Recently, I had a chance to interview Sarah Collins, OTR of Collins Academy Therapy Services. Sarah is also a homeschooling Occupational Therapist and she offers a unique form of help for homeschooling families who have kids with learning challenges, special needs, or those who just want some special guidance. Below is our interview, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
As another occupational therapist who homeschools, I always like to ask, what made you decide to homeschool?
Interestingly, I was working full time as an OT in home health. I walked into a home and the family was homeschooling. I was amazed at what the children were absorbing but also the family dynamic centered around learning. It was beautiful. I didn’t think we could ever do it because I worked full time. But, within 3 months, my husband had a different job, we were moving, and I had the luxury of being home with my kids. We began homeschooling in May of 2016 and have no plans to stop.
How old are your kids? And what grades are you homeschooling?
4, 9, and 11. They will be entering PreK, 4th grade, and 7th grade in the fall.
You are also an occupational therapist. Does that influence the way you homeschool?
Because it is my background, it’s hard to separate OT from homeschooling. One of the basics of occupational therapy is analyzing an activity so that we can adapt it for any ability. I think that helps when I’m trying to work with all three of my children together. For example, when we are working on geography, my youngest colors a map, my middle guy traces it, and my oldest tries to draw from memory. Making those adaptations comes easily because of my OT background. It also really was helpful because my middle son had a difficult time learning to read. He would get really overwhelmed with many words on a page and often lost his spot when reading. I was able to recognize that he was having trouble with convergence of his eyes and visual scanning and then get him the help he needed.
Collins Academy offers some specific help to homeschoolers. What is it that you do?
I feel like I have to explain OT before explaining how Collins Academy Therapy Services applies it. Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). I get to work directly with a homeschool family to identify and clarify a need in the person, environment, or occupation. Then, since the homeschool is so individualized, we work on how to address the need within the homeschool day.
Why did you decide to launch Collins Academy?
I spent our first two years homeschooling focusing only on our homeschool and finding our groove. However, I really missed working with other families. I attended a Handwriting Without Tears seminar to keep up my OT certification and the speaker and I talked about the number of families homeschooling that could use a therapist to help with ideas and narrow down the plethora of information out on the web. Collins Academy Therapy Services joined my passion for homeschooling with the joy of working with other families.
So, Collins Academy specifically helps families who have kids with learning challenges. Do you have some favorite tips to share with us?
As I said before, homeschooling is the epitome of an individualized education plan. As a result, no two homeschools look the same. 1) Taking time to figure out how your child learns and/or presenting topics using many senses can help a child to retain information. 2) Providing a table or desk that promotes good posture can make a huge difference with writing and attention 3) Dividing time between presenting information, discovering individual interests, and exploring outdoors can be the most natural way to integrate OT strategies and homeschooling.
If a parent has a homeschooled child with special needs and wants to work with you, how do they get started?
The process is to simply set up an initial consultation where we go through the homeschool day, complete some testing as needed, and set goals. Then, I follow up with written recommendations. We continue to meet bi-monthly via telehealth to make any adjustments. More information is found at collinsacademytherapy.mystrikingly.com. In addition, each week on Instagram (@collinsacademyotservices) I focus on a topic that combines OT and homeschooling. Follow along there for free tips, activity ideas, and demonstrations from our own homeschool.
What is your favorite picture book?
We are a big library family so I’m constantly reading new picture books with my kids. When I was a little girl, I loved all of the Berenstain Bears books. My son currently has an odd obsession with bison. So, we have read There’s a Bison Bouncing on the Bed about 2,135,468 times recently. I also love Dogku [by Andrew Clements]; animals in poetry just makes me smile.
What sensory activity do your own kids enjoy most during the homeschool day?
I have one child that is a kinesthetic learner but also needs to be moving. He does his spelling on the trampoline most of the time. My oldest takes karate and is known to take breaks doing sword sets and punching. My youngest craves heavy work. He loves sitting to read under a weighted blanket and even helps with heavy chores like pushing the laundry basket for me.
Are you also giving advice to families who are only emergency/pandemic homeschooling? If so, what do you find you most say to those families?
Yes! When we first started homeschooling, I thought I had to be an expert in every topic to teach it. It didn’t take long to realize that I needed to be an expert in my child to cater to their learning style but not specifically in the topic. It’s ok if math takes 5 minutes one day because it is easily understood yet takes 50 minutes the next. What matters is that the child enjoys learning and you demonstrate the desire to learn alongside of them.
Thank you, Sarah!
Thank you for sharing with us your insight as a homeschool mom and an OT. To my readers, if you are interested in learning more about Collins Acadamy or have specific questions about how to better incorporate occupational therapy into your homeschool, check out Sarah’s website.
And thanks for telling me about Dogku. I am going to have to check that book out.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.