Starfish Therapies

April 25, 2017

The Value of Peer Play

peer play

I was recently at a school working with a kiddo. This child has made huge gains and is now easily able to access her school environment. The one area that is still a slight struggle is the play structure. She is able to do all points of access on all the play structures in her school. The challenge is that she doesn’t want to. And she doesn’t want to because she thinks she can’t. Even after doing it successfully she will still not want to do certain ladders. The other challenge is that if I push her, there is a potential for a meltdown. So I have walked the fine line between challenging and stepping back, in order to boost her confidence on the various ladders of the play structure. Now don’t get me wrong, she will do the stairs, the slide, and most standard ladders. Its just when they look a little different that she doesn’t want to do them.

So, back to my story. This day, while we were heading out to the play yard for recess after doing some work in the motor room, her friend from her class ran up and asked her to come play. They usually play together but it generally involves running around and trying to tag each other. This time her friend wanted to go on the play structure. She went with him and she climbed up the stairs and then I could see him coaxing her to do the ladders with him. He got her to climb down one ladder and then patiently brought her to each ladder and stayed with her the whole way up, encouraging her and showing her how he did it. There were times she would only go up about two steps and then come back down and run away. He was able to run up to her and bring her back in a way that she was still having fun and laughing, that I wouldn’t have been able to do. She didn’t realize he was making her work, she just saw it as playing with her friends.

Its moments like this that I love being able to step back and observe the kids I work with interacting with their peers. This interaction was just as, if not more important, than the time I spent with her.

What are ways you encourage peer play and then step back and let them go?

April 17, 2017

Hand and Foot Play

Hand and foot play is an important part of a child’s development.  So is bringing the feet to their mouth (unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of that!).  So what are some of the reasons it is so important?

  1. Hamstring stretches – They just spent 9 months cramped up in the ‘fetal’ position. This means their knees were flexed and in close to the body. By reaching for their feet they are beginning to perform hamstring stretches that will help to lengthen the muscle.
  2. Core strength – By lifting their feet up and reaching with their hands, they are working their abdominal muscles which will help to develop their core strength. You try lifting both your feet up and reaching with your hands. Its not easy work on those abs!
  3. Midline – You can see in the pictures that they can bring their hands and/or feet to midline which helps to increase their awareness of where midline is.
  4. Body awareness – Hand and foot play allows your baby to explore their body and the various parts of their body. They begin to realize that their feet are attached to them and that their hands and feet can work together.
  5. Exploration – Once they are participating in hand and foot play, you will probably see them putting their feet in their mouth. This is how babies explore. They put everything in their mouth, including their own toes!
  6. Movement – As you can also see in the photos lots of movement is happening. He isn’t just lying flat on his back holding his feet. He is rocking back and forth, dropping one foot, picking it back up again, etc. This helps to create building blocks for movement and cause and effect. If they end up on their side, what do they have to do next?
  7. Self-soothing – When they are engaged in play with their feet, or putting their toes in their mouth, they are also able to self-soothe. This can help with sensory regulation.

If your child isn’t doing this, you can help to encourage them.  Gently bring their feet up towards their hands. Maybe help them to put their hands on their feet and try to grasp them. You can make a game out of it by playing peek-a-boo behind their feet so that their feet are in midline when you are ‘hiding’. You could also do ‘This little piggy’ while you have their feet up in the air and count each toe. You can play ‘patty-cake’ while holding their hand and feet together and bringing them to midline for each ‘clap’.

What are other ways you have encouraged hand and foot play?

April 8, 2017

Fun with Balance Beams

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 11:39 pm
Tags: , , , ,

balance beam 1

I don’t know about you but balance beams are one of our staples to use with kids. As I was writing this post, I looked around and realized just how many different ones we have, and we actually use them all!

Clearly having a kid walk on a balance beam will work on their balance.  If forces them to narrow their base of support which challenges their balance. You can make it as easy or as difficult as you want.

balance beam 2

Some things to take into consideration when you are selecting which beam to use:

  • Wider is less difficult than narrow
  • Firm is less difficult than soft and squishy
  • Straight is less difficult than curved or zig zag
  • Lower to the ground is less difficult than higher off the ground

That being said, there are times we will use one that is more challenging than you would think appropriate for the child. We might use a higher one, even though the child is still struggling with one low to the ground. This could be because when it is low to the ground they try to go too fast, or step off too easily.  When its higher they may slow down and take more deliberate steps.

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I’ve been asked why we don’t just use some tape on the ground. Well we do, but that doesn’t have the same effect as being elevated off the ground. When the child is off the ground, most times, they have a sense of it and are more cautious. It can work on their confidence for novel situations, or even help with their fear of falling as they practice being successful over and over.

We have several kids who like to move, and use movement to find their stability. They actually have a harder time doing things that require them to be still. By giving them a balance beam to walk on, they are challenged and most often have to slow down which can help work on their static stability.

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Now walking is the easiest way to use a balance beam. Its the most common way we use it, but that doesn’t mean its the only way. Some of the other ways we have used balance beams are:

  • Side stepping – Have the child take sideways steps to the left and the right to cross the beam. This works best if they are going out and back so they get both sides, but if they are only going one way, just have them switch the direction they are facing as they walk each time.
  • Blindfolded – This helps to work on their awareness of their bodies and decreases their ability to use vision to help their balance. Check out our post on using animal masks to work on balance!
  • Squats – As the child walks along the beam they can squat down to pick up treasure in front of them, or they can turn to the side to pick up treasure on the floor.  Usually treasure is a bean bag or a puzzle piece or a Squigz or whatever has captured their fancy that session!
  • Catch – Have the child stand on the balance beam and play catch with them. If there isn’t anyone spotting them make sure they are in a safe place if they lose their balance
  • Backwards – Walking backwards is another challenge to balance and body awareness. A fun way to incorporate it is to have the child go through the ‘adventure’ backwards. Anything novel usually captures their attention for a short period of time!
  • Jumping – We have jumped on them like bunnies, jumped over them like obstacles, and used them to practice side to side jumping.

vision-free-balance

What are other ways you have used balance beams?

 

April 1, 2017

Today I Sat Up

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I love having friends and family who have little ones who are growing and moving through their milestones.  And I especially love when they say I can use their pictures and videos.

When I saw this video of this little one sitting up, I thought it was great. He is a fairly new sitter and you can see him working on exploring his movement. He shows rotation, and reaching outside his base of support, and coming back up to the middle, and propping for some extra support. As you can hear in the video, he found a new limit. He was able to reach a little further and return to the middle without falling down. But it was all the times of reaching and falling down that helped him to gain the skills to know his limits and to know what muscles he needed to turn on to keep himself from falling over.

As he feels more confident with his sitting he begins to release his degrees of freedom. So when he rotated to reach for something he was relaxing his trunk because he didn’t need to hold it rigid to stay upright. He is able to begin picking and choosing the muscles he needs to be successful, rather than turning them all on and having limited movement.

If you get a chance watch some little ones as they begin to master a new movement and you will see them slowly relax and be able to have fluid movement rather than tightening up all their muscles to try to maintain control.

March 26, 2017

Free Wheelin: What Does Your Child Need to Learn to Ride a Bike?

Bike 2

Learning to ride a bike is a major childhood milestone for most kids providing a sense of freedom and increased independence. While the ultimate goal of self-propelled locomotion is no doubt thrilling, developing the skill can be tedious and frustrating. Fear not! Here are some tips for you to help your kiddo coast right through the learning stage and on to their free wheelin’ days ahead!

The very first thing your kiddo needs is the appropriate equipment both for size and safety. The staff at your local bike shop can help you with choosing the appropriate sized bike for your child’s age and size but it’s important to know some of the basics making adjustments as your child grows. Your child should be able to stand over their bike with both feet planted flat on the ground with 1-2 inches of clearance. Their seat height should allow a small bend in the knee when the pedals are at their lowest position. The handlebars should be at an appropriate distance to where there is a slight bend in their elbow to allow them to turn the wheel fully side to side without being overstretched. For safety a well-fitted helmet which sits across the middle of their forehead is required. For more information on sizing, fit, and safety tips check out the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s guidelines!

Now that we have the right equipment, let’s look at skills! Bike riding requires a combination of balance, strength, power, and coordination. For most learner’s the first big obstacle is balance! It can be much easier for your child to learn to start their bike once they have the balance to keep it upright! A good place to start working on balance is to remove the pedals and practice pushing the bike with their feet and coasting. You can make it fun by joining them and “racing” or picking a song to sing and see how far into the song you can get!

Next it’s time to practice steering, turning, and awareness. Start with wide turns and slowly progress to smaller, tighter turns. You can create an obstacle course with cones for your kiddo or narrate an “adventure!” Giving them a target encourages them to look ahead and be aware of their surroundings for safety while biking!

Starting and stopping their bike independently is often the last hurdle for kiddos and takes practice, practice, practice! Be there to steady your child with a hand on the back of their seat or at the side of a handlebar but let them learn how to feel the balance and correct themselves. Soon family bike rides will be a favorite weekend activity!

Here is an old blog post of ours on bike riding!

March 19, 2017

What is the Vestibular System?

Vestibular_Swing
The vestibular system is made up of fluid filled organs that are located in the inner ear.  It is one of the essential components of balance and helps provide us information about our body’s movement.  The vestibular system responds to gravitational pull in order to send signals to our brain about the direction and speed at which we are moving.  It is also responsible for allowing us to stabilize our eyes during movement and helps us maintain our head in an upright position.

 

A properly working vestibular system is essential for all activities! Some essential tasks the vestibular system helps your child complete include: scanning words in a book to read, following a ball as it travels towards them through air, maintaining their balance during playtime activities, and maintaining an upright posture.

 

If a child’s vestibular system is not properly functioning, they may be under or over reactive to movement input.  If your child has an under reactive vestibular system, they may constantly attempt to seek out vestibular input-such as enjoying spinning in fast circles, swinging, or running fast and crashing down.  They may also appear more unbalanced or “clumsy.” Over reactive signs may include being more sedentary, fearful of fast movements, or being overly sensitive to fast or sudden movements.

 

Some additional common signs and symptoms of inadequate vestibular function include: dizziness, unsteadiness, vertigo, and trouble reading or reporting dizziness when reading, occasional stumbling/falls, or reports of the room spinning around them.

 

Even a fully developed and normally functioning vestibular system can be impacted by traumatic events. For example, vestibular dysfunction is often seen following concussion.  The vestibular system, does; however, have great potential for rehabilitation. Specific treatment techniques have been shown to re-train and enhance vestibular function.

 

There are many ways to help activate and develop your child’s vestibular system-and many of these activities you may already be doing on a daily basis.  Going to the park provides endless opportunities for vestibular system stimulation, including swings, slides, ball play, monkey bars, and running! Spinning and jumping activities are also very stimulating for the vestibular system.

March 12, 2017

Development of Refined Movement

I recently saw a video a friend posted of her son learning to commando crawl.  I immediately asked if I could use the video because I thought it was so great.  Luckily she said yes and you can see the video in this post!

What I loved about it is that with almost every move forward, he almost topples to the side.  He then has to bring his head and trunk back up to the middle for the next pull forward.  But because he hasn’t refined his movement yet, he goes too far and topples to the other side.  What’s great though is that every time this happens, his body is storing the information on how much effort he needed and it will begin to give him feedback to limit his movements so that he stays more in the center.  You can see in the next video clip (only 5 days later) how much less he falls to the side and how much faster his movements have become. And then in the next one (only another 5 days later), he is a commando crawling master!

We have all experienced this.  When we are learning a new skill, we are like the first video clip.  Our movements are clumsy and unrefined.  We use bigger, less efficient motions than what is required.  But each time we practice we refine our skills a little more so that soon we are efficiently performing the new skill.

It is for reasons like this that it is important to give babies and all kids, opportunities to explore their movement.  They are learning how their body works and creating new pathways that give them just the right feedback.  If they are never given the opportunity to practice it takes them longer to develop skills.   By overshooting over and over, they are learning from each movement to make the next one even better. This carries over to almost any new movement we are learning, whether we are a baby, a toddler, a teenager, and even possibly an adult!

March 5, 2017

Monkey Bars

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

We get a lot of kids who want to get better at monkey bars. Its something that their friends and classmates are doing with ease and they are struggling back at the first monkey bar, or having to have someone help them across.  Here are some ways we have found to help them:

  1. Get used to swinging/holding onto one bar. This could look like holding onto the first monkey bar and letting their feet swing once, twice, three times, or more.  Or have them hold onto an overhead bar for a count of X before they drop down to the support surface.  This gets their hands and arms used to gripping onto the bar and supporting their weight, as well as the feeling of having their feet unsupported
  2. Use a trapeze. We have a small trapeze that we let our kids swing on.  Some of them struggle with the core strength to pick their feet up off the ground to swing.  We have remedied that by putting the trapeze close to a wall and using a large therapy ball or peanut.  We have them hold onto the trapeze and help them get their feet onto the ball.  They then get to push off and swing back and forth as many times as they can.  They begin to start trying to get their own feet on the ball which supports their core strengthening.
  3. Knee walking or walking. We are lucky enough to be able to recreate monkey bars indoors and we have a treatment table that we can put under it.  We could also use a balance beam or any other elevated surface so that their feet are supported while they traverse the monkey bars.  We then have them work on reaching through with their hands so that only one hand goes onto each bar.  This lets them practice the coordinated movement of reaching through with their hands, and looking at the next bar, without the added strain of supporting their own body weight.
  4. Swing through. I know reaching through to the next bar so that only one hand is on a bar at a time may seem harder, but we have found it to help the kids we work with.  When they get two hands onto the same bar their tendency is to turn off their core.  This stops any momentum they have going and have to generate the energy all over again to move to the next bar.  By swinging through and only putting one hand on each bar they are working on the efficient use of momentum and keeping their core engaged which decreases the work on their hands and arms.
  5. Practice, practice, practice. Lots and lots of repetitions of all of these techniques as well as just going across the bars.

I don’t want you to think we forgot about core and upper extremity strengthening, because we didn’t.  We focus on those areas as well, but I limited this post to working on the actual monkey bars.

What are ways you have successfully worked on monkey bars with kids?

February 19, 2017

Using a Swing to Work on Jumping

We have recently had several kids who are struggling with jumping.  Sure, they clear their feet when they jump, but they are relying on using their hips to lift their feet, rather than push off through the toes.  And learning how to land so that they are primed to either jump again, or absorb the shock, has also proven challenging.

So we decided to brainstorm one day and one of the suggested ideas was to have the child lie on their back on a platform swing, move them forward so their feet are touching a wall, and have them push off.  As they swing back they will practice absorbing the shock and then pushing again.  By having them lie down, their body is in a similar position to if they were jumping in standing. We found the kids loved it.  We had to show them a couple of times what to do, and occasionally slow the return down while they were still getting the hang of it, but once they figured it out, they were self propelling themselves on a swing.  I don’t know about you, but a majority of our kids love to swing.

Of course, then we decided to get creative.  We had them sit at the end of the platform swing to do it.  We also used a typical playground style swing after the platform swing.  We still had them practice pushing off (and work on the components of jumping) but by having them sit up and hold onto the ropes, they also began to work on the idea of controlling their momentum and how to move their trunk so that it could carry over to swinging at the park.

If kids are working on single leg hopping, or leaping from one foot to the next, you can also do all of the above and have them work with only one leg, or alternate legs (and that sneaks in some coordination)! Also the repetition is great for strengthening their legs and core.

If your swing isn’t set up so that a child can push off a wall, you could also have someone hold a large therapy ball at the end and stabilize it so they could push off of that. Because it has a little more give, they won’t get the same force but it mimics the feel of a trampoline.

Has anyone else tried something along these lines?  Have you modified it in other ways? We’d love to hear from you!

February 12, 2017

Eccentric Abs (and no I don’t mean odd!)

eccentric-abs

Our abdominal muscles (or Abs) play a big part in our core muscles.  They aren’t the only part but they are a piece that makes up the whole.  It requires coordination of each of the different muscle groups to help create a stable foundation so that we can move our arms and legs effectively.

What do I mean by eccentric abs?  Well when a muscle contracts it can do it a few ways.  One of those ways is eccentrically.  This post about squatting helps to explain the difference between eccentric and concentric muscle control.  But basically, eccentric contractions, or slow lengthening of the muscle, helps to give us control.

When we do sit ups we are asking our abs to perform concentrically, or to shorten.  When we do planks, we are asking them to perform isometrically, or to stay the same length to hold us stable.  So when do we work on them eccentrically, and why is this important?

Well we use our abs eccentrically also.  We use them to help us control our movements. Think about balance.  If you get bumped and your top half is moving backwards, you want your abs to be slowing that movement down until they can use a concentric contraction to bring you back up to midline. When I started thinking about this, I started wondering how I could help kids practice eccentric control.  For our quads (leg muscles) its easy, we practice slowly sitting down in a chair, or do squats, or slowly step down from a step.  If we ask people to slowly lower down from a sit up position, they will definitely work on it some, but chances are they are going to use their hip flexors (the front of their hip) to help control.  Especially, if its a child and they need us to stabilize their legs.

So, how do we focus on the abs and not get primarily the hip flexors? Well one way we came up with was doing a ball pass.  This can be done in sitting, standing, high kneeling, half kneeling, or whatever position you want to try where the trunk is upright.  Make sure the child is guarded properly to maintain safety, and then have them reach back over their head with both hands to get a ball from someone behind them.  They can then throw the ball at a target in front of them.  After you do a bunch of repetitions this way, have them start with the ball in their hands and then lean back to try to drop in in a basket behind them.  Not only will this engage their abs, but they will also get to work on balance in whatever position you have them in.

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