As the school year begins, it can feel as if the pace of life switches to fast forward. Work schedules, school schedules, activities, sports and homework all need to fit in a finite amount of time. If you are also coping with school struggles, whether it is with social interactions, academics, attention or motor skills, activities that should only take a few minutes to complete often snowball into full-night events.
As a physical therapist and a mom of two school-aged children, I try to modify activities so I can accomplish two goals at once, rather than just one. Yes, realistically this sometimes means that the original activity takes a little longer to complete. However, in the end, the minor changes usually keep my kids more excited about the task and enable them to continue to build a foundation of strength and balance, which allows for mastery of other skills. Here are a few of my favorite tricks of the trade!
- Consider having your child sit on a therapy ball while doing homework. Not only does allowing a child to bounce while sitting help them stay focused on the task longer, it also addresses core strength and balance.
- Try practicing spelling words by creating the words out of play dough. This is not only excellent for finger strength and dexterity, but it also allows children who struggle with handwriting to practice spelling in a different way.
- Find simple recipes for children to make their afternoon snack all by themselves. This is an excellent way for them to practice reading, following directions and maintaining attention. Additionally, it involves an end product they are invested in obtaining to satisfy an immediate need; if they do not complete the snack, they will remain hungry!
- Consider purchasing a core strengthening disk (available online via Amazon, Target, Walmart and a variety of other specialty stores), and have your child stand on it while brushing their teeth. This works on balance and ankle strength for at least 2 minutes, twice a day.
- If you choose to take the elevator, have your child practice standing on one leg while the elevator is in motion. Making this a family challenge will certainly add a little excitement to your elevator trips!
- If you spend a lot of time in the car with your children, consider listening to CDs that review math facts. Multiplication facts are much easier for some children to learn when they are set to music.
- If you have a child working on reading out loud, suggest that they read books to toddler-aged neighbors or relatives. This begins to develop a sense of responsibility for the older child as well as strengthen their own reading skills.
- And finally, my personal favorite, look at chores needing completion around the house and decide which ones address motor skills, strength, problem-solving or organization skills. Assign those chores to your child! Sock sorting works on matching skills, carrying trashcans to the curb addresses strength, and sorting the recycling works on problem-solving. Chores also give children a sense of responsibility and can address many aspects of development.