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How Does Play Help Meet a Child’s Therapy Goals?

Occupational therapists often use play as a means of helping achieve our clients’ goals. Many times, it may not look like our sessions are working on your child’s areas of need; however, when we are working with children, we often try to adapt play activities in order to help your child meet his goals. Play is a very motivating activity for a child to engage in with the therapist and work on some of his goals. Play may also mask the fact that children are working on a difficult skill by introducing fun into the activity. For example, if one of the child’s goals is to improve his handwriting skills, you could play a game that involves writing, such as Boggle, Scattergories, or crossword puzzles.

Therapist and child at Gym

Here are some play activities that OT’s use to help your child meet his goals:

  1. If your child needs to work on balance and coordination, we may play basketball while standing on top of a bosu ball (imagine standing on the rounded part of a ball cut in half).
  2. A child who needs to work on core and upper extremity strength could meet these goals by playing a game while lying on his stomach over a therapy ball, while balancing with his arms on the ground.
  3. In order to improve self-regulation for a child who has sensory concerns, we may start our session by playing on the gym equipment in order to help regulate his nervous system.
  4. To work on bilateral coordination and fine motor skills with a child who does not like drawing, we often use play-doh and have him trace shapes and cut them out with scissors.
  5. Another way to work on gross motor coordination is to practice climbing a rock wall, climbing a ladder, or swinging on the monkey bars.

Sometimes, however, it may be difficult to adapt the activity and make it fun for the child. In this case, the therapist may have the child participate in an activity to work on the skills he needs to improve, but use a play activity as a reward.  From the first example in which the child’s goal is to improve handwriting, the child may still not want to play the games that involve handwriting. Then, the therapist may tell the child that after handwriting, he can do an activity of his choice.

Hopefully, this blog provides a bit more insight into the therapist’s mindset while working with your child. The therapist is constantly thinking and problem solving about how to make an activity therapeutic and how to make it easier or harder based on the child’s ability to succeed at the tasks. If the therapist is successful, the child will not even realize the activities are working on their areas of need and will want to come to therapy every session!

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Low Muscle Tone Revealed

Muscle tone refers to the muscle’s ability to sustain a contraction. It is different than muscle strength, which refers the muscles’ power. A child with low muscle tone is often observed to sit with a slouched posture, may have difficulty holding their head upright when sitting at a desk and may be observed to prop their head up with their hand. Mother and child with balance ballOther observations include having difficulty sitting for extended periods of time, particularly without back support or w-sitting, where the legs are splayed out to the side in the shape of a ‘w’ when sitting on the ground.

Muscle tone cannot actually be changed, though through occupational or physical therapy, muscles will become stronger and compensate for the low muscle tone to help support your child through his/her daily tasks.

Here are five activities to help address strength, endurance and low muscle tone at home and in the community:

  1. At the park, have your child lie on his belly on the slide and pull himself up the slide using only his arms.
  2. Complete yoga poses that work on balance and core strength, like down dog or plank.
  3. Using a weighted ball or BOSU ball, have your child lift the ball overhead with both arms, lower it to the floor and balance his hands on the ball while he jumps his feet backwards into a plank position. Repeat these steps 10 times.
  4. Have your child lie on his back on the floor. With his legs raised off the floor and knees bent, have him weave a ball between his legs.
  5. Encourage your child to use the monkey bars or hang from the zip-line when at the park.

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Monkey Bar Mania

It is time. Lunch is over and the weather is finally allowing our children to break free of their heavy winter coats and boots to enjoy the warm, fresh, and invigorating air on the playground. Antsy children struggle to contain their excitement as they take their final steps to the great outdoors- slides,Little girl climbing on monkey bars teeter-totters, swings, and kickball fields galore. Only the bravest of the brave dare take on the tall metal intimidators commonly known as the monkey bars.

Monkey bar climbing has been right of passage for children all across the playground. Conquering their cold frames take time, practice, and determination. Here are the developmental steps to achieving the ultimate goal: swinging from one end to the other without touching the ground as our ape-like friends seem to do so effortlessly.

  1. First, ask your child to reach for the monkey bars and let their feet dangle. Cheer them on and encourage them to hang on as long as they can. This will help them to strengthen the muscles in their hands and upper body.
  2. Next, encourage them to swing their legs back and forward while maintaining their tight hold on the bar. This swinging will in turn, give your child the burst of momentum they’ll need to eventually move across the bars.
  3. Next, help them coordinate the swing of their legs with the movement of an arm to reach for the next bar. Keep in mind that your child may need you to support them at their waist in order to complete the first few swings. It may also be a good idea to encourage them to first reach with their dominant hand as they may have an increased rate of success at grabbing the bar.
  4. After successfully completing one swing, talk your child through bringing their other arm to same bar that the first is holding. Once your child can successfully cross the monkey bars one at a time, they may then practice alternating hands on sequential bars. Once they’ve mastered the monkey bars, they can move on to eventually skipping one or two bars at time!

For other playground tips and tricks, see Amanda Matthews’ blog suggesting tips to work on motor skills at the park.

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Ways to Improve Core Strength at the Playground

As the weather is becoming nicer, you are most likely spending more time outside and at your neighborhood parks. If your child is working on improving their core strength in their therapy sessions and at home, this can also be carried over while playing on a playground.Child swinging in the playground

The following activities can be completed to improve your child’s core strength:

  • Climbing ladders
  • Completing monkey bars
  • Pumping themselves on the swing or pushing another friend or sibling on the swing
  • Going down the slide in a “V” position
  • Jumping off surfaces of varying heights with two feet together
  • Create an obstacle course throughout the playground
  • Crawling through tunnels, under things , and over things
  • Running on different surfaces (sand, wood chips, grass, sidewalks, uneven bridges)

Hopefully these activities will add some variety into the home exercise program your child is currently doing.

Happy Exercising!

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