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.

Tips on Determining What Sounds Children Need Help Articulating

June 13th, 2014

If a child struggles with articulating words, they may wind up withdrawing from conversations or activities that impact their success at school or their overall quality of life. Fortunately, there are downloadable tools available to assist you as you work with youngsters to overcome articulation obstacles.

Articulation Screener
Using Articulation Screener, you can determine which specific sounds a child can or cannot say and whether or not their speech errors are age appropriate from a developmental standpoint.

  • There are five pages to the Screener. The first contains information and instructions, the second and third list sounds that can be tested, and the fourth and fifth feature colorful images for your use. Each sound has its own box, in the header of which is the age at which most children have mastered it. There’s also a target word using that sound in the initial, medial and final positions of words. An example is the “p” sound, using the words “piano, apple” and “mop.”
  • You simply place a page of images in front of a child, refer to the image and ask “What is that?” If the youngster pronounces the word correctly, you mark the scoring box with a check mark. If the word is said incorrectly, you use an X and can note how the word was pronounced. If a child doesn’t know the word after viewing the image, it’s a good idea to say “I call it an apple. What do I call it?” By following the prompt immediately with a question, you’re helping to ensure that the youngster doesn’t say the word in direct imitation of you.
  • After you’ve tested all the words, add up the number of errors. Record this total in the Age Approximation Box. A table is provided for you to determine whether or not the number of errors in a child’s speech are developmentally on target.
  • Utilize the audio feature. You can plug sounds that a child needs help with into the Articulation Goal Tracker to help you define where to begin and then track progress. Also available is a helpful article entitled “The Process of Articulation Therapy.”

Articulation Station
In lauding this iPad app, one Mom noted that “no matter what your child’s speech challenge, it seems like this app can offer support.” Articulation Station and related tools were created by Speech Language Pathologist Heidi Hanks, whose website is a wealth of information including helpful practice worksheets.

Popular features of Articulation Station include:

  • A clear, eye-pleasing layout.
  • Bright, varied images and words listed in easy-to-read fonts.
  • Clear written and video instructions.
  • A range of “game” options featuring flashcards, sentences and stories.
  • A helpful “record” option that enables children to compare their word pronunciation to the correct version so they can work on improving.
  • The fun factor. As per the Mom who rated Articulation Station, “My boy wants to play. Bottom line: something keeps bringing him back. And I’m right there with him.”

For additional resources to enhance your school-based therapy career, read our related posts or contact the team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Top Apps for Occupational Therapists: School of Multi Step Directions

June 6th, 2014

Every school-based therapist treats students who struggle with following directions. These children need to concentrate, hear and remember steps, and execute directives. It can be a daunting challenge for everyone involved.

Using classroom-based settings and built-in reinforcement in the form of a pong game, the Virtual Speech Center app School of Multi Step Directions is designed to help you jump these hurdles and keep your elementary through middle-school students engaged. Mastering directions has never been so much fun!

School of Multi Step Directions is priced at $18.99 on the App Store at iTunes.

A Fun School Theme
As its name implies, School of Multi Step Directions is built on a classroom theme. Actually, there are three settings to choose from, each with their own stimuli to help students focus on following increasingly complex levels of directions.

  • English Class: Children work with pictures, letters and written words that include colors, size and temporal concepts. For instance, “Underline the red letter A and erase the blue letter C.”
  • Math Class: Stimuli include shapes, numbers, size, color and the concepts of odd/even and bigger than/smaller than. For example, “If 10 is bigger than 9, highlight 4 and underline 6. If not, cross out 2 and touch 1.”
  • Chemistry Lab: Described by some therapists as the most engaging setting of all, this one allows children to follow directions while completing science experiments. A student may be prompted to “Set the temperature to cold, shake the flask, and add water to the cup.” (One user noted that you may want to pre-teach some vocabulary terms to younger students.)

All these activities can be practiced in the presence of three different background noises. You not only can choose the one you want, but you also can adjust the volume as you mimic your preferred classroom setting. This feature makes School of Multi Step Directions ideal for children with Central Auditory Processing Disorder.

Greeting children and guiding them through their practice is a professor who looks and sounds like Albert Einstein. He encourages students to work hard so they can be rewarded with “recess,” during which they can play pong. Carrie’s Speech Center described this as a “cross between ping pong and air hockey. Naturally, the kids love it!”

More than 1,000 Directions
School of Multi Step lives up to its name, with more than 1,000 two-, three- and four-step directions at various levels of difficulty. Because a student has to focus on concentrating, experts who have reviewed the app note that it works effectively for increasing memory skills as well as targeting directional words.

Additional user-friendly features include:

  • Ease of navigation.
  • Tools that allow you to enter multiple students, change settings and use randomization, track correct and incorrect answers, email results, and select auto scoring.
  • Data collection that reports goals, number of trials and the percentage completed correctly.
  • Excellent pictures, voices and setting options.

Created by a certified speech and language pathologist, this app is a valuable tool for building comprehension of multi-step directions in the academic context.

To learn more about resources to enhance your school-based therapy career – and job opportunities in preparation for the new academic year ahead – read our related posts or contact Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

How Occupational Therapy Can Help with Homework

May 30th, 2014

Every child is different – and each approaches school issues including homework, in different ways. Occupational therapists understand and can accurately identify a child’s strengths, as well as the underlying reasons why they struggle in certain areas. Most importantly, a qualified OT can give a young student the tools they need to succeed.

Occupational therapy facilitates all aspects of the learning process – evaluating children’s skills for school and homework performance and then recommending and helping to implement long-term solutions.

Breaking down Homework Barriers
The main problems children tend to have with homework center around organization, working independently, knowing what to do, and turning in their finished product. Addressing these issues can dramatically improve students’ ability to “own” and successfully complete their assignments.

  • A therapist can observe classroom routine and identify potential homework barriers. For instance, is a child having trouble listening to assignments because their desk is at the wrong height? They may be expending too much energy trying to balance, making it difficult to absorb what’s being said. Or, the classroom homework box may be hard for them to find.
  • OTs can help teachers make their expectations clearer. For some students, homework assignments may be so obtuse that they simply can’t figure them out. Occupational therapists can assist teachers in delineating sequences of expectations in a more understandable manner.
  • Therapists can work directly with students who have IEPs. If failure to complete homework is adversely affecting a child with an individualized education program, an OT can identify the reasons why and work directly with students, parents and teachers to make needed changes. For example, a child may be unable to complete an assignment because they lack the necessary tools. If their handwriting abilities are challenged, their therapist may suggest they use a computer to type their work or record an audio response.

A child’s main job is learning – and occupational therapists have a firm grasp on the physical and emotional components involved in a successful school experience. Therapists can help students:

  • Pay better attention in class.
  • Cope with school-related pressure or stress that may impact their ability to perform.
  • Address physical issues such as building strength and enhancing motor skills.

Therapists also can suggest modifications to school tasks and equipment to meet children’s individual learning needs. If a student has difficulty sequencing or organizing an assignment, it can become overwhelming. In this case, the OT may suggest that the assignment be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces.

In addition, therapists have a comprehensive understanding of children’s medications and the potential impact of mobility issues on effective learning. All in all, their involvement may mean enhanced self-esteem and a much needed sense of accomplishment for the child to whom homework is much more than just a normal school-day nuisance.

To learn more about tools and resources for your career as a school-based OT – or to access current job openings – contact the specialized team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Bubble Wrap in the Classroom?!

May 23rd, 2014

Who doesn’t love bubble wrap? Even as adults, we can’t resist the urge to pop those bubbles as soon as we see them arrive when a package is delivered. The bigger, the better! So while it sounds a bit off the wall upon first hearing it, it makes sense that working with bubble wrap would keep children engaged as part of their therapeutic regime.

This simple, entertaining activity helps promote and develop:

  • Pincer grasp
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Hand dexterity
  • Tactile perception
  • Proprioceptive input
  • Hand and finger strengthening
  • Fine motor skills

Engaging Therapy Activities
Save bubble wrap and use it to try out these activities when working with your young patients:

  • Play with dice. Have a child throw number dice. They then need to pop the corresponding number of bubbles. You also can use a timer to see how long this takes. If the sound interferes with a student’s ability complete this exercise, you may want to move it outdoors.
  • Put it on the floor or the wall. Children can pop bubbles with their fingers if wrap is affixed to the wall. If it’s placed on the floor, they can pop using their feet – or push and pop the bubbles using both hands.
  • Wrap a rolling pin in bubble wrap. Then apply paint to the outside. Students use both hands to roll out creative patterns on the paper. Or, cut out a template of an animal or object and have children roll their pattern onto it. For instance, youngsters can imprint a “scale” pattern on a template shaped like a goldfish. Or, they can paint only certain bubbles to create images or abstract patterns.
  • Bubble Story Time: You can download templates of images or blank circles to be used by placing them behind bubble wrap so they show through. Have children create a story using the picture icons in any order. When they use an image in their story, they pop that bubble. Continue adding story parts and pictures until all the images have been used. On blank circles, you can add your own words, letters and images.

Who knew that so much could be done with simple packing material? As an added benefit, you’re recycling, making it even more of a “win-win” situation!

For information on additional tools to bolster your school-based therapy practice – or career opportunities in your field – read our related posts or contact Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.