Learning towers are simple pieces of furniture that are designed to support children in their independence, and provide access to spaces and environments that they may have been previously unable to access. Some are adjustable to be transformed into tables, and others adaptable as your child grows. These are very safe stools for children, with an enclosed structure allowing toddlers to reach higher surfaces than they may be able to access on their own. They meet both mandatory and voluntary Australian safety standards.
Why are Learning Towers useful?
Children love getting involved in activities with the family, such as cooking, washing up and self-care. Learning Towers provide a safe way for toddlers to engage in these activities, controlling more variables. Some examples are:
You can moderate where your child is in the kitchen space. By setting up the learning tower away from stoves and other more dangerous equipment, your toddler can be involved in meal preparation activities, developing their self-care, fine motor, coordination and other countless activities, in a safe environment
Your child can engage in activities with you, and learn family traditions, food preparation ideas and develop a sense of responsibility and agency in the kitchen from a younger age.
By engaging in more activities alongside your child, this provides more quality time and opportunity for bonding and developing social skills
The structure of the Learning Tower allows your child to give their full attention to the activity at hand, without needing to worry about slipping off a stool, or a chair falling over!
Getting children involved in the kitchen is great for supporting picky eaters! Evidence shows that when children cook with their parents, they are more likely to eat healthier food, and felt more positive and in control of their food intake (Van Der Horst, Ferrage & Rytz, 2014)
Are you looking for some new creative ways to engage your child in conversations about emotions? Here are 10 fun game ideas created by our therapists using feelings disks. The feelings disks can be purchased here.
Outside can be cold and wet, making it a tough time to keep engaged in sports and other gross motor activities. Below are 15 activities that you can do with your child to help develop their coordination, balance and other gross-motor skills, whilst giving an opportunity for you to spend some quality time with them!
1. Crazy Catch
Throw a bean bag (or a ball) back and
forward to each other. Do a few normal catches to begin, then add in some
‘tricks’ that can be done before or during your throw! Both you and your child
can come up with fun new tricks such as:
– Pass the beanbag behind your back
– Pass the beanbag under one leg
– Pass the beanbag through your legs in a figure of eight
– Place the beanbag on your head and
– Place the beanbag on your head, sit
down then stand up again
2. Garbage Collectors
Find some treasures/toys/beanbags
around the house, and place them through the activity space (living room floor,
playroom, bedroom). These objects are the ‘rubbish’. Find some buckets/hula
hoops, and place them around the room to be our ‘garbage bins’
Take it in turns to come up with an
action (crawl, dance, skip, gallop). You and your child then do this action as
you collect all the ‘rubbish’ and place (or throw for an extra challenge) in
3. Tummy Skittles
You and your child take turns to lie
on your tummy on the floor. You can then take turns to roll a ball to hit some
skittles placed a few feet away. Alternatively, if you don’t have skittles, you
could lie in the same position and throw a ball or beanbag into a target (a box
or a hula hoop).
4. Hopping With The Leader
You and your child lead each other
through a series of different hops.
• Hop in place on right foot, then
• Hop softly so you don’t make a
• Hop side to side
• Hop forward, hop backwards.
• Hop forward and swing your arms.
• Hop five times in a row then change
• Hop quickly then slowly.
• Hop forward in a straight line.
• Hop, then jump, then hop, then
• Come up with some fun hops of your
5. Obstacle Course
Make an obstacle course at home by
wrapping wool around bannisters, furniture and fixings. You can also move
around furniture and toys like hula hoops for an added challenge!
You and your child move around the
room in different ways (robot, jelly person, different types of animals,
hopping, walking backwards) while music is playing. When you shout “freeze”
they have to stop completely still. You could also do this where stopping the
music means you need to freeze.
7. Stepping Stones
Set out a course of stepping stones
using small mats, pieces of coloured card, hula hoops, plastic stepping stones
or cushions. Ones that are flat on the ground will be easier; taller or less
stable stepping stones will be more difficult. You and your child can take
turns at this activity, and build it together. To encourage them to go slowly
you could make it into a game, such as don’t wake the pirate
(wolf/witch/etc…) where you turn your back and listen out for the person
sneaking across the stepping stones. This activity can work great involving the
8. Tightrope Walk
Make a path along the floor using
tape or string. You and your child can take turns to walk along it slowly, with
the heel of the front foot touching the heel of the back foot, like a tightrope
walker. Try to keep the feet straight on the line.
You can add a challenge to this
activity by using straight, curved and diagonal lines. You can walk with or
without shoes. You can walk, run, crawl or roll, or drive a toy car along it.
Draw a design on a piece of card and see if your child can copy this with the
9. Simon Says
Simon Says is a great inside activity to practice moving and listening. Play this game with the whole family. Start with an adult playing as “Simon” and giving instructions (such as “touch your head”). The children follow these instructions, only when “Simon says” is said first. Once your child gets the hang of them, let them have a turn of being “Simon”
10. Animal Walks
Have some races doing “animal walks”
Crab walk: walking on hands and feet with your back to the ground.
Frog jump: Jumping along while crouching.
Penguin walk: waddling.
You and your child can come up with some of your own animals and imagine how they would walk.
11. Mirror Mirror
Stand facing your child. You are
going to be each other’s mirror. You can be the mirror first. Move your body
into different positions – your partner must copy you as smoothly as possible.
Now swap over so the other person is the leader.
Put on your
child’s favourite music, and take turns to come up with a dance move for the
other to copy! You can dance around the room, or set up some obstacles to move
around. You can give guidance such as “lets do a dance low to the ground, lets
do a fast dance, lets do a quiet dance”.
Have your child stand in a positon and pretend to be a
‘tower’. You then pretend to be a giant wind or storm by gently poking and
pushing them to try and make them fall over. The point is not for the child to
fall but to encourage them to use their core muscles to resist the push and
stay upright and very still. You can however push them over every now and again
to add to the fun.
Sit facing the child. Tap your hands
on your knees in rhythm with each other. Now try the following patterns:
Alternate between palms down and
Alternate between tapping on your knees and clapping your partner’s hands.
Tap your knees then clap your right
hand to your partner’s right hand, then clap your knees and clap your left hand
to your partner’s left hand.
What other patterns can you think up?
Make up a ‘secret
handshake’ for you and your child. Start simple with hi-fives and simple
movements. Start to add steps to the handshake including fist-bumps, jumps,
poses and whatever else you can think of! How many steps can you remember?
Identify a piece of treasure (beanbag/marble etc.). Take turns with your child to hide the treasure, and then give a clue to find it. If a player gets stuck, use ‘warmer’ and ‘colder’ clues to help them out. The hider can also give an instruction (e.g. find it while crawling, find it while hopping), just make sure the treasure can be found while doing that action!
Occupational Therapists at Building Blocks Therapy
work with children and their families, kindergarten staff, school staff and
other therapists to manage challenging behaviours. A challenging behaviour is
any unpleasant behaviour that is socially, culturally or environmentally not
appropriate. This can include hitting, screaming, biting, pinching, thrusting,
spitting, slapping, kicking, swearing and absconding.
The following 5 strategies have been recommended:
1. Become a detective
All behaviours have a purpose and determining the reason is crucial to supporting your child to manage challenging behaviours.
Often children that don’t have the expressive language to verbally express their emotions resort to aggression and insults to make others feel the same way that they do.
Aggression and tantrums provide additional sensory input through yelling, crying, hitting and throwing items which can also be calming.
Children also gain control over others’ emotions and behaviour by demonstrating challenging behaviour. It can be used to intimidate and gain power to have their desired outcome. For example, they may bite you when you say they cannot use their iPad.
Children who have difficulty with social interactions may have challenging behaviours.
It is easy to assume that your child is being naughty, attention-seeking and a brat. However, look for deeper less obvious meanings such as difficulties with problem solving, anxiety, social skills, communication and/or sensory regulation
2. Have realistic expectations regarding behaviours
Nobody is happy, composed and attentive all of the time and it is vital that this is not the goal or expectation that we put on our children.
Show your child that you are not happy all the time and that that is alright.
Refrain from using terms such as get over it, move on, snap out of it and calm down as these are not effective for anybody.
Some children have a diagnosis that means that their brains have developed differently with more complex neural pathways. This impacts their ability to react appropriately to external stimuli and use a calm and rational thought process to problem solve situations.
3. Regulate your child before reasoning with them
It is pivotal that you reason and explain why the child’s behaviour is not appropriate to teach them to manage their behaviour. However, in order for this to be effective, the child must be calm and able to attend, process and respond to this information.
Try a number of strategies to regulate your child after a tantrum, meltdown or conflict such as listening to music, giving them time alone in their room, punching a pillow, doing some colouring in or kicking a ball outside.
When you begin reasoning with your child, if they become angry again, then they are not yet regulated so they may need more time.
Some children may respond better to doing this in a written format by answering questions with processing time and silence.
4. Set clear expectations for behaviour prior to the situation where possible
Provide limits and clear expectations for things your child can and can’t do in certain situations.
This is more commonly recommended in public places such as parks, shops and cinemas.
Telling your child that they cannot buy anything from the shop before going to the shop is much more effective compared to once they are in the shop.
5. Empathise with your child and everything that they may have difficulty with
Children’s behaviour is greatly impacted by hunger, exhaustion, boredom and sickness.
Children on the Autism Spectrum face a number of challenges that impact their behaviour such as not having Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is the inability to make estimations of others’ thoughts, feelings and beliefs based on their actions, facial expressions and body language. This makes problem solving and understanding the whole picture difficult.
Children with behaviour difficulties often have social challenges as they can be seen by peers as mean, a bully and/or naughty which leads to them being socially isolated.
If you have any concerns with your child’s challenging
behaviour, please don’t hesitate to contact and book an appointment with an Occupational
Therapist at Building Blocks Therapy.
Eating is a big part of everyday life – we need food for
energy, to keep our bodies going throughout the day, as well as for nutrients,
vitamins and minerals to keep our bodies healthy and strong! It is not always
easy to maintain balance in our diets and to eat what is expected of us,
particularly for little ones who may find the very idea of placing a vegetable
in their mouth way too much for them to handle! High pressure environments and
negative associations with food may contribute to the avoidances our little
ones have around food, so it is important to think about this and consider it
when we encourage interaction with food throughout the day.
Eating is a very sensory-based activity – we use our sense of smell, touch, taste and vision when interacting with food, and even our sense of hearing! We see colours and shapes of food, feel different textures and temperatures (with our hands and with our mouths), taste different flavours, smell different aromas (which can be even further heightened when cooking is taking place) and even hear different sounds, such as crunching, frying and slurping! Everyone has different sensory preferences, in terms of sensory avoidances and sensory seeking behaviours, which means that each individual has a different relationship with food! Children in particular are still developing their relationships with food, as they continue to explore what they might like and dislike! Some of us like soft textures, whilst some prefer crunchy textures. Some of us may like the smell of a certain food while others can’t handle the same smell! We are all unique, just as our children are, which means that forcing them upon certain experiences can be overwhelming and uncomfortable for them, and even anxiety-provoking, just as it might be for us as adults!
Below are some practical ideas and strategies that can be
used at home to help make mealtimes less strenuous and anxiety-provoking:
Keep things fun with food play! This is really important for developing sensory interactions with food from an early stage. Provide your child with a plate of food, with various textures and tastes, depending on your child’s age (mashed potato, crunchy carrots, banana) and encourage them to pick the food up with their hands and play with it – encourage them to touch, lick, taste and chew the different foods and to explore it in their own way! This way, they are interacting with food and allowing themselves to explore it in a sensory and hands on way!
Normalisation of food – food can be explored without even being present! Draw pictures of fruit and vegies and colour in images of them! Make different items and craft with food, such as pasta necklaces, finger painting with yoghurt, stamping with fruit and creating faces with different food objects, such as pasta for hair, grapes/sultanas for eyes, capsicum for a mouth and or strawberries for a nose. Normalising food is important, particularly if your child is aversive to food or food-related experiences. By exploring food this way, it allows the child to see that we are interacting with food in a non-threatening, relaxed environment and promotes knowledge around food overall!
Keep the environment relaxed and try to alleviate pressure around food – if we feel too much pressure to do something, it can cause an anxiety response and lead to us avoiding it altogether, creating an anxiety-fuelled relationship that can be tricky to combat. Instead, provide some different options for food (without providing too much and creating choices aplenty) and keep them all out on the table for everyone to choose and share! Model eating the different foods so your child/ren can see you enjoy it, smile and use positive language and allow your child space to eat!
Involve your children in the process – get your kids preparing and cooking meals with you, where appropriate! Encourage your little ones to help you mix items together in a bowl when making cakes or baking, or even helping you make a sauce! Encourage them to set the table and to assist with the whole routine around mealtimes to further normalise the experience.
Play and interact with different food textures – make different things with different food items! Here are some ideas:
hide some novelty objects (such as toy cars or numbers and letters) inside a tub of rice or pasta to create a treasure hunt and lucky dip with your child
create “dirt” using lentils, dried beans and breadcrumbs and drive toy cars and trucks through it
imaginative play with a swamp – use spreads, dips and yoghurt to create a swamp with mud and place in it a variety of plastic animals
Let your child decide when they are full – provide your child with the appropriate amount of time required to eat their snack or meal (5-20 minutes) and let them decide when they are full! Try to keep eating times at the table with minimal distractions. This encourages them to feel more in control and less anxious around food. Generally, your child should be able to decide and feel when they are full if they are medically equipped and sound
These are a few simple, fun ways of encouraging your child
to interact with and be more comfortable around food. Remember – keeping things
calm and stress-free is often a good place to start!
If you feel your child would benefit from occupational
therapy sessions working on these food-related skills, please contact the
Building Blocks Therapy Clinic for more information.
Children are referred to Paediatric Occupational Therapists (OTs)
when they need assistance to develop confidence and independence in particular
roles and skills in their life.
Each child is unique, as is the family and community context
that they are part of. In order to
understand your child and family, and where your child may need assistance, your
OT will spend time talking with you and your child to identify:
Your child’s roles (eg. student, family member
or friend) and occupations (eg. toileting, dressing, drawing, writing, and
participating in play).
Their environments (eg. home, school,
Occupational concerns and strengths for your
Barriers that may be preventing your child from
participating in their roles and occupations.
Special interests for your child
Family and individual routines.
Once your OT has developed a stronger understanding about
your child, their strengths and needs, and your family, they will work in
partnership with you to set goals for your child. Goal setting is vital because OTs use these
goals to direct the focus of therapy. It
is important that the goals set are in line with what each family wants to
focus on for their child, and when a child is old enough, also what the child
wants to focus on.
Once your OT understands the desired goals for your child,
they will translate these into SMART goal language, so that goals are
documented to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and
There may be many steps that a child needs to master in
order to reach the overall goal. For
this reason, your OT may break down these goals into steps required to develop
that skill. For example, in order for a
child to participate in writing activities in a classroom environment, foundational
requirements and skills include:
Being able to focus on the task for a specified
period of time
Core body strength to sit in a chair
Upper body strength to support controlled hand
Hand and finger strength to manipulate and
control a pencil effectively
Established hand dominance
Being able to use both hands at once
Being able to draw basic shapes and lines that
support letter formation
Number and letter recognition
Your OT will then use a range of strategies and
interventions to support your child to build the skills required to progress
towards their goal. If you have any
questions about the goals your child has, or how your OT is working with your
child to reach their goals, please ask.
Your OT will also check in with you regularly about the progress your child is making towards their goals. Your feedback is vital, so please tell them about the progress you have seen, what is working well and what is not. We are keen to hear from you!
HELPING CHILDREN WITH SEPARATION WORRIES
10 Practical Strategies
As most of you will know children experience a huge range of emotions. As adults we love seeing kids happy and excited and we don’t mind watching them be silly or cheeky either but what we do find extremely difficult is seeing kids distressed, worried, anxious, sad, angry, scared and/or upset.
We have to remember that learning about emotions is part of a child’s growth and development. Children have to learn how to process and cope with different emotions and feelings. To learn these really important skills, children rely on the adults around them to help. However, often when we witness our children experiencing these uncomfortable emotions, we find it hard to regulate our own emotional experiences which makes it difficult to support our children. The initial response from us as parents is that we just want to jump in and save them from this uncomfortable feeling, instead of helping them recognize and respond to these emotions appropriately.
As children learn to manage their emotions and overcome everyday fears, worries and disappointments their confidence grows and it enables them to take on new challenges. Parents, carers and school staff play a crucial role in helping children develop their emotional regulation skills.
It’s natural for all kids to worry at times, and because of personality and temperament differences, some may worry more than others. With the right support parents can help kids learn to manage stress and tackle everyday problems with ease. Children who can manage their emotions will develop a sense of confidence and optimism that will help them master life’s challenges, big and small.
There are so many different ways to help our children learn how to cope with common childhood emotions but today I want to give you a few practical ideas to help your child cope with separation worries.
We all have to leave our kids in the care of others at times and when our children are sad, clingy and emotional during these drop offs it is heartbreaking and can be an awful experience. I’m sure the thoughts of “I don’t want to leave them here”, “Should we just all have a day off school?” “What can I do to help?”, “What could have happened to cause this?” or “Am I a bad parent?” have crossed your mind. The feelings are totally overwhelming and the thoughts going through your mind are endless. If you relate to this then I hope these practical tips make a difference in your drop offs whether this be a friend’s house, school, kinder, childcare, grandparents’ house or anywhere really.
Disclaimer: Please note that if your child is experiencing extreme separation anxiety then you do need to consult a child Psychologist. The ideas below are to support families dealing with the typical challenges of parenthood.
• Explain to your child what will happen at drop off. Remember to let them know when you’ll be back, and where you’ll pick them up from.
• Remember to involve the teacher/friend that will be looking after your child in the process as they will be left with your upset child.
• Don’t hang around at school or prolong the goodbyes.
• NEVER sneak out – make sure your child knows you have left.
• Try to appear relaxed with a happy or calm expression.
• Set up a reward chart in which your child works towards something special.
Hey Warrior: A book for kids with anxiety to help them find their ‘brave’. Kids can do amazing things with the right information. Understanding why anxiety feels the way it does and where the physical symptoms come from is a powerful step in turning anxiety around. Anxiety explained, kids empowered! Available to purchase at Building Blocks Therapy
3. THE HUG BUTTON
Sew a tiny little heart button onto your child’s clothes – this can be as subtle as in their pocket or on their sleeve as long as your child knows where to find it. Teach your child to give the button a little squeeze or hug if they miss you and when they do, to remember that you love them all the time.
Alternatively, you can also draw a heart on your hand and your child’s hand and let them know that when they’re feeling worried, they can press the little heart as a button.
4. SHARING A SPECIAL OBJECT/TOY
Encourage your child to choose one of their special toys that they would like you to hold onto during the day and you as parent/caregiver do the same. Find something small and special that will remind your child of your relationship. Something that they can keep in their pocket to touch or look at when they do feel a little sad/worried. Just before you say your goodbye exchange toys with your child.
5. ZIP BAG TO PLACE WORRIES IN
Children often have so much going on in their little minds and once the worried thoughts start it all seems to spiral out of control.
I suggest giving your child a little zip bag that they can keep near them or even on them.
Whenever they start having a worried thought then encourage them to write it down or draw something – getting it out of their head and leaving it in the special bag so that as soon as you (parent/carer) pick them up you can discuss the things that they were worried about during the day. This is an opportunity for you to help your child process, rephrase and cope with the thoughts and feelings that overwhelm them.
6. WORRY MONSTER
Spend some time with your child creating their very own personalized Worry Monster – all you will need is some pipe cleaners, a tissue box, plain paper and textas and you can create something very special together.
Once complete encourage your child to write or draw their worry on a piece of paper.
When they have identified their worry then they can let it go by feeding it to the Worry Monster.
If you prefer to have something that your child can take along with them then you can make a Worry Pet.
7. FELT DOLL
Create a little character with your child. I recommend using felt (can be purchased at Spotlight) and cutting out a person (small enough to fit in your child’s pocket).
On the back of the character you created write a few phrases that as a parent/carer you would say to your child when they are upset or worried.
Encourage them to keep this character in their pocket and to pull it out and read the phrases when they start feeling a little sad or worried.
8. LITTLE WUPPY PUPPY
The Little Wuppy® – a sausage dog worry puppy – has been designed as an aid to help ease children’s worries and to comfort them. Children can talk to it, hold it, pop it in their pocket or bag, place it under their pillow, keep it in a special place, or use it in any way their imagination takes them. The colours used are neutral, and the simplistic shape/design was chosen to avoid overwhelming an already anxious child. The luxurious minky fabric that backs the puppy is soft to touch, and makes the Little Wuppy® perfect for cuddling.
Available to adopt online at Building Blocks Therapy or instore.
9. WORRY STONE (OLDER CHILDREN)
I love using worry stones with older children as it’s a “tool” that doesn’t make them look different. Never ever do we want to make children uncomfortable with the “tools” we suggest for them to try to help them overcome these uncomfortable feelings.
Children can use any stone (a small smooth rock is recommended) or they can make their own (see below).
When worried, encourage your child to label what they are feeling (even if they do it quietly and internally) and then rub or touch the stone whilst doing some deep breathing exercises to calm their body and ease their worries so they can continue to participate in daily school/community/home activities.
How to make your own worry stones: http://creativeelementaryschoolcounselor.blogspot.com/2012/10/worry-stones.html
10. CALM DOWN CUBES (OLDER CHILDREN)
Using a permanent marker write a safe “cool down” strategy on each ice cube (these can be purchased on eBay) to remind your child of practical strategies they can implement when feeling overwhelmed. For example: count to ten, walk away, talk to a friend, take three deep breaths, etc.
Encourage your child to keep their cubes in a jar somewhere safe where they can access it should they need.
I hope you found these strategies practical. They are only a glimpse into some of the tools we use in Occupational Therapy.
Please remember that it is really important to talk to your children about emotions. Just giving them a tangible object alone won’t help them manage their uncomfortable feelings but it’s a start to help them manage their separation worries.
If your child is having a lot of emotional regulation challenges, please make sure you speak to a Psychologist or call us at Building Blocks Therapy (03) 9404 0338 and we will be able to direct you to services in our community that can support you and your family.
Mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
Why is it important to incorporate Mindfulness into our day?
Mindfulness improves attention, memory processing and decision making
Mindfulness increases our self-awareness, social awareness and self-confidence
Mindfulness increases our ability to self-regulate our emotions
Mindfulness improves our empathy and our understanding of other people’s feelings and thoughts
Also check out this great book from Building Blocks Therapy!
See each letter of the alphabet paired with a word that teaches young children important mindfulness topics, like compassion, breathing, empathy, gratitude, and kindness.
Pairing simplified mindfulness principles with each letter of the alphabet, ABC Mindful Me features colourful illustrations of children and animals, as well as playful rhymes to explain each concept to toddlers (and their parents!).
These key concepts will help to grow young readers’ concentration, listening skills, and ability to manage emotions, stress, and anxiety. Buy online or in our clinic now!
Mindfulness Groups at Building Blocks Therapy
During the January 2019 school holidays, Building Blocks Therapy will be running a mindfulness group called “Let’s Get Mindful With The Senses”. This will run for 6 sessions and we will focus on:
Learning to practice Mindfulness using the senses
Making new friends
Letting go of any self-doubt and gaining confidence
Helping with anxiety and letting go of worries
Learning to be grateful for all that we have
If you are interested in enrolling your child into this group, please call Building Blocks Therapy on (03) 9404 0338.
Now that it’s starting to warm up outside, what better time than to get the whole family outdoors!
Here at Building Blocks Therapy, we are big believers in putting down the iPad, putting on some runners and getting moving! There are so many things that you can do outside – the options are endless! Here are our top 10 fun family activities that can be done outside to encourage gross motor skills development
Best on the hot days! Set up a target or just have a good old-fashioned water bomb fight! Either way you are working on hand eye coordination, strength and throwing.
Paint a wall with water
This can provide hours of entertainment for a child! Grab a bucket of water and a paintbrush, or a water spray bottle and paint the side of a garage with water!
Increase balance, crossing the midline, coordination and hand-eye coordination! Throw the ball around to each other, pass the ball above the head, below the knees, to the right of the body or to the left. Throw a ball into a ring or try to knock down bottles
Great opportunities for children to develop a wide range of skills including strength, balance, coordination, planning and sequencing. You can use anything in the backyard – hop between 2 trees then throw a ball to a target to move on to the next section. Include a balance beam! Include social skill development by making it a relay so the kids have to work together to complete the course.
Go to the park
There are so many options at the local park! Swings, monkey bars, slides, tunnels, balance beams and climbing. The park requires so many gross motor skills and are fantastic opportunities for kids to take risks and push their limits through play
Grab a few different colours and create masterpieces in the driveway or on some concrete. The whole family can get involved with this one! Draw on a hopscotch and practice jumping and hopping, or try drawing squiggly lines to balance along like a tightrope!
Bounce! Bounce! Bounce! Strength, balance and coordination are required to jump on the trampoline. Endless of hours of entertainment working on such important gross motor skills
Do you think you have what it takes to land your plane on the runway to score points? Encourage some playful competition between children to fly their plane the furthest along the runway. They will need a certain amount of control and coordination to land on the 100 points!
Pick your favourite animal and have a race to see who can get across the backyard faster! You could be a bear, a frog, a crab, a bunny hopping or even an elephant stomping! Animal walks are a fantastic way to develop strength, endurance, core strength, balance and coordination.
I can imagine most parents will be nodding their head whilst reading this.
Its 8.30am on a Monday morning, school begins at 9am.
Your child has 20 minutes to get themselves organised before you all make your way to school.
Its now 8.45am and your child still isn’t ready. You are wondering what they have been doing for the last fifteen minutes.
We now have five minutes to get ready to leave the house. Everyone is now in a rush and the calm family breakfast feels like a long lost memory.
You keep telling your child what they are meant to be doing. It can’t be that hard?! Get dressed, brush your teeth, pack your lunch and get into the car.
Why can’t we just get to school on time?! You are in grade 3 now.
You are not alone. Organisation skills are a challenge for many children.
So what exactly is organisation?
It sounds simple.. you just get everything ready, right?
In fact, organisational skills are multifaceted and highly complex.
To be organised, one must first initiate an idea, think of the next step/s, and adjust their responses to meet the demands of the environment.
Lets look at an example of brushing your teeth:
First I need to:
Use my core or foundational cognitive skills, such as: arousal, alertness and consciousness
Use my long-term memory to help me perform this skill. For example., do I have prior knowledge in order to perform this task? Have I done this before?
Use my short-term memory to locate the items that I need. For example., have I memorised the steps that I need to do?
Next I need to sequence my ideas. What do I do first? Second? Third?
Hmm.. there is no toothpaste.. now I need to use my problem solving skills to figure out what to do next. For some children, this becomes the ‘stuck’ point.
I then use the use reasoning skills to go to the pantry and get some more toothpaste.
Do I remember what step I was up to? Have I gotten distracted? Have you told me something else I need to do? Ohhh the TV is on. I want to watch the show.
This in a nutshell is organisation. It contains lots of steps and this is just one of many that your child may be participating in during the morning school routine.
In fact, organisation skills are used throughout the day during activities such as:
Getting ready in the morning
Organising the items required for school and performing school activities
Completing homework. How many children leave their homework to the last minute!?
Often a common concern that we hear from parents is ‘how will my child be able to get the items they need when they are at school?’ Think about how many times you as a child went back to your locker to get the items that you need. Many children will often have four to six different subjects per day at school. That is a lot of items to get organised!
So how do I know if my child is struggling with organisation?
Children who struggle with organisation may:
Present as distracted, for example., not attending to tasks or looking to peers to see what they are meant to be doing.
Have poor task initiation, e.g., may have challenges translating a thought in their head down onto the paper or have difficulty knowing how to start a task. For some children, thinking about how to write a story can be a real challenge!
Have difficulties following steps containing multiple instructions, e.g., brushing teeth, packing school bags, completing assigned tasks at school, and remembering to complete homework.
Need constant verbal reminders or prompts in order to stay on task. Often parents or carers will remark that they are ‘always reminding’ their child to finish the steps of an activity.
Present as a child who fleets between activities. For example., if multiple activities are available, children will complete one or two steps of an activity and then move onto another activity.
Have difficulty with narrative tasks, such as, telling a story or recalling what they did on the weekend.
Forgetting items that they require, e.g., leaving items at home or in their locker.
What can be some of the consequences of a disorganised student?
Decreased academic performance, such as not being able to complete activities to the same level as their peers, being late to class, or forgetting to complete homework activities.
Task avoidance or refusal and low self-esteem, e.g., ‘it’s too hard’
Behavioural challenges, either as a means to avoid a task, distract others, or as a consequence of their emotional state.
Parents and teachers who may feel ‘worn out’ by always needing to attend to the disorganised student.
How can Occupational Therapists help your child with their organisation skills?
Task break down
Occupational therapists can help your child to break down the task into manageable chunks. Completing activities in a step-by-step fashion not only helps them to develop their skills in a chronological manner, but also helps them to build their own self-esteem and self-efficacy. Its much easier to complete an activity if you do it one step at a time.
Visual schedules are a series of pictures or words that break down a task into each individual component. These schedules can be created to suit the needs of your child and can be used in both a discrete manner or within classrooms. Visual schedules help to empower children to perform tasks themselves and build their independence.
Gathering all the items you need for class can be daunting. Checklists provide clear and easy to follow steps to ensure that your child has everything they need. How often has your child left something at home, e.g. their hat, water bottle, or lunchbox?
Diaries are a great way to help children keep on top of homework tasks and plan ahead.
Creating consistent routines
It is far easier to be organised when a set routine is in place. Many children thrive on routine and helping families to implement a consistent approach can be beneficial for organisational skills.
Consideration of the environment and helping children to ‘de-clutter’
For some children, performing schoolwork in environments that have fewer distractions can be beneficial.
Implementing a folder system can also work wonders. For example, creating folders according to subject area, or administration processes from teacher to parent, such as permission slips for school excursions.
Putting systems in place that will help your child to be organised. For example., finding the right stationary item in a messy pencil case can be an emotional trigger for some children. By assessing the antecedents, we can implement strategies to help with your child’s organisation before it becomes a concern for your child.
Building cognitive strategies
For many children with organisational challenges, a piece of the puzzle is missing. Occupational therapists can help families to explore where the child requires assistance and design tailored interventions to build their skills. Some examples could include:
Sensory processing interventions, for example., you can’t brush your teeth if your body is too busy seeking or avoiding stimulants in your environment, such as auditory, visual, or tactile experiences. You also can’t concentrate when your body is ‘trying to get the wriggles out’.
Play skills, e.g., helping children to learn how to play. For some children, this process needs to be explicitly taught. Occupational therapists can help your child to initiate and respond to play scenarios.
Sequencing activities, e.g., helping your child to figure out what happened first, second, and third.
Building foundational skills. For example, has your child mastered their foundational handwriting skills so they can perform the expected class activity?
Attention and concentration games to build child’s tolerance to attend to tasks.
Designing supportive visual aids, such as, ideas sheets, visual schedules, and timers.
Building self-esteem, such as resilience.
Developing problem-solving skills and flexibility.
Helping children to regulate their emotions, for example., managing frustration in a more age-appropriate manner.
Relaying with a multidisciplinary team, for example., speech pathologists and psychologists.
Often in Occupational Therapy we need to go backwards in order to go forwards!
What can you do at home to help your child with their organisation skills?
Start by creating a plan and starting small.
Declutter! It is much easier for your child to be organised if there are less choices to choose from.
Provide your child with processing time. Often children are processing huge amounts of information at once, and providing your child with extra processing time can assist with their organisation. A good rule is wait 30 seconds and if the child hasn’t completed the next step, remind them again. Often people will tend to over prompt a child and whilst this is well intended, it can sometimes confuse your child even more. Ask your child to repeat instructions back to you to ensure they have understood what is required of them. Or ask the child to teach you!
Provide specific instructions. Stating ‘get ready’ doesn’t specifically outline what your child needs to do. By delivering instructions in a more specific manner, it can help avoid assumptions and thus help your child with their organisation.
Add visual gestures to verbal prompts. Often words can go in one ear and out the other. Adding a gesture can help children to initiate an action.
Make learning fun! Does your child need to sit at a table to complete their homework? Learn about what helps your child and integrate it into your routine, for example, tossing a ball back and forth whilst doing maths homework, racing down the hallway to collect the right answer, writing equations in sand, or using playdoh. The possibilities are endless! Utilising multiple learning methods can help your child with their ability to stay with a task and help translate information into their long-term memory.
Implementing visual schedules into your child’s day. The TomTag Toolkit can help your child to pack their bag independently!
Look at your child’s performance and assess where the task may be breaking down.
Break down the steps for you child to reduce the cognitive load. How many times have you sat in a lecture and after an hour, left wondering what on earth the teacher said? This is what it is like for kids with organisational challenges. For example, a cutting and pasting activity becomes first a cutting activity and then a pasting activity. Maths homework becomes a series of small equations performed over a series of days, rather than a 45-minute block of homework.