Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

Archive for the ‘Play’ Category

January 3, 2018

Indoor Play Spaces: A Therapist’s Perspective

By: Tracy Magee,M.Ed., CCC-SLP

I recently went to a new play space, Scramble in Alexandria with my 3 year old and 18 month old, and I just had to share about it with our Spectrum families! Not only did my kids have a ball, but also I couldn’t help but also think of all the therapeutic activities and developmental skills that a parent could encourage in a space like this!

1. Physical activity: In the winter months, it is extra difficult to make sure that kids are getting enough movement during their days due to the frigid temperatures. Obviously, in a soft playroom space, kids can move about with ease, and a parent doesn’t have to worry about every fall and tumble. With all the new sites in a soft playroom, kids are motivated to jump, climb, crawl, and more! This works on their body coordination and hand/eye coordination. Beyond that, kids need to MOVE! Movement helps all humans attain self-regulation. Self-regulation is “the ability to maintain a level of alertness appropriate to a given activity.” A space like this allows kids to achieve adequate self-regulation through movement, which in turn, is essential for development of attention, regulation of sleep/wake cycles, and control of emotions (particularly during transitions from one activity to another). This particular play space offers movements areas for various ages – a baby area to practice tummy time, toddler area with smaller obstacles and slides, and a “big kid” two-level playhouse with mazes, obstacles, and slides.

  • Parents can encourage developmental benefits for physical activity and regulation by having their child to lift heavy things, push heavy items, and use their body in different ways (climbing, crawling, etc.). All these movements work on coordination and help the child feel regulated.

2. Pretend Play: This particular play space has four separate areas for kids to pretend, including a car garage with a giant racecar, coffee shop/café, vet office, and construction zone. The large soft playroom pieces are the perfect size for kids to lift and engage their imaginations in the theme of the room. Pretend play is important because it aids kids in understanding that a symbol stands for something else. Learning this concept can help a child’s language development, as words are a symbol to represent something else, as well. Parents can encourage pretend play by modeling how to use some of the toys for their child to imitate and naming the items or actions as the parent or child uses them.

3. Social Skills: Of course, social skills are naturally a focus during many of the activities listed above. Kids have to learn to take turns and share in the “pretend play” areas and on the slides. Working together is part of the fun!  Parents can encourage social skill development by helping the child ask and answer questions with other kids that are playing. This could include using longer sentences, answering questions with an appropriate response, or formulating questions. Kids may need varying levels of adult help to work on this skill. Turn taking with the toys, balls, and slides is something every kid can always work on, too!

4. Language Development: Language development includes a child’s ability to understand the language of others and use his/her own sentences to express him/herself. Parents can encourage language development by practicing following directions. This includes using descriptors and prepositions (e.g. “Get the red soccer ball and kick it in the goal behind me.”) and practicing safety words (“Stop! Wait!”) in a contained environment. Children also have to use their own language to ask for a turn with a ball or tell their parent what they need.

These are just a few ways that you can turn an indoor playspace, such as Scramble, into an activity that aids in lots of childhood development skills, and it’s so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work for the child or the parent!

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December 8, 2017

Tips and Tricks for a Successful Holiday Season

By: Tracey Urbansok, MS, OTR/L

Just when our kiddos have settled into a good routine following back to school time, it’s already December and that means holidays and winter breaks. It’s a hectic yet very exciting time of year for kiddos and adults alike. All that the season brings, including lots of extra lights, sounds and crowds, can leave our little ones feeling over stimulated, uncertain and overwhelmed. We are here to share some tips and tricks to help make your holiday season a memorable and successful one!

• Preparation is important so plan ahead when you can: Keeping some extra snacks and drinks ready can help avoid a meltdown when that family gathering or holiday parade went a bit too long.

• Write a social story about what to expect: Social stories are short descriptions about anticipated events or activities. These stories can help your child better learn about the environment, an activity or an expected behavior before getting starting. For example: “On Friday night we will go to our neighbor’s house for a party. I can help make a snack to take with us to share with our friends. When I get to our neighbor’s house there may be lots of people there I don’t know and I might feel a bit scared. My mom will be close by and can hold my hand. When people ask my name I can tell them. There will be other kids there and I can play with them. If I need a break or I get hungry that’s okay, I can let my mom know. Going to our neighbor’s house on Friday will be fun!”

• Before going to a new place or visiting old or new friends it can be helpful to share pictures of the places you will go or people your child will meet.

• Calendars and countdowns: Using calendars and countdowns is a great way to help your excited or anxious child organize time. Especially for those kiddos who have lots of extra energy and can’t wait till Christmas morning! For a visual schedule idea check out this site!

• If you are taking a long car ride or plane flight, wrapping up an inexpensive item (such as a new coloring book) or providing your child their favorite special treat especially when they are being good is a great way to break up and celebrate the journey.

• For slightly older children, involve them in your holiday planning such as decorating, picking out gifts, sending or making cards.

• With lots going on, remember to provide simple choices. Kids do well when we provide them simple or two choices rather than just asking what they want.

• Be flexible and encourage your child to be flexible too. Speak to your child in advance that changes might happen and provide several options. Speak openly that back up plans and alternatives can be fun too!

• Most important have fun and use praise. Praise your child whenever possible and praise their siblings, peers and others. Children love to feel good about something they have done well and often will match their behaviors when they see another person getting praised too.

Still have any questions or concerns about helping your little one through the holiday season? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your therapist to help you come up with a unique plan for your child. Finally stay turned for our next Trick of the Trade and keep your eyes on the Spectrum Pediatric Instagram for some simple at home ideas to try this month!

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November 9, 2017

Lights, Camera, Learning!

By: Krystina Burke, M.S., CCC-SLP
  • Video modeling is a visual teaching method.
  • Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) learn best through visual means.
  • A recent study found that students with ASD were able learn new behaviors by watching other people.
  • Video modeling can easily be put into practice!

Smart phones are pretty bright! They wake us up, keep up on schedule, allow us to email and browse the web from anywhere and everywhere, they take amazing photographs that we can share in an instant, and oh yeah.. we can actually use it as a phone to call someone.  One thing you might not know is that you have a powerful teaching tool right in your back pocket!

Video modeling is a visual teaching method. As the name suggests, video modeling provides children with the opportunity to learn a behavior or skill by watching a video of someone else, or themselves in a certain situation or performing a certain skill! Video modeling can be used to support all children, but has been especially affective when working with children with Autism. This intervention has been used support children in the areas of behavioral functioning, social-communication, and functional self-help skills.

Children with autism benefit from using visuals as a learning strategy. A study by Bellini and Akullian (2007) concluded that children preformed best when they were highly motivated and attentive because they enjoyed watching the videos. A study by MacDonald (2009) found that when children were given the opportunity to observe videos of their peers during social, play based, interactions these children were more likely to engage in reciprocal play interactions with typically developing peers.

So how can you put this into practice? First, identify an area of need for your child. What is most difficult for them? Is it engaging with peers during play or functionally playing with their toys at home? Is it getting on or off the bus? Once you know what you want to target, the next step is to find a video that models the behavior or skill you want your child to learn. There are many pre-made videos available to use here. Stay tuned for a trick of the trade on how to learn how to make your own!

Sources:

Bellini, S., & Akullian, J. , Exceptional Children, 73, 261-284, 2007

MacDonald, R., Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 2009, Spring, 42 (1): 43-55.

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August 21, 2017

Back to School Time

By: Tracy Magee,M.Ed., CCC-SLP

It is nearing the end of the summer, and we all know what that means…school is going to be back in session soon! If your child is going to a new school this Fall, here are some ways to make sure they feel comfortable before the first day arrives.

1. Go to the school’s playground NOW – If your child is in preschool or elementary school, take him/her to the playground a few times before the school year starts. This will get your child familiar with the school grounds and play equipment in a low-stress setting with a trusted person (You!). This will make it easier to navigate the school grounds the first few days because the child will already feel like the area is familiar and safe.

2. Attend school functions – Does your school have an Open House day to meet new teachers and tour the school? Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity if it is offered! Attending any pre-season games is also a great way to meet people and familiarize your child with the school grounds.

3. Talk about it! – Make sure that you are talking often with your child about the big changes coming up. Discuss what a typical day will look like, and maybe even brainstorm with your child what to do if something doesn’t go quite as planned. Preparation is always a good idea, and it makes everyone feel more at ease with big transitions, like a new school.

Every student is going to be nervous on their first day at a new school, but hopefully, we, as parents, can help calm those nerves as much as we can by using a few of the strategies above. Wishing everyone a great start to their school year!

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June 30, 2017

Summertime Motor Fun!

By: Colleen Donley, PT, DPT

As the temperatures are rising and the days are getting longer, summer is just around the corner. After being cooped up inside all winter, I love to take advantage of nice weather and getting outside during my therapy sessions. Below are some of my most favorite summer games to foster motor development across many ages and stages:

Sidewalk Chalk

Chalk can be used with kids of all ages to address different motor skills. I love incorporating fine motor skills in with gross motor activities and sidewalk chalk is a perfect way to do that. For a toddler working on moving backwards, balance, and different locomotor movements- see who can draw the longest snake by squatting down and walking backwards while drawing a squiggly snake on the ground. Once you get to the end of the snake, you can walk or tip toe along the snake back to the beginning like walking on a balance beam. Or you can practice jumping forwards and backwards over the super scary snakes!

Water Guns

These plunger guns are great at developing shoulder strength and coordination to fill them up each time. And then think of the fun they will have chasing parents, siblings, and friends around while using different arm muscles to shoot the water and cool down on a hot summer day!

Sponge Toss

Often times, we forget we have to help our kids learn how to catch and throw. Try soaking big, squishy sponges in water buckets and play catch. It keeps everyone cool while the kiddos work on pre-ball skills. I like the use the words “catching hands” or “pinkies together” to help little ones learn how to hold their hands out and open when getting ready to catch. I work with kiddos on different throwing motions when tossing sponges: two hands overhand, one-hand underhand, one-hand overhand, or tossing it up high then catch.

Beach Trips

The beach offers great benefits for a growing toddler! You can go on a treasure hunt for the best-looking seashell. Be sure to let you child go barefoot to get the sensory experience of sand in their toes and encourage them to carry the bucket as it gets heavier with all their treasures. They can help build the biggest sandcastle on the beach that day by carrying buckets full of water, digging up sand, and dumping out buckets of sand or water.

 

Bikes and Scooter Rides

Head to any local playground blacktop or quiet, open street with ample open space with your favorite bicycle, balance bike, or scooter. All of these help teach postural control and coordination to stay upright. Bicycles work on great bilateral coordination to move the pedals. Balance bikes are great choices for younger kids who have difficulty with pedals but still works on the postural control and balance. Scooters are a great choice to address single leg balance and leg strength as a child has to push off the ground with a foot to move forward.

Enjoy a moving and busy summer!

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June 14, 2017

Ways to Beat the Heat

By: Krystina Burke, MS, CCC-SLP

Summer is here! It’s time to pull out the sprinkler, put on the sun screen, and enjoy time in the hot sun with your little ones! Achieving proper hydration is always important for young children, especially during hot summer months! When it is hot out, it is important to have your child drink more often throughout the day. If you know your child is going to be outside in the sun for a an extended period of time or will be participating in physical activities, offer them extra fluids beforehand to drink. In addition, it is recommended that children take a break about every 20 minutes during increased physical activity to hydrate.

If a child does not drink enough liquids, they may become dehydrated. Some signs of dehydration include: dry mouth, few or no tears, less wet diapers or decreased urination, a darkening in urination color, and drowsiness. It is important to contact your medical team if you become concerned regarding your child’s hydration level or state.

In addition to offering fluids before outdoor activities and taking frequent drinking breaks, incorporating liquid filled summer snacks and treats is a great way to increase hydration levels in small children during hot months. Fruits like watermelon, melons, and peaches are full of liquids and can be a great choice for a sweet refreshing snack. You may also try blending your favorite fruits, frozen fruits, ice, and water and freezing this mixture in popsicle molds for a cold and healthy summertime treat!

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May 8, 2017

Tummy Time Tips

At Spectrum Pediatrics, we often focus on helping parents make small changes during their daily routines to help build their child’s overall development. Many people hear that tummy time is a crucial part of a child’s motor development, but often times parents are unsure why or how to incorporate tummy time into their routine. Our occupational therapist, Ashley, and our physical therapist, Colleen, are sharing some helpful tips on how to make tummy time easier! Check out the video below to hear both Colleen and Ashley discuss various ways to make tummy time less challenging and how much tummy time your child should be getting!

Stay tuned for another video full of tips on behaviors during mealtimes!

 

April 24, 2017

Exact Instructions Challenge

By: Tracy Magee, M.Ed, CCC-SLP

I recently saw this video on social media, and it really spoke to my “SLP” heart! We don’t often think about how we use language and the importance of the words we use. This dad created a fun game for his kids to practice sequencing, using concept words, like “First, Then, in, on top of,” etc. Watch the video to see how these kids learn the importance of the vocabulary that they use.

You can do this in your own house with your kids to work on prepositions (in, on top, next to, under), time words (First, Then, Last), and other descriptors (color words, long/short, big/small, etc.). Here are some ideas to practice sequencing in your home with this family challenge!

1. How to tie your shoes

2. How to ride a bike/scooter

3. How to put on your jacket

 

April 6, 2017

Spring Time Activities

By: Tracy Magee, MS, CCC-SLP

Spring is a wonderful time to be in the Washington, DC area! There is so much to do and many of the activities are free! Here are just a few ideas for what to do to celebrate the arrival of Spring!

1. Cherry Blossom Festival

  • The cherry blossom trees are one of the major attractions for visitors in the springtime.
  • It can get busy, particularly on weekends. This website lists some great tips for seeing the flowers with little ones in tow!
  • Besides seeing the flowers, there are festival activities each weekend that are very family-friendly. My personal favorite is the Kite Festival, but this website discusses so many more!

2. Thomas the Tank Engine

  • Thomas the Tank Engine is coming to Baltimore!
  • Kids are able to take a short ride on the actual train and meet some of their favorite characters, including Sir Topham Hatt! See this website for more information and ticket availability!

3. Great Playgrounds

  • There are tons of wonderful parks and playground in the DMV area, and now is the time to use them with the warmer weather! Here are a few of a my favorites:
  • Clemyjontri Park – This park in McLean has a great motto – “every child can play!” It was created to make sure that all kids are included, so it boasts some great perks such as ramps, wheelchair access, and other things for kids with sensory needs. It’s wonderful!
  • Chessie’s Big Backyard – This awesome playground in Alexandria has two areas – one for the the little kids and one for the bigger kids. It’s sure to please your entire family and keep them playing and running for hours! It’s located next to the “Our Special Harbor Spray Park,” which is open during the summer months.
  • Cabin John Park: This park is located in Maryland. It is expansive with many different playgrounds scattered throughout the grounds. It has a train ride that runs throughout the park, and it entertains the entire family!

4. Rainy Day ideas

  • We all know that April showers bring May flowers, so here are a couple ideas for days when the weather is less than ideal.
  • Theater – There are tons of children theater shows in the area. Check out this website for dates and locations.
  • Indoor playgrounds – We are lucky to have lots of options for indoor play spaces in the area. See the links below for locations!
  • Nook
  • Alexandria Soft Playroom
  • Open Gym Playtime

Spring has sprung! Let’s have some fun!

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March 27, 2017

Everything Sprouts in Spring: Yoga

By: Krystina Burke, MS, CCC-SLP

The spring season is a great time to get outside and get moving as a family! As we have mentioned here before at Spectrum, yoga is a fun activity that children of all ages and their parents can do together! We all know yoga is great for the body and mind but did you know yoga can benefit and boost the language skills of little ones, too? Yoga poses rely on the skills of physical imitation and attention which are foundational language skills. In addition, doing springtime yoga poses as a family can also secretly target higher language skills such as spatial relationships and opposites for the older children in your family!

Children ages 4-5 are beginning to understand words for order such as “first, next, and last” and can follow longer directions containing multiple steps more easily! Opposites like up and down and big and little also start to have meaning and can be used to further clarify a child’s message.

Yoga poses are often taught using step-by-step instructions in combination with physical modeling. This is a perfect and natural place to add order words! Some of my favorite springtime poses are tree pose, sun, bird, and planting a garden. Here is one way to teach tree pose to the little ones in your life: “First, stand on one leg, then bend your opposite knee, next place the bottom of your foot on your inner ankle or thigh (depending on the comfort and balance of the child) lastly, balance and sway in the wind like a tree”.

You can make this more challenging by asking children to be big or little trees or have their trees move up and down in the wind! Once you feel like your child has mastered a pose, have them try and “teach” the pose to someone else. Now they have the opportunity to use order words and opposites to explain a more complex direction to someone else!

Check out some more springtime yoga poses here!

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