Christy Isbell, PhD, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with more than twenty years of experience working with young children. She is professor of occupational therapy at Milligan College, where she teaches graduate-level child development, human development courses and pediatric occupational therapy courses. Dr. Isbell maintains a private practice, and her specialty is the treatment of young children with autism, sensory processing disorders or neurological disorders. She has presented nationally and regionally on topics related to sensory integration, autism spectrum disorders, fine motor development, and the design and implementation of inclusive early childhood environments.
For Mighty Fine Motor Fun: Teachers' Choice Award
For Sensory Integration: Early Childhood News Director's Choice Award
For The Complete Learning Spaces Book for Infants and Toddlers: Distinguished Achievement Award, finalist
Q: You are a trained occupational therapist, as well as an author. How did your occupational therapy training inspire your writing career?
A: As an occupational therapist, I have had the opportunity to work with young children in a variety of settings such as hospitals, schools, homes, and child care facilities. I have always been interested in helping young children be successful in their daily life activities. From an occupational therapist’s perspective this includes fine motor development, self-care skills, sensory development and social-emotional skills. Educating early childhood educators and parents on the most effective methods of facilitating these areas of development is an important way to reach this goal. For me, writing books for educators and caregivers was a natural progression from talking to families and teachers to writing for them.
Q: Your latest books, Everyday Play and Mighty Fine Motor Fun, are on developing fine motor skills for preschoolers. Why is it so important for parents and teachers to work on fine motor skills before kindergarten?
A: Fine motor skills (things you do with your hands and arms) are a pertinent aspect of a young child’s development. Young children learn best by using their hands to manipulate objects and materials through play. What a young child learns during the preschool years will follow him throughout the rest of his life. It is important that parents and teachers learn the most effective and fun ways to teach their young children fine motor skills. This will help their children have a strong basis for their later educational careers.
Q: You’ve co-authored numerous books with your mother, Rebecca Isbell. What was the experience of writing and working together?
A: Writing with my mother is a “labor of love.” We have lots of fun writing together, laughing and talking about our life experiences with teachers, parents and young children. We have two very different perspectives on early childhood education and I always learn something new when we work together. Through our collaborations we hope to address the learning needs of all different types of early childhood educators and families.
Q: In The Complete Learning Spaces Book for Infants and Toddlers you discuss the importance of creating effective learning environments for young children. How can teachers go about making classrooms into effective learning spaces?
A: See below.
Q: What is your view on inclusive classrooms? What can children with special needs as well as typically developing children gain from inclusive experiences?
A: I believe that all early childhood environments should be inclusive environments. By that I mean that teachers must design an environment that will effectively educate young children who have diverse learning needs. That may include children who have autism, physical disabilities, vision or hearing impairments, speech and language delays or other learning difficulties. The challenge is to design a classroom environment that can address each child’s individual learning potential. A center-based environment is open-ended and provides opportunities for all children to learn through addressing each child’s interests and abilities. A positive side-effect from having an inclusive environment is the life experiences that all children gain. Typically developing children may develop a greater understanding of everyone’s differences as well as sensitivity toward others. Young children can practice appropriate social interactions while learning developmentally appropriate cognitive, motor and self-care skills. A skillful teacher can help all children benefit from a well-designed inclusive environment.
Praise for The Inclusive Learning Center Book:
"Any teacher who wants to use developmentally appropriate practices to include children with special needs in learning centers will find this a necessary addition to the library."
"The Inclusive Learning Center Book focuses on interest centers. It offers an overview of traditional centers--block, library, and writing, for example. It also gives an overview of more unconventional centers, such as the private place, the tactile center, and the ball center. Each center descriptions contains learning objectives, lists of props that support discovery, curriculum connections, and a sampling of activities and appropriate accommodations. Inclusive Lesson Plans and The Inclusive Learning Center Book share a significant strength. They are both enthusiastic about helping teachers building meaningful preschool experiences for every child - and offer tools to help every teacher succeed. The introductions of both books review the basics of early childhood education. Each offers both experienced and novice teachers ideas for expanding traditional themes. Both books provide guidance on modifications and accommodations for chidren with disabilities. But most importantly, both ofer support to programs and teachers who want to make the successful inclusion of children with disabilities a hallmark of their work."
--Texas Child Care
"The authors bring unique backgrounds to The Inclusive Learning Center Book. Christy Isbell is a pediatric occupational therapist with specialized training in both Sensory Integration and Neurodevelopmental Treatment. Her experience in evaluation and treatment of preschoolers with special needs strengthens the adaptations and evaluation methods section of the book. She coauthored with Rebecca Isbell The Complete Learning Spaces Book for Infants and Toddlers, designed to help busy teachers meet the challenge of creating an effective learning environment for very young children.
"Rebecca Isbell is Director of Tennessee's Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning. She has worked to create inclusive environments that are good for all children. She is also a Professor at East Tennessee State University where she received the Distinguished Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching. In addition to The Complete Learning Spaces Book for Infants and Toddlers, she is the co"author of Early Learning Environments That Work!, which explores how to utilize furniture, color, materials, storage, lighting, and more to maximize children's learning in any and all classroom environments.
Praise for Sensory Integration:
"Sensory Integration is recommended as required reading for all preschool teachers, and would be highly informative reading for the parents of chidren with sensory disorders as well."
--The Midwest Book Review
"I will be a better teacher because of this book."
--RaeLynne Snyder, Master Teacher at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center
"The book describes details about different types of sensory integration problems, such as the avoider, the seeker, and the under-responder in these areas: visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, and proprioception. Many practical suggestions are given which teachers and parents can use to help the child function better. This is a valuable handbook of well organized information including references, resources, a glossary, appendix, and index."
--Betsy B. Lee, EdS, Learning Abilities Books
"Great ideas. I like the case studies--very informative and well written. Very good resource for staff."
--2008 Directors' Choice Judge
"In a format written for the practitioner, this book defines Sensory Integration Processing (SIP), explains why it is important in the development of preschool children, and discusses what happens when this normal process of development goes awry….With great detail, yet in a style that is easy to read and understand, the authors explain each possible scenario when children present with visual, auditory, ortactile issues….This book is a wonderful tool for the preschool teacher. The plethora of strategies and techniques are shared in such away that the teacher will know what strategy to use specifically for which child’s needs….I highly recommend this book, as it provides sensible options to help children with Sensory Integration Disorder learn in the typical classroom.”"
--Childhood Education, June 2008
"If you're concerned that your young child might be struggling with learning through the senses of touch, sight, sound, movement, taste, or smell, read Sensory Integration: A Guide for Preschool Teachers... You'll find an abundance of practical solutions for sensory challenges, explained in plain language, for helping children with specific behaviors."
--Melissa L. Morgan, "Practical Homeschooling"
Praise for Everyday Play:
"Pediatric occupational therapist and author Isbell has written a gem of a book on developing fine motor skills for preschoolers... This book should be in every preschool classroom; Kindergarten teachers will thank the parents whose child comes to school with their fine motor skills exercised. Essential."