Tag Archives: play

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.

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    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.