Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Has Sprung!

After what seems like the longest winter ever, spring has finally arrived in my corner of the world (Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York).  Flowers are blooming, windows are open more than closed and there is no sign of snow or winter anywhere.  Don't get me wrong...I love winter and all that comes with it.  But when March and April roll around, winter gets gross in New York City.  The snow is dirty and when it finally melts, there is so much gross stuff on the sidewalks that you want to walk around with your eyes closed.  So the fact there are flowers growing and birds chirping is totally welcome and exciting for me.

As an occupational therapist, there are a lot of exciting things that can happen therapeutically once the warmer weather arrives.  Parents are always asking me for things that they can do with their children to get them outside, get them moving and get them away from the television and other electronics that tend to be used to entertain our kids during the colder months.  I typically see a huge jump in skills with the kids I work with this time of the year because they are spending more time outdoors in the park or at the playground.  They are watching the big kids do things and they want to try and be just like them.  After months of therapy and boosting their confidence in their skills, kids who were once timid about taking risks at the playground are trying things they couldn't do before.  They are spending more time socializing with other kids and less time indoors so you tend to see a huge boost in their language skills as well.

Below, you will find a handful of activities that I suggest to parents to try with their kids in order for them to carryover some of the things we are working on in our sessions.  In order for kids to really learn skills, they need to be able to generalize them in different environments.  All of the activities will work on improving fine motor, gross motor and sensory processing skills.  They also can help in developing improved language and social skills.  Most importantly, they are guaranteed to be lots of fun!

Grow a Garden-in NYC, we don't always have the luxury of having a lot of space for such things.  With that said, my husband and I have found a way to get our 5 year old daughter into gardening in the last couple of years.  We are fortunate to have a garden in front of our brownstone and can really garden with her and it has been such a great experience for her.  If you don't have the outdoor space, you can get a couple of clay pots and have your kids grow herbs or flowers that don't require a lot of sunshine to grow.  Gardening is good for so many occupational therapy related goals from the moment you pick out the seeds to that magical moment when the flowers actually bloom.  Have kids fill up pots with soil using kid sized gardening tools.  This is great for working on building upper body strength, bilateral coordination and improving eye-hand coordination.  If you have a child who presents with tactile defensive behaviors, encourage them to use their hands to put the soil into the pot to work on that.  Gardening also teaches kids responsibility and gives them an opportunity to have a "job" every day.  Use a spray bottle to water your plants every day; this will work on increasing grasp strength and bilateral coordination skills.  Check out this adorable Garden Tote with tools perfectly sized for your little ones.

Ride a Scooter-in the winter, it's easier to get from place to place by throwing your kid in the stroller and not having to worry about them getting cold or slipping on the ice.  Now that it is nicer out, make sure you leave enough time in your day to allow your kids to get themselves to places on their own two feet.  Whether it be walking or scooting, getting your kids moving is key.  My favorite is the Mini Micro Kick scooter as I have found that it is light weight and easy for the kids I work with to use.  Even the kids on my caseload who have difficulties with balance, coordination and motor planning have success with this scooter.  So many parents come to me and tell me that the hardest time of their child's day is starting the school day.  Oftentimes, I find that kids are rushed through their morning routines, thrown into their strollers so they can be brought to school on time and then are thrown into the morning craziness and get overwhelmed and have difficulty.  When possible, I suggest to parents that they let their kids walk part of the way.  Even better, let them scoot the whole way.  It provides them with an incredible amount of organizing input to their sensory system.  The foot to pavement action gives them a ton of deep proprioceptive input that helps kids to be more organized and ready for a great day at school.
**one of the biggest complaints I get from parents about getting their kids to use a scooter is that they don't like the helmets and how they feel.  Take your kid to the store with you and have them try on helmets and let them pick which one they want.  Kids are way more likely to wear a helmet if they feel like it's one that they really like!

Chalk It Up!-one of my favorite things about the warmer weather is coming home at the end of the work day and seeing my own daughter outside drawing with chalk in front of our apartment.  She has learned how to write her name, draw pictures of people and so many other great things.  Writing with chalk is a great activity and can really be most enjoyed during this beautiful spring weather.  There are so many chalk choices these days:  think, thick, one colored or rainbow, egg or square shaped.  Keep in mind that using thinner chalk will most resemble a writing instrument in turn encouraging a proper grasp when using writing instruments.  If you can, have your kids draw on an elevated surface to work on increasing upper extremity strength.  If you don't have a driveway or a place in front of your apartment, grab the chalk and go to the playground.
You can make this a social experience by gathering a few kids together and having them make pictures together.  For example, draw a picture of a person and have each kid add their how part to complete the person. Or play a game of tic-tac-toe or hangman.  You can work on letter recognition, executive functioning and social skills at the same time!  If you have the space, you can have your kids draw a hopscotch board so they can work on improving gross motor skills too!

Bubblerama!-I don't know what it is, but kids and bubbles go together like bread and butter.  They just love blowing them, chasing them, catching and popping them!  A fun thing you can do with your kids is make your own bubbles.  Sure, you can go out and buy bubbles anywhere, but making them can be really fun and is really easy.  It is also great for working on a lot of occupational therapy goals in such a fun way that your kids don't even realize that they are working.  For example, you can work on improving bilateral coordination (holding bowl while pouring ingredients in and stirring all the ingredients together), increasing upper body strength (stirring the ingredients) and working on improving executive functioning skills like focus, attention and organizational skills.  For older kids, you can give them a list of all the supplies needed for the activity and have them gather them before beginning.  You can also write out the steps on a piece of paper, cut them into strips and have the kids put the directions in the proper order before beginning the activity.

To make your own bubbles, check out this recipe:
6 cups water (you can use tap but distilled is better)
1/2 cup blue Dawn dish detergent
1/2 cup corn starch
1 tablespoon baking POWDER
1 tablespoon glycerine

Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, stirring really well.  Once the cornstarch is completely dissolved, gently stir in the remaining ingredients (in no particular order) trying to not make too much froth.  Let the mixture sit for at least an hour, stirring occasionally if you see that the cornstarch is settling to the bottom.   Don't get discouraged if your first few bubbles don't come out too great...the mixture gets better after a few uses.

You can use bubble wands and blow bubbles (great for improving oral motor strength) or you can make your own super big bubble wand using straws and yarn (you need your yarn to measure about 6 to 8 times the length of a straw).  Take the yarn and string it through the straws, tie a knot and you have your bubble wand.  You can take your bubble solution and put it in a big bucket and start making giant bubbles!  Guaranteed fun for kids of all ages!

These are just a handful of fun and simple activities that you can do with your kids now that the weather is nicer.  I have chosen activities that can be done whether you live in the city or in the country...they just may need to be adapted based on what kind of space you have.  What are you most excited about doing with your kids now that spring is actually here?  Please feel free to share your fun outdoor activities with me and my readers.  I'm just a click away and love hearing from each and ever one of you!   I am looking forward to a fun-filled outdoor weekend with my own family and wish you all a very happy and warm weekend!

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