Fine Motor and Gross Motor Activities to do with Sidewalk Chalk this Summer

Summer is the perfect time to get outside with your child to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. Summer also offers the chance for your child to unwind a bit, and take a break from all the demands placed on him at school. However, it is still important to keep your child active and engaged throughout the summer months, so that he stays in somewhat of a consistent routine and keeps his mind fresh and in tip-top-shape for the upcoming school year. Here are some fun and simple ways to incorporate fine motor and gross motor activities into your everyday summer routine using an already preferred activity, sidewalk chalk,

Here are a variety of options to explore with chalk:

  • Hopscotch: Create a hopscotch board out of chalk (typically alternating 1 square, 2 squares). This activity addresses fine motor and visual motor skills to draw the squares and write numbers inside of the squares. It also addresses trunk control, balance, and motor planning to complete single-leg hops and two-footed hops into each of the squares. You could also challenge your child to complete animal walks inside the hopscotch board instead (e.g. crab walks, bunny hops, frog jumps).
  • Tic tac toe: Have your child draw a tic tac toe gameboard on the sidewalk or driveway. Little girl playing sidewalk chalk gameThis activity addresses fine motor and visual motor skills to draw horizontal and vertical lines, turn-taking, problem solving and sportsmanship.
  • Hangman: Take turns coming up with a “secret” word for the other player to guess, and create a hangman board. This activity addresses fine motor and visual motor skills needed for handwriting, as your child has to write out the letters which appear either in the “secret” word, or get placed into the word bank. It also addresses executive functioning skills as your child has to memorize which “secret” word he chose, and has to remember how to spell the word correctly, and which order the letters go in.
  • Road: Help your child to draw a pretend road which he can then either ride his bike through or drive his toy cars through. This activity addresses fine motor and visual motor skills required for drawing (e.g. have your child create road signs as well). And if using the road for bike riding, this activity addresses motor planning to get through the road without crashing into the chalk lines, and balance and trunk control to navigate the bike. If using toy cars, this activity can focus more on imagination and possibly social skills, if your child is playing with peers.
  • Baseball diamond: Create a baseball field out of chalk (e.g. home plate, pitcher’s mound, and the bases). This activity addresses fine motor and visual motor skills to draw the diamond and circles or diamonds for the bases, and potentially letters/numbers for a team name and scoreboard. It also addresses ball skills, bilateral skills, and hand-eye coordination to play the actual game of baseball, along with sportsmanship and turn taking.
  • Four square: Draw a four square game board, which includes one large square divided into four equal squares (one for each player). This activity addresses fine motor and visual motor skills to draw the squares, and write the letters inside the boxes. It also includes ball skills, such as dribbling and bounce passing, in order to keep the ball out of your own square. Similarly, this game addresses sportsmanship and turn taking.

Note: Try making your own sidewalk chalk using 2 tablespoons of temper paint, ½ cup of water, and 3 tablespoons plaster of Paris. Directions: In a five-ounce paper cup, mix 2 tablespoons temper paint with one-half cup water. Add three tablespoons of plaster of Paris and stir until you have a creamy consistency. Once hardened (several hours), peel off the paper cup to produce a giant piece of sidewalk chalk.

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10 Signs in the Classroom Suggesting a Student May Benefit from Occupational Therapy

A teacher’s job can become very hectic when trying to help each child with their own specific challenges. An occupational therapist (ot) can be an excellent resource and adjunct to helping students overcome challenges and excel in the classroom. Here are a few tips to help a teacher identify if a child could benefit from an occupational therapy evaluation and treatment. (This is by no means a complete list of behaviors or challenges in the classroom that an OT can help with.)kids at circle time laying

10 Signs A Child Needs OT:

  1. The child is a bystander or observer on the playground and rarely tries out the equipment independently.
  2. The child has poor posture while sitting in a chair at the table and during situations of unsupported sitting, for example, during circle time the child is observed to roll or move around a lot on the floor.
  3. The child has a difficult time walking in line or being close to other children. The child appears to be irritated by touch from other people but frequently touches things themselves.
  4. The child frequently chooses the same familiar game or activity and avoids learning new motor activities or games.
  5. The child avoids fine motor activities. They have difficulty manipulating small objects, using scissors, demonstrate an abnormal pencil grip, or their hand tires easily during fine motor tasks. The child may press too hard or too light on the paper when writing.
  6. The child seems to have more difficulty than peers putting on their coat, putting on and tying shoes, and buttoning.
  7. The child has trouble putting together puzzles or finding a specific object in the classroom.
  8. The child frequently runs into things in the classroom, falls to the floor, or purposely crashes into things or people.
  9. The child has more trouble than their peers writing in their assignment notebook, keeping their desk and folders organized, and turning in assignments on time.
  10. The child takes excessive risks and frequently demonstrates decreased safety awareness.

If you see any of these behaviors or characteristics in the kids you know, every-day life may be more difficult to get through for them than for other children, and is going to affect their success in school. Help these kids by seeking out an occupational therapist for techniques and strategies to improve their academic success and overall daily performance. Also, it is important to note that many children will exhibit the above behaviors and may or may not require Occupational Therapy (OT) intervention therefore it is important to consult with an OT first.

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Helping Your Middle Schooler Become More Inclusive

Middle school can be a tough time for children (and parents!) as they transition to adolescence and navigate changes in a variety of areas. One of the biggest challenges in middle school is the social aspect as it often marks a shift toward focus on popularity and cliques, to determine who is “in” and who is “out.” These pressures can create anxiety, confusion, and stress in students, especially if left unspoken. Below are 7 tips to help your middle schooler healthily navigate social changes and become more inclusive.

7 Tips To Help Your Child Become Socially Inclusive:

  1. Learn about your middle schooler’s friendships. Your child is likely to meet new students from other elementary schools, and this can create shifts in friendships. clique teenagersAsk gentle questions, such as “Who did you eat lunch with today?” or “Who would you like to invite over this weekend?” to learn who your child’s friends are. Because friends have an influence in the ideas, activities, and pressures you child may face, knowing who your child is friends with is important.
  2. Become a safe person your middle schooler can confide in about social issues. Fully listening, empathizing, and reflecting what your child confides in you about friendships can help her to see you as a go-to person. Be mindful not to problem solve and criticize right away, as the most important step is that your child feels completely heard and accepted. (Ex. Instead of “Why would your friend do that?! Don’t hang out with her,” try “So I hear you saying that your friend made up a rumor about a classmate. How did you feel about that?”
  3. Help your child problem solve. If your middle schooler confides in you about a friendship issue, empower her by guiding her to problem solve. Ask open ended questions, such as “What do you think is something you can do the next time that happens?”
  4. Help your child think critically. There may be times when your middle schooler talks to you about her classmates that leads you to believe that she is being exclusive. Instead of placing blame or using criticism, ask your child open ended questions to guide her to think critically. Asking questions, such as “Why do you think your friend said that to your classmate? How do you think your classmate felt?”, “How do you feel about that?”, and “What do you think a good friend is?” can help your child think critically without feeling judged.
  5. Emphasize the importance of inclusivity. Take the opportunity to teach your middle schooler about why it is important to be inclusive. Give examples, such as “Spending time with people who are different from you can help you learn new things” or “It is important to make sure everyone feels safe and welcome at school,” and ask for her own examples.
  6. Teach by doing. Encourage your middle schooler to invite a new friend or a classmate who does not have appear to have as many friends over for a play date.
  7. Model the importance of inclusivity. Show your middle schooler that you think it is important to be inclusive by inviting a new co-worker or parent for coffee or lunch. Your modeling of inclusivity can help your child understand and believe in its importance.

What have you tried to help your middle schooler navigate social challenges and become more inclusive? Please share with us!

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Hey, PE Teachers! Start Picking Team Leaders Who Will Pick The Right Kids For The Right Reasons!

Do you remember when your gym teacher picked two team captains and they got to pick their teams? Were you the captain? Great! Were you the last one picked? Not great. If the team captains are always the most popular or the most athletic of the bunch, make sure to rotate in those that are quiet or withdrawn. coach and childThey may not be the one scoring all the points but they could turn out to be a great coach one day! PE teachers can be intimidating to the quiet group, but your strength and assertiveness is a valuable lesson for them to model after! First meet them on their level as best you can (at their voice level, eye level, etc.), and slowly help build them up to your level. They will respect you for this and leave gym class feeling more confident!

The Importance Of Leadership Skills in Children:

Leadership skills are important for the development of self-esteem and social relationships. When learning the basics, children need to understand how and when to be a leader, as well as when it’s time to follow. This also leads to the development of another important skill: how to work well with others and be a part of a team. The children with less athletic abilities shouldn’t have to dread gym class, when they could be learning how to find their own role, develop leadership, and communicate as a team. They could be the ones who are great at planning, organizing, and strategizing. They could be empathic and able to support their teammates as they deal with frustrations of losing. So, don’t forget that they need to be chosen too. They might surprise you!

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How To Create A Sensory Bin With Your Child

A sensory bin is almost always a huge hit during therapy sessions. A sensory bin is oftentimes filled with rice, beans, or sand, along with cups to pour sensory binsand dig with, and small objects to locate (e.g., plastic animals, puzzle pieces, coins). Other tactile media could also be used in the sensory bin (e.g., cotton balls, Styrofoam peanuts). A sensory bin can provide “a break” and relaxation for a child who is overstressed or overstimulated and it can provide tactile input for a child who is hypersensitive to certain textures or seeking sensory input throughout the day. A sensory bin can also help a child to work on their fine motor, visual motor, and bilateral skills, depending how the activity is set-up.

How To Create A Sensory Bin:

  • Fill any size plastic tub with a tactile media of choice (Note: make sure your tub has a lid as well, so that it can be easily stored, and so you don’t have to worry about spills)
  • Then depending on the goals of your child you can hide the following items:
    • Hide plastic or real coins inside the tactile media for a child who is working on in-hand manipulation, finger translation (moving object from palm to fingers), or money skills
    • Hide letters or numbers (e.g. puzzle pieces/magnets/letters from Scrabble game) for a child who is working on identifying letters or numbers or spelling words or sentences
    • Hide pieces to a puzzle for a child who is working on visual motor skills and problem solving
  • Allow your child to play in the sensory bin before times of transition or before a challenging task, as it might help them to mentally and physically prepare for the next activity, and ideally prevent a meltdown

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Why Does My Kid Sit Like That?

You may be asking yourself the question “why does my kid sit like that?” frequently enough to drive yourself crazy.  As kids are growing, they are experimenting with their posture muscles, may be having growing pains, or are just sometimes tired after a long day. teenager sitting As adults may want to put their feet up on the couch after a long day, kids may just want to slouch in their chair when they get home from school.  Below are some common postural bad habits of children and how to correct them.

How Backpacks Affect Poor Posture:

Teenagers are the best at showing poor posture.  Between backpacks that weigh 20 plus pounds and fatigue from growth spurts, you may notice their posture ‘slacking.’  To help combat scoliosis, make sure that your child wears his backpack with both shoulder straps that should fit snuggly on the lower back.  According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, a backpack should weigh no more then 15% of the child’s body weight.  For example, a child weighing 100 pounds should not wear a backpack weighing more then 15 pounds.  Also, consider a roller-bag if your teen’s chemistry books are literally weighing him down.

The Best Position For Your Child To Sit In:

With children who are able to sit at the table, make sure that their feet are on the floor with their hips and knees at 90 degree angles.   Many children’s chairs are adjustable for this reason.  This will make sure that there is no unnecessary pressure on their lower back and leg joints.  If needed, use a stool under their feet to reach that 90 degree position.

The Affects Of W-Sitting:

W-sitting is a common way to sit for kids with low muscle tone and/or low core strength.  Instead of their legs crossed in front of them, kids with low tone or low core strength will sit with their legs splayed out to the side.  W-sitting is a way for kids to widen their base of support so they feel more stable when sitting and reaching for toys.  However, W-sitting can cause strain on the hips, knees and ankles and can also lead to in-toeing. Many children are able to correct the w-sitting habit with just a reminder to sit “pretzel” sitting or “criss-cross applesauce”.

Please refer to my backpack blog for more information on how to properly fit and wear a backpack.  If your child w-sits and you have concerns about their muscle tone or core strength, please contact a physical therapist at North Shore Pediatric Therapy.

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How does decreased trunk control affect my child’s schoolwork?

Our trunk muscles (“core”) greatly influence how we move through our environment and how we engage in gross motor and fine motor activities throughout the day. Trunk muscles affect our ability to sit and stand, to carry a backpack or briefcase, to carry books and materials throughout the day, and the ability to participate in extracurricular poor trunk controlactivities and hobbies. We rely on our trunk muscles more than we know. Therefore, if decreased trunk strength or trunk control is noted, many side effects or resulting behaviors may occur, particularly for a school-age child, such as the following:

Affects Of Poor Trunk Control In School Aged Children:

  • May cause distractibility, as your child is focused more on keeping his body in an upright, erect posture, rather than focusing on the task at hand (e.g. teacher’s directions; homework task)
  • May result in decreased body awareness, as your child may not respect their personal space due to propping on others for support to compensate for decreased endurance in a seated position (e.g. lying on floor or propping on elbows during circle time)
  • May be observed as increased fidgeting, as your child is frequently trying to reposition themselves due to the inability to sustain a position for an increased length of time (e.g. mealtime, table time, homework assignment)
  • May produce illegible or sloppy work, as your child may not be maintaining a posture that is suitable for writing (e.g. slouching, falling off of chair, propping head onto hand, sitting on feet rather than keeping feet flat on floor)
  • May result in decreased participation in gym class or recess activities due to decreased endurance and strength for sports-like activities
  • May cause decreased safety, as the trunk is a major “power house” which correlates with upper body and lower body strength as well (e.g. falling off of chair during tabletop activity; falling down the stairs)

If you feel that your child may have decreased trunk control, stay tuned for my next blog on strategies to promote increased trunk control at home and at school! If you have immediate concerns, contact an occupational therapist or your child’s primary care physician.

Click here to read part 2 of this blog: “Strategies to Promote Increased Trunk Control at Home and School”

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When it’s more than a case of “The Mondays”: Motivating your Child when School Is Challenging

“I hate school, I’m never going back!” “I can’t do it!” “ I’m not smart like the other kids.” “My teacher hates me.”

If you’ve heard these comments from your child, you are not alone. Children with learning differences in particular are at risk for school burn-out. girl hates schoolThe work is challenging and the battle seems mostly up-hill; once he or she masters one skill, the next, more difficult lesson poses yet another daunting challenge. You can’t take your child out of school, but here are some ideas to make the time they spend there a bit more relaxed and motivating.

5 Steps To  Motivating Your Child In School:

  1. Appeal to your child’s sense of fun!
    1. Surprises: Try to do something at least once a week to remind your child that you care at school. This can be a notecard with an interesting fact tucked in his pencil holder, a note that says you love him, or some words of encouragement in his Spelling folder on the day of a test.
    2. Extra-curricular Activities: Finding the activity that suits your child’s interests and abilities can foster a connection to a teacher and other students. Be supportive and positive in letting your son or daughter choose one activity that appeals to him or her!
  2. Talk it Out: Get out of the one-word answer rut by asking a different question each day. You can ask questions such as:
    1. What is something that you did really well today?
    2. Who made you laugh today and why?
    3.  What did you make in Art class?
    4. What songs did you sing/play in Music?
    5. If it was a bad day you can ask: What can you do differently to make tomorrow better?
  3. Set Realistic Goals: Give your child practice setting goals by making a specific plan each week for what they can do to improve the school experience.
    1. The child should be involved in the process, rather than having you tell him what he needs to do.
    2. Be sure that the goals you set together will be met with success by creating the goal at or just above the child’s current ability level. For example, if your child got 60% correct on his last math test because he didn’t study, you could set a goal that he will get 70% on the next one and make a plan study one hour in advance of the next test.
    3. If he meets his goal, recognize that at dinner for the whole family or find another way to reward his efforts.
  4. Break it Down: There is a mountain of research since Hermann Ebbinghaus’ 1885 discovery that spacing learning out over multiple practice opportunities results in better retention and recall than cramming. If your child is going to study for an hour this week, help him break it down into smaller, more focused sessions that will take place throughout the week. Recognize and praise him as he follows the plan.
  5. Positive reinforcement works: Rather than punish your child for mistakes, and further contributing to his sense of failure, look for progress everywhere, including in subjects you may not find as important. If your child sees that you recognize his effort in his favorite subject, and he gets a reward for doing well where he can, this is an opportunity to gradually begin to reward more difficult areas. Depending on your child’s age, rewards can be anything from a certificate of recognition to a formal plan with monetary, tangible, or other meaningful rewards such as special privileges. Consistency is the key with reinforcement systems; be sure to seek the help of a trained professional if your child has substantial barriers to learning.

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ADHD Treatment Options

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions. The United States Center for Disease Control has recently indicated that approximately ten percent of the school age population has been diagnosed with ADHD (CDC, 2010).ADHD

Typical symptoms that are exhibited in a child with ADHD include:

  • a lack of attention to details
  • difficulty following instructions
  • poor impulse control
  • hyperactivity
  • issues with regard to self-regulation

Research On ADHD Treatment:

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) conducted the largest on-going research studies (MTA: Multimodal Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Study) examining the efficacy of various treatment modalities for ADHD. This study consisted of over six hundred children who were diagnosed with ADHD.

Each child was assigned randomly to one of four treatment groups:

  • intensive medication management alone
  • intensive behavioral treatment alone
  • a combination of both
  • or routine community care which served as a control group

Outcomes Of The ADHD Study:

What the study found was that combination behavioral treatment and medication management were significantly superior to behavioral treatment alone in reducing symptoms of ADHD (Dec 1999, Archives of General Psychiatry). The results also highlighted that these improvements in functioning (with combination behavioral and medication therapy) lasted for upwards of 14 months. A final important finding from the study indicated that combination treatment (behavioral therapy and medication) was superior in treating other areas of daily functioning such as anxiety/depression, academic achievement, social skills, and family interactions in comparison to medication or behavior therapy alone.

ADHD treatment Options:

As the above study indicates, pharmacological intervention is oftentimes the first treatment of choice for a child with a diagnosis of ADHD. However, medication alone is not the only solution as was evident in the study. Behavior therapy, which focuses on teaching children appropriate self regulation skills by modifying the environment so that appropriate on-task behaviors are reinforced while negative, off-task behaviors are extinguished, is a vital component of a treatment plan. Many times parents do not want to go with medication as a primary treatment and would rather try behavioral therapy or working with a social worker to help develop socialization skills.

Many children with ADHD exhibit issues with their daily social functioning. It is important to realize that these social deficits are not because of a lack of inherent social skills but because of the impact that issues with attention to the social world and impulsivity have on their daily social interactions. The focus of the intervention then needs to be on how to change the child’s daily environment so that he or she is set up for success. Many times this will include modifications in the classroom setting to help improve on-task behaviors and self regulation. Another intervention that is often needed for a child with a diagnosis of ADHD is parent and teacher education. It is important to work with parents and teachers so that they can have a better grasp as to why they are observing particular behaviors.

In summary, the empirical research has indicated that a combination of pharmacological intervention and behavioral treatment is the number one intervention for a child with a diagnosis of ADHD. However, there are other options that are less invasive such as behavioral therapy in isolation, parent/teacher education, and/or social work support to help improve daily social interactions.

For more on ADHD, click here

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5 Ways to Work on Endurance for Handwriting

Handwriting involves many components, such as visual motor skills, fine motor skills, bilateral skills (stabilizing the paper and manipulating a pencil),  hand strength, grasping, and executive functioning (planning, preparing, organizing). Oftentimes, a child will greatly improve the sizing, spacing, and legibility of his handwriting, but will still have girl practicing writingtrouble getting his thoughts onto paper. This may be due to decreased attention, decreased hand strength and endurance for fine motor tasks, or increased distractibility. Below are some strategies to work on creativity and independence for handwriting, particularly focusing on complete sentences and paragraphs, to help increase success at home and at school.

5 Steps To Work On Handwriting Strength:

  1. Write out the steps to a favorite board game: Have your child write out the rules and directions to a frequently played board game from memory. Make sure he uses complete thoughts and sentences, and that someone else would be able to play the game simply by reading the handwritten directions.
  2. Write out the directions to a favorite recipe: Have your child write out the ingredients and steps to a recipe from memory. In order to check his accuracy, make the recipe with your child, using only his directions. Then, your child will be able to “fill in the gaps” of his recipe to determine if he left out any important details. For an extra challenge, have your child write out the recipe on an index card to practice small, controlled handwriting and legibility.
  3. Create a story by looking at a picture: Help your child to find a picture from a storybook or off of the computer to use as the foundation of their own story. Make sure that he uses his own ideas, rather than the ideas and themes from the original storybook. Remind your child that there should be a title, a theme to the story, an opening sentence, and a closing sentence.
  4. Use a story starter: Provide your child with one or two sentences to work off of. For instance, “I am looking forward to summer vacation because ____, ____, and ____.” Or, “One activity I am really good at is ____ because ____, ____, and ____.” Or, “One day I went to the ice cream shop and…”. Make sure your child uses complete thoughts and sentences, rather than just filling in the blanks.
  5. Create an obstacle course: First, have your child walk around the house in order to brainstorm several activities and pieces of equipment he could use to develop his own obstacle course (e.g. dribble a basketball 5 times, log roll over a pile of pillows, and do 10 frog jumps down the hallway). Next, have your child write down his thoughts and ideas, including the equipment needed, and place the steps of the obstacle course in logical order. Lastly, have your child complete the obstacle course, as you read through the steps. This will help to find any missing directions in the obstacle course and add in any needed information or details.

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