How to turn a Simple Craft Project into a Therapeutic Activity

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Occupational therapists have a reputation for being crafty. I’m not! So when I needed a Christmas craft for my students, I predictably turned to Pinterest.  My rule of thumb for craft projects (and recipes) is that they have to have five steps or less. So when I saw this beaded Candy Cane, by Teacher’s Pet, it was right up my alley.

While the end-product never looks as pin-worthy as the images on Pinterest, I thought I would share a couple of the strategies that I use during my occupational therapy treatment sessions, to turn a simple craft project into a therapeutic activity.

1. Focus on the primary goal

Identify the goal that is most important, and then structure the activity accordingly.  If you want to address visual perception, for example, have the child sort the colors, but if your goal is to improve the child’s pincer grasp, pre-sort the beads so that more time can be spent on beading. Regardless of the skill-based goal, making the child feel capable is your first priority. So always be prepared to modify an activity in order to ensure success.

 2. Position materials to facilitate midline crossing

Positioning the beads on the child’s non-dominant side requires them to move across their body midline in order to reach for the beads. In other words, place the beads on the child’s left side if they are right-hand dominant and vice versa. Studies have shown that crossing the body midline activates various parts of the brain – so get those neurons firing!

3. Use materials that naturally prompt a neat pincer grasp

Placing the beads into small containers requires the child to use only their forefingers to retrieve the beads and prevents the other fingers from getting in the way. Typically the child will then sustain this grasp while feeding the beads onto the pipe cleaner.

4. Modify the materials (bead size) relative to the child’s dexterity

As previously mentioned, grading the activity so that the child can feel competent is extremely important. Use large beads, such as the Maxi Perler beads, that are easy to manipulate for children with decreased fine motor coordination, and smaller ones, such as the Mini Perler Beads, for students who have better dexterity.

 5. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Short and Sweet) to keep the child’s attention

If a child has limited attention for fine motor work, keep the time spent on the activity to a minimum.  Take turns to move the project along faster or give them a head start. Even if you need to help out, have the child place the last couple of beads so that they develop a sense of project completion.

6. Reflect on the activity

Once the activity is complete, it is important to evaluate how successful it was. Ask yourself: Was the child fully engaged? Did they make progress toward their goals?  Was the activity age-appropriate? Was it fun? Did it hit the “sweet spot” with regards to being optimally challenging? Finally, what would you do differently the next time around, in order to improve on it?

The following video highlights some of these core principles:

Disclaimer: These suggestions are NOT a substitute for therapy if indicated; but rather a way to support the process.

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