Many of the children we see at our clinics have difficulty with motor planning. Motor planning is a complex skill which allows a person to generate an idea for a motor action, efficiently time and sequence the movements necessary, grade the force required, and execute the action. Children who have a hard time with the ideation phase of motor planning may tend to play the same activities over and over or struggle to come up with multiple solutions to a problem. Open-ended free play is a great way to stretch this ability; however, a child who truly has a motor planning deficit will likely need some guidance and encouragement along the way. Here are some suggestions to help you look at novel ways to play with toys or items you may already have in your home. As you’re playing, ask your child questions like “What else could this be?” and praise their efforts to think outside the box.
10 Ways to Play with a Blanket
- Make a fort by draping the blanket over a group of chairs.
- Create a quiet reading tent by draping a large blanket over a table.
- Use it like a parachute. Place small stuffed animals in the middle and have each person hold a corner and bounce the animals around.
- Pretend to be the king or queen with a long royal robe.
- Pretend to be a super hero with a cape.
- Play a memory game. Spread 3-5 objects on the floor and see how many your child can remember when the blanket covers them up.
- Go on a magic carpet ride. What do you see as you fly along?
- Have a tug-of-war battle.
- Guess the mystery object. Have your child put his hand under the blanket and without him seeing the object, place something small in his hand and ask him to guess what it is. Cotton balls, coins, buttons, lego pieces, and paper clips are great for this activity.
- Go for a sled ride. Have your child sit on a blanket and gently drag him through the house.
School is back in full swing, and that means homework time is here. Children with sensory processing difficulties often struggle with homework for many different reasons.
The Sensory Seeker
A child who is a sensory seeker is under-responsive to sensory input. He requires more intense input than his peers, therefore, sitting in at the kitchen table to write spelling words with a plain number 2 pencil feels quite bland. He likely spends a majority of homework time changing position, fidgeting, playing with his pencil, or creating a variety of reasons to get up from the table. Sensory seekers may benefit from increasing the intensity of the sensory input around them. Keep in mind that a child who is seeking out one type of input, such as movement, may be overly sensitive to a different type of input, such as smell. Ask your occupational therapist for help choosing sensory adaptations for your child.
The Passive Under-responder
This child looks very different than the sensory seeker described above. The passive under-responder also needs more intense input than peers, but he does not take action to gain this input. He may sit in a slumped position, have his thoughts wander off into space and complain of being fatigued. By “turning up the volume” of the sensory properties of the environment and task, he may be able to better demonstrate his knowledge and understanding of the homework concepts. Again, it is common for a child to be under-responsive in one area and over-responsive, or sensitive in another area, so speak with your child’s occupational therapist for appropriate ideas for your child.
An important rule of thumb is that any sensory adaptation should help your child better engage with the homework task, not distract from it. If a fidget toy becomes something to throw at a sibling or if a yoga ball to sit on becomes a way to try out new gymnastics moves, try a different sensory tool for that day. Do not take it away as a punishment, but tell your child, “I don’t think this tool is helping you get your homework done. Let’s try something else.”
Homework Adaptations for the Sensory Seeker and the Passive Under-responder
- scented crayons, markers or erasers
- “scent inhalers” or a few drops of an essential oil such as lemon, mint, rosemary or orange
- strong flavored hard candy or gum
- chewable fidget toys, pencil toppers or jewelry
- a “silly straw” to drink from
- wiggle pen (this may not be appropriate for school assignments to be handed into the teacher, but it may be useful when practicing spelling words)
- exercise band tied around the front legs of the chair for your child to push with his feet
- a small yoga ball to sit on – your child’s feet should to be able to reach the floor with bent knees
- a partially inflated beach ball to sit on as a wiggle cushion
- complete homework assignments standing up at a counter or table
- adhesive Velcro to attach to the underside of the desk or table
- koosh ball or other fidget
- use a timer set for 10-15 minutes of working time and allow your child to take a movement break for 2-3 minutes
- white noise such as a fan or quiet classical music to block out neighborhood sounds
Many of the children we see in our clinics struggle with coloring skills. Whether the difficulty is rooted in poor fine motor control, visual perceptual skills, attention or regulation, it is common to see a child begin coloring a page with good intentions, then end up scribbling or abandoning the task. We are careful to present the children with a coloring page with a “just right challenge”, but there are an abundance of free printable coloring pages online. Here are some of the things we look for.
- Choose a topic or character your child is interested in. He may be more motivated to color a picture of a Lego Ninjago character than a holiday themed page.
- Look for bold outlines. Children who have difficulty with the motor control necessary to efficiently direct their crayon will benefit from the extra “wiggle room” between sections, while children with visual perceptual difficulties may be able to better identify different areas of the picture.
- Find pages with little or no background detail at first. Check out the difference between these two images. Both are Lightning McQueen, but a child with decreased attention or ability to maintain a regulated state may give up on the more detailed picture before it is finished.
- Encourage your child to choose one area at a time to fill in. If your child needs help to stay organized, ask questions like “What color should his tires be?” Praise your child for his effort and make some room on the refrigerator for the masterpiece.
Why We Love It: This app is designed to get children moving. One of the activities requires your child to hold the mobile device and jump (a protective case may be useful!). As your child jumps, the frog on the screen jumps to catch yummy bugs as they pass by. This game can be played with a single frog, or as a head to head battle if you have two devices with the app installed. Jump Jump Froggy also includes modes to complete pushups with ants or sit-ups with a snake. This app is free and could use some improvements in the pushup and sit-up portions, but hopefully the developers will continue to release updates. All of these exercises will encourage your child to participate in proprioceptive activities which are beneficial for calming and regulation. This app is also appropriate for children who need to improve their strength and endurance and may not be motivated to simply complete exercises for the sake of exercising.
Why the Kids Love It: The frog is colorful and engaging and provides huge motivation to keep moving and the option to compete against a peer has been a hit. The app has one song that plays while the frog jumps, or you can tie in to your music from iTunes.
Available from iTunes FREE
Imagine Nation Museum in Bristol is hosting several Sensory Sunday events this fall. Visit their website at www.imaginenation.org
Sensory Sunday Information – click this link for a full screen PDF of the flyer
Learning to properly set a table is a useful life skill. If your child needs help remembering where to place utensils, take a picture and have your child match the sample.
Fall is here and there are precious few warm days left before winter rolls around again. Why not take advantage of the season and check out a Boundless Playground?
Boundless Playgrounds’ mission is to “build truly inclusive playgrounds where children and adults of all abilities can play and learn together in a fun and welcoming environment.” That means there are swings with supportive backs and accessible ramps to allow wheelchair users to climb up to raised structures. The overall environment and set up of the playground invites children and families to play together regardless of disability. Boundless Playgrounds are often easier for children with motor planning difficulties or decreased strength to explore and enjoy the space, even if your child does not have a physical disability which requires the use of a wheelchair or other mobility device.
We are lucky in the state of Connecticut to have quite a few Boundless Playgrounds. The Places for Kids CT blog lists 20 playgrounds around the state which include at least some aspects of the Boundless Playground mission.
Find out more at www.boundlessplaygrounds.org Have fun!