The Frugal OT Series: It’s O-FISHally Summer!

June’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: It’s O-FISHally Summer

Summer is finally here! Kids have worked hard all school year and it is time for a much-needed break. These pool noodle fish are a fun way to welcome summer vacation and all the excitement that comes along with it. This craft will evoke thoughts of trips to the beach, ocean life and all the fun summer brings. A great way to embrace summer vacation while working on fine motor skills. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • fine motor strengthening
  • fine motor control 
  • grasping skills 
  • cutting skills
  • visual-motor integration skills
  • visual perceptual skills
  • executive functioning skills (focus attention, remember multi-step directions, initiate and follow through with the task)
It’s O-FISHally Summer!

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

googly eyes

pipe cleaners

pool noodle (cut into 1″ discs)

construction paper

Staples Needed:

scissors

school glue

pencil

markers/crayons

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
Staples Needed

How To Make the “It’s O-FISHally Summer” Craft:

It is always helpful to present the child with a model so that they can see what you expect them to do.

I recommend cutting the pool noodles ahead of time and setting them aside.

Instructions:

Jellyfish

  • To prep for this activity, the adult needs to cut the pool noodle into 1″-1.5″ discs. Set aside. One disc makes (2) jellyfish and (1) common fish. Prepare as many as you need.
  • To make the jellyfish, have the child cut the disc in half.
  • Cut (2) pipe cleaners into 3 equal parts (about 4″ each).
  • Bend the pipe cleaner as preferred to mimic tentacles.
  • Poke the ends of the pipe cleaner into the bottom or flat side of the pool noodle.
  • Glue (2) googly eyes onto the front of the pool noodle.

Common Fish

  • To prep for this activity, the adult needs to cut the pool noodle into 1′-1.5′ discs. Set aside. One disc makes (1) fish. Prepare as many as you need.
  • Make the mouth by cutting the pipe cleaner into a piece that is approximately 3″ long.
  • Push each end into the side of the pool noodle, and bend in the middle.
  • To make the tail, cut the pipe cleaner into a piece that is approximately 8″ long. Poke the ends into the pool noodle, and bend as you’d like to simulate a tail.
  • Optional: Make a fin by cutting the pipe cleaner into a piece that is approximately 3″ long. Poke both ends into the top of the pool noodle and bend it to simulate a fin.
  • Glue a googly eye on the side of the pool noodle, above the mouth.

Ocean Mat

  • Using blue construction paper, markers, and/or crayons, draw the ocean floor as you see fit. Have fun with it!
  • Glue the fish onto the mat.

Done!

How To Make the “It’s O-FISHally Summer Craft:

How To Make the “It’s O-FISHally Summer Craft

How To Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • Outline the images that represent the bottom of the ocean. Have the child trace over the lines and fill in using markers and/or crayons. If the child needs to work on improving their grasp, be sure to use short (broken) crayons.
  • Some children may not have adequate strength to cut the pool noodle and/or pipe cleaners, if so, prep the materials for them.
  • If the child is unable to copy the title, have them trace it.
Grade Up (Make it Harder):
  • Draw more elaborate images to represent the bottom of the ocean.
  • Add more embellishments to the common fish, such as a fin on the top and a pectoral fin on the side.
  • Add more tentacles to the jellyfish.
Happy Mother’s Day

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Hand Dominance: How to Help Kids Who Switch Hands

Most people are inclined to use one hand over the other.  Repeated use of the preferred hand leads to hand dominance.  Your dominant hand is your skilled hand, the hand that is better at performing intricate tasks like drawing, handwriting, and using a fork or a spoon.  Try writing a note or spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread using your non-dominant hand. You will quickly see how one hand is more skilled than the other.

Hand Dominance

When completing most fine motor tasks, one hand acts as an anchor, stabilizing the object in use while the other hand carries out the work.  In the picture above, the child is drawing with their dominant hand while holding the paper in place with the opposite hand.  The non-dominant hand is sometimes referred to as the “helper” hand as both hands work together to complete the task.

Developmentally, many steps happen before this milestone is reached. Babies will discover their hands during the infant stage. You may see them marvel at their hands while held in front of them. Infants are born with a grasping reflex. When you stroke the palm of their hand, they will immediately grip your finger (this reflex disappears around 9-12 months). Babies will place their fisted hands in their mouths. As development continues the baby will be able to use their hands more intentionally to grasp and release objects. Soon they will bring their hands together and play with their fingers. Eventually, they will learn how to clap their hands together. Singing the Patty-Cake song is a good way to encourage this to happen. Babies will begin to use both hands to hold a toy or drink their bottle. As infants transition into the toddler stage, they’ll begin to engage in more complex tasks requiring the use of two hands together. Building with blocks, completing inset puzzles, and turning the pages of a book are a few examples. Soon they will begin to use crayons to scribble and scissors to snip paper. As children gain more experience with using their hands, they will begin to get a sense of which hand works better than the other. One hand will become the preferred hand and the other the “helper” hand. As the child uses the preferred hand most often, it will then become the more skilled hand, the stronger hand, and the dominant hand.

When should you expect to see hand dominance emerge in children?

You can begin to see a hand preference as early as age 2.

Typically, by the time a child enters kindergarten (or age 5-6), you will begin to see consistent use of one hand versus the other.

If not, here are some factors that may be impeding development.  

  • Crossing the Midline: Midline crossing, or being able to use one hand to work on the opposite side of the body, is a very important developmental skill.  Imagine a line drawn down the middle of the body, from head to toe. Reaching your arm or leg across this imaginary line is called midline crossing. This very important skill fosters communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, allowing them to work together efficiently. Midline crossing also encourages bilateral coordination, the maturation of fine motor skills, and hand dominance. Being able to use the preferred hand on both sides of the body allows for steady practice and refinement, allowing the preferred hand to become stronger and dominant. Once children develop hand dominance they will not switch hands to reach across their bodies, instead, they will spontaneously use their dominant hand. For example, when reaching to pick something up from the floor, scratching an itch, getting dressed, and brushing hair.   Kids who have difficulty with midline crossing may avoid reaching across their bodies.  Instead, they will use their left hand on their left side and their right hand on their right side. 
  • Hand Strength: Fine motor weakness or poor hand strength, causes a lack of endurance for fine motor tasks like writing, and coloring. Fatigue may cause a child to switch hands. When one hand gets tired, the child may use the other hand.

Could the child switch hands because they are ambidextrous? 

This is certainly possible, however, if there are concerns, the factors indicated above should be considered and ruled out first. Truly ambidextrous people only make up about 1 percent of the population. People who have no dominant hand, and can use both hands with equal skill, are about 1 in 100. What matters is whether or not the child is functional and able to engage in fine motor tasks efficiently.

What can you do to help kids who continue to switch hands during fine motor tasks?  

Engage in activities that require two hands to work together (one hand’s job is to work while the other hand’s job is to stabilize). This is called asymmetrical bilateral coordination. When both hands are working together, but doing different functions, with one side leading and the other side helping. Be observant and take notice of which hand the child tends to lead with.

  • cutting with scissors
  • pouring (pour sand into containers during sandbox play, pour water into various- sized cups, allow kids to help cook)
  • lacing activities
  • stirring (pretend play stirring a spoon in a bowl, mix two different colors of Kinetic sand in a bowl using a spoon)
  • place items of interest inside ziplock bags and have the child open the bag to get it out
  • peel off stickers
  • play dress-up using garments containing buttons, zippers, and snaps
  • stringing beads
  • place clothespins on objects
  • play with toys that require two hands (one hand does the work while the other hand stabilizes the object) e.g Legos, Mr. Potato Head, and Duplo Blocks.

Play games that aim for a target e.g. ring toss, bullseye, bean bag toss/cornhole to help kids get a sense of what hand works better.

Practice midline crossing:

  • draw large pictures on pavement using sidewalk chalk
  • using an easel, draw a rainbow starting on one side of the easel and ending on the other
  • fold laundry, particularly big pieces like towels
  • play Simon Says being sure to use lots of moves that require crossing the midline e.g. reach across your body to touch your opposite foot, opposite shoulder, opposite knee
  • cross crawls
  • have the child reach across midline to place clothespins on his/her person (on sleeves, pants legs, shoelaces)

All of the activities stated above will allow kids to get experience using both hands and by doing so they will start to get a feel for which hand is stronger.

Kids need to discover hand dominance naturally so don’t force it.  Allow the child to choose the hand they want to work with and then encourage them to stick with it or use the same hand they started with.  Do activities to build hand strength to ensure that weakness isn’t contributing to hand switching during fine motor tasks.

Sock Hack:

Sock Hack

Here’s a simple way to discourage switching hands mid-task. Allow the child to initiate the task, children will typically begin tasks using the emerging dominant hand.  Kids need to discover hand dominance naturally so don’t force it.  Rather, encourage them to stick with it or use the same hand they started with. When using a whiteboard, place a sock over the hand that is not in use. The sock prompts kids to continue using the hand they’ve started with.  Once finished with the writing or drawing task, the sock doubles as an eraser.  Have the child take the sock off the opposite hand and place it in their writing hand to erase the board. Socks do a fine job of cleaning the whiteboard and can be used over and over again.  Lastly, tasks that require two hands to work together promote hand dominance so be sure to have the child don and doff the sock between tasks! 

I hope you find this information useful! Have a question or comment? Please leave a reply below!

Sources:

(2022, Mar 8) Newborn Reflexes HealthyChildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Newborn-Reflexes.aspx

Jones, M., (2022, Mar 7) 10 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About Ambidextrous People. Readers Digest https://www.rd.com/list/facts-ambidextrous-people/

Disclaimer

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

The Frugal OT Series: Mother’s Day Blooms

May’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: Mother’s Day Blooms

As a mom, I know how special it is to receive a handmade Mother’s Day gift from my child. The time and energy spent to make something memorable for Mommy is priceless and preferred over any store-bought gift. I save them for as long as they’ll hold up. Mother’s Day is just around the corner so now is the time to create sweet and unforgettable gifts for moms. This craft is sure to bring a smile to any mom’s face, it’s just so cute. A great way to celebrate Mother’s Day while working on fine motor skills. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • fine motor strengthening
  • fine motor control 
  • grasping skills 
  • cutting skills (snipping)
  • handwriting skills
  • executive functioning skills (focus attention, remember multi-step directions, initiate and follow through with the task)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

coffee filters

construction paper

craft sticks

pool noodle (cut into 1″ discs)

pump spray bottles

eye droppers

Staples Needed:

markers

green crayon

scissors

tape

school glue

glue gun (if preferred with close supervision)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
Staples Needed

How To Make Mother’s Day Blooms:

It is always helpful to present the child with a model so that they can see what you expect them to do.

I recommend cutting the pool noodles ahead of time and setting them aside. It’s also a good idea to color and spray the coffee filters ahead of time to allow time to dry. This craft is ideally done over two sessions.

Instructions:

  • To prep for this activity, the adult needs to cut the pool noodle into 1″ discs. Set aside. One disc makes one flower. Prepare as many as you need.
  • Use several different colored markers to color the coffee filter making sure to provide good coverage.
  • Place the coffee filter on top of a paper towel. Spray the coffee filter generously with water.
  • To add another fine motor challenge, use a dropper bottle to add more water (optional: add food coloring to the dropper bottle).
  • Allow the coffee filter to dry. 
  • Measure the circumference of the disc.
  • Cut a piece of green construction paper the length of the circumference, approximately 8″ x ~3″ width. (I prepped green paper strips cut to size ahead of time as well). 
  • Use Legiliner to make a line or draw a line for the child to write on. (I have no affiliation with Legiliner, just a happy customer!)
  • Have the child write “Happy Mother’s Day, Love (their name and the date/year).
  • Make grass by snipping the paper.
  • Fold the paper over a pencil and roll it to curl the grass.
  • Place the grass around the disc and secure it with tape.
  • Using brown paper, trace the disc and cut it out. Fold the paper in half and cut a small slit near the edge. This will be the dirt. 
  • Using a crayon, color the popsicle stick green to make the stem of the flower.
  • Slide it through the slit in the brown paper and place it on top of the disc. 
  • Push the popsicle stick into the pool noodle.
  • Once dry, fold the coffee filter in half, then again and again (into eighths).
  • Glue the folds of the coffee filter together at the base.
  • Fold the coffee filter over the top of craft stick to secure it in place. Add more glue if needed.
  • Puff and arrange the coffee filter to resemble a flower. 

Done!

How To Make Mother’s Day Bloom’s:

How To Mother’s Day Blooms

How To Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

This craft provides a great fine motor challenge as is. It also requires many steps to complete. There really is no need to “grade up” or make it harder. But here are some suggestions for making it easier.

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • Use a trigger spray bottle instead of a pump spray bottle as they are easier to use.
  • Provide a model of the greeting for the child to copy. If unable to copy, have the child trace it.
  • Draw lines to help the child know where to snip.
  • Assist by holding the grass in place around the disc while the child secures it with tape.
  • Fold the coffee filter in eights for the child while he/she assists by patting the paper to form the creases.
  • Assist with gluing the folds together at the base of the coffee filter to ensure the flower doesn’t come apart.
Happy Mother’s Day

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

How to Improve Handwriting Legibility: Letter Formation

Hello again! I hope you’ve enjoyed my Handwriting Series. If you’re joining me for this first time, welcome! In the series, I’ve covered why handwriting legibility is so important. I’ve broken down the components of handwriting legibility and provided tips regarding how to address issues with acquiring them. In this post, I will cover the most important component of handwriting legibility, letter formation. Letter formation is the ability to form letters of the alphabet correctly and following a standard (e.g. the method taught in school). Being able to form letters correctly, in a smooth, effortless manner is called handwriting fluency. Handwriting fluency is a vital part of academic success and plays a major role in literacy. Handwriting fluency begins with learning letter formation.

Historically, children are taught letter formation skills in kindergarten. It seems that many children begin learning this skill in preschool these days. What matters is whether or not they are ready to learn how to write developmentally.  

Before children are taught letter formation, there are very important developmental milestones that must be met to ensure handwriting readiness. These milestones are typically acquired during the preschool years and equip children with the foundation that is needed to meet the handwriting demands of school. Of utmost importance is making sure children have mastered the prerequisite skill first, pre-writing strokes. If children are not able to draw basic shapes (lines, crosses, circles, squares, and triangles) then it’s nearly impossible for them to learn how to write letters correctly and efficiently. If the child is unable to draw all pre-writing strokes, it is in his or her best interest to hold off on teaching letter formation until this skill is met.  

Once the child can draw pre-writing strokes with precision, I recommend teaching upper case letters before lower case letters. Why? Because upper case letters are the easiest letters to form in terms of stroke sequence and serve as a great introduction to the rules of handwriting. How do I mean? It’s easier for children to understand that letters should be placed within specific boundaries on the line when they all start and stop at the same point. Upper case letters do not have as many variances in size and stroke sequence as lower case letters do. They all start and stop on the top and bottom lines of primary paper. This is a great introduction to writing letters and forms good habits right at the beginning.  

Instead of teaching letter formation in alphabetical order, I recommend teaching letters in groups. Some programs or therapists may differ, however, after years of working with diverse groups of students, I’ve had the most success grouping letters in the following way.  

Start with letters containing similar simple strokes and then progress to more complex strokes. Begin with upper case letters comprised of vertical and horizontal lines.  

Teach the letters containing these simple strokes first. They are L, E, F, H, T, and I.

Progress to rounded letters next. They are C, O, G, S, D, P, J, U, and B.

Lastly, teach upper case letters containing diagonal strokes. They are R, K, A, V, M, N, Q, W, X, Y, and Z.

Once the child can form all upper case letters correctly, move on to numbers.  

Finally, teach lower case letters. Again, it is ideal to teach letters that have a similar stroke sequence in groups. Lower case letters vary in size and placement on the line so it is important to emphasize starting points and ending points as well. Lower case letters have three sizes, tall, short, and go under letters. Here are the letter groups I recommend teaching together.  

All letters that begin with “c” and start on the dotted middle line should be grouped. They are c, a, o, d, g, s, q. 

All short letters that start on the dotted line and “go down” and then climb back up should be grouped. They are r, m, n, and p. Follow these letters with their tall counterparts which start on the top line, go down, and then climb back up. They are h, b.  

Group letters that are straight, l, t, i, and j.

Group letters containing diagonal lines. They are k, v, w, x, y, and z.  

Teach letters that have a unique stroke sequence together. They are e, u, and f.

It can be helpful for many children to point out that some lowercase letters are simply a smaller version of their capital letters. They are Cc, Oo, Ss, Vv, Ww, Xx, Zz. Again, be sure to emphasize where these letters start on the line.

Always Use Primary Paper With Early Writers!

Never underestimate the importance of using primary paper when children are early writers. Typically when children are in Pre-K up to grade 2. Second grade is generally a good time to transition to standard wide-ruled paper, but of course, some children still are not ready. Early writers need the structure and visual guidelines provided by primary paper. I often see children writing on standard wide-ruled paper far too soon. Developmentally they are not ready and this can create unnecessary problems e.g. inconsistent letter size, bottom to top stroke sequence, poor line orientation. So please, do not skip this crucial stage! 

Positioning is also very important. Children who are in the developmental stage of acquiring fine motor skills need environmental support to become efficient handwriters. Ideally, children should be seated at a table that allows for both feet to be planted on the floor. Their posture should be upright with hips, knees, and ankles bent at the same angle. This is referred to as 90/90/90 positioning where the hips, knees, and ankles are flexed (bent) at a 90-degree angle. An upright posture with both feet planted on the floor facilitates good handwriting. It’s also important that the desk or table height allows for the child’s forearms to be parallel to the floor. The paper should be tilted to align with the child’s forearm. The hand and forearm should be resting on the table surface to provide stability as the child writes. The non-writing hand should anchor the paper in place as the child writes.  

90/90/90 Positioning

Address pencil grip if needed. If a child’s grip looks awkward or if the child complains of discomfort, chances are he or she will benefit from additional support. Learn more about typical development and what to expect by clicking the following link: Pencil Grasp Development: What To Expect

It’s also very important to spend time teaching letter formation.  Demonstrate how to form each letter/number and have the child imitate. Correct the child if they are not able to follow the right stroke sequence. Once they can do so, practice, practice, practice.  

If you notice a child struggling with learning how to write in the early stages, take action. This is a decisive time where intervention can have the greatest impact. Work with the child by providing extra support. The following suggestions will help with motor planning, muscle memory, and visual memory.

  • Have the child verbalize the stroke sequence for each letter while writing it.
  • Have the child write the letter with eyes closed in the air.
  • Have the child trace the letter followed by attempting it on their own.
  • Start with large muscle groups by writing letters with dry erase markers on a vertical surface and with sidewalk chalk on the ground.
  • Provide sensory input by forming letters with various mediums (shaving cream, pudding, whipped cream, sand, Play-Doh, Wiki Sticks, etc.)
  • Provide more tactile feedback by placing the writing paper over a piece of sandpaper when teaching letter formation.

For more information on the importance of handwriting legibility check out this post.  Handwriting Legibility: Why Is It So Important?

Want to learn more about other issues that can impact handwriting legibility and how to tackle them? Check out these posts from my Handwriting Series:

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Line Orientation

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Pressure Grading (how-much-force-to-apply)

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Spacing

Now that we’ve covered all bases, it is time to talk about how to address handwriting legibility skills comprehensively. I’m thrilled to present this super fun activity that tackles them all.  

The Complete Handwriting Checklist a.k.a Be A Handwriting Sleuth! 

Once you’ve addressed the underlying issues impacting a child’s handwriting, ensure that they can effectively implement the strategies you’ve taught them by using a checklist. Why use a checklist? They help kids organize and plan out the steps needed to edit their handwriting. Some provide a visual model to help kids identify their errors. Also, checklists are interactive providing a hands-on approach to the editing process. 

The Complete Handwriting Checklist:  Be A Handwriting Sleuth
Be A Handwriting Sleuth

I strongly believe that if kids are having fun, it’s far easier to sustain their attention and level of effort with any given task. With this in mind, I’ve created a super fun checklist activity that addresses every aspect of handwriting legibility. When using this checklist children are morphed into handwriting sleuths and equipped with a magnifying glass to play the part! It’s a lighthearted approach to handwriting legibility that kids will love! The checklist can be individualized for each child, meeting them where they are and offering the “just right” challenge. It allows you to hone in on a few areas or many. The magnifying glass is a super fun way to highlight the errors needing corrections. Kids will be motivated to earn badges that celebrate their handwriting accomplishments and confirm their status as handwriting sleuths!  

Would you like to use this checklist with your students or little ones? Get your free PDFs here:

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

The Frugal OT Series: Sock Bunnies

April’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: Sock Bunnies

Spring is here and Easter is just around the corner. This simple, no-sew craft is just so adorable. It makes for a great spring or Easter decoration, an Easter basket stuffer, or a wonderful gift for parents or grandparents. The sock bunny can also double as a fidget tool. Children can squeeze and squish the rice in the bunny to get the proprioceptive input they need. If you plan to use the sock bunny in this way, I suggest you use extra elastic bands to make it more sturdy. A great way to celebrate spring and/or Easter while working on fine motor skills. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • proprioceptive awareness
  • fine motor strengthening
  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)
  • spatial awareness
  • executive functioning skills (focus attention, remember multi-step directions, initiate and follow through with the task)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

hair elastics

rice

crew socks

Easter ribbon

Staples Needed:

measuring cup

glass or cup

scissors

marker

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
Staples Needed

How To Make Sock Bunnies:

It is always helpful to present the child with a model so that they can see what you expect them to do.

  • Place the sock in the glass.
  • Fold the opening of the sock over the rim of the glass.
  • Pour about 1 cup of rice into the measuring cup.
  • Pour the rice into the sock.
  • Secure the rice by placing an elastic band on the sock.
  • Create the bunny’s head by pushing some of the rice to the top creating two sections.
  • On the bunny’s back, pinch a small amount of rice to form a little tail and secure it with an elastic.
  • Cut the excess fabric from the top.
  • Create the ears by cutting the fabric down the middle.
  • Draw a cute little face.
  • Tie a bow around the bunnies neck. 

Done!

How To Make Sock Bunnies

How To Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • The adult places the elastic band on the sock bunny first. The child attempts to place an additional elastic band over top.
  • Pour the rice out of the bag and into a smaller container to make it easier for the child to manage when measuring.
  • Instead of making a bow with the ribbon, simply tie a knot.
  • Draw the face in pencil and have the child trace over it with a marker.
  • Glue googly eyes instead of drawing them.
Grade Up (Make it Harder):

For older or more skilled children:

  • Add more embellishments.
  • Draw more elaborate facial features.  

Sock Bunnies

Looking for more spring and/or Easter Fun?

“Easter Egg Match” Memory Game
“Easter Egg Match” Memory Game

An Easter-themed Classic!  Memory Game!  Kids love the challenge of trying to remember where the matching pair is.  This activity builds many visual-perceptual and visual-motor skills:

  • Visual discrimination
  • Position in Space
  • Visual Scanning
  • Visual Tracking
  • Visual Memory

Objective?  Fill your basket with as many matching pairs as you can. I added a few pom-pom pairs to mix it up a bit.  Collecting the pairs in Easter baskets just adds more holiday fun to the game.  Grab these cute little foam eggs at your local Dollar Tree.

Also, check out these budget-friendly activities from my Frugal OT series:

Egg-cellent Fine Motor Fun

Butterflies on a Budget

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

The Frugal OT Series: Little Leprechaun

March’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: Little Leprechaun

As a child, I marveled at the tale of the leprechaun. According to Irish legend, a leprechaun is a type of fairy that is short in stature, usually bearded, and wears a green suit and hat. They are shoemakers who live in the forest. Leprechauns are thought to be tricky little fellows who are delighted by mischief. The story states that every leprechaun has his very own pot of gold that he hides in the Irish countryside. He must give his fortune to anyone clever enough to capture him. He’s not easy to catch though. As legend has it, the leprechaun is very sneaky and can vanish in the wink of an eye. This fun craft pays homage to the Irish legend. A great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day while working on fine motor skills. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • spatial relations
  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)
  • visual scanning and tracking skills
  • executive functioning skills (focus attention, remember multi-step directions, initiate and follow through with the task)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

orange pom poms

large craft sticks

google eyes

green paint

black ribbon

orange pipe cleaners

Staples Needed:

scissors

tape

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
Staples Needed

How To Make Little Leprechauns:

It is always helpful to present the child with a model so that they can see what you expect them to do.

  • Align 5 craft sticks vertically.
  • Glue another craft stick over the top of them horizontally. This will be the brim of the hat (I did this ahead of time to allow time to dry).
  • Paint the brim of the hat (horizontal craft stick) and the tops of the 5 craft sticks green.
  • Glue two googly eyes under the hat being sure to leave enough room for the brows.
  • Cut a pipe cleaner into equal parts. Mold them into the shape of an eyebrow and glue one above each eye.
  • Draw a nose and mouth.
  • Cut a piece of black ribbon and wrap it above the brim of the hat. Glue the ribbon to the back of the hat.
  • Cut out a small rectangle using yellow paper and glue it onto the middle of the ribbon to make a buckle.
  • Make the beard by gluing two pom poms on the end of each stick.

Viola! You have a leprechaun!

Little Leprechaun

How To Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • Eliminate the cutting demands by using a gold bead or another form of embellishment to make the buckle.
  • Draw lines on the pipe cleaner indicating where to cut it to make even parts.
  • Place dots of glue where the googly eyes should be placed.
  • Draw the face in pencil and have them trace over it with a marker.
Grade Up (Make it Harder):

For older or more skilled children:

  • Strengthen fine motor skills by using orange tissue paper or construction paper instead of pom poms. Have the child tear the paper and crumble it into small pieces. Glue the crumpled paper onto the bottom of the sticks to make the beard.
  • Draw more elaborate facial features.  

Little Leprechaun

Looking for more St. Patty’s Day Fun?

This activity pulls a few Dollar Tree Finds from the archives Frugal OT March 2021 Lil’ Pot of Gold. You’ll need gold coins and cute little pots. See below:

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed

In this activity, children are tasked with helping the leprechaun collect his gold. They’ll be delighted to become an appointed steward of the leprechaun’s treasure! The following skills are addressed in this activity:

  • in-hand manipulation skills: Translation is the ability to move objects from the palm of one’s hand to the fingertips and from the fingertips to the palm. By ages 6 to 7, children are typically able to manipulate and secure multiple small objects within their hands. 
  • eye-hand coordination
  • visual scanning and tracking skills
  • left to right progression

Check out this activity in action in the video below:

Help the Leprechaun Collect His Gold

Would you like to do this activity with your kiddos? You can download the free PDF by clicking the button below.

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

The Frugal OT Series: Race to Erase the Heart

This activity was a hit with the kiddos! It’s a very simple, low prep way to target many skills. For a Valentine’s Day theme, I used a heart as the object to erase. This can be modified to suit any time of year. You can draw a shamrock for St.Patricks Day, an egg for Easter, etc. You can personalize the activity by having the child race to erase their name or initials. Even better, have them write it. For this activity, I simply drew a heart on the chalkboard. Children then raced to erase the heart using a pump spray bottle that I picked up at the Dollar Tree. They come in packages of 2! A fun way to build strength both proximally and distally (from the shoulder girdle down to the fingers). 

Pump Spray Bottle Available at Dollar Tree

This activity targets:

  • Grasping skills
  • Finger isolation
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Visual scanning and tracking 
  • Isometric exercise challenge (shoulder joint)
  • Strengthens the intrinsic muscles of the hand
  • Motor planning 
  • Crossing midline
  • Builds endurance

You can make the heart smaller for those that do not have the strength and/or endurance to tackle big hearts. For those that can not operate the pump spray bottle, use a plant sprayer instead. If that is too hard, you can also use a small sponge or a paintbrush. 

For 1:1 sessions or when working with one child, I think it’s a good idea to allow for enough time for him/her to actually beat the clock! I usually time the child on their first run to see how long it takes them to finish the task. Then I have them try to beat their own time.

At home, this would be a great activity to do with sidewalk chalk. Draw a heart, or whatever you choose, on the ground/concrete and race to erase the heart!

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

The Frugal OT Series: Lace My Heart!

February’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: Lace My Heart

This craft is super sweet! Hearts that are laced and adorned with pony beads. A great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Once complete, children can write an endearing message to their special family member or friend. All you need is a package of foam hearts (one package goes a long way, containing 12 foam hearts each), a spool of yarn, and a package of pony beads. Many fine motor skills are addressed in this fun Valentine’s Day-themed activity. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • hand strengthening
  • hand separation
  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • spatial relations
  • pressure grading (how much force to apply; when using paper hole punch)
  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)
  • visual scanning and tracking skills
  • executive functioning skills

Side Note: Lacing is a great way to build executive functioning skills. Children must follow multi-step directions and be able to sequence the steps. They must tap into their working memory skills to remember and carry out the method used to lace the heart. The sequence they must follow is to lace up through the top, string a bead, then lace down through the bottom. This is a great challenge for some kiddos.

Lace My Heart

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

foam hearts

metallic pony beads

yarn

Staples Needed:

paper hole punch

scissors

tape

Lace My Heart Supply List
Staples Needed

How To “Lace My Heart”:

It is always helpful to present the child with a model so that they can see what you expect them to do.

  • Draw dots along the border of the heart.
  • Use the paper hole punch to place a hole around each dot.
  • Lace the yarn through the first hole.
  • Use a piece of tape to secure the yarn to the back of the heart.
  • Make sure the yarn is coming out of the top side of the heart, then string a bead onto the yarn.
  • Lace the yarn through the back to hold the bead in place.
  • Continue lacing and stringing beads until you’ve reached the last hole.
  • Cut off the excess yarn and secure it to the back of the heart using tape.
  • Write an endearing Valentine’s Day wish or message on the front of the heart.
Frugal OT: Lace My Heart
Assembling Hearts

How To Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • If the child doesn’t have enough strength and coordination to handle the paper hole punch, present the task to them with the holes already punched.
  • Eliminate the beads.
  • Allow the child to follow a less complicated lace pattern as in the picture below.
  • If the child is unable to lace, punch only a few holes that are spread out along the border of the heart. Place tape around the end of the yarn to make it less pliable and easier to place through the holes.
How to Make it Easier

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

For older or more skilled children:

  • Challenge visual processing skills (spatial relations) by having the child, versus the adult, draw the dots around the border of the heart. Show them a model and have them try to copy it.
  • Have the child assemble the heart to match a model. Place a colored bead sequence on the model to challenge visual scanning and tracking skills. Present the task as a fun game by saying, “Can you make your heart match mine?”

Write a Message

I hope that you and your littles enjoy doing this activity. I’m pretty sure this sweet, homemade valentine will put a smile on the face of all its recipients.

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Handwriting Legibility: Why Is It Important?

On my blog, I strive to provide insight into the complex issue of handwriting difficulties, the varying factors that may contribute to its cause, and above all, the importance of providing intervention at the onset to prevent hard-to-break habits and further problems in school and life. 

Why is it so important to address handwriting issues?

Handwriting fluency or the ability to write letters in a smooth, effortless manner during timed tasks, plays a major role in literacy.  When children show signs of handwriting difficulty it is very important to address it right away.  Failure to provide young writers with effective early intervention is likely to lead to larger performance gaps as they progress through school (Puranik, Otaiba, Sidler, Greulich, 2014).  Poor written communication skills limit access to college and limit success in the workplace as effective written communication is increasingly used to judge performance (Puranik, Otaiba, Sidler, Greulich, 2014).  

“Writing requires the management and coordination of multiple cognitive-linguistic processes simultaneously and is more difficult than reading. Thus, it stands to reason that writing too requires explicit, systematic, and sustained instruction for its mastery.”(Puranik, Otaiba, Sidler, Greulich, 2014).   In US grade schools today, handwriting appears to be a skill that receives varying amounts of attention.    Although common core standards clearly define what is expected of students upon the completion of kindergarten, there are no standard or writing curricula that teachers can follow.  In the primary grades, 75–100 min per week should be used for handwriting instruction, letters sharing common strokes (e.g., a, d, and g) should be grouped, and children should be monitored and immediately get help to form letters better when they are illegible (Hurschler, Lichtsteiner, Wicki, Falmann, 2018). According to a study conducted by Puranik and others, on average only 10.5 minutes or less were spent on writing instruction during kindergarten language arts instruction.  (Puranik, Otaiba, Sidler, Greulich, 2014).

Are handwriting difficulties common?

Many children have difficulty learning how to write letters and numbers fluently.  In fact, 10% to 34% of school-aged children fail to master handwriting (Schwellnus, Carnahan, Kushki, Polatajko, Missiuna, & Chau, 2012).

Why do some children have difficulty learning to write?

Handwriting difficulties may stem from a lack of direct instruction, fine motor delays, difficulties with motor planning and coordination (also known as dyspraxia), visual perceptual and/or visual-motor deficits, and/or executive functioning difficulties.  An occupational therapy evaluation can identify the underlying cause of handwriting difficulties.  

No matter what the cause, it is important to address it straight away. 

“Handwriting training seems to be a promising method to improve the text quality early in the school career. Over the last years, this assumption could be confirmed for children with and without disabilities: automaticity training of transcription or handwriting skills lead to improvements in both text length and quality” (Hurschler, Lichtsteiner, Wicki, Falmann, 2018). 

Several factors can make a child’s writing difficult to read.  

  1. Poorly formed letters
  2. Letters that are squished together or spread too far apart
  3. Words that are squished together or too far apart
  4. Poorly organized writing that is all over the page instead of aligned along the margin and lines of ruled paper
  5. Very faint print that is difficult to see due to inadequate pressure
  6. Very dark print that appears messy due to too much pressure

Of utmost importance is to make sure children are ready to learn how to write letters by ensuring that they’ve mastered the prerequisite skill first, pre-writing strokes.  If children are not able to draw basic pre-writing strokes (lines, crosses, circles, squares, and triangles) then it’s nearly impossible for them to learn how to write letters correctly and efficiently.  I then recommend teaching children upper case letters next.  Upper case letters are easier to form and do not have as many variances in size and stroke sequence.  All upper case letters start and stop on the top and bottom lines of primary paper.  This is a great introduction to writing letters and forms good habits right at the beginning.  

In my Handwriting Series, I tackle the issues that can make handwriting difficult to perform and read. I offer tips, strategies, and resources that can be used to help children who struggle with this issue. Interested in reading more? Check out these posts:

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Pressure Grading (how-much-force-to-apply)

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Spacing

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility Line Orientation

As Always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

References:

Hurschler Lichtsteiner, S., Wicki, W., & Falmann, P. (2018). Impact of Handwriting Training on Fluency, Spelling and Text Quality Among Third Graders. Reading and Writing, 31 (6), 1295–1318.

Puranik, Cynthia & Al Otaiba, Stephanie & Folsom, Jessica & Greulich, Luana. (2014). Exploring the Amount and Type of Writing Instruction during Language Arts Instruction in Kindergarten Classrooms. Reading and Writing. 27. 10.1007/s11145-013-9441-8.

Schwellnus, H., et al. “Effect of Pencil Grasp on the Speed and Legibility of Handwriting in Children.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy, vol. 66, no. 6, 2012, pp. 718–726.

How to Improve Handwriting Legibility: Pressure Grading (how much force to apply)

As a school-based occupational therapist, I receive many referrals for handwriting difficulties. Handwriting is a very complex function that requires many underlying skills. In this post, I will discuss the skill of pressure grading or knowing how much force to apply when writing, coloring, or drawing.  This issue can make handwriting very difficult to read. I will also provide tips, strategies, and resources to help kids who struggle with acquiring this skill. For more information on the importance of handwriting legibility check out this post. Handwriting Legibility: Why Is It So Important?

Several factors can make a child’s writing difficult to read.  

  1. Poorly formed letters
  2. Letters that are squished together or spread too far apart
  3. Words that are squished together or spread too far apart
  4. Poorly organized writing that is all over the page instead of aligned along the margin and lines of ruled paper
  5. Very faint print that is difficult to see due to inadequate pressure
  6. Very dark print that appears messy due to too much pressure

Now let’s talk about children who struggle with pressure grading or knowing how much force to apply when writing, coloring, or drawing.  Some kids apply pressure that is too light, resulting in very faint, hard to see, handwriting or color when coloring.  Some kids apply too much pressure resulting in handwriting that is far too dark and hard to read because of its messy appearance.  These children often break the tips of their pencils when writing.  

Why do some children have trouble with pressure grading?

Difficulties with pressure grading can be due to several factors.  

  • Inefficient grasp
  • lack of fine motor strength and/or control
  • sensory processing issues
  • poor proprioception or body awareness
  • poor motor planning

How you can help:

Here are some suggestions for helping children whose pressure is too light:

  1. Write with markers, gel pens, or felt tip pens instead of pencils as they print darker automatically.
  2. Roll out play dough or clay to create a nice smooth surface.  Draw or write in the play dough using a toothpick, craft stick, or dull pencil.
  3. Write on two-ply carbon paper.  The child must apply adequate force to make their writing appear on the second sheet.
  4. Increase sensory feedback by writing on a textured surface.  Sandpaper works great for this. 
  5. Use a weighted pencil. 
  6. Instead of coloring a design, poke holes along its borders using a pencil, push pin, or golf tee.  Place a piece of cardboard under the design. 

For children who apply too much pressure, offer cause and effect opportunities that will allow them to see what happens when they push too hard.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Write with a mechanical pencil, the lead will break when too much pressure is applied.
  2. Place a mouse pad, corkboard,  or another soft surface under the paper they are writing on.  If they poke holes in the paper they are pushing too hard.
  3. Have the child write on a slant board or 3” binder to act as a slant board.  This will promote wrist extension which may improve pressure grading.

These activities will address both problems, too little or too much pressure:

  • Do heavy work warm-up activities before handwriting to get the little muscles in the hands ready and to facilitate focus.   This means any resistance-based activity like pushing or pulling, or weight-bearing through the hands.  Read this post to learn more: What Are Heavy Work Activities and Who Should Do Them?
  • Build fine motor skills by doing the activities described in this freebie: Activities to Promote Fine Motor Development
  • Have the child work on a vertical surface to build strength, and improve positioning amongst many other things.  Read this post to learn more: Benefits of Working on a Vertical Surface 
  • Challenge the child by having him/her write on tissue paper without ripping it.
  • Play games! Here are my recommendations for building body awareness, pressure grading, and fine motor control: Don’t Break The Ice, Jenga, Honey Bee Tree, Operation, and Kerplunk
  • Use this freebie: “Finding the Just Right Pressure”.  These worksheets teach children how to apply the right amount of pressure by example.  Use crayons or colored pencils to demonstrate the differences in the shade when pushing too hard or not hard enough.  This provides a visual that kids can draw from.  They must mimic or try to match your shade.
Finding the Just Right Pressure Worksheet
Finding the “just right” pressure

Do you know of any other tips that may help children with this issue? Please share in the comments section below.

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

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