Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sum, Sum, Summertime!

After what seemed like the longest winter in the history of winters, Summer has finally arrived.  School's over and everyone is looking forward to some time off from the craziness of the school year.  With warmer weather here, I know people are looking for fun things to do outside to keep their kids cool and occupied.  If you are like me, you want to be able to  Many families go away for the summer or take the summer off from therapy so their kids can get a break and regroup after a long school year.  However, they are always asking me for activities that can be done that will work towards their occupational therapy goals.  I am always quick to tell parents to go to the park and play sports or run around in the sprinklers at the different playgrounds, especially after a long day of camp.  However, there are SO many activities out there that will work on a variety of occupational therapy skills.  The best part is that they can be done with inexpensive toys/supplies and can be done as a whole family.

One of my daughter's favorite things to do is play in the water.  Whether it be in the water table, running through the sprinkler or watering our plants, it elicits pure happiness.  I look forward to the evenings where we hang out outside after a long day of work, watching her play.  What are some of your family favorite summer activities?

If you are looking for things to do with your children this summer, here are a handful of summertime activities that you can do that will work on fine motor, visual motor and organizational skills.  It's amazing how easy it is to work on goals/skills but still have fun.  To me, it is most important that kids have fun over the summer.  There are so many pressures on kids during the school year and I am a huge believer in allowing summer to be about having fun.  If you must work on academic stuff, make sure you make it fun and don't put too much pressure on them.  I always find that not only does my own child do better, but the children I work with do as well when the work is hidden from them and it only looks like fun.

Here are a few of my favorite summer time activities.  I have also included ways to adapt each of them for older/younger children and talk about what kind of occupational therapy skills can be worked on for each of the activities.

Water Table-water tables are great for keeping kids cool when you don't have access to a pool.  Living in Brooklyn, we don't have a large enough space for a little pool.  However, we have enough space for a water table and it has brought Quinn and many other children in the hood tons of joy!  And if you have your kid put on a bathing suit, they can get just as wet and cooled off as if they were in a pool!

Depending on what kind of toys you throw into your water table, a variety of occupational therapy skills can be worked on.  For example, throw a bunch of measuring cups in there and you can work on bilateral coordination by filling up one cup from another.  You can take a turkey baster or a water dropper and work on increasing grasp strength by filling up buckets, cups, etc.  You can do the same by putting a bunch of bath toys in there as well.

There are a variety of water tables out there for purchase.  I prefer the simple one that is pictured above.  If you have a big backyard though, you can get some pretty awesome ones with lots of fancy features.  If you don't feel like spending any money at all, you can create your own water table by taking a large tupperware and filling that with water.  Fill it with some fun toys and let the fun begin!

Water Balloons-there is nothing more exciting to a kid than throwing a water balloon and watching it explode.  Even better is when that balloon explodes at a target or a person!  A couple of summers ago, I discovered the Pumponator; a balloon pumping station that makes filling water balloons easier for kids!  The best part is that it is perfect for working on improving bilateral coordination skills, increasing upper extremity strength and motor planning/organizational skills!
The Pumponator is simple for even toddlers to use but still fun for older children.  You fill the container up, pump air into the container, attach the balloon to the nozzle and push the button to fill the balloon with water.

If you want to make this activity a little more therapeutic, you can work on having kids work on visual motor skills by having them throw the water balloons at targets or have them try to throw them into different buckets.  If you are playing with other kids, have them try throwing it back and forth to each other as many times as they can before dropping it.

**Side Note:  the Pumponator was invented a couple of years ago by fourth grader, Lexi Glenn.  She became frustrated by how difficult it could be to fill a water balloon using a hose and after finding an old garden sprayer and using it to fill her balloons, invented the Pumponator!

Make Homemade Ice Pops-nothing says summer (at least in NYC) more than hearing the music from all the ice cream trucks.  We love going up to the ice cream truck and having an occasional treat from them.  Last summer, I blogged about the Zoku Quick Pop Maker.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Zoku, it is an ice pop maker that makes yummy and simple ice pops.  It comes with a bunch of recipes and ideas for you and your child to make together.   You can go traditional or you can be really creative and adventurous.  My daughter likes traditional recipes but I am hoping that we can branch out a bit more this summer!

While I purchased my ice pop maker, there are a ton of ways to make ice pops without a fancy kit. Some people use ice cube trays and I have seen ice pops made out of small paper cups and a popsicle stick stuck in the middle of it.

If you have a child who is weary about trying new foods, this could be a fun way to get them involved in the process of trying new foods.  Some people can take advantage of a picky eater by mixing desirable juices with some questionable fruits and making a tasty treat.  Try dropping some fresh fruit into the ice pops as they are freezing to get them to try

I am a huge fan of cooking, baking, etc. and how many occupational therapy skills can be worked on during this activity.  You can work on executive functioning skills such as sequencing and organizational skills.  While you are measuring ingredients out or cutting fruits up, you can work on bilateral coordination skills.  These are just a couple of skills that can be focused on when making ice pops.

If you are a fan of Pinterest, be sure to check out some of the millions of different ice pop recipe ideas that are on there.  There are so many fun and interesting ideas out there and many of them are great for your child to do with minimal help from you.

Chalk Drawing-sometimes kids just want to take a break over the summer.  They don't want to be hassled by working on things like reading, writing and math.  However, there is a way to make practicing writing fun for your kids using sidewalks (driveways if you aren't a city girl like me) and lots of chalk.  For younger kids, you can work on color recognition, matching and drawing simple shapes.  If you have a child who needs to work on coloring, draw a bunch of fun shapes all over the sidewalk or driveway and have them color them in.  Be sure to have the kids color the shapes using the correct colored chalk for an increased challenge.

For older kids who may need to work on handwriting and letter/number recognition, use chalk and make a game out of it.  You can have children label the pictures they draw or make a hopscotch board to work on writing numbers (added bonus, you can work on improving motor planning and coordination skills).  While you can totally make the traditional hopscotch board pictured here, you can also get really creative and use letters, try drawing different shapes, etc..  If you want to work on improving grasping skills, use smaller pieces of thin chalk instead of the fat chalk.

If you want to try something new and totally refreshing for the summer, check out this recipe for ice chalk.  Using every day ingredients like water, cornstarch and food dye, you and your child can have loads of fun making chalk that will cool you off at the same time.  This could be a really fun way to work on color recognition for your younger children.  And for those of you who are reading and thinking how messy this will be, you can easily clean up the chalk mess with a hose when you are finished.  I can't wait to try this with Quinn this summer!

The great thing about each of the activities I have talked about above are that they can be done individually or with friends.  Each of these activities can be equally fun either way!  Sometimes, children can motivate each other to do more challenging things if they have a partner in crime.  Let your children figure out different ways they can play with each of the things mentioned.  I know that some of the best activities for me have come out of listening to ideas from the kids and taking them and making them appropriate for each child.

Now that you have read about some of my favorite summertime activities, I'd love to hear from you about yours.  Do you have any great activities that you recommend to the families you work with or that you do with your own children that make summer unforgettable?  Please share your ideas with me and my readers.  I am only a click away and love hearing from all of you!  I am sure we would all welcome the chance to introduce new things to our children this summer!

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