The Core Strengthening Handbook: A book review

The Core Strengthening Handbook 2

The Core Strengthening Handbook:  A Book Review

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

A great deal of my energy on the internet focuses on reading and sharing the work of my peers and the many knowledgeable professionals in the therapy and educational fields.  My belief in the networking system that technology affords us encourages me to seek out their work and to offer it to others in an effort to support both the writers and the readers.  The realm of social media casts a brand new opportunity in our direction to learn and grow together in ways that were never before available to us.  My quest for knowledge and the responsibility I feel for sharing it freely has set my course as one of impartiality and equality, allowing me to turn so many brilliant people’s work around for others to see.  In the end, that means that I rarely accept promotional offers to review products and to advertise them on any of my platforms.  And when I do, I never accept compensation for the privilege.  Those are the times when a product comes along that I believe offers exceptional benefits for us as therapists, parents, and teachers.

I have just recently come across a publication that speaks in a very eloquent way to a facet of handwriting skill development that I consider to be the most important building block for success.  The Core Strengthening Handbook is a new resource offered by Lauren Drobnjak, BS, PT, and Claire Heffron, MS, OTR, from The Inspired Treehouse.  I feel that it will serve as a valuable resource for parents, teachers, and therapists and I think that you will agree.   Let me share a review of the book to help you get acquainted with what it has to offer.

But before we begin, I’d like to discuss briefly the vital connection that core body strengthening has with handwriting mastery.  Elementary school children spend 30-85% of their classroom time working at their desks, dedicating their visual and fine motor skills to close work that predominantly involves handwriting activities.  (1,2)   Close work places demands on the visual system to maintain efficient focusing, scanning, fixating, and accommodating skills for reading, writing, and copying from text or the board.  The eyes need to stabilize their positon while the head and body move.  Core muscle strength provides the platform for this to happen.  In addition, upper body control plays a key role in the development of an efficient pencil grasp and a fluid penmanship style that allows the hand to glide across the paper in a timely manner.  The core body muscles provide the stability for efficient eye and upper body positioning allowing the student to attend to the task at hand instead of having to expend cognitive and physical energy on maintaining an upright head and body position.  This is accomplished with the help of muscle strengthening and the development of the vestibular system and balance skills.  In a New York Times article, “The Unappreciated, Holding our Lives in Balance,” Dr. Daniel Merfeld, director of the Vestibular Physiology Lab at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, described the Vestibular System’s job in a most interesting way:human-skeleton-johan-georg-heck

“Whenever we stand up and arrange our calves, thighs, torso and head into a stable, vertical configuration, we are unconsciously juggling six inverted pendulums, six mechanically independent units with masses above the pivot point – a feat that amounts to balancing six pencils on your palm simultaneously.”

The Vestibular System figures out where our head is relative to the floor and then tells the brain how to direct the muscles, joints, and ligaments in adjusting all of the masses and their pivot points to maintain our balance against gravity.  However, although an inefficient vestibular system can result in poor postural efficiency, its efficiency can also be limited due to inefficient core body strengthening.

The Core Strengthening Handbook

Lauren and Claire have designed their book to present the important message about core strengthening using developmental guidelines to instruct the reader about the muscles included in the body’s core and the progression of their development following typical gross motor milestones.  Their stated intent was to provide “a guide for supporting the development of core strength in children” and they have done that in an easy-to-understand resource for therapists, teachers, and parents.  They have acknowledged that the progression of a child’s gross motor development can be observed by his parents, who may often be the first to detect that their child is struggling with movement activities, as well as his teachers in their preschool through elementary grade classrooms.  The authors provide a well-written description of the journey a baby takes through tummy time, pulling to stand, and finally jumping using examples of observable movement patterns to help the reader visualize the muscles involved in the baby’s gross motor growth. For readers who are interested in the technical, Lauren and Claire share a brief description of the core muscles.

boy beach toys DariuszSankowski pixabayProbably one of the most important informational portions of the book is the section on “Why today’s kids aren’t as strong as they used to be.”  The authors discuss the importance of unstructured, spontaneous play in a child’s development of his core strength.  While they endorse the benefits of providing goal-directed activities to enhance core muscle strength, they recognize the importance of providing opportunities for children to have fun with simple playtime activities such as swinging, running, and climbing.  In an effort to encourage their readers to investigate the importance of play further, they have provided a link to an excellent article that shares a wealth of additional links and information.

The introductory chapter that begins their exciting list of core strengthening activities provides the reader with a better understanding of the behaviors that a child can exhibit when he is experiencing weak core muscles.  This is perhaps the most enticing method for gaining the attention of their audience and to compel them to buy their book!  When a parent or teacher understands that inefficient core muscle strength can result in poor posture, difficulty with transitional movements such as going from sitting to standing, challenges with dressing skills, and a poor pencil grasp, they will certainly want to learn more about how they can help their children with the fun and easy-to-use activities that follow!

The first impression I had when I began to investigate the book’s activities was that Lauren and Claire certainly know how to have fun!  They have provided a wide-range of strategies designed to engage the individual interests of the children as well as to facilitate their use in the home, classroom, or playground.  The activities range from those that include yoga, ball, and wedge components, which are the more advanced forms of core body strengthening work, through the easier to complete and more readily accessible everyday activities such as helping with chores or playing games on “all fours.”  Each strategy shares suggestions for grading the activity to match the child’s needs and for making the work fun for everyone.  The authors did not forget the babies!  They provide a group of playful activities that encourage tummy time and in turn engage the parent or caregiver in interaction with their child.

babies twins tummy time kangheungbo pixabay

My favorites?  Well, that was a difficult, for sure!  I lean toward selecting the Playground Ball Activities since they engage both the visual and the vestibular system in a very natural way.  But, who could not be interested in their Towel Activities!  I will definitely be including the Oblique Wake-Up Call in my next therapy session!  As far as assessment tools, I feel that their section on “Other Quick Core Strengthening Ideas” will come in handy the next time I’m working with a new client.  These six activities will tell me a great deal about his gross motor skills.

And did I mention that the book has pictures of the cutest children imaginable?  The Core Strengthening Handbook is certainly that – a handbook.  It is designed as both an informational resource as well as a quick reference for selecting activities that will work the core muscles.  If you have a moment, stop by The Inspired Treehouse and take a look at their site and this book.  I think you will be happy that you did!

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and is the author of “Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.”  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

 
 
 
 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
 
Title photo is the property of  The Inspired Treehouse and should not be used without their expressed permission.  The human skeleton photo was published on the Figure Drawing Website  and its use should include the link to the author’s site.  All others are the property of the photographers at Pixabay.    Their use should include the link provided with the pictures.
References:
(1) Marr, D., Cermak, S., Cohn, E.S., & Henderson, A. (2003) Fine motor activities in Head Start and kindergarten classrooms.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 57, 550-557.
(2) Mchale, K., and S. A. Cermak. “Fine Motor Activities in Elementary School: Preliminary Findings and Provisional Implications for Children With Fine Motor Problems.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 46.10 (1992): 898-903. Web. 26 June 2015.

A Handwriting with Katherine Thank You Note

A Handwriting with Katherine Thank You Note

from Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

 

 

thank you artsy bee pixabayThis summer, I was honored and humbled by the thoughtfulness of eight inspiring and knowledgeable Occupational Therapists who so lovingly shared their time and expertise with my readers on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog. Their willingness to jump in and give me a hand when I needed it most won’t ever be forgotten, for sure.

Most importantly, however, their words of wisdom in the 10 blogs they shared will help so many readers for years to come.

 

In that light, I wanted to take a moment to thank them personally and to share their work with you once again.  And, as always, thank you to my readers.  You are the foundation upon which the success of the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is built.

 

Thank you so much

Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing by Miss Jaime OT
Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing by Jaime Spencer, MA, OTR/L, Miss Jaime OT

 

Jaime Spencer from Miss Jaime OT,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Getting Away From Table-Top Activities by Rebecca Klockars, OT Mommy
Tips for Getting Away From Table-Top Activities by Rebecca Klockars, OT, OT Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Klockars from OT Mommy,

Low Tech Assistive Technology: MacGyver Inspired by Rebecca Klockars, OT, OT Mommy
Low Tech Assistive Technology: MacGyver Inspired by Rebecca Klockars, OT, OT Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Summer Handwriting Fun? by Stacy Turke, OTR/L
Is Summer Handwriting Fun? by Stacy Turke, OTR/L, On the Road with @stacyturke OTR

 

Stacy Turke from On The Road with @stacyturke OTR,

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology by Eleanor Cawley, MS, OTR/L
The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology by Eleanor Cawley, MS, OTR/L, EleanorOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor Cawley from EleanorOT,

Learning and Retaining through Technology, by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L
Learning and Retaining through Technology, by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, EleanorOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help With Handwriting: A Screening Activity by Lyn Armstrong, OTR
Help With Handwriting: A Screening Activity by Lyn Armstrong, OTR, LynOT

 

Lyn Armstrong from LynOT,

 

 

 

 

 

 

An OT Advocate for Change - Handwriting gets the help it deserves, by Marie Toole, OTR/L
An OT Advocate for Change – Handwriting gets the help it deserves, by Marie Toole, OTR/L, School Tools

 

Marie Toole from School Tools, and

 

 

 

 

 

 

No child wants to fail!
Behavior and Transitions in School Settings by Cara Koscinski, MOT, OTR/L, The Pocket OT

 

Cara Koscinski from The Pocket OT.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you!
 Thank you! I couldn’t have done it without you!

 

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 
 
 
 
 
  
Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
 
Photos are the property of Handwriting With Katherine, the authors, or the photographers on Pixabay and are not to be used in any fashion except as links to the appropriate blog or the Handwriting With Katherine website without the expressed, written permission of Katherine Collmer or the authors.  Use of the photographer’s work should include the link attached to their photographs.

 

Handwriting and a Healthy Diet Pair Up!

baby-pixabay-84686_1280

Handwriting and a Healthy Diet Pair Up!

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

 

Eating is an essential activity of daily living.  It is also considered to be an important family social event.  In these harried and hurried times, eating can become a “grab-and-go necessity” that gets shoved to the back of the line as we travel to and from school, sports, daycare, and dance lessons.  A baggie of gold-colored fish, a sack of dried apricots, some type of boxed drink, and away we go!  “Quick, get in the car.  We’re going to be late!” Sound familiar? Sometimes the amount of time between getting the packages opened and jumping back out of the car is not even long enough to finish the “healthy snack” we’ve substituted for dinner.  Then there are the times when the return trip home is far past any reasonable dinner time, leaving only enough room in the schedule for homework or a bath – and perhaps some more “fish.”

Healthy eating is a key facet in a child’s physical, cognitive, and emotional development.  Research study results have shown that better nutrition builds strong bodies, but they also suggest that it has a positive effect on academic performance and school behaviors.  It appears that students who eat a healthy diet are not only better able to learn but will attend school more consistently and demonstrate improved classroom behaviors. (1)   Eating a well-balanced diet provides oxygen, minerals, and nutrients that enhance cognitive skills, develop and maintain muscle strength, and allow students to manage the educational and social demands of the school environment.  Learning is a demanding “occupation” for our young learners.  It only makes sense, then, to educate them on healthy eating habits.

What are eating habits?

I read a quote the other day that may not be the result of long and technical research studies but speaks to common sense:    “The eating habits your children pick up when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults.”   No, not a new revelation.  But it is certainly one that bears discussing as we and our children plough into our schedules each day.

Eating habits simply include:

  1. Meal Plans,
  2. Eating Times, and
  3. Eating Environments.

Healthy eating habits, on the other hand, require:family-eating-at-the-table-skeeze-pixabay-619142_1280

  1. Nutritious Meal Plans,
  2. Consistent Eating Times, and
  3. Stress-free Eating Environments.

Learning healthy eating habits allows children to:

  1. consider healthy food choices over those that have little nutritional value,
  2. manage their snack choices, and
  3. recognize the difference between hunger-related and stress- or boredom-related eating.

Where does handwriting fit in?

You may be asking at this point, “What does all of this have to do with handwriting?”

learn-geralt- pixabay -586409_1280

Handwriting development skills are primarily those included in:

  • our ability to understand how our bodies move and what we can do with that movement (body awareness, directional concepts, and spatial relations);
  • our visual processing skills that allow us to gather data through our senses, understand what the data is telling us, and make modifications if needed to our movements; and
  • our attention skills as we focus on a task, ignore distractions that do not relate to the task, and maintain our attention on it until it is completed.

The same facets of a healthy diet that I mentioned above –  oxygen, minerals, and nutrients – also provide students with the ability to develop those body awareness, visual processing, and attention skills they’ll need for handwriting mastery.  A healthy diet pairs up very well with a healthy mind!

 

How do we teach healthy eating habits?

If we are going to attempt to teach children, or anyone for that matter, about an important topic, it’s always a smart choice to “make if fun!”  From preschoolers to middle schoolers, children can benefit from learning to think healthy when it comes to food and eating.   Cooking or kitchen activities provide excellent opportunities for hands-on learning that combine healthy eating habits with fine and visual motor development.  So, with all of that in mind, I’m offering some functional activities that can turn “teaching into learning” at home, in school, or in a therapy session.  And to add a handwriting twist to the learning, I’ve added some ways to turn handwriting from “practice into functional.”  (You know that I can pair up handwriting with just about any learning activity!)

Here we go:

  • PLAN cooking lessons! Select a healthy recipe that’s easy and quick for preschoolers to “learn to cook” or simple to make in a classroom or therapy session with elementary and middle school children.  Banana Smoothies are always fun and so nutritious.  All you need are recipe card open clips pixabaysome bananas, a few extras to add inside, and a blender.  I found the “Sandwich-on-a-Stick” to be a very creative idea for involving a child in making lunch.  And Homemade Applesauce is a delicious and nutritious snack that can be made on the stove or in the microwave.  Preschoolers can practice their pre-handwriting skills by drawing a picture of their finished product, while elementary and middler schoolers can write down the recipe in their very own Healthy Food Journal.

 

  • Grocery Shopping is a TEAM Sport! After you select a fun recipe to try, have the elementary and middle schoolers write a list of ingredients that you will need (the preschoolers can draw them!) and take a trip down the grocery aisles looking and touching and selecting the “just right stuff.”  (PS:  A Hint:  Avoid the inner aisles of super markets because “that’s where all the junk lies.”)
  • Browse and Ponder. It’s so important to take your time and discuss the different choices available in the grocery store.  A smoothie can contain any number and variety of fruits and yogurts.  A sandwich can have vegetables, healthy cheese and meat, and as much or as littleMother And Daughter At Fruit Counter In Supermarket With List bread as you’d like.  This is a nice time to talk about how foods can be eaten both as a meal and as snacks and how they keep us healthy.  When you get home, have the children jot down (or draw) those healthy foods or ways to use them in their Healthy Food Journal.
  • Get your hands dirty!  Infants learn to accept foods by touching them, squishing them between their fingers, and rubbing them all over their faces.  They feel them, smell them, and taste them.  Give the children a chance to do the same when you are cooking your meal.  Experimenting with an unfamiliar vegetable by getting up close and smelling it, licking it, or breaking it into pieces can give the child a chance to feel “safe” with it.  Let’s face it, some vegetables can look pretty intimidating to them.  Let’s take broccoli, for instance.  What ARE all of those little bumps on the ends?  They can then record their very favorites in the Journal, as well as those that they may be willing try at a later date.
  • Creativity rules! Colors play a major role in a child’s life.  We are always asking them what the color of something is!  They even choose their crayons based upon their favorite colors.  And the same can be said for food.  Select some reds and oranges when you are picking peas and carrots condesign pixabayout peppers.  Add carrots to the celery and yogurt snack. Adding pimentos on your eggs for eyes, a nose, and a mouth is a fun way to introduce them.  Have all the children draw their favorite food or snack in their Journal using only their favorite colors.  That should make for some interesting food colors!

 

  • Seated and Slow. After the final product is ready for consumption, have the children help you set the table and learn to enjoy the “ritual” of eating together at the table.  TV, video games, and other forms of technology should be set aside and attention should be focused upon the wonderful meal that you’ve created together.  Just for fun, have the children make a few notes about what they ate, talked about, and felt during their sit-down lunch or dinner.  (Note:  Food and eating should be considered fun (and essential) activities and are not recommended to be used as rewards or punishments.)
  • Snacks and Treats:  Oh, yes!  There’s no reason to exclude in-between meal snacks for your children.  We all get the “munchies” outside of meal times, especially if we are being very active – like children!  And, although healthy snacks are the preferred choice, treats are still an acceptable way to curb the midday stomach growls.  Baking homemade treats can help you to maintain a higher level of “healthy” than store-bought items.  But, don’t restrict your child totally from those (or candy) because, let’s face it, they will be out in the “real world” soon and those choices will be there for the taking.  Learning to eat them in moderation is a more realistic tool than trying to avoid them altogether.  Discuss this concept with them and have them write their ideas for controlling the amount of snacks they eat in their Healthy Eating Journals.

Healthy eating and handwriting certainly DO go well together!

 

Do you have any creative ways in which you teach healthy eating habits to your children, students, or clients?  We’d love to hear about them!  Please share!

As always, thanks for reading!

Katherine

 
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

 

 

 

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