Tag Archives: back to school

How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!)

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Bright kid: “Are there any sharks out there?” Gifted kid:  ” The most common shark in the Atlantic Ocean is the ….”

Do you have a gifted kid?  Do you teach one?  You might not be able to tell the difference between a bright child and a gifted child by the number of letters they know, or the facts about dinosaurs they can recall.  Here are some distinct signs that your child, student or therapy client is actually gifted:

  • They are not a joy to teach.  Bet you didn’t expect that!  Yes, the gifted child isn’t usually sitting there soaking up knowledge.  They are out there arguing points and doing their own experiments.  They see the subtle differences, so they are going to bring up the exceptions to ALL of your rules.  They don’t like rules and correct answers nearly as much as the bright kids.  They are interesting to teach, but they won’t be as easy to teach as the bright children who simply learn what they are told and repeat it back to you.
  • They learn fast.  Really fast.  The typical child will need 15-20 repetitions or demonstrations and practice to learn a skill. The gifted children may only need 1-2 repetitions to learn.  The bright children need 5-8 reps.  So if you demonstrate a dance move or how to write a letter and your child copies you perfectly the first time, you may have a gifted child in front of you!
  • They NEED complexity and novelty.  Note that I said “need” versus “prefer”.  These kids don’t love routines.  They learn them quickly, but they find them boring, not comforting.  They don’t want to hear a favorite book again as much as they want you to read the next book in the series.  Without sufficient stimulation, the gifted child will go find her own entertainment and probably tell you what to do with your routines!  Bright children are often happiest when they can show you what they remember.  Gifted kids like to show you what you aren’t seeing or mentioning about a topic.
  • Gifted children are intensely curious.  This is different in magnitude from a bright child, who is interested in many things and consistently pays attention to stories and lessons.  The gifted child wants to know everything, and they want to know it now.  If the questions that you are asked show a level of synthesis you would not expect based on age and exposure, you may have a gifted child in front of you!
  • They have a lot of energy.  The gifted child may not need that nap, or they may collapse suddenly due to their full-on approach to life.  They could wake up totally ready to go, and go to sleep talking as well.  This is a child that isn’t going to want to be quiet when they have something to say.  The bright kids raise their hands and wait to be called on.  Be prepared to expend some energy yourself to engage with a gifted child.
  • Their passions and ideas can result in daydreaming and preferring to work alone on their projects.  This doesn’t mean they can’t be social.  But it may mean that they see no point in gluing construction paper triangles onto a pumpkin when they could be creating a pumpkin patch and a corn maze like they visited this weekend.  They won’t passively complete your project when they have a better idea of their own.

If you have spotted a child that may be gifted, you will want to offer them the opportunity to expand and explore within your classroom or your home.  You don’t need to label them.  If you find that their abilities place them far outside the reach of your class plan or they complain about school, it may be time to pursue formal testing.  Linda Silverman, a psychologist with a specialization in working with the gifted, suggests that any child that tests more than 2 standard deviations from the the mean (statistically far from average) is in need of special educational services.  Just because gifted kids are not below average doesn’t mean that they don’t have needs.  To learn more about gifted kids, read How To Talk So Your Gifted Child Will Listen and Sensitivity and Gifted Children: The Mind That Floods With Feeling.  Some gifted kids have other issues.  Read Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help.

And remember that “gifted” doesn’t mean “better kid”.  It just means better skills.  The gifted population has been hammered for being elitist, when in fact, they receive a lot of criticism and prejudice as well as glory.  Treating these kids fairly will allow them to thrive!

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Is Automaticity The Key To Handwriting Success?

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I know that this is a bold statement.  Handwriting is a complex skill, with visual-motor coordination, perceptual, cognitive and postural components.  But when I evaluate a child’s writing, and I watch them having to think about where to start and sequence movements to form a letter and place it on a line, and then decide how far apart the letters and words should be, it makes me think that the lack of automaticity is often a child’s biggest hurdle.  Even if their motor control isn’t terrific, they can still have legible and functional writing if they make fewer errors and write fast enough to complete their work in a reasonable amount of time.  Slow and labored writing isn’t functional, even if it is beautiful.

Think about how important it is for any visual-motor skill to become automatic in order to be efficient.   You cannot hit that ball if you have to think about it.  You just can’t.  It has to be a smooth and automatic response that comes from practice and refined feedback loops developed by experience.  While practicing, professional athletes drill down on minute aspects of the swing, but during the game, they choke if they “overthink”.  Ask anyone who has done a ton of free-throws in basketball (you get an unimpeded chance to drop that orange ball into the hoop) for practice but cannot make it when the game is on the line.

In this current culture, teachers have so many skills to impart.  Handwriting is still a skill children need.  Paper workbooks and worksheets are still used extensively until 3rd or 4th grade.  You cannot wait it out until kids get old enough to keyboard.  And a struggling writer in second grade is already feeling bad about their abilities. Sometimes so bad that they don’t want to do the language arts work that develops spelling, vocabulary and creative expression.   So waiting until they can type isn’t the answer.  You want excitement and enthusiasm for reading and writing early on.  Nothing develops excitement like success.  Nothing kills enthusiasm like boredom and failure.

If automaticity is the key to handwriting success, how do you develop it in children?  I think the folks at Handwriting Without Tears have figured it out.  I no longer use any other handwriting materials.  Their workbooks and pre-K multi-sensory learning tools are just too good.

  1. If you look at the pre-K and early primary workbooks carefully, you will see that the left-to-right, top-to-bottom orientation is embedded in everything.  Even the cute animals for little kids to color are all facing left-to-right!
  2. The two lines (baseline and midline) are simple to use.  No wondering where to place letters.   The pre-K letters are at the bottom of the page, creating an emerging automatic sense of baseline.
  3. The developmental progression (versus the alphabetical progression) builds slowly from vertical and horizontal lines to curves and diagonal lines.  Letters are grouped by the way they are formed, making automatic movements emerge early and consistently.
  4. Workbook pages aren’t overwhelming with activities, but the skills are repeated to intentionally develop writing automaticity.

For example, instead of writing 12 letter”B”s and 12 letter “b”s,  uppercase letters, with their larger and simpler hand movements are taught together and earlier.  Letters “b” and “d” aren’t taught together since they can easily be reversed.  Letters “b” and “h” are taught together since the formation is very similar.  Fewer reversals, more success without having to go back and re-teach letter formation.

Take a look at the best “pre-K into K” book I have ever seen, HWT’s KickStart Kindergarten.  It is the perfect summer bridge activity for your preschooler or your older special needs child.

Happy summer writing!

 

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Help Your Special Needs Toddler Make The Transition To School Routines

 

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Many developmentally delayed toddlers move their therapeutic and educational services to a toddler developmental group, A.K.A. special needs program, when they are between 18 and 30 months old.  Not all of them slide into the routine easily.  There can be a few tears and a lot of complaining about fitting into a schedule /leaving a fun activity because it is time for circle or therapy.

After speaking with a handful of clients and doing a few consultations, I thought it might help to provide some strategies to help parents make their child’s first school experience easier:

  1. Learn how teachers mark activity transitions, and commit to using them at home.  Some teachers sing the  “clean-up song”, some ring a bell or turn lights on and off.  Find out exactly how the staff help children, especially non-verbal children, anticipate and adjust to changes.
  2.  You don’t need to copy the exact transition strategy, but make it very similar and use it for activities at home that are the easy transitions.  Examples of easy transitions at home are getting into a bubbly tub, leaving the table once full and satisfied, putting on a coat to go outside and play, etc.  The transitions that are easiest are going to be the calmest, and children learn best when calm.  This positive spin makes the school’s routine more acceptable when a child isn’t completely on board with new situations.
  3. Find out how snack is served, and offer snacks in the same way at home.  If small cups are used for water or juice, practice cup drinking at home with the same sized cup.   If there are specific foods offered, then stock up.   Model your enjoyment of these snacks so that the food is familiar and has your seal of approval.

Good luck this year to all the toddlers that have made the leap to school!!

 

Make Handwriting Fun While Getting Ready For The New School Year

Here in the US, kids are getting ready to go back to school.  And most of them haven’t been writing much in the last 6-8 weeks.  At the kindergarten level, some children will have forgotten any lowercase letters they knew in the spring.  At the 1-2 grade levels, it is not uncommon for kids to forget how to form letters, where to place them on the baseline, and how to use simple punctuation.   Teachers sometimes need to use the first 1-2 weeks for review alone.

What if they didn’t need to review?  What if your child was ready to hit the ground running (and writing)?  There is nothing like seeing a confident kid sit down to crush her homework instead of struggling through it.  For all those writers who worked hard last year and are a little nervous to pick up a pencil again, here are some ideas that help getting back to writing fun and easy:

  1. Get good materials.  Kids are just like adults.  We like new, cool stuff.  So do they.  I recommend using the best eraser (Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser ) and either the small Learning Without Tears (they changed their name!!!)  pencils for kindergarteners, or the Papermate 1.3mm lead mechanical pencils for older kids.  Take a look at my post on these useful pencils Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills
  2. Use fun workbooks like Madlibs and games like Hangman.  Make up games that you think your kids will find funny.  Try the Junior version of Madlibs for grades 2-3, and the regular one for the higher grades.  There are themes for every kid, trust me.  Something will be funny.  Do them together with your child, have a contest for silliest madlib, send them to relatives that can appreciate this humor, etc.
  3. Target any errors made in writing their first and family name first.  Those errors will be repeated over and over in the first few days of school if you do not focus on them.  Time to make this a priority.
  4. Figure out where the gaps are, and hit the low-hanging fruit next.  Why?  Because that builds confidence.  Look for simple errors with easy-to-write or frequently written letters.  Think “a”, “e”, and “t”.  Doesn’t even have to be letters; could be numbers.  Kids need to feel like they can hit singles, and then they will try harder for doubles and triples.  Forgive the baseball reference; I saw a ton of stickers and vanity plates today.   Apparently all of my neighbors are big baseball fans!

There are only a few weeks of summer left, but if you make a small effort,  it can mean a lot to a child’s first weeks of school!

Should Hypermobile Kids Use Backpacks?

 

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Yo! A photo shout-out to my old life in Brooklyn! I loved coming to work to see this iconic view!

It is back-to-school season here in the US.  One of the items on shopping lists is a new backpack.  But for kids with low muscle tone or hypermobility, backpacks can be more than a way to carry books and water bottles.  They can be a source of pain, headaches, even numbness in hands and fingers.  The important question isn’t how to lighten the load of a heavy backpack.  It is whether these kids should be using them at all.

The standard recommendations from occupational therapists and orthopedists regarding backpacks are simple:  lighten the load, use both straps (select one with wide straps), and make sure the heaviest items are placed close to the body.  All good suggestions.  But if a child already has pain or weakness around their spine and/or shoulder joints, reduced stability and endurance, and limited ability to judge posture and force, then the picture changes.  Using a backpack may be a significant physical risk, no matter how well designed or used.  And even when armed with good strategies, many kids will insist that it isn’t possible to go without one.

Here are some suggestions that further minimize the risk of injury but can still be acceptable to kids who may be sensitive about being perceived as different if they don’t have a backpack:

  • Request a set of the heaviest books for home use.  This can be part of an IEP or a 504 plan, or the school may be willing to do so without anything formal on paper.
  • Request a locker on every floor or every section of a large school.  They won’t have to drag every item to every class if they can store things in more than one place.  Again, a 504 plan or and IEP can include this, making it happen without a lot of fuss from your child.  Bonus round:  Set up your home in the same way, to get your child into the habit of energy and joint conservation strategies.  Make them think like an occupational therapist….!
  • Select the smallest size backpack possible.  Stores like Land’s End and L.L. Bean  are great sources for a variety of backpack sizes.  Bigger backpacks encourage kids to load more stuff inside.
  •  Have your child carry lighter and fewer items.  Pick the smallest water bottles and travel sizes of anything they really need.  Think “weekend in Paris on a shoestring” not “trekking the Himalayas“.  At least they have a backpack like the other kids.  Sources like The Container Store and even your local Walmart will have tiny containers for the things they need.  Offer to refill these containers or replace them right away.  A shelf of small water bottles or a cool but tiny hone charger could make the difference.
  • Teach your child to carry their pack in their arms, close to their chest, instead of wearing it.  I know that sounds a little weird.  But if the pack is small to medium in size, this is the best way to carry it to reduce strain on the back and neck.  And they still have a backpack like the other kids.  It might be a long shot to get a kid to change how they carry a pack.  Some kids can respond to reminders of how awful it is to be in pain, and how not being able to sleep or play sports is much worse than carrying that pack in their arms.
  • Considering a rolling case?  Not so fast.  The twisting of the spine and the use of one arm to drag a rolling case may be worse than using a backpack.  Then there is the lifting and lugging of a case up non-ADA stairs.  Out of the frying pan……

Looking for more information about hypermobility, low tone and back-to-school planning?  Check out Does An Atypical Pencil Grasp Damage Joints or Support Function In Kids With Hypermobility? and Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills.  Before you wonder if all that fidgeting and leaning over the desk is a behavior problem, read Hypermobility and ADHD? Take Stability, Proprioception, Pain and Fatigue Into Account Before Labeling Behavior.  There are pencil grips that can really help kids with a weak grasp, so check out The Pencil Grip That Strengthens Your Child’s Fingers As They Write.

If your child is older and thinking about a career, please read Career Planning for Teens with JRA, EDS, and Other Chronic Health Issues for some important strategies to get them thinking about how to navigate higher education and make plans that make sense.