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How to Make School Breaks Easier on Your Child and Your Family

School breaks can be a fun and exciting time for children, but they may be chaotic, stressful and dysregulating for them as well. The messy houseschool day is full of structure and predictability. While some kids may enjoy the continuous free time that vacations offer, other children may thrive during the school year and may regress academically, behaviorally and in their overall daily functioning and independence.

Here are some suggestions to help your child stay happy and continue to feel great during vacations from school:

  • Create a Daily Schedule: Outline a basic daily schedule for your child to follow. This can include an early time for them to wake-up, any household responsibilities they may have and activities that are planned for that day (grocery store, mall, movie theater, etc). Depending upon the age of your child, you may want to include precise times for the day. Pictures of the basic plan may be sufficient. This provides a level of predictability
    and structure that your child is accustomed to during a typical school day.
  • Provide responsibilities: Assigning your child specific responsibilities will give them a tangible task to not only be responsible for, but something they can also be proud of as well. It will also be a way for them to feel successful. When children are in school, they often have a classroom “job” as well as being responsible for their individual belongings. This helps them to improve their confidence and feelings of success and pride throughout the day. These feelings can easily be transferred to the home environment by assigning household chores (cleaning or organizing) For older children, writing the grocery list and having them help at the market are acceptable responsibilities.
  • Physical activity: Participating in heavy physical activity is a great way to help your child get and remain regulated. The school day offers multiple opportunities for kids to get up and move their bodies (recess, gym class, etc.). It can be simple to incorporate physical activity into your child’s day:
    • Animal walks
    • Push a full laundry basket around the house (to make it more fun setup a race course to push the laundry basket through)
    • Jumping jacks
  • Provide assignments/projects: Kids are accustomed to sitting at a desk and completing assignments each day that they are in school. They are given the opportunity to learn new information and then show what they know through their work sheets, quizzes and projects. This is another great structured activity that can also improve self-esteem and confidence in your child. A simple way to get assignments or projects for your child is to ask their teacher for any worksheets or ideas of tasks that can be done at home (worksheets, flash cards, reading). You can also incorporate more hands-on activities such as cooking, easy at-home science experiments, etc. If your child’s teacher does not have anything to help you, you can search the Internet for age/grade-appropriate projects and assignments.
  • Projects (younger kids vs older kids) cooking, art, science

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Encouraging Language Skills during Family Board Games

One of the most impactful ways a child can make progress toward their speech and language goals is through home practice.  I compare it to working outFamily playing a boardgame at the gym; one day a week counts for something, but you’re unlikely to see noticeable results.  Instead, three or four days a week is the best way to build muscle and endurance and notice tangible changes.  Speech and language development functions in a very similar way. To help children maintain and make further gains between speech sessions, we assign home practice activities.  To kids, this often translates to “more homework!”  So how can we encourage children to practice throughout the week?  Try choosing fun and engaging activities that mask the speech and language goals

Here are some board games recommended for school age and adolescent students:

7 favorite games that encourage language skills:

Outburst Junior. This fast-paced game encourages the use of categories and vocabulary.  Players are given a word or category, and asked to name as many category members as possible before the time runs out.

Scattergories Junior. This fun game also encourages the use of categories.  Players are given a specific letter (e.g., “F” or “G”) as well as a list of categories.  Each player must think of various category members that begin with that letter.

Guess Who. This silly game encourages players to ask questions and group pictures together based on similarities and differences.  Players have a board filled with faces (or in the new version, animals, appliances and even monsters) and have to guess which face belongs to their opponent.

Headbanz. This engaging game encourages children to verbally describe objects, ask questions, and remember clues.  Players are each given a secret word to wear on their headband.  Players can look at other players’ headbands, but cannot see their own.  Each player must ask questions about their word, and give others clues for theirs (e.g., “Is my word an animal?’).

Catch Phrase Junior. This high-energy game encourages the use of vocabulary, verbal descriptions, categorization, synonyms, and word definitions.  Players are given a word and must try to get team members to guess what it is without actually stating the word.

Cranium Junior. This entertaining game also encourages the use of vocabulary and word meanings while tapping into the various senses.  Players are given a question card and must act, hum, draw, or sculpt the answer to help their teammates guess what it is.

Apples To Apples Junior. This interactive game encourages the use of vocabulary, word meanings, synonyms, and categorization.  Players are given a stack of cards, each with a different word (a person, place or thing).  A descriptive word is then placed in the center of the game and players must choose a card from their stack that best fits the description.

5 modifications for kids with language difficulties:

Each of these games relies heavily on language skills. Therefore, a child with language difficulties might find these games challenging.  To help, here are a few ways to modify each game so that your child feels more successful.  I advise using the modifications for all players, instead of singling one child out.

  • Extend the time allowed for each turn. Instead of using a sand-timer, use your own timer on a smartphone or stopwatch to allow each player more time to complete tasks.
  • Eliminate timing altogether.  If you notice your child crumbling under the time pressure, just eliminate timers altogether.  After your child has had practice with the game and feels more confident, you can slowly reintroduce the timer.
  • Adjust the vocabulary words. If your child seems unfamiliar or overwhelmed by the vocabulary in the game (e.g., Apples to Apples), create your own playing cards with more suitable vocabulary for your child.
  • Encourage note-taking. Games such as Guess Who and Headbanz rely on memory.  If your child seems to have difficulty remembering clues, encourage him/her to write things down during the game (e.g., my headband is an animal, it lives in the zoo, it has stripes, etc).
  • Provide lots of encouragement. Discourage any negative comments from players, while encouraging positive comments instead (e.g., “good try” or “nice job!”).  Give your child positive and descriptive praise for anything they are doing well (e.g., “Wow, you are showing great sportsmanship” or “That was an excellent question to ask.”)

Above all, have fun!  Games provide an excellent avenue for learning, but more importantly, they provide a fun and engaging way to spend time together.  By incorporating your child’s speech and language goals into games, your child will learn and practice without ever hearing those dreaded words, “more homework.”  Ask your child’s speech-language pathologist for more fun activities to address their speech and language goals at home.

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6 Ways to Support your Child through a Dining-Out Experience

I worked in the restaurant industry for many years as a hostess as well as a waitress. I recently observed a family out at dinner on a Saturday night. After seeing some of the behaviors of their son and hearing some feedback from their waiter, it became obvious to me that this family had a child with special needs.  Shortly after ordering food, the family had to request that their food be boxed up to take home instead of eating at the restaurant. I found this to be very unfortunate, as there were many actions the restaurant could have taken to accommodate this family’s needs.

Mother and daughter restaurant

Eating out at a restaurant is like participating in a dance. Everyone needs to know the right steps to make the dance smooth and make sure no one’s toes are stepped on. What diners don’t understand is that they are very much a part of this dance. Typically, waiters are able to read their tables and determine their needs. As a server, I am able to determine the timing and tempo desired by diners and make sure their food is delivered appropriately. Knowing what accommodations you can ask for is important.

The following tips will better prepare you to make the requests you need. A restaurant staff should be able to accommodate these needs no matter what time of day:

Know the menu

Before going out to a restaurant, look at possible food items you would like to order. You do not need to pre-order your food as cravings change when you get to the restaurant, but becoming familiar with the available foods will help make an order quicker. This can also assist in talking to your children about the restaurant. They could choose what they want to eat and become excited about going! It will also make an unfamiliar environment feel more familiar.

Request a quiet table

Request a table in a quiet area that has some space for movement. Try to avoid tables in the middle of dining areas or ones that are far from the exit or bathroom.

Call ahead and ask about existing reservations

Parties of 15 or more tend to be very loud and take up a lot of the dining space. Avoid going to restaurants during the time of the party. Once my restaurant had a reservation for 70 people! It took up the entire dining space. Also, the time it takes for the kitchen to prepare the food was extended for other diners in the restaurant at that time.  From the time the waiters placed the food order, it took the kitchen one full hour to make it!

Order everything all at once

Order your drinks and food all at the same time. Waiters control the pace of your meal and how soon your food arrives.  Let your waiter know what your dining experience looks like.  Do you want your food all at once?  Do you want your child’s food first?  If you need your meal fast, just inform them and they can make it happen. Restaurants are able to deliver food within 10-12 minutes of ordering, maybe sooner.

Tell your waiter about your child’s needs

Be an advocate for your child. Create a “menu” of your child’s needs before going to the restaurant. For example, you can say, “my name is _____. I like to have my food delivered quickly. When this does not happen, I can become upset. When I am upset, it may look like this­­­_______.”  By doing this, your waiter will understand your child’s needs and can work to have them met. This also helps further prepare your child for going out to eat.

Be prepared

Bring tabletop activities for your child to enjoy while waiting for the food to be delivered. Perhaps ask for a table with extra space so that there is plenty of room on the table for cups, plates, and activities.  Also, talk with your child ahead of time about the restaurant experience. Create a visual schedule to follow and label the dining expectations.  First, we sit down, then the server takes our order,  then we receive our drinks, then we color/read/watch a show for a certain amount of time ( you can ask your server how long the food will take),  then we receive our food,  and finally we eat.

Knowing what accommodations you can ask for is important.  By knowing these tips, you will be better prepared to make the requests you need to make your “dance” smooth.

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3 Signs of Childhood Depression | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, a licensed social worker gives us 3 signs to look out for when it comes to childhood depression.

Click here to read our popular blog outlining all symptoms and treatment of Childhood Depression

In this video you will learn:

  • What can cause a child to become depressed
  • Indications of depression in children

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics, to a worldwide audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now, your host, here’s Robyn.

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host, Robyn Ackerman, and I’m sitting here today with Ali Wein, a licensed professional social worker. Ali, can you give us three things to look out for inchildhood depression?

Ali: Absolutely. The main thing we really want to look for is any sort of deviation from typical behavior. So the first thing we want to note, are there any changes in eating or sleeping patterns? If your child usually wakes up really early in the morning and they fall asleep really early at night, and all of a sudden they’re having a harder time falling asleep at night and they’re requiring more hours of sleep per evening, this might be indicative of something greater going on underlyingly.

Additionally, any changes in the eating habits. Are they eating more? Are they eating less? Are they rapidly gaining and/or losing weight? Things that aren’t just sporadic, but you’re noticing changes in patterns of behavior. Another thing we want to look for is disinterest in previously enjoyed activities. So if your child really loves soccer and can’t wait for Tuesdays when they get to wake up in the morning and practice with their soccer team, all of a sudden they’re crying. They don’t want to go. They’re coming up with excuses because they just don’t want to go to soccer. That might be indicative of something else going on as well.

Finally, we also want to pay attention to any sort of change in personality, mood, and affect, affect being the way that we present ourselves. So if your child is typically really easygoing, calm, relaxed, and now all of a sudden they’re having trouble communicating, maybe, they’re a little bit more spaced out and more inattentive, they’re more easily to get angry and have outbursts, this might also be indicative of childhood depression.

Robyn: All right. Thank you so much for letting us know those three signs. Thank you to our viewers, and remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at learnmore.me. That’s learnmore.me.

Making School Day Routines Easier with a Schedule

With school in session, it is important to solidify those morning, after school, and nighttime routines.  Using schedules provides predictability, encourages independence, and aids in transitions with your child.

Mother and daughter planning a schedule

Here are some quick tips to help make morning and nighttime routines easier with a schedule:

Types of Schedules:

A schedule can be created for any routine, such as bathroom, dressing, leaving for school, or after school routines.  For example, “Eat breakfast, brush teeth, and grab backpack” can be used for a morning routine, or “Eat snack, do homework, have 20 minutes of free time” could be used for an after school routine.

Location of the schedule:

Schedules should be placed where they are most accessible to your child.  If you are trying to promote independence while dressing, place a schedule on your child’s closet or dresser.  Bathroom schedules can be placed on a mirror, and morning/after school schedules can be placed on the refrigerator or door.

Using Pictures:

Pictures are great visuals for younger children or children who have difficulty understanding spoken language. Pictures can be drawn on a dry erase board or mirror, found on a computer (i.e., Google images), or cut out from a magazine.

Including your child:

Encouraging your child to help create his or her own schedule will increase comprehension and motivation for the responsibilities.  It is important to complete schedules before the routine begins.  For example, morning and after school schedules should be completed the night before.  Night schedules could be completed before dinner.  Your child should manipulate his or her schedule by moving pictures from the “to do” to the “all done” pile, or crossing off written tasks.

Flexibility:

Having some flexibility with your child’s schedule is okay, as long as the schedule is set before the routine begins and the arranged schedule is followed.  Rearranging the sequence of tasks, giving your child choices, and introducing new activities allow for flexibility within schedules.

Setting routines and implementing schedules should help make life a little easier.  If you have any suggestions that make your morning, afternoon, and nighttime routines easier, please share them below.

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Using the Fall Season to Work on your child’s Developmental Skills!

The weather is changing and children are back to school.  The Fall season provides opportunities for many activities to address your child’s occupational therapy needs.Children playing with autumn leaves

The activities listed below work on a variety of developmental skills and are appropriate for children of all ages:

  1. Rake leaves- provides heavy work and builds strength and endurance
  2. Carve pumpkins- addresses hand strength and fine motor skills
  3. Roll in a pile of leaves- provides heavy work and vestibular input
  4. Fall cooking and baking- decorate cupcakes or bake an apple pie by stirring the batter or placing sprinkles on the frosting. These activities work the small muscles of the hands and enhance fine motor precision.
  5. Leaf rubbing (place a leaf under a piece of paper, rub a crayon over the leaf until the image appears on the paper)- addresses visual skills and fine motor skills

Your children and whole family will be eager to engage in these fun Fall activities!

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Using Games as Fine Motor Practice to Improve Handwriting | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, an Occupational Therapist introduces us to beneficial games and tools to aid efficiency of handwriting practice for children.  For more on your child’s handwriting, click here.

In this video you will learn:

  • How certain game pieces prepare your child for writing
  • Which games are recommended to use for handwriting practice
  • Useful tools to warm up hands for writing

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide
audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and
innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now, your host, here’s
Robyn.

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host, Robyn
Ackerman and today I’m standing here with a Pediatric Occupational
Therapist, Lindsay Miller. Lindsay, can you explain to us what are some
games that you can play with children to help with their fine motor and
handwriting?

Lindsay: Sure. Some of the games that I like to play with children involve
small pieces and small pegs, such as this piece right here. This is from a
game called HiHo CherryO, and you use it by holding your thumb and your
index finger and middle finger to hold onto the piece. So that kind of
mimics the way that you would hold a writing utensil, such as a pencil.
Other games include Lite-Brite and Battleship. This is a piece from Lite-
Brite, and, again, you can see that I’m holding it with my thumb, index,
and middle finger. So it’s kind of a way to warm up the hands, before we do
handwriting tasks.

Some other games that I like to use with children involve tongs or
children’s’ chopsticks or tweezers. These are tongs, and, again, you can
see that I’m using it with my thumb, index, and middle finger, which mimics
the way that you would hold a writing utensil. Some examples of games that
use tongs and tweezers would be Operation and Bed Bugs. So those are just
some of the ways that I like to warm up the hands before we do handwriting
tasks.

Robyn: All right. Thank you so much, Lindsay, and thank you to our viewers.
And remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind
to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to
our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at
learnmore.me. That’s learnmore.me.

What do Occupational Therapists Look for During your Child’s Handwriting Sample?

Handwriting is a lifelong skill. It begins as young as 3 years of age, when children start identifying shapes, letters, and numbers.  Handwriting and letter recognition are important for communicating (e.g. sending cards and emails) and for completing age-appropriate tasks (e.g. homework assignments; writing grocery lists).child pencil grasp

Below are many of the components your child’s occupational therapist looks for during a handwriting sample in order to work towards a clear and legible final product:

  • Sizing: Are the letters all relatively the same size (e.g. all upper case the same size and all lower case the same size)?
  • Spacing: Are the letters and/or words too close together?  Or is there at least a finger or pencil width between each word?
  • Mixing of upper case and lower case:  Is there inconsistency between the use of upper case and lower case letters?  Are upper case letters used correctly (e.g. start of a sentence or for a name/title)?  Mixing of upper case and lower case letters is appropriate until 6 years of age.
  • Capitalization: Are names, titles, and beginning letters of a sentence appropriately capitalized?
  • Formation of letters Does the child form each letter in the right direction?  (e.g. ‘b’, ‘d’)  Does the child use the correct number of lines and curves? (e.g. ‘m’, ‘n’)  Letter reversals are appropriate until 7 years of age.
  • Complete sentences Are there clear and complete thoughts?  Is the correct punctuation used at the end of the sentence?
  • Floating letters: Do all of the letters sit clearly on the line?
  • Pencil grasp:  Does the child hold the pencil or marker age appropriately?  The static tripod grasp is expected around 3 ½ – 4 years of age.  This is when the pencil is held between the thumb and index finger, with the pencil resting on the middle finger and the child uses and moves his wrist/arm to make movements with the pencil.  The dynamic tripod grasp is expected around 4 ½ – 6 years of age.  This is when the pencil is held between the thumb and index finger with the pencil resting on the middle finger, and the child uses and moves his fingers to make movements with the pencil.
  • Posture in chair:  Is the child slouching or falling out of the chair?  Is the child propped or leaning?  Are his feet flat on the floor?  Is the table the appropriate size?
  • Pressure used:  Is the child’s writing legible?  Or does he press down too hard or too lightly with the pencil, causing the writing to be hard to read or his hands to fatigue more easily?

This list of handwriting aspects may give you ideas of what to look for in your child’s handwriting during activities/assignments at home.   If you notice that your child is having trouble in any of these areas, encourage him to focus on one of those aspects each time he practices writing (to break down the task).  Your child will work on these aspects of handwriting during his occupational therapy sessions, but it is also very important to provide your child with similar learning opportunities and feedback at home.

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How to Teach your Child with Sensory Processing Difficulties How to Ride a Bike

Learning to ride a bike can be a scary and overwhelming adventure for both the parents and the child involved!  There are many components required for bike riding, such as motor planning, body awareness, trunk control, balance, self-confidence, following directions, safety awareness, timing, and sequencing.  However, one of the best things about bike riding is that the child is typically very motivated and excited to do it, as he sees his friends or other children in the neighborhood doing so already.

SPD Child riding a bike

Below are several strategies on how to get started:

  • Practice lots of balance activities:  balance is a huge part of bike riding; therefore, it is important to strengthen these skills by challenging your child’s ability to maintain various positions including standing on one leg, sustaining yoga poses, walking across balance beams, or kneeling on an unstable surface such as the bosu ball.
  • Incorporate a variety of activities with wheels:  while being able to ride a bike independently might be the ultimate goal, it is beneficial to incorporate other similar skill sets into your child’s play experience.  This will help you and your child to take the emphasis off of the fact that he does not know how to ride a bike and help to focus on the excitement of trying new things (e.g. scooter, skate board, tricycle, roller skates, etc.).  Similarly, your child might really excel at one of these activities, in which this activity can then be used as a confidence booster when the child has already mastered it.
  • Practice inside:  have your child practice simply balancing on the bike/sitting on the bike in a safe environment, such as inside (e.g. basement or playroom/living room if appropriate).  Place large pillows/beanbags next to the bike so the child feels secure, and if he falls, he will crash into the pillows.
  • Involve different family members/friends:  bike riding can be a very complex task; therefore, it can be extremely beneficial to involve different family members/friends to help with the process. Different people have different strategies and ways of motivating and sometimes one strategy will really hit home for your child.  Similarly, then the same parent and child won’t get so frustrated with one another.
  • Visual schedule:  help your child to make a visual schedule/calendar to illustrate when the child will start practicing and what skill he will work on each day (e.g. getting onto bike; peddling with both legs; ride to the corner etc); then the child can put an “x” or a sticker on the chart when he completes a day of practice, or practices a skill etc.  Visual schedules can be motivating for the child, and provide structure.
  • Take the pedals off:  taking the pedals off of the bike helps initially with learning the feel of the bike/balance. Take the bike to a small hill and have the child ride down without the pedals, this provides an introduction to moving and balancing on the bike without needing the coordination to pedal.

Learning a novel activity can be intimidating for a child, as it is a totally new experience and requires a significant amount of following directions and motor planning.  Similarly, teaching  novel activities can be nerve wracking for the parents, especially if it is a skill they have not taught before, like bike riding.  As parents, it is important to keep in mind that every child learns differently and requires different levels of support when learning a new skill.  Make sure to constantly praise your child during this challenging activity, even if it seems like the tiniest accomplishment (e.g. buckling bike helmet independently; putting kickstand down independently).  As always, feel free to talk with an occupational therapist or physical therapist if you need more individualized strategies or have other gross motor concerns for your child.

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10 Activities to Improve Balance

Balance is a great skill to help your child progress with their gross motor skills, leisure activities, and activities of daily living.

The following activities are various ways you can work on improving static and dynamic balance for improved performance in activities such as sports, games, self-care, and many more!

  1. Stand with one foot on the ground while the other foot is resting on a stool in front of the other foot. This is the primary skill in working towards balancing on one foot. If this is too easy, replace the stool with a ball that your child has to rest his or her foot on. Then, progress to just standing on one leg. To make it more challenging play a game (such as catch, zoom ball or balloon tennis) while balancing.
  2. Stand on top of a bosu ball. A bosu ball is an exercise ball cut in half with a flat plastic surface on the bottom. If your child gets really good at standing on top of the bosu ball, turn it upside down so that the ball is underneath and he or she is standing on the flat side. Once this is mastered, play catch while standing on the bosu ball.
  3. Stand on a balance board. A balance board is a flat surface made of wood or hard plastic that has a rounded or curved underside. This can be a very challenging activity just to stay upright!
  4. Simply stand on one foot! Make this into a contest with the whole family and see who can maintain their balance the longest.The person who wins gets to pick a family activity.
  5. Put two lines of tape on the ground and practice walking on a pretend balance beam. The space between the two pieces of tape could start large (6 inches) and progress to 4 inches apart. If your child steps out of bounds, he or she has to start again. By employing a balance beam that is flush with the ground, this will decrease any possible fear of falling. Once this becomes easier, utilize a real balance beam to work on more challenging balance skills.
  6. Sit on an exercise ball while playing a board game at the table. Don’t let your child put his or her feet on the ground while playing unless they need to make sure they don’t fall.
  7. Play hopscotch only while jumping on one foot. No switching feet is allowed! This makes the game slightly more challenging.
  8. Sit, kneel, or stand on a flat platform swing. Once you child can simply balance, play catch, zoomball, or balloon volleyball while sitting, kneeling, or standing.
  9. Stand on a trampoline with just one leg on the surface. To make this even more challenging, invite someone else to walk on the trampoline (or jump) while trying to keep your balance!
  10. Try any of the above activities with your eyes closed. Balancing with your eyes closed is significantly harder than having your eyes open. Therefore, if your child has mastered all of the above activities, make it one step harder to keep them challenged!

The possibilities are endless! Get creative and make these activities easier or harder depending on your child’s progression of skills.  By working on balance, your child will learn to use their muscles properly in order to adjust to changes in movement. This will set them up for success in playing games and sports with their peers! As always, ensuring your child’s safety during these activities is very important. Utilize pillows, mats, and adult supervision when practicing these activities.

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