After discussing the sensory mat idea with our PT, I figured I could definitely make one.
Making one was very easy and could definitely have been less expensive then what I spent on making it. All the items could have been purchased from the $1 store except the mat.
With my sons sensory issues he likes and dislikes so many things, so this multi-experience mat is perfect. He thoroughly enjoys running his hands over each section and rubbing his feet on certain ones as well.
The pipe cleaners, which are soft but still a little prickly, are his favorite. He is very intrigued by the sandpaper. The rainbow robe is confusing to him because it is hard when you step on it but nice to rub. He loves the Brillo pads for his hands or feet and he likes to pick off the felt furniture dots.
This whole mat only took me about an hour to make once I collected all the items!!
This week I decided to do an experiment with our Elf on the Shelf. Our son recently turned 10 but surprisingly (and gratefully on my part, I will add!) still believes in the magic of the Elf. I won’t lie and say that the pandemic has been easy for us at home; our son is an only child and is participating in virtual learning, so his interaction with other kids his age is very limited.
Like most families, we have good days and bad days with all of us at home together all day, every day. Because I have such an interest in social emotional learning and adding that to my practice as an OT, I decided to experiment with the Elf as a partner in crime regarding helping my son’s outlook. When he wakes in the morning, he will typically search for the Elf in the house. Along with a surprise location of the Elf, I started leaving positive notes “written” by the Elf. The notes always praise something good that he did the day before. For example, Friday he cleaned his schoolwork area without being asked to, so on Saturday he woke up to a note that read, “You cleaned your school area without being asked! That is being a good helper! Your Elf.” Another note read, “Awesome job reading yesterday!” Now, I know I did not invent this idea of a positive note-leaving Elf; I’m sure many other parents have thought about this as well! Sometimes it is hard for us to think of the good things we are doing, but it certainly feels good when it is pointed out to us.
Activities like this help us to keep focused on the positive things we are doing. And, how nice to start the day with a compliment! So, what is the verdict on the experiment? I can report, although it has only been a week, that my son starts the day with a big smile and has been doing some things around the house without me asking him. I would say, so far, so good!
In this series, Suzanne Gladstone, MS OTR/L, provides a more helpful ways to get out of your chair! In the first video she explains how to make a homemade card using simple abstract art with markers, crayons and paper.
The second video goes over how skills presented in the previous series will be incorporated into this fun art activity.
In this video series, Suzanne Gladstone, MS/OTRL shares some fun ways to get kids out of their chairs. This series shares the benefits of different play positions. These sessions address structured drawing, bilateral coordination and finger isolation.
In this two-video series, Suzanne, an Easterseals of Southeastern PA Occupational Therapist, created two virtual occupational therapy sessions. In the first video, Suzanne explains bilateral coordination and how it is part of our everyday lives and activities. In the second video, Suzanne shares a fun activity for kids, in which they make snack with simple ingredients and use bilateral coordination.
Suzanne shared her video with her students recently and they were a hit!
I wanted to share a few activities that can be done to help our children (and ourselves) practice mindfulness, based on last week’s post. One activity is a tried and true one in my family, and the other is a new one that we tried over this past week.
One thing that I loved doing as a shy and introverted kid to be calm and away from my loud family was building a fort. It was usually a small, dark space but it was my own space and a great getaway. Lots of people and classrooms these days use tents as a “calm corner” for our children to have a place to be calm. When my son was younger, I discovered a fun and easy way to make a tent without the need to purchase another item: simply putting a sheet over our table! Then we would pile blankets, pillows and stuffed animals inside. Calm and relaxing! The one we made in the picture below is using a lighter sheet. You can make use a dark sheet or blanket to make the space darker. You can also put your child’s favorite toys, books, light up toys and wands, and flashlights.
Another activity is making a Mindfulness Jar. You can google this and find different names for it, such as Calming Jar, Meditation Jar, Time-Out Jar, etc. I found two simple recipes that work really well and, if you are a crafter, you may already have all of the ingredients at home.
For the calming jar, you can use an empty plastic bottle or a glass jar. If you have a child that tends to throw objects, the plastic bottle may be your best option. You can use white glue if that is what you have, too. This activity is, in itself, very calming! Fill your container about 1/3 of the way with glue, add about 2 tablespoons of glitter (or however much you want!), then fill the rest of the way with warm water from the tap. At this time, you can add 1-2 drops of food coloring into the mix if you like. Cap it and shake it up until all of the ingredients are mixed together. Here are some of our finished products:
You may be wondering…what do you do with the jars and how do they work? Sit with the jars when you need a calm moment and give them a good shake. Set the jar down and watch the glitter swirl. Focus on the movement of the glitter and take some nice, deep breaths. Focusing and breathing helps to calm our brains and our bodies. Do this until the glitter settles down; then do it again, if you like! When you do this with your child, describe what is happening in the jar. This will help them to focus just on the movement of the glitter and to be mindful.
The act of “doing” with both of these activities has both strengthening and healing components. We’ve already pointed out the aspect of mindfulness and calming. But making our tent and our jars also taps into problem-solving, motor planning, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills. Maybe even some math if you are able to work on measuring with your child. If your child cannot participate in building the tent or making the jars, talk out the steps you are doing and bring them into the activity in this way. Talk about the colors you are using, the textures (sticky, wet, warm, messy) and help them to experience it, too. Maybe you can try different positioning with your child inside the tent to read books together and play flashlight tag. Hope you enjoy these mindful activities!
A positive mental health strategy many of us are hearing about these days is mindfulness practice. Personally, I have been exploring it myself, and am feeling the benefits that are being touted for this simple activity – better focus and concentration, positive mental health, etc. (Ackerman, 2020). But what exactly is mindfulness, and importantly, can we teach this to our young children and our children with special needs?
Mindfulness is defined as “creating space for ourselves – space to think, space to breathe, and space between ourselves and our reactions (Mindful.org, 2018).” Being mindful means that one is aware of sensations and feelings in the moment without passing a judgment on it – it is noticing without judging. Googling how to practice mindfulness leads to an abundance of sites that instruct adults on how to practice…mostly sitting quietly, eyes closed, focusing on the breath, noticing our thoughts but not judging or trying to chase them away. So, can we help our young children to be mindful? Turns out, we can! And we don’t have to make them sit still to do this. We can guide our children in a mindful practice on nature walks, listening to music or sounds, or moving their bodies. Mindfulness activities can be customized to what will work best for your child. It can involve yoga poses but doesn’t have to. Some ideas to help our children with special needs practice mindfulness are as follows:
Take a nature walk with your child. Tell your child that it’s time to look for a given object, for example, birds. Model looking for birds in different directions for your child by labeling and pointing (ex. “look to the right” while you point). Limit your talking but focus on the birds. If your child has a communication device, perhaps you can place a photo of the object you are looking for so that they can activate the icon when the see (or hear) the object. Or, if your child uses picture exchange communication cards (PECS), you can have them point to the picture as they see/hear the object. You can do this with flowers, insects, leaves, rocks, etc. Choose something that will interest your child the most. If a nature walk is not their style, but vehicles are, you can do the same with cars and trucks.
Blowing dandelions, bubbles or pinwheels. Help guide your child to focus on taking a deep breath in and blowing the air out of their mouths. As the air hits the dandelion, bubble or pinwheel, guide them in watching it until you can no longer see the dandelion seeds/bubble floating in the air or until the pinwheel has stopped. If your child has a communication device or PECS, perhaps you can access pictures of these objects for them to activate or point to before you begin.
For our kiddos that are movers, try guiding them into a pose that they hold. For example, standing tall like a tree with hands on the hips (or if more motivated by a character, use superman/batman etc.). Guide them to taking a nice deep breath and hold for a few seconds in the pose.
Some tips to remember:
Start practicing when your child is happy and feeling good. Once they get it, then you can start using mindfulness to help them to feel better and more organized.
Use pictures as a visual aid if you are focusing on a particular object or action as you begin the activity and show them each time that you see the object.
If your child has a visual impairment, try listening for sounds instead of locating an object with sight. For example, when outdoors you can listen for birds or cars going by. Indoors, you can play calm music or a bell and focus on that sound as it begins and fades.
It’s ok if you have to help your child to activate the icons on their communication device or locate the correct PECS. Guiding them in this will help them to understand the activity.
It’s ok if your child can only do this for a few seconds at a time. The key is not to judge the activity as a success or a failure, but to continue practicing. Recognize your own thoughts during the activity but let them go.
Be the model for how to be mindful for your child. Guide them with your actions. Give lots of praise when it is over for participating.
Use the internet! If you have access to the internet and a tablet, computer or phone, there are many YouTube videos that can guide both adults and children through this practice. Here are several you can check out:
As we enter another month in quarantine due to Covid-19 and our focus on maintaining our physical health continues, what about our mental health? Making sure we are mentally healthy is equally important, and many of us are facing challenges in doing just this. Our mental health is being challenged whether you are an essential worker and must be away from your family, or you are a stay at home parent navigating distance learning or are working from home while navigating distance learning with your children. Maybe you have a child with special needs or medical needs that causes you extra worry during this time. These, and there are many more, can challenge the mental health of any individual.
May is Mental Health Month, and I wanted to talk about this very important issue. Our mental health is always important but seems to be extra important during the Covid-19 quarantine. But let’s talk about it from the perspective of maintaining mental health of an occupational therapist. Occupational Therapists see “occupations” as a way to health and well-being. Occupations are not just our “job”, but the things we do throughout the day. These could be our morning routines, caring for our children, distance learning, exercising, leisure activities, etc. To help us engage in our occupations throughout the day, I’m suggesting that we take a few moments to focus on our breathing. Breathing sounds like such a simple and basic thing, but how we breath can have either a negative or positive effect on our well-being. We don’t pay much attention to our breath, but if you take a moment to do so right now, you may notice that your breathing is short and shallow. What if you expand that breath, taking in a full deep breath and feel your lungs fill? How does this make you feel? Often when we are stressed, angry, frustrated, sad, etc., our breath becomes shallow. Taking some deep breaths can help calm the mind and the body before we act on our feelings. Being in a more calm and relaxed state can help us engage in our occupations more successfully and purposefully.
Here are some guided breathing exercises that you can do yourself and with your children that are already posted on YouTube. The videos are short, 3-5 minutes. Doing these breathing exercises at the start of the day, when you are feeling stressed or frustrated, or just needing a break, can help you power through the next few hours of your day. I hope you will try them and let me know what you think! Let’s keep a focus on our mental health!
My first day of work and I was super excited to see my kiddos since it has been a few weeks since I saw them last. I was also super nervous and anxious about doing teletherapy. I kept asking the questions, how was I going to manage a caseload of 17 plus kids and manage my own five year old? Most importantly, I could not understand how I was going to effectively provide occupational therapy intervention with preschoolers who have Autism Spectrum Disorder through a little screen. As the 2019-2020 school year already had its own set of challenges, not one of us could figure out how to do this type of hands off interaction with our Easterseals kids through this platform. As we reflected, the slew of emails arrived and we really started to panic. We all started going to online trainings, reading blogs and asking questions, conducted team meetings and practice runs with our colleagues. We all became computer experts in zoom and GoTo Meeting, we connected with colleagues and families throughout the day, sitting for longer than any of us are used to and then we became the minority of people who are still part of the workforce.
Since practicing teleintervention for a few weeks now, I am still trying to manage a hectic schedule between work and family. My son at this moment is trying to lay low because he knows he is getting away with watching way too much TV and no one has been after him to do his school work for awhile. The overall challenge of teletherapy has been a good learning experience and now familiar. In fact, at this point in time, I am a proponent of teleintervention and I feel this could be offered as part of the IEP plan. Of course I would rather be working directly with my kids and coworkers, but we (the school team) have always discussed how beneficial it would be to have a better way to follow up at home. When you are working on certain skills, such as managing challenging behaviors or carrying over potty training, it would be very helpful to coach the parent more directly in the child’s home environment; to really bridge the gap between home and school and further support our kiddos success. This unfortunate pandemic event has been that opportunity, possibly causing positive change and providing more options and choices for our families.
It has been an adjustment period for the parents to say the least and I give a shout out to all of our special needs parents out there, we see you and you are doing a great job, so hang in there, we got your back. Again, looking on the bright side through this unique time, I also find myself appreciating the small things that help me get through the day, one benefit I enjoy, I know many people share this with me, is illustrated in the picture. I cannot complain about the reduction of my now nonexistent commute, being able to get ready for work in 15 minutes or even caring if my comfy uniform matches or represents the correct season; dressed in my Easterseals teletherapy uniform.
The team in Bucks County created this amazing video of great activities you can do with stuff from around the house that is fun helps develop fine motor skills. In addition to the video is a list of great bath activities!
Here is a list of bath activities that you can do with your kids, to help them have some fun things to do while they are home.
-Stacy G., OT
1. You can let your child use a net to “fish for” toys in the tub. If you don’t have a net, you can substitute a colander. This can work on eye-hand coordination
2. Colanders can also be used as “rainfall” for sensory
“Painting” in the tub/shower: Your child can do finger painting or can use a variety of tools such as paintbrushes, sponges, cotton balls, etc. which can work on fine motor coordination. You can give your child the opportunity to engage in a variety of different sensory experiences, which can increase their sensory awareness, through painting with shaving cream (to which you can add food dye) or even making your own bath paint. For an even easier prep/clean up, you can let them “paint” with a paintbrush/sponge/cotton ball, just using water onto the tub/shower wall, or onto construction paper.
A. “Paint” the tub or shower walls by dipping a paintbrush into water
B. Paint the shower using shaving cream with food dye added to it
C. Cotton ball painting
D. Make bathtub paint
4. Transferring water from one container to another: You can use a variety of different tools to work on transferring water from one container to another, such as cups, spoons, pipettes, bowls, etc. This can work on grasping and pouring skills, which can help to improve overall upper extremity coordination.
5. Animal wash station/Car wash station: You can have your child squirt water from a spray bottle onto a toy animal/toy car, to work on their grip strength and you can also let them scrub animals/a toy car with a toothbrush to strengthen their hand muscles and work on their coordination.
Animal Wash Station
Car Wash Station
6. Bath time for doll: Giving your child the opportunity to give their doll a “bath” can help teach your child self-care skills as well as learning of body parts.
7. Making paper boats and floating them in the water: You can use the directions provided to create the paper boats. You can let your child help you make the boat, by giving them the opportunity to complete 1 simple step in the task at a time, as you model it for them (ex: “fold this part like this”). This can increase their ability to follow directions as well as their imitation skills.
Here are directions for making a paper boat:
8. Make Play-Doh soap!
This can be particularly motivating for children, especially those who don’t enjoy taking baths. Allowing a child to squeeze and pinch the play-doh soap can also work on hand strength and the development of more mature grasp patterns, such as key pinch grip, as well as pincer grasp.
9. Baby Bath squirt toys: These types of toys can work on hand strength and the development of grasping patterns as well.
10. You can make a Water Wall in various ways: You can use funnels, water bottles, or pool noodles. You can use other items too! Playing with a water wall can work on increasing pouring skills and will help to refine upper extremity coordination skills.
11. You can also use laundry baskets for water fun!
You can turn a laundry basket into a “boat” inside or outside the tub! (Of course, always supervise with each of these activities)