As Akron occupational therapists, we’re frequently working on things like handwriting, self-regulation, and executive functioning. But summertime play is a veritable goldmine of sensory activities that can help boost a child’s development.
We’ve put together a list of summer occupational therapy play ideas that can help kids offset screen time, and can be a great resource for parents, teachers, camp counselors, etc. Our Akron occupational therapists tried to keep in mind the fact that many parents right now are looking for fresh summer activity ideas that won’t break the bank. Many of these are activities the whole family can enjoy!
Make Kinetic Sand
Kinetic sand is something of a wonder, and it’s fun for kids and adults alike. It’s easy to clean, magically sticks to itself, and can be easily stored. It also doesn’t dry out, so it lasts a long time. Kinetic sand can be used to help with tons of fine motor skills, like cutting, shaping, mixing, molding, and digging. It can help with with social-emotional regulation because it’s calming and provides great sensory input. Kids can get creative with it – especially when they make their own! The OT Toolbox offers an easy, three-ingredient Kinetic sand that simply requires sand, shaving cream, and baking soda. Super simple, and lots of fun to make!
Make Ice Cream Crafts
SO many ways to tailor this, using different materials and ideas. But in almost all of them, kids are going to be exercising their executive functioning and fine motor skills, as well as their creative muscles. Here are list of 15 cool ice cream craft ideas, using everything from balloons & glitter to cotton balls & construction paper to paper mache and paint. (Making their own ice cream sundae can also be a fun, once-in-a-while activity, with a little mess to be expected.)
There are SO many sensory benefits that come with gardening. And, as our Akron occupational therapists can explain, kids can help with planning the garden, learning about the various plants and what they need to grow, documenting the growth as they mature from seedling to full bloom. Planting and weed pulling is great for proprioception. Plant herbs, flowers, or vegetables – and let kids touch, taste, see, and hear. Add some wind chimes or a water feature for extra sensory input. Read more about the benefits of sensory gardening here.
Have your child make their own snack!
Maybe it’s not something you’d expect them to do every day, when the school year is in full-swing. But the summer can provide a great opportunity for kids to practice their independence and put together their own snack. This helps with fine motor skills, sensory input, executive functioning and (if they’re working with a parent or sibling) communication and social skills. Some easy recipes might include things like honey crispy treats, mini fruit pizzas, fruit kabobs, ants on a log, and fruit and yogurt parfaits. You might even consider pre-making a healthy, self-serve snack box and maybe some pictures with ideas to help them out.
Make an obstacle course in chalk.
This is going to help them work on motor planning, executive function, balance, and creativity! Set up in the driveway or nearby sidewalk, give them chalk and help them get started: Lily pads for frog hopping? A bridge to tip toe or balance over? An animal walk on a wavy line? A square for dancing? It doesn’t have to be complicated. There is a great example of a chalk obstacle course here!
Write a friend a letter.
It could be a friend. Or Grandma/Grandpa. Or maybe simply to someone in a nursing home who might be lonely and could use some cheering up. Have them work on their letter formation and draw a happy picture!
Tie dye a shirt.
This one requires some adult oversight, but it can be a lot of fun – and the results can be very cool! Check out these simple instructions for tie dying here.
These are just a few ideas! If you’re looking for some thoughts more tailored to your child’s exact skill-level and OT goals, just ask one of our Akron occupational therapists! We hope everyone is enjoying a wonderful – and safe – summer!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Summer Development Activities for Kids, May 8, 2020, By Heather Greutman, GrowingHandsOnKids.com
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Does My Child Have Sensory Processing Disorder? Feb. 12, 2022, Akron Occupational Therapy Blog
Historically, children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) have been treated with medications like Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexadrine. But while these medications can be effective for some kids, they can also have significant adverse side effects. For many kids, occupational therapy can be an effective, holistic alternative, if not a complement, to the use of medications for kids with ADHD. (As always, it’s important to talk to your child’s doctors before making any decisions pertaining to medication.)
Specifically, research published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that kids with ADHD who were treated with alternative interventions such as a method known as “Cog-Fun” were effective in helping them to lead functional lives in school, home, and other environments of daily living.
What is ADHD?
If you’re reading this, you’re likely aware that ADHD is a condition diagnosed when there is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity interfering with function or development. It’s generally considered a neurological disorder, impacting a person’s executive functions (cognitive skills), emotions, and behavior – impeding developmental progress, academic success, and relationship building. People with ADHD struggle to remember, plan, and regulate their emotions.
It is often (but not always) diagnosed in childhood and lasts into adulthood. There’s no “cure,” but there are treatments – which will differ for children compared to adults
How is ADHD Treated With Occupational Therapy
Early intervention for kids with ADHD requires inter-disciplinary collaboration from parents and caregivers, teachers, and therapists. Cognitive behavioral interventions -treatment that involves efforts to change thinking patterns – is recommended, the earlier the better. That’s because children’s neuro pathways have yet to form and/or become rigid.
Those first introduced to the world of early intervention therapy are often confused as to why children would need occupational therapy. After all, kids don’t have “occupations,” right?
Actually, they do!
As our Brecksville occupational therapy practitioners can explain, children’s “occupations” involve the business of growing and developing. That means picking up fine and gross motor skills, learning to communicate and socialize, grasping self-care, feeding, and emotional regulation, and overall navigating the world around them. Play is the means through which kids master their neurological and biological development. Engaging in activities that are both fun and creative helps kids to ultimately become independent adults.
That is why play-based occupational therapy is so effective. As noted by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), it is often through play that kids learn to make sense of and engage with the world around them. Occupational therapists help children who are struggling in certain areas – most frequently with neurological, muscular, and social/communication skills due to a developmental delay, disability or injury/illness. We do this through sensory-rich play that offers opportunities for them to develop/master those skills while also having fun. We never want sessions to feel like work, even if that’s ultimately what they are.
How Brecksville Occupational Therapy Practitioners Use Play-Based Therapy
As occupational therapists, we use play not only to address the child’s goals, but also to help motivate them to challenge themselves.
Some of the ways we work with children during play-based occupational therapy include:
- Helping to modify toys or the environment so that the child can get just the right of sensory input without being overwhelmed.
- Recommending to parents activities for play and toys that can offer just the right amount of challenge for a child so that they are learning/working on a skill set, but also still having fun. We can also incorporate play into a variety of exercises that are geared toward helping build on the child’s abilities and strengths.
- Crafting our sessions around play opportunities that encourage social skills like turn-taking and neurological skills like problem-solving. We’ll take in the unique priorities and routines of your family when formulating strategies you can use to incorporate this kind of play in your everyday life.
Some examples of toys and activities that we frequently use to work on certain skills:
- Manipulative play with toys like board games, play dough and LEGOs. What we’re looking for here is boosting the child’s dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
- Sensory-rich play with things like finger paints, magnets, kinetic sand, water toys, balls and beads. Lots of kids we work with struggle with sensory dysregulation. Playing with toys that incorporate sight, sound, tough, smell, and movement helps them work on sensory integration and regulation.
- Imaginative play with things like dolls, puppets, phones, stuffed animals, etc. Pretend play is an excellent way for kids to practice key social skills.
It’s important that whatever toy or activity we use is appropriate to both the child’s age and maturity level. Toys and activities need not be expensive to be effective. Although our occupational therapists can conduct sessions in the home, at school, or in other settings, one benefit of in-clinic sessions is that we have a wealth of tools and toys within arm’s reach.
Our occupational therapy team works with kids with a broad range of disabilities, delays and challenges. If you’re interested in our play-based occupational therapy services in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, our team would be happy to connect with you!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA/behavior therapy to children in Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.
Learning Through Play, American Occupational Therapy Association
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Fun Fall Activities From Our Akron Occupational Therapists, Oct. 8, 2021, Brecksville Occupational Therapy Blog
If we’re doing it right, those peering into a pediatric occupational therapy session will think it just looks like, well, playing! But those glimpses can leave a lot of people confused about what exactly occupational therapy is and why it’s needed for kids. Our Brecksville pediatric therapy team is happy to explain.
As noted by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), occupational therapy is a branch of health care that helps people of all ages with physical, sensory, social, or cognitive problems. It’s a broad discipline, but the primary goal is helping people to achieve independence in all areas of life. We look at what barriers are standing in the way of that.
Occupational therapists may work with adults who have suffered from strokes or serious injuries to regain their independence. With children, we are working to help them achieve independence they likely did not have in the first place. We do this by assisting them when they’re struggling with developmental delays, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social skills, oral motor skills, visual processing, or sensory disorders. Mostly, we work with children who have some marked developmental delays or diagnosed disabilities, but we do sometimes work with kids on one-off (but important) skills – like handwriting – with which they may be struggling.
How Occupational Therapy Can Help Your Child
In examining whether a child needs our Brecksville occupational therapy services, we look at what day-to-day difficulties they are having at home, at school, and in their community. Often, they’re grappling with challenges that don’t affect most typically-developing children (or don’t affect them the same way).
A great occupational therapist will support not only the child but the child’s family too.
Some of the areas in which we can help:
- Developmental delays. This is when a child is behind other kids their same age in certain areas of development. It’s typically flagged when a child fails to meet certain developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling, walking, learning at an age-appropriate level or failing to develop age-appropriate social and play skills.
- Fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are essential to so many basic tasks of daily living. These are the sorts of fine movements that are needed to do things like hold a pencil, use scissors, button a shirt, feed yourself, etc. It often involves the fine motor of the fingers, but it can also be issues with the toes, wrists, tongue and lips. If your child has trouble feeding themselves, picking up/holding small objects or avoids things like puzzles and coloring, they might have fine motor skill issues. We can help!
Gross motor skills. These include the wider movements of body parts like arms, legs, and core. These are the movements that help us control our body. If a child is having difficulty with movement, balance, or strength, an occupational therapist can help them strengthen these skills to improve independence.
Visual processing. This is the skill that allows us to make use of what we’re seeing. It’s how our brain interprets the information it’s receiving visually. A child with visual processing issues is going to have trouble with things like recognizing letters, shapes, and numbers, finding objects among other objects, visually tracking objects, copying items from the board onto their paper, or ascertaining right from left. An occupational therapist can help.
Oral motor/oral sensory. This is when the child struggles to control the muscle movements of the face and mouth. You’ll notice this is an issue if your child has excessive drool, chews in the front of their mouth rather than in the back, struggles with drinking from a cup or straw when their peers have no trouble, or is an excessively picky eater. Our occupational therapy team has many tools and strategies we can use to help with these problems.
Sensory processing. This is how we make sense of information gleaned from our five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, sound, and hearing). Kids can be either overly-sensitive or under-stimulated by sensory input. Kids with sensory processing issues (particularly common among those on the autism spectrum) may be constantly moving/jumping/bumping/crashing, under-reactive to certain issues, emotionally reactive or have trouble adjusting to change. They may also have a really tough time calming themselves down with they’re upset.
Social interactions. Humans are social creatures. Our ability to understand social cues and form positive relationships with those around us is central to our ability to function in daily life. If a child has difficulty engaging socially, adapting to new environments, or communicating (delayed language skills or hyper-focused on a single subject), it can impede their ability to function. We have lots of strategies we can teach to help them in these areas.
Learning difficulties. Sometimes referred to as learning disabilities, these are often related to developmental delays and certain conditions. A child with a learning difficulty may be unable to concentrate or focus, be easily distracted, struggle to follow instructions and complete work, have poor impulse control, or need lots of extra help learning new material.
Bear in mind that all kids are going to develop at their own pace. But if you have concerns about your child falling behind or struggling in certain areas, the earlier we can intervene with occupational therapy, the better the chances they’ll be able to “catch up” to their peers and/or have the greatest shot at independence.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA therapy to children with special needs in Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.
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Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: What’s the Difference? July 3, 2021, Brecksville Occupational Therapy Blog
Attention is a necessary component for children’s development and academic success. But helping kids maintain attention and focus has undoubtedly gotten tougher in recent years. We’re confronted with increased screen time, compelling animations and other constant distractions. It’s especially tough when the child has an additional challenge such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism and the task is something non-preferred. As our Akron occupational therapists can explain, one of the best ways to improve attention for an important task or just throughout the day is exercise!
Research over the last 30 years has boosted our understanding of the benefits of exercise, confirming that it:
- Boosts biological chemicals essential for brain cell growth.
- Stimulates the birth of new neurons.
- Mobilizes genes believed to enhance brain plasticity (the brain’s ability to alter neural pathways).
Lots of people think the terms meltdown and tantrum are interchangeable. It’s true they look very much the same when a child is in the midst of one, but the reasons behind them – and how you respond to each – are actually quite different. As an Akron OT (occupational therapist) can explain, knowing the difference between the two can help you react in a way that’s going to best support your child.
What is a Tantrum?
Tantrums are outbursts that occur when a child is trying to get something they want or need. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, you know temper tantrums are pretty par for the course. However, they tend to taper off as children gain the language necessary to express themselves and the tools needed to self-regulate their emotional responses.
Some children find it’s tough to keep their emotions in check even once they do have the language skills to cope. They get frustrated and angry quickly. They might throw a tantrum if a sibling gets more cereal than they do or if they’re denied a candy bar at the grocery store.
Of course, screaming, yelling and throwing ones’ self on the floor aren’t socially expected or appropriate ways to get what we want, but as an Akron OT or RBT can tell you, the behavior is occurring for a reason. It is serving a functional purpose. Ultimately, the behavior is somehow being reinforced. They have learned that engaging in this behavior has a desired outcome – even if it’s not always a positive one. You may notice some kids will stop in the middle of a tantrum to see if their parent or teacher is looking at them. Tantrums stop either when a child gets what he/she wants OR they are taught that throwing a tantrum will not get them what they want.
What is a Meltdown?
Meltdowns are different from tantrums because they stem not necessarily for the purpose of a desired outcome, but because of a reaction to feeling overwhelmed. They are very common with children on the autism spectrum when they are receiving too much – or too little – sensory input. Certain textures, sights, sounds, tastes and personal interaction can lead to a kind of sensory overload.
Commotion at a grocery store or the different smells and textures of a non-preferred meal could trigger a meltdown. A sensory meltdown is a reaction of someone who is trying to process too much at once.
Think about it like this: Every person’s tolerance for sensory input is like a pitcher of water. Most of us can control the flow and fill the liquid a little at a time. Those of us with language and emotional coping skills can communicate when the pitcher is getting too full or shut the water off ourselves. A child without these skills – particularly one who is very sensitive to sensory stimuli – may not be able to control the flow before the pitcher gets too full and overflows. This is when one’s “fight or flight” response turns on – and is displayed through running away, yelling, crying or completely shutting down.
How an Akron OT Can Help With Meltdowns
An Akron OT and/or ABA therapist can work with your child to determine the root cause of your child’s outbursts. Is there a function? What is making them feel overwhelmed? We will look carefully at the antecedent (what happens just before the tantrum/meltdown), the behavior (the child’s action) and the consequence (what happens immediately after).
Sometimes, parents reinforce unexpected behaviors without realizing it. For example, if the function of a tantrum is that it allows the child to avoid a non-preferred task, parents may be unintentionally reinforcing that behavior by removing the child from the situation. If a meltdown is set off by sensory overload, we can work on self-regulation, visual schedules and other strategies to give child the tools to better cope.
Sensory meltdowns can sometimes last for hours.
Ultimately, the best thing long-term is to help children develop self-regulation skills and to practice them yourself. Deep breathing, counting to a certain number and other self-soothing methods can help you respond with both wisdom and patient and reduce the incidence of tantrums and meltdowns.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
The 3 Main Differences Between a Sensory Meltdown and a Temper Tantrum, Feb. 12, 2020, By Sa’iyda Shabazz, FamilyEducation.com
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Kids love board games. (So do a lot of grownups!) They’re a great way for kids to challenge their mind, practice turn-taking and test out their math skills. We use them a lot in our Northeast Ohio occupational therapy clinic not only because they’re excellent motivators, but they can also help us target things like hand strength, sensory input, bilateral coordination, visual discernment and other fine motor skills.
In short: Board games can make the “work” of occupational therapy a lot more fun! And kids learn better when they’re having fun.
Plus, with so much online schooling, virtual therapy, etc. this year, many parents are encouraging their kids to find other outlets for fun. Board games are a great alternative!