Thursday, June 30, 2011

No More Cursive?

I just heard on my local news station that Indiana passed a law that says schools are no longer required to teach students cursive.  The idea is that it is more important to have students spend time learning keyboarding skills.  OT's who work in schools get plenty of referrals related to handwriting and legibility issues.  For some students, handwriting in general is a challenge.  It may take years to learn adequate printing skills and for some, cursive is considered to be too difficult to learn.  There are certainly alternatives for written expression that might be more efficient and easier to read, however, cursive writing IS still used and kids need to be able to read it.  My opinion has always been that the best way to learn to read cursive is to learn to write cursive.  The issue I often see is that students are taught cursive in 2nd or 3rd grade and then they are not required to use it and they forget what the letters look like and how to form the letters.  Somewhere down the road, there will be a teacher who requires cursive for final drafts or tests and it creates unnecessary anxiety.  This happened to my own son and I saw how frustrated he was trying to complete his homework and tests.  I heard similar concerns from other parents and so I made "letter cards" for his class so that each would have a small card to keep in their desk as a reference for writing letters in cursive.  He still prefers to print however he now knows the letters and writes in cursive when required.
If you'd like to read the story about Indiana's new law, you'll find it at
There was also a "local news poll" asking if viewers think students should still learn cursive?   92% of the viewers said YES!   So what do YOU think?!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

5 is Fun!

I remember when my kids hit age 5, it seemed like my babies had turned into full blown big kids! They were heading to kindergarten and spending much of the day away from mom and I just hoped they were ready.  Five year olds get excited to be like the "big kids" as they start their school age adventures.  What skills should a 5 year old have to be ready for kindergarten?  Here are a few developmental milestones to look for:
  • Connects dots
  • Draws a recognizable body with at least 5 parts (body parts out of proportion)
  • Builds a block pyramid
  • Hand dominance is well established
  • Uses a mature grasp on a pencil/crayon
  • Copies 1st name (might have letter reversals or missing letters)
  • Uses paste/glue independently
  • Colors in the lines
  • Copies a triangle
  • Uses fork and knife appropriately
  • Manages toileting/clothing (may need assist with fasteners)
  • Cuts curved lines and shapes with scissors
Children develop at different rates and these milestones are simply a guide.  Some 5 year old children  will have mastered these skills BEFORE turning 5 and others might not master the skills until they are 6 or older.  If you have concerns about your child's development, please talk to your pediatrician and your child's teacher.  When we all work together, our kids succeed!


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fabulous 4's

Being "4" IS fabulous!!  Fine motor skills typically expand significantly for 4 year olds and you might have some adorable artwork starting to decorate your home.  Providing 4 year olds with a variety of tools such as crayons, scissors, playdough, blocks, peg games, and sidewalk chalk will help your pre-K star get ready for more challenging fine motor tasks.
What fine motor developmental milestones can you expect from your 4 year old? Here are a few:
  • Traces first name
  • Prints some capital letters
  • Uses a tripod grasp to hold a pencil or crayon
  • Color in the lines
  • Cuts out large shapes such as a circle or square
  • Completes simple puzzles
  • Draws a square
  • Pastes and glues appropriately
  • Undresses and dresses self with assistance--will likely need assistance with fasteners
  • Buttons and unbuttons large buttons
  • Able to pour from a small pitcher
Children love to be praised for their accomplishments!  When they feel good about what they've accomplished, they often want to do it again and again.  This is how they learn! Improving fine motor skills takes repetition so encourage your child to explore and try new activities.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Look at Me, I'm 3!

You've survived the "terrible 2's" and now it's on to the "thrilling 3's"!   As you probably know by now, 3 year olds like to "do it myself" and are eager to try new tasks and improve their skills.  Parents often want to know what to expect as typical development for their child at all ages, so here are some 3 year old milestones to watch for:
  • Scribbles
  • Copies a circle and plus sign
  • Feeds self
  • Washes hands
  • Undresses self and helps to dress self
  • Drinks from a regular cup
  • Completes a 6 piece puzzle independently
  • Builds a 9 block tower with 1 inch blocks
  • Begins to snip with scissors
This is a time for children to begin learning correct grasping patterns for prewriting tasks and a chance to get some gentle guidance from parents and teachers to form good habits for early writing.  This might include hand over hand assistance to "get started" with writing and coloring, or a verbal reminder to "use your helper hand to hold the paper when you color".   Allowing your 3 year old to "do" for herself might mean that you need a few extra minutes to get shoes on or wash hands, and it might mean cleaning up a mess when a cup gets spilled at dinner.  The payoff is worth the efforts as you'll have a Little One who begins to develop confidence and is motivated to try new skills. 


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Go Vertical!

Working on a vertical surface such as an easel or a wall is an excellent way to work on fine motor skills.  Writing in this position helps to improve shoulder and elbow strength and stability.  It also facilitates wrist extension to promote coordination of the fingers.  When my children were preschoolers, I had an easel and a chalkboard in the kitchen where they played daily creating lots of precious paintings and drawings.  They LOVED working at the easel and didn't even realize that they were also strengthening their muscles and improving fine motor coordination!  If you don't have an easel, you can tape a piece of paper to the wall for the same effect.  Other "vertical" activities will work as well such as playing with magnets on the refrigerator or coloring on a hanging dry erase board.   "Michelangelo Day" is always a hit with kids too!  Tape some paper to the bottom of a low desk or table and let the kids lie on their backs to color.  So fun!


Monday, June 20, 2011

Handwriting Without Tears

"Where do we start our letters?  At the TOP!"  If you've ever found yourself humming this song throughout the day, then you know about the Handwriting Without Tears program!  I was first introduced to the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) program about 13 years ago and have used it with lots and lots of kids over the years.  It was started by Jan Olsen, an occupational therapist who just happened to be a MOM trying to help her own 1st grade son.  When her son's teacher told her that he was struggling with handwriting, Jan used some of what she had learned about child development to try to help her son improve his skills.  As his skills steadily improved, his teacher of course said "Well, I've got 3 other kids who could use some help too...." so Jan volunteered in the class to help them as well.  It wasn't long before neighbors started to inquire and soon Jan found herself being the local handwriting tutor.  She took a leap of faith and printed up some workbooks and then joked that the books would make some great decor in her living room when nobody buys them.  Much to her surprise, she sold ALL of the books and then some.  The HWT program has expanded greatly over the years and now is designed for early childhood up to 5th grade.  The books are not labeled by grade level but rather by developmental level so you choose the printing or cursive program that matches the child's developmental needs. 
Check out the website at !  There is a wealth of information on the site and I'll likely be sharing lots of ideas I've learned from this program on my blog, so keep checking back!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beat the Heat

Summer won't officially arrive for a couple of days but the heat is certainly upon us!   The record high temps this week had my children looking for some creative ways to beat the heat.  As an occupational therapist, I love to have kids involved in fine motor activities that develop hand muscles, strength, and coordination.  What could be more fun on a hot day than getting out the squirt toys?!   Water guns and squirt bottles are ALWAYS a hit with kids of all ages AND are a great way to develop hand muscles.  Besides the fun of squirting each other and mom and dad, kids can be in charge of watering flowers and plants everyday.  It's a job they will be happy to do each and every day and they won't even realize how they are developing hand muscles necessary for all of the writing and cutting they'll do once school starts again in the fall. 
The local dollar store is a great place to find lots of colorful and inexpensive squirt toys.  Have fun!


Let's Begin!

I'm excited to kick off Jen's OT for Kids blog!   For the past 16+ years, I've worked with hundreds of children of all levels of ability and they have taught me more than I could have ever dreamed.  My life as an occupational therapist has taken me on all sorts of exciting paths and learning journeys.  Hopefully along the way I've also been able to touch the lives of my students as they have touched my heart.  I am passionate about the importance of education and helping children feel ready and empowered to succeed in school.  There are so many simple things we can do to help our kids learn and grow!   I hope to share what I've learned about fine motor development and school readiness so that you too can help the favorite kids in your life.  Follow along and learn and share.  Together we can help our children succeed to be the best little people they can be.