Friday, February 10, 2017

5 Tips to Build Kids' Working Memory

Working Memory: Executive Function Skill

Executive function difficulties commonly come along with (are co-morbid with) many disorders. What are executive function skills......Check out our earlier blog post here for 5 quick facts. Children who have been diagnosed with: ADHD, learning disabilities, autism, sensory, auditory, among many others experience dysfunction in working memory. What IS this skill? Our brains need to remember information in order to use it in a functional way. When you remember a phone number or the spelling of someone's last name in order to store it into your phone, you do not need to commit the information into your long-term memory. You simply need to remember it for a brief and fleeting moment of time in order to use it. Since it's not critical to your body's survival, there's no need to store it. Similarly, children use their working memory when copying information from the Smartboard to their paper. They read a chunk of information, repeat it in their heads as they transfer that information to their notes. If you consider that children use the same process in order to complete a work problem in math class. The order of operations, doing 'mental math,' OR remembering if the problem calls for multiplication, division, etc. is critical in order to get the correct answer. Here's more information about how children use working memory from
Working memory is a small but mighty part of our executive function tasks. I discuss this in my courses for OTs as well as in my book, The Special Needs SCHOOL Survival Guide.

Here are 5 strategies for you:

1) Let your child teach you!
Kids love to reverse roles and by teaching you the skill, they retain more information. As a homeschooling mother (and OT) I use this technique daily. Encourage your child to write on the board, draw pictures, act things out and demonstrate concepts to you. This adds fun and employs many brain pathways by adding visuals, movement, and excitement to learning!
2) Play card games.
Games such as Uno, Old Maid, and Go Fish are excellent for children who need to improve working memory. In order to be successful at the games, children must remember who has a specific card or in which order cards were played. If a child is just beginning this skill, play 'open handed' where everyone shows their cards. Encourage kids to keep their eyes on the card they need. To make it more difficult, use words such as, 'Now, use the eye in your brain or mind's eye to take a pretend picture of the card and remember it.' 
3) Reduce the memory load/expectations.
Ask your school for accommodations that break information down into smaller chunks. Provide single commands vs. multi-step ones. Use a peer buddy for note taking so that each child can share information. One of the best solutions is to request a copy of the teacher's notes so that students can highlight critical information as it's taught in class.

4) App up!
 Here's a list of apps that work specifically on working memory. We receive no compensation for any of them. Click HERE for list.
5) Use graphic organizers and visual charts. 
I always encourage both my children and my clients to begin all assignments by using a visual. The can make their own or use those provided on websites such as Do2Learn. Remember that scaffolding means building much support under a student in order to help him to reach his goals. According to the glossary of education reform, "The term itself offers the relevant descriptive metaphor: teachers provide successive levels of temporary support that help students reach higher levels of comprehension and skill acquisition that they would not be able to achieve without assistance. Like physical scaffolding, the supportive strategies are incrementally removed when they are no longer needed, and the teacher gradually shifts more responsibility over the learning process to the student."
Remember that the more the student practices these strategies, the better the results will be. Working memory is a skill used throughout the lifespan and not only when we are children. As with any skill, the earlier we work to build strong pathways, the better the outcomes. Let children have fun while working for the bests success!
Let us know if you have any more ideas.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

5 Tips for Using Helper Hands

Since this is handwriting month, let's talk about one of those critical skills that we often overlook....using the 'helper' hand. Most of us have one hand that's dominant and the other is designed to partner up and be the super assistant! His job is no less important since we all need a little 'support' sometimes.......all joking aside, we need to help those children who have difficulty crossing the body's midline. What's this? It's an imaginary line that divides our body in half vertically.

Many of our children struggle to reach across this imaginary line. This can cause great difficulties from writing the letters X and M to using scissors and tying shoes! Watch a fun video we created with information and tips about crossing the midline here.

WHY is it important to have a dominant hand and a helper hand? It's because when one hand is dominant, it can develop strength, speed, and accuracy to improve efficiency with tasks. Yes, some people are ambidextrous, but the majority of us are not.

WHEN should children have a dominant hand? Babies learn to explore both their environment and their own bodies. One of the most exciting things for parents and babies is when they learn to bring the hands together to clap! They quickly use one or the other hand to use fork and spoons, color, and brush teeth. Typically, beginning at three to the age of 6 years, children develop a preference for one hand.
Reference: (Alberta Health Services. (2011). Hand dominance. Alberta Health Services. Retrieved from

If this has not occurred by the age of six, there are many types of activities that can encourage dominant hand development. Look for that next week........

There's another reason children may switch hands......weakness. If your child's muscles are weak, he may fatigue quickly. So, if he's coloring and his left hand gets tired, he may switch to his right hand. Here's a video we made to work on hand strengthening and fine motor.

Since it's handwriting month, I'm going through my frequently asked questions list and found a gem, "Cara, my son uses his right hand to cut but doesn't use his left hand to hold the paper."  Here's another one, "HELP! Mary is always messy when she's writing, she doesn't realize she has to hold the paper while she's writing and it's slipping all around her desk."

Here are my favorite 'Out of the POCKET' Tips from our book, The Parent's Guide to Occupational Therapy for Autism & Special Needs:

1) Put a sticker on the helper hand.

We use a simple smile face sticker and place it on the child's fingernail or back of the helper hand when practicing cutting and other fine motor skills. If the child prefers, we can choose glittery, scented, and one of the thousands of sticker types from which to choose. At first, some children may require BOTH a sticker on the helper hand PLUS a matching sticker on the portion of the paper where the hand will assist. This way, children can 'match' up the stickers.

2) Trace the helper hand while it's holding the paper.

In general, kids LOVE getting their hands traced. They enjoy watching their hand grow and comparing the hand to another grown-up and peers. Use fun colors and even decorate the traced hand with glitter glue!

3) Make a video of the child using their helping hand and then not using their helper hand and let them 'critique' the videos.

Kids enjoy playing 'teacher' and they like to make videos so why not combine the two! I ask for parental permission to record the child OR do it from the side and shoulders down showing hands only. Show the child how 'sloppy' and/or difficult the job seems to be when the helper is not doing his job. Allow them to make a video of you doing the same thing! Be a fun model to make the activity a game with awesome skill-building goals.

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4) Give the helper hand a NAME!

I love to see what names kids come up with for their helper hand. Sometimes, they make up a rhyme or silly name. Other times, it's Henry Helper, Houdini Helper, and other 'H' words.

5) Use these awesome helper hand eye rings!
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Google eye rings are SO much fun and are affordable on Amazon. I use the eye rings for SO many more tasks in the school and clinic as they truly help children to have fun while learning play and imaginary skills. Other options are candy rings, but I'm always hesitant to give kids candy due to allergies, diet restrictions, etc. You might try using google eyes and pipe cleaners to re-create the eye rings, but I find it much easier to order them PLUS the eyes are actually wiggly and move!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Valentine's Day - Make Your Own Heart Hand Warmers

It's almost Valentine's Day! Last week, we showed you two easier Valentine's crafts to show you love others. Now, let's make a craft that's a bit more complicated for those children who can follow directions and are able to sew (even just a little bit). Our simple and cozy heart hand warmers will be fun to make and neat to give away. They work on so many skills such as:  fine motor, life skills (sewing), bilateral integration, cutting, sensory, and the social skills of giving to others and building friendships while completing a task.

1) Using a simple shape as a pattern, cut two pieces out of fabric. We chose hearts.

2) Place the right sides of fabric together and sew around the shape leaving 1/4" edge.  Leave a 1.5" un-sewn opening.

3) Turn right side out.

4) Using a funnel, fill your hand warmers with uncooked rice.

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5) Pin the opening so it looks good and stays closed. Using a needle and thread, sew the opening shut.

6) Print the printable on white cardstock and cut apart the cards.

7) Place one card and a hand warmer in a clear bag or use the card as a tag and tie it around the hand warmer.

Let us know if you've made this fun craft and post pictures of your hand warmers in the comments