How To Help Fidgety Students Pay Attention In Class

For many teachers, it can be hard to teach class when students are wiggling around in their seats or on the rug during instruction. Though it may be difficult to determine exactly why children fidget and have difficulty paying attention there are things that teachers can do to help!

Some children might fidget in an effort to pay attention to the teacher. These children are often classified as “low arousal” children who need more movement to keep their bodies upright and to participate in the classroom. Other children might be fidgety because they are constantly seeking out sensory experiences from their environment to get a better understanding of where their body is in space.

Some children might fidget because they do not have the trunk control to maintain a static muscle contraction in order to sit upright. Other children might be overly sensitive to light touch and might be bothered by the way the chair or rug feels on their body, how their clothing feels, or how close their classmate is sitting next to them.

Below are some strategies for teachers to help their students with fidgety behaviors in the classroom:

• Provide students with seating surfaces, such as a Move’N’Sit cushion or therapy ball to give their body sensory input. Read more

Help Your Child Develop the “Crossing the Midline” Skill

What is “crossing the midline”?

By the age of 3 or 4 years old, a child should have mastered the bilateral skill (using both sides of the body together) called “crossing the midline”. This is the ability to move one hand, foot, or eye into the space of the other hand, foot or eye. We cross midline when we scratch an elbow, cross our ankles, and read left to right. Crossing the midline of your body helps build pathways in the brain and is an important prerequisite skill required for the appropriate development of various motor and cognitive skills. Children who have difficultly crossing the body’s midline often have trouble with skills such as reading, writing, completing self care skills and participating in sports & physical activities. These skills require a type of coordination that comes from experience with “cross-lateral motion,” which is movement involving the left arm and right leg, or the right arm and left leg at the same time. 

Establishing a “worker hand” and a “helper hand” is a sign that the brain is maturating and lateralization is occurring, and is strongly correlated with the ability to cross the midline. Both sides of the brain need to talk to each other for the “worker hand” and the “helper hand” to work together and compliment each other. Coordinating both sides of the body can be difficult for the child who avoids crossing midline. Often, these children have not yet established a hand preference, sometimes using their left and sometimes using their right to draw, color, write, eat, and throw.

Affects on children who do not develop the bilateral skill:

Furthermore, when a child has difficulty crossing midline, it can affect his/her ability to read. While the child is moving his/her eyes from left to right across the page, the eyes will stop at midline to blink and refocus; however, when this happens, the child will very frequently lose his/her place on the line and become confused as to where they left off. It also affects handwriting, as diagonal lines cross the midline, and the child may need to stop in the middle of the page to switch hands when writing from left to right. Many self care and daily living skills require crossing midline. For example, perfecting the skill of putting socks or shoes on requires one hand to cross over to the other side of the body.

Children who have difficulty crossing midline may appear ambidextrous because they are often observed using both hands, but they actually have a hidden neuroprocessing issue. Both sides of their brains are not communicating, resulting in decreased coordination, decreased motor control of movements and difficulties achieving higher level skills. Often, these children end up with two unskilled hands.

Activities to help develop the ability to cross the midline:

To help develop efficient crossing of the midline, provide children with a variety of two-handed (bilateral) activities. Try some of the below activities to help build more pathways in the brain and to develop the ability to cross the midline, improve coordination, and improve overall functional performance on a daily basis.

Right brain/left brain teasers-

a. Pop bubbles with only one hand (they will have to reach across their body to pop the bubbles floating on the opposite side).

b. Reach for bean bags, balls, stuffed animals, or other objects across midline, then throwing at a target.

c. Draw large figure eights (the infinity sign or an 8 turned on its side) on paper, on the floor with a finger, in the air with a finger, or drive a matchbox car around a figure eight pattern.

d. Let the child play with sand, scooping sand from one side of the body and putting it into a bucket on the opposite side of the body without switching hands.

e. Let the child pretend to drive a car with a ball in his/her hands to use as a steering wheel and encourage the crossing of his/her arms as he/she turns the ‘steering wheel’ OR to make this similar in style to most of the others—pretend to drive a car with a ball in both hands to use as a steering wheel and cross both arms while turning the “steering wheel”.

f. Play flashlight tag. In a dimmed room, lie on your backs and have the child follow your flashlight beam projected on the wall with his own flashlight.

g. Touch the opposite elbow and knee.

h. Cross one foot over the other while walking sideways.

i. Do “grapevine” walks.

j. Knee slap walk- Walk around raising each knee while touching/slapping it with the opposite hand (or elbow). Change it to a skip while touching the opposite knee as it comes up.

k. Windmill-stand with feet spread apart and arms extended out to the sides. Bend over at waist and tap right hand to left foot. Stand back up and then bend and tap left hand to right foot.

l. Point your left finger out and put your right thumb up. Switch them, and switch, and switch, and switch…

m. Hold your nose, then cross the other hand over and grab your opposite ear. Slap your thighs and switch your hands…switch, slap, switch, slap…

n. Write your name in the air while rotating your foot in a circle clockwise.

o. Wash the car and make sure the arms cross midline while scrubbing.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonDeerfieldLincolnwoodGlenviewLake BluffDes PlainesHinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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What Is Executive Functioning?

Disorganized Child“Executive functioning” is a buzzword right now in the academic and parenting worlds. I often hear teachers use the term loosely at staffing and school meetings. What does it actually mean, though, and why do so few children seem to have executive functioning skills?

Executive Functioning Defined:

The definition of executive functioning is actually implied in the name – it is the CEO of an individual’s daily activities. These skills make up the child’s ability to organize, plan, problem solve, inhibit responses, fluidly transition between tasks, monitor work, and effectively change solutions based upon new information.

Examples Of Executive Functioning Skills:

These skills can be seen throughout a child’s day: does the child have a set plan for a morning routine, or is it chaos on a daily basis? Is the child’s room organized so that anyone walking in knows where items should be? What about his/her backpack or locker? Does the child forget to turn in homework assignments that he/she actually completed? Does the child forget to write down daily assignments or forget to bring home necessary materials? What about the social world – does the child struggle planning activities with friends? Read more

Baby Sign Language: Does It Delay Speech Or Increase It?

Baby Sign LanguageYour one-year-old child looks up at you, and you wonder when their first words are going to start so that you’ll know exactly what they’re thinking. Or maybe the child is starting to cry, and you can’t wait for her to tell you what she wants instead of leaving you to figure it out.

There might be a way to speed up the process – baby sign programs have been introduced to encourage early language with infants. But the important question is, do they work?

Reasearch Of Baby Sign Language:

Existing research for baby signing is inconclusive. It wavers from not having a significant difference for the child’s language to increasing a child’s vocabulary and helping spoken language emerge.

Before beginning a baby sign program, consider the following questions:

• Is the program designed to teach a child American Sign Language, or to teach Baby Sign for encouraging spoken language? Make sure the program you are using fits your need.

• Is the program researched-based?

• Does the person teaching the program have extensive knowledge of American Sign Language or another sign language?

• Does the program use developmentally appropriate signs? For example, teaching the sign for “milk” may be more appropriate for beginning baby signs than teaching the word for “flower”. Signs may be simplified in the same way that spoken language may be simplified when speaking to an infant. Read more

Strategies to Improve Homework Success

boy doing home workAfter a busy day, the last thing you want to do is fight with your child about finishing his homework. Turning in an assignment or performing successfully on a test should feel like a great accomplishment for you and your child, not a constant battle. Every child prefers different organizational and environmental strategies to help him focus and stay on task; and different strategies may work in different days depending on the child.

Homework Seating Tips:

• Exercise ball: By replacing a typical chair with an exercise ball, the child automatically receives more input to their body. He is now required to keep his feet flat on the floor, his shoulders down and relaxed, and his trunk erect with his muscles constantly firing as he keeps hjs body in an upright position. This extra input gives him increased attention and focus during fine motor and tabletop activities.

**Note: Exercise balls used as a chair are not appropriate for children who have poor postural control and weak core muscles, as this will cause them to focus on keeping their body stabilized on top of the ball, as well as on the task at hand. This may lead to rushed or sloppy work because their attention is on the exercise ball, noton their homework. Talk with an OT or PT if you have questions about the best seating for your child. Read more

Navigating Speech & Language Difficulties in the Classroom

The relationship between language skills and academic performance is well-documented by research. Speech and language skills are critical to successfully navigating the classroom, from following directions to verbally expressing ideas to building relationships with peers. For children with speech and language difficulties, these everyday occurrences can feel daunting, and at times, can become roadblocks to success.

Children with speech and language difficulties often require individualized assistance to succeed in a classroom setting. For teachers, this presents a challenge amidst very demanding schedules and class sizes of thirty or more students, each with varying needs. Any hand-tailored strategy can easily be applied in a one-on-one setting, but within an entire class of students, it’s not always so easy.

This blog is dedicated to teachers and educators, in hopes of offering practical strategies that can be readily incorporated into the classroom on any given day despite the rigorous demands of a school schedule. Natural opportunities to encourage speech and language are threaded throughout each day, and my hope is to shed light on these moments. Additionally, I hope to offer guidance in troubleshooting those more challenging moments, and in the end, see our students with speech and language difficulties thrive in the classroom setting.

Is it a Speech & Language Disorder? Discerning the Red Flags:

A handful of students in your classroom may already be identified as having a speech and language disorder. Other students, however, may remain undetected. Here are common red flags to identify speech and language difficulties within the classroom:

Speech Red Flags In The Classroom:

– difficulty following directions that are spoken or read

– difficulty comprehending a story that is spoken or read Read more

Gifted Children And What It Means To Be Advanced

gifted childI was asked to write a blog on giftedness in children – specifically, how to access it and how to ensure that a child with cognitive strength is able to reach his or her potential. This has proven to be a hard topic to write about. I don’t like the term “giftedness” for several reasons, but before I divulge those, I need to discuss what it means to be “gifted.”

A quick review of basic statistics is necessary in order to understand how we assess children has demonstrating superior ability. Traditionally, when we think of giftedness, we are thinking of a child’s IQ score. The vast majority of IQ scores used standard scores. A standard score is a statistical term in which a score of 100 is solidly average (50th percentile) and a standard deviation (the spread of scores from the mean of 100) of 15. In layman terms, scores between 85-115 are considered to be average.

When you are talking about giftedness, we see scores with at least two standard deviations greater than the mean (meaning an IQ score of 130 or higher). So, gifted children are those children that have IQ scores of 130 or higher. Pretty easy to identify, right? Wrong. One of my major critiques of giftedness is that parents and some academic folk rely way too much on the overall IQ score to determine if a child is gifted.

What Are IQ Measurements For Children?

The current gold-standard IQ measure, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) came out in 2003. On the WISC-IV, children attain a Full Scale IQ score, which is comprised of several factors: verbal reasoning and comprehension, nonverbal reasoning, immediate attention and memory, and processing speed. Here lies one of the concerns in assessing giftedness. Which score should one use? Read more

10 Tips To Get Your Students To Sit Quietly In Class/Circle Time

Girl Sitting LearningIt can be hard to get children to sit still in circle time or at a desk. Ideally, we can take the time to see why a child may be having trouble. For those that are young, fidgety or distracted, we need to know they are not doing it to bother us, and we need to have strategies to help them be more attentive. Remember, some children can sit still longer than others. Others children need to fidget or move because their nervous systems just are made that way.

Here are some ideas and strategies for assisting restless kids:

#1-Use a visual cue. For example, if the teacher is reading Spot, the children can hold beanbags, and every time the teacher says Spot’s name, the children have to toss the beanbag into the bucket. This keeps him attentive!

#2-Use carpet squares or bean bag chairs. Space the kids out so they are not on top of each other!

#3-Some kids can not sit unsupported (and unless you are super strong in your core, you can’t, either!). Make sure you identify these kids, and lean them against the wall, let them lie down, or give them a chair with feet on the ground.!

#4-Have the kids stand up, sit down, get involved with the story, and listen for some name or place in the story to stay attentive.

#5-Use a checklist so that kids follow and check off as things are said or done.

#6-Use multi-sensory teaching strategies. March around while doing multiplication tables, have the children stand up while speaking, and develop fun routines during the day to that will get the kids moving around. Read more

All You Need To Know About Learning Disabilities

How common are Learning Disabilities?

LD Boy

Learning concerns are one the most common neurological issues that children and adolescents present with. It has been estimated that approximately 20% of the general population in the prevalence rates indicate that 6% of the general population meet the necessary diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis of a specific learning disorder.

How are Learning Disabilities Defined?

There is great debate regarding how to accurate define, classify, and diagnosis learning disorders. Traditionally, it was assumed that a specific learning disorder exists when there is a significant discrepancy between a child’s ability (IQ, cognitive functioning) and achievement (performance on standardized reading, mathematics, and written expression tasks). However, there have been recent changes within the USA regarding how to classify and diagnosis learning disabilities. Currently, categorization of a child’s learning disability is based upon a multi-tiered process involving early identification and intervention. This multi-tiered process based approach is labeled Response to Intervention (RTI).

What are the Pros and Cons of RTI?

Researchers who are in favor of the RTI Model of learning disabilities argue that a combination of interviewing and behavioral observations are sufficient for identification of problems as well as to determine appropriate interventions. The RTI Model is most beneficial for children who have emotional or behavioral disorders that result secondary from a defined environmental factor, such as: inappropriate or inconsistent reinforcement or punishment. Read more

11 Ways to Increase Your Child’s Speech Fluency

Parents play key roles in modeling healthy ways to communicate in everyday situations. By knowing what to do inBoy on phone your own talking during certain scenarios, you can transition highly disfluent times to be more successful conversations. In doing this, you will be teaching and reinforcing healthy conversational skills during daily activities. The following conversational suggestions are not meant to replace therapy, but to compliment your child’s individual treatment plan.

11 Tips to Increase Speech in Your Child

  1. Use eye contact. Eye contact is a great conversational tool for many reasons. When you are modeling eye contact while your child is talking, you are communicating that you are listening. By using eye contact when you are talking, you are showing your child that watching someone’s face when they talk is important. In a peer situation, your child will be better able to hold his conversational turn with sustained eye contact (especially if he “gets stuck”) because other children are less likely to jump in and finish for him. The best way to elicit eye contact from your child is to model it yourself and to reinforce it when you notice it (“Great job watching my face while you told me about that!”) as compared to asking the child to “look at you.” Read more