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5 Activities to Help Your Preschooler Become a Reader

Learning to read is an intricate process that begins during infancy and continues through the first few years of elementary school. Partpreschool reading of this process includes awareness that words are made of up of sounds; and that those sounds correspond to letters.

Here are some suggestions to encourage literacy development in your preschooler:

  1. Point out environmental print, which refers to text on familiar labels, logos and signs. Some examples include stop signs, food labels and store names.
  2. Use ABC puzzles, books, magazines and environmental print to identify letters. You can cut out pictures from magazines that have sounds that begin with each letter and put them together into a book with your child. In addition, ask your child to find letters in his/her name on pieces of environmental print. Read more

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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Reading: It Comes in Stages

Child reading

Reading can sometimes appear to be an overnight skill, and there are even children who “teach themselves” to read before they reach the first grade. Often, it is a wonder that kids enter one grade with minimal letter knowledge and leave reading books on their own. It has been my experience that the skill of reading is often taken for granted. I was a quick reader (one of those annoying overnight type learners), but my sister struggled every step of the way. Now, as I work with children in early elementary school who are having difficulty with this skill, I have learned more and more to appreciate how tricky it is and how many skills go into the act of reading.

To better understand the process of learning to read, and to appreciate the lengths we’re pushing children every time we sit down with a story, I have listed the multiple steps of reading below:

  • First, kids see symbols and associate a symbol with an item- in simple terms, it’s like all of us recognizing those “golden arches” as a potential snack, drink, or rest break while driving on the highway.
  • Next, letters are identified.
  • Then, not only are  letters  identified, but they are also associated with the sounds they create in words (if we’re talking vowels, that list is LONG, whereas for consonants it’s typically only two or so- the hard and soft ‘g’ for example). Children at this stage are called “decoders.” That means they’re taking every letter and painstakingly identifying it, associating a sound, and blending one to the next and so on. I imagine the inner monologue of a six year old learning the skill to be something like this: “oh, that’s a B, b makes buh, ok and next is u, u can be you or uh….let’s see what comes next, g, ok g can say jee or guh, let’s put it together, boooj…no, buuug, no BUG, that’s it.” It’s no wonder that kids at this stage can sometimes get through a whole page, without a clue as to the meaning of the words. Their full attention was on decoding, not comprehending.
  • Some kids are wonderful decoders from the beginning; they have great sound and letter awareness and quickly make the leap to the next step, which involves “chunking” sounds together. Most importantly, kids must learn to chunk vowels which commonly occur together (like the ‘oa’ in boat and the ‘oo’ in boot). They also learn to recognize common words on sight, rather than expending effort fully decoding every word. At this stage, children sound much more fluent and less halting, and their intonation begins to match the meaning of sentences. This is because they are able to spend less energy on decoding and more energy on comprehension.
  • Even beyond this stage of an apparently competent reader, demands are increased – most notably in third grade. Children in third grade are expected to make the switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” That is often why children who fared well in early grades bump into difficulty in third and fourth grade “out of nowhere.” It is likely that their reading skills just have not developed to the point where they are now a tool to support learning, as opposed to a developing skill.

Support your kids’ reading skills- practice makes perfect and support makes practice bearable! Seek out assistance or evaluation if you feel your child could benefit. I feel (and I hope many agree) that it’s better to be proactive than reactive in literacy learning, so that reading can be a pleasurable pastime rather than a dreaded task.

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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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3 Signs Your Child May Have Dyslexia | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, an Academic Specialist explains ways to determine if your child has dyslexia.

Click here to learn more about dyslexia and find out more signs and characteristics to look for.

In this video you will learn:

  • What is dyslexia
  • How do children develop dyslexia
  • What are common signs in children with dyslexia

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide
audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV where we provide experience and
innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now your host, here’s Robyn.

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host Robyn
Ackerman. I’m sitting here today with Elizabeth Galin [SP], an academic
specialist. Elizabeth, can you tell us three signs to look out for that a
child may suffer from dyslexia?

Elizabeth: Absolutely. And to start, dyslexia is a learning disability
characterized by an inability to decode words. So kids who have dyslexia
show trouble with spelling, with reading fluently, reading with accuracy.
It’s a deficit in the phonological component of language. So the first
thing that is a sign that your child may have dyslexia is a lack of
interest in reading. Most young children really enjoy reading and look
forward to that time but dyslexic kids, it’s difficult so they might run
away and hide. They’re not interested. Second is a lack of understanding
that letters make a sound, the phonological component again. So each letter
has an associated sound and that’s a really difficult association for
dyslexic kids to make. And lastly, dyslexic kids, when they begin to read
once they get a little bit older, they often make reading errors that
really just don’t even connect to the word at all. It’s different sounds.
Dyslexic kids often have a hard time sounding out words, and they have a
hard time with even the most basic of sight words. So if you’re seeing any
of those in your child, it might be worth a look.

Robyn: All right. Thank you so much, Elizabeth, and thank you to our
viewers and remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind
to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to
our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at
learnmore.me. That’s learnmore.me.

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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A Checklist for Language Based Reading Difficulties

Learning to read is such a monumental milestone for children in early elementary school, but it can also be a source of stress for concerned parents or for children who don’t seem to “pick it up” as easily as others. Since reading is a fundamental skill which only increases in importance as students move on to later grades in school, early identification of at-risk readers is key to ensuring academic success for all children.

Listed below is a checklist which can be used to identify children (in kindergarten – first grade) who may benefit from further evaluation by a speech-language pathologist:

Speech sound awareness:Child with reading difficulties

  • Does not understand or enjoy rhymes (may have difficulty clapping hands/tapping feet in rhythm to songs or rhymes)
  • Does not recognize words with the same beginning sound
  • Has difficulty counting syllables in spoken words
  • Difficulty learning sound-letter correspondences ( the letter ‘b’ says ‘buh’)

Written language awareness:

  • Does not orient book properly while looking through books
  • Cannot identify words and letters in picture books

Letter name knowledge:

  • Cannot recite the alphabet
  • Cannot identify printed letters as they are named or name letters when asked.

Word retrieval:

  • Has difficulty finding a specific word in conversation, uses non-specific words (thing, stuff) or substitutes a related term
  • Poor memory for classmates names
  • Halting speech- pauses and filler words used (“um” or “you know”)

Speech production/perception:

  • Difficulty saying common words with difficult sound patterns (i.e. cinnamon, specific, library)
  • Mishears and then mispronounces words/names
  • Frequent slips of the tongue (says “brue blush” for “blue brush”)

Comprehension:

  • Only responds to part of a multi-step direction or instruction or requests multiple repetitions for instructions
  • Difficulty understanding spatial terms (in front, behind etc.)
  • Difficulty understanding stories

Expressive language:

  • Uses short sentences with a small vocabulary, little variety
  • Difficulty giving directions or explanations, little detail provided
  • Disorganized story-telling or event recall
  • Grammar errors (“he goed to the store”)

Literacy motivation:

  • Does not enjoy classroom story-time (wanders, does not pay attention when teacher reads stories)
  • Shows little interest in literacy activities (looking at books, writing)

If your child or a child you work with can be described by many of the items on this checklist, further evaluation of their language skills is warranted to ensure appropriate intervention is provided and continued literacy learning is encouraged. There are many professionals (teachers, reading specialists, and speech-language pathologists) who are trained to assist children in acquiring early literacy skills or supporting children who exhibit difficulty in this area. However, areas of expertise vary and depending on the needs of your child, the appropriate professional to help can be identified.

This checklist is modified from H. Catts’s 2002 publication in Languge, speech, and Hearing Services in Schools as presented in Rhea Paul’s Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence.

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