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How Household Materials Can Be Used For Occupational Therapy Goals

In occupational therapy sessions, we often use common materials and games to make our sessions therapeutic and fun.

Here are some ways that you can use materials and equipment that you may have lying around at home to help your children reach their occupational therapy goals:

Children play household games

  1. Board Games Board games are a great way to help your children develop their social skills and fine motor skills. Board games can be a way to improve eye contact, turn taking, and sharing. Many board games, such as Battleship, Trouble, and Perfection, involve small pieces that need to be placed into the game board. By having your child use his fingers to manipulate these pieces, it can help him understand how to hold small objects which can facilitate learning how to properly hold writing utensils. In addition to helping to hold small pieces, it can also assist your child to develop other fine motor skills, such as manual dexterity and in hand manipulation skills. For example, you can have your child hold onto several of the pieces with one hand and put them into the game board one by one. Using board games that also have cards, such as Sorry, can also help improve manual dexterity by means of shuffling, dealing, and manipulating the cards without dropping them or revealing them to the other players.
  2. Play-Doh Play-Doh is a wonderful tool to improve fine motor skills in children. Play-Doh can be used as a medium to practice writing, drawing, and cutting. You can trace different geometric forms (circle, square, and triangle) into the Play-Doh with a pencil and have you child copy the shapes in another piece of flattened Play-Doh and cut them out with scissors. Using Play-Doh to practice drawing and cutting is often a good precursor to writing with a pencil and paper as the texture of Play-Doh is more resistive which makes cutting and tracing easier. Play-Doh can also be used to help strengthen the small muscles in their hands by rolling it into a snake, ball, and flattening it into a pancake.
  3. Puzzles Puzzles can be used to help your children improve their visual-perceptual skills which is important for many school tasks, such as copying things from the board and finding items in their desk. The complexity of puzzles can very greatly, from simple large peg puzzles in a wooden form to 100 piece jigsaw puzzles. If you have an older child, using a complex jigsaw puzzle can be a great way to work on planning, sequencing, organizing, and problem-solving skills.
  4. Playground equipment Using the playground or the jungle gym in the backyard is the perfect way to help your children increase their core strength, upper body strength, and bilateral coordination. This will help build up the strength in your children’s larger muscles so that when they have to work at their desk or a table, their core and upper body will have the stability and endurance to sit and complete fine motor activities.
  5. Balls Playing catch, kicking, dribbling, and volleyball are just a few of the many ways balls can be therapeutic. All of these activities involve using eye-hand coordination, balance, and core strength which are great skills to have for a variety of gross motor and fine motor activities. These activities can also help with ocular motor skills as your child needs to track the object through space.

There are many types of equipment and materials used during therapy that can be adapted to meet the needs of your child. You can find these materials and many more around your house in order to improve your child’s skills so he or she can be successful in school and play activities!

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What do Occupational Therapists Look for During your Child’s Handwriting Sample?

Handwriting is a lifelong skill. It begins as young as 3 years of age, when children start identifying shapes, letters, and numbers.  Handwriting and letter recognition are important for communicating (e.g. sending cards and emails) and for completing age-appropriate tasks (e.g. homework assignments; writing grocery lists).child pencil grasp

Below are many of the components your child’s occupational therapist looks for during a handwriting sample in order to work towards a clear and legible final product:

  • Sizing: Are the letters all relatively the same size (e.g. all upper case the same size and all lower case the same size)?
  • Spacing: Are the letters and/or words too close together?  Or is there at least a finger or pencil width between each word?
  • Mixing of upper case and lower case:  Is there inconsistency between the use of upper case and lower case letters?  Are upper case letters used correctly (e.g. start of a sentence or for a name/title)?  Mixing of upper case and lower case letters is appropriate until 6 years of age.
  • Capitalization: Are names, titles, and beginning letters of a sentence appropriately capitalized?
  • Formation of letters Does the child form each letter in the right direction?  (e.g. ‘b’, ‘d’)  Does the child use the correct number of lines and curves? (e.g. ‘m’, ‘n’)  Letter reversals are appropriate until 7 years of age.
  • Complete sentences Are there clear and complete thoughts?  Is the correct punctuation used at the end of the sentence?
  • Floating letters: Do all of the letters sit clearly on the line?
  • Pencil grasp:  Does the child hold the pencil or marker age appropriately?  The static tripod grasp is expected around 3 ½ – 4 years of age.  This is when the pencil is held between the thumb and index finger, with the pencil resting on the middle finger and the child uses and moves his wrist/arm to make movements with the pencil.  The dynamic tripod grasp is expected around 4 ½ – 6 years of age.  This is when the pencil is held between the thumb and index finger with the pencil resting on the middle finger, and the child uses and moves his fingers to make movements with the pencil.
  • Posture in chair:  Is the child slouching or falling out of the chair?  Is the child propped or leaning?  Are his feet flat on the floor?  Is the table the appropriate size?
  • Pressure used:  Is the child’s writing legible?  Or does he press down too hard or too lightly with the pencil, causing the writing to be hard to read or his hands to fatigue more easily?

This list of handwriting aspects may give you ideas of what to look for in your child’s handwriting during activities/assignments at home.   If you notice that your child is having trouble in any of these areas, encourage him to focus on one of those aspects each time he practices writing (to break down the task).  Your child will work on these aspects of handwriting during his occupational therapy sessions, but it is also very important to provide your child with similar learning opportunities and feedback at home.

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Developing Hand-Eye Coordination

Hand-eye coordination is the synchronization of eye and hand movements. It involves proprioception (knowing where your body is in space) combined with processing visual input. Any task that requires the coordination of vision and hand movements involves hand-eye coordination. Examples of hand-eye coordination include grasping objects, catching and throwing a ball, playing an instrument while reading music, reading and writing, or playing a video game.

Hand-Eye Coordination in Infants

There are many ways to encourage development of hand-eye coordination in a child. Just like any other skill, the more time spent doing activities that involve hand-eye coordination, the easier the skill will become. In infants, reaching and playing with objects and toys are great ways to foster development of hand-eye coordination. As they get older and are able to sit independently, you can play with balls, encouraging the baby to roll and corral them. Playing with blocks and other toys that involve putting something in or taking something out are also great ways for an infant to develop this skill.

Hand-Eye Coordination in Toddlers

With toddlers, continue to play with various sized and textured balls to develop hand-eye coordination. By the age of three, a toddler should be able to “fling” a ball forwards and catch a ball against their chest. To help develop his aim, you can practice tossing balls into hula-hoops or targets on a wall (start with big targets and get smaller as the child progresses and gets older). To practice catching with only the hands, start with bigger and softer balls (like koosh balls or bean bags). Progress to smaller and harder balls (like a tennis ball) as the child gets older.

Hand-Eye Coordination in 4 Year Olds and Older

Coloring and creating crafts is another fun and great way to develop hand-eye coordination. Some fun crafts to do include stringing beads or macaroni, finger painting, or playing with play-dough. When a child is four years or older, games that involve slight hand movements can also further facilitate growth in this area. Examples of these games are Jenga, Honey-Bee Tree, or Topple (all available at any toy store). Complex puzzles, Legos, or building blocks are other great hand-eye coordination activities.

Children who have poor hand-eye coordination often refuse or choose not to participate in activities that involve this skill. The activities mentioned above can be very beneficial in assisting these children in improving their hand-eye coordination. Some children struggle immensely with every-day activities due to poor coordination skills. These children may require extra assistance from an occupational therapist or a physical therapist.

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Got Chopsticks? A Great Tool For Improving Hand Skills

Colorful Assortment Of Chopsticks

Chopsticks are a great utensil to use during mealtime and for a variety of creative games and activities. Chopsticks can help children to work on hand-dominance, pre-handwriting/handwriting skills, and improving their grasp in a fun and exciting manner.

Games with chopsticks

Relay race:

Place a bucket at one end of the room and the objects to be picked-up on the other side of the room (e.g. marbles, beads, cotton balls, dry cereal). Read more