Tag

learning differences

Multi-sensory Learning: Bringing it into the Home

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L

By: Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

In our last OT Tuesday blog, we delved into the topic of multi-sensory learning: what it is, what it looks like in the classroom and what it intends to do. We reviewed the fact that this technique consists of targeting children’s auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic systems with hands-on learning activities. This week we will further discuss multi-sensory learning and brainstorm ways that this approach can be incorporated by parents into home-based learning. Multi-sensory learning is hugely variable and can be applied in a plethora of creative ways. Here are some tips to help tailor this approach to your child at home.

  1. Consider Your Child’s Learning Profile. It is common knowledge that both children and adults tend to have a unique style of learning, as well as preferences for how information is presented. Think about how your child has learned from you in the past. Did she learn to wash her hands thoroughly by singing a song? Watching a timer? Observing you demonstrate the best way first? Information from teaching simple tasks like these can help you suss out how your child may best learn and take in academic information. If you are unsure, consider reaching out to teachers and professionals who have worked with your student in the past. Teachers are excellent at determining the ideal way to present information to each child. They may be able to help you better understand your child’s unique learning profile and give suggestions for activities.
  2. Create Manipulatives. Manipulatives, or things that children can hold, feel and manipulate with their hands, are tools that help solidify concepts for many of our tactile learners. While school buildings are often full of creative manipulatives, many of these are easy to make using household objects. Have your child cut up cereal boxes to make letter cards. Write numbers on bottle caps or rocks and have your children count them out or create math equations. Cut up paper plates into slices to help visually represent fractions. Use an egg carton with ten cups to build a homemade ten frame. Write out words using pipe cleaners or clay. If you are not feeling particularly “DIY,” many manipulatives can be purchased online. Here are few options for manipulatives, by subject:
  1. Consider Learning Opportunities in Your Community. There are, of course, universal lessons and aspects of curricula that are consistent across the Unites States. Children all work to learn their letters, the basics of addition and subtraction, and eventually how to write a paragraph. In contrast, the unique fabric of the varied communities across our country, allows for specific education through hands-on experiences in our environments. In New England, we have access to the coast, historic sites relating to the Revolutionary War, and many state and national parks. Teach environmental science by exploring tidepools and looking at sea creatures. Involve kinesthetic learning by having your children walk along part of the Freedom Trail. Get your children outside and show them physical representations of the things that they read about and see in pictures.
  2. Tap into Online Resources. Some of the most effective multi-sensory learning tools are quite simple. Having a child follow along in a book as they listen to someone read out loud targets both the visual and auditory systems. Kids both review their spelling and focus on reading comprehension while they listen. Videos and audio recordings of educators and parents reading children’s books aloud can be found on YouTube, Audible and many other internet sites. Look at your personal library and search the titles to see whether this option is readily available. Additionally, with this teaching method becoming increasingly evidenced-based and popular, sites such as Pinterest, TeachersPayTeachers and Understood.org have excellent ideas and examples of activities to incorporate into your day.
  3. Use What You Have. Many of the multi-sensory learning activities, especially for younger children, invite kids to get their hands dirty and feel. We prompt children to practice writing their letters in bins of beans or rice. We practice patterns with popsicle sticks or blocks. We use playdough or clay to both make art projects and forms letters. Look around your house and see what you already have available. If you do not have rice or beans, but you do have some sand outside, write letters in sand! If your supply of popsicle sticks ran out back in March, have your children step outside and collect 20 small sticks each. Use those sticks to spell out words. Color them with markers and then line them up to create patterns. Have your child dip them in water mixed with food coloring and practice writing letters on a piece of paper. Multi-sensory learning is all about having children learn from the complex and rich environments around them, while using multiple sensory pathways within their bodies. Teaching materials are all around us!

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Multi-sensory Learning: More than Just a Buzz Word!

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

As teaching methods continue to become more and more creative, and learning is being facilitated through interventions that target all types of students, the term “multi-sensory learning” has started to cement its place in the educational lexicon. You may have seen a line in an evaluation, such as, “This student would benefit from a multi-sensory learning approach,” or “The use of multi-sensory teaching methods will help this student to solidify their learning.” In some ways this phrase is easy to interpret. Multi means many. Sensory refers to the body’s different senses, the tools we use to interpret and experience the environment around us. Reason would tell us that this phrase means using all of these senses to acquire knowledge, information, and skills, and….it does! But what does this look like in practice? How are professionals actually using this method to help our children learn?

If you picture a typical classroom from a few decades ago, there is a teacher standing up at the front of the room providing students with information to copy down into their notebooks. These students are receiving information through the auditory system only. They are being expected to listen, comprehend and retain the lesson using one sense, their hearing.

Now let’s picture the classroom of a teacher using multi-sensory learning techniques. Often, students are clustered in different areas with a teacher checking in at every table to provide each small group with support. Students are looking at images or pictures of the object they are studying, both reading information and hearing it clarified by their teacher, and are likely using manipulatives, or things they can feel to help understand the content. These students are learning through their visual, auditory and tactile systems.

Humans grow, evolve and learn in complex, multi-sensory environments that are constantly targeting all of our senses. Our brains are built to learn through a combination of visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic data (Shams & Seitz, 2008). Using visual methods helps children learn through the sense of sight; auditory through the sense of hearing; tactile through the sense of touch; and kinesthetic through body movement. Children display greater performance when learning activities target all of these systems, as opposed to when they are taught using one modality (Broadbent, White, Mareschal, & Kirkham, 2018).

As an example, let’s look at teaching Kindergarten students their letters. A robust multi-sensory approach to teaching the alphabet includes looking at pictures of the letters, saying the sounds out loud as a class, tracing the letters in the air with one finger, making each letter out of playdough, writing the letters in bins of rice, making the student’s bodies into the shape of individual letters, and finally picking up a pencil to attempt to form the letters on the page independently. Students gain a comprehensive understanding of the letters as their brains have been targeted across multiple sensory systems.

There is substantial research for using this multi-sensory approach for another foundational academic skill: reading (Walet, 2011). Many of the most well-known phonics and reading programs, such as Orton-Gillingham and the Wilson Reading System, use these strategies to help students who learn differently to master this skill (AOGPE, 2012 & Wilson, 2017). When using some programs students learn to tap out syllables and letters on their fingers as they read, incorporating tactile feedback. Others focus on including books on tape so that students both see and hear each word as it is read aloud.

Other excellent examples of multi-sensory learning in the classroom include:

  • Songs and rhythm to solidify content
  • Base ten cubes as math manipulatives
  • Fieldtrips!
  • Games involving movement, such as flashcard races, Around the World and clapping games
  • Paper with raised or highlighted lines for tactile or visual feedback
  • Video clips to review concepts
  • Real coins and dollars when learning about money
  • Science experiments in a high school lab

While students are currently all at home receiving their lessons and assignments through a digital medium, many are missing out on the creative ways that their fabulous teachers use these strategies in their classrooms. In my next blog, we will discuss some ways to incorporate these strategies in the home!

 

References

Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE). (2012). The Orton-Gillingham

Broadbent HJ, White H, Mareschal D, Kirkham NZ. Incidental learning in a multisensory environment across childhood. Dev Sci. 2018;21(2):e12554. doi:10.1111/desc.12554

Shams, L., and Seitz, A.R. Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 60, November 2008, pp. 411-17.

Walet, J. (2011). Differentiating for Struggling Readers and Writers: Improving Motivation and Metacognition through Multisensory Methods & Explicit Strategy Instruction. Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals,83-91.

Wilson, B. (2017). Teaching total word structure. Wilson Language Training Corporation.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Skill Highlight: Touch Typing!

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

As you are sitting at home with your child and working to find a reasonable balance of academics, physical movement, chores, social time and relaxation, one specific skill to consider targeting is touch typing or keyboarding. As we move further and further into the digital age and, more recently, an unprecedented era of remote learning, the ability to successfully type and get ideas onto the screen is paramount. We often joke that our children are more technologically adept that we are, as they easily navigate between iPad apps and turn on anything with a screen. While this is, in many ways, true, two things I constantly observe in students are the propensity to type with just their pointer fingers (hunt and peck method) and that they initially learn about a keyboard for games rather than academics.

As their fingers fly around the keyboard, I am often asked, “Why does it matter if they can use all ten fingers? Who cares if they are typing with two fingers if they are getting the information out of their head?” These are all great questions, and I hope to answer and provide clarity around the ones I hear most frequently.

Why does ten-finger, touch-typing matter?

Massachusetts State Guidelines recommend that a student should be typing at a speed of 5 times their grade level with 80-95% accuracy. For example, a third grader should be typing at 15 words per minute (3 x 5), and a seventh grader should be typing at about 35 words per minute (7 x 5). Following this formula, by graduation, a senior in high school should type with a speed of at least 60 words per minute, a functional speed for an adult in most professions.

While it is likely that some third grade students can use two fingers and type at a rate of 15 words per minute, as these students get older and the demand increases, it is unlikely they will be able to keep up with these guidelines if they have not been taught a functional typing approach.

That may be true for some students, but I promise my child is able to type quickly! Can I just let her teach herself?

While children may be able to type quickly using their own typing method, ten-finger typing uses almost of all of the intrinsic hand muscles to complete the task. This means that children are much less likely to feel fine motor fatigue than if they were using two or three fingers. While this may not matter for a young student typing a paragraph, it will absolutely affect a high school student who is working on a 10- or 15-page paper. Teaching the correct approach will set young students up for future success.

Is it okay to start later in elementary school? My student is still working on handwriting.

There are some mixed opinions on the best time to start teaching keyboarding. I personally recommend first or second grade as an appropriate starting point. At this level, most students can identify their letters and are used to using computers to some extent. As with most motor tasks, practice makes perfect, and the more time our children spend using all ten fingers to type, the better at it they will be. It is perfectly fine to learn handwriting and keyboarding simultaneously.

How much time do you recommend my child spends practicing?

I recommend students practice for about 20-30 minutes at a time. This allows time for direct practice, as well as time for playing games that promote correct finger placement. If a student can do this practice two to three times a week, they will absolutely start to develop the motor patterns necessary and commit them to muscle memory.

What are your thoughts on speech-to-text software?

Speech-to-text software programs are excellent tools when they are used with the right student. They increase accessibility, help students get information on the page and can increase the speed at which a student completes their work. I am hesitant to introduce these tools too early or with the wrong student.  The need to type will not go away and not all programs can support a speech-to-text option. Additionally, in an academic setting, using a speech-to-text option requires a student to have extra testing accommodations, such as a separate room for testing and 1:1 test administration. For some of our students, this is exactly what they need for success, but for others these accommodations are not reasonable or necessary.

Can I leave my child to practice on their own?

Children quickly slip back into old habits. I recommend keeping a watchful eye to ensure that a ten-finger approach is truly being practiced.

Is there anything else I should consider?

Yes! Make sure to consider your child’s posture as they sit at the computer. Ideally, ankles, knees, hips and elbows should all be at 90 degrees, while wrists should be “neutral” or flat.

Where can I go to find lessons or tutorials for my child?

Great Question! Fortunately, there are many excellent online options to help teach children how to type. Some free online sites that directly teach and help to practice ten-finger typing include www.typingclub.com and www.typing.com. Other reasonably priced options include Typing Instructor for Kids Platinum, Mavis Beacon Keyboarding Kidz and Mickey’s Typing Adventure. For more entertaining, game-based practice, take a look at www.abcya.com and www.typinggames.zone.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

An OT’s Guide to Home Learning: Board Games and Puzzles

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

As social distancing recommendations, stay-at-home orders and shelter-in-place mandates continue to keep families confined to the home, parents are quickly being asked to take on the roles of teacher, therapist, warden, work-from-home professional, best friend and more. For parents of children with special needs and learning differences, this can feel extra daunting. There are countless online resources providing specific in-home activities, recommendations, and suggestions for working on targeted skills (e.g., literacy, fine motor, sensory integration, gross motor, etc.) in the home. It’s easy to get quickly overwhelmed by the onslaught of information.

While I believe there are many useful and creative free resources available online (I’ve written some of them!), our “new normal” includes many barriers to easy implementation including time, expertise, resources and confidence. Today, I want to share how some fun activities involving board games that you may already have in your home could make the task of keeping children engaged, interested and learning a little bit easier. Our game makers are getting increasingly creative and aware of their role in helping children build their skills, and the games listed below are just a few of the many options available.

5 Board Games for Development of Visual Perception

  • Connect 4 – Playing Connect 4 with the traditional rules requires kids to track horizontally, vertically and diagonally with their eyes. They need to visualize where their checker will land and place it in the correct spot at the top. Additionally, children need to monitor two colors at a time to ensure that they do not need to block their opponent on their next turn. For younger children, consider using the board to practice patterns or make shapes out of one color.
  • Quirkle – Quirkle combines colors, shapes and a grid pattern to create an interactive game for children to play with their parents. It promotes form perception, visual discrimination, tracking and matching.
  • Dominoes – There are many different games that can be played with Dominoes, making it easy to scaffold the activity for all different ages. Dominoes works on many of the same skills as Quirkle, but really allows children to practice visual figure ground. Figure ground is the ability to distinguish relevant information from a busy or overwhelming background. Dominoes have lots of different colored little dots in different patterns and alignments allowing children to practice this skill. Notably, Dominoes often have a tactile aspect allowing children to both see and feel the dots.
  • Spot it! / Spot it Jr! – Spot it! has quickly become a favorite game of occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and school psychologists alike. It practices a multitude of important skills. In terms of visual perception, Spot it! focuses on visual discrimination, hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, figure ground and more. Due to its popularity, Spot it! has provided us with an excellent variety of specific versions, such as Alphabet, NFL, Gone Camping, Animals, as well as substantial Spot it Jr.! options.
  • Memory – Unsurprisingly, the game Memory works on increasing visual memory! Children have to remember which cards they have picked, where they are on a grid and where the matches are. There are lots of options to order online, but this can absolutely be played used playing cards or DIY pictures drawn on pieces of paper. Children are also able to practice pronation/supination by flipping over the cards and placing them back down on the table.

 5 Board Games for Development of Fine Motor Skills

  • Trouble – Trouble allows children to work on building hand strength as they push down the pop-o-matic die roller. Try to ensure that children are using the muscles in their hands and fingers to push down, and limit the amount of body weight they use to help them push down. Additionally, children practice a pincer grasp as they pinch their pegs to move them around the board.
  • Hi-Ho! Cherry-O! – This game includes little plastic fruit that need to be placed in a basket to promote a pincer grasp and a spinner board that helps teach kids to flick or push a spinner.
  • BedBugs – Tongs and tweezers are part of an OT’s go-to toolbox as they promote fine motor precision, keeping an open webspace, and hand strength and coordination. This game is for children age 4 and up and provides each player with their own tongs to try and catch little bouncy bugs on a bed. Add a layer of complexity by having kids each try to catch one color!
  • Avalanche Fruit Stand – Another game that incorporates tweezers, Avalanche Fruit Stand promotes grip strength, pincer grasp and problem-solving as children need to balance different fruits on a stand. There is also a spinner to add in another element.
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos – Use this game to practice finger isolation and increase finger/hand strength. Encourage your children to use one finger at a time to depress the lever and make their hippo eat the marbles. Try switching fingers for each round.

*Bonus!* While many of these games work on more than one skill at a time, one age-old recreational activity that targets visual perception, visual motor integration and fine motor skill is simply completing a puzzle. Focus on teaching strategy and problem-solving by having your children start with the edge pieces, organize by color or choose one figure or character in the puzzle to build independently.

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.