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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

5 Everyday Items to Re-Use for Fine Motor Exercise

During the summer, it is important to keep working out your little one’s fingers.  There are plenty of items around your fine motorhouse that you can use to exercise your child’s fine motor muscles.  Below are 5 items that you may have laying around that can be re-purposed into a “digital” gym.

5 items to re-purpose for fine motor exercise:

  1. Take-Out Boxes-Yes, I said take-out boxes.  The aluminum “press-and-close” variety offers a great chance to work your child’s tip pinch (pointer finger and thumb), 3-point pad pinch (pointer finger, middle finger, and thumb), and lateral pinch (“key grip”) muscles. Use these containers to store beads, coins, or other small objects to create a fun musical instrument too!
  2. Clothespins-Have your child use clothespins to transfer small objects from one container to another, to move game pieces, or to hold a blanket-fort together.  Have your child squeeze the clothespin with different finger combinations (listed above) to “up” the challenge.
  3. Balloons-Your child can grip the two ends of a balloon with different fingers as he or she stretches out the balloon.  In addition, pulling a balloon over a faucet to fill water balloons takes a considerable amount of fine motor control, strength, and endurance.
  4.  Spray Bottles-Fill a spray bottle with water, and have your child water plants.  For fun outside, you can also have a “water bottle” fight, or add food coloring to the spray bottle to “paint” a large sheet of paper.
  5. Paper-Have your child fold a sheet of paper to make a paper fan, a paper airplane, a paper hat, or a fun origami animal.  Folding paper requires a lot of fine motor precision and control, as well as visual-motor integration.  In addition, folding paper will help to strengthen your child’s tip-pinch strength and will help build fine motor endurance. Read more

How Does Play Help Meet a Child’s Therapy Goals?

Occupational therapists often use play as a means of helping achieve our clients’ goals. Many times, it may not look like our sessions are working on your child’s areas of need; however, when we are working with children, we often try to adapt play activities in order to help your child meet his goals. Play is a very motivating activity for a child to engage in with the therapist and work on some of his goals. Play may also mask the fact that children are working on a difficult skill by introducing fun into the activity. For example, if one of the child’s goals is to improve his handwriting skills, you could play a game that involves writing, such as Boggle, Scattergories, or crossword puzzles.

Therapist and child at Gym

Here are some play activities that OT’s use to help your child meet his goals:

  1. If your child needs to work on balance and coordination, we may play basketball while standing on top of a bosu ball (imagine standing on the rounded part of a ball cut in half).
  2. A child who needs to work on core and upper extremity strength could meet these goals by playing a game while lying on his stomach over a therapy ball, while balancing with his arms on the ground.
  3. In order to improve self-regulation for a child who has sensory concerns, we may start our session by playing on the gym equipment in order to help regulate his nervous system.
  4. To work on bilateral coordination and fine motor skills with a child who does not like drawing, we often use play-doh and have him trace shapes and cut them out with scissors.
  5. Another way to work on gross motor coordination is to practice climbing a rock wall, climbing a ladder, or swinging on the monkey bars.

Sometimes, however, it may be difficult to adapt the activity and make it fun for the child. In this case, the therapist may have the child participate in an activity to work on the skills he needs to improve, but use a play activity as a reward.  From the first example in which the child’s goal is to improve handwriting, the child may still not want to play the games that involve handwriting. Then, the therapist may tell the child that after handwriting, he can do an activity of his choice.

Hopefully, this blog provides a bit more insight into the therapist’s mindset while working with your child. The therapist is constantly thinking and problem solving about how to make an activity therapeutic and how to make it easier or harder based on the child’s ability to succeed at the tasks. If the therapist is successful, the child will not even realize the activities are working on their areas of need and will want to come to therapy every session!

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6 Fine Motor Toys

When your child has challenges in some domain of their development, you may have questions as to what toys you should purchase art easel that will captivate your child’s creativity, allow for hours of good fun and facilitate the opportunity for your child to expand their skills.

Below is a list of toys that may enhance your child’s fine motor development this holiday season:

  1. An Easel: Easels are frequently used throughout the therapy gym to enhance fine motor skills. Their inverted plane helps your child stabilize their wrist in the correct position while completing fine motor tasks. Allow your child to exercise their creative side by coloring, drawing and writing with paint, markers, crayons and colored pencils.
  2. Piano Keyboard: Keyboards are an excellent way for your child to solidify their ability to isolate finger movements. This fine motor movement pattern is important for your child as they learn to complete self-care tasks and as they learn to manipulate their pencil. Provide your child with a workbook to teach them some of the basics of
    keyboarding skills. Simple songs to begin playing include “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Twinkle, Twinkle.”
  3. Mr. Bucket Game: This game is a wonderful way to work on turning your child’s wrist to the sky and to the floor as well as utensil manipulation.
  4. Operation: Gather around the table to see who has the steadiest of hands in this hilarious family board game. Children of all ages can work to improve their hand strength and fine motor precision while using tweezers to remove silly game pieces from the body of their “patient.” Don’t get too close to the sides or you’ll hear a big “buzz!”
  5. Scramble: This game will allow your child to practice their fine pincer grasp as they race time to fit all of the pieces into the game board before the timer runs out. As an added bonus, it gives your child the opportunity to practice their ability to visually discriminate between shapes.
  6. Wipe Clean Board Book: This booklet allows your child to become the teacher while practicing their letters and numbers on a dry erase board. These boards offer the opportunity for a great number of repetitions while first learning to write. These repetitions will lead to improved overall fine motor control and letter formation at school as well as on paper!

These are just a few examples of games and toys that could be used to enhance your child’s fine motor development. For additional examples, feel free to ask your skilled occupational therapist. Happy Holidays!

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Are Premature Babies Delayed?

The term premature refers to any infant that was born earlier than 37 weeks of gestation. Premature births occur in 10% of all live births. Premature babies (“preemies”) are at risk for multiple health problems, including breathing difficulties, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and delays in their gross and fine motor skills.

Premature baby

Why are babies born pre-term?

The cause of premature labor is not fully understood. However, there are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of premature labor: a woman that has experienced premature labor with a previous birth, a woman that is pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, etc), and a woman with cervical or uterine defects. Certain health problems can also increase the risk of premature labor, including diabetes, high blood pressure and preeclampsia, obesity, in-vitro fertilization, and a short time period between pregnancies.

What are the effects of being born pre-term?

In addition to multiple medical complications, a baby that is born before 37 weeks of gestation is at risk for developmental problems in gross motor skills, fine motor skills, sensory integration, speech and language skills, and learning. The baby may take longer to reach specific developmental milestones or need help to reach those milestones. The earlier babies are born, the more at risk they are for having delays. Each child is different as well, and no two preemies will be delayed in exactly the same manner.

If you or your pediatrician suspects that your baby is developmentally delayed, there are a variety of professionals that can assist your child in achieving his or her full potential. A physical therapist can help facilitate development of gross motor milestones such as sitting, crawling, walking, running, or jumping. An occupational therapist can help develop fine motor skills such as object manipulation, hand-eye coordination, and reaching, as well as sensory integration. Speech therapists can help improve language skills and articulation.  Consult with your pediatrician or talk with one of our Family Child Advocates to receive more information on setting up an evaluation with a skilled therapist at NSPT.

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Candy Corn Pick-up: To Build Finger Strength and Manipulation

As I mentioned in my previous blog about carving a pumpkin, there are so many fun as well as simple activities for occupational therapy that you may candy corn activitiespractice in the comfort of your own home. One such festive idea that many of our occupational therapists have been incorporating into their therapy sessions lately is “candy corn pick-up”. This activity helps to refine skills such as fine motor strength, visual motor skills, bilateral coordination and in-hand manipulation (e.g., to manipulate the clothes pins and/or move candy corn from palm to pincher fingers). Ideally, each of these skills will translate in order to help a child increase his strength for completing fasteners (i.e., snaps, zippers, buttons, etc.) as well as increase strength and endurance for handwriting skills.  Below is a quick break down of the activity.

Candy Corn Pick-Up:

Materials needed:

  1. Clothes pins, resistive clips and/or chopsticks
  2. Candy corn
  3. Holiday ice cube tray (available at Target or Amazon.com)

Directions:

  • Place the candy corn on a plate or in a bowl (in a small plastic pumpkin if you want to be really festive).
  • Have your child pick up one candy corn at a time with his clip and then place the candy corn into one of the slots on the ice cube tray. The child’s dominant hand should primarily be used as this will help strengthen the hand used for handwriting activities.
  • It is important to have your child use his non-dominant hand as well for this activity as the non-dominant hand is a helper hand for activities such as stabilizing paper during handwriting, cutting tasks and other bilateral skills, such as shoe tying.
  • If you want to increase the challenge of this particular activity, call out a pattern for your child, such as “3, 5, 3, 2”. This pattern will serve as the number of candy corns you want him to place into the ice cube tray slots.
  • Have your child recall the pattern as this will help improve auditory processing and memory recall.
  • To better increase the gross motor aspect of the activity, have your child sit on a therapy ball, rather than a chair or having your child lay prone on the floor (i.e., on his belly). Both of these positions help improve endurance and trunk control.

Overall, it is extremely important for parents to remember that occupational skills can be easily incorporated into daily tasks, especially into fun holiday activities! If occupational therapy skills are only practiced once or twice a week in the clinic, the skills will not be transferred as easily across environments. The greatest gains are seen when occupational therapy skills are practiced every day at home! So pick up some candy corn and see how much fun hand strengthening can be!

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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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How Household Materials Can Be Used For Occupational Therapy Goals

In occupational therapy sessions, we often use common materials and games to make our sessions therapeutic and fun.

Here are some ways that you can use materials and equipment that you may have lying around at home to help your children reach their occupational therapy goals:

Children play household games

  1. Board Games Board games are a great way to help your children develop their social skills and fine motor skills. Board games can be a way to improve eye contact, turn taking, and sharing. Many board games, such as Battleship, Trouble, and Perfection, involve small pieces that need to be placed into the game board. By having your child use his fingers to manipulate these pieces, it can help him understand how to hold small objects which can facilitate learning how to properly hold writing utensils. In addition to helping to hold small pieces, it can also assist your child to develop other fine motor skills, such as manual dexterity and in hand manipulation skills. For example, you can have your child hold onto several of the pieces with one hand and put them into the game board one by one. Using board games that also have cards, such as Sorry, can also help improve manual dexterity by means of shuffling, dealing, and manipulating the cards without dropping them or revealing them to the other players.
  2. Play-Doh Play-Doh is a wonderful tool to improve fine motor skills in children. Play-Doh can be used as a medium to practice writing, drawing, and cutting. You can trace different geometric forms (circle, square, and triangle) into the Play-Doh with a pencil and have you child copy the shapes in another piece of flattened Play-Doh and cut them out with scissors. Using Play-Doh to practice drawing and cutting is often a good precursor to writing with a pencil and paper as the texture of Play-Doh is more resistive which makes cutting and tracing easier. Play-Doh can also be used to help strengthen the small muscles in their hands by rolling it into a snake, ball, and flattening it into a pancake.
  3. Puzzles Puzzles can be used to help your children improve their visual-perceptual skills which is important for many school tasks, such as copying things from the board and finding items in their desk. The complexity of puzzles can very greatly, from simple large peg puzzles in a wooden form to 100 piece jigsaw puzzles. If you have an older child, using a complex jigsaw puzzle can be a great way to work on planning, sequencing, organizing, and problem-solving skills.
  4. Playground equipment Using the playground or the jungle gym in the backyard is the perfect way to help your children increase their core strength, upper body strength, and bilateral coordination. This will help build up the strength in your children’s larger muscles so that when they have to work at their desk or a table, their core and upper body will have the stability and endurance to sit and complete fine motor activities.
  5. Balls Playing catch, kicking, dribbling, and volleyball are just a few of the many ways balls can be therapeutic. All of these activities involve using eye-hand coordination, balance, and core strength which are great skills to have for a variety of gross motor and fine motor activities. These activities can also help with ocular motor skills as your child needs to track the object through space.

There are many types of equipment and materials used during therapy that can be adapted to meet the needs of your child. You can find these materials and many more around your house in order to improve your child’s skills so he or she can be successful in school and play activities!

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Navigating Early Speech & Language Milestones: What to expect between age 1 and 2

Parents often wonder if their child’s skills are developing typically.  Between gross motor skills, fine motor skills, speech-language skills, social-emotional functioning, and overall growth, there’s a lot to keep track of!  In fact, it might feel overwhelming.  Mother communicating with infantIt’s important for parents to remember that every child develops at their own rate, with some skills emerging faster, and other skills taking more time.  When considering your child’s development, referring to developmental milestones can be an excellent guide.  In Part 1 of this blog, we reviewed speech and language milestones to expect during the first year of your baby’s life.  In Part 2, we’ll review communication milestones you might expect to see between age 1 and 2.  If you begin to feel concerned regarding your child’s development, seek help from a licensed professional right away.  A trained therapist will give you accurate information, ease your worries, and if needed, give your child any help they might need.

Speech & Language Skills Emerging Between 1 and 2 Years

1 – 1½ years

Your child might:

  • easily understand his own speech
  • use a variety of words (between about 3-20) to communicate
  • understand between 50-75 words to communicate
  • be able to point to various objects or body parts as you say them
  • be able to follow simple 1-step directions
  • use words that contain a consonant + vowel (e.g. “bo” for boat)
  • be eager to imitate words they hear others say
  • use some jargon when they’re communicating
  • request things by pointing or vocalizing
  • let you know what they don’t want, by shaking their head “no” or pushing objects away

1½ – 2 years

Your child might:

  • be likely using more true words, and less jargon to communicate
  • be asking questions by using a rising intonation
  • begin to include sounds at the end of their words (e.g. hot)
  • use more than 50 words to communicate
  • understand about 300 words to communicate
  • begin to combine words into simple phrases
  • be able to follow 2-step related directions (e.g. “open the box and give me the bear.”)
  • begin to respond to yes/no questions
  • understand location concepts “in” and “on”
  • begin using words to tell you when they don’t want something (e.g. “no bed”)

For more information about speech and language development in childhood, visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association at http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/.

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Top 5 Reasons Why Your Child Should Practice Mazes at Home

Mazes are a huge hit with therapists and children alike!  While mazes are lots of fun and provide a sufficient challenge for children, they also help therapists to address a variety of skills within your child’s therapy session.  Mazes can be taped to a wall at your child’s eye-level so that he can work on a vertical surface.  This mimics a chalkboard or an easel board and promotes wrist extension and copying from a board (like in a classroom).

Mouse and cheese maze

Below are several reasons to practice mazes with your child at home:

  • Problem solving:  Mazes help your child to work on his executive functioning skills, such as planning and brainstorming various strategies (e.g. starting from the beginning of the maze or working backwards from the end of maze).
  • Fine motor control:  Mazes require your child to control his pencil through the maze without hitting the black lines. This means that he must take his time rather than rushing, in order to have greater success.  Progress can be observed as your child bumps into the black lines less and less as he gains greater control of his writing utensil.  Children use fine motor control in order to produce correct letter formation and legible handwriting.
  • Visual motor:  Mazes require your child to use his eyes to scan the worksheet in order to find possible solutions.  Scanning is a great skill used for reading and writing, as it is important to scan from the left side of the paper to the right side.
  • Grading of an activity:  Mazes can be broken down into different steps.  For instance, first have your child start by moving his finger, next a pencil, then a marker through the maze.  This helps your child to solve the same maze three times consecutively, which allows the skill to sink-in better.
  • Confidence:  Mazes are perfect fine motor activities to help boost your child’s confidence.  Have your child begin with a simple maze to provide immediate success, and then have him work towards completing mazes of increased difficulty.

Fine motor and visual motor skills can be practiced in a wide variety of ways, including mazes.  Mazes are a great way to work on handwriting without just writing letters and words. There are many websites that offer free printable maze worksheets for a variety of age levels and themes.  An internet search such as, “simple mazes for 4-year-olds,” will produce a variety of mazes and printable activities that are perfect for practicing these important skills at home!

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