10 Activities to Help Develop Pre-Scissor Skills

August 22nd, 2014

Learning to cut with scissors is not as simple as it seems. As children master this skill, it’s a full-body task to get the hands and fingers working with precision. The back, shoulders and arms must be stable, feet must be on the floor, and hips must be in neutral. The eyes need to focus on and the brain needs to process what both hands are doing – one cutting and the other holding the paper. And the finger muscles themselves need to work in isolation.

Phew! Fortunately, you can make the development of pre-scissor skills fun and successful using these activities:

  1. Crawling over and under objects, doing animal walks or walking on the hands. These help require upper-extremity weight bearing.
  2. Also good for strengthening upper-extremity muscles are playing on monkey bars, climbing rocks and playing tug of war.
  3. Paper activities including tearing paper into small pieces and scrunching tissue into small balls.
  4. Lacing activities.
  5. Playing with clay.
  6. Using hole or paper punchers.
  7. Using tweezers and tongs to pick up small objects like cotton balls or dried macaroni.
  8. Stringing beads or macaroni.
  9. Completing puzzles.
  10. Using clothes pins to strengthen the small muscles of the hand.

Visit www.YourTherapySource.com for inexpensive therapy tools to help you develop engaging activities as you work on pre-scissor skills. Start with card stock or light cardboard and progress to paper.

Lacing Cards
An EBook priced at $5.99 includes 22 lacing card pictures and 26 letter lacing cards to cut, color, hole punch and lace. Lacing card activities promote the development of fine motor and visual skills. Large, child-friendly cards are available in a wide range of themes including a snowman, teddy bear, Valentine card, shamrock, sunflower, flag picture, beach scene, chalkboard, pumpkin, 26 capital letters and more.

Creative Clay Activities
This EBook is priced at $4.99. It features activities that encourage tactile and proprioceptive input, fine motor skills, finger and hand muscle strengthening, visual motor skills, math skills and letter formation. Use clay or play dough to play games including charades, snake in the woods or four in a row. Have a clay scavenger hunt or use the 26 alphabet sheets to promote tactile kinesthetic awareness of letters.

Clay Play Mats
Priced at $2.99, this collection of six mats encourage hand muscle strengthening, fine motor skills, visual memory, and counting and number identification. Activities include lollipop counting; a clay bakery where you roll balls of clay with a rolling pin; hammer clay, which involves making clay balls and using a hammer to insert clay nails; a pancake breakfast, where you flatten balls into the correct number of pancakes, and a clay memory game.

Make Your Own Mobiles
This Ebook is priced at $4.99. With contains patterns for 20 mobiles, it encourages scissor use, motor and visual skills and visual perceptual skills. Once the mobiles are printed, children can cut, hole punch, lace and tie them. Included are a wide variety of seasonal, holiday and color patterns.

Clothes Pin Collection
You can purchase this in an electronic version for $2.99 or a print version for $4.99. Each page features a large circle with various themes and small squares for children to attach clothes pins. The alphabet, number and multiple-choice options are great for use with tactile learners, as well as students with ADHD or dysgraphia.

For additional resources to assist in your school-based therapy practice, read our related posts or contact Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today. And here’s to a great school year!

How to Prepare for Your Best School Year Ever

August 15th, 2014

The stress of a new school year is felt more acutely by some professionals than others, but it’s a perfectly natural occurrence. In fact, you can turn it into positive energy with the right preparation – starting with yourself and your own routine.

Here’s how to lay the groundwork for making this school year your best ever:

Lay the Groundwork
Complete a few simple steps ahead of time so you can hit the ground running when the bell rings on Day One:

  • Start a daily stress-busting routine. Allow time in the morning for 10 or 15 minutes of stretching, walking, yoga or meditation. This goes a long way toward keeping your thoughts organized and your mind and heart centered.
  • Get into your school-year sleep routine. Do it gradually by going to bed and rising a few minutes earlier, day by day. That’s right, it’s not just for the kids! Getting enough rest is critical to your health, well-being and successful performance.
  • Organize your room or work area and your materials. If possible, this includes a list of students so you can begin learning their names. Find out if any school policies or procedures have changed, even such seemingly minor processes as making copies or contacting the administrative staff. Seating arrangements, posters, supplies, the works … have it all lined up and ready to go.
  • Create lesson plans for the first few weeks. There’s no such thing as over-planning. Prepare, re-read and know what your early-days’ schedule and activities will look like. “Winging it the first week” may seem flexible and reasonable, but it’s not practically advisable,

Deepen Your Connections
Plan to broaden and strengthen your connections with students, their parents, and your colleagues this school year. This will help you through times of challenge and make your work more enriching, sociable and enjoyable.

  • Ask yourself: Who would I like to know better? Identify a few people, then find a way to spend time with them – and listen. Ask questions that incite a conversation about who they are, what their passions involve, and areas where your interests and theirs might intersect.
  • When you connect with students and families, you’re more effective at meeting their needs. And when you connect with coworkers, you can better collaborate with them to serve students, as well as get their personal and professional support.

Enhance Your Professional Learning
Make it your goal to find truly fulfilling professional development opportunities. Seek them out and immerse yourself in your own learning about therapy and instruction, a new specialty area or whatever you’re drawn to within your field.

  • Take a course. Online courses offer myriad ways to develop content knowledge or refine skills. Local colleges also may offer relevant educational options.
  • Start a professional journal. Use it to identify new areas of your field to explore, including therapy tips and practices.

Enjoy Your Work
Of all the plans you make, this one is the most important. As noted by author Rick Hanson in his book Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, your brain is wired to cling to negative experiences and remember them above others. You need to train it to focus on the positive, what’s working, and what you enjoy most about your career.

Read our related posts or contact Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services for additional tips as the new school year kicks off. And here’s to your best one ever!

Why Choose a Career in School-Based Therapy

August 8th, 2014

As special education programs grow and evolve, school-based occupational, physical and speech-language therapists are in growing demand – and the rewards and benefits are numerous. Are you considering this career path? As plans get under way for the 2014 school year, it’s a great time to turn your thoughts into action.

The Role of a School-Based Therapist
As a school-based therapist, you collaborate with teachers, nurses, psychologists and parents to provide children from preschool through high school with the optimal educational experience. Using your specialty skills, you play a key role in ensuring that students can fully participate in life activities both inside and outside the classroom. Removing barriers to success and enabling children to move forward and enjoy satisfying lives … for motivated, enthusiastic, compassionate therapists, it’s a road worth traveling!

A Wide Variety of Opportunities
Unlocking students’ potential and contributing to their personal and academic growth can be a rewarding lifelong career. You develop strong relationships not only with students and families, but also with myriad professionals who can help further advance your career goals.

  • There are diverse choices. You can practice in an urban, rural or suburban district and provide services to students with a variety of disorders. You utilize one-on-one or small group sessions or you may work right in the classroom. Services may be provided directly or indirectly to students, families and/or school staff.
  • Career development is ongoing. You continuously advance your professional knowledge, learn about school-related topics and have opportunities to share your expertise with others. School-based therapy can be an excellent springboard to developing specialization, advancing into administrative work or participating in research.
  • You bolster your creativity. As you create unique programs to meet student needs, you develop new approaches, techniques and materials. In addition, you work with new and innovative models and initiatives.

A High-Demand Career Option
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts steady job growth in school-based therapy in the coming years. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1975 and improved to expand student therapy availability in 2004, has been one impetus for this progress. In 2001, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, another legislative plus for students and school staff.

  • Enjoy a family-friendly work schedule. Your basic workday aligns with school schedules, but opportunities are ample if you want to pick up extra hours via after-school or summer programs.
  • Depending on the job, additional perks are offered. These may include signing bonuses, tuition reimbursement, loan forgiveness or relocation costs.

To learn more about pursuing a career as a school-based therapist, read our related posts or contact the team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Top Speech Pathology Apps: Auditory Memory Ride

July 31st, 2014

Auditory memory is a person’s ability to recall what they’ve heard. It’s fundamental for following increasingly complex directions, building vocabulary and knowledge, and becoming literate. Students with auditory processing and related disorders struggle with memory tasks and have difficulty retaining information or verbal instructions.

Auditory Memory Ride is Virtual Speech Center’s latest mobile app for targeting these challenges. It joins the company’s arsenal of apps geared toward CAPD therapy: Auditory Workout, Auditory Processing Studio and School of Multi-Step Directions. Auditory Memory Ride sells for $17.99 at the iTunes store.

Taking Flight with Fun Rewards
Auditory Memory Ride is a comprehensive, fun app for students aged six through 13. It offers more than 1,000 stimuli with pre-recorded audio and the ability to introduce a variety of background noises. Students practice recognition and recall tasks using details, paragraphs, numbers and digits, and words and sentences.

  • Speech pathologists have praised numerous features of the app including the background noises, which include birds chirping, traffic sounds, white noise and classroom sounds.
  • When targets are presented, students hear them first. Then they’re required to either tap the correct picture, repeat what they’ve heard or answer questions. When they have completed their session, they earn time to be a pilot and fly through a course collecting points.
  • You can see all relevant student data and have the option to print or send it. You also can drill down and review data based on date or specific goals. You also can take notes in real time, a feature praised by yet another user who noted that it was “especially helpful if you find a strategy that works for a student mid-session so you can get it down right away.”

Additional Features
Among Auditory Memory Ride’s additional innovative features are:

  • Four modes of delay ranging from zero to 15 seconds.
  • The ability to show and hide text.
  • Use of a calculator as a real-time method of developing number recall.

“I loved this app! It really fit a need I had when it came to targeting auditory memory and recall,” said a reviewer from The Speech Bubble. “The different areas to target worked in a nice hierarchy of difficulty and the included levels were great. My kids really liked the flying challenge; it was a great motivator!”

The industry experts at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services offer myriad resources and tools to help you advance in your school-based therapy career. Contact us today to learn more.

Back to School Tips to Start the School Year Strong

July 28th, 2014

It’s that time of year. When the calendar says August or early September, it’s time to kick off a new beginning for teachers, students – and school-based therapists.

How can you best prepare for the new school year ahead? Sharpen your brand-new number-two pencil and take note of these tips, prepared with the expert assistance of Cobb Pediatric’s very own school-based therapists:

Get Organized

  • Get your materials in order. One suggestion is to buy a small cart to organize student folders that contain lessons and related information. Include copies of IEP goals, identifying information, and data sheets with goals, objectives and ongoing activities.

Consider New Learning Tools

  • Decide on a theme – and carry it throughout the year. Use it to decorate your classroom or work area, in parent welcome letters and other communications, and when you plan learning activities. Whether its sports, pets, hobbies or another area of common interest, it can be fertile ground for ideas and teaching techniques, even on the bleakest of Monday mornings.
  • Try out some new apps. Check out our related blogs on iPhone and other apps now available to add innovative new tactics to your day-to-day teaching plans. They are inexpensive and user-friendly, and they can be used in students’ homes as well as in the classroom.

Network with Other Professionals

  • Get to know your colleagues. They can be a wealth of information and guidance. Make time to interact with them at lunch and at school-related social events.
  • Get to know key support staff. This includes school secretaries and custodians. They will, at some point, become your best friends!
  • Ask questions. Especially if you’re a new faculty member, remember that everyone else was once there, too. Generally, veteran team members are happy to lend a hand or lend an ear, and they know the ins and outs of your new work environment.

Remember the Basic, Practical Stuff

  • Make a list and check it twice. Include the names of all students on your caseload, separated by grade. Include teachers’ names, room numbers, and therapy time slots for each pupil.
  • Find the closest bathrooms to your office. Seriously. Know where the rest rooms are, for both children and adults. You do not want to find out the hard way!
  • Calendars are a must. Buy a big calendar for your main desk and a smaller one to carry with you between schools and between home and school.

Go Easy on Yourself

  • Don’t expect perfection during the first few weeks. The school year is just getting under way, students are being switched from class to class, and it takes a while for a routine to develop. That list we just talked about? Write it in pencil, at least at first!
  • Get a good night’s sleep. This will help you stay alert during initial orientation sessions, in-service programs, and throughout the year.

Above all else, when the going gets tough – and even when it doesn’t – remember the reason you took this job: the students! Smile, embrace each day’s challenges, and enjoy each and every one of them!

For additional back to school guidance on your school-based therapy assignment, turn to the professionals at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services. And here’s to a great year ahead!

Tips on Pencil Grasp Development

July 25th, 2014

A child’s ability to color within the lines, trace a shape or draw simple pictures are the building blocks for handwriting skills to be used throughout their lives. They need to move progressively through different stages of pencil grasp mastery as an important aspect of their early development.

Each stage depends on the strength and stability of the shoulder and arm muscles. As children develop physically, they participate in more and more gross and fine motor activities. These are the building blocks to pencil grasp maturity.

Big to Small
The “big to small” and “proximal to distal” principles note that children develop the larger muscles of the trunk and arms before the smaller muscles of the hands. Likewise, muscles that are closer to the center of the body, known as proximal muscles, mature before distal muscles such as the hands, which are further away.

  • Young children should never be forced to hold a pencil the “right” way. If their shoulder and arm muscles aren’t yet ready to support this action, the result may be serious fine motor problems such as messy work or even avoidance of coloring, drawing and later, writing activities.
  • Encourage motor skills development first. Gross motor skills activities help develop the shoulder girdle and core muscles. Fine motor skills activities build hand and finger strength and dexterity.

Pencil Grasp Stages
The typical progression of pencil grasp development stages looks like this:

  1. Fisted: This is first grasp you’ll likely see when a toddler begins using crayons. The child uses movement from their shoulders to get the crayon to move.
  2. Palmar: The crayon or pencil lies across the palm of the hand and the elbow is held out to the side a bit. This happens as a child gains more control over their arm and hand muscles. At this stage, their proximal muscles are sturdier and they’re beginning to coordinate shoulder and arm control.
  3. Five finger: This is sometimes inaccurately referred to as an “immature” grasp because it is not the three-finger grasp used in school-aged children. But it’s a perfectly mature grip for a pre-school child. The wrist tends to be held off the table, with its movements used for coloring. At first, the crayon is held very tightly. As hand muscles mature, the grip relaxes and finger movements emerge.
  4. Tripod: By about the age of five or six, most children should be comfortable using this mature, three-finger grasp. At first, their fingers will be held somewhat stiffly and they may continue to use wrist movements for control.

It’s normal for children to switch back and forth between pencil grasps as their shoulder and arm muscles develop. This will gradually occur less. It’s comparable to an infant learning to walk: When their legs tire, they revert back to crawling. But as their skills and endurance improve, they walk more and more.

There are numerous therapy activities you can use to foster pencil grasp development. Cutting with scissors is an excellent exercise for getting the tripod fingers to work together. Other pre-writing activities include using squirt bottles, playing with a slinky, stringing beads, popping bubble wrap, playing with play dough or silly putty, putting coins in piggy banks, and completing floor puzzles.

For additional resources to enhance your therapy career – and job opportunities in your specialty field – read our related posts or contact the team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Creating a Mind Jar

July 18th, 2014

What’s a mind jar and how does it work?

Like many of the best things in life, a mind jar is simple, inexpensive and effective. Made from a glass or plastic jar and just a few other ingredients, it’s a meditation tool to use when a child – or adult – feels stressed, overwhelmed, angry or upset. A mind jar helps a person appreciate mindfulness, express their feelings and respond to situations skillfully, rather than impulsively reacting.

How it Works
To make a mind jar:

  • Start with a lidded glass or plastic jar.
  • Mix a tablespoon of colored glitter glue with about a cup of hot water.
  • Add food coloring and more glitter. You can opt for chunkier glitter or flower or other sequins for more variety.
  • Tighten the lid. Voila! It’s that easy.

The glue makes the water thick and gooey, so after a child shakes the mind jar and then holds it still or puts it down, the glitter slowly and gently swirls around. It takes about five minutes for all the glitter to settle – a perfect span of time for a person to calm down and gather their thoughts.

Alternative to a Time Out
When you shake a mind jar, you can imagine your head full of whirling thoughts, then watch them slowly settle as you relax. Even adults can’t put them down, and they can be a great alternative to a “time out” for children.

Watching the glitter settle and noticing your breath as you do so helps you learn to self-regulate your emotions and allow reactive tendencies to settle along with it. Eventually, you can see more clearly through the jar as you teach yourself to allow your mind to settle.

Calm Down Baskets
As an addition or alternative to a mind jar, you can create a calm down basket. Fill it with short books about feelings, such as Hands are Not for Hitting and All Kinds of Feelings. You also can add a coloring book and a jar full of calm down tasks. Tasks may include “Do a puzzle, take 10 deep breaths, think of a beautiful beach” or “Draw a picture of your favorite ice cream.”

You also can include a rice box, which is a wooden box filled with rice. Add a few shiny marbles or small, smooth stones and perhaps a bamboo stick for stirring. Children can look in the box for “hidden treasures” as another means of calming their emotions.

Often, all it takes is a little time and creativity to build a great toolbox for use with therapy students of all ages.

For additional therapy tips and resources – as well as career growth opportunities – contact the specialized team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Top Apps for Speech Pathologists: Articulation Carnival

July 14th, 2014

What’s more fun for kids than a carnival, complete with balloons, prizes and games? Developed to help students master the pronunciation of phonemes at the word, phrase and sentence level, Virtual Speech Center’s Articulation Carnival app offers a winning therapy formula through its carnival theme.

Articulation Carnival includes thousands of photos and pre-recorded audio stimuli. In addition to the app’s massive library, therapists can add their own photos and audio recordings. This customization feature is advantageous as students can see their own picture or other images relevant to current curriculum. Likewise, custom vocabulary words and even student’s own names can be entered into the program.

Entertaining Motivators
Students using Articulation Carnival are motivated to drill different speech sounds. For every correct response, they earn a balloon. When they earn a certain number of balloons, they’re rewarded with four different carnival games:

  • Hammer Game: Children swipe their finger to move the hammer and see how hard they can hit it.
  • Balloon Dart Throw: Students “throw” darts at balloons around a dart board by swiping their fingers.
  • Basketball Free Throw: A virtual version of what you see in the game room or, well, at the carnival!
  • Duck Spraying Game: Students touch a launcher to spray ducks going by on the screen.

Phonemes for Each Child
Articulation Carnival offers 47 choices for selecting phonemes, so therapists can choose the specific blend they want each student to work on. You also can choose specific words to target, as well as word, phrase and sentence levels.

The variety of Articulation Carnival phonemes includes:

  • Bilabial.
  • Labial.
  • Labiodental.
  • Lingua-dental.
  • Lingual-alveolar.
  • Lingua-velar.
  • l blends.
  • r blends.
  • s blends.
  • Vocalic r.

The app is easy to navigate and allows users to:

  • Change settings.
  • Select auto scoring and alternate counts for multiple students.
  • Save selected phonemes for subsequent sessions.
  • Enable and disable written picture descriptions and special effect sounds.
  • Track correct and incorrect answers.
  • View session words.
  • Save audio recordings.
  • Backup and restore data.
  • Email results.

Articulation Carnival is sold on the App Store at a price of $36.99 which includes all sounds. You also can download a lite version and then purchase individual phonemes as you need them. It can be used effectively with children from toddlers up.

The app requires an iOS 7 or later and is iPad compatible.

“Too Good to Miss”
Reviews are highly positive on the part of both therapists and parents who have used Articulation Carnival.

“I am very impressed with this app,” noted a reviewer from the iMums, a group whose tag line is “mothers of little gadget lovers.” The reviewer went on to note that, “My students love it. It’s a must-have app when working with young children who are at least at the word level.”

Another satisfied user said their students “LOVE this app. They are motivated to work hard during the drill portion so they can participate in the carnival games. This app is truly a hit with all age groups. This one is too good to miss out on.”

For additional resources and tips to bolster your school-based therapy career, as well as job opportunities, read our related blogs or contact Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Top Apps for Speech Therapists: Real Vocabulary

June 30th, 2014

As noted by therapists who have piloted it, you can’t go wrong with Real Vocabulary, the latest speech therapy app released by Virtual Speech Center, Inc. Developed by Jennifer Rogers, M.A., CCC-SLP, Real Vocabulary made its debut in February. It’s available for download on the App Store for $29.99.

The app provides a comprehensive and flexible language program for students from kindergarten through fifth grade, targeting the Common Core Standards for vocabulary acquisition and use. It includes more than 1,500 pictures and 5,000 pre-recorded audio clips. In its Pro version and ALL words in app program, it allows users to add their own words, pictures and audio recordings.

“This app has so much to offer!” according to specialists from The Speech Bubble. “With the ability to customize and control settings and words for students, targets for key vocabulary areas, fun games and awesome data collection, you can’t go wrong.”

Fun and Learning

Built around a fun retro restaurant theme, Real Vocabulary motivates students to practice via a built-in reward system. They accumulate starts for each correct response to vocabulary questions and when they have enough, they can play one of three games: Wobbly Waiter, Sling Challenge or Catch the Dish.

A total of 300 receptive and expressive tasks are offered in each of the following categories:

  • Antonyms
  • Synonyms
  • Definitions
  • Multiple meanings
  • Idioms

While performing receptive tasks, students are shown pictures with word stimuli. They then match one of four words with the pictures. In expressive tasks, students state their responses verbally.

Useful Tools for Users

Real Vocabulary is easy to navigate and provides users with the tools to:

  • Enter multiple students.
  • Change settings.
  • Store selected targets for the next session.
  • Enable and disable written descriptions and special effect sounds.
  • Track correct and incorrect responses.
  • View reports in table and graph forms.
  • Email results.

To learn more about the latest tools and developments to enhance your school therapy career, as well as current openings in the industry, contact the expert team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Fine Motor Development: The Essential Bases

June 27th, 2014

Weaknesses in fine motor skills can affect a child’s ability to eat, write legibly, use a computer, turn pages in a book or perform personal care tasks such as dressing and grooming. In order for FM skills to properly develop, four essential bases need to be in place. It’s like a stool. If one leg wobbles, the entire piece is unstable.

Postural Control
The muscles of the shoulder and trunk stabilize the arms so the fingers are free to move. If this base is shaky, a child may overcompensate by holding their pencil extremely tightly or pressing very hard on their paper as they write. They also may tense up at the shoulders, which makes them tire easily.

  • Use easy, fun shoulder and core exercises to build postural control. Play follow the leader or “snake curl” where you play music and children pretend to be snakes “curling” in response. Use chair leg lifts for balance in the classroom. Outdoors, tree or jungle gym climbing are helpful.

Touch Perception
If you don’t get good feedback from your fingers, it’s hard to be accurate when using them. Think of how it feels when you wash dishes with rubber gloves on. You can do it, but sometimes you can’t tell exactly which piece of cutlery you’re cleaning. This is how inadequate tactile, or touch perception, feels to a child. As a result, they may be clumsy or squeeze their pencil very tightly as they attempt to properly control it.

  • Create a “feely bag.” Or use a simple cloth bag. Fill it with small, fun items. Have children feel and then guess what each item is. Upgrade the difficulty level by asking children to find and identify specific items.

Bilateral Coordination
Fine motor development is dependent on a person’s ability to use both sides of the body together in a coordinated way. Children with poor bilateral integration may struggle with gross motor activities like jumping, catching a ball or beating a drum with rhythm. Or, they may have difficulty with fine motor skills such as drawing a line with a ruler or threading beads.

  • Play ball! Suspend a ball in a net so children can practice pushing and catching it without it getting away from them.
  • Slinky, play dough and music: Use a good old-fashioned Slinky, encourages children to shift their hands back and forth, building coordination. Have them roll large balls of play dough between their palms, then make a caterpillar with a segmented body. Musical shakers can be moved up and down together or alternately in time to music.

Hand Function
The muscles of the hand need to work together to control pencils and other small objects. Wrist and forearm function are closely related to this, as they get the hand into proper writing position.

  • Use age-appropriate hand exercises. Have small children push coins into a piggy bank slot or pinch clothes pins to pick up small items.
  • Design “cool” activities for older kids. They can use their fingers to “walk” a tennis ball up and down their leg. Have them use their tripod fingers (thumb, index and middle) to form modelling clay into small, neat balls. Or position their fingers under a bean bag and have them hold it level as they rotate it 360 degrees, using their thumb and fingers to manipulate it.

For additional tools and resources to enhance your school-based therapy practice – and career opportunities for your future – read our related posts or contact Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.