Sunday, September 6, 2020

Successful Online Sessions are Possible!

It's been a while and every time I go quiet with blogging, I promise myself I will get better. The good news is the reason I took a break from blogging was because I was actually busy with work. The gratitude I feel for being busy during this crazy time is immeasurable. I love what I do and to be able to continue even remotely felt like such a gift. In July, I was able to slowly go back to my New York City office to see a handful of kids in person, but the majority of my caseload has been remotely and will continue that way with this new school year. 

Unlike March and April when we were all trying to figure out this new way of doing therapy, I feel so much more prepared and ready for whatever gets thrown at us this school year. Not only do I feel more prepared, I have figured out how I can support parents and caregivers for these sessions to be more successful by setting up the environment. With the help of my daughter (illustrator) and my husband (graphic designer), I have created this infographic that I will be sharing with all of my families before we begin online therapy sessions. The suggestions made are not exclusive to therapy sessions and can be used to make distance learning and online extra-curricular activities 

1. Dress in therapy appropriate clothing-I know that we have all fallen into a clothing rut. Why really bother to get dressed if we are not going to be going outside. Keep in mind that kids do better with routine and consistency so if they are going to be on a zoom class or therapy session, they should get dressed just like they would for an in-person session or school. This is especially important for activities that will require them to get up and moving. I like to start most of my remote sessions with a gross/sensory motor activity and it's helpful if they are wearing shoes (if you are a no-shoe household, get a pair of inexpensive shoes that can be worn indoors). 

2. Plan to have a snack and use the bathroom BEFORE a session begins-another thing that I saw a lot of during my remote sessions was kids turning on the camera with a big snack in-front of them. These remote sessions make it much easier for snacks to be at our disposal whenever we want them. This is a huge distraction for kids during sessions, especially if they are presented with more challenging activities. Having that snack right there in-front of them is an easy way to avoid tasks. Typical therapy sessions last no more than 45 minutes so if your child says they are hungry, make a plan with them that there will be a snack waiting for them as soon as their session is over. As for the bathroom, we all know that when you have to go, you have to go but if possible, encourage your child to use the bathroom right before their session begins to avoid a pause in the session. My observation was that it quite tricky for the kids to regain their focus and attention afterwards. 

3. Set up a good work space-I know that space is something that can be quite limited, especially for my New York City based clients who live in apartments and you are juggling parents working from home and multiple children doing remote learning/therapy. I speak from my own personal experience with my 10 year old daughter. While in my head I knew this was going to be a long-term thing, my heart wanted something else so badly that I just threw her at a crowded table with too much junk. That disorganized table naturally led her to be disorganized with her supplies, papers, etc.. No matter what happens with NYC schools, my daughter will be home and we are starting the year off with a proper desk with her computer and only what she will need for school. This designated area will be her own space and will be the only place she will be allowed to do her work. In order for therapy sessions to be successful, do the same. Have a designated space, preferably a child sized table or desk with room around them for them to participate in any gross or sensory motor activities. 
**for kids who have a hard time sitting for long periods of time, consider a standing desk that can be adjusted for them throughout the day. 

4. Physical movement space is a must-kids have never been asked to spend so much time sitting in front of a screen and we forget how much natural movement occurs throughout a school day. Getting up from circle time on the floor to go to their tables, moving from their classroom to the lunch room and specials rooms are all things that will no longer be happening so we must create movement opportunities, especially when we see their focus is impacted. Whether your child will be in school or at home, make sure they are set up with space around them to get up and do some quick physical movement. Some simple movement activities that can be done throughout their school day: jumping jacks, dance parties, freeze dance, running in place or some simple yoga poses. 

5. Only have materials needed for school/therapy sessions on hand-going back to number 3, whatever work space you have set up for your child, only have materials that they might need for their sessions or that particular class. I can't tell you how much time was wasted during some of my sessions asking kids to put away their favorite stuffed animals, books or other toys. One of the things that I have learned and vow to be much better about this year is to send an agenda to my remote session parents at the beginning of the week with any materials that will need to be printed and what we will need for our sessions. If I know a child well enough and know that they will need markers or Legos during their session but having them out before they are needed will distract them from doing other activities, I will ask parents to bring them to them when needed.

6. Set up technology before the session begins-this is especially important for younger children and children who might not have a grownup right there to support them in the moment (working parents, parents/caregivers supporting other children). Make sure that the camera and volume are on and stay with your child until you are certain they are signed on and everything is working with their therapist or with their class. Another important thing, make sure your device is completely charged before your child's day begins and be sure to check on the battery level throughout the day. The more you use a device, the quicker it will go through a charge and if kids are in the middle of an activity and their device dies, it's very hard to come back and attend. 

7. Limit distractions-again, another much easier said than done expectation. But there are some easy things that can be done no matter what your remote learning situation looks like. If your child has a session or class, turn the television or music off and have them put away any toys that they might have in their eye sight. If there are siblings at home, try and have them occupied so they don't interrupt your child's session. Also, if your child needs your assistance during your session, try not to be on the phone as that can be a huge distraction for kids. 

8. Make sure a grownup is available for troubleshooting-one of the things I realized early on is that one of the most helpful things I could do as a therapist is set up an online session in a way that parents didn't have to be involved 100% of the time. This ended up being easier for older children but I did figure out that even for some of my younger children that as long as I was clear with what I needed for each session prior to beginning, things went smoother. My pre-schoolers did great because they had a grown-up assisting them for much of the session but for my older kids who were more independent, I worked it out with their parents or caregivers that they would be reachable via text if I needed something from them. 

I want to end this post with discussing the importance of routine and structure, especially during these uncertain times. Knowing what to expect from their day and what will be expected from them will help children feel more in control of things. If your child does well with visual instruction, set up a visual calendar for the week with when they will be going to school (online or in-person), what therapy sessions they have and any other extracurricular activities that might be involved with. If your child will be mostly remote learning, I can't stress the importance of adding body and brain breaks into their schedule. Whether it be having a dance party between sessions or doing some kind of obstacle course in your house, movement helps with learning. 

The last thing I want to say is that we are all in this together and we are all doing the absolute best we can. This is not easy and none of us could have expected when 2020 started that life as we know it would come to a screeching halt and we would need to make all of these lifestyle changes. Parents, it's okay to feel overwhelmed and nervous about what lies ahead but know you are not in this alone. Find yourself a friend who you can vent to when necessary. Us parents need to support each other now more than ever. This is a whole new adventure and I too am nervous about what will be, but I also know that we all know so much more than we did months ago and that's making me feel a little less anxious for this new school year. 

Good luck to you all! I am here to answer any questions or provide any support I can this school year. I am only a click away and love hearing from everyone. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

So Much Screen Time

How are you all doing? I am sure many of us thought that by this point we would start seeing things go back to some kind of normal after nearly six weeks, right? Each day we're learning that our social distancing efforts are working, but it's hard not to wish that things were back to normal, especially when it comes to remote learning and therapy.

This has been an eye-opening experience for me as both a parent and a therapist and I've learned a lot in the last six weeks that will forever alter my expectations on parents (myself included).  I want to applaud each and every one of you reading're doing an amazing job. You have been handed a giant bag of lemons and are making lemonade out of them. It's not always easy, but you are giving this your all and your kids are going to come out of this not only okay, but great.

One of the things I am hearing from the parents of the kids I work with is that the amount of screen time is almost unbearable. This is especially true for the younger children and those with sensory issues. So many of the kids that I work with were used to screen time being limited to weekends and special events so this is a whole new world for them and they are having a hard time with the adjustment. The thing that makes this so tricky is that some schools are requiring children to be on a screen for the entire school day with the exception of lunch while others have you check in a couple of times a week for meetings and then they expect you to get your work done at your own pace.

Today, I'm going to offer up some tips to help you and your children get through the rest of this remote learning adventure. Keep in mind that every child is different and what works for some won't work for others so try them and see what helps your day more smoothly. Let me be clear about one thing....nobody should be expected to do any or all of these. You are already being asked to do so much more than normal. If you pick one thing to focus on to help you and your child, that is enough. 

1. Make a schedule with your child each day so they know exactly what is expected from them. One of the first things I did when this whole thing started was pick up a dry erase board that we hung up behind my daughter Quinn's work station. Each morning, she signs onto her Google Classroom and writes down her flow of the day. This includes what assignments she has to get finished, any teacher meetups and any extra-curricular lessons that are scheduled for the day. By writing this down, we are finding that she has some control of her day and knows exactly what is expected of her. We also don't have to be on top of her to make sure she is doing what she needs to.

2. Keep a daily routine. This is certainly easier said than done on some days, but consistency and routine will help things feel as normal as possible in this absolutely abnormal time. Breakfast and lunch are at the same time in our house. We also try and build in times for movement for her throughout the school day. What's worked for us is that Quinn knows that every day at noon she has an hour to eat, read, play a video game, etc.. This is her hour to do what she wants (for the most part).

3. Make sure that your child is in a comfortable place with as few distractions as possible. I know that this might be hard in small living spaces and if you have multiple children, but limiting the visual and auditory distractions will help your child get the most out of their lessons. If your child has to be in their room at their desk for their remote learning, make sure that toys aren't strewn about making it more desirable to go and play with them while they should be in class. If possible, make sure all toys and distractions are out of sight before their school day begins. If your child is out in an open space where parents and siblings are also working, make sure they have a good set of headphones to block out as much noise so they can focus on what their teachers/therapists are saying.

4. Make sure your child is wearing comfortable clothes. I know there are some schools that are requiring kids to get into their school uniforms (which I think is a bit ridiculous) but if there is any way to make your kids feel more comfortable in those uniforms, that could help your child sit for longer periods of time. I know I am having a lot of trouble getting my daughter to get out of her pajamas each day but I have found that when she is dressed in real clothes, she has more energy (she won't agree with me but I see a definite difference)!

5. Schedule movement breaks. I can't stress how important it is to get a child up and moving throughout the day. I have already blogged about the importance of this but it's worth repeating that movement has been proven to do the following:
*Improves cognitive skills as they complete these activities. Be sure to up the challenge for them as they become more successful with them.
*Improves focus and attention which helps with the learning process. We must allow time for movement opportunities in order for our children to learn.
*Helps "turn on" your brain (this is proven!).
*Helps a child better focus and attend and also better organize their work.

There are so many ways to add movement into your child's daily schedule. Play a game of Simon Says, run up and down stairs if you have them, create an obstacle course early in the morning that they can escape to when they feel like they need to move. Challenge your child to create an obstacle course using stuff you have around the house. Here are some things you can have them do:
*Find something to jump over (see how many times they can do it in 30 seconds)
*Find something to jump on
*Find something to crawl over or through
*Find something to climb over

Also, use materials you already have in your house. Masking tape makes a great balance beam, colored paper makes great jumping spots and tables make great tunnels!

6. Set up a sensory diet. Like most things, children's sensory needs are drastically different from one another. While some of your children are still getting their occupational therapy services, some are not so you may find that your child is presenting with regression in this area. You may find that your child is seeking more input than usual. This makes total sense given the amount of time your child is spending sitting in front of a screen (therefore fewer opportunities to play outside). Even if your child isn't getting occupational therapy right now, reach out to their therapist and ask them to help you set up a sensory diet that works into your schedule. A sensory diet helps kids get in a "just right" state so they can pay attention and learn. Activities in a sensory diet can help kids who are overreactive feel calmer and unrreactive kids feel more alert. By providing your child with appropriate sensory input, you will find their ability to focus and attend to tasks will improve. It will also help with their ability to handle more challenging activities that are being thrown at them and help with improving their frustration tolerance. 

7. Create a sensory box. This is especially important for older children who feel like their life is completely out of control right now. Like I have already mentioned, the sensory needs of each child are different so deciding what to put in a sensory bin will depend on what their sensory needs are. Here are a handful of common sensory box tools that help improve sensory processing skills in your child. If possible, have your child's occupational therapist go over with you and your child how to and when to use all of the tools. Please be sure to eliminate anything you worry about your child using. For example, if you have a kid who likes to put things in his/her mouth, I would avoid things like putty, kinetic sand or Mad Mattr. Here is a great kit you can get on Amazon that includes some of the following:
*Sensory/squeezy balls-I am a huge fun of the Schylling squeezy balls
*Putty (my favorite is Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty)
*Fidget toys
*Kinetic sand
*Mad Mattr
*Stretchy string
*Monkey noodles

8. Set aside a few minutes each day to talk about feelings/emotions. You are probably noticing that your child's emotions are all over the place these days. I know from personal experience that my daughter who is usually able to maintain her calm (for the most part) when she is challenged or confused is having a much harder time controlling her emotions. The most important thing we can do for our children is validate these big feelings they are feeling because it is totally normal right now. It is okay that they are feeling scared, angry, frustrated, sad or a ton of other feelings. Their lives have changed in ways that they may never forget and their parents, who are supposed to be able to tell them everything will be okay, can't tell them when this will end and their lives will return to normal. Make sure your children know how to identify their feelings. There are a lot of great children's books out there that talk about feelings including some of my favorites The Color Monster, The Way I Feel, Today I Feel (An Alphabet of Feelings), The Boy With Big, Big Feelings and My Mixed Emotions. I have learned through my social skills group at The Meeting House that children learn so much through these kinds of books and since the characters are struggling with similar things that children are, they are able to better talk about and problem solve through these tricky times.

9. Be your child's advocate. Parents have this unique opportunity to really see what is and isn't working for their children with this kind of learning. You are seeing things that are helping them be successful with remote learning but you are also seeing what isn't working. Please don't be afraid to reach out to teachers or school administration if you feel like you aren't being listened to. As parents, you have the ability to help your child be as successful as possible during this crazy time. If you find that your child isn't getting anything from hours and hours of online learning, tell their teachers. If you find that they are working better on their own schedule, make sure the teachers know that as well. Honestly, there is NO reason a child should be in front of a computer for hours on end being taught.

10. Know when you need to quit. This is incredibly important for both parents and kids. You are going to find that there will be days where your child has just had it and making them push through with all the screen time and remote learning will end up proving to be more stressful all around. It's also very important to keep in mind that once a child check's out, they are no longer going to learn. If you are finding that your child has had enough for the day, take control and tell them they are done and that you will let their teacher know. We need to make sure our kids know that we are just as concerned about their emotional wellbeing as their academics. Actually, this might be a time that we need to be more concerned with their emotional wellbeing over academics. Our kids are going to be okay if they don't finish all of their assignments every single day. We need to take the pressure off of them. Being on top of our kids all day, every day isn't good for anyone and will only cause tension at home to increase at a time where you need to be be maintaining the calm in our households.

11. Take time for you-the most important thing I have to say is that you must find ways to take care of yourself during these crazy times. We are expending an awful lot of energy on our kids, as we are meant to be doing, but we must find ways to take care of ourselves. Nail salons are closed, we can't get our hair done and we can't go carefree shopping these days. Find ways to take care of you for a small amount of time each day. For me, listening to my favorite podcasts or music while taking a daily walk does more than I can explain for my soul than I ever knew was possible. I am seeing things in my neighborhood and appreciating the little things more than I could have ever imagined. I know that this isn't always easy, especially if you are working and caring for your children full-time, but if we don't take care of ourselves, it becomes much more difficult to properly care for all the other people in our lives.

While this new way of life comes with many challenges, I do feel like we will all come out of this better parents, teachers, therapists, etc.. We will have a whole new level of appreciation for things that we took for granted just a few months ago. While we all long for things to return to normal, we must continue to learn and grow in the moment. I end each of my tele-therapy sessions telling parents how great their children are doing and thank them for their support in making each session go smoothly. I need them to know that we are a team and that I appreciate them.

I would love to hear from any and all of you with some things that you have learned through remote learning and therapy. I know that other parents and professionals would love to hear what's working for your family during this crazy time. I am always a click away and love hearing from all of you. One of the greatest things that has come out of this whole situation for me is that I have been collaborating with parents and professionals on a whole new level. I've always understood how important it is to work together in order for the greatest amount of improvement and success to happen, but have so much more appreciation for it these days.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Cooking With Kids

One of the most challenging things at this point is filling up our days. Especially for those of us who live in the city with lack of outdoor space, keeping our kids busy and limiting the amount of time watching television or on some kind of screen becomes incredibly stressful. So many of the parents on my caseload are looking for easy, fun and non-screen time activities for children so this week I am going to talk about baking with kids. As soon as my daughter was old enough, I started including her in baking with me. It started with her simply just watching me at work as I baked and her involvement increased as she got older. Today, at 10 years old, she loves to bake. Actually, to make up for the fact that she wasn't going to be with her cousin for Easter, my sister and I had our girls pick out a recipe and the FaceTimed the entire time. It was adorable and made them feel connected on a day that they just love to be together.
Baking with children is not only a great way to connect with your children but has so many developmental benefits built right into it. At this crazy time, I think the most helpful thing I can do for parents is provide them with activities that don't seem like therapy or work. While I know baking isn't for everyone, I am going to outline the benefits and provide a bunch of baking activities that you can do with your children.

There are so many benefits of cooking with children including:
*improves fine motor and manipulation skills. Measuring ingredients, rolling out dough, using cookie cutters and decorating your baked goods will lead to improved fine motor and manipulation skills. 
*improves visual skills such as improved hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills and visual tracking. 
*encourages language development. Use this time to not only label ingredients, but talk about the ingredients. Have them describe how they feel. For example, put out a little plate with some of the ingredients and have them feel them and talk about the textures. Are they soft? Are they rough? 
*encourages executive functioning skills. Baking with children is a great way to naturally work on things such as improving attention, focus, organization, sequencing and working memory. For some kids, it might be helpful to print out pictures of the steps and have them put them in order before actually starting baking. 
*for older children, baking can be a really motivating way to work on math skills. For younger children, you can introduce the concepts of more and less while measuring out ingredients. For example, put the measuring cups out with the ingredients in them and ask what you will use more of. My 10 year old is working on fractions right now and when she begins to get really frustrated, I bring out our measure cups as a visual.
*boosts confidence and self-esteem. It really is so much fun to see kids light up as they see their completed baked good come out of the oven. Even more exciting is when they get peoples reactions when they eat them.

I am going to share some cooking activities that you can do with your children. It's important to find activities that will encourage independence for children while also working cooperatively with their siblings or parents. If you are cooking with more than one child, set clear expectations and responsibilities from the get-go to limit arguing during the actual activity. Below you will find several baking and cooking activities. Some requiring cooking, others might not. There are not just food cooking ideas, but also sensory materials like play dough or colored rice and noodles.


Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball Ice Cream Maker-this was actually recommended to me by one of my occupational therapist colleagues and couldn't love it more. With kids not getting as much physical activity as they are used to, I love that you can combine some gross motor work while making ice cream. Kids can make make ice-cream in about 30 minutes using just a few ingredients by rolling the ball back and forth to each other. Check out this link from L.L. Bean with a bunch of different recipes you can try using this ice cream maker.

English Muffin/Bagel Pizzas-I remember making these as a child with my parents and sisters. This is a great activity because it doesn't require a lot of ingredients and most are things you can easily get even during a pandemic! You will need english muffins or bagels, sauce, shredded mozzarella and any toppings you might want to add. To add some depth to this activity, give your child a pad of paper with a list of everyone’s names on it and write the kinds of pizza available and have him check off what everyone wants. Another fun thing to do is use ingredients to make silly faces. For example, use a pepper to make a mouth or olives or pepperoni to make eyes. 

Rainbow Fruit Kabobs-a variety of cut up fruits in different colors and wooden skewers. Talk about the colors and what order the colors are in a rainbow and have them put the fruit on the wooden skewers in the correct order. This is a great baking activity to do with younger children who you might not feel comfortable with them using mixers and other baking equipment. There are a lot of kid-safe baking tools that you can give your kids to use so the can cut the fruit up. I love this activity because it's a great way to work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills while also working on hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills. Best part is that the end result is a healthy treat for you and your kids to enjoy. 

Rice Krispie Treats-I have always found that making rice krispie treats is another kid friendly baking activity where you can adapt the activity based on your child's age. For younger kids, you can melt the butter and marshmallows and just have them add the cereal and stir but for older and more responsible kids, have them do that (in the microwave or stovetop). You can make this more of a hands-on/sensory experience by having him roll them into balls instead of putting them in a baking pan. You can also change things up by using different kinds of cereal to add color or have them use cookie cutters to make different shapes once they are cooled down. 

M&M Energy Bites-this is another simple non-baking activity that kids can be really involved in. Mix together 1 cup rolled outs, 1/2 cup of peanut butter, 1/2 cup M&Ms, 1/3 cup of honey and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stirring the ingredients with is a great way to work on increasing upper extremity strength and encourages bilateral coordination skills. Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to grab a spoonful, place in hand and roll into a ball. 

Chocolate Chip Cookies-you can make them from scratch or use slice and bake ones. No matter which method you use, making chocolate chip cookies are a delicious way to work on fine motor skills. If you make fresh, let your kids add all the ingredients (break the eggs into a bowl for him) and stir as much as he can. When I was baking with my daughter when she was younger, I would put all of the ingredients in bowls and then would tell her which one to add. If you use the slice-and-bake cookies, give your kid a safe knife and help them cut the dough into chunks and then allow them to roll them into balls before placing on the cookie sheet. 

Sensory Materials

Homemade PlayDoh-play doh is another sensory material that kids LOVE. I love this recipe from Mothercould and love that it can last up to 6 months if stored in a good container. There are so many benefits of playing with play dough such as increasing grasp strength, improves grasping and manipulation skills and encourages hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination skills. Roll play dough into long snakes and practice making shapes, letters or numbers. Use a rolling pin and roll play dough flat and use your favorite cookie cutters.

Dye Rice/Noodles-another great sensory experience and kids can be part of the whole experiences of making it. Kids will love watching the plain rice or pasta go from plain to brightly colored sensory materials.  For each color, you need 1 cup of white rice/baby pasta, 1 tablespoon vinegar and desired amount of food coloring. Have kids help you by pouring the rice and vinegar into little Tupperwares and squeezing a few drops of food coloring. Close the lid and then have them shake the Tupperwares until the rice/noodles are all covered. If you make some of each color, you can pour them into a much bigger Tupperware and hide little characters or animals in it and and have him dig through using their hands or spoons or scoopers to rescue them. Another fun activity is to dye penne or rigatoni noodles and have kids make necklaces out of them. 

Homemade Flubber/Thick Slime-so many of the kids I work with love sensory exploration and there are so many great recipes out there. Flubber/thick slime is a very popular sensory material at my gym and doesn't require a lot of ingredients. You’ll need 1 cup of Elmer’s White Glue, 1/2 cup room temperature water, 1/2 cup liquid starch and glitter or food coloring (optional). Click here for directions. Once made, you can hide little objects in them like beads to work on increasing grasp strength and improving grasping and manipulation skills. 

Salt Clay-this is another simple activity that can be done with kids of all ages and uses only 3 ingredients: salt, flour and water. If you want, you can add a few drops of food coloring to the dough. One of the things I like about using salt clay is that you can adapt how you use it making things either more simple or more challenging depending on the age of your child. Kids can use cookie cutters to make creations or they can use their imagination and make whatever they want to create. Once they are done making their creation, they can use markers or paint to decorate them if you didn't add color earlier. 

One of the things I think is really important is to not expect perfection when cooking/baking with kids. This should be a fun experience and making mistakes is to be expected when engaged in this kind of activity with children. The other thing to try and let go of is to not get worked up if a mess is made. Unless someone is going to get hurt, don't worry about ingredients on the counters, floors or even on themselves. Wait until the activity is complete and hand out cleaning up responsibilities to each person who participated. Remember, the most important thing is to have fun because even though this is a crazy time, there are so many opportunities to make fabulous memories with your children. 

Have you been baking/cooking with your kids during this crazy time? What are your favorite recipes for baking, cooking or sensory materials? I would love to hear from you and am always a click away. I'm sure I am not the only one who would be interested in hearing about other recipes to keep kids busy these days. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Let's Get That Body Moving....Part 2

Last week, I blogged about the importance of brain/body breaks during this crazy time and provided a bunch of activities that could be incorporated into your child's daily schedule. Things like playing a game of Simon Says, jump roping or hula hooping throughout the school day can help your children reset for the rest of the day. Some kids require more movement than others and for different reasons. Let's be honest, some kids are perfectly happy with not having forced movement throughout their day while others just can't get enough movement. 

As I have been supporting families through this crazy time, some of them have asked me to help create some kind of weekly schedule that will help their children gain some kind of routine. For many of my kids, this involves building in several body breaks. While our kids are spending a lot more time in front of screens, it is often while they are seated. One of the most helpful things I have been using to start my remote sessions before we sit down and do our table work is some kind of big body/movement activity. When we are at the gym for our sessions, we always start with a swing, jumping on a ball or trampoline or some kind of obstacle course and it is such a great way to get them organized and energized for the rest of our session. Since we can't be face to face at this point and most people (particularly my families in the city with not a lot of space for equipment) don't have access to things like a trampoline or large therapy ball, I've had to get creative. With the help of screen sharing, I have been able to find fun ways to get my kids up and moving. There are some really fabulous three to 5 minute movement videos on You Tube that have been a huge hit with my kids. As I mentioned last week, these movement breaks are not only necessary for giving our kids a chance to move around but have been proven to help with improved learning. This is even more important now than it ever was as kids are not getting out. Below, I share with you twenty short videos that you can do at home with your children. Since we are all home, make this a family thing and add a few dance parties or brain breaks to all of your schedules. This will not only be good for getting your up and moving but dancing and moving is good for you emotional well-being. 

The Goldfish Song by Laurie Berkner 

Can't Stop The Feeling Dance Party

Do The Bear Walk

These videos are not only great getting kids up and moving around, but have more therapeutic value than you even realize. Kids will learn how to follow directions, work on improving body awareness and motor planning skills. This moving around will help them with their ability to focus and attend better to more challenging school work or therapy activities. The best part about this is that so many of these are familiar songs or characters which makes these videos even more motivating, especially for those kids we know who totally prefer to sit on the couch! 

This new way of doing therapy with my children has forced me to be more creative and think outside of the box. While I can't wait until the day when I can get back to my toys, equipment and co-workers, I am embracing all there is out there and what technology is allowing us to accomplish during our therapy sessions. If you have any other movement videos that you are using with your kids, send along! I am only a click away and love hearing from you all. 

Monday, March 30, 2020

Get That Body Moving!

I hope that this latest blog post finds you all healthy and staying sane. My daughter is just starting week two of her remote learning and we are all adjusting with our new "normal". We have set up our small apartment with three stations for school and work and so far, it's working. One thing I have noticed being cooped up inside for a majority of our day is how important it is to get up and moving throughout the day. For the first time in my daughter's school career, the majority of her work is done on a computer which means she is spending hours on end looking at a screen and I am realizing how important it is for her to get up and move around throughout the day. Seeing this firsthand has made me realize even more than I already know just how important body and brain breaks are crucial and have been encouraging my daughter to get up and move around, especially when she seems to be getting frustrated by something.

Look at how much active your child's brain is after just 20
minutes of physical movement! 
The importance of brain/body breaks can't be expressed enough. Here are a few of the many benefits of incorporating these breaks into your child's daily schedule while remote learning is taking place:
*improves cognitive skills as they complete these activities. Be sure to up the challenge for them as they become more successful with them.
*improves focus and attention which helps with the learning process. We must allow time for movement opportunities in order for our children to learn.
*movement has been proven to actually help "turn on" your brain.
*engaging in organized physical movement helps a child with being able to not only focus and attend but also helps with organizing your work.

Brain breaks are easy to build into your child's day, especially if they are following some kind of schedule. My daughter gets her daily schedule first thing in the morning and then writes it down on her dry erase board. We know when she will have Zoom meetings and know what assignments need to get done and know when it needs to be completed so we work around that and then think about where to add in some brain breaks. Like most things, what kinds of brain breaks work for children are individual. Below, I share some simple and fun brain breaks that you can do at home.

1. Dance Party-my daughter's go-to brain break is to have a dance party. We have music playing in our apartment all day long. It's something all of us love and helps us focus and attend. When it's time for her to get up and move, she is allowed to pick a song or two of her choice, typically Taylor Swift, put the volume up and just dance. If you have more than one child, put together a family dance party playlist that they can shuffle through during these dance parties.

2. Freeze Dance-during all of my remote therapy sessions, I start with a game of Freeze Dance. Sometimes I have them choose a song which is highly motivating to them to get them up and moving and helps them to get their bodies organized before we sit down and do our work in this non-traditional manner. During each of the freeze moments, I add in some kind of body awareness challenge. For example, I will say to them, "The next time the music stops, make your body a small shape." There are also a ton of really great video options on You Tube that my kids have really enjoyed.

3. Simon Says-this is an easy game to do, even in the smallest of spaces! I like Simon Says because it is always different and you can pick activities that are appropriate for each child. Jump up and down, touch your toes, touch various body parts, do jumping jacks, run in place, and so much more. This is a great activity to get your kids up and moving but also helps with improving body awareness, body strength, motor planning and coordination and improves executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and self-regulation.

4. What's Your Name Workout-I have been doing these workouts with my kids at the gym and they love it because it is personalized for them which makes it feel more special. I have included both the beginner's and extreme workout for you to take a look at. Change things up by having your kids spell out other family members or pet's names. If your kids are struggling with their spelling words, have them practice them by combining it with the these activities.

5. Alphabet Scavenger Hunt-this is also a great way to work on handwriting but the main goal is to get them up and moving around. Give your child a clipboard with a piece of paper with the letters of the alphabet written along the left hand side of the paper. Depending on how much time they have, highlight a certain number of letters and have them walk around their house or apartment and find objects that start with those letters and write them down. If you have siblings, they can compete against each other or work together to complete the scavenger hunt.

6. Play Charades-charades is a fun brain break activity that can be played with a child and a parent, with siblings or as a whole family. It not only gets kids up and moving around, it helps with developing body awareness. You can have kids come up with their own ideas (might be easier for your older children) or come up with a list as a family and throw them in a bowl and pick them out one at a time to act out. Definitely set a timer because it could go on forever and then lead to kids getting super frustrated. For those of you who prefer to have the work done for you, check out some of the great charades games out there: Charades for Kids, Pictures Charades and Kids On Stage.

7. Animal Walk-this is a really fun activity, especially for younger children and can be silly or serious. Come up with a list of animals and talk about how they move before you do this with your child. I am a big fan of using colorful visuals with kids so I encourage finding pictures of a bunch of animals, print them out and turn them over so they can't see the picture. Decide on how many animal walks you are going to do, pick that number of cards and place them somewhere the child can see them and start moving! Maybe find some fun animal-themed music (In The Jungle is a good one!) and have it playing in the background.

8. Yoga-not only do our kids need to move around, they need opportunities to practice mindfulness. That is more important right now than ever before as so many kids are feeling confused and uncertain about what is going on. Yoga is the perfect activity to combine both of these things and there are so many fun videos out there, especially on You Tube (people swear by Cosmic Kids Yoga). I have been using the Super Duper Publications Yogarilla cards with my kids for years and I love them. I actually just purchased a new set since mine are stuck at work to use in my remote therapy sessions. At this point, I prefer the cards just because I feel like our kids need a break from screen time with this new school format. These cards are my favorite because the cards are large and the illustrations are great. On the back of each card, there are regular and adapted directions for children with different skill sets and other activities that can be done.

9. Balloon Games-since we are spending more time inside, I recommend balloon ball games instead of using a regular ball so you don't have to worry about something breaking or someone getting hurt. Just blowing up a balloon is a great activity for kids to help with calming them down and getting them to focus and attend. Here are a couple of balloon games you can have your children play or play with your children during these brain breaks.
*Balloon Toss-set up two spots for you and your child to stand on and tap the balloon back and forth to each other as many times as you can. Keep a tally to see how much better you are getting at it!
*Balloon Tennis-instead of using your hands, make a tennis racket out of a paper plate and stick and use that to toss the balloon back and forth to each other.
*Balloon Catch-try and find something at home that you can use to catch a balloon that is tossed at you. For example, a large funnel or a beach bucket.
*Balloon Head Volleyball-Instead of using your hands to tap the balloon back and forth to each other, use your head!

10. Hula Hoop Games-i'm thinking that now that the weather is getting nicer and my daughter needs more opportunities to move that body of hers, it will be time to get a new hula hoop. The most obvious use of a hula hoop is the traditional way but you can take that and make it more challenging for them. Have them try getting it around a certain number of times or a certain length of time. Keep track of how long they can go so they can see their progress. Here are two other ways to use a hula hoop:
*Hula Jump-stand with the hoop vertically in front of your body and then flip it down towards your feet, jump over it and bring it back behind you. See how many times you can go before having to take a break.
*Hoop Rolling-this was actually one of my daughter's favorite things to do here in Brooklyn. We are lucky enough to have a long sidewalk with not much foot traffic (even less now) where my daughter can see how far she can roll her hula hoop. She really likes to flick it so it comes back to her and one of her favorite things to do was to have contests with me or her dad.

Many of the activities I suggested are ones that can be played inside or in your backyard. Keeping in mind all of my New York City families and their limited space, I tried to suggest things that don't require a lot of space or equipment. Keep in mind that not only do kids need brain breaks, grownups need them too. I can say that I have been missing my morning routines, especially my commute. I am one of those strange people who loves that 45 minutes of walking, movement, etc. before I walk into the office. When your kids take brain breaks, do it with them! In order to keep healthy and sane, we need to make sure that we are keeping our bodies moving. Do you and your family have brain games that you have begun to incorporate into your daily routines? What are your family favorites? It would be great to hear what other brain games people are playing. I would love to hear from all of you and am only a click away.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Remote Therapy Tools

It's hard to believe how quickly things shifted for us as therapists, parents, teachers, etc. in such a short time. For kids, they may be feeling scared about how many things in their life have changed and as their grownups, it's our responsibility to offer them comfort and consistency. While I am preparing to move towards remote therapy sessions, I am trying to gather ideas and tools on how to make this as successful as possible. This is definitely going to be challenging, but I am looking forward to expanding my skills and helping parents through this time. One of the things I am doing is trying to think about what parents might have lying around their houses or what might still be easy to get. I know that stores are closed to foot traffic and browsing, but are still open for deliveries or curbside pickup. I urge parents to take advantage of these stores and the personalized care they can provide to you. For my New York City folks, check out places like Lulu's Cuts and Toys, Norman and Jules, Little Things Toy Store, Stationary and Toy World and Stoopher and Boots (follow on Instagram to see her awesome toys).

Here are more than 20 of my favorite and most commonly used therapy tools:

PopTubes-I think any therapeutic gym you go to will have a bag of these. Used for working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, encourages hand eye and bilateral coordination skills. One of our favorite activities to do at our gym is to set up our sorting bears and cups, have the kids stretch out the poptube and use it as a slide for the bears.

Stickers-I use stickers for SO much. Kids love them as a reward at the end of a session, but I find them to be so useful for therapeutic activities. Here are a few things I use stickers for:
-find stickers of your children's favorite characters and put them on a piece of paper and have them write their names next to them (I make boxes for my early writers)
-draw lines and put stickers at the top of them and have kids practice cutting. Make curved or zigzag lines to increase the challenge

Bag of Beads-there are so many things you can do with a bag of beads! There are a variety of sizes of beads. Typically I recommend larger beads for smaller hands and smaller beads for bigger, stronger hands. Obviously stringing beads are great for working on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and improves hand eye and bilateral coordination. You can simply string beads or add some challenges by doing the following:
-make pattern cards and have kids follow them
-add a sensory component and hide the beads in a bucket of rice and have them dig through and find them
-when using smaller beads, like these alphabet beads from Norman and Jules, pick up all the beads you are going to use with kids chopsticks

Squeeze Popper Toys-these have been a huge favorite of mine for a while. Definitely check out your local toy stores for these as I have seen them everywhere! Kids really get a kick out it but don't realize that there are a ton of occupational therapy goals that can be worked on using them. Let them choose their favorite animal or food and then let them play. These are a perfect toy to work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, increases grasp strength and encourages hand eye and bilateral coordination skills. Make a game out of this and set up a target (think something like a dart board) and see how many points you can get by aiming at different numbers or colors worth different points.

Fiskars Scissors-there are a lot of kids scissors out there but many of them are poorly made which could lead to kids getting really frustrated and giving up easily when you present them with cutting activities. The Blunt Tip (made in both left and right hand options) have been my go-to since I started as an occupational therapist. Some people thing I am crazy, but teaching preschoolers to learn how to cut in a safe and appropriate way is a very important thing to me. As a pediatric OT how many times I have seen kids walk into my sessions with chopped up bangs and wished that more schools taught kids the appropriate ways to use scissors in order to avoid this. I have a lot of great cutting activities and resources that I will be sharing with my families as I begin remote therapy. If you want to

Discovery Putty-Fun and Function's Discovery Putty is another one of my favorite and most recommended items when parents ask for activities to do at home. Theraputty is perfect for working on increasing grasp strength, improves fine motor, manipulation and grasping skills and encourages bilateral coordination skills. There are a bunch of different themes to choose from with different resistance depending on your child's hand strength. Kids have just as much fun finding the hidden objects as they do when I challenge them to hide them for whoever is going to use it next. Putty can also be used for other things. If you remove all the hidden objects, you can roll it into a snake and practice cutting it into pieces. You can also use putty to practice making letters, numbers and shapes.

Colored Paper-don't underestimate how helpful a good supply of colored paper can be. I like to use thicker card-stock weight paper because it doesn't tear so easily and I also find it is easier for kids to cut through if we are practicing cutting. I plan on having kids set up some easy obstacle courses during our remote sessions and will be using colored paper for this.

Legos-I have spent hours and hours scouring Pinterest and so excited to find that there are a million ways to incorporate them into my soon to be remote therapy sessions. My daughter had a thing for a long time with Legos so we have a massive amount of them lying around and it's amazing what you can do with them. We all know that Legos are a motivating hand strengthening tool, especially if you pick out the right set (we have a new Trolls set that we are going to tackle during our time at home) but there are so many other things you can do with them. Here are just a few things:
-practice making letters and numbers with Legos on a baseplate
-solve a secret code: using 26 different Lego pieces and a baseplate, assign a letter to each piece
-this 31 Day Spring Lego Calendar provides you with a whole bunch of other things you can do with your Legos

JaqJaq Reusable and Washable Paper-these are my new obsession and I can't think of a better time for us all to be trying to use less paper than now. Especially when doing handwriting or drawing apps, I always have kids practice when pen and paper immediately after practicing on the iPad. For example, when using LetterSchool, I have the kids practice the letter first on the iPad and then have them do hands on writing practice using this amazing product. You can use chalk, chalk markers, JaqJaq Butter Stix, or ooly Dustless Chalk Crayons. Easy to clean with a wet paper towel and can be used over and over again.

Wikki Stix-another classic, inexpensive and really versatile therapy tool that I have been using for years. I have been using these for as long as I can remember to and the kids love them and could be used for so many things. Wikki Stix are pieces of yarn dipped into a safe, non-toxic wax that can be manipulated for open-ended creating. One of my favorite things to do with Wikki Stix, other than making a pair of eye-glasses, is to have kids practice making shapes, letters and numbers. Make sure to have a pair of scissors handy so you can cut them into the smaller pieces. It's amazing to see how motivated kids are to practice these things when they have fun, sensory materials to engage in more challenging activities.

Zoo Sticks-love, love, love these and I know that you can buy them at Stationary and Toy World and Lulus in Park Slope. Another one of my most favorite and most recommended tools for parents. These child-friendly chopsticks have different objects on the top that connect the sticks together. There are a variety of animals, car, etc. so if you find the right one, your kids will love using them. They are a great way to improve grasp strength and manipulation skills, encourages hand eye and bilateral coordination and can work on motor planning skills. Kids can eat with them or they can be used to pick up small objects in games. For example, I like to use them when playing Kerplunk or Tumbling Monkeys instead of them using their fingers to pull the sticks out. One of the kids favorite things to do is to use them to pick up these Squishy Animals.

Dry Erase Board-I have a feeling that this is going to come in really handy with my upcoming remote sessions. Whether it be to write out the session plan, practice letters or play games, I know my dry erase board is going to come in very handy and have asked parents to make sure they have one handy for their children. I'm looking forward to playing Tic-Tac-Toe, Hangman and other games with my kids using this! An added benefit of using a dry erase board is that if it is hung up on the wall, working on a vertical surface is great for working on improving upper body strength and encourages proper wrist positioning when writing.

Playdoh-I have to admit that I have never been a fan of traditional Play Doh, but the kids love it and it is an easy to find and inexpensive sensory material that can be used in a ton of different ways. Playing with playdoh is great for improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves hand eye and bilateral coordination and encourages creativity and imagination skills. Practice cutting by rolling the playdoh into a circle and cutting out pizza slices. Roll the playdoh into snakes and turn them into shapes, letters or numbers. Throw out challenges and have them create different things: face, snowman, cars, buildings, etc..
Since parents have a lot of time to fill during the day with their kids right now, homemade playdough is a fun thing to do with them. There are SO many recipes out there but I have tried this one and it is great.
If you are looking for something more natural, check out my post last week featuring the almost too beautiful to use Land of Dough.

Pegboard-pegboards are a pretty common toy that you will find in a therapeutic gym because they can be used in a bunch of different ways and work on a ton of goals. Great for increasing grasping and manipulation skills, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages hand eye and bilateral coordination. The pegboard I have linked comes with two double sided boards for different challenges such as matching and sorting. Add a gross motor challenge by having them stand on a balance board forcing them to go from standing to pick up pegs and squatting to place them in the board.

Bubbles-these are probably something that most of us have lying around and if not, go to your local drug store and get a giant bottle of them. First of all, kids just love bubbles and if you blow them for them, they can get some energy out by running around to pop them (great visual motor activity!). If you find that your kid's starting to feeling dis-regulated or anxious, taking deep breaths and blowing bubbles can help calm them down. A fun (outdoor) art activity would be to place a large piece of paper on the sidewalk or driveway, fill a bunch of paper cups up with bubble mix and add some food coloring to them and then blow different colored bubbles to make a picture.

Rainbow Indoor Tunnel-I like to make reasonable recommendations to families when it comes to gross motor toy ideas because the families I work with tend to not have a lot of space. This tunnel is great because you can do a lot with it and then fold it up and put it under a bed or next to the couch. A tunnel is a great thing to have to add to an indoor obstacle course and can be used with kids of all crawlers to big kids who need to move around and release some of their energy. Also great for increasing upper extremity strength, motor planning and coordination. Give it more of a sensory experience by putting it over beanbags, couch cushions, etc. and then having kids crawl through.

Balance Board-I tend to add a balance board to some simple activities for my kids at work like completing simple puzzles or doing sorting activities. There are a bunch of different ones to choose from, from a low price point to more expensive. At the gym I work at we have the Alex Monkey Balance Board  which is small and doesn't take up much room. The balance board is great for strengthening balance skills, improves trunk control, strength and coordination skills. While they are standing on the board you can play a game of catch for added fun. For my daughter, I have the Wobbel Board which I got from Norman and Jules and just printed out the Wobbel Cards to add to our daily routine to get her up and moving around.

Zoom Ball-this is one of my all time favorite therapy tools and one of my most highly recommended gross motor toys on my annual gift guide. Safe to play indoors or outdoors and even though it is meant for two players, there are ways to set it up for a single child to play. Kids can work on improving upper extremity strength, motor planning and motor organization and encourages self-regulation, focus and attention. Make a game out of it by counting how many times they can pass it back and forth without messing up. I like to add a little challenge by having kids answer questions while we go back and forth. For example, name the days of the week in order every time you send it back, name different animals, colors, foods, etc..

Sidewalk Chalk-we are all pretty fortunate that the weather is getting warmer and that we can spend some time safely outdoors. I am feeling very grateful for our little Brooklyn front yard and have been encouraging my own daughter to go out and draw and write messages of hope to those who are out for some social distance walks. Practice letters, play games, make hopscotch boards, draw pictures or make draw a picture on a fence or wall if you have it. This kind of drawing is great for working on building those upper body muscles

Hopscotch Board-keeping our kids moving, especially those of us in New York City who are more limited by our smaller living quarters, is going to be crucial. But space and storage is also limited so we don't want big and bulky things. I am a big fan of a hopscotch rug as it can be used in a bunch of different ways and doesn't take up any space. And if you are outside of the city and have a driveway, you can use sidewalk chalk and draw your own! Check out this article from Parents that teaches you how to play hopscotch and even provides some variations so you don't get bored!

Craft Box-crafting is going to become really popular during this time. I have always had a big collection of crafting materials for my daughter and in the office. I was inspired by Lizzie Assa from The Workspace for Children years ago and have started to encourage open-ended crafting with not only my own child, but with the kids I work with and my kids in The Meeting House Juniors group. Guys...I highly recommend following Lizzie on Instagram for some amazing really can't recommend enough! The Arts and Crafts Supply Library from Kid Made Modern would be a great thing for you to have at home. It comes with fuzzy sticks, wooden pieces, pom poms, wooden and plastic beads, googly eyes, glue, scissors and SO much more in a sturdy case so you don't have to worry about making a mess.

Writing Journal-this could be a great time for your older children to start journaling. My 10 year old daughter received a blank journal for her birthday and when all of this started, she decided to keep a Corona Virus Journal. At the end of each day she writes about what she did and rates her day. Giving children an outlet to talk about this time, share their feelings and vent is a really important thing, especially if they don't want to talk to you about it.

 Preparing for remote therapy has been a really interesting and exhausting thing but it has also been very helpful in me feeling ready to start working with kids in this new format. I hope that this list of materials is helpful for all of you whether you are parents, teachers or therapists. I would love to hear from you guys on what materials and toys are most important to you. I am always a click away and love hearing from you all. I think one of the most important things is that we all help each other during this crazy time and look forward to reading about other peoples ideas and experiences.