Column A

Heavy Work is thought to organize the brain from the bottom up.  It’s part of the catalyst sparking executives to roll their sleeves up and get down and dirty with the nitty gritty of manual labor.  It just plain feels good.  But beyond that, it’s emotionally cleansing.  It’s almost as if the effort to overcome physical resistance clears out the cobwebs blocking the way to mental clarity.

Put that way, we all could use a healthy dose of some Heavy Work.

Here are some easy ones to share with teachers.  Children can do them sitting at or near their desks, or certainly within the perimeter of the classroom.

  • Popcorn.  Imagine being a kernel of popcorn in a microwave.  Children place their hands onto the seat and lift their butts each time you say “Pop.”  Starts slowly, building into a frenetic series of pops.  Then reverse momentum gradually to a stray pop here or there.
  • Toe Writing.  Staying seated, a child lifts both feet and writes his name and address, the Declaration of Independence, or anything pertinent to the classroom subject.  This takes a lot of abdominal and quadriceps strength.  (One foot may even mirror the writing of the other.)
  • Chair or desk push-ups.  Place both hands on a stable surface.  Step backward until you are angled away.  Arms should be straight at first.  Bend to touch your nose to the furniture at hand… literally.
  • Take your chair for a walk.  Make a track around the classroom.  Each child picks up his chair and marches clockwise or counterclockwise.  Stop in the middle to do the Hokey Pokey, arm press the chair forward or upward, or otherwise turn yourself around.  But whatever you do… don’t let the chair touch the floor!
  • Overhead Book Press.  Using a large text book (or three), students reach overhead.  Hands should be opened flat and perpendicular to the ceiling.  With the texts laying securely on the opened hands, the students bend their elbows bringing the books almost to their heads and then back up again.  Repeat.  Do at least 10.
That’s enough for now.  Let the teachers and students become familiar with these five.  We’ll add more later.
After all, we want a balanced diet!

Chinese Menu

Can’t say that I’ve come across this lately since I’ve eaten in a number of fine Asian restaurants.  But there was a time when ordering from the local Chinese Restaurant meant selecting one entree from Column A and a second serving from Column B.  It was a good way of encouraging patrons to expand their palate.

The same format works well for exercise.

With the American Heart Association posting findings from this year’s annual conference that children today are 15 percent less fit than their parents, an alarm must be sounded.  Its research showed that children can neither run as fast nor as far as their parents did when they were the same age.  In fact, it takes a full 90 seconds longer for children to run a mile as compared to speeds thirty years ago.

Health experts recommend 60 minutes of moderately rigorous exercise over the course of a day.  Unfortunately, only one-third of our children achieve this baseline.


While it may not be sustained cardiovascular activity, one place to start reversing this trend is through periodic movement activities within the classroom.  Try devising a menu of exercise options.  One column could be Heavy Work activities, a second Midline Crossing ones and a third called Movement. List an assortment of doable intense exercises that challenge children’s balance, strength, stamina and coordination.  Encourage teachers to punctuate the day with select activities… in other words, one from Column A, one from Column B and maybe two from Column C.  Sneak in a ‘side dish’ or ‘main course’ between subjects, before or after a test, following a boring assembly, before a language arts lesson…  You get the idea.

The activities should be ones that can be performed either chair side or along the perimeter of the room. The entire movement break may be completed within minutes.   However, the benefits of recharging a child’s battery on attention, concentration, behavior and more, through a thoughtful array of movement options, can be long-lasting.

Stay tuned for a few of my favorite recipes, and don’t forget to leave room for dessert!

Straw Weaving

Not many crafts require as few raw materials as straw weaving. Nor are they often as adaptable as to be appealing for ages spanning all the way down to Kindergarten. But with a little structured set-up, your students will be able to create bookmarks, headbands, belts, plant holders, trivets, wristlets and more.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 5 straws (More or less is possible, too)
  • A ball of yarn.
  • 5 lengths of yarn—12-15” each. I use a solid color like black.

That’s it.

  1. Thread each of the straws.

If using regular drinking straws, you can thread the straws by holding one end of the black length while sucking up the other end. Scotch tape one inch of the yarn to the straw. If using thin cocktail stirring straws, you’ll need to fabricate a long needle using 24-26 gauge wire. Tie a loose knot at the end of the yarn so it doesn’t pull through.

  1. Tie the free ends of black yarn together. There should be at least one straw’s length of yarn at the bottom of the straw when the straw is pushed up to the knotted or taped end.
  2. Knot colored yarn ball onto one straw near top.
  3. Hold straws in one hand. Fan them out so you can begin weaving.
  4. Weave yarn over and under each straw, returning back and forth when reaching the end of a row. You will be adding rows above each previous row. Push the woven rows carefully down the straw as you fill the straws with more weaving. Once the straws are filled, push the woven yarn onto the lengths of black yarn. Be sure to leave a few inches of weaving on the straw at all times. Continue until the end of your ball of yarn, or whenever you have reached your desired length.
  5. Tie the end of the ball of yarn onto a straw.
  6. Push all the weaving onto the straw and all the way down to the knotted bottom.
  7. Untie the knots at the top of the straw or remove the tape.
  8. Pull the straws off the top ends of the black yarn lengths.
  9. Tie the black yarn into a knot at the end of the weaving.
  10. Trim the ends of the black yarn to produce an even tassle.
  11. Enjoy. Make another!

Who are you taking?

Earnestness aside, I still shudder when I walk into a classroom and the teacher says, “Who are you taking?”

You too, huh?!

While I certainly appreciate how overwhelmed teachers feel with a class full of Life Skills children and how determined they are to make sure they get the OT services promised in their IEP, I realize that a hefty amount of convincing is still needed before teachers waver from their tightly scripted day.

So how does one do that?

The good news is that there is no easier place to integrate yourself into the curriculum than the Life Skill classroom. Here, fine motor, cognitive, perceptual and social skill development are often already at the heart of the program. No reason then to do your magic anywhere else.

Stay tuned for some great ideas that marry your therapy objectives with the teacher’s.   After all, what could be better than turning work into play?