Monday, December 20, 2010

Using our OT Skills at home during vacation

Not writing much in the therapy blog until after New Year's, but if you're working around the house and catching up on stuff left undone during the busy times at school, check out my organizing blog:


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jazz up those paper Christmas trees

Well, there is a 100% probability of snow for central VA tomorrow, so this may be the last post until January 2011! 
This is for those poor, long-suffering OTRs and COTAs who work in non-snowed-in areas and need some fine motor activities until their holiday break begins.  (We Virginians will be home, drinking hot cocoa and thinking warm thoughts about all you hard-working folks.)Create the punched hole garlands by cutting thin strips of construction paper (about 3/4-1" wide) and then punch holes along the length of the strips.  Following this, trim away as much of the border as possible so you're left with a narrow strip of hole-ridden paper. 
Be ready to offer lots of encouragement to students who are unaccustomed to using a hole punch--it can be quite fatiguing and frustrating.  You might take turns to keep the motivation rolling along.

Christmas in the High School Sensory Room

Update on sensory room equipment in the high school class for students with severe disabilities--sure we study the other "winter" holidays but you can't beat the Americanized decorations for Christmas to capture the attention of students who love colorful, twinkling lights and familiar music that many of them hear in the community or at home.

You might notice the the sensory "tent" is now open air---the fire marshall told the teachers to remove the fabric covering because it was in the spray path of the overhead fire sprinkler.  The area isn't as visually soothing as it had been, but it's still a sought-after space for students.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Little Scissors for Small Hands

This scissors is small, but this kindergarten student's hands are even smaller.  Plus, the student has difficulty with opening (say "Ah") and closing the scissors even with the help of the springy loop.  So, one or two little snips are made and then the scissors turns into a plow as the students forces the blades through the paper.  (Note to self--use thicker paper.)
To make matters trickier, the blades of the scissors are very sharp. Scissor practice is going to be conducted with an adult sitting right next to the student.
Finally, the student pronates the forearm when cutting, so we need to keep a finger or two on the wrist to facilitate a neutral wrist position.  Yet, we need to try not to help too much.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Adapting Handwriting Booklets for Individual Students

A few years ago our county developed handwriting booklets for kindergarten and first grade students.  The booklets are basically okay for most students, yet many of the students who receive OT in the schools will benefit from fewer repetitions of letters and eliminating the laborious sentence copying that is on some pages.

For a student I've recently begun working with in first grade, I added a "bookmark" to her handwriting book.  The bookmark is a clear page protector that has a list of tips to read on one side and a photo of the student's pencil grasp on the other side.  The tips are for the classroom aide, to remind her of how to present and supervise handwriting practice.  The photo is for the aide and the student, to remind them of a functional handwriting grasp to use when writing.  Here's hoping this adapted handwriting practice will encourage the student to write her best during brief practice sessions and improve her legibility over time.

Here are the tips:

 Student demonstrates to adult how to hold pencil correctly.

 Adult asks, “Where do we start our letters?” and student answers, “At the top!”  (Thank you, HWT!*)

 If it’s a round letter, like the letter “O” the adult asks, “Where do we start our letters?” and the student answers, “At 12 o’clock,” or “At the top of the clock.”

 Round letters are formed counterclockwise.

 Point out which line of the letter should be made first and have the student “draw” that line in the air, using their index finger, in the correct direction. Do this for each part of the letter before picking up a pencil.

 Keep your eyes on the student’s paper while they do the following step. Be ready to help them form the letters in the correct direction.

 On the page, have the students trace the guide letters and then write two letters on their own. (We want them to make two well-formed letters, then stop.) Do not trace words or sentences until later in the year.

 Avoid erasing, just cross out a poorly-made letter.

*Handwriting Without Tears has a great song to sing to remind students about where to start their letters.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sky Writing for Handwriting Remediation

Oh, my goodness, this is unbelievably fun to watch:

Found it, and other interesting resources at:

Website for Handwriting Worksheets to help teachers

This is a great website for free handwriting practice worksheets because you can customize the appearance, layout, font size, number of repetitions.....all very helpful for teachers who only have access to commercial handwriting worksheets, or none at all.  Encourage your teachers to have students copy a letter or word just once or twice so that the quality of the students' work doesn't deteriorate from too many repetitions.

Free Handwriting Worksheets

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fine Motor--Language Rich Activity for the Holidays

This morning the speech-language pathologist (SLP) and I ran an activity group for high schoolers who are in a class for students with autism.  Overall, the students in this classroom demonstrate good eye-hand coordination and dexterity but often have poorer hand strength and endurance than would be expected for their age and general physical ability.  The co-led group is primarily language focused and OT inserts fine motor challenges and adds sensory opportunities to whatever activity is planned.
The students needed a little help with using the hot glue "device" but improved as they several opportunities to place glue on the wooden base.  I helped them by pushing down on the glue stick whenever they pulled the trigger, since the glue was a little reluctant to flow, at times.  You have to be very careful when using hot glue, since the barrel of the device is hot as well as the freshly emerged glue.  Another caution--examine the wood carefully and look for lurking bugs who might be hiding inside any crevices.
The photos will led you through the sequence of the activity.  Note that an adult drilled a candle-sized opening into the wooden bases prior to the activity.  You could hot glue the candle onto a flat base, but it probably wouldn't remain sturdy.
Result:  A festive candle holder which makes a pretty gift for families, favorite teachers and school administrators.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Range of Motion as a byproduct of fun

Plain exercise can be boring.  Get the music going, arrange safe materials to explore in an easy-to-reach location and let the students get their UE exercise in a fun way.

Enjoying the Sensory Flag

Visited the high school yesterday where the creative teacher has placed the sensory tent with all the lights and streamers for students to view and explore.  One student, who usually is only attentive to shiny materials, was seated near the "sensory flag" and was moving his hand across its surface, exploring the sewn-on felt leaves, silk leaves and other items attached to the scarecrow flag.  Lots of active movement going on!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Get a head start on those Christmas trees

When you only work with a student once a week you have to start your holiday-themed fine motor activities long before the special date actually arrives.  On Monday I walked into a classroom to see the cute bread dough turkeys sitting, all lonely, on a drying rack because they hadn't been ready to head to the students' homes in time for Thanksgiving.

Well, we're starting our Christmas trees now so they'll be completed in time for December 17th--our last day of school before the break.  This task is excellent for planning, size discrimination, sequencing, tracing, using paper clips (one smiley face slides on top of the paper and one smiley face goes under the paper,) cutting, assembling, glueing and creative decorating. 

I usually make a tree alongside the students in order to model different ways to approach cutting, drawing decorations and sighing, "It's okay," when something doesn't turn out so perfect.  I had a little guy start to tear up today because his first triangle wasn't perfect but he got over it by the third one.  Besides, the trees look more artistic when they're not perfect.

P.S.  Cutting out those pointy stars is pretty difficult and drawing them is downright impossible for many youngsters.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hopping Chickens at Thanksgiving

We enjoyed Thanksgiving at our friends' who host us every year.  Well, this year we had the additional fun of watching the hopping chickens, our friends' non-edible pets.  The B/W girl is a Barred Rock (AKA Plymouth Rock) variety and the rust girl is an Americauna.  They've been jumping all their lives so their leg muscles are strong enough to handle the exercise.  Listen carefully to their calls--very soothing. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Flat or Fluffy Turkeys

Here's the link to a short video we made from the photographs taken during an integrated therapy session this week at one of my high schools.  Can you guess which song I'm thinking of in the first few photos?

Thanksgiving Banner for Handwriting Refinement

Straightforward handwriting remediation is usually not very exciting.  However, switch it up and practice those tricky letters on interesting cut-out shapes, string them on a holiday banner and you ramp up the motivation.
Students copied me in using WikkiStix to form one capital letter, then wrote the letter on a turkey shape or maple leaf shape.  Then, they strung the shape onto a heavy string to create a banner which read, "Happy Thanksgiving."  My idea started last night when I was reviewing this website:
Banner idea
When we doubled up the WikkiStix to make short, straight lines the students pinched the WikkiStix together and made sure there was no "air" or "daylight" showing, which helps to emphasize the importance of not doubling back on their written lines with the negative result of making them look like skinny balloons.  Although the letters ended up taller than the lines preprinted on the "white" board, they don't drop below the baseline.
Observing the students string their turkeys or leaves on the thick string was an eye-opener and permitted me to observe their motor planning and visual-spatial skills--whew!--there was a little confusion going on in many instances!
I'm going to try and create a fancy banner for my fireplace mantel for the upcoming holidays---I'll have my eye out for fancy lettering and small pictures to cut out of the newspapers and magazines at this time of year to spruce up the individual letter cards.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Another Attempt at Parking Those Runaway Pencils

Although Velcro parking places work well for some students, this student needs a different approach to keeping one good pencil in an easy-to-locate spot on his desk.
We'll see if this desk "belt" works well for keeping his pencil from disappearing into the cave of his desk.

Pull-Out Drawer for Student Desk

I've been working with this sweetie for several years and haven't "cured" his disorganization, here's the pull-out drawer we're trying again this year to see if it helps him locate his books more quickly and keep them more orderly. 
The cool thing this year is that he said, "Oh, it's like a keyboard drawer," when we arranged it in his desk this morning so here's hoping he'll think it's a positive thing and really use it well.

Note the clear tubing on the far right; you'll see it again in the next post.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jig for folding t-shirts

Who woulda thought???  A high school teacher for students with intellectual disabilities asked me about a jig to help students fold the t-shirts they launder and dry after lunch each day.  This link has a great video on how to create a t-shirt folding jig.  Perhaps it would be suitable for someone on your holiday gift list--the person "who has everything."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Machine Made Turkeys

Usually we use die-cut shapes (thank you Ellison machine makers) Ellison Machine Info to make relief drawings, but today we also used the leftover paper which has a "window" shape inside.  First, we created turkeys plus letters of the students' first names to make Thanksgiving pictures.  Instead of using construction paper we die-cut the shapes out of coarse sandpaper, which made the relief pictures nice and speckley.  Older students promised not to peek while they felt the letters in their hands and guessed what letter they were touching. 

The components of this activity have been used with these students for several weeks now and they are definitely showing more "umph" (AKA hand strength) when they use the crayons sideways to draw a relief picture.  They are also using their helper hands more frequently to stabilize the paper, since they know the end result will be better looking if they prevent the paper from shifting around.

Weeks ago the students had to be cajoled into using more than one color to draw their picture.  Now they eagerly reach for more colors after coloring with the first crayon.
Yes, you're right--there's a little hyperextension of the DIP going on.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

OTs Have Fun on the Weekends

Yes, yes, I love to take photos.  We OTs do have a life outside of work and here are the photos to prove it.  Friends invited my DH (Dear Husband) and me to go sailing yesterday on the Rappahanock River, starting in Urbanna, VA.  Had never been sailing before and we had a perfect, golden day.  When our "Captain" friend gave me directions I felt like a student with learning disabilities who didn't understand the directions given by the teacher. Therapeutic sailing, anyone?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Different Kind of Flag Waving

Today is Veteran's Day, when we remember the men and women from all branches of the military who have served and continue to protect our freedom.  Driving from school to school we itinerant therapists will see lots of extra flags waving in front of homes and stores today.
Here's another kind of flag, for the purpose of visual and tactual exploration.  It's hanging on a sensory tent at one of my high schools.  The scarecrow has surprises for any visitors--sparkly silk leaves, soft felt leaves and a bumpy styrofoam acorn attached to the flag for the students to explore.  Even the seams connecting the different sections of the flag are fun to run your fingers along.  Most of the items are attached to the lower half of the flag, so students who use wheelchairs can easily reach what they see.  Sometimes I take the flag down and drape it over a wheelchair laptray so a student can explore different sections of the design. 
Last month I bought three of these seasonal flags at Goodwill for $3 apiece.  The classroom teacher ran out and bought another that is perfect for Winter themes.
Wouldn't it be great to collect flags which match up with the themes in different story books?


Monday, November 8, 2010

The Fallen Leaves Seem Awful Gummy

Time for those fun fall posters.  Students in a high school class for individuals with Autism identified fall scenes vs. another theme (Jobs) and glued the newspaper photos to a large poster.  An adult wrote down the descriptive words used by the students as we reviewed each photo so we could recall those words later on in the project and include them on the poster.  Students collected fallen leaves several days prior to the activity so the leaves were nice and dry and ready to glue on the the poster.  The teacher contributed die-cut paper leaves for the students to use in copying their descriptive words--you can only write so big when you're constrained by the size of your leaf.

What a great way to see the students' functional handwriting skills and observe their sensory preferences for handling the gummy glue sticks and brittle leaves.  We made sure we had lots of "out of your seat" time by placing the poster way across the room and leaving the classroom desks and chairs in place so they became a nice "obstacle course" as the students wove their way across the room.

Friday, November 5, 2010

AlphaSmart Fun

Do your students have difficulty with far and near point copying their words when using a word processor?  Try using Scrabble size letter tiles and put them right on the screen to make copying easier.

Note:  The pink letters are not part of this activity, just there to help another student.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Turkey Time

We'll be seeing lots of turkey feathers this month!  Help students practice creating 3-D feather shapes before asking them to draw them 2-D cold turkey. Those incredible Wikki Stix are to the rescue again--just be sure to model all the steps for your sweeties because some students don't have lots of experience making feather shapes.  P.S.  Feathers can start out as circles and squish down to pointy ovals.  Be sure to press the Wikki Stix tightly to the paper so they don't wiggle while the student traces around the edges (and trace inside the edge if you want, too.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Just in time for Halloween--Handwriting Fun with Spiders

Here's a tip from Amanda, one of our hard-working OTs:

Below is a link that models letter formation and gives a writing pad to practice on using the mouse (you can open both screens and set side by side). A spider draws the letter which might be fun for Halloween and it's an alternative to pencil/paper writing practice. Check it out if you haven't already seen it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I love Ed Emberly but I guess there are other friendly artists out in the world, too.  Just found this blog which promotes the writer's books; the enticing "how-to" on this post is interesting:

Mind Map Inspiration

Cartooning is intriguing to me since it's a very inexpensive, quick way to explain the steps to a process and can be included in a Windows Movie Maker project as one of the "slides."  Just think of those famous UPS whiteboard commercials done a couple of years ago.  Kids love cartooning since it allows them to create a fantasy world and feel powerful for a little while.

The Falling Leaves Drift By Our Classroom

Last week in our combined speech and OT group we made cinnamon leaf rubbings with a group of high schoolers in two classes for students with autism. Students in another class had already cut out the large leaf shapes for us, I peeled the wrappers off some fall color crayons, we grabbed the glue and recycled white paper and were ready to get to work.

As I modeled and led the activity, the SLP used picture symbols to elicit language from the students. We initially gave hand over hand assistance, then watched the students show us what they could do. We heard vocabulary and sentences pertaining to the activity that the students often have not demonstrated and the SLP was able to take lots of data on each student.  One class did the rubbings on individual pieces of white paper and another class made a mural.  We discovered quite a bit of artistic talent in the classes--students and adults.
Let the photos guide you in seeing how the activity works:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

All Lined Up in a Row

Last week I showed a teacher for students with Minimal Intellectual Disabilities (MiID) an idea for easily keeping a clipboard at an optimal angle for viewing while keyboarding.  Well, she grabbed the clipboard stand from me and took it home for her husband to make a bunch of them, then had them ready to use in her classroom within a few days.

Rather than only using them for keyboarding, she places different lacing/fastener boards in them for better viewing by the students as they work on the tricky laces, zippers, buttons and snaps.  They can see what their fingers are doing a little better when the work is up at an angle.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gummy Abacus

Wish I had an abacus like this back in the 50's when I was first learning to add. 

This is really a fine motor & proprioceptive activity for a high schooler in a class for students with autism.  He needs a little more adult-directed activity built into his day to keep his fingers happy and these fruit-scented gummy bits take a little work to push along the surgical tubing.  Yep, they're from my favorite store--Big Lots. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Handwriting Without Tears fun

The early, early HWT book has enticing drawings for kids to practice eye-hand coordination with their little pencils.  If you're like me, there are only so many HWT books we're able to purchase each year, so I'm always looking for ways to stretch out their use.
Try using drink stirrers as invisible ink pencils to "color" the little stars and fireflies on the beginning pages.  We also connected the stars and fireflies, invisibly of course, and it was fun to make screechy noises with the stirrers on the page as we invisibly drew a line from one to the next.

Monday, September 20, 2010

How Cool is This

Here are some views of the sensory area for high school students in a class for kids with severe intellectual disabilities.  Isn't this so cool!
The butterfly shot is the inside of the roof and the "veins" of the roof are highlighted with holiday lights (not flashing!).
Seems like the current theme is "Ocean animals."