DO NOT TOUCH: Tactile Sensory Exploration

Messy play is an essential part of child development. Our sense of touch, or tactile processing, sends information to our brain about the properties of objects in our environment. Our tactile sense provides vital information skills such as body awareness, academic learning, motor planning, visual discrimination, and social skills. Children can discover and learn more about their world using their hands and feet, which can sometimes lead to getting dirty!

Your child may experience sensory over-responsivity, or observable behavior involving a quick or intense response to a sensory experience that others usually perceive as nonthreatening. This could include becoming upset during activities such as nail clipping, haircuts, bathing, and/or eating. When your child experiences sensory over-responsivity on their feet, you might have noticed them avoiding going barefoot in sand or grass. Helping integrate additional sensory-rich experiences into your child’s life can lead to more engagement and enjoyment with feeding, bathing, and most importantly, play!

Activities to encourage tactile sensory play with hands and feet:

Bubbles: simply having your child popping bubbles is a sensory experience for their hands (and feet!). To incorporate messy play with their feet, you can have your child “wait” until the bubbles hit the ground, and have them pop them by stepping or stomping onto them! This is a great warm-up activity to lead into more sensory-rich play experiences.

Sensory Bins: filling an empty storage bin with objects such as sand or dry beans and placing small toys inside to dig for and interact with provides a fun tactile sensory experience. For an additional sensory experience with the olfactory system, or smell, fill a sensory bin with coffee beans!

Finger Painting: Take away the paintbrushes and bring on the mess! Incorporate various textures into the paint, such as mixing sand into it. Allow your child to create pictures from both their hand and foot prints for an even sensory-filled experience!

Mess-Free Painting: for a tactile experience without the mess, all you will need is a large plastic bag, paint, and masking tape. Place a few drops of paint (multiple colors for a rainbow effect!) inside of the plastic bag and ensure it is sealed. Tape the plastic bag with paint onto a window and allow your child to use their finger to form shapes and pictures on the bag.

If your child dislikes washing their hands and/or dislikes bathing, you can try the following activities:

Wash Station: create a “wash station” in a Tupperware container, small storage bin, or even your sink for a car wash or pet wash with soapy water. This is a great tactile sensory activity for children who don’t enjoy the suds during bath time. Introducing the soapy on a smaller scale (and embedded in play!) will allow them to become more comfortable with the sensory experience.

Shaving Cream: This can be used on a table top or even in the bathtub to contain the mess and with both hands and feet! You can belt out Frozen and build a “snow man” with your child using the shaving cream. Additional Bonus: If you are also working on handwriting or letter formation, you can take off the pressure with pen and paper and practice in the shaving cream!

Water Painting: You can simply give your child a bowl of water and a paintbrush to paint the sidewalk, the fence, and better yet, their body. This activity incorporates the tactile sensory play with water and the feeling of the paintbrush on their skin.

If your child dislikes going to the beach and/or playing in the sandbox you can try the following activities:

Kinetic Sand: Kinetic Sand is available in many themes and variations that may interest your child such as, Frozen, glitter sand, construction zone with trucks, dinosaur fossils, and more! Kinetic Sand has a texture that nearly feels “wet” to the touch; however, it is not and is easily moldable. This is a great activity to incorporate the feet as well, such as making footprints in the sand!

Sugar Castles: using brown sugar is a sweet way to introduce the rough texture of sand! Incorporate measuring cups and popsicle sticks to build sugar castles. This is also a good opportunity to introduce feet into play if your child does not like to walk in the sand at the beach or in a sandbox.

Tips:
1. Start Small: introducing these experiences might be overwhelming, so starting in small amounts can make your child more comfortable to interact with them.
2. Get Out: taking these activities outdoors can alleviate any worries about making a mess inside the home in addition to experience the sensory-rich outdoors!
3. Bring Friends: If your child has a preferred stuffed animal or toy that also has hands and feet, have them tag along! Allowing your child to immerse their preferred toy into sensory play they might initially be hesitant about can be encouraging for them.
4. Join in On the Fun: There is nothing more encouraging or entertaining than your child seeing their caregiver act like a child themselves! Modeling the very play you wish for your child to engage in can be enticing enough for them to participate!

Reagan Lockwood, MOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Reference: Kranowitz, Carol Stock. (2005). The out-of-sync child: recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder. New York: A Skylight Press Book/A Perigee Book.

Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Pexels

Sleep Success: Establishing Effective Bedtime Routines!

Sleep is the best regulation for your child! We need sleep each night to recharge our bodies and minds. Sleep is just as important as a balanced diet and physical activity, it affects our safety, as well as our memories, moods, behavior, and learning abilities. Establishing effective bedtime routines allow your child to develop self-soothing skills which they will benefit throughout their childhood and adult life.

Consistency is key! Children thrive from a structured and predictable routine they can anticipate. Decrease and remove all electronics before dinner to spend quality time with your child during their bedtime routine.

Try these bedtime tips to set your child up for sleep success:

  • Bath/Shower/ ”Tub Time”: After eating dinner, transition your child to a bath, get creative and try new things to make the bath enjoyable for you and your child (i.e. glowsticks, cups, or toys). A bath is a great way to end the day and allow your child relaxing sensory input. After the bath, you can apply your child’s favorite lotions, pajamas, and tooth brushing.
  • Books: Read new and favorite books WITHyour child each night. When reading stories, point to different objects and items on each page. Talk about the book and identify new items you see and explain what it is to your child. Ask your child questions about the book to increase your child’s cognitive skills and language development.
  • Set the Mood:
    • “Lovey”/Self-soother: If your child is still nursing or takes a bottle at night, use this as a great opportunity to bring your child’s “Lovey” with them on your lap, sing lullabies with your child, or talk to them.
    • Atmosphere: You know your child best! Does your child like to be swaddled, in a sleep sack, or do they not like to be covered with heavy blankets? Sleep occurs best in a colder room. Have the room dark with only a dim light on for reading and soft music playing or a natural white noise (e.g. fan). Sing lullabies with your child and tuck them in.

Sweet Dreams!

Kelly Scafidi, MSW, LCSW, DT
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Developmental Therapist

Vestibular Sensitivities: When Car Rides, Swings, Slides, and Strollers Are a Struggle

What is the vestibular system?

The vestibular system refers to the nervous system’s mechanisms for registering and interpreting movement and relation to gravity. Structures in the inner ear (including hairs, crystals, fluids, and small organs) receive information about movement and balance to send to our brains to help us understand our relationship with gravity. The vestibular system is our body’s primary way to organize sensory information, so abnormalities in how we integrate this information can affect how we perceive information from all our other senses. Some children can’t get enough vestibular input, and actively seek out jumping, climbing, and swinging. Other children are hypersensitive to vestibular input and may become irritable, scared, or avoidant with simple activities such as being laid down for a diaper change or lifted in the air. For hypersensitive children, small amounts of movement may feel as exaggerated as riding a rollercoaster.

In severe cases, children with vestibular hypersensitivities may experience gravitational insecurity, characterized by emotional responses movements which are extremely disproportionate to a realistic possibility of falling. These children may avoid physical tasks, try to keep their feet on the ground, and become extremely upset with unexpected movements. Due to their unreliable relationship with gravity, their brains are wired to perform protective responses against the danger they perceive. These children may try to flee the situation, freeze and shut down, or fight and tantrum until the perceived danger subsides.

Children with vestibular sensitivities often have trouble tolerating the following activities:

  • Car Rides:In a moving car, your child’s eyes (and inner ears) send messages to his or her brain that imply a moving body. However, feedback from the proprioceptive (body in space) system tells the child that he or she is sitting still. This disagreement between the sensory systems can cause children to feel uncomfortable, dizzy, or motion sick. Try “dimming” the intensity of the visual input to the brain by having the child wear sunglasses in the car, helping the vestibular system feel more at ease. If your child’s feet dangle from the car seat, try building up the floor of the car with heavy books or a foot stool. Having the feet planted on the floor provides feedback to the child’s brain that he or she is grounded to one spot. Using a weighted lap pad or blanket in the car can additionally provide calming sensory feedback to the nervous system. Be sure to take plenty of breaks to stretch, move, and feel the feet on firm ground during longer car rides!
  • Stoller Rides: Hairs and fluids in the structure of the inner ear shift position with acceleration and deceleration, which provides intense vestibular stimulation. This starting and stopping is typical of stroller rides. However, the inner ear fluid stabilizes when speed is maintained. Initially, try pushing your child’s stroller at an even and steady pace, minimizing the number of times you start and stop moving. As your child becomes more accepting, try slowly increasing the number of gentle starts and stops per ride to build tolerance for vestibular changes.
  • Playing on Swings: Swinging provides changes in head position that create a variety of intense vestibular input to the inner ear structures. Children who are unable to tolerate swinging may feel left out or lonely at the park. Start by watching videos and reading books where children are enjoying swings, pointing out that swings can be fun! Feel free to sit on the swing and demonstrate gently swinging at the park. Never force your child on a swing. Instead, gently encourage the child to explore the swings with your emotional support. Going to the park at a low-traffic time may help your child feel more comfortable. Start with swings that are low to the ground and encourage your child to sit on the swing using his or her own feet to walk forwards or backwards any amount. Provide plenty of positive feedback as they try new and more brave explorations. Share your pride in the child’s success, but try not to exaggerate reactions of fear or surprise if he or she tries something unexpected.
  • Playing on Slides: For children with vestibular sensitivities, the mere thought of going to the park or using the slides can be anxiety provoking. You can ask your child’s OT to create a personalized story about going to the park, so your child knows what sensory experiences to expect. Start simple! Encourage your child just to be in the presence of a slide. Next, you can encourage the child to touch it by placing a preferred toy on the slide. Start exploring small “baby” slides before attempting big, bumpy, or spiral slides. Eventually, you and your child can sit on the slide together before sliding just a few inches to the bottom. Make sure these experiences are pleasant and reward baby steps with plenty of praise!

Natalie Machado, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

References:

Biel, L., & Peske, N. (2009). Raising a sensory smart child: The definitive handbook for helping your child with sensory processing issues. London, England: Penguin Books, Ltd.

Photo credit: Sarah Pflug via burst.shopify.com

How to Expand Your Child’s Play!

Play is highly correlated to your child’s cognitive and speech and language development and is a great way to bond with your little one! Many parents are challenged by how to play with their little one and get involved in their world. Not only is learning to play important, but equally important is the expansion of your little one’s play.

Some toddlers get “stuck” in wanting to play with a toy in only one or two ways. Toddlers who play with a toy in a limited number of ways are showing us that they do not quite understand the function or multiple functions of a toy. Take for example a child who only moves a car back and forth on a table. This little one is showing us they understand that the car can move, but they are not yet aware of all the other things we can do with that same car. We can drive the car up the couch, it can crash or fall, the car can get gas or a car wash, pick up pretend toys and animals, or take us to different places like the grocery store or to see friends and family.

Why Do We Want to Expand Play?

Expanded play shows us your little one’s expanded understanding of the world. Play allows adults to label and model actions that your child is completing, in turn, helping your child’s speech and language skills develop.

The higher levels of play your little one demonstrates, the more they understand their world and the more language they have. If a child is playing with an object in just one way, there is a limited amount of words we can use to talk about that play interaction. For example: Your little one hands you a ball. You could say: “Ball!” “Look, ball.” “Red ball.” “Big ball.” If your child throws a ball to you, you can add “Throw ball.” “Bounce!” “Go ball!” “My turn!” “Your turn” and so much more. By expanding from showing to playing, there are SO MANY more words we can use to support your little one’s vocabulary development!

Tips for Expanding Play:

  1. Get on your child’s level:Sit on the floor or at the table together so you are physically at the same level as your child. Being on the same level also increases your eye contact and is easier to share attention with your child.
  2. Follow their lead:If your kiddo is playing with a car, you play with a car too! Try finding another of the same toy so you each have a toy and you don’t have to take turns.
  3. Add ONE play idea at a time:Sometimes we get a little over-zealous showing our kids 50 different ways to do something—it can be overwhelming. Remember expanding play is a gradual process and each child learns at their own pace. Your little one might need you to show something once or they might need some more help to copy your play—that is okay. Start by adding ONE step. Your child shows you a ball. You roll the ball back to them. Once your child is imitating one action, show them something new (try bouncing the ball)!
  4. Keep your language simple: We want to say one word above what our child is saying. If your little one says, “Ball” add an action word to describe how you are playing: “Ball go!” “Bounce ball.” etc. If your little one isn’t saying anything yet, just label the object or the action, or even just make a silly sound (slurping if you’re playing with a pretend cup)!
  5. Don’t force it:If your little one is getting frustrated that you are changing their play, show them one more time and move on. We want to keep play fun, exciting, and enjoyable for both of you! If your little one abandons an activity, move with them or take a short break and join them later to play again.

For more info on play and play milestones, check out some of PlayWorks’ previous blog posts:

Play in speech and language therapy: http://playworkschicago.com/toddlers-speech-therapist-playing-child/

Toy guide for babies through toddlers: http://playworkschicago.com/toy-guide-babies-toddlers/

Jessie Delos Reyes, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Image: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/want-to-boost-your-toddlers-development-put-a-toy-chicken-on-your-head-1.485117

Feeding Milestones: 18 to 24 Months

This blog wraps up a three-part series on feeding development in infants and toddlers. The last group of milestones to be outlined are those for children aged 18 months to two years. Similar to the post below, the skills developed between 18 to 24 months are variable, and not as specific as the milestones met between birth to 12 months. Please contact your child’s speech-language pathologist if you have any concerns regarding feeding milestones.

We hope that by reading this three-part series, any concerns with your child’s feeding skills have been put to ease, or if concerns persist, you feel confident in asking questions. With that out of the way, you can focus on fun at mealtimes!

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

Ana Thrall, M.S., CCC-SLP 
Speech-Language Pathologist

Feeding Milestones: 12 to 18 Months

This blog post is part two of three discussing feeding milestones that a child encounters from birth to age two. Today’s post will focus specifically on the milestones met between 12 and 18 months.

The following chart outlines general guidelines for feeding and developmental milestones that your child should reach between the ages of one year and 18 months. Skills developed between 12-18 months are variable across this age span, and not as specific as the milestones met between birth-12 months. Please contact your speech-language pathologist if you have any concerns regarding your child’s feeding abilities.

Amount of food per day

Children should be eating 46 calories per pound based on their weight. One serving of food is equivalent to one tablespoon per year of life. A serving size for a 12-month-old child would be 1 tablespoon and a serving size for an 18-month-old child would be 1.5 tablespoons.  The following chart summarizes serving sizes of each major food group that a child should eat each day.

Stay tuned for the blog post on feeding milestones for 18- to- 24-months. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s feeding development, feel free to contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Katie Dabkowski, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist
Resources:

Feeding Milestones: Birth to 12 months

This blog post is part one of three that discusses feeding milestones that a child encounters from birth to age two. Today’s post will focus specifically on the milestones met between birth and twelve months.

As an SLP and feeding therapist, I often find parents asking me:

 “What should my child be eating at this age?”

 “Is it too early to introduce solids? “

“Is it okay that I’m still breastfeeding?”

It is important to remember that there is no “magic number” for age when it comes to feeding development. While certain feeding milestones are typically reached by a specific age, many feeding therapists recommend that parents look for the presence of various developmental skills to determine if their child is ready for the next stage of feeding. In the first year of life, it’s important to ensure that a baby’s primary source of nutrition is breast milk and/or formula. During the first year, purees and solid foods should be viewed as “learning to eat” rather than a primary source of nutrition. The following table outlines the age that these milestones are typically met, and the feeding stage that is associated with each milestone:

Stay tuned for blog posts on feeding milestones for ages 12- to- 18- months and 18- to- 24- months. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s feeding development, feel free to contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

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

Resources: Toomey & Associates, Inc. 1990/2016

Photo Credit: http://wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com/howmuchbabyeat.htm

Tips to Target Therapy Goals in Your Daily Routine

Therapy is often compared to going to the trainer: if you go to the trainer once a week but don’t continue the exercises or healthy eating, the training session isn’t going to do much for you! It is so important to carry over activities from therapy to ensure your child makes progress and meets their goals. Everyone is so busy these days and adding additional learning opportunities to your child’s life shouldn’t be daunting. Here are a few ideas of how you can address common play therapy goals into your daily routine!

Laundry

  • Matching/Sorting Concepts
    • Have your child to match socks
    • Have your child sort clothing into different piles by color or by item
  • Size Concepts
    • Have your child compare his small t-shirt to a family member’s larget-shirt
  • Association Concepts
    • Ask your child which body parts different clothing items are put on
    • Discuss the occasion or weather you would wear certain clothing items

Meal Prep

  • Symbolic Play
    • Provide your child with (safe) kitchen utensils for them to also “make dinner”
  • Size Concepts
    • Encourage your child to explore size concepts with different sized Tupperware
  • Identifying Colors
    • Discuss the colors of the food you are preparing
  • Following Directions
    • Show your child how you follow directions when following a recipe
    • Give your child simple directions to follow during meal prep
  • Association Concepts
    • Describe the functions of the different kitchen gadgets while using them

In the Car

  • Color Identification
    • Use colors to describe what you see:
      • “That construction cone is orange”
      • “The blue truck is next to us”
    • For older children, you can play games like “I Spy”. Take turns choosing a color and encourage your child to label everything they see of that color. This not only works on color identification but also vocabulary!
  • Size Concepts
    • Use size words to describe what you see:
      • “Look at the little dog on the sidewalk”
      • “That is a big dump truck”
  • Social-Emotional Development
    • Discuss:
      • Plans for the day (where you’ll go, who you’ll see)
      • What your child did at school/daycare that day
      • Encourage your child to ask you questions

And most importantly – have fun together; make it silly and stress-free! You are your child’s first teacher and can help frame their perspective on learning! Please feel free to discuss specific ideas with your child’s therapist to ensure he or she is getting the most out of their therapy.

Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT
Director of Developmental Therapy Services

Image credit: https://netmums.cdn.prismic.io

Why Messy Eating Is a Good Thing for Babies and Toddlers

Do you fear letting your baby get messy? Can’t stand the sight of food in their hair or on the floor and dread the work that it means for you afterwards? You are not alone! Lots of parents have a really hard time allowing their baby to be a complete and total mess while eating. But did you know that this mess is more than just a headache for you later on? It is actually a critical learning experience for your little one! So next time you cringe at the sight of your toddler flinging applesauce across the room or your baby dropping yet another yogurt-covered spoon on the floor, remember that you are helping their development.

Below is a list of reasons why you should let your little one get messy while eating.

Messy eating…

  1. Provides important sensory experiences
    • Messy eating is a form of sensory play! It is an opportunity for your little one’s brain to receive feedback from their food regarding different textures, temperatures, colors, quantities and the difference between solid and non-solid foods. This sensory play promotes exploration and helps build a positive environment around their food.
  2. Leads to greater acceptance of foods
    • Once children are familiar and comfortable with the sensory information of their food, they are more willing to eat it. Sensory play and exploration helps kids overcome their fear of new textures and flavors and results in eating a more diverse diet.
  3. Promotes appropriate self-feeding skills
    • Allowing your little one to explore their food builds confidence and promotes independent eating.
  4. Develops fine motor skills
    • Self-feeding involves pinching, picking-up, reaching, holding a spoon and a number of find motor skills that your kiddo may be missing out on if you are always the one in control of the food container and spoon.

Tips to help the messy eating routine:

  1. Prepare for a mess by feeding your baby or toddler in a room with hard, easy to clean surfaces (i.e. tile, wood) and avoiding carpeted areas. Use placemats, floormats or even lay a towel or sheet down under the highchair.
  2. Ditch the nice clothes and opt for an old t-shit or onesie instead. You can even let your little one eat in only their diaper to avoid excess laundry! As long as it is a comfortable temperature in your house, your baby will not be too cold and it will save you a lot of time and hassle.
  3. Embrace the messy eating. Remind yourself that this GOOD and fun! Enjoy these moments and capture one of those classic-baby-moment pictures.

Kelly Fridholm, MCD, CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Additional resources/related articles:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-food-fears-children/playing-with-food-may-help-preschoolers-become-less-picky-eaters-idUSKBN0O41MD20150519

Picture: Shutterstock

School Behavior Vs. Home Behavior

Sometimes, parents ask us why their child is able to behave more appropriately at school but not at home. Parents can become confused and frustrated as to why the teachers do not report any concerns for their child but yet the child is having more difficulties managing their behaviors at home. Here are some tips for parents to implement into their homes to help mimic the school environment:

1. Create house rules-knowing that the classroom has set rules for the children to follow, we want to make sure there are also house rules to help mimic the sense of consistency and expectation for the child. House rules will not only help the parents be on the same page but also give the child a visual reminder of behaviors that are not acceptable in the home. Examples of house rules may include:

  • No hitting
  • Clean up toys before bedtime

*It would be best if the parents could write the two- to three- rules on a piece of paper and post it on the refrigerator to serve as a reminder for the entire family. After these are written down, talk to the child about the rules and what will happen if he/she is unable to follow them, such as resulting in a time-out.

2. Reinforce turn taking and sharing-knowing that children are expected to share and take turns with their peers at school, we want to make sure they are also expected to practice these skills at home. Here are some fun ways to incorporate these skills:

  • Play a board game with your child and use turn-taking. You take a turn and then have your child take a turn.
  • Engage in your child’s favorite activity and incorporate sharing. For example, ask your child if he/she can share the toy with you and then give it back after a couple of minutes. Continue to practice asking your child to share toys throughout the day.

*The child may show resistance to turn-taking and sharing outside of the school environment. The best way to implement these skills is to be consistent. Even if the child becomes upset over taking turns or sharing, it is important that the parent continue to follow through with the request in order to establish expectations for the child.

Brittany Hill, MS, MSW, LCSW, DT
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Developmental Therapist
Photo Credit:
http://iloveboardgames.com/family-games/
https://www.wikihow.com/Run-a-Household