An Occupational Therapist who works in schools has the advantage of being in a collaborative environment with teachers, aides, school counsellors and parents to develop and implement goals for students. They can see first hand what is happening in the classroom and can recommend equipment or put strategies in place, in consultation with the teacher to improve the learning potential for an individual child or whole class. As you don’t have a wide range of therapy tools on you, the school OT has to be creative and come up with many different fun therapy activities.
A School OT’s toolkit is a fun one, filled with many therapy tools, everyday objects, craft supplies, stationery and toys that will always put a smile on a child’s face! For school OTs here is a list of ten readily available tools.
Our Top 10 Tools for the School OT
When working with students, we tend to say ‘you have 1 minute left’ but how long is a minute to a child? Using a visual timer is an excellent way for students to develop a sense of time and to be able to see how long they have to complete a task. It also helps with speed, time management and task efficiency. Check the App Store on your phone to download a visual timer app.
Marble Mesh Fidget Tube
This gadget is made of nylon mesh, sewn together at either end and contains a marble which can be moved from end to end in a repetitive movement. This is perfect for using as a fidget or a calming device to help students to self regulate. Students can hold this in their supporting hand while writing with their dominate hand to maintain focus on the writing task or class activities.
Theraputty is a hard putty used to develop hand and finger strength and agility. There are exercises you can do to build hand strength in different muscle groups, but it also lends itself for the student and OT, to see how creative they can be, in coming up with their own games and uses for the Theraputty. Exercises are fun, creative and are great for engaging in social conversations.
A mechanical pencil is used for students who apply too much pressure through their pencil when writing. When a student uses a mechanical pencil, it will break if they press too hard. Over time this teaches them to relax their grip on the pencil and not press too hard.
Mess-free and takes up little space! Chalk can be used on a wall or concrete floor to work on letter and number formation, and drawing skills. It can also be used to draw up gross motor games like hopscotch which works on improving locomotor skills, balance and co-ordination. Quick end of session games like hangman or Os and Xs can also be played using chalks!
A tennis ball is another tool which you can do a range of different activities with, for example, handball, wall throws, catching, throwing, dribbling, goals shooting or target practice. A quick movement break with a game of handball or wall throws is a great game to get kids moving and builds fundamental skills such as eye-hand coordination, balance and upper limb strength and agility. OT students can then use these skills to engage in ball games with their peers.
Always have a range of lined writing paper on you so you can cater to students of all age groups. For younger students, have some sky/grass/dirt paper which will help them organise their letter size. For older students, you will need single lined writing paper. It’s beneficial if you can pick up some writing books from the class teacher so you can maintain consistency for your OT students.
Clothes Pegs are a great tool to use at school. They take up little space, and parents can easily replicate activities at home. Pegs are a great way to develop a student’s pincer grip and can be used in a range of activities. E.g. matching games, alphabet, number games, craft activities, and having fun putting pegs on a container or each other.
Coins are another simple tool to have in your school kit. They can be used to develop in-hand manipulation, put the coins in the palm of a students hand have them transfer them to their fingertips and place in a money box. To develop fine motor precisions, use coins – have students stack coins, start with large coins and move down to small coins. Finger isolation can be formed by putting the coins on a row on the desk and have the student tap each coin one at a time, just like they were playing the piano.
Ping Pong Ball
Ping Pong balls can be used for many different activities. Hide them and have your student search and scan for the balls. Have your student pick them up using some small tongs, toss them back and forth between your hands, or bounce and catch them on a table. To use as a self-regulatory tool, have students blow them along a race track or into a target to give them oral and proprioceptive input.