As mentioned in a previous blog, I was assigned to co-lead handwriting and after school activities with the children at the orphanage. I was most nervous about co-teaching handwriting because of my lack of experience in this area. We were fortunate to use a curriculum called “handwriting without tears” which provided us with ideas for working with children at all stages of handwriting. I spent a lot of time reading the teachers manuals, which were really helpful, but the uncertainty of how it would actually work in Ghana made it a bit more complicated.
The first day we spent at the orphanage, we introduced handwriting to the kids. The lack of structure and table space made it difficult for the kids to pay attention. However, after having each child take a quick handwriting assessment, we were able to split the kids up into reasonable groups by skill level. Overall, the kids were decent at writing their letters, but there was a wide range of skill level. Some of us worked on chalkboards, others with wooden blocks, and a few in workbooks.
The next day we were able to teach handwriting in school which was a little better since each child had a desk, and we had access to the blackboard. I was really glad to provide each child with their own workbook with the letters in the correct teaching order (based on difficulty level and groupings of letters). While working with the kids, we noticed that they had difficulty making the connection between letters and their sounds. They could usually tell you what the letter was, but most could not tell you the name of something that started with the letter. Based on this observation, it seems like the teachers are more concerned with memorization of the letters alone versus usage of letters in words. Maybe this could be something to look into in the future, followed by providing feedback to the teachers. Overall, I thought the handwriting went pretty well. Most of the kids benefited from learning the correct way of writing letters, which will help them in the future when they learn to write words. I would have liked to have more time for handwriting so we could of worked on lower-case and cursive letters (for the more advanced kids). We did leave some materials and the curriculum for the teacher, so hopefully he will take advantage of that information. Writing is a critical skill that will benefit these children for the rest of their lives and I was happy to take part in the learning process.
The biggest success for after school activities was making the rainbow loom bracelets. The kids had never seen them before so they were very interested. When we brought out the rubber bands, the kids all swarmed around to learn how to make them. We taught them how to make them on their fingers since they wouldn’t have access to a “loom” (which most kids in the US use to make them). I was impressed with how quickly they caught on—even the younger ones. They even asked for us to send them more rubber bands so they could sell bracelets at the market! The friendship bracelets out of string did not interest the kids as much, but some of them really liked it. They were able to tie the string to their toe to make these—improvising at its finest!
During our last day, we had the opportunity to meet with the University of Ghana OT students. I really enjoyed working through case studies and learning more about them and their program. The students we met are the first OT class and they are in their second year of undergraduate studies. They haven’t had much exposure to OT yet and have taken mainly general education courses. They will only need a four-year degree to practice as an OT in Ghana, but we are not sure how it will work since there are only a couple OT’s in Ghana. However, working through case studies was a cool experience because we were able to help them begin to think like OT’s. This experience made me realize that I know more than I think. I think that our pediatric course this past semester helped prepare me for working through the case studies. It made me feel good that I could help them with their critical reasoning skills and helped me see that I am starting to think more like an OT!
I also enjoyed providing transfer training to the teachers of New Horizon’s and The University of Ghana students. I was glad we were able to do this because so many people get hurt while trying to transfer others. I hope we at least helped them understand the safety concerns for both people during transfers to help reduce injury in each person.
What I learned most during these OT related projects was that most learning usually comes from uncomfortable situations. Before each of these activities, I did not feel competent since I am not yet an OT. However, I learned so much from each of these experiences, and realized that I knew more than I thought!