Jenny Clark

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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.

  • Trampoline Activities
    • 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
  • Swing Activities
    • 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 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:

  • Dream Big
  • Stay True
  • Be Kind
  • Shine On
  • Just Breathe
  • Trust Life
  • Live Simply
  • Feel Inspired

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 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.

Ready-to-Implement-Activity Ideas

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.

  • Hop over a pillow
  • Jump & stop activity on couch
  • Bear walk, crab walk over pillows
  • Pretend turtle with pillow on back while crawling
  • Imitate Ninja moves with pillow

Activity ideas using pipe cleaners

  • String cereal
  • Twist together and jump over
  • Copy design for visual perception
  • Wrap around finger
  • 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
  • Crab kick
  • 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 Geocaching, a modern-day treasure hunting activity (more at https://www.geocaching.com/play
  • 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.

3 Deep Relaxed Breathing Exercises to Help Children with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism

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. 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
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Enables healthier sleep patterns
  • Modulates appetite
  • Decreases fatigue
  • 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

  1. Feather Breathing

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.

  • Balloon Breath

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