"Are they made from EAR WAX?"
No they are not!
Wikki Stix are made of hand-knitting yarn enhanced with a microcrystalline, food-grade non-toxic wax (and not ear wax like one of my little friend thought)! These soft little colourful sticks are pliable and stick on just about any surface, can be lifted and re-stuck again.
Bend the wikki stix in any shape. Make 2D or 3D shapes. Join several together. Wikki stix make the perfect tool to use for learning and developing fine motor skills. They can be used in a variety of ways!
We love to make "finger obstacle courses"! Watch the video to see a finger obstacle course in action!
We love making finger obstacle courses (remember this one made with a shoebox lid?)!
Little hands can work on the manipulation and planning involved to set up the obstacle course. Fingers then push and press into the table, leap and perform to complete all sorts of obstacles. You could target finger isolation, thumb opposition, manual dexterity, motor planning, eye-hand coordination, crossing the midline, bilateral coordination and more!
Stay connected with more great tips and ideas for working on fine motor skills coming soon!
Have you made a Wikki Stix Finger Obstacle Course? Try it!
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Ever struggled to entertain your kids on a long haul flight or doctor's waiting room? or maybe you are a mobile therapist looking for new ideas that are light and easy to carry?!
Here are some quick easy DIY travel games that you can make with your favourite washi tape and some zip lock bags to keep your kids entertained and learning at the same time!
The surface of the zip lock bag is the playing surface and all the small parts can be stored in the bag after playing! So neat and convenient, ready for travel!
1. Tic Tac Toe (or noughts and crosses).
You will need a zip lock bag, 4 strips of washi tape and 8 small counters (four of each type).
Simply lay your washi tape strips to form the tic tac toe board and you are ready to play! Can't get any easier than that! My cute counters came from an old game we weren't using anymore, however you could use small pebbles, buttons, pom poms or any other "loose parts".
Tic tac toe is such a great game for kids to work on motor planning and turn taking. You can encourage a pincer grip with the counters too!
2. Maze Fun
You will need a zip lock bag, washi tape cut into strips and some counters.
Design a maze on your zip lock bag using washi tape. You could make one like the one I have made or you could make a shape or a road too. The best thing about washi tape is that is repositional. Change the maze after you play! If you have an older child, they may be able to come up with their own design. You could use counters to go through the maze or you could make the washi tape the path to follow. Draw some black lines down the middle of your tape and you have a road for a little car to drive down. Draw some line across the washi tape and you can easily create train tracks!
Mazes are such a great way for kids to work on visual motor planning and tracking. They can work on problem solving too if the maze is too hard for them. And you guessed it, encourage a pincer grasp with the counters or loose parts that you use!
3. Triangle Peg Solitaire
You will need a zip lock bag, 15 small squares of washi tape and 14 counters.
Start this game by assembling the counters like the photo above with the bottom right hand square empty. To play the game, you may move a counter to "jump over" one other counter onto an empty square. Pick any counter next to continuing "jumping over". Play ends when you can't move (ie. you don't have a counter to jump over). The aim of the game is to have the least counters left over.
This game is perfect for older kids who may be challenged to one counter left after making all moves. This game will be addictive, as your child will want to try again to beat the number of counters they have remaining. It is a good problem solving and visual planning game (whilst working on that pincer grasp).
4. Alphabet Learning.
You will need a zip lock bag, alphabet washi tape (or write on plain washi tape with permanent marker), alphabet beads, whiteboard marker and eraser. Alphabet beads are easy to find in hobby or craft stores or you may even find them in your local discount (dollar) store.
Have your child match the beads to the washi tape for alphabet recognition and learning alphabetical order. You could also put in a small tub of playdough so that the beads could be pushed into the playdough. Use a whiteboard marker to write the letters on the zip lock bag and have an eraser (or a tissue will work) to rub out the letter. Change it up and use lower case letters, numbers or spell out sight words or spelling words!
The benefits of this activity are self explanatory! Educational with a touch of fine motor manipulation! Yes you guessed it, this also works on pincer grasp but you can also work on pencil grasp and letter formation too!
Do you want to see these games in action? Watch this video I put together (be kind as I'm still learning about video editing!). If you are reading this in your email, please click on the title of this blog so that you watch this video via your internet browser!
Looking for more amazing travel games? Today. I'm linking up with some of OT blogging friends to bring you more! Make sure you check out their ideas and follow them too!
Let me know if you try out my DIY travel games made with washi tape and zip lock bags! No crafting experience required! Happy playing!
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Do you fidget?
Do you chew your pencil, tap on a table, tap your foot, move in your seat, twirl your hair?
Fidgeting is a movement that you may not even be aware of until someone points it out to you. People (both children and adults) may fidget whilst they are concentrating on a conversation, listening to a teacher or watching TV (just some examples).
Some children with sensory seeking behavior need ways to intentionally fidget so that they can obtain the proprioceptive input to help their bodies regulate and calm down.
Have you seen balloon fidget toys before?
I have been wanting to make these for a long time and have finally made them! They are so awesome to squish and squeeze! There are lots of recipes on the internet, but I found two really simple (and dare I say fool-proof) ones that I have "tweaked" for you to try!
Water Beads Balloon Fidget
What you will need:
2. Water beads (fully grown)
What to do:
1. Give your balloon a stretch and blow into it (just to stretch it).
2. Deflate your balloon and attach to the end of the funnel.
3. Push the water beads into the funnel and into the balloon. You may need to move them down the neck of the balloon with your fingers.
4. Fill your balloon to the desired size then tie a knot to secure them.
Your kids will love scooping water beads to put into the funnel, then pushing the water beads into the funnel with their fingers. The perfect finger isolation activity!
Note: Inspiration for these balloon fidgets came from Karina Garcia's You Tube channel. She uses transparent balloons which are so cool!
Baking Soda and Conditioner Balloon Fidget
What you will need:
1. Baking Soda (aka. bicarbonate soda)
2. Hair conditioner
4. Plastic fork or spoon
7. Elastic Band
8. Netting from fruit or vegetables
9. Matches or lighter
What to do:
1. Pour your baking soda (I used 300 g to make 2) into a bowl.
2. Slowly add a little hair conditioner to the baking soda and mix together with the spoon. Continue to add the hair conditioner and mix until you get a sloppy thick icing consistency (see video for consistency).
3. Give your balloon a stretch and blow into it (just to stretch it).
4. Deflate your balloon and attach to the end of the funnel.
5. Push the baking soda mixture into the funnel and down into the balloon. You may need a plastic fork or spoon to help push it down.
6. Fill your balloon to the desired size then tie a knot to secure them.
7. Cut some fruit/vegetable netting to the desired size. Singe the ends of the net with a lighted match just to stop any fraying.
8. Secure the netting over the balloon with a rubber band.
9. Squeeze and play!
Your kids will love helping you mix the baking soda and hair conditioner together. You could play with this as "cloud dough" until you are ready to fill the balloons. Make sure you get a reasonably wet consistency for to put into the balloons (it will still work if you don't but you might not get the bubbles popping out of the net). Once ready to play, your kids (and any adults around) will love squeezing these over and over again!
Note: Inspiration for these balloon fidgets came fromAira Tan's You Tube Video.
Have a look at my video to retrace the steps and see how squishy they are!
Use of these balloon fidget toys should always be supervised especially over time with the wear and tear of the balloon. The length of time each balloon will last, will depend on the quality of the balloon and how often it is played with. You could try adding a second balloon over the first to provide some longevity. These balloon fidgets are not suitable for children who are mouthing toys and objects. They are also not suitable for children under 12 months of age.
These balloon fidgets provide sensory input for a child who needs to fidget. They also make great ways to warm up your child's hands ready for writing or cutting. They are perfect little stress balls and they are also heaps of FUN!
I love these balloon fidgets! I hope you do too!
Have you made a balloon fidget yet? Let me know if you try one of these!
Don't forget to share this article with your friends and family if you think they will like these balloon fidgets too!
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As an occupational therapist and mum, I always have a mental checklist when I am buying toys for my own kids, my practice and as gifts for others.
I have recently discovered the beautiful range of Click Clack Toys: "Designing for today's kids for tomorrow's world"! Click Clack Toys is an Australian owned company which designs and makes handmade toys. Click Clack Toys have sent me some of their toys for the purposes of review and have a given me an "Airport Starter Kit" and "Helicopter" to giveaway to one lucky Australian reader. More details to follow below.
Back to my checklist when choosing toys...
Is the toy well made?
I was really pleased to "feel" the Click Clack Toys. The wood is really smooth and made from sustainably managed plantation timber forests. They use water-based non-toxic paint which add really great detail to the toys and won't scratch off easily.
Does the toy promote skill development (motor, visual-motor, problem solving, pretend play, co-operation, sensory)?
A big tick here! The unique design and main feature of these toys are that they "click" together. Children are encouraged to join parts of the toy together to make a whole. From a simple animal "Critterz" that has two parts to a more complex vehicle and then to building a structure that houses the vehicle. This promotes your child's busy fingers to match components using fine motor skills, hand strength as well as their problem solving skills. Younger kids will need help to match the right parts together. Once "clicked" into place, the toys are ready to be played with!
This is where imaginary and pretend play take over. There are a wide range of vehicles in the range including a plane, helicopter, police car, postal van, fire truck and more. Made at just the right size for little hands to move, these vehicles can be used to create their own stories of rescue, delivery and construction. Children develop play themes from their experience with books, story telling and real life opportunities. Visiting the local fire station may encourage "fire truck" play to rescue people or animals. Watching a building site may encourage "diggers" and "cement mixers" to create their own work site. Seeing a plane flying over the house may create intrigue about "plane" and "airport" play.
The "Critterz" range are incredibly cute animals that "pull back" on wheels. Hand skills are put into practise applying just enough pressure to activate the "pull back" mechanism before seeing these animals race away. Great for racing with a friend or sibling. We found the perfect spot on the trampoline!
Is the toy "open ended"? Can it used in a few different ways?
These toys are definitely "open ended". Although the nature of the vehicle, structure and animal may guide initial play ideas... there are no set rules. Children may play with these toys and have a different "story" each time. The "helicopter" might fly to rescue someone an accident in the snowy mountains one day and then fly on a sight-seeing tour over a volcano next time. Some children will need help to think of new ideas as play is initially limited to personal experiences.
To extend play, children may like to use existing toys or create their own extensions. For example, they may create a cardboard city for the people to visit. They may use blocks to build a bridge or animal shelter. They may use playdough or kinetic sand as a "building material" for the construction toys.
Changing "where" your child plays with their toys will also extend play. We took our play set and critterz onto the trampoline!
Will the toy endure the test of time?
These quality toys are "classics". They do not follow the latest blockbuster movie or cartoon character. These toys build on traditional play experiences. These toys are built to last and can be passed onto the next generation!
Is the toy appealing?
When we opened the box, my children instantly found the toys appealing. They are child-friendly in size and shape. The painted features and life-like resemblance of the toys will appeal to both kids and adults. The wheels work on the vehicles and "Critterz", moving these great distances on smooth surfaces. Both Mr 6 and Miss 10 found this very appealing as they raced their "Critterz".
For more information about Click Clack Toys, refer to their website.
Love the sound of Click Clack Toys? Thanks to the lovely people at Click Clack Toys, I am giving away an "Airport Starter Kit and Helicopter" to celebrate reaching 4000 Your Kids OT FB likers! This set will make an excellent Christmas present for your child, niece, nephew or grand child! Open to Australian residents, enter now!
Note: I have not received remuneration or compensation from Click Clack Toys. I have been gifted an "Airport Starter Kit and Helicopter" and Critterz for this review. All comments and opinions are my own. Click Clack Toys will supply the winner of this giveaway an "Airport Starter Kit and Helicopter".
1. This is a game of skill. Mandatory requirements include visiting Your Kids OT FB page and Click Clack Toys FB page. Entries must answer the question "Complete Click Clack Toys slogan - Designing for today's kids for ........". Additional entry points are given for following Your Kids OT and Click Clack Toys on Instagram.
2. This game is open to Australian residents only.
3. This game of skill is open from Monday 26/09/2016 12am and closes Monday 17/10/2016 12am (Sydney time).
4. Eligible prize winners will be drawn randomly on the 17/10/2016 at 12:00PM. Prize winners will be notified via YOUR KIDS OT Facebook page and private message. Prize winners must inform Your Kids OT of their mailing address within 48 hours of being notified as the winning entry.
5. There will be 1 prize winner drawn with the winner receiving an airport starter pack and helicopter. The prize will be delivered by Click Clack toys directly to the winner.
Rainbow "coloured" rice is a great addition to a "sensory bin"! There are heaps of tutorials on-line to teach you how to colour rice. I used a really simple method ... I added a cup of rice to a plastic container and a few drops of food colouring. I shook the container until all the rice was covered with food colouring, then lay the rice out on baking paper to dry. Our rice took less than 24 hours to dry (drying time will depend on the weather and the amount of food colouring used). You may notice we have a few lentils in our rice mix (already mixed in when we used the rice in a sensory bin). I didn't bother with vinegar or alcohol and did not have a problem with the colour transferring onto our hands. I found that my cheap supermarket food colouring worked better than may gel colours as this was more "blobby".
Combining our coloured rice with some small items, we made a beautiful "I spy" bottle! I took a photo of our treasures and laminated a print out before Mr 6 enjoyed pouring the rice into a funnel and hiding the treasures. Once filled, I sealed the lid and attached the laminated page with a dry-erase marker. Super-easy craft!
Watch our fun video to see how we made the I spy bottle!
We made this "I spy" bottle to use as a travel toy. It is a fun way to work on visual memory and visual discrimination skills. I'm looking forward to trying it out with my OT kids this term.
For younger children, you may choose a clear plastic bottle rather than glass. For older kids you could choose very small similar items to place in your bottle ... you can make this really difficult!
When we have finished with this bottle, I can pour the contents out into a sensory bin for further play! It will make a great treasure hunt to explore with busy fingers as well.
Have you made an "I spy" bottle? What is your favourite thing to hide?
Cindy is a registered Occupational Therapist practising in Sydney Australia. She has two young children who are a constant source of inspiration and learning. Cindy loves working creatively to help children to reach their potential, finding opportunities in everyday living and making learning fun. Cindy is the author of the Occupational Therapy blog Your Kids OT.
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This month in the Functional Skills for Kids Series, we are looking at cutting and scissor skills! You will find lots of great tips and tricks looking at scissor skills and cutting from the best therapy bloggers on the links at the end of this article.
My focus is on incorporating play with scissor skills, so what better way to do this than to make puppets?! Making a puppet gives your child's cutting some purpose. It extends the activity so the "craft" can be played with ... encouraging further creativity with imaginary story lines, character interactions, animal noises and speech.
I have created these cute animal hand puppets with some ordinary brown paper bags and my FREE templates. Download theseFREE templates to create a dragon, crocodile and shark from the YKOT shop.
These cutting templates include a range of skills including cutting along straight lines, zig zag lines, simple shapes and more complex shapes. Cutting requires bilateral coordination with one hand holding the scissors and the "helper" hand holding and manipulating the paper as it is cut.
You could help to encourage further play with these puppets by cutting out props such as trees, a castle, people or other animals. Mr almost 6 years and I made this scene above to give some characters for the dragon puppet to harass. Unfortunately one of the characters was captured by the dragon when they ventured out of the castle and needed to be rescued!
Do your kids like cutting? Do they like puppets?
This article is part of “Functional Skills for Kids: 12 month series by Paediatric Occupational and Physical Therapists”. You can find lots of great tips and tricks to help your children with scissor skills in the links below. Make sure you bookmark this page so you can come back to read all the links!
Developmental Progression of Scissor Skills: 35 Best Tips for Teaching Kids to Use Scissors | Mama OT
Fine Motor Considerations for Learning to Use Scissors | Miss Jaime, O.T.
Gross Motor Skills and Scissor Use | Your Therapy Source
Sensory Processing and Scissor Skills - a Surprising Link | Kids Play Space
Teach Kids How to Slow Down to Cut on Lines |Sugar Aunts
5 Tips for Difficulties with Scissor Skills | Growing Hands-On Kids
Creative Cutting Practice for Kids | The Inspired Treehouse
Visual Motor Skills and Cutting With Scissors | Therapy Fun Zone
Animal Puppets! Cut. Create. Play. | Your Kids OT
It is that time of the year in Sydney when the days are getting shorter, the wind has a chill in the air and it is time for VIVID SYDNEY! What a fabulous festival of light and colour which brings our city to life! There are installations to see in the Sydney CBD, Chatswood and this year for the first time at Taronga Zoo.
Vivid Sydney at Taronga Zoo, whilst the only ticketed venue, really appealed to me as a "family friendly" option. It didn't disappoint! Parking was easy, there was a wonderful story projected on the zoo entrance and an amazing light trail that led you on a journey through the zoo. We weren't expecting to see any animals and you will be disappointed if you do expect to see them as they must have been all tucked up into their inner sanctuaries for the evening.
The trail was completely accessible, including a laser light display as you enter via the first ramp before you even see the first "lit up animal". Those who are susceptible to sensory overload may find the laser lights a bit overwhelming as Miss 9 described the laser lights like "thousands of ants running in multiple directions in psychedelic colours"! Most of the "lit up animals" were static, although some moved in a slow calm manner. The ramped sections seem to be the most "ramped up" in terms of sensory input with another ramp full of vertical lights running up/down and music to go with it.
Here is an image of some of our favourite displays at Taronga Zoo.
To make the most of the "dark nights" we have four fabulous fun activities for your kids to play in the dark!
1. Knock Them Down in the Dark!
Add glowsticks to six plastic cups and knock them down with a soft rubber ball. Fun for all ages!
2. Make pictures with glowsticks!
Mr almost-6 years and Miss 9 years loved this activity. Simply create pictures with your glowsticks and see if anyone can guess what you have made! We made our pictures on a tiled floor, creating simple shapes as well as more detailed pictures.
3. Glowstick Bath Time!
Throw the glowsticks into the bath and they can be used to light the bath. There is something a little special about having a bath in the dark!
4. Glowstick Torches (Flashlights) on the Trampoline!
We have some supermarket purchased torches which light up like glowsticks (or light sabers if you prefer). You can find similar here. Mr almost-6 years and Miss 9 LOVED jumping on the trampoline as the sun set. The torches turned into light-sabers for a bouncing battle.
Do your kids like playing in the dark? Have you been to any of the VIVID Sydney displays?
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We love paper plane making! Making planes seems to appeal to both boys and girls and wide range of ages. Just take out some paper at a weekend BBQ and you will have the big kids (ie. adults) involved in who can design and create the plane that can fly the furthest!
You may have read my post two years ago about paper planes where I showed you how to make the "acrobatic" plane. Read it HERE if you missed it!
Paper plane making is really a wonderful way to work on fine motor manipulation, visual planning and sequencing skills. I use paper planes in therapy sessions to work on these things as well as using it as a writing prompt. You may prompt your kids with "Where is the plane going?", "Who is on the plane?", "What type of plane is this and what does it carry?", "What will the plane need to fly?". "What can the people do on the plane during the flight?" or "What can the pilot see during the flight?"
This time I have step by step instructions for you to make TWO more super planes! Find the instructions below and download your FREE COPY of the instructions as aPDF file HERE.
I hope these planes bring you and your kids hours of entertainment! Let me know if you try them out!
The "Flying "W" Plane.
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The school playground can be an intimidating place! Depending on the school... lots of kids, lots of space and lots of noise! Surviving and indeed enjoying the school playground with friends, is often the main concern for parents as their children start school.
Children in the playground need to be able to initiate conversation, join in a group, negotiate, take turns, understand and follow rules in a game, co-operate with others, assert their opinion whilst listening to others, empathize appropriately and be a good sport!
One of the keys to a positive experience in the school playground is the development of social skills prior to starting school. These skills may be encouraged over time whilst children play in their everyday settings.
Social skills between children are learnt through play experiences with other children. These skills are important for communication , self confidence, resilience and positive relationships.
Development of Social Interaction Skills
By 3 years of age, children are playing beside each other with the same activity (parallel play). These children are interested in their own activity, whilst happy to sit next to anther child who is also interested in their own activity. You may find children in a sand pit where they are all playing with the sand (eg. digging, pouring, building) but they may not be playing the same game together. Children are beginning to take turns with other children.
By 4 years of age, children begin to co-operate and negotiate their play with other children. They express play ideas and who will play what role, however they may also have difficulty resolving conflicts on their own. Children are starting to play group games with rules, learning to follow these rules and encouraging others to also follow the rules.
By 5 years of age, children can co-operate and negotiate in their play. Games and imaginary play are becoming more complex and organised. Children are learning to approach others to join in a group as well as assert themselves to manage conflict. These children are learning to stand up for themselves against antisocial or undesirable behaviour from their peers.
By 6 - 8 years of age, children are learning about good sportsmanship in games (being a good winner and a good loser). They are learning how to empathize with other children and offer support. Children are also learning how to communicate their needs and ideas, whilst respecting and listening to the needs of others. They are working out how to negotiate when disagreements arise as well as making joint decisions.
Whilst these social skills are written with age guidelines, you may find older children also participating in the types of play listed for younger children. This is especially common when children are meeting each other for the first time or getting to know each other. For example, when children start school they are unfamiliar with their environment and the other children so may be happy to play alongside other kids with limited interaction.
Some children will have difficulty with the social skills required in a playground.
Here are 5 ways to help your child's social skill development!
(1) Provide social situations where child interaction is fostered - These might include places such as a park, the beach, play date at home, church playground, local pool, camp ground, etc.
(3) Game Play
(5) Collaboration and Conflict Resolution
Setting up a successful playground environment for children who have difficulty with social skills!
Some children (such as children with Autism Spectrum Disorder) may continue to struggle in a playground environment because of difficulties with social skills. There are some playground modifications which can help these children as well as others.
(1) Provide quiet spaces.
Playgrounds should provide places for social interaction as well as spaces where children may be alone or in a quiet space. This may be a bench under a tree, a fort, grass area or the library where children are encouraged in quiet time.
(2) Provide some structure within the playground.
This may include time to eat in a certain area then time to play in a certain area.
(3) Provide opportunities for structured games.
This may include an area for board games, table tennis, hopscotch or basketball, etc.
(4) Provide opportunities for a "club" run by a teacher or older students.
This may include gardening, music, chess, frisbee, etc.
(5) Provide a visual timer or clock so children can monitor how much time they have in the playground.
(6) Provide a designated place for children to "meet up" in the playground.
(7) Assign children to a "playground buddy" to look out for another child in the playground.
(8) Provide a visual checklist of activities children may do whilst in the playground. Maybe a few strategic posters could be placed outside the classroom windows.
This may include eating lunch, playground equipment, visiting the bathroom, reading a book or it might include action pictures such as star jumps, frog jumps, hopping, etc.
(9) Provide playground equipment which requires more than one child to operate.
The "We-Saw" is an example of this sort of equipment which encourages social interaction.
What are your best tips for supporting children in the playground?
This article is part of “Functional Skills for Kids: 12 month series by Paediatric Occupational and Physical Therapists”. You can find lots of great tips and tricks to help your children thrive in the playground in the links below!
Developmental Progression of Playground Skills | Your Therapy Source
Promoting Fine Motor Skills at the Playground |Miss Jaime OT
How to Support Gross Motor Skills Needed for Playground Success | Mama OT
Sensory Integration Therapy at the Playground | Sugar Aunts
Modification Ideas for Playground Equipment for Children | Growing Hands-On Kids
Playground Rules to Break for Greater Play Skill Development | Kids Play Space
Playground Games and Activities for Kids | The Inspired Treehouse
Essential Social Skills To Survive the School Playground! |Your Kids OT
Developing Visual Skills and the Playground | Therapy Fun Zone
Stagnitti, K. (2013) Learn to Play. A practical program to develop a child's imaginative play skills. Co-ordinates Publications.
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Today I would like to introduce Angela Hanscom, Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Author of Balanced and Barefoot.
After spending years observing and working with children with behavioral issues and sensory deprivations, Angela wondered if these issues could be remediated and even prevented through more playtime in the great outdoors. She put her ideas into practice by developing and running an experimental nature program in her own backyard, with the hope of reconnecting children to nature at an early age. I am excited to have Angela share about HOW THE NATURAL WORLD ENRICHES AND SUPPORTS THE DEVELOPING CHILD!
Imagine your child walking barefoot through a meadow while scanning the area for beautiful flowers. While walking, he tilts his head to hear the birds and feels a light breeze on his skin. Walking barefoot provides great sensory feedback to the arches of his feet, giving him a good sense of where his feet are in relation to the rest of his body. Listening to the birds chirp helps him to orient to his whereabouts when compared to the other creatures out in the wild. The light breeze keeps him alert, while the warmth of the sun comforts him. This is the optimal state for sensory integration to occur – when we are aware of our surroundings, but relaxed and calm.
On the other hand, man-made environments (i.e., movie theaters, colorful play spaces, indoor party arenas) can overpower the senses and send a child into a fight or flight response – an unhealthy state to keep our children in.
You may be thinking, “My kids get a TON of free play and are moving about - all the time! Why does this have to take place outdoors? What is so special about nature, that mankind can’t try to replicate this experience? How is rolling down the hills in grass any different than rolling down a ramp at a gymnasium? Isn’t getting messy with shaving cream in the bathtub just as good as getting messy with mud outside?”
When I advocate for children playing outdoors, I remind parents of three key factors that I’ve never seen successfully duplicated in any indoor environment: The outdoors offers a perfectly balanced sensory experience. The outdoors inspires the mind. The outdoors is an ideal setting for evaluating risks and accepting challenges.
THE OUTDOORS OFFERS THE ULTIMATE SENSORY EXPERIENCE
Spending some time every day in the outdoors—from simply walking barefoot on the grass to listening to birds in the trees—offers the following sensory benefits:
• Natural integration of our senses. Good sensory integration means optimal brain and body performance.
• A calm, but alert state. When you are in a calm and alert state, you are better able to process the sensory information around you and start to organize these senses – bringing together all the puzzle pieces to form a nice picture of the world around you.
• A “just right” amount and kind of sensory stimuli. Nature doesn’t bombard the child with too many senses at once, which creates a sense of chaos and confusion.
THE OUTDOOR INSPIRES THE MIND
Daily exposure to the outdoors stimulates the brain in many ways:
• There are no expectations. The child is forced to use their imagination in order for that stick, rock, or pinecone to become a part of their world.
• There are endless possibilities. The outdoors challenges the mind to constantly think in new directions.
• There is no pressure. When engaging in active free play, a child can play with others or not, make up their own rules or follow someone else’s, be rough-and-tumble or be quiet and contemplative.
THE OUTDOORS OFFER RISK AND CHALLENGE
Evaluating risks and taking challenges while playing outdoors every day is rewarding in many ways:
• Children build confidence. When children overcome obstacles, they learn that they can be successful if they keep trying, even in the face of difficulty.
• Children challenge themselves at their own pace. They get to determine when they are ready to take risks and even control how much risk they are willing to take.
• They learn to be adaptable. When playing outdoors, children quickly learn that they can’t always control the outcomes of their play. For instance, their fort may not have turned out exactly as they envisioned and in turn, they learn to be flexible in their thinking.
Nature has a calming effect like no other. According to Adam Atler, professor of marketing and psychology at New York University, “Nature restores mental functioning in the same way that food and water restore bodies. The business of everyday life -- dodging traffic, making decisions and judgment calls, interacting with strangers -- is depleting, and what man-made environments take away from us, nature gives back.”
While manmade environments may excite your child – think of loud colors and loud noises – they will often overwhelm or over-stimulate him or her. Other times, indoor environments under-stimulate and offer little sensory benefits to your child at all. The great outdoors, on the other hand, offer limitless possibilities for play experiences and exploration of the senses – enhancing and refining them through repeated practice. It is through play outdoors on a daily basis that your children will challenge and strengthen their senses of touch, vision, hearing, smell, taste and much more!
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Hi, I'm Cindy and I am an Occupational Therapist. I enjoy working creatively with children to see them reach their potential. Read more about me here.
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Disclaimer: The information on this site is general in nature and should be used for educational and entertainment purposes. The activities are safe for most children, however, you should consult an Occupational Therapist or health professional to address specific movement, sensory or other medical conditions. This blog does not replace formal therapeutic professional advice given by a health professional or medical practitioner. Reviews and endorsements of products will only be made based on my expertise and personal opinion; and deemed worthy of such endorsement. The opinions shared in sponsored content will always be my own and not that of the advertising company or brand. Content, advertising space or posts will be clearly identified if paid, affiliated or sponsored. Affiliate links may be found throughout this website in advertising. This means that if you follow through with a purchase from these links, Your Kids OT will receive a percentage of the sale. Your Kids OT undertakes to meet the requirements of the "Social Media Policy" as published by Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Further information about this policy can be found here.
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