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Using the Game “Guess Who” as a Fun Way to Address Handwriting at Home!

Handwriting practice may cause conflict in your household, especially after a full day of school. There are various techniques to incorporate handwriting into fun activities. One of these strategies is by using the board game, “Guess Who.

guess who game

  1. Set up the game as you normally would to play without handwriting practice.
  2. Prepare paper and pencils for both players.
  3. Instead of verbally asking the questions to identify your opponent’s character, write down the questions and answers.

This creative strategy will be a fun way to have your child work on his/her handwriting skills, and can be fun for the whole family too!

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Breaking the Ice: Go-To Conversation Starters for Kids

Many children find it difficult to approach new friends. They often learn how, by watching others and trying things out. While they mayClassmates talking outdoors be able to do this on their own, they will be even more effective if they have an adult to provide guidance, appropriate phrases, and opportunities to practice.

Having  “go-to” phrases can really help children be prepared for social opportunities and lower anxiety about the unexpected.  Here are some ideas to share with your kids.

Conversation Starters For Children:

Help them pick out 2-3 of their favorite “go-to’s” and practice in role play with each-other  toys/figurines or new children (when ready).

Just introduce yourself!

Example: “Hi! I’m Alex.”

Ask a question about what they’re doing.

Example: “Are you playing the new Angry Birds game?”

Show that you’re interested in them.

Example: “I think I want to read that book. Do you like it?”

Give a compliment.

Example: “I like your backpack!”

Ask for their opinion.

Example: “Which video game do you like the best?”

Share a little about yourself.

Example: “I moved once too, so I know it’s really hard at first.”

Offer to help.

Example: “I can show you where that classroom is!”

Offer an invitation.

Example: “Want to sit together at lunch?”

Guide your child by talking about each idea and asking them which ones they prefer. This is a great conversation to have with your child as school just begins, to help lower that back to school anxiety!

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Top 5 Reasons Why Your Child Should Practice Mazes at Home

Mazes are a huge hit with therapists and children alike!  While mazes are lots of fun and provide a sufficient challenge for children, they also help therapists to address a variety of skills within your child’s therapy session.  Mazes can be taped to a wall at your child’s eye-level so that he can work on a vertical surface.  This mimics a chalkboard or an easel board and promotes wrist extension and copying from a board (like in a classroom).

Mouse and cheese maze

Below are several reasons to practice mazes with your child at home:

  • Problem solving:  Mazes help your child to work on his executive functioning skills, such as planning and brainstorming various strategies (e.g. starting from the beginning of the maze or working backwards from the end of maze).
  • Fine motor control:  Mazes require your child to control his pencil through the maze without hitting the black lines. This means that he must take his time rather than rushing, in order to have greater success.  Progress can be observed as your child bumps into the black lines less and less as he gains greater control of his writing utensil.  Children use fine motor control in order to produce correct letter formation and legible handwriting.
  • Visual motor:  Mazes require your child to use his eyes to scan the worksheet in order to find possible solutions.  Scanning is a great skill used for reading and writing, as it is important to scan from the left side of the paper to the right side.
  • Grading of an activity:  Mazes can be broken down into different steps.  For instance, first have your child start by moving his finger, next a pencil, then a marker through the maze.  This helps your child to solve the same maze three times consecutively, which allows the skill to sink-in better.
  • Confidence:  Mazes are perfect fine motor activities to help boost your child’s confidence.  Have your child begin with a simple maze to provide immediate success, and then have him work towards completing mazes of increased difficulty.

Fine motor and visual motor skills can be practiced in a wide variety of ways, including mazes.  Mazes are a great way to work on handwriting without just writing letters and words. There are many websites that offer free printable maze worksheets for a variety of age levels and themes.  An internet search such as, “simple mazes for 4-year-olds,” will produce a variety of mazes and printable activities that are perfect for practicing these important skills at home!

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How to Teach your Child with Sensory Processing Difficulties How to Ride a Bike

Learning to ride a bike can be a scary and overwhelming adventure for both the parents and the child involved!  There are many components required for bike riding, such as motor planning, body awareness, trunk control, balance, self-confidence, following directions, safety awareness, timing, and sequencing.  However, one of the best things about bike riding is that the child is typically very motivated and excited to do it, as he sees his friends or other children in the neighborhood doing so already.

SPD Child riding a bike

Below are several strategies on how to get started:

  • Practice lots of balance activities:  balance is a huge part of bike riding; therefore, it is important to strengthen these skills by challenging your child’s ability to maintain various positions including standing on one leg, sustaining yoga poses, walking across balance beams, or kneeling on an unstable surface such as the bosu ball.
  • Incorporate a variety of activities with wheels:  while being able to ride a bike independently might be the ultimate goal, it is beneficial to incorporate other similar skill sets into your child’s play experience.  This will help you and your child to take the emphasis off of the fact that he does not know how to ride a bike and help to focus on the excitement of trying new things (e.g. scooter, skate board, tricycle, roller skates, etc.).  Similarly, your child might really excel at one of these activities, in which this activity can then be used as a confidence booster when the child has already mastered it.
  • Practice inside:  have your child practice simply balancing on the bike/sitting on the bike in a safe environment, such as inside (e.g. basement or playroom/living room if appropriate).  Place large pillows/beanbags next to the bike so the child feels secure, and if he falls, he will crash into the pillows.
  • Involve different family members/friends:  bike riding can be a very complex task; therefore, it can be extremely beneficial to involve different family members/friends to help with the process. Different people have different strategies and ways of motivating and sometimes one strategy will really hit home for your child.  Similarly, then the same parent and child won’t get so frustrated with one another.
  • Visual schedule:  help your child to make a visual schedule/calendar to illustrate when the child will start practicing and what skill he will work on each day (e.g. getting onto bike; peddling with both legs; ride to the corner etc); then the child can put an “x” or a sticker on the chart when he completes a day of practice, or practices a skill etc.  Visual schedules can be motivating for the child, and provide structure.
  • Take the pedals off:  taking the pedals off of the bike helps initially with learning the feel of the bike/balance. Take the bike to a small hill and have the child ride down without the pedals, this provides an introduction to moving and balancing on the bike without needing the coordination to pedal.

Learning a novel activity can be intimidating for a child, as it is a totally new experience and requires a significant amount of following directions and motor planning.  Similarly, teaching  novel activities can be nerve wracking for the parents, especially if it is a skill they have not taught before, like bike riding.  As parents, it is important to keep in mind that every child learns differently and requires different levels of support when learning a new skill.  Make sure to constantly praise your child during this challenging activity, even if it seems like the tiniest accomplishment (e.g. buckling bike helmet independently; putting kickstand down independently).  As always, feel free to talk with an occupational therapist or physical therapist if you need more individualized strategies or have other gross motor concerns for your child.

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10 Activities to Improve Balance

Balance is a great skill to help your child progress with their gross motor skills, leisure activities, and activities of daily living.

The following activities are various ways you can work on improving static and dynamic balance for improved performance in activities such as sports, games, self-care, and many more!

  1. Stand with one foot on the ground while the other foot is resting on a stool in front of the other foot. This is the primary skill in working towards balancing on one foot. If this is too easy, replace the stool with a ball that your child has to rest his or her foot on. Then, progress to just standing on one leg. To make it more challenging play a game (such as catch, zoom ball or balloon tennis) while balancing.
  2. Stand on top of a bosu ball. A bosu ball is an exercise ball cut in half with a flat plastic surface on the bottom. If your child gets really good at standing on top of the bosu ball, turn it upside down so that the ball is underneath and he or she is standing on the flat side. Once this is mastered, play catch while standing on the bosu ball.
  3. Stand on a balance board. A balance board is a flat surface made of wood or hard plastic that has a rounded or curved underside. This can be a very challenging activity just to stay upright!
  4. Simply stand on one foot! Make this into a contest with the whole family and see who can maintain their balance the longest.The person who wins gets to pick a family activity.
  5. Put two lines of tape on the ground and practice walking on a pretend balance beam. The space between the two pieces of tape could start large (6 inches) and progress to 4 inches apart. If your child steps out of bounds, he or she has to start again. By employing a balance beam that is flush with the ground, this will decrease any possible fear of falling. Once this becomes easier, utilize a real balance beam to work on more challenging balance skills.
  6. Sit on an exercise ball while playing a board game at the table. Don’t let your child put his or her feet on the ground while playing unless they need to make sure they don’t fall.
  7. Play hopscotch only while jumping on one foot. No switching feet is allowed! This makes the game slightly more challenging.
  8. Sit, kneel, or stand on a flat platform swing. Once you child can simply balance, play catch, zoomball, or balloon volleyball while sitting, kneeling, or standing.
  9. Stand on a trampoline with just one leg on the surface. To make this even more challenging, invite someone else to walk on the trampoline (or jump) while trying to keep your balance!
  10. Try any of the above activities with your eyes closed. Balancing with your eyes closed is significantly harder than having your eyes open. Therefore, if your child has mastered all of the above activities, make it one step harder to keep them challenged!

The possibilities are endless! Get creative and make these activities easier or harder depending on your child’s progression of skills.  By working on balance, your child will learn to use their muscles properly in order to adjust to changes in movement. This will set them up for success in playing games and sports with their peers! As always, ensuring your child’s safety during these activities is very important. Utilize pillows, mats, and adult supervision when practicing these activities.

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Developing Hand-Eye Coordination

Hand-eye coordination is the synchronization of eye and hand movements. It involves proprioception (knowing where your body is in space) combined with processing visual input. Any task that requires the coordination of vision and hand movements involves hand-eye coordination. Examples of hand-eye coordination include grasping objects, catching and throwing a ball, playing an instrument while reading music, reading and writing, or playing a video game.

Hand-Eye Coordination in Infants

There are many ways to encourage development of hand-eye coordination in a child. Just like any other skill, the more time spent doing activities that involve hand-eye coordination, the easier the skill will become. In infants, reaching and playing with objects and toys are great ways to foster development of hand-eye coordination. As they get older and are able to sit independently, you can play with balls, encouraging the baby to roll and corral them. Playing with blocks and other toys that involve putting something in or taking something out are also great ways for an infant to develop this skill.

Hand-Eye Coordination in Toddlers

With toddlers, continue to play with various sized and textured balls to develop hand-eye coordination. By the age of three, a toddler should be able to “fling” a ball forwards and catch a ball against their chest. To help develop his aim, you can practice tossing balls into hula-hoops or targets on a wall (start with big targets and get smaller as the child progresses and gets older). To practice catching with only the hands, start with bigger and softer balls (like koosh balls or bean bags). Progress to smaller and harder balls (like a tennis ball) as the child gets older.

Hand-Eye Coordination in 4 Year Olds and Older

Coloring and creating crafts is another fun and great way to develop hand-eye coordination. Some fun crafts to do include stringing beads or macaroni, finger painting, or playing with play-dough. When a child is four years or older, games that involve slight hand movements can also further facilitate growth in this area. Examples of these games are Jenga, Honey-Bee Tree, or Topple (all available at any toy store). Complex puzzles, Legos, or building blocks are other great hand-eye coordination activities.

Children who have poor hand-eye coordination often refuse or choose not to participate in activities that involve this skill. The activities mentioned above can be very beneficial in assisting these children in improving their hand-eye coordination. Some children struggle immensely with every-day activities due to poor coordination skills. These children may require extra assistance from an occupational therapist or a physical therapist.

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What to do when your Child Doesn’t Play with Toys Appropriately

One exciting thing about being a child is all the cool and fun toys you get to play with. However, some children struggle with playing appropriately, and can be too rough and unsafe with toys. Parents sometimes have difficulty getting their children to use toys appropriately.

To help you gain better control during playtime, and keep your child and others safe, try the following strategies with your children:

  1. Model. When your child gets a new toy, model how the toy should be used. You should provide lots of prompts and hand-over-hand assistance to teach and encourage your child to appropriately play with the new toy.Infant girl playing with toys
  2. Practice. Have your child practice appropriately playing with the toy. If your child starts to get too rough with it, show them the appropriate way to use it and then have them repeat it back to you.
  3. Praise. When your child is appropriately playing with their toys, provide them with praise and let them know they are doing a great job. For example, you can say, “Suzy, I love how nicely you are playing with your dolls!” or “Josh, you are doing a great job of racing your cars and not throwing them!”
  4. Take It Away. If your child continues to play with toys inappropriately (i.e., throwing them, hitting others with them, trying to break them), immediately take the toys away. Let your child know that this is not how one plays with the toys. Talk to your child about why it is unsafe (i.e., someone can get hurt, you can break the toy or other items that are nearby, others might not want to play with you). You can then reintroduce the toy and show your child how to appropriately play with it. Let your child know that if they do not play the right way with the toy, then they will not be able to play with it for the rest of the day.
  5. Make a Story. You can also create a story about how we should and should not play with our toys. Within the story, identify the appropriate ways to play with toys and why we should play with them that way. Your story can also illustrate inappropriate behavior with the toys, highlighting again why we do not want to use toys in that manner. Review the story with your child before they go on a play date or start playing with toys. In addition, you and your child can reread the story after they misbehave with a toy.
  6. Just Not Ready. Some children just may not be developmentally ready to play with a specific toy, despite the age limits listed by the manufacturer. If this is the case, pull the toy out every now and again and see if your child is at the right stage. The toy will be much more fun for both of you when they can use it appropriately.

To keep your child playing safely with toys, always remember to model, practice, and praise; and if you have to, do not be afraid to take the toy away until your child can appropriately play with it.

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Encouraging Siblings to Help With Speech & Language Practice

Save Time By Getting The Whole Family Involved

One of the most important contributors to progress in speech-language therapy is consistent practice at home. I often compare therapy to working-out at the gym: once a week is unlikely to make a big impact. In order to master new speech and language skills, Young Sisters Reading To Each Otherchildren should practice several times during the week, which is no easy task for the average family that juggles sibling activities and busy schedules. Parents frequently share their challenge to find time for one-on-one practice with their child, especially with competing sibling demands. With a little creativity, however, this task is not impossible! Here are a few tips to practice your child’s speech and language goals while incorporating siblings.

Tips to encourage positive speech-language skills among siblings

  • Create an atmosphere of support and encouragement among siblings. Talk to your kids about “kind” things to say to each other. Give them specific examples of phrases to encourage their sibling’s speech and language, such as “I like when you share your idea”, or “You’re really good at saying your S-sound!”. Praise your kids every time you hear encouraging words (e.g. “Wow, that was a kind thing to say. You’re a really good big brother.”)
  • Minimize interrupting between siblings by encouraging “talking turns”. Competing for a turn to talk can exacerbate speech and language difficulties. Foster a safe environment to talk and share, by explaining “talking turns” to your kids (e.g. “It’s Ava’s talking turn right now. You’re talking turn is next!”). If needed, use a tangible object (e.g. a ball, a pretend microphone, a teddy bear) to pass back and forth during each talking turn.
  • Encourage siblings to be “active listeners”. Explain what active listening is (e.g. “We listen with our ears, our eyes are looking at the person talking, our mouth is not talking, our body is still, our hands are quiet,” etc.) Praise active listening skills as you observe them (e.g. “Wow Alex! You are such a good listener! Your eyes are looking at Ava. I can tell you’re listening.”).
  • Incorporate siblings into practice games and activities. Ask your child’s speech therapist for specific activities that are hand-tailored to your child’s therapy goals. As you play together, include siblings in practicing target speech sounds or language structures. Encourage your kids to give one another positive feedback (e.g. “That was a really good S-sound!” or “That was a really good try!”). Listening to each other while practicing will build greater awareness and self-monitoring skills.

Fun activities to get siblings involved in speech and language practice

  • Practice following directions during “Simon Says”.
  • Read books together and take turns answering questions, labeling objects or retelling the story in your own words (depending on each child’s level).
  • Play turn-taking games while working on target speech sounds or language structures.
  • Create a fun recipe or craft together, and practice target speech sounds between each step.
  • Plan a scavenger hunt. Have siblings take turns giving each other clues where items are hidden.
  • Sing songs together and use hand-motions or gestures while you sing.
  • For more ideas to encourage speech and language skills, see a previous post “5 Fun & Easy Activities to Promote Speech & Language Skills During Summer