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:
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.
Count to a specific number or use a particular word that your toddler needs to listen to before he can be dumped
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
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
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)
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.)
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!
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.
By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist
Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Kids are finishing up the school year, you are still going to work/working remotely, running your home, and keeping your kids entertained during their summer! All this change can be very disorienting and stressful for everyone. I wanted to put together a list of some suggestions that are “occupational therapist-approved” to help you navigate staying sane, keeping a good routine, carving out “family time”, and receiving therapy services remotely while being stuck inside the house!
Probably the largest disruption to all of us at this time is that all of our daily routines are completely changed! Daily routines help provide structure to our lives, whether you are a child or an adult. Research by Ruth Segal, OTD and Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at New York University, reports that daily routines give families as sense of identity, organization, and provide socialization opportunities (Segal, 2004). Our kids are used to having a predictable day involving school, extra curriculars, play dates, and therapy appointments which help them organize their days and have meaningful interactions with family and friends. With this change to e-learning and staying home, it’s completely understandable that kids may feel stressed, anxious, and aimless without their routines. This stress may be more exacerbated for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Children with ASD can be heavily reliant upon predictability and routine, which have been thrown off because of the Coronavirus. For both neurotypical and children with ASD alike, using visual schedules, timers, and social stories may be good techniques to help your child cope with a new routine.
Visual schedules can be as complex or simple as you need; they can be simple drawings on a piece of paper, an excel spreadsheet, or printed words/pictures from an online generator. For some of my clients, they are comforted and reassured when I draw 3 pictures of activities we are going to do in OT.
Honestly, whatever works for your kid and helps them feel organized is correct. Whatever way you decide to create a visual schedule, it’s important to build in both structured and unstructured time for your children. They should have time built in for their academic work for school as well as a few hours for play time that is completely unstructured. Some kids may want to put a sticker next to an activity they completed, erase it on the whiteboard, cross it out, or just put a checkmark next to it. The sky’s the limit! Below are some examples of visual schedules and who it may be appropriate for:
(Written schedule with times, appropriate for older elementary children who can tell time)
(visual picture or words, as they are able to read. You can draw your own pictures or just print some off for younger children who cannot read.)
In conjunction with visual schedules, it can be helpful to utilize timers (sandtimers, timer on the microwave, on your iPhone, etc.) to help your children keep organized. The timer you use will have to be dependent upon your own child’s level of development as well as what they personally need to feel supported. Apps you can use:
Children’s Countdown App:Great, free time app on smart phones that shows a picture countdown on the screen. The coundtown clock can be set for any amount of time and children do not need to understand how to tell time or have understanding of numbers to comprehend it.
Timed It! App: App for older children in which you can put in personalized tasks in minute increments and the app will help the child count down until they need to move on to the next task.
Timer on smart phone: just about all smart phones have a “clock” application in which there are capabilities for setting a timer. This would be good for older children who have a better sense of what an hour, minute, second is. Although, some younger children will understand the concept that they are only “all done” when the timer makes a sound.
For some children with ASD, social stories are a good way to help explain why their routine has changed or what the “story” of their day. Social stories are third person stories in which the child is the main character and different themes can be explored. Ask an Occupational or Speech therapists for help creating a social story, if needed.
In this uncertain time, it’s important to have some outlets for both you and your children to decompress and still have fun together. Building in sensory activities into your daily routine will help your child remain calm and regulated throughout the day.
Physical Activities and Heavy Work
Taking movement breaks throughout your day will help both you and your child stay sane while you are cooped up at the house. Occupational therapists often discuss the benefits of heavy work and how this push, pull, or carry input (or proprioceptive input) to the muscles and joints has a regulating and calming affect. There are a multitude of heavy work activities you can do indoors. Such as:
Build a pillow fort with blankets, pillows & stuffed animals
Pull siblings on the hardwood floor while they are sitting or laying on a blanket
Do animal walk races across the room (bear walk, frog hop, crab walk, etc. Make up your own silly walk!)
Jumping Jacks or jump on a trampoline
Pull siblings in the wagon around the block
Have a wall push-up competition and find out who is the strongest in your house
Play towel tug-of-war
Plant flowers in the backyard or help with yard work (using little shovel, pull weeds, dig in the dirt)
My helpful tip to parents is, if the activity includes pushing, pulling, or carrying something; that’s heavy work! Get creative and come up with your own ideas!
Family Game Night/Nightly Mealtime Tradition
Keeping special family routines will be important to make sure kids feel safe and supported when everyone is kind of stressed. Set aside time in your routine where you can all sit down and have a meal together with the television off. A family tradition at my house growing up was to play “Pot Boils Over” where one member of the family starts a silly story and after a few sentences says “pot boils over” and “passes” the story-telling to another family member to add on as they please. It’s a simple game that gets all family members involved, laughing, and thinking creatively.
Another mealtime routine I have heard of, is going around and saying one thing each family member is thankful for, what the best part of their day was, share a good joke, etc. This is also a great time for families to all sit down together and have game nights. You are going to be all home together, why not build some special memories and encourage social learning. Here are a few favorite games that can be played with multiple people, for different ages:
Games for younger children: Shoots and Ladders, Simon Says, Twister (help them with right and left), Follow the Leader, Go fish, Memory (match pictures by turning over cards), Jenga, Kerplunk
Games for Older children: Twister, Uno (each color you play can correspond to a fun activity such as “Make up your Own Dance Move” or “Do 2 Pushups”), Clue, Scrabble and Scrabble Junior, Telestrations (like telephone, but with drawing pictures), Apples to Apples, do a 200+ piece puzzle as a family, Guess Who?
I am personally feeling inundated by COVID-19 news and I can get overwhelmed quickly, so I can imagine you and your children are feeling the same. I think it’s healthy to be aware of the evolving situation and current precautions, however it’s beneficial to “unplug” every once and a while when you are at home with your kids. Your children are very perceptive and can pick up on your stress and anxiety as they read your non-verbal cues and affect. Young children especially need their parents to “co regulate,” meaning they read your affect, mood, facial expressions and adjust their own regulation accordingly. If you exude a calm, cool, collected attitude when they are anxious, this will help them calm down and feel secure.
Therefore it’s important to turn off the news at some point and focus on having quality and uninterrupted play time with your kids. Do finger painting, make a fort out of blankets, play board games, read stories by flashlight, sit together and do a puzzle or color! Even just being available to your children, not distracted by technology or work, can be extremely beneficial to your kids.
As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the CDC also recommends to take time to pause and breath during stress. Notice How you Feel. Take Breaks. Make time to sleep and exercise. Reach out and stay connected. Seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed or feeling unsafe. If you or your child needs help, our social work team can help.
COVID-19 does not have to stop your child’s progress toward their goals! Your child can still receive therapy services remotely via tele-therapy. Tele-therapy is a unique service delivery method in which your friendly Easterseals therapist will arrange a time and will send you a link via the Microsoft Teams app. From there, you just click on the link at your pre-arranged appointment time and you can have a video call with your therapist. Your therapist can then work on therapy goals with your child with you, the parent, being the therapist’s “hands” in the session. An occupational therapist will help coach you through appropriate handling techniques, sensory strategies, exercises, fine motor activities, feeding session and more remotely!
All our therapists adopted this technology so your child will continually receive services with minimal interruption. It is our hope to keep providing exceptional therapy services to all of our clients during this difficult time. If you have any questions or concerns regarding tele-therapy, please reach out to one of your therapists or contact us at 630.620.4433.
Also stay tuned to our blog for more resources and tips from our therapists on helping families cope with increased time at home during COVID especially during the summer.
Segal, R. (2004). Family routines and rituals: A context for occupational therapy interventions. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58, 499–508.
People are not leaving their houses right now and you know what that is resulting in? A need for lots of cleaning and organizing! This doesn’t have to be a solo effort though! Maybe we can embrace this unique opportunity, where we are being asked to be our children’s teachers, to show our children some new things we don’t normally have time for in everyday life.
Research has found that one of the best predictors of a young adults’ success was whether one participated in household tasks when they were young. Chores help kids have a “pitch-in” mindset, which is an invaluable skill throughout the lifetime. In the book, 50 Tips to Help Students Succeed, Marydee Sklar describes the executive functioning skills that are developed when completing chores including:
Focus and goal-directed behavior
Here is an idea of some of the chores your child might be ready to do by age. The level of assistance a child may need will vary.
Age 2-3: This is a magical age in which your child is so enthusiastic in their desire to “help”! The problem is that “help” feels like anything but help! However, it appears that cultures that embrace and expect children in this age group to participate in household work raise children that are willing and proud contributors to household chores.
Put toys away
Throw garbage away
Put dishes in sink
Help set the table
Put dirty clothes in the hamper
Dust the baseboards
Fold rags, washcloths and dishcloths
Make the bed
Feed the pets
Pick up toys
Water the plants
Put away dishes they can reach
Clear and clean table after dinner
Make easy snacks
Wipe down doorknobs
Sweep the kitchen floor
Empty the dishwasher
Sweep the hallways
Mop the kitchen floor
Organize the mudroom storage area
Make a simple salad
Bring in the empty garbage cans
Put groceries away
Clean out the car
Wipe bathroom sink and counters
Sweep the porch
Hang, fold and put away clean clothes
Make scrambled eggs
Clean the toilets (inside and outside)
Wash your own laundry
Sweep the garage and driveway
Wipe down the counters
Clean the kitchen
Make a simple meal
Ages 12+: For this age group, help them be proactive in recognizing what needs to be done and initiating a plan for how and when to do it. Work side-by-side on house projects with them.
Clean the garage
Mow the lawn
Wash the car
Mop the floors
Help with simple home repairs
Cook a complete meal
Tips for success:
Teach the skills- Don’t expect them to learn it on their own. Break down the task into small steps.
Help them come up with organizational systems for their belongings that they can maintain with little help from you. Have written labels or pictures to assist in sorting items in different boxes.
Take a picture of what their clean room (or other designated) area looks like. Encourage them to match the picture when their chore is complete.
Give them some control, even if that means it’s not done the way you would prefer.
Assist them in thinking through when they will have time in their schedule to do their chores.
Help implement designated chores into daily routines.
Schedule work time and break time.
Help them recognize how long a chore should take to complete in order to maintain their focus to the task and motivation for completing it in a timely manner.
Make it fun!
Make it a race or competition
Create a chore chart or list which will assist experiencing a sense of accomplishment as they complete their chores
Sometimes incentives might help!
Have everyone completing chores together
Stay home, stay well, embrace the ones you are socially isolated with and relish in those chores! For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit eastersealsdfvr.org.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
By: Valerie Heneghan, M.A., CCC-SLP/L, Director of Speech-Language, Feeding, and Assistive Technology
Tele-therapy for All!
Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley has been at the forefront of serving children and their families in a way that meets their current needs through clinical expertise, a team-based approach and integrating technology to ensure maximum independence. As an organization, we have been offering tele-therapy opportunities for the past 10 years as a service delivery model to those it would serve optimally (i.e., a generalization of skills to home environment, transportation issues, medically fragile or at-risk health, to accommodate busy schedules, etc.).
In response to COVID-19, all 87 therapists were trained to transition to tele-therapy services within two days with support from experienced tele-therapists within the agency.
How Does Tele-Therapy Work?
Once evaluated to determine eligibility for skilled therapy services, your therapist would follow up to plan your child’s tele-therapy session and schedule a time to meet. They will work with you to review treatment plans and establish your priorities.
Laptops or desktop computers are preferred for best overall experience. But tablets, iPhones and Android phones can work too as long as the device has a working microphone and camera. A stable internet connection is needed via a hard-line/Ethernet cord, WiFi or using your cellular plan (your standard data rates may apply). Screen sharing is available to increase participation, engagement and utilization of resources throughout the session.
Tips for Making the Most out of Online Therapy
Get comfortable with the technology: Immerse yourself in the platform you are using. There are often a lot of features available such as audio adjustments and visual displays, screen sharing, chat features, etc. The more comfortable you are with these features the easier it may be to modify or troubleshoot if a technical problem occurs.
Make a plan: Plan out a time and a designated space in your home that would work best for your child. Have the computer, phone or other device propped up on books or a stand that has a wide view of the room. If possible, the therapy time should be away from other family members or pets. Work with your therapist ahead of time to prepare a few materials or resources like balls, pillows, mats, or games.
Ex: For a young child, find a space where the child can sit comfortably to view the screen but also has space nearby for movement breaks. Bring your child’s favorite toy to show to their therapist and board game to keep their engagement with the parent between exercises.
Be flexible: When plan A doesn’t go accordingly, be willing to change course.
Take the child’s lead and adapt as necessary. Let the therapist guide you in facilitating therapy strategies through real-life reactions and experiences.
Use items in your home to replicate therapy equipment. Ex: Use couch cushions and pillows to create new surfaces for climbing and crashing.
Make it fun: Be creative and try new things! You may be surprised by new interests and breaking from the same routines. See how much your child can do!
Make it matter: Use this as an opportunity for your therapist to see your child in your home to incorporate therapy strategies and techniques in your daily routine. Let your therapist see what is important to your child and how to motivate them to achieve their treatment goals.
Ex: A child is experiencing difficulty with mealtime; let the therapist observe seating and position at the table, mealtime structure, and how you communicate to your child during a typical mealtime. Pick a food that is important to your family and ask about strategies to incorporate it into your child’s diet.
Give your therapist feedback: It may be more difficult to pick up on social cues, be direct about what went well and what could be improved. Share ideas and problem-solve together to plan for the next session.
As we try to be one step ahead of the COVID-19 crisis and care of your child, we are committed to keeping our programs running. Our tele-therapy services are available to maintain your child’s therapy schedule, help your family navigate this new routine and manage the difficult emotions that may come with it. We can also help parents that have a concern about their infant or toddler’s development now. There is no need to wait, as the early stages of a child’s life are the most important in their development.
We are pleased that tele-therapy has already helped many children eat a new food, stay active, and improve their regulation and play skills while building a stronger relationship with their caregiver.
We understand the immense stress of balancing your child’s needs with the demands of work and school while also keeping your family healthy. We are here to ensure that each child and their caregivers have the support they need to adopt this technology and continue therapy progress.
While much has changed, our commitment to you remains. If you have any needs, we are actively monitoring our main phone number, 630.620.4433 and email@example.com. Contact us at any time (please include your full name, child’s name, phone number and email) and a member of our team will return the response within one business day.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Phone: Naperville (630-640-2020), Mount Prospect (224) 244-9580
Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park (Naperville)
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.
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:
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.
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.
By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist
When a child with sensory processing disorder goes on vacation, it may be difficult for their bodies to go into that “relax and restore” mode. Children with sensory processing disorders are constantly “battling” with their environment in many of the following ways:
Every sound is too loud and hurts their ears
Smells are abrasive and can cause them to gag or vomit
New tactile sensations send them into a panic
Changes in their normal routine can make them extremely anxious
New sights and movement in their environment can startle them
The following are some tips that may help support a child with sensory issues during a summer vacation so they may have a relaxing experience.
Some children may also just benefit from going over what to expect on their vacation. You can help them prepare by saying, “We are going to the airport and this is what to expect…” or “We will be on vacation for 4 days. During those days we can do these activities…”
Long Car Rides
Children that are constantly on the move may find it extremely difficult to sit still during long car rides to their vacation destination. Often times kids who are always “on the go” benefit from heavy work activities that involve pushing, pulling, and carrying. These activities give input to the joints and muscles which can be very regulating. Here are a few heavy work ideas specifically for car rides:
Squigs on the windows: I suggest this for children who need something to keep their hands busy with push and pull component to get heavy work. These small plastic suction cups stick perfectly to car windows and to each other. Children can build and make a picture with them on the windows
Pop Tubes: These toys also provide an opportunity for children to push and pull when you are cooped up in the car.
Animal walk breaks at rest stops: Just as you need to get out and stretch your legs during a long ride, your child with sensory difficulties will need this break too! At rest stops, take advantage of the opportunity to move by doing silly activities that promote heavy work: walking like a bear, jumping like a kangaroo, playing on a playground if the rest stop has one.
What to Pack
Here’s a list of sensory supports that may help your child while you are on vacation. Make sure to consult your occupational therapist about which items may be most beneficial for your child.
Noise cancelling headphones: Some children benefit from wearing headphones if they are easily overwhelmed by the loud noises of crowds. Noise canceling headphones can range anywhere from $20 to upwards of $200. These might be handy for kids that would get overwhelmed by crowds, traveling on an airplane, or seeing a firework show on the 4th of July.
Comfort item: Bringing a stuffed animal or blanket that your child finds soothing may be beneficial for when they become anxious or overwhelmed while on vacation. You could even add soothing aromatherapy scents such as vanilla, lavender, or chamomile to these comfort items for an extra sensory “treat.” (Always make sure your child tolerates and likes the scent prior to adding it to their comfort item. If the smell is too bothersome to them, they may not want to be around it anymore!)
Weighted blanket or stuffed animal: Some children with sensory processing difficulties find compression comforting. A weighted blanket or stuffed animal may provide some calming input and tell their body to relax. Weighted items are now available at most stores or online. Click here to read more about the benefits of weighted blankets.
Fidgets: These are small items that kids can fiddle with in their hands to keep them busy and focused when they may feel overwhelmed. Fidgets can be bracelets, putty, pop tubes, etc.
Identification bracelets: Sometimes when a child is overwhelmed, they may run away from the group. Because of this, it may be a good idea to make a bracelet with your phone number on it so that you can be reached in case of an emergency. Options include beads with numbers on them, temporary tattoos that you can specially order with your phone number on it. There are even cute “Disney-themed” buttons and tattoos with emergency contact information that you can specially order. Here are some examples of number bracelets and temporary tattoos or you can design your own ID bracelet.
The Benefit of Breaks
Children are working very hard to stay regulated and calm when they are being bombarded with all this new sensory input that comes with a vacation. They may just need a little break. It is absolutely okay to take some time in your hotel room or find a quiet spot for your child to regroup. Sometimes just a quiet room with a preferred toy or sensory tool is just the break that your child needs in order to enjoy the rest of their vacation.
You can help your child create a “calm down corner” in your hotel room or wherever you are staying. This spot does not need to be complicated – it can be a little corner of the room with pillows, blankets, and some of the items previously listed in “What to Pack.”
This can be their special area in which they can retreat to take a break if they become overwhelmed and enjoy a moment away from whatever input is overwhelming them.
This is not a punitive space to send them to when they are behaving badly or being uncooperative. This is a calm space that you can offer them a break in or they can elect to go to when needed. Just as you may go sit by the pool after a busy day on vacation to relax and recharge, your child with sensory processing difficulties may need their own unique space to do the same.
Children with sensory processing difficulties can have meltdowns when they get too overwhelmed by the sensory input in their surroundings and/or if they become too fatigued. As well prepared as you may be, you can’t anticipate or prepare for every meltdown.
If your child has a meltdown while on vacation, first try to figure out what elicited the meltdown and remove them from the input that is too overwhelming for them. It may be helpful to go through all 5 senses: Was there a smell, sound, touch, sight, taste that they experienced that caused them to react? Were they in a loud, busy crowd for too long? Did the plan change too suddenly and without warning?
Once you have removed them from whatever caused the meltdown (as best as you can), give them input to help calm them down. For some children, they like compression from big hugs or weighted blankets. Other children need to put on their noise cancelling headphones and have some quiet time.
Sometimes children with sensory processing difficulties can meltdown because they are so tired from holding themselves together for so long in a new environment. As a clinician, I have an understanding of the experience, and know it must be exhausting to be bothered by what most people consider “normal” input, such as the sounds of people talking, the feel of your clothes on your body, or the smell of the pool on vacation.
It’s important for parents to understand that their child with a sensory processing disorder is expending a lot of energy processing input from their surroundings. They may need more patience and understanding when they are having a tough time with changes outside their normal routine. It may be helpful for parents to help children label when they are becoming agitated, by saying “It looks like you are not comfortable right now, can we take a break?”
Summer vacation should be an opportunity for everyone in your family to rest and recharge. If you need help brainstorming what activities/preparations would be best for your child this summer, consult your occupational therapist for more insight into your child’s unique sensory needs.
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!
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.
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.
Painter’s tape mazes/hopscotch
Use 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.
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!
Sensory Bin Hunt
Sensory 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.
Bath time Painting
Have 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.
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.
Food Stamps or Food Necklaces
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?)
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 wash: Perfect 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.
Race 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.
Having a newborn baby can be just as equally thrilling as it can be equally exhausting. Adjusting back to home life can be overwhelming at times as you are healing and beginning to learn all about your new bundle of joy. Understanding that all newborn babies are very different from each other, here are five tips that I found helpful as both a new mom and pediatric occupational therapist:
First and foremost remember to breathe and smile. This time of your life is both wonderful and stressful. Deep breathing has been proven to be very beneficial. The many benefits include a reduction in stress and blood pressure. Deep breathing releases natural “free-good” hormones in our body. Learning a few techniques and tuning into your body for just a few moments can help. If you can force a smile on your face. A smile can be enough sometimes to turn any situation into something to find humor within.
Use your tribe and forget as much as possible about modesty. Your tribe, or your support team, doesn’t care what you look like or that you haven’t showered in several days. They love you for who you are and not anything else. Those first weeks can be challenging, especially if you have a children with medical needs. Let them help so you can a little rest to keep yourself going strong.
Talk to yourself. It might feel funny at first but it can help. It doesn’t matter what you say. I often find myself talking about anything and everything- the plan for the day, what is happening right now, about my son’s family, etc. The added benefit of talking to yourself is your child also gets to hear your voice.
Try to develop routines early. It’s really hard the first weeks adjusting and even thinking about routines. I’m not even sure most newborns have routines aside from eat, sleep, and diaper changes; however, if you can try to establish some routines it will help your sanity and also help your newborn develop. For my little one, we try to follow a little routine of eat, quiet alert/play if he stays awake, and sleep. I try to use similar songs and even sing the same song over and over when he is trying to sleep. You can even plan to take a stroller walk around the block the same time every day. Having routines help signal to our bodies a sense of calmness and can provide a little bit of organization when things are crazy.
Sensory strategies can be your best friend. Some ideas include the use of auditory input such as white noise, talking softly, or singing, movement and swings, and deep pressure or swaddling. It was crazy what a little bit of white noise did for my son. It was enough to calm and quiet him. Now I use it at bedtime to help him get back into a deeper sleep. I use one with a timer so it doesn’t run continuously. I also talk a lot to my son. It was amazing how fast he learned to recognize my voice and respond to a calm voice, if he wasn’t too upset. I was never someone who spoke aloud but now I found myself telling him all kinds of things. I think the soft melody of my voice must have some calming property for him. Also deep pressure and movement can help a newborn in those early months. When a newborn enters this world they are in a position called physiological flexion which they slowly work out of over the next month or two. Swaddling provides physical boundaries much like the womb which allows your child to feel secure. When they wiggle within the swaddle believe it or not they are learning very early about where their body is in relation to this great big world they entered. Along with swaddling you can also try massage. Infant massage has shown to be a wonderful bonding time for newborns are their parents. Movement is the next sensory strategy. I was very lucky my son loved his swing from the very beginning. I don’t know if this had anything to do with how much I moved around on my job, but back and forth movement is one of the best ways to help calm a child. Rocking chairs and swings can be your best friend.
If you find this newborn phase to be very difficult or think you child may not be reaching his/her milestones, talk with your pediatrician and schedule an evaluation. Many parents find physical, speech, occupational or nutritional therapy for short or long periods provide much needed support and growth for their infants. Learn more at eastersealsdfvr.org.