The best way to work on letter identification is through sensory- motor based learning. What I mean, is that when we crawl, hear hop, look, stretch, run, feel, climb, touch, and push, the brain is at an optimal state for learning and retention.
In this activity, we were working on upper case letters (remember that its best to teach letter identification for uppercase then lowercase letters). We had been working on the Frog Jump Capitals (Handwriting Without Tears) and so I took 4 of the ones the child new and added the next two. The letters were written on one of the foam shapes and then scattered upsidedown in the gym. The letters were also written on the chalkboard. I wrote several on the chalkboard that were not hiding so that it increased the visual discrimination work that was demanded. Then I called out the letter that the pirates were looking for (I was the pirate and the child was the pirate on the treasure hunt) and he then had to follow the path (steps/foam blocks) to retrieve only the letter that was called out. Since the letters were written on the chalkboard out of sight from where the letters were hidden, the child had to rely on auditory memory and visual memory. The child then brought back the foam letter to the chalkboard and squeezed the clothespin to place it above the stimulus letter. The game could easily be modified for any level of difficulty. Fun!
If the Charlotte weather is keeping your kids inside, consider an obstacle course, like the one here in our gym. You don't need fancy equipment to do it. Obstacle courses are extremely fun for kids and they increase skills in: gross motor coordination, sensory processing, visual motor, sequencing, timing and even visual perceptual skills. A three year old can handle about 3 parts, while older kids (3td grade) should be able to complete 5-6 part obstacle courses.
On mine, I incorporated visual discrimination and matching with the white letters (face down) around the swing. The child had to match letters (visual discrim) of her last name while laying on the swing on her belly (core strength). She picked up the letter and propelled the swing with her arms (upper body strength) to match the letters.
If you have some cushions, pillows, and old comforters, then consider making a big crash area in your obstacle course. Kids love it and it is a great way to get some proprioception (think calming) on an indoor day.
Could it be sensory processing disorder?
A good read - a Mother's blog about her son's journey.
Charlotte readers- great video about vestibular system
Pencil grasp questions are common with parents so I will try and provide some thoughts on the matter. There are lots of components that go into handwriting competence (see my previous blog on handwriting ), but the most obvious one is grasp.
How do grasps develop? Children learn to grasp objects from the time that they shake a rattle. Development begins at the core (proximal) and develops outward (distally). So, if you don't have good core you may have difficulty with handwriting. Efficient handwriting uses the small, intrinsic muscles of the hand. These intrinsic muscles are designed for dexterity, not strength. The muscles on the side of your thumb are your movers and the ones near your pinky finger are your stabilizers. A proper grasp ensures that handwriting is being produced by these small muscles so that there is a precise between movement and stabilization.
How are our toys changing grasps? Kids learn proper grasp patterns by playing with fine motor toys, finger foods, and coloring. This develops and refines over time. However, as toys change, so do fine motor exposure. Small pieces in toys have long since been replace with big pieces due to choking hazards. Thus, a reduction in exposure to small toys/parts requiring dexterity.
What does a proper / functional grasp look like? A functional grasp is one that allows the little muscles of the hand to work, not the big one. There are 3 optimal grasps: Dynamic Tripod, Modified Quadrupod, and the Adapted Tripod Grasp.
What does an inefficient grasp look like? A child should start developing an efficient grasp by their fifth birthday or within that year. Most inefficient grasps are developed, not only from lack of proper fine motor toys/experiences, but also from writing /drawing with large or heavy markers and pencils, along with just writing too early (before the hand has fully developed). This creates habits which can be hard to break. Here are some pics of INEFFICIENT GRASPS:
How can I improve my child's grasp?
Around the age of 3, I recommend using crayons that have been broken down to no more than 1" long. If your child still tends to put everything in the mouth, then you'll want to either supervise or wait until they have kicked the habit. For girls, DO NOT, I say, DO NOT break them in front of them as their heart may break! For boys, they will enjoy it and will likely help you in breaking the rest of the crayons in the house. :--)
Activities that strengthen grasp are:
2) spray bottles
3)picking up coins and putting into piggy bank
4) hiding and seeking beads/coins in theraputty or in PlayDough
5) stringing beads (start with large and go smaller as child improves)
6) craft projects with scissors, stampers, hole punchers, etc
7) allow child the time to get dressed fully by him/herself
8) if you need more ideas, go Google crazy! There are tons of great posts by O.T.s and teacher
My child doesn't have a good grasp, but the handwriting is fine. Should I worry?
If your child is past 1st grade them changing grasp is quite difficult. Having an inefficient grasp will not make your child lose vocational ability. For the most part, an inefficient grasp may cause issues as the demands of amount and speed of handwriting increase (think middle school). Your child may complain of : hand fatigue, arm fatigue, not keeping up with note taking, and sometimes a callous on the middle or ring finger. Cursive may be more difficult to execute because it requires more precision and flow. If the student is past 1st grade, I simply show him/her some options for a grasp (such as the adapted tripod below) and explain why and what they can do when their hand hurts from writing.
Most of our clients come to us to improve some component of handwriting (manuscript/print/cursive) skill. Parents often question why occupational therapists work with handwriting so much.
Handwriting is a very complicated neurological and anatomical process. Usually poor or inefficient handwriting or penmanship is most often the symptom of a developmental process that is not functioning smoothly. When a well trained pediatric occupational therapist evaluates handwriting issues, they should be evaluating specific developmental areas.
Optimal handwriting skills also require fundamental skills such as:
upper body strength
visual motor integration (also known as eye hand coordination)
visual perception (vision to brain processing)
pencil grasp, finger strength and
When children participate in needed occupational therapy, the child is more successful in academic work. Often, if a child does not make quick progress through conventional academic tutoring then the student may have a developmental need, not an academic need. If your child is typically developing and has participated in handwriting tutoring by someone other than an O.T. for more than 2-3 months without great improvement---then it is likely not an academic need.
Yesterday, our Mini Charmer's class enjoyed our rice tubs that had letter stickers "hiding" in them. The kids were instructed to find and then match letters (building a letter team) on the wall. The boys liked counting and keeping current stats. The "W" team ended up winning with the most! This activity helps with letter recognition (visual discrimination), sensory processing, pre-handwriting, fine motor dexterity and team work.
On the other center, kids were instructed to pick out a stencil and use 2-3 marker colors to create the design on a coffee filter. Once done, we put the filter over a white piece of construction paper. The kids then used a spray bottle to squirt about 5 squirts on the design. The colors bleed together to make a cool design. Kids will lift the coffee filters this coming week to see what kind of design it made on the construction paper. This activity helps with pencil grasp, non-dominant stabilization, truck stability, finger/hand strength, and sensory exploration.
Be sure and get your appointment preferences set with us now for summer of 2013! Whether your child needs occupational therapy for fine motor, handwriting, kindergarten readiness or even Interactive Metronome...we are here! Miss. Caroline will also be taking appointments to see kids for speech therapy. We look forward to seeing you then!
Our Mommy and Me classes are enrolling now for January's start date. Thank you to the many parents who have patiently waited to me to start these classes! Our Mommy and Me classes focus on sensory development and fine motor and pre-handwriting development. All classes get to enjoy time in our gym as well as small group time in our studio. The classes will be led by me, and are for any parent wanting to enrich their child's development. I'll give you lots of ideas, and tricks of the trade to help you to boost your child's development. In addition, I'll be glad to answer questions too! Classes are for babies through 4 year olds. Check out our class schedule. Tuition starts at only $65.00 a month!
As far as summer seems to be from us, this is the time that I start putting together the curriculum and schedule for our 2nd year of summer camps at Learning Charms.
Camp Schedule and registration will be available on February 1st. Camps will begin in early June this year. Campers will enjoy our new gym springboard, balance beams, obstacle courses, and trampoline.
Returning camp themes will include: handwriting (manuscript and cursive), Fine Motor Madness (crafty focus to explore and improve fine motor skills), Fancy Letter Girls' Camp (journaling, friendship bracelets, crafts--rising 3rd-5th girls), and Sensational Speech (speech therapist led). Some newbie camps include: Little Fancy Girls' Camp (rising K-2nd), Recycleable crafts and green thumbs, and more.
I hear it every year about this time, "I wonder if I should hold back my child or if he/she is ready for kindergarten?" or "I wonder if he is on target for skills needed for kindergarten?".
To help parents, we are offering appointments to screen for kindergarten readiness skills. This is an economical way to determine if your child is on track for kindergarten readiness. The good part is that you get plenty of information for a good price...plus you will know in advance what your child may need to work on before August is here. These screenings are completed by a pediatric occupational therapist and are $120. Read more about them here or call the office to make an appointment.
About the blogger: Stephanie Wick is a pediatric occupational therapist that founded and is lead O.T. at Learning Charms.
Read past Blog here