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How Does Play Help Meet a Child’s Therapy Goals?

Occupational therapists often use play as a means of helping achieve our clients’ goals. Many times, it may not look like our sessions are working on your child’s areas of need; however, when we are working with children, we often try to adapt play activities in order to help your child meet his goals. Play is a very motivating activity for a child to engage in with the therapist and work on some of his goals. Play may also mask the fact that children are working on a difficult skill by introducing fun into the activity. For example, if one of the child’s goals is to improve his handwriting skills, you could play a game that involves writing, such as Boggle, Scattergories, or crossword puzzles.

Therapist and child at Gym

Here are some play activities that OT’s use to help your child meet his goals:

  1. If your child needs to work on balance and coordination, we may play basketball while standing on top of a bosu ball (imagine standing on the rounded part of a ball cut in half).
  2. A child who needs to work on core and upper extremity strength could meet these goals by playing a game while lying on his stomach over a therapy ball, while balancing with his arms on the ground.
  3. In order to improve self-regulation for a child who has sensory concerns, we may start our session by playing on the gym equipment in order to help regulate his nervous system.
  4. To work on bilateral coordination and fine motor skills with a child who does not like drawing, we often use play-doh and have him trace shapes and cut them out with scissors.
  5. Another way to work on gross motor coordination is to practice climbing a rock wall, climbing a ladder, or swinging on the monkey bars.

Sometimes, however, it may be difficult to adapt the activity and make it fun for the child. In this case, the therapist may have the child participate in an activity to work on the skills he needs to improve, but use a play activity as a reward.  From the first example in which the child’s goal is to improve handwriting, the child may still not want to play the games that involve handwriting. Then, the therapist may tell the child that after handwriting, he can do an activity of his choice.

Hopefully, this blog provides a bit more insight into the therapist’s mindset while working with your child. The therapist is constantly thinking and problem solving about how to make an activity therapeutic and how to make it easier or harder based on the child’s ability to succeed at the tasks. If the therapist is successful, the child will not even realize the activities are working on their areas of need and will want to come to therapy every session!

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Executive Functioning Activities At Home

Many kids have difficulty mastering skills such as problem-solving, organization, sequencing, initiation, memory, attention, and breaking downgirl with homework books tasks.  These skills (and many more) fall under the category of executive functioning.  As children get older and begin middle school, these skills are expected to advance quickly.  It is usually in about 5th grade where teachers and parents start to notice their child may be having more difficulty than her peers in executive functioning skills. Academic specialists, occupational therapists, and neuropsychologists are just a few of the professionals who address challenges in these areas, but there are also a variety of activities that can be done at home that are both fun and target the development of certain executive functioning skills.

Here is a list of activities that build certain aspects of executive functioning and are fairly easy to orchestrate in the home:

  • Using Playdoh, blocks, or Tinkertoys, build a figurine and have your child build an exact replica in size and color.  This works on multiple skills, including initiation, breaking down tasks, sequencing, organization, and attention.  If you are unable to build an example, or if you have an older child who enjoys playing independently, there are often pictures of structures to build that come along with block sets or images online that can be printed.
  • Have your child go through a magazine and make a list of all the toys/items wanted. Then, have her organize the list in some sort of order (most wanted at the top, alphabetical, price, etc.).  For older kids, you could also have them write a description of the item, cut the pictures out, and type up a list with descriptions and pasted pictures, or even plan a presentation.
  • There are many board games that target executive functioning skill development.  A few of the games used in the therapeutic setting that would be easy and fun options for home use include: Rush Hour (a problem-solving and sequencing game involving getting a specific car out of a traffic jam when the other vehicles can only move in straight lines), Mastermind (trying to determine what the secret code is by process of elimination), and Connect 4 Stackers (a game of attention, organization, and planning to be the first to get four in a row, like the original, but this game involves different dimensions).
  • There are many resources that can be printed from the internet. Logic puzzles come in many different levels of difficulty and involve taking given clues, making inferences from those clues, and eventually solving some sort of problem through the use of the clues. There are often charts that accompany these puzzles and require attention, organization, sequencing and problem-solving.
  • Have your child choose a recipe from a magazine. After verifying that it is a realistic recipe that can be made in your home, have her write a grocery list containing everything needed to prepare that dish, create a list of the necessary cooking supplies, and for older children, have them look up the price of each item at the store and create an estimated budget. If possible, let them be part of the entire process, and take them with you to the grocery store. Again, with older children, you could even put them in charge of pushing the cart and finding the items in the store. For older kids, they may also act as the “head chef” and be responsible for completing most of the cooking. For younger kids, if there are safety concerns, assign specific tasks as their job in the cooking process.

One of the most important aspects of doing therapeutic activities at home is that your child is having fun. These are just a few of the many activities that can be done at home to develop executive functioning skills and are also engaging and enjoyable for school age kids.




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