How the Tired School Therapist Can Provide Summer Programming

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

School therapists put in a lot of time throughout the school year, however the fall and spring months tend to be the busiest--especially with all the extra paperwork required for IEPs (Individual Education Plans) and end of the year Progress Reports. Oftentimes, therapists may become overwhelmed and burned out as they look forward to a break. They may feel as if more time is being spent on paperwork versus actually treating the child. So, with all this extra work and all the deadlines, it may seem nearly impossible to really think about summer programming for the students on their caseloads. However, after a year of working toward goals, it would be a shame to have to start from scratch again at the beginning of the school year.

Most communication for school therapists is done with the teachers and school staff, and oftentimes they do not have much contact with a student’s parents or family members.  This makes it difficult to always provide and follow up on home programming with parents.

So, how can a school therapist effectively put together a quick, meaningful home program, without a ton of extra work?

Communicate: First, in some form or another, communicate with the families as best as you can.  With today’s technology, email and text are quick and easy ways to make touch points with parents. Now is a good time to give parents an idea of what your main focus of therapy was, based on the progress report, as well as what it means and where you are trying to get the child to expand his or her skills moving forward.

Provide a Few Meaningful Activities: Many schools give parents a lot of “to do's” with their summer work, therefore as therapists we need to find creative ways to include some skill-building ideas into students' summer play.  For younger students, giving them ways to do letter writing or recognition with sidewalk chalk is pretty simple.  Writing, as well as hand-eye coordination skills, can be addressed by writing letters/shapes for targets that you tape onto Solo cups and then have the child use a ball or NERF™ gun to knock down.  For older children, have them help out in the kitchen. Children can work on opening packages and tool use to address fine motor strength and bilateral skills.  And for those who love to play video games, have them change their position to play.  From standing to high kneeling, to one foot…you can work on their core strength while they play.

As long as you simply encourage children to play, especially outside during summer break, skills will be enhanced.  From playing on the playground to swimming to riding a bike, children’s overall skills, especially fine motor skills, improve with play!

To make it easier, having a generic list of activities for the treatment area that can be given to each student that has goals for that area may be helpful. For example, you may have a sheet titled “Fine Motor Activities,” and then list a bunch of ideas that families can pick and choose from.  Highlighting a few in particular can help you individualize the sheet based on your student’s needs. 

Another idea is to provide families with an activity calendar.  This is a way to give a summer's worth of suggestions and can be used for all of your students on your caseload.  It allows you to give ideas for sensory play such as taking toys through the car wash using shaving cream and a bucket of water, vestibular play by finding a large hill to roll down, and fine motor skills development such as using large tweezers to collect items while on a nature hike.  By simply filling in a blank calendar with an activity-a-day, you can keep families busy, having fun while being therapeutic.

When working in the schools, oftentimes it is difficult to communicate easily with families. As a result, having the parents on board and invested in therapy is sometimes difficult.  However, use your abilities to know how much and how little you should provide to one family or another. Giving a little extra before the summer break may help you keep the child’s skills developing. It is always good to at least provide one little thought or suggestion because we can never be sure when something will stick or hit home.