Sydney occupational therapy students help kindergartners
A new pilot program pairing occupational therapy students from the University of Sydney with kindergartners from western Sydney public schools has ended its first year with breakthrough results.
The Little Hands program, designed to help early primary school students develop their learning and fine motor skills, launched in term two this year at Bexley, Fairfield and Wattawa Heights Public Schools.
Over the course of 11 weeks, 20 student and alumni volunteers from the University of Sydney‘s Compass program assisted 180 kindergarten and year 1 students through fun occupational therapy activities based on the Fingergym™ Fine Motor Skills School Readiness Program.
After completing the program, 83 per cent of kindergarten and year 1 students showed improved fine motor skills, with 78 per cent reporting an improved ability to complete self-care tasks independently, such as dressing and shoelace-tying.
The pilot survey also revealed 100 per cent of teachers involved in the program reported a general improvement in their students’ gross and fine motor skills, confidence and focus in the classroom.
“Simple skills like the ability to hold a pencil correctly or cut with scissors underpin a child’s whole schooling and attitude to learning,” said Assistant Principal of Wattawa Heights Public School, Nitsa Comninos.
Teachers from participating schools also gained professional learning assistance from OT Kids NSW as part of the pilot to help their classroom readiness for occupational therapy activities.
“Having this structured program has been really beneficial because it broke down into five key areas what sorts of skills are needed and provided specific examples of activities to be incorporated in the classroom,” said Ms Comninos.
Parents were encouraged to participate in the Little Hands pilot, with 175 parents attending information sessions to equip them with the skills to practice with their children at home.
Wattawa Heights Public School parent Antoinette Mouzayek said the hands-on nature of the program meant students gained a newfound motivation to learn.
“It’s not like a normal lesson where children can get easily bored. The program is so quick and fun that the students don’t even realise they’re developing their fine motor skills,” she said.
“‘Little Hands’ teaches the skills that many parents assume their children already come to school with.”
First year Master of Teaching (Primary) student Jade Fogarty said volunteering with the program has helped her gain an appreciation of the importance of developing children’s fine motor skills, an area not often covered in traditional teacher training.
“Comparing the students’ abilities at the start of the program to several weeks in showed how helpful the ‘Little Hands’ program has been,” she said.
“I’ve learnt many techniques I can incorporate into the classroom in future and it has helped me recognise when students need improvement.”
‘Little Hands’ is set to continue from term one next year.
University of Sydney’s Master of Occupational Therapy
The University of Sydney offers a two-year, graduate-entry Master of Occupational Therapy program. It is intended for students coming from an undergraduate degree in any field who wish to gain the requirements to become an occupational therapist. As the course leads to eligibility to practice, students will be assisted in achieving prescribed professional competencies through practical and theoretical skill acquisition and clinical fieldwork placements. Clinical placements are undertaken in both the public and private sectors. Students will have the opportunity to develop an understanding of the career path they have chosen, and its place in contemporary health.
Program: Master of Occupational Therapy
Location: Lidcombe, (suburb of Sydney), New South Wales
Semester intake: March each year
Duration: 2 years