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.

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.)