In the past few months, fidget spinners have become all the rage and it appears most kids (and pets!) have found uses for these gadgets. While these spinners are fun for the fingers and minds, it also appears that they have distracted kids from school activities as well. There is merit to these fidget spinners, but to clear the name of “fidgets,” I wanted to provide information about how to find the optimal fidget for your child and how you can tell that this fidget is effective.Read More
July 9th is SUGAR COOKIE DAY! Not only do we love to eat these sweet treats, but we also love to utilize baking cookies to work on child development!Read More
By Gina Czmowski, MOTR/L
Summer. School is out, lake season is in full swing, and the warm weather is upon us. While most Minnesotans anticipate this time of year, others dread the thought of their child having hours upon hours of unstructured ‘free time’ on his plate.
Despite summer being considered a laid back, carefree time of year, many families experience significant stress as negative behaviors begin to increase with too much ‘together time’.
This may largely be due to the fact that many children thrive on routine and clear expectations, which typically aren’t present once school is out. To reduce the stress that summer may bring to your home, consider the following recommendation
- Have a set wake-up time and bedtime: While it’s fun to stay up late and lounge around the next morning, this will lead to tired kids. And what do we know about tired kids? Tired kids have a difficult time regulating emotions. So to help avoid these emotional breakdowns, be consistent on wake-up and bedtime routines.
Incorporate a mix of structured and unstructured time in your schedule: I’m sure we have all heard the saying, balance is the key to life. Balance in your summer schedule is just as important. While it isn’t necessary to have a minute-by-minute schedule, having a general structure both you and the kids know helps the day go more smoothly. Below is an example of a simple summer schedule.
- Wake-up, get dressed, eat breakfast
- Play outside
- Learning activity
- Free play
- Quiet time/ nap
- Free play
- Screen time
3. Limit screen time: Screen time is both entertaining for kids and provides a ‘break’ for Mom and Dad. However, too much screen time is harmful for development and often leads to unnecessary arguments. Limit screen time to 30-60 minutes per day. This encourages the rest of the time to be spent engaging in imaginative play, learning activities, or being physically active.
4. Be active: Running, jumping, climbing, twirling...the list could go on and on. All of these movements are part of play and help children learn about their environment. Physical activity will also burn energy, tiring a child out, which helps Mom and Dad out when it comes to bedtime.
Prepare your child. Talk about the plan the day before, then remind your child of the day’s schedule that morning of. If your child tends to be anxious about new situations, a visual schedule with checkboxes may be helpful- they will be able to process the plans throughout the day and may make transitions easier.Read More
By Rebecca Walton, MS/CCC-SLP
Being outside is one of the best things about Summertime. It’s also a great place to target your child’s receptive and expressive language skills. There are so many opportunities to label objects, actions, and describe things. You can also practice following directions in a fun environment and your child probably won’t even realize that they’re “working”.
Three Outside Speech & Language Therapy Activities
- Use the playground equipment to practice labeling all the activities that are there: “Swing, slide, steps, tire, sand”. You can also label the actions that your child is doing: “climb, walk, run, jump, slide, swing, go up, go down”. Describing things is also an easy way to get some 2-word phrases: “red slide, big slide, soft sand, small swing, jump high, swing fast”.
- Practice following directions by telling your child, “first go on the slide, then get on the swing” or “Come scoop some sand, then blow some bubbles”. You can also play a game such as “I Spy” with a couple of changes to help your child learn to listen to details. It’s very easy, and can be a fun game. Start describing something with 2-3 attributes and then have your child guess what you’re describing then they can go play on the describe item. Example: This activity is red. You have to use stairs to get to it. It’s made of metal. Answer: “Slide”
- You can use these kind of activities for pretty much any outdoor fun that you’re having this Summer. Sidewalk chalk is also a fun activity to practice labeling items and describing items. It’s also a fun way to target following directions. If your child is old enough, you can tell them to “first draw a circle, then put a nose in the middle” or “pick up the green chalk and write the letter B”.
Whether he’s a father, uncle, grandfather, cousin, teacher or coach, the men in our children’s lives play a critical role in the development of foundational skills. Each of our families and social relationships are constructed of unique blends of men and women who form our memories and teach lifelong lessons. Our children benefit from the guidance of both maternal and paternal role models.Read More
As school ends and summer begins, many families are beginning to plan for summer travel. Whether it is a short trip or a long journey, traveling can be both exciting and stressful. Here are a few tips and ideas to help as families plan summer vacations.Read More
I have many parents ask me about additional things they can be doing with their kiddo to help support their language growth. The first thing I usually ask is "do you use Baby Sign?"Read More
Spring is here! And with it come many advantages to outdoor sensory play.Read More
By Gina Czmowski, MOTR/L
Macaroni necklaces. Hand-made cards. Modeling clay figurines. If you are a mother, you have surely received one, if not all, of these homemade gifts from your young one for Mother’s Day. And although these gifts may not get you quite as excited as say, jewelry, a massage, or a night out, you’d be happy to know that through the creation of that gift, your child was working towards his/ her occupational therapy goals. How, you might ask?
Well, that macaroni necklace...
It required the use of fine motor skills to pick up the noodles and visual-motor skills to get the noodles onto the string.
That hand-made card…
It required bilateral coordination and visual motor skills to cut out the construction paper heart. Or, sensory processing was necessary to be able to make that giant handprint flower out of paint. Or, fine motor skills were needed to draw that abstract picture of “Mommy and Me”.
Those modeling clay figurines…
It required hand strength to knead the clay. Fine motor skills were used to craft each tiny detail, and sensory processing for your child to know where their body was in space, in order to not crush the figurine each time one of those little details was added.
So as we prepare our best “excited faces” for this year’s Mother’s Day gift, take a minute to remember the many skills your little one executed in order to fabricate that “one of a kind” creation.
By Kelly Hungaski, MS/CCC-SLP
When I tell people that I am a speech language pathologist, I receive a blank stare. They sometimes ask if I am working with dead people. I’m not. I explain that I work with children providing speech therapy. Most people smile, nod or share a story of someone they know who needed to get speech therapy to produce “s” or the elusive “r” sound.
Speech language pathologists are experts at teaching children how to produce speech sounds. We know how to work with children who are missing a few sounds or children who are not producing hardly any sounds. Speech therapists can teach the child how to use more mature patterns of speech, the placement for consonant and vowel sounds and how to speak more clearly. But that’s not all we do. Read on for my top ten ways that speech language therapists help children of ages.
1. Teach children how to follow directions or how to answer questions.
Speech language pathologists assess a child’s ability to understand language. We can figure out which parts of the direction a child is having difficulty with. Are longer directions harder or does the child not hear the smaller location words in a direction (in vs on)? We can help children understand question words (who, what, where, when, why) and how to answer these questions.
2. Teach correct grammar.
We call it syntax. These children may have difficulty producing pronouns like he or she (him is sitting down) or they may have a hard time using the correct verb tense forms. They might say “he runned” instead of “he ran.” Difficulties with understanding pronouns and verb tense forms make it difficult for children to understand what is happening at school.
3. Help children learn how to tell about a personal experience.
Some children jump into the middle of a story or forget to tell you who was there. They may have a difficulty organzing their story into a logical manner. We can help them learn how to provide all of the relevant information (but not too much information) and how to sequence a story so that you can understand what they are talking about.
4. Teach children how to chew and swallow foods safely.
Speech language pathologists have extensive training on the anatomy of the mouth and respiration system. We can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination for children who are unable to chew and swallow foods, who choke or gag on foods, who take a long time to eat or who have difficulty drinking liquids.
5. Decrease stuttering or dysfluent behaviors .
Speech therapists can help teach breath support and fluency enhancing strategies for children who stutter. We love to educate parents and teachers about stuttering and how to respond to someone who stutters.
6. Teach children how to participate in conversations
Some children always answer I don’t know or like to dominate a conversation with their interests. Speech language pathologists can teach turn taking and understanding the parts of the conversation. We can teach how to start and end a conversation and how to ask questions and comment.
7. Teach social skills and problem solving skills.
Speech language pathologists help children developing perspective taking skills (how to understand that other people have different thoughts from us.) We can teach strategies for how to make friends. We can teach them the steps for identifying and solving problems.
8. Teach first words.
When toddlers are delayed in talking, you can turn to your speech language pathologist for help. We are experts in teaching children how to request and comment using toys, games and books.
9. Teach other methods of communication.
Some children have a really difficult time developing speech-or speech that other people understand. Speech language pathologists can provide recommendations for communication books or computer programs that will allow these children to communicate. Once the device or book is received, we use routines and typical activities to teach the child and family how to communicate using their new system.
10. Improve vocal quality and hygiene.
Speech language pathologists can work with doctors to assist children who have vocal nodules or voice disorders. We can help children develop healthy voice habits, improve breath support and teach strategies for relaxing the muscles when speaking.
Here are 5 great books to celebrate leaving the cold winter behind and celebrating the arrival of spring! All of these books contain great imagery and descriptive words to help expand your child’s language skills.Read More
As the weather turns warm and the grass starts to green, outdoor play is upon us! Here are some fun and effective ways to improve your child’s language skills while enjoying the outdoors.
Have your child practice naming categories or listing items from a category. For example, have your child name 3-5 different animals that you can find outside. Have your child name 3-5 items that are at a playground. Have your child name 3-5 items in a garden. You could also list 3-5 items from a category and ask your child what category the items belong to.
Playing ‘I spy’ can work on your child’s ability to ask and answer questions. Pick an object you see and have your child ask you questions to figure out what your object is. Then have your child pick an object and you can answer questions so that you can figure out what his/her object is.
Have your child help you prepare something and break the tasks into 1-2 steps at a time. For example, ‘Carry the sandwich buns outside and open the bag.’ ‘Place a bun on each plate.’
Have your child tell you about an event or activity he/she did using sequential concepts (ex. ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘then’, ‘last’). You could tell him/her about an event or story using sequential concepts and then have him/her re-tell it. For example, ‘First you were playing on the swings, next you went to the sandbox, and then you came into the house’ and have your child re-tell what you told them.
Categories, questions, directions, and sequential concepts are just a few ways to help your child build their language while being outside. Working on these skills can be fun and the change of weather presents many opportunities to do so!
By Kristin Connell, OTR/L
What is interoception?
Your stomach is grumbling, your mouth is dry, your heart is racing, your fists are clenched. This is your internal system signaling your brain that you are that you are hungry, thirsty, nervous or angry. You are using your interoceptive system to be aware what of what your body is telling you.
Interoception an internal sense, and the the 8th sense in our sensory system (see previous Vestibular and Proprioceptive posts for information on the 6th and 7th senses).
It is the signalling and perception of internal body sensations and emotions. The receptors inside our body, organs, muscles, skin, etc send their signals to the brain. The brain interprets these messages for us to feel body states such as hunger, thirst, pain, temperature and emotions.
This system is important because when we feel a certain way, your body responds (ie. stomach grumbling-you eat, you feel nervous-you find comfort, etc). If we feel our internal system is “off”, we try to change the imbalance by doing something.
Many people with sensory processing disorder, autism or developmental delays do not have good interoceptive awareness, therefore are not aware of their body’s sensations or emotions. Bringing awareness to these feelings will improve independence with self care skills, self regulation, perspective taking and problem solving.
How do I improve it?
Interoception is a topic that has only recently been researched and written about, so currently there is limited information on the best ways to improve this area. Here are the two most effective ways to begin the process of increasing interoception awareness.
An OT can help improve a child’s body awareness through providing specific sensory input in the clinic and at home to improve the child’s self awareness.
In addition, various programs such as Therapeutic Listening and Integrated Listening Systems (iLS) and Zones of Regulation can improve body awareness and self regulation skills as well.
Body check chart
Begin this process with positive experiences like after running around outside, after a warm shower, after a meal, etc.
Draw an outline of the person. Label specific parts-head, eyes, ears, mouth, voice, chest, heart, hands, stomach, feet, skin, muscles, etc.
Have the child label one body part and how it feels at that moment (i.e. eyes-sleepy, awake, watery, itchy, dry, etc). Continue to add body parts and corresponding sensations, depending on the level of the child.
After noticing the sensations of various body parts, give each sensation meaning. For example:
- when your eyes are watery/itchy, it means you are tired
- when your heart is beating fast, you may feel nervous or angry about something
- when your stomach makes a grumbly noise, it means you are hungry
As the child continue to progress, have them match different body states or emotions to their specific body sensations. (i.e. Nervous: hands sweaty, heart racing, legs moving, stomach fluttery)
Trace their body on a large piece of paper. Point to a body part on the drawing and have them wiggle it on their own body to build body awareness. You could also play a game of Simon Says to build awareness: touch your heart, clench your fists, breath really fast.
During a body state/emotion-label the body sensations you see, in a non judgmental way (your hands are wiggling, you are breathing fast), and write it on the drawn body. This will help bring about awareness to their sense of self and begin to understand their body’s signals.
By Jennafer Young, OTR/L
For any trip longer than 2 hours, plan a rest stop to stretch, use the bathroom, and let the kids run off some energy. For extended road trips, plan to stop approximately every 2 hours. Factor the extra time into your travel estimate to avoid stress for yourself and meltdowns from the backseat.
Pack an activity bag with simple, preferred toys and some cheap new toys. You may want to customize a bag for each child. Examples: Silly putty, finger puppets, Etch-A-Sketch, Mad Libs, new crayons, and matchbox cars.
Bring along any portable calming objects or strategies you or your therapist have found for your child. Whether it’s a favorite blanket, weighted vest, or preferred music, these familiar comforts can help your child prevent or recover from a meltdown in the car (or the destination).
Hungry kids are usually grumpy kids. Beyond keeping their bellies satisfied, chewy and crunchy snacks can providing calming oral input. Just like a baby is calmed by sucking a pacifier, so many kids - from a toddler to a teenager - can be calmed by chewing or sucking. Examples: Dried fruit, gum, GoGurt, hard mints, lollipops, nuts, carrot sticks, licorice, gummy bears.
Use classic car games to keep your child interested in driving - not just stopping. Games like “I Spy,” the Alphabet Game, or Car Bingo can be adapted for different ages.
Time of day or night can significantly impact the ease of your car ride. Do your kids sleep well with the rhythmical movement of the car? Traveling at naptime or bedtime may make the trip go more smoothly. If your child does not sleep well in the car, try to avoid natural sleeping times so you do not have a sleep-deprived child while you navigate the road trip.
by Emily Jung, MS/CCC-SLp
Looking for some good books for Valentine's Day? Our speech language pathologists find these to be great for developing language skills:
Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse!
A great book for teaching pronouns and verbs.
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Rose!
A repetitive, rhyming book great for building vocabulary.
Llama Llama I love You
A rhyming book with several different action words.
Where Is Baby’s Valentine?
A fun lift-the-flap book with lots of prepositions.
A great book for labeling and identifying body parts and counting.
By Jennafer Young, OTR/L
Snow. It’s cold, wet, and difficult to drive in. But as Occupational Therapists, we love snow! At least, we love the therapeutic benefits of snow.
If your child is a sensory-seeker, on-the-move, emotionally dramatic, or high-energy kind of kiddo, keep reading to find out why you can love the snow too!
Playing in the snow is an activity that provides excellent deep pressure and heavy work or proprioceptive input.
Proprioception is our internal sense of body awareness. It tells us about where our body is, how our muscles are moving, and how much force we are using. For many kids, proprioception (heavy work) and deep pressure are very calming and organizing types of input. Snow provides an excellent source of these types of input! Simply wearing all that snow gear gives a nice dose of deep pressure, similar to using a weighted vest or blanket. And playing in a snowy backyard is a natural way to get a heaping helping of proprioceptive input, which can help your child remain more organized during the long hours of indoor work at school or play at home.
Next time your child is bouncing off the walls, consider a healthy dose of SNOW THERAPY with these activities:
- Climb a SNOW DRIFT MOUNTAIN: Provides heavy work and great exercise!
- Build a SNOWMAN: Great arm strengthening as they roll and lift the balls of snow. Also provides heavy work/proprioceptive input!
- Make a SNOW ANGEL: A more restful way to provide heavy work/proprioception. It also is perfect to pair this with deep breathing while your child lays in the snow.
- Create a SNOW MUMMY: Burry your child from toes to shoulders in the snow for a great dose of calming deep pressure. Then have him or her try to climb out!
- Build a SNOW FORT: Strengthen arms and legs, provide great proprioceptive input, and work on those planning and problem-solving skills!
With all these benefits in mind, let’s encourage our kids to bundle up and head outside for some SNOW THERAPY!
by Emily Jung, MS/CCC-SLP
A fun winter activity for children is building a snowman. Building a snowman can also be a great activity to work on expressive and receptive language. There are a variety of concepts that can be targeted while making the snowman. Here are a few ideas!
Snowman Language: Following Directions:
- Roll the ball
- Put the ball on top
- Find two stick
- Put the hat on
- Put the carrot in the middle
Snowman Language: Sequencing:
- First roll the ball
- Next put the ball on top
- Last put the hat on
Snowman Language: Size Concepts:
- Small, medium, large
- Big, bigger, biggest
Snowman Language: Prepositions:
- On top
Snowman Language: Other Concepts:
- Body Parts (head, arms, eyes, nose, mouth)
- Clothing Items (hat, scarf)
- Shapes (snowball is a circle, carrot is a triangle)
- Colors (snow is white, carrot is orange)
- Temperature (snow is cold, snow melts when it’s hot)
What to do if you can’t make a snowman outside:
Bring a small amount of snow inside to make a mini snowman
Make a Play doh snowman
Make a snowman using paper, scissors, and glue
Use shaving cream or whipped cream
Make a snowman snack with marshmallows
By Jolene Law, MS/CCC-SLP
Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. While many children easily engage in functional and appropriate play skills with a variety of toys, others require assistance in physically engaging with toys. Below is a list of our favorite interactive, cause-effect toys that target several language skills.
Description: Poppity Pop Musical Dino helps encourage and reward child, includes an adorable Dinosaur character and 6 brightly colored balls. Child is rewarded with over 8 fun tunes and silly sound effects while helping child to understand cause and effect of actions.
Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color identification, requesting (ball, more, go) or specific colors, concepts of on/off, in/out.
Description: 40+ sing-along songs, tunes & phrases. Two levels of play offer fresh songs, phrases & sounds for your child’s age & stage. Drop coins into the piggy's back or belly.
Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color identification, requesting (money, more, mine, me) or specific colors, concepts of on/off.
Description: A visually stimulating cause and effect toy. Balls roll down the ramp.
Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color matching and identification, requesting (more, ball, hammer, mine) or specific colors.
Description: Lively air-powered, ball-poppin’ toy features fun, upbeat music and comes complete with five balls.
Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color identification, requesting (ball, more. go) or specific colors, concepts of on/off, in/out.
Description: Wiggle and giggle activity ball for kids, designed to make noises when its turned and rolled which is powered by the child, not batteries and is soft and squeezable for little hands.
Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, practice turn taking by rolling/tossing the ball back and forth, concepts of on/off, target a variety of actions such as throw, catch, roll, kick.
Description: A set of 10 colorful nesting and stacking blocks with illustrations featuring animals, numbers, shapes, and colors. Made of durable cardboard construction.
Targets: Great for hand-eye coordination, number recognition, problem solving, and construction play. Stack the blocks and practice knocking them over while practicing exclamatory reactions such as “Kaboom!” or “Oh no!”
Description: An 8-piece wooden peg puzzle with sturdy wooden puzzle board with a full-color matching picture under each piece
Targets: Eye- and ear-catching puzzle enhances matching and listening skills while aural reinforcement helps children play independently, reinforces animal noises while targeting fine motor skills.
Description: Orbeez are wet and wacky, soft and squishy, fun and funky, bouncy and beautiful. They start off hard and tiny. Add water and watch them grow to more than 100 times their volume.
Targets: Fill a bin with these water based beads and hide toys in the bin. Target sensory skills while digging into the bin and find and label the items.
Description: Colorful, captivating set of gears that spin as twinkling lights flash while fun music plays.
Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color identification, requesting (more, go) or specific colors, concepts of on/off.
Description: A musical rainbow spinning toy.
Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, requesting (more. go), concepts of on/off, up/down.
Select a switch that is easy for your child to use.
Switch: The Jelly Bean twist offers Ablenet's original Jelly Bean's 2.5-inch activation surface with tactile and auditory feedback, but with a twist. The switch tops can be removed and replaced with the color of your choice (included): Red, Blue, Yellow, or Green.
2. Select an adaptable toy that is interchangable with switches.
Clip Fan: This awesome switch adapted clip fan has soft blades with 64 exciting light show effects. Fan has a flexible gooseneck that lets it bend easily in any direction. The jumbo clip allows it to attach to a wide variety of surfaces, including wheelchair trays & table tops edges. Perfect for teaching cause-effect, visual stimulation, or just plain fun! For seizure-prone individuals, lights can be switched off without affecting the fan operation
Books are a great gift for children for many reasons. While reading is a wonderful way to create a strong bond with your child, it also has many benefits to increase speech and language skills. Early reading for toddlers has been linked to a better grasp of the fundamentals of language while learning critical language and articulation skills. By listening to you read their favorite books, your child is reinforcing the basic sounds and words that form language. Below is a list of books that specifically target language development.Read More