Category Archives: Life Skills

Teaching Utensil Use Outside of the Mealtime Experience

It seems as natural as can be; use a child’s meals and snack times as opportunities to teach them how to hold and control their fork or spoon. In this atmosphere of “least restrictive environment” and push-in treatment, this sounds like a great plan for your therapy session.

Although it seems like a good idea, there are circumstances in which separating utensil use from food consumption, at least initially, can be more effective in treatment:

  • Children with tactile aversions and oral sensitivity may find combining manual and intra-oral exploration to be too overwhelming.
  • Children with both motor and sensory issues may find that they cannot work on practicing multiple skills at the same time.
  • Children with behavior issues can be faced with a difficult situation: they want to eat and they want to exert control over their body or an adult’s behavior.
  • Kids with minimal endurance or tolerance can lack the ability to complete a meal, leaving them dependent on adults or frustrated with their fatigue or a sense of failure.

Teaching utensil use without the expectation of food ingestion can solve these problems.  As skills and tolerance grow, the two experiences can be joined successfully.  Here are some suggestions to make practice effective and weave it back into functional experience as seamlessly as possible:

  • Have the child feed an adult using child-friendly utensils and foods.  A child may decide to take a bite instead of feeding the adult, so a food’s size and texture should be safe for the child’s developmental level.
Pediatric Utensil Holder
Pediatric Utensil Holder
EazyHold Universal Cuff
EazyHold Universal Cuff
Happy Bowl Silicone Feeding Mat
Happy Bowl Silicone Feeding Mat
  • Playfully scooping and piercing non-food objects such as non-edible dough with utensils and other “real” tableware may extend practice sessions while decreasing the stress of multi-sensory exposure with food.
Shape, Model, and Mold
Shape, Model, and Mold
Pizza Party
Pizza Party
Cutting Food Box
Cutting Food Box
  • Watching the therapist eat food that the child has prepared or served with utensils reinforces the social and nurturing aspects of meal preparation and eating.
  • Using strategies such as backward chaining or graded exposure, activities that begin by separating utensil use from eating can become more like a typical mealtime experience over time. When children are given a “just-right” level of challenge, they make faster progress with ease.

Cathy Collyer, OTR, LMT, PLLC

Cathy Collyer, OTR, LMT has treated children with neurological, orthopedic and sensory processing disorders for over 20 years. She is the author of The Practical Guide To Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone. Learn more about her work at tranquilbabies.com.

Self-Care with Flair!

Creative authors, Bhanu Raghavan, MS, OTR/L and Ginger McDonald, OTR/L developed a unique curriculum for increasing independence with self-care skills. The program instructs how to teach the skills of dressing, grooming, toilet training, and eating by using a uniform approach with pictures and rhyming while employing visual, verbal, and tactile/kinesthetic cues. Each task is broken down into steps through activity analysis. In June of this year, Bhanu shared her expertise with therapists, caregivers, and children in Guatemala. Here is the account of her experience.

Visit the Self Care with Flair! website.

Bhanu Raghavan, MS, OTR/L

Self-Care with Flair! goes international once again…

Teaching basic self-care skills to children can be tedious and is often not prioritized in school or at home, even though these skills are critical for successful transition into the community. Occupational therapists are often consulted for support with this task.  A uniform approach to teaching daily living skills is critical to helping the child generalize the skills to all situations. Learning can be delayed when small differences in method and/or terminology confuse the child or when the number of steps prove to be overwhelming for the child, parent and/or teacher. Occupational therapists, Bhanu Raghavan and Ginger McDonald, authors of Self Care with Flair!, have shared their expertise in teaching self-care skills in a creative, fun way with therapists across the globe. Their methodology involves teaching self-care skills using rhymes to promote mastery and retention within a short period of time. They have based their method on evidence-based research that demonstrates that novel experiences such as rhymes and rhythm trigger the brain to sustain attention. In 2015, they presented at the British Occupational Therapy conference about their effective strategies for teaching self-care skills from their book to a packed audience.

In June 2017, when Bhanu accompanied a team of students, therapists and Professors from Xavier University (Cincinnati, Ohio) to participate in a weeklong volunteer service project in Guatemala at the Missionaries of the Highways, a clinic and residential facility for children with a variety of physical and mental disabilities. Over the course of the week, many questions about teaching self-care skills to children with disabilities arose. Bhanu shared strategies from Self Care with Flair! when she presented an in-service to the staff.  During that week, strategies from Self-Care with Flair! were shared with parents and caregivers as well. Although Spanish is the national language of Guatemala, the illustrations (300+) in the book made teaching/learning quite simple and universal.

Using Self-Care with Flair! Bhanu aided the staff, parents, and caregivers in understanding that the brain learns and retains when visual, auditory and kinesthetic cues are embedded in the teaching/learning process, resulting in success for life.

At the end of the week-long service project, the staff of the Missionaries of the Highway acknowledged the ease of use and success of the Self Care with Flair! approach to self-care activities and requested a copy of the book, which was gladly given to them (See photos).  Much to Bhanu’s delight, one of the OTs at the facility volunteered to translate the rhymes in the book into the Spanish language as needs arose!  The week was a joyful learning experience for all!!

Self-Care with Flair!
Self-Care with Flair!
Self-Care with Flair!


Bhanu Raghavan, MS, OTR/L

Bhanu RaghavanA graduate of Indiana University and The Ohio State University, Bhanu has over 25 years of experience in pediatrics. She is certified in pediatric NDT and the READY Approach (Bonnie Hanschu) for Sensory Integration Disorders. Frequently, she presents workshops on topics related to self-care independence, sensory processing disorders and fine motor/handwriting skill development to therapists, teachers and parents/caregivers. She works at Centerville City schools, OH. She is a firm believer of the following Confucian principle: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

I Can Work!

Educator, Rebecca Tock, teaches at the Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa, California. She generously gave us permission to share her glowing testimonial about the I Can Work! curriculum, a 5 module pre-vocational program designed by Therapro author, Angela  (Angie) Mahoney, M.Ed. With Angie’s broad experience as a pre-vocational teacher and as a consultant to other schools in developing their pre-voc programs, her I Can Work! program continues to evolve into a practical, exciting course that builds on basic job readiness skills such as how to greet a supervisor, how to dress for work, how to fill out a job application, appropriate job behaviors, etc. Learning those basic skills provides a firm foundation on which to build more advanced skills. The I Can Work! curriculum instructs students in 5 different jobs: clerical, food service, retail, and grocery.

Rebecca Tock‎

I Can Work

I was introduced to the “I Can Work” curriculum at an educational conference I attended in Spring 2015. Immediately, I knew it was special. It was so different from other vocational curriculums I have used in the past and I thought that this may be the piece that I needed to provide a well rounded pre-vocational education experience in my class. After the presentation, I approached Angela Mahoney, the developer of the curriculum, for some clarifying questions about the program. I was impressed by how user friendly the program appeared to be. Angela was clear, concise and knows her stuff! She was very helpful. What was quite amazing was that it was a total of $49.95. That is unheard of in this profession!

I was able to immediately purchase the curriculum due to its affordability and size. The modules provide comprehensive and clear lesson plans that are easy to use and even easier to incorporate into an existing classroom curriculum. The material presented provides visuals and a guide for the use of real world everyday materials. When working with young adults who have severe disabilities the use of familiar objects is imperative for success. I appreciate the way in which “I Can Work” really uses large graphics and touches upon prior knowledge of the students.

The instructions to set up lessons are easy to follow, and really make this an accessible space for my students. It has definitely enhanced my pre-vocational lessons and given my students more ways to participate in pre-vocational activities.

I love ‘I Can Work!’ It was the best class curricular decision I could have made. I recommend it to any teacher who teaches a pre-vocational class to students/individuals with moderate to severe disabilities.


Ms. Tock teaches students in grades 9-12 who have been identified as having severe special needs.  We would like to direct you to her request for funding ADA accessible tables for her students’ use at mealtimes in school, so they can join their peers. Please visit the site to learn more about her project.