by Anna Lassman, OTR/L & Laura Corbett
Motor play in most early intervention center programs tends to involve unstructured time in a gross motor room, or playground, to let the kids move around and burn off steam; however it tends to be a crazy, free for all kind of period of the day where both staff and students leave frustrated. Many of our students often feel lost when not directly engaged in a structured activity. We were finding an increase in challenging behaviors in our gross motor room due to the lack of planning and structure.
Staff in the Philadelphia Division EI Center noticed this as a problem and began brainstorming new ways to make our gross motor time more effective. The goal is to provide opportunities for our students to practice a variety of skills including general gross motor play, following directions, waiting their turn, turn taking and social play, making and sticking to choices, functional play, requesting, and entering and leaving the room calm and organized.
In January 2015, we were lucky enough to get a recreational therapy intern from Penn State and we knew this was a golden opportunity. With the help and leadership of our Recreational Therapy intern, Kate Shilkitus, wonderful things have happened. Not only are our children “burning off steam,” but also, they are practicing appropriate and functional play while following a routine and here’s HOW we made it all happen.
We started with gathering the classroom staff together and talking about the importance of motor room and all of its benefits. Cindy Goldberg, PT and Anna Lassman, OT provided support through a workshop where we discussed the program we hoped to create in the gross motor room. Together, we talked about responsibilities of the therapy staff and the Teaching staff members to make this all work. The following was discussed in detail:
- Use of motor time with a lesson plan that includes strategies to prevent challenging behavior. Some strategies included:
- Including their interests to keep them engaged and motivated in the gross motor room (i.e balls, slides, pretend play, cars, etc.)
- The use of reinforcers (bubbles, stickers, etc.)
- The use of visuals to communicate expectations before they go to GM room.
- The use of visuals to show the children “what comes next” and the agenda for the session.
- The use of choice boards and structured smaller groups within the larger gross motor room space to guide play.
- Bring/push class chairs down to GM room (heavy work that can be calming and organizing) for students to sit on at start, rather than opening the door and kids rushing in.
- Gradually go from chair sitting to floor sitting as kids become used to new GM room routine
- Use “clean-up” as part of the session.
- Ending session with a calming/re-group type activity by the waiting area to build compliance momentum.
- Use of time during team meetings to make a plan for the week in the motor room based on the above items.
- We discussed the properties of the equipment available and various ways to use them to expand play schemes.
- Obstacle courses can be changed up mid- session.
- More than one way to use pieces of equipment
- Staff modeled creative ways to use a ball or a wedge, for example.
- What levels of assistance we use and how to fade or increase as needed based on individuals.
Based on ideas and feedback from the workshop, we began to put together visual materials, including a stop sign at door, marked places in the room for waiting areas, and activity and equipment use suggestions, but the prep work alone can be a very timely task. Fortunately having Kate, our recreation therapy intern, who was ready and willing to lead this initiative, we hit the ground running. We believe that what has made this program even more successful from the start is having Kate dedicate her time and energy in that room.
Following our workshop, Kate spent a great deal of time preparing the environment and doing the prep work. She created several visuals and utilized the strategies discussed to create expectations with the use of visuals. Visual supports are crucial for many of our students so in creating these, Kate helped to set our students up for success.
Here’s an example of our expectations upon entering the gross motor room
Here’s an example of our choice board that is set up everyday. Staff then model the different activities that can be done with each choice.
Once Kate had everything prepped and ready to go, we rolled out the new program and collected baseline data on two skills: (1) Wait time with an expectation of average wait time to be 30 seconds to 1 minute with 2 or less redirections. (2) Following directions throughout the session with 2 or less redirections. Kate has been collecting data daily and the findings are outstanding! We have seen a dramatic improvement in just a short time. The chart(s) below gives you a clear picture that this new program is most certainly working.
Kate’s ability to help strategize, plan, and implement a new program is extraordinary. She spends endless time at school and at home reflecting on individual progress and the program as a whole. Unfortunately, Kate has left us as her internship has come to a close, but her hard work and lasting effects in establishing a consistent routine and program in our gross motor room are here to stay. The last three weeks will consisted of transitioning our teachers to lead and implement the program with Kate’s support. The teachers now feel confident in doing the same.
We look forward to continued success with this program and our students. No longer do our teachers need to “burn off steam” after a chaotic session in the gross motor room. We have successfully implemented a new program that keeps both students and staff calm and having fun.