Occupational Therapy Techniques in a Homeschool Setting

Our family has an interesting homeschool.  We cover traditional subjects, but often in nontraditional ways.  This is especially true for one of our daughters.

She has dyslexia, so decoding written messages is really hard for her.  We have curriculum that is helping her learn to read, write, and understand basic mathematical concepts.  But even that is not enough to fully meet all of her educational needs.

In addition to dyslexia, our daughter’s visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems do not operate quite right.  In a nutshell, she does not see as well as she should, she often loses her balance, and she struggles to perceive how close (or far away) she is to objects around her.

We have put in some significant time at occupational therapy.  Our occupational therapist (OT) is wonderful.  She instantly formed a bond with our daughter, gaining her trust and friendship.  Our OT feels strongly that some of our best therapeutic time is spent at home.  She advocates that we, as parents, do the best job working with our child consistently on techniques and skills.  At first, it was a little intimidating when she taught us strategies, suggested home adaptations, and insisted that we could do this ourselves.

Now, I am grateful for her gentle pushes toward OT independence.  If necessary, we can go back to address new issues that might come up in the future.  In the meantime, though, we are self-sufficient and doing well.

It helps that we homeschool.  I have figured out creative ways to incorporate learning and therapy all in one experience.  It makes the day go smoother, my daughter learns more, and *usually* she gets through the day with a lot fewer crash and burn falls.

Here are my favorite ways to incorporate occupational therapy in our homeschool:

  • Connect the Dots, Mazes, & Color by Number

Many kids with visual issues avoid worksheets.  My child is no exception, although she does like these three types of activities.  She learns her numbers when completing some of them, so we get our educational box checked.  She also meets her OT needs because she has to concentrate on completing hand-eye coordination tasks in a concrete way.  In addition, the unknown outcome of the picture or maze adds an element of fun, motivation, and surprise.

  • Perler Beads

Fine motor arts and crafts are challenging for kiddos with visual perception difficulties.  Perler beads are a fun way to train the eye to discern patterns by matching the tiny beads to the tiny pegs that hold them.  In addition, we talk about color names, light and dark, and counting.  My brother and his wife gifted my daughter with a Minions set of Perler beads a few months ago.  It has been a huge hit.

  • Brain Gym

I do not know a lot about Brain Gym, and in full disclosure, I only use the elements provided to me by our OT.  Essentially, Brain Gym is a program developed by Paul Dennison, who recognized that learning in children improves when their brains and their bodies better communicate with one another.

We use Brain Gym for two reasons.  It helps strengthen our daughter’s left hemisphere, thereby making it easier for her to learn reading and math.  It also improves communication between both sides of her brain, allowing complex functions to be more easily completed.  If you are really curious, you can check out the Brain Gym International website.

  • Uno Cards.

Our daughter loves games of all kinds.  I try to incorporate at least one math game every day into our schedule.  I like Uno cards because they are very versatile.  You can remove whatever cards you do not need and play many different games with them.

When my daughter plays card games with a traditional deck, she will count the hearts, spades, diamonds, or clubs, rather than looking at and identifying the actual numbers written.  Not only is this a tedious process when playing, but it prevents her from using visual discrimination to learn real numbers.

In addition, my daughter needs cards that count from 0-9 for her math curriculum.  Traditional playing cards have that ambiguous ace, numbers 2-10, and the face cards.  That is very confusing for her.  Uno’s cards count perfectly.  Plus, the cards come in four colors, allowing us to still have four “suits” without the confusion tied to the symbols.

  • Heavy Work

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I had never heard the term “Heavy Work” until we started OT the first time.  The idea is that kiddos who intentionally use their large muscles are better able to focus on their surroundings.  Before working on school projects requiring a lot of concentration, we do yoga, jump on the trampoline, carry heavy loads of laundry, pound on some playdough, or mop the floor.  It almost always helps the hard subjects go smoother.

  • Repetitive Movement

Repetitive movement can be very soothing for folks with sensory processing difficulties.  They are often better able to concentrate after spinning around several times in a swivel chair, jumping for a few minutes on a trampoline, spending some time on a swing, or hopping up and down for a while on a bobbity ball.  In addition, virtually all of these activities provide physical movement, which kids need.

  • Castle Logix, Rush Hour, Puzzles, & Legos

The first two ideas, games designed to improve logical thinking skills, actually double really well as OT tools.  Castle Logix requires the user to look at a castle design and replicate it with the seven given pieces.  It is kind of on the order of a three-dimensional tangrams puzzle.

Rush hour specifies where to place a set of plastic cars on a playing board.  The special red car needs to be removed, but can only be done so once all of the other cars have been moved correctly.

Both games require players to use spatial reasoning.  Rush Hour also improves consequential thinking.  In addition, both games are designed to be played by one person at a time.  They are perfect for our daughter when I am trying to teach a complicated algebra or grammar concept to one of her sisters.

Puzzles and Legos are good OT tools for essentially the same reasons as the games described here.  They also improve hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.  While we encourage free play and building with Legos, I also like the building pattern books that come with the sets.  Matching a 3D design concept from a 2D drawing into an actual 3D build is pretty complicated.  And educational.

  • Scribble Patterns, Half-Half, Hidden Pictures, & Spot the Difference

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A scribble pattern is a single, continuous line written on a piece of paper.  There is no perfect formula for a scribble pattern, but it should have several loops and curves, according to the skill level of the student.  After I draw a pattern, I have our daughter trace it with her finger before using a contrasting-colored marker to complete the activity.  Scribble patterns are beneficial when teaching handwriting, as properly forming letters can be challenging for kids with visual difficulties.

A half-half picture is a simple drawing that shows only one side of a symmetrical illustration.  I almost always use geometric shapes, because they are easy to replicate and my drawing skills are sub-par.  For students who need a bit more of a challenge, the drawing could certainly be more advanced.

Hidden Pictures and Spot the Difference activities require the student to notice differences that our eyes trick us into missing.  They make vision sharper and teach students to notice the unnoticeable.  That skill is very important when learning to think critically and complete complicated math work in upper level grades.

We do these activities every single week as part of our homeschool regimen.  It takes a lot of time to get them all done, but they help immensely in getting our “traditional” schoolwork completed more effectively.  None of the techniques are difficult to master as an instructor, and several of them are free (or almost free).  Plus, they make learning a lot more fun.

Do you have any favorite learning activities that do not fit in the traditional mold?  Email me or comment below!