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Meet Avital Shuster of OTPlan in Irvine

Today we’d like to introduce you to Avital Shuster.

Avital, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
While I was attending the University of Southern California (USC) for Occupational Therapy school, I had an idea to create a website for pediatric occupational therapy activity ideas. This was back in 2008 so social media was not as advanced and widespread as today. My idea was to allow parents, teachers, and fellow occupational therapists to select what skills they want to promote and we’ll present ideas for activities to do at home with everyday common materials.

Luckily, my husband is a software developer! He programmed the website in a few days and we were up and running. That same year, we entered our first competition at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference in Long Beach and won first place for best innovative idea.

Since then, our website just grew and became more well known. Throughout the years, we heard from many parents and therapists how OTPlan helped them engage their children in play and enhance their developmental skills, especially during COVID-19. We were also contacted by universities all over the world requesting permission to include our website in their resource list.

Last Fall, we launched our subscription box service called ‘Skills in a Box’. These boxes are mailed to you and contain all the materials needed, and a booklet with instructions, pictures, and illustrations on how to do the activity ideas, to help develop and promote kids’ developmental skills and support academic standards with playful and engaging activities in the convenience of your home.

We also added ‘PlanDough’ kits to our website. These are themed playdough kits that provide tactile input and promote fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, visual perception skills, language, creativity, and imagination.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
We definitely had challenges along the way. Unfortunately, they don’t teach you how to run a business in OT school so we had to learn and adapt quickly as we grew. There are a lot of logistics involved when selling physical products. We rented a warehouse, bought inventory, conducted product testing, research vendors, hired staff and multiple contractors, and much more.

When we started our small business, we had to operate with a very limited budget so that meant we couldn’t hire employees and we had to do everything on our own. You become a jack of all trades. 18-hour workdays were, and still are, very common for us. But we LOVE every minute of it!

Please tell us about OTPlan.
OTPlan is a search engine for activity ideas that promote development. Users can search for engaging and playful activities by either searching the skill they want to work on or what materials they have available. Our ‘Skills in a Box’ and ‘PlanDough’ kits are our products that we added recently to support the busy lifestyle of families that are looking for more ways to support their children’s development.

OTPlan is operated as part of Tumble N’ Dots – a pediatric occupational therapy clinic in Orange County. We treat children with varying diagnoses, including autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, developmental delays, feeding issues, and more. We are a woman-owned business and collaboration with other professionals and parents in our community is very important to us.

Our experience, supporting children and their families, helps us create our ‘Skills in a Box’ boxes and addresses the different skills important for child development. My favorite part is to take an activity and analyze it to determine the different skills required to complete it. I use this method to educate parents and caregivers on the benefits of sensory and motor play.

Nowadays, there are many other wonderful subscription boxes for children. As a parent to three active kids, I always look for ways to keep them busy and engaged in play and hands-on activities. So, when I develop the activities we put in our boxes, I wear both my mom and pediatric OT hats, and I think that is what makes our boxes unique. We focus on promoting one skill at a time and use the Pyramid of Learning approach, which helps breakdown skill sets into underlying characteristics and helps prioritize what to address. My goal is to show parents and care-givers that everyday household materials can be great tools to support child development and growth. And that play is the best way to learn!

We love to hear from our clients, and we accept any feedback. When a parent tells us how their child is able to engage in activities they weren’t able to do before using Skills in a Box, it just makes my day.

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