Therapist Thursday: Back to School already??

Today’s Therapist Thursday comes from our friends at The Inspired Treehouse and is full of great ideas to prepare your children for school during the last few weeks of Summer!

summer activities for kids

Every year in our school based therapy practice, we create and send home summer programs for our students because we believe that practice makes perfect!   Let’s be frank, no one wants to think about school over the summer.  And when children have long breaks where they don’t have regular opportunities to practice the skills they need in school every day, they often need extra time to get back into the swing of things when they return to school in the fall.  It may take weeks to get a child back to where they left off!  Here at The Inspired Treehouse, we want kids to have what they need to start the school year confident and ready to learn. Here are 10 functional skills used every day in the school environment with some playful summer activities  that will give the opportunity for practice and development of these skills.  These summer activities for kids are so much fun, we promise your little ones won’t even realize that they’re actually doing homework! 🙂

1. STAIR CLIMBING:  Most children have many opportunities to navigate steps in their school environment on a daily basis: to get to art or music, to play on playground equipment, and even to get on the bus.  This may sound simple enough, they practice stairs everyday at home, right?  BUT, have you ever thought that, at school, there may be 20 other kiddos trying to navigate those stairs at the SAME time??  This challenges balance, motor planning, strength, and body control.  To make sure your child stays confident and comfortable on the stairs, work on stair climbing as often as possible and in as many ways as possible.
Try these activities to help develop your child’s confidence and ability on the stairs:

Child Development Quick Tip: Stair Climbing

Simple Activities for Kids Using Stairs

2. HANDWRITING AND COLORING: These skills are challenged every single day in the classroom. The expectations for handwriting grow more challenging as our children progress and as they transition to a new grade level.  Learning to write requires continual development of fine motor and visual motor/perceptual skills. Our children need to be able to grasp a pencil or crayon efficiently, sustain pressure while writing/coloring, demonstrate enough strength to hold their writing utensil for a length of time, and motor plan to create writing and drawings.  On top of that,  they need to be able to visually attend to their paper!

Try these activities to practice handwriting and coloring skills:

Ant Farm

Child Development Quick Tip: Visual Motor Skills

Super Fingers

3. TRANSITIONS IN HALLWAYS: Children need to be able to line up, walk forward in a line, maintain body awareness throughout crowded hallways and rooms, and get to and from spaces calmly and independently. This challenges motor planning, body awareness, and sensory processing skills.

Try these fun activities to practice these skills:

Rabbit Hole

Wacky Relay

Partner Obstacle Course  

4. MAINTAIN UPRIGHT POSTURE IN A CHAIR:  How many times have you been in a classroom, or in your kitchen at homework time, and noticed a child slouching in a chair with his bottom sliding toward the edge.  Or maybe he’s completely bent over with his head resting in one hand or, better yet, his head down on the table.  Is he tired?  Maybe!  But, it’s possible that this child just doesn’t have the core strength or postural stability to maintain an upright sitting position in a chair for periods of time.  Or maybe he needs more propriceptive input to tell him what exactly his body is doing.

Help your child develop stability for good posture and give him proprioceptive input for better body awareness with activities like these:

Core Strengthening Exercises for Kids

Make Me Strong Partner Yoga for Kids

5 Olympic-Inspired Strengthening Activities for Kids

5. PARTICIPATION IN GYM:  Did you know that in the U.S., kids are observed and measured against all of the other kids in the nation in gym class?  Are they performing gross motor skills to the level of their peers?  Are they confident enough in their gross motor abilities to perform them in a group setting?  Can they control their bodies to complete requested skills in their own space within a gym full of other children?  Mastery of gross motor skills is dependent on age, but there are lots of fun activities that can help to develop some common developmental motor skills.

Try some of these activities to work on skills that might be required in physical education classes in the elementary years:

Child Development Quick Tip: Jumping Jacks

How Far to the Barn?

Tire Run

summer activities for kids THERE’S MORE… For five more tips from The Inspired Treehouse, please visit the original post HERE!

Providing Positive Experiences for our Children

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Wofford at our philanthropic partners The Lunch Project and discusses the importance of not only nurturing our children beyond their physical development. Rebecca is a former lawyer and law professor, founder and Executive Director of The Lunch Project, giving kids the fuel to learn in Tanzania, East Africa and Charlotte, a blogger at www.thechickenmama.blogspot.com and mom of Sam and Cate.

lunchproject

As parents, we want the very best for our children. We want to teach them and help them become the very best people they can be. At different developmental stages, children have different needs.

When they are babies, we are concerned with our babies most basic developmental needs. Our pediatricians help meet our parental concerns through established developmental milestones. As long as our babies meet these milestones during each visit, we breathe a huge sigh of relief. As our babies grow, the visits to the pediatrician become less frequent and the milestones grow with them but perhaps not in a holistic way. My son and daughter are 10 and 9 and I know, from their pediatric visits, that they continue to meet their height and weight milestones. However, I have wondered if they are meeting emotional milestones.

Although physical development should be measured and we should help our children meet these developmental goals through nutrition, physical activity, etc. we should also strive to meet their emotional needs and development. Providing love and safety meets the most basic emotional needs but as children grow their emotional needs grow with them. Our goal is for children to develop empathy. Kids as toddlers begin to develop empathy through basic concepts of sharing with others. This concern for and connection to another child should provide a positive experience.

I believe, as parents, we should continue to provide positive experiences for our children to connect and empathize with other children and that this will empower them to become good global citizens. This is the primary goal of The Lunch Project’s Summer of Service. Summer of Service introduces children to the lives of kids in Tanzania, East Africa, and specifically their goal of receiving an education. Kids also learn that this first generation of kids going to public primary school did not have lunch at school before The Lunch Project helped their community develop a lunch program. They learn that they have a lot in common with these kids but that they also face different life circumstances. Kids here empathize with kids who have struggled to learn on an empty belly. All kids understand the need to have food at school so you can learn.

How do kids view the Summer of Service? As a fun challenge that helps other kids. We challenge kids to create a family project that will raise $85 to feed 900 kids a hot lunch at school. Kids do what they love — whether it is baking cookies and having a cookie and lemonade stand to playing basketball or soccer with friends in a tournament — and ask for a donation from their friends or for customers to pay for their product. They learn the basic concepts of being a social entrepreneur. Because of the generosity of our sponsors, including Fundanoodle, our SOS families have been provided “I am The Lunch Project” t-shirts and car magnets, so they are also raising awareness about the global work we are doing as a community and, most importantly . . . with our kids. Because our SOS kids connect and empathize with kids across the globe, SOS kids rise to the challenge and with their accomplishment comes empowerment. These kids are changing the world and have met an emotional milestone of empathy in action along the way.

To learn more about The Lunch Project or ways you can get involved visit them at www.thelunchproject.org.

Therapist Thursday: Breathing Exercises for Kids

Today’s Therapist Thursday comes from Mira Binzen, E-RYT, RCYT, a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance, a certified iRest Yoga Nidra teacher and a professional Integrative Yoga Therapist.  She holds a degree in Child Psychology from The University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and is co-founder of Global Family Yoga which offers training courses approved for AOTA CEUs. Mira originally shared this post on MamaOT.com. Thank you both for sharing!

Full, even breathing can soothe the mind and body while evoking a sense of calm.  It’s an easy, effective strategy that is often overlooked.

Conscious breathing (simply being aware of the breath) is one of the best tools we have to regulate the nervous system, the home base of sensory processing. We all feel “dis-regulated” at times and it makes sense to have breathing strategies in place.  The more they are practiced, the easier it is to turn to one in time of need.  When a child feels overwhelmed from sensory input, is frustrated with a task, has low energy or too much energy for the situation, or is just feeling a little grumpy, a few conscious breaths can make a big difference.

This is not news to most, but anyone who has asked a child to “take a deep breath” may have come upon some resistance.  It’s kind of like trying to feed a child broccoli.  There has to be a little enticement, a little fun…a little magic.  Here are three simple ways to get your child breathing better.

1. Be a Balloon

Breathing exercises to help kids calm and focus

Crouch down and hug your knees.  Reach the arms up and out as you come up to standing, filling your balloon (that’s you).  Then, let all the air out as you flutter to the ground like a deflated balloon.  Repeat a few times.  Fluttering and flopping to the floor adds proprioceptive input (body awareness) that can also be soothing to the nervous system.   Engage your child by asking what color the balloon is or what you may be celebrating with balloons.

2. Open Your Wings

This can be done sitting or standing.  Just as the name suggests, invite your child to reach their arms out to the sides and up overhead just as a majestic bird opens its wings.  This process stretches the intercostal muscles and invites in a fuller breath.  The breath comes in as the wings go up.  The breath moves out as wings come down.  Repeat several times.  You don’t even need to mention the breath.  The movement facilitates breathing.  Engage your child by asking what color her wings are, what kind of a bird he is or to where she might fly.

3. Sleeping Crocodile

Breathing exercises to help kids calm and focus

A crocodile waits, still and quiet by the edge of the lake… For details on the Sleeping Crocodile please see the original post on MamaOT.com.

“Conscious breathing for just a few minutes a day, several times a day can empower both you and your child to handle fluctuating moods, energy and focus. Full, even breathing is the foundation of well-being.” – Mira Binzen

Therapist Thursday: Core Strengthening for Kids

Today’s Therapist Thursday comes from Lauren at The Inspired Treehouse. Lauren is both a Mother and Pediatric Physical Therapist so she is definitely an expert on how to get children moving! Check out these great ideas on core strengthening.

core-strengthening-pinnable

Core strengthening isn’t just for adults.  Kids need to have a strong foundation of strength in the center of their bodies too.  Core strength fosters all kinds of developmental skills from bilateral coordination, posture, and stability to balance and endurance.  All of these skills build on one another, contributing to strong gross and fine motor skills and promoting healthy child development.  The core muscles are the muscles in the abdomen, back and pelvis.  Signs that a child may need extra help with core strengthening include but are not limited to w-sitting, poor posture in standing or sitting, or a delay in motor skill development.  The key to core strengthening for kids is making it fun — like a game!  Issue a challenge, give the activity a playful purpose!    Here are a few core strengthening exercises to help you get started.  And be sure to check out our round-up of Great Toys and Games for Core Strengthening!

1. BRIDGING Have your child lay on his back with his knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  Have them push hard through their heels to raise their bottom up off the floor.  Be sure that they are keeping their head and shoulders on the ground (see photo above).  Can they hold it?

HOW TO CHANGE IT UP:

  • Try having the child lift and lower with control (up for a count of 3, down for a count of 3).
  • Put a stuffed animal between the child’s knees and have them squeeze while completing the bridging.
  • For a BIG challenge, have your child place his feet on a pillow or small ball and try to maintain stability while bridging.
  • Zoom some cars underneath — How many cars can you get under the bridge before it falls?
  • Find a few small, stuffed animals and walk them under the bridge — Don’t squish the bunny!

2.  SUPERMAN  Have your little one fly like the superhero and strengthen his back!  Have him lay on his stomach on the floor and try to lift his arms up off of the floor so that his upper chest comes up too.

HOW TO CHANGE IT UP:

  • Can he lift his legs?  How about arms and legs at the same time?
  • Can he hold a ball between his hands or his feet while lifting up?
  • Place a stuffed animal on the child’s back and see if he can complete this exercise with enough control to keep the animal from falling.
  • Make it fun by having the child reach up for you to hand him pieces of a puzzle or to place stickers on the wall.
  • Make it even more fun by trying it on a swing or a large ball

3.  KNOCK ME OVER  This has always been a favorite of the kids I see for physical therapy.  It can be done with smaller children on your lap, or with bigger kiddos on a large therapy ball or even with them kneeling on both knees.  The goal is for them to maintain enough stability through their trunk to stay upright!  If you have a small child on your lap, sit on a couch or bed for a soft landing surface.  Bounce them up and down a few times (maybe sing “I’m a Little Teapot) and then try to knock them over.  The first few times, they will fall for sure…it’s funny!  The goal — to see if you can gradually increase the pressure that it takes to knock them down.   And…getting up is part of the core workout too!   See if you can decrease the amount of assistance it takes to get them back to a sitting position.

HOW TO CHANGE IT UP:

  • Have the child in a tall kneeling position on the floor and play catch with balls of varying sizes and weights.  The heavier the ball, the bigger the challenge to the core.
  • Just sitting and bouncing on the therapy ball is a core workout in itself.

plank-pinnable

There’s more! For 3 additional ideas, please read the original post on The Inspired Treehouse!

Therapist Thursday: What Does Sensory Really Mean?

Today’s Therapist Thursday comes from Pam at The Inspired Treehouse, a team of three moms and pediatric therapists who believe that with a little help, kids can build strong, healthy bodies and minds through play. The Inspired Treehouse is passionate about creating activities and sharing knowledge to promote development and wellness in kids.

sensory-processing-1024x1024

Getting messy is a wonderful play experience for young children and highly encouraged here at the Treehouse.  But sensory integration is a lot more complicated than just getting your hands dirty.  Here’s a quick glimpse into the world of sensory processing.

The senses send information to a child’s nervous system where it is then processed in order to generate a response.  A sensory experience can “rewire” the brain, helping a child understand his environment more clearly and making him feel safe.  Or, it can be overwhelming, causing him to become defensive and withdrawn.  And, just to make things a little more complicated, no two children will ever respond to a sensory experience in exactly the same way.  For example, if I offer GAK or putty to two children, one child may squeeze it tightly running it through his fingers, enjoying the cold wet feel.  The other child may drop it immediately, irritated by the same sensation.  This is what sensory means – the way the body receives, analyzes, and responds to the signals it gets from its environment.

Does your child withdraw from certain types of play?  Does he have extreme adverse reactions to certain sensory experiences?  If so, talk to your child’s doctor or school to see if occupational therapy services might be beneficial.  An occupational therapist (OT) is trained in sensory integration and can help you learn to guide your child through sensory experiences in a safe, playful, and non-threatening manner.  The end goal is for the child to have a strong, stable, and healthy sense of himself in his environment.

Encourage your child to experience touch, sounds, sights, tastes, and all different kinds of movement during play.  Thoughtful, guided exposure to playful sensory experiences is the best way to promote healthy development of the sensory system, ensuring that little bodies learn to process, integrate, and generate appropriate responses to the sensory information in their environments.

For further information, visit some of our favorite sensory based articles and websites.
Family Education: What is Sensory Integration?
The Out-of-Sync-Child
Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation

Pam is a mother of two children, Jack (7) and Ella (5) and has  been an occupational therapist since 1997. She has worked in several environments including pediatric inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, step down NICU, and currently school based for the past 8 years. This quote has traveled with Pam to each desk she has claimed while being an OT and helps her stay focused both in her career and as a mom.  “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person who passes by leaves a mark.” For more information on the therapists at The Inspired Treehouse click here.

Therapist Thursday: Handwriting Struggles in Older Children (part 3)

Hello! And welcome back to our discussion about handwriting struggles for older students. In Part 1, we looked at a bit of research about the importance of legible handwriting, as well as the role that posture plays in an efficient handwriting style. Part 2 peeked into the significance of an efficient pencil grasp and the alternate solutions to a pencil grip.   Let’s continue with a look at Some Solutions that will help older strugglers.

Movement, Vision, and Visualization can open the door to efficient handwriting in fun and creative ways for students of all ages.  Bring the Tether Ball inside by hanging a soft ball from the ceiling on a string, any size from 5-10″ around (or a tennis ball if you aren’t afraid of breaking anything).  Practicing precision eye movements by “keeping your eye on the ball” while tapping it up or sideways in controlled patterns brings movement and vision into play.

vision tracking tube

The Vision Tracking Tube is a fun challenge for older students!

Sensory activities that involve using the hands and fingers, such as kneading bread dough or planting in the garden, as well as large muscle activities such as jumping and reaching in basketball, or running and reaching in tennis, bring movement, vision, and proprioception into the picture.  Drawing letter formations in the air or identifying those that are “written” on your back, as well as “blind writing” (drawing letters, numbers, or pictures with your eyes closed) aid in the development of visualization skills that are crucial for automatic reproduction of letters and words.  And even older students can enjoy using finger paints to practice letter formation, drawing letters in shaving cream, or finding the hidden beads in the Theraputty!  Believe me, even the adults enjoy that!

Finally, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!  No, not by pulling out a worksheet and attempting to reproduce a perfect letter time after time. (I’m not sure any of us can actually do that!) But, instead, by finding writing ideas that will utilize their creative minds to practice handwriting.  Journals, poems, stories, newspaper articles, and letters to relatives are wonderful (and useful) ways to provide meaningful opportunities for older students to practice and hone their handwriting skills.  And Cursive Clubs have begun to spring up all over as fun ways to turn handwriting skills from Practiced to Functional!

Cursive Clubs are great ways to help older children gain confidence in their handwriting skills!

Cursive Clubs are great ways to help older children gain confidence in their handwriting skills!

So, what do you think?  Willing to give it a try?  I hope so because I think that your older students and children will thank you for it…well, maybe not right away, but eventually!  Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again soon!

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in children’s handwriting and offers professional development training in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

 

Teacher Tuesday: Enjoying Summer

We recently posted a blog post on Charlotte Smarty Pants about avoiding summer learning loss and wanted to share advice from a teacher reinforcing many of the same ideas and opinions. Below is a post by a parent and teacher Jenna Schmoekel, originally featured at MamaOT.com.

Kids-Playing-for-the-Summer

As a teacher, I know parents have mixed feelings about summer. Some parents look forward to the extra time they will spend with their children/family and the vacations and adventures summer will bring. Other parents think of summer with…a little apprehension, shall we say? What will I do with my child alllll summmmmer looooong?! Many parents fall somewhere in between – starting out excited for summer, but ending up pretty excited for school to start back up.

I hope you and your child(ren) enjoy your summer, go on adventures, and don’t get on each other’s nerves too much! As you play, though, keep these suggestions in mind. They might help you have a more productive summer…and they will definitely make your child’s teacher smile in the fall!

READ.
I know this seems self explanatory…or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you don’t realize how important it is for your child to read over the summer. We aren’t kidding when we tell you on those final report card comments to read, read, READ this summer! Most public libraries have summer reading programs that offer rewards for reading a certain number of books or hours. Your child can help you pick books they enjoy and you will be able to tell if they are too easy or too hard for them. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if there are 5 words they don’t know on the first 1-2 pages, then it’s too hard. (You can read that book to your child and let them pick out a different one to read themselves…reading aloud is also great!) Reading over the summer increases fluency and helps children retain all the new letter/sound combinations, sight words, and comprehension tools they have learned throughout the year.

Turn off the electronics.
I know. I know what you are thinking: ‘Is she crazy?! What am I supposed to do with my ENERGETIC child(ren) for 3 months without electronics!? There. Is. No. Way.’ Well, no, I’m not (completely) crazy! I don’t mean turn off the electronics all the time. There are many educational things you can do with technology. However, there are so many opportunities that kids miss out on when they are constantly engaged with the TV, Playstation, iPhone, iPad, etc. When children are engaged in technology, they are not having conversations and enhancing their verbal skills. They are not active. They are not engaged in imaginative play. Talk. Run. Ride bikes. Swim. Build a pillow fort. Finger paint. All I’m saying is, limit the technology use!

Give your kids new experiences.
When my students come back in August, most of them have a lot to say about their summers. They went to Disney World. Or Sea World. Or the local amusement park. Or fishing. Or Grandma’s house in Wyoming. Or to the park. Or had a campout in their backyard. It doesn’t matter what they did, how “extravagant” a vacation they had, or who they went with. They love to share their experiences. 

Give them an experience this summer they will remember forever and want to share with their classmates and teachers. It doesn’t have to be expensive and far away. Something local and free is great, as long as you make it an adventure. I had one student who couldn’t stop talking about the night they stayed in a hotel because their air conditioner went out. He had never stayed in a hotel before…it was an adventure.

Incorporate math practice.
Yuck. What kid wants to do math over the summer (unless you have a child who loves to play school during their time off!)? I’m definitely not saying to pull out the flashcards and workbooks over the summer, but do incorporate math activities into daily life and make them fun. Math is typically the subject that suffers the most when kids take summers off, so it’s really important that you work together to maintain their skills so they can jump right into the new school year come August or September.

Going to the grocery store? Have your young child count the apples and oranges you are buying to see how many all together. If you have an older child, have them estimate the total cost of the trip as you go. Count down days to a vacation. Keep track of the number of hours (or minutes) they go swimming or how many blocks they ride their bikes. Have them practice telling time as you wait for the time to go to the pool or practice counting money as they save up to go to the water park. It’s the little things with math that keep their minds engaged over the summer, and they really make a difference when they come back to school in the fall. Check out www.mathwire.com for more ideas on how to incorporate math activities into your child’s every day life.

Keep routines going and expectations set.
Summer is a time for relaxing, vacations, and fun. Your kids will stay up late and you will go out of town, and your routines and schedules will be all thrown out the window…and that’s okay! Just remember that kids thrive on consistency. Even if it’s a later bedtime, try to keep a bedtime (at least when you’re not on vacation!). Don’t let your kids get away with things just because it’s summer and you’re on vacation. The more you can keep them in the mindset that they still have to follow rules and meet expectations, the easier the transition will be in the fall to get back into the swing of school. Plus, you’ll have a much easier summer when they know what to expect and what is expected of them.

Have fun!

Jenna Schmoekel is a graduate of Texas State University who has been teaching elementary school for 3 years (4th grade and 1st grade). She lives in San Marcos, Texas with her husband Brian and her 2-year-old daughter. She enjoys scrapbooking, running, and sharing coffee with friends.