A Pirate’s Life for Me

Ahoy Matey Pirate Theme 2015

In our Pirate theme this month we had some fun with motor planning, following directions, referencing others, and teamwork.

We started the day with a pirate story, a pirate song, and playing pretend pirate ship.  These activities helped our children develop attention and listening skills and regulation with auditory stimuli and singing.

We played pirate dress-up and “pirate treasure adventure” – with an obstacle course, in which our little pirates sailed on a pirate ship, climbed a rope ladder, rode the zip line, and walked the “plank” balance beam. The Kinder groups created a map to find pirate treasures to bring back to the treasure chest. Through these pirate adventures we worked on following directions, symbolic play, turn-taking and waiting, safety and spatial awareness. July 29 D

Next, we worked on fine motor skills, creative play, and social participation with the “my treasure chest” craft. Children decorated their treasure chests with “gold” and “jewels.”

The kids collected small treasures from “hidden treasure sensory bins,” increasing their tolerance to tactile input and increasing regulation.

Arrrrrr You Hungry? Kids ate “gold,” “jewels” and “treasure” (pirate booty and fruit snacks) and “boats” (celery and orange slices). During snack they worked on tool use (fork and spoon), requesting, reciprocal interaction, and increased food tolerance and variety.

Things you can do at home:

  • Pirate Dress-up: a fun way to practice self-care and dressing themselves
  • Create a treasure map and build an obstacle course: helps children organize creative play ideas in their head into a plan of action
  • Treasure chest crafts: build fine motor skills through cutting, gluing and touching materials. Creating art as a family can help develop kids’ confidence and self-esteem.
  • Sensory bins: a great activity for children with sensitivities to tactile input! Sensory bins are a fun way to motivate kids to try touching sand.
  • Snack time: children with sensory, attention, or feeding challenges sometimes need to play with their food in order to master eating. Here are some tips:
    • Have at least one food on the table that your child already loves.
    • Present food in a fun way. For example, use creative placemats and turn food into symbols, such as “pirate ships and pirates.”
    • Family members can model how to eat the food – the sillier the better.
    • Celebrate the fact that your child is tolerating the sight and smell of a new food, even when he or she won’t touch or eat it.
    • Don’t be afraid to get messy!

Happy 4th of July!

4th of July Theme 2015

We celebrated 4th of July with crafts, dress-up, picnics, and a parade in our Hop and Squeak and Kinder groups this month. Through our 4th of July activities we worked on regulation, group participation, sharing space and materials with others, following directions, vocabulary, gross motor development and planning, tolerating a variety of movement, and tool use.

July 1 B (2)
Noise maker craft

In our kinder groups, we developed fine motor skills by making noise makers out of paper plates and cardboard tubes with streamers and paint. Kids worked on their visual-spatial skills, motor planning, fine motor skills, and tool use in this activity.

Next, we put on costumes and had a 4th of July Parade! The children followed directions to practice using their noise makers both loudly and softly before the parade. They also shared space and materials with others to dress up for the parade.

July 1 E

In the gross motor room, we created “fireworks” with a parachute, encouraging gross motor development, motor planning, and tolerating a variety of movement. We also made “fireworks” with shaving cream and paint by blowing through straws.

July 1 R
4th of July picnic

For snack, we had a picnic of toast, turkey and cheese sandwiches, cucumber, and watermelon. The goals addressed at our picnic included tool use, requesting, increasing food tolerance and variety, and tactile food exploration.

Making noisemakers, dressing up for a 4th of July parade, imitating fireworks, and picnicking supported a variation of goals including group participation, social exchanges, sharing space and materials with others, following directions, vocabulary, and turn-taking and waiting.

Festivals, parades, and fireworks can be stressful for children sensitive to loud noises, and/or have difficulty being in close proximity to many people. Other children may find these events exciting but might lack the coping skills to regulate their energy level and emotions.

Try some of these suggestions at home during the summer festival season:

  • Set expectations: discuss what will happen at the event, how long you will be staying, how many people will be there, and what will take place. Setting expectations beforehand can help reduce anxiety.
  • Reduce sensory input: Sit farther from the noise, or in a less-crowded space. Bring earplugs or noise-cancelling head phones.
  • Let your children know what they can do if they feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable.
  • Begin conversations in advance to help your children ask for what they need and provide for their needs.

What Do You See?

I Spy Safari Theme 2015
During this theme we continued our focus on visual-spatial awareness and discrimination, motor planning, answering “wh” questions, following directions, furthering complexity of sound productions, and working collaboratively with peers.

Paper towel roll binoculars

Some sessions started with making binoculars (using toilet paper rolls, tape, string) to assist with visual focus – either for items requested/chosen to find or with referencing peers.

Reading “What Do You See?”

The first week, we read a book from a multisyllabic lesson created by Communication Window called  “What Do You See?” that used three to four syllable animal names (i.e. elephant, dinosaur, alligator, teddy bear, bumble bee, butterfly, ladybug), which targeted sound productions and articulating each syllable. This was supported with clapping hands for each syllable or touching a dot on a pacing card as each syllable was produced.  Clients were asked “wh” questions such as “What animal likes to eat bananas?” or, “What do you use to take pictures?”

Finding pink objects

We also watched a couple of different educational videos from Super Simple Learning: “I See Something Blue” and “Walking in the Jungle” (and projected the video on wall for increased visual attention).  These videos targeted finding items of a certain color from a busy background, identifying certain animal sounds, and imitation of movements. The carrier phrase “I see” and attributes such as color, were targeted to increase utterance/sentence length and complexity (e.g. “I see a green tree.”) Turn taking skills were practiced enabling each participant a turn to share what they saw, as the other participants listened.

In the gym, we went on a “safari” finding animals (hidden around the room) in locations that required motor planning, balance, attention to auditory direction, and coordination to retrieve (i.e. pulling oneself closer to the animal while on platform swing, zip-lining down to pit and balancing along edge to reach for animal, and walking along a balance beam with animals along the way to pick up).  Clients were either given a request to find certain animals or they made a plan prior to a movement activity.  They were given a template with the outline of animals to match the shape with the target animal they went to find. Additionally, continued practice with the “I see” phrase and production of multisyllabic animal names. Some clients went on a safari outside to find animals hidden around the campus. Having visual support (i.e. pictures or items to find) can assist with increased attention and spatial awareness when clients are traveling/exploring outside.  Having a “mission” to do together also may assist with social interactions and working cooperatively with peers.

Feeding the puppets
Hiding the animals with food

During snack, we encouraged increased food explorations by hiding animals using food and feeding animal puppets with various food options. Additionally, we would encourage making requests for foods they like: “I want ___.” and “More ____ please.”

What you can do at home:

“I see ____” can be used during car rides, at the park, and in other new environments to increase awareness and expand utterances and vocabulary.

Celebrating Friendship and Thinking of Others

Valentine’s Day Theme 2015

During February, the theme for our peer-based program sessions was Valentine’s Day, specifically building friendships and thinking of others.

We began our groups with reading Happy Valentine’s Day Mouse by Laura Joffe Numeroff and I Like Gum by Doreen Tango Hampton.

Sequencing with images from the book
Sequencing with images from the book

The target goals supported by this theme included identifying our own interests, recognizing the interests of others, and finding common interests within the group. During the story, we shared the things we like (drawing or writing out on board) and reviewed our common interests.

Clients then made Valentine’s cards or gifts for their peers.  They were encouraged to “interview” each other to find out what their peers liked (i.e. Ninja Turtles, Princess Sofia, Spiderman, etc.) and then deliver their Valentine to peer “mailboxes” (homemade from shoeboxes).  To assist with the idea that they were giving the Valentine to someone else, we made sure everyone had a photo of their peer under “To:” and a photo of themselves under “From:” as well as corresponding photos placed on the mailboxes.  During some sessions, we expanded on this idea and created our own houses and placed the mailbox out front.

For some groups, we also made “I like” posters using various tools and materials to encourage fine and visual motor development.  For these projects, they were using stamps, stickers, stencils, cutting out pictures, and taping/gluing high interest items to their posters.

For snack, we expanded on this theme by making/eating heart shaped foods (i.e. strawberries, fruit leather, cheese) and placing the food on toothpicks or skewers (for our cupid bow and arrows).  For many clients with food sensitivities, using a tool such as a toothpick can be very motivating.  We can then encourage bringing closer to face/mouth while on the stick (i.e. waving like a magic wand, smelling like a flower, licking your “lollipop”, putting on “lipstick”, blowing kisses, etc.)

Building and Constructing to Spatial Awareness

Building/Construction Theme 2015

The overarching goal addressed during our Building/Construction theme was spatial awareness, the ability to be aware of oneself in space as well as understanding spatial concepts, or prepositions. For more information on spatial awareness, click here.

We began our group with an interactive iPad story (Big City Song, by Debora Pearson). The target goals supported by the story focused on imitation of various sounds and preparation for our pretend play building/construction theme. Next, we went to work! The work activities included building a city with large foam blocks and pipes, using pretend tools, building with recycled goods (i.e. cardboard boxes, wooden blocks, toilet paper rolls, etc.), drawing out a building plan, making requests for blocks/tools needed, and painting/gluing wood blocks.

These activities supported many different goals such as expanding on play interests and pretend play, sharing space with others/participating in a collaborative project, tool use, receptive language (following directions, prepositions – on top, next to, over, under, etc.), and pre-writing skills (awareness and production of lines and shapes in a meaningful way).

For snack, we expanded on the construction theme by building structures out of various food items (pretzel stick “nails,” olive “bolts,” cheese “bricks,” cracker “walls,” and cream cheese/almond butter “cement”).

Goals addressed included tool use, bilateral coordination (requires opposite hand to secure item while using a tool), tactile exploration/tolerance, and exposure to new foods (looking, smelling, moving, touching, etc.)

To further develop these skills, try some of these suggestions at home:

  • Find stories that encourage making a variety of sounds – amp up the volume and affect…”CRASH,” “BOP,” “BANG”
  • Build with recycled or other available materials at home. Be creative! (i.e. making forts, making houses for pretend animals or favorite figures)
  • Using clear language, give your child directions while building and playing (i.e. “Put the bear in front of the house”) and demonstrate if needed (i.e. “I put the bear in front of the house”)
  • Consider following or making a visual plan to support visual/spatial awareness
  • Encourage drawing out plans (using different colors and shapes) for something they are making or building (depending on your child’s skill level) – you may need to demonstrate and do together.