Encouraging Standout Students to Assist and Encourage Others

December 12th, 2014

Numerous research studies have supported the theory that children – and adults – often learn best from their peers, as learning is a truly social experience. And while the role of teacher or therapist can never be underestimated, your best role at certain times may be that of gatekeeper: Provide the necessary guidance, then stand back and allow collaborative learning to succeed.

It’s like putting a positive spin on peer pressure. Having students help each other is an extremely powerful classroom technique, as it improves children’s achievements, perseverance, persistence and overall attitude toward school.

From Preschool to Harvard

One of the keys to interactive learning is encouraging students to demonstrate kind, helpful behavior toward each other. Researchers have found that this results in greater academic success for children, as well as the development of better relationships with teachers and friendships with classmates.

  • In a 2010 study published in the journal Psychological Science, 18-month old children were shown photos of household objects, like a tea kettle, featuring different backgrounds: two dolls facing each other, a single doll, or two dolls facing away from each other. Those who say the dolls facing each other were three times more likely than the others to spontaneously help a person in need. All it took was a gentle reminder of human connectedness to prompt kids to reach out and help someone else.
  • At Harvard University, physics professor Eric Mazur incorporated interactive learning into a course that involved solving complicated problems. The result was significantly better knowledge retention. Scores of other faculty members adopted his approach.

Make it Happen

A few simple, effective, research-based tips can help you encourage students to encourage others:

  • When you set up your therapy area, hang posters of people interacting and helping each other. Such visual clues not only prompt students to imitate them, but also let them know that you personally value this kind of behavior.
  • Greet students every day. Children are more likely to behave with kindness and encouragement if they feel a sense of belonging. A study of 158 tenth and twelfth-graders found that those who felt connected to their teachers and other students scored higher in empathy – a building block of prosocial behavior.
  • Use a warm, positive tone of voice. Start this on the first day of school and continue it throughout the year. Modeling kind speech with students tends to have the effect of them positively interacting with one another.
  • Provide students with opportunities to assist each other. For instance, when they work in cooperative learning groups, inform them that one of their responsibilities is to help one another.

Read our related articles or contact Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services for additional tools, research and in-depth knowledge to support and advance your school therapy career. And check out our job listings for current opportunities in the Atlanta region and beyond.

Occupational Therapy Tips: Motivating Students to Excel

December 5th, 2014

When working with your students, how can you light that spark that motivates them to excel – taking what they’ve learned during therapy and using it in meaningful and rewarding ways in the “real world?” Because that’s really the bottom line, isn’t it? Successful participation in their roles as students, friends and family members is what will ultimately enhance children’s emotional well-being, physical and mental health, and social competence.

Use these tips to get students’ OT learning juices flowing:

Tailor the challenge to the child.

People are motivated to learn when the task matches their ability and skill level. It shouldn’t be so easy as to be boring nor so difficult as to be frustrating.

  • Deliberately fashion the exercise so students are working at the very edge of their abilities. Then keep raising the bar as they improve.

Let them know you care.

If your students like you, they’ll perform better for you. It’s a simple fact of human nature. This doesn’t mean you should sacrifice learning success for your popularity as a “fun therapist.” But do let them see you as a caring human being with a true interest in them as individuals.

  • Greet them every day by name. Make a point of asking specific questions about their lives – siblings, happenings at home or their favorite hobbies and interests. Be respectful. Use humor when appropriate.

Tell them why it matters.

Especially when doing repetitive tasks that can become tedious, be sure children understand the long-term benefits of succeeding at therapy. Even kindergarteners will work harder at handwriting if you take the time to tell them they’re building their finger muscle strength to help them communicate and learn – not just bossing them around. 

Show your enthusiasm.

While experts debate the benefits of rewards programs, something as simple as genuine praise from their therapist can go a long way towards students’ success. Nothing is more contagious than your own excitement about learning.

Continuously foster family participation.

Last but not least, continually involve family members and caregivers in children’s therapy. Your students’ desire to learn is directly tied to their fundamental, caring relationships with their parents, other family members, and childcare providers.

  • Time spent with family members between therapy sessions is vital. Research has shown that rewarding responses from caregivers motivate children to learn, be happy about their accomplishments, and take more pleasure in play and other activities of daily living.

For more resources to add to your school-based therapy toolbox, read our related posts or contact the team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today. We can help as you grow and advance your successful career strategy.


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Top Apps for Occupational Therapists: iDress for Weather

November 28th, 2014

For individuals with disabilities, something as simple as dressing properly for the weather can be a major step towards day-to-day independence. iDress for Weather was inspired by developers who sought to support those whose cognitive processing or memory is hampered by conditions including autism, illnesses such as stroke or Alzheimer’s disease, or occurrences such as traumatic brain injuries.

Developed by Pebro Productions for iPhones and iPads, iDress for Weather is priced at $1.99. It was updated to version 2.5.1 in August 2014, which introduced more advanced bug fixes to increase the accuracy of animation.

Key Features

Connecting weather conditions to clothing choices can be a difficult concept to teach or learn. By utilizing customized photos and individualized images, iDress for Weather makes this task easier for individuals of all ages.

  • Each day, based on the high temperature (which, like other weather conditions on the app, is a function of the closest weather satellite or station), a closet icon appears. It presents a picture of the recommended clothing to remember, based on user preferences. You can substitute your own photos for the drawings provided, which enables users to actually see their own hats, coats, boots and other apparel in the “closet.”
  • In the afternoon, once the day’s high temperature starts to drop, the closet displays clothing appropriate to the overnight low.
  • Each user sets their own temperature range that defines each closet. Regions around the world differ dramatically in how temperatures are perceived by individuals who live there. While 70 degrees may be “very hot” to someone in Fargo, North Dakota, this classification is more likely defined as at least 95 degrees in southern Florida.
  • The app’s location setting automatically saves the last 10 locations searched. You can identify locations using a GPS or zip code feature.
  • Current temperatures are boldly displayed and related graphics are clear and colorful.
  • Humidity and wind speed and direction may be displayed if preferred.

“Clearly a Winner”

iDress for Weather has been acclaimed as “fantastic” by satisfied customers. One commented that, “from idea to finished product, it’s a winner with a clearly defined audience.”

Stay in touch with the pros at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services for news on the latest tools and technology for your school-based therapy practice. Read our related posts or contact us today.

Top Apps for Speech Therapists: My First AAC

November 21st, 2014

Apple’s Education App Store recently selected My First AAC by Project Injini as “New and Noteworthy” – and once you try it out, you’ll quickly see why.

My First AAC an innovative augmentative and alternative communication app for your iPad, specifically designed for toddlers and preschoolers with delayed speech or severe speech disorders.

A Reflection of Natural Speech Development

My First AAC is highly intuitive and child friendly, helping children to effectively communicate with family, caregivers, teachers and others whom they meet in the course of everyday life. Developed in collaboration with a team of speech pathologists, it offers icons that reflect children’s natural speech development. The app is appropriate for those aged 18 months and older.

Among the features of My First AAC are:

  • More than 250 icons organized by category.
  • A child’s voice used in all audio files. Among the app’s many customization features is the ability to choose either a boy or a girl’s voice – and related settings adjust accordingly.
  • Excellent animation including icons with sign language for words and phrases such as “more” and “all done.”
  • The ability to recognize personalized information like a child’s name or phone number.
  • A customizable screen layout that allows you to display just two large icons or up to eight smaller ones per category.
  • The option to hide and unhide icons, create an entire new screen using an icon library, and lock the screen to prevent scrolling and keep a child focused on a single area.

Boost Children’s Confidence

My First AAC has received accolades from therapists, educators and parents – generating excitement around this app that could help set standards for lifelong progress in young children.

  • One speech-language pathologist recently noted that, “I use My First AAC with some of my preschool students diagnosed with CAS (childhood apraxia of speech), ASD (autism spectrum disorders) and Down syndrome. Using the app has helped to boost their confidence much more quickly than the other expensive low and high-tech options on the market today. Proof is in my students’ progress and with each new word or phrase they learn and master.”
  • And this comment came from the parents of a small child with Angelman Syndrome: “This has been a wonderful app for him to communicate with us. Easy to use. We customize with our own photos and voice, yet they also have a wide variety of icon artwork that we use as well. Thank you!”

My First AAC is priced at $24.99 on the Apple I Tunes store.

To learn more about this and other resources available to advance your school-based therapy career, contact one of the specialized recruiters at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

3 Ways to Start Connecting with Unfocused Learners

November 14th, 2014

If you haven’t already encountered an unfocused learner during the course of your day, you most likely will. For these students, the simple act of paying attention is a constant uphill struggle. They tend to be immediately distracted by background noise or other stimuli, prone to misplacing the materials they need to complete an assignment, or have trouble distinguishing between the relevant and irrelevant aspects of a task.

Unfocused learners also may:

  • Appear disorganized and be apt to make careless mistakes because they’re simply unable to focus.
  • Need help structuring their time including materials, workspace, group dynamics and transitional times, as well as appropriately handling choices.

As their therapist, you need to use clear, consistent communication that tells these students exactly when, how and for how long they’ll need to work on a particular process. You become their manager, showing and modeling to them how to plan, organize and successfully complete their work.

Walk them Through It

Before children begin working on a task, have them identify and list the steps for completing it, including time estimates both for each step and for full completion. Write the estimates on the board so you can prompt students. They also can write the list on a notepad or index card and cross items off as they go along.

  • You may want to provide a timer to help children monitor their work.
  • Give ample warning when an activity is about to change or it’s time to move to the next step.
  • Read directions aloud and have students follow along, underlining or highlighting the most important material, as well as key words and explanations.

Break It Down into Manageable Steps

On a chart or card, draw a model that children can follow visually. Color code each step and have students compare their work to the model.

  • Give reduced assignments to inattentive students so they can complete seatwork.
  • Reduce the amount of visual material children need to pay attention to by drawing a circle around or tracing with your finger the most important information on a chart or diagram.
  • Unfocused learners need to experience success. This will be more easily accomplished if you give them short, very specific tasks so that the time they initially spend on them is brief. Work assigned as independent seatwork must be challenging, but not frustrating. Only after success with shorter tasks can you gradually increase the time you expect a child to stay focused.

Reward Success

Use class rewards for staying on task and paying attention. Distractible students tend to concentrate better when they’re consistently acknowledged – and studies have shown that rewarding one student often has the ripple effect of improving others’ attention skills.

  • Use the “5 More Rule” whereby an inattentive child commits to work solidly for five minutes or five pages. When they finish, praise their success and ask them to work solidly for five more.
  • Pay attention to children when they pay attention to you. Acknowledge good listening and reward the class. Focus your behavior management on praise and encouragement rather than giving negative attention to negative behavior.

Are you looking for additional resources to enhance your school-based therapy career? Or seeking to take that career to the next level? Partner with one of the specialized recruiters at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services and take advantage of our knowledge, expertise and market intelligence. Contact us today!

Understanding and Capitalizing On Breakthrough Moments in the Classroom

November 10th, 2014

What does a breakthrough moment look like in the classroom?

It’s that instant when your students realize how rewarding or fun learning can be. Their eyes light up, their enthusiasm is genuine and contagious, and as an educator, your sixth sense tells you that a key connection has been made. It’s nothing short of amazing, no matter how many times you see it happen.

  • An autistic child who finds simple tasks like taking turns overwhelming one day gravitates to an interactive table activity and joins in. They become engaged with the other children and are no longer struggling through the day alone.
  • A student with motor skill challenges who never before wrote the first letter of their name finally does so, first on a large table pad and then on a piece of paper.

Often, these are random events that occur when you least expect them. Be ready to capitalize on them and provide an invaluable learning experience. Such moments benefit children by stretching their imaginations, awakening their curiosity and stimulating their brains.

Cultivate Student Skills

Use breakthrough moments to foster your students’ learning and development, including their social and emotional skills. In doing so, you offer the added benefit of helping them build confidence and achieve success. Now, that’s a good day!

  • Observe to see if children show interest in the unexpected event. If so, allow them to participate. For instance, a teacher was tallying up the day’s attendance by counting aloud while their students completed an activity at their desks. One of the youngsters spontaneously joined in, counting on their own. Before long, others were doing it, too. This routine task turned into a valuable lesson on numbers.
  • Don’t stop children’s activities to “correct” them. Allow them to complete the experience without stressing them with the right or wrong way to complete a “teachable moment scenario.” You can work on the details later. For now, don’t interrupt the momentum. Just let them stretch and grow.
  • Use what you observe to plan for future lessons and activities. As you do so, model the appropriate behavior so children will naturally correct what might have been off.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Reward your students, using small but meaningful things like stickers or inexpensive prizes. Remember to include everyone, even those who may have been too shy or introverted to “stand out.” It’s a win for everyone, after all.

The experts at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services offer a wealth of resources to enhance your school-based therapy career. Read our related posts or contact us today for more information.

Apps for Occupational Therapists: Learn to Write with Mr. Pencil

October 31st, 2014

Handwriting is a basic element of school readiness including children’s creative writing and fine motor skills. It also contributes to young students’ mastery of letter and number recognition, geometric shapes and the alphabet in the early grades.

The LeapFrog stylus and app Learn to Write with Mr. Pencil turns your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch into the ultimate learn-to-write experience. It offers students aged three to six more than 85 letter and number-writing activities, with stroke-by-stroke animation and instant feedback on their progress.

Well Known and Kid Friendly

The basic Learn to Write with Mr. Pencil product is a stylus for capacitive touch screens. The app is free but you need the stylus to unlock the full game. LeapFrog, a brand familiar for its electronic learning toys, extends its reach into the apps world with this innovative product.

  • The kid-friendly stylus features a non-slip grip and capacitive touch tip that glides easily without scratching your screen. The stylus is available online and in stores where LeapFrog toys are sold. Purchase of the stylus includes four activities which help children practice basic shapes. Students start with single and curved lines, then progress to circular shapes, squares and rectangles, as well as numbers and letters utilizing these strokes. A dot indicates where to start and animation guides students through, with three trials of the shape, letter or number provided for practice purposes.
  • Positive prompts encourage progress. There is some margin for error as students trace shapes, letters and numbers, but if a stroke goes entirely off the line provided, animation directs the student to start again.
  • Learn to Write provides a developmental approach. In addition to stroke-by-stroke guidance, the app offers captivating sounds and animation which are triggered as activities are completed.
  • There are 24 locations to unlock. The app’s activities cover upper and lowercase letters from A to Z, as well as numbers from 1 to 20, and twelve shapes. Up to three students can save their progress.

Positive Feedback

Therapists, parents and others who have tried Learn to Write with Mr. Pencil have checked in with positive input on its value as a pediatric therapy tool. As noted by one satisfied grandmother, “My grandson is five years old and has ADHD. This is the first program that he liked so well that he played it for two hours today and wanted to continue. Great program!”

As you advance your school-based therapy career, partner with the experts at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services for tools, resources, ideas – and the latest career opportunities. Build your knowledge and professional network by contacting us today.

Spooky Fun & Therapy at the Same Time – With Flashlights!

October 24th, 2014

Halloween is right around the corner and students’ minds may be more on creating the perfect costume or visions of Skittles, M&Ms and Kit Kat bars, versus ho-hum therapy practices.

Why not make this season fun by adding flashlights to your speech therapy activities? Actually, kids love to play with them all year round, so it’s a winning idea regardless of the calendar date.

Play Flashlight Find

This inexpensive activity requires index cards, tape, a marker, flashlights and a variety of target vocabulary words. Write the words on the cards, then tape them to the wall of your classroom. Then have students find words by following targeted instructions.

  • For articulation practice, address different sounds in varying word positions. Start by explaining the rules: Shine your flashlight only on the walls, not in anyone’s eyes. Find a word on the wall that starts with your sound, has the sound in the middle, has the sound at the end, or if applicable, uses the sound in a blend. Once students have found their words, challenge them to use them in sentences.
  • Play 20 Questions: Students try to guess which words others are thinking. The student who is the chooser selects a word and writes it down. The student whose turn it is asks the chooser a question. If the student guesses it right after just one try, they get three points; after two tries, two points, and after three tries, one point. Play continues around the table.
  • For language therapy: When selecting words for Flashlight Find, keep your different language goals in mind. Choose nouns, verbs and adjectives as well as words that have synonyms, antonyms and homonyms. Give students a category and have them find words that fit into it.

Flashlight Hide & Seek

Write vocabulary words on cards and hide them around a darkened room. Have students use flashlights to hunt them down. Upon finding a word, they must pronounce it before putting it in their “treasure pile.” The person with the most cards wins.

Why not give your flashlight therapy games a seasonal theme? Include autumnal, Halloween and Thanksgiving words in your repertoire and provide inexpensive prizes that fit the mood. (Hint: have enough prizes for everyone, not just those who win.)

Looking for ideas and resources to enhance your school-based therapy career all year round? Or, are you planning your career path and need further direction? If so, contact the specialized team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Top Apps for Speech Therapists: Verbal Reasoning

October 17th, 2014

Colorful, engaging and with more than 1,000 stimuli, the Virtual Speech Center app Verbal Reasoning is designed for older children (as well as adults) as they practice verbal reasoning skills. Created by a certified speech and language pathologist, it’s available for download at a price of $12.99 from Apple’s iTunes store.

For Students with Cognitive-Communicative Disorders

Verbal Reasoning was created for individuals with various cognitive-communicative disorders who struggle with reasoning and critical thinking. It includes these activities:

  • Identifying and stating problems, possible causes and solutions.
  • Identifying and predicting what will happen next.
  • What would you do if …
  • What would happen if …
  • Stating pros and cons.
  • Stating similarities and differences between items.
  • Answering why and negative wh- questions.

The app has a reward system which motivates students to work hard by winning puzzle pieces. Once they accumulate enough, they can use them to complete puzzles. Therapists can score responses and track progress by viewing accuracy reporting by date and type of activity.

A Great Value

Introduced two years ago, Verbal Reasoning continues to collect positive feedback from therapists who have added it to their cognitive skills toolkits. And while it’s geared toward middle-school and older students, a number of specialists have noted success with younger children as well.

As noted by one speech pathologist who reviewed it, “the app is a great value for the money … since it offers the clinician the ability to work on both verbal reasoning tasks and social cognition with children as young as five, albeit with some modifications, e.g., when working on comparing and contrasting activities, I provided younger children with my own pictures to make the questions more salient for them.”

As you build your school-based therapy career, turn to the specialized team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services for job leads and related resources. Read or related posts or contact us today.


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Fall Activities to Encourage Occupational Therapy Growth

October 15th, 2014

The novelty of the new school year has lost a bit of its luster and it’s time for some refreshing OT ideas that tie in with one of the most colorful, fun times of the year: fall. How can you keep your students engaged in creative learning activities that will continually enhance their skills and senses?

Rake, Jump, Race, Hunt and Create with Leaves

What child of any age doesn’t love fall leaves and the chance to have some fun with them? Come on, you want to rake up a pile and jump in just thinking about it!

  • Raking is great heavy work for children. It helps provide proprioceptive input to their muscles and joints, increasing body strength, endurance and awareness. And once you have a pile, let your students jump right in. This encourages vestibular input.
  • Play hide and seek. Hide familiar objects in a pile of leaves and have children find them. This offers youngsters tactile input and works on discrimination skills. To add difficulty, have them locate objects with their eyes closed and then guess what they’ve found.
  • Have a leaf blowing race. Give your students a straw and instruct them to blow a leaf across a table. This activity is great for oral motor input as well as heavy work through the mouth.
  • Go on a nature hunt. Have children use tweezers or tongs to pick up leaves, acorns and pine cones. This helps increase grip strength and precision.
  • Create works of art using leaves: Children can make rubbings using large leaves by placing them under paper and then coloring the paper, thus transferring the leaf image. Use small or broken crayons to facilitate a tripod grasp. Make a leaf person by having students glue different shape leaves on paper and then draw in arms, legs and other body parts. This fine motor activity also promotes body awareness. Go to FreeKidsCrafts.com for downloadable leaf patterns that children can decorate by cutting and pasting on crumpled squares of tissue paper in bright fall colors.

Pumpkins: Carving and More

Supervised pumpkin carving facilitates fine motor skills and provides a great wet tactile activity. Children can scoop out the inside and play with the mess. Picking out the seeds to toast works both as a pincer grasp exercise and to provide a healthy snack. Additional pumpkin activities include:

  • Bowling: Use pumpkins as bowling balls. This provides children with heavy work as they lift the gourds, plus object manipulation skills as they roll them towards a target.
  • Races: Have children race – around cones or other obstacles if you prefer – while carrying a pumpkin. This enhances motor planning and agility as it provides vestibular and proprioceptive input.

Finger Painting

Finger paint is an excellent medium to work on children’s tactile skills. If the weather cooperates, take this activity outside to minimize the mess.

  • Have children make a tree trunk by putting brown finger paint on their palm and forearm and pressing it to paper. Then they can use various autumnal colors to paint leaves onto the branches. Allow those who are sensitive to tactile input to use a paintbrush.

Do you need additional resources to enhance your school-based OT practice – or are you looking to take your therapy career to the next level? Read our related posts or contact the specialized team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.