Tip Sheets

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School Readiness

School readiness is important as the development of these foundational skills allows teachers to expand and further develop the child’s skills in the specific areas of social interaction, play, language, emotional development, physical skills, literacy and fine motor skills and assists children to access the curriculum. This checklist provides an overview of what types of skills are expected when a child enters a mainstream school setting. This may help you to determine areas in which your child might need additional practice before school begins. Remember, if your child has a disability they may be working towards obtaining some of these skills. It is important to discuss with your child’s occupational therapist what skills they have and what support their future school can offer.


Areas to consider with school readiness:

  • Social & Communication skills
  • Self care skills
  • Pre-writing and scissor skills (general fine motor skills)
  • Cognitive and information processing abilities
  • Visual perception
  • Gross motor skills

In functional terms consider some of these activities that are generally performed in a typical school day. This is a short list of skills therefore, should you have concerns whether your child is ready for school, contact your local occupational therapist for an assessment.


  • Open and close their school bag
  • Open a lunch box (lids such as yoghurt lids)
  • Unwrap their sandwich, open a popper or peel fruit
  • Push their chair in/out
  • Hold a pencil or cut with scissors along a line and cut-out basic shapes
  • Pull on/off their jumper or jacket
  • Do their shoelaces or fasten the velcro or buckles
  • Manage their clothing and belts or raincoat
  • Get on/off the toilet, turn on taps and wash their hands
  • Blows and wipes their nose
  • Engage in running or balancing activities
  • Catch and throw a ball
  • Endurance for sport activities
  • Negotiating stairs
  • Follows simple instructions
  • Recognises basic shapes as well as primary and secondary colours
  • Give eye contact and can initiate or respond to conversation

Toilet Training

When commencing toilet training, follow these simple 10 step guidelines to help with the process. Toilet training can be stressful and cause anxiety so both the parents and child needs to be ready.


  1. You need to assess the child’s readiness for toilet training. Your occupational therapist can help to assess whether your child is ready or if you need to work on readiness first.
  2. Consistency of language and the process between all the environments and family members is very important. Eg. Using the same terms, language and cue cards. Plan what language will be used with the child and include everyone who will be involved in regular communication. e.g. parents, grandparents, therapist, carers and teachers.
  3. Ensure when you are about to start training that the main carers have the time to invest in the process. Events such as moving house, separation, or starting preschool will disrupt the toilet training process. It is important routines are consistent and familiar.
  4. Before you start training ensure the bathroom is a safe and enticing place for the child. For example ensure the toilet insert seat and step are secure and stable, if sensory sensitivities are present avoid loud hand dryers, strong air fresheners, or bright lights.
  5. Collect the baseline data of the most common times the child wees and does a poo. Ensure they can stay dry for 1‐1.5 hours during the day and sit still for 3‐5 minutes.
  6. Introduce the toilet as part of the daily routine: Change the child’s nappy in the bathroom, have dolls pretend play on the toilet, have timed sittings to practice relaxing while sitting (keep sittings, short, relaxed and enjoyable). Tell the child it is ‘toilet time’ at each assigned toilet time; don’t ask if they need to go. Have the child participate as much as possible.
  7. Facilitate awareness of wet and soiled: Have no nappy play outside, put undies underneath the nappy to increase sensation, and label ‘wee’, ‘poo’ and ‘need to go’.
  8. Use consistent teaching methods, including language, signs, pictures and demonstrations.
  9. Have a positive approach to rewarding and praising the child. Praise/reward correct behaviour only. When accidents occur, show limited attention by labelling the wet/soiled feeling, offer no punishment or reward, and continue in the usual toilet routine. Rewards should be meaningful, immediate and only given at toilet times (e.g. stickers).
  10. Avoid negative experiences and toilet battles.

Tips for Brushing Teeth

Children may avoid brushing teeth for various reasons. If you are unsure of the reason behind the avoidance behaviour, chatting to your therapist can help with identifying the problem and working on a solution. Some children don’t like the taste of toothpaste or are unable to tolerate the feel of the toothbrush inside their mouth, the smell of the toothpaste or the sound of the brushing. Brushing teeth maybe causing them discomfort and/or stress.


Try some of these strategies and chat to your occupational therapist.

  • If your child finds brushing teeth stressful or becomes anxious, try a calming bath first or brushing teeth whilst sitting in the bath.
  • Some children respond well to motivators such as singing a song, brushing their teeth with their parents or siblings or having a musical toothbrush.
  • Try using an electric toothbrush, some children enjoy the sensation from the vibration or find it easier and less effort to brush with an electric toothbrush.
  • Using auditory or visual cues could help with timing or counting how long it takes to brush teeth.
  • If your child is a sensory seeker (chat to your therapist to work this one out)…then a vibrating toothbrush or moving whilst brushing may be of benefit.
  • Try a variety of toothpastes; your child may not be able to tolerate the strong mint flavours.
  • Try different positions if your child has difficulty relaxing and becomes anxious. Sitting in a beanbag or using a weighted lap blanket whilst sitting may help to keep them calm during brushing.
  • If your child displays significant avoidance behaviours to brushing teeth then you may need to work slowly towards getting the toothbrush near the lips and mouths. It is important to chat to an occupational therapist about these particular strategies as some children who are typically “sensory defensive” will require slow progression to brushing teeth and need additional support to achieving successful brushing.

Tips for Developing Hand Preference

The preferred hand (dominant hand) is when a child consistently uses a particular hand over the other to perform an activity. Hand dominance will usually start to develop between 2 and 4 years of age. Sometimes children will swap during this stage to determine which hand they prefer to use and able to master the activity with. However, usually between the age of 4 and 6 years a hand preference has been selected and established.

If your child does not seem to demonstrate a preference, don’t try to force the child but start to take note which hand is used more often and used more skillfully. Your occupational therapist can assist with developing a dominant hand and developing the skills needed to engage and master school-­‐based activities and other fine motor activities of daily living, but there are things you can do at home.


Quick tips for developing a hand preference:

  • Start to take note of which is hand is used more often for daily tasks such as brushing teeth, colouring, cutting, holding utensils and drinking.
  • Provide opportunities for hand skill development using everyday activities
  • If unsure of a hand preference position toys to the centre of the body and watch which hand is used to grab the toy.
  • Once a preference is identified, its important to consistently encourage the use of that hand to develop skill mastery.
  • Label hands as “doing hand” and “ helping hand” and encourage use of the “doing hand”.
  • Encourage your child to start and finish activities with the same hand rather than allowing to swap hands due to fatigue. Rest breaks are far better than allowing to swap hands.


Examples of everyday activities to encourage hand development:

  • Brushing teeth
  • Brushing hair
  • Using a fork or spoon when eating
  • Using a knife to butter bread
  • Removing lids from containers or yoghurts.
  • Zipping or unzipping clothing
  • Washing self in the bath
  • Wiping the kitchen bench or table
  • Finger painting or drawing
  • Craft work – using scissors or pasting activities.

Holiday tips from the team

When there is a holiday and the normal daily routine changes, kids with sensory processing disorder, autism or kids that generally operate and crave consistency can find this time to be challenging. Adjusting to a “lack” of routine or structure can be difficult and cause “behavioural” problems or discontent in the family.

Thinking ahead of time and preparing children for the holidays and planning structured or organized activities is the team’s tip. By preparing and scheduling activities your child will feel more confident about what’s coming up over the holidays and may help to reduce the “meltdowns” or just help kids feel in control with the daily routine.


  • Plan your activities ahead of time and have a holiday schedule. Build in a combination of activities that includes outdoor and indoor play, quiet-time activities and days with friends.
  • Get your kids to make their own schedule and decorate or personalize their schedule to make it fun and engaging.
  • Choose comfortable clothing for outings – any clothing with “scratchy” or “itchy” tags, tassels and seams can be annoying and can increase sensitivity across the day. What may feel ok at the start of the day may gradually not be tolerated by the end.
  • If you are attending busy, noisy gatherings or events consider taking noise cancelling headphones or ‘ear defenders’. Particularly for children that tend to be auditory defensive.
  • Take a backpack containing fidget items and/or weighted products. The weight of the backpack can also double as sensory strategy placing deep through the shoulders (make sure it is a supportive backpack though!).
  • If going on a special outing, let the child know ahead of time. Looking at pictures of who will be there, what you’ll be doing and what you are likely to see. This helps the child feel more confident and in control.
  • Set specific timeframes for activities and have an “opt-out” space available; a place for the child to retreat to, should they start to feel overwhelmed or overloaded by the activity. Particularly useful in environments that are noisy, busy or bustling with other children.
  • Hoodies can also help children who are visually over stimulated by busy environments.

Increasing Attention in the Classroom

Students with learning disabilities, sensory processing problems, ADHD or visual perception difficulties can have problems attending to classroom activities and their teachers. By implementing some specific strategies in the classroom teachers can assist with engaging students and helping them to attend and process information better.


Quick tips for the classroom:

  • Structuring and positioning the classroom desks and providing access for the teacher to move around the room will help students to focus on the activities and assist the teacher engaging the students.
  • If children are visually distracted, minimizing the amount of students in front of them and positioning them in the front row would be of benefit.
  • Removing unnecessary distractions around their desk helps to keep them focused or positioning them away from windows where they could be visually distracted.
  • Keep the directions clear and to the point. Deliver instructions with minimal steps or provide visual instructions cards particularly if students have difficulty with processing multi-step instructions.
  • Provide follow up directions in writing and highlight or underline key words.
  • Ask the student to repeat the instructions or check in with the student to ensure all information/instructions were processed correctly.
  • Use a handout with key points about the lecture or topic.
  • Providing movement breaks within the classroom. Giving time to stand and stretch to increase arousal levels can assist with maintaining attention in the classroom. Opportunity for a movement break can be provided when handing out books, collecting canteen lunches, giving out handouts, writing on the board, transitioning to a different position in the classroom.
  • Develop classroom signals to let students know when its time to really focus their attention.
  • Vary teaching styles throughout the lesson e.g. show information through using visual graphs, charts, apps or software. Incorporate movement, drama, music or experiments. Provide a variety of ways for students demonstrate their learning through projects, presentations, speeches or small group activities.
  • Provide the student with age appropriate fidget and/or sensory seeking tools.

Haircut Tips

Often haircuts are unpleasant and stressful for children and parents, particularly if the child experiences sensory vulnerabilities. Making haircuts a positive experience and improving tolerance levels can be challenging. Try out some of these ideas.


Why might your child not like having haircuts?

  • They have a sensory sensitivity to the noise or touch of clippers or scissors.
  • Sensitive around their head and neck region
  • Sensitive to the bright lights or strong smells in the salon
  • They may some difficulty with sitting still and fidget or move constantly.
  • They may experience anxiety or fear of getting hurt or not knowing what to expect.


Strategies to try out:

  • Have a chat with the hairdresser before your visit so the hairdresser is aware of the issues around having a haircut before attempting to cut your child’s hair.
  • Visit a home-­based hairdresser where it is less busy and noisy or alternatively a mobile hairdresser that comes to your home.
  • Put on a favourite DVD or read a story to distract the child from the haircut
  • Think about how the child might prefer to be seated – on the parents lap or feet planted securely on the floor.
  • Try scissors over clippers if the noise is a problem or try clippers if scissors are too “tickly”.
  • You occupational therapist could help write a social story around getting a haircut to help your child understand the process and prepare for the haircut. This could help your child understand what to expect and feel more comfortable.
  • If you child is calmed by deep touch or brushing, brushing their hair before hand may help with getting them in the right state for the task.
  • Allow your child to go with you to the hairdresser and watch you get your haircut so they learn what to expect.
  • Pretend play “hairdressing” is a good way to introduce what to expect.
  • Depending on the age of the child, allowing them to pick a hairstyle.
  • Avoid times of the day that your child may be hungry or tired and less tolerant of changes in routine.
  • Use a timer to give them a visual cue of how long the haircut will take.
  • Keep it as simple as possible at the hairdressing salon. Try washing hair at home and only cutting at the salon and drying naturally to start. Later you might like to add the extra steps in at the salon.

This information is of a general nature only and does not constitute advice to a child or carer’s particular circumstances. Tip sheets are not intended to replace professional therapy services.

If you have any questions or would like additional information contact Grace Children’s Therapy on 1300 760 779.