Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Finger Frolic

One of our OTs, Heather Galligan, created this great handout for fun stuff to do over the holiday break--check out the Snowman Food idea at the very end of the post. Feel free to pass along the ideas to your students' families, or use them for finger frolic with your own PCs (personal children).

Holiday Activities for Fine Motor Skills

Here are some suggestions for things to do over the holiday break that can help to build fine motor skills and using 2 hands together…….

-Cut out pictures from old Christmas cards – You can draw a circle around the picture to help. They do not need to be exact, just the practice of cutting is good. Use child sized scissors and supervise your child while they practice cutting. With the cut out, they can paste it onto paper to make a new card. Or, instead of gluing, use a hole punch to punch holes around the cut out shape and have them lace around with ribbon for hanging. You can leave the ribbon long at the ends and use it as a book mark.

- Mixing Salt Dough with hands or making cookie dough and using rolling pin and cookie cutters. If you bake salt dough that you have cut from cookie cutters, or that they have shaped, use a straw to punch a hole in the top before baking them. After baking, if you have a set of water color box paints (the simple ones, Crayola or so), use them to paint the ornaments. The colors come out nicely. Decorate further with glitter glue and thread pipe cleaner or ribbon through the hole for a hanger.

Making Salt Dough – This can feel dry on the hands and some kids may not like that but some may be fine with it.


-2 cups of flour
-1 cup salt
-1cup water

They can mix it with their hands until it forms a dough. You add a little water at a time. Knead the dough for 7-10 minutes. Additional water may be needed but not too much or it becomes too sticky. If preparing ahead of time, you can add color to the dough. Store in plastic bags. This dough can be baked or air dried to later be painted. Cookie cutters, rolling pins, a straw to punch a hole and some paint and glitter glue can make some lovely holiday ornaments. Just string ribbon through the hole.

To Harden: Air dry for 48 hours on a screen so air can pass underneath as well.
***Or Bake: 325-350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes for each ¼ inch thickness. Parchment paper works nicely to line cookie sheets.

-Make paper snow flakes: Fold the paper in ½ or 4 ways and draw little guides for them to snip. Triangles are easy, just two lines like a teepee. Decorate the snowflakes with glitter and glue.

-Make a large Holiday Tree - Make a large triangle (about 8 inches for lines). We use our pizza boxes or cardboard boxes from the store to make the tracer. The paper can be the back of wrapping paper or tape smaller pieces together to make a large piece. Help them trace 3 triangles, one on top of the other to make a holiday tree. Tape this to a suitable washable vertical surface, such as the refrigerator, to have them color or paint with washable markers. Also fun is to have them use small pieces of sponge that they have to hold with their thumb and index and middle fingers to sponge paint the tree. Once this is dry, they can put stickers or any other decoration on the tree with tape. Endless ideas.

**Remember, any drawing or coloring on the vertical surface such as with the refrigerator or easel, will help improve wrist and shoulder strength which helps with pre-writing and writing skills.
- Snowman Food – Have them tear any white piece of scrap paper you have in to about 2 X 2 pieces. No need to be exact. Show them how to crumple it up using their finger tips. This is very challenging for some children. Just keep it fun. Keep making them until you can fill up a paper lunch bag or other handy container. To top it off, you can have them sprinkle some glitter or cinnamon in the bag using their finger tips when it is full of little paper balls. Decorate the bag and set it out for Santa to pick up during his travels or just use it when there is a snowman outside! The kids can decorate the paper bag however they wish before it is filled. *** If you happen to have a berry picker or some tongs, the child can practice picking up the paper balls with these to place into the bag! Other wise, hold them in the air, one at a time, for the child to grasp and place into the bag.
Have a wonderful holiday break !

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sometimes words are not enough

Lately, I've been adding photos to my observation and evaluation reports, to better provide the families and school staff with a clear explanation of a student's current skills and progress over time. You sure don't want to have to explain hyperextension of the DIP or what thumb wrap entails in 25 words or less.

Having the photos on hand also helps when it comes time to create handouts for parents and school personnel. Remember to edit out faces and names to ensure the privacy of your students.

Here are some recent photos taken in a class for 3-5 year olds--I'll leave the nomenclature to you...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sparkly fun

Who knew the student artwork would turn out so beautiful? These quilled ornaments were created by middle school students in a classroom for students with moderate intellectual disabilities. Some of them rolled the paper strips easily and some needed a little assistance. The finished product is gorgeous and proudly displayed near the school office.
Here's another idea for a fine motor activity for elementary students--use up that wild holiday paper or magazine cover by having the students dot-dot-dot individual letters, then use a handheld hole punch to forge a see-through trail outlining their letter.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Crack the Code

Here's my buddy, Lauren, again with another of her amazing ideas for helping kids in school:

Attached are pics of a fun handwriting activity I did with one of my 1st grade students. I gave the teacher several copies of the activity & she is going to put it at one of her “handwriting centers” for all the kids in the class to use.

My ever so creative name for the activity is “Crack the Code”. Here’s how it works:
I put an alphabet code at the top of the page.
Each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding number ~ for example, letter A is 5, letter B is 14, etc.
Below the code I came up with some Christmas theme words (you could use whatever theme you want).
For each letter of the word I put a line on the handwriting paper.
Under each line I put the number “code” for the letter that I want the student to write on the line (ie. for “a” I would write a 5 under the line because that is the # code for letter “a”).
The student must then “crack the code” by filling in each letter based on the # written below the line.

For students working on correct letter size within writing lines, I use handwriting paper corresponding to the student’s grade or developmental level.

For students who are just working on letter formation & who are not yet focusing on handwriting lines, I use rectangle boxes as place markers for where to put each letter & base the size of the rectangle on the students motor skill level.

I sometimes place the activity in page protectors, for novelty & so that it can be re-used. Other times I will use paper/pencil.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Not the mall parking spots

A smart third-grader has visual needs which require many accommodations at school. His equally-smart OT created this sturdy pull-out drawer for him to more easily locate the many books, composition books, workbooks, subject folders and other papers necessary for daily life in the classroom. In one photo you'll see the "parking spots" with attached pouches containing crayons and other needed manipulatives. I noticed that using black Velcro instead of the usual vanilla variety made the empty parking spots less noticeable since they blended into the color of the desk. For some students it would have been a good visual cue to use a contrasting color of Velcro, but this student can find the pouches easily and sure doesn't want to draw any further attention to himself.

Rather than suggesting specialized software to enlarge the font on the computer, we're suggesting he uses a Large bold font in Microsoft Word for now. This way, he'll be familiar with using the easily-accessible tools available on all school computers and also at home. Since the lengthy writing demands are not frequent in 3rd grade, we'll save the big gun software for a little later down the academic road.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Can I have Triwall with that?

Our Sunday newspaper included an article entitled, "Be More Productive," by Alexandra Levit of the WSJ. She had some interesting quotes from Kevin Purdy, an editor at, so I checked it out. The website is an OT's dream come true!
Just for fun, peruse the site for all the low and high tech ideas--some pretty quirky--about work, home and life in general. One set of ideas, which should be near and dear to our OT hearts, can be found via this link:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Typing Resources--FREE!!!

My good OT buddy, Lauren Swedenborg, compiled this list of resources for keyboarding. Please send me any additional resources you use, or your comments on the ones listed here.

For Learning Touch Typing

Free On-Line Programs

Dance Mat



Typing Lessons with Peter

Free Typing Tutorial

This site also has a number of different typing games to help practice letters learned

Commercially Available

For a comprehensive review of each of these programs, as well as information on additional programs, please go to .

Type to Learn
There are many versions of this program. The most current version is Type To Learn 4, which retails for $79.95, but you can download a 30 day free trial.
Purchasing/Free Download Source:

Type to Learn 3 is more cost friendly, retailing for around $29.99 ($32.99 for Vista compatability).
Purchasing Source:

Typing Instructor for Kids 5.0
Purchasing Source:

Typing Quick & Easy
Purchasing Source:

Ainsworth Keyboard Trainer
Purchasing Source:
Free trial download available

Purchasing Source:
Free trial download available

Typing Pal Junior
Purchasing Source:
Free demo trial available

SpongeBob SquarePants Typing
Purchasing Source:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

He's Got MY Word!

Oh, those word sorts! That's the new way to practice spelling in the county schools I serve. Once the students cut those tiny little rectangles apart they then have to arrange them in word "families" and use them all week long for different activities.

As the week progresses there are lots of little rectangles all over the classroom, tucked into desks, loose in bookbags, strewn on the floor. "He's got my word!" "No, it's my word." How to solve this social dilemma?

Have the students quickly draw straight lines on the back of their paper before they cut apart their words; that's the answer of many of the smart kindergarten teachers I now work with in various schools. Most students have the amazing ability to recall the exact crayon shade they used for coloring their papers. One teacher even thought of using the mini sentence holders (see blue plastic contraption in photo) she bought at "Targhet" to hold those slippery word sorts. Works great for a little sweetie who has difficulty using one hand to stabilize small objects.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Handwriting to Make You Cry

For a good reason! This is gorgeous handwriting, done by a 2nd grader whose mom is a teacher for students with learning disabilities and who LOVES the Handwriting Without Tears program. Be ready to be amazed.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Use Music to Increase Alertness

Last Friday I spent a time working with a student in a classroom that is new to me this year. While we worked together I got to hear the kindergarten teacher and several students sing the alphabet song to a modern tune, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" As the teacher pointed to individual letters on a large alphabet poster, she and the students sang about the object in each alphabet square: "Apple makes the A sound, a, a, a, a...Ball makes the B sound, bah, bah, bah, bah..." All weekend I've been playing back that song in my head and loving it.

Did you know that Raffi has a youTube video about brushing your teeth? He's performing live and surprises the children by putting on a pair of dark shades and attempting to perform his classic "Brush Your Teeth" song like a rapper. The high schoolers I work with in a class for students with severe disabilities loved the song and we used it to increase their engagement in a integrated therapy activity on dental hygiene last month.

Try looking up modern music for the activities you're working on with students this month--it sure makes the seasonal activities more fun and can increase alertness by the students to the task at hand.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Rubber Ducky

Nestled up in a corner of the building where I work, I share a windowless office with a wild PT and an inventive teacher for kids in early childhood special education. The ECSE teacher works with students in their homes and in settings described as "natural environments." In her case, the NE settings are a kiddie gym and a daycare center connected to a hospital.

A week ago Friday she was trying hard not to giggle as she worked at her desk, but she finally let it all out and told me her secret. She had stopped by one of the local 99 cent stores and bought their whole stock of duck bills, or duck noses, which made loud duck calls when blown into. With glee she told me how her parents were going to hate her next week when she passed out the duck bills and showed the kids in the NE playgroup how to use them. Every time we ran into one another this week we exchanged a "Friday's coming" look and I teased her about how her time on earth was running out.

Well, today was the appointed day and I asked her late in the afternoon how it went. She described how she showed the students how to blow into the duck bills and how some had been successful after a few tries, and how some had a little practicing to do, when they got home!

Then she shared a remark from one of her parents and almost got tears in her eyes when she relayed a comment that made her week, maybe even her semester. One mom had collected up her child and gathered up all her bags to pack in the car and go home, but then paused and said, "I think we'll go by the lake and feed the ducks."

My teacher friend said, "This mom really got it."

We're all hoping that our work is occasionally appreciated by others and that we have made a positive impact on a child's life. Sometimes we're surprised by the joy of having someone else recognize our efforts. I'm glad my teacher friend felt that today.

I'll leave you with a blast from my college days, when my best friend, Cathy, and I used to sing this happy song on the way to/from our summer job. You can sing along, too, and here's a hint for the musically inclined--a plastic straw in a fast food soft drink cup works just great:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Everything is Gorgeous in Richmond

Hope everyone enjoyed their Easter vacation, or plan to enjoy the next week off from school. This is the first time I remember having a week free before Easter and it was very weird--don't I get next week off, too???
To burn off some calories after our big meal today our family enjoyed a walk through a beautiful Richmond neighborhood--Westover Hills. Hope these photos reveal even a little bit of how gorgeous the azaleas and dogwood trees are in the spring. I included a photo of a new bridge tunnel we discovered--even though I've been living here over 30 years! Who knows what new things all of us will discover as this school year draws to a close?
And the grapes? Well, if your students need practice drawing small circles or other shapes, grab a box of scented crayons and have them draw the fruit their noses detect. They can "cheat" and read the name of the fruit scent on the wrapper of the crayon. If your students aren't comfortable writing the letters on their own, they can dictate the letters to you and make sure you form the correctly. Have you tried writing with your non-dominant hand as you work with students? This evens the playing field and makes your letters look less "perfect," which is less intimidating to young writers.
For this photo, I drew the curvy line for the stem of the grapes and we took turns drawing the circles. Since both of us are right-handed we made sure to draw the circles counter-clockwise. Lefties get to draw them clockwise.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Happy Lips

Yes, it really did snow a lot in central Virginia last week. We were out of school for 3 1/2 days--YEAH!!! Thought you'd enjoy seeing the snow and my personal "snowman" who kept us warm by faithfully stoking the woodstove several times a day.

Here are some photos of a fun activity we did recently with a group of 3-5 year olds in a class for preschool kids with varying abilities. The adults pre-cut happy lips and provided 2" x 8" strips of sturdy white paper with each student's name written in all caps, each letter separated by vertical lines. The students snipped apart the letters of their names, along with some extra snips for teeth. We provided extra strips of paper for making lottsa teeth.

Once the snipping was done the students glued the paper teeth to the back of the happy lips, turned over the lips and glued them to a black background paper. After this they arranged the letters to spell their names and glued the letters to the same background paper.

This activity was part of community helpers week and the session included reading a book about sleeping fireman, policeman, postman... and then having the students take turns sitting in a "dentist's" chair for an exam. Some of them were a little freaked out at the idea of laying back in the chair and having their friendly OT lady turn into a scary, white-coated medical professional. However, they all ended up asking for a turn when they saw that their braver classmates made it through the ordeal without suffering.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It's Still Christmas at My House

I've been feeling guilty about posting so little lately, but I should be back and writing in March. Have had my mom visiting since before Christmas and my life is all about work and coming home to appreciate her cooking, cleaning and yardwork at our house. She's 93 years old and going strong; can you repeat with me, "Well elderly"? Maybe you might like reading a little excerpt from her life which took place around Thanksgiving this year; to help explain one of the references--Ukrops is a family-owned grocery chain in our area and they are known for their excellent customer service.

'Til March I'll leave you with this:

Just before last Thanksgiving my Mom made one of her weekly trips to the nearby discount grocery store. We always tease that, even though we’re tough northerners, we need to strap on our ankle guards and elbow pads before we grab a cart because we’ve encountered several aggressive shoppers as we bump our way down the crowded aisles.

As she waited in her own long line to check out she struck up a conversation with a lady in the next line of checker-outers. Mom noticed the huge turkey in her new acquaintance’s cart, so the talk turned to Thanksgiving and meal planning and who knows what else. A keen observer of life, Mom noticed that the woman moved a little slowly as she advanced her cart in line, but she was shocked later to see how much difficulty she had placing her groceries on the conveyor belt.

Now, we don’t have Ukrops in Chicago and Mom wondered how in heck the lady was going to push her cart across the patchy sidewalk outside the store and then across the pot-holed parking lot to her car. So, Mom asked if she needed help and the lady smiled and said that someone from the store was going to help her. Knowing how unlikely that could be, Mom offered her services.

Envision this—my Mom pushing her own wobble-wheeled cart with her right hand, twisting slightly to pull the lady’s cart with her left hand—propelling her new friend forward as well--and heading out the door and down the sidewalk and slight ramp to the busy parking lot. After waiting a few minutes for the rude drivers to collect their senses enough to stop, Mom got fed up and let go of her cart in order to raise her hand in the air at an oncoming driver, then stepped into the street with a “Don’t you dare cross me” look on her face. Once satisfied that the drivers had really stopped, the little caravan of ladies and shopping carts proceeded across the road.

Once they reached the lady’s car Mom asked, “Where do you want the groceries,” then put them in place. I can only imagine what the lady was thinking as she drove home.
Mom says she doesn’t think about whether or not to help someone who looks like they need it; she just steps in and does it. I think I already know what to give her for her 94th birthday next August; something she really needs—the neon yellow uniform of a school crossing guard.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Oh my goodness--where did those two weeks go????? Don't know about you, but I spent most of my Christmas break avoiding my mom's cooking!!! Here is a sample of her pecan tarts--I call them "Happy Tarts" because they're glowing (with golden butter!!!)
Back to reality. Note the fidget/chewey belt that has been working for a young student with tuberous sclerosis who likes to swing and fling his typical chewies. Now he can spin his soppy chewies closer to his center of gravity and spray everyone at a lower level. When he drops them, they just hang around his waist on the belt until he feels them bumping against his leg. It's a win-win. Well, he can wiggle the belt up to his shoulders or push it down to his knees, but the adults can often distract him with other fun activities before the belt completely leaves his body. Try it and let me know what chewies work for your students.