Category: On My Mind…

Fidgets in the Classroom: Why? What? How?

By Courtney Bills and Tera Robinson

We are right in the middle of the fidget spinner craze! The debates and rants have died down a bit because school is out for summer and no one has a problem if children are paying more attention to their fidget spinner than they are to their screens. Or the fidget spinners are inside while the kids are swimming, riding bikes and playing at the park. But… School starts soon and the discussion will surely fire back up! Hopefully, this post will help give some thought and good ideas to implement and help calm the craze, especially in our classrooms.

This time, I’ve teamed up with an amazing elementary teacher with 15 years of experience in classrooms, Courtney Bills. She has used fidgets in her classroom and gets everyday practice to implement sensory strategies into her teaching as she works with students, teachers and her own children who have sensory processing difficulties. We’ve collaborated together to help students and teachers for several years and she has some great ideas to successfully implement fidgets in classrooms. Courtney is going to share HOW she implements fidgets into her classroom at the end of this article.

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links as a convenient way to find products and tools recommended.

WHY USE FIDGETS IN THE CLASSROOM? (by Tera)

A fidget is one of many tools that helps students self-regulate their attention, behavior and learning. Fidget spinner marketers have done a fabulous job in gaining the attention of the general public about something people have been doing for ages and that occupational therapists have been recommending for decades! You’ve already seen fidgets in many forms, even before the invention of the fidget spinner! Twirling hair, tapping fingers, bouncing knees, clicking pens, doodling…

Fidgets can help a person who is having difficulty paying attention, holding still, or behaving appropriately to seek out movement (vestibular), muscle (proprioceptive) and touch (tactile) sensory input that will keep them alert, attentive and maintain appropriate interactions during important daily activities. For students in a classroom, appropriate daily activities would include sitting still, paying attention, listening to the teacher, following directions, staying on task, completing work assignments and participating appropriately in classroom activities with others nearby.

Maybe you know a student or two or three… who may struggle with some of these appropriate classroom behaviors. Students with the following behaviors would benefit from using a fidget:

  • difficulty paying attention, listening and following directions
  • difficulty maintaining alertness (may exhibit “dazed” looks)
  • difficulty holding still or staying in his/her seat
  • difficulty keeping hands to her/himself and staying in his/her own space

WHAT FIDGETS WORK IN THE CLASSROOM? (by Tera)

The key to a successful classroom fidget is that it that works as a tool, not a toy. Each student will respond differently to different fidgets. I’ve seen a variety of fidgets work very successfully in classrooms, including simple fidget spinners for a student or two and fidget cubes for a few more, but the key is still that it is used as a tool, NOT a toy. Students have many other classroom tools such as pencils, crayons, scissors, paper, desks, chairs, books, computers, iPads…  Teachers teach and maintain guidelines about appropriately using these classroom tools and not allowing them to become toys. (A few examples: A pencil is for writing, not sword fighting. Scissors are for cutting paper, not hair.) Teachers should also teach and maintain guidelines for classroom fidget tools. A successful fidget tool will not be the focus of a student’s attention, but will be used in the background with the focus of attention being given to the instruction, activities and learning in the classroom. Students should be able to answer questions, participate appropriately and not disturb others in the learning taking place while using the fidget. One reminder is that novelty will always create excitement, but once it is consistently used in the classroom, the excitement wears off. So if fidgets are used consistently in the classroom, they will become old news to many students and the ones who need them will keep coming back for them.

I really love this video that explains and gives guidelines on how to use fidgets in the classroom as a tool and not a toy: Long Story Shorts – Fidgets. Teachers and parents, show this to your students so they can learn how to use a fidget effectively to help them learn!

There are a few practical considerations to take into account when choosing fidgets for the classroom:

  • Price is important in a full classroom of young students. Expect that fidgets will be lost and need to be replaced, so I try to only buy fidgets that are about $3 or less.
  • The ability to use hands for learning activities is another important factor. Fidgets requiring two hands are fine for listening and discussion, but if a student is writing, at least one hand should be free to use a pencil. You can add a clip to tie to belt loops or a pencil topper fidget to avoid dropping or losing the fidget.
  • Simple and plain is best for classroom fidgets. Remember that fidgets should NOT be the focus of a student’s attention, so entertaining factors, such as stress balls with eyes that pop out when squeezing or bright, flashing lights or any noisy fidget, should be avoided in the classroom.

Several of my awesome teacher friends have helped me create a list of their most successful fidgets of the many that I’ve recommended in their classrooms over the past few years.

Boinks Marble Fidget

Tangle Jr.

Tangle Jr. Classics - Set of 3 Classic Tangle Jr. Fidget Toys

Stress Balls

Silicone Bracelets

Nut & Bolt Pencil Toppers

Fidget Pencil Toppers on Pencil, Set of 6 (3 Wing Nuts and 3 Nuts'n Bolts), Colors Vary

Coil Bracelets

Scrubber Sponges

Yarn

Lion Brand Yarn 545-201 Landscapes Yarn, Boardwalk

Sticky Back Velcro Tape

Model Magic Clay

Kneadable Erasers

Kneadable Eraser, 36 count tub

Elastics

Paper Clips

Binder Clips

HOW CAN FIDGETS BE USED SUCCESSFULLY IN THE CLASSROOM? (by Courtney)

Although many children can be taught in a traditional classroom without modifications, many children will find greater success with simple classroom adjustments. I have found that providing opportunities for children to discover their personal sensory needs enhances their learning, their motivation to learn, and their engagement in instruction.

I have learned a few things over the years in using fidgets and other sensory strategies in my classroom: (Although this article is specific for fidgets, all points in this section can be applied to any sensory strategy, such as seating options and brain breaks, used in the classroom.)

  • All fidgets should be taught with procedures and purpose just like turning in an assignment, sharpening pencils or lining up. You can eliminate almost all misuse of fidgets with proper training and procedures.
  • Provide more fidgets than children. Only a handful of children will “need” a fidget during carpet time, but if all children have the option, no one feels different or singled out.
  • Don’t use fidgets as a punishment for not being able to sit still or poor behavior.
  • Don’t take away fidgets for not following directions, using fidgets incorrectly, or not sitting still. Don’t misinterpret the fidget to be the cause of poor behavior, but lack of training and understanding the proper use of fidgets.
  • Most importantly, help children self-regulate and recognize when and if a particular fidget is helping him/her engage in the learning.

To help students learn how to self-regulate by using fidgets, ask questions such as:

  • How did having this fidget help you participate during carpet time?
  • Why did you choose to use this fidget to do your assignment today? Did it help you or distract you?
  • What fidget could you try next time that may help you stay focused?
  • I noticed that this fidget seemed to help you get your work done. How did it make you feel inside? Why do you think it helped you?

Fidgets are one of many sensory strategies that we use to support student success at school. Ask your occupational therapist for recommendations to meet the specific needs of your individual child or student. You may also be interested in learning about the importance of full recesses and seating options for sensory strategies to be used in combination with fidgets at school.

Every Minute of Every Recess for Every Student!

Classroom Seating Options for Students Who Struggle Sitting Still

 

Courtney Bills is a wife and mom of three awesome kids with their own individual sensory needs. She has taught in elementary classrooms for many years and is now a National Educational Consultant, with a focus on literacy instruction through C & B Reading, LLC. She works locally in Utah to help integrate an inclusion model for all students by providing necessary accommodations in the classroom for engagement and success of all learners.

 

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

 

How to be a Friend to Someone with Autism

Happy Autism Awareness month and Happy Occupational Therapy month this April! What better way to celebrate than by sharing some tips on how to be a friend to someone with Autism from an OT!

Most likely, you know someone with Autism. Most likely, you want to be kind and friendly with them, but are not quite sure how to interact and go about building a friendship. They may act differently from you, but they share a similar desire to have a friend with whom they feel safe. They and their families appreciate when someone will take the time to really get to know them and build a friendship. Over many years, I’ve been able to enjoy many friendships with people who have Autism. My Autistic friends make me smile! I’m grateful for the many lessons they’ve taught me and the memorable moments we’ve shared.

CHARACTERISTICS OF AUTISM

When interacting with someone with Autism, it’s important to recognize the basic defining characteristics of Autism. As you’ll notice, these defining characteristics listed below make social interactions especially difficult for them. Recognize that all these characteristics may make the Autistic person uneasy with a new person initiating social interaction, but does not mean people with Autism do not want friends!

  • Social Skill Difficulties
  • Communication Difficulties
  • Repetitive Behaviors, Routines and Isolated Interests
  • Sensory Processing Difficulties

“THE SPECTRUM”

“Autism Spectrum Disorder” is the official name of the Autism diagnosis. “Spectrum” is used to define a very wide variety of behaviors that encompasses the above characteristics. Each person with Autism will exhibit these characteristics very differently. Each person with Autism is unique and building a friendship with them will mean you must get to know each individually. Below are some clusters of behavior you may see from people on the Autism Spectrum.

Social Skill Difficulties: 

  • May not make eye contact; may be uncomfortable being close in proximity to new people; may find different ways to get your attention, such as throwing objects.
  • May not recognize social cues as to when to stop talking; may not recognize how to enter a group to socialize; may have difficulty learning to share with others.

Communication Difficulties:

  • May not speak, but understands many words or phrases; may only repeat words or phrases; may use alternative ways to communicate, such as pictures or hand gestures.
  • May speak and understand well, but very literally; may not communicate tactfully; may talk excessively.

Repetitive Behaviors, Routines and Isolated Interests:

  • May use movements, such as flapping hands or rocking back and forth, when excited or nervous; may enjoy playing with the same objects or doing the same activities over and over, such as lining up cars or watching fans spin; may get nervous and upset when going to new places, getting new shoes, having furniture moved out of their familiar spot or having new people in their safe environments at home or school.
  • May want to talk about the same topic in detail all the time, such as Minecraft, Pokemon or dinosaurs; may not recognize subtle social cues that you are ready to change subjects or stop talking; may get stressed or not function well through seemingly small changes, such as a new haircut, long holiday weekends or an assembly that changes the school schedule.

Sensory Processing Difficulties:

  • May be over-sensitive to normal amounts of sensory input around us: such as lights seeming to be too bright; noises seeming to be too loud and needing to cover his/her ears; being startled and seeming to over-react to accidental bumps or a pat on the back;  refusing to touch or wear certain textures; being bothered or distracted by smells; being unable to tolerate tasting a variety of foods; being scared of movement activities, such as swinging.
  • May be under-sensitive to normal amounts of sensory input around us: intensely staring or watching others or objects, such as spinning fans or wheels; frequently humming or making his/her own noises; craving hugs, always fidgeting or seeking out certain textures to touch; smelling people and objects; licking, mouthing and chewing on many different objects, not just food; craving movement, such as spinning, jumping and rocking.

HELP THEM FEEL SAFE

When you approach someone with Autism, address them by name in a pleasant, non-intrusive way. Be calm, avoid light touches and loud entrances so you don’t startle them until you become familiar with their sensory processing preferences. Be sure to be predictable or tell them what you’re doing so they know what to expect.

Watch and observe to see if they have a toy, a book or maybe a shirt that they may have an interest in. How can you find a way to interact over something that feels safe or enjoyable to them? With people who speak, you can discuss the subject, listen and ask questions and share their interest. With people who don’t speak, how can you enjoy an activity together? Maybe you can hand them cars from a pile as they line them up, careful not to interfere in their routine. Maybe you can both hit balloons up into the air together.

LET THEM SET THE PACE

Some people with Autism may need to take your interaction slower than you’re used to. They may not be ready to look at you, respond to you or answer your questions. These behaviors don’t mean they’re not listening. You can tell them, “That’s ok. We can talk more in a while. I can wait.” Try again later. It may be that you have to do this over several encounters until they are comfortable with you. They might be willing to give high fives or fist bumps before they are ready to talk.

Don’t give up! And don’t ignore them! Most people with Autism understand more than you realize and feel the effects of being ignored. Be patient and keep trying to be friends with them.

Some Autistic people will be overly excited and want all your attention. When you’re first making friends with them, share that excitement and give them attention. After your friendship is built and you learn to trust each other, you can start to change the pace slowly to also meet your needs by talking frankly, but politely. “Hey, how about you spend a few more minutes talking about Minecraft and then I can tell you about the new things I did yesterday?!”

DON’T BE OFFENDED BY THEIR BEHAVIOR AND COMMUNICATION

Don’t assume that people with Autism are being rude, disrespectful or selfish as they interact with you or others. If you find yourself thinking that their behavior or communication is any of these things, remember they inherently process information and think differently than you, especially social communication. Quickly forgive any offense and be patient as they learn. Just as you are learning how to interact with them, they are learning how to interact with you.

Be sure to clearly tell them what behaviors you appreciate in your friendship, such as, “I like when you smile at me when you see me! It makes me feel like we are friends!” or “Thank you for sharing your toys with me! I have fun playing with you!”

POLITELY ASK SINCERE QUESTIONS

If you ever have questions about how to be a friend to someone with Autism, be sure to ask parents, teachers or friends who know him/her well. They will have insight into their interests, comforts and unique ways of socializing and communicating with others. Many parents and teachers are very happy to help others willing to take the time to understand and get to know their child/student.

If you are in a teaching capacity for someone with Autism, recognize that maintaining a safe and trusting relationship with these principles will create a crucial foundation before you can help them stretch outside their comfort zone.

Enjoy the journey of friendship with your unique friends with Autism!

 

“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” –Henry David Thoreau

Every Minute of Every Recess for Every Student!

Recess is a critical part of every student’s day! As an occupational therapist who has treated children with sensory processing and other special needs in outpatient clinics, schools and as a mom of children whose favorite part of the school day is recess, I will always advocate for every minute of every recess for every student! I’ve shared my professional opinion of the importance of recess for all children with many parents, teachers and administrators. Recess that includes physical activity, unstructured play and socialization with peers improves student behavior, attention and academic performance, as well as the more commonly known physical benefits.

Several years ago, the local schools in my community began cutting recess time to give more time to academics. Although my children did not attend these schools, I felt passionate about raising concern about this trend. At this same time, I was treating many children with sensory processing or sensory integration disorders who had high needs for vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (muscle and joint) input who were also losing recess time through school policies to give more classroom instruction time or as a result of poor behavior or academic performance in the classroom. These children struggled even more in every aspect of their day when their recess time was cut. If only the school staff understood that increased movement and physical activity would improve their behavior, attention and learning while in the classroom! And also understand that student behavior, attention and learning suffers when recess time is cut for any reason!

I want to share some good resources to help advocate for every minute of every recess for every student. Share this with other parents, teachers, administrators and policy makers so best practices for our children’s recesses are put into practice at every school in every classroom for every student!

A new document, Strategies for Recess in Schools, from the CDC and SHAPE America, was recently released in January 2017 with evidence-based recommendations given from experts about recess! The document references 41 other research studies and documents on the importance and benefits of recess. The website also includes links for a Recess Toolkit with ideas and resources for parents and schools to advocate and plan for successful recesses at their school and in their communities.

BENEFITS OF RECESS (pg 4)

  • Increased physical activity
  • Improved memory, attention and concentration
  • Improved on-task behavior in the classroom
  • Reduced disruptive behavior in the classroom
  • Improved social and emotional development

RECOMMENDED GUIDELINES FOR RECESS (pg. 5)

  • Recess time and physical education time should be separate and should not be used to replace each other.
  • Schools and students should be provided with adequate spaces, facilities, equipment, and supplies for recess.
  • Spaces and facilities for recess should meet or exceed recommended safety standards.
  • Recess time should not be taken away for disciplinary reasons or academic performance in the classroom.
  • Required physical activity during recess should not be used as punishment.
  • Recess time should be scheduled before lunch.
  • Staff members who lead or supervise recess should be provided with ongoing professional development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also issued a policy statement in January 2013 on The Crucial Role of Recess in School with 47 reference documents.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.” (pg. 1)

“Ironically, minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance.” (pg. 4)

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR RECESS: (pg. 4) 

  • Recess is a necessary break in the day and should be considered a child’s personal time. It should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.
  • Cognitive processing and academic performance depend on regular breaks from concentrated classroom work. The frequency and duration of breaks should be sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress.
  • Recess is a complement to, but not a replacement for physical education.
  • Recess serves as a counterbalance to sedentary time and contributes to the AAP’s recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day.
  • Recess should be safe and well supervised.
  • Peer interactions during recess are a unique complement to the classroom and build skills for a foundation for healthy development.

Any questions? Now go and play!

 

 

The Messy Magic and Choatic Splendor of Child-Directed Play in Our Home

Brittany Graham from Utah’s FOX 13’s The Place recently asked for my opinion on a blog post titled, “Get Out of the Play!”. I loved it and ended up writing my thoughts in this post about how our family allows child-directed play in our home.

Stop by my house at anytime and you’ll not find the spotless, well-kept, Pottery Barn decorated images filled with littles dressed in clean, adorable outfits with perfectly done hair… These were the images of my dreams befimg_0961-2ore my husband and I started into the magical journey of parenthood.

Instead, you may find a yarn ball explosion with children creating pulleys across railings, hallways and doorknobs or a make-believe laser beam obstacle course as they challenge each other to make it across the hallway without setting off the “deathly laser beams”. Maybe you’ll find a collection of bugs with leaves and dirt in containers sitting by the collection pile of very special sticks gathered over the months from our hikes on the trails and walks to the park. You might look in the back yard to see a princess in a sparkly gown and tiara digging for worms in the mud. Walk upstairs and it could be some “witch’s brew” of magical ingredients being stirred in the “witch’s cauldron” or more realistically described as hundreds of tiny scraps of different-colored construction paper being thrown across the floor. You might find the goofiness of inserting a balloon head on top of a brother’s head in his hoodie! If you peek in my freezer, don’t be alarmed by the dead baby snake in a plastic bag that my son was sure he needed to save for further exploration!

These scenes of mess and chaos may give you anxiety. They have almost given me a few panic attacks, but usually, after several deep breaths and reminders for more deep breaths, I’ve stopped myself enough to share the magic and sple105ndor of childhood play through their perspective. As my children are growing, I now swoon over the long days of tired and exhausting bliss and wish they weren’t passing so quickly.

In my training as an occupational therapist student at Colorado State University, I was fortunate to have studied with Anita Bundy, ScD, OT, FAOTA, an internationally recognized expert on children’s play. In addition to my general pediatric OT studies, I also spent a semester with her studying play. I’ve been fascinated with children’s play ever since.

As a practicing pediatric occupational therapist for over 15 years, I’ve spent my career therapeutically using, studying and intervening to support children’s play to improve their everyday lives. Twelve years ago, I started my journey into motherhood, where play was an everyday event in my own home. My OT studies and career have made me a better mom and has had a definite and strong influential impact on my parenting style and philosophies.

What is true play? According to Anita Bundy, basing her theories on the work of previous play experts, play is characterized by three important aspects:

  1. Play is intrinsically motivated. Play is done for the pure enjoyment, excitement and interest for the process itself, not for any end result, product or destination.
  2. Play may extend the limits of reality. Play can always include purple unicorns in a magical kingdom, jet packs that shoot you to Mars, pixie dust to make you fly through the sky, magical staffs to cast spells, spoons becoming phones, empty paper towel rolls transforming into telescopes, pool noodles making excellent swords… True play is never limited by reality.
  3. Play allows the player to maintain control. If another takes control of the direction of the play without consent or the rules of the environment are overly restrictive, true play is lost.

As adults, we feel a heavy responsibility to guide and raise our children to be happy, healthy and successful individuals. We see the end result and feel responsible to be sure they arrive at that destination. We tend to imagine the direct path they will travel to their final finish line of happy, healthy successful adult.

I’ve seen parents at the park telling children to keep their shoes on, not play in the dirt, don’t climb so you don’t fall, don’t throw grass, don’t get wet… with a constant barrage of direction and intervention to make sure the child doesn’t get hurt, doesn’t break adult rules of politeness, doesn’t get dirty, doesn’t make a mess, doesn’t mess up their hair, doesn’t make anyone wait too long… I do believe these parents’ intentions are good. But this constant adult direction doesn’t allow a child to fall into the process of true play defined by intrinsic motivation, suspension of reality and a sense of control.

Play is the work of children and if you observe children deep in play, they are intent, focused and in an absolute sense of enjoyment. Children learn insurmountable amounts of essential physical, emotional, cognitive and social skills necessary to become happy, healthy and successful individuals through years and years of true play. They take risks to stretch their abilities. Yes, risks that will often cause adults to feel uncomfortable. When we get in the way of their play process, we impede their development of these essential skills and opportunity to build confidence in their own abilities.

So, how can adults allow and protect child-directed play?img_2124

  • Create and protect time for child-directed play. Allow downtime each day without scheduled activities or screen-time where they are passively entertained. For me, I have to be patient and slow myself down and remind myself that during this time, we are on the child’s time table. I’m constantly monitoring my rushed thoughts so we can spend our time together enjoying the journey, not focusing on the destination. So, when my son spends so much time collecting and intensely inspecting hundreds of rocks on our hike that we never make it to the final waterfall destination with everyone else, that’s ok. We shared in the splendor of collecting and over-filling our pockets with all the special rocks we could find.
  • Create and allow physical space for child-directed activities. Where can your children build an obstacle course, paint pictures, dress up, make-up their own dance, perform in a marching band, explore bugs, jump, run, wrestle…? For over 10 years, we had a huge bean bag instead of a couch downstairs to allow jumping, crashing and wrestling. That was the main attraction of our house for friends coming to our house to play for many years. Our children have spent endless hours climbing up a table, jumping, flipping and crashing into the bean bag over and over. 
  • Allow messes in the space you’ve created. Let them play with their food, play in the mud, jump in the puddles, play with play dough, paint… My children wear old play clothes to the park. Hair gets messy and dirty feet are common. Set some boundaries for the mess, but allow the mess to happen. My daughter had so much creativity oozing onto walls, scratching into car doors… So, we painted chalkboard walls in the playroom, bought an easel for painting and allowed her to draw anything she wanted on both sides of her bedroom door since the door had a hole and eventually needed to be replaced. We still have the door after many years and we’re keeping it for more creativity. Don’t stress during the process and leave clean-up until the end. Messes give many great opportunities to teach cleaning up.
  • Allow risk-taking behavior within physically and emotionally safe environments. Will your child get bumps, bruises, feelings hurt? Yes, again and again and again. We all learn best from mistakes rather than being protected from ever making one. Let children do this also. Keep children safe from life-altering injuries, but falls, bumps, bruises, cuts, even broken bones will heal.  Kids learn their own vigilance to keep themselves and others safe in their risk-taking behavior. Allow time for children to try to negotiate and solve social disagreements on their own. They will began to recognize how others react to their own behaviors and how to work together. Be available to help, but not too close to interfere (reading a book, folding laundry, talking to friend). If needed, use problem-solving questions such as, “What might happen if you jump from the top of the slide?” Or, “How can you all solve this problem together so you all can have fun?” Stay away from adding more and more defined restrictions like, “No running. No climbing….”  My sons love to climb. I remember the day my oldest son decided to climb a huge tree and shimmy his way to the edge of a very high branch at our local park. While I was watching closely from a short distance, several other moms rushed to the tree and suggested he should get down so he didn’t fall. I knew he was taking some risks, but I knew my son and his abilities and allowed him to stretch that day. If he fell, I was watching and could immediately run to help him. He didn’t fall and fully enjoyed the journey to the edge of the high branch and back.
  • Leave your own plan behind, take your children’s direction and follow them into the magic of childhood. Let your children amaze and delight you! Enjoy it as much as they do! One Christmas was extremely busy for us as we were remodeling another house and planning a move. I only had time to set up the Christmas tree, not decorate it. One day as I was working on a project downstairs, my children, ages 2-6, took responsibility to decorate the tree themselves. My 4-year-old daughter organized her brothers and they searched out tree decorations together… stuffed animals, hair accessories, loose parts of school art projects, socks, ribbons, bracelets, watches, baby blankets, old wrapping paper, an old plastic hose to a small ball pump, superhero figures… Never would I have allowed this to happen with my idea of an ideally decorated Christmas tree… until they pulled me by my hand up the stairs to excitedly present their decorated Christmas tree with such pride in their work! This will always be one of my favorite Christmas memories!

It’s all about balance. There’s a time for adult directions, structure and reality. There’s also a time for the child to have control, give direction and lead. In my professional and personal experience, the cost of mess and chaos is worth the benefits of the journey through the magic and splendor of child-directed play!

My Life is a Gift. My Life has a Plan.

I have a vivid picture in my mind of the biggest toothy smile I’ve ever seen on the face of 10-year-old girl with thick black hair. The thought of her grin brings tears to my eyes every time I hear her favorite song that she’d sing every time I’d see her for her occupational therapy visits with me. I’ll call her Sara for this article.

Sara and her siblings had been removed from their home with accusations of sexual abuse and other child abuse from her parents. She had been referred to me to address her sensory processing difficulties and helping her to learn to calm herself appropriately. She had been placed in a wonderful, nurturing home with a foster mom who happened to have a background with disabilities and was determined to help Sara and her siblings find the help they needed.

Sara loved intense swinging on a flat platform swing. She swung as high and as hard as she could, occasionally hitting the wall of the therapy room that no other child had hit with the swing before from swinging so high. Sara had one volume of voice that I’d describe “as loud as you can”. Her foster mom and I had finally problem solved that she could quiet her volume while chewing on Slim Jim beef sticks and swinging.

Sara had been going to church with her foster family and attended the children’s class. She had memorized one of the songs she’d learned and would sing it for me while she swung as high as she could on the swing in her loudest voice.

As I watched her, I often thought of the awful, terrifying experiences of abuse she’d experienced in her short life. Then I’d watch her up in the air singing at the top of her lungs, “My life is a gift. My life has a plan. My life has a purpose in heaven it began…”

In those moments, I felt at peace that this young girl was being nurtured and loved out of her past horrors. She had already begun to show the effects of that nurturing, developmentally and emotionally. But those words sung with such fierceness, were the perfect soundtrack to accompany her on her new path. Her life WAS a gift. Her life COULD have a plan. Her life DID have a divine purpose that was not lost through the crimes committed against her.

I’ve been fortunate to be the pianist in the children’s class at my own church for the past 2 years, where the children sing this exact song. Tears run down my face every time I listen to them sing this song and memories of Sara rush back to me, swinging up high, singing as loud as she can, “My life is a gift. My life has a plan. My life has a purpose in heaven it began…”

How important are these words for a young girl whose purpose for almost 10 years seemed to be nothing but an object to be acted upon to satisfy the desires of self-serving adults who could not see or understand a child’s worth? And how blessed was Sara that within a few months of love, nurture and the right treatment could start to feel the healing effects and the new path of hope she was on? I hope and pray that Sara engraves those words into her mind and heart as she travels through life with love and nurturing and she begins to truly understand her true value and worth.