You can work towards your Occupational Therapy goals at home too!
While Covid-19 has made our days unpredictable, some of us are still living our lives like we always have. Most if not many of us are racking our brains trying to keep the kids busy at home in order to provide continued structure untill they go back to school or therapy. I find myself thinking on daily: When will they go back to school? When can I go back to work? When can I bring them back to therapy or take them to their normal appointments etc.? Even through the unknowing, we need to remember, we can provide structure, predictability, and even therapy to the household.
Here are some simple things you can do to keep therapy at home productive.
- Keep the morning routine as if they are going to school or therapy.
Continue to have everyone wake up around the same time they normally would. This is not a vacation; this is just a pause in their norm. Continue to get dressed, no laying around in pajamas all day. Staying in what we slept in signals our body that we aren’t ready for the day and to work. Most importantly, remember to eat breakfast, then get up and do something. This can look like several things depending on your routine, but remember to stay hydrated, nourish and move your body.
2. When it’s time to do therapy/school make sure the space is clear from distraction.
Set up an area at the kitchen table, or a small working table for the kids with only what they will be using during their therapy/school time. Keep favorite toys away and electronics off. Even if they aren’t the ones using it. A good example would be the TV in the background; hearing this, let alone seeing it, is enough to distract each child away from something non-preferred.
3. Provide a visual schedule.
Listing out what they need to do is a big motivator. Especially if you list a preferred item they DO get to engage with at the end. They can see what they are working towards. If your child can’t read yet, draw or use pictures. Once that task is complete, let them cross it off or erase it from the schedule. Being able to do this is a big motivator that they are one step closer to completing their therapy for the day. Lastly, Keep the visual schedule short. No longer than an hour at a time. You can always come back to do another list of items later.
4. Be available to help your kids.
Being engaged in their therapy and tasks is very helpful. It shows each child that you are “in it” with them. When they are struggling with a task and they ask for help, encourage them to try independently first and then chime in or physically help them start the step, allowing them to finish it. A good example is buttoning a shirt. You can help feed the button half–way through, but allow them to pinch and pull the button to complete the task. Don’t be afraid to step back and let them struggle or even fail at the job. This is the only way they learn. Through trial and error, they gain increased independence and they learn from their mistakes. Encouraging them to use their own executive functioning skills such as problem solving or planning to work through each repetition. Remember, they are in a safe environment to make mistakes and you will be right there to help them along the process.
5. Use peer models if available
If you have other children at home, involve them in the therapy process. There have been studies showing that watching a peer model complete a task, then having the child copy, furthers their learning at a faster pace. Some may know this as “monkey see, monkey do” learning. Having peer involvement also allows for natural encouragement and social interaction with children around their age. As humans we learn by watching and trying to copy what we see, we thrive on engaging with others. This is an easy way to engage the whole family to spend time with one another and show their love and encouragement.
6. Most important, Make Therapy FUN
This is by far the best way to get a “buy in” from kids that do not like to do challenging tasks. Use a character they love, their favorite color or a stuffed animal as a puppet, to encourage them to engage and try. At the clinic this is something that is done by a lot of clinicians. Find what interests the child and use that as a motivator with the task that needs to be worked on. Chanel your inner kid! If your child is 5, then you be 5. During this time, don’t take life seriously! If the kids mess up, don’t let it affect your perfectionistic parenting side. Brush it off and say, “That’s ok, we all make mistakes, let’s try again”, or “Oh man, that’s hard for me too, let’s help each other”. One that I use a lot is “I don’t know how to do this. Do you? Can you show me?” engaging in the same task, side by side. When others are doing the task as well it’s called “The group plan” and can help children stay focused on participating in the job. Everyone has their part, not just the child with the goal. It goes along with point 4 above. Be there to help and be silly and fun while you are doing it!
7. Lastly, Keep it simple.
Use what is around your house. If the therapy goals are dressing, use their own clothes, start by practicing off the body at the table or on a doll. Then once they have that skill, complete it on their body. This adds another element that is challenging to motor plan while learning. Use items in the kitchen like tongs to pick up items if they have a grasp goal, or circle cereal to feed onto dried spaghetti noodles for more hand eye coordination. Use your imagination and creativity! You can always go online and find simple ideas for therapy in the home. Try not to add to many extra bells and whistles, just remember to keep it simple.
This too will pass and we will be back in the clinics receiving therapy from the professionals and living our structured lives soon. Till then, hang in there parents! Take this time to enjoy the simple moments that we normally do not get and remember to breathe. You can do this!
Breanna Mosebach, COTA/L
PCI Certified Parenting Coach