Occupational Therapy

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  • Keeping Cursive Current

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    As the creator of
    a handwriting program, people outside of my profession often ask me if I think
    handwriting will soon be a thing of the past due to the advancement of
    technology. They usually reconsider when I remind them of all the daily
    activities we don’t think of that require handwriting like writing checks,
    filling out applications, signing contracts, etc. What fascinates them,
    however, is hearing all the benefits particularly when it comes to cursive
    handwriting. Since many schools have stopped requiring the instruction of
    cursive, it has become a lost art to many. So much so that National Handwriting
    Day
    , January 23rd, was created to promote the skill and help to keep
    it current.

    The benefits of
    handwriting extend beyond the obvious improvements in fine motor skills, hand
    strength, and hand dexterity. Research shows that handwriting verses tracing or
    typing of letters is important for the early recruitment in letter processing
    of three brain regions known to support successful reading. Therefore, handwriting
    may facilitate reading acquisition in young children.1 In fact,
    research has shown children that learn to write letters from memory
    automatically and quickly may increase the probability that they will become
    skilled writers in terms of composition.2
    This is because there is better access to thoughts and information
    when handwriting flows more naturally. Cursive has been known to be a faster and
    more efficient method for handwriting, but research also shows that it is better
    for learning as well. A 2014 study compared the notes taken by college students
    with one group writing in cursive and the other group typing. The students that
    used longhand demonstrated better understanding and retention of their notes
    despite writing less than the typing students whom recorded more words
    verbatim.3 Lastly, cursive
    handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and
    right hemispheres, something absent from printing or typing.

    The many benefits
    of cursive handwriting create a strong argument in support of its continued
    instruction in schools. Keeping it current is not only helpful to children and
    adults as readers and writers but as learners overall. Maintain a cursive
    practice and reap the rewards.

    I hope you find
    this helpful. If your child struggles with handwriting tasks, talk to your
    pediatrician about consulting with an occupational therapist. Have a playful
    day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play
    Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational
    therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more
    information about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

    References:

    1
    James, K. and Engelhardt, L. (2012). The effects of
    handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate
    children. Trends in Neuroscience and education. 1 (1), 32-42.

    2 Berninger, V.W., et al.
    (1997). Treatment of handwriting problems in beginning writers: Transfer from
    handwriting to composition. Journal of
    Educational Psychology
    , 89, 652-666.

    3
    Mueller,
    P.A., and Oppenheimer, D. M. (2104). The pen is mightier than the keyboard:
    Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science. 23
    April. DOI: 10.1177/0956797614524581.

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  • ‘Tis the Season for Toy Making

    It is commonly
    known that the holiday shopping season is very important to the toy industry.
    Just last year U.S. retail sales of toys topped $18 billion. Interestingly, there is
    a trend that could save you money instead of having you spend it if you gift
    your child the opportunity to embrace his or her creativity. The biggest theme
    from this year’s Toy Fair in New York seemed to be maker toys, playthings that
    encourage children to create, innovate, and design which they make and modify
    with their own hands. These toys often consist of constructional pieces and may
    include initial instructions to start a project but also allow for a child to
    take on the challenge to create something new.

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    As an
    occupational therapist, I am in the position to play with children daily to
    prepare them for the responsibilities they face in school and at home. I
    consistently recommend to parents constructional toys and craft activities
    because the benefits are numerous. They improve the developmental skills of the
    hands, enhance thinking and strategy skills, keep a child engaged for long
    periods of time, increase self-confidence and self-esteem, and are fun and
    educational simultaneously. These benefits are not only good preparation for
    their childhood learning but for their future. Many businesses are now
    employing concepts like design thinking and prototyping to solve problems and
    improve products and services. In November, the city of Miami hosted Miami Make
    Week, where individuals signed up to join teams to make innovative solutions
    for the home that save resources. Participants also attended workshops and
    lectures on additional topics including robotics, 3D printing, software
    development, and traditional craftsmanship. It is great to see that this is how
    the future leaders of the world will be working, using creativity involving
    both the mind and the hands.

    For this year’s
    holiday season, I invite parents to think outside the traditional wrapped box
    and consider giving your child an open box full of items to create with
    including: cardboard, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, paper clips, construction
    paper, glue, markers, tape, scissors, and aluminium foil just to start. If this
    is too abstract or your child is too young, consider buying constructional toys
    or maker sets that give your child the chance to be creative and build. There
    are many brands like Lego, ThinkFun, WabaFun, and Funnybone Toys selling
    products that encourage the imagination and can turn your little ones into the hard-working,
    toy-making elves they are meant to be.

    I hope you find
    this tip helpful. If your child struggles with activities with that involve
    planning, creating, building, assembling, or completing age-appropriate tasks,
    talk to your pediatrician about consulting with an occupational therapist. Have
    a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play
    Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational
    therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more
    information about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

     ***Check out this video for some inspiration.***

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  • Video of Child Using Handwriting Action Words

    Check out this cute video of a child practicing letters using Playapy’s Uppercase Letters Workbook: Treasure C.H.E.S.T. 

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  • Just Say No to Preschool Pressure

    Recently I was having a
    conversation with a mother of three children under the age of six. She explained
    to me that one of her current concerns is that the new preschool her
    three-year-old was attending sends him home with homework. She was initially
    shocked and confused considering her older child did not have this demand. Her
    resolution was to adopt the saying from the 1980’s war on drugs campaign and to
    “just say no” to the pressure this preschool was putting on her child. I
    applaud her and encourage others to do the same. 

    Over the past ten years I
    have seen as increase in the demands placed on preschoolers to perform tasks
    that used to be introduced in kindergarten. I have had countless conversations
    with parents explaining that one of the reasons their child cannot complete the
    work given is become it is not developmentally appropriate. My resolution also
    was to “just say no” to the caretaker because there is no rule that homework is
    mandatory. In fact, the National PTA and the National Education Association created
    a 10-minute Rule established after extensive research from Duke University. The
    rule recommends that 10 minutes of homework is suggested starting in 1st
    grade and adding another 10 minutes per grade. Therefore Kindergarten students
    should not be issued any homework. Other research has also shown that an
    overload of homework is associated with a decrement in performance. As a
    therapist, I have noted that some children also suffer from decreased self-esteem
    and stress on the small joints of their hands from too many expectations. Yet,
    despite this rule, the average Kindergartener was found to be completing 25
    minutes of homework daily.

    How should you handle the
    pressure to do homework in preschool? You can keep calm and politely let the
    teacher know that your child will not be completing any homework at this age.
    Instead you will spend the time playing. According to Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego,
    most kids younger than 7 or 8 are better suited for active exploration than
    informational or educational explanation. He states, “The trouble with
    over-structuring is that it discourages exploration.” Hence, parents should take the time after school to
    engage with their child by participating in playful exercise and activities
    that improve and encourage creative, social, and fine motor skills like
    building with toys, coloring, drawing, assembling, and even food preparation. 

    I hope you find this tip
    helpful. If your child is having difficulty with age-appropriate activities for
    a preschooler, talk with your pediatrician about consulting with an
    occupational therapist for help. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist,
    award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information
    about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com
    or email
    info@playapy.com.

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  • Start Smart this School Year

    Every morning millions of
    American children start their school day sitting down to eat a breakfast that
    will most likely cause them to feel relaxed, calm, and less worried. Sounds
    great! That same meal, however, may also cause them to feel less motivated. The
    standard American breakfast has been labeled as too sweet and unhealthy at
    times because it is full of simple carbohydrates such as those found in
    pancakes, waffles, muffins, bagels, cereal, and sugary drinks. These choices
    may seem convenient and innocent, but what if what you are feeding your
    child is causing more harm than good?  

    In the book Healing ADD, best-selling author and
    psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen describes
    how to control the mind and mood with food. He explains how sugary meals are
    known to increase serotonin and rapidly increase insulin, which then causes low
    blood-sugar levels in a short amount of time. Therefore, by the time your child
    arrives at school, he or she could be feeling tired, confused, or inattentive
    or even possibly be too happy and relaxed to get any work done. What if instead
    they ate something different that led to feeling more motivated, driven, and
    focused? Wouldn’t that be a smarter way to start the day? Smart carbohydrates
    are known to slowly increase serotonin and include foods like sweet potatoes, apples,
    blueberries, carrots, quinoa, and chickpeas. In addition, protein-based meals
    tend to increase dopamine levels in the brain and create energy and help
    children to focus. These foods include beef, poultry, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts,
    and cheese. Additional smart foods include avocados, lima beans, liver, salmon,
    and shrimp.

    I invite you to consider being
    creative and thinking outside of a boxed breakfast by introducing your child to
    a non-traditional selection. Children all over the world eat items that may
    seem foreign to American youth, but they still enjoy the meal just the same. In
    Turkey, they eat olives. In Jamaica, they eat mushed plantains. In Korea, they
    eat fermented cabbage. In fact, most countries eat a breakfast that is more
    savory than sweet. Perhaps a smart start to your child’s morning can make all
    the difference in his or her world.

    I hope you find this tip
    helpful. If your child is having difficulty with attention and focus despite
    changing to a smarter diet, talk with your pediatrician about consulting with
    an occupational therapist for help. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist,
    award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information
    about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com
    or email
    info@playapy.com.

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