After two decades of working as a school-based occupational therapist, I followed my passion for teaching handwriting and returned to school and eventually to start publishing. Print Path has grown out of my passion for providing fun and engaging methods for children to learn essential fine-motor and self-regulation skills.
Researchers have found evidence for the use of movement tools, but there are some children with whom these tools have the opposite effect.
Occupational therapists often advise parents and teachers to let children with ADHD use a variety of movement tools within the classroom. Some of my favorites include:
1. Wiggle Seat Cushions
13″ Stability Disc with Hand Pump $6.29 Add-On Amazon. These are a great deal, and not always available at this price. The usual price is closer to $14.00 each. These can be used on chairs or the floor.
2. Curved Bottom Stools
KORE on Amazon 10”, 12”, 14”, 16” Modles available. $69.99
For children who have a high need to move, above and beyond regularly scheduled recess and physical education times, movement breaks can make a huge difference in their ability to attend, maintain focus, and have access to their working memory. Movement breaks are individually assigned by your child’s OT or Special Education teacher. I have created a resource that is designed teach children a variety of movement and breathing activities while collecting data to reveal which types of breaks are most effective for the individual child. Self-Regulation Skills Taught on TpT $19.99
Evidence for the effectiveness of the use of wiggle cushions, stools, standing desk, & movement breaks
It turns out that science continues to provide evidence for the positive use of movement within the classroom. Sarver, Dustin E., et al. in their study Hyperactivity in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Impairing Deficit or Compensatory Behavior found that activity level had a significantly positive effect on working memory for children with ADHD.
A WORD of Caution:
While the majority of students with ADHD could do better on cognitive tasks when they were moving, the opposite was found to be true for typically developing boys. Teachers who practice principles of RTI might also consider promoting classroom cultures where every child gets what they need. If sitting on a wobble stool helps you to think and remember use it, but if it interferes don’t use it.
Researchers found that while movement options for kids with ADHD consistently helped working memory, it does not always help with task performance. While 50% of the ADHD children tested to do better with tasks, 17% performance deteriorated. What that means for us as therapists, parents, and teachers, is there is not one best method for every child. We must also look at what the task requirements are and how the individual child responds in order to make our best recommendations.
Reference: Sarver, Dustin E., et al. “Hyperactivity in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Impairing deficit or compensatory behavior?.” Journal of abnormal child psychology 43.7 (2015): 1219-1232.
As an occupational therapist, one of my great passions is helping children overcome their struggles with handwriting. Teaching children correct letter formations is mostly a cognitive skill and is only the first step to handwriting fluency. Children who struggle with the legibility and speed of handwriting may understand completely (at a cognitive level) how to make letters but may not have the necessary motor-memory skills. If a writer is lacking motor-memory of letter formations, they will be unable to focus on spelling or composition. After learning correct letter formations, children need to develop handwriting automaticity. Handwriting automaticity is well researched and is a fancy word for legible handwriting that is executed at a motor-memory level.
One of the things I was surprised to find out when I started reading handwriting research is that handwriting is the most significant obstacle to the quality and quantity of written language composition. Now I’m finally going to get to my point: guess what the second most significant obstacle to written language composition is? You got it, spelling.
After I teach letter formations to children, I use focus words to build motor-memory skills. In the past I used the child’s classroom spelling lists to provide the next level of “blocked” handwriting instruction. While the spelling lists gave me what I needed as far as raw materials go, I didn’t feel that I helped the child build spelling skills. The children I work with often do not gain much in the way of spelling skills with those weekly lists, word sorts, and Friday tests. So I decided to use high frequency words. However, although using high frequency words does help with very basic written communication, it does not build long-term spelling skills. Therefore, given the needs of my current clients, most of whom struggle with various levels of dyslexia and dysgraphia, I started digging around the Internet and found All About Spelling.
All About Spelling
After using the first two levels, I wanted to write this blog post review because I have found All About Spelling to be extremely useful. Here is what I love:
Both the reading and spelling programs use an Orton-Gillingham approach – the gold standard of phonics instruction.
Both programs are structured so that parents, teachers, coaches, and therapists like me can easily open the manual and teach the next lesson.
All About Spelling is not a grade level approach but more of a developmental model. It uses multisensory methods to teach phonics and spelling rules. It build on skills one step at a time and is therefore accessible even for those children who struggle with profound dyslexia.
The program is reasonably priced, and you can use it with one or several children. If it does not work for your child, you can return it within a year – in any condition!
Customer service is pleasant and timely.
All About Learning has a Facebook group for user discussion and questions. The moderator chimes in with helpful responses.
They have an informative blog that regularly gives away supplemental activities.
Kids like working on spelling in this this system because they feel successful. The program is interesting to me and the parents of the children I work with because we are all learning something new.
As an occupational therapist who works with children with dysgraphia, I have found that this program provides optimal subject matter for working on automaticity skills. I am thoroughly enjoying developing handwriting activities for my clientele.
All About Spelling has two supporting apps, one of which is free and is invaluable for teaching phonograms (the sounds that each letter makes).
It’s hard not to fall in love with Marie Ripple, mother/educator who developed this system. Here is her heartfelt video about her very personal motivation and success story.
The bottom line is: I believe this method can help so many students who struggle with learning to spell. Different students have different learning styles, and a multisensory approach such as this one reaches kids with the experiences they need.
As a reviewer I should also mention a couple of shortcomings to the system.
In my years of practice I have witnessed the vital link between handwriting and learning to spelling and reading. While All About Spelling does include writing by hand at every step, it does not provide structured materials to support handwriting for a variety of learners’ abilities. This is not an issue for me because handwriting is my area of expertise. But for parents who are supporting children who avoid writing or have difficulty with motor learning, not having structured materials could be a stumbling block.
All About Spelling is an adult-dependent program and has little in the way of independent learning materials for children. This is fine for parents who can sit with one child and repeat the lessons until learned, but for teachers, therapists, or tutors who want the child to review concepts between weekly visits, the program could provide more supplemental materials.
I have no affiliation with All About Spelling or All About Learning. They provided no free products, and I have had no direct contact with All About Learning prior to publication of this blog review.
For more Teacher Talk, you may want to visit the posts of our blogging group!
Start slowly. Let your child know what your expectations for chores are ahead of time. Children need to know that their help is needed.
“Personal responsibilities” include chores like cleaning your room, picking up your dishes after you eat, or doing your homework.
Other chores like taking out the trash, putting away groceries, or sweeping the kitchen floor are what I refer to as “family work.”
If your child is one to question “Why do I have to…?”, it is helpful to be able to describe the work as either a “personal responsibility” or “family work.”
Use a structured system of expectations and consider whether using a visual schedule is right for your child. You may want to use either a picture-based or a word-based system.
Start new chores by working together. Your expectations can gradually increase as the child gains skills, confidence, and ease at performing a chore.
Praise, rewards, and contingencies can go a long way in helping a child see the reason for completing personal responsibilities and for doing family work.
Setting Up a Structured System
Develop consistent expectations as well as a system to communicate your expectations to your child. Bring your child into the process by telling them ahead of time what you are planning and why. Ask them for their ideas and try to incorporate their preferences.
Using a posted schedule of responsibilities and chores will greatly reduce the potential tension and conflict that can occur when parents succumb to telling, reminding, nagging, scolding, and/or threatening.
Writing out a list every day may be sufficient for some children, but it is a laborious task for adults and puts all the burden of remembering on the parent.
When using a visual schedule, children are able to move items from the “To do” list to the “All done” list, which helps build feelings of progress, accomplishment, and satisfaction.
When using a visual schedule, tasks can be ordered in a sequence. For example, eating breakfast could come before brushing teeth.
A written or picture visual schedule is essential if your child is:
disorganized with belongings
has difficulty with time management
can’t keep focused on tasks he/she did not choose
has difficulty with transitions or verbal reminders
has difficulty learning new sequences
does not seem intrinsically motivated to be responsible for him/herself or for help with family work
or has been reluctant to do chores in the past.
Structure, Flexibility, and Making It Fun
Both structure and flexibility are important components of learning to take responsibility for oneself.
While having a regular schedule and consistent expectations is paramount for children, fun, flexibility and humor are also essential parts of a pleasant and balanced family life.
There are times when you will want to make exceptions to your expectations. For instance, the neighborhood kids are unexpectedly on their way to the pool and your child has not finished their Saturday chores. You might consider saying, “I think it would be fine if you go with your friends today, as long as you agree to start your chores by 3:00 and finish by 4:00. I will be watching. If you don’t start by 3:00 and finish by 4:00 today, I will be reluctant to be as flexible next time.”
Make work tasks more fun by working together or working side by side (you do one of your chores nearby while your child does their chore.)
Make up silly and fun dialogues while working.
Listen to music and dance while working!
Teaching New Skills:
We do not come into this world knowing how to clean the house and take care of ourselves. Start teaching your child how to do tasks by telling them that you think they are old enough to learn how to, e.g., “clean the dishes.” Set up a time with them when you will start teaching them “the finer points of loading the dishwasher.” Say out loud all the things a person must consider and do to complete the task.
Today I want you to watch, listen, and follow my directions. I start with rinsing off all the food I can see before putting dishes in. All silverware and small utensils go in this basket. Glasses go here, big plates here, and bowls here. Oh look, this one is still too dirty. I need to scrub it a bit more before I can put it in. This bowl is too big to fit in this load, so I am going to wash it by hand.
The next day, if you and your child work together to load the dishwasher, you will find out which parts they have learned and which parts need more practice. If you find they are unable to do the entire task, that does not mean you should ditch the whole effort. Instead, think about the parts they are able to do, and when you put “load dishwasher” on their schedule, make sure they understand that, e.g., you will be doing the rinsing, putting in the soap, and starting the dishwasher, while you expect them to help put the dishes in.
Praise, Rewards, & Contingencies
Being recognized for what you have done is helpful in finding an internal sense of satisfaction. Think about when you have worked hard to do a task well. Knowing you have done well is great, but even greater satisfaction comes if a partner, co-worker, or supervisor notices.
Avoid praise that is nonspecific, like “Good job,” “Good boy,” or “Good girl.” Research shows that this type of praise is destructive to intrinsic motivation and satisfaction.
Praise is effective when you include specific details. What exactly did your child do that was timely, complete, independent, funny, responsible, or ingenious? Try starting with “I saw you ____ and I thought that was _____ .”
Since we cannot “make” a child do a chore, it is sometimes helpful to consider contingencies. For instance, “Yes, as you are done with your afternoon chores you may go outside and play.”
Some parents wonder if they should give their children an allowance, and if it should be linked to completing chores. Do what works best for your family. In my experience as a parent, it was valuable for my children to receive a regular allowance based on the expectation that they complete their responsibilities and chores. Providing them with an allowance helped me avoid being asked to buy things for them. They learned about identifying and counting money, delaying gratification, and saving, spending, and managing money.
Word-Based Visual Schedule
Check out what these teacher bloggers are talking about:
Teaching children to button is easy and straightforward, but is a skill that is often overlooked.
Over the years I have taught hundreds of children to button, including many with significant disabilities. You can teach your children to button too, by following this simple developmental sequence. If buttoning seems overwhelming to your child or student, start with the step below their current skill level and spend a couple minutes daily to practice 2 or 3 steps to build confidence. Once a child has mastered a skill level, keep practicing that step and gently introduce the next level.
Learning to Button
Place large and small disks through rigid slots. This can be a one-handed skill, but the child should be able to adjust the orientation of the disk to meet the orientation of the slot. Be sure to challenge the child by shifting the slot.
Push large and small disks through rigid slots again, but this time the child holds the slotted material. A plastic lid with a hole cut out works really well. Set up the task so that the child picks up the disk (button) with one hand and catches the disk on the other side of the slot with the other hand. Putting out a container to receive the finished disks helps to make that clear. You can see this procedure in the video below. If the disk is dropped I move that disk back to the to-do pile to try again.
Give the child a small piece of cloth, or felt, with one hole or slot. Have them put a few buttons through the one piece of fabric. In this 12 second video, you can see all the skills that this child has mastered.
a. He starts by holding the cloth with his non-dominant hand.
b. Using his dominant hand, he starts to slide the button through the slot.
c. He shifts his hands so that he can continue holding the cloth and is able to pull the button out of the slot with his other hand.
Now your child is ready to slide the button through a fabric slot, while it is attached to the second piece of fabric. In nothing flat, your child has learned to button!
Learning to Unbutton
Next, it’s time to unbutton. Ask the child to “take them apart.” Once they have learned to button, unbuttoning is easily accomplished starting with this single button attached to its own cloth.
Children can be intimidated by buttoning, especially if they’ve tried it and were unsuccessful in the past. This simple method helps small children get over the buttoning hurdle and enjoy learning to button!