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How to Help Improve a Child’s Pencil Grasp

There are various factors that have an influence on a child’s pencil grasp. In addition to addressing a child’s physical attributes, the environment and tools used can also impact a pencil grasp.blog-pencil-grasp-main-landscape

Below are several strategies to assist in the development of an appropriate pencil grasp:

Increase Core Strength & Postural Control

Having a strong base of support can lead to more refined and controlled movements in the hands and fingers. Encourage play and activities on the ground, belly side down and propped up on the elbows and forearms. You can also incorporate animal walks, wheelbarrow walks, and kid friendly yoga poses throughout the day.

90-90-90 Positioning

During writing activities, set up the child to promote an appropriate pencil grasp. Make sure that the child is seated at a table with his or her feet flat on the ground and that the ankles, knees, and hips are at a 90 degree angle.

Vertical & Slanted Surfaces

Encourage appropriate wrist alignment and grasp by having the child draw on vertical or slanted surfaces.

  • Easel
  • Chalkboard
  • 3-Ring Binder

Hand Strengthening

Various strengthening activities can be implemented to increase the strength in the muscles of the hands.

  • Playdough, putty, clay:  roll, pinch, flatten, make shapes with cookie cutters
  • Rip paper or tear and crumple tissue paper to make a craft with the pieces
  • Use an eye dropper and food-colored water to decorate a coffee filter
  • Pop bubble wrap
  • Use a spray bottle to water plants or form letters on the sidewalk

Short Tools

Have the child use short writing tools to promote increased control. Break crayons or chalk so they are approximately 1-2 inches long or use golf pencils.

Separate the Two Sides of the Hand

The fingers on the thumb side of the hand should be utilized for holding and moving the pencil. The fingers on the pinky side of the hand (pinky finger and ring finger) should be tucked in against the palm and utilized for stability and control. To encourage this separation of the two sides of the hand, tuck a small object in the pinky and ring fingers during writing activities. For example, have the child tuck a small pompom, eraser, button, or cotton ball on the pinky side of the hand.

Both parents and teachers can incorporate the listed strategies within a child’s day to develop an effective pencil grasp and in turn help increase handwriting skills, confidence, and self-esteem.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Strategies and Resources for Your Child’s Writing Disorder

Writing disorders can make every day school tasks like taking notes, writing assignments into a planner, and completing written work very challenging for students.  Nonetheless, this does not mean that it should hold a child back from learning to be a great writer.  There are many resources available to help assist students become proficient writers and the following is a list that children and adolescents in our clinic have found helpful:

  • Assistive Technology Devices that may be available in your child’s school:

    • Word Processor
    • Dictation (e.g., Dragon Naturally Speaking programs)
    • Co-Writer Word Prediction Software
    • Inspiration Software http://www.inspiration.com/
  • Classroom-based accommodations:

    • Reduce overall written work load
    • Copy of teacher notes and outlines
    • Focus on one writing skill at a time until the child masters it
  • At home:

    • Encourage free writing about your child’s favorite topic
    • Help them talk out key points to cover and reinforce the organization format taught in school
  • If legibility of writing is a concern, a trial of Occupational Therapy can help with fine motor control and coordination.

Writing is a vital skill that should never be out of reach for any child.  For additional strategies, please visit: http://www.ldonline.org.  For information about your child’s rights and standards in public education, please visit: Idea.ed.gov.



4 Ways to Better Handwriting before Pencil Hits Paper

Your child’s handwriting skills will affect his performance in school, beginning as early as preschool.    How your child holds his pencil, sits in his chair, and attends to the task of handwriting can affect your child’s ability to feel successful in completing a handwriting task. 

4 ways you can promote your child’s handwriting skills before his pencil hits the paper: 

  1. Address his posture: Your child’s posture at the table is directly associated with his fine motor control.  He Handwriting skillsdoes not just use his hand muscles to write—his core muscles are important too.  Make sure that the height of his chair allows for his feet to be placed flat on the floor.  Ideally, you want your child to be sitting so that there is a 90° angle at his knees and his hips.  This will put his body in a position that supports good handwriting.  Sitting on a wedge cushion (move ‘n sit cushion, air-filled cushion) that provides vestibular activation can sometimes help to improve his posture. 
  2. Address his grasp:  Your child’s pencil grasp can hinder or support his ability to write neatly.  Encourage your child to hold his pencil between the tips of his thumb and pointer finger.  The pencil should rest on the side of the tip of his middle finger.  Keeping the space between his thumb and pointer finger (the web space) open will ensure that he is utilizing his muscles in the most efficient manner and will reduce fine motor fatigue.  Sometimes, utilizing an adaptive grip on his pencil can help him to maintain the grasp with decreased difficulty. 
  3. Address his attention:  Your child’s attention can support or detract from his ability to accurately complete a handwriting task.  To support his attention, minimize the distractions in the room.  Your Read more

What is Phonemic Awareness | Pediatric Therapy TV

In today’s Webisode, a pediatric speech therapist explains to our views what phonemic awareness is.

Watch our previous Webisode, when Elizabeth Galin, our academic specialist, explains how phonemic awareness is important as your child is getting ready to read

Today you will learn:

  • What are daily uses of phonemic awareness
  • How phonemic awareness develops as your child becomes older

Handwriting Without Tears (HWT): Three Strategies of Learning

As I stated in my previous blog, handwriting can be taught in several different ways, depending upon your child’s teacher as well as thehandwriting without tears curriculum within the school. If your child’s school does not utilize the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) program, you can gain many successful strategies and knowledge from the HWT website. As you will see below, HWT follows three developmental stages in order to best teach children how to legibly and successfully form their letters.

  1. Imitation: First, the parent or teacher should demonstrate the letter formation and then the child can imitate.
  2. Copying: The child is to reproduce the letter/word by looking at the letter/word (e.g. The teacher writes the word on the wipe-off board and then the student looks at the board and copies the word onto her paper).
  3. Independent Writing: The child writes the letter/word without having a demonstration or a model to reference to; the child is expected to write the letter/word from memory (e.g. A child’s weekly spelling test).

Overall, when teaching handwriting, it is crucial to provide your child with plenty of verbal and visual cues to help the child in memorizing the appearance and feel of the letters. Try using the developmental stages above along with a variety of tools when practicing handwriting with your child (e.g. chalk/chalkboard; write letters or words in flour or sand; and form letters using Wiki sticks). By making handwriting fun and motivating for your child, he or she will be more likely to want to practice with you at home. Please speak with your child’s occupational therapist if you would like more information on Jan Olsen’s Handwriting Without Tears Program.

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Using the Game “Guess Who” as a Fun Way to Address Handwriting at Home!

Handwriting practice may cause conflict in your household, especially after a full day of school. There are various techniques to incorporate handwriting into fun activities. One of these strategies is by using the board game, “Guess Who.

guess who game

  1. Set up the game as you normally would to play without handwriting practice.
  2. Prepare paper and pencils for both players.
  3. Instead of verbally asking the questions to identify your opponent’s character, write down the questions and answers.

This creative strategy will be a fun way to have your child work on his/her handwriting skills, and can be fun for the whole family too!

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How To Teach Your Child Pre-Writing Skills | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, a pediatric occupational therapist explains strategies she uses to teach pre-writing skills.

Click here to check out our previous Webisode, suggesting games for fine motor practice to develop handwriting skills.

In this video you will learn:

  • How an occupational therapist uses shapes to teach a child beginning to advanced handwriting
  • At what age a child should master all shapes for writing

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 standing here with Lindsay Miller, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist. Lindsay, can you explain to us, what are some exercises you can do with a child to help with pre-writing skills?

Lindsay: Sure. With some children who are too young to begin writing their letters, we work on practicing making particular shapes. These shapes include horizontal lines, vertical lines, circles, diagonal lines, crosses, Xs, squares, and triangles. So with younger kids, we would probably start off working with the simpler shapes, such as the horizontal and vertical lines, and also the circles.

Once they’ve mastered those, then we would move on to the more complex shapes, like the diagonal lines, the crosses, the Xs, the squares, and the triangles. We work on these shapes in particular, because these are the shapes that you generally use when you’re writing. So if children learn how to write their horizontal and vertical lines and their circles, then it helps them once they’ve begin to start writing their letters, because these are the shapes that we use for upper and lowercase letters. So generally, by age five a child should be able to make all of these shapes.

Robyn: Wow. That’s really great tips. Thank you so much, and thank you to our viewers. 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.

Making School Day Routines Easier with a Schedule

With school in session, it is important to solidify those morning, after school, and nighttime routines.  Using schedules provides predictability, encourages independence, and aids in transitions with your child.

Mother and daughter planning a schedule

Here are some quick tips to help make morning and nighttime routines easier with a schedule:

Types of Schedules:

A schedule can be created for any routine, such as bathroom, dressing, leaving for school, or after school routines.  For example, “Eat breakfast, brush teeth, and grab backpack” can be used for a morning routine, or “Eat snack, do homework, have 20 minutes of free time” could be used for an after school routine.

Location of the schedule:

Schedules should be placed where they are most accessible to your child.  If you are trying to promote independence while dressing, place a schedule on your child’s closet or dresser.  Bathroom schedules can be placed on a mirror, and morning/after school schedules can be placed on the refrigerator or door.

Using Pictures:

Pictures are great visuals for younger children or children who have difficulty understanding spoken language. Pictures can be drawn on a dry erase board or mirror, found on a computer (i.e., Google images), or cut out from a magazine.

Including your child:

Encouraging your child to help create his or her own schedule will increase comprehension and motivation for the responsibilities.  It is important to complete schedules before the routine begins.  For example, morning and after school schedules should be completed the night before.  Night schedules could be completed before dinner.  Your child should manipulate his or her schedule by moving pictures from the “to do” to the “all done” pile, or crossing off written tasks.

Flexibility:

Having some flexibility with your child’s schedule is okay, as long as the schedule is set before the routine begins and the arranged schedule is followed.  Rearranging the sequence of tasks, giving your child choices, and introducing new activities allow for flexibility within schedules.

Setting routines and implementing schedules should help make life a little easier.  If you have any suggestions that make your morning, afternoon, and nighttime routines easier, please share them below.

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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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We are Going on a Treasure Hunt!

As I mentioned in my previous blog, sequencing and memory activities are important for people of all ages. These skills help to keep our minds sharp and active and allow us remember old skills as well as learn new patterns and routines. A “treasure hunt” is a fun way to work on these two skills, all wrapped into one child-friendly activity!

How To Create A Treasure Hunt For Your Family!

Parents help son with handwriting

Materials: construction paper, markers, equipment needed within treasure hunt (e.g. ball; scissors etc)

Directions:

  • First, talk out loud together with your child about how many steps you are going to include in your treasure hunt.
  • Next, determine what these steps are going to be (e.g. dribble a tennis ball 10 times, cut out a circle, copy a block design, balance on one leg etc).
  • Make sure that you include age appropriate tasks that your child needs to be working on.
  • Some of these tasks should be ones that are easier and your child can be more successful with, and some should be more challenging to help work on a novel skill and/or skills your child has a harder time with.
  • After you have verbally determined what will be in the treasure hunt, have your child repeat these steps back to you, first verbally, and then by copying the steps onto construction paper in a treasure map format (e.g. working towards the “X” which signifies the ‘treasure’ and the end of the treasure hunt). Lastly, help your child to implement the treasure hunt by having him tell you which step he will be completing first (e.g. first I will ______, and then I will ______).
  • If your child is having a hard time recalling which step comes next, have him refer to his treasure map to visually study the steps again, and then have him state the steps out loud again to help the information stick in his mind. Feel free to do this as often as needed throughout the activity.
  • Your child will show progress in his memory and sequencing skills by requiring less and less visual and/or verbal cues for the sequence of activities. Provide a small reward of your choosing for the “treasure” that your child will enjoy after he has completed the hunt!

Skills addressed in a Treasure Hunt:

  • Fine motor (to draw/write out the treasure map)
  • Auditory processing and memory (to listen to and repeat back the steps of the treasure hunt)
  • Sequencing (to complete the treasure hunt in the correct order)
  • Following directions
  • Attention (staying on task throughout the activity)

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