It’s often assumed that kids know how to tie their shoes or cut with scissors. But none of that is taken for granted by Megan Regehr. She and her colleague Sherri Buckle are occupational therapists with the school wellness team, which provides primary health care services to students in some community schools.

Megan Regehr arrives at Pleasant Hill School, one of the three schools she works in as a primary health occupational therapist.

Megan Regehr arrives at Pleasant Hill School, one of the three schools she works in as a primary health occupational therapist.

“Occupational therapists focus on how a person functions in the occupations of life,” says Regehr. “For kids, their primary occupations are going to school, playing and learning to take care of themselves. Things like putting on shoes, colouring, as well as social interactions.” That means working directly with students in the classroom.

On this particular day, Regehr packs up her supplies and walks the block from her office at St. Paul’s Hospital to Pleasant Hill School. As it’s still early in the year, a lot of the focus is on observing kids. “I need to spend time to build trust with the kids so they can show me what they can do and what their skills are,” she says. Eventually, the work will morph from group work to one-on-one intervention with the students who need her help.

Regehr tells of a little boy in another school setting who had a difficult time paying attention and sitting long enough to finish a puzzle or finish listening to a story. “It was a team effort of working with that child to build those self-regulating skills but also working with the teacher and the educational assistant to come up with strategies,” explains Regehr.

School-based occupational therapy work is an emerging field within primary health care. “Research has shown that being able to regulate your attention and your emotions affects how your brain interprets things you see into fine motor skills,” she says. This is particularly important in children who may have challenges in developing those foundational skills. “Some children are negatively affected by the social determinants of health which are coincidentally the same as the social determinants of learning. If we can help them surpass obstacles in their lives, they can be healthy and learn.” A recent report by Saskatoon Health Region’s chief medical health officer indicates that 30 per cent of kindergarten children across the Region aren’t ready for school entry because they are falling behind their peers in the development of foundational occupational or speech skills.

October is occupational therapy month across Saskatchewan. Read more about the professional work of occupational therapists in schools in this article.

Even though it’s limited, the work that Regehr and her colleagues do will help individual children develop the skills they need to be healthy and to succeed in school, like the little boy Regehr described. “By the end of the school year, the child could sit through circle time by using a lap pad which helped focus his attention. It was amazing to watch him develop. He’s still got a long way to go, but it was a major improvement.”