Chronic Health Conditions and Summer Safety

Summer safety is an important topic for all families. However, children with chronic health conditions (CHC) may be more prone to certain accidents or medical emergencies, making summer safety a crucial area of concern. From the most common CHC, asthma, to diabetes, epilepsy and anemia, health concerns can potentially add a layer of complication to summer fun.

See tips, strategies, and considerations below to ensure that concerns about CHCs are covered over the summer months:

  • Since humidity, heat, and poor air quality can awaken asthma symptoms or increase the severity of an attack, parents should keep informed of weather reports, heat index, and air quality reports when families are planning to spend consecutive hours or days outside.
  • Activities such as camping, swimming, hiking, rock climbing, etc. can pose a more significant threat to young asthma sufferers because of the combination of outdoor allergens, heat, and heavy breathing brought on by cardio activities. Some research suggests that only 4 minutes of breathing in hot, humid air can present an onset of asthma symptoms.
  • Parents should make sure that inhalers are full and on hand if needed. Consult your pediatrician if the prescription is expired or dosages need to be adjusted. When growth spurts hit, parents should be especially sure that dosages are accurate for full effectiveness.
  • The pool is a great activity for keeping children cool; however, a lesser-known asthma culprit is chlorine. For some asthma sufferers, chlorine can bring about coughing, tightness of the chest, and other asthma symptoms.
  • Since heat and humidity increase perspiration, monitoring and maintaining blood sugar levels can become trickier in the summer months. Throw in exercise and outdoor activities—and blood sugar level instability increases even more. Parents should make sure that children are hydrating even more than they typically do, as dehydration can cause blood sugar to spike. Sugary, caffeinated drinks are additionally problematic and should be limited to maintain safe blood sugar levels.
  • Insulin storage is another consideration for parents of diabetics. If traveling, be sure to pack insulin in a cooler, but not directly on ice. Insulin should also be kept out of direct sunlight and excessive heat, as that can degrade it.
  • Light-headedness, fatigue, sweating, nausea, and vomiting are symptoms of heat stroke, but they could also be a sign of more. Parents should be sure to test their child’s blood sugar more frequently to ensure that mild signs of overheating are not actually symptoms of low blood sugar.
  • For children with seizure disorders like epilepsy, summer activities like swimming, attending sleep away camp, or traveling can bring about additional concerns. Parents should make sure that children are always supervised by an adult that is aware of the seizure condition when they are in or around a swimming pool or other body of water.
  • For children whose seizures are brought on by certain light sensitivities, parents should be especially aware of the threat that sunlight or glare can cause. Car rides when sunlight is flickering or light reflecting off surfaces of water can potentially trigger an episode. Pediatricians and ophthalmologists can direct patients to specially-tinted polarized lenses to help with light sensitivity issues.
  • In the summer months, eczema can become more than a nuisance for children—it can be downright unbearable. Parents can help children by providing cool towels, refrigerated gels and lotions, light cotton, loose-fitting clothing for outdoor activities, and plenty of water for hydrating throughout the day.
  • Removing sweaty clothing and rinsing sweat off of the body immediately can help keep rashes at bay.
  • Using hypoallergenic skin care products, including sunscreen, wet wipes, moisturizers, and insect repellant can help to skin flare-ups at bay as well.

Summer Camps and Medical Needs: Advice for Parents

An exciting aspect of summertime is the seemingly unlimited options for children to play and explore. For many families, summer camps become a regular routine each year through the months of June, July, and August. And while summer camps offer great opportunities for children to socialize, explore, and engage in many different activities, camp can also bring a host of concerns for parents. This is especially so for families whose children experience medical needs, food sensitivities, or other allergies. In these situations, awareness and knowledge are key to keeping children safe while away at camp.

Ask questions, lots of questions
Choosing the right day or overnight camp can involve a great deal of stress for families dealing with allergy concerns or other medical needs. A parent’s best starting point is to inquire about any and all foreseeable issues that might arise while a child is away at camp. Questions might include:

  • How many nurses or medical staff are on the premises? Where is the nurse’s station or stations and is there overnight staff?
  • How does the cafeteria staff and other camp staff accommodate children with severe food allergies? Are there separate food storage, preparation, and service areas in the kitchen?
  • How are ingredients labeled and stored? How are snacks planned and distributed?
  • Where are epi pens kept? How are children informed of these locations? How many staff members are trained in epi pen injection and allergy emergencies?
  • In the case of a severe emergency, which hospital or clinic is the closest to the camp?
  • How do staff members and camp counselors carry and account for medications when activities take place away from or outside of the immediate campsite? When children are off the premises, who is in charge of handling medical emergencies?
  • Are staff members trained to recognize early signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis, instances of high/low blood sugar, and asthma emergencies?

Plan ahead
Depending on age and onset of the medical issue, many children with medical needs like diabetes, food allergies, asthma, etc., are very knowledgeable about their specific needs. Parents should discuss and review safety precautions with children before they head off to camp. Remind children to be wary of sharing food, utensils, and water bottles. Review your child’s early warning signs and symptoms to be sure that he or she is aware of how an allergy or asthma attack emerges.

  • Check-in with your child’s pediatrician and allergist before camp. Make sure that prescriptions are filled and up-to-date. Double check expiration dates and ensure that dosage is appropriate for your child’s height and weight.
  • Consider a comprehensive approach to informing camp staff about your child’s specific needs. Of course, many forms will account for any specific medical concerns, and nurses are always made aware of incoming campers’ medical needs. However, the more adults that are made aware of the medical issue, the better prepared the camp will be to address any emergency during your child’s stay. In addition to the medical forms collected during registration, parents may want to take additional steps to pass this crucial information along.
  • Get creative. Consider making a “medical baseball trading card” with your child’s photo on it, as well as crucial medical information. Use your child’s most recent school or sports team photo on the card so that all staffers know who your child is. Include player (medical) “stats” like height/weight, preferred pain medication, specific allergies, prescription medications, use of inhalers, insulin, epi pens, blood type, and emergency contact information. Pass the baseball cards out so that staff members, besides the nurse, are informed of essential medical information.
  • Parents can also make rubber/gummy wrist bands with an allergy, diabetes, asthma, etc. alert on the band. Like Livestrong wristbands, a medical alert band is discreet and waterproof, which is perfect for summer camp scenarios.

Finally, parents with severe concerns may want to look into summer camps that specialize in allergy-friendly accommodations. Many camps have adopted policies in which they do not serve or carry the “Big 8”—the top known allergens including milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, and shellfish. These camps aim to provide worry-free experiences for parents, leaving children free to play, explore, and experience all that summer camps have to offer.

Summer Slide, Part II

Incentivizing reading can be a great way to jumpstart young learners’ motivation during the summer. Of course, the larger goal is for children and teens to garner intrinsic motivation for reading and learning down the line, but until that point, parents can encourage the practice with small, consistent incentives.

Here are a few examples to get you started with incentivizing young learners this summer:

  • Set up a tally or sticker chart to track that your child reads something every day. Whatever that “something” might be could vary from child to child. Perhaps it’s the comics in the morning paper, or a cupcake recipe for an upcoming family reunion, or the closed captioning or subtitles of their favorite TV show. Whatever the stipulations may be, holding children accountable for tracking their reading is a good way to begin combatting the summer slide.
  • Camouflage research skills by asking for your child’s help. Depending on age, the research questions can begin very simply, such as, “What is the weather going to look like later tonight during your baseball game?” Or, “What are the showtimes for the movie that you want to see this weekend? Are there better options for showtimes at a different theater nearby?” For older learners, parents can encourage middle and high schoolers to research places to visit, local attractions, events, or summer festivals, or even long-weekend options for a mini-family vacation. Guide their research by providing some critical guiding questions and reputable websites for perusal.
  • Research free educational events, activities, or programs in the area over the summer. In addition to many school-sponsored events and resources, the internet has a plethora of free educational websites that allow students to access digital games, tools, and practices from their living room. School and local library websites are great places to start when combing through reputable online educational resources. Many sites, like Scholastic, Flocabulary, NewsELA, ReadWriteThink, and Edutopia allow students to filter the materials based on interests, grade level, Lexile level, text length, etc. Virtual field trips also provide students with opportunities to see and experience locations that may otherwise be inaccessible.
  • Take learning outdoors to utilize the summer weather and natural surroundings. Simple activities such as planting flowers or herbs, visiting a state park or zoo, or starting a neighborhood initiative is a great way to show children that learning takes place everywhere—not just within the classroom. This also allows learners to take an active role in their learning, instead of the typical passive learning that we often see in schools. For older children and teens, parents can encourage financial competency and budgeting by helping middle and high schoolers begin a neighborhood dog walking, lawn mowing, yard sale, or recycling project. In doing this, children a practicing essential skills and strategies, while gaining a sense of independence and responsibility as well. The cash flow is always a great incentive, too!
  • Encourage literacy skills by providing your child with a photo journal for summer activities and travels. Children might use a smartphone or Polaroid camera to capture important memories or events over the summer. Then they can provide written captions, reflections, and other personal insights to accompany the photos. The photo journal also acts as a great memento for looking back on summer memories.

Summer Slide

For those who are not immersed in the educational realm on a daily basis, the term “summer slide” may conjure up nostalgic memories of sunny afternoons at the pool. For academia, however, summer slide is a dreaded termone that is not associated with a relaxing pool day at all. Instead, summer slide refers to the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of the summer months when students are not in school.

Statistically, summer slide poses a greater threat to students of lower socioeconomic standing, or those considered “at-risk” and most adversely affected by the achievement gap. While research suggests that summer slide is a larger factor for students who may not have access to educational experiences, materials, and books over the summer, the grim truth is that regardless of a family’s income, any student is susceptible to the loss of knowledge and skills while being out of school for the summer months. With some research indicating that summer slide could mean a loss of 20-30% of information gained over the previous school year, summer slide is valid concern for educators and parents to consider.

Fortunately, there are many ways to combat summer slide. For children and teens, summer reading packets, math booklets, and the like are most often met with groans. Summer is supposed to be a time of freedom from stress; it’s a time for adventure and exploration! So, if parents truly want to sell a child on schoolwork during the summer, they really must package it appropriately.

  • Provide an ample amount of what teachers call “student choice.” Children are much more likely to invest their time and attention in a book or learning activity if it involves an aspect of interest. Additionally, a sense of agency and independence comes with children and teens having a say in what they would like to read or participate in.

  • Parents of reluctant readers will want to provide multiple modes of texts as well. Consider purchasing the audiobook or ebook so that your child can listen while following along. If lengthy chapter books bring dread, expand literature options to graphic novels, magazines, or adapted versions of the classics. Again, the more a young reader has to choose from, the more likely he or she is to land on something pleasurable.

  • Plan for activities that relate to or expand upon parts of the curriculum from that previous school year. Children are always surprised when topics or facts from the classroom suddenly apply in “real life.” Parents can check the school district’s website for curriculum materials or email the child’s teachers to review the major concepts, novels, or skill sets that students were to have mastered that year. Then, with that knowledge, parents can select materials or push children in the direction of texts and activities that incorporate those skills. For example, if parents know that their middle schooler read The Diary of Anne Frank over the winter term, they may want to select from sub-genres involving WWII, Holocaust survival stories, or other autobiographical works that feature a strong, young narrator.

  • Getting the whole family involved in summer learning can help to motivate children and teens as well. Consider starting a weekly family book club, in which each member reads the assigned pages and then participates in an informal chat about their thoughts on the chapter or events so far. The key to keeping the momentum and enthusiasm going is to ensure that the book talk remains as informal as possible. Throw pillows and blankets around the living room, set out snacks or use the night as an excuse to have a pizza party while discussing the book. Since a movie night can be a great incentive for children, think about choosing a book that also has its own film adaptation.

  • Connect the reading material to real life experiences. For instance, if a child is starting middle school next year, provide her with YA book options that feature a preteen navigating through middle school. If soccer camp is on the agenda for the summer, find reading materialsnonfiction, fiction, or biographicalthat center around soccer, soccer players, or the history of the sport. The secret to keeping kids reading is to keep the material fresh and relevant.

How to Break the Negative “Can’t Do” Mindset: High School

The “I can’t” mindset can be detrimental to high school learners. The problem with this negative tunnel vision is that it can easily begin to spill over onto other aspects of a teen’s life. For instance, a high schooler that feels negatively about her ability to do math might transfer that fixed mindset to her ability to learn chemistry, physics, architecture, etc. The negativity creates a destructive snowball effect. High school is a time when students should recognize that the sky’s the limitthey have adulthood and independence right around the corner. A negative mindset can cause teenagers to subconsciously impose restrictions on what they believe they are capable of achieving. To combat this cycle of negative self-perceptions, teachers and parents can implement different exercises, practices, and conversations to encourage a positive outlook for high schoolers looking ahead toward their future.

Show teens that intelligence and ability are not limited to certain tasks, subject areas, or capabilities. Very often, students place much of their self-worth on grades and GPA. And while these are important indicators, they do not accurately measure the whole person’s capabilities. Adults can help by shedding light on “lesser known” examples of intelligent, successful people and instilling a sense of value in different areas of academia, the arts, athletics, etc. Remind high schoolers that school is just one realm for learning and that each person has his or her own strengths. A poetic genius may not be well-versed in math; while a musical prodigy might find history or the sciences more challenging.

When possible, provide high schoolers with options and choices, not only for engaging in the content, but with methods of demonstrating mastery. In providing options, high schoolers become more absorbed with the content they had a hand in choosing. Similarly, when students are given choices in what type of product, project, or demonstration to compose, they are naturally more invested in the outcome. Choices also provide students with a sense of agencya chance to connect their own ideas and decisions to the impact that these decisions will have.

Explicitly discuss the psychological and neurological findings behind growth mindset. There is a reason why growth mindset has been touted as one of the recent educational buzzwordsthere is plenty of research and data to support its claims. High schoolers are at the age to truly grasp their learning tendencies and recognize the plasticity of the brain. Simply put, neural pathways develop and strengthen with repetition and practice. When students understand that they can have a certain amount of control over how much they learn and how well they learn it, school work no longer feels like a task to be undertaken, but more like an opportunity to strengthen their skills and hone new strategies.

Encourage the challenge; discourage busy work or the easy way out. For many students, not just high schoolers, the path of least resistance can often be the most appealing. And that’s understandablewhy cause ourselves more trouble or torment in an effort to reach a goal? The answer lies in the methodology behind growth mindset. The more we challenge ourselves, the greater the opportunity to strengthen the neural pathways. When tasks are mundane, simple, or elementary, our brains do not experience the same level of activity as if they do when a process is complex, unfamiliar, or mentally demanding. Explain to high schoolers that, if your goal is to build muscle, you wouldn’t go to the gym to lift 1.5 lb. weights every day. You would increase the weight, reps, and add variations as your workouts progress. It is the same concept when working out our brains. The easy way out may give high schoolers the correct answer, but it does nothing to stretch their limits or develop higherlevel thinking skills.  

 

How to Break the Negative “Can’t Do” Mindset: Elementary

In elementary school, children are just beginning to understand themselves as learners. These are crucial years in terms of building a positive mindset and a solid understanding of education and its significance in their lives. Because of their blossoming ideas and new experiences in school, elementary-aged learners can be especially fragile when it comes to their self-perception.  

One surefire way to turn children off to school, education, and all things learning-related is to allow them to steep in their own negativity. This “I can’t” mindset can be especially detrimental to young learners because the longer they engage in this negative self-fulfilling prophecy, the more likely they are to solidify those beliefs as true. To combat the cycle of negative self-perceptions, teachers and parents can implement different exercises, practices, and conversations to encourage a positive outlook.

Abolish terms like hard, boring, easy, and fun when describing an activity, assignment, or task. Instead, replace those descriptions with words like challenging or interesting. A subtle shift in the adjectives removes the opportunity to equate the school work with a negative connotation. If something is described as a challenge, as opposed to hard, children are more likely to muster the effort and be motivated by the opportunity to try. Similarly, abandoning anxiety-producing terms such as test or exam can also bolster a more positive outlook.

Do away with thinking of education in terms of absolutes. Because of the way that our educational systems are structured, learners often get caught up in the “all or nothing,” “pass/fail,” “smart or not smart” mentality. Cultivate the notion that school, learning, and intelligence are not exclusively yes or no categories. Sentences like, “I’ll NEVER understand this!” are only serving to prove that negative belief. Instead, instruct students to adopt a growth mindset when engaging in self-talk. Examples might include, “This is challenging, but I’ll keep trying.” “The more I practice, the better I will become.”

Stress the importance of growth over perfection. Again, much of our standard ideas of education involve grades, percentages, and correct answers. But to prepare elementary schoolers to become lifelong learners, adults must put the focus on overall growth and acquisition of new skills.  

Present school work and learning in general as a lifelong, continuous process. It is important for children to know that there is not one person who knows everything about everythingand no, you are never “done” when it comes to learning. Remind elementary schoolers that because curiosity is what feeds our need to learn, it is okay, even expected, that we don’t understand everything right away.

Practice routine reflections as an essential part of the learning process. This routine can vary depending on the task or assignment that students are reflecting upon; however, the notion is the samereflecting on and thinking about how we learn helps us to understand strategies that work or don’t work for us in any given task. Elementary teachers may ask students to consider what went well during their learning process. What do they wish they had done differently having now finished the task? What was the most difficult aspect of the assignment or project? How did they use their strengths to complete this assignment? Questions like these allow elementary students to not only reflect on their learning process, but also take deliberate ownership over their work. Through reflection, young learners find value in the challenges and errors, which helps to keep the negative self-fulfilling prophecies at bay.

Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

What happens during a fire drill?

It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

Behavior Management Strategies Taken from the Teacher’s Playbook

If asked about observations pertaining to student trends over time, teachers, administrators, and any other school personnel will likely tell you how the culture of behavior in schools has drastically changed, even in just the last decade. While this is a generalized observationnot necessarily one that rings true for every child in every school across Americaprofessionals working in the realm of education report an overwhelmingly recognizable shift in behavior and behavior-related challenges in schools.

For parents that are struggling to manage behaviors at home, the stress can be all-encompassing. As teachers and parents may witness, when these behaviors go unaddressed, there is a tendency for actions or attitudes to escalate. While educators certainly do not have all of the answers, what they do have is plenty of experience with a wide range of personalities and demeanors.

Maintain consistency and stay strong

As teachers well know, adolescents and even young children can be masters of persuasion. Whether begging, throwing fits, crying, or pitting parents against one another, a child’s aim is typically the same when it comes to these strategiesthey are trying to break you. The reason that they attempt these methods is probably because they have seen it work before, either among siblings, at a friend’s house, or maybe they’ve even worked you over in this way before. The point is, when children are used to getting what they want when they want it, they will go to great lengths to achieve or receive.

Therefore, if you have already said “no,” do not falter; do not waiver or go back on your word. In doing this, you are showing your child that they can convince you to change your mind. Will it be embarrassing when your child throws a tantrum in public? Yes. Will they likely stop immediately if you cave in? Yes. But will they remember their success rate from throwing this fit? Absolutely. It may make your life easy in that moment, but going back on your word just to stifle a temper tantrum will inevitablely backfire because you are essentially reinforcing that negative behavior.

Ditch empty threats

Just as a teacher would not give detention and then “let it slide,” parents must follow through. If you impose a consequence, you must be ready to deliver that consequence. Empty threats or punishments that never come to fruition are just other examples of adults reinforcing negative behavior. Your child will remember how the “week without screen time” turned into just one night without the iPad before bed. In dropping the ball on the original consequence, your child will be less inclined to take those warnings seriously.

Put the child in control of the outcome

Teachers typically spend a great deal of time setting the expectations for their classroom environment, assignment protocol, and behavior. The point of setting the stage so specifically and deliberately is that students are made aware not only of the expectations, but also the subsequent consequences if those expectations are not met. Students know in advance that they will lose a certain percentage if work is submitted late. They also know that unkind words or behavior will result in lunch detention or a phone call home. Because of these known repercussions, students are careful to adhere to the rules.

It’s the same at home. Parents should calmly remind children of the expectation and the consequence that their child will be choosing if the behavior continues. This puts children in the driver seat by reminding them that they are in control of their behavior and how that behavior will play out. Explain to them that they “are choosing a consequence by behaving this way.” Children will be less inclined to continue the behavior when they know that this behavior would essentially mean that they’re imposing a punishment on themselves.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. III

Just as we explored occupational therapy (OT) methods that support fine motor control, balance, and coordination in the previous two posts, this third and final post will focus on OT methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness. Of course, depending on each student’s individual needs, the supports and strategies will vary. Likewise, a student’s age and developmental abilities will also determine which methods are beneficial and how to include them in the learning environment.

For children that need tactile strategies to promote their attentiveness in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Fidget toys, stress balls, and thinking putty/clay are great options for students that prefer to keep their hands moving while learning. Because of the rhythmic stretching, squeezing, or rolling between fingers or hands, students with attention issues are able to channel the urge to move, tap, or click into the object that they are holding. Just as the occupational therapist would do, however, be sure that students are using the fidget item discreetly, not as a toy or distraction.

When possible, plan to utilize 3D objects as models or manipulatives to introduce math or spelling concepts. For example, for elementary schoolers learning about multiplication via arrays, teachers can use Legos to build the array in place of drawing it or shading it on paper. The process of constructing and deconstructing arrays using Legos allows students to comprehend how 2+2+2+2 = 2 x 4 and what that representation looks like in 3D geometric form.

Using sand, paint, or shaving cream in aluminum baking trays, or “spelling trays,” allows students to practice their letter formation, spacing, and size with an engaging added sensory component. The practice is low risk as well; if a child messes up his letter, he can simply shake the sand or add more shaving cream and begin again.

For children that need movement strategies to promote their attentiveness and positive behavior in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Much like many 504 and IEP accommodations, frequent breaks are certainly beneficial when students become agitated or restless. A way to incorporate this method into the mainstream classroom is to promote brain breaks for all students in the room. Especially for classes that are run on a block schedule, teachers can break the instruction for 2-3 minutes to allow students to pace, jump on a miniature trampoline, stretch with resistance bands, do jumping jacks, toss a bean bag, play Simon Says, or simply stretch to release some pent up energy.

Teachers might consider swapping out their desk chairs for yoga/therapy balls, wiggle seats, bean bag chairs, stools, rocking chairs, wedge seats, or swivel stools. The different range of seating options allow students to bounce, alter positions, or swivel to expel some of their energy. With alternate seating, just be sure to provide clipboards or other surfaces for students to write comfortably.

There are also additional strategies to promote attention and positive behavior:

Much like educators differentiate by providing student choice, occupational therapists also utilize options and choices to promote engagement, attentiveness, and positive participation and behavior. When offering choices of activities, challenges, projects, practices, etc., occupational therapists try to provide at least one option or rotation activity that appeals to the child’s strengths and/or interests. When children have a hand in selecting their activity or assignment, they feel a stronger sense of ownership and independence, which increases effort and motivation.

OT methods also frequently incorporate tech tools to promote development of certain skills or practices. Teachers can provide links to podcasts, educational videos, scholarly articles or websites, and educational games for students to browse and play. The technology not only promotes engagement; the audiovisual component allows students to watch and listen as concepts and skills are modeled for them. They can also work at their own personal pace while using tech tools by pausing, rereading/re-watching, or completing additional practice games.

After a therapy session, many professionals ask children to reflect on and rate their work during the session. Questions can focus on the content, activities, behavior, focus/attention, etc. The key for this OT practice is to encourage students to reflect on the session and discuss areas of strength and areas for improvement. Teachers can plan mini-conferences with students to discuss progress. Stress the fact that genuine ratings and responses are essential for reflection and growth. Not only are students accounting for their successes and missteps, but they are also practicing skills such as summarizing, causes and effects, paraphrasing, memorization, critical thinking, and metacognition.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. II

In addition to occupational therapy (OT) strategies that promote and strengthen fine motor control in the classroom setting, there are a number of additional techniques and practices taken from occupational therapists for younger elementary children that need a little bit of guidance with their balance, coordination, sensory processing, behavior management, or attentiveness.

Balance and Coordination

We often place these two concepts in the athletics realm; however, balance and coordination are necessities not limited to physical education programs in schools. These essential life skills stretch way beyond the field or court. Daily practices such as dressing, eating, climbing stairs, writing, brushing teeth, etc., rely on one’s ability to coordinate certain motor skills. Therefore, the roughly 5-7% of children affected by developmental coordination disorder, or DCD, will need to rely on OT practices and methods to develop more than a fastball or perfect jump shot. Their day-to-day practices truly hinge on their ability to develop coordination over time.

In the academic atmosphere, children with DCD or other difficulties with balance or coordination can benefit from the following modifications or strategies:

  • Desk chairs that are detached from the desk allow for more appropriate and comfortable positioning in terms of seating. The children can scoot or push their chairs in to their desired proximity to the desktop, which discourages slouching, reaching, and fidgeting.

  • Teacher notes or worksheets can be modified so that copying from the board is limited, as this can be a frustrating process for children with DCD. Fill-in-the-blank or paraphrased notes allow students to practice viewing the board, listening to the teacher, and writing an abbreviated version of the notes while maintaining focus. Because of the modification, the student is still receiving the content and is actively participating, but the workload is less taxing for him/her.

  • Provide students with paper that suits their handwriting style. If you know that a student’s main issue is size or spacing of letters, provide him with wider lined paper and lined paper that includes the vertical margin lines. If the issue is aligning numbers correctly in math problems, consider providing graph paper or grids to promote precise number alignment.

  • Incorporate tossing and catching into your memorization or test review lessons. Keep the rotation predictable, such as passing around the room in a circle or passing the ball alphabetically among the class. Use a larger, lighter item that allows for easy passing and receiving, such as a beachball or beanbag.

  • Games such as Twister and hopscotch allow teachers to incorporate balance and coordination with other content-area skills or practices. For instance, elementary schoolers learning their times tables can use hopscotch to demonstrate mental math while practicing balancing, hopping, standing, etc. A family favorite game, Twister, similarly encourages coordination while students reach and stretch left and right hands and feet.

  • Teachers can utilize painters tape as a way for students to practice making and categorizing shapes, then use the taped shape outlines to practice balance. Challenge students by having them walk the lines of the shapes “heel to toe.” You can add levels of difficulty by asking them to toss a bean bag while walking, recite the alphabet or math facts, or walk backwards.  

In the third and final edition of OT strategies in the classroom, we will focus on occupational therapy methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness.