February 14th is Valentine’s Day and kids all over will be headed to school armed with cute notes for their friends. This year instead of buying the box of pre-made Valentines, why not consider having your children craft their own? By cutting, pasting, drawing and writing your child will be gaining much-needed skills, not to mention that by partnering with them to create their own valentines they’ll have gifts that come straight from the heart. As occupational therapists we recognize that small projects are the perfect opportunity to follow through on the goals of therapy at home. Here’s an idea of the plethora of skills your child can tap into when creating valentines. It is always best for a child who struggles with a craft in any way to take turns with a parent. That way little muscles get a chance to rest and the onus for the product is shared between you and your child.
1. Executive function: advanced planning, organization, and sequencing: Begin by making a list of the steps that creating the valentines will take. Plan valentine-making as a long-term project and help your child break down the task into smaller concrete chunks to make the process more manageable and less daunting. Making a check list with pictures of words will help keep you both on track.
2. Social participation and connecting with classmates: Especially for children who are insecure or tentative about making friends valentines gives every child a structured opportunity to reach out to potential new friends and forge connections, Creating and giving enable everyone to feel like part of the group.
3. Tracing: holding down a cardboard heart and tracing it gives your child an opportunity to practice coordinating the two hands to do two different tasks simultaneously (“leader-assist” skills). The “lead” hand (preferred hand) traces while the non-preferred hand “assists” by holding the cardboard down.
4. Scissor skills: Cutting out hearts is a great opportunity to practice scissors skills with regular scissors or funky ones. To develop a “thumbs up” hand position, check out this blog.
5. Writing: Take this opportunity to give your child any crayon, marker, pencil, chalk or paintbrush that he or she can naturally grasp correctly, so that correct motor patterns are reinforced.
6. Spatial orientation: Fitting words into the small space of a heart shape or even a square can be challenging. Help younger children by drawing lines and starting dots for the letters.
7. Pressure modulation: Practice applying just the right amount of pressure to squeeze the glue out of a bottle, or use a glue stick.
8. Postural control: When your children are creating their valentines make sure their feet are flat on the floor to support their backs to build up their core muscles. Sitting on a yoga ball that keeps hips, knees, and ankles at 90 degrees is a big plus. In between each phase of creation encourage them to do "sitting jumps" on the ball to provide sensory input to encourage good posture.