Monthly Archives: September 2020

Why Your Kid Still Needs To Be Able to Write With A Pencil

I just watched a Google tech guy try to explain why digital education is so great. Maybe it is, for older kids and college students, and kids in rural parts of the world.

But for the youngest children, and for kids with special needs of all types, digital instruction has proven to be lacking in so many ways. One of the ways digital instruction is failing kids is that children 2-5 still need to see live demonstration of pre-writing and handwriting. Live, as in a person sitting next to them, not on a screen. At the very least, the adult helping them with their Zoom lesson needs to be demonstrating how to write and draw.

This isn’t because these children have deficits. Learning to write has it’s own natural progression, and when you leave out one of the steps, you risk losing some kids completely. Every time I saw a “writing corner” in a preschool, with a few handouts and a few markers left available, I would cringe. Add in some kids with learning differences, and you have a recipe for…hiring me privately in a couple of years when the child cannot keep up in school or hates writing so much that they refuse all together.

Why?

Because intuition is no way to learn to form letters and numbers. There is a stroke sequence that is based on hand anatomy, which creates letters formed with the least amount of time and effort and with the greatest ease. NO PRESCHOOL CHILD WILL INVENT THIS SEQUENCE BY LOOKING AT A COMPLETED LETTER OR NUMBER.

Children learn to write from observing an adult holding a writing tool, copying their movements, and hearing the verbal cues that teach the sequence and skills that reduce reversals and errors like overstrokes and poor proportion.

Only after this phase can they progress to copying a finished sample and then move on to the most advanced level: independent writing without any sample at all.

By 3.5 years, a child should be able to copy a circle and a vertical cross. These skills prepare them to write beginning letters like “L” , “O”, and “H” at 4- 4.5 years of age. Expecting a 3 year-old to trace lowercase letters, or expecting a 4 year-old to write a sentence is seen when parents expect teachers to know the expected age for pre-writing skills to emerge, and how to develop them.

Thank goodness there are occupational therapists that can help out. The current preschool programs have teachers that aren’t taught anything about hand development, visual-motor development, or how to teach handwriting, and eagerly let struggling kids move onto the next class, in the hope that they will pick up some skills along the way. With hybrid education due to COVID-19, there will be some kids that never learn to write with any skill, unless administrators decide to get OTs as consultants and turn this doomed ship around.

How To Remember to Do A Sensory Diet With Your Child

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A “sensory diet” is the cornerstone of managing a child’s sensory processing issues.  Every therapist knows that without a good home program that only addressing a child’s needs in a session, we aren’t going to see much progress.  Treatment sessions are spent half playing catch-up:  trying to increase postural activation, calming them down, or waking them up to participate .  When a child’s nervous system has the right input, their performance and how great they feel inside…it can blossom.  You can see what their potential really is, and their life gets better.

COVID-19 has halted many children from attending treatment in clinics.  Parents are now trying to do activities through telehealth, and their success is determined by many factors.  As therapists, we know that if we cannot see your child live, the sensory diet becomes even more important.

Sensory diet activities don’t always run smoothly.  Kids are busy, parents are stressed, caregivers aren’t around as much or as often.  Parents are asking “How do I remember to do these activities when I have so much else to do during the day?”

The answer is to build a routine that makes sense and that your child will use without a fight.  

  • Find the right time of day, when your child needs this imput.  Using the same things at the same times each day make them more familiar.  More familiar can mean less of a fight.
  • Find the right place, where you aren’t fighting their desire to see the TV or see kids outside playing.  Use a space that supports, not competes, with your goals.  Some kids don’t do well in bright lights, big spaces, or with competing sensory input.
  • Find the right sequence, in which a challenging activity is preceded by one that helps your child focus and get in a positive state of mind.  Ask your OT if there is a way to put activities in an order than makes sense for modulation.
  • Find the right toy, book, person, or food that makes a sensory diet activity a chance to play with something or someone special.  This may mean enlisting the other parent, a sibling or someone else in your pandemic pod.  It takes a village.

The perfect sensory diet is the one that you will do and your child will use.  Your therapist might suggest an amazing activity, but if you cannot do it, your child resists it, or you don’t have the time for it….it isn’t an amazing activity.  It is a burden, and a chance for you to feel like a failure and your child to act up.

Don’t let that happen.

If you cannot manage the current sensory diet with enough ease, ask for advice.  Ask for new activities, new toy recommendations.  Ask for more of a demonstration, even if you think you risk seeming less than perfect.  We like parents who show interest, and we don’t mind repeating our instructions.

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