Therapy Planner for the Upcoming School Year

Therapy planner for planning occupational therapy sessions

Below, you will find a free printable calendar that is an awesome resource to add to your therapy planner. Use the planning calendar to dream up and create an action plan for occupational therapy themes during the upcoming school year. This therapy planner is perfect for school-based OTs, but it can certainly be used in clinics or in homes, too!

Use this therapy planner to plan out occupational therapy sessions. It's an editable calendar that can be used over and over again.

Free Therapy Planner

During the summer months, many therapists start thinking ahead to planning therapy activities for the next school year. I know, I know. Summer just started. Some of us still have a car trunk full of hanging files, worksheets, a therapy ball, and pencil cases full of pencil grips. Is it really time to start thinking about planning for back to school?

We are right on the brink of a new school year and you’ll soon be gearing up for another year in the clinic or classroom!

Therapy Planning Calendar

For the new school year, I have included a fun bonus to this post that you will find below. It is an editable Theme Therapy Calendar for the upcoming school year.  Sometimes weekly themes can help you stay motivated AND make your life easier as a therapist while helping to keep children engaged in therapy activities from week to week.

Enter your email address below to get the free printable therapy planning calendar. Use it as a guide to schedule and plan themed occupational therapy activities throughout the school year. You’ll also get a blank therapy planning calendar so you can fill in special themes that may go along with your school’s calendar or planned activities.

Have fun planning out activities for this year’s therapy sessions!

Therapy planner that occupational therapists will love

Hand Dominance Activities 3 Simple Tips

Hand dominance activities to help kids establish hand dominance.

Kids develop hand skills through play as they discover what they can do with their hands in their environment. Hand dominance occurs naturally through this discovery and play. You may have heard the terms Crossdominance or hand confusion in a therapy report. This mixed dominance may present in a child’s motor actions when they favors one hand for some tasks and the other hand for others. Hand dominance activities and establishment of a preferred hand in activities refines motor skills and allows for more skilled movements.


But what happens when those two-handed activities do not transition to preferred use of one hand over the other?  At a certain point, kids begin to show hand dominance in functional tasks as their motor skills develop.  A child begins to show laterality of their hands in functional tasks as one side of their brain gains dominance and allows the child to prefer use of one hand over the other. Other kids show a mixed dominance and use both of their hands in activities. Wondering where to begin or how to know what is typical in development? Read on for hand dominance activities that will help!


These hand dominance activities help kids establish a preferred hand in functional activities like cutting with scissors or handwriting.

 

Hand dominance and laterality in kids.  Easy and fun tips to work on an established hand dominance in kids for functional use of tools like scissors, pencils, hair brushes, and toothbrushes.

Development of Hand Dominance

Kids switching hands in an activity? Maybe you are seeing a child use one hand for some activities and their other hand for other activities. Still other children may use both hands interchangeably. Development of hand dominance can be established at different rates. 


True hand dominance can develop as late as 8 or 9 years of age, but typically children begin to demonstrate preferred use of one hand over the other at 2.5 to 3 years.  


Sometimes, however, kids switch hands. They might use one hand for some tasks, and the other for other tasks.  They might equally use hands in activities like handwriting, scissor skills, brushing teeth, or swinging a bat. 


Why does this mixed dominance occur and why is it important for kids to establish a preferred hand?

Why is hand dominance important? For so many reasons! Using an established hand preference in tasks promotes fine motor skill development.

 

Why is hand dominance important?

Hand preference has been associated with various difficulties. When using an established hand in activities is a problem (or kids swap hands), there can be other issues occuring. These may include trouble with bilateral coordination, using both hands together at the midline, and crossing midline.

Other concerns related to using both hands interchangeably can include: 


Fine Motor Skills- Think about it this way: when a child cuts with scissors, they use one hand to hold the paper and the other hand to manipulate and move the scissors. As they develop in this skill, they are able to cut paper and shapes with more precision. They can cut progressively more detailed and more complex shapes. The child that switches hands when cutting with scissors may struggle to progress with refine and precise motor actions. 


Similarly, the nondominant hand becomes more reliable in its ability to be a stable and sturdy assist in tasks like cutting with scissors, holding a ruler, or writing with a pencil. 


Mixed handedness can impact handwriting too. In the same manner, any functional task can be impacted by mixed dominance.



What is Laterality?

Lateralization refers to the brain’s ability to control the two sides of the body.  Each hemisphere of the brain controls different tasks and functions.  When a child shows difficulties with laterality, they might switch objects between the two hands in functional tasks.  As a child grows, they are challenged to become more efficient with tools in school.

3 Quick Hand Dominance activities 



These are easy hand dominance activities and easy ways to work on a hand preference in kids who switch hands during tool use.  They might have trouble identifying left or right on themselves, which makes direction following difficult.  Try these activities to work on hand dominance:


1. Play the “Show Me” game– Ask the child to “show me how you brush your hair.”  The child can demonstrate with an imaginary brush how they would brush their hair.  By using imaginary brush, the child does not have to worry about picking up the tool.  They will automatically brush without thinking about it.  As the child pretends to brush their hair, the adult can point out which hand they are using.  Putting a name to the hand alerts the child to which hand they are using.  You can then use this information to help the child remember which hand they use in functional tasks.  (“Hold the pencil with the hand you brush your hair with.”)

Continue this hand dominance game with other “Show Me” tasks:

  • Show me how you brush your teeth.
  • Show me how you hold a pencil.
  • Show me how you paint a picture.
  • Show me how you hold scissors.

2. Play Simon Says– Encourage a lot of handedness activities during the game:

    • Simon Says put your right hand in your pocket.
    • Simon Says scratch your leg with your left hand.
    • Simon Says stomp your right leg.
    • Simon Says take two steps to the left.


When playing, you can add a rubber band to the child’s right hand. Tell them and show them that the rubber band is on their RIGHT hand. After playing with successful lateralization, remove the rubber band.



3. Using masking tape, create floor maps. Make a large square shape on the floor and as the child walks through the maze, have the child stop at the corners and tell you if they have to turn right or left. 

Continue practicing these games and activities with less verbal and visual prompts.  Let me know if you try these ideas at home.



Hand dominance and laterality in kids.  Easy and fun tips to work on an established hand dominance in kids for functional use of tools like scissors, pencils, hair brushes, and toothbrushes.



Hand dominance and laterality in kids.  Easy and fun tips to work on an established hand dominance in kids for functional use of tools like scissors, pencils, hair brushes, and toothbrushes.


More ways to practice hand dominance with kids:

Super Simple Visual Tracking Tool

Visual tracking is a skill kids need for reading, handwriting, and learning! Visual tracking activities can help kids strengthen this visual processing skill and in easy and fun ways. We made a Visual Tracking Tool that is an easy DIY occupational therapy activity. It is super easy to make and fun to play with, making it a great way to work on visual tracking skills.  We shared an easy way to practice visual tracking with bottle caps not too long ago, and this visual tracking tool will be another creative way for you to work on visual tracking abilities in handwriting, reading, and math number line use.

 
This visual tracking tool will help kids with handwriting, reading, and math problems, including visually tracking difficulties (pursuits).
 

Full Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


What is Visual Tracking?

When there are concerns with reading, writing, copying written work, and other issues related to visual processing concerns, understanding what visual tracking means can be an important place to start. 


We explained a lot about what visual tracking means here.  Visual pursuits are often referred to as visual tracking.  When an object moves across a person’s field of vision, their eye movements maintain fixation.  Visual tracking occurs when a person’s eyes move along a line in a smooth and accurate manner. When a person moves their eyes, there are two types of eye movements that they use to gather information.  


Visual pursuits (tracking) and saccadic eye movements (scanning).  Visual tracking can occur with just the eyes moving or the eyes and head in a combined manner.  Visual tracking depends a lot on visual attention and fatigue.


Here is more detailed information on saccades and how they impact learning.


Signs of Visual Tracking Problems

A child with visual tracking difficulties might see show of these problems in daily tasks:
Loses place when reading.
Must use finger to keep their place when reading or when copying a line of text.
Skips lines or words often when reading and copying in handwriting.
Poor reading comprehension.
Short attention span.
Moves head excessively when reading.


Homemade Visual Tracking Tool for Bilateral Integration

Using this easy tracking tool requires coordinated movements of both hands together, in coordination with the eyes.  integrated movements of both arms and crossing midline is important for laterality and directionality.  These are areas needed in writing and reading letters and numbers without reversals.


This visual tracking tool is a great way to practice smooth pursuits of a brightly colored object as it moves in a line across a visual field.

Visual tracking exercise with only three items to help kids with visual processing skills.




Make a visual tracking tool to help kids with handwriting, reading, and math problems, including visually tracking difficulties (pursuits).



To make your Visual Tracking Tool, you’ll need just a few items:

Amazon affiliate links are included below.


1. Drinking Straw

2. Scissors

3. Wooden Skewer

4. Clay
(We used a single color, but you could use two different colors to extend the use of this tracking tool.  Read more below.)


Use clay to make a visual tracking tool that can help kids with reading and writing.
Make an easy visual tracking activity using wooden skewers!
Make a visual tracking tool using drinking straws.

 

How to make a Visual Tracking Activity

Cut a small piece from the straw.  Thread it onto the skewer.  Roll a ball of clay and press it onto both ends of the skewer.  Done! You can allow the clay to harden, or use it as is.

This visual tracking tool will help kids with handwriting, reading, and math problems, including visually tracking difficulties (pursuits).



How to use this Visual Tracking Tool:

  • Practice smooth visual pursuit by tilting the skewer from side to side and asking your child to follow the straw with their eyes.

 

  • Allow your child to use the tracking tool and ask them to follow the straw with their eyes.

 

  • Use the tracking tool in math by placing it along a number line.  Tilt the skewer from side to side and when the straw stops at a number, ask your child to name the number.  You can extend this activity by asking them to add or subtract numbers that the straw stops.

 

  • Align the tracking tool under a number line and use the straw as a movable placeholder while the child counts out addition and subtraction problems on the number line.

 

  • Use the tracking tool in reading by placing the skewer under a line of text.  Move the straw along the length of the skewer as the child reads the words in the sentence.

 

This visual tracking tool will help kids with handwriting, reading, and math problems, including visually tracking difficulties (pursuits).

 

Other ways to use this visual tracking tool:

  • Hold the skewer up horizontally in front of the child.  Ask them to look quickly from one clay ball to the other.  You can use different colored clay for each end and say “red” for red clay and “blue” for blue clay as they shift their eyes from the red end to the blue end.  

 

  • Then, hold the skewer vertically and ask your child to quickly look from the top ball to the bottom ball.  

 

  • Finally, hold the skewer in a diagonal position and ask them to quickly look from one ball to the other. 

 

See it in action in the video below.
 
 
 

You will love these visual tracking activities

These Visual Tracking Games and activities are a big hit in therapy or at home. Use them as part of an occupational therapy home program or in therapy planning.
 
 
Visual tracking games to help kids with visual processing skillsVisual discrimination activities for kids and vision activities to help with readingEye-hand coordination activities to help kids with the vision skills they need.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Visual Tracking Resources

For more information and specific activities that can address visual attention in fun and meaningful ways, grab the Visual Processing Bundle. In it, you will find 17 digital products, ebooks, workbooks, and guides to addressing various aspects of visual processing, including visual attention. The bundle is valued at over $97 dollars for these products, and includes over 235 pages of tools, activities, resources, informaton, and strategies to address visual processing needs.

For one week, the visual processing bundle is on sale at $29.99. Grab the Visual Processing Bundle HERE.
 

 

Sensory Meltdown or Tantrum: Which one is it?

When working with sensory kids and their families, one of the number one questions that is asked is—is this a sensory meltdown or a tantrum? It’s often hard to tell the difference between the two, and takes some detective work to figure out which one it is. Determining if a sensory meltdown is occurring is especially difficult because sensory thresholds for these children can vary day to day. So often we hear, “Is it sensory or a behavior” that is causing an action in a child. Here are the clues to help you discern the difference.

For more information on sensory processing, you’ll want to grab our free sensory processing disorder information packet. This is a handy printable designed to better understand SPD and what that looks like in our kids.

How to know if a chil is having a sensory meltdown or tantrum. These clues will tell the difference.

Behaviors of Sensory Meltdowns and Tantrums Look Similar

The challenge in determining whether behaviors are the result of a sensory meltdown or a tantrum, is that the child’s behaviors in both instances, are usually the same.

Behaviors that are observed during both a sensory meltdown and a tantrum may include:
• Screaming
• Hitting
• Kicking
• Name calling
• Hiding or avoidance
• Crying

The difference between a meltdown and tantrum however, can be often times, be found in the events prior to the behaviors.

For information on sensory play ideas, you’ll find a lot here on The OT Toolbox.

Tantrums

Tantrums are usually in response to the child not receiving a want/desire out of a situation, or not achieving a goal as they had planned. In these instances behaviors typically occur for an audience, and may cease when the child has achieved their goal. This may be a way of testing boundaries with the authority figure in the situation.

Tantrums can usually be resolved with consequences, reminders of the boundaries, removal from the situation, or distraction to the upset child. Children are also not typically emotionally drained after a tantrum and can resume their routine with ease. This is not necessarily the case when a sensory meltdown occurs.

What is a sensory meltdown and how to tell if a child's behaviors and actions are a sensory meltdown or a tantrum

Sensory Meltdowns

Sensory Meltdowns are the result of sensory overload, and reaction to the big feelings that overloads cause.

When in the throes of the sensory meltdown, the child is not able to control their reactions, behaviors, or emotions.  These episodes may also leave the child inconsolable, even when distraction or preferred items are offered, or even when the parent ‘gives’ into what the child is demanding.

Meltdowns may appear happen without a trigger, or may be in response to an event that seems otherwise innocuous to the parent.

The main clue that the behaviors the child is exhibiting is sensory meltdown related is that the behavior does not achieve a want, need or goal.

In the case of a sensory meltdown, having a set of strategies available through use of a sensory diet can help with sensory overload, big feelings, and reactions.

Clues a Behavior is a Sensory Meltdown

• Reaction to event, feeling or overload of sensory input
• Is not to achieve a want, need, or goal
• Continues even without an audience
• Ends only when the child has calmed down and the feelings are out
• The child is very tired after the meltdown or appears ‘spent’
• The child may feel embarrassment or shame as a result of their actions—typically this is seen in older children.

These signs can show up at home, in the community, or in the classroom. Here are strategies for using a sensory diet in the classroom.

What can Trigger a Sensory Meltdown?

Sometimes, we can see a meltdown coming, and other times it seems to hit out of the blue. This is particularly true of children who are a little bit older, and understand what is acceptable and what is not. Because of this, parent’s often report that their children do GREAT at school, and then lose it at home.

Some clues that it might be a meltdown include:

• Being over tired or hungry
• Illness or general unwellness—allergies can be a trigger to this sense of general unwellness. This may include food allergies or sensitivities.
• “Holding it together” for long periods of time—going to school, camp, play dates, etc.
• Change in routines—extra day off of school, vacation, or parent traveling. Essentially, anything outside of the child’s daily routine being off may result in a sensory overload and meltdown.

It may take several hours, or several days before a meltdown occurs as a result of these triggers. As a result, it can appear as though there is no cause for the meltdown until the events prior to the event are examined. If you go back far enough into the past few days, a trigger is usually able to be found.

Whether it’s a tantrum, or a meltdown, behavior is a direct form of communication from kids to adults about what is going on in their life. Knowing the difference between the two can lead to recognition of triggers and patterns, implementation of prevention strategies and successful emotional recovery in both situations.

Create a sensory lifestyle to address sensory meltdowns or tantrums in a way that fits into the daily life of a child with sensory needs.

Tools for Sensory Meltdowns

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is a guidebook in strategies to help with sensory meltdowns. Taking the specific and individualized activities that make up a Sensory Diet and transitioning them into a lifestyle of sensory modifications, strategies, and techniques is a Sensory Lifestyle!

This book is for therapists, parents, teachers, or anyone who works with kids with sensory needs.

If you struggle with creating a sensory diet that WORKS…
If you are tired of trying sensory tools that just don’t seem to fit within a child’s busy day…
If you are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start with understanding sensory processing…
If you are a therapist struggling to set up sensory programs that are carried out and followed through at home and in the classroom…
If you are a teacher looking for help with regulation, attention, or sensory meltdowns and need ideas that mesh within the classroom schedule…
If you are looking for sensory techniques that kids WANT to use…
If you are striving to create a sensory lifestyle that meets the needs of a child and family…

The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is for you!

Sensory Lifestyle Handbook book by The OT Toolbox author, Colleen Beck, OTR/L