Starfish Therapies

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!

May 21, 2012

Ideas for Helping Kids Develop Better Posture

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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Posture is always an interesting topic.  As adults we are often trying to improve our posture because we have started discovering that poor posture can cause other problems like pain.  These are things we don’t think of when we are younger and don’t always think about for our kids.  Posture is something that can and should be worked on from when kids are little so that they can hopefully avoid long term problems as they get older.  I have to thank one of our readers for coming up with this idea!

Here are some tips and ideas for exercises/playing that can also work on posture:

  • Make sure kids hamstrings stay flexible.  Its a lot easier to keep them flexible than to stretch them later.  When hamstrings are tight it can tip our pelvis backwards so that it flattens our low back spine.  To help with keeping hamstrings flexible have kids avoid w-sitting and long periods of kneeling as these will both shorten the hamstrings.  They should sit in a variety of positions such as ‘criss cross’ or with their legs straight out in front of them.  Here are some different sitting positions.
  • Core strength is really important.  Some of my favorite ways to improve core strength for kids other than having them do sit ups are:
  1. Lots and lots of climbing.  Since its getting nicer out this should be easier because parks are lots of fun.  The more unstable the climbing surface the more they will have to work their stabilizers and abdominals.  I love climbing nets or climbing domes.  Even ladders work well for this.
  2. Animal walks are a lot of fun and really challenge the core.  Some of our favorites are bear walking (hands and feet) or crab walking or dog/cat walking (straight crawling).  You can have animal parades or animal races.  You can change the terrain by going over uneven surfaces such as cushions or you can go up and down hills.  You can make animal obstacle courses where they have to be the animal and go around cones, over obstacles and through tunnels.
  3. Use a therapy ball.  Have your kids sit on it and move it around in all directions with fast and slow motions.  Or have them bounce on it. Try to give as little stabilization as possible (try for just the legs) and make sure they aren’t using their hands to hold on.  If you can get them to engage their hands in play such as clapping or touching their head or reaching to the sky it automatically encourages more upright posture.  I will also have kids reach for items such as bean bags and then throw them for a target while sitting on the ball.
  • Try sitting on an unstable surface.  There are wedges or core discs that are out there that can provide the ability to wiggle while sitting and allow kids to keep their core active and engaged.  You need to try it out though because sometimes it can be too challenging and they will just sink into a slumped posture.  Also if you can make a sitting surface a little higher than normal so their feet still hit the ground it can encourage an upright posture more than sitting at 90/90.  Or if you have a therapy ball that they can sit on with their feet on the ground while watching tv or doing other things it really works to keep the core active.  You have to make sure that they are safe while doing this though.
  • Swinging at the park especially when they are self propelling naturally engages the postural muscles such as the scapular retractors and the abs. In addition they get some great vestibular input.
  • Bike riding is really fun and great for core strength and endurance.  If you really want to get the core working ride up slight inclines and hills, they will have to use their arms and abs to generate power from their legs.
  • Reaching in sitting will also encourage upright posture.  Have them sit in a variety of positions or on a variety of surfaces and play games where you make them reach up and in front or to the side.  Watch their posture to make sure they are engaging their core muscles.

I probably have a ton of other ideas but this is a start.  What are some of your favorite ‘exercises’ for encouraging improved posture with kids?

January 23, 2012

Rainy Day PT

With the rainy season beginning to hit us I was inspired to pull out my kid persona and go play in the rain (or the puddles)!  You’d be amazed at how motivated kids get to go in a puddle.  As long as the parents are okay with us going outside and we have the proper gear puddles are fun.

For some of my kids who are working on bike riding I use a little reverse psychology and tell them ‘Whatever you do, don’t get my bike wet’.  They immediately head toward the puddle.  This is really fun for a kiddo who uses an adapted tricycle and we are working on continuous motion such as pedaling.  It amazing how many times he can pedal in a row without stopping when he’s heading toward the puddle.  We actually finish our bike ride in almost 1/2 the time because there’s so much motivation and tons of puddles.

You can also work on jumping skills!

  • jumping forward into the puddles
  • jumping over the puddles
  • jump up and down multiple times in a row in the puddle
  • hop on one foot through the puddle
  • do spinning jumps in the puddle (see who can make it all the way back facing forward in just one jump)
  • leap from puddle to puddle to practice push off and spring

Stomping skills are great too!

  • stomp in the puddle to see who makes the biggest splash (to work on putting your foot down with force)
  • works on single leg stance if you have them pause for a count of (however long you want) before they get to try to splash you with their stomp
  • works on foot clearance and hip flexion by exaggerating the lift up in order to get a bigger splash (you can experiment with if splashes are bigger if the foot starts higher or lower in the air)

Balance skills with puddles are a hit too!

  • get out some stepping stones or stepping stools and create a path for the kiddo to walk over so they don’t fall into the puddle
  • you can put a string across the puddle and pretend it is a tightrope so they don’t fall into the lake below
  • or bring out a 2×4 and make a bridge across the lake

Some other ideas are:

  • racing to see who can get to the puddle first (using running, skipping, galloping, etc)
  • tip toe through the puddle trying not to splash
  • try to step over the puddle without stepping in it to work on step length

What are your ideas for rainy day PT and puddle fun?

December 22, 2011

Obstacle Course Fun!

Do your kids ever get tired of the same activities during therapy or even while playing?  Well one of the ways I’ve tried to spice things up is by adding in obstacle courses.  Generally I take the same skills we’ve been working on and put them all together.  For the older kids I let them help me create the order and the items that are in the course.  The great thing is you can put as many or as few items as you want in it and if the kids are helping you they will most likely pick an activity that you regularly work on!  In addition to working on the individual skills it also helps them work on sequencing and transitioning from one task to the next.  Add in a stop watch and you can make it a lot of fun!  Usually the first effort is the slowest because they are figuring out what’s next and how to do each skill so they generally ‘beat’ their time on the next round.  You can really spice it up by using dice to see how many times they have to do the entire course and/or how many times they have to do each item in the task.  We have made indoor and outdoor obstacle courses and sometimes a combination of both!

Here are some ideas that I have used recently:

Outdoors – ride bike a certain distance, run to the play structure, traverse the monkey bars (after climbing up the ladder), climb up the climbing wall/ladder, go down the slide, walk on the ledge separating the grass from the bark (balance beam), and skip back to the bike.

Indoors – hopping on right foot on dots, jump rope, hopscotch one way, jumping jacks, animal walk out and back (bear, cat, snake, frog, etc), hopscotch back, jump rope, hop on left foot on dots

Some indoor variations – add in knee walking (I have them pretend they are a choo choo train), set up cones and have them heel walk while zig zagging one direction and toe walk while zig zagging back, step up onto a step stool and step down or hop up and hop down, do a forward roll, crawl through a tunnel, climb over a stack of cushions, hop like a bunny, step from one step stool to the next or one phone book to the next, walk on a tape line, and many more

Some outdoor variations – bounce a ball in place or moving, kick a ball (for distance or into a goal/target), walk backwards on a curb/ledge, climb down a ladder, crawl in the grass, ride a scooter instead of a bike or ride a tricycle, carry a plastic egg on a spoon, hop in a potato sack (you can buy fun kid ones now or you can use extra large pillow cases), run zig zag through cones

Another idea is a fine motor obstacle course or a combination of both.  You can create fine motor stations and they have to do gross motor activities to get between each one!

These are just a few of the ideas I have used.  I would love to hear some of your ideas!

July 7, 2011

Gyro Bikes – aka ‘The Magic Bike’

Gyro Wheel

At our clinic we are very bike friendly and pro-biking (not that you would know it from all the complaining I do when I’m on my road bike!) and recently we had the opportunity to try out the gyro wheel while working on bike riding with our kiddos.  We have been using the gyro wheel for a few months now and love it!  Myself and the therapists I work with are big fans of bike riding (see our prior post ‘Bike Riding‘) because of the way it impacts and improves motor planning, strengthening, balance, reciprocal lower extremity activation, endurance, overall fitness and most importantly because it is a great age appropriate social skill!  Since using the gyro wheel we have been able to progress a greater number of children onto a two wheeler without training wheels.  We call it ‘the Magic Bike’ and the kids love it.  My criteria for progressing them is that they already know how to pedal a two wheeler with training wheels such that they can propel the bike independently on level ground.  This means that they already understand how to pedal and can maintain constant pedaling without help for a decent distance.  This is important, not just for using the gyro bike but also for progressing off of training wheels because the kids are already focusing on keeping their balance, steering the bike and making it go, they don’t need to add in figuring out the mechanics of pedaling.  By using the gyro wheel I have been able to decreas the strain on myself as I assist the child in maintaining their balance and forward momentum.  In addition, they are able to begin riding short distances without my physical assistance significantly sooner then they would if we were to just use their standard two wheeler.  I work with a lot of kids with coordination challenges and overall low muscle tone and weakness.  These add to their challenges of mastering a two wheeler so having the assist from the gyro wheel allows them to fast track their success and increase their confidence and independence.  I highly recommend the use of this device, especially for children who have physical challenges that can impact their ability to achieve independent bike riding in a timely manner.

October 21, 2010

Imagination Play

Do you ever feel like you are in a rut or play the same things over and over with your kids?  Or maybe you start to run out of ideas of things to do to help them stay active.  Well one solution is to let them come up with ideas.  I am always amazed at what the kids will come up with when I let them use their imagination.  Sometimes, they can be a little rusty but questions and guiding rather than telling can get their imagination sharpened pretty quick.  Even the little ones you can let them choose a toy and then guide them to lead the play.

When I was home for Christmas last year my nephew was there and he was ready to play.  He didn’t care that I had just gotten off a red-eye flight and wanted some much needed sleep.  He was ready for us to be pirates and fight the bad guys and we couldn’t step on the lava (the carpets covering the hard wood floors).  One minute we were on the same side and the next I was the bad guy and then we were friends again.  We made it to the boat (his bed) but unfortunately it was broken so he needed to use his tools to fix it.  At this point I was able to close my eyes (especially since I was on the bed) and informed him that I was guarding the prisoners (my two dogs who were coerced onto the bed with us – a twin bed I might add).  It was amazing to see his imagination run away with only a few words or questions from me.  And, we did climbing and running and hopping and crawling and tiptoeing and rolling during our adventures as pirates.

Now, you can definitely start simpler than that.  For example a little girl I work with and I go on an adventure each week while we practice bike riding.  It involves going over mountains (bumps in the sidewalks) and going over rivers (streams from sprinklers).  I suggest the adventure but I let her lead and I ask questions like ‘what do you think we’ll see on the other side of the mountain’.  Sometimes our adventures lead us to the park and we get to pretend on the play structure.

If you can’t make it outside use the cushions from your couch or even just the couch and the floor and a toy and let your child’s (and your) imagination run wild.  I bet you’ll surprise yourself with how much fun you will have and you can work on their gross motor skills at the same time!

I would love to hear your stories of imaginative play and activities with your kids – please share your great ideas.


August 3, 2010

Losing The Training Wheels

Learning to ride a bike is one of the passages and rites of childhood. I remember when I was finally able to ride a bike all by myself without the training wheels and keep going without crashing (most of the time)! Then how great it was to ride without hands and all the other tricks I tried (which my parents are convinced is the reason for their gray hair)!

Anyway, I have seen all sorts of gimmicks and ideas of how to make it even easier to learn to ride a bike. I haven’t tried them all however I can tell you there is no substitution for just getting out there and practicing.

First start with a tricycle. Help your child master the art of pedaling. This is the first hurdle you will have to overcome. Once they are able to pedal you want them to be able to propel the tricycle on their own (meaning – no help from you to keep it going). Next is being able to steer on their own. When all of these are mastered you can move on.

Second get a small two wheeler with training wheels. I suggest getting a jump rope and tying it around the handle bars if you want to preserve your back during this phase. Since they are now sitting in a different position and the pedals are in a new spot they may need to practice pedaling again. Then the trick is to have them be able to propel themselves using the pedals (again – no help from you) continuously at a fairly decent pace. The other pre-requisites are being able to steer and how to stop. I practice all of these skills with the training wheels on because they have more support for learning the basics and they get even harder once the training wheels have been taken off. Once your child is independent with riding with training wheels they are ready for the next step.

Lastly you remove the training wheels. Once this is done you can practice on the sidewalk or a grassy field or an empty parking lot. You want to hold onto the back of the seat while they pedal. A large open space is easier in the beginning because they don’t have to concentrate on steering as much. What I have also done is when they start to lose their balance while I am holding on to the back I control the fall but let them figure out how to put their foot down to stop. This is the start for teaching them how to save themselves from falling over. The biggest factor is keeping them pedaling so that they can maintain their balance. If the bike is going at a decent speed then it is easier to keep going. Then focus on steering the bike to stay in a straight line. Its a lot to think about but its amazing how quickly they can pick up the skills.

Using the pedaless bikes can be okay and fun however they still don’t teach your child how to pedal so you have to get them on a bike with pedals at some point because that is the only way they will learn to pedal and pedal at a speed that will allow them to keep their balance once the training wheels come off. Also, there is a new gyrobike out that promises to help with learning to get rid of the training wheels. I think it could work great but you have to make sure your child knows how to pedal. Knowing how to pedal makes keeping their balance so much easier. In addition there is a program called Lose the Training Wheels that does camps for children to teach them how to ride a bike.

Just remember, despite all the gimmicks and products out there, good old fashioned practice is still the best way to learn to ride a bike!

May 17, 2010

No Kid Left Inside – How to Encourage Outdoor Play

Ok, here is part 2 of some of the topics I was going to address in my ‘No Kid Left Inside’ talk.  Once again, the power point is linked at the bottom but if you are unable to access it please let me know and I will email it to you.

So we’ve looked at some of the reasons that kids aren’t outside but that doesn’t solve the problem.  I did address a few solutions in Why Kids Aren’t Outside, but I will attempt to provide you with even more solutions in the paragraphs that follow!

One of the biggest solutions to getting your child to go outside and play is to go outside with them.  If you are setting a good example they are more likely to follow.  They want to model your behaviors.  They want to play with you.  I know this isn’t easy with the busy lives we all lead but some things you can do is opt for an hour walk with your kids instead of going to the gym and getting on the treadmill.  Or, you can go on family bike outings on the weekends or after work/school instead of riding the stationary bike.  Create an activity that you can do together like planting a small garden, even if its a window sill garden.  This can be used to explain nature and get them even more interested in science.

If scheduling really does become a problem look into hiring a caregiver with the express purpose of taking the kids outside.  Maybe its an older kid in the neighborhood or a babysitter.  Whoever it is the kids will learn that when this person is around they go outside.  Maybe take turns with some of the families in your neighborhood for watching the kids in the yard, or at the park (if a yard isn’t an option).  Even if its once a week to start and you switch off weeks.  Kids have more fun if there are other kids playing too.  You could start with inviting the neighbor kids over to play and build on it from there.  Another great idea is to create a weekly park day where you get together with other families that you are friends with at the park.  The kids know that this is the day they go to the park, its supervised and you get to have quality adult time as well!

If you don’t know other kids/families in your area because you go to a different school, get involved with the local library or YMCA or the bookstore and meet some families.  All it takes is one connection and you can start meeting more.  If your child doesn’t want to go outside when given the choice, make the choice simpler.  Only give them two and both of them are outside.  For instance, do you want to go on a bike ride or go play on the play structure?  I utilize this in all areas.  This way they have some control, and even think its their idea.

If you are worried about getting in extra educational time make it a nature exploring trip.  Take things like magnifying glasses or a bag to collect leaves and then you can look them up when you get home.  If you are making a garden, you can follow up with how plants grow.  If its raining take a look at what role water plays in the environment.    Go on a scavenger hunt in the back yard, or the local park or the neighborhood.  Get the kids involved by having them each add a few items to the list and then everyone has to go find them.  You can talk about the items afterwards.

Make the outside an inviting place to be.  Maybe invest in some outside only toys such as a wading pool or sand box or sports equipment.  Even sidewalk chalk and bubbles are simple and fun.  If its a public place and needs some help getting it cleaned up get others involved and organize a clean up day with your neighbors and the kids.  It will teach them about trash, recycling, responsibility and they will feel some pride/ownership of the area they have cleaned up.

Be willing to get dirty.  How much fun do you think your kids will find you if you are willing to jump in the puddles with them the next time it rains, or build a mud pie, or run through the sprinkler?  Maybe find an area where it will be okay to dig and go searching for treasure.  We used to think we could dig through to the other side of the world when we were outside digging!

Getting kids outside doesn’t have to be a big process.  You can start small with 15 minute increments.  Maybe instead of finger painting inside, you take it outside.  Or instead of drawing on the paper you practice with the sidewalk chalk.  Learning to ride a bike, tricycle or scooter is a simple and easy way to get outside.

I would love to hear other ideas that parents and caregivers have for getting kids outside!  I will follow up with more ideas for outside activities as well as why getting outside is so beneficial.

No Kid Left Inside

January 4, 2010

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2009

I always loved David Letterman’s Top 10 lists so I decided to create my own for the Top 10 Blog Posts in 2009. This is based on the number of times they were viewed.

10. Early Intervention and Budget Cuts in California

9.  Bike Riding

8.  Having a Ball with Core Muscle Strength

7.  Fun Ideas For Sensory Exploration

6.  Why is W-sitting a Four Letter Word?

5.  How Resilient is Your Child?

4.  Buns of Steel

3.  Why is w-sitting Being Promoted in Advertising?

2.  Do Video Games Promote or Hinder Child Development?

1.  Sensory Exploration in Today’s Society

I’m looking forward to see what posts will be top for 2010!  Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

December 7, 2009

Holiday Gift Guide

With the holidays upon us I thought I would offer some ideas for gifts for your little ones.  I will be referring to some old posts throughout that may have touched on some toy/gift ideas!

The first two posts are the Motor Smart Toys and Tips.  Both the first and the second one offered great toy ideas and ways to use them to not only have fun with your child but to encourage gross motor skills.  Strategies for Tummy Time and To Crawl or Not to Crawl both offered ideas as well.

Bike Riding offers several ideas for wheeled toys for your children.  Along with the ones mentioned in there I have a few more suggestions.  For kids who need increased support and assistance with bike riding check out Freedom Concepts Tricycles.  For those that need some help and aren’t able to use a typical tricycle at this time but have some trunk control there are the Me Too Trikes.  In addition to the Skuut there are a multitude of other pedal-less bikes out there.  For scooters I like Radio Flyer or Razor (which both come in all different levels).

For fine motor or sensory toys and ideas check out Fun Ideas for Sensory Exploration or 50 Toys in 50 Days also more ideas on Let Kids Play.

Some other ideas of our tried and true favorites have been listed on our website under Helpful Products, as well as other places to go looking for toys.

For iphone or ipod touch owners check out the games at Duck Duck Moose.  Looking for something to keep kids occupied during the holiday meals that are sure to pop up?  Check out Hello Hanna‘s great placemats!

I would love to know your child’s favorite toy or toys, or any ideas you have to share with parents, aunts, uncles, friends, etc who are looking to find the perfect gift for the special little ones in their life.  Please post your ideas for all to share!

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