One of my favorite things to do as a pediatric occupational therapist is to find ways to help parents and teachers carry over therapy recommendations to support developmental progress. So any time I learn about tools or tricks to help with this, I get really excited and I want to share them with everyone I know!
FINE MOTOR BOOT CAMP: A NEW WAY TO SUPPORT FINE MOTOR PRACTICE
I recently learned about a program called “Fine Motor Boot Camp” and it has honestly transformed the way I think about encouraging fine motor practice at home, at school, and even in therapy for kiddos in early childhood and early elementary programs. (Psssst, there’s a giveaway at the end of this post, so be sure to read to the end!)
Fine Motor Boot Camp (FMBC) is a play-based program that consists of 25 thoughtfully designed packets of simple activities that target fine motor, language, and academic skills. It was developed by two pediatric therapists — Julie Marzano, an occupational therapist, and Emily McCarthy, a speech-language pathologist — who have an obvious passion for supporting kids’ progress through play!
Each FMBC packet contains a simple activity using household items or office supplies. I have written about how much I love using household items to work on fine motor skills in the past, and it’s one of my most popular posts here on the blog. Additionally, I have a whole category devoted to the topic of fine motor activities using household items, so this is right up my alley! From an occupational therapy perspective, the activities included in the Fine Motor Boot Camp packets address a wide range of skills needed for fine motor development. Examples include hand and finger strength, pinch and grasp patterns, bilateral (two-hand) coordination, visual motor (hand-eye) skills, in-hand manipulation (precise use of the small muscles in the hands/fingers), tool use, forearm rotation, motor planning, sequencing, visual perception and discrimination (identifying targeted items amidst distratctors), pre-scissor skills, pre-fastener skills (for buttons, snaps, and zippers), and more! From my perspective, the goal with these activities is to improve the foundational fine motor skills needed for participation in school, play, and activities of daily living.
One of my favorite packet activities involves an empty tennis ball can and a bunch of rubber bands (included in the image above). You can watch a video demo of a therapist using it with a “real” child on the Fine Motor Boot Camp homepage.
The 25 packets are divided into five categories — pre-scissor skills, activities of daily living, colors, literacy, and numeracy. Each category is represented by five packets that relate to that category. So, for example, “Set A” contains 5 packets, one from each category (A1, A2, A3, A4, A5). “Set B” also contains 5 packets (which are different from “Set A”), also with one from each category (B1, B2, etc.). And then there is “Set C”, “Set D”, and “Set E” which follow the same trend. So every set of packets covers all five categories of development. And each and every packet targets fine motor and speech-language skills, regardless of category. That’s why it’s called “Fine Motor Boot Camp”!
In addition to the activity itself, each FMBC packet also has a direction sheet specific to each activity. This, in my opinion, is what makes this program so valuable. You can see an example in the image below.
Each activity’s direction sheet lists how to perform the activity, plus specific suggestions for how to make that particular activity easier or more difficult in order to meet the child’s ability level. They call these “simplifiers” and “challengers”. This makes it SO EASY for anyone to implement, regardless of whether they are familiar with the activity or not! In addition, the direction sheet also contains an introductory rhyme (to support literacy skills), “language stimulators” that provide specific examples of how to expand on the child’s speech and language concepts during the activity, and an icon that indicates which of the five previously mentioned categories that particular activity belongs to.
Occupational therapists are trained to be able to take a quick glance at a task and immediately be able to make it harder or easier so it will be a “just right” challenge for a child. This allows the child to participate at a level that challenges their ability and pushes them forward without frustrating them to the point that they give up or engage in behaviors. Parents, teachers, aides, babysitters, and grandparents haven’t necessarily received this type of training or practice in the same way OTs have (and they are usually the ones with whom we are discussing how to practice with the child), so this can make practicing therapeutic fine motor activities at home or school a challenge. BUT, with the Fine Motor Boot Camp program, it doesn’t matter if you have that type of training or not, because Julie and Emily have done all of that thinking for you!
In addition to all the activity packets, there is also a master toolkit and a manual.
The toolkit contains a handful of materials that are used across several activities (e.g., a ruler, spoon, tongs, small bowl, color sorting sheet, number line, “more than/less than” sheet, etc.).
The manual contains master copies of all 25 activity directions, plus warm-up exercises, picture schedule, data collection sheets, and inventory of all the materials. I’ve been told that digital downloads of the manual are coming soon (but you can contact FMBC to purchase a digital copy in the meantime).
HOW I’VE BEEN USING FINE MOTOR BOOT CAMP AT WORK
I have been using Fine Motor Boot Camp activity packets in a couple different ways:
• During therapy sessions: Kids often love novelty, especially when it comes to fine motor activities! The FMBC packets have given me a chance to introduce a fresh batch of therapeutic activities, which has filled our sessions with eager participation (even for children who typically avoid fine motor work!). I love that the activities have a concrete start and finish. This is really helpful for many of the kiddos I work with. I’m able to select specific packets to bring into sessions with me based on the specific challenges I know my student or client is struggling with (e.g., zipping, buttoning, bilateral coordination, finger strength, etc.). I have done this in both the school special education setting and pediatric outpatient clinic setting, and it really has been a hit across the board!
• Sending home for additional practice: It can be a real challenge for parents/caregivers to get their children to participate in therapeutic fine motor activities when they’re not at therapy, especially if fine motor work is a significant area of challenge for them. The child may complain, avoid, or even become physically aggressive when expected to do therapeutic “work” at home. The family may just “forget” to do their practice during the week. Or they may not have the resources or materials needed for home practice. I am finding that home practice is SO MUCH easier and more realistic with the Fine Motor Boot Camp packets.
Typically, I will introduce a packet during part of our session so the child can become familiar with it, and then I tell them they get to take it home to “play with it” all week! I place a sticky note inside the packet before I send it home. The note contains that day’s date and my email address, a direction to play the “game” in the packet at least five times in the next week, and any additional, personalized recommendations for that particular child (e.g., specific prompts we used or additional “challengers” or “simplifiers” that would be appropriate to use). Once the child brings the packet back the following week, they get to exchange it for a new one to take home. Again, I have been doing this in both the school-based (special education preschool) as well as clinic-based settings. It has been so much fun, and I’m seeing progress as well, so it’s been a win-win!
HOW I’VE BEEN USING FINE MOTOR BOOT CAMP AT HOME
My kids are currently in the preschool and toddler age range, and they have been loving this program, too! As mentioned previously, kids love novelty, and mine are no exception. They will actually request to “play a packet”, so we’ll pick one out and play it together right there on our living room floor. Sometimes it’s just one-on-one, and sometimes I get to play the same activity with both of them at the same time. The fact that I can play one activity with kids of different developmental levels (ages 2.5 and 4.5) simultaneously, while providing appropriate challenge and enjoyment for each of them, really speaks to how well thought-out this program is.
OTHER WAYS YOU CAN USE FINE MOTOR BOOT CAMP
• Organize and rotate packets in a way that provides programming for 5 separate classrooms for 10 months (the entirety of the school year). Learn how to do that on the FMBC website.
• Provide packets to students as part of RtI
• Use packets during Centers Time (preferably with an adult, not independently)
• Make packets available during “Facilitated Play” or “Choice Time”
• Make packets available during indoor recess or lunch club time
• Bring packets with you to Early Intervention home visits (and leave a packet with the family to practice with for the week if needed)
WHO SHOULD ORDER THE FINE MOTOR BOOT CAMP PROGRAM?
The beauty of this program is that, because it is well-designed, ANYONE can implement it. While on one hand, I want to make sure people understand that completing these types of activities doesn’t (and shouldn’t) replace therapy, on the other hand, I love how accessible these activities are for grown-ups with all types of backgrounds.
I think this program would be appropriate and helpful for…
• School districts (Fine Motor Boot Camp can set up a vendorship with your state)
• Pediatric occupational therapists (early intervention, clinic-based, or school-based)
• Pediatric speech therapists (each packet can be used to address a variety of speech and language needs through hands-on activities rather than worksheets or flash cards)
• Pediatric behavior therapists (you can use a packet activity as part of your interaction with the child while also targeting things like basic compliance, play, and attention to/participation in tasks, such as “put in”, “put on”, “put next to”, “first this, then that”, “first my turn, then your turn,” etc…you can optimize your impact by collaborating with the child’s OT to determine what types of packets would be the best fit for that particular child)
• Preschool and Kindergarten teachers (great way to supplement your curriculum without having to do lots of extra creative work…the work is already done for you!)
• Professionals who work with older students with significant fine motor or developmental challenges (build “fine motor work” time into the student’s daily schedule)
• Daycare/early childhood centers (including state-funded or federally-funded early childhood programs such as Head Start/Early Head Start)
• Graduate students or new therapists (build your repertoire of fine motor tools to get yourself and your kiddos off to a fun start!)
• Parents or caregivers (you may be looking for a way to boost your child’s fine motor/language skills, especially if they haven’t been able to get into therapy yet because there is a long wait list; you can take a packet with you to places where your child will have to wait, such as in a restaurant or medical appointment; Fine Motor Boot Camp offers a discount to parents who purchase specifically for their child)
HOW TO ORDER THE FINE MOTOR BOOT CAMP PROGRAM
Once you visit https://finemotorbootcamp.net, you’ll see that there are several different options. You can…
• Order the complete program (all 25 packets of activities, FMBC manual, and master toolbox)
• Order a starter program (FMBC manual + 5 FMBC activity packets)
• Order a set of 5 packets of activities (you can choose between Sets A, B, C, D, E)
• Order just the FMBC manual (good option if you want to have master copies of all the direction sheets just to put packets together yourself)
• Order a single FMBC activity packet (if you have one in particular you want to use)
• Order a PDF download of the sorting mats (which are part of the master toolbox)
If you are looking for a way to boost your ability to support kids’ fine motor skills in a fun, simple way, but can’t or don’t want to spend a ton of extra time putting together activities, then I believe you’ll find that the price of the “complete program” is well worth it. Julie and Emily have done all the hard work — the analyzing, planning, and problem solving — so you don’t have to. That’s awesome.
TIME FOR A FINE MOTOR BOOT CAMP GIVEAWAY!
Fine Motor Boot Camp and MamaOT.com are partnering to give away one free set of five activity packets to one lucky reader! Please refer to the giveaway terms below to make sure you are eligible to enter to win.
In addition, Fine Motor Boot Camp is also offering a special 10% discount to MamaOT.com readers when you enter coupon code MAMAOT on their website at checkout.
Entrants must be at least 18 years of age, possess a valid U.S. mailing address, and possess a valid email address. Giveaway is only available to those with a valid U.S. mailing address. Giveaway begins at 12:00am PST on May 16, 2016 and ends at 12:00am PST on May 23, 2016. One (1) winner will be randomly selected via Rafflecopter and contacted within 48 hours of the end of the giveaway.
Full disclosure: Julie and Emily of Fine Motor Boot Camp sent me a complimentary “complete program” so I could give them (and YOU!) honest feedback. I have been communicating with them for the past couple months and have learned some helpful insights along the way, both through their responses as well as through my own experience with the FMBC program.
If, after reading this review of the Fine Motor Boot Camp program, you still have questions about any aspect of it, please leave a comment at the bottom of this post so we can answer it for you!