Health Benefits of Hockey for Kids

Many parents often ask me about the best sport to enroll their children in during the winter time. Hockeythe health benefits of hockey always comes high on my list of recommendations. Children as young as 5 years old can participate and benefit from this total body work out.

Health Benefits of Hockey:

Endurance

Hockey is a high-intensity sport that has many cardiovascular benefits. Between bouts of running, skating, and bouts of rests, kids are participating in interval training without even realizing it. High-intensity interval training has been known to boost aerobic capacity, energy levels, and metabolism. Read more

The Hidden Benefits of Sledding

Looking for fun winter activities to do with the kids this season? Sledding is one of the easiest snow-day experiences to learn, especiallythe hidden benefits of sledding for young children. With minimal equipment required, there are numerous fitness benefits of sledding. So find the closest hilltop and take that toboggan or flying saucer for a spin!

Find the right hill:

Look for snow-covered hills right outside your home and in your neighborhood parks. Make sure the hills are easy to climb back up, without rocks, trees, or other obstructions that might make the downhill ride dangerous.  In the city, make sure you stay clear of roads or areas with cars. Read more

Videogames that Will Help Children Become Happy, Healthy, and Strong

As a pediatric physical therapist, I spend a quite a few hours of my day talking to children. Not a week goes by without one of my clients ecstatically describing a video game awaiting him at home.  I know there is quite a bit of publicity out there about how video games cannot substitute for the authentic experience of playing outdoors. I wholeheartedly agree with the research that states today’s children need less sedentary video games and more concrete mental stimulation.

However, our world and our technologies have been changing. The way children experience their world today isgreat videogames for fitness not the same way we experienced it as children 30 years ago.  Video games and virtual stimulation systems have become a major part of most rehabilitation and therapy programs across the country, especially those targeted to children.  In my own years as a physical therapist, I’ve witnessed children with complex pain syndromes recover their bike riding ability, paraplegics regain their motor control, and patients with traumatic brain injuries improve their sense of balance, all through the help of video games. Physical therapists everywhere will agree that the right game can make a session more fun, while still achieving age-appropriate goals.

Today’s video games, with motion-sensitive controllers and antennae, are a fun adjunct to any fitness program.
Most of the active video games available today and used in rehabilitation facilities require physical movement and spatial awareness to move the characters on the screen. They can be child-friendly and easy to learn for certain patients, because they eliminate the weight of holding sports equipment and focus more on the motion used by large muscle groups.  Read more

Holiday Toy-Gifting Guide to Promote Gross Motor Skills

It’s the holiday season yet again. In this time of family, friends, foods, and traditions, many little minds are thinking about new toys.   This is the perfect opportunity for parents and family members to stock up on games and toys to facilitate their children’s development.  While some older children might have wish-lists to be fulfilled, there are plenty of toys outside of the latest trend that will help promote growth in children of all ages. As any therapist knows, a toy can be a powerful tool to promote developmental gains, particularly in children who are a little behind their peers.  Below are some toys that help kids strengthen their big muscle groups and attain gross motor skills, without making play seem like work.

Learning Tables

A learning table is a great investment if you have an infant. It will grow alongside your baby and help her attain valuable gross motor skills such as body control in tummy time, cross-body reaching, independent sitting, cruising, standing, and weight-shifting, all while promoting her upper body and cognitive growth.  Early learners can keep busy with the lights, sounds, and activities; the height of the tables adjusts so that babies from 6 to 36 months can play in various positions. Babies will be challenged throughout each step of their development and learn about cause and effect. Read more

Toys to Promote Fine Motor Skills in Children of All Ages

Whether you are shopping for a baby, a preschooler, or a pre-teen this season, there are an array of toys to work on kids’ dexterity, upper extremity coordination, and fine motor development.  Certain activities that your children take part in during the day may be working their hand-eye coordination and visual-motor skills without you even realizing it.

Between puzzles, arts and crafts, and board games, below are some recommendations for things to look for when shopping for your growing explorer.

Games that promote fine motor skills:

Puzzles/Board Games:

Puzzles are a great way to promote cognitive enhancement and fine motor development during each stage of a child’s growth. For younger kids, puzzles don’t just come with larger pieces. There are many puzzles with handles or pegs on each piece so they can work on pinch, grasp, or grip.  Some classic toys for babies, such as ring stacking and shape sorting games, are great for learning how pieces fit together and for working on visual-motor integration and visual perceptual skills. Though it might not look like a typical puzzle, Mr. Potato Head is also a game that encourages fine motor skills. Read more

Family-Friendly Children’s Gross Motor Activities for Fall

Late-autumn is upon us, however, the cooler weather doesn’t mean your children are out of fun things to do outdoors. Gross motor skills are important for kids to improve upon, no matter their age or activity level.  These skills require engagement of the child’s big muscle groups to improve balance, coordination, and posture. In pre-school age kids, working on gross motor skills builds body awareness, helps them keep up with peers and perform better in school, and motivates them to engage more with others.   Below are some simple activities you can do with your children this season that will give them the opportunity to build their muscles and confidence-minimal equipment needed.

Dance

By dance, I don’t mean reviving your ball-room dancing days or enrolling the kids in ballet (though both are great routes to take).  What I mean is simple…be silly with your kids. Put on their favorite song and make up the moves as you go. There is a reason songs such as Hokey Pokey stayed so popular with toddlers and teachers for so long: they make it fun for kids to learn how their limbs work and how to engage their trunk. Tapping their feet to the beat works on coordination, shifting their weight works on their balance, and wiggling their hips works on their obliques and other parts of their core muscle groups.  Teach your child to skip around the room and she will learn to synchronize her opposite sides and build on her total body coordination. Learning to dance with a partner and imitating big movements will help your child tune into working with others, following directions, and use your child’s large muscles in a not so tiring way. Read more

Steps to Prevent Injury in Youth Sports

Winter is upon us and with it comes a new sports season. As your children prepare for the start of a new season, help ensure  them a season without injury. According to Campbell 2006, “Children need proper physiologic conditioning, strength and flexibility to participate safely in an organized or recreational athletic endeavor” (p 519)[1]. So what does this mean for your children when they’re playing sports?  Read on for tips to keep them injury free.

Tips to Prevent Injury during Kid’s Sports:

  • Proper Warm-Up: Ensure that your child warms up their muscles with a light jog prior to stretching. This ensures that they can get a good stretch, preventing  muscle strains and pulls. Read more

Gross Motor Skills and Dance

Dance has always been a fun and exciting recreational activity for children of all ages. Along with the enjoyment of dancing to upbeat music and the social experience, dance is also a great way to help develop your child’s gross motor skills. Read on for 4 aspects of your child’s motor skills that can be facilitated with dance lessons and performance of any style.

4 Gross Motor Benefits to Dance:

  1. Balance-Many dance moves incorporate balancing on one leg, standing with feet right next to each other or standing with one foot in front of the other. All of these positions are challenging for your child’s balance systems, which help to strengthen her balancing abilities.
  2. Coordination-While learning to dance, your child will begin by learning different dance moves and positions. Most positions involve different placement of all 4 limbs, which requires a lot of coordination. Also, once your child learns a dance routine with multiple dance positions sequenced together, she will need to coordinate the entire routine. Read more

The Proper Way to Wear a Backpack

Have you ever picked up your child’s backpack and thought to yourself, “That cannot be good for her posture or back muscles!” or “How does she lift this?”  Carrying a heavy backpack can put strain on your child’s back and shoulder muscles, which can lead to bad posture and muscle aches.  A child carries her backpack for a significant amount of time during the school year, and wearing it inappropriately can impact her posture and overall health.  Read on for tips for properly wearing a backpack.

Tips for properly wearing a backpack:

  • A loaded backpack should NEVER weigh more than 10% of your child’s total body weight (AOTA, 2013).  For example, if your child weighs 60 pounds, her backpack should only weigh 6 pounds.
  • Make sure your child positions items in the backpack with heaviest items closest to the body and lightest items toward the outside of the pack.
  • Discuss organizational strategies for backpacks with your child; make sure ONLY necessary school items are in the backpack.
  • Your child’s backpack should have padded shoulder straps to prevent strain or impingement placed on your child’s shoulder muscles or nerves.
  • Make sure the backpack rests close to the child’s body and does not hang lower than her lower back.
  • If a waist belt is provided on the backpack, make sure your child wears it to help distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly on both sides of the body. Read more

The Benefits of Ride-On Toys

Today our guest blogger, Full Throttle Toys, Inc. owner Matt Westfallen, gives us the 411 on benefits of ride-on toys.

Around Chicagoland, summer is in full swing. Along with the extra hours of summer fun and sun comes the worry thatfull throttle our kids are losing the skills they acquired during the school year. Worksheets and flash cards will help, but there is another fun way to help kids with some of the “intangibles” of learning.

When used safely and properly, battery operated, ride-on toys have been proven to provide children with opportunities to practice many early learning skills that are rarely taught in school yet are vital for balanced growth.

Skills that Can Be Developed by Using Ride-On Toys:

  • Gross and Fine Motor Skills: Battery-operated, ride-on toys provide many ways to develop gross and fine motor skills. By operating the vehicle on various types of terrain, opening and closing doors or manipulating the dashboard, children will be using both fine motor skills and gross motor skills.
  • Exercise and Exploration: While playing with a ride-on vehicle toy, not only will children be burning calories, they’ll be outside exploring their world.
  • Sense of Balance: While operating ride-on toys, children will also develop an improved sense of balance. Children who have played with ride-on toys find it easier as they grow older to ride bikes, and to use roller blades and roller skates, because they have learned to distribute their weight while operating vehicles on various surfaces.
  • Spatial Play: It is also important to note that spatial play is stimulated when your children are out exploring the outdoors in a ride-on vehicle. This type of play will improve observation skills and stimulate their imaginations. Read more