Can't catch a ball? Try a balloon first, says Rachel

October 02 2017

A DOWNEND mum could help thousands of children who have coordination difficulties with her recently published book for parents and professionals.

A DOWNEND mum could help thousands of children who have coordination difficulties with her recently published book for parents and professionals.

Rachel White, 45, a paediatric occupational therapist, came up with the idea after working with children in schools in Bristol.

The 256-page tome, called Helping Children to Improve Their Gross Motor Skills, was six years in the making and is aimed to help any child with coordination difficulties, such as children with a dyspraxia diagnosis, global developmental delay, Down Syndrome, learning disabilities or autism.

The book features hundreds of activities to help youngsters do things more able bodied children take for granted, such as ride a scooter, throw a ball or hop.

Each activity is broken down in small, simple steps with the idea that children can build their skills through practice and repetition with an adult supporting them until they reach a point where they can join in with their mainstream peers.

Rachel said: "The book doesn't look at children of a specific age and say they should be at a certain stage. It's all about skills that children want to learn and taking it from its first very basic steps. So, for example, one of the programmes teaches children how to throw and catch a tennis ball but they would actually start by catching a balloon. It's all about taking it right back to basics and building skills in a step-by-step way. 

"The value of the book is that it's a very practical resource with lots of ideas and activities that are fun for children as well as for the adults working with them."

It has already received rave reviews with one occupational therapist calling it "one of the most thoroughly practical and useful resources I have ever read for helping children with their gross motor skills."

Rachel, who works at the Eastgate Centre in Eastville, said the idea which led to the book came about six years ago.

"I was in a school meeting and one of the SENCOs (special educational needs coordinator) said, 'I just want to know what to do with a child in PE sessions when they can't work on the apparatus'.

"A light bulb went off and I thought, 'I could help you with that'. It didn't start out as a book but rather a resource with me thinking how I could break down activities to help this teacher. I did this for school apparatus and then thought I could use the same way of breaking down activities for other skills, like ball skills, skipping or ride a bike.

"As I continued to compile the resources, it just took the shape of a book and developed from there."

Rachel, who trained as an OT as the University College of Ripon and York St John, took her idea to Jessica Kingsley Publishers who straight away expressed an interest.

"I sent off a couple of sample pages and they snapped it up! The book looks exactly how I wanted it to look. It looks very professional; it's clearly laid out with lovely photos."

Before the book was published it went through a year-long piloting process with various schools in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

SENCOs from the schools gave Rachel feedback on how they found the programmes which further formed the process of developing the book.

Rachel said: "Through the book children can get to the stage where they feel more confident in getting involved in leisure activities where it might have been difficult for them before because they hadn't been that motivated to try. 

"One of the great pleasures of my job is when we hold a bike group and I'm running alongside a child and I let go and see them sail off. You can see that freedom and independence in their faces; they are just so delighted with themselves."

The book turned out to be very much a local affair with Downend up-and-coming photographer Fiona Georgeson-Powell and Rachel's husband Terry taking the photos which are used throughout. 

And if the young faces who appear in the book look familiar, that's because they are all 'models' from Stanbridge Primary School, where Rachel's daughters, Phoebe, eight, and  five-year-old Keira, attend.

Rachel said: "It's got a real local feel to it. It even has photos of the swings and table tennis table at Page Park. There was lots of local input."

Rachel will hold a launch party later this month at the Bean Tree Cafe in Page Park and invited guests will include Rachel's NHS colleagues who contributed to the book, school staff who were involved in the piloting process and children and their parents from Stanbridge primary.

"There won't have been a time when they've all been in the same room so everyone can see what a community went into the building of the book."

Helping Children to Improve Their Gross Motor Skills is available on Amazon.