Organization Tips For A Successful School Year

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I am often asked by parents, “What can I do to help my child to be organized?” Many parents tell me, “I feel helpless and overwhelmed every year because my child is so messy.” The best suggestion I can give is to begin organizing the homework area and start a daily routine at the onset of the school year. Be consistent! It may be difficult at first, but after three weeks you will notice a wonderful difference in the level of stress during homework and preparation time.

It is best to start by organizing the area near the door. Hang hooks for his backpack and jacket and as soon as he gets home from school encourage him to take them off and place them in this special area. Use masking tape if necessary to draw a box for younger children or if you do not have an area to place hooks. Any visual that helps to outline a place that’s uniquely your child’s area will be helpful. This is why pre-schools use cubbys and taped off squares for younger children. Make a list of items required on a daily basis. This includes things such as lunch box or lunch money; a planner/calendar; clothing; and homework. Use a white board or checklist so that your child can actually check or cross off the item’s name as he gets it ready.

Prepare an area for homework that your child uses every day at a designated time. When it’s time for desk work, ensure that the area is quiet and away from distractions such as the TV and radio. Clear the desk area from any items other than those which are school/homework related. Make sure the area is well-lit.

It’s always best to get in some exercise (at least 30 minutes) daily prior to beginning homework. Make sure to include gross motor activities such as jumping on a trampoline, dribbling a basketball, hula hooping, hop-scotch, or riding a bicycle to provide input to the sensory system. Provide crunchy/healthy snacks for your child. Often times, input to the masseter (a powerful muscle used when chewing) helps to organize us. You can try it out too! When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, try chewing on gum or crushed ice. You may already do this to calm yourself and not even realize it!

Color code each subject at the beginning of the year. Blue for math, red for Language Arts, etc. Each subject has a notebook and folder of the same color both at home and in the school desk so that the organization system carries over to the school classroom too. Every teacher could double-check and initial the homework assignment as your child writes it in the planner at school and the parent then signs as the child completes the assignment at home. I encourage parents to request (add to the IEP) that students are permitted to have a set of books for use at home. This entirely alleviates the stress of remembering which books to bring home daily.

Finally, the act of setting out clothing before bed each night will significantly help with the morning stress. Ensure that all pieces of the outfit are clean and organized the night before. This includes underwear, hair clips/ties, and socks. It is amazing how knowing exactly what will be worn the next day can help to calm anxiety.

Share your tips for organization with us….we may share them with our readers!

About the author: Cara Koscinski has her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. She is the author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist-a book for caregivers of children with special needs. She is also the owner of Route2Greatness, LLC-a company providing OT consultations and products for children with special needs. Cara is the proud mother to two sons with autism spectrum and sensory processing disorders. She has systemic lupus and strives to find the positive side of life. You can visit her site for more information at www.pocketot.com

(c)The Pocket Occupational Therapist

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Back to School Tips

School Days

School Days

This is a re-blog of one of our most popular posts on preparing for school….enjoy!

School already?!?!  Yes, it’s that time of year. When I saw that first back to school commercial, the anxiety of preparing for school came upon me. I knew that the transition from shorts to pants, from casual dress to uniform, from free-time to structured learning was approaching quickly. It seemed as though I just transitioned the kids into summer activities and they were finally comfortable with the routine. No matter, school and end of summer arrives whether we (and our children) are ready or not. This is life-transitions are always approaching-some are easy while some aren’t.

Never fear! The Pocket Occupational Therapist is here with some tried and true suggestions for your family. Anxiety comes from not knowing what is coming ahead. Giving your child control of anything possible is a good way to build confidence and decrease worry.

1) Lay out pants, dress shirts, or school uniforms at least three weeks before school. Habits can take at least 21 days to be broken. Allow your child to shop with you and make choices if possible about school attire. Often times, uniform material is much more stiff and “pinchy feeling” than lighter summer clothing. Make a schedule and encourage your child to wear school clothing for a brief time each day and gradually work up the time. Be sure to offer a reward for a job well done! Having another child such as a sibling or friend complete this activity with your child can be especially fun.

2) Do not wait until the last-minute to purchase school supplies. Take your child to the store and allow him to make choices of color of notebooks, folders, brand of pencils, etc. Any choice you are able to give your child encourages feelings that he’s in control of the situation. This is important as so many aspects of school are beyond his control.

3) Ask your child to help you to label items. This is a good way to practice writing his name. Allow him to choose the color of the marker. Use of an “old-fashioned” label maker is a good way to increase hand strength. Squeezing the tool can work those hand muscles.

4) Obtain the daily school schedule and post it on the refrigerator or a centrally located area. Review the schedule daily and use words such as, “It’s 9:00 now. When you are in school you will be in reading class with Mrs. Jane.” Do this frequently throughout the day.

5) Begin to practice handwriting and keyboarding with your child. Have him help you to make the grocery list, daily schedule, or write cards to relatives. Making handwriting fun is important to build confidence and strengthen those hand muscles in preparation for school.

6) Begin bedtime routines at least three weeks prior to school. It won’t be easy so do not fret! Gradually work up to the desired bedtime and make a written “wind-down” schedule of activities that are calming and the bed time routine. Allow your child to help make the schedule and give rewards for every little success. Use calming music, massage, and soothing scents in the bath to encourage the body and mind to relax.

7) Meet with your child’s teacher prior to the first day of school. A trip to his classroom with a camera is an excellent preparation activity. Allow him to take pictures of the classroom, desk, cubby/locker and make a scrapbook of his school and room. We had a child who was extremely fearful of the fire alarm/drill in the classroom. We permitted him to take pictures of the fire alarm and used the Sound-Eaze and/or School -Eaze CDs to listen to the sounds of fire alarms. Giving him the heads-up of what sounds to expect was a good tool to decrease his anxiety of the un-known. Some schools have summer camps. If the school permits it, allow your child to sit in on a camp day/class to get used to the noises and bustle of the classroom. The more preparation you can give your child, the more likely he will be to make a successful transition into the classroom.

8) Encourage your child that he should try his best and that he does not have to be perfect! Mistakes are the best way to show that your child is trying. Review errors with him and encourage him to problem solve. Many of my clients believe that their child is trying his best, but often get too busy with life’s events to take time to reward for the good qualities and times when children succeed. We fill out repeated questionnaires asking what our child’s weaknesses are that we often forget about their strengths.

What activities does your family have to prepare for school? Let us know!!

By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L

Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist- a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs. Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child. Order anywhere books are sold. www.pocketot.com

Developing Skills Through PLAY

Playground FUN

Playground FUN

Occupational therapists are fortunate enough to be a critical part of the treatment team for children with special needs. Any difficulties children may face as a result of having a developmental delay should be addressed by incorporating play into their daily routine. While working with the adult population, occupational therapists focus on remediating skills for daily living and for work related tasks. When assessing the skills of children, the therapist must look at the child’s play skills. After all, when children are not asleep they are learning about their environment through the various play activities they engage in during their day. Even completing the tasks of building blocks, completing a puzzle, and drawing pictures will yield skills that the child will use throughout his lifetime.

The skills, developmental stages, and all activities listed in this blog post can be found in our book The Pocket Occupational Therapist for caregivers of families with special needs. It’s PACKED with easy to read ideas and is like having your OT with you all of the time! Can be purchased on Amazon or anywhere books are sold.

When caregivers attend occupational therapy sessions, most inevitably ask, “Why does it look like you are playing during the session? How is this therapy?” The occupational therapist should explain therapy goals and how she will work to achieve them during the course of therapy. It is important for caregivers to feel comfortable asking questions about activities to complete at home to help to facilitate therapy progress. Most caregivers want to help their child to achieve his goals and are willing to participate if given the chance. It is by asking questions and through home programs given by the therapist that caregivers can be key partners in a child’s success on building skills that will propel him through his lifetime.

The most important thing to remember when working with your child at home is to begin at a level where he can be successful. Each success will help to build his confidence. No one wants to fail at a task and oftentimes, a child with special needs may lack the confidence to re-try something at which he has previously failed. Be sure to watch your child as he plays to determine which activities he prefers. For example, note if he prefers to engage in messy play or dry play. Does he enjoy colors, shapes, letters, or numbers? When seeking items for your home play time, be sure to remember his favorite color or movie character. His excitement will help him to have fun while learning.

Fine-motor coordination involves tasks of the hands and fingers such as holding a writing utensil, using a fork, buttoning, and shoe-tying. It is a good idea to help your child to strengthen his fingers for these tasks. Set up activities that you know he will enjoy and have success with. here are many different types of dough recipes that can be found on the internet. Make some dough and add his favorite color to it with a small amount of food coloring or add glitter. Mix two different colors of dough together and see what colors you can make. The addition of different scented oils can heighten the activity to a new sensory level. Peppermint and vanilla oils are commonly found at the grocery store. Note which scents your child prefers.

Most children love to open and close things. Be sure to save containers of all shapes and sizes. After cleaning them out, place a special prize inside. Ask your child to open each and find the prize. Prizes can be food, pom-poms, treats, or anything that will be motivating for him. Cut a slit in the top of the lid and ask him to put coins or bingo chips inside the container. This will give him the opportunity to develop good coordination skills. Also, use different eye-droppers or a turkey baster to transfer colored water from cup to cup. Switch from hand to hand or have a race to see who can fill the cup up first.

Gross-motor coordination and building up a strong core muscle system will be key factors in determining success with future activities such as bicycle riding, hopping, and playing sports in the future. Even when children are infants, supervised tummy time is important to help muscles work against gravity. Place a motivating object near baby so that he has to lift his head to see it. Use lots of praise and encouragement. To help develop core muscle strength as children get older, it is important to revisit tummy time. Ask your child to watch a small portion of his favorite television show while lying on his belly. As he gets stronger build up the time. Pretending to be animals like snakes crawling in the grasslands is a fun game for older kids.

Crawling is a stage often missed by children with developmental delays. The act of crawling helps to strengthens muscles, works to help to integrate the sensory system, and develops coordination of the arms and legs. Often, we need to give extra help to learn to navigate their bodies in the quadruped, or crawling, position. We can get down on the floor with our children and crawl together through mazes made of cushions; under tables; and along paths taped with masking tape. Make sure to encourage fun so that your child doesn’t realize he’s working on skills that may be difficult for him. Allow him to rest when he needs to.

Oral-motor skills are critical to eating, drinking, and speech. Often times the local thrift store is full of affordable tools for building strength in the muscles of the mouth. Straws of different shapes and diameters should be used for drinking or blowing bubbles into a pan of water. Have races by blowing cotton balls and other light items off of the table. The use of age-appropriate whistles is a fun way to get immediate reward as the child learns to produce sounds by blowing. Place whipped crème onto the child’s lips and ask him to look into a mirror and use his tongue to lick it all off. This will help him to strengthen the tongue muscles and become more aware of its movements. Try it with him and have a race. Use different tastes and textures such as chocolate syrup.

As you think about your child, keep in mind that he is a child first and he learns critical skills through playing. It will benefit him many fold if you provide him with opportunities to work on his areas of weaknesses while he has fun doing so. Don’t be afraid, your child is happy spending time with you!

By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L

Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist- a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs. Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child. Order anywhere books are sold. www.pocketot.com

Summer FUN (shhh…..don’t tell them it’s actually therapy)

SUMMER!
It’s here! Most families look forward to summer’s relaxation and lazy days. However, the lack of routine and structure can be the cause of great stress for families of children with special needs.
School routines are predictable and provide consistency and the transition to summer may be a difficult one. In addition, the skills your child has gained in school should be carried over into the summer to stop any regression. No ideas? Feeling overwhelmed?

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NEVER FEAR……THE POCKET OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST is here!!

Try to keep a routine. Look at the calendar together and make a routine for your family. Include your child in choosing activities and even colors that you’ll write on the calendar with. Post a list of daily schedules and chores with check off boxes. Schedule new activities well ahead of time and be sure to prepare for them. Visit summer camp sites prior to camp, meet counselors before camp begins, and take pictures of camp locations. Make a memory booklet and encourage your child to write in a journal about his summer activities. If he’s not writing yet, ask him to draw pictures. This will be a great keepsake!

Schedule as many play dates as possible. Extended family and cousins may also be off of school and need to keep busy too. Play games together such as making up your own circus. Walk a taped line imitating a tightrope, learn to juggle, and pretend to walk like different animals in the circus. You can also pretend to make a zoo, jungle, or go on safari. Walking on all forus to imitate a bear, lion, tiger, dog, or any other animal is great for proprioceptive (heavy work) input.

Make a parade with homemade instruments. Visit our Pinterest board for ideas on how to make your own instruments out of paper plates, oat containers, and paper towel rolls. Marching to different rhythms is a fun way to work on proprioceptive input and body coordination.

Play charades and act out different sports or occupations. This is a great activity to do as a family or during a play date. For an added challenge, act out different feelings.

Draw letters and numbers using only your fingers on your child’s back. Ask him to guess what you are drawing. Let him practice on your back too.

Tape a line on the floor and ask him to jump in different ways over it. For example, hop with your right foot on the left side of the line. Jump three times on the right sice of the line. Use the line as a pretend balance beam.

Cross crawling is a great activity to help in right/left coordination and visual motor skills. Crawl by moving one arm and the opposite leg (right arm/left leg) and then switch (left arm/right leg). Try giving your child directional commands such as: “Touch your left ear with your right hand.” Be creative and encourage your child to give you directions as well. Sometimes, playing the teacher is empowering!

Evening activities at dusk are fun too. Go on a flashlight scavenger hunt with your child. Use a flashlight to draw different letters and numbers on the ground. Use glow sticks to write letters in the air. Add glow stick liquid to bubbles and have a bubble blowing competition.

Use sidewalk chalk on the concrete or on your trampoline. Ask your child to jump to the letter you call out.

Walk like a wheelbarrow in the grass. Hold your child’s ankles, knees, or thighs and ask him to “walk” on his hands. You can place different things such as bean bags or play tools onto his back to “transport” items like a real wheelbarrow does. This is an EXCELLENT activitiy to add into any sensory diet. It is filled with proprioceptive input/heavy work.

Hop scotch, jumping rope, and learning to ride a bicycle are always super summer activities.

Use a spray bottle to spray plants. Squirting each other on a hot day is a fun way to cool down while building hand strength!

Fine motor tasks such as bead stringing, macrame, puzzles, hunting for treasure in different sensory bins, card games, marbles, making letters in sand and shaving creme, jacks are all great ways to build fine motor skills.

Painting with different items such as leaves, sticks, or cotton balls is fun. Adding tweezers to any task builds fine motor coordination. Instead of picking up cotton balls with his fingers, use tweezers!

If your child has difficulty catching a hard ball such as a baseball, use a wiffleball which will move slower and is easier to catch. Playing mini-golf with plastic golf balls is a fun way to build skills without the danger of a real golf ball flying through the yard.

Make a book. Cut old magazines and paste pictures on to a book made of construction paper and bound with yarn. Write stories about the pictures or make your own. Even punching the holes (through which to bind the book) with the hole puncher is a great fine motor activity.

Make a game of feel and guess. Use an old shoebox and cut a hole for your child’s hand to fit into. Place an item such as a leaf into the box and ask your child to tell you what the item is just by the way it feels. This can be done every season and with many objects such as stones, ice cubes, and seeds.

Make puppets out of old socks and felt. Put on a puppet show for friends or family.

Give your child a treasure hunt list with items such as a butterfly, cloud shaped like a certain animal, or sound of a certain bird’s chirp. This should be a multi-sensory treasure hunt involving eyes, ears, touch, and smell.

Plan snacks that relate to different books. Examples include: Blue Berries for Sal, Stone Soup, and Bread and Jam for Frances.

Set up a store selling different summer items such as beach toys, summer fruits, and vegetables. Encourage your child to make signs for each item and practice making change when something is purchased.

Use old sheets and blankets to make tents. Go camping in your living room!

Finally, plant seeds and watch them grow. Move them from small pots or paper cups into a garden area. Chart their growth in a notebook. Encourage your child to help you with the responsibilities of watering her garden and re-potting when necessary. Caring for something such as a plant can empower a child.

Make sure to read a great book together (Don’t forget about reading and recommending The Pocket Occupational Therapist for families of children with special needs).

Most of all, HAVE FUN together! You never know when you are making a memory that your child will have for the rest of his life!

By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L

Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist- a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs. Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child. Order anywhere books are sold. www.pocketot.com

The Power of a VISUAL..Happy New Year!

Few things excite us and cause a feeling of starting new and fresh like New Years holiday.  It signifies a new beginning.  The visual image of the ball dropping on midnight is so powerful that people make resolutions to make actual changes to their lives.  Imagine that!  What’s the actual difference between today and tomorrow, nothing.  We aren’t different, our lives aren’t different.  We don’t see the time changing in reality…..BUT……the visual symbol of the ball and the change in the calendar carries real POWER.

I encourage you to examine your own reactions to the New Year-wheather they are positive or negative.  Then, look at your child who is a visual learner.  WoW!  The visual stories that you can create to help your child have the potential to create REAL change to their daily lives.  Giving a visual along with your verbal praises, directions, and emotions can be a great help!  The visual image you assign can help your child immensely.  I have made a great many social stories for clients (and my own children) and have seen big changes in their ability to transition and complete activities of daily living with greater ease.  We all need visuals from time to time and don’t think much about them in our own lives.  We all experience the changes that come with New Year’s Day and I’m hoping that you take a minute out of that day to reflect on your child and the potential you have to make a positive difference in his/her life!

By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L 

Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist- a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs.  Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child.  Order anywhere books are sold.  www.pocketot.com 

Happy VISUAL New Year to All!

Wishing you many blessings in 2013……..from your friends at The Pocket Occupational Therapist.

Bullying

We Love Puzzles!!

Why is it that children get bullied?  It’s my personal belief that some children make fun of what they do not understand.  If a child does something that’s perceived as different that another child, he/she may laugh or make a joke.  Sometimes our children are called “weird” or “stupid” or “different” by their peers.  Yes, it is true, our little puzzles may do some things that others may think is odd.  We all do things that make us feel comfortable, bite our nails, chew gum, twirl our hair….Sometimes, kids just have bigger motions like hand flapping, twirling, interesting infatuations etc. that make them feel comfortable, but they just cannot hide them-they shouldn’t have to.

In a recent session with my son, his therapist asked him which words she should not use during therapy or words that he just didn’t like.  I was fully expecting him to say, one of the four letter words or the use of the Lord’s name in vein (which we do not permit in our home).  Instead he totally shocked me and said, “Please don’t say weird, odd, crazy, or different because the children in my school use those words about me sometimes in my face and sometimes I hear them whispering them when I walk by.”  My heart TOTALLY sank and I was shocked.  He’d never shared this with me before.  It’s such a shame that he must experience this from other children.  He’s in elementary school.  What will it be like for him when hormones and peer pressure kick in?

When we came home and since then, I have used the word “different” and “unique” and “special” in a positive way and want him to know that being his own special person is so very important.  We should teach our own children, especially those who are typically developing and aren’t used to our kids’ cool flapping, waving, and hand motions that just because something is different makes it even more special.   We should teach our children to learn from “different” and that everyone has something unique and special about them to share with others.

PLEASE share with us your stories of bullying and how you cope.  Let’s try to help each other!

By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L 

Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist- a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs.  Questions and answers most freqenty asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child.  Order anywhere books are sold.  www.pocketot.com