What Toys Are Best For My Child?

As a walk down any toy aisle will tell you, there are many types of toys for all ages of children.  Most will indicate on the packaging what age they are geared toward (“for ages 2+”), but how do you know which toys will provide the best developmental opportunities for your child?

Choose toys that are open-ended.

Get the most bang for your buck by choosing toys that can be adapted as your child grows. For example, blocks are great for infants to bang together to practice cause and effect, as well as bringing their hands to the midline, a great exercise for the brain. Toddlers can begin to stack blocks for fine motor development. They can also use blocks to encourage imaginative play by pretending they are cars driving across the floor or as a telephone to call a loved one! Preschool children can use blocks to build more elaborate structures with playmates to encourage social skills and negotiating conflict. Blocks also enhance dramatic play and can be used to create a house for stuffed animals, a storefront for a restaurant, or bridge to connect people, things, and ideas.

Adapt “toys” you already have.

Parents joke that children often prefer the box the toy came in to the actual toy. Go with it! Let your creativity loose and find new purpose for items in your house. What about that mesh loofa? It makes a great sensory experience for infants, and it is easy for them to grasp as their hand-eye coordination is developing. It also makes a safe option for toddlers to throw and kick around the house. What about using it in paint for a unique texture on paper? Or add it your play with a doll or stuffed animal and practice the bath time routine.  The possibilities are endless!

Don’t forget your child’s favorite toy: You!

Playtime is not necessarily about the type of toy, but how it is used in relation with the caregiver. As caregivers, our schedules are packed, but even just a few moments of playing peek-a-boo your infants or singing a rousing rendition of “Wheels on the Bus,” with your toddler, complete with motions, will help your child’s brain develop synapse connections as they learn about the world around them. Point out your eyes, nose, etc.during bath time with your little one or try playing I-Spy in the car on the way to the store with your preschooler. Your child learns best in the context of a loving relationship with you, so go ahead, have a tickle-fest in the middle of that toy aisle and take advantage of the most priceless toy your child could have! You!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about developmentally appropriate toys, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Becky Clark, MS, DT
Developmental Therapist

Reference: Cook, R. E., Sparks, S. N. (2008).  The art and practice of home visiting. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.

Photo by Susan Holt Simpsonon unsplash.com

Early Intervention Initial Evaluation: What to Expect

Making the call to Early Intervention (EI) can be the daunting first step in addressing developmental concerns for your child. What comes next? PlayWorks Therapy’s Director of Developmental Therapy, Kim Shlaes, explains what to expect during an Illinois Early Intervention initial evaluation.

Service Coordinator
After a referral is made for your child, a service coordinator is assigned to your case. The service coordinator:

  • Is the point of contact for you and your family to help guide you through the EI process.
  • Is responsible for conducting an intake meeting to collect all the needed information and paperwork to set up an initial evaluation.
  • Coordinates the evaluation and ongoing services, should your child qualify.
  • Is responsible for writing and updating the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) based on recommendations made by providers during their initial evaluation, goals you and your family have for your child, and assessments while in EI.
  • Is responsible for informing a family of their rights while in EI.
  • Helps facilitate the transition from EI as the child ages out of the program at three years old.

Initial Evaluation
Next, your service coordinator organizes a team of at least two credentialed evaluators. The evaluation team is selected based on developmental concerns you have for your child. An evaluation team typically has a combination of the following: developmental therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and/or speech and language pathologist. Other providers, such as social workers, nutritionists, interpreters, and others are added to an evaluation team as needed.

The initial evaluation typically takes about one hour to complete. A parent/guardian is required to attend the evaluation. A typical evaluation follows the following routine:

  • Review reasons for the referral to EI, including parental and pediatrician concerns.
  • Review the child’s birth and medical history. The evaluators will also ask questions about your child’s milestones, their social history (including who your child lives with, who cares for your child during the day, any languages your child is exposed to), and your child’s opportunities to socialize with other children.
  • The evaluators take turns playing with your child.
  • The evaluators ask you several questions about your child’s development (i.e. how your child completes “self-help” skills such as eating and dressing, how they socialize with other children, how they communicate with you, how they process sensory information, etc.).
  • Evaluators then score their assessments and make recommendations for ongoing therapy or additional evaluations. If your child qualifies for services, you and the evaluators write discipline specific goals for your child, based on what your family wants to target while in EI. This part of the evaluation is the “IFSP meeting”.

What comes next?
Should you decide to move forward with Early Intervention services, your service coordinator organizes a team of credentialed therapists to provide service to your child. These therapists contact you directly to schedule your child’s therapy sessions, which are held in a natural environment for your child, most commonly your home or their school/daycare. Services typically begin within a few weeks of the initial evaluation.

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development or the Early Intervention process, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT
Director of Developmental Therapy Services

Photo Credit: willingness.com.mt/types-of-play-therapy/

What to Choose? Self-Feeding Tools for Babies and Toddlers

If you’ve ever browsed the grocery store aisles looking for the perfect cup or utensil set for your child, you may have quickly found yourself overwhelmed with all of the options. With the wide variety of choices available nowadays, it’s hard to determine the best item to for your child. There is no “one size fits all” approach to finding a transition cup and/or feeding utensil that is right for your child, and it may take some trial and error to determine the best fit. However, throughout my time as a speech-language pathologist and feeding therapist, I’ve found some tools to be particularly useful as a child develops his or her eating and drinking skills.

I’ve heard sippy cups are bad? What cup should I choose?

I’ve had many parents tell me that they’ve heard that sippy cups are “bad” and that they’d like a better option for their child. While I don’t label all sippy cups as “bad” (and feel that they are a necessary option for some children with specific feeding needs), research has proven that use of sippy cups can lead to tooth decay, oral motor delays, and speech and swallowing delays. For more information, please see a recent blog post by one of PlayWorks Therapy’s speech language pathologists: http://playworkschicago.com/blog/page/3/

Straw cups and free flow cups are a great alternative to sippy cups. Here are some cups that I have found particularly beneficial for children from all feeding backgrounds:

  • Straw cups: There are a wide variety of straw cups on the market that are specific to babies and toddlers. Some of my favorites include the Nuby No-Spill Sports Sipper(a great option for transitioning from bottles to cups!) and Phillips Avent Straw Cup; however, there are several similar options on the market that work just as well. If your child hasn’t quite grasped the concept of straws yet, the Honey Bear Straw Cupis a great introduction to straw drinking.
  • Spoutless sippy cups: Commonly referred to as the 360 Cup, this no-spill cup is a great tool to teach the oral motor and swallowing skills necessary for drinking from an open cup. Munchin Miracle 360 Trainerand Playtex Spoutless 360 Cupare both great options.

I want my child to use utensils, but he can’t quite grasp a spoon or fork yet. What should I do?

Children learn to eat with their hands, and this is a goodthing! It’s important for children to be exposed to the sensory properties of food, and eating with their hands is the best way to do so. However, there comes a time when it’s appropriate for a child to use a utensil to feed himself. When children aren’t able to successfully use a fork or spoon, I like to incorporate some of the following:

  • Dippers: Dippers are similar to a spoon, except they have no spoon bowl. Children use dippers by dipping the utensil in a thick puree and bringing the dipper to their mouth. This teaches the motor skills necessary for using utensils without requiring as much coordination. Some of my favorite dippers include Numnum Pre-Spoon Goo-tensilsand ChooMee Starter Spoons.
  • Curved spoons: Curved spoons are another good option for children who have difficulty handling typical spoons. Curved spoons are made to match a baby’s natural grasp. Many have shorter, thicker handles which make the spoons easier to maneuver. Playtex Curve Infant Spoonsare a great option!
  • Child size spoons and forks: While I don’t have any particular brand of spoons and forks that I prefer, children learning to self-feed will have more control when using small utensils. Additionally, utensils with a wider handle will be easier for children to grip.

What can I do if my child is demonstrating feeding difficulties?

If your child is demonstrating difficulties transitioning away from the bottle and/or tolerating an age-appropriate diet, consider contacting one of our feeding therapists, who can provide your family with helpful tips and tricks to increase your child’s independence as they transition to the world of self-feeding.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s feeding skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Sarah Lydon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Hal Gatewood via unsplash.com

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