good idea, but if your daughter is seeking sensory input, you may want to give her a tactile toy or blanket to replace the hair habit.   You could also try pulling her hair back for a while so there is nothing to play with (if it is long enough!)   Here are some cute tactile blankets and toys that might help.  I listed some “Taggies” products, but there are some popular fidgets and sensory products as well.  Good Luck!  I hope it helps!

 

*Affiliate Links

 Taggies Monkey Blanket

 

 

 Taggies Plush Toy, Cow

 

 Tactile Hand Fidget

 

 Pull and Stretch Ball 

 

 Stringy Play Ball

 

See-Me Sensory Balls

 

   Touchable Texture Square 

 

Slumbers Bedtime Bear

 

 

Happy Fidgeting!

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~Miss Jaime, O.T.

* I am an Amazon affiliate, which means that if you click on something that I link and purchase it, I will receive a small commission.


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Ask An OT: “What pencil grip should I use for my child?”

Question from Dena Rich in  Albany, NYdena(1)

 

“Hi Miss Jaime!  Love, love your articles!!!! My daughter Emilia still struggles with her pencil grip (using whole hand instead of proper 2 fingers). I’m having trouble finding a pencil gripper. Do I have to go to a parent teacher store? Love the tweezer separating sprinkles idea. Do u think this will be too hard for her?  She turns five in March. “

Hi Dena!  Thanks for the compliment!  You don’t need to go to a teacher store; you can buy anything online!

Children who are four are often still developing a comfortable pencil grip.  It can be hard for children to develop separation of the two sides of the hand, but a pencil grip can help.  I usually try not to use a grip until I’m sure that the child is physically having difficulty.

That means that I have taught them many times where their fingers should go and where the pencil should sit in their hands.  When I ask them to hold the pencil correctly, they try to and they know what I mean.  The problem is that due to weak strength and endurance, they can’t maintain a proper grasp.  So then, I use a pencil grip.  My favorite “go-to” grip for preschoolers is called “the pencil grip”.  I like it because it’s “fatter” towards the back which helps kids to open up their web space.  This is the area between the thumb and the index finger.    There are specific spots for each finger, but even if they hold it wrong, it’s still ok.   Here is what it looks like.

Another good one that I like for kids Emilia’s age is the “writing claw”.  This one can be a little tricky to learn how to use, but once a child gets the hang of it, it’s great.  There are spots for the thumb, index and middle fingers.

 

Pencil grips can be uncomfortable for children at first.  That’s ok, it’s uncomfortable because the child is now using the correct muscles, and they aren’t used to doing this work.  Keep encouraging them and use it consistently.  It will pay off!   Also, you can help your child to “tuck in” the ring and pinky finger by having them hold a pom pom or a cotton ball in those fingers.  It helps to keep the pinky side of the hand separate from the thumb part.

Another way to make it easier for your child is to play games and work with toys that require separation of the two sides of their hands.  Classic games like  Bed Bugs, Lite Brite, Operation, etc. are examples of toys that encourage this.

Good Luck, Dena!  Keep us posted!

 

  ~Miss Jaime

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Why you should teach your child clapping games…

Clapping games are an awesome way to work on motor skills…

Remember all the clapping games you used to play when you were little?  Nowadays, kids have a hard time playing with nothing.  Meaning, if they don’t have a toy or an Iphone to keep them occupied, they don’t really know what to do with themselves.  As a little kid, my friends and I spent hours playing clapping games during recess.  We thought they were so fun and loved all the silly lyrics that went along with the clap sequences.  What we didn’t know is that we were also developing foundational motor skills that would benefit us for years to come.

As a school-based OT, I use clapping games often with individual children, small groups, and whole classes.  The things that I can learn about a child from watching them learn a clapping game are amazing.  I thought I would break it down for the rest of the world so I can spread the love of clapping games!

Motor Planning

Motor planning is a prerequisite to learning any new skill.  A difficulty with motor planning, also known as dyspraxia, can interfere with a child’s ability to learn everyday tasks such as getting dressed, writing, and playing games with other children.  In order to motor plan, a child has to come up with an idea, figure out how to do it, and then actually physically complete the task.

For example, a child unfamiliar with a playground slide decides he wants to try it.  Now he has to get himself to the ladder, hold onto the railings, get himself up the steps, and then coordinate his body from standing at the top step to sitting at the top of the slide.  Then he has to shift his weight to actually slide downward.    Who knew there was so much involved?  Clapping games involve a lot of motor planning, too.  The child has to practice the movements over and over before they become automatic.

hopscotch, motor planning, playing, playground

Crossing Midline

The midline is an imaginary line down the center of your body (picture through your nose to your belly button).   As an infant, a child starts to bring his hands to midline (usually to put something in their mouth).  Then they start to develop the ability to cross over the midline.  Once a child begins to develop a hand dominance, they should be able to cross over the midline to get a preferred toy, a crayon, etc.   If they don’t cross the midline, they will use their left hand to pick up something on their left side, and their right hand to pick up something on their right side.  This can interfere with a child’s ability to develop a “strong” side because they are using both sides equally.  I have had a few parents say to me “I think he’s ambidextrous!”.   Ambidexterity is rare.  Usually, it’s a midline deficit.

I swear that the original clapping game “Patty-cake” was invented by an OT. Okay…, maybe not, they didn’t have OT back then.

BUT – the very simple clap hands together, hit both your hands to your babies hands was designed to work on getting a baby to bring their hands together in the midline, then take them apart.   It’s very “OT-esque”.

clapping5_picmonkeyed

 

Sequencing

When a child sequences, they put events, ideas, and/or objects in a order.  Many children’s songs involve a particular sequence.  The Wheels on the Bus, Old MacDonald,  The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, Head-Shoulder-Knees, and Toes, etc.    Most clapping games tell a story in a particular sequence, which helps a child to remember the lyrics.  Miss Mary Mack has to ask her mother for 15 cents before she can see the elephants jump over the fence.  

The more challenging clapping games involve different motor movements at a particular part of the song.  This would be for older children; who are capable of remembering the words, singing them in the correct order, using their body to clap in a rhythm, and motor planning to do the right moves at the right time.   Whew! Who knew there was so much involved?  But there is…  

clapping games, motor planning, bilateral coordination

 Bilateral Coordination

The ability to use the two sides of your body together in a coordinated manner to complete a task is a foundational skill that we use every day.  We need to use our two hands together for everyday tasks like opening a bottle, putting on an earring, or tying our shoes.  It is even harder when the two hands have two separate jobs.  Clapping games help children to develop solid bilateral coordination skills because they consistently require the two sides of the body to perform the same task over and over.  Plus, the two hands have to meet in the middle (working in midline) and cross over the middle (crossing midline).   This practice is great for kids who have trouble with everyday bilateral activities in their lives such as using scissors,  opening snack, holding the paper while they write, sharpening a pencil, pulling their pants down in the bathroom, etc.   Using your hands to do the same thing at the same time is easier than using both hands to do something different.  But first thing is first!  Learn the easy way and then make it more challenging.

bilateral coordination, holding the paper

Visual tracking

Many children with learning disabilities have a hard time with visual tracking activities.  Attention problems, sensory issues, developmental delays and weak eye musculature can all interfere with a child’s ability to track appropriately from left to right.  This of course affects their ability to read, write, and copy from the board down the road.  Children who have difficulty crossing midline with their arms and hands usually have difficulty tracking across midline.  An example would be if you held your finger ten inches to the left of their face and asked them to keep their eyes on your finger and then you slowly moved your finger straight across to the right side.  Their eyes may not be able to  follow your finger after the midline.   Sometimes it’s just a quick glance away at midline and sometimes it’s a “shoot-ahead” movement all the way to the right. But either way you can see when they lose their visual attention on your finger.  Children should be able to easily move their eyes without moving their head by the third grade without losing place and without faltering at midline.  However, by kindergarten, children should beginning to move their eyes without complete head movement.   During a clapping game, the child’s eyes continually move from their left hand  to the right hand, to left, to right. It’s great practice for tracking in school.  Plus, because there is a rhythm, they are learning to track smoothly and rhythmically, like they need to when they are reading.

Rhythm and Beat

The ability to keep a beat and understand a rhythm is a skill that will impact a child’s life for years to come.  A beat is a repetitive hit or pulse (think of a heart beat).  A rhythm is a pattern of music and movement through time.  My favorite music teacher at school (Shout out – Mrs. Wade!) often helps me to problem solve how to plan activities for my kids who to her have no “rhythm” and to me have no “coordination”.   I find it helps to add music because 1) it’s more fun and 2) somehow they seem to “get it” when there is music involved.  She taught me that the beat is like marching “left, right, left, right” and the rhythm  is the call and response song that the soldiers sing while marching to the beat.  The ability to hear a beat is important in social activities like singing, dancing, and clapping, in unison.  Keeping the rhythm of motor movements are important in learning new repetitive movements to learn a dance or other gross motor skills like hopscotch (feet in, out, in, out).   This is why music can be such an amazing teaching tool.  Clapping games require the rhythm and beat skills because the child is singing (rhythm) as well as keeping performing their motor movement “clap, cross, clap, cross” (beat).  So clapping games can help your child by building the foundational skills that they will need later to learn a dance, play an instrument, etc.   A child needs to keep the beat when singing the lyrics to the song (Miss MARY, Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in BLACK, black, black, etc.).  They also need to keep the rhythm with the words of the song (clap, cross right, clap, cross left, clap). This seems so simple until we try to teach it a child.  Rhythm and Beat can be very hard work!  Kids start to develop the ability to hear beat very early- My good friend who is both a Kindergarten teacher and a Dance instructor (shout out- Miss Smith!)   told me that even her Kindergarten dance kids learn to count the beat pretty quickly.

children dancing

 

 Socialization

Most clapping games involve just two children, but many can be done with a whole class.  Part of my job as a school based OT is to work with the self contained classes.  I love to use clapping games with them because they have no idea that they are working on so many important skills!  No matter how old they are, they all laugh and have fun.  They consider it a “break” from school work, but as the OT, I am satisfied that I am addressing many important skills at once.  When working with one other child, you have to develop a “rhythm” with your partner in order to keep going.  Often, one child will be more advanced than the other.  No matter!  When the one child is “off” a bit, the other always reaches a little faster, or crosses a little farther in order to keep up with the class.  We try to sing the songs all at the same time.  Usually in the beginning it’s a big mess, but after a few tries, they do much better. A few of the girls may know a song or two, and they help to teach the kids who are unfamiliar.  Plus all the staff, it all comes together!  It’s hard not to laugh and have fun as you make eye contact with your partner, sing silly words, and have a grand old time for a few minutes.  Even us teachers end up giggling and having fun.  The kids need that movement and the “break”, but they also need the socialization and “playtime”. (Even though it’s a very therapeutic task!)

Sometimes I will get the whole class in a big circle and we play “quack-didly-oso”.  The kids have to put one hand on top of their friends (on the left) hand and the other under the other friend hand (on the right).  This concept alone takes a few minutes as we have to go over left, right, under, over (spatial language and awareness!).  Once we get started playing, I can see who has difficulty with focus, with motor planning, directionality, etc. And meanwhile the kids love it!

 How to Modify a Clapping Game

No game is fun if it’s way above your level.  But all clapping games can be simplified by slowing down the movements and the words.  The motor movements can also be simplified.

Here are a few examples from easiest to hardest

1) Simple patty cake motions – clap your own hands together, then use both hands to clap both your partners hands.  Then back to your own clap.  A simple 1,2,1,2  pattern.

2) More complex patty cake motions –  clap your own hands together, then clap your right hand to your partners right hand, then clap your hands together, then clap your left hand to your partner’s left hand.  1,2,1,3,1,2,1,3

3) Getting harder – adding more motor movements make it even more challenging. Clap your own hands together, then clap your right hand to your partners right hand, then clap your hands together, then clap your left hand to your partner’s left hand. Next, form an “X” over your chest by crossing your two arms to touch your shoulders.  Then, clap your hands together and start again.

4)  Really hard – Clap your own hands together, then clap your right hand to your partners right hand, then clap your hands together, then clap your left hand to your partner’s left hand. Next, form an “X” over your chest by crossing your two arms to touch your shoulders.  Then, clap both hands to both your lap. Then start again.

* If you have a child who just can’t seem to “get it”, or they keep confusing their left and right sides, you can try putting a colored sticker on each child’s right hand.  This way you are providing a visual cue as to which hands need to hit.

Here are some links to some of the most common clapping games if you need a refresher.

Miss Mary Mack https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-Xcw3T-vQs
Miss Mary Mack- Just music and lyrics – you can use whatever motor pattern you want https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ESAj1fVruY
Quack Didli-Oso – Great for a group or partners https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnxqOH3nam8
“Slide” – Very Complex! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXJsX7T8fYM
“Down Down Baby” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCyBMztWUFk
“Sally Was  Baby” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSOxq1eovtw
Patty Cake  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yULp0Vnzblc

logo                                                                           Get Clapping!

~  Miss Jaime, OT


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