Thursday, October 30, 2008

At the Ladybugs Picnic

"One, Two, Three--Four, Five, Six--Seven, Eight, Nine--Ten, Eleven, Twelve--ladybugs (whew hoo!)--at the Ladybugs Picnic."
Quick, quick--can you remember what TV show that song is from?????*

Here is the latest in the series of recycled art concoctions from Cameron the Creative. His exact quote:

"I did dis! Dere is a lady bug in dere and he goes trew (through) da flowas and in da holes."

Note the slices of foam pool floaties and who knows where the foam flowers were found. The green accents are really leftover pieces of crepe paper reborn as crinkled flower petals.

*Answer=Sesame Street circa 1980's--click the link below for a trip down memory lane.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What's Your Choice?

Our current events activity this month features the two categories of 1) the Presidential Election and 2) Fall Celebrations.

Students used clip art "stickers" to categorize the photos and then placed the photos on construction paper.

Our Speech-Language Pathologist made sure the students understood the concept of voting by having everyone sample red and green apples, then vote for which flavor they liked the best. The students received a red and a green apple shape then slipped their choice into an empty coffee can "voting machine."
Let's hope the best candidate wins!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sketchin' Away

When we work with elementary school students on improving the fine motor skills necessary for school success, sometimes they need a little fun to keep on keepin' on.

Ed Emberley has written many books about drawing and they're useful for kindergarten students all the way up to higher grades, depending on your student's cognitive abilities. Your school's library probably has multiple titles on hand. Here is a link to link to his website:
This 4th grader is working on spatial skills, sequencing, pencil control and using his non-preferred hand to stabilize the paper --all while having fun drawing a step-by-step elephant sketch.

Please don't cringe at the position of his wrist & pencil; believe me, it's an improvement over what he could manage a few months ago.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Who Knows the Mind That Lurks Inside?

This morning I walked into the office of the SLP (Speech-Language Pathologist) who has been my guide to survival at the high school I serve. I noticed the cartoon-like drawings on her whiteboard and asked about it. Are you prepared to be fascinated?

Last week she was reading a chapter about Christopher Columbus to a group of students and one student, who has the diagnosis of Autism, seemed to not be paying any attention to the story. He was rocking and flailing his arms and looking everywhere but toward her. She felt an inspiration and asked him to stand up and draw scenes from the story she was reading.

He turned into Mr. Artist and drew these sketches. First, a boy reading a book about Christopher Columbus. Next, a boy thinking about the voyage Columbus made. Finally, Columbus preparing a map to chart his voyage.

Not only did the student draw this, he was able to point to the correct designs as the chapter was summarized by the SLP.

Who knows what's lurking in those seemingly inattentive, seemingly distractible minds of students we serve?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"P" is for Pizza!

Sure, in October, "P" is for Pumpkin, but pizza is everyone's favorite. One of my imaginative kindergarten teachers had prepared this arrival activity one morning last week and I fell in love with it. She pre-cut the paper-plate quarters, plus 3" x 5" rectangles of assorted "pizza topping" colors and set them in orderly piles. The students fashioned mini pepperoni circles, cheese and green pepper strips and mushroom-ish shapes, then glued them onto the pizza crust (brown crayon colored edges) and tomato base (red crayon colored centers).
As the activity progressed, the teacher commented on the variety of student designs: "Look how she has cut her yellow paper in tiny, little strips to make skinny cheese on her pizza." "Oh, here's someone who likes the same thing I do on my pizza--look at all those grey mushrooms he put on his pizza." She even pointed out the different approaches taken by students in organizing the project: "I want you all to come over to this table and see how he has cut all his cheese strips and put them in one pile, all his pepperoni circles and put them in another pile--he's all ready to make his pizza."
Each one was different and they were all take-home worthy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall Digs

Have you tried adapted gardening with your students? You know, dig a hole, pet the cat, put in the plant, pet the cat, water the plant, pet the cat...

A friend designed a raised, mini garden bed for me to use at schools. It's very portable and inexpensive to construct. Since the winter weather in Virginia is suitable for growing pansies and snapdragons I plan to have students do the prep work and planting during recess, then carry water from their classrooms to the planter on a regular basis to keep it watered sufficiently. Fall weather gardening is very forgiving since the plants probably won't shrivel up in the heat over the long weekends without daily watering.

Will post more photos of the planting adventures.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Composing at the keyboard might seem natural to us by now, but for elementary students it's a developing skill.

A variety of factors slow down the task--Where are the letters? How do I spell that word? Did I type it correctly? The first two factors are difficult to control but we can do something about the last one. In fact, we're helping the student develop good keyboarding habits by doing something about it.

Using a simple word processor, such as the NEO, sets the stage for good keyboarding habits. It's all work and no play. Instruct the student to type a spelling or vocabulary word and hit Enter. When you see that they are successful performing this pattern with a couple of words, cover up the screen with a folder or piece of paper and ask them to type their whole word list. They'll be shocked.

At the end of the list remove the shield and have them review their accuracy. Many students will be surprised at how many correct words they have keyed in. You'll find that their keyboarding is generally faster when they are not spending time reviewing the screen to see if they have keyed in the correct letter.
We work faster when we're not looking at our computer screens after each typed word, and students will learn to work faster, too.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Today I worked with a high school student and his speech-language pathologist. The student's primary modes of communication are body language and vocalizations, plus a large electronic spinner (approx. 14" diameter) which he activates by pushing the left side of his chin laterally against a flexible switch connected to the spinner.

Gravity and spasticity have forced the young man's trunk and shoulders into various degrees of rotation and his legs into a windswept position. Symmetry is no longer a part of his body schema. However, we positioned his spinner directly in front of him instead of to his favored left side to see if he could keep his head more in midline in order to allow him to release his pressure on the switch when the spinner hand swept over the desired part of the spinner dial.

Positioning the device at his midline was not enough to enable him to control his head movements with greater independence. I actually had to touch him.

First, I grasped his left hand as if I was intending to shake it. Applying firm, steady pressure to the thenar eminence and surrounding palmar area his fingers began to slightly relax. Keeping my pressure on his palm I used the wheelchair armrest and also my knee to gently extend his arm at the elbow. Holding his left hand with mine, I moved on to helping him position his head to face toward the spinner.

My flat right palm was used as a wall to block his involuntary neck rotation to the left and to maintain his head in midline. After a minute or so my right hand was mostly a reminder to keep his head positioned symmetrically. His wobbly switch was easy to maneuver to suit the position of his lower chin. From this starting point the speech pathologist read a story and asked him to use the spinner hand to point to various target pictures related to the story. We found that very large pictures worked best.

This young man has bunches of lateral supports for his trunk, a well-fitting "X" chest strap and a secure head rest with clavicle extensions to keep him in place. What he needed to be successful for this activity was a pair of human hands.

I asked the speech pathologist if she thought she might be able to help him with positioning and she wasn't sure. She's a hard-working person so I might be able to instruct her on techniques I'd show any family member, and win her over. In the meantime I'll schedule my time at the school to coincide with hers, and my PT counterpart will help, too.

It sure was nice to put my hands on a student the way I did years ago in private clinics.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Square Sculpting

Many students demonstrate confusion when drawing angles in 2-D geometric designs. To reinforce their skill with drawing angles try using an easy, portable activity to "sculpt" squares and other suitable shapes.

Cut up skinny, coffee stirrers into about 3" lengths and add some tacky putty. Have the student "warm up" the putty by squishing it with their fingers, then form small balls by rolling the putty between their palms or on the table surface.

Have your own set of stirrers and putty and model, step by step, the way to make a square. If the student finds it to be easy, challenge their spatial and fine motor skills by asking them to make a cube. If necessary, make your own cube along with them, but see if they can imitate you without having to follow you step by step.

Another activity variation is to make a square, as described above, then have the students trace around its exterior to draw a square on their paper. Next, have them start a new square on their paper by putting a dot outside the four corners of their 3-D square, remove it from the paper, then connect the dots on their paper. Follow this up by seeing if they can draw a square freehand with better skill than they demonstrated prior to their session with the stirrers and putty.

When the student brings back their finished cube to the classroom their peers will be in awe.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Reminding the Reminder(er)

Students aren't the only ones who need reminders during the school day. If you're like me you probably need more than sticky notes to keep you on track. This year I might try using my own picture symbols to remind me of meetings, reports, going to the grocery store after work... One of my artistic friends uses magnetic closures for her unique bracelets and necklaces so I'll look into that idea for making an easily interchangeable bracelet to remind me of important to-dos. I'll stick with regular closures for student bracelets, to be on the safe side.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lighten the Load of Poor Handwriting

Are teachers racing out of their doorways to beg you for help as you walk down the hall? I bet you're getting lots of questions about pencil grasp and handwriting by now. Feel free to share the following information with your teachers if it jives with your philosophy of improving handwriting:

CLASSROOM QUANDRIES: So what do I do about…
A poor grasp of the pencil

The first few weeks of the school year are truly a new beginning for all of us. We return to school with fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm. It's a time of new beginnings for our students, too.

Most of our students have taken a long break from the typical school activities they now use each day--writing, cutting with scissors, organizing their notebooks and desks.. This is a great time for us to help them start off the year with good habits for these frequently-used skills. For kindergarten students just beginning their school career it's a golden opportunity for them to learn great skills from the very start.

Let's think about how to promote a good grasp of the pencil, crayon or marker. You probably remember from watching your own child develop that hand skills progress in a very orderly fashion, just like all other areas of child development. Babies use their entire hand to pick up a leftover Cheerio. When they get older and toddle around they start to use their thumb and fingers to pick up blocks and small toys.

Using a writing instrument is a skill that also follows an orderly progression. Two-year-olds grab a crayon with their whole hand and scribble everywhere. A four-year-old child may use his thumb to squeeze the crayon tightly against his curled fingers.

Children use different ways of grasping things according to the way the writing surface is placed. If they draw or paint on an easel they tend to use their thumbs and first two fingers to hold the pencil or brush. The same is true if they lie down on their tummies and color while lying on the floor. Having the writing surface on a flat table requires lots of active work from the wrist and this is where you will often see an immature or inefficient grasp.

Keep in mind that in order to have a good grasp a child must have normal strength in his arms and hands. It has been my experience that many typical children and teens do not have even average strength, and this can lead to fatigue when writing. When I question these students about their leisure activities and home chores, I usually learn that they lead sedentary lifestyles and do not have home responsibilities that involve physical work.

But here we are in school and we have some students who demonstrate very unusual grasps. A few of these students complain of pain in their hands after just a little bit of writing. What are we to do? Let's try a few things.

1. Model an efficient grasp. Training good habits takes months of repetition. Take ten seconds each time you present a new alphabet letter or begin a writing assignment to point out the correct grasp of the pencil. If you use some type of reward system in your classroom include correct grasp as a behavior to reward.

2. Use pencil grippers sparingly. Very few students truly require any adaptive equipment. If you do supply these grippers to your students make sure you point out how to place them on the pencil for the right or left hand, and the correct placement of the fingers according to the marked area(s) on the grippers. When you see that a student does not really use the gripper then save it for another student.

3. Go back to penmanship basics. Remember to train the students to tilt their writing paper to the right or left, according to their hand dominance. Make sure they reposition the paper as they write farther and farther down the page. Otherwise, they will bend their wrists to be able to write on the lower lines.

4. Take a tip from professionals. When you think of a draftsman's or architect's table, what picture comes to your mind? I hope your strongest image is that of the tilt to the table. What about an artist's easel--very angled. These professionals use angled work surfaces to improve their reach and visual monitoring of their work. In schools this can be copied in inexpensive ways.

--First, use the easels, chalkboards and windows in your classrooms as angled work surfaces for your students. A portion of writing or drawing time can be spent at an angled surface to reinforce using an efficient grasp.

--Another way to design a more angled surface in the classroom is to use empty 2" or 3" ring binders, positioned sideways, as inexpensive easels. As long as the student remembers to push the writing paper upward as he writes lower on the page these binders make suitable easels.

5. Permit students to write while lying down on the floor. The hand will essentially be in the same position as when writing on an easel. Keep in mind that this position is fatiguing so don't expect most students to maintain the position for more than a few minutes at first.

One note about fatigue and discomfort reported by students. A small number of students are accustomed to equating everyday exertion with discomfort and even pain. None of us would ever consciously push a student to the point where the amount of writing or other work was so extreme that it would invoke a pain response. Some students need an initial period of "hardening" so that they will maintain a constant level of schoolwork.

6. You'll love this one. Help your students develop strength in their hands by having them work at school. Passing out stacks of books to classmates and alphabetizing the classroom library books are examples of suitable jobs that incorporate some hand exercise.

Now that you've read all of this information I will share just a little bit more with you. In a perfect world and in a perfect classroom, every student and adult would have textbook perfect grasp and handwriting. No hands would ever fatigue or develop calluses and everyone's handwriting would be legible.

However...just walk into any classroom for gifted students, your surgeon's office or even the check-writing ledge at the grocery store and observe how people hold a pen and write. You will find that there are very few students and adults who have a perfect grasp. For a typical student, having a inefficient grasp is a non-issue and does not impact their academic success at all. But for students who are easily discouraged,
process information at a slower rate than others, have less than average strength or are sensitive to how they compare to their friends then an inefficient grasp is just one more rock to add to their heavy packs.

Let's lighten the journey by helping our students develop efficient work habits this year. With a strong foundation of good habits we can go forward with another year of solid growth in our students.

October Has Begun

Although this web journal is mostly about being an OT in public schools, October is the perfect month to introduce you to someone near and dear to me--Galadriel.
Even though we have four cats and two dogs, Galadriel is the queen bee. She lurks in waiting behind a tree along the route my dogs take when it’s feeding time for the horses and cows, and she’ll lurch out from her hiding place with paw outstretched to bat my chocolate lab in the face. Galadriel knows her attack is unnecessary for my kinder, gentler english springer spaniel, but she must put Coco in her place on a regular schedule.
When I arrive home from work, Galadriel is waiting on the steps. As I collect the mountain of stuff I haul into the house each night she walks over to join me at the car. That means putting everything back in the car for a few minutes, but she must be held and petted.
Now that she’s fairly deaf her insistent meowing is quite loud, but all the better. She watches my face and sees my lips move, then meows in return to answer the same questions I’ve been asking her for over twelve years. “How are you, how was your day, did you catch any mousies today?”
This might be her last October since the vet said she has breast cancer. I watch her for signs of pain, but have to remind myself that animals don’t fuss about pain the way I do. They feel it, but they don’t analyze it or get anxious about what the future holds. They have things to do.
I hope you have a cat, or at least a dog or friends, who are there to listen to you at the end of the day. Someone you can ask the important questions of friendship, “How are you, how was your day, did you learn anything new today?”