Skills Addressed When Making Paper Snowflakes

Even though the holidays are over, there are plenty of winter projects that you can create with your children at home! I always like to snow flake projectremind parents that there are numerous activities that you likely participate in at home already that incorporate a variety of age-appropriate skills and help your child grow and learn. One such activity is making paper snowflakes. Paper snowflakes can be as simple or as complex as you would like them to be and will certainly make your house appear to be more festive this winter!

Paper Snowflakes

Materials: paper (colored or plain), scissors, pencil, decorations (e.g. sequence, glitter, markers) and a hole puncher. Use string if you want to hang them like garland.


  1. Fold the paper at least 2 times (e.g. in half and in half again)
  2. Use a pencil to draw out particular shapes if you have a design in mind
  3. Cut out various shapes from the creased sides of the paper
  4. Open up the folded paper to see your snowflake
  5. Add decorations as you like and/or punch a hole in the top and hang from string like garland

Skills Addressed:

  • Folding paper- The child has to line up the edges and produce a crease
  • Cutting- The child has to manipulate his scissors to cut out various shapes within the folded paper (which also addresses hand strength)
  • Bilateral skills- The child has to hold and turn the paper in one hand and manipulate the scissors with the other hand
  • Visual Motor skills- The child must be able to visualize how many shapes are able to fit within the crease of the paper and if the scissors will be able to fit to successfully cut out the shapes
  • Creativity- The child has the chance to use his/her imagination to make his snowflake look however he would like it to look. Encourage your child to be as unique and individualized as possible- there is not a ‘correct’ way when making crafts!

As you can see, crafts provide more than just a ‘time-filler’ for you children! Crafts help to address fine motor skills, visual motor skills and direction-following. Try using a theme or a topic of interest for your child and watch his imagination take flight! Feel free to reach out to your child’s teacher or occupational therapist if you have any questions or concerns that are related to your child’s fine motor or visual motor skills.

Healthy Habits for 2013: Teaching Your Children the Importance of Goal Setting

As I stated in my previous blogs, a new year often means a new start and new goals for the upcoming months.  As adults (parents, goal settingteachers, therapists), we have a huge influence upon the lifestyles of the children around us that will impact the way that they are going to live. We need to make sure that we are teaching our children well so that they may learn how to make their own healthy choices in the future. This includes setting both short-term goals and long-term goals.

Here are a few simple tips to keep with you and your family as you reflect on the year ahead:

  • Help your child set goals that will be measurable and attainable. If the goal is unrealistic, the child will most likely not be successful in reaching it. He or she will give up before any progress is made. Start small and remember that you do not always have to aim for 100% completion of a task (e.g. By April, I will be able to tie 1 of my 2 shoes independently).
  • Set a variety of goals, including various skills and settings. For example, help your child to set goals for home, school, and within his extracurricular activities. Similarly, help your child to set goals related to both fine motor skills, gross motor skills and/or social skills (e.g. By the end of the month, I will ask two different friends to come over for a play date).
  • Try brainstorming different ideas by using probing questions. For example, ask your child, “Is there something one of your friends knows how to do that you would like to be able to do?” Another question may be, “What is one thing that is really easy for you at school and one thing that is challenging for you at school?” You may also make the question more specific, such as, “What is one way that you could improve your handwriting this semester?”
  • Make sure to hold one another accountable in working towards and reaching these goal. Celebrate when a family member is successful (e.g. write goals on a family wipe-off board or calendar).
  • Remember to praise even the smallest steps when working towards a goal and offer constructive feedback rather than negative feedback.  An example is “I really like how you’re keeping your eyes on the ball, now try to catch the ball with your hands rather than against your body!” rather than “You’re having a hard time catching the ball in your hands.”

As you can see, there are several easy ways to incorporate New Year’s resolutions and goal setting into your family’s daily activities! Make sure you are demonstrating the importance of creating attainable and meaningful goals to your children by making it a priority in your own life. Feel free to reach out to your child’s classroom teacher, sports coaches or therapist in order to collaborate on individualized goals for the New Year.


Executive Functioning Basics

Executive functions (EF) are a fancy way to explain our everyday problem-solving strategies. EF are self-regulated behaviors that we executive functioning girlneed in order to plan, execute and maintain activities.

Observable Executive Functioning behaviors include:

  • Initiation
  • Organization
  • Transitioning
  • Inhibition
  • Goal-setting
  • Monitoring own behavior
  • Planning
  • Sequencing information
  • Self-control

Complications in any one of these areas may create difficulties in a child’s school as well as life at home. It is not uncommon for many children to have issues in EF at some point. In fact, it is the “norm” and it is related to the child’s developing brain. EF skills begin to emerge at an early school age and continue to develop into the early 20’s. In some cases, altering the environment is all that is needed in order to help children that are weaker in these skills.

Classroom accommodations for Executive Functioning:

  • Use a visual schedule on the wall or the child’s desk to reduce difficulties with transitions
  • Break-up assignments into smaller tasks in order to help with initiation and organization of tasks
  • Develop time lines for longer-term assignments
  • Utilize check lists as well as planners in order to stay organized and set appropriate goals
  • Perform a weekly clean-up of the child’s desk and locker to keep belongings organized
  • Provide specific feedback when the child demonstrates positive use of a skill

Home accommodations for Executive Functioning:

  • A visual or written schedule can be just as effective and necessary in the home environment
  • Set and enforce routines around daily activities (e.g., getting ready in the morning, homework, bedtime, etc.)
  • Weekly organizing of book bag and work area
  • Teach goal-setting behaviors by developing a plan to work towards a desired goal (e.g., special activity, material possession, etc.)
  • Model self-calming strategies and have the child practice these strategies
  • Develop independence in daily activities by labeling drawers and encourage independent follow through
  • Provide specific positive feedback for demonstration and effort

For an Executive Functioning checklist and more on EF, click here!


Handwriting Without Tears (HWT): Three Strategies of Learning

As I stated in my previous blog, handwriting can be taught in several different ways, depending upon your child’s teacher as well as thehandwriting without tears curriculum within the school. If your child’s school does not utilize the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) program, you can gain many successful strategies and knowledge from the HWT website. As you will see below, HWT follows three developmental stages in order to best teach children how to legibly and successfully form their letters.

  1. Imitation: First, the parent or teacher should demonstrate the letter formation and then the child can imitate.
  2. Copying: The child is to reproduce the letter/word by looking at the letter/word (e.g. The teacher writes the word on the wipe-off board and then the student looks at the board and copies the word onto her paper).
  3. Independent Writing: The child writes the letter/word without having a demonstration or a model to reference to; the child is expected to write the letter/word from memory (e.g. A child’s weekly spelling test).

Overall, when teaching handwriting, it is crucial to provide your child with plenty of verbal and visual cues to help the child in memorizing the appearance and feel of the letters. Try using the developmental stages above along with a variety of tools when practicing handwriting with your child (e.g. chalk/chalkboard; write letters or words in flour or sand; and form letters using Wiki sticks). By making handwriting fun and motivating for your child, he or she will be more likely to want to practice with you at home. Please speak with your child’s occupational therapist if you would like more information on Jan Olsen’s Handwriting Without Tears Program.


Handwriting Without Tears (HWT): Why it is a Great Approach to Teaching Handwriting

Handwriting is taught to children that are as young as preschool age. Children begin learning how to write the letters in their name and handwriting without tears they will usually start with their first name. Handwriting can be taught in a variety of ways, depending upon your child’s teacher as well as the curriculum within the school. It is important to teach your child in the same manner in comparison as to how he or she is learning in school in order to see the greatest success and to provide the most consistency. Overall, when teaching handwriting, it is crucial to provide your child with plenty of verbal and visual cues in order to help the child memorize the appearance and feel of the letters.

Below are some of the highlights to the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) program, which makes the handwriting process quite successful and simple to follow for the children, parents and teachers alike:

  • HWT works sequentially, initially teaching all of the upper case letters and then all of the lower case letters. Lastly, all of the cursive letters. this process is more effective compared to jumping around.
  • HWT utilizes simple terminology to describe how the letters are formed (e.g. Big Line, Little Line, Big Curve and Little Curve).
  • HWT focuses on right/left discrimination in order to help the child determine his/her dominant hand (hand which holds pencil/utensils). It also focuses on helping the child to help him/her be aware of the right side of the body versus the left side of the body.
  • HWT emphasizes the quality of your child’s handwriting rather than the quantity (e.g. Writing 5 correct “A’s” versus writing 10 sloppy “A’s”).
  • HWT utilizes several whole-body activities to help the child in retaining the information (e.g. Music and Movement; Imaginary Writing and Letter Sizes and Places).

As you can see above, there are many perks to using the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) Program at home and in school. If your child’s school does not use this program, you may still gain many great strategies and knowledge from the HWT website. Please feel free to  speak with your child’s occupational therapist if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s handwriting or fine motor skills. Similarly, stay tuned for my next blog on HWT Three Stages of Learning.


How Does Play Help Meet a Child’s Therapy Goals?

Occupational therapists often use play as a means of helping achieve our clients’ goals. Many times, it may not look like our sessions are working on your child’s areas of need; however, when we are working with children, we often try to adapt play activities in order to help your child meet his goals. Play is a very motivating activity for a child to engage in with the therapist and work on some of his goals. Play may also mask the fact that children are working on a difficult skill by introducing fun into the activity. For example, if one of the child’s goals is to improve his handwriting skills, you could play a game that involves writing, such as Boggle, Scattergories, or crossword puzzles.

Therapist and child at Gym

Here are some play activities that OT’s use to help your child meet his goals:

  1. If your child needs to work on balance and coordination, we may play basketball while standing on top of a bosu ball (imagine standing on the rounded part of a ball cut in half).
  2. A child who needs to work on core and upper extremity strength could meet these goals by playing a game while lying on his stomach over a therapy ball, while balancing with his arms on the ground.
  3. In order to improve self-regulation for a child who has sensory concerns, we may start our session by playing on the gym equipment in order to help regulate his nervous system.
  4. To work on bilateral coordination and fine motor skills with a child who does not like drawing, we often use play-doh and have him trace shapes and cut them out with scissors.
  5. Another way to work on gross motor coordination is to practice climbing a rock wall, climbing a ladder, or swinging on the monkey bars.

Sometimes, however, it may be difficult to adapt the activity and make it fun for the child. In this case, the therapist may have the child participate in an activity to work on the skills he needs to improve, but use a play activity as a reward.  From the first example in which the child’s goal is to improve handwriting, the child may still not want to play the games that involve handwriting. Then, the therapist may tell the child that after handwriting, he can do an activity of his choice.

Hopefully, this blog provides a bit more insight into the therapist’s mindset while working with your child. The therapist is constantly thinking and problem solving about how to make an activity therapeutic and how to make it easier or harder based on the child’s ability to succeed at the tasks. If the therapist is successful, the child will not even realize the activities are working on their areas of need and will want to come to therapy every session!

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Why Is A Full Occupational Therapy Evaluation Beneficial When My Child’s Only Difficulty is Handwriting?

Child practicing handwriting

Handwriting is a complex task that involves many prerequisite skills, including visual skills, ocular motor control, body awareness, fine motor planning, shoulder stability, and hand and finger strength. Each prerequisite skill contributes to efficient and fluid handwriting:

  • Visual skills are needed to accurately distinguish and interpret letters and shapes on a page, essential for writing. Ocular motor control is needed to move one’s eyes across the paper to write in an organized manner.
  • Body awareness is required to accurately move the hands for writing, as well as knowing how much force is needed to make marks on the paper with the pencil or pen.
  • Fine motor planning is needed so that your child can easily identify, plan and execute the task of writing letters, words and sentences.
  • Shoulder stability is required to control the pencil.
  • Hand and finger strength is required for endurance that is needed to write many letters to form words and sentences. Hand strength is also needed for an appropriate grasp on the pencil.

In order to address handwriting in therapy, it is imperative for the occupational therapist to assess your child’s current level of functioning in each of the above areas. The root cause of your child’s handwriting difficulties may be his or her struggle in either one area or multiple areas. A full occupational therapy evaluation is very comprehensive; it allows the therapist to get a baseline level of performance to identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses in the prerequisite skill areas, and unveil the source of your child’s difficulty with handwriting.

Following the evaluation, your therapist will develop goals based on your child’s performance and design a treatment program that concentrates on improving these foundational skills, and ultimately improve his or her handwriting organization and legibility.

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5 Major Differences between an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan

Your child has been identified to be falling behind in school in some way. Perhaps they are scoring below expected levels on iep and 504achievement tests or maybe they are exhibiting symptoms of inattention or become easily distracted. These symptoms may be keeping them from learning up to their potential. In another case, they may have an identified medical or emotional disorder that impacts them academically. Children can have a number of challenges that may impact them in the school environment. What can be done about these challenges? There are two formal plans that can be implemented: Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. Below are five differences between the two plans:

IEP versus 504 Plan:

  1. An IEP is for children who qualify for special education services. To qualify, your child must have a documented learning disability, developmental delay, speech impairment or significant behavioral disturbance. Special education is education that offers an individualized learning format (e.g., small group, pull out, one-on-one). In contrast, a 504 Plan does not include special education services. Instead, a 504 Plan involves classroom accommodations, such as behavioral modification and environmental supports.
  2. An IEP requires a formal evaluation process as well as a multi-person team meeting to construct. A 504 Plan is less formal and usually involves a meeting with the parents and teacher(s). Both plans are documented and recorded.
  3. An IEP outlines specific, measurable goals for each child. These goals are monitored to ensure appropriate gains. A 504 Plan does not contain explicit goals.
  4. An IEP requires more regularly occurring reviews of progress, approximately every 3 months. A 504 Plan is usually reviewed at the beginning of each school year.
  5. A 504 Plan does not cost the school or district any additional money to provide. On the other hand, an IEP requires school funds to construct and execute.

To watch a webinar called: Getting the Most out of an I.E.P, click here.



Signs That Your Child May Need Occupational Therapy

Young Girl Writing in Her Exercise Book in the ClassroomAt school, you or your child’s teacher may be noticing difficulties in your child’s school performance. Although you may not be able to see your child work in the classroom, there are some things that you can look for outside of school that  suggest your child could benefit from occupational therapy services.

  1. Difficulty Focusing – If your child is having trouble focusing on her homework, it may be a sign that she’s also having trouble focusing in class. If she gets distracted by noises or people moving about at home, she might also have difficulty paying attention at school and may not be getting the most out of her education.
  2. Difficulty Starting Homework – Your child may have trouble with task initiation if she needs help from you to start her homework or if she   can’t start without having someone present.  Occupational therapists (OT), can help your child work on task initiation so she can be independent with her schoolwork.
  3. Math Problems Don’t Line Up – If your child is consistently getting the wrong answers with math problems, it may be because she has a hard time lining up the numbers correctly. This may be an issue with organization or spatial organization.
  4. Typing Difficulties – Does your child have trouble remembering where the letters are on the keyboard, moving her fingers, typing quickly (in comparison to her peers), or staying error-free when typing? These are all components of manual dexterity and visual memory, which occupational therapists can help improve.
  5. Handwriting Issues – If your child has a hard time writing quickly and neatly, reverses letters, doesn’t form letters correctly, adds too little or too much space between words, or confuses upper and lower case letters, she may need OT to improve her handwriting skills.
  6. Messy Backpack or Folders – This may be a sign that your child has decreased organizational skills, which can affect her ability to complete the correct homework each day.
  7. Forgotten Homework – Your child may benefit from using a planner or calendar system to help keep track of when her homework and projects are due, as well as dates of tests and quizzes. An occupational therapist can help assess her organization and planning deficits and find specific strategies to help her manage her homework.
  8. Lack of Time Management – Does your child have difficulty scheduling her time? Does she spend the majority of her time on leisure activities, while not leaving enough time for homework and getting to bed at a decent hour? If your child is in middle school or older, she should be able to manage her time with little help from her parents.
  9. Poor Fine Motor Skills and Coordination – If your child has difficulty holding a pencil correctly, erasing completely, cutting, folding, or coloring, this may be an indication that your child could benefit from OT. Read our blog addressing daily activities for fine motor strength

These are just a few of the things that may indicate your child could benefit from occupational therapy. Occupational therapists can work on fine motor skills and handwriting, time management, manual dexterity, organization, spatial relationships, memory, and more. By improving these skills, your child will have a greater chance of succeeding in school!

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Executive Functioning Tricks for High School Students

High school students are often faced with ever-increasing demands for organizational skills, planning longer-term school projects andhighschool boy managing busy daily schedules. When there are challenges in meeting these demands, the student’s performance and confidence may be negatively affected. Because this developmental stage is focused on increasing autonomy, the goal is to equip your teenager with strategies that they can carry out independently and internalize as they continue to mature. The best way to do this is to have them practice in their everyday life as well as receive consistent feedback from the adults around them. In addition, giving the teen opportunities to say what is working for them and what is not provides them with a sense of control and teaches essential self-monitoring skills. Below are strategies for some of the biggest challenges that your teen may be facing.

Tips for getting teens started on tasks:

  • Develop a schedule with start times
  • Use prompts that will remind the teen (e.g., written plan/schedule and/or use of timers, alarms)
  • Adults can reinforce the use of these strategies by offering positive feedback

Tips for planning and organizing:

  • Develop time lines for long-term projects
  • Explicitly teach the problem-solving process (i.e., identify goal, identify possible strategies, select the best one, develop sequential steps and gather what is needed, begin, monitor, and modify as necessary). Model this process a few times and have the teen carry out the process while verbalizing the steps
  • Create a specific and protected “study time” every day that focuses on planning and prioritizing assignments
  • Have the teen make use of a planner to track assignments, due dates and study time
  • Parents and teachers can monitor the effectiveness of these strategies and modify them as necessary

Tips for decreasing impulsiveness:

  • Teach the teen self-monitoring strategies to check work for careless mistakes
  • Have the teen develop internal self-talk that reminds them to stop and think prior to responding
  • Reinforce the teen when careful and conscientious behavior is observed

Tips for working memory:

  • Teach the teen how to preview new material for greater comprehension
  • Daily practice and review of information
  • Encourage active listening skills (e.g., asking questions) and playing with the material in meaningful ways