Tag: play

Toys and Activities to Keep Kids Active and Meet Their Sensory Needs in a Small Home

Have you ever seen an occupational therapy sensory integration room? (You’ll be jealous of my OT job if you have.) It is a fabulous, big gym with swings, balls, trampolines, mats, bolsters, crash pads and looks like a child’s dream room. If you have a child with sensory processing or sensory integration difficulties and have received therapy in one of these rooms, you’ve wished you could take this room home to help regulate your child’s sensory system each day! And if any child with or without sensory difficulties has been in a sensory room, they’ve begged their parents for a room like one of these in their own home (my own children included)!

Some families are fortunate enough to be able to replicate a big sensory room in their own home, but many simply do not have the space. Parks and outdoor play are the best sensory input in good weather, but snow, rain or even extreme heat may keep you and your child with high sensory needs inside for days at a time. Families can create environments in their own small homes to support their child’s sensory processing needs! Be inspired by this family of 5 who lives in a small home (2 1/2 small bedrooms) and has used their small amount of space wisely.

For about the past 2 years on and off, this family and I have worked together to create the appropriate environment with the right equipment and key activities to help their children regulate their sensory systems at home. They wish more than anything that they had a designated sensory room, but for now while space is very limited, they’ve incorporated important pieces throughout their home. They’ve slowly added equipment throughout the last 2 years so the expense wasn’t so big to start. I’ve asked them to share what the most important equipment and activities they use to help their children regulate their sensory systems and stay active. Even if you don’t have a child with a sensory diagnosis, be sure to look at these ideas, because any child can benefit from being active and having fun in their own home! (And any parent’s sanity can benefit from non-screen activities and equipment like this when their children are cooped up inside!)

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This family actually bought much of their equipment from Amazon. I’m hoping this post is informative, but also that these links will help families save time and energy if interested in using some of these ideas in their own home.

VIDEO: See Tera talk about these toys and activities to keep kids active with FOX 13 The Place here.

 

GYM1 INDOOR PLAYGROUND (PREVIOUSLY NAMED GORILLA GYM)

One of the hardest pieces of equipment to replicate at home from a full sensory gym is a swing. Yet, a swing is also one of the most powerful pieces of equipment to help regulate a child’s sensory system and ask any of the kids, it’s also the most fun! The Gym1 Indoor Swing is a fantastic way to get a swing into your home without a big price tag, large space or expert installation. The Gym1 package has a pull-up bar that can be installed onto a door frame without drilling and comes with attachments that can hang from the bar. The Gym1 Indoor Playground Deluxe Package includes a pull-up bar, swing, trapeze bar, rings, rope ladder and rope that attach to the pull-up bar and can be used in an open doorway. The Gym1 Indoor Playground Package includes the pull-up bar with a swing, rings and rope ladder. Or there’s the Gym1’s Indoor Swing Package with the pull-up bar and swing only. I LOVE the these indoor swings, so do the kids who live in AND the kids who visit this small home!

ROCK CLIMBING WALL

Climbers need a place to climb! Rock walls are perfect for a small home because you already have all the space you need! Dad built this wall fairly easily. He used some extra backer board leftover from a tile remodeling project. Although, he says most people typically use plywood on the walls. He used these Rocky Mountain Climbing Gear’s kids’ rock climbing wall holds with hardware. (Be sure to order child-sized holds for small hands.) The mounting hardware is easily screwed into the wall through the center of each hold. Really, rock climbing walls can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. And there’s no reason you can’t add onto it later and let it continue to grow or shrink as needed.

MINI TRAMPOLINE  

Big or small trampolines will be great investments for your child’s sensory needs. I love the handle bars on the mini trampolines for stability and more sensory input into the child’s arms as they lean into it while jumping. A trampoline helps give great input in one contained spot in your house. This family bought this Little Tikes mini trampoline from Amazon. I’ve also had good experiences with the Fold n Go mini trampoline. For bigger kids, the Pure Fun mini rebounder trampoline is a good option.

POP-UP TENT AND TUNNELS

Small, enclosed spaces can create a sense of safety for an overwhelmed child needing to calm down. Pop-up tents and tunnels are great for this purpose. Tunnels are great to crawl, hide and play inside because moving inside a small space gives more proprioceptive (muscle and joint) input and creates a higher demand on the body to move than a wide, open space. If space is a concern, buy tents and tunnels that can be folded up and stored in small spaces, like this package of 2 pop-up tents and 2 pop-up tunnels or this set of one tent and one tunnel.

KIDOOZIE SUPER SKIPPER

Mom happened to find this toy in a small toy store on the clearance shelf in Wyoming. This was a great find and she says they use it every day at their house. The toy is placed on the ground and when turned on, the sticks spin and the kids jump over it again and again and again. We haven’t seen this exact toy again, but found this similar KidSource Musical Hop Skipper on Amazon.

AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL PRODUCTS’ GONGE CAROUSEL 

Spinning is intense vestibular (movement) input and is great for children who have a hard time keeping their bodies still. Spinning will meet movement needs quicker than back and forth movement. This family used an old office chair to spin until little baby brother’s arrival and they had to replace their desk and office chair for a crib. Now they use this fun Gonge Carousel! The Gonge Carousel spins easily without a constant push. Its uneven mounting causes spinning with the body weight of even small children. It’s also low enough to the ground that a child can stop quickly by putting their foot down. If you have a small home and a child who loves spinning, you need this!

POOL NOODLE SWORDS

A couple of years ago, I happened to see these pool noodle swords at a farmers’ market in North Logan, Utah made from PVC pipe, pool noodles and duct tape. They were a great price, so I also bought some larger batons (think ninja warrior equipment) for my own older kids at the same time (and they STILL love them). These pool noodle swords have proven to be perfect for this family to help regulate their sensory systems. The pool noodle is soft enough to not cause injury. The design with pool noodles on both sides seems to keep them from falling apart after almost 2 years of play. Visit Kid’s Armory Facebook page for contact info if you’d like to try these fun pool noodle swords and batons also. (In case Utah is too far away, I found this package of 4 pool noodle swords on Amazon. I’ve not used them, but wanted to give a link to find something similar.)

WEIGHTED PILLOWS AND BLANKETS

Weighted pillows and blankets are great way to help children to settle and calm for a midday nap or after a long day of play. My favorite local Utah company, Comfort Weighted Blankets, is where I usually recommend buying weighted blankets. (Not only do I like to support local companies, but I’ve found that buying from local companies can decrease the shipping cost on weighted items.) You can also find other companies or you can make your own. Here is a link to a child’s weighted blanket from InYard on Amazon. This family loves Minky Couture blankets, also a favorite local Utah company. These aren’t as heavy as weighted blankets, but use a super soft material that is quite heavy. Because this family has so many, they usually pile several minkies on top of their kids for deep pressure, especially when it’s time to calm and settle.

This little guy has a very favorite old throw pillow and loves to chew on the corner of it. Mom decided to make it into a weighted pillow to help him calm at night with deep pressure. She sewed pockets of rice into old fabric, unstitched the side seam of the pillow, put the rice pockets inside and then stitched it back up. It was easy for even a mom who claims she doesn’t sew. He uses it every night and asks for it when he needs to calm down as he sets it on his lap and chews on the corner. You can always add weight into pillows, blankets or stuffed animals on your own with rice, rocks, or plastic pellet stuffing, etc.

EASY OR NO-EQUIPMENT-NEEDED ACTIVITIES

DANCE PARTIES : Only music needed to get your dance moves on!

BALLOON TOSS: Blow up a balloon and try to keep it in the air! (Easy activity for kids to do while parents are occupied.)

CLIMB, JUMP, CRASH: Jump from the couch, stairs or beds into blankets, pillows, cushions, bean bags or stuffed animals. You can always buy a crash pad or make a crash pad, but a pile of blankets, pillows and stuffed animals on the floor to crash works well also. Your children will incorporate more intensity on their own if they need it with somersaults, flips, etc. (Bunk beds are the preferred jumping spot in this house.)

WRESTLING: A great way to keep kids and adults active! (P.S. Dads and uncles are wrestling all-stars!)

TWISTER: A classic game that can be fun for all ages!

Please share if you have great equipment and activities you use to meet your children’s sensory needs and keep them active in your home!

*Be sure to follow all product safety recommendations. Always supervise your children to help them stay safe with all equipment and activities.

*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!

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.

VIDEO: See Tera talk about the benefits of school recess with FOX 13 The Place here.

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.

VIDEO: See Tera talk about the magic of child-directed play on FOX 13 The Place here.

 

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!