Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
Now that we have finished up the yummy makings of a Thanksgiving dinner we start to prepare for a month long journey of the HOLIDAYS. Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, one common task on your list of to do's probably includes sending cards. Some truly enjoy the task of sending cards, while other dread it and have moved to newer options, such as sending emails and using pre-printed photo cards. Regardless of what method you use, holiday card sending is a very therapeutic activity. And this is an easy mobile task that can be done in the clinic, school, and/or at home.
If you are the ambitious type and your list is short, being creative and making your own cards lends itself to address many naturally therapeutic skills. From working on the fine motor skills of grasp with crayons and markers to decorate, working on visual motor and bilateral hand skills with cutting to add and glue pieces, to copying skills for writing addresses and generating the greeting. You can also address tactile sensitivities by having your child do some finger painting, tissue paper gluing or working with foam stickers. Increase the challenge of scissor skills by using old cards to cut out the pictures and glue them to your homemade card. This will present a variety of different textures and thickness of paper to be cut.
If you are using traditional cards, handwriting skills can be practiced by allowing your child to sign the cards. You may choose to have your child copy a short closing or generate one on his or her own. If sizing of letters is difficult for your child, provide a designated space with a blank address label to sign. This is also a great way to work on spacing and overall hand control. The same method could be used for addressing the envelopes as well. Work on using those pincers by peeling and placing return address labels and stamps.
For any cards that are sent, stuffing the envelopes is an excellent bilateral hand activity that works on hand control and finger dexterity. It also is an ideal way to look at proprioceptive needs by assessing the amount of force a child uses to perform the task. Too much force will result in a bunch of bent cards, so work on using slow, controlled movements.
If you go the non-traditional route of emails or online cards, allow your child to work on his or her typing skills, fine motor speed and dexterity by helping to type them out for you.
As adults, we know that card sending is a long task that we often do over a couple of days, therefore this activity proves itself to be great at working on attention and the ability to focus for a period of time. After assessing your child's attention and ability to sit for fine motor activities, decided what his or her needs are. Does he need some 'heavy work' before starting? Play a round of crab soccer, have him bear walk or wheel barrow walk to get the supplies, or provide a hand fidget at the table before starting. If your child requires ongoing input, this a great time to use those weighted items, such as a lap pad, vest or hat. Also, look at positioning...does your child attend best while sitting in a chair? Make sure that her feet are on the floor or use a stool underneath the table. If she attends best with some movement, allow her to sit on a ball chair, Move 'n Sit, or even stand and do them vertically (this is also and ideal way to get some shoulder strengthening work done!) And make the focusing side of it fun, play some Christmas music and have them work on the cards until the music stops. Then do a short movement activity or have a holiday treat before starting again. Use those imagination skills and let them pretend to be an elf and set up an assembly line; from signing, to stuffing, to addressing. And for those children that attend best with oral input, what a great time to let them suck on a candy cane.
As a therapist, you can suggest helping a parent out and partaking in part of the process during the therapy session. As parents, it goes without saying that this will initially add a bit more work to your plate to set up, but in the long run, it gives you a break on the therapy homework or sensory diet activities that typically are on your to do lists and gives you a bit of relief on this holiday to do! So, make the task of card sending a joint activity and know that you are providing your children with a wealth therapeutic input.