I Have a Little Pumpkin (an interactive rhyme!)

Whether you make your own pumpkin fidget or use a mini pumpkin from your local pumpkin patch, you and  your kids will have a blast with this cute, interactive FREEBIE! Not only is it a fun way to play with the holiday theme, but it taps into motor planning, coordination, following verbal instruction, self-regulation and balance too!

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Click on the image to download your FREE copy!

Looking for more like this? Have some pumpkin fun with our entire Pumpkin Fidget Activity Pack! More rhymes, more games, and a printable, ready-to-illustrate book that goes along with the I Have a Little Pumpkin rhyme freebie you just downloaded! (You better get on that!)




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It’s almost Halloween!

Grab your Pumpkin Fidget Activity Pack TODAY!

Fine Motor Skill Necessities Developed at the Park

This is one time of year that our phones are ringing a little more than usual. Summer is over and the kiddos are settling in at school. It’s parent conference time, which tends to expose concerns that often result in OT referrals. Challenges with fine motor skills are routinely pointed out in these conferences. Observable areas of handwriting, cutting and coloring are present throughout the school day, making it easy to notice who is struggling and who isn’t.

The truth is, fine motor skills develop as the result of a number of different sensations and skills working together. Step one is to identify which pieces are lagging behind. Step two is creating activities to strengthen and develop these weaker areas. Step three is watching fine motor skills improve! Here’s how to get past some little fine motor bumps in the road that your child might be experiencing.

The Basics

Fine motor skills are built on a platform of:

  • Good trunk control: the body core (aka stomach, back and sides) has to be the steady base for the arms and hands to coordinate controlled actions.

Try this: Sit up tall and raise your arms up toward the sky. Notice how this feels. Now slouch down in your chair, relaxing your trunk and try raising your arms up again. Feel a difference?

  • Good feedback from skin, muscle and joints: allows for fine tuning motor actions and making precise adjustments.

Here’s another experiment: Try holding a pencil with gloves on. Without the ability to ‘feel’ your pencil, it’s harder to hold and control!

  • Strength in the arms and hands
  • Good coordination between eyes and hands (visual motor coordination): essential for skilled fine motor tasks like using scissors or writing your name on a line.

The Support

How do we support these skills? We play at the park!

Rarely do people think that there is a connection between park play and developing fine motor skills. The mindset of many is that strengthening fine motor skills means sitting at a table with a pencil and paper. We urge you to begin thinking outside of the box, and even more specifically, thinking outdoors! There are so many opportunities for building skills needed for school outside, and the best part is the kids have a blast while we disguise this practice as FUN!

Focusing on activities that build strong trunk muscles, balance, visual motor skills, hand and arm strength, tactile discrimination, and the ability to use just the right amount of pressure are primary essentials. Here are a few ideas of ways to work on these areas at the park:

  • Building a strong core: swings, slide, climbing – you can’t go wrong with any of these!
  • Balance: walk along a curb, climb on rocks or traverse across a wiggly bridge
  • Tactile discrimination: play with different textures like sand, dirt, mud, sticks and grass, find an object hidden in the sand with eyes closed
  • Controlling hand pressure: play with sand toys and buckets, learn how much force is needed to dig and how to precisely place a shovel of sand in a bucket or have a twig stand on end in the sand

For more specific fine motor skill ideas, check out our post and cute videos of our park play kiddos working on fine motor skills HERE.

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During school activities, it is important to make sure that your child is positioned in a way that creates a strong, stable base for fine motor coordination. When sitting at a table, make sure the child is sitting well supported in the chair with both feet flat on the floor. The child’s hips and knees should be at 90-degree angles, trunk and head upright, and non-dominant hand stabilizing the paper. If you find that your child’s feet are unable to touch the ground, place a box, step stool or other appropriately sized and sturdy object under your child’s feet to achieve these angles.The child’s dominant wrist should be at about a 30-degree extended angle when writing, rather than flexed or hooked inward.

Helpful Tools and Strategies

(Heads up! We have included some affiliate links ahead to share some of our tried and true therapy supports and tools! By purchasing through these links, we get a tiny (but hugely appreciated) proceed that keeps our website up and running! Thank you!)

While your child is developing the foundation skills for fine motor control, we can recommend these helpful tools to make school activities easier. If your child is currently seeing an occupational therapist, it will be beneficial to consult with him/her to identify individualized supports based on your child’s unique needs. Here are some general tools and strategies that can help:

  • Pencil grips – There are a variety of pencil grips that help position fingers for optimal muscle control and endurance, resulting in more skilled movements. Below are a few of the more popular styles and brands, kid tested and therapist approved!

                       

  • Slant board – Slant boards assist in the ideal positioning of the wrist for increased ease of finger movements.

Try this: pinch your index and thumb together. With your wrist slightly extended, bring your ‘pinch’ forward and back ward, in a thread the needle sort of motion. Notice how this feels and the ease of movement. Now try this same motion, but with your wrist flexed inward. Notice a difference? Think about working on a skilled fine motor activity in each position. Which would be easier and require less effort?

  • Vibrating pens – Vibration can be a great way to increase sensation in the hand! Increasing awareness leads to better control.

  • The Fine Motor Olympics by Marcia P. Bridgeman, OTR/L – A great collection of super fun activities for developing coordination in the hand and fingers.

    • Wedge cushion – for a child who tends to slouch or struggles to sit up straight, a wedge cushion can help while working to improve core stability. The tilts the pelvis to promote a more upright posture. Notice how difficult it is to maintain visual attention to an activity while in a slouched position! Even harder is trying to copy from the board or watch the teacher demonstrate instructions!

  • Change body positions during fine motor activities – Tape paper to the wall or write on a vertical surface to naturally adjust wrist position. This also changes the visual field that the child is working in. Try having the child lay on his tummy, propping upper body on forearms. This visually directs the child to the activity while working on developing shoulder stability,  leading to improvements in refined fine motor control!

If a child’s platform for fine motor skills is not in place yet, drilling the child with pencil and paper is going to be a slow, frustrating process for both the child and the parent! It’s more fun and effective to play at the park and develop those foundation skills first! If the child is struggling with fine motor activities in school, focus on areas of core strength, balance, visual motor skills, hand and arm strength, tactile discrimination, and the ability to grade force to build successes and feelings of confidence! Your local occupational therapist is also a great resource to identify specific challenge areas and provide an individualized treatment plan based on your child’s needs.

DIY Pumpkin Fidget

Fall is in the air! Pinterest pins dropping everywhere! This is such an fun time of year for DIY inspiration with holiday themes. As OT’s, we LOVE crafts for their hidden therapeutic benefits. Simple and sweet, our pumpkin fidget incorporates fine motor and visual motor skill development, planning and sequencing of steps, and a fidget to feel and fiddle with to support focus and attention!

What you will need:

12″x12″ piece of orange fabric

Pieces of green string or yarn

1/2 c. of fulling (we recommend rice or pinto beans)

a Dixie cup or other small cup

beads, rubber bands, curling ribbon (optional)

Here’s what to do:

1. Before you begin, decide if you want to draw a cute pumpkin face on your pumpkin. If you do, now’s the time! About 1/3 down from the TOP of the fabric, create your pumpkin face using fabric markers or a Sharpie. *Make sure you are drawing closer to the TOP edge rather than the bottom edge. Drawing near the bottom will make your pumpkin appear upside down when assembled!

2. Flip your fabric over so that the vividly colored side is facing down.

3. Centered over the cup, tuck the fabric into the cup leaving fabric equally hanging over the cup sides.

4. Pour filling contents into the cup. If you are using the Dixie cup, you can fill it to the top. This will be just about 1/2 c. of rice/beans.

5. Gather the fabric together over the filling contents and tie tightly with your green string or yarn.

6. Remove your pumpkin from the cup and trim the ‘stem’ (extra fabric) of your pumpkin to your desired length.

Adding a short string of beads, a curly ribbon or even attaching a rubber band can be helpful added fidgets to little hands that need to feel, pull or wiggle in order to increase focus and attention!

As our clients created their own little pumpkins, each one different than the next, we realized we  weren’t ready to stop there! We ended up creating an entire Pumpkin Fidget Activity Pack filled with interactive and yoga pose inspired rhymes, games and a little book for kiddos and their pumpkins to do together! pumpkin-fidget-activity-pack-cover

To download a FREE page from this pack, click here!

Oh, and one more thing! Don’t forget to take your pumpkin fidget to the park! Here’s 5 ideas to get you started with some holiday pumpkin park play!

  1. (start with the pumpkin at the top of the slide) Have your child climb up the slide to pick a  pumpkin and slide back down to make a pumpkin pie in the sandbox below!
  2. Use it as a marker for a game of hop scotch.
  3. Find a twig to draw a spider in the sand. While swinging on his belly or balancing on a tree stump, have your child toss his pumpkin to try to squash the spider!
  4. Balance the pumpkin on one of the holds of a climbing wall or ladder rung. Can your child climb up and round the pumpkin without knocking it down?
  5. Place the pumpkin fidget on a balance beam or curb. Have your child walk the length of the beam, pick up the pumpkin (while balancing) and proceed to the end.

Happy Halloween!

The Sleep and Babies Series – Part 5

What If Baby’s Sensory Personality Conflicts With Yours?

Whether or not you have thought about it in this way, conflicting sensory personalities between babies and their parents happens. Even the most confident parent can be thrown into a whirlwind of confusion when trying to negotiate personalities that clash!

*Our posts do contain some affiliate links. By purchasing through these links you help support Passport to FUNction. Thank you!

Here’s a common scenario:

Mom could be described as having sensory personality traits that lean towards those we have described with the Sensitive baby. Rewinding back to her childhood, she needed a lot of support to stay calm and organized.

Now, mom recognizes that she continues to have sensitivities to touch and sound. She picks clothing that is soft, cuts out the tags of her shirts and avoids being in public places that are too loud. Mom feels most relaxed and focused when she gets enough sleep. She loves to exercise daily because the heavy work helps her to feel happy and not as sensitive to her surroundings.

As luck would have it (and we see this all the time), when she had her first son, he was clearly a Sensitive baby as well. Children often have similar sensory needs to their parents. Her son cried more than the typical baby, slept less and was generally more difficult to soothe. Mom began feeling overwhelmed by her son’s needs because of her own sensitivities. What could she do?? How do we meet baby’s needs for extra help and help mom avoid being overwhelmed by her own sensory sensitivities?

Our first priority is to look for a middle path, where everyone’s needs are met and mom is not feeling stretched beyond her capacity to cope.  In this situation, we use the sensory strategies of slow movement in a baby swing or a mamaRoo, swaddling, pacifier and daily baby massage. Refer to our post about the Sensitive Baby for more detailed information about strategies for this type of sensory personality! We are total fans of sensory strategies, but finding the proper strategy for each sensory personality takes a little detective work! In fact, this is why we wrote our book Baby S.O.S: Sleep Solutions Based on Your Baby’s Sensory Personality! The information is there, in an easy to digest way, so that you are prepared to become your baby’s personal detective!

The swaddle and swing approach to sleep is a great fit for the family in this scenario. Baby gets the calming sensory strategies that he needs and mom feels less burdened by her baby’s increased needs. Everyone gets more sleep and this is essential for this family. For more information on various sleep approaches, visit part 3 of our series here!

We also recommend that mom get out for daily walks with baby in a baby sling that provides compression which often helps a sensitive baby relax. Childcare provided by family, friends or baby sitters is essential during the first few months so mom can exercise,  take a walk by herself or just catch up on some much needed sleep. Some form of relaxation or meditation can make all the difference for a mom with a sensitive sensory personality. Connecting with an experience that is ‘recharging’ is so important for mom to be open and available to the needs of her little one. Without this recharge time, mom may become easily frustrated and lose the ability to ‘read’ her baby’s signals.

Attention to sensory personalities and the type of sensory strategies each mom and baby need can make all the difference in creating a happy, healthy, nicely bonded family system.

The Sleep and Babies Series: Part 4

What is Your Baby’s Sensory Personality and

How Does it Impact Your Sleep Approach?

Welcome to week 4 of our Sleep and Babies series! So far we have touched on some key information to truly get down to the crux of helping your baby sleep. If you are joining us at this point, make sure you catch up on the topics of our past few weeks.

Together, what we have learned is that sleep strategies are not a ‘one-plan-fits-all’ approach! Some organized detective work can make all the difference in understanding your baby and landing on specific strategies that are successful!

In an effort to make it easier for parents to fine tune their understanding of baby’s behaviors, we developed The Infant and Toddler Sensory Personality Checklist. TM  Consisting of over 30 relevant behavior patterns, this checklist helps to organize your observations and group them according to Sensory Personality. Learning whether your baby’s behavior indicates that he is a Sleepy Baby, an Organized Baby or a Sensitive Baby will then help you pick a sleep approach that is likely to work for your little one. Our detailed Infant and Toddler Sensory Personality Checklist TM  can be found in our book Baby S.O.S: Sleep Solutions Based on Your Baby’s Sensory Personality, but we wanted to share some bits with you here too!

A few characteristics that help identify sensory personalities

Sleepy babies tend to under register the people and the world around them. They need help ‘waking up’ to interact with their families and environment. This helps them learn how to sustain a calm, alert level of arousal to build developmental skills. Sleepy babies do well with the “Shush and Pat” and the “Co-sleeping” approaches.

Organized babies tend to be predictable and can calm themselves down with a little help. They do well with the “Shush and Pat” or the “Co-Sleeping” methods.

Sensitive babies need parent help and sensory strategies to settle into sleep. Attempting to use the “Shush and Pat” sleep approach with a Sensitive baby will probably result in extended crying. “Co-sleeping” or the “Swaddle and Swing” approaches will result in a good night’s sleep.

Last week, we shared some intimate video conversations with 4 moms who dove into their personal experiences with the different sleep patterns. If you missed them, click here for a short cut to tune in.

Identifying your baby’s sensory personality has another bonus! Once parents have identified which type of sensory personality their baby has, play activities can be focused to support developmental skills acquisition!  For example, a Sleepy baby needs help waking up to experience the world. Using sensory experiences that are known to be alerting can quickly support this baby’s personality. Fast movement, light touch, up tempo music, bright colors all help this baby wake up. Our Sensitive baby needs help staying organized and calm.  Calming sensory inputs like slow movement and rocking, firm touch and swaddling, quiet sounds and calm colors all support this baby.

We encourage you to use The Infant and Toddler Sensory Personality ChecklistTM (you can find it here!) to refine your awareness of your baby’s sensory personality. Parents who understand what their baby’s behavior is telling them can provide the just right support that helps him feel comfortable in the world.

Please join us for our final post related to our Sleep and Babies Series next time – What to do when baby’s sensory personality doesn’t match YOURS!

The Sleep and Babies Series: Part 3

What Parents Say About Helping Babies Sleep

Parents of new babies find out pretty quickly that there are a plethora of different approaches to getting babies to sleep. People who write about, video about and otherwise promote their “foolproof, guaranteed” approach to sleep are quite certain that their ideas will work for you.  As a new parent, you end up with a buffet-style of sleep-inspired options, but with so many to choose from, it’s easy to get a little confused figuring out which one is best!

For years we have been asking parents how they approach sleep. With permission, we videotaped our conversations with some amazing moms who have tried and adopted different strategies. Here’s what they said. These experiences are raw and real.

Three Basic Approaches for Putting Babies to Sleep

In our book, Baby S.O.S: Sleep Solutions Based on Your Baby’s Sensory Personality, we discuss 3 basic approaches for putting babies to sleep.

1. Co-sleeping
2. The Swaddle and Swing Method
3. The Shush and Pat Method

Each method has its own rationale and works beautifully when paired with certain baby/parent personality matches. If you are already aware of your baby’s sensory personality (sleepy, typical or sensitive), this will help guide your decision on choosing the best approach for your family. If not, scan through Parenting the Sensitive Baby and Helping Your Sleepy Baby Wake Up to see if either personality feels familiar. We also encourage you to hang tight for Part 4 of our Sleep and Babies Series, where we go over this in a little more detail.

Each video below highlights a different sleep approach and these amazing moms share their experiences and insight about each.

Co-sleeping

As the co-sleeping method goes, babies are fed and held until in a deep sleep and gently placed where they are going to sleep. (As a refresher from Part 2 of our series, deep sleep is when baby is limp and relaxed, has regular breathing and no eye movements are observed.) As this approach often includes co-sleeping, baby is tucked next to mom in bed and mom simply nurses baby back to sleep each time he wakes. This is a great approach for the sensitive baby who may be difficult to get back to sleep if moved into a crib. We found a particularly touching study that interviewed adults who had been co-sleepers as babies. The study found that these adults consistently reported a “feeling of satisfaction with life”.

The mom in this clip works during the day and finds co-sleeping a nice way to connect with her baby. Take a look.

 Swaddle and swing

In the Swaddle and Swing method, baby is fed, wrapped in a swaddling blanket, held until sleepy and then placed in a motorized swing. This works well for the sensitive baby whose parents have difficulty co-sleeping with baby in the bed. This approach however, does needs to be adapted when baby outgrows the swing.

This mom of twins has tried a few different sleep approaches in the first year. Here’s what she has to say.

  Shush and pat

The Shush and Pat method includes baby being fed, swaddled, held until sleepy and placed in the crib while still awake. Baby is patted and shushed for a few minutes and then parent leaves the room. The parent in charge of bedtime returns and repeats the shush and pat as many times as needed until baby settles into sleep. This approach works for the baby who is well organized and calm. This often will not work for the sensitive baby because this type of baby needs more help settling down into sleep.

This mom of three little boys has a thoughtful sleep approach that she is willing to share.

 

Triplet alert! This mom of triplets has worked hard to develop a sleep approach that works for her family.

Bedtime Routines

Parents consistently shared that bedtime routines were essential in helping babies and children get ready to sleep. Common  bedtime routine steps included:

Bath & PJs
Dimming the lights
Reading a story

Infant bedtimes included:

Giving baby a larger feeding before bedtime
White noise of a fan or soft music
Swaddling

What we know as therapists is that babies are all different. Parents have sensory needs and grew up with their own cultural approaches to sleep. Families need to balance what works best for both babies and parents. “…the traditional habit of labeling one sleeping arrangement as being superior to another without an awareness of family, social and ethnic context is not only wrong but possibly harmful” (McKenna & Dade, 2005). Learning and identifying the tools that your baby responds to best will provide a strong foundation for improved family sleep.

References

Forbes F, Weiss DS, Folen RA. The co-sleeping habits of military children. Military Medicine 1992; 157: 196–200.

McKenna, J.J., McDade, T. (2005). Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bed sharing and breast feeding. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 6, 134–152.

Staples, A., Bates, J., Petersen, I. ( 2015). Bedtime routines in early childhood: Prevalence, consistency, and associations with nighttime sleep. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, vol. 80, issue 1, pp.141-159. March 2015.

 

 

 

The Sleep and Babies Series: Part 2

What is a ‘normal’ amount of sleep for babies?

Are you worried that your baby is not sleeping enough? Or does it seem like your baby might be sleeping too much? In our Sleep and Babies Series, we are dabbling in many of the questions and concerns that parents have related to sleep throughout baby’s first year. If you missed Part 1, here are the topics we are covering:

  • What is normal sleep for a baby and how do sleep states influence sleep?
  • Parent interviews about their experiences with common approaches to sleep.
  • Do you know your baby’s sensory personality? If not, we will give you some tips on how to find out.
  • What if baby’s sensory personality doesn’t match yours?

Parents of the baby who does not sleep all that well often feel that they are doing something wrong when they hear about a friend’s baby who sleeps through the night and takes long naps. While comparisons naturally point out differences, it is important to know that there are a number of commonly accepted ideas of how much time young babies actually sleep.

 What is ‘normal’ sleep for a baby?

There are some guidelines about how much your baby should be sleeping, but keep in mind that there is a wide range of normal. Some babies take long naps and sleep many consecutive hours at night, while others take many brief naps and wake frequently throughout the night. Here’s an example of the sleep patterns for a 0-3 month old baby: 

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The 0-3 month old baby will sleep from fourteen to sixteen hours each twenty-four hour period. With her longest sleep at night, baby will have 3-8 naps per day, with nap duration being 15 minutes-2 hours each. The sleep/awake patterns change as baby grows up. If you are interested in learning about the entire 0-12 month sleep pattern progression, shoot us your email in the link below and you will have it immediately! We also discuss it in more detail in our book Baby S.O.S: Sleep Solutions Based on Your Baby’s Sensory Personality.

Sleep States

We all have phases of sleep that we go through each time we close our eyes to get some z’s. These sleep states directly influence the quality of our sleep and how easily we manage to wake up. Becoming familiar with the sleep cycles of your baby will provide key information on how to best support a little one who might be struggling with sleep.

Researchers have identified six different sleep and arousal states in the newborn baby. For the sake of keeping things ‘sleep’ focused today, here are some of the hints that let you know which phase of sleep your baby is in. Make sure to pay attention to the part that let’s you know when your baby is most likely to wake back up! 

Light sleep: This is the phase when baby is dreaming. You may see her eyelids moving as she dreams and she may make sucking movements on and off. Baby is likely to respond to sound, touch or movement by waking up. Moving baby while she is in this state will often cause her to wake up.

Deep sleep: Breathing appears regular and you will not see eye movements during this phase of sleep. Baby is limp, relaxed and has a delayed response to sounds, movement and touch, making it less likely for her to wake up.

The awake states are important to identify as well, letting you know when baby is leaning towards sleep, ready for play, or tipping towards upset. We talk about those more in our book too. 

Babies have their longest sleep periods at night, with cycles of light sleep for the first twenty minutes, followed by deep sleep. This cycle repeats itself every hour. This is super important to know because if you recall, babies are more easily awakened during light sleep. Keep this cycle in mind as you think about making that move from the car to the house within the first 20 minutes!

babys-sleep-cycle

So as you become more mindful of your baby’s sleep patterns, take special note of her sleep states and how your family’s schedules match up with baby’s light sleep and deep sleep phases. Are there interruptions that might impact baby’s sleep cycle? How can you adjust your routines and the environment to support baby’s sleep?

While babies have their own sleep patterns, families have their own preferences and routines as well. In part 3 of our Sleep and Babies series, we share some special video clips of some of our clients, each with a different perspective on sleep. These parents share their individual preferences for how they approach the sleep issue as a family. You don’t want to miss this!

 

The Sleep and Babies Series: Part 1

Sleep and Babies

Contrary to how new parents feel, YES, you can have both! The sleep / baby conundrum is one of the hottest topics for parents of young babies. Getting babies to sleep, helping them stay asleep, establishing bedtime routines and learning how to cope with disrupted sleep are all HUGE issues for parents of young children. Sleep deprivation and attempting all of the strategies in that pile of books on your nightstand can really put your mind in a tangle, can’t it?

As pediatric occupational therapists, we are big fans of sensory strategies as tools for parents.  Gaining an understanding of the type of baby that you have will be a productive step in learning specific strategies to promote better sleep patterns, for all of you! 

In our Sleep and Babies Series, we will dabble in some of these key things that your baby would love for you to know about sleep:

Common Strategies for Helping Baby Sleep

To kick things off and give you some ideas immediately, we want to share some of the strategies that can be incredibly useful in helping babies go to sleep, stay asleep and return to sleep when they are awakened. (You know what this means? You might get sleep too!)

Some of the most common solutions:

  • Swaddling and firm pressure
  • Slow swinging and rocking
  • Pacifier
  • White noise (fans or background nature sounds)
  • A consistent bedtime routine

Swaddling is a great sensory tool for parents because it is calming and organizing for a baby. This research study supports the benefits of swaddling infants, and you can click below to see the article.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-10-21-31-am

Parents are ultimately the best judges of how sleep approaches will work for the entire family. In our Sleep and Babies Series, we hope to provide you with sensory-based information so that you are able to make choices that fit your family best.
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TIP FOR PARENTS

In case you needed anther reason to breastfeed your baby, we found a research study concluding that nighttime breast milk contains compounds that help babies sleep longer.

“Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with reduced irritability/colic and a tendency toward longer nocturnal sleep. Breast milk (nocturnal) consists of substantial melatonin levels, whereas artificial formulas do not” (Engler, et.al. 2012).

 

References:

Engler, A. C., Hadash, A., Shehadeh, N., Pillar, G. (2012). Breastfeeding may improve nocturnal sleep and reduce infant colic: Potential role of breast milk melatonin. European Journal of Pediatrics, 171 (4), pp. 729-732. 

Sanchez, C., Cubero, J., Sanchez, J., Chanclon, B., Rivero, M., Rodriguez, A., Barriga, A. (2009). The possible role of human milk nucleotides as sleep inducers. Nutritional Neuroscience, 12(1), pp. 2-8. 

Staples, A., Bates, J., Petersen, I. ( 2015). Bedtime routines in early childhood: Prevalence, consistency, and associations with nighttime sleep. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, vol. 80, issue 1, pp.141-159. March 2015

 

Passport to the Park Kit

Getting quality time outdoors can do wonders. Fresh air, sunshine, ‘unplugged’ fun, and active exploration can have dramatic effects on the quality of your mood and how your body functions!

OT’s around the globe LOVE hearing about their clients adventures outside. Sensory experiences are everywhere and something new is around every bend. This allows our children to navigate, adapt, try and do which promotes learning and development unlike desk work can.

We are always thinking of functional, cost efficient, and therapeutically effective strategies to support our clients as they learn new motor skills and strategize through their individual complexities.  The local park becomes a natural backdrop for optimizing development and following through with any occupational therapy that your child might be receiving.

That being said, we have a little secret (although the cat’s out of the bag now, right?). Whatever equipment your local park might have, there are a couple of small little gems that we pack and bring with us every time that we work with a child at the park. Bring one, bring them all – they pack a big punch with lots of versatility to work on a variety of skills.

Here’s our kit!

park kit 4 pic

(Quick little FYI that there are affiliate links sprinkled throughout this post! Any purchases that you make help keep our blog up and running. Thank you!)

 

Bean Bags – We love these wipe clean versions because you never know where these little guys might end up. Sensory play can often mean getting ‘down and dirty’ but your beanbags don’t need to stay that way!

 

Gertie Balls – These inflatables have a unique texture that allows for increased sensory awareness when throwing and catching. Check out the nobby and glow-in-the-dark versions too!

passport-to-the-park copySuggested activity: Have your child hold the ball while sliding down the slide. Once he reaches the bottom, have him toss the ball to you or into a target tub! To increase the challenge, try to toss it mid-slide!

 

Bubbles – Fun for all ages, bubbles can provide wonderful visual, tactile, coordination and imaginative experiences. Catching bubbles is a great way to work on eye-hand coordination! True story: We tested many bubble brands. Once, we even had to pour all of the bubbles out just to get the wand out of the container! For this reason, we recommend these because the wand attaches directly to the lid! Genius!

 

 

Sidewalk Chalk – Ask any occupational therapist about the benefits of chalk and they will go on and on! Let your creativity go wild almost anywhere at the park and no need to worry about those marker doodles that just won’t come off!

 

Squirt bottle – A squirt bottle filled with water can go a long way! Did you know using a squirt bottle can strengthen the hands/fingers to prepare for handwriting and cutting skills?

passport-to-the-park copySuggested activity: Fill a bottle with water to water plants or play water tag with friends on a hot day! Try having your child draw with chalk and ‘erase’ it with squirts of water.

 

an-ots-favorite-things-to-bring-to-the-park

Balloon pump – Pumping up balloons using a hand pump is a fantastic bilateral coordination task, strength builder and increases body awareness! If you don’t have one of these, use your bicycle tire pump in the garage!

passport-to-the-park copySuggested activity – If he can, have your child help stretch the balloon onto the balloon pump. Here’s the fun part. Have him pump air into the balloon using both hands and watch it expand! Once it is inflated, let it go! Watch and listen as it flies through the sky, then run to retrieve it and try again! Prepare for lots of giggles!

A suspended ball – For those of you with DIY skills, suspending a ball on a rope can be a fantastic prop for building eye-hand coordination. A whiffle ball and 5 feet of light rope will do the trick!

passport-to-the-park copySuggested activity: Suspend the ball from an overhead bar (such as monkey bars). Using a hand or piece of pool noodle, sway at the ball for instant practice with eye-hand coordination and visual tracking.

 

Rope with handles – A jump rope or a 16-foot long rope with a knot in each end can be the MacGuiver tool you have been waiting for. (Did we totally date ourselves with this reference?) If your child needs more to grab hold of, loop the rope before making the knot or string a 6-inch piece of PVC pipe in the loop before knotting it off.

passport-to-the-park copySuggested activity: Scope out a smooth sidewalk, path or basketball court. Have your child lie belly-down on the scooter board. While holding onto a rope, pull them along the path while varying speed and direction. Play a ‘delivery’ game by having your child pick up an object along the route, place it on his back and deliver it to a new destination! If laying on the stomach appears too difficult, and as a result your child’s head is resting on his arm rather than looking up and forward, have him shift positions to sitting and scooting with his feet, or sitting cross legged while being pulled by the rope.

Scooter board – Seated, kneeling, or laying on their stomach, children have endless fun playing with these gems! Scooter boards are great tools to support balance, strength and endurance, and bilateral coordination skills.

passport-to-the-park copyPediatric therapists and bloggers alike find scooter boards to be staple tools when working with children on various developmental skills.

Therapy Fun Zone has 10 activities to do on a scooter board. Playapy highlights 5 exercises that can be done on scooter boards in this YouTube video. How scooter boards are used for strengthening certain muscles can be found on Pink Oatmeal’s Scooter Board Strengthening post! All are great resources to check out.

Pool Noodle – Cut this noodle into thirds and you have 3 great tools to use at the park! Pack one in your kit and use it as a bat, funnel, or handle for pulling! Grab these at a nearby Target, Dollar Store, or hardware store. If you are interested in buying 5 of them, Amazon is the place to go! (Pool noodles may be harder to find in cooler months, so this link may be helpful if you can’t get your hands on one locally.  Share the extras with your friends!

 

Sturdy, lightweight tub – This carryall doubles as a target and makes transporting essentials back and forth a breeze. We found that a 7-gallon size (26 liter) can hold everything we need. You can also carry it one-handed so the other can be free to walk the kids across the street or grip that much needed cup of coffee!

 

Mesh bag – Throwing all of your kit props into a mesh bag truly makes clean up from the sandbox a thing of the past. Drop stuff in, shake a couple of times, and plop the whole bag into the tub for a quick and convenient way to keep all everything in check. Most drug stores and discount stores carry these no-frills laundry bags.

You’ve got this in the bag, literally!

If you follow Passport to the Park, you will notice we use these items ALL THE TIME and have ideas for the contents of our Park Kit in every post! The local park or playground provides a foundation for learning and development.  These little goodies can dramatically expand the therapeutic value that parks can provide.

Purchase a Park Kit

How do you use these items when playing outside? There are never too many great ideas!

Any pediatric OT’s out there in search of more inspiration and ways to get organized? Browse around at OT Potential to check out the form, letter, and evaluation templates she has available.

Want to make a Park Kit of your own? Here’s what you need! 

 

Summer Olympic Games

A time when the world unites in energy, efforts and friendly competition, the Olympic Games seem to be a two-week period when everyone ‘speaks the same language’. Replays of an exciting race, a courageous finish, the athlete to watch and the tally of gold medals are conversations echoed between people and countries. That doesn’t happen very often, if you think about it! They inspire, thrill, motivate, engage, and excite us all!

The Olympic Games is a super appealing theme that kids will jump at the chance to participate in! The inspirational stories of athletes who have overcome challenges in life epitomize the “can do attitude” and perseverance that helps our children grow.

Those who follow us know that we are all about play at the local park or playground. It’s fun, therapeutic, outdoor adventure and naturally provides a wide variety of opportunities that promote optimal development! We planned each game below around the contents of our park kit and common park/playground equipment. Bringing one thing, three things, or nothing, and there’s still fun to be had! What’s in the kit? Click here for details!

Passport to the Park Kit

(Quick mention: We do have affiliate links within our posts, and earnings from them help us keep our little blog running! Thank you in advance for your support!)

So, without further adieu, we bring you SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES AT THE PARK!

Looking to plan your Olympic Games with your child? Download our Olympic Games Activity Sheets HERE to plan your games and color/cut/wear the winning medal once the games are completed!

Ok! On your mark, get set, go!

Personal Best – Whether you have a group of kids, or an individual child, sometimes competitive sports can be provoke feelings of inadequacy, charged emotions, and hurt feelings. Acknowledging a child’s feelings of disappointment, worry or frustration is important. Make sure to voice that you hear or see that these feelings are big for your child. If competition is just too much, try any of these games using a ‘personal best’ tone that everyone can enjoy!

Any of these games can be for one or more people, so decide what works best for all involved!

passport-to-the-park copy

Grab our Sumer Olympic Games printables here to keep track!

 

Balloon Volleyball – Using a bicycle pump, hand pump, or some great big breaths, inflate a balloon and tie. How many times can you hit it to keep it from touching the ground? To increase the challenge, draw a line in the sand and play with 2 or more people, more closely mimicking a real volleyball game. Ready to mix things up? Try to use only one body part to hit the balloon. (i.e. elbow, foot, head)

What you need: balloon pump, balloons

Skills developed: visual tracking, visual-motor coordination, upper body strength, motor planning

Fencing A pool noodle cut in half creates 2 safe fencing foils (that’s the sword) ready for the match! In the actual sport of fencing, contact with the opponent’s torso counts as a point. Arms, legs, and head do not count. Add a balance element by having the participants stand on a low balance beam or curb!

What you need: pool noodles

Skills developed: visual-motor coordination, hand strength, balance

Crab Soccer– While in a crab walk position, kick the ball towards a designated goal to earn a point! Playing solo? Have your ‘crab’ dribble the ball down the field to score!crab soccer

What you need: Gertie Ball

Skills developed: strength, motor planning, coordination

 

Equestrian – While seated on a scooter board (horse), have child hold one end of a rope while someone pulls him along! Please use safety precautions with this activity, and assess if you feel your child’s postural control is adequate to remain upright and safe. If you notice unsteady balance or anticipate falls, have the child shift positions to lying on his stomach. Place beanbags around on the ground and while he is being pulled, have the child reach to collect each one along the path! These could also act as hay bales to feed his ‘horse’ after a long ride!

What you need: scooter board, rope, beanbags

Skills developed: strength, motor planning, balance, trunk co-contraction

Scooterboard Field HockeyWhile laying belly down on the scooter board, use ½ or 1/3 of a pool noodle as a hockey stick and swat the ball (aka puck) into a designated goal/net! Create a court to play with friends, or take shots one little athlete at a time. Check out this video example!

 

What you need: scooter board, pool noodles, Gertie Ball, flat smooth surface

Skills developed: strength, trunk co-contraction, visual-motor coordination, visual tracking

Pool Noodle Golf – Keep that pool noodle and Gertie Ball handy as you shift to a standing position for a round of golf! Find a large open space for those line drives and tip the tub on its’ side to carefully putt the ball for a hole in one!

What you need: pool noodles, Gertie Ball, tub (or dig a hole in the sand)

Skills developed: balance, trunk strength, bilateral coordination, visual-motor coordination

Park Pentathlon – 5 events tied into one package, the Park Pentathlon can be any combination of park play ideas that you create! Think obstacle course using park equipment, or putting 5 of the ideas in this post together, like a couple of track and field events with running or scooter boarding in between! Plan your Pentathlon with your child, using our Park Pentathlon Course printable here!

What you need: 5 activities or obstacles

Skills developed: motor planning, coordination, following directions (Skills may change depending on the activities that you choose!)

You may want: Sportime Move Cubes are fantastic for customizing activities, actions, and even creative academics! On paper or notecards, write a movement, action or list the park equipment and slide one notecard in each of the clear, plastic sleeves on each side of one cube. On the other cube, place one number on each side. Rolling both dice will give the child an action and how many times to complete the action!

Triathlon – Traditionally this event consists of swim, bike and run segments. At the park, anything goes! Here are a couple triads that can create great fun! We know that you have some amazing ideas as well, and we encourage you and your child to use them too!

Idea #1

  • Scooter board on belly across a paved court or the length of a path.
  • Pick up a beanbag or balloon and try to run back with it squeezed between your knees.
  • Climb up the side to the finish line/winners podium!

Idea #2

  • Draw the letters of the child’s name in a mixed up order on the ground. Using a squirt bottle have the child squirt each letter in sequence to spell his name correctly!
  • Scooter board, in a seated position, towards a climbing structure.
  • Climb up and over, across or any which way to get to the other side for the victorious finish!

What you need: 3 activities or obstacles (We’re tellin’ ya…those Move Cubes are awesome to create new sequences of actions!)

Skills developed: motor planning, coordination, following directions (Skills worked on are also dependent on which activities you choose!)

Synchronized Swinging – A play off of synchronized swimming, synchronized swinging is rewarding yet tough! On side-by-side swings, try to pump with your swing partner at the same time, using the same force, to go the same height! Once in sync, call out actions that the kids can do while swinging, or have them create their own! Some examples are: flutter kick your legs, bend your right leg then bend your left leg, open and close your legs like scissors 5 times. Can they stay in sync?

What you need: two swings, side by side

Skills developed: balance, trunk control, strength, bilateral motor control, motor planning, teamwork and social skills

Track and Field

Shot-put: How far can your child throw a beanbag or ball?

What you need: beanbags, lines on ground to measure distance

Long Jump: Measure the distance of each jump. What is the child’s personal best?

What you need: sandbox or stretch of grass, lines to measure distance

        Hurdles: Line up pool noodles, branches or chalk lines on the ground. Instead of running and leaping over (it’s pretty easy to do when the hurdle is laying on the ground), have child jump over each hurdle with both feet together! Place them jump distance apart, or a little extra for running room in between.

What you need: pool noodles, sidewalk chalk, nature finds like sticks or leaves

Javelin Toss: How far can that pool noodle be thrown? Can your child get it to land in the tub, or inside of a drawn circle in the sand?

What you need: pool noodles and a target

Sprint or Distance Run– Choose a ‘there and back’ course. Basketball courts or big grassy areas work well. Place beanbags at one end of the court or area. Have child run to the end, pick up a beanbag and race back to throw it in the tub!

Up the challenge: Print, color and place a picture of the Olympic rings at the start (like this one from KidSpot), numbering each ring 1-5. Using color coded beanbags, have the child identify which color to pick up first in the sequence, run to collect and bring it back. Continue with each color until all have been collected!

What you need: some good running shoes (or bare feet), a stopwatch, beanbags, printable Olympic rings (optional)

Skills developed: serial motor planning, coordination, visual motor coordination, strength

Scooter Board SlalomPlace beanbags on the ground randomly and draw a chalk line path weaving in and out of them. Have the child maneuver the scooter board on the path without touching the beanbags!

What you need: scooter board, beanbags, chalk path

Skills developed: visual motor coordination, motor coordination

Beanbag Archery– Place beanbags at the top of a slide. One at a time, climb up the side to retrieve a beanbag and slide back down. Once at the bottom, have the child throw the beanbag at a target (tree, ball balanced on your hand). Continue this sequence until beanbags are all used, and count how many times the child hit the target!

What you need: beanbags, target, slide

Skills developed: visual-motor coordination, strength, trunk strength, arm strength

Squirt Bottle Archery Math A little theme play can go a long way when you are trying to sprinkle in a little math practice! Draw numbers on the sidewalk. Call out a math problem and have the child squirt the number that is his answer using the water squirt bottle! You can also do this with Olympic trivia: How many rings are in the Olympic rings? The bronze medal means you finished #1, #2, or #3?

What you need: squirt bottle, chalk

Skills developed: visual-motor coordination, motor planning, hand strength, academics

21-summer-olympic-games

Scooter Board Swimming– This one is extra fun if you have a wall to push off of! While the child is on his belly on a scooter board, push off from the wall using feet to glide across a smooth, paved surface. Using hands/arms to push himself the rest to the other side, turn around and come back. That counts as one lap. Remind your child to try to keep his hands and legs up off of the pavement for as long as possible to extend the glide!

You can also hold a long rope, or tie it to something stable. Drape it as far as it will reach for the stretch of your surface so your swimmer can pull himself back to the wall and start another lap. Use the squirt bottle to mist your swimmers as they complete their laps!

What you need: scooter board, basketball court or length of sidewalk, rope, squirt bottle

Skills developed: strength, trunk co-contraction, motor planning, balance

Weightlifting – Add some sand to your park kit tub or bucket. Tie one end of the rope securely to the handles and fling the other end up and over a chin-up bar or one of the monkey bars. Have your child slowly pull the rope, hand over hand, to elevate the bucket off of the ground. Add more sand each time to increase the weight of the bucket and build big muscles!

What you need: tub, rope, sand (or anything you can find that will add weight to your tub)

Skills developed: upper body strength, grip strength, gradation of force to slowly elevate and lower tub, body awareness

DivingKeeping an upright body position (unless you are really diving into a pool!), find a surface that is an appropriate height for your child to jump off of. Create a body position or short sequence for the child to imitate while in mid-jump! How many different positions can your child think of? Call out a body part for your child to tap during the jump! You can also try these same activities sliding down a slide!

What you need: a curb, park bench or end of a slide to jump off of, slide

Skills developed: motor coordination, motor planning, short term memory, auditory processing and actions based on verbal instruction

Don’t forget to celebrate all of the victories with blowing bubbles at the end of your Olympic day at the park!


For some tabletop Olympic fun, click here to check out these great printable and blogged about ideas from Activity Village!

A super cute, Olympic themed Find and Color activity page can also be found over at Your Therapy Source! (There is actually an entire packet of summer Olympic activities you can find there too!)

To download your FREE set of our Summer Olympic Games printables,  click here

What are some of your favorite Olympic themed activites to bring to the park or playground? Comment below to share your ideas!

 

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