Monthly Archives: June 2016

Lakeshore Paper Strips Make Summer Writing Practice Easy and Fun!


IMG_1165 (1)

Make writing vibrant and fun!

These paper strips, both the short (shown) and the long versions, are great for summer writing practice.  Here are a few handwriting tips to make writing on these strips really fun:

  1. They have two different sides; use both of them.  There is a single baseline side which can be much less confusing for the Pre-K set.  Trim the width so that the top of the paper is the top line. You don’t need to write a top line in.  If you find that a child really cannot or will not stop at the baseline, make the baseline thicker with a wide marker and then cut off the space under the baseline.  You won’t need that room for uppercase letters.   I tend to agree with Handwriting Without Tears about too many lines for little kids.  The kids finishing kindergarten can handle a variety of lines, but the 4’s just get confused.
  2. Use these as affordable nameplates in your home for kids who are just starting to read print or cursive.10 Easy Ways to Prepare Preschoolers to Write
  3. Make a treasure hunt that requires them to copy a word in order to receive the next clue.  Don’t forget that if the child is a lefty, the word they are copying is to the right side, and the space they are writing on is on the left.  They need to see your word clearly without twisting their wrist.  Take a look at The Two Differences in Teaching Lefties to Write That Teachers Forget for another secret of teaching writing to lefties!
  4. The paper colors are wonderful, so for children who cannot effectively copy from a model yet, use a gray crayon stroke like Handwriting Without Tears, then have them trace your writing in black.  Use the single baseline side.  Their work will be vibrant.
  5. Write a story using the long strips, taping each sentence together.  Vary the colors and it will be a wonderful graphic as well as a treasured creation.
  6. If you are a big fan of HWT, you can add in the midline to the side that just has a baseline for lowercase letters and cursive.  Remember, kids like to know grown-up things, so be sure that you instruct them on the real name of each line (baseline, midline, topline).  Not to be too critical of Fundations, but even though the “worm line” sounds cute, the kids I know are not into cute as much as they are into being 5 going on 15.  They want to know what grown-ups know.
  7. You could just buy the long strips and cut them shorter if you have a steady hand.  I think they are very affordable, but it is possible that you wouldn’t go through 75 short strips and 100 long strips by the time school starts again!


How Young Can You Teach The Skills That Develop Grit?

I love the concept of “grit”, probably because I see it in so many of the special needs kids that I treat.  Meeting major challenges of living either crushes you or makes you stronger.  Researcher and author Angela Duckworth has championed the study of grit, and schools are even adjusting their teaching curricula to try to encourage a combination of perseverance and conscientiousness.  As an occupational therapist, there is nothing like the triumphant grin from a child that accomplished something difficult through their perseverance, patience and focus.  But how early can you see grit, and how early can you support the development of grit in children that do not seem to have it naturally?

I think grit is present earlier than the kindergarten stage, but it has to be viewed through a lens that corresponds to an earlier developmental stage than originally thought.  The famous “marshmallow test” study by Walter Mischel in the 60’s looked at 4-to-6 year-olds.  Spoiler Alert:  the kids that could use suggested strategies or come up with their own to avoid eating a marshmallow while alone for 15 minutes (in order to be rewarded with a second one) had better self-control later in life.  They got better grades as a group, completed more advanced educational levels, were more financially successful, and had fewer relationship and workplace difficulties.

One of the general conclusions of professionals since then has been that you really don’t see that kind of ability in kids younger than those in that original study.  I believe that they haven’t recognized the earliest stirrings of grit.  Just like a flower and it’s bud, it doesn’t look the same as full-blown grit.  Being able to avoid eating the marshmallow until the examiner gets back isn’t the appropriate test for grit in a 2 year-old.  Being able to wait for even a minute or two for goldfish crackers might be.  So would calmly picking up toys before bedtime.

Toddlers who have mastered Patience Stretching, Dr. Harvey Karp’s simple method for building patience in children as young as 12 months old, are showing some grit. Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  I also think that kids that have learned alternative expressions of emotion instead of resorting to defiance have sown seeds for grit.   Kind ignoring, in which defiance and negative attention-seeking is responded to with a brief withdrawal of interaction only, makes it more likely for toddlers and preschoolers to generate positive strategies for attention.  Toddlers Too Young For Time Out Can Get Simple Consequences and Kind Ignoring  Using those methods requires them to have more focused attention than throwing a fit.

Grit alone is not going to guarantee a happy and successful life.  But grit can support kids when life throws them a curve ball.  Dr. Karp didn’t create The Happiest Toddler techniques to develop grit, but I think it can help create a solid foundation for it to flourish!

Transition to Kindergarten By Beginning With a “C”

This isn’t about the grade “C”.  It is about the benefit of writing a circle by starting with the letter “C”.  I just taught a dad how to build his son’s handwriting skills without teaching him any letters or numbers.  His son will be starting kindergarten in the fall, and although there were few worksheets in preschool, we all know he will get lots of worksheets in September.  Many of those will ask him to circle the correct answer.  If this child and his dad use my suggestion on practice sheets this summer, he will be improving his pencil control and start/sequence automaticity for handwriting.  Without ever writing a word.

All he needs to do is to circle the target on his worksheet by writing a letter “C” around it, then continuing the stroke from the bottom to the top to close the circle.  Handwriting Without Tears talks about the “magic c”.  It is pretty magical the way that children who begin letters this way develop faster formation recall and better speed/control for “O”, “G”, and “Q” in preschool, and “a”, “d”, “g”, “o”, and “q” in kindergarten.  The initial formation of a “c” for these letters is exactly how HWT’s preschool book teaches drawing a circle.  Making the leap from drawing circles to circling answers on classroom worksheets sometimes gets lost in translation. It shouldn’t.

Combining motor skills with visual search/discrimination,literacy and math skills on a worksheet is where the rubber meets the road in kindergarten.  You will start to see which kids are mastering writing and which are struggling with one or more components.  Many of my kids will look pretty good with one-on-one instruction in letter formation, but then when perceptual skills, spelling and line placement are expected, they crumble.  If their start/sequence and formation is rock-solid, it frees up attention for learning where and how to look, thinking about the correct answer, and marking it with a circle or writing a response.

Children that start a circle on the bottom or the side of a target, or start at the top and turn to the right side (a backward “C”), will then have to think briefly every time they begin writing one of these curved letters.  It isn’t automatic for them.  Every type of manuscript writing will start these letters in the same manner, so if your school teaches D’Nealian or Zaner-Bloser, and not HWT, you are still following the correct formation.

Don’t worry about letters and numbers that reverse this pattern, like “D’ and “3”.  When you use the HTW chalkboards or Gray Block Paper, you avoid reversing these letters.  The magic “c” letters appear more frequently as a group in early literacy (excepting “Q q”) so they are more essential for legibility at this early stage.  All will be well.

Preschool is the perfect time to introduce this idea of using a “C” to circle things, since most kids are excited but a bit nervous about making it in the big time.  Teaching them that circling their answer this way is the more “grown-up” choice makes them feel confident and mature.  You don’t have to mention the part about how much better it is for their writing.

Choosing Occupational Therapy As a Career for Life

I have been talking lately to parents of graduates, and thought I would write a bit about my  chosen career.  My path in this profession is unusual.  I picked it at 12 and have never left occupational therapy, even when I went to massage school.  I have made a decent living and I have made a difference.  I am proud of both.  The economy has suggested that health care careers are a safe haven.  That is somewhat true, but more important over time is that you find meaning and joy in your work.

For those graduates that are considering a career as an OT or OTA, here are some ways to look at occupational therapy and yourself to know if this is your path as well.  For OTA’s, your love of interacting with people and making a difference in their lives should be even stronger than your curiosity about science.  You will still need many of the same interests and skills.  It helps as an OTA if you are a Macgyver-type person (showing my age, right?) who likes to tinker and make things that work well.

  1. Do you like a challenge?  I mean a real challenge, one that stretches you out of your comfort zone?  My career has taken me from physical medicine to psychiatry, outpatient work, schools and home care across the ages.  One theme has been that every position required me to remember a huge amount of information and think on my feet.  Maybe not nearly as much as someone in an ER, but the process of thinking of hoofbeats as likely to be horses but possibly zebras is accurate.  Being effective means that you look at every nuance of a situation for clues to develop, implement, and refine your assessment and treatment plan.
  2. Do you think that science, especially biology, is amazing?  Professional programs have wildly different opportunities for study, but there isn’t a day that I do not feel grateful for having gone through a program that gave me a solid understanding of neurology and orthopedics for therapists.  Even with clients in psychiatry, understanding dyskinesias and co-morbidities well enough to treat clients and report unusual reactions mattered.  With non-verbal children and adults, it is almost essential.  You could learn how to be an OT without a passion for science, but it will be harder.  A lot harder.
  3. Were you hoping to party?  School is demanding, but it isn’t just the very high grades to get in, it is the hard science plus the social/educational classes and then all the management and research classes all together once you are in a program.  The OTA’s won’t find school as crazy demanding, but it will still be a lot of different subjects at once.
  4. Do you always think about a problem, and then say “Yes, but…?”  As an OT, you will be asked to use that wide-angle lens, whether you are teaching a child to hold a spoon, or discussing an elderly person’s safety to live independently or move out of their beloved home in a team meeting.  A child can’t feed himself.  Being able to see whether the child’s vision, grasp, coordination, attention, sensory processing, posture, spoon choice, ability to understand both instructions and praise, or even the parent’s values for independence is the biggest problem means that you need that super-wide lens.  You aren’t the speech therapist, you aren’t the physical therapist.  You are the OT, and pulling all that together is your job.
  5. Do you react to a story of loss or injury by thinking about how you could help them get their lives back?  OT is about giving people the skills and the environment to live as independently and fully as possible.  We aren’t actually “sensory” therapists, “feeding” therapists, or ADL therapists.  We are OT’s, and we don’t cure anyone.  The victory when therapy goes well is the client’s, not ours.  If you want the excitement of saving lives or curing illness, this may not be enough for you.
  6. Do you look away or cry when viewing differences in mental, physical or emotional abilities?  Be honest with yourself about your level of comfort. My father was like that.  He felt such sympathy for kids particularly, but it pained him to see people with differences.  It isn’t a personal flaw not to want to be directly involved with people that have major struggles in life, but it will make it hard to be an OT.  I might also mention that you will be interacting with people and families during what may be the most stressful and sad events that they have ever experienced.  Think for a while about that.  You don’t need to work on a hospice team or in the NICU to be a witness to pain and lots of it.  Most programs will try to teach you how to develop professional boundaries, but few teach you skills to handle the stress of being involved in situations where people are experiencing pain and loss.  If your own personal life has made you very vulnerable, you will find yourself rocked around by the emotional issues at work.

My best advice?  Volunteer and observe as much as you can. In lots of different therapy situations and with a range of age groups.  If you walk away excited and even more interested, then this profession may be for you!

The Two Important Handwriting Teaching Strategies For Lefties That Everyone Forgets

Teaching left-handed children to write in a right-handed world (estimates for right dominance varies, but always hovers over 80%) isn’t really all that different.  However, there are two specific actions that parents and teachers need to make while teaching that rarely make it to the blogs and articles on the web.  Read on.  I will highlight the basics of lefty teaching, and then explain the missing moves.  They can make all the difference in the world to a left-handed child.

Tilted paper placement and using the non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper apply to both righties and lefties.  Left-handed kids will often want to tilt their paper to a more extreme angle to see their writing.  Let them.  They need to use a mature grasp pattern with their fingertips on a pencil.  Lefties who do not do either will twist their wrist so that they can see what they are writing.  This makes for more fatigue and less comfort.  The likelihood of hearing “I hate to write!” goes up dramatically under those conditions.

Make sure that the printed model on a worksheet is not obscured under their hand.  Most worksheets usually give one letter model on the far left side of the page.  Add more models in locations that they can see. Handwriting Without Tears does an excellent job of supporting left-handed kids in this way.  They give all children multiple models across a line on a worksheet, so that kids don’t have to pick up their hand to check the spelling and letter formation/placement of a model.

The two comments that very few bloggers or professionals mention when giving suggestions relate to the almost-forgotten art of teaching children to write by demonstrating how to write.  This starts earlier than you might think, as your curious 3 year-old watches you write his name.  He is taking mental and motor notes on this skill, and is practicing with crayons to copy circles and other shapes.  If you have a lefty, you are going to change HOW YOU WRITE to support their learning:

  • Teach kids to cross their letters in the direction that is easier for them, i.e. not the way righties do it.  The letters that they can cross more easily from right-to-left are: A, E, F, f, G, H, I, J, T, and t.  There are plenty of letters that are harder for left-handed kids and cannot be altered easily, such as “U”, “L”, and “B”.  Don’t make even more of the letters tricky for them.  I have a few preschoolers in tutoring or therapy that have already created a habit of writing with the right-handed cross.  When I ask them which is easier, and they admit that the right-to-left cross is easier, they still go back to the way they were originally taught. The right-hand way.   I am sad that I did not meet them earlier and make these letters a bit easier for them.
  • If you are right-handed, sit to the right-side of a lefty when teaching so the they can see what you are doing, and you can see what they are doing.  You are already writing upside-down if you are sitting opposite them, right?  Where you sit as you write matters.  Imagine if I were teaching you to dance and you had to mirror all my moves, versus having my back to you so that you could move exactly as I do.  So much easier.  Let’s make this easy for everyone.  If you are teaching a small group, where the lefties sit so that they can see your writing matters as well.  It isn’t a criticism or at all negative to tell the other children that you care so much about every child that the girl who writes lefty needs to sit in a particular spot so that she can see you.  Delivered properly, your comment coveys that the difference is no way a problem for you, nor should it be for anyone else.  We accept everyone for what they are.

Not sure if your preschooler is a lefty?  Two words of advice:  watch which hand they use for utensils at mealtime and with skilled play like LEGOS. Since it is very hard to alter dominance, it should become apparent over time with fine motor skill development.   If a child is wired for dominance of one hand but you have been demanding use of the other, she may comply, and then she will switch the pencil or spoon to the hand with which she feels has the most control.

Unless you are very vigilant and unbending, you will see natural dominance emerge between 2 and 5 years.  So far, I have had just one client who did not develop clear hand dominance in this period.  He had ASD and many other issues, so it wasn’t a total surprise that dominance did not emerge even at 7.  We watched him carefully, and saw that he was slightly more right-handed.  That is what we supported, but it was only after a lot of observation and targeted fine motor play.  He was encouraged, not forced.

Please feel free to comment and share your strategies and challenges of left handedness in pre-writing and beginning writing instruction!




First Father’s Day? You Might Be the Best Baby Calmer In The House

Fathers are often the partners that jump right into practicing the Happiest Baby on the Block techniques.  They “shush” loud and long, they do the quick jiggle (for swinging) with enthusiasm, and they can usually use just one arm to support a newborn on it’s side to calm them.  Moms are in awe of their guy who couldn’t stand to change a diaper and was too nervous to even hold that baby a few weeks ago.  Go, Daddy!

Women do not have the corner on the comforting market.  Yes, they can nurse a baby to calm them, but not every fussy baby is a hungry baby.  Men can be a warm, yet rock-solid, source of physical comfort for children.  The Happiest Baby techniques seem more intense than a standard soft cuddle.  It’s because they are more intense.  Not dangerous in any way, but designed to give newborns a replication of the more sensory-rich womb experience .  Dr. Karp’s awareness of temperament and early development refine that basic concept to give newborns what they need to pull it together, get calm, and get some sleep.  Giving them more touch, more movement and more loud and steady white-noise sounds all together is the key.  The fact is that learning these techniques are new to moms as well helps a father not be intimidated by the “natural” knowledge of women.  The truth is that no one is born knowing what to do, and you can’t google it either.  The parents I teach are pretty much on a level playing field for this stuff.  And the men sometimes amaze me with their new skills.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who have stepped up their game, and mastered the easy way to calm their newborns!


How Early Can You Use The Happiest Toddler Approach?

Something happens to babies between 12 and 18 months.  The adorable little child that could be easily distracted from grabbing your earrings, ate anything you offered, and smiled when you praised him is replaced by someone whose favorite word is “NO!!”, delivered at astonishing volume for a person who weighs in at only 23 pounds.

Welcome to toddlerhood.  Get ready, it is going to be a bumpy ride!

Dr Harvey Karp’s Happiest Toddler techniques are usually discovered by frustrated parents of two year-olds who are tearing around the house, taking hostages.  But these effective behavior management methods can be cherry-picked to be used with younger toddlers.  In fact, starting early with patience stretching and the Fast Food Rule Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing is a smart way to grow a toddler.  These techniques really do teach patience with kids Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! and teach them that their complaints will be heard without always getting their way.  Dealing with bad habits later takes longer than instilling good ones any day.

You just have to be aware of which methods work for tiny minds and start planting the seeds before things get out of hand.  Some methods, like Giving It In Fantasy, will not work.  Young toddlers do not have the capacity to distinguish reality from fantasy.  Too many words, as well.  Same with Gossiping About Good Behavior.  They think that you are talking to them and don’t get the full effect of “overhearing” a compliment.

Not sure you want to “time-out” a 14 month-old?  Use Kind Ignoring, in which you momentarily turn away from the whining or defiance of a very young child.  Ignore the behavior briefly, even move 10-15 feet away without saying anything or making gestures or even a negative facial expression.  In fact, doing nothing at all but removing your self from the banging or throwing of toys sometimes works better than a statement or a look.  Your action coveys that this is not going to get your attention, it is going to remove you from their presence.  So much of the time, the littlest toddlers are doing these things to engage you when they don’t have the words to do so.  Don’t take that bait, and you have avoided what the Baby Whisperer would call “accidental parenting”.

She is a big believer in “start as you mean to go on”, and so am I.  Consistency gives all children a bedrock at home and at school.  They know what to expect, how to gain attention and how to successfully communicate even at an age where they have less than 20 words.  If you want more peace, don’t think that you have to wait until you can have a conversation about behavior with your child.  The door to communication is open way before that point!