In the beginning of the 2019–2020 academic year, the Special Education Division of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit was awarded a generous $10,000 grant from Foundations Community Partnership to be used towards programs supporting the development of fine motor skill in students. Fine motor skills involve the use of the smaller muscle of the hands, used commonly in activities such as holding and using a pencil, doing up buttons, tying a shoe, or opening a clasp on a box. Efficient fine motor skills require several independent skills to be developed and worked together to appropriately manipulate the object or perform the task. When the grant was originally submitted for, the Bucks IU Occupational Therapy Team had carefully detailed and planned teacher education, classroom kits, and ‘Family Fun Nights’ all designed to support teachers and families help children develop fine motor skills through play-based activities.
The program began with a free in-service day program for educators. The sold-out group heard presentations from Fine Motor Boot Camp with training on how to effectively incorporate fun activities into the fine motor skill
At this time, all our Bucks IU early childhood program classes received 5 kits of items and instructions to be used on various activities, as well as some school age classes, for a total of approximately 300 kits being distributed. Videos, accessible through a QR code link, detailed how to use the kits for a specific skill activity and were provided each week. Bucks IU Occupational Therapists, working within some school district’s kindergarten classes, were so excited about this program that they went out of their way to make their own kits so they could take advantage of the activities this program was utilizing.
Fire AND a Pandemic
The classroom kits were so successful, that a second set of kits were started on. Sadly, a January 2020 fire in the facility where they were being worked on, destroyed all the materials. Insurance would cover everything, but time would be lost while those funds were received and then replacement items purchased.
Then in the middle of March, COVID-19 forced schools to turn to remote learning programs, requiring the original projects planned for the student’s fine motor skill development with classroom kits to no longer be viable. It also forced the cancellation of the Family Fun Nights that had been scheduled for locations in upper, middle, and lower Bucks County.
We Won’t Be Stopped!
Undaunted, the Bucks IU Occupational Therapist (OT) Team went to work to find fun and engaging ways for kids, families, and their educators to continue to work together to achieve their goals while at home. As the classroom kits had been so successful, the idea emerged to provide individual student kits, that would contain items that students could easily use at home with their family. Occupational Therapists representing students in preschool and elementary school worked together to develop age appropriate activities that would utilize a variety of fine motor manipulatives that would be able to be sent home in the kits. Kit items selected were things like modeling clay, pipe cleaners, items requiring finger pumping and flexing action, and things that would enhance selecting and picking up.
The next hurdle was getting the kits home to the students. Preschool students who were coming to pick-up an iPad to use at home, were given their kits at that time. For school aged students, a delivery program was worked out through their individual school or district. In total, 125 at-home kits were distributed to Bucks IU preschool and kindergarten students, and 25 kits were done for school aged students.
Additional fine motor skill teacher in-service trainings are being offered beginning in January 2021. Each training session topic will be supported with activity kits specially designed to help students further develop their fine motor skills in the targeted subject area. Upwards of one hundred more kits each will be made for classrooms and use by students at home to accommodate the various learning structures (100% virtual, hybrid, and in-person) of the Bucks County School Districts county-wide. Special learning opportunities for families will also be implemented in 2021 to allow for them to practice hands-on learning in fun and creative ways they can use in support of their child’s fine motor skill development.