Back in the saddle (so to speak)!

And by saddle I mean student drop off lines, classrooms, lunch packing, and homework sessions.  It’s hard to believe that it’s already the 8th of September, but here we are and we’re ready to rock this school year!

We thought it’d be great to start  you off with tips on a few important topics.  We’d love for you to share them with teachers, paraprofessionals, your fellow therapists, and parents.

The first topic is one that’s not really every talked about, but is really important: backpack awareness. AOTA’s (American Occupational Therapy Association) National Backpack Awareness Day is September 21, 2016.

Spread the word!

We want children to be safe and healthy this school year and that’s not done just with hand washing (although that is top priority).


Learn more about National Backpack Awareness day here.

“Preparation, I have often said, is rightly two-thirds of any venture.” – Amelia Earhart

Who can argue with Amelia?  Knowing that success only comes with proper preparation, take a look at these organizational strategies to help you get started on the right foot. While they might seem like “no brainers”, they’re actually really helpful for children to get the structure and support they need to do well in school. Organization of time, energy, materials, and belongings through establishing routines and simple environmental modifications will lead to long term satisfaction with the school experience.  Check these out below!


As always, we’d love to hear what works for you! Post in the comments any organizational tips, tricks or ideas you have to share.  We’d love to hear from you!

A HUGE thank you to Makenzie, one of our OT Students for creating these awesome infographics to share with everyone. They are perfect!  :)

Wishing you a happy and healthy start to the new year,

Team Capable Classroom & the PTS Team


Author:    Candice OTR/L – Clinical Director PTS, Inc. 






That’s a Wrap!

The official countdown has begun! Just two weeks left in the school year before we depart for a summer of excitement, relaxation, and adventure.  While the days are winding down, the workload (especially paperwork) always seems to pick up! I often find myself taking many deep breaths and taking it a day at a time. Although it can be stressful, here are a few tips for ways to keep your sanity and keep it fun!

  • Make the last therapy session of the year fun, while still targeting goals– I typically plan an activity that will facilitate communication in a fun way, such as a scavenger hunt around the school.  This activity can be used for all students, but can be adapted in a way that targets each student’s individual goals.  The kids love the movement and transitions throughout the building.  These types of activities make planning simple!
  • Summer Homework Packets– Many parents often ask “What can I do for my child this summer when they are not receiving weekly therapy sessions?” The answer is to incorporate practice into each day! I have developed my own calendars for each Summer month and designed them to specifically address articulation, language, fluency, pragmatics, etc.  The children complete the activities on the calendar and can return the packet in the Fall for a special prize! Don’t have the time to whip up your own calendars? No worries! Sites like Teachers Pay Teachers and Speaking of Speech have pre-made Summer calendars for free or low cost!
  • Plan Ahead!– Although thinking about next school year may be the last thing on your mind, planning ahead helps to assure  a smoother kick-off to the new school year.  Update student files/ paperwork, organize materials for ease of use, and determine the size and needs of your upcoming caseload.
  • Student rewards/ prizes/ gifts– These are certainly not necessary, but are often a great way to end the year! Print certificates for the students which highlight their unique qualities and strengths, award small prizes for completed homework or attendance, or give each student a small token to remember the year! Pinterest is bursting with ideas, so take a look!
  • Reflect– June is a great time to assess what elements of therapy you would like to continue as well as those you would like to change or add. Maybe you would like to introduce a new social skills group, change therapy materials, or group your students differently.  Feedback from colleagues is helpful in accomplishing this goal.

Most importantly, remember the finish line is in sight and you can do it! Just breathe and take it a day (or assignment) at a time! Happy Summer!

Getting Ready……..

This post is about getting ready!  It’s May and in the elementary schools, the 5th graders are preparing themselves for 5th grade events like last picnics at their school, milestone trips to a picnic park, field trips, presentations, visits from middle schoolers to talk about the middle school, and graduation ceremonies.  It’s a lot to take in!  And when you are a student with needs, it’s sometimes even more to take in.  And then there are things to think about that are coming such as larger schools, bigger students, different bus routes, switching classes, meeting new students and ……………wait for it ……………………………… the LOCKERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

An occupational therapist can come in handy at this time of year.  And our role can help lessen some anxieties.  One way we help is getting involved in transitions.  A fifth grade student self-advocated to visit her new middle school now to see the school and learn its surroundings.  The physical therapist at one of our district’s middle schools set up a tour to see if we could all attend and observe the physical setting and make recommendations as needed based upon a fifth grade student.  The physical therapist from our school, myself the OT, the parent, the student, and the PT, OT and special educator from the middle school each attended.

This help put the student at ease to see her future hallways, desks, cafeteria, gym, bathroom, elevator and classrooms.  She was able to get in and out of desks, try the bathroom, make her way around the halls, meet other friendly faces, and talk about how to get around such as going in the cafeteria and using trays, or carrying her backpack between classes.  She even did a few laps in the gym excited about the bigger space!  She got to hear the transition bell, which was a concern of hers, and turned out to be no big deal.  It was a  worthwhile day!

Back at the homestead at the elementary school, we continue to practice things such as voice output typing for word processing to keep up with the writing in middle school, and also LOCKER skills. We practice use of the lock itself, and using the locker in the OT room (seen below) to practice those larger skills of getting in and out of the locker, managing books and backpack/jackets/lunchbox, etc.  This helps the student to build the skills so they feel prepared going in when school starts in September.  To master the lock before you leave here is a big achievement that quells many anxieties.  Just check out the smiling face below!

When you’ve known these students since kindergarten and some since preschool, it’s amazing to see the growth and achievements they have made.  And it is exciting to find out what they do next…………….onward and upward little Exton Eagles!  Spread your wings!

Mary L. Adolf, M.S., OTR/L


Relaxation week…….in the OT room!



Standardization tests started this month…………and some students are stressing about it!  The anticipation coming up to the assessments make some students nervous.  Is it the change in routine?  workload of the tests?  etc.  One thing is for sure is that you usually come across a handful of students who fret about it.

Therefore, the OT room was designated “lights out” for one week, with calm lighting, soft music,  and calm/relaxation activities to use to help with self calming.  There were several choices:  cocoon swing with light up pillow; tent with soft pillows, massagers, lotion and a light that changes color with a remote control; a light table with moving lights and lava lamp; a rocking chair with foot massager; hand massage station; a cuddle corner with bean bags and pillows;  and a ball pit to lie in/get squished.

Students were shown the activity stations and the benefits were discussed.  A few days later, a group of students returned asking to use the OT room to relax after taking the tests.  Their teacher had allowed them to revisit the OT room to de-stress.  They each picked a station, spent 10 minutes visiting and returned to class.  It was so happy for them, because they initiated this with the teacher AND she accepted.  They visited and picked which stations they preferred based on being exposed to it earlier in the week.  And after about 10 minutes they returned to class.

As an occupational therapist in the school system, I am lucky to have a teacher who is willing to address self/calming and working on getting the right fit for attention/focus.  She also did her own continuing education and has instituted therapy balls in the classroom for attention/focus, as well as a morning walk, and stretches/movement activities throughout the day.  Thanks Marti!

De-stressing/self-calming/mindfulness is also great for staff!  We are considering using an empty classroom to provide such equipment for staff as well:)  It’s in the makings………….more details to follow.

Speaking of mindfulness……….that will be my post for next month!


Mary L. Adolf, M.S., OTR/L


They are the buzzwords right now……..executive function.  But what is it?  Formally stated:  Executive function is a broad term that encompasses the tasks involved in self-regulation of thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Strong executive function is critical to successfully navigating the complex adult world. Although executive function peaks in the 20s and 30s, researchers at Harvard found that the sharpest rate of growth occurs from birth through age 10, with a dramatic spike between the ages of 3 and 5.  (

Executive Functioning skills include: response inhibition; working memory, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, planning/prioritization, organization, time management, goal directed persistence, flexibility and metacognition.

The area of the brain that provides executive functioning skills include the pre-frontal and frontal cortex, which is the last part of the brain to become myelinated (nerves develop their protective sheath), which is why it’s one of the latest skills to be developed fully later in young adulthood.  Why do you think we cringe when our teens “don’t get it” or don’t seem to grasp skills we have demonstrated over and over again?  They can’t!!!!!!!!  Their executive functioning hasn’t quite kicked in.  This is perhaps a big reason for the recent spike in reports of teenage drug addiction.

What we as a Child Study Team have noticed in the school setting is that there is a common appearance of kids who are “distracted, impulsive, not looking where he/she should be, unable to handle/organize supplies, unaware of routine, etc.”  What we have decided is to look at helping this age group by providing strategies to help with development of executive functioning skills since many are developing at this time.  We are finding that many of these needs are popping up in first grade, about 6 years of age.

As the OT on the Child Study Team, I am providing support and strategies to address these issues/concerns.  Suggested strategies are presented to staff, trialed, and monitored/modeled by OT staff as well.  And revisited after a few weeks. Some suggestions have included the following:

Impulsivity Time Timer (with red disappearing area)

Tap a number on desk before raising hand

Practice freeze play to encourage stopping actions

Play “stop” game and then ask child random questions: “what color is your shirt, who is standing next to you? What were you doing?”

Calming breathing techniques (OT has some)

Yoga and mindfulness scripts (OT has some)

Isometric muscle exercises (tense and sustain muscle contractions

Heavy work (carry heavy items; put chairs on desks or off desks, push/carry lunch baskets)

Wall pushups and chair pushups (OT can instruct)

Adaptations to chair to provide sensory input (sit disk, chair band)

Videos of desired behaviors

Therapy putty at daily five stations

Stretching exercises and weight bearing before writing tasks

Activities that encourage visual attention prior to intense work (seek and find sheets, removing things from playdoh, stringing beads, movement or dance games wherein child is following movements with body)

Calming smells (lavender, vanilla)

White noise

Sit near competent peer

Goal creation

Ask to repeat back directions

Ask student “what materials do you need?”


Disorganization STOP.THINK.COUNT. (Before leaving, stop, think “are you ready to go?,” count your things before you leave)

First then; countdowns

Use a time timer

Have student sit in designated space such as a circle      taped to floor, hoola hoop

Deskadoo or plastic container down the middle of desk

Sticker system for sides of desk (blue/red)

Colored tape to outline desk to designate area

Tape on floor where chair must remain

Ring special bell; flick the lights, sing song, clap hands in rhythmic pattern

Videos of desired behaviors

Checklist for morning work and pack up at the end of day

Goal  creation

Ask to repeat back directions

Ask student “what tools do you need?”




Nervous;  confused; Transition object to carry (heavy helps) with a drop box area at next location so it’s not a distraction

Ring special bell; flick the lights, sing song, clap hands in rhythmic pattern

Brain break (see OT for strategies)

Sticker strategies (see OT for these)

Matching Size of problem to reaction (OT has more info)

Checklist for morning work and pack up at the end of day


Breathing techniques (figure 8 etc)

Mindfulness scripts

Beginning or end of line for transitions

Goal creation

Ask to repeat back directions





Distracted Visuals that say such things as “look at speaker” “pencil down when spoken to” “look at board” “how to sit in chair”


Decrease things on wall

Provide corral or folder during writing work or other work

Yoga exercises

Breathing exercises

Mindfulness scripts


Transition objects to travel with

Beginning or end of line for transitions

Sit near competent peer

Goal creation

Time timer


Low Sensory; slow engine Alerting such as movement breaks or movement videos


Brain breaks

Smells (citrus, mint)

Exercises (jumping jacks, windmills, etc.)

Sit disk/therapy ball to sit on

Time timer

No distractors on desktop


Velcro inside desk

Goal creation

Ask to repeat back directions

For instance for a disorganized or unfocused student, a visual time timer (image pictured above) slowly shows how much time is left with a disappearing red wedge……this is used to help a child visually see how much time they have to complete a task and encourage a child to get his/her work done in that time period.  This has helped some students get morning done work.  It provides ownership, responsibility and a visual representation of time management.  The directions, “do your morning work and get done in 20 minutes” is abstract and with environmental distractions, is difficult. The time timer provides a visual and a point of focus for the student and give that ownership to the child, instilling an internal ability to manage time.

There are many strategies/techniques in the above chart, and it is still growing. Remember, each child is different, and see what your OT feels is a right fit/suggestion for your student.

This post is just barely scraping executive functioning skills.  It could be pages.  I will revisit.  Until then, be happy your frontal lobe has fully developed (if you are over 20).


Mary L. Adolf, M.S., OTR/L

Artic Blast Review

For the past two weeks I have been fortunate to trial the Artic Blast game with many of my students and teachers.  The reviews are in and here is what the critics had to say:

My first impression of the game was “Wow, this is impressive and the packaging is extremely eye catching!” Upon opening the game, it was neatly organized with picture cards, a game board, game pieces, and instructions.  I was excited to try it out with my articulation group of kindergarten students.

I loved that there was a variety of target sounds included for the picture cards.  In addition, the photos were clear and easily identifiable for the students.  The placement cues at the bottom of the cards were clear and easy to follow for all professionals,  with or without a speech and language background.

When the students spied the game, they all asked to play and excitedly expressed how “cool the snow monster” looked on the cover of the box.  The group of three boys were engaged throughout the entire game and thought they were playing instead of working.  The target words were identified with minimal clinician cues.  Another great feature for this group of non-readers was that they quickly figured out that the number of pictures on the card equaled the number of spaces they were able to move on the game board.  There was added excitement when a player drew a Yeti spotting card, Avalanche card, or a Double Mountain Peaks card.  Other fun features included short cuts on the game board and adorable graphics with a Yeti theme.

My fellow teachers also gave it a go and they provided positive feedback indicating that the placement cues were helpful and that they could carry these cues over into reading and spelling instruction.  They also enjoyed the theme and professional quality of the game.  The only criticisms were that some of the teachers would like to see bonus cards that allowed the students to advance spaces and to have more cards for each target sound.

My own two children took a quick interest in the game when it arrived at our house; wanting to know if they could keep it! Overall, Artic Blast is a high quality, educational game that has several applications in the educational setting.  I give this product two Yeti thumbs up!





Crafts – it’s not just for fun!

I may not be the most creative or artistic person to every become a pediatric occupational therapist but that doesn’t mean I don’t try! And hey – Pinterest is a life saver!

When working with kids we all know that children learn through play and experience, but recently it seems like more and more schools are caught up in standardized tests and grade than letting kids play and learn and get messy!

During a significant number of my OT sessions with students I do crafts and games! I’m sure as a teacher, parent, or administrator you’ve walked by an OT session and thought “crafts again?!?”

Here’s why I do crafts!

  1. Bilateral hand skills
  2. Executive functioning skills
  3. Visual motor skills
  4. Visual perceptual skills
  5. Fine motor strengthening & coordination
  6. Sensory exploration and play
  7. Motor planning
  8. Self-esteem
  9. FUN!

Notice how numbers 1-8 are directly related to handwriting skills?!?!

I have more than a few students who struggle within a large or small group setting. How wonderful is it to spend 20 or 30 minutes with a student where everything is the “just right” challenge. They learn and grow without being overwhelmed or so behind that a teacher, adult or peer has to finish it for them!

Here’s just a few crafts I’ve done this year! What crafts do you have on your list for the spring??