Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process of developing self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for a youth’s success in school, at home and in the community. Successful SEL is interdependent upon healthy sensory processing.
Click here to watch Jenny’s video on sensory and SEL therapeutic benefits of exposure to nature and outdoor activities youth can engage in every day.
OT Services From a Distance for Students with Autism and Other Special Needs
When COVID 19 hit last Spring, education moved to an online format with all OT students getting teletherapy. There were many families who did not have internet access, a computer, or even basic school items at home. Listen to Jenny’s audio podcast to get ideas for a teletherapy ‘OT Home Kit’ that can start your school year off with assurance that students will get effective teletherapy. If you are interested in ideas for therapy activities using the items in the OT Home Kit, click on Jenny’s Facebook post for her July monthly newsletter ‘Clark Comments’.
As a pediatric occupational therapist working in schools, my priority is to provide best practice occupational therapy services to the students who have OT services on their IEP’s. When COVID 19 hit last Spring and 4th quarter learning and therapy was all online, I discovered that there were many families who did not have internet access, a computer, or even basic resources at home such as scissors and glue. So, for the start of this school year and online therapy, I created a list of items for an ‘OT Home Kit’ with a variety of reusable items that can be used for tele OT sessions and home activities. Here is a list of items in each kit. All kit items fit nicely inside a zippered pencil bag.
OT Home Kit Supply List
Box of Crayons
Mini Pencil Sharpener
Deck of mini playing cards
Calming Sensory Strategies Cards
Yoga Brain Break Cards
Breathing Exercise Cards
If you are interested in ideas for learning and therapy activities using these items, click on my Facebook post for my July monthly newsletter ‘Clark Comments’.
More Than Meets the Eye: Sensory Integration and Visual Processing
Vision is a complex neurological process involving the integration of multiple sensory systems. Therapeutic activities that integrate visual, vestibular, and proprioception input are effective interventions to help alleviate visual processing challenges. Listen to Jenny’s audio podcast as she talks about engaging therapy activities that address visual integration in children with sensory processing disorder.
The visual pathway is a neural pathway where visual input travels from the eyes to the central nervous system and integrates in the cerebellum. The cerebellum plays an especially important role in this process as it is the grand central train station where sensory signals from visual, vestibular, proprioceptive and auditory input communicate with each other. There are many symptoms that a child may demonstrate which could indicate a visual processing deficit. Some of these may surprise you. These can include idiopathic toe walking, motion sickness, balance issues, eye-hand coordination delays, ocular tracking problems, and learning difficulties such as reading, math and handwriting. Therapeutic activities that integrate visual, vestibular, and proprioception input are effective interventions to help alleviate visual processing challenges. Here are some engaging therapy activities I have incorporated in my OT practice over the years to address visual processing in children.
Coordinate vis.-vest.-prop. in graded sequence, such as:
Have child visually fixate on you while they bounce
Have child visually track your moving hand while bouncing
Play catch with child using large ball while they bounce
Draw visual targets on trampoline with chalk, such as clock face or square grid with numbers, then jump in a pattern
Have child toss and catch bean bag to self while bouncing
Rescue the animals: while prone on a swing, reach to pick up a plush animal on mat and place it in a box
Prone in swing, assemble puzzle on mat
Prone in swing, engage in ring toss activity
Sit on swing and pick up a bean bag with feet (supine flexion)
Sit and swing while tracking a light-up toy
Alphabet Twister Games
Jump and spell
Upper-and lowercase letter discrimination
Right-left directionality – e.g., right hand on letter Z
Balance one foot on a letter
Visual perceptual skills – VSR, VM, VSM, VFG
Ocular tracking skills – Find the…
Midline crossing – Traditional Twister with hands/feet
Ball Pit Activities
Jump into (vestibular) and catch a plush animal
Climb out for proprioception and motor planning – Add VP and set up puzzle pieces to assemble
Throw the balls at stationary and moving targets
Toss and catch a beanbag
Pop bubbles while in ball pit
Look at light-up toys while in ball pit
Search for hidden objects in balls
Ocular Motor Activities
Catch bubbles on wand
Balloon volley: write letters/numbers on balloon; choose a letter/number to track while bopping the balloon
Zoom ball (ocular convergence): spell words
Beanbag toss while on balance board
Scoop Ball: name ice cream flavors
Hasbro Elefun game: catch pretend butterflies with net
Velcro ball game
Juggling with scarves
Dribbling a playground ball
Getting Kids Outside for a Therapeutic Experience Part 4: Geocaching with Kids
Geocaching is a modern-day treasure hunting activity using a GPS-enabled device. Geocaching gets kids moving outdoors in fresh air and sunshine, which is vital to their health and well-being. Geocaching helps kids increase endurance, build muscle strength, integrate their senses, facilitate creative imagination, and improve their self-esteem. Learn all about Geocaching with Kids in Jenny’s audio podcast.
Geocaching is a modern-day treasure hunting activity using a GPS-enabled device, typically a smart phone. It’s a fun way to get kids outside exploring local parks and walking on nature trails. Giving kids a mission of finding treasure is motivating, which helps increase their ability to stay focused.
Geocaching gets kids moving outdoors, in fresh air and sunshine which is vital to their health and well-being. The physical activity in nature involved in geocaching helps kids increase endurance, build muscle strength, integrate their senses, facilitate creative imagination, and improve their self-esteem. Geocaching has another therapeutic benefit for children, it helps them to develop visual perceptual skills such as visual discrimination and visual figure-ground, directional orientation for learning left/right/north and south, and how to read a map.
To get started, log onto www.geocaching.com and create an account with a geocache log name. Next download the free basic Geocaching app to your smart device. To prepare, collect the following items to bring with you when you geocache; water to drink (important to stay hydrated), bug spray, sunscreen, tweezers (to retrieve tiny paper logs from tiny geocaches), a pen to write your geocache name on the paper log, and items to trade.
Begin by opening the geocache app and select the map, which will display nearby geocaches on the screen. Once you have decided which geocache you want to find, click ‘Navigate’ on the app and it will provide you with specific coordinates. Then you can attempt to locate the hidden treasure. Geocaches come in all different sizes and shapes. From the size of a small pill bottle to a large ammo container. All geocache containers have a paper log inside. When you find the geocache, write your name and the date you found it on the paper log. Next, click ‘Log’ then ‘Found It’ on the geocaching app to virtually log it on the app. You can write a note about your find if you wish. If you have difficulty finding the geocache, the app provides a description as well as a hint to help you out. The larger containers typically have treasures inside, such as miniature toys and stickers, which are fun for kids to find. If you take an item, it is courteous to leave an item in its place.
If you get lucky, you might discover a trackable inside a geocache. A trackable is a special treasure with its own tracking number. It typically looks like a dog tag with something attached to it, such as a small plastic toy. If you find a trackable, you can log it in your geocaching app and read about where it came from and where it wants to go. There is a special place to log a trackable on the geocache app. You can view its log online and read about the adventure it has already been on. The purpose of a trackable is to travel to other geocaches, so remember to place it in another geocache some time.
Safety is the top priority, especially when geocaching with small children. Since geocaches have a difficulty rating, be sure to find geocaches on your app that have an easy to find rating. Also consider the location. Look for geocaches that are in easy to access spots. Some geocaches are far off the beaten path, so stick to the ones close to public sidewalks, trails, parks, etc.
Enjoy the adventures of geocaching with kids.
Getting Kids Outside for a Therapeutic Experience Part 3: Painted Rocks
In Part 3 of getting kids outside for a therapeutic experience, Jenny introduces you to ‘Painted Rocks’, another way to get kids outside connected to nature. Rock Painting is artwork painted on the surface of a smooth stone, then placed in an easy access location outside such as a park or a trail for someone to find and keep or hide again. Painting the rocks develops a child’s fine motor skills and hiding the rocks or finding a painted rock provides opportunity for physical activity and a sensory rich experience in the great outdoors.
In parts 1 and 2 of getting kids outside for a therapeutic experience, we discovered how important fresh air and physical activity is for a child’s physical, mental and emotional health. Part 1 we explored fun activities to connect children to nature in their own back yard. Part 2 we explored therapeutic gardening as a way to connect children to nature. In Part 3 of this series I am introducing you to ‘Painted Rocks’, another way to get kids outside connected to nature. What is it and how does it benefit our children’s health and well-being?
Rock Painting is artwork painted on the surface of a smooth stone, then placed in an easy access location outside such as a park or a trail for someone to find and keep or hide again. Painting the rocks develops a child’s fine motor skills and hiding the rocks or finding a painted rock provides opportunity for physical activity and a sensory rich experience in the great outdoors.
Materials needed for Painted Rocks:
Smooth flat rocks – these can be purchased or found outside easily, just keep your eyes open
Acrylic paint – I like Apple Barrel brand or Martha Stewert
Paint brushes – Look for brushes that don’t shed bristles
Paint pens – Artistro or POSCA are good quality brands
Chalk Markers – these are great for younger children
Sealer – I use Modpodge for outdoors. You can use paint on sealer or spray on sealer. The sealer is an important step because it keeps the paint on the rock if it gets rained on before someone finds it.
What to do:
Wash the rocks and let them dry completely
Paint a smooth flat rock using acrylic paint. Allow the paint to dry
Decorate the rock using paint pens, small paint brush, or chalk markers
You can choose to skip the acrylic paint step and go right to decorating the natural surface of the rock
Seal it with Modpodge or other sealer of your choice
Remember to label the back of the rock if you have a Rock Painting Facebook page or if you belong to a Rock Painting Facebook page community – there are several to choose from. In most cases, you will need to request permission to be admitted to join the group
Take a photo of the painted rock and post the pic to a Facebook page
Hide the rock in a park, family-friendly hiking trail, or at a playground
Your job is complete. Now time for someone to find the precious treasure!
With older children and teens, you can take rock painting to the next level and paint an inspirational message on your rock. Whoever finds this rock, well, it will make their day! I found a rock with a kind message one day when I was out mountain biking. The timing was serendipitous, as I needed to read that message on that day to help me resolve a conflict I was experiencing.
There is national movement called ‘The Kindness Rocks Project’. A woman by the name of Megan Murphy is the creator of this movement. The Kindness Rocks Project encourages people to leave rocks painted with inspiring messages along the path of life. Check it out at www.thekindnessrocksproject.com
There are tons of ideas on Pinterest for painted rock designs and inspirational messages to write on the rocks.
Some of my favorite inspirational quotes I have painted on my rocks include:
I have my own Painted Rock Facebook page called ‘Dolphin65’. It is open to anyone. If you find a painted rock with that label on the back, then you found one of the painted rocks I created! I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to post a pic of anyone’s painted rock you and your child find on my Facebook page and let’s share the joy!
Getting Kids Outside for a Therapeutic Experience, Part 2: Therapeutic Gardening
Therapeutic gardening is a wonderful way to get kids outside and learn about nature while developing sensory processing, motor skills, language, and social skills. In this podcast, Jenny explains the benefits of therapeutic gardening and offers practical suggestions for ways therapists and parents can help children get outside and garden!
In part 1 we learned that getting outside exposes us to sunlight, which is vital for our bodies to make vitamin D and making vitamin D balances our immune system. A recent study looking at global data from COVID19 found that there is a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and increased susceptibility to the repercussions of this novel virus. Another recent study revealed that people are less likely to get coronavirus while outside, because indoor air spreads the virus more quickly.
This is just more evidence to validate the importance of getting kids outside.
Therapeutic gardening is a wonderful way to get kids outside and learn about nature while developing sensory processing, motor skills, language, and social skills.
What are the benefits of therapeutic gardening?
Exposure to the elements of nature is very healing. Studies reveal that exposure to nature reduces blood pressure, eases muscle tension, decreases the production of stress hormones, and enhances immune function. And of course, they are exposed to sunlight, which will help vitamin D production.
Gardening facilitates emotional regulation. Research shows that exposure to the outdoors improves mood and reduces anxiety. This is very good news for parents with children who have developmental disabilities such as sensory processing disorder and autism because these children have an increased risk of mental and physical health issues.
Studies show that children with ADHD improve attention from exposure to green spaces, including just looking at a plant.
Gardening develops fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, balance, postural stability, and muscle strength.
There are always new things to learn about gardening. Learning a new skill contributes to growth and development helping a child feel a sense of independence and self-worth.
Kids can grow a vegetable garden, herb garden, flower garden and/or make a fairy garden.
Growing a vegetable garden contributes to a child’s nutrition. When children grow their own vegetables, they are more likely to eat them. (example of child who grew green beans). Summer is a good time in most places to plant tomatoes, summer squash, green beans, and peppers just to name a few. Start by selecting vegetables that you know your child likes to eat.
Herb gardens are a wonderful sensory experience. Kids can get immediate sensory input through their olfactory system, the sense of smell, simply by pinching off a small piece of the herb and rubbing it between their finger and thumb. This also is great for developing pincer grasp and in-hand manipulation skills. There are a variety of herbs kids can grow; Basal, thyme, sage, rosemary, peppermint, parsley, dill, and cilantro, just to name a few.
Flower gardens are full of beauty. Select flowers that are hearty for your climate so they can be enjoyed all through the summer months. Some flowers have more fragrance than others. Have the child select which colors and smells they like the most. Get a pot, some soil, and teach the child how to plant the flower. The child will develop responsibility by learning how to continue to take care of the flowers such as regularly watering it and pinching off any dead flowers or leaves to help facilitate new growth.
Fairy gardens help to develop a child’s imagination, creativity, and pretend play. You can commercially purchase some fairy garden items, but it is much more fun and creative to make a fairy garden out of nature items. Kids can go on a nature scavenger hunt and collect twigs, leaves, acorns, and unique rocks. Use any container to put the fairy garden into. It can be an old broken pot, the base of a pot, a basket with a plastic liner, or a small spot in the backyard. Start by filling the container with soil, next place the plants where you want them, and finish by arranging the nature items to create a one-of-a-kind fairy garden. Children can even make their own fairies out of craft material. Fairy houses can be made from sticks, string, glue, leaves and moss. There are many more ideas on Pinterest. This is excellent for fine motor skills, motor planning, and sequencing. Creating a theme can be fun. Here are a few examples; a beach theme, desert theme, woodland theme, English garden theme, camping theme, and so the list goes on… It is only limited to your imagination!
Getting Kids Outside for a Therapeutic Experience: Part 1
COVID19 quarantine is causing many of us to feel a bit of cabin fever. The good news is that we can experience the great outdoors while staying safe and healthy. As a matter of fact, getting outside in fresh air and sunlight helps boost the immune system. In this pod-cast, Jenny suggests different ways to connect children with nature. In part 1 of this series, since many children are still at home due to COVID19, Jenny starts with ideas that allow children to connect with nature in their own backyard.
COVID19 quarantine is causing many of us to feel a bit of cabin fever. The good news is that we can experience the great outdoors while staying safe and healthy. As a matter of fact, getting outside in fresh air and sunlight helps boost the immune system. Sunlight energizes T-cells in the immune system which are key to the body’s ability to fight infections. In addition, when skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D, an essential vitamin for healthy bones and a strong immune system.
Sunlight increases serotonin, a neurochemical that helps our mood so that we can feel calm, focused, and positive. This can help keep anxiety at bay, which is especially important during these uncertain times.
Exposure to sunlight improves sleep. Cells in our eyes need sunlight to adjust our internal body clock. Quality sleep can make all the difference in a child’s physical and mental health.
Studies show that being around green space, such as trees and grass, and blue space, like creeks, streams, or ponds, improves self-esteem and focusing.
Let’s explore different ways to connect children with nature. In part 1 of this series, since many children are still at home due to COVID19, we will start with ideas that allow children to connect with nature in their own backyard.
Well, let’s get started, the adventures await us!
An important note before we start, be safe and remember to wear sunscreen outside to protect from harmful UV rays.
Here are some fun activities for children to get outside, and you don’t have to go very far, just your own backyard!
OT’s, PT’s and Speech therapists can integrate these activities into a therapy session, or they can be implemented as a home program. These activities develop fine motor skills, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills, gross motor skills, social skills, auditory processing skills, and sensory self-regulation.
Sidewalk chalk: draw a hopscotch pattern, write letters and numbers, draw pictures, play tic, tac, toe.
Bubbles: blow bubbles, pop bubbles, catch bubbles on the wand, stomp on bubbles before they pop on the ground.
Water play: fill up balloons and have a water balloon fight, use a spray bottle to water plants or grass outside, fill a bowl of water and squeeze sponges into an empty bowl, paint with water on the sidewalk.
Birds: Watch for birds and locate them. Close your eyes and try to find where the bird sound is coming from. This is good for auditory localization skills. Take a photo then look up the type of bird. Listen for the bird sound and record it, then try to match the sound with the photo. You can use a smart phone for this.
Trees: Hug a tree and feel the texture of the bark for a tactile sensory game. If you can climb a tree be safe and go for it! Stand in the shade of a tree and then in the sun, notice the difference in temperature. This develops interoception awareness. Pick a leaf from a tree and do a crayon rubbing. Find a stick from a tree and jump over it.
Insects: Look for insects and count how many you see. Listen for the sound of the insect and locate where it is flying. Learn 3 fun facts about that insect. Write about it to work on handwriting skills.
Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Make a list of fun outside nature items to safely and easily find. Have at least 1 item for each sensory system. Something to smell, something to feel, something to see, something to hear, etc. For example: smell a flower, feel a rock, see a butterfly, listen for a bird’s song, and other items such as a bug, feather, a cloud and so on. Have the child check off each item as they find it. They can work on reading skills too. This is a great activity for visual perception.
Pick flowers and smell them. Create a bouquet. Make a paper cone flower holder. Press the flowers between wax paper and place inside a heavy book so they flatten. Then glue the flowers to paper and write a label to name each flower.
Make an obstacle course out of available materials. Such as a hula hoop, baseball glove, a tree in the yard, and so on.
Sandbox play. Work on scooping and pouring. Bury a toy and feel and find it. Great tactile activity.
Paint rocks with watercolors, then wash it off with a hose. Great proprioception with holding the hose full of water.
Make a birdhouse out of a milk carton. Make a bird feeder. You can make a bird feeder out of a pinecone, a toilet paper roll, a bagel, cereal, an orange, or a milk carton. There are many ideas on Pinterest on how to make these. Hang the bird house and the bird feeder in your backyard and watch the birds arrive.
Engage in a pretend car wash: Wash toy cars with shaving cream and a toothbrush, then rinse off with the hose because it’s super heavy.
Collect nature items and glue them on paper to make a nature collage. Talk about interesting facts of each item. Older children can work on handwriting skills and label the items and write down some fun facts.
Go on a sound safari in your neighborhood. Create a list of sounds that you may commonly hear, such as a fire engine siren, a dog barking, a car passing by, the wind blowing, and any other sounds that you want to add. This is great for auditory processing skills.
Find a buried treasure in your own backyard. The therapist will need to coordinate with parents ahead of time. Have them bury an object somewhere in the back yard. The object could be pennies inside a container. Make a treasure map on a piece of paper. Follow the map engaging in gross motor actions along the way to find the buried treasure.
The Many Adventures of Telehealth in Pediatric Therapy
Telehealth is an adventure in which therapists encounter many new opportunities and challenges. It requires flexibility, creativity, and open-mindedness. In this podcast, Jenny offers some ready-to-implement activity ideas from her experience in telehealth to help make the telehealth adventure easier to navigate.
I know it is very scary to tackle teletherapy for the first time. I was nervous when I started practicing teletherapy 3 years ago. I needed confidence that I could navigate the technology pieces. I needed reassurance that I could be creative with limited resources. I learned a lot about how to effectively implement teletherapy, but it took courage and a sense of adventure.
So I ask you, what would Winnie The Pooh do during this time of COVID-19? Pooh bear is a simple bear with a childlike personality, full of wonder and exploration. He takes things as they come and lives life in a fun and spontaneous manner. And when he lives his life this way, it always turns out just fine. Remember to be like Winnie the Pooh so you don’t get stuck in the mud like Eeyore!
Telehealth truly is an adventure! You will encounter many new opportunities when using telehealth service delivery model for pediatric therapy. You will develop resiliency, just as the children with multiple challenges do in their lives daily. Be flexible, creative, open-minded and expect the unexpected.
Here are some ready-to-implement activity ideas to help make your telehealth adventure a little easier to navigate.
Activity ideas using a paper bag and crayons
Tear edges of bag to make fringe
Go on a scavenger hunt with paper bag
Locomotor actions – pick up a crayon and move across room to place in bag
Trace hand on paper bag with crayon
Identify objects inside bag without looking
Activity ideas using a couch, pillows, chairs
Good for proprioception input, motor planning and following directions.
Minute to win it, how many can you pick up in 1 minute
Activity ideas using a playground ball
Roll over bowling pins (could be empty plastic bottles)
Ball wall walk, don’t let it fall
Spell words for each catch
Over under game with adult assistant
Activity ideas using cotton balls
Draw a sheep or cloud on paper and glue cotton balls
Sponge painting with cotton balls
Pretend feed cotton balls to plush animal
While supine, pick up cotton ball with toes and bring to hands
Throw and catch cotton ball
Sensory Activities to Connect Children to Nature
In this podcast, Jenny shares tips and strategies for helping children experience nature! Outside time reduces anxiety and depression, improves cardiovascular health due to increased physical activity, improves academic performance, and heightens attention. Research shows that exposure to green space (grass/trees) and blue space (water) have a positive effect on a child’s health. Kids who get outside are happier, have better problem-solving skills, enhanced creativity, and more opportunities for social interactions with others. Spring is just around the corner and it’s time to get kids outside to experience all the sensory wonders of nature.
Nature deficit disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. It refers to the idea that children are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. There is an epidemic of lack of exposure to nature because children are choosing screen time over playing outside. Research reveals that the average amount of time spent on electronics is 44 hours per week, and as much as 7 hours per day. Exposure to elements of nature contributes to healthy childhood development. Research shows that exposure to green space (grass/trees) and blue space (water) have a positive effect on a child’s health. Outside time reduces anxiety and depression, improves cardiovascular health due to increased physical activity, improves academic performance, and heightens attention. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health examined the impact of natural settings on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms and found that “green outdoor settings” reduced symptoms in children with ADHD. Natural environments engage the mind effortlessly thus helping with attention restoration, giving the brain a break from “deliberate direct attention”. Kids who get outside are happier, have better problem-solving skills, enhanced creativity, and more opportunities for social interactions with others. Let’s explore some creative ways to connect children to nature that help develop gross motor skills, balance, bilateral coordination, fine motor skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, and of course sensory regulation with heavy work and movement:
Go to the playground. Swing, climb on the monkey bars, just run around.
Take a hike. Find a local trail that is easy to access.
Go for a bike ride in your local park or on the school playground
Join scouts or 4-H. Tons of nature to be explored with these classic organizations.
Visit a National Park and be a Jr. Park Ranger. Collect all the badges as your child learns about the world around them.
Make a Fairy garden with miniature plants and small fairy items to decorate
Plant a small container garden, or just plant a seed in a cup. Perhaps the school has a community garden.
Collect nature items and make a sensory colleague with nature textures and scents or do a leaf rubbing with a crayon and paper. Great to increase finger strength.
Try out painted rocks. Paint a rock and place them in a park or on a trail for someone to find and keep or re-hide. I have my own painted rock Facebook page. Check it out at FB Dolphin65
Explore a nature scavenger hunt. Have a list of nature items to find and check them off as you find each item.
Pet an animal; go to the pet store or the Humane society. Try animal-assisted therapy.
Hug a tree, climb a tree, feel the tree’s bark texture
Listen and locate bird sounds outside
Look for birds flying in the air and perching on an object
Make a pinecone peanut butter birdfeeder – great for the human senses to experience and food for the birds. A win-win for all!
Integrating the Senses: Valentine’s Day Theme Activities
In this podcast, Jenny shares some fun Valentine’s Day activities that help to integrate the senses. Activities that incorporate the seven senses, especially vestibular and proprioception, help to facilitate sensory integration, which contributes to a child’s ability to concentrate, organize, have self-confidence, and good academic ability.
We have seven sensory systems which coordinate in synchrony to help with developing a child’s motor skills, language, emotional regulation, and cognitive functioning. The sensory systems include two hidden sensory systems; the vestibular system and the proprioception system and the basic five; touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing. The vestibular system registers head movement in space and has several functions, including facilitating balance and helping a child with maintaining posture. The proprioception system is stimulated during heavy work that causes the muscles to contract or stretch. When a child’s nervous system gets enough proprioception input, the brain sends out neurochemicals called endorphins, which produce an overall calm alertness, helping the child to focus and feel emotional well-being. Activities that incorporate the seven senses, especially vestibular and proprioception, will help to facilitate sensory integration, which contributes to a child’s ability to concentrate, organize, have self-confidence, and good academic ability.
I would like to share with you some fun Valentine’s Day activities that help to integrate the senses.
For Vestibular and proprioception input: Cut out red or pink paper hearts. On each heart, write a locomotor action, such as gallop, march, bear walk, crab walk, jumping jacks. Have the child pick a heart and perform the action. Older children can practice reading skills. You can also work on directional concepts and prepositions by having objects the children move around/under/between/over.
Add other senses to the activity.
For the sense of smell have scratch and sniff stickers on the hearts for the children to smell
For the sense of touch glue different textures to the paper hearts, such as sandpaper, bubble wrap, Velcro, and fabric
For the sense of sight, dim the lights in the room and turn on a glow lamp during the activity to create a calmer space.
For the sense of hearing play music in the background. The children can practice following directions by moving when the music plays and stopping when the music stops, then moving again when the music starts again. This also helps with impulse control.
Let’s finish with a simple and fun fine motor activity for Valentine’s Day. Draw a heart shape about 10” on a piece of aluminum foil. Have the child trace over the heart shape with a marker. If the child can draw a heart shape, have them draw the heart on the aluminum foil. Using either red or pink construction paper or tissue paper, have the child tear small pieces about 1” and glue inside the heart shape on the aluminum foil. This activity develops finger strength, pincer grasp, bilateral coordination skills, and visual motor skills.
Handwriting Strategies for Dysgraphia
Research shows that as many as 20% of school-age children have problems with handwriting. Illegible handwriting, also known as dysgraphia, is the primary reason for referrals to therapists practicing in school-based settings. This is a significant problem because handwriting is important for many functional life skills, such as completing homework and school assignments. Dysgraphia is common in children with sensory processing disorder and children with autism. In this podcast, Jenny shares insights into handwriting problems and offers simple but effective strategies to support students with dysgraphia.
To purchase Letter Treasure Hunt handwriting game click here.
Research shows that 10%-20% of school-age children have problems with handwriting. Handwriting is important for many functional life skills such as: Complete homework, school assignments, achievement tests for getting into college, writing letters, completing a job application form, and writing checks just to name a few. Illegible handwriting, also known as dysgraphia, is the primary reason for referrals to therapists practicing in school-based settings. Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder in which a person experiences handwriting difficulties. Letter formation may be acceptable in very short samples of writing, but this requires extreme effort and an unreasonable amount of time to accomplish. Overall, written work is not readable, even if copied. Some Signs & Symptoms of dysgraphia:
Cramped fingers on writing tool causing hand fatigue
Mixture of upper & lowercase letters
Reversal errors (typical through first grade)
Inconsistent letter formation & slant
Irregular letter sizes & shapes
Misuse of line & margin
Poor organization on the page
Inefficient speed in copying
Here are some simple and effective strategies to support students with dysgraphia:
Let’s consider compensatory strategies:
non-sitting positions during handwriting such as prone on the floor, tall kneeling, or standing to assist with posture
Ball chair or air-filled cushion for sensory input
A slant board helps support the forearm and wrist during writing and positions the paper at just the right visual angle
Pencil grips can support and position fingers for the most efficient grasp
Adapted handwriting paper such as 2 lined paper to eliminate visual confusion, raised line paper to give a tactile cue for the baseline, or highlighted paper for easier visual target when writing
Here are some accommodations to consider:
Change demands of writing rate: Allow more time for written tasks
Change volume: Reduce copying by providing math worksheet with problems written
Change tools: Graph paper for math problems, pencil grippers, adapted paper
Change format: Do not grade spelling on some assignments
Let’s look at some intervention ideas:
Theraputty to increase grip strength
Hand and finger warmups to handwriting such as finger thumb touching and squeezing the hands
Kinesthetic activities for handwriting such as practicing spelling words in shaving cream
Letter Treasure Hunt handwriting game from www.Therapro.com This is my original invention and kids have commented how fun handwriting is when they play this game!
Tools to Help Children Develop Visual Perception
In this audio-cast, Jenny discusses tools that can be used by teachers, therapists, and parents to help children develop visual perception.
Jenny offers presentations, webinars, and workshops for teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists. If you are planning a conference and you are looking for a speaker on SPD, please contact Jenny today.
Visual perceptual skills are the foundation skills necessary for reading, writing, and math. There are seven visual perceptual skills that impact learning. A student can have deficits in one or more of these subskills. I would like to share with you a description of these visual perceptual skills, how they might impact children in school, and activities to help improve each area of visual perception to enrich learning ability.
Visual Discrimination: The ability to discern slight differences between letter shapes, sizes and fonts. This can affect reading comprehension.
Activities: Matching game such as Old Maid, Go Fish, scrabble.
Visual Memory: Important skill for copying from the chalkboard or spelling.
Activities: Memory card game, practice spelling words using a scented marker, then smell the marker just before the test. The olfactory system is linked to memory.
Visual Spatial Relationship: Enables discerning between b-d-p-q. It is important in preventing letter reversals and manipulating columns of numbers.
Activities: Puzzles, parquetry, tanograms.
Visual Form Constancy: It is important in discriminating similar font styles when reading. Can lead to poor reading comprehension and recall.
Activities: Find and circle all of the letter “a’s” on a magazine or newspaper page. Then find all of the letter “b’s” etc.
Visual Sequential Memory: Affects reading comprehension and spelling. It is important in written organizational skills for creative writing. VSM difficulties may mean that class performance exceeds exam responses.
Activities: Use a hand-held electronic speller. Spell words using magnetic letters. Spell words in modeling clay.
Visual Figure-Ground: Difficult to focus on tasks without being distracted by extraneous input. May lose things easily in desk and would therefore benefit from organizational aids. May lose place on page when reading.
Activities: Use a window guide when reading. Here is one example (Reading Helper 954-752-3692). Hidden picture activity pages such as Highlights magazine, Where’s Waldo or I-Spy books.
Visual Closure: Difficulties may affect word identification, seeing words “spl-it”, or omitting letters when reading.
Activities: Finish the picture activity books, dot-to-dot (ask child what the picture is before completing it).
Physical Activities to get Kids Moving
In this audio-cast, Jenny explains why reducing screen time is important for children with autism and SPD. She offers practical and effective strategies that teachers, parents and therapists can use to “get kids moving!”
If your child is autistic, on the spectrum, or has been identified with sensory processing disorder, there are many more options to explore at JennyLClark.com
Jenny offers presentations, webinars and workshops for teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists. If you are planning a conference and you are looking for a speaker on SPD, please contact Jenny today.
Health-related problems in children is on the rise, such as childhood obesity, anxiety, depression, and developmental disorders like Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder.
Increased time spent with electronic media results in a more sedentary lifestyle, and less time engaging in physical activity. Research shows that too much screen time correlates with decreased developmental milestones including lower fine motor skills and affects language and literacy development. Evidence shows that children who engage in physical activity have better attention, memory, academic performance, and psychosocial functioning.
The solution – get kids unplugged and moving!
I’d like to share with you some physical activity ideas for children for both outdoor and indoor play.
Outdoor play is best. Studies show that kids who play outside are happier, more focused and less anxious. Outdoor play stimulates social interactions, improves problem solving and enhances creativity. Studies show that just 5 minutes of walking in nature improves mood, self-esteem, creative thinking, builds stronger bones, and improves cardiovascular functioning.
Here are a few outdoor activities to get kids moving:
Play in a local park. Visit a State Park or a National Park. The National Parks have a Jr Park Ranger program.
Take a dog on a walk or to a dog park
Play a sport with a friend like kicking a soccer ball, throwing a baseball or a football
Take a hike on a trail. Explore the wonders of nature.
Ride a bike. For children who are still using training wheels, remove the training wheels, take the pedals off, and lower the seat so that the child’s feet touch the ground. This is a great way to teach kids how to balance on a bike
Go to the Zoo.
Visit a botanical garden.
Try Geocaching, a modern-day treasure hunting activity. For more details, go to www.geocaching.com
Create your own garden. Container gardens are great for planting flowers or herbs. Perhaps your hometown has a community garden kids can get involved in.
For those days when weather keeps you inside here are some fun activities:
Yoga for kids. If you are not familiar with yoga, try reading a children’s book with illustrations and instructions on yoga poses for kids. A great resource for this is www.kidsyogastories.com .
My book entitled: Learn to Move, Move to Learn has theme-based activities from A to Z. If you are interested in getting a copy, there is a link on my website to the publisher, or you can order it from Amazon. Feel free to email me to request a free lesson plan. Here some example kids can do right away:
The Theme is Pets.
Pretend to be a cat or a puppy dog performing tricks. Use a mat and practice log rolling both directions, then knee walk (begging), then crawl forward. Older kids can practice forward and backward tumbling.
Explain that dogs love to tug on a rope. A dog uses its teeth, but the children will use their hands. Face each other and play tug of war with a jump rope. For older kids practice jump rope games.
Create a small pet house from a cardboard box and place a stuffed cat and dog or a photo of a cat and dog inside. Get real cat treats and dog bones or make pretend treats and bones from construction paper. Carry the treats across a balance beam (or 6’ masking tape placed on the floor) to the cardboard box “pet house”. Pretend to give the pet a treat. Repeat several times. For older kids, walk heel to toe on the balance beam or masking tape.
Pretend to play fetch and throw a ball back and forth. This develops eye-hand coordination.
Relieving Holiday Stress at Mealtime — tips to help children with SPD and Austim
The Holidays are all about family and food. While this is a wonderful time for many, children
with sensory processing disorder or Autism find the combination to be
challenging. The loud noises, unfamiliar
people, different schedules, new smells, and strange foods can upset children
with SPD or Autism. I want to help make
things a bit easier by sharing some tips that will help you create a
sensory-friendly environment for children which will then make festive meals
and other mealtimes a more enjoyable activity of daily living for all involved.
The Holidays are all about family and food. While this is a wonderful time, it is important for parents and therapists to realize that many children with sensory processing disorder or Autism find the combination to be challenging. Children with SPD or Autism can often be picky eaters. And while this is frequently difficult, it is especially so when there are new people around who may not understand the behavior. Full of good intentions, family members can pressure children with SPD to eat food. This increases the anxiety felt by children and makes their lives even more challenging. All too often, “family and food” cause stress for children whose response can be overwhelming – and put a damper on a time of thankful celebration.
I want to help make things a bit easier by sharing some tips that will help parents create a sensory-friendly environment for children which will then make Holiday meals and other mealtimes a more enjoyable activity of daily living for all involved.
First, it is important to educate family members and friends who may be joining you, ahead of time about your child’s sensory difficulties. Teach them the sensory strategies that help your child. This will help them to be aware of how they interact toward your child, and can make a huge difference in everyone’s enjoyment of the day.
Secondly, make sure that both you and your guests realize that it is never productive to force a child with SPD or Autism to touch, taste or eat a food they dislike. Encourage them to taste it, but allow them to say “No thank you”.
Next, understanding the reasons for children’s negative responses can be helpful to both alleviate stress and create a better sensory environment.
Texture of food is one of the most difficult challenges to address for children who are picky eaters. Their tactile system can go on high alert, causing them to gag on the food and may result in explosive behaviors. Honor a child’s food sensitivity. Consider making pureed food options or purchase and have ready freeze-dried vegetables, depending on the child’s preference for texture; smooth or crunchy.
Some smells can set off a child’s nervous system into sensory overload. Have neutral scents ready for the child to smell. These include coffee, cinnamon, and cloves. Put a small amount of the scent into a miniature container with a lid and set it by the child’s plate so they can sniff it as needed.
Many children do not like having their food touch on their plate. Avoid food touching by using separate dishes for each food item or a plate that has dividers.
Holiday mealtimes are typically at a different time of the day than normal mealtimes. A child can get low blood sugar if the holiday meal is at 2:00 instead of 12:00, setting off their sensory overload before the meal even starts. Consider having your holiday mealtime at the family’s normal time of the day for lunch or dinner.
Consider the temperature of the food. Some children prefer cold food, some warm, some room temperature.
Children who are sensitive to sound may benefit from quiet conversations and soft background music during mealtime.
Finally, here are some activities you can do ahead of time to make the day more peaceful and enjoyable.
Physical activity before mealtime will help a child’s nervous system be in a more neurologically regulated state. Add deep relaxed breathing, and you have a recipe for calm alertness. Get outside and play!
Let your child help with Holiday meal preparations. This too can help with minimizing anxiety, because it’s engages them to participate in meaningful occupation, which helps the child feel included, when they may feel different because of their sensory needs.
Children with SPD may feel anxious about what to expect when mealtimes are different than most mealtimes. Talk to them ahead of time about who is coming to visit for dinner. Perhaps let the child set the table, allowing them to select who sits where. They could even work on fine motor skills and make place cards with family member name.
And remember: children who are picky eaters as a result of sensory challenges feel like their body and the environment are controlling them. Giving these children a sense of control helps to decrease anxiety. Allowing choices ahead of mealtime, and during mealtime, shifts their sensory system from stress response to the ‘rest & digest’ mode. For example, let the child select their favorite plate ahead of time or choose a plush animal to sit with them. What is the child’s favorite comfort item?
Therapeutic Fun with Wikki Stix
Wikki Stix is a product made of wax coated yarn. Parents, teachers, and pediatric occupational therapists can all use Wikki Stix with children. Touching Wikki Stix wax coated yarn stimulates the tactile system. Wikki Stix are fun and motivating. Give a listen to this short podcast to see how children with tactile sensitivity benefit from Wikki Stix fun.
Wikki Stix is a product made of wax coated yarn. Parents, teachers, and pediatric occupational therapists can all use Wikki Stix with children.
Touching Wikki Stix wax coated yarn stimulates the tactile system. Some children have tactile sensitivity, some are tactile seeking, and some are tactile underresponive. Wikki Stix benefits all 3 sensory modulation subtypes.
The fun and motivating Wikki Stix may encourage children with tactile sensitivity to tolerate touching the Wikki Stix, thereby increasing exposure to noxious tactile input. This may carry over to other tactile challenges, such as tolerating hands in messy art material.
Children who are tactile seeking benefit from engaging with Wikki Stix because the stickiness may satiate their neurological need for tactile input. This may carry over to helping these children decrease their excessive need to touch objects in the classroom.
Tactile sensory underresponsive children gain increased tactile input while engaging with Wikki Stix. The increased tactile input these children experience, may help them to feel a pencil in their hand with increased sensory awareness, thereby helping them with improved pencil control for handwriting.
Manipulating Wikki Stix to create designs helps children developing important fine motor foundation skills such as pincer grasp, bilateral coordination, in-hand manipulation, and prehension. These can carry over to functional skills such as manipulating scissors, holding a crayon or pencil with correct grasp, and successful use of math manipulatives.
Using Wikki Stix to copy designs helps to build important visual motor and visual perceptual skills, the foundation skills necessary for reading, math, and handwriting.
Wikki Stix can be used for visual accommodations in the classroom.
Stick on handwriting paper to give a tactile cue for baseline letters
Stick around coloring picture to teach children coloring inside boundary lines
Use for visual cue to mark reading line to help children keep from visually skipping lines
Roll a Wikki Stix into a small ball and place on larger numbers for Touch Math
Use Wikki Stix for a hand fidget
Wrap a Wikki Stix at base of pencil for an instant pencil grip
Stick to paper to stabilize it on desk
Here are some fun activity ideas with Wikki Stix. You can find more ideas at: www.Wikkistix.com
Create shapes for pre-writing skills: plus, circle, square, triangle
3 Deep Relaxed Breathing Exercises to Help Children with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism
relaxed breathing has many neurophysiological benefits for children,
especially those with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism. These
children experience ‘fight, flight, freeze’ stress response frequently
throughout their daily activities. Listen to this short podcast that
outlines the benefits of deep breathing that can help children
experience life with more joy and laughter.
Deep relaxed breathing has many neurophysiological benefits for children, especially those with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism. These children experience ‘fight, flight, freeze’ stress response frequently throughout their daily activities. Here are some of the benefits of deep breathing that can help children experience life with more joy and laughter.
Deep breathing facilitates the ANS to attain and maintain parasympathetic function – the ‘rest & digest’ system
Has a modulating effect creating a calm alertness
Increases oxygen helping to ‘wake up’ the brain
Enables healthier sleep patterns
Improves emotional regulation
Children need to be taught deep diaphragmatic breathing patterns, so they can learn to control their breathing for slow, deep, relaxed breaths.
3 Deep Relaxed Breathing Exercises for Children
This is my signature technique from my Learn to Move, Move to Learn book and program. Use craft feathers. These provide a tactile and a visual cue to teach children good diaphragmatic breathing patterns.
Sit in a comfortable position, hold a craft feather in the palm of your hand close to your face, then cue the children “Breath in slowly through your nose like you’re smelling a flower, blow out slowly, don’t let you feather fall”. Note: Demonstrate this to show the children if you breathe out slowly the feather will stay in your hand, and if you blow too hard, the feather will fall. Repeat at least 3 times.
Have children sit in a comfortable position and place their hands around their mouth, to pretend they are getting ready to blow up a balloon. Demonstrate and teach children to breathe slowly in through your nose and breathe slowly out through your mouth, moving hands outward as if you are blowing up a balloon on each exhalation. Repeat 3 times moving hands slightly farther apart on each exhalation until the balloon is as big as it can get. Pretend to tie it closed and let it float away in the air.
Belly Breathing with Beanbag Animal
Have children lie on the floor and place a small beanbag animal on their stomach. Cue the children “Breathe in slowly though your nose and feel the stuffed animal rise, breathe out slowly through your mouth and then feel the animal lower. Repeat at least 3 times. Play quiet music for increased relaxation.
Props & Extras:
Blowing bubbles or Blowing streamers
Halloween Sensory Tips for Parents and Teachers
Halloween can be overwhelming for children with Sensory Processing Disorder. Have a listen to this short podcast where we’ll explore some sensory tips to consider, and help children with SPD and Autism feel included and enjoy this fun Holiday!
Halloween can be overwhelming for children with Sensory Processing Disorder. Let’s explore some sensory tips to consider, and help children with SPD and Autism feel included and enjoy this fun Holiday!
Tactile issues with fabric, too itchy, too tight, too stiff, too crunchy – have child try on costume test comfort level
Wash a costume several times to soften the fabric before wearing it
Temperature depending – too hot, too cold
Poor motor planning – Practice putting the costume on at home before taking it to school party
Masks & Face paint – AVOID these
Smell overwhelming can cause nausea and headaches
School Halloween parties overwhelming
Sounds – play quiet music in background or have child wear headphones or earplugs
Sights – Limit Halloween decorations especially moving objects
Smells – Have modulating scents available to sniff if smells are offensive (coffee beans)
Carving a pumpkin – tactile defensive with scraping out gooey innards of a pumpkin, instead have child decorate a pumpkin using Fun Foam stickers
Instead of bobbing for apples, have child paint with sliced apples
Consider alternative ways to participate in Halloween rather than ‘Trick or Treating’
Passing out candy
Cooking Halloween treats at home
Watch Halloween shows that are family friendly
Trick or Treating
Practice ahead of time the sequence to decrease anxiety about what to expect
Limit number of houses to your child’s sensory needs (i.e. 10 houses)
Map out and practice the Trick or Treating route ahead of time
Candy givers – Don’t demand children say “Trick or Treat”
Offer 2 choices of candy rather than an entire basket
Trick or Treating locations
Avoid houses with elaborate lawn decorations can seem real to children with SPD