Tag Archives: sensory processing

Supporting Children with Sensory Disorders while Traveling

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.

Visual Schedules

An example of a visual schedule.

If your child benefits from knowing what to expect in the day, it may be useful to set up a visual schedule revolving around your vacation. This can include the steps you will need to complete going through the airport. (Travelers Aid Chicago has resources to make a visual schedule specific to O’Hare airport).

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

3 kids in the car, reading a map, eating and wearing headphones.

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 are toys that can keep children busy on long 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 TubesThese 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

Girl sitting in a suitcase

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.

Girl wearing headphones.
  • 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.

Unexpected Meltdowns

Girl who is upset hugs her mom.

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.  

Read our previous blog on How to Plan a Sensory Friendly and Accessible Vacation

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

Improve Children’s Handwriting

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L

There are many reasons children are referred to occupational therapy, but one of the most common, especially for school-age children, is because of difficulties with handwriting. Expectations for handwriting increase quickly between grades.

In most preschools, handwriting is done through more hands-on activities (think playing with play dough or using a paint brush). Then in kindergarten, children are expected to be able to write. By first and second grade, they are expected to write for longer periods of time with accuracy.

Many of the children we see as Occupational Therapists are able to write, but might have concerns with proximal stability (think core and shoulder strength), endurance, or have an inefficient grip on their writing instruments that may lead to messy handwriting. Other reasons might also be related to vision or sensory processing.

NicholasBelow are a few tools for children to help their hands for strength, endurance, and grasp.

Some things to keep in mind when picking out writing tools for children:

  • The smaller the writing instrument is, the more likely it is to encourage a tripod-like grasp (you may need to build up the handle to encourage)
  • For kids with decreased grasp strength, drawing and coloring with markers or gel crayons may be easier and decrease frustration when presented with more challenging activities
  • Work on a vertical surface whenever possible. It’s not only great for working on increasing upper extremity and core strength, it encourages wrist extension which is important for proper grasp on writing instruments

Squiggle pen

squiggle

Who doesn’t remember this pen from their childhood!? The Squiggle Wiggle Writer is a vibrating pen that produces squiggly lines. It comes with 3 interchangeable pens which slide in and out of the tip of the pen (which is great for working on bilateral coordination). The vibration is great for providing children with sensory input while drawing or writing which helps with focus and attention.

Mechanical pencils

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Picture by: www.raymondgeddes.com

I am a huge fan of using mechanical pencils with children because it helps them work on grading the pressure they use when writing. If you press too hard, the tip will break which gets frustrating after a few tries.

 

Twist and Write Pencil

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This pencil was designed for a child’s hand. The Y design not only encourages a child to utilize a tripod grasp, but it also forces them to use less pressure allowing them to write for longer periods of time without tiring.

 

Small Pencils, Broken Crayons

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I always have a collection of 1/2 pencils to use with the kids. The shorter a pencil, the more likely they are to use a proper grasp.

 

Beginning Writers

palm eggs

Crayola has launched a handful of new products meant just for little hands. These egg-shaped crayons are the perfect size and shape for your little artist. There are many benefits of children drawing at an early age including developing fine motor and grasping skills, encourages creativity and imagination, improves hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination.

If you have an easel, I highly recommend having even the youngest of artists to use that because working on a vertical surface is great for kids of all ages. Working on a vertical surface helps increase core and upper extremity strength while encouraging proper wrist position, head and neck position, promotes bilateral coordination, and crossing midline skills.

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Stylus

 

pexels-photo-416396.jpegFor a variety of reasons, kids spend more time on tablets these days. As with all things, as long as you don’t overdo it, working on the iPad can provide a lot of benefits. One of the things I recommend to all parents is that if they are going to let their kids use an iPad or other kind of tablet, be sure to have them use a stylus as much as possible to help develop fine motor and grasping skills. I think this is especially important if your child is doing any kind of handwriting or drawing apps. There are a lot of different stylus’ to choose.

 

Sidewalk Chalk or Small Chalk Pieces

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One of my favorite outdoor activity is drawing with chalk.

 

Learning Without Tears Flip Crayons

flip crayons
Photo by: therapro.com

This is one great product. The crayons are already nice and small to encourage a tripod grasp and having a different color on each end encourages in-hand manipulation skills.

 

Triangle Shapes

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Triangle shapes are perfect to encourage the use of just your first three fingers.

Forbidden Tools

window crayons  bathtub crayons

Who doesn’t like the power of doing something forbidden like writing on windows or in the bathtub! These special items from crayola are designed to encourage writing and creativity is a fun way but also keep mom and dad’s sanity with easier clean up!

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

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

By: Laura Van Zandt, OTR/L

As an occupational therapist, I have heard sensory referred to as many different things. Just a few examples include “sensory integration, sensory processing, sensory disorder, sensory dysfunction”. Not only is this confusing as an occupational therapist, but it has to be extremely confusing to parents too.

Sensory processing is a broad term that is used to refer to the way sensations are received and organized by the brain and how our bodies respond to this sensation and appropriately use it to interact within our environment. Our brains not only process information through the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound but our brains also process information from our inner ear, muscles, joints, and ligaments to help us with movement and body position. All the sensory systems need to work together for effective sensory processing.

Overview of these sensory systems

  • Visual sense: is the ability to interpret what is seen regarding contrasts of light and dark, color, and movement.
  • Olfactory sense: is the ability to interpret smells
  • Auditory sense: is the ability to interpret what is heard regarding volume, pitch, and rhythm.
  • Gustatory sense: is the ability to interpret to receive taste sensations
  • Tactile sense: is the ability to interpret touch sensations like pressure, vibration, movement, temperature and pain.
  • Proprioceptive Sense: is the ability to interpret where your body parts are in relation to each other.
  • Vestibular sense: is the ability to interpret information relating to movement and balance related

If there is inefficiency in processing sensory information, a child’s ability to function is compromised and there be difficulties in the child’s arousal, alertness, attention as well as play, self-care, fine motor and gross motor skills. This difficulty has increasingly become known as sensory processing disorder and was first recognized by Dr. A. Jean Ayres, occupational therapist, educational psychologist, and neuroscientists.

Sensory processing disorder can be a confusing term. No two children are alike. Symptoms of sensory processing disorder, like most disorders, occur within a broad spectrum of abilities. While most of us have occasional difficulties processing sensory information, for individuals with sensory processing disorder, these difficulties are persistent and can significantly disrupt everyday life.

22_Everett_MazzieSome children may experience difficulties processing sensory information in all or only a few areas of sensory processing. Likewise, it is also common for some children to not experience difficulties in any one sensory system but have difficulties combining the sensory systems to develop a meaningful response. A child’s response to a certain type of sensory input or activity may vary from one instance to the next and is impacted by the events preceding the activity, how the child feels (tired, fidgety, ill, healthy), and the context in which the activity occurs (quiet, noisy, busy, structured). When describing a child’s sensory processing, it is important to remember that anyone’s sensory processing patterns are merely a reflection of that person’s ways of responding to sensory experiences in the course of everyday life (at home and school). Knowing a person’s patterns creates a tool for gaining insights about what settings and activities are likely to be easier or more challenging and reveals possibilities for navigating successfully in everyday life.

Sensory processing disorders can be divided into three main areas: sensory modulation, sensory-based motor, and sensory discrimination.

Sensory modulation disorder refers to the ability to filter sensations and to attend to those that are relevant in a graded and adaptive manner whereas sensory discrimination disorder refers to difficulty interpreting subtle qualities of objects, places, people or other environments.

Sensory modulation disorder can further be broken down into children who are over-responsive, under-responsive, or sensory cravers/seekers. Children who are sensory over-responsive are often predisposed to respond too much, too soon, or for too long to sensory stimuli most people find quite tolerable. These children are often in ‘fight or flight’ to common daily sensations and may try to avoid or minimize sensations or act out to counterbalance feeling constantly bombarded.

20150320_ES-LegoRoom-19.jpgFor example, a child who is over-responsive to touch sensation may find physical contact, clothing, and other touch sensory input difficult. Children who are sensory under-responsive are often unaware of sensory stimuli, have a delay before responding, or responses are muted/less intense as compared to the average person. They may appear withdrawn, difficult to engage, or self-absorbed because they do not detect the sensory input to the environment. For example, a child who is under-responsive to touch sensation may not be aware of clothing twisted on their body or messes on their face. The child who is sensory craving is driven to obtain sensory stimulation but getting the stimulation results in disorganization. They tend to be constantly moving, crashing, bumping, and/or jumping. They may “need” to touch everything and not understand what is their space versus other space. Sensory cravers can be difficult to decipher between children with ADHD.

In children whose sensory processing of messages from their muscles and joints is impaired, posture and motor skills can be affected. Children with a sensory postural disorder may have a poor perception of position of body, poorly developed movement patterns that depend on core stability, and appear weak with poor endurance. When posture is impaired these children might seek additional support by leaning on walls or resting their head on their hands when working at the table. When motor skills are involved these children often have difficulty with the ability to make a plan to execute an action as well as execute the necessary actions supporting the performance.

Click here to link to our sensory processing intake form to see if your child might benefit from an occupational therapy evaluation to determine if there is a sensory basis for your child’s difficulties.

With effective treatment provided by an occupational therapist, your child can develop the ability to process sensory information in an adaptive manner and learn strategies to help him or her cope with everyday experiences. Our occupational therapists are trained to use a variety of different standardized tests and clinical observations as well as caregiver input to help put all the pieces together of the puzzle and make appropriate referrals. Then our therapists expertly look at the match between the child, the activities and expectations, and the context to determine when there is a mismatch that needs intervention attention.

For more information visit our sensory processing webpage and visit the links below.

 

My Child Needs Deep Pressure! What Do I Do?

By: Laura Bueche, MOT OTR/L

Sensory Processing

Our bodies are constantly receiving and processing sensory information around us. Our senses give us the information we need to function in the world. We receive information from stimuli both outside and inside our bodies. Our sensory systems include auditory (hearing), vision, olfactory (smell), vestibular (movement), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), and proprioceptive (body awareness). Sensory processing is the neurological process that organizes and interprets all the sensations we receive so we can function effectively within the environment.

What is Deep Pressure?

CatherineDeep touch pressure is a combination of a tactile and proprioceptive input which is often provided by firm holding, firm stroking, cuddling, hugging, and squeezing.

The proprioceptive sense refers to the sensory input and feedback that tells us about movement and body position. Proprioceptive receptors are located within our muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues. It is one of the “deep senses” and could be considered the “position sense” (as Carol Stock Kranowitz refers to it in her book entitled  The Out-of-Sync Child.

If a child is having difficulty processing proprioceptive input, they’re brain isn’t receiving proper messages regarding whether muscles are being stretched, whether joints are bending or straightening, and how much of each of these is happening, children may seek out more intense forms of proprioceptive or deep pressure input. Kids with tactile and/or proprioceptive sensory processing dysfunction may seek out deep pressure input to send a stronger message to their nervous system. Deep pressure may help them “dampen” averse tactile sensations or may give them a greater sense of where their body is in a space.

 

Indicators of Deep Pressure Seeking

  • Tensing/squeezing muscles of the body
  • Crashing into furniture
  • Enjoys climbing into small spaces
  • Head banging
  • Grinding teeth
  • Pushing on chin
  • Stomping feet
  • Mouthing non-food items
  • Toe walking
  • Leaning into people

brushingDeep Pressure Input Activities

Deep Pressure Input Benefits

Deep pressure touch has been found to have beneficial effects in a variety of clinical settings (Barnard and Brazelton 1990, Gunzenhauser 1990). In anecdotal reports, deep touch pressure has been described to produce a calming effect in children with psychiatric disorders. Deep pressure stimulation, such as rolling up in a gym mat, has been used to calm children with autistic disorder and ADHD (Ayres 1979, King 1989). Lorna King (personal communication, 1990) reports that children with sleeping problems appear to sleep better inside of a mummy sleeping bag, which adapts to fit the body snuggly. It also has been used to reduce tactile defensiveness in children who cannot tolerate being touched. McClure and Holtz-Yotz (1991) found that deep pressure applied by foam-padded splints on the arms reduced self-injurious behavior and self-stimulation in an autistic child. (Ayers, 1992)

Deep touch stimulation is beneficial to typically developing babies (Barnard and Brazelton 1990, Gunzenhauser 1990). Institutionalized babies who received supplemental tactile stimulation, mainly deep touch pressure, developed more typically (Provence and Lipton 1962). Premature babies who receive stroking and tightly bound swaddling also are reported to show definite benefits (Anderson 1986, Field et al. 1986, Lieb et al. 1980). (Ayers, 1992)

If you think you child is seeking deep pressure input or has a sensory processing disorder, schedule an occupational therapy evaluation before trying to implement a sensory program at home. For more information on our occupational therapy program visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html. 

 

A Super Sensory Summer

By: Laura Bueche MOT OTR/L

Summertime is the best time for some creative sensory play outside. Your child will have a blast learning and exploring with these sensory summer activities that won’t break the bank.

IDEAS TO INSPIRE YOUR LITTLE SPROUT

Garden Party!

Fill a tub with soil. Hide plastic bugs, coins, or dinosaurs.
Use shovels or hands to find the treasures.

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Paint pots, plant seeds and watch them grow.
Overturn rocks to search for bugs and worms… or play with fake worms. Recipe here.

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Photo Credit: Learning4kids.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is real mud a difficult texture for your little one?  Start with “ghost mud”.
Recipe here

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Photo Credit: TreeHouseTV.com

Make a Splash with these Water Activities

Water Fun!

Fill a tub with water beads and ocean animals for an awesome, hands-on aquarium.

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Freeze toy animals, foam puzzle pieces, or pretend jewelry in ice. Have your kiddos use squeeze bottles, and eye droppers of warm water to get them out. Instructions here.

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Photo Credit: LittleBinsForLittlehands.com

Green gross swamp sensory table. Recipe here.

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Photo Credit: NoTimeForFlashCards.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaving Cream Car wash. Recipe here.

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Photo Credit: TreeHouseTV.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s go to the Beach!

Feel the sand between your toes with these fun tactile activities.

Sand Slime. It’s ooey, it’s gooey…and sandy? Recipe: Here

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Photo Credit: GrowingAJeweledRose.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drawing letters in the sand, a perfect pairing of visual motor and tactile. Recipe here.

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Photo Credit: AnyGivenMoment.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kinetic Sand…semi sticky, and super moldable sand. Get it here.

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Good old sand box play…because nothing beats the classic, pale and shovel.

For more summer sensory ideas, or ways to adapt these activities to your child’s needs and goals, ask your occupational therapist at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley. For more information about occupational therapy visit our website.

Have a great summer!

 

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