Friday, August 30, 2013

Weekend Reads

With Labor Day just around the corner, I think back to school time is officially upon us. Here are a few weekend reads to help prepare you for the transition.

The School Cafeteria: Hurry up and EAT! | ASHAsphere. A great article by Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP (of My Munch Bug) with helpful tips on packing a nutritious lunch for your child.

What's in My Therapy Box?: 60+ Supplies for School-Based OTs | MamaOT. Comprehensive list of supplies for school-based therapists. Great for new grads or OTs transitioning into school-based practice. Also full of great ideas for parents and teachers!

8 Getting to Know You Activities for Pediatric Therapy | Your Therapy Source. Eight fun activities to get to know your new students (and for them to get to know you!).

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My back to school reading

I head back to school tomorrow and the students arrive on Thursday. As my summer winds down I've been reading a few books to get me ready for the new school year.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck | Somehow these self-help/personal development books always end up on my reading list. I've just started reading this one and so far I've learned that I have a very "fixed mindset." I've heard great things about this book and I'm hoping to learn some strategies in the chapter geared for teachers.

Life Beyond the Classroom: Transition Strategies for Young People with Disabilities

Life Beyond the Classroom: Transition Strategies for Young People With Disabilities, 5th Edition by Paul Wehman | While it's easy to read, this book is a textbook, so consider yourself forewarned. It is big and it is thorough. It was recommended to me by a former OT classmate who knows way more than me about transition services (thanks Andy!) and he was not kidding when he called this book "the bible of transition." This book is a one stop shop for everything related to transition planning. I just can't get over how much great information is in this book.

The Zones of Regulation by Leah Kuypers | I'm always interested in books written by occupational therapists and I'm happy to report that this one is not a disappointment. As my school transitions into using Michelle Garcia Winner's Social Thinking Curriculum, I'm really excited about using The Zones of Regulation with my students along with the rest of the Social Thinking language.

What are you reading to prepare for the new school year? 

*This post contains affiliate links.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tips for choosing a backpack

Backpack fashion

Photo Credit: Comrade Foot via Flickr

It's back to school time and for many students that means it's time to get a new backpack! But did you know that heavy backpacks are a common cause of back pain in students? Today I'm going to share some tips for choosing, packing, and wearing a backpack safely. 

When shopping for a new backpack, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Go to the store and have your child try on a variety of backpacks. This will allow you to find a backpack that fits properly, with the bottom of the backpack resting in the curve of the back and the top of the backpack (where the straps meet the bag) no more than two inches below the shoulders.
  • Look for a backpack that rests against your child's back with little movement.
  • Sturdy, padded shoulder straps will provide comfort when wearing the backpack.
  • A waist strap will help redistribute the weight of the backpack to the hips.
  • Take into consideration your child's organizational style. A visual organizer may prefer a backpack that allows them to see all items at one time; a spatial/cozy organizer will want the backpack to feel just right; and a chronological/sequential organizer may want a backpack that contains many pockets and dividers.

Tips for packing a backpack:

  • When filled, a student's backpack should weigh no more than 10% of the student's body weight. For a 70 pound student, that means the backpack should weigh no more than 7 pounds.
  • When packing the backpack, make sure the largest, heaviest items are packed closest to the body.
  • Unpack the backpack each day and remove items that don't need to be in the backpack.
  • Limit the number of items that are carried to and from school each day by leaving unused items at school or at home.
  • If the backpack is too heavy, consider taking out a heavy item and carrying it by hand. For example, a student could carry his lunchbox or water bottle, rather than placing it inside the backpack.

Tips for wearing a backpack:

  • Always wear the backpack with both straps and make sure each strap is adjusted to the same length.
  • If the backpack contains a waist belt, make sure it is securely fastened to decrease movement of the backpack and to redistribute the weight of the backpack.
  • Don't wear the backpack too low! Adjust the shoulder straps so the bottom of the backpack hits the lower back and the top of the backpack hits two inches below the shoulders.

A few alternatives to traditional backpacks:

  • A backpack on wheels can be a nice alternative for students who need to carry around heavier items.
  • A rolling backpack can also be beneficial for students with special needs who have difficulty getting their backpack on and off throughout the day, or who cannot safely walk while carrying a backpack.
  • Large zipper pulls can make managing the zipper easier for students with fine motor delays.

For more information on backpack safety, visit AOTA's website for Backpack Facts and Backpack Strategies.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Weekend Reads

I'm starting to feel a twinge of fall in the air. With just one more week until I go back to school, I thought I'd share some back to school themed reading this weekend.

Great Fine Motor Tools to Incorporate in Your Classroom | Miss Mancy's Blog. From chopsticks to play dough to mini erasers. Miss Mancy has got a ton of great OT inspired ideas to incorporate development of fine motor skills into your classroom this fall.

Ten Things You Want Your Kid's Special Education Teacher to Know | To The Max. You have no idea how much I would love to receive this information on each of my students in the fall!

Decrease Back to School Jitters with these Strategies, Tips to Decrease Back-to-School Stress, Long Summer Vacation? Top 10 Ways to Maintain Your Student's Attention!, and 6 Tips to Make Back to School More Organized | Special-Ism. Special-Ism is all over the back to school transition! They have so many great articles right now, I couldn't choose just one (or two!).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Giving back

If you follow my blog regularly, you may know that I have an Amazon store where I include toys and educational materials that I like and many of which I use in therapy. I also often include affiliate links to Amazon and iTunes when I'm writing about products and apps that I use in therapy. For those not familiar with affiliate links, if you click on an affiliate link and then make a purchase while at that website, I receive a small (very small) percentage of the purchase as an advertising fee. For more information on Affiliate links, please click here.

When I first started including affiliate links, my goal was to be able to use the proceeds to give back. And I am happy to report that I have been able to do so! It took awhile for the advertising fees to start to add up, but over the past year, I have been able to support four different charities! Read on to learn a little bit more about each one.

Dark & Light Books | This is a project that I helped fund last summer when it was still in the Kickstarter phase. Shasta is the mother of a child with cerebral palsy (be sure to check out her blog Outrageous Fortune) who took a leap of faith to publish a children's book to help raise funds for her son's therapy and medical needs. The thing I really love about this book is that the pictures are all black and white. The OT in me thinks everything should be therapeutic and I just love the high contrast pictures in this book!

brAvery Run | This is a 5k run in honor of little girl named Avery who lost her life much too soon due to complications from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). When I was working in early intervention, I had a little boy with SMA on my caseload. Prior to working with this child, I had never heard of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. He was such a bright spot in my week, but unfortunately SMA is progressive. The brAvery Run takes place in Texas (now in it's second year and happening this weekend!) and the proceeds support research for Spinal Muscular Atrophy. As I don't live anywhere near Texas, I participated in the virtual run last summer, so I could run wherever I happened to be. That worked out well for me, since I was in the midst of a cross country move and was in Iowa on the day of the virtual run :) By the way, did you know that August is SMA Awareness Month?

A.skate Clinic | The A.skate Foundation provides skateboarding clinics to children with autism at no cost to the families. I think opportunities like this are so important to families of children with autism. It helps to expose children with autism to new activities in a safe environment. I am happy to report that the local fundraiser that I supported has reached their goal and will be receiving their A.skate clinic this fall!

The Ability Center | I heard about The Ability Center through a former OT classmate and after checking out the website, I just knew I wanted to support this cause. I went to OT school in Milwaukee, so anything in Wisconsin has a special place in my heart. I also have a strong belief in the therapeutic value of sports for all people of all ability levels. I really hope to see The Ability Center break ground soon!

Thank you so much for reading and supporting my little blog!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Alternatives to standard pencils

While a standard #2 pencil works just fine for most students, many students prefer to use an alternative type of pencil when writing. Today I'll review some alternatives to standard pencils that I have used with students and why I like each one.

Golf Pencils | I often start students, especially young students (Pre-K and Kindergarten), with golf pencils because they fit so well in small hands. Despite what you may used back when you were in Kindergarten (I know I still remember getting a big, fat pencil as part of my back to school supplies), please remember, Small Hands = Small Pencil. I've found that older students sometimes find them easier to manipulate as well.

PenAgain Twist 'n Write | I have only used this pencil with students who have physical limitations and are unable to hold a pencil using a functional grasp. I have found this pencil works especially well with children who have muscle tightness in their hands, such as children with cerebral palsy.

Mechanical Pencils | I often recommend mechanical pencils for students who press too hard when writing. This works for some students, but for other students it is too frustrating and an erasable pen might be a better option. If you press too hard when using a mechanical pencil, it causes the pencil lead to break, which teaches some students to press more lightly, and just frustrates other students! Mechanical pencils can also be a good option for students who are easily distracted by trips to the pencil sharpener.

Pilot FriXion Ball Pen, Erasable Gel Ink, Fine Point, Assorted Colors 3 pack: Black, Blue, Red (FX7C3001)
Pilot FriXion Ball Pen | Last spring I saw a student using this pen and I had to check it out. This is an erasable pen that uses friction to erase the writing. Some students, especially those who do not press hard enough when writing, prefer writing in pen. Using a pen requires less pressure, which can decrease hand fatigue. I like this pen because it writes very smoothly. Oh, and because it's erasable! I'm so glad that there are some good, erasable pens on the market. (Side note: I saw these Frixion erasable highlighters when I was at Staples the other day. I was so intrigued by an erasable highlighter that it took all of my willpower to not buy them!)


Sharpie Liquid Pencil | I used this pencil with a student last year who really loved it, so I was surprised to see all of the bad reviews on Amazon. It's very similar to the Frixion Erasable Pen, except that it is liquid graphite. It would occasionally require the use of extra pressure to write, so I would say the Frixion Pen was a little better. I would use it with the same type of students who prefer an erasable pen, so it's really just personal preference between this liquid pencil and the erasable pen. My student said that he liked this pencil because it didn't make noise when he wrote. Talk about auditory sensitivity if the sound of a regular #2 pencil bothers you!

Cheryl of OT Notes told me that her favorite alternative pencil is the Bic Mini Grip mechanical pencil because of its small size and built in sensory grip. Thanks for sharing, Cheryl! This is one that I will definitely have to check out!

*This post contains affiliate links.

What pencil alternatives have you found work well with your students?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Weekend Reads

It is definitely still summer as far as I'm concerned, although I know students will be heading back to school over the next few weeks. Today I've got some articles sharing some fun and educational ideas to help you get through the final stretch of summer and into 'back to school' mode.

9 car games to boost your child's speech development | Love That Max. This guest post written by speech pathologist, Katie Yeh (from one of my favorite speech blogs, Playing With Words 365), provides 9 fun games that you can play with your children to develop speech during your final road trips of the summer.

Summer Journals | Fundanoodle. Michelle Yoder, OTR/L has created a "story starter" to help kids write about their summer vacation experiences. What a fun way to sneak in some handwriting as summer winds down! Could also be used by school OTs as a fun back to school activity.

10 Things All Teachers Need to Know when Teaching Handwriting | Miss Mancy's Blog. Great tips from an OT for teaching young children how to write. Just in time for getting your kids ready for back to school time.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Games that help develop motor planning skills

Motor planning is the ability to plan and complete a motor action. Maybe you've heard it referred to as praxis. Or maybe you've been told that your child has dyspraxia (difficulty with planning and completing motor tasks).

Occupational therapists often use obstacle courses and Simon Says-type games to work on motor plannings skills. Are you looking for some fun ways to work on motor plannings skills? Here are a few games that I have used during OT sessions. Most are also easily adaptable to a variety of skill levels!

Wiggle and Giggle | This is a fun game for children who are developing balance and motor planning skills. The idea is that you must hold the ball with a body part while also completing a motor action. For example, you might have to hold the ball between your legs while hopping like a frog. It's also good for following two step directions!

Boochie |  This game is a spin on the classic game of bocce. In Boochie you keep track of your score on a wrist tracker, which also gives a different throwing challenge for each round. You might have to throw the ball between your legs, while lying on your back, or a number of other challenges. The different positions for throwing make this game great for developing motor planning skills.

Foot Loose | This is a simple game that you could probably create yourself. The game board contains a variety of actions, such as jumping jacks, push ups, and bunny hops. Whichever one you land on is the action you must complete.

Hullabaloo | It's hard to go wrong with a game from the makers of Cranium. This game is geared toward younger children (preschool) and works on colors, shapes, following directions, and listening skills in addition to movement. This game is a bit pricey on Amazon, so definitely shop around before you buy.

Twister | Possibly the most classic motor planning game. Not only is it great for working on motor planning and balance, it's also great for working on left/right discrimination skills.

*This post contains affiliate links.

What are your favorite motor planning games?


Monday, August 5, 2013

What's new at AOTA?

Have you checked out the new AOTA website yet? If not, now is the time to head over and check out all of the changes. Some of the new features include improved accessibility features, an improved search function, and easier ways to share interesting articles and resources via social media.

While you're there, be sure to check out these other great new resources from AOTA:

You might also enjoy: