This week we are honored to have a guest blogger! Please welcome April Franco as she shares her answer to:
The Question Most Parents Ask Me…
By April Franco, OTR, MOT
Being a year and a half into my work as a school-based OT, I find that parents have the same question regardless of whether I’m working with their child in a clinic, at home, or even in the school setting: “What can I do to help my child?”
More often than not, parents are already doing everything I would ever recommend. In the school setting though, I find that it is difficult to connect with parents and I have no way to know what goes on at home. So when I’m sitting across the table from a parent during an IEP meeting and the question comes up, my answer is always the same…and I think they think I’m joking with them.
Parent: “What can I do to help my child?”
Me: “Well actually, the best thing you can do is allow them to play outside. Encourage them to crawl, climb, run, roll, ride bikes, and jump. All of these gross motor movements strengthen the core and support the shoulder girdle. When those areas are strong, they help with any fine motor task since we develop from the inside out. And play activity helps decrease fidgeting, which also increases attention.”
And while the answer may vary each time it is given, that is the basic gist.
Most parents think that their children who have handwriting problems should write more. I have even had parents who listen to my spiel and tell me, “Okay fine, but what should they be writing?” Or I have parents who want a list of activities they can give their child so they can learn to sit and attend for longer durations of time. Or they think that more practice with fasteners will help them figure out buttons when their hands or coordination skills are not quite there yet.
Jane Case-Smith expressed that play enhances fine motor and visual motor performance (1). In addition to these factors, play supports sensory processing skills, problem solving skills, social participation, and coordination skills. Play helps increase a child’s body awareness and the ability to motor plan and sequence activities.
When I encourage parents to have their children play, there is nothing complicated about it. I suggest they let them
- explore playground equipment: swings, slides, jungle gyms,
- have them ride bikes, scooters, skateboards, or use skates,
- play tag or hide-and-seek,
- develop an obstacle course, and/or
- play monkey see-monkey do, or Simon Says.
Bad weather? Limited yard space?
- Use coloring books,
- scoop and pour activities, and/or
- create homemade sensory bins using materials such as beans, rice, or bird seed.
The more a child explores his or her universe, the more skills he or she will develop in the process.
For many children, the process of performing an activity for which an occupational therapist is working with them is challenging. Rote repetition of these activities can become frustrating, boring, or discouraging. Yet many of these tasks such as handwriting, fastening, or maintaining attention are skills they will need to function independently in their everyday lives. So why not make it fun? Why not give them novel options to gain skills that can be applied or generalized to more specific skills? Why not give them the opportunity to feel successful without it feeling like work?
So yes absolutely! Let your children play. Encourage it. Expect it. Lead by example if you can.
April Franco, OTR, MOT has been a pediatric occupational therapist since 2011 and had years of early childhood education experience prior to attending OT school. She has worked within a clinic setting, as well as home-based early intervention services, and has served children from birth to 16 years of age with a wide range of developmental disabilities and diagnoses. In fall 2015, she began working within the educational setting. She considers working as an occupational therapist to be a tremendous privilege. April tweets @prilbo and is on Pinterest as missaprilotr. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.