Task Boxes: A Hands-On Approach to Life Skills

by Angela Mahoney

The importance of pre-vocational planning and opportunity is ever growing, yet when and where to begin can be so overwhelming for both educators and parents! Task boxes are a great way to introduce as well as develop a wide range of hands-on life and vocational activities for a range of diverse learners.

Task boxes are compartments that contain material for a certain activity. The activities are typically short and structured and they offer a nice blend of familiarity and challenge. Any activity that fits in the compartment may be used as part of the young adult’s curriculum both at school and home as well as in a therapy session such as OT, PT and Speech. Task boxes offer much more than organization for the young adult working on the activity:

  • Activities address various skills.
  • They encourage independence, as the young adult takes the task out of the box, completes it, and puts it away with minimal or no guidance.
  • They serve as excellent sequencing activities.
  • The boxes are visual, and the single-unit presentation is easy to understand.
  • They break down activities into small steps, which is an important aspect of applied behavioral analysis (ABA).

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

To create a task box you need to first gather a limited number of materials (10-20) related to the activity as well as a compartment with lid large enough to store materials.


Next you will need tocreate a visual guide showing each step of the task in the compartment. This allows the young adult to visually see each step of the variety of task boxes and encourages independence when working.


After the materials have been placed in the compartment, adhere the steps to the lid, number the box and add it to your task box area for future practice and success with a wide range of skills!

Below are some examples of task box ideas broken down by Module, adapted from the I Can Work! Program.

Clerical: Folding paper in thirds, Addressing envelopes, Filing by numbers or words

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

Retail: Folding t-shirts, Pairing and Sizing shoes, Buttoning Shirt

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

Food Service: Folding napkins, Setting a table, Assembly of place settings

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

Grocery: Sorting hard and soft groceries, Stocking shelves

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

By creating task boxes that apply to life utilizing vocational materials, young adults are building a stronger foundation and confidence for future success!

How Can We Use RTI-P to Organize our Jobs and Caseloads?

by Dr. Debra Em Wilson

S'Cool MovesI’m excited to join Therapro as a guest blogger. I am a reading specialist and the founder of S’cool Moves. I enjoy collaborating and appreciate this opportunity to connect with the Therapro community. I’d like to share a post from my website that I’ve modified to share with you, a Therapro community member.

A physical therapist called me from Ohio wanting to know more about our products, but what she really needed from me were some insights that I’ve gained from doing what I do for the last twenty years. She was a therapist making the huge shift from clinical practice to educational practice in schools. She told me that she was the ONLY physical therapist for the entire district and was spread really thin. Let’s call our therapist Amber. Amber said that the teachers seemed to want to know what they could do in the classrooms for all the students to improve foundation skills. But how was she going to reach all these teachers and satisfy the IEP goals for her huge caseload?

It was interesting. Do you know where my mind went to help Amber create a framework? It went to sharing about the Response-to-Intervention model (RTI). RTI was designed as an alternative to the discrepancy model used to determine if a child qualified for special education services. With RTI, methods of intervention are validated and data collected prior to referring a child for special education testing. Though some report RTI working well, for others it’s a mixed bag depending on how it is being implemented.

What if we could use RTI personally? Let’s call it the RTI-P model. During our conversation, I found myself explaining to Amber how RTI models work and personalizing the model for her. She got off the call with clarity and new tools to help guide her as she navigates her new position.

Today’s thought is, “How can we use RTI-P to organize our jobs and caseloads?” Think in terms of tiers. RTI has three tiers. The first tier includes interventions and strategies we can use with all students in the classroom. The second tier includes modifications we need to make for small groups of students who are having difficulty with the class-wide strategies. The third tier focuses on individual strategies for the most involved students.

In your caseload, what students do you have that you could support in the classroom setting, Tier 1? Are there opportunities for you to present some strategies during staff meetings or on PD days to support teachers and students in the classroom?

Now think about Tier 2. What students need small group support either in the classroom or within designated smaller group environments?

And finally, Tier 3. What students are very involved and need your one-on-one, hands-on support?

Once you create your own personal framework, then you can figure out what materials or products will help you reach your goals, but first create your RTI-P framework.

For instance, Therapro’s Drive Thru Menus works well with all student in a classroom so this could be considered as an important tool for Tier 1 intervention. For small groups of students who are working on improving visual-motor integration, consider

  • Origami Fun for Beginners – 55 fun-to-do projects! Includes 96 sheets of authentic origami paper in a gorgeous array of colors and designs.
  • Letter Treasure Hunt Game – Handwriting fun!
    1. Sail your ship to an Alphabet Island,
    2. Follow Captain’s orders when you draw a card,
    3. Collect your treasure by writing the letter in the Captain’s log.

For students needing one-on-on intervention, add Developing Visual Motor Integration and Trace the Eights to your intervention strategies.

Let me know if the RTI-P makes sense to you and how you’ve used it to be more effective in your job and less stressed!

Thanks for all you do for children, Dr. Debra Em Wilson

Saturday Seminar: A Sensory Perspective on Helping Adolescents and Young Adults Learn to Deal with Difficult Emotions

Karen_MooreKaren Moore, OTR/L presented a superb seminar on Saturday entitled: A Sensory Perspective on Helping Adolescents and Young Adults Learn to Deal with Difficult Emotions. Working in the area of mental health has been Karen’s passion and career focus.  She is a highly respected and renowned therapist in her area of practice. In her seminar, Karen shared information from her most recent publication of The Sensory Connection Program called The Sensory Connection Program: Curriculum for Self-Regulation, which teaches self-regulation skills through the use of sensory strategies and social engagement. It was evident from her creative and heartfelt approach that her clients benefit greatly from her knowledge and experience. Today she focused on the emotionally charged years of middle and high school, when students benefit from learning fun and engaging strategies to help them deal with emotions. She described how to teach adolescents to recognize signs that they are having emotional difficulty, how to teach them to seek help, and how to help them learn to use effective self-regulation skills.

Karen’s discussion of the value of mastering self-regulation made good sense; when an individual is able to cope with emotions, he/she is able to “tune back in” to the self, which in turn results in being back in control and greater self-confidence.  She emphasized that without mastery of self-control, it would be difficult for an individual to explore new adventures including higher education, travel, or entering the job market. When applied to adolescents, whose pre-frontal cortex and cerebellum are still developing, the need for learning self-regulation strategies is crucial.

Sensory Connection ProgramWhen Karen reviewed the evolution of the stress response, it was easy to see that the vagal level of “freezing” when confronted by a stressor is not a useful response because it results in being overwhelmed by fear.  In the next level in the hierarchy she explained how the sympathetic “fight or flight “ response is more effective than the “freeze” response, but has a long recovery time.  The optimal response to stress involves appraisal of the situation and communication, which promotes a calm state. She shared research evidence that shows that adolescents who have experienced trauma respond with more primitive responses, have difficulty with communicating verbally, and are more reliant on sensory responses than cognitive strategies for coping. Teaching adolescents self-regulation skills prevents them from resorting to the dangerous lower levels of the hierarchy when responding to stress.

Karen employed some of techniques for calming with her audience today, including several different ways of using deep breathing as a group activity, resulting in a feeling of socialization and engagement.  The pneumonic “Pause – Connect – Engage” helps adolescents to “short-circuit” fear by signaling them to stop and think what made him/her upset, make a social connection by reaching out to someone trusted, and then do something positive that helps, which may be tool-based or non tool-based, i.e. squeeze a ball, do deep breathing, exercise, use a fidget, etc. The group tried out several calming strategies, but one called “seaweed” which involved rooting the feet on the floor and swaying gently and slowly with body and arms, was simple and effective immediately.

Karen guided us in learning how to avert a crisis by helping adolescents gain self-control with the use of a variety of sensory strategies that can be personalized.  The strategies are highly effective for the teen population, but can be valuable tools for any individual who is in a state of emotional distress.

Here’s what attendees had to say about Karen’s seminar:

“As a pediatric OT at elementary school level, learning about sensory curriculum at adolescent level guides me in treatment.  Really enjoyed Karen’s stories/real examples to associate to curriculum.” Jen M., Occupational Therapist

“This topic is relatable to everything I do as a COTA. It ties emotions and sensory input. Every student I work with will benefit!” Beth M., COTA

“Very informative.  Wonderfully explained with explanations in brief & practical exercises to experience.”  Rajini K., Parent

“I would recommend this seminar to a colleague because of the scientific/physiological information, therapeutic activities, and hands on demonstrations.  Very knowledgeable speaker.  Excellent examples.” Joann W., Occupational Therapist

“Useful information for sensory techniques to calm/alert children effectively. New concept/less traditional routes for sensory strategies.” Megan Z., OT student

Thank you, Karen!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L