This blog is written by a newly qualified OT working within a private paediatric service which focuses on delivering group based therapy within schools. Such groups focus on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, handwriting and concentration. This piece will contain helpful tips and strategies to enable a paediatric OT to deliver effective therapy to more than 1 child at a time.
When delivering group based OT to a group of young children, there are many factors to consider.
Here are 10 key factors that have helped me to deliver group based OT:
Ensure you have a spacious room with enough tables and chairs for both you and the children. Depending on the nature of your group, you may require access to a gym or a hall to carry out larger activities.
You will need specific pieces of equipment with you for your groups, whether it be arts and craft related or activities requiring footballs, tennis balls, hula hoops etc. You need to be prepared to have such equipment with you, or check if the school can provide some of these for you.
Contain a manageable number of children for your group as too many could inhibit you from providing high quality assessment and treatment for each child. Schools may suggest having extra children due to the high demand for a particular group, but this must be prevented. A large number of children could also prevent positive group dynamics within the group.
It is important to note what age range the referred children are. A large age gap between the referred children could prove to be difficult in terms of setting age appropriate activities for the group. Older children may refrain from doing early years based activities, whereas the younger children may not be developmentally ready to attempt higher level activities suited to the older children. This factor must be discussed with the staff when deciding what children are to attend each group, in order to achieve appropriate age based activities suited to the children’s’ needs.
It is essential to have a structure to each group. It is useful to base the group’s timeslot around 3 elements – a warm up, a main activity and a cool down. A warm up enables the children to get settled into the group and get their bodies moving before starting their activities. The main activity focus on the group’s aims for that particular session. For example if the aim of this particular session was to develop their cutting technique, the main activity could involve cutting worksheets. And lastly, the cool down provides the group with the opportunity to calm and regulate their bodies, so they return to their classrooms relaxed and ready to attain to their school work.
6. Individual needs
Within a group it is important to spend time with each child throughout the session, this can be achieved by keeping a notepad at hand to jot down information about each child throughout the group. This may contain observations such as; strengths, weaknesses, improvements, behaviour etc.
If it has been made aware to us that some of the children have additional needs, it is important we are allocated a Teaching Assistant to help manage those needs. Managing needs such as behaviour is crucial in order to carry out effective group based OT. During the referral stages of the program we may be told in advance of some children who present with challenging behaviours, in this instance a Teaching Assistant may then be allocated to help supervise this child. A key strategy I use to maintain behaviour is to come up with a set of rules with the children that we must follow in every session, poor behaviour always leads to a call to the head teacher!
Keeping it fun! I find that it helps to refer to the work we do in our groups as ‘games’ and ‘activities’. This way the children do not see it as a class but as a group where they can have fun with their peers and develop, learn and improve upon their skills. It also helps to base such activities around age appropriate games, current TV shows, characters, holidays etc to enable the children to maintain engagement as it is something of relevance and interest to them.
It is key to provide on-going encouragement to the children throughout the groups. This can be achieved through simple positive phrases or through the use of rewards such as stickers, house points or a smiley face chart displayed on the whiteboard throughout the sessions. Children respond well to praise and this can often lead to increased engagement.
After week 1, at the beginning of each session I ask the children to try and remember what we learnt last week. This is a great way to monitor engagement and enjoyment of the children as well as observing if they are taking in what they are learning each week.