Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What's in Your (OT) Closet??

I may be in a bit of denial about summer ending and school beginning in the next couple of weeks.  I love the quietness of the summer; the chance to regroup and prepare for a kids returning for another year of therapy and welcoming new ones to my caseload.  I think I get as anxious as the kids those first few days!  So much paperwork and getting to know new kids, get used to my new schedule and all the worrying about not having a full caseload yet.  Too much for my mind to think about but I guess since it is only two weeks away from happening, I have to start thinking differently and getting excited about it!

A few weeks ago, I was happily forced to clean out my overly stuffed closet since the gym I work at was prepping for renovations.  This is something that I should do more often but avoid like the plague.  I found so many things that I hadn't used in ages because they were buried and others that hadn't been used because they weren't worthy using anymore.  As the new school year begins, I thought I would share my top 5 items in my closet that are consistently used and recommended to others.  I am hoping that I can get some ideas from all of you on your favorites and if there is anything I should be getting for this upcoming school year. I love to use the new school year as an excuse to introduce new things to not only the kids I work with, but to me.  I get bored of doing the same things over and over again and imagine that the kids feel exactly the same way.

Here is my list of things I couldn't live without in my closet along with the goals that are worked on using them.

1.  Theraputty-I think it's safe to assume that all us occupational therapists have at least one or two containers of theraputty in their closets.  I use it daily to work on increasing grasp and hand strength, improving bilateral skills and improve in-hand manipulation skills.  Most of the time, I hide little objects (Mancala animal pieces, Perfection shapes, money, etc.).  For the younger children, I use little pegs and have them place them into the putty and pretend to put candles on a birthday cake.  After they put them on, we working on grasping skills by having them pull them out (I encourage them to use their pinchers to remove them).  I have used the green medium-soft the most from Southpaw Enterprises.  While researching different types this year, I heard about Discovery Putty from Fun and Function.  I am about to place my order for the new school year!  Not only do I love the packaging (so easy to throw in a bag for you therapists who travel from place to place), I love that they already have lots of fun things hidden in the putty.  I have a feeling this could be much more motivating for some of my kids who really struggle with the green theraputty.

2.  Mechanical Pencils-I have experimented with a ton of mechanical pencils over the years but none compare to the Cadoozles Daisies or the Zebra #2 pencils by Zebra.  They are the perfect size for smaller hands and are the right width if you have a child who uses a pencil grip to work on proper grasp.  Mechanical pencils are great to work on improving the amount of pressure kids use when writing.  A lot of the kids I work with have a hard time modulating the pressure they use when holding writing instruments, often pressing too hard causing their hands to tire quickly.  If their hands tire quickly, they will have a harder time writing for longer periods of time which is inevitable as they move through the grades.  When using mechanical pencils, if you press too hard, the lead will break.  It takes a little time, but eventually kids figure out the right amount of pressure to use.  You can order these pencils online or check out local stationary stores.  I know that the toy and stationary store on 72nd Street (between Broadway and Columbus) carries them.  I have also seen them in the bigger stores like Staples and Target but my preference is to support small businesses first.

3.  Kumon Workbooks-as I am sure everyone has noticed lately, there are a million different kind of educational workbooks out there.  I walk into Barnes and Noble and am consistently overwhelmed by the number of choices I have.  In the end, I always end up going with the Kumon books.  I love the variety of subjects that they cover and find that my kids (including my own 3 1/2 year old daughter) are motivated by them.  I discovered them years ago when looking for good cutting workbooks and immediately fell in love with the books.  The pictures are fun and most importantly (for cutting especially), the quality of the paper was far superior than other books I have used in the past.  This is especially important for cutting because if a child already struggles with cutting and the paper is flimsy, they are going to continue to struggle.  Kumon continues to impress me by adding to their lineup of books.   However, I will always suggest the cutting, coloring and pasting/gluing books to parents.  A few years ago, I discovered their Play & Grow Workbooks which are great for older preschool/younger school age kids because they can work on their cutting and coloring skills while making a story.  I found these two books to be really motivating for some of the kids who really struggle with these skills.  As you can see in the image above, there are so many books to choose from.  The other nice thing is that they have books that are totally appropriate for younger kids and once they complete those, they have more challenging books to move up to.  While you can find these books at larger book stores, check out local book or stationary stores as I have found that they tend to carry them as well.  Again, Toy and Stationary World on 72nd Street has a large variety of these workbooks.

4.  Fiskar Scissors-I have tried dozens of scissors in my career, but Fiskars are definitely the best.  They are comfortable for the kids and I rarely hear a child complain that they are uncomfortable.  They can be used for lefties or righties (although they do have dedicated left-handed scissors available) and they come in a blunt or pointed tip.  I find that the pair shown in the image to the left can be used with my pre-schoolers and school age children.  If you happen to have a child with larger hands or work with older school age children, Fiskars does have larger children scissors.  You can easily find Fiskars at drug stores, school supply stores and larger stores like Target and Staples.

5.  Perfection (the game)-out of all of my games, I think Perfection is the one I use the most.  There are so many occupational therapy goals that can be worked on with it and the kids never seem to tire of it.  The most obvious of goals is to improve visual perceptual skills such as matching and visual attention.  I like to put my kids on the net swing and have them lie on their bellies so they can work on increasing upper extremity and neck strength at the same time.  As I mentioned earlier, I also will take the pieces and hide them in theraputty so they can work on increasing grasp strength at the same time.  If you have a child who needs to work on grasping skills, Perfection is a great game to use as the pegs sticking out from the top is ideal for using a pincer grasp.  The funny thing about this game is that I rarely use it the way it is intended to (placing all 25 shapes in the right spot in 60 seconds or less).  Every once in a while I will have an older kid who wants to beat the clock, but for the most part I adapt it to work on other goals so the timer part of the game hardly gets used!  Check out your local toy stores if you are looking for this game.  It's still a popular game and is pretty easily found.

So, here are my top five items in my closet.  I am excited to hear from all of you with your ideas and suggestions.  I would love to start the new school year off with some new and exciting toys, games, supplies that will help to motivate my kids and make them excited about coming to therapy.  Please don't hesitate contacting me if you have questions or want to share your ideas with me.  I am just a click away and love hearing from you all.

And here's wishing you all a happy new school year!


  1. I love the Kumon workbooks too. They are kind of expensive though... do you copy and re-use the pages? I feel like it misses out on so much without the color!

  2. Hi Ongina. The Kumon books do get expensive but I have a few solutions. I work in a private practice and ask parents to supply them for their kids. I have a box full of them with the kid's names on them and they are only used by those kids. For the maze, tracing or alphabet books, I found presentation books at Barnes and Noble and put the pages in them. Get a pack of dry erase markers and you can reuse them over and over again!

  3. I love Discovery Putty! It has been a daily staple in my therapy sessions. Great ideas. I really enjoy your activity analyses :)