Tips For School Psychologists: Helping Parents Cope With Another School Year Beginning

August 25th, 2015

Where does the summer go?

For students, parents, teachers and school-based therapists, it’s time to hit the ground running with the start of another academic year. How can you help families cope with what can be a very stressful time, if not handled with preparation and care?

Ease the Transition
Before school starts, use your school website or other means to give parents tips on making the transition from summer vacation to structured school days as pain-free as possible:

  • Be sure children are in good physical and mental health. The start of a new school year is a good time for medical and dental checkups. Parents can use this opportunity to discuss any school-related concerns with their pediatricians. Primary care physicians are the first point of contact to determine if any issues are normal and age appropriate, or may require further assessment. As a school psychologist, you’ll want to be looped in to any treatment plans that may be recommended for the coming months.
  • Include pertinent information on school counseling services in materials being sent to parents as the year begins. Encourage parents to review all the material they receive from their children’s school so they can get organized and be aware of important dates, deadlines, and all the supplies students need for the first days and weeks in their new classroom.
  • Recommend the start of school year routines. These include mealtime and bedtime schedules, which ideally should be set in place about a week before school starts – but it’s never too late to get this on track. Remind parents to reinforce the message that these schedule adjustments are for their children’s benefit; they are not punishment.
  • Help parents familiarize their children with school. Especially if students are young or starting a new school, invite families to visit ahead of time. Meeting teachers and therapists, locating classrooms, lunch rooms, lockers and other important areas, and having their questions answered, will ease anxiety about their new environment.

The First Week of School
Parents should adjust their own schedules to accommodate the first week or two of their children’s year. Parental involvement in helping children acclimate to their school routine can be key in averting confusion or anxiety. Parents should be advised to:

  • Provide calm, reassuring messages to keep children’s stress manageable.
  • Leave plenty of extra time. Lunches can be made and clothing and supplies laid out the night before. Alarms can be set 15 minutes early to avoid rushing.
  • After-school structure is important, too. Parents should review with their children what to do if they get home and no one is there. These directions should be very specific, especially with younger students. They should put a note in their backpack with names and numbers of people they can contact, as well as their own numbers.

If Parents Need You
Some children may exhibit extreme signs of anxiety, stress of other learning or psychological difficulties. Make sure they know who and where you are, and how to reach you, as the 2015/16 school year is set in motion. You can be their most valuable resource and their children’s key to academic success.

For additional ideas to get the school year off to a strong start – and to formulate your successful school-based therapy career plan, contact the expert team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

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Understanding Teachable Moments in the Classroom

August 24th, 2015

As described by elementary education expert Beth Lewis, a teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises, where a teacher or therapist has an ideal chance to offer valuable insight to their students. Attuned, intentional teachers capture these moments and use them to their advantage, making every one of them count. You can be an intentional therapist by understanding teachable moments and integrating something from them into your student sessions.

Motivating Students with Teachable Moments

You don’t plan for teachable moments. In fact, the opposite often is true. A student may ask a question or comment on something relevant to their lives or current events, which can be linked to the lesson or skill you’re trying to teach. Capitalize on this window of opportunity, briefly let go of the structure and timing of your prepared session plan, and allow the student initiate the learning. Be the facilitator, as you motivate them and tap into their creativity.

  • An everyday occurrence can become a teachable moment. For example, if a student spills their drink, turn it into an opportunity to work on holding a cup with two hands or setting it down properly.
  • Taking these tangents is worthwhile. They are organically timed for maximum impact on students’ learning capabilities, and they can evolve into full-blown lesson plans or units. By helping students to link their current activities and interests into your current school content, you cultivate engaged, passionate learners.

Here are some additional tips to spot teachable moments and make them work for you:

  • Take it one step at a time. You don’t have to find teachable moments for all your content. But be alert for them and use them where they make sense. Start small – and think big!
  • Tap into your students’ interests. You’ll be more likely to get them to focus on and learn new concepts. They’ll participate more and better retain what they learn. Can you link their therapy to any of their personal hobbies or interests? Even a favorite story or song lyric can inspire a teachable moment.
  • Incorporate real-life experiences. Avoid too much busy work associated with long assignments and boring worksheets. Provide opportunities for open discussion and questions that help your students to develop new ways of thinking and approaching their therapy. In essence, you are creating – or at least, planting the seeds for – teachable moments.

For additional tips and resources to build your school-based practice, read our related posts or contact the specialized team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

 

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Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services Recognized by Inc. 5000 for Eighth Consecutive Year

August 13th, 2015

Pediatric Therapy Staffing Firm is Named as One of the Nation’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America.

ATLANTA, GA – Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services, a leading pediatric therapy staffing firm, has made the Inc. 5000, an exclusive ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies in America for the eighth consecutive year.

“We are thrilled to have maintained a place on this prestigious list for eight years in a row,” said June Whitehead, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, Owner and CEO of Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services. “We believe in serving our kids, encouraging the personal and professional growth of our therapists and providing quality therapy services to our schools. Our three year growth rate of 89% is a result of high employee and client retention rates and successful recruiting and business development efforts. “

Founded in 1989, Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services has been providing a range of therapy services for children, including speech language pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy and school psychology services to school systems across the United States for 26 years. The firm currently serves Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. For more information on Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services, please visit www.cobbpediatric.com.

Celebrating National School Backpack Awareness Day

August 13th, 2015

September 16 is National School Backpack Awareness Day. It’s celebrated each year on the third Wednesday of September, to assist therapists, other educators, parents and students in getting the school year off to a healthy start. It’s also a great opportunity to showcase occupational therapy services throughout your community.

Symptoms and Tips

When it comes to backpack safety awareness – which, by the way, also applies to other types of bags including purses, briefcases and suitcases – the best rule of thumb is: Pack it light and wear it right. As noted by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), symptoms of backpack-related issues include:

  • Aching backs and/or shoulders.
  • Weakened muscles.
  • Tingling arms.
  • Stooped posture.

They can be avoided by properly loading and wearing backpacks. Proper loading tips for backpacks and other bags include:

  • Never carry more than 15 percent of your body weight. For instance, a child who weighs 100 pounds shouldn’t wear a loaded school backpack heavier than 15 pounds.
  • Arrange materials so they don’t slide around in a backpack. Check what children carry to and from school. Make sure the items are necessary. Load the heaviest items closest to the back.
  • If a backpack or bag is too loaded, hand carry some items. Consider using a bag on wheels if your school allows it.

Here’s how to safely wear a backpack:

  • Use both shoulder straps. Slinging a pack over one shoulder can cause leaning to one side. This curves the spine and causes pain or discomfort.
  • Select a pack with well-padded shoulder straps. The neck and shoulders have many blood vessels and nerves. If too much pressure is applied, the result can be pain and tingling in the neck, arms and hands.
  • Adjust the straps so a pack fits snugly to the back. A pack that hangs loosely can pull the body backwards and strain muscles. Waist belts are an excellent feature, as they help to distribute weight more evenly.
  • Be sure a child’s backpack is the right size for their age. It should fit their back, with the bottom of the pack resting in the curve of the lower back area. In addition, it should have enough room for all necessary school items.

Plan Your Celebration

For additional tips on celebrating National School Backpack Awareness Day, visit AOTA. Or, contact the OT team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services. We offer industry and event tips, as well as strategies and resources to take your school-based therapy career to the next level.

Here’s to a safe and successful school year!

 

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Summer Speech Practice Tips for Parents

July 31st, 2015

As summer progresses, it’s important to keep speech skills sharp so as not to erase progress made during the previous school year. You may be able to recommend speech practice tips to parents and other caregivers via your school website or other vacation communication tools.

Speech practice can be easily incorporated into ongoing summertime activities such as playing, outdoor recreation and traveling. With just minimal preparation and creativity, they simply become part of the fun, yet provide a learning experience at the same time.

Here are some ideas to create these “win-win” scenarios:

An Alphabet Game for the Car

You’ve probably played the alphabet game where you go through the letters, thinking of an animal, a food or another category of items that start with each letter. Play a similar game, targeting speech sounds. For instance, the /k/ sound is used in “cat” and “cookie” as well as “kite” and “ketchup.” Take turns until someone is stumped and can’t think of another word.

Fun with Sidewalk Chalk

There are numerous speech-related activities that can be tied in with using sidewalk chalk. These include:

  • Hopscotch or life-size board games with speech words.
  • Drawing, coloring and then saying targeted words.

As an added bonus, kids can express their creativity, hone their drawing and coloring abilities, and get some fresh air and exercise while improving speech strengths.

Picture Scavenger Hunt

Go through your house or yard and take pictures of as many things as you can that start with a targeted speech sound. Organize a scavenger hunt so children can find and possibly photograph the objects themselves. In order to win a prize, they also must pronounce each word clearly. You can even make a book of all the pictures to use for review later on.

Playdough Words

Write down a series of speech sound words on small pieces of paper. Have each child pick one from a hat and then shape playdough into that word. Other players can then guess which object has been created. For extra points, have them say the use the word in a sentence.

Playground Sounds

Find a way for kids to practice speech sounds at the playground.

  • Practice the /p/ sound by giving a child a “push” on the swing.
  • Practice /b/ by making it a “big” push and /w/ and /m/ by saying “watch me push.”
  • Roll marbles down a slide into a bowl. Practice /m/ by asking for “more marbles.”
  • Have children practice /s/ by saying “sssss” all the way down the slide until they reach the bottom.

Treasures in the Sand

In your backyard sandbox or at the beach, bury objects or laminated picture cards for kids to find. When they do, have them say the word as they add them to their sand pail.

Right about now, parents are probably looking for ideas to keep children entertained until school starts again. What better way than through some fun and different activities that also target their speech skills?

For additional speech therapy resources, as well as career opportunities in speech therapy, read our related posts or contact the team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

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Key Tips for Health and Success in School

July 24th, 2015

As an occupational therapist, you play a key role in helping your students to stay healthy and successful throughout the school year. As the next one gets under way, here are some tips:

Help Them Get Organized

Guide and assist students in organizing their learning space, their time and their resources. Consider how each individual child’s tasks and settings will best work together. This applies to their:

  • Physical environment: Desks, lockers and backpacks should be kept neat and organized, so students can easily locate assignments, supplies and other items. Less time spent searching means more time spent studying and completing productive work.
  • Time management: Planning time for homework, sports, social activities and relaxation helps youngsters to stay focused. In addition, it minimizes stress over fitting everything into a day or a week.
  • Eating and sleeping schedules: Adequate rest is essential for students to learn, grow and stay well. It also improves concentration and their general feeling of well-being. The same applies to healthy eating. For starters, every school day should begin with a balanced breakfast.
  • Testing skills: If children have trouble completing tests on time, collaborate with their teacher to identify the reason and build their test-taking success skills.

Help Them Make Friends

Observe and study what makes your students happy, including how they can better get to know and understand one another.

  • Encourage children to introduce themselves to new classmates.
  • Plan projects and assignments where students team up and work together. This usually is more enjoyable for everyone and promotes higher socialization and engagement.

Promote and Practice Ergonomics

Occupational therapy is a science-driven profession, based largely on how the mind and body work together. When physically setting up your students for success, be sure that:

  • Their heads are level with their computer monitors. The top of their screen should be at eye level.
  • Their forearms are parallel to their keyboard and held only slightly above it.
  • Their lower backs are supported.
  • Their feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest.
  • They take frequent stretch breaks, away from the computer. A good rule of thumb is to take a two-minute break every half hour.

If you need additional tips and resources as you plan for the upcoming school year – or are using summer break to research your next OT career move – contact the experienced team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services. We’re school therapists ourselves, and we have the market intelligence and contacts to build your future in the Atlanta market and beyond.

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Speech Therapy Apps: Conversation Therapy

July 17th, 2015

If you need to target expressive language skills and similar challenges in students aged nine and above, the Tactus Therapy Solutions app Conversation Therapy would be an excellent addition to your therapy toolkit.

Priced at $24.99, the latest (1.04) version can be used on your iPod, iPod mini, iPhone or iPod touch. It also is available bundled in the Tactus Complete Therapy, Aphasia Therapy and School Therapy Toolkits.

Conversation Therapy uses 10 questions relating to thought-provoking questions to stimulate conversation between couples or groups of people. It encourages dialogue to unfold naturally, without pressure, thus offering opportunities to improve language skills, pragmatics, speech and thinking.

Skill-Building Features

Conversation Therapy helps students who have difficulty expressing their ideas to work on these skills and address cognitive-linguistic and speech goals. Its features include:

  • More than 300 vivid, full-color photos. Of these, 225 are in child mode and 275 are in teen mode.
  • Open-ended questions that have no right or wrong answers; for instance, “What does it mean to have good manners?” and “What are you allergic to?”
  • User profiles for both individual and group scoring.

The app targets the following goal areas: verbal expression, verbal reasoning, describing, inferencing, predicting, generative naming, defining, discussing opinions, oral and written narrative, decision making, comparison, fluency, apraxia, conversation level articulation and eye contact. In addition to English, you can work in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Filipino and Zulu.

Conversation Therapy is helpful when working with youngsters with cognitive-communication disorders, autism and Asperger Syndrome and ADHD, as well as ESL students and those who stutter.

Using this app, you can readily:

  • Target goals with open-ended questions: The mature topics also can be used for students with aphasia, cognitive impairments and motor speech disorders. You score only goal behavior, not correct or incorrect content.
  • Track data and customize with the User Hub: Conversation Therapy saves each user’s data and profile with charts and reports. You can set up goals for each of your students and customize the types of questions they see.

Paving the Way for the Digital Age

Experts who have piloted Conversation Therapy are highly enthused about its possibilities as speech therapy moves advances in tune with current and future technology. As noted by Ryan Knoblauch, SLP, of The Speech Knob, “Tactus Therapy Solutions has created one of the most thorough therapy apps yet … The pictures are awesome. The topics are relevant … If you really want someone to talk, this app will provide you with detailed scenarios and lots of questions … This is the app that is going to pave the way for converting speech therapists to the digital age.”

As you prepare for the upcoming school year, read our related posts or contact the Cobb Pediatric Therapy team for additional tips, tools and resources to build your career or find your next great job in the greater Atlanta market. We can help you make it happen!

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Sharpen Your Pencils: Preparing for the Upcoming School Year

July 13th, 2015

Getting a new school year off to a good start will set the right tone for the nine or 10 months to follow. As a school psychologist, it’s important to collaborate with teachers and other faculty members, as well as parents, so all of you can work together on behalf of your students.

The back-to-school transition can be stressful even for the most eager and confident children. For others, the pressure can be overwhelming. You can help your students – and their entire support team – to make this a great school year by planning ahead, being prepared and realistic, and maintaining a positive attitude.

Cooperation is Key

Collaborate with teachers and find out the directions they will be taking and themes and topics they will be using during the year. Then you can tailor your plans accordingly. Arrange an informal get-together or two with the entire team. Even if everyone doesn’t show up, you can brainstorm, plan and share ideas.

Learn how you can best handle:

  • The set-up of your room or therapy area.
  • Effective communication with parents via newsletters, school websites and other means.
  • Discipline.

Recommended on your summer reading list is First Day of School by Harry Wong. Continue to read professionally. This helps you to stay current and keep the big picture in your head.

Reflect on the Past

Whether you’re a relatively new school psychologist or an experienced veteran, you may want to revamp your approach this year, based on your experience.

  • Never be afraid to try something new. Understand that sometimes it will work, sometimes it will need to be tweaked, and sometimes you’ll wind up throwing it out altogether. Let your experience, both good and bad, help guide your overall approach.
  • Never pass along information on how a particular student has behaved or performed in the past. It’s a brand new year. Every child, school psychologist and teacher deserves the chance to come in with a clean slate. A different educator may get other results. Preconceived notions can be detrimental to the overall development and progress of a student.

At Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services, we understand the unique challenges faced by school-based therapists and school psychologists at any career stage. For additional resources to enhance your school year experience – or access to our network of career path opportunities – contact us today. And be sure to relax and enjoy the rest of your summer!

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The Importance of Knowing When to Intervene in Classroom Disputes

June 30th, 2015

How children treat each other in the classroom is equally as important as what they learn. Skills such as cooperation, assertion, responsibility and self-control are essential to their academic and social success. As you plan ahead for the 2015/16 school year, be aware that you may need to teach or reinforce these skills, along with your therapy plans and materials, during the course of the school day.

When children learn to resolve their own conflicts, the academic atmosphere becomes far more pleasant and productive for everyone. You can spend more time teaching and making progress with therapy – and your students can spend more time learning.

Steps to Take

Conflict resolution is generally best introduced around the fourth or fifth week of school, once children are familiar with their basic routines and with one another. Teach them these basic steps to address the disputes that will inevitably arise:

  • Calming down and bringing emotions into balance.
  • Explaining the nature of the upset.
  • Discussion and resolution.
  • Acknowledgement, such as a handshake or a high five.

An effective approach involves children composing an “I Statement” to help them deliver high-emotion information. The basic format reads as follows: “When you _______________________, I feel _________ because _____________________________, so what I would like is __________________.”

For example, “When you say my backpack looks weird, I feel sad because I just got it and I really like it, so I’d like you to talk about something else when I see you at school.”

It helps to generate a list of “feeling words” to help students expand their vocabulary and get their message across. A typical list would include words like “scared, sorry, sad, frustrated” and “nervous.” Display the list on a flip chart or whiteboard so children can easily refer to it.

The Dispute Resolution Meeting

Using the I Statements as the basis, your role is to facilitate a conflict resolution meeting for your students when needed. As a preview, listen to a child’s I Statement to make sure it is legitimate and that they are ready to present it.

  • The first child starts the meeting by making their I Statement.
  • The second child listens and repeats back their understanding of what was said.
  • Once the first child agrees that the second child has heard correctly, the second child may make their own I Statement.
  • This back-and-forth routine continues until both students are satisfied that an understanding has been reached and peace has been made. The meeting concludes with an acknowledgement.
  • While often a child will apologize at some point during a conflict resolution meeting, never require it.
  • As facilitator, you are there to ensure safety and protocol, but you should speak as little as possible.

Learning when to intervene in classroom disputes and how to deal with conflict is an essential life skill and as a school-based therapist, you may play a significant role in helping your students to master it.

For additional tools and resources to enhance your work, as well as current therapy career opportunities in your specialty field, read our related posts or contact the team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Noteworthy OT Tips for Homework Success

June 19th, 2015

Children and homework often don’t mix – and the challenges may be even greater with occupational therapy challenges are involved.  As you begin to think ahead to the next academic year, set your sights on work and study habits for your students that will promote academic success. These will include tactics and approaches to homework that will result in enhanced motivation, learning and confidence versus tears and frustration.

Help Students Establish Good Habits

Like virtually every aspect of a child’s education, homework success is based on a strong partnership between teachers, therapists, parents and students. Suggest these tips to eliminate homework-related stress and put regular, firm habits in place:

Set up a homework station.

It should be free of clutter and noise and away from distractions, such as TV, phones and video games. Keep it organized and supplied with pens, pencils, paper and other needed supplies – maybe even a healthy snack or two!

It’s never too early for good ergonomics.

Children should do homework while sitting in firm chairs with their feet planted on the floor or a foot rest. An office chair is a great option, as it can be adjusted to exactly the right height. A child’s back should be supported against a backrest. Good posture prevents back or neck stress and makes it easier to comfortably complete assignment.

Build in break times.

Encourage children to take a stretch break every 20 minutes. Promote active play and physical activities alternated with homework time. This reduces fatigue and boredom and enhances concentration.

Develop a plan and a schedule.

Consider your students’ sensory needs and any potential distractions, such as hunger or fatigue. Determine their preferences for the best time to complete homework assignments. Some children work best before dinner, for instance, or right afterwards. Students should be encouraged to manage their schedules using a planner. This gives them more ownership and control, which further builds motivation.

Optimize the environment.

Be sure children are working in areas with proper lighting. Limit eye strain by following the 20/20/20 rule: Take a break every 20 minutes, stop for 20 seconds, and look at least 20 feet away from the homework or computer monitor.

What other plans, resources or career advice do you need as you take a breather, enjoy the summer and at the same time, think ahead to your upcoming plans and future steps? This is a great time to reach out to a professional recruiter who specializes in school-based therapy. To learn more, read our related posts or contact the Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services team today.