Tag Archives: indoor activities

18 Children’s Games to Stay Active Indoors

By: Laura Basi, PT, MPT

With the cold winter weather and limited ability to participate in many activities due to COVID-19, it can feel challenging to continue to find ways to keep children active. Fortunately, with a little creativity and imagination, there are many ways to help your children stay active indoors and have fun while you do!

I have listed the following activities and ideas to give you ideas as a starting point, but remember, some of the most engaging activities are when you place your own twist on them! Nearly all of these activities can be modified to fit your child’s unique needs, and don’t require buying extra toys or supplies. So don’t be afraid to change, break, or make your rules. You may even want to challenge your child to develop their own unique game or activities after taking inspiration from some of these existing ideas!

  • The Floor is Lava
    There is an actual board game one can purchase with this name, but it’s easy to create your own game with household items. You can create a course across a room or even throughout the house to navigate that has a start and finish with the goal being that you cannot touch the floor (the lava) — creativity wins here. The game can easily be tailored to age/ability level (and parent tolerance for furniture climbing). Try using couch cushions, pillows, toys, and other objects that can be used to jump to and from safely!
  • Simple Exercise Training Routine
    For elementary school aged kids who like to feel like they’re “training”, a good way to tackle a few exercises for building strength and endurance is by completing a number of reps that match the date.  For example, my son Will and I do jumping jacks, squats, sit ups and push ups every day…. 1 of each on the 1st of the month, and build up to 30/31 of each by the 30th/31st of the month…we break them up into smaller sets as the number gets high. Our goal is to complete them all in one day.
  • Have a Dance Party
    Put on a favorite song and dance/move any way you like to — this appeals to all ages because the kids can choose the songs. To get increased time out of this activity, try setting a timer and announce the family will be dancing for a set amount of time or a certain number of songs- perhaps one song per family member so that everyone gets to choose one. Make it even more fun by hanging up lights (a string of holiday lights works excellent) and otherwise darkening the dance party’s room.
  • Play Freeze Dance
    For younger children or those with limited endurance, play Freeze Dance. Parents can pause the song at random, at which time everyone dancing must stop in place. Kids 10 and under will find it funny to freeze in silly poses (or see their parents do so!), and the pausing will allow a brief rest break for those that need it. As a bonus, freeze dance works on pairing movement with listening skills and practicing starting/stopping on cue, something that kids with coordination disorders may need extra practice with.
  • Movement and Action Songs
    For preschoolers, many movement songs can be found on the web. This list here from Preschool Inspirations has many good ones. In addition, on youtube, I like Freeze Dance (The Kiboomers) and Listen and Move (TheKidsCartoons) because they prompt kids to vary their movement (i.e., dance, hop, skip, twirl, tiptoe, gallop, etc.).
  • DIY Stationary Bike
    For kids who need to practice pedaling for bike riding or for active kids who need to move, a bike with training wheels can be brought inside and transformed into a stationary bicycle. Modify the bike to become stationary by placing the front wheel on a towel and training wheels propped inside a pair of shoes to lift the back wheel enough that it will spin when the child pedals.
  • Keep the Balloon Up
    Keep the balloon off the floor gets everyone active and can be played solo or as a whole family – for families who enjoy some competition, hang string or yarn across the room as a “net” and play volleyball with the balloon.
  • Board Games
    Family Board Games that get you moving: Twister, Hullabaloo, Pancake Pile-Up, Floor is Lava
  • Minute to Win it
    Minute to Win It games are various 60 second challenge games based off the international game show of the same name. The games are engaging and practical because they all utilize everyday objects you probably already have around the house. A quick internet search will result in hundreds of ideas and you can also easily make up your own games for more fun. https://www.familyeducation.com/family-games/our-favorite-minute-to-win-it-games-for-kids
  • Prone Scooter Board
    For those with a skateboard, clean off the wheels and bring it inside to use as a prone scooter board — have your child lie on the board on their stomach and challenge them to get across the room only using their arms.
  • Build a Fort
    This one is a classic for a reason. Kids love the process of building forts! This activity encourages creativity and problem solving as kids figure out what materials to use and how to keep the fort from falling apart. Make sure your child takes the lead and participates in the building so that they are lifting, pushing, and pulling pillows, cushions, furniture, blankets, etc., to help create the fort. Modify your level of involvement based on your child’s age and abilities. Just make sure to challenge them to be creative and be active!
  • Build an Obstacle Course
    Younger children might enjoy turning this into a pretend game of animals in which the course is their animal home. Older children might enjoy acting like ninja warriors on their obstacle course. Be creative and incorporate lots of variety (climbing under, climbing over, jumping down, jumping over, crawling, reaching). Painters tape works great to place lines for walking or jumping over without damaging floors. Use sturdy furniture or objects for stepping/jumping from one area to another.
  • Create a Cocoon
    For kids who like/need deep pressure input or those who just enjoy pretend play, spread out a bedsheet or beach towel and have the child lie down along one edge as a caterpillar – the child can grasp the edge, or parents can tuck the edge between child’s arm and torso. The child then rolls themselves up in the sheet/towel, turning into a tight “cocoon” with only their head sticking out – they can push against the sides of the towel, imagining they are growing their wings. When ready, they roll in the reverse direction to unroll the sheet/towel and burst out as a new butterfly. This activity can be done on its own or incorporated into other “animal walks.” These walks could include:
    • Bear walking (walking on hands, feet, belly, and face down).
    • Bunny hopping (small jumps).
    • Frog jumps (big hops).
    • Crab walking (walking on hands and feet, belly and face up).
  • Cosmic Kids Yoga
    For kids who enjoy following along with a story, Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube and Amazon (free and subscription based options) is an excellent resource with a LOT of variety in length of time and story content. I recommend this program for children 3 to 8-years-old range who have difficulties with strength, postural control, balance, coordination and motor planning.  
  • Create a Dance/Gymnastics Routine
    Creating a routine can be done solo or works excellent with a sibling set. For extra fun, add in performance clothes, create a “stage” and encourage your kids to put on their show.
  • Spray Bottle Activities
    For hand strengthening, let kids play with spray bottles and squeeze bottles (could finger paint on the shower wall and then let them spray it off and then wipe it down or spray/squeeze water into cups). You can find countless spray bottle activities here.
  • Stuffed Animal Bowling
    Set up stuffed animals in a circle around your child and specify which animal the child should knock down. The child will need to turn their body and roll ball to knock down and stuffed animal. A great toddler movement activity!
  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
    Child sits in a laundry basket, and caregiver will push the basket or tilt it side to side like they are on a boat. You can do it to the tune of Row, Row, Row, Your Boat or other songs.

I hope these ideas have helped you think of fun activities and games to keep children occupied and active in these unusual times. Remember that with a little creativity and imagination, the possibilities are endless! For more information on physical therapy services at Easterseals, visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/physical-therapy.html.

Indoor Activities to Release Energy and Build Imagination

By: Occupational Therapist, Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L,

Container Play Activity

By using simple materials and exploring your child’s natural interests, you can ‘sneak’ in some various fine motor or speech and language development for toddlers. Remember, get down on the floor and see where they take you in play – play is the work of the child, but it shouldn’t be hard. 

Work together to put some of your child’s favorite small toys in different containers. Containers can be found all over your house or after meals. Use a (cleaned) yogurt cup, oatmeal container, cereal or pasta box, delivery package, etc. 

Watch this video for the overview, or scroll down below for more information.

For my three-year-old, I had him pick out the toys, but you can do this ahead of time to keep it more of a surprise. You can easily incorporate different developmental skills into this simple task but remember to keep it fun and easy for you both. If it is too hard (or easy), here are some other ways to update:

  • Decrease or add language skills by sorting toys into different sizes or colors of containers
  • Use simple words that match the action and the emotional experience paired with affect in your voice to keep your child present and engaged (e.g., hard – stuck – pull –wow – etc.)
  • Explore pretend play (the options are limitless) – go to a store, have a party, have a snack, greet guests in different ‘houses,’ put bad guys into time out or jail, and more!
  • Work on fine motor skills by opening different containers or using different household materials to practice wrapping them) adjust the type of container based on your child’s abilities and base how you decorate on your child’s age.
    • If your child is between 15-20 months, you may only want to have them work on removing the tape and having the lids pre-opened, so they only have to focus on pinching and pulling. You can add simple things like markers or stickers to decorate if you desire.
    • If your child is closer to 24 months, you can sneak in scissors (supervised) to snip the tape before you wrap up the container. You can also include markers and stickers but add large shapes to scribble so you can color.
    • If your child is closer to 36 months, you can do all the same things above, but you can add more of a challenge by drawing lines or circles together to decorate.

Simple Sensory Play Ideas: Dump Truck Game

Ask any specialist working with kids, and they will tell you play is the work of the child. It’s through play that a child’s life becomes alive and enriched with endless life lessons. It is through play that boundless learning opportunities unfold.

The good thing about play is it doesn’t have to be complicated or even expensive. Play should be about you connecting with your child and following their lead. A toddler’s mind is like an unread book full of adventures just waiting to be experienced if we just let it unfold. The most essential component of play is being one with your child. If you allow them to express their interest, unlimited possibilities will present themselves.

In this video, I use my son’s interests in construction vehicles to provide him with some sensory input. When the seasons start to change, and winter is upon us, most parents find themselves all going a little stir crazy being stuck inside. Kids need movement just as adults need movement. However, kids especially need an outlet for all the fun imagination developing inside their little bodies.

Materials needed for this activity:

  1. You
  2. Your child
  3. Lots of pillows or you can use your bed for a soft landing cushion

Let your child lead you, however, here are some ideas to expand this play.

  1. Count to a specific number or use a particular word that your toddler needs to listen to before he can be dumped
  2. Have your child take an object with them to hide under the pillows / within the bedsheets to bring to the junkyard if pretending to be a dump truck
  3. Hide people/animals under the pillows / within the bedsheets to be a rescue hero flying and going to save the people/animals -> can expand the steps of play to bringing the people/animals to their homes once safely found
  4. Depending on where your child is at with his or her unique development, use less language and highlight only the key words paired with the actions (up, go)
  5. Wait for your child to do something to tell you he or she wants to play (e.g., comes back to you, lifts arms up, leans closer to the pillow to fall, etc.)
  6. The benefits of sensory play are endless and certainly can be enjoyed by all ages!

Make it Fun!

Remember, this is your time with your child. This activity can be as long or as short as you need it to be based on your available time. There are many ways to expand to work on speech sounds, language skills, movement, and fine motor. Sit back and
enjoy the process while the play unfolds. Have fun!

Ending Notes

For more play activities for all ages, search our blog at eastersealsdfvr.wordpress.com. If you are curious about how your child is doing or have concerns about his/or her development, we have a free screening available at askeasterseals.org. This tool looks at
key developmental areas: communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving, and personal-social skills. Based on your responses, the results will help you see if your child’s progress is on track and alert you to any potential concerns.

If delays are identified, Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley can offer the support needed to be school-ready and build a foundation for a lifetime of learning. Research proves that when children receive the right treatment and therapy they need before age five, they are more prepared to learn alongside their peers, build lifelong skills and achieve their dreams.

Heavy Work and Movement Activities for Sensory Regulation

By: Anna Bieschke Midwestern University Occupational Therapy Doctoral student and Linda Merry, OTR/L

Being stuck inside for this long of a time is certainly not fun, especially for little ones who are used to spending their day going to school, seeing their friends, playing at the park, or venturing out into the community with their families. When your child is cooped up indoors, they may not get as many opportunities to climb, jump, lift, pull, or move as much as they typically would. For many children, especially those with sensory processing difficulties, this heavy work and movement helps them to remain calm and alert throughout the day.

Your child’s ability to remain calm and focused during their daily activities is known as sensory regulation. This occurs when your child can respond appropriately to the information they take in from the environment through their senses (tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing, etc.). When a child is presented with too much or too little sensory input (like in the case of being stuck indoors with little exercise and movement), they may have a difficult time managing their emotions and behaviors.  This is called sensory dysregulation.

Some Signs Your Child is Dysregulated

  • Becomes distressed when required to sit still
  • Is easily distracted by objects or people in the environment
  • Reacts defensively to certain textures, smells, sounds, or foods in their mouth
  • Repeatedly and vigorously shakes their head, rocks back and forth, or jumps up and down
  • Becomes frightened when they are in close contact with other children
  • Runs away or becomes aggressive towards sensory input that makes them uncomfortable
  • Hides or retreats to a quiet spot
  • Appears extremely wild and/or engages in dangerous behavior

Why is Sensory Regulation so Important?

Helping your child stay regulated is important because it lays the foundation for the child to grow and develop new skills. As seen in the house diagram below, all the senses make up the base of the house. Without a stable base, your child’s coordination, language, attention, engagement in daily activities, and academic learning, among other skills, can be impacted. Just think how difficult it would be to sit and pay attention to an at-home school lesson if your distracted by the need to move around or are visually distracted by objects in the room.

Image Retrieved from: https://www.pinterest.com.mx/pin/75294624990224433/

Sensory Breaks with Heavy Work and Movement

One way to support your child’s sensory regulation while limited to being inside is to provide your child with sensory breaks, particularly with heavy work and movement. Heavy work is a form of proprioceptive input. Your proprioceptive sense lets you know where your body is in space and involves any activity that requires pushing, pulling, lifting, or squeezing. Proprioceptive and heavy work activities help ground the child and slow their bodies down to make them feel organized and calm. Movement activities can also be incorporated to help break up seated activities to support your child’s alertness and attention. Here are some fun ideas for heavy work and movement activities:

  1. Indoor Obstacle Course
    • This activity is great because it allows you and your child to get creative. Use everyday items throughout your house to build an obstacle course that allows your child to jump on, climb over, crawl through and crash down. Pots and pans can serve as cones, pillows can be crash pads, and chairs can serve as tunnels or hurdles. Get your child more involved by having them help you choose objects and set it up. Remember, any lifting or pushing of objects can add an extra heavy work component to this activity.
  1. Build a Fort
    • Take whatever theme your child loves and run with it! Whether it’s a princess castle or a lion’s cage, have the child use their imagination to make a playful space. Help your child push furniture together, grab heavy blankets or pillows, and lift boxes or baskets to really provide them with that organizing and calming input. When the fort is made, it can also serve as a quiet and secluded place for your child to take a break if needed.
  1. Catch Bubbles
  • It’s pretty safe to say that many kids love bubbles. For this activity, blow bubbles towards the child and have them pop them by clapping both their hands together. Encourage the child to press their hands firmly together when clapping to increase the proprioceptive input to their joints. Blow the bubbles high to encourage your child to jump or low to encourage your child to squat down. Try to provide as many opportunities for different movements as possible.
  1. Play a Movement Video
    • YouTube has many great movement videos for yoga, dancing, and animal walks that can engage your child in movement form the confines of your home. Clear some place in the living room and use your electronic devices to stream the videos. With this activity, it’s more about getting your child moving instead of making sure they are doing the movements perfectly.
      • Cosmic Kids Yoga (https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga): This is a YouTube channel that provides yoga and mindfulness activities specifically designed for kids. This one is especially fun because many of the yoga themes follow along to your child’s favorite movies.
  1. Putty Play
    • Whether it’s play-doh, resistive putty, or thick cookie dough, have your child smash, pound, pull, and press the putty into various shapes. Use cookie cutters or other tools that encourage your child to press firmly down to make different shapes and cuts. To add an extra movement component, have them form the putty into balls and roll the putty to others at the table or toss it into a wide container. You can also hide small objects (beads, marbles, coins, etc.) into the putty for the child to pull out. All this pulling, pressing, and pounding will provide some heavy work to the arms and hands.
  1. Push-O-War
    • This game follows the same concept of tug-o-war except now the children will be pushing objects instead of pulling. To play, place a piece of masking tape or painter’s tape in the middle between your child and another child to create the center line on the floor. Put an object in between the two children (could be a garbage can on its side, a large pillow, big ball, etc.) and have them both push the object at the same time to see who can push it over the center line first.
  1. Wagon Rides
    • Have the child pull their smaller sibling or favorite toys in a makeshift wagon. Place a laundry basket or larger bin on a blanket and have the child fill the basket with their favorite toys (large stuffed animals, dolls, action fingers, etc.). The child can pull onto one side the blanket to slide the basket across the floor. A smaller sibling or friend can also sit in the basket to add some extra fun for all the kiddos in the house.
  1. Involve the Child in Household Chores
    • What’s better than getting some household chores done while also providing your child with heavy work? Even though you’re cooped up inside, there is still work to be done. Have your child help carry and fill laundry baskets, bring the garbage down to the street, vacuum, sweep, or carry in bags from the grocery store. Cooking activities like stirring batter, tearing lettuce, and kneading dough can also be great options for heavy work and movement.
  1. Other Movement Games
    • Other games including Simon Says, Ring Around the Rosie, Red Light Green Light, and Freeze Dance are also some games that can be played to promote movement when stuck at home. On nice days, take the child out onto the driveway or backyard to give them more space to run around and move.

For more information about occupational therapy at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html.

References:

Bazyk, S. (2020). Sensory and self-regulation strategies. Every Moment Counts. https://everymomentcounts.org/view.php?nav_id=204

Pfeiffer, B., Frolek Clark, G., & Arbesman, M. (2018). Effectiveness of cognitive and occupation-based interventions for children with challenges in sensory processing and integration: A systematic review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72, 7201190020. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.028233

Indoor Parks for the Winter

By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist

As the winter creeps up, my client families have been worried about their children not getting “their energy out.” It is a time when recess is moving from outdoors to indoors and fun trips to the park are being replaced with play at home. Not to mention with the sun setting after 4:30 PM, parents are a little weary of having kids play outside in the dark. 

So how do we make sure that our kids get the needed movement, play, and sensory input when the days are too short and invariably too cold to go outside? 

Besides indoor sensory activities that you can do at home (see previous post on Indoor Toddler Activities), here are a collection of indoor sensory parks in the Chicagoland area. These gyms have indoor swings, equipment, and sensory play that can help support your child in the winter months (or year round) when playing outside may not be possible.

These recommendations are based upon input from other therapists, clients, and online research. Sites have not been individually inspected on-site by the author.

We Rock the Spectrum

OT Overview

  • What is it?: A “gym for all kids” that  “is committed to providing a safe, nurturing, and fun environment to foster learning, exploration and safe sensory experiences.” We Rock the Spectrum is owned by a speech pathologist whose mission is to provide a safe space for all children to play and explore. We Rock the Spectrum is a large gym facility that hosts both open play times, respite care, birthday parties, and classes. We Rock the Spectrum is specifically designed for children with special needs, especially those on the Autism Spectrum! Open for children in infancy to 13 years old. All children must be accompanied by an adult and wear socks. 
  • Why an OT likes it: We Rock the Spectrum has a handy graphic of all their pieces of equipment and what sensory input they provide! 

General Information

  • Where: 553 East Dundee Road Palatine, IL
  • Hours: Open gym typically runs 10am-7pm during weekdays, but hours may vary, please check website for details. 
  • Amenities: This gym has a lot of the same swings and equipment seen in therapy gyms- There is a zip line, swings, crash pit, weighted blankets, trampoline, tunnel, platform swing, hammock swing, monkey bars, and bolster swing. 
  • Pricing: There are drop in prices as well as memberships. $14/child, $12/siblings for open play. You can get membership cards (5 visits for $60, 12 visits for $120, etc.) See website for full conditions and price listings. Unlimited monthly packages are available too.
  • Contact

ColorWheel Playhouse

OT Overview

  • What is it?: Owned by parents of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ColorWheel Playhouse aims to be “a place where kids with all ranges of abilities could come together and find joy and smiles on our Color Wheel of happiness.” ColorWheel playhouse is a facility that has a large gym, can host classes and birthday parties. Classes include a variety of topics such as bully prevention, CPR, karate demonstrations, fire safety, and much more. This facility is specifically designed for children with special needs! 
  • Why an OT likes it: ColorWheel Playhouse has various different areas in which your child can choose what kind of input they are needing; there is an “Action Room,” designed to get your child the heavy work (push, pull, carry, climb, etc.) types of input to their muscles and joints that has a calming effect. There are various types of swings so your child can get the needed vestibular input (movement input from swinging back and forth, spinning, and jumping). Also there are arts and crafts/sensory bins available if your child needs a quiet moment to themselves. I also enjoy that the owners have a child with Autism, so the staff understands a child on the Spectrum and all potential needs and challenges. If birthday parties are challenging for a child, ColorWheel Playhouse offers themed birthday party packages at their facility. 

General Information

  • Where: Sandpiper Plaza, 2000 Army Trail Road, Hanover Park, IL
  • Hours: Open play hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10am-6pm, Closed Sunday and Monday.
  • Amenities: This facility has a rock wall, ball pit, monkey bars, log swings, rope climbing wall, cacoon swing, trampoline, zip line, an arts and crafts table, and sensory bins.
  • Pricing: Open gym: $10/child, $9/addition child. Punch cards and monthly memberships are available as well; See website for full conditions and price listings.
  • Contact: 

Ball Factory

OT Overview

  • What is it?: Ball Factory is an indoor gym that has specified areas for babies, toddlers, and young kids to explore and play. Children up to 12 years old are permitted to play with their parents present. Ball Factory aims to make play comfortable for all ages, they have equipment and toys suited for babies to 12 year old kids, as well as comfortable seating for parents and senior discounts available for when grandma and grandpa want to visit! There is even a cafe inside where you can grab a bite. This facility is designed for all children, of all ages and abilities. 
  • Why an OT likes it: I personally love the variety of equipment available at this facility- everything from ball bits, climbing structures, to push toys. I would recommend this facility for my clients that cannot get enough pretend play with cars and other vehicles, since there are kid-sized vehicles to drive around (and get vestibular and heavy work input as they pedal and push their cars around). I also love that this facility encourages family members not to just sit on the sidelines and watch their children play- but to get in on the action! Adults are allowed in all the play areas and there are comfortable seating options so that moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas can play with their children, then rest and recharge. After all, a place with fun equipment is great, but made into an amazing experience for a child when their loved ones join in play with them. 

General Information

  • Where: (there are 2 sites!)
    • Naperville: 864 S Route 59
    • Mount Prospect: 1042 S Elmhurst Road
  • Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10am-7pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-9pm
  • Amenities: Ball Factory has many fun areas for your child to explore that is age and abilities appropriate:The “Imagination Playground” has large soft blocks for children to play with, the “Tot Area” has padded equipment, cushioned toys, balls, and a small play structure with large, soft, Lego blocks. Based upon pictures from the website, there does not appear to be any indoor swings. However, there is a “Pedal Tractor Area” with pedal tractors with loaders, trailers, tractors, and fire trucks. There is also a pretend play gas station for all of the vehicles to refuel! Other pieces of equipment include a ball pit, maze, multi-story playground, ball blasting area (soft balls shot out of air-cannons), baby slides, interactive play floor, and super slides!
  • Pricing:  
    • Children over 12 months (Monday-Friday) are $12.95, Weekends are $15.95. Children 6-12 months (Monday-Friday) are $10, weekends are $12. 
    • Children under 6 months are free. 
    • The Ball Factory also offers 5 visit passes that are $55. 
    • They also have fun discounts such as “PJ Play” in which children cost $8 for the last hour of the day and “Happy Hour Play”, in which children are $10 after 3pm  (Monday-Thursday).See website for full conditions and price listings.
  • Contact:

Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park (Naperville)

OT Overview

  • What is it?: This massive facility has all kinds of activities such as go-karts, “Wipe Out” styled obstacles, ropes course, etc. This facility offers Open Play hours where you can explore the building’s fun activities- such as an indoor trampoline park and climbing gym. There are so many activities available for open gym play as well as special events such as birthday parties. This facility is not specifically tailored to children with special needs, but may be suitable for these children with adult supervision and support. 
  • Why an OT likes it: This facility would be perfect for some of my clients who love coming to OT to get intense crashing, pushing, pulling, and are “thrill seekers!” Some of my clients are obsessed with Wipeout and American Ninja Warrior- and Urban Air looks like a place where those “adrenaline junkies” could pretend they are competing in American Ninja Warrior themselves. 
  • Special Note: Some activities at Urban Air may be a little more intense than the previously mentioned indoor playgrounds. I think this facility would best suit children who are more independent in their play and need just supervisory support to engage in novel gross motor activities. While these activities certainly do offer opportunities for heavy work and vestibular input (especially trampoline course, ropes course, zip line, climbing structures, rock walls, etc.), children with motor delays and/or are sensitive to intense movement input may have difficulty engaging in all of the activities offered. That being said, there are so many activities at this facility, that you are bound to find something for kids of all abilities to be able to participate in.  Please see the website for pictures to make your own assessment if these activities would be fun for your child. Consult your child’s Occupational Therapist if you are unsure if they would enjoy a certain activity. 

General Information

  • Where: (3 Illinois Locations)
    • 1955 Glacier Park Avenue, Naperville, IL
    • 67 Ludwig Drive, Fairview Heights, IL
    • 19800 South La Grange Road, Mokena, IL
  • Hours: (Varies by location, please see website for site specific hours)
    • Naperville Open Play hours:
      • Sunday-Wednesday (10am-8pm)
      • Thursday (No Open Play hours)
      • Friday and Saturday (10am-11pm)
  • Amenities: Urban Air definitely offers the widest variety of obstacle courses (rope wall, Wipe Out course, tubes playground, dodgeball, warrior course, ropes course, strapped-in zip line), bumper cars, go-karts, trampolines, and much more!  There is a Kids Under 7 area with little-kid appropriate trampolines. 
  • Pricing: Endless Play Memberships are available as well as birthday party prices. See website for full conditions and price listings.
  • Contact

I hope these ideas will help jump-start your planning for outings for the winter months! If you have any questions or concerns about any of the aforementioned facilities, please contact the facility. Also, ask your child’s Occupational Therapist about what types of activities would be most beneficial.

For more information on occupational therapy at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html. 

Indoor Play Activities for Toddlers

By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist

These cold wintry months make us want to bundle up and stay indoors. It’s so hard to keep adventurous little ones entertained on a beautiful day where you can go to the park, let alone a day when you’re stuck inside. It can be especially hard for children with sensory processing difficulties to not go outside and get the necessary input their bodies need to stay calm and focused through climbing, jumping, and tactile exploration. But you don’t have to sacrifice a fun day with your toddlers and young children just because it’s freezing out!

When it comes down to it, a child will love any game in which they have special playtime with a parent or caregiver. But if you’re having a little trouble thinking of some ideas to get you started on a fun indoor day, here are a few activities for your toddler that will help them get the sensory input they crave while having a whole lot of fun!

  1. Build a fort

Make a princess castle, bear cave, dragons lair, or just a creative hideout. You can use whatever material is around the house (cardboard boxes, blankets, pillows, comforters, sheets draped over furniture) to make a fort. Help the younger toddlers (1 year olds) assemble the fort and play games like peek-a-boo as they climb in and out of their fort.
Young toddlers can also take child-safe flashlights into their fort as part of their peek-a-boo game or to play hide and seek with parents.

22_Zach and Amelia Judson

Older toddlers (2-3 year olds) can help you construct the fort as a great way to express their creativity and imagination. Encourage them to play house with their dolls/stuffed animals in their own little home. Or maybe you can join in an imaginative game with them (Be a dragon that is “attacking” the castle that your valiant knight defends with pillows, be a neighbor that brings a snack to your little one’s “home,” or pretend to be the Big Bad Wolf who blows their house down and create a pillow pile for the Little Pigs to dig out of).

Benefits of the Activity: I love having kids build a fort because it gives their body tactile input (input to their skin about the texture and pressure of the pillows and blankets). Also this type of activity helps them build visual perceptual skills needed to stack pillows to get them to stay up and not fall. Finally, children get proprioceptive input (pressure into their joints and muscles as they pick up heavy pillows and push them around). OT’s frequently call this type of input “heavy work.” Proprioceptive input is calming input that helps children who are always “on the go” slow their bodies down and have a better understanding of where their bodies are in space.

  1. Painter’s tape mazes/hopscotch

Jimmy2Use painter’s tape to make shapes on hardwood, tile, or linoleum floor. Older kids can pretend that the circles out of tape are stepping stones in the river that they have to jump between without falling in the water. Kids may even enjoy making a little maze on the floor that they can walk on top of. You can even make squares to make a hopscotch pattern on the floor and practice jumping and balancing on one foot. Finally, make a path on the ground to use as a road for toy cars or animals!

Benefits of the Activity: This activity helps children build gross motor skills through coordinating their body movements to jump in/out of the hopscotch squares and develop visual tracking skills as they have their cars “follow the road” in a tape maze.

  1. Sleigh Rides

Pile pillows in a laundry hamper and place a blanket underneath to make the laundry hamper slippery on hardwood, tile, or linoleum floors. Your child could then climb in and enjoy a fun sleigh or car ride as you pull them around. Make a game out of it by stopping at the “grocery store” and picking up pretend food as you pull them around.  Need your child to burn off a little energy? Have them push a basket around and pick up toys or push around a sibling, if they are able to.

Benefits of the Activity: This game gives their body tactile input (as they are squished by textured pillows in the laundry hamper) and some vestibular input (movement input and understanding of where they are in space) as they are pulled around. Once again, this activity provides proprioceptive input if the child pushes the hamper around the house!

  1. Sensory Bin Hunt

shockSensory bins can be made out of just about any material and is a fun way to help your child explore different textures. Take any large Tubberware or small to medium sized storage bin and fill with whatever sensory materials you child might like exploring (uncooked bowtie pasta, macaroni, beans, and cereal are a few of my favorite not-too-messy options). Don’t want a huge mess to clean-up? Put a fitted sheet underneath the sensory bin that will catch all the little pieces that might spill out during play. That way you can just bunch up the fitted sheet and throw pieces in it away when your child is done playing. Hide little cars inside the sensory bin and help your child dig through to find it. Pretend to give Barbies a bath in this pretend bathtub, play puppies and dig to hide a bone in the bin, or just allow your kid to play with funnels, tubberware, and serving spoons in the sensory bin.

Benefits of the Activity: This activity is a great way to introduce tactile input to the hands as they feel the different shapes, sizes, and textures of the items in the sensory bin. Want to add an extra challenge that OT’s would love? Have your child close their eyes and search around the bin with their hands to find a hidden treasure. OT’s describe the ability to distinguish between the properties of different items with the skin as tactile discrimination. See if your child can feel the difference between the macaroni you filled the bin with and the pennies you hid for them! If they have their eyes open and are searching the bin for their treasures, this activity helps children develop good visual scanning skills.

Note: Children should be supervised during sensory bin play to prevent choking if children place small pieces in their mouth.

  1. Bath time Painting

bathtub crayonsHave a fun water day indoors by playing in the tub! Encourage some creativity and early fine motor fun with fingerpaint soap or bathtub crayons that are easily washed away with water. I found fingerpaint soap at the Dollar Store or in the dollar section at Target.

Benefits of the Activity: This activity promotes tactile exploration as children feel the different textures of the fingerpaint, the temperature of the tub, the pressure of the water around their bodies, and the splashes of the water as they play. Bathtub crayons also provide a play-based opportunity to practice developing an age-appropriate grasp and fine motor development.

**Note: Children should be supervised at all times in the bathtub. Check that fingerpaint soaps are non-toxic and safe.

  1. Puppet show

Use premade puppets or make your own puppets with socks. Show your young toddlers how to play with a puppet (make the puppet say “hi” or give your little one kisses). See if they can imitate what you do! Help set up a little “stage” for a puppet show by draping a sheet over 2 chairs and encourage your older toddlers to put on a show for family and friends!

Benefits of the Activity: This activity promotes imitation through play. A child’s ability to imitate actions is a function of motor planning. Motor planning is the ability of the child to have an idea of what to do, plan the steps needed to accomplish this task, and successfully execute this plan. This activity also promotes imaginative play and helps children receive tactile input as they put sock puppets over their hands and move their hands to make the puppet talk.

  1. Food Stamps or Food Necklaces

orange stamping
Photo from: https://mom.me/toddler/11835-toddler-talk-orange-stamping/

Make stamps out of fruit and veggies and make some artwork! Help prep vegetables and fruits you have around the house by cutting them in half. Apples, potatoes, bottoms of celery stalks, and broccoli make great stamps. Set up an area where your kids can get messy (maybe roll out wrapping paper on the kitchen table or floor and place paper on top to make clean-up easy). Provide some non-toxic finger paint or maybe shaving cream with food coloring and get stamping! This activity not only helps little ones express their creativity, but it also exposes them to new foods in tactile exploration.

Older toddlers might also enjoy making food necklaces. Use yarn or other types of string and help your child string on Cheerios, Fruit Loops, or macaroni onto their necklace.

Benefits of the Activity: Not only does your child receive tactile input through the different textures of food, but it’s a perfect opportunity for your child to play with foods that they usually don’t eat (if your child hates broccoli, it’s helpful for them to just be exposed to it in a context in which they don’t have to eat it, just play with it!)

An Occupational Therapist will tell you that repeated exposures to non-preferred foods helps children become more comfortable with different foods. Finally, children who string Cheerios/Fruit Loops onto string have the opportunity to practice their fine motor skills as well as visual motor skills (can the child identify where the hole in the cereal is and thread the food onto it?)

  1. Silly Instrument Play

Lay a blanket on the kitchen floor and lay out pots and pans. Have your little one use wooden or metal spoons to play on their instruments. (Adults may need earplugs during this game!) Join in the silliness and be the leader of a parade around the house. Sing songs with your little one and practice marching.

Benefits of the Activity: This game provides your child with proprioceptive input as they bang on pots and pans. Your child also works coordinating movements (can they swing their arms to hit the pot). Older toddlers can work on gradation, which is the ability to grade force of movements (can your child hit the pan softly so a quiet song, then hit the pan really hard to produce a loud sound?)

  1. Obstacle Course Adventure

Make a climbing obstacle course around the house using pillows, blankets, and sofa cushions. Help your child climb a pillow mountain or make a “garbage pile” of pillows in which you can hide a toy that your child can climb around to find.

Benefits of the Activity: Similar to a fort activity, obstacle courses provide a great opportunity for tactile input as they move around the cushions and blankets and proprioceptive input as they push/pull pieces to crawl through the obstacle course. This activity also works on body awareness, the ability of the child to feel where they are in space in order to effectively move their body around obstacles. The more a child is allowed to crash and push equipment around, they develop a better sense of where their body is in space.

  1. Dress-Up Play

Pull out old clothes, hats, shoes, sunglasses, socks, and scarves from way back in your closet and have a dress-up day. Older toddlers may enjoy having a fashion or talent show in your living room.

Benefits of the Activity: Not only do kids get to use this as a way to pretend to be just like their heroes (you), they also get practice dressing skills they will need when they are older. Young toddlers may have difficulty putting on different pieces of clothing (which is pretty age-appropriate), but they can work on pulling off pieces that they are all done with playing, such as pulling off a t-shirt, socks, shoes, and pants/skirt.

  1. Indoor “Camping”

Make a tent out of sheets and chairs and drag in a sleeping bag or pillows to make your tent cozy. You can bring in flashlights, story books, toys, and/or some homemade s’mores made in the oven (recipe link below).  See if your little one can use their flashlight to find different pictures in the story you read to them.

Oven S’mores Recipe: https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-baked-smores-3052398

Benefits of the Activity: Making a small space out of pillows and sheets creates a great opportunity for children to receive tactile input. Some children find small spaces calming because they get “squished” between pillows. Getting “squishes” is a form of deep tactile input, which is very calming for some (think of a big hug or being swaddled). If this sounds like your child, use the tent as a safe retreat in which they can bring their favorite story and get a big hug from a loved one. Finding pictures with a flashlight while reading a story promotes visual scanning. Best of all, reading a story together gives you both the perfect opportunity to bond and spend quality time together.

There are limitless activities you can do inside that can help support sensory play and help children with sensory processing difficulties get the input they need. Feel free to use the ideas above or come up with your own play ideas!

For more information on occupational therapy at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html. 

Pretend Play Activities

By: Laura Bueche MOT OTR/L

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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.

Stir Crazy Kids: How to Stay Active this Winter

By: Laura Bueche, Occupational Therapist

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Oh the weather outside is frightful, and we are going crazy indoors. Just because there is snow and ice on the ground, does not mean your child’s arousal level is any lower.  On the contrary, it’s probably reaching a boiling point and you are looking for ways to get your kids the sensory stimulation and gross motor activity their little bodies are craving.

Getting your kids up and moving has a lot of benefits. The Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that children and adolescents engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days of the week, preferably daily. As an occupational therapist, I love physical activity because of the regulating aspects of proprioceptive input*, as well as development of coordination skills and strengthening opportunities.

*Proprioceptive input are sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues that underlie body awareness. Input can be obtained by lifting, pushing, and pulling heavy objects, including one’s own weight. For example, climbing on a jungle gym, swinging across monkey bars, or pulling a wagon.

15_Brady PembrokeWhy is it helpful? Providing your child with more proprioceptive input throughout the day can help them:

  • Tolerate sensations and situations that are challenging
  • Regulate emotions, alertness and increase attention span
  • Reduce unwanted sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors
  • Handle transitions with less stress (sensorysmarts.com)

For more information about sensory processing check out the post, How Sensitive is Too Sensitive?

In these bitter winter months, it is difficult to get your kids the physical
activity they need. Here are just a few ideas for indoor activities to give you and your family a much-needed break from being stuck at home.

Ideas for Local Indoor Activities

Ideas if You Can’t Leave the House

There is a crazy blizzard outside, what can I do with what I have at home? Here are some ideas to get kids some movement breaks when stuck indoors:

  • Build a furniture fort by pushing and pulling furniture and cushions from around the house.
  • Make an obstacle course by army crawling, jumping and doing jumping jacks to get to the finish line in record time.
  • The floor is hot lava! We all know this favorite.
  • Animal walk relay races: bear walk, crab walk, wheelbarrow, and penguin waddle across the room to roll the die of a board game or get stickers for a craft project.
  • Jump and crash into a pillow pile or onto the bed.
  • Jump rope with rhymes and songs.
  • Squeeze, squish, and smash Play-Doh.
  • Use a scooter, tricycle, or scooter board to propel through the house.
  • Squish your kids in a pillow pile; making sandwiches.
  • Swing your toddler in a blanket between you and another adult.
  • Push a vacuum or mop, collect the garbage, wipe down the table, load the laundry, and push the laundry basket.Cooper