Ahoy Matey

Our kids pretended to be pirates the past couple weeks at PTC!

Our Hop and Squeak groups dressed up in pirate hats, bandanas, and eye patches, and sang two songs for the purposes of increasing attention and tolerance to auditory stimuli: a welcome song, to encourage social recognition, and a pirate song called “Last Day in September” to kick off our theme.

Next, they hunted for treasure in bins of colorful kinetic sand, rice, and beans, increasing tolerance to tactile input for regulation, and practiced fine motor skills to transfer treasures into “treasure chests.”


Movement activities for the Hop and Squeak groups involved Walk the Plank (balance beam), Climb the Ladder (rope ladder), Sail the Ship (boat/lycra swings), Pin the Hat on the Pirate (taping paper hats to pirate pictures on the wall) and Launch the Cannonballs (throwing plastic balls into bins). These activities targeted balance and postural control, strength and motor planning, range of motion, following directions, and turn-taking. 1

Our pirate craft involved creating a handprinted pirate with paint and paper and sought to facilitate fine motor skills, tool use, creativity, and initiation of asking for help when needed.

Ideas for home with 3-5 year olds include:

  • Go to the beach to look for shells and play with sand! Or create a pirate-themed sensory bin at home. Fun ways to encourage tactile stimulation.
  • Dress up like a pirate to practice self-care and dressing skills.
  • Create a treasure map and build an obstacle course/fort to work on gross motor skills.
  • Treasure chest/pirate crafts for fine motor skills and sensory input.

Our Kinder groups and older children also played pirates, participating in similar movement activities with additional challenges in motor planning and sequencing, as well as activities that promoted teamwork and handwriting development.

For example, children in our Kinder groups worked together to find hidden treasures outside using treasure maps, and employed fine motor skills to place their treasures in a “treasure chest.”

Additionally, we played a game called “Captain of the Ship,” in which one pirate took a turn choosing a pirate-themed movement activity and “commanded” his fellow pirates to perform the movement. This involved movements such as Hit the Deck, Man Overboard, Tornado, Fire the Cannon, Hoist the Sail, and Walk the Plank. Movements encouraged various gross motor challenges including balance, core strength, range of motion, crossing midline, and imitation.

Inside the Adventure room, some of our little pirates practiced handwriting skills by decoding pirate messages and writing out each letter at a time to form hidden words, either on modified paper or a whiteboard.  Then they used motor planning skills to plan a route, traveling North, West, South, and East throughout the room to complete a mission based on the directions in the secret message. Challenges were modified based on the individual child, but for all participants the activity involved handwriting practice, following directions, symbolic play, motor planning, safety and spatial awareness.


Pirate Decoding Key

Ideas for home:

  • Create a pirate “code” and encourage your child to de-code message to practice problem-solving and handwriting.
  • Create an obstacle course with your child then hide treasure for him/her to find! Encourages practice in gross, fine, and visual motor skills, motor planning, and spatial awareness.
  • Handwriting tips: practice lowercase letters first; “bump” the lines to practice proper alignment; write letters from top to bottom; practice lightening grip pressure – challenge your child to write as light as possible!


Carnival Theme

Both our kinder and Hop & Squeak groups went to the carnival this month. Activities such as attending a carnival, clown faces, puppets, and “Old McDonald had a Carnival” encouraged fine motor, sequencing, social participation, counting, problem solving, and turn taking. We focused on sequencing events such as buying tickets for carnival rides, standing in line, handing the ticket to the ride operator, going on the ride, and getting more tickets if you needed them. Carnival was our theme for three weeks leading up to an actual carnival on site later in the month.

To facilitate increased communication, the therapists had the children in the kinder groups be responsible for the materials (scissors, glue, crayons). The children would then have to ask their peers for things they needed to complete the fine motor activities of coloring in a carnival scene, parts of a clown, and puppets.

Both groups went Fishing. The Hop and squeak group went fishing for magnetized fish that they had to put back into their puzzle, while the Kinder group had to fish for the magnetized letters in their name and then write it on the white board. This activity required children to request a fishing pole, scan the environment to find their letter or their fish, plan how to get their magnetized pole to touch the magnetized fish, and then remove it from the end of the pole.

Another carnival activity that the groups participated in was a hippety hop race. They had to sit forward on a ball with a handle and jump forward. The motor planning required for this activity had them sustain a grip on the handle of the ball, push off with both of their legs with enough force to move forward. The first week we did this, many kids required guided movement (therapist helping to lift and move them, helping them to maintain grip), but by the second week most of the children were hopping independently with a few reminders to watch out for their friends as they were racing.

Hippety hop race.

Next the groups went racing down the rollercoaster (zipline). They had to work on communicating (ready, set, go), checking to see if it was safe (no friends in the way), and counting out more than 1 ticket. Feed the Clown Bean Bag toss required the children to wait in line, take turns, count out bean bags, and they had to alter the way they threw the bean bag in order to get it in the clown’s mouth.

Bean Bag toss.

After this the groups took the carnival train back to the snack shack and explored various foods (i.e. apples, popcorn, cranberries, pretzels, almond butter, caramel, and rice crackers). The children had to request for the food item and tell the therapists where to put it on their placemat (i.e. on the nose, on top). Another week, the children made a merry-go-round with their food items. To make a merry-go- round snack use a sliced apple on the bottom, then a layer of almond butter, push animal crackers into the almond butter, and add an umbrella or cupcake paper in the middle for the top of the merry-go-round.


Harvest and Fall Fun

In our harvest and fall fun themes this month we have explored different ways to motor plan, sequence the steps of growing a pumpkin, go on a skeleton scavenger hunt, and look for dracula. Motor planning and ideation are all part of pretend play. Pretend play provides practice with problem solving and processing emotions (Russ & Wallace, 2013). Motor planning is the ability to imagine an idea, organize materials needed, and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions. It requires the combination of tactile, auditory, proprioceptive, and vestibular information in order to direct movements. Group activities aimed to support children becoming more aware of the materials needed when carrying out a new sequence of actions.

Pass the Pumpkin and Looking for Dracula
During pass the pumpkin, the children learned about different vegetables and ways to describe them using and being exposed to words related to color, size, smell, and other characteristics such as hard and soft or smooth or bumpy. This activity helped to support sharing with peers as well as teaching new words.
When Looking for Dracula, the children were given super secret assignments (i.e. pictures that matched pictures in the book). They had to listen to the song and look at the pictures to see when it would be their turn to add to the book. We also incorporated pretend play motions with the song (i.e. holding two fingers out as fangs, making binoculars out of hands). When we would go looking for our skeleton parts later, many children used their own hand binoculars to look for the body parts.

Looking For Dracula

Growing a Pumpkin and Going on a Skeleton Hunt
Part of our harvest activities was going through the steps of growing a pumpkin. The children had to put pictures into a sequence: get the seed, rake the planting area, dig a hole, cover the seed, water, and pick the pumpkin. The children helped to remove seeds from a pumpkin for planting which was a fun way to provide fine motor practice of pinching to grab and pull out the seeds as well as tactile input seeds being slippery or slimy. Once the children picked a pumpkin, we incorporated different types of movement to increase motor planning, having them carry pumpkins and hop, shuffle, run, or jump to put them in the basket.
The Skeleton Hunt worked on scanning the environment for what you need. The children had to look high, look low, and look around in order to find body parts. They were also responsible for placing the body parts together at the end of the hunt. This helps them to identify parts of their own body and how they are placed together (i.e. we don’t just have one leg bone, we have two).


Pumpkin Plate and Monster Face Craft
In order to help develop fine motor skills we sometimes will address basic abilities such as strength, which may need to be refined (Smits-Engleman et al., 2012). This month, when making a Pumpkin Plate we had the groups work on their fine motor grip and strength by having them scrunch up orange tissue paper and then place it on glue that they painted onto a plate. Many times birthday presents will have tissue paper in them and the tissue can be re-purposed as an art craft material.
The monster craft face addressed visual motor and perception skills. The children were able to see a model of the craft face and would ask for various body parts (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hat or hair) to add to their creation. The kinder group used fine motor skills to cut out parts of their face. Both the hop n squeak and kinder groups had to identify where to put the parts of the face (top, bottom, side, middle) which worked on identification of prepositions.

Fall Crafts

Pizza in September

During September the theme was Pizza. There are many family nights and other events where pizza is involved. It can be a way for children to explore new toppings on a familiar cheese or cheese and pepperoni pizza, which can be a familiar food item. Trying new foods in different places can be a challenging experience. Restaurants can be loud, have lots of people, and different behavior expectations that can bring about a lot of anxiety making it more stressful to try something new. By pairing a familiar food in a familiar environment, there may be less stressors on the experience of trying new foods!

Crafting a Pizza
To introduce the concept of making a pizza and to use our imagination we put different toppings on our pizza as we listened and sang a song about being a pizza. We had to identify by color and shape what ingredient needed to go on the pizza next. We also had the children make paper plate pizzas where they practiced their fine motor skills by painting the sauce, adding glue for different ingredients, and placing the ingredients on top of the glue. At home, parents can incorporate sequencing by having their child identify the next thing they need to do or get when making meals or snacks or create an art project that is dinner that night.


Pizza Delivery
To continue working on fine motor as well as expanding play ideas, we played on the platform swing and took our friend’s pizza order. We had to pick ingredients up off the ground while the platform swing sung back and forth and then place the ingredients in a box for delivery. In general movement in slow straight lines is more of a calming activity.
Our friend who was placing the order then helped move the delivery truck by either pulling our friend on the platform swing and bringing them closer or navigating the delivery by pulling the delivery person on a scooter board with a rope. Both experiences worked on ways to motor plan around the environment and worked on upper body strength and control.
Playing in this way allows children to practice turn-taking and requesting and promotes positive interactions with others. At home or at the playground, parents can incorporate making pizza or other meals using available items. Wet sand can be molded to be different ingredients to be placed on hands that are plates.

Build your own pizza
To practice exploring different foods and textures, we made our own pizzas for snack. One week we used pre-made dough which we had to roll and spread out using a pin or our hands. Next we spread sauce and placed cheese and other toppings on our pizza. We then had it cooked and tried eating our creations! The next week we had a deconstructed pizza where we had tomatoes we had to squish using our fingers or utensils to make sauce. Some of the food items are familiar to children such as cheese and dough/bread while other ingredients were less familiar such as bell peppers and mushrooms. A combination of familiar foods mixed with less familiar foods can make trying new foods less anxiety provoking.
Food can be explored in a variety of ways, such as playing with our food, smelling our food, or giving our food a kiss.


EveryBody in Outer Space!

Body/Spatial awareness in Outer space Theme 2015

This week’s “My Body in Space” theme incorporates numerous skills around proprioception and body awareness. Proprioception/body awareness is the sense of where our bodies are in space, according to sensations, movement, and feedback from our muscles, tendons, and joints.  Receptors called proprioceptors are located in the muscles and joints to tell the brain when and how much the muscles are contracting or stretching, and when and how much the joints are bending, extending or being pulled and compressed. This information enables a person to know where each part of the body is and how it is moving through space (without using vision). Children with poor awareness of body parts tend to rely on visual information.  They may have difficulty knowing where their body is in relation to objects.  They may have poor fine motor control because they cannot accurately feel where or how their arms, forearms, hands or fingers are moving. These children may also appear clumsy or disorganized.  (information on proprioception provided modified from Getting it Write Program designed by LouAnne Audette and Anne Karson, 2003). Group activities this week aim to support children becoming more aware and in-tune with their bodies moving through “outer space”.

moon bounce
Moon Bounce

An outer space theme can be used at home to expand on body awareness, proprioception, symbolic and pretend play interests, and increase a child’s motivation to participate in numerous skill-building activities.

  1. “Our Hands in Space” – Teaching children to identify their right hand is not to develop or show preference for the right hand, but to help support body awareness and to teach children that the right hand is used to shake hands when meeting new friends. The addition of stamping the hand adds a sensory experience to increase exposure to different sensory input. This activity can also be done by rubbing the right hand briskly to warm it and having the child make a fist and keep the hand closed and warm, or put lotion on the right thumb and index finger pads and have the child rub them together (helps with opposed thumb position which is a foundation for writing). (Information on activity modified from Handwriting Without Tears by Jan Olsen, 2001).
planet toss
Shooting Star Toss to Planets
  1. “Shooting Star Toss” – Jumping on a trampoline is a fun way to provide proprioceptive input to our muscles and joints. Games that include target practice (like throwing beanbags or crumpled paper) while jumping help to increase motor planning and sequencing multiple step activities. Crumbling paper and throwing objects to close and far distances help teach children how to grade their pressure, which will help them to be successful in a variety of activities (including developing their writing skills).
  1. “Silly Space Travels” – Having children pretend they are ‘traveling’ to different locations or use silly and fun body movements, expands on their symbolic play and can be a fun family activity.
  2. marble“My Marble Planet” craft – Crafts that involve slow and planned out movements (such as swirling a marble in paint in the top of a box lid) with both hands (or tearing tissue paper and stiff card stock) help foster bilateral coordination and can provide a creative way to learn about grading pressure.
  1. “Alien Spaghetti” – Using a variety of new and different textures in a fun playful way is a great way to increase tactile tolerance. Add toys to a sensory bin with rice, noodles, beans, etc. and have your children find the hidden toys. This is also a helpful strategy to increase regulation.
alien noodles
In the Spaceship Touching Alien Noodles

“Plate O Planets” –  Remember to make eating fun! Cutting out food in the shapes of something fun i.e. planets can be a great way to get children to “play” with their food and continue to increase food exposure. Remember, even if they don’t eat it, exposure to new foods by smell and touch will get them one step closer!

A Day at the Beach

Beach/Ocean Theme 2015

This week’s beach theme emphasis family fun in the sun and getting outside during the summertime to enjoy family leisure activities. This can involve a lot of work for parents and children, and new experiences can bring about a number of challenges and anxiousness. Using simplified lists with large words and clear pictures as symbols, can help children begin to become more independent in caring for themselves, and gathering their own things.

Packing Beach Bag
Packing our beach bags
Our List for our Beach Bag

We used a simplified list in the clinic with pictures that allowed children to find what they may need in the house and pack their belongings more independently. This fun activity can develop a child’s confidence, role, sense of purpose, participation, and self-care skills.  Including the child in the process better orients them to the family routine, and the overall flow and transition of getting out of the house can run much smoother, if the children are set up to understand what to expect for the day.

To prepare our bodies and senses for the beach we use our imagination and symbolic play to make the beach fun. To introduce the sensations of the beach we played in a water table, danced to silly ocean songs, regulated with deep pressure massage with sunscreen, and played in a sand sensory bin to find hidden sea creatures. We also increased regulation and calmed our bodies by incorporating large movements such as swinging or rocking before participating in experiences that may cause anxiousness.

Swinging in the Sailboat
Swinging in the Sailboat
July 20 A
Fishing in the water table

At home, parents can play sounds such as ocean waves, or put sunscreen on themselves to increase familiarity and exposure (auditory, touch, smell) with these sensory experiences.

Once at the beach, playing outside together as a family with beach balls or sand toys is a fun way to increase playful non-competitive, imagination and family interaction.

July 8 R
Beach Ball Toss

Playing this way with others also allows children to practice turn-taking and requesting based on personal needs, and allows children to have positive interactions with others. Introducing new vocabulary when opportunities for new words present themselves will help your child better express wants and needs.

To practice using our hands and building our fine motor skills, together we made a large ocean mural. We used markers, scissors, stickers, pencils etc. to decorate our ocean animals.

ocean muralThe best part is- that we made it together, and there were many animals in one big ocean. This not only allows us to be creative in arts & crafts, but to come together for a project. This is something you could also do at home. Our mural looked beautiful!

Tropical Island Vacation

Island Vacation Theme August 2015

Both our Kinder and Hop & Squeak groups took a vacation to an island this week. Island activities, such as, Which way to the Island? and Island Picnic, encouraged participants’ fine motor, sequencing, social participation, free play, self-care and sensory skills. This week we focused on cooperative group play and working as a team.

In order to facilitate increased communication, therapists used a playful technique called keeper of the treasure, where therapists were “keepers of the treasure” (objects or tools the children need). Kids had to communicate to get the desired item.

Hop & Squeakers started off with a Palm Tree Puzzle, in which they matched shapes to a template, then glued the pieces on and decorated them with letter stickers. This activity required kids to follow directions and request tools while sustaining attention. Kinders created their own Chicka Chicka Boom Palm Trees by tearing up tissue paper and gluing it on a template, while staying within the lines. This craft allowed Kinders to work on fine motor dexterity, manipulation and strength, as well as expressing needs and asking for assistance.

Kinders also packed a suitcase in a relay race, in which each child had a picture of one item they had to retrieve and pack in the group suitcase. Packing the suitcase involved turn-taking and waiting, introduction of new vocabulary words, and teamwork.

Next, Hop & Squeakers played Which way to the island? They hopped on stepping stone letters, walked across a balance beam bridge, swung from “trees,” got a hand from their friends (rope pull on scooter board), and explored animals and colors on the “sea mat.” Which way to the island? encouraged early literacy, articulation of letters, peer play, and pretend play.

The Kinders worked as a team in an Island Obstacle Course  – retrieving letters without falling in the “water,” attempting different ways to get to the “island” (hold hands, build a boat) with therapists providing obstacles as “big waves.” Island Obstacle Course encouraged non-competitive play skills, safety and body/spatial awareness, and recognition of letters.

Snack time was an Island Picnic with pineapple “suns,” yogurt “sails,” “sand,” or “clouds,” and pretzel and seaweed “palm trees.” The picnic helped kids to increase food tolerance and variety and expanded on pretend play.

Try these activities at home:

– Parents can encourage communication by becoming “keeper of the treasure.” Instead of having all of your child’s favorite toys and snacks within reach; put them just out of reach, but still within eyesight. This creates an environment in which they must communicate to get the desired item.

– Crafts! Crafts build kids’ fine motor skills by using a variety of materials to cut, glue, and touch when making a craft. Using different materials provides sensory rich experiences. Sharing materials with family members allows kids to work on turn-taking and requesting based on personal needs, and allows children to have positive interactions with family. Display the art as a family to build your child’s confidence.