Occupational therapist Sarah Powe spoke to parents about ways they can help their children get ready for academic success. She says the foundation starts as soon as they begin moving and learning. During the first year of life, children develop gross motor, fine motor, language, social/emotional skills, and adaptive skills (such as putting on shoes).

Powe is a founder of neuroBridge LLC, which provides occupational therapy, speech therapy, clinical psychology and parent coaching. Powe and fellow OT Anna Snyder visit Bright several times a week to work with various students.

All the developmental stages build on each other. Fast forwarding through a stage or not getting enough repetitions can impede growth and make later stages more difficult. Powe says she and her colleagues often find parents doing skills for children, such as dressing them or tying their shoes, because sometimes it is easier or faster. But children need to try and fail to learn skills. It may take as many as 300 times for a child to repeat a motion to learn a new movement.

Parents should encourage children to move and play in different ways. For instance, babies need to learn how to track movements with their eyes. This leads to eye contact, which leads to watching someone’s mouth move to make sounds, and this helps babies learn to talk. Another example is starting to reach for objects at around five months. This motion leads to picking up objects, which leads to being able to feed themselves.

Parents should not compare their children to other children. Encourage children to make gains in development at their individual pace. “Meet your child where he or she is,” Powe says.

NeuroBridge begins working with children at preschool age. Powe says education has shifted so that what was learned later is now learned earlier. For instance, what used to be learned in first grade is now learned in kindergarten. She says play should be the basis for education in preschool, and that play for fun and learning helps a child develop a good attitude about school. Too much, too fast and too early can create problems for young children. For instance, a young child may not be able to hold a crayon correctly if he or she hasn’t had practice doing other things like molding with play-doh or stringing beads.

Powe’s “recipe” for development is
Play – help your child play with different items and in different settings
Exposure – take your child to the park or the zoo to see new surroundings
Language Rich – engage with your child, ask questions, say many different kinds of words
Sleep Hygiene – children need sleep! Sleep deprivation is sometimes mistaken for attention deficit
Healthy Boundaries – Who is in charge? You, the parents! Consistency is important.
Engagement – Be excited about learning!

Some red flags to watch for in early stages are not being able to recognize colors and demonstrating non-stop movement in JPK. For PK, right or left dominance should be established. Children are probably not ambidextrous if they use both hands. In PK, children should also be able to retell a story, follow instructions and dress themselves. For PK and kindergarten, children should be able to name letters, recognize symbols, engage in conversation, stand on one foot and put shoes on correct feet.

Watch if your child prefers to play alone and try to get him or her to engage with peers and share toys. Relating to others and cooperative play is a skill that has showed up as a problem for many children these days, she said.

Afterward, she recommended several books. See the photos for a list.

In the photo above, left to right, Sarah Powe, school counselor Rachel Blanton and Anna Snyder.