Tag Archives: play

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.

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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
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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.

Benefits of Outdoor Play

By: Laura Van Zandt, OTR/L

While visiting my family recently, I was reminded of the importance of outdoor play. I was lucky to grow up with a two-acre yard and large untamed wood behind my house. It granted me endless hours of exploring and freedom. Now, children have highly-scheduled lives and don’t have the opportunity to play outside as often. Safety is another legitimate concern for families reluctant to allow their children unsupervised play time outside.

But the whole family can benefit from play time outside. The benefits for children include:

9_DyeAsherLGross Motor Skills: The outdoors is one of the very best places for children to practice and master emerging physical skills. Children can freely experience gross motor skills like running, skipping, and jumping. It is also an appropriate area for the practice of ball-handling skills such as throwing and catching. There are also tons of opportunities for strengthening and coordination through sensoriomotor and heavy work activities such as sitting on a swing, pushing a swing, pulling a wagon, and lifting/carrying objects.

Fine Motor Skills: When children are playing outside they are constantly using their hands to pick up and hold an endless number of items. Each time they pick up something new, they must form their hand around a variety of different shapes. In turn, they learn to separate the two sides of their hands as well as learn how to develop grasp patterns.

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Sensory Processing Skills: The outdoors are full of boundless sensory processing opportunities. Each of our seven different senses (vision, auditory, tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), vestibular (balance), and proprioception (body’s ability to sense itself) are constantly given a vast array of opportunities.

Just close your eyes and listen to all the different sounds. Can you identify the different birds? Open your eyes and now look. Can you find the bird that made that sound? Sit down and feel the grass on your skin. Talk a walk down to a neighborhood garden and smell the different flowers. Which one is your favorite? Can you find the fresh vegetables and fruits? How do they taste? Bend down and simulate your vestibular sense as you pick the different vegetables and fruits. Put them in your wagon and give your proprioceptive system a workout as you pull it up the hill.

Cognitive and Social Skills: Without all the bells and whistles of electronics, children are more likely to invent games as they learn how they can interact within the outside world. Who can jump the furthest over the stick? Who can run the fastest to the biggest tree? Where can I find the best hiding spot for hide-and-seek? Inventing games offers children the possibility to test boundaries and invent rules. In the process, children learn why rules are therefore necessary. They also learn the fine art of flexibility, and give and take with others. Children learn how to work together for a common goal and how to problem solve and use materials in new ways. They can also learn how to take turns and wait while playing on the playground.

Health: Playing outside is also a natural way to relieve stress. Sunlight provides vitamin D, which helps prevent bone problems, heart disease, and diabetes. Our vision is also known to be helped by playing outside (Optometry and Vision Science, 2009 January). Believe it or not, playing in the dirt also helps boost the immune system and handling bugs can help with auto-immune diseases.

Studies show that as many as half of American children are not getting enough exercise, and that risk factors like hypertension and arteriosclerosis are showing up at age 5. So simply going for a walk can greatly help children. Studies have also suggested that playing outside may help to reduce the signs and symptoms of ADHD in children by reducing attention deficit symptoms (American Journal of Public Health, 2004 September).

Activities by Age for the Great Outdoors

Infants:

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Photo by Petra Ford
  • Lay a blanket down and have tummy time outside
  • Introduce grass, leaves, and sand in their hands as they exercise fine motor skills of touching and holding
  • Face the infant toward children at play to stimulate their eyes
  • Place the infant in a safely secured swing
  • Push an infant in a stroller around the neighborhood or park

Toddlers:

  • Blowing bubbles and trying to catch
  • Peek-a-boo around trees, bushes, and playground equipment
  • Explore in a sandbox
  • Encourage exploration on small playground equipment
  • Water play with cups and plastic containers
  • Push and pull equipment

Preschool:Gardening Blog1

  • Create a garden or plant some flowers
  • Go on a nature hike with a scavenger list of items to find
  • Use sidewalk chalk to create pictures
  • Collect twigs, branches, and sticks
  • Collect pinecones for making nut butter bird feeders
  • Fly a kite
  • Allow free time/ independent play

 

School Age:jorge-on-bike

  • Running outside
  • Kick a ball
  • Jump rope
  • Hop-scotch
  • Go on hike
  • Plant and maintain a garden
  • Ride a bike
  • Build forts outdoors

Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley’s therapy is modeled on play. If you have concerns about your child’s development or want an evaluation, visit www.eastersealsdfvr.org for more information.

My OT Christmas List

By: Laura Bueche, MOT OTR/L

If you are looking for the perfect holiday gift for your child, here are some ideas to give your little one the input they are looking for over winter break. I also included other helpful websites, stores and catalogs for children with special needs.

Heavy Work and Movement

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Cuddle Me Sensory Tunnel– Great for therapy requiring tactile input and crawling practice as well as for sensory seeking kids to cuddle in for comfort. $49.99

scooter-blog.jpgScooter board– Develops sensory processing, coordination, balance and agility skills. $19.25

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Mini Kids Trampoline– Helps with muscle development, coordination and sensory processing. $68.99

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Wiggle Sit Cushion– provides subtle movement input and is a great seating option that often helps with focusing, while developing balance skills and trunk control. $14.90

 Deep Pressure Toys

 

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Weighted toys– A great sensory diet addition that provides comforting deep pressure input. $36.00

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Body Sock– excellent for providing calming/organizing deep pressure input, and for developing motor planning, spatial, and body awareness. $31.98

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Weighted blankets– Can calm anxiety and ease stress for some children with autism, sensory processing disorder, developmental disorders, and more. $ Prices vary

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Vibrating Pillow– Provides a sense of calm. $17.95

Balance and Coordination Toys

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Balance Board– helps develop the necessary skills for normal childhood activities which require good balance and coordination. $19.95

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Velcro Toss– Great for practicing motor-planning and timing skills. $8.49

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Zoom Ballgreat for bilateral coordination, motor planning skills, shoulder stability, and building upper body and core strength. $13.99

balance-stepping_otBalance stepping stones– Helps to improve balancing and coordination abilities. $29.49

 Tactile Exploration Toys

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Fidgets– Great for calming and alerting, to promote focusing and concentration, decrease stress, increase tactile awareness of fingers/hands and as a way to keep fidgeting fingers busy. $ Price Varies

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Water Beads – These make for fun sensory activities. $5.95

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Kinetic Sand– Great for a calming sensory experience and for tactile therapy play. $12.99

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Be Amazing Insta-Snow Jar– great for use in sensory tables for early childhood. $9.89

Adapted Toys

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Santa’s Little Hackers– A seasonal toy drive to adapt toys,  making simple modifications to the electronics of toys and giving them away. These adaptations make the toys accessible to individuals with disabilities so they can play independently.

Other Adapted Toy Resources:

Adaptive Tech SolutionsAdaptive Tech Solutions is a therapist owned and operated company that provides adapted equipment for individuals with disabilities at affordable prices.

Beyond Play: Features switch toys which are wonderful way to teach cause and effect and can help children develop a sense of control over their environment and self-esteem.

Other Resources:

I’m looking forward to checking out this new store in the Chicago area, Spectrum Toy Store.

Toys R Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids – Prepared by the National Lekotek Center, the catalogue is available at your local “R” Us store.

And last but not least, view our Amazon Wishlist for therapist recommended toys and games for all children’s developmental stages at bit.ly/eswishlist.

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

How Monkey Bars (and Other Fun Summer Activities) Will Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills

By: Maureen Karwowski, OT

Summer is here and that means plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun.  I can only guess that the last thing that your child is thinking about is handwriting.  That is okay because many outdoor activities actually help with fine motor skills such as handwriting.  If handwriting skills are challenging for your child then summer is a perfect time to address them.

Fine motor skills are important for so many things.  Buttons, zippers, cutting with scissors, cutting food with a knife, opening glue bottles, unlocking a door, opening a bag of chips, and writing are just a few examples of how we use refined fine motor skills every day.  Many of the children that I see in occupational therapy are working to improve their fine motor skills, and especially handwriting.

AFaithctivities to help promote fine motor skills typically focus on two areas:

  1. Strengthening of the core and upper body
  2. Strengthening of the fine motor muscles of the hands.

We know that in order for our hands to develop precision, for grasping, and for handwriting, the core must be as stable as possible.  Imagine sitting on a wobbly chair and trying to write your name.  That is an example of how the stability of the core impacts the way we are able to use our hands effectively.  We also know that in order to use both hands together the core needs to be strong.  Again, sitting on a wobbly chair and stringing beads would be very challenging.

The good news is that you can incorporate activities to help your child develop core and upper body strength into outside play naturally.  These will then impact fine motor skills.

  • Wheelbarrow walking.  Hold your child at the hips or knees, wherever you see your child have the best posture.  A “sagging” stomach is not an ideal posture.
  • Animal walks such as bear walks and crab walks.  Donkey kicks are also great.
  • Help your child climb the rock wall at the park.

    Omar_Yaihr
    Photo by Petra Ford
  • The glider at the park is a great way to promote core strength.  Have your child look at his/her knees while gliding to encourage even more trunk strength.
  • Help your child cross the monkey bars at the park.
  • When you are swimming help your child push themselves up to the side of the pool with both arms.
  • Play tug of war with your child.  Encourage them to pull you towards them pulling one hand over the other.
  • My favorite game to use in occupational therapy sessions is the “zoom ball” which is a great way to work on using both hands together.

Some ideas for grip strengthening activities:

  • Squirt guns and spray bottles.  The squirt guns that require both hands are especially good.
  • Squeezing out nerf balls while in the swimming pool.
  • Digging in the dirt and sand with a small shovel.
  • Drawing with sidewalk chalk.  Drawing on vertical surfaces such as on the garage wall is even better.  Use large chalk for whole arm movements, and small chalk pieces to strengthen a pencil grip.  Have your child “erase” the drawings with a squirt bottle.
  • Have your child wash the picnic table, or a wagon using soap suds and a large car wash sponge.  Encourage them to squeeze out the sponge in the process.
  • Draw” shapes or letters in the dirt using a popsicle stick.
  • Tools are a great way to build up hand strength.  Make a project with kid sized screw drivers, paint brushes, nuts and bolts.

Incorporating these activities naturally throughout the summer will greatly improve fine motor skills before the school year.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

Play Like a Child

By: Jessica Drake-Simmons, M.S. CCC-SLP

“Play is the highest form of research.” –Albert Einstein

Jacob and mom laughing
Photo by Pat Behles

As a speech-language pathologist, one of the skills that was an initial struggle for me was —PLAYING!  Unfortunately, learning how to play is not part of the graduate school curriculum.  I could read books, do puzzles or play games all day long.  I loved doing structured activities with kids.   But the unstructured play that kids longed for?   Ughh…it was the worst!   I didn’t know what to do with those plastic dinosaurs staring back at me and I just couldn’t handle crashing cars with little Vinny for the eight-millionth time.

Anna
Photo by Marita Blanken

Then I learned how important play is.  WOW.  It is REALLY important!  Play is essential for healthy brain development.  Play develops cognition, language, social emotional skills, motor skills, problem solving, imagination and concentration.  Play is hands on.  Play is how children learn!  It provides children the opportunity to learn about themselves and the world around them.

As a new clinician, what I needed to do was turn off my grown-up, outcome-oriented brain.  The cute little kids prying into the box of cars were the ones who could be my teachers.  Once I let my little professor friends teach me how to think like a kid, playing quickly became the most effective way I could reach many of the young kids I worked with.

When you are playing—it’s not about quizzing kids on what they know, or having them memorize colors.  It’s about having fun!  Being imaginative!  Problem solving!  Discovering!  There isn’t a neat little instruction manual for how to engage in unstructured play.  The best instructor will be your child.

Here are a few tips to enhance your learning experience from your little professor of play.

  1. Sit on the floor with your child.
  2. Limit the distractions. Turn off the TV and put your cell phone out of reach.  Being a FUN, ENGAGED, IMAGINATIVE play partner takes cognitive effort and it is important to be fully present.
  3. Watch your child. Spend some time observing what your child likes to play with and how they like to play with it.
  4. Join your child in play. Play like they are playing.  Do not take over and try to be the teacher. Rather, be a partner in the play experience.
Brett
Photo by Megan Dibblee

Your primary goal for this experience is to have fun with your child!  The more you participate in rich play experiences, you will recognize the many teachable moments that occur while playing.

After you have established your role as a play partner, you can model some play expansion.  You can introduce a variation of the activity.  You can lead your child to some possibilities they may not have imagined.  Like that box that she is playing with, it could become a boat, a basketball hoop, an ice cream shop, a lion’s cage, a bus, a bed, or a rocket ship.  The options are limitless!  Lead your child to different ideas to see what they latch onto and how they further develop the play scheme.

In order to provide the best play experiences—it is important to have some good materials!  The best types of toys do not have an ‘on’ switch.  Toys that have directions or are electronic limit the use of problem solving and imagination.  The best types of toys are things like blocks, dolls, farm sets, pretend food and balls.  For additional ideas on toy selection by age, check out our previous post on the top holiday gifts and toys for kids.

As parents, teachers, caregivers and therapists, our job is to teach kids.  However, there is something that our kids can teach us…and that is how to live in the moment, use our imaginations, experience joy in the simple things and PLAY!

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.