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Developmental and Therapeutic Uses for Playdoh

There are so many common household items and children’s toys that have great therapeutic value when used or playedLittle girl playing Play-doh with in certain ways.  Playdoh may seem like an item that children use solely for creative play, but it can be a therapist’s and parent’s go-to activity that is both fun and extremely beneficial to a child’s development.

Developmental Skills that can be optimized through the use of Playdoh:

  • Hand Strength Whether your child is smashing the Playdoh into pancakes, squishing it so it explodes through their fingers, or using the Playdoh tools to create a spaghetti dinner, the muscles in the hand are constantly working and the Playdoh acts as a resistive force.  This is a great activity for kids who have handwriting difficulties, complain of getting tired while writing, don’t have a clearly defined hand dominance or have overall fine motor delays.
  • Bilateral Coordination Activities that target bilateral coordination and are fun to do at home may be difficult to come up with, but Playdoh is a great solution.  Many kids who have challenges with bilateral coordination often have difficulty with daily tasks like using a knife and fork to cut food and tying their shoes.  Kids can roll the Playdoh out into a flat “pancake-like” shape and then practice using a knife and fork to cut the food into small pieces.  This is a safe way to practice cutting foods as plastic utensil can be used and doesn’t waste food.  Cookie cutters or actual Playdoh toys with imprints of real food can also be used to add another layer to this activity.
  • Practicing Writing and Drawing Writing or drawing shapes in Playdoh is a great alternative to traditional writing activities; it may be more motivating for some kids who have difficulty with writing tasks while offering a resistive surface which improves hands strength at the same time.  Roll out Playdoh (modeling clay can be substituted for older kids who may benefit from a more resistive surface) onto a cookie sheet or similar surface and use a chopstick, pencil, or even the child’s finger to write letters.  For kids who are just learning to write or have a hard time with letter formation, shapes can be substituted, or an adult or older child can make a light impression of the letter and the child can trace using their full force.
  • Tactile Sensitivities For children  with tactile sensitivities, they are often fearful of or hesitant to touch a variety of textures.  Playdoh is a great transition item to use to bridge the gap between common firm/hard surfaces which are often “comfortable” and the textures which a child is sensitive to, such a soft, sticky and/or mushy to name a few.  Playdoh is easy to clean up and can be used in a variety of ways (cookie cutters, incorporate it with a child’s trains or action figures, have a tea party, etc), making it the perfect tool to introduce to a child who may have tactile sensitivities.  A great way to progress after becoming comfortable with store bought Playdoh is to find a recipe online for making your own Playdoh at home. These are often quick and easy recipes using common household items and can usually be colored in a fun way; some are even edible making this a total sensory experience and a lot of fun!

Playdoh has so many uses besides being a fun and creative tool for play for kids, but because it is fun and so versatile, it is an invaluable tool for working on therapeutic goals at home. There really isn’t a wrong way to use Playdoh as long as your kids are having fun and using their hands to explore.

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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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