Learning pre-handwriting skills, fine motor skills and visual perception seems a chore for most elementary school students undergoing occupational therapy. But throw in a curly-haired Labradoodle dog, colorful graphics and entertaining sound effects on an iPad and therapy transforms from painful to gainful.
When Kami Bible, occupational therapist for the Oak Harbor School District, saw the positive effect iPads have on student learning, she developed an iPad application over the summer that turns therapy work into an entertaining quest with her family dog, Shelby.
“Shelby’s Quest,” now available for download from the iPad app store, features three games with increasingly difficult levels. From helping a salmon through a maze to saving a squirrel’s acorns to showing a moose the path home, the vibrant graphics and amusing sound effects offer children a fun way to practice skills like finger isolation, pinching and fine motor skills.
A vital aspect of the app is that it tracks student scores.
“A lot of games that are fun don’t track data, and a lot of games that track data aren’t fun,” Bible said. She set out to create a game that is both fun and tracks student progress.
Bible got the idea to develop an app when she used her iPad to help twin girls who had autism. They had never been interested in learning to write their names before, but when Bible brought out the iPad, they were hooked. Using the iPad, they wrote their names the best yet, Bible said.
“I realized early on how motivating it was for students,” Bible said. “It’s a really up and coming tool for therapists.”
When she began designing “Shelby’s Quest” in May, Bible knew she wanted to add personal touches, like her dog and a Pacific Northwest setting. Shelby is in training to become a therapy dog.
“When I have had her in school, kids love her,” Bible said. She and her family moved from Oklahoma to the Northwest a few years ago and fell in love with the area, Bible said, so she wanted to include that in the app, too.
Bible researched app development companies and decided on Doodle Therapy Apps. They exchanged mock-ups and critiques over the summer before the company programmed the app. Bible described the process as hard work and not cheap.
“It was fun. I enjoyed it. It was a challenge but something I really enjoyed,” Bible said.
That seems to be the case for students using the app, too. Second-grade student Tyriq Boyles excitedly gave “Shelby’s Quest” a try. Bible helped him use his finger to guide a salmon down rivers that changed shape each level. He practiced each level a couple of times, his scores improving.
“I’ve enjoyed using it with the students I’ve had so far. I’ve had some positive feedback from other therapists who’ve used it,” Bible said.
The data tracking aspect was the biggest hit with her app, Bible said. She pointed out profiles for each student, which are denoted by photo and name. The data is password-protected and can be emailed straight from the app.
“It’s also great for special education teachers, home-schooled kids, parents who have special needs kids… Any young child would benefit from it,” Bible said.
Bible’s interest in occupational therapy began when, at age 14, she fell off a zip line and broke her arm badly. She went through a year of occupational therapy and became close with her therapist. She completed high school knowing she wanted to do occupational therapy.
Bible has been an occupational therapist for 14 years. This is her third year working for the Oak Harbor School District.
“I like working in the schools and I like working with younger kids,” Bible said.
When faced with the challenge of working with youths, Bible said, “The thing you’ve got to remember is that it’s a hard time for the patient. They’re frustrated, dealing with a lot of new things.” In the school district, it’s the parents who are often frustrated, Bible said.
“You focus on the fact that you’re helping someone’s life be a little better or helping a parent’s life be a little easier. You have to focus on the student and what they’re getting out of the therapy session,” Bible explained.
After her positive experience creating “Shelby’s Quest,” Bible said she already has ideas for other occupational therapy apps in the future. She hopes to add more levels to “Shelby’s Quest” in the next few months.
“I love occupational therapy and I love technology and now it’s finally come together for me,” Bible said. “Building the app was a really great experience… It was challenging but it really renewed my interest. You need things like that throughout your career to kind of spice things up a bit.”