Learn 10 pet peeves of a school-based Occupational Therapist
In the spirit of teaching the general public about OT, I’ve decided to share some of my “O.T. pet peeves”. The teachers that I work with know me pretty well. As a true Sagittarius, I am a very easy-going person, but some things drive me nuts! (Yes I believe in that stuff)
My pet peeves are all with good reason, I swear! Over the years, I’ve managed to rub my “O.T. ways” off on many of them. Here are my pet peeves with explanations:
CUT THE CLUTTER
1) Over-decorated classrooms. A classroom with too much stuff going on can be really distracting for kids with attention issues. Too much clutter, every wall covered, things hanging from the ceiling, desks covered with pictures and visual cues, etc. Children who are easily overstimulated get distracted by all of these things.
Teachers wonder why so many kids have such poor attention – maybe all the clutter is what is distracting them? Also, when children are trying to copy from the board, they need to change the position of their head (as well as their visual gaze) from looking at a vertical surface (board) to a horizontal surface (notebook). Think of all of the visual distractions in the path from the board to the notebook. No wonder they have difficulty copying!
Check out my video with tips for “copying from the board” here. ▼
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2) Gluesticks. The teachers that I work with know that I NEVER want glue sticks if we are working on an art and craft project. I prefer regular good old Elmers glue! Why? I know they can be messy at first, but that’s because children need to learn how hard to squeeze. They need to be able to recognize that the glue cap isn’t open. They need to use their little hand muscles to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. Real glue, please! Also—need a quick glue cap #OThack for little hands? Use a Wikki Stix (aka Bendaroo) on the cap so kids know where to pinch. It also helps them to hold, so their little fingers don’t slide when they twist.
3) Too many cushion seats. This one is in a special case. Generally, if a teacher asks me for a cushioned seat, I’m psyched. I love that they are looking for a strategy to increase a child’s ability to focus. BUT—when a teacher approaches me and says “I need five seat cushions,” my immediate reply (in my head, of course) is “Um, NO, you need to change your classroom routine.” If that many children are having difficulty sitting still or focusing, the classroom routine should be altered to include lots of brain breaks, heavy work, and changes in position.
A cushioned seat should be the exception, not the rule. Kids need to move!
The Importance of Positioning
4) Desks that are all the same size. Oh, cringe! Most teachers, especially new ones, love a neat classroom with everything perfectly labeled and pretty. That’s fine. BUT—if the desks are all the same size, you have not set up your classroom properly.
Kids are not all the same size, so the desks and chairs shouldn’t be either. My best advice is to make those beautiful name labels before the first day of school and then wait to meet the child before you assign them a desk. Most classrooms have adjustable desks.
Wait to see if John Smith is really tall or a few inches shorter than everyone else. A child’s feet should be flat on the floor, not swinging. Their arm should slant downward so they can comfortably rest their elbow, forearm, and hand on the desk. Each desk should be adjusted to each child. Pretty Please. If this is the environment where we expect our kids to develop good skills and to focus and pay attention, the least we could do is set up their environment properly. If you aren’t sure how to tell if the seating is appropriate, ask your OT! I love when teachers ask me. I go right down there with my stack of post-it notes and I write on each one: desk down one, chair ok, etc.
Make sure the CHILD is doing the work
5) Assembled projects. I used to see this a lot in Kindergarten and in Special Needs classes. The children aren’t really good at cutting yet, so the teacher has the shapes all cut and ready to go. Time is usually an issue, too. An assembled project basically means that the children just paste shapes together. The end result looks perfect.
My pet peeve with this is—what are the kids really doing? If they can only snip, find a way to make the project involve snipping. If they can cut a straight line, make a project out of straight lines. For example—For “F week” instead of assembling different parts to make a frog, have the kids cut straight lines out of yellow paper—French Fries. It’s hard to revamp your thinking, but once you get used to it, it’s so much better! Also, projects should never look perfect—teachers hate when the homework comes in too perfect (because it means the parent did the work) and parents feel the same way. So it’s messy, that’s ok! They are kids!
6) Upside-down Pencil Grips. As an OT, I can spot an upside-down pencil grip from five feet away. I totally get it when parents or teachers can’t. But it still stinks. The point of a pencil grip is to put the fingers in the right spot, so being placed on the pencil correctly is pretty important. Kids LOVE to fidget with their grips and slide them up and down, take them off, put them back on, etc. So they end up upside-down sometimes.
THE KIDS NEED TO BE COMFORTABLE
7) Wrong-sized furniture. This may seem redundant, but it’s a new one. Sometimes teachers come to me for input because their students just can’t seem to sit still. When I go into the classroom, they point me to the back tables, where the kids break up into small groups to work with a teacher. The tables are perfectly sized—for the teacher. Well—there’s your answer. It goes back to the same old thing—they can’t sit still because the furniture is uncomfortable. Not that we want the teacher to be uncomfortable, either. But let’s face it—this is where the children are supposed to be developing lifelong skills that will stay with them forever. Let’s set them up for success. And most teachers I know are just happy for the chance to sit for a minute at all!
My Biggest Pet Peeve as A School-based Occupational Therapist
8) Too much help. This one is a touchy one and I’ve struggled in the past to state my concerns in a professional manner that doesn’t offend a colleague (and usually a friend, too). Children are in school to learn how to do things for themselves. Sometimes a teacher or a one-to-one aide provides too much help for a child. To be fair, some parents do it too. The truth is that everyone does it out of love. Most adults feel protective and maternal toward children, especially if it’s a child with special needs.
But reaching over and doing everything for a kid doesn’t help them, it hurts them. The golden rule is, set up the activity so that they can do it. Don’t open the glue for them, show them how. Don’t zip their jacket, connect the starter so they can zip it the rest of the way. Kids need to develop the skills to do things themselves.
9) Crowded workspace with too much stuff on the desk. This one drives me crazy. Children need to be taught organizational skills. Some classrooms are so cluttered (back to number 1) that there is no actual open workspace. Crayon boxes, folders, name tags, textbooks, etc. Too much stuff! I love the Seat Pocket organizers to hold all the extra stuff. Kids need a clean workspace. Especially little kids, because it is really important that they develop the ability to use their two hands when writing. One hand to hold the paper, and the other hand to rest on the table, with the fingers doing the work (not the whole arm).
It’s much easier to develop proper writing skills when you aren’t busy negotiating all the stuff on your desk. Kids should NOT ever be resting their arms on a book when writing.
10) Giant backpacks. This one was a pet peeve I developed when working at a middle school. The biggest REASON kids do this is ANXIETY. They are scared to be late, they are petrified of missing the correct notebook, they are anxious to get stuck—unable to open their locker. The reason it is such a pet peeve is that it is SO bad for a child’s back. Kids are supposed to carry only 10% of their body weight. Ten percent! Check out this great handout from the American Occupational Therapy Association for strategies and information regarding this backpack crisis.
There you have it! Ten of my school-based OT pet peeves.
Do you have Pet Peeves about the school setting? Please share in the comments!
Learn more about School-based OT here: https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Professionals/CY/Articles/School-consumer.aspx