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Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy Your Very Own Body Pillow

Throughout the clinic, the options are endless as far as games to play, equipment to climb, and toys to use. With all the available choices, onebody pillow item continues to be a favorite of children of all ages and interests: the body pillow. For all of you craft-loving parents, as well as those (like me) who are “creatively challenged,” here are DIY instructions for creating your very own, personalized body pillow.

Step 1: Cut a large foam block into tons of little pieces varying in shape and size. Most pieces should be about four inches in diameter. Set these pieces aside for later.

Step 2: Next, choose a simple twin-sized duvet cover. Fill this cover with the foam pieces as full as you see fit. This will create the body of the pillow. Some kids prefer the pillows to be overflowing with foam pieces so that they can sit high up on top, while others prefer to sink into the crevices of a pillow that is less full. Once the foam is in the cover, secure it tightly by using the buttons and by tying the ends into knots.

Step 3: Once the body of the pillow is filled to your child’s preference and tightly secured, slip it into a second duvet cover. This is where you can add a personal touch by choosing a fabric that is your child’s favorite color, has her favorite movie character, or matches the interior decoration scheme in her room. Once again, make sure this casing is secured tightly to prevent the foam from escaping. A second cover also gives you the opportunity to wash the outermost layer of your new pillow without emptying the foam.

Step 4: Kick back and relax on your very own personalized body pillow.

Here at NSPT, we use the encapsulating body pillows for an endless amount of activities. At home, you can use the new comfort havens in a quiet place where your child can go to be by herself, calm down after an argument, or read a book.  She may feel a sense of comfort and ownership if she has a safe place that is designated as her own. The pillow can also be used for various activities that can provide your child with deep proprioceptive input to help her self-regulate. In the clinic, for example, we frequently use the pillow to help us create “Kiddo Sandwiches.” In this activity, the children lay on a soft surface under the pillow while their therapist “squishes” their bodies with quick and rhythmic pushes on the pillow. Kids really get into this activity and frequently tell their therapist what ingredient should be squished into their body sandwich next (e.g., cheese, turkey, or mustard).

Whether you use the pillow as a place to lounge, a self-regulation tool, or just a cool piece of furniture, it is sure to become a family favorite in no time. This is a great craft to save for a rainy day and a great one to get the whole family involved.

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6 Fine Motor Toys

When your child has challenges in some domain of their development, you may have questions as to what toys you should purchase art easel that will captivate your child’s creativity, allow for hours of good fun and facilitate the opportunity for your child to expand their skills.

Below is a list of toys that may enhance your child’s fine motor development this holiday season:

  1. An Easel: Easels are frequently used throughout the therapy gym to enhance fine motor skills. Their inverted plane helps your child stabilize their wrist in the correct position while completing fine motor tasks. Allow your child to exercise their creative side by coloring, drawing and writing with paint, markers, crayons and colored pencils.
  2. Piano Keyboard: Keyboards are an excellent way for your child to solidify their ability to isolate finger movements. This fine motor movement pattern is important for your child as they learn to complete self-care tasks and as they learn to manipulate their pencil. Provide your child with a workbook to teach them some of the basics of
    keyboarding skills. Simple songs to begin playing include “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Twinkle, Twinkle.”
  3. Mr. Bucket Game: This game is a wonderful way to work on turning your child’s wrist to the sky and to the floor as well as utensil manipulation.
  4. Operation: Gather around the table to see who has the steadiest of hands in this hilarious family board game. Children of all ages can work to improve their hand strength and fine motor precision while using tweezers to remove silly game pieces from the body of their “patient.” Don’t get too close to the sides or you’ll hear a big “buzz!”
  5. Scramble: This game will allow your child to practice their fine pincer grasp as they race time to fit all of the pieces into the game board before the timer runs out. As an added bonus, it gives your child the opportunity to practice their ability to visually discriminate between shapes.
  6. Wipe Clean Board Book: This booklet allows your child to become the teacher while practicing their letters and numbers on a dry erase board. These boards offer the opportunity for a great number of repetitions while first learning to write. These repetitions will lead to improved overall fine motor control and letter formation at school as well as on paper!

These are just a few examples of games and toys that could be used to enhance your child’s fine motor development. For additional examples, feel free to ask your skilled occupational therapist. Happy Holidays!

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Holiday Shopping: How to Choose Developmentally Appropriate Toys for Your Child

The holidays are approaching rather quickly and most parents are hoping to not only get their children gifts that will make them happyholiday gifts for kids and excited, but gifts that will help them to learn and grow as well. It can definitely be challenging to not only find a toy or game that you feel your child will like, but that you as a parent will approve of as well due to the skills it addresses. Fortunately, certain stores have created special catalogs and websites to help sort toys by categories and skills. For example, Toys R Us has featured categories on the ‘Differently-Abled Kids’ portion of their website, such as Auditory, Fine Motor, Gross Motor, Social Skills and Tactile. It is important to use these resources to your advantage. Such resources are not only for children with skill deficits, but they also help you, as a parent, to look at games in a functional and educational manner. Below are some examples to give you an idea. It should also be noted that many of the games that are listed below are specific games that we use as occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and social workers within our daily treatment sessions to work on a variety of goals.

Fine Motor Skills Toys:

  • Easel (e.g. Crayola Magnetic Double-Sided Easel)
  • LEGOs
  • Angry Birds Knock on Wood Game
  • Connect 4 Launchers
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos
  • Mega Bloks Build ‘n Create

Gross Motor Skills Toys:

  • Scooter (e.g. Radio Flyer My First Sport Scooter)
  • Mini Trampoline (e.g. JumpSmart Trampoline)
  • Wagon
  • I Can Do That! Games- The Cat in the Hat

Auditory Skills Toys:

  • Bop It! Reaction Game
  • Melissa & Doug Sound Puzzles
  • Musical Instruments (e.g. Casio Key Light Up Keyboard)
  • Barbie Voice Change Boombox

Thinking Skills Toys:

  • Headbanz
  • Scrabble Flash Game
  • Train set (e.g. Chuggington Wood Beginners Set)
  • FAO Schwarz Big World Map

Overall, it is crucial for parents to keep in mind that while new technology is impressive, traditional board games as well as hands-on toys continue to be an ideal way for children to work on a variety of skills and allow them to explore their environment and pursue their own interests. It is exciting to think that your child will gain so many new skills just from playing one of the games listed above with friends and family. Stay tuned for my next blog on a more detailed breakdown of many of these toys. Happy shopping!

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Learning Through Play Time with Your Toddler

Play time provides a natural context for early language learning and is also important for the development of social communication skills. Childrentoddler playing learn through play and often practice newly acquired language skills and words during play time.

There are three stages of play development:

  1. The first stage is referred to as “self-related” symbolic play. This type of play can be observed between 12-18 months. This type of pretend play mimics daily activities using real objects. A child at this stage of developmental play typically plays alone. For example, a child will pick up a cup and pretend to drink.
  2. From 18-24 months, a toddlers’ play progresses to “other-related” symbolic play. The child is still using real objects, but will perform the action on multiple play toys. For example, the child will use the cup to give a drink to a doll, offer a sip to the bear, and finally have a drink herself.
  3. The final stage of play development is “planned” symbolic play. This stage of developmental play emerges between 24-30 months of age. Play behaviors include using one object to represent another, such as using a stick for a spoon. At this stage, the child has also begun to plan out play sequences by gathering all necessary props prior to engaging in a play routine. She might use a doll or other play toys as the agents of the play action. For example, the child will have the doll give the bear a drink.

Suggestions for Toys:

  • 12-18 monthstoy kitchen set, toy garage set, zoo animals. All of these toys provide multiple opportunities for parents to sequence a variety of play time routines for the child to imitate. This is where we as parents and caregivers must dive into our inner child and start using our imagination!!
  • 18-24 monthspuzzles, farm set, pretend painter’s/doctor set. These toys provide the child with multiple opportunities to start acting out and initiating their own play routines and to use their own imagination, as well as allowing for multiple play partners and toys to be used. Be prepared to clean up a big mess!

Following these guidelines should  help you use age-appropriate play with your child. Developing play skills will expand your child’s language and social communication.

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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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Choosing the Right Toys to Promote Your Child’s Language Development: Part 2

With the holiday’s approaching, you may be looking for gift ideas for your little ones, or it may just be time to revamp the toy shelves.  Parents often askwhich toys will help their child’s speech and language skills develop.  Flash cards?… Baby Einstein?…Wi?

boy playing on pretend phone

In Part 1 of this blog, we talked about principles to consider when choosing the right toys for your child.  In Part 2, I’m excited to share 5 favorite “go-to” toys to encourage speech and language skills in toddlers.  Keep in mind that every child is unique, including their developmental level and personal interests. And no matter which toy you choose, the most important contributor to promoting your child’s speech and language, is one-on-one time with caregivers and loved ones!

5 Great Picks To Promote Speech in Children

1. Fisher-Price Little People Animal Sounds Farm This activity encourages “make-believe” play as children bring each animal to life.  Imitating animal sounds (e.g. moo-moo, neigh-neigh) is a great way to develop speech sounds while having fun.  This activity also lends itself to following directions, playing with others, and learning about location concepts (e.g. in, on, under).
2. Barn Yard Bingo Barn Yard Bingo is an excellent way to encourage turn-taking skills.  This activity also promotes labeling animals and colors, matching, and speech sound development.  You can facilitate and encourage turn-taking (e.g. “It’s your turn!… my turn!”) while naming animals or imitating animal sounds (e.g. “cow says moo!”).
3. Basic Vocabulary Picture Books, such as Baby Einstein’s “First Words”  Books are a great way to build your child’s vocabulary and develop early literacy skills.  For infants and toddlers, choose books with large and simple pictures, and avoid books that are too visually distracting.  Practice identifying and labeling pictures (e.g. “Where’s ball?… there it is!”), and answering questions about each picture.
4. Melissa & Doug Pretend Food  Pretend picnic foods are a great way to encourage pretend-play and social interactions.  Your child can build vocabulary and learn basic categories while they plan a picnic with family members or friends.
5. Play-Doh Play-doh (or any molding clay) is an excellent activity to foster creativity and ideation.  There are many ways to enjoy play-doh, whether it’s making different shapes, or creating a pretend-picnic.   This activity encourages interactions with others, cooperation, pretend play, and vocabulary building.  **Children should be carefully monitored while playing with play-doh, as many children enjoy mouthing/swallowing it.

Choosing the Right Toys to Promote Your Child’s Language Development

Parents often ask which toys to purchase for their child. There are so many factors to consider: learning, development, socialization, entertainment,boy playing on pretend phone and of course, fun! So how do you know which toys are best? Here are a few basic principles to consider when choosing the right toy for your child:

How do I choose the right toys to promote speech for my child?

1. Be simple. When it comes to toys, less is often more. Toys should stimulate exploration and creativity, which is often best accomplished through simple toys such as building blocks, play-doh, and pretend play.

2. Avoid toys that do all the work for your child. Even though electronic toys can be engaging and exciting, they leave little room for creativity and expanding on ideas, which can lead to passivity. I often encourage parents to limit their child’s use of video games and electronic toys, and stick with toys that require more creativity or social interaction.

3. Make-believe. Language is a symbol system that requires representational thought. For example, the word “ball” is a symbol that represents an actual object. Representational thought can be developed through pretend-play and make-believe. Additionally, pretend-play also promotes creativity, ideation, language use, and social interaction.

4. Think social. Look for toys that promote interactions with others. This might include a make-believe picnic, a fun game to share with friends, a ball to pass back-and-forth, or pretend toys such as a dollhouse or farm.

5. Create music. Musical instruments are a wonderful addition to your child collection. Pretending to play an instrument not only promotes make-believe, but it also encourages your child’s interest in music. Singing helps children learn various patterns of language, as well as learn to distinguish between different speech sounds.

6. Keep the bookshelves stocked! Books are always an excellent choice for kids of all ages. They promote vocabulary, speech development, listening, language, attention, and of course, literacy. For younger children, choose books that have large and simple pictures. Other great choices including repetitive books (e.g. Brown bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?), or rhyming books (e.g. Llama Llama).

7. Foster creativity. Consider art supplies to foster your child’s creativity. Art supplies such as crayons, sidewalk-chalk and moldable clay are excellent activities to encourage creativity in children.

8. Finally, consider safety. Be sure to read labels and age-requirements of all toys. Choose toys with nontoxic materials, and consider the developmental skills of your child. If your child is younger or enjoys mouthing things, then stay away from small objects that can be easily swallowed or choked on.

 Click Here to Read Part 2 of This Blog: 5 Great Toys To Encourage Speech

Developmental & Fun Holiday Gift List For All Ages!

Holiday gift giving can be tricky to juggle when providing educational toys that also happen to be fun for your children. Here is a list of suggestions that is seperated by Ages, Sensory Considerations and Fine and Gross Motor Skill Development.  girl with gifts

Holiday Toys for Infants (0-1yr)

Gross Motor:

“Tummy time” offers strengthening of the back, core and neck muscles that are critical to a baby’s development. There are many tummy time mats on the market to help this important position be a part of your everyday routine,

Tummy time play mats; $14.99 – $24.99

Fine Motor:

Babies enjoy exploring environments that are filled with music, colors, lights and a variety of textures. Cause and effects toys are great for developing fine motor skills as well as eye-hand coordination such as,

Fisher-Price Little Superstar Classical Stacker (6mos & up); $13.99

Sensory:

Providing infants with teethers and rattles of a variety of shapes, sounds and textures will assist in their exploration of their environment as well as help sooth those teeth coming in. Read more