Snow Day! Heavy Work Activities to Promote Sensory Regulation in Your Child

Snowy days provide great opportunities for heavy work proprioceptive input! Proprioception refers to our sense of awareness of body position, which our bodies process by receiving input through the muscles and joints. This type of input is typically calming for most children, but can also be alerting for some children. Proprioceptive input generally occurs through heavy work activities that involve deep pressure or weight through the muscles and joints.

What is heavy work?

Heavy work is a strategy used by therapists to target the sense of proprioception, helping children to understand where their bodies are in space. Heavy work refers to activities that push and pull on the body, specifically on the joints. When participating in heavy work activities, messages are sent from receptors in our joints to receptors in our brainstem. These messages serve to remind the brain and the body where we are in space. For children, this type of input is specifically helpful in promoting a calmer demeanor, increased attention and regulation, body awareness, improved sleep, and more organized behavior.

Try the following activities in the snow for increased opportunities for heavy work!

  • Have your child pull or push a peer or sibling on a sled. Heavy work is most effective when done until you child seems visible tired, so try supervising a trip around the block if your child seems up for it!
  • Have a snowball rolling contest! Compete with your child to see who can roll a bigger snowball. Pushing a large object, such as a snowball, provides excellent heavy work proprioceptive input to the shoulder joints.
  • Make a snow castle. Have your child pack snow into buckets, carry them to the other side of the yard or park, and flip them out to create a tower or castle. The body retains feedback from sensory input for about 90 minutes at a time, so you can always have your child go back and add on to his or her snow castle later in the day, when he or she may need more input.
  • Shovel! Shoveling is excellent heavy work. Give your child a shovel and allow him or her to help you clear off a porch, driveway, or some steps. Having your child carry the shovel full of snow over to make a snow pile will also be a great test of balance.
  • Explore some snow mounds. Supervise you child while he or she climbs up snow mounds made from shoveling or plowing. Walking uphill and through the snow provides plenty of resistance that makes for great heavy work!
  • Play snow hide and seek! Use a shovel to dig a hole and place a waterproof toy inside before covering the hole with snow again. Make sure this is a toy you wouldn’t miss in case it gets misplaced until spring! Have your child dig the toy out using his or her hands, a shovel, or a bucket.
  • Have your child pull a rake through the snow to create snow art!
  • Bury your child’s legs in the snow and let him or her move against the resistance of the snow to get out.

Questions or concerns?

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

Natalie Machado, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Photo Credit: Katie Gerrard on Unsplash

What’s Inside the Mystery Box?!

Let’s make a mystery box!

It’s no mystery that families and children been spending more time at home than ever before. When we are constantly surrounded by the same scenery, including the same toys and games, it can be difficult to brainstorm ways to mix it up (without constantly rushing to the store or clicking ‘buy now’ on Amazon).

As a pediatric therapist, I am always seeking new ways to turn every day household items into fun, motivating, and enriching toys. I’ve found that some of the best toys are not ‘toys’ at all. One of my favorite non-traditional toys is a do-it-yourself mystery container/box!

This language-rich activity is appropriate for children at every developmental stage AND it only requires a few common household items. There are endless outcomes, variations, and possibilities with this activity!

Materials

  • An empty box or container (plastic flower pot, clean mini trashcan, big bowl, toy bin)
  • A short sleeve t-shirt
  • A rubber band to secure the t-shirt (optional)
  • Small items from around your home

Directions

  1. Collect the materials
  2. Pull the t-shirt over the top of the box/container, so that one of the sleeves lines up with the top or opening of the container.
  3. (Optional) Secure the t-shirt onto the box/container with a rubber band
  4. Place objects from around your home into the mystery box/container through the sleeve hole at the top. Choose objects that are safe to the touch- avoid sharp/pointed items.
  5. Take turns reaching inside of the mystery box. Encourage your child to use his or her hands (or even feet!) to feel the objects in the box/container. Ask your child to pull the objects out. *BONUS: Create a silly song to sing while you pull objects out! This song is to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”

What’s inside the mystery box?

Mystery box, mystery box

What’s inside the mystery box?

I wonder what we’ll find!

 

How to target speech, language, and social development during this activity:

  • Play ‘peek-a-boo’ with objects in the box! After modeling this phrase a few times, pause and wait for your child to fill-in-the-blank. Encourage your child fill-in-the-blank with the object label by modeling the phrase “It’s….a…”. Pause, look expectantly at your child, and wait for him/her to fill-in the blank.
  • Increase your child’s eye contact and joint attention by holding the box and objects by your face! Tickle your child with the objects or place box on your head to increase shared attention.
  • Encourage your child to follow 1-2 step directions (grab the bear, then put it in the box; pull a soft toy out of the box). If your child needs extra support, provide a model or use gestural cues to show your child how to follow the direction
  • Model grammatically correct phrases and sentences throughout the activity. Label and describe what you feel, see, and hear. Incorporate different word types into your models, including:
    • Exclamations (uh oh, wow, ooooh!)
    • Object names (box, bear, shoe, stick, spoon, playdoh)
    • Pronouns (my, your, his, hers)
    • Action words (shake, pull, feel, reach)
    • Location words (in, out, under, up, down)
    • Descriptive words (big, little, hard, soft, squishy, smooth, bumpy)
  • Practice turn-taking by taking turns reaching inside of the mystery box. Identify whose turn it is by pointing and/or using turn-taking language (It’s my turn! Now, it’s your turn!). Encourage your child to wait and watch while you take a turn.
  • If your child is working on specific speech sounds, place objects in your mystery box/container that contain the target speech sound in the object label. Each time your child pulls an object out, you can practice the target word 5x together! For example, if your child is working on the “b” sound at the beginning of words, you can include objects such as a ball, bird, balloon, bib, baby, bell, banana, etc.
  • Ask your child to guess what objects are inside based on what he/she feels! Once the objects are out of the box, compare and contrast how the objects feel and look. Make a list of similarities and differences between the objects.
  • Sort the objects into categories based on color, shape, size, or object function (things you eat, things you wear, animals, vehicles, etc.)

Not only is this activity great for building language, but it also targets many occupational therapy skills, such as the ability to discriminate and identify objects based on touch without the use of vision, increasing focus and attention on the hands and the sensory system, and increasing impulse control (as your child has to wait until he/she finds the right objects, via touch, before pulling it out of the box).

 

Questions or concerns?

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

Nicole Sherlock, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist
Photo Credit: Nicole Sherlock