Category Archives: Tips

General Tips for Selecting Developmental Toys for Children

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L and Sarah Peabody, Physical Therapist

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time to decorate your home with seasonal decorations, listen to cheerful holiday music, start baking lots of yummy goodies, spend time with friends and family, and shop for the perfect holiday gifts. This time of year can bring merriment and stress! Especially when considering gift ideas for children.

If you are buying a toy for a child, it’s important to select something that is based on his/her individual need. Every child is unique. Purchasing a toy for a child with special needs involves taking into consideration the child’s unique developmental profile.

IMG_2343Children who lack fine motor skills often have trouble doing things with their hands, like holding a crayon, so they might enjoy toys with large knobs or big levers that will enable them to grasp them more easily. Children with social learning difficulties or sensory processing difficulties might prefer toys that offer movement or heavy work.

Children with physical disabilities might enjoy toys that have buttons and don’t require a lot of fine motor manipulation. They might also enjoy more arts and crafts that allow them to just move their arms without having to worry about holding onto something.

Choosing a toy that is age-appropriate, promotes healthy development, and encourages positive behavior works best. Use these tips below to help guide you for buying gifts for your child, a niece or nephew or other child:

General Tips for Selecting Developmental Toys for Children:

  1. Spanning multiple age ranges

Finding a multipurpose toy that spans multiple age ranges is a great investment. Toys that are meant for several ages and stages of childhood will be kept around and cherished for a long time.  For example, this Shape Sorter, can be used in late infancy as you place the shapes in and out of the box with the lid open. As your child grows into the toddler stage and enhances their fine motor skills, he or she will learn how to manipulate the shapes and place them in the appropriate spot. You can then incorporate colors, shapes, etc. all into one piece as they advance even more. Another example is magnetic letters. A child can use these at a young age to learn letters and sounds and as they grow into elementary years use them together to make words.

2. Be cautious of age recommendations

Many toys have a suggested age range based on the safety and developmental appropriateness for a child. These recommendations are based on the developmental abilities of an average child and may serve as a starting point for you when selecting a toy for your child. A toy should be challenging, but not frustrating. Likewise, if a toy is too simplistic and beyond your child’s abilities, he or she will quickly lose interest. Children learn and grow at various paces, and what might be an appropriate toy for one two-year-old child may not be for the next.

3. Promoting Exploration and Imagination

17_LilyPennyMaddy2.jpgResearch has found that toys that do “too much” don’t encourage children to use their imaginations. Stuffed animals that talk and sing only prompt the child to press a specific button which takes charge of the play scheme. Instead, look for a toy like blocks. Blocks can be stacked up to build a tower, knocked down by a dragon, lined up to make a city, the list goes on and on. The more your child has to problem solve and use his or her imagination, the more your child will learn through play.

4. Think, Move, and Interact

This generation loves to be entertained with screens. Instead of getting that Ipad or other video console, look for toys that provide opportunities for cooperative play that encourage the development of social skills and positive behaviors like taking turns. Board games are a great example!

5. Sensory Considerations

Toys that are tactile or visual can often help improve how a child processes the information. Music, varying textures, flashing lights, and colors can all improve the sensory appeal to your child. It is important to know the needs of your child because what is appealing for one child may be overstimulating for the next.

6. Promoting Inclusion

Toys that promote groupwork and peer interaction with other children are great to promote social skills and improve self-esteem and overall quality of life.

7. Think outside the box.

Toys don’t always have to be used in the conventional manner. For example, that food puzzle might be a little hard for your child to sit still and focus to complete, however, maybe your child would be motivated to find the pieces hidden in a tactile bin or exploring the house on a gross motor adventure to find the food. For children with physical disabilities, many battery operated toys can be adapted for switches. Check out this blog for directions and this link for purchasing battery interrupters.

If you child is younger, can you use that ring stacker to look through the circles together at each other. Or maybe the rings fit on different body parts. If your child is older, think about using the toys within movement activities.

8. Will the child make memories with it?

Giving experiences is becoming a new, more popular trend (for multiple reasons!). Taking time to explore local attractions can create long lasting memories and even new post-holiday traditions. Most businesses and even public libraries offer gift certificates to local attractions. This is a great way to really personalize a gift for your child.

9. Fun!

Last but not least, make sure the toys are engaging and fun. Do not force a toy upon a child. If they appear not interested in a certain toy, leave it for a few days and re-introduce it at another time. Keeping the toys fun will ultimately make the learning fun for your child.

Visit this blog next week, for more of our specific toy recommendations! You can also search our previous blogs for each year’s toy recommendations like here and here. Happy Holidays! For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley visit eastersealsdfvr.org.

 

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Routines and Why They Can Help

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L

Routines are very important for all children, but they can be particularly important for children with developmental delays. Routines help provide a sense of certainty and security for children by offering them a predictable pattern that allows them to know what to expect, which will result in less frustration as well as fewer tantrums or meltdowns.

Certain routines are almost universal, such as morning and bedtime routines, but others may exist for specific circumstances or stages of life, such as your family’s weekend morning or school or summer routine.

A great place to start a routine is having a set bedtime. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 3-5 should get 10-13 hours of sleep a day (including naps) and children ages 6-12 should get 9-12 hours of sleep each night. The benefits of getting enough sleep are numerous and include mental/physical health, attention, memory, learning, behavior, and more. The AAP also recommends no screen time 30 minutes prior to bed, no electronics in children’s bedrooms, and having a set bedtime routine.

Setting up a bedtime routine:

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Photo from Take Three Photography

Bedtime routines can be anything you want them to be, as long as they are familiar and predictable. For my infant son, he takes a bath every other day. After his bath (or mom and dad quiet playtime on non-bath days), he gets a nice massage and we read a couple goodnight books. When he shows us signs of being tired, we turn off the bedside lamp, swaddle, and turn on the white noise machine.

This routine is something I hope to keep as he gets older. For an older child, you can do a similar routine but you will need to add in time for personal hygiene and perhaps next day activities such as pick out your clothes, pack your backpack, etc. You can use a similar routine for naps, except they would just be shorter.

Aside from bedtime, morning routines, can also be beneficial. Some families have different weekday and weekend morning routines, but other children may need to have one routine that stays the same regardless of the day.

Mealtime can also present an important routine. An easy place to start is to try to have meals around the same time each day. I know this isn’t always possible- but getting as close to a specific time each day can be beneficial and having everyone sit together to eat.

Additionally, having chores to do in family routines helps children develop a sense of responsibility and some basic skills, like the ability to manage time. These are skills children can use for later in life that you can begin at a young age. One great example is singing the “clean up” song when it’s time to finish an activity and move onto something different.

“Clean up clean up
everybody everywhere.
Clean up clean up
everybody do your share.

Clean up clean up
everybody everywhere.
Clean up clean up
everybody do your share.”

Routines can also be great for teaching personal hygiene. Ever heard a parent sing the ABC song while their child washes their hands? This is just one great example.

Here are some tips if you are looking to introduce routines into your daily life:

  1. Only change one part of the day at a time.

2. Come up with your basic non-negotiables and then give your children some                    choices (bedtime stories together or separate?).

3. Make a poster with the routine, including photos in the right order, to allow for              self-monitoring. In a good routine, everyone understands their roles, knows what              they need to do and sees their roles as reasonable and fair.blog_visual

4. Follow the same routine every single day for at least one month, after which it will         become habit and your older kids should be able to keep themselves on schedule for         the easy routines.

Establishing routines has lots of great benefits that can help both you and your child develop scheduling abilities, and increase the likelihood that your family will have a smooth day.

For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit eastersealsdfvr.org. 

Pretend Play Activities

By: Laura Bueche MOT OTR/L

26_Jack and Kathleen

Pretend play is an important piece of development. It promotes social skills, cognitive flexibility, imagination, language, and helps kids process the world around them. When your child participates in pretend play, they are learning the social and emotional roles of life in a fun, hands-on manner. It can stimulate creativity and help them grow to be more comfortable with themselves and the role they play in their everyday lives.

Included below is a list of potential pretend play scenarios to get your creative parent ideas flowing:

Doctor: This is a great pretend game to teach your kids about responsibility, while encouraging them to be proud of “taking care” of someone else!

Kitchen/restaurant/coffee shop/ ice cream shop: This is a great way to help your children learn about food and nutrition, and get them interested in what goes in their bodies and how it fuels their energy.

Grocery store: Another fun way to help them learn about nutrition, while also helping them improve math skills by counting and setting prices for different items being “sold”.

Animal shop/vet: A fun hands-on approach to learn about animals and the important role they play in many peoples lives

Airport: This is a great way to help children understand the different means of transportation and travel people utilize, especially if they have never gone anywhere far from home

Beach vacation: Similar to playing airport, this can help kids understand about travel and the vast and different climates many people live in, especially if your family does not live near a beach.

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Baby bath time/ feeding baby/ baby diaper/ baby bed time:

Similar to playing Doctor, this is a great way for kids to foster an interest in responsibility and taking care of others, while also boosting their confidence in discovering their helpful abilities!

Camping adventure: This is a way to improve kids outdoor skills, while teaching them about nature and the environment they live in.

Pirate treasure map adventure: This is a fun way to get kids creativity flowing and help them learn about adventures they can take and create in their mind

Haunted house: This can be as scary or safe as your child is comfortable with, and can allow them to explore and set boundaries in their mind for what makes him/her comfortable

Dress up/fashion show:

dress up

This is a fun way to let kids try on a new role for size, and to help give them the experience of “walking in other peoples shoes”

Police man/woman: Similar to playing dress up, this gives kids the impression of what kind of jobs people in their community hold

Gardening/ making mud soup/ building sand castles: A very hands-on way to explore nature and learn about the plants and trees they see everyday

Making toy/Lego cities: This allows kids to be totally free-spirited in constructing what they think a fun space to live/play in would be.LEGO Run Pre-Party 029.JPG

Making puppets/puppet theater: This is a healthy and fun way for kids to express their emotions and feelings, while also allowing them to explore new emotions they may not be familiarized with yet.

Firefighter: Identical to playing police officer, this allows children to try out the role of what a firefighter does for their community.

Pretty mixed race girl and Caucasian boy pretending to be superh

Super hero/ defeat bad guys and save good guys:

This helps kids understand right from wrong and the values you as a family have, while also helping them feel good about the choices they make.

Tea party: This is a fun way for kids to make up their own rules and find out what it means to be “in charge” of a dining situation

Post office: Kids can learn about roles in their community and better understand a job they see people enact daily.

Car washplaying carwash.jpgPerfect for a summer day, playing car wash can show your kids real life chores in a positive way, while also making for a fun water activity.

Fishing boat: This is a great way to get your kids to explore nature in their minds, as well as understand a fun hobby many people enjoy.

Santa’s work shop: If you and your family celebrate Christmas, this is a wonderful way to introduce the holiday to your children and help them understand the tradition of Santa Clause and what that means to your family.

Farmer: Similar to playing police officer or firefighter, this can help children understand a job people either in or out of their community hold, while also helping them develop a healthy relationship with food and animals.

 

Doll house: This is a great way to get your children interested in how a household runs and the work it takes to sustain a healthy lifestyle, as well as be a fun outlet for them to get creative and cultivate different personalities and traits for each doll.

23a_Brady_and_Cooper_CoulterRace track/ train tracks:

Similar to playing airport, this helps demonstrate to children the different means of transportation available to them, as well as foster a desire to explore and travel

Many of these pretend activities/games include props, but always feel free to encourage your children to use their imagination and create props in their mind or with another item in your house, especially if the props are not readily available to you.

Tips For Fitness-Focused Activities: Run, Golf, Bike & More

Fitness-focused activities are a great complement to a child’s therapy sessions, and an opportunity to work on therapy goals while also participating in an athletic or recreational activity.  By encouraging involvement in new activities for children of all abilities, they are learning the importance of health and wellness at a young age.

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The benefits of fitness-focused activities are far-reaching and can impact a child in many ways.

“We all need to challenge ourselves in order to reach our potential. Our job as therapists is to to see that potential in others and encourage kids to try activities that are outside their comfort zones, so they will truly be all they can be.  Any fitness or recreational activity that interests a child is worth pursuing for the benefits it provides physically as well as emotionally, cognitively and socially.”  – Laura Znajda, PT, C/NDT

Physical Wellness
Children of all abilities should participate in athletic and/or recreational activities as physical fitness is important for ALL.  Physical fitness, as defined by the American Physical Therapy Association, is “a dynamic physical state – comprising of cardiovascular/pulmonary endurance; muscle strength, power, endurance and flexibility; relaxation; and body composition – that allows optimal and efficient performance of daily and leisure activities.”

Just because as individual has a disability, does not mean that physical fitness is any less important.

Building Confidence
Participating in activities outside of a child’s comfort zone help support their emotional development.  Trying something new can be intimidating and challenging. Keep the focus on what makes the activity fun and avoid getting caught up in the competition. Every child approaches new activities differently, but it’s ok to remind them that no one is good at everything.  No one!  You can help temper frustration by celebrating every improvement – no matter how small, and sharing your own example of a time that practice and persistence led to success.

Socialization
Physical activities take many forms and are a great opportunity to increase peer interactions, build friendships and promote health and wellness for the whole family. Embrace a child’s interests and find ways to involve friends and family.

Setting Goals and Staying Motivated
Community based therapy programs and special recreation can target individualized therapy goals. For example, a child with hemiparesis might be working on running in order to use both sides of her body more fluidly, as needed for natural arm swing while walking. A child with sensory processing challenges might be building the strength needed for wall climbing so that he can include this activity in his weekly routine to assist with state regulation.

Motivation comes from finding ways to turn therapy activities into games with friendly competition, involving the whole family and plenty of cheering!

Therapy activities include dynamic warm-ups which may include animal walks, relay races, and jumping games; a progressive walk/run/bike program building up to increased time running/biking and increased overall distance; client-specific strengthening and agility tasks to target weak muscle groups and to promote the symmetry of movement required to efficiently run or ride a bike; and stretching to promote muscle flexibility and adequately cool our bodies down.”
– 
Laura Basi, Physical Therapist


How to Get Involved

Look for organized activities in your community that help bridge the gap between individual therapy and daily life.  Here are some examples of upcoming events at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley that present ways for skills to carry over into home, school and the community.

May 6, 2017              
Run for the Kids: Superhero Hustle 5K Run/2 Mile Walk
Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley, Villa Park, IL
This superhero themed run/walk is a family-friendly event for all ages and abilities.
Register here

  • Set a goal to run the race, roll or drive the distance in a wheelchair or take a few unassisted steps across the finish line.

    Participants of the Hustle for Health community based therapy program are training to run all 3.1 miles of the race independently.  The Hustle for your Health program began because many children struggled with the 1-mile run in their school P.E. class. A 10-12 week training program is intended to target running pattern and cardiovascular endurance so that participation in community run/walk events becomes a reality.

June 9, 2017              
Golf Outing in Partnership with Freedom Golf Association
Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Lemont, IL
Enjoy 18 holes of golf and help bring the joy of golf to children with disabilities.
Register here

  • Try something new by learning the game of golf in an adapted golf clinic.

    The golf clinic welcomes children of all abilities to participate in the fun with adapted clubs and equipment and 1:1 training from expert golf coaches from Freedom Golf Association.

    To register for this golf clinic email spike@eastersealsdfvr.org by May 1.

September 17, 2017               
2nd Annual Bike for the Kids
Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley, Elgin, IL
Choose a cycling distance ranging from 12 – 100 miles or participate in a 2.5 mile family ride.  Adapted bicycles and trailers welcome!
Register here

  • Go on regular bike rides and train as a family throughout the summer.

All proceeds from these events support infants, children and adults with developmental delays and disabilities at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley. For a complete list of upcoming events visit here.