The Frugal OT Series…Reading Highlighters

Dollar Tree Find of the Month

Introducing my February Find of the Month: Reading Highlighters or as I like to call them…visual scanning aides.

For just one dollar you get 10 of this wonderful tool that helps with so many things.  These strips come in two different color transparencies, yellow and blue, and lots of cute borders options that the child can choose from. 

The Frugal OT Dollar Tree Pick of the Month:  Reading Highlighters
Reading Highlighters from Dollar Tree

Let me count the ways these reading strips can benefit a child…

  1. Helps children who have difficulty with visual tracking (eye movement that enables the eyes to aim their focus on the line without losing place). 
  2. Helps to prevent skipping words, sentences, and lines altogether.
  3. Helps to increase focus/concentration by providing more visual input; this is good for children who have difficulty attending to visual information on a page or are overwhelmed by too much visual information presented on a page.
  4. Provides tactile input for children who need to have something in their hand or need to touch something.
  5. Increases the level of engagement in the reading task as the child must move the reading strip along the lines of text as they read.
  6. Serves as a bookmark which is a great reminder for kiddos to use their reading strip consistently.

How to Use Reading Highlighters:

Using these strips is very simple. Simply place the transparent portion of the strip over the line of text that is being read; much like using your finger to keep place along a line of text. Move the reading highlighter over each line of text as it is being read.

So if you know a child who has needs fitting any or all of the descriptions above, try these visual tracking aides! Leave a comment if this tool has helped your little one, or share successful tips you like to use.

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.

9 Strategies to Increase Attention and On-Task Behavior

Above all, the most important thing needed for a child to progress with anything is focus.  When presenting a child with a task, particularly a novel task, you must establish  meaningful engagement with the child in other words where the child can focus on the task. What exactly does focus mean?  The ability to sustain selective attention or concentration on the task at hand while ignoring or filtering out the non-relevant or distracting information in one’s environment.  This is the level of attention that yields steady results on a task over time.  For some children, this can be a great challenge.

ADHD, autism, executive function disorder, and learning disabilities are only some of the conditions that may cause children to have trouble focusing on a non-preferred activity.  When working with children that have difficulty focusing, you need to start where they are and build from there.  Do not try to push a child beyond their threshold as you more than likely will not get the results you are seeking.  Instead, gradually work their way up to lengthier engagement periods and greater attention spans.

Here are some guidelines, attention span in typically developing children is about 3 to 5 minutes per year of age.  If a child is four years old, you can expect that they will attend to an educational task like letter recognition for about 12 to 20 minutes.  Attention span is typically greater for a preferred activity like playing a video game, watching a video on an iPad, or wherever the child’s interest lies.  Attention span may be less for an activity that is extremely difficult or frustrating for the child.  This is when it is important to provide a customized level of challenge and other supports that will spark greater focus.  

How to build attention span:

Determine the child's baseline
Determine Their Baseline
  1.  Figure out what their baseline is and build from there:  Assign a task, use a timer and determine exactly how long the child can remain on task.  Do this a few times and take an average.  For example, if the child can work on learning to write letters for only 2 minutes, then set their challenge for 4 minutes and offer support (described below) to get him or her there.  Once they’ve reached 4 minutes, try for 6 minutes.  Continue to build on what they can already do.  Whenever possible, it is helpful to let the child know how much time is remaining, for example saying “one more minute and then all done”.
Cater to their learning style
Get To Know Your Learner
  1. Get to Know Your Learner:  Some kids are visual learners, some are auditory, some are hands-on learners.  Provide the type of input the child needs.  For example, let’s say the child is working on learning how to form letters.  For a hands-on learner, provide lots of tactile input.  Use a cookie sheet to make letters in whipped cream or pudding.   For the visual learner, add food coloring to the whipped cream to create a more intense visual experience.  For the auditory learner, sing verbal prompts to the tune of a popular kid’s song.  For the multi-sensory learner, do all of the above.  
Provide movement opportunities
Provide Movement Opportunities
  1. Provide Movement Opportunities:   Research has shown that when students engage in physical activity and movement breaks throughout the school day improvements are seen in learning, behavior, and socially.   But don’t stop there, offer movement opportunities during the task as well.   Place a wiggle cushion on the child’s chair (can use a deflated beach ball) or have them sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair.  Some children respond well to hand fidgets; having something to manipulate in their hand can help with focus.   Some children may prefer to stand rather than sit. Why not, positioning is not your goal, on-task behavior is!
Provide environmental supports
Provide Environmental Supports
  1. Provide Environmental Supports:  Limit visual and auditory distractions.  Work in a space that is free of clutter.  It is important to consider wall space as well.  Many pictures/posters and other things on the wall can be visually overstimulating.  Work in an organized space that promotes calm and ultimately concentration.  Some children need quiet, and noise-canceling headphones can help.  Other children respond well to calming music, popular right now are mindfulness playlists that are available on YouTube.
Break down big tasks into smaller tasks
Break down big tasks into smaller tasks
  1. Break down big tasks into smaller tasks:  Oftentimes children do not need to do every problem to demonstrate an understanding of the material.  For example: if doing a math worksheet with 20 questions, have the child do only the odd or even- numbered equations. Strive for quality rather than quantity.
Create a checklist
Create a Checklist
  1. Create a Checklist:  Support executive functioning skills by creating a checklist.  This will help the child understand how to approach a task.  Indicate what needs to be done first, next, and so on.  Break down each step of the task and create a list for each step, much like writing a recipe.  Have the child check the boxes as they work.  Not only will this help with planning and organization, but it also offers a sense of accomplishment that will serve as positive reinforcement.  
Use a timer
Use a Timer
  1. Use a timer:  Timers facilitate time management skills.  They will help the child to understand your expectations for work span.  Some children do not respond to traditional timers because the auditory chime can cause anxiety.  Visual timers are a great option as they provide a visual prompt of the time remaining. Instead of a chime, as time elapses the visual marker gradually disappears.  
Offer Rewards
Offer Rewards
  1. Offer Rewards:  I believe we all work better when our efforts are recognized and rewarded.  Figure out what motivates the child and offer whatever that is as a reward.  For example, some kids like edibles, others may enjoy screen time. Reward charts are helpful as the child can see what they are working for and how close they are to getting it.  
Provide Breaks
Provide Breaks
  1. Provide Breaks:  This strategy may be the most important!  Once the child has reached their maximum level of meaningful engagement in the task, take a break!  If this means offering a break after only a few minutes on task, do it.  You may feel like the child is not as productive as you’d like them to be, but in the end, you will find just the opposite.  Breaks allow the child to hit the reset button, returning to work demands with renewed focus and energy.  By following the suggestions above, you will gradually increase their attention span.  As attention span develops, the frequency of breaks will decrease.  Stick with it and all the hard work will pay off.   
9 Strategies to Increase Attending Skills
9 Strategies to Increase Attending Skills
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 Laundry Line

Introducing…”The Frugal OT” Series featuring my Dollar Tree Find of the Month

I love to have fun with the kids that I work with by introducing new activities that they will enjoy.  But I don’t like to break the bank in doing so.  I love to save money whenever I can.  Who doesn’t?  One of my favorite places to shop for therapy supplies is Dollar Tree.  With a little imagination, this store provides an endless supply of materials that can be used in your therapy room, classroom, or home.  Welcome to the Frugal OT Series where I will showcase Dollar Tree finds and show you how to transform them into wonderful fine motor activities targeting various skills. 

January’s Activity of the Month:  Little Laundry Line

The Frugal OT Series Dollar Tree Pick of the Month:  Little Laundry Line

Dollar Tree Shopping List:

  • mini clothespins
  • felt
  • yarn

Additional materials needed:  scissors, markers, glue, cardboard box

Optional:

Background paper of choice (I printed an image of the sky and taped it to the box as a backdrop.)

Draw images of clothing freehand or use paper doll clothing templates (I googled paper doll clothing templates and printed them. I then traced the images onto the fabric and cut them out.)

Watch video: Pretend Play “Little Laundry Line”

Little Laundry Line

Music Credit: Sunshine Day by Mixaund | https://mixaund.bandcamp.com

Skills Addressed:  Shoulder strength, fine mtor strength, grasping skills, bilateral coordination, motor planning

Grade Up (increase level of difficulty): 

Translation: Have child place several clothespins in their hand to work on palm to finger translation

Visual Sequential Memory: Have the child try to remember the sequence of clothing placed on the line and duplicate it on the other side

Core Strength: work core muscles by having the child complete this activity while lying on tummy

Grade Down (decrease level of difficulty):  Take clothes off instead of on, place on lap versus tabletop

This activity would be great as a choice in your fine motor center, pretend play center, or as a stand-alone. This would also be very cute as an accessory to a dollhouse or play with dolls in general. You can substitute doll clothes in place of the felt clothing. I hope you and your little ones will enjoy this activity! Stay tuned for next month’s Dollar Tree pick!

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.

A Quick and Easy Way to Improve Pencil Grasp

Please don’t trash  those little broken crayons!  

Many people are led to believe that preschoolers should use those big fat jumbo crayons that you see advertised.   Quite the contrary.  Short crayons, that are the standard width are your go-to.  Why? These little gems, which are often discarded, offer so many benefits.  Let me explain how.

A tripod or quadrupod grasp is expected by age 3-4.

When using such a short crayon it’s pretty hard to fit all 5 fingers around it.   So for those kiddos who have not transitioned from using a fisted or immature grasp to a more skilled tripod or quadrupod grasp, this is one of the best and easiest ways to correct it.  

Standard crayons are much easier to grasp than those big jumbo crayons.  When you think about it, little hands need little writing utensils because they offer better handle and control.

So keep a crayon box full of broken crayons and use them often!

   

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.

Pencil Grasp Development: What to Expect

As a child grows and develops, how he or she holds a writing utensil also develops. Written output starts with scribbling and eventually becomes precise letters, numbers, and illustrations. Here is what you can expect to see as a child’s grasp evolves.

Fisted Grasp 1-1.5 years old

Fisted Grasp:

1 -1.5 years Old

When a child begins to hold a writing utensil to make scribbles this is the typical grasp pattern that is used. The utensil is held with a closed fist; movement originates in the arm and the whole hand moves the utensil.

Pencil Grasp Development
Digital Pronate Ages 2 - 3
Static Tripod Ages 3.5 - 4
Static Quadrupod Ages 3.5 - 4
Static Pencil Grasp Patterns

Digital pronate 

Ages 2-3

Fingers are pointed toward paper. 

Static tripod 

Ages 3.5-4

Fingers don’t move; the pencil is mostly controlled by arm movement. Three fingers are used to hold the writing tool. The pads of the thumb and index fingers pinch while the utensil rests on the side of the middle finger. 

Static quadrupod 

Ages 3.5-4

Fingers don’t move; the pencil is mostly controlled by arm movement. This grip differs from the static tripod in that four fingers are used to hold the writing tool. The pads of the thumb, index and middle fingers pinch while the utensil rests on the side of the ring finger. 

Pencil Grasp Development
Dynamic Tripod:  Ages 4.5 - 6
Dynamic Quadrupod Ages 4.5 - 6
Lateral Tripod Ages 4.5 -6
Lateral Quadrupod Ages 4.5 - 6
Dynamic Pencil Grasp Patterns

There are four grasp patterns that research has found to be mature and appropriate for functional writing. The difference between these grasps and the static grasps described above is that the fingers are moving and controlling the output of the writing tool.

Dynamic tripod 

Ages 4.5-6

The dynamic tripod is the most commonly recommended grasp for handwriting although the three others shown are also suitable. Three fingers are used to hold the writing tool. The pads of the thumb and index fingers pinch while the tool rests on the side of the middle finger. Movement is generated by the thumb, index, and middle fingers. 

Dynamic quadrupod 

Ages 4.5-6

Four fingers are used to hold the writing tool. The pads of the thumb, index and middle fingers pinch while the tool rests on the side of the ring finger. Movement is generated by the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. 

Lateral tripod 

Ages 4.5-6

Three fingers are used to hold the writing tool. The thumb is held against the side of the index finger and crosses over the top of the writing utensil. Movement is generated by the index and middle fingers. There are four grasp patterns that research has found to be mature and appropriate for functional writing. The difference between these grasps and static grasps is that the fingers are moving and controlling the output of the writing tool. 

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.

Benefits of Working on a Vertical Surface

There are many reasons to use a vertical surface like an easel or whiteboard when working with children. Children attain so much more by simply changing tabletop activities to vertical surface activities. Here are the many benefits the child will gain:

  • Develops strength and stability in the joints and muscles of the arm
  • Encourages correct wrist position, which facilitates hand stabilization and correct pencil grasp
  • Builds eye-hand coordination
  • Builds core strength by engaging the muscles that connect our upper and lower body, which supports a good upright posture
  • Provides sensory input by allowing for movement and the ability to change position while standing or kneeling to work
  • Develops spatial awareness as directional terms like up, down, and across are easier to understand when they are in relation to our own body
  • Encourages visual attention because the child is working at eye level, which can be very helpful for children who struggle with looking at what they are doing
Benefits of Working On A Vertical Surface

What You Can Do:

  • Draw, color, paint on an easel versus tabletop whenever possible
  • Tape coloring sheets/worksheets to wall/window
  • Pushpin art: place a coloring sheet on a cardboard surface taped to the wall and trace the outline of the image using a push pin with adult supervision
  • Be creative with finger painting on an easel or whiteboard by using shaving cream and food coloring
  • Draw on a window or mirror using dry erase markers
  • Bath art using tub crayons
  • Place stickers on paper adhered to wall and play connect-the-stickers
  • Use the Fun Strokes Pre-Writing Program
Fun Strokes is an innovative pre-writing program that is taught on a vertical surface.
Fun Strokes is an innovative pre-writing program that is taught on a vertical surface.

Get Your Free Infographic Here:

So whenever the opportunity presents itself, build your child’s fine motor skills by working on a vertical surface!

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.

What Are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine Motor Skills Unveiled 

You won’t believe all that goes into fine motor skill development.  Unless you are a pediatric occupational therapist like me or work in the medical or educational field, you’ve probably never even thought about it.  But when you have precious little ones in your life, it’s a pretty good idea to know what to expect as they grow and navigate their world.  Find comfort in knowing if they are on track or maybe need a little help getting there. 

While reading this blog I hope that you learn all about fine motor development and how to help your child meet these essential milestones in a fun and engaging way.  Let’s take a minute to talk about fine motor skills and what this actually means.  Most people think of all the little muscles in our hands and fingers, and developing those muscles to be able to perform tasks like fastening buttons, stringing beads, cutting with scissors, and handwriting. What most people do not realize is all that is necessary for fine motor skills to develop.  In this post, I will provide a brief description of each skill component. Gee, where do I start as so many things go into this most important and complex skill!   

Let’s begin at the root of everything, our core.  You know, all the muscles in the middle of our bodies, our tummy and back.  This is our foundation, where all movement originates.  If our core is not strong and steady, it is nearly impossible to do anything coordinated and skilled with our legs, feet, arms, and hands.  Just imagine building a house without a solid foundation.  Your structure will not be very sound. Our core is also the tripod for our eyes. The platform on which we take the photo of our environment. A steady base takes a clear shot! Skill acquisition starts here! 

Now I’ve only scratched the surface, there is still so much more to talk about.  From here I’ll move on to shoulder stability. The shoulder girdle is the anatomical structure that houses the arm.  The muscles supporting this joint must be strong and brawny to enable the arms and hands to carry out precise movements. And since I’m on the subject of arms, let’s talk about how they must work together. Or, in other words, the importance of bilateral coordination.  Many tasks require the operations of two hands working in a concerted manner.  Cutting food, opening containers, tying shoes, stabilizing paper while writing, …just to name a few!  

Okay, next I’ll talk about eye-hand coordination.  This is another important team of body parts that need to work together.  The body must coordinate controlled hand movement with controlled eye movement.  The brain must process the visual information that it receives to guide the movement of the arm and hand to execute a function.  And of course, the eyes need to be able to make sense of what it sees, also known as visual perception.  This is the ability of the eyes to send visual information to the brain. The brain then processes and interprets the visual information.  Okay, at this point you might be thinking….  are we there yet?

Nope, stay with me! Believe it or not, there’s still more to talk about.  Fine motor skill development requires visual-motor integration skills as well.  This is the ability to perceive and process visual information to deliver a motor response. Being able to copy shapes and form letters requires visual-motor integration.

Then we have proprioception and sensory processing skills.  Now that’s a mouthful.  What is that? You may be wondering.  Proprioception is the ability of our body to know how it is moving and where it is in space. For example, being able to close your eyes and touch your nose with the tip of your index finger. Sensory processing skills are the ability of our body to receive and interpret sensory information and deliver an appropriate response to the sensory information.    

Stay with me, we are almost there! 

Hand strength is also very important.  Strength in the hands allows us to apply adequate force to push or pull objects, to grip and hold objects, and to carry things. Adequate hand strength is necessary for pencil grip and many other fine motor tasks.

Finally, I will get to the last skill component, motor planning.  This is often referred to as praxis. Motor planning is the ability to know what steps to take, in what order, and then carry out the novel motor action needed to execute the plan.

Wow, can you believe how much goes into fine motor skill development? Applaud the little people in your life as they tackle this very complex skill. If a child is struggling with fine motor skill development, it may be due to one or more of the many things discussed in this blog.  Seek the advice of a pediatric occupational therapist if you have concerns.  

Would you like to have this info at a glance? This infographic does just that:

Fine Motor Skills Unveiled
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.

Book Launch…Fun Strokes!

It is with great enthusiasm that I introduce the world to my new book, Fun Strokes. My name is Linda Craig Dennis and I am a pediatric occupational therapist. One of the most frequent referrals we receive as occupational therapists working with children is handwriting referrals. Kids who, for many different reasons, have difficulty learning the complex skill of handwriting. When working with these kiddos I learned that many are unable to draw simple shapes. If children are unable to draw simple shapes, then you can forget about teaching them how to write letters. Simple fix right? Just teach them how to do it. But there was a problem. You see, it turned out that most of the kids I’ve worked with had no interest in drawing basic shapes. Sure, they’d engage in multi-sensory experiences like playing and drawing shapes in shaving cream, finger paints and, play dough. But as soon as I handed the child a writing utensil, the interest in the activity was lost. It seemed as though everything I tried did little or nothing to spark interest. We all know that for most kids if there is no interest there is no attention to the task. If children aren’t motivated to pay attention, very little progress is to be made.

One day, I had a clever idea. Why not use magnets, colorful and fun magnets that can be used on vertical surfaces. This way the child is working at eye level and visual attention is captured. Not to mention the abundance of other skills working on a vertical surface provides. I went to work creating these magnets, hoping that my clients would be intrigued by the hands-on, interactive, and vibrant shapes placed in front of them. When I implemented the magnets into my practice, I knew instantly that they were a hit. Even my toughest kiddos who had very short attention spans, would stand at the easel, place the magnets on the easel and use their marker to draw the missing pre-writing strokes. They loved wiping the surface clean and doing it again and again.

This has inspired me to make the Fun Strokes program available for all preschool kiddos and any child who struggles with learning how to write. All kids benefit from being prepared for school. There are so many challenges to school success, let’s not let handwriting be one of them. What good is a house without a strong foundation? Before little ones enter kindergarten, give them the strong foundation they need for handwriting success, the Fun Strokes prewriting program!

%d bloggers like this: