Geocaching is a great way to get the whole family working together for a common goal, get active and have fun at the same time. Think of it as a hiking scavenger hunt. First, you log on to www.geocaching.com and choose a geocache to search for. Next, use your GPS (or GPS enabled phone) to navigate to the location. A geocache (or cache) is a container that holds a log book to track the people who have found it in the past as well as small treasures or trinkets that you may take as a memento of your find. Then you leave a treasure for the next person and replace the cache just as you found it. Congratulations, you’re a geocacher!
So, why geocaching? While some children with decreased endurance and muscle tone may hesitate to go on a hike for the sake of hiking, they may be more engaged in a treasure hunt. Because the website gives valuable information regarding difficulty of the terrain, length of the hike, and size of the cache, you can tailor your family’s outing to the time you have available and the endurance levels of your family members. The website also provides a hint as to where the item is hidden (e.g. look near the fence). Beyond the physical benefits of exercise, research has shown that children with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders, as well as typically developing children benefit from exercise with regard to increasing attention and on-task behaviors and decreasing maladaptive behaviors. An activity like geocaching can provide the physical outlet and sensory input that your child needs, while giving the whole family an opportunity to participate in a fun bonding activity together.
Check out a short video about geocaching here, or jump right into searching for your first cache! Have fun!
It’s no secret that many children enjoy playing on their parents’ phones and tablets. While there are many apps that help teach problem solving skills or work on fine motor and visual perceptual skills, there are huge benefits from “real” play. Studies have shown toddlers and children learn better when actively engaged in play. You can use some of the themes and challenges of your child’s favorite apps by translating them to reality. Here are some ideas to start:
Angry Birds: save boxes from cereal, rice, and spaghetti. Weigh down the boxes by placing a baggie with a small amount of rice or sand inside the box and tape it shut. Gather small stuffed animals or socks to take the place of the pigs and use bean bags or balls to act as birds. Have your child build his own fortress for the pigs with the boxes, adding other items such as cookie sheets or plastic cutting boards for additional reinforcement. Then bomb birds away! How many birds will it take to demolish the pig’s fortress?
Mario Kart: create your own race track with obstacles. Mark a start/finish line with a beach towel on the ground and arrange garden hoses or long ropes on the ground in a large oval to indicate the borders of the track. Use placemats, Frisbees or cones as obstacles to avoid. Have your child ride his bike or push his scooter around the track and reward points based on time and accuracy.
Are you concerned about your child’s eating habits? Avoidance of new foods is a typical part of child development, most often seen in 2-3 year olds, but for some children, this pattern continues further into childhood. How do you know if your child is a just a picky eater or if there is a need to seek out assistance in this area? Here are some brief guidelines to help differentiate between picky eaters and problem feeders:
- Are reluctant to try new foods, but can typically tolerate them being nearby, touching them or looking at them.
- Have at least 30 accepted foods.
- Will typically accept the food again after a break from eating it for a period of time
- Will eat at least some food from most food groups or texture groups.
- May frequently eat a different meal than the rest of the family, but typically sit with the family at mealtime.
- May slowly “warm up” to a new food after 10 or more presentations.
- May eventually agree to try a new food if they are hungry enough.
- Become excessively distressed when a new food is presented – may gag, vomit or cry after looking at a new food.
- Have a significantly limited food repertoire – typically less than 20 foods.
- Will not accept a food again once a food is lost from the diet, even after a break.
- Avoid whole categories of food groups or texture groups.
- Are frequently unable to join the family for mealtime.
- Continue to have strong negative reactions to foods even after 10 or more presentations.
- Will ignore hunger cues from their body and refuse to eat a non-desired food, even if this results in malnutrition or dehydration.
If you are concerned about your child’s diet, talk to your pediatrician about nutritional concerns and to rule out physical or medical reasons for feeding difficulties, such as swallowing difficulty, food allergies/sensitivities or reflux. Your occupational therapist can also help by examining your child’s food preferences for patterns in texture, flavor or other factors, and help make suggestions about how to introduce new foods into your child’s diet.
How much sleep does my child need? Here are some general guidelines for the amount of sleep children should be getting.
3-6 Years Old: 10 – 12 hours per day
7-12 Years Old: 10 – 11 hours per day
12-18 Years Old: 8 – 9 hours per day
What are some signs my child is not getting enough sleep?
- Difficulty waking in the morning.
- Awakening in an irritable mood
- Decreased attentiveness and alertness during the day.
- Frequently falling asleep during the day outside of normal napping hours, or frequently falling asleep during the day after naps are no longer part of the daily routine.
- Taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night.
How can I help my child improve their sleep patterns?
- Studies have shown that children (and adults) who watch TV, play video games or use other electronics before bed took a longer time to fall asleep than those who avoided screen time. It’s always easier said than done, but try to avoid screen time 1-2 hours before bedtime.
- Dim the lights. Turn off some of the lights or use table lamps in the 30 minutes before bed.
- Create a bedtime routine that can be completed in 30 minutes or less. Give your child some control over the routine, such as choosing a book to read or what PJs to wear.
- Provide calming and organizing sensory input. Taking a bath, getting a lotion massage, or providing deep pressure via “pillow squishes” can help a child with a high arousal level transition to sleep. To safely do pillow squishes, have your child lay on a solid but comfortable surface on their belly. With a couch cushion, large body pillow or several smaller pillows, provide firm pressure to their back, arms and legs for the duration your child desires. Always be sure his face is not covered and his breathing is not impeded.
- Some children benefit from a supplement called Melatonin. If your child is still having sleep difficulties after trying bedtime routines and sensory strategies, you may wish to discuss potential use of Melatonin with your pediatrician.
Summer is the perfect time to use water games to support your child’s sensory diet. Most water games primarily provide proprioceptive input, which is often calming and organizing in nature. Activities that involve lifting, pushing, pulling, dragging, squeezing or crashing all provide proprioceptive input. However, if your child has tactile sensitivities, they may find small water droplets to be alarming, uncomfortable or even unbearable. Let your child explore water games on their own terms and be flexible with the rules and expectations.
- Play catch with water balloons. After each catch, have each person take a step backwards.
- Make a water obstacle course. Set up obstacles for your child to go over, under, around, etc., but increase the challenge (and fun) by having him carry a cup of water through the course to dump into a bucket on the other side. Continue until the bucket is full.
- Have a pool? Blow up a dozen or so balloons and place them in the shallow end of the pool. Have your child compete against a sibling, friend, or their own best record to see how many balloons they can grab and hold under their bodies in 30 seconds. (When you’re done, make sure to clean up any broken balloon pieces.)
- Car washing sponges are a great way to add some weight to a scavenger hunt. Have your child fill a sponge with water and hunt for objects you have hidden in the back yard. When she finds an object, she should “tag” it by squeezing out the sponge and soaking the object, then head back to fill the sponge again.
- Print out pictures of monsters, cartoon villains, or another character your child is interested in. Hang them from trees or a fence (try weighting them down by taping a clothespin to the back so they don’t blow too much in the breeze). Have your child use a water blaster to take aim and soak all of the “bad guys”. The tube-shaped water blasters that squirt water out by pushing a handle are great for this.
Are you planning a plane trip for school vacation? There are many aspects of the airport and plane that can be a challenge for children with sensory processing disorder. Here are some ideas to consider as you plan your trip.
- Create a checklist of the steps involved in air travel: parking the car/being dropped off, checking baggage, going through security, finding the gate, etc. Have your child check off each step as you complete it. You may want to add bathroom stops as required steps if your child is hesitant to use the restroom.
- Talk about the security checkpoints and behavior expectations. Frame your expectations in a positive manner, “The lines may be long, but I know you will do your best to have a quiet body.”
- Have your child wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off as they go through security.
- Make sure your child understands that TSA dogs are working and cannot be pet or played with.
- Have your child carry a small backpack through the airport for added deep pressure input.
- Find a quiet corner of the terminal and have your child complete wall push ups or other proprioceptive activities.
- Pack chewy snacks for your child to eat.
- Let your child chew gum during the plane’s ascent and descent. Make sure your child tries the flavor before the trip and understands how to dispose of the gum properly.
- Bring a loop of theraband for your child to pull on during the flight. Your child can stretch it with their hands, loop it under their legs and pull upward, or loop it under their feet and press down.
Tips for the Plane:
- If you are bringing a portable DVD player or using the in-flight movie system, make sure you pick a movie or show that is shorter than the flight time. Check with the flight attendants to estimate how long before landing the pilot will require passengers to turn off electronics. Or, be sure your child understands that when the pilot says to turn off the movie, it is time to turn off the movie, even if it is not finished.
- Bring extra batteries for portable electronics.
- Keep a stash of snacks in a small bag that you can stow under the seat in front of you. If there is heavy turbulence or your child gets hungry during the plane’s ascent, you will not be allowed to retrieve anything from the overhead bins.
- Talk about the plane’s bathroom ahead of time. Look at pictures online together. Discuss that the bathroom is likely very small, the toilet water may be blue and the bathroom may have a strong air freshener. If your child is bothered by sound, let them use the restroom and wash up, then let them leave before you flush the toilet. Make sure your child uses the restroom prior to the plane’s descent, because once the fasten seatbelts sign comes on, they will not be allowed to get out of their seat.
- As the plane is descending, take a moment to remind your child that even after the plane stops, you will have to wait a few minutes for the people towards the front of the plane to gather their belongings and get off the plane.
Have a great trip!
This is an adorable game perfect for preschoolers or early elementary school children who are learning to follow multi-step directions, identify right vs. left, and understand how to move their body in relation to objects. The game includes items found in the Cat in the Hat books, such as a fish tank, a boat, and a birthday cake. On his turn, your child picks from three piles of cards: a movement card, a prop card, and how to interact with the prop card. Your child may be challenged to walk backwards with the fish on his head, or crawl under a foam tube with a boat under his right arm. You could even add extra cards with new props and actions to further focus on areas that are challenging for your child. This game is sure to bring on the giggles if you join in and try the actions along with your child. What a fun way to work on difficult motor planning skills!
Between soccer practice, karate, homework, therapies, PPT meetings, family commitments, home exercise programs, sensory diets and swim lessons, are you feeling like every waking moment is scheduled? It can be hard, but try to find a few minutes to play just for fun. Give your child a break from critique of their grasp patterns, articulation or other therapy objectives, get down on the floor or go outside together (without technology!) and just play. Feeling stuck for ideas?
Here’s a list of 75+ quick and easy activities to play, from Parenting Magazine.
Another great resource is Unplugged Play by Bobbi Conner. This book is full of 710 screen-free, cord-free, developmentally appropriate and fun activities for toddlers, preschoolers and elementary school aged children.
Cooking with your child is a great way to teach about food and nutrition, math skills and science. Mixing, chopping, pouring and decorating are all opportunities for children to work on arm and hand strength as well as fine motor dexterity. Visual perceptual skills are used when searching for ingredients on a spice rack or in the refrigerator. Emerging readers can look for sight words on recipes or product labels. Cognitive skills such as sequencing a multi-step task, prioritizing tasks and managing materials are inherent in cooking activities. And perhaps most importantly, cooking together provides you the opportunity for quality time as a family.
Is your child reluctant to try new foods? Don’t worry; part of typical child development for children ages 2-6 is to avoid trying new foods. Talk with your pediatrician if you are concerned that your child’s picky eating is impacting their growth. Your OT may be able to help you assess your child’s food preferences and identify trends in texture, color, temperature or flavor, and suggest new foods to introduce. With that said, picky eaters should still be invited into the kitchen. Just being near a food provides visual input, introduces the child to the smell, how a food breaks up: Does it crunch? Does it mush? and more. Participating in any part of meal preparation is a step towards accepting new foods.
Wondering where to start?
Here are some kitchen activities for different age groups. Keep in mind these are general activities; some children may be ready for “older” skills and others may need to master “younger” skills before moving on.
- 2 year olds are developing control over arm movements and using two hands together. Invite them to participate in scrubbing fruit, wiping tables or counters, tearing bread or lettuce, dipping vegetables and pouring pre-measured dry ingredients into a bowl.
- 3 year olds are developing improved hand control and can start pouring small amounts of liquids, mixing soft batter, kneading dough, shaking pancake mix, learning to spread (it will be messy!), placing raisins or other toppings and sorting ingredients by color.
- 4 year olds are gaining hand and finger strength. Your child can help by peeling an orange after it is started, squeezing fruit, mashing soft fruits or vegetables, unwrapping packages, pressing cookie cutters into dough or bread, helping to count and measure, helping to gather ingredients and pressing number buttons to set a timer.
- 5 year olds are developing more mature finger dexterity and cognitive skills. Have your child assist with measuring ingredients, grating long carrots or large pieces of cheese (with close supervision), using an egg beater, cutting soft ingredients with a dull knife and decorating with icing or other ingredients.
- Older children can practice math skills by doubling a recipe, figuring out how many servings a recipe will yield, and cutting a tray of brownies or bars into a given number of portions, etc. They can take ownership of a meal by planning and choosing recipes.
Things to remember:
- Children always need supervision in the kitchen.
- Teach your child to wash his hands before cooking or eating and after touching raw eggs or meat.
- Expect spills and messes.
- Expect the task to take longer than usual.
- Repeat directions as needed.
- Don’t forget to have your child help with clean up.
If your child is on a special diet, snack recipes can be a challenge. Here are some recipes put together by a speech pathologist, including some which are gluten or dairy free
For more articles like this, visit Penn State’s Better Kid Care website.
Check out this blog for step-by-step instructions on how to make your own finger paint at home from simple ingredients. We love her idea of storing the paint in squeezable containers!
Just remember, if your child has tactile defensiveness, don’t force her hands into the paint. Try a paintbrush, q-tip or cotton ball. Some kids prefer to wear a rubber glove. When your child is ready, try cutting off the tip of the glove on one finger. Slowly work towards cutting the glove further down, or taking the tips off of other parts of the glove. Dive in and join your child in the fun, praising your child for interacting with the paint.