There are many benefits to be a traveling OT. You get the opportunity to see first-hand a child’s functioning and skill level in their natural environment. This allows you to not only provide more specific tools for the child, but you can also see if those tools are effective. You also get a better sense of their relationships with others and how that plays into their development and skills sets.
The challenge with working in a child’s natural setting is that you have to cart equipment, toys, and materials around! Most traveling therapists are working with a variety of ages and needs, which means there are many layers to putting together a therapy bag so you can provide optimal service. Here are some tricks that I have learned along the way.
Have a multi-layer system. What I mean by this that you can’t take everything with you so you have to have a set up where you can rotate your materials, have back up materials on hand, and then only carry on you what you need. For instance, I had tubs of materials in my garage, crates of materials in my car, and then materials in a large wheel bag. The large tubs in the garage were broken up into skills sets i.e. fine/visual motor materials, items for sensory processing, activities for strength, materials to work on bilateral coordination etc. The tubs
were also categorized by age i.e. infant toys, toddler toys, school-aged toys/materials. This allowed me to pack my bag, knowing I had materials to address a variety of needs and ages.
Keep it fresh. Most children love new toys, but some are distressed by change. I like to rotate my toys every week if possible, every 2 weeks at the max. I have some activities that I keep consistent so there is some predictability to each plan, but I also bring different materials to
bring novelty in order to work on praxis skills and to vary degrees of challenge in the activities I present.
Pack Multi-purpose toys. When you can’t take it all with you, then you have to get creative. I like toys where I can achieve many things with a few items. I also like materials that can be used by a variety of ages. For instance, I might pack a set of circles with bean bags. The circles can be used as target for the bean bags, color matching the bean bags, visual cues for tasks such as jumping jacks or other jumping patterns, to remain seated in a specific spot, or as part of an obstacle course. That is 6 activities using 1-2 items!
Think about the mini. Travel-sized toys are great when they have to fit in a bag. You can work on the same skill, but with less size. Inflatable objects can also be used and then deflated between sites. You can store smaller items inside larger items. You may also want to think
about taking materials out of their square boxes and putting them in softer storage bags, making them easier to fit in with other items in your bag.
Access. You want a bag that you can fully open and see everything you have inside. That way you don’t forgot about all those great tools you brought with you. It is also good to have a bag with a zipper so if you have a client that easily overstimulates or has issues with impulse control, you can adjust the stimulation by what you take out and what they can see.
Protect your body. Traveling with lots of materials can be hard on your body so you want to think about how to protect yourself. I have a travel backpack that opens up like a duffel bag. It also has a backpack attached the front where I put my paperwork, keys and phone. I can also detach the backpack if I wanted and wear the pack or leave it in the car. The bag has two different handles for pick up and it rolls with a long extended handle. I like this bag the best because I could get across parking lots, driveways and upstairs using good body mechanics. I
can also change the way I push, pull, or carry the bag so I won’t get a repetitive injury. In addition to the bag, I have a therapy ball belt to carry my inflated ball and a bungie cord if I want to strap a bulky item to my bag.
Ask for help. Many parents and teachers are more than willing to help you reduce your item load. Perhaps items can be left at locations or there are materials that you can use that are already on site.
What’s most important is that you can safely continue to do your job and bring tools with you to optimize your clients’ therapeutic experience. That can sometimes feel like an arduous task. However, with some “thinking outside of the box” ideas and a system in place, you can travel a little lighter.
Michaela E. Gordon, OTR/L