Starfish Therapies

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!

August 16, 2013

‘Lazy’ Feet

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 7:00 am
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One of the things I love being a pediatric physical therapist is when my friends ask me questions about their kids.  I’m sure many may think that’s odd but I love that it challenges me to think and problem solve.  Added to the challenge is that often, my friends live no where near me so I’m getting their descriptions of what their child is or isn’t doing or I’m getting videos of their kids.  I’m not sure how we ever lived without technology!

A recent question was about running.  My friend noticed that sometimes her son ran ‘fast’ and other times he ran slow and awkward.  I had her send me some videos and while I may not know exactly what is causing the challenges with her son, I was able to relate it to some things we’ve seen with kids in the past.

Now I’m making up this term so don’t try to look it up, but kids can have ‘lazy’ feet.  They aren’t engaging their feet and ankles when they are walking or running.  This can cause toes to drag, or them not to have push off, or any other type of ‘odd’ movement pattern.  Now there are kids that have challenges with this because of a physical challenge and that may be a slightly different story.

For kids that just aren’t engaging their calves when they walk or run, they aren’t getting the push off that initiates the swing phase of their walking or running and they lose the propulsion that can set them up to move quickly or smoothly.  In addition, without activating the push off, often they won’t maintain activity in their ankle muscles causing their foot to look floppy as they walk, and possibly cause their toes to drag or their foot to slap down on the ground.

There is no sure fire way to fix this but we work a lot on leaping from one foot to the next, jumping up into the air and emphasizing push off, and telling them to take longer steps (using spots or markers on the ground is a great way to encourage this).  Each kiddo is going to be different but if you think your child needs a little boost to their running, help them to wake up their calves and other foot/ankle muscles.  They can also walk on their heels, walk on their toes, hop on one foot, etc.  After doing this have them practice running.  Also, if you play ‘chase’ you may see their form improve because they are trying to run faster which can encourage longer strides and an improved push off.

Also, you will see better form on a firm surface than if they are on sand or in long grass.  So start on a track or road/sidewalk and then progress to the more challenging surfaces like the beach or your yard (unless your grass is cut really short).  Also, wearing running shoes or bare feet will potentially show better form than looser fitting shoes like clogs or flip flops.

I just thought it would be fun to share some observations that I’ve noted and see what others think on the subject.

November 6, 2012

Using the Super Skipper

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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The Super Skipper is a great tool to work on jumping, coordination, timing, and visual perceptual skills to name a few.  Just to warn you there is music that goes along with it, so if your child is sensitive to auditory input, they may not like this toy.  There are 3 speeds that it operates at with a different song for each speed as well as a distinct noise that happens when the turning wand arm gets knocked off the base.

We have used it with kiddos who aren’t able to jump yet and they just practice being able to step over an obstacle as it approaches them.  Its a great way to practice noticing your environment and obstacles that may be approaching.  We have also used it with kiddos who are able to jump and we want them to practice the timing of being able to jump over an object as it is moving towards them (think jump rope but in a different context).  Finally we have used it with kiddos who have weakness on one side more than the other and are working on skills like hopping.  We have them practice hopping on their weaker side over the turning wand.  As the kids practice these skills we make it fun by counting to see how many times they are successful and try to build on that each time.  For kids who are doing it regularly we will keep a chart so they can see their progress.

What’s interesting to watch is how their abilities change as the speed of the wand changes.  For the girl in the picture she was able to jump over it when it was on the slowest speed but as soon as it increased to the next speed she moved to the end of the wand so that she was only barely jumping over it (basically she was jumping next to it).  With hand hold assistance and increased cuing she was able to jump over the wand at the faster speed but it was more of a challenge for her because of her change in perception of the moving target.

This if you think about it is relevant to kids out in their day to day environments as well.  For many, they are able to recognize a change in their environment when it happens in a slow and controlled manner so that they can then react to it.  If it happens faster or in a more crowded situation it is harder to react in a timely fashion, or possibly harder to even recognize the change that is happening.  By using a tool such as the super skipper kids get to practice in a graded manner being able to visually attend to something and then react in a timely manner, while weaning down on verbal and tactile cues.

May 31, 2012

Limbo Limbo

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 4:01 am
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Last year at some point I found a limbo game on sale at Target and bought it.  It kind of sat around for a while but it recently got brought back out and into the rotation and I’m amazed at all the uses for it our therapists have found.  Now you don’t have to have the game to do these things and you can make your own modified limbo game but some of the kids do enjoy the music and effects that go along with this one (I personally prefer the sound off but its not me we’re trying to motivate!).  Here are a few of the uses we have found for the traditional limbo game:

  1. Obviously we can play limbo although we find a lot of the kids have a hard time with walking under without bumping it in the traditional limbo manner so while we are working up to that we have them just try to get from one side to the next without knocking the bar off.  It is a great way to work on body awareness and is a step down from the masking tape maze we tried a while ago, however the kids will get more feedback into their body when they bump into this limbo bar.  Kids will try to walk under, crawl under, be a snake going under, or any other combination of ways to move.  As it gets lower some kids will have no idea how to motor plan getting their body under the bar. Its great to see what their point A is and then you get to work on ways to help them plan how to move through smaller spaces.
  2. We make it into an animal parade.  If we keep the bar up higher its a great motivation to get kids to do different animal walks underneath the bar.  Kids who don’t like to crab walk will all of a sudden think its a ton of fun to be an animal while going under the bar.  Its a great way to work on motor planning and core and they love the idea of not knocking the bar off.
  3. It makes a great goal post.  We’ve used it to provide visuals for kids that we are working on throwing with. We have some soft sports balls we found in the dollar section at target that look like small baseballs, basketballs and footballs and we let the kids pretend they are throwing a football goal!  They don’t need to know you are actually supposed to kick it through the uprights!  This way we can start close and they have a 3 sided framework to visually aim for.  As they improve we can move it further and further away.  In terms of kicking if we put it on the ground it makes a great goal for trying to kick a ball through.  You could even get a little ‘crazy’ and work on aim by having the kids try to throw or kick the ball to knock the bar off.
  4. We have also used it as a hurdle.  We are working on getting more push off from the feet with certain kids to help them with more efficient running or jumping by having them do leaping.  Some kids have a hard time motor planning the leap and this provides a visual for them to go over.  It also works for walking over for kids to pay attention to what is in front of them as well as to work on foot clearance.  By having them step over an obstacle they also increase their single leg stance time and improve their balance.

What other ideas do you have for using the limbo?


May 17, 2012

Spots – Multiple Fun Uses!

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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I love when I find an unexpected treasure (and in the $ bin no less)!  This morning I stopped at our local Rite-Aid to stock up on soda (not healthy I know but sometimes that’s what it takes to keep up with the kids) to feed our addictions at work and I was meandering through the store and I found these frog and ladybug circle pads that are made of foam and look just like the spots that we used to buy from Ikea (which they no longer carry).  I love the fact that they have animals on them because the kids love using our bean bags that are shaped like turtles and frogs and bugs, so having spots with animals gives them one more cue as to where we want them to be.  What do we use spots for you may wonder?  Well the list is endless but here are a few of our top things:

  • We make paths with our spots for having kids jump along the path, hop on one foot along the path, and skip over spots while jumping or hopping.  It creates a great visual cue when you are able to tell them a color or animal to jump to next.  Its great for beginning jumpers as well as for jumpers that you are working on getting consecutive jumps out of.
  • They provide a great visual for a kid to stand on.  I use them all the time when I want the kiddo to be standing ‘still’.  For instance when playing catch or bean bag toss or basketball, they often want to move closer and I can ask them if they are on their circle and they generally immediately go back to it.  We use them in group for circle games so the kids have an idea of where their space is.
  • They are great targets for the stomp rocket or throwing things.  You can have the kids work on aiming for the spot, especially with bean bags or flat discs since they don’t roll.
  • We use them on the stairs to provide a visual cue for which foot to place down next.  This is great for working on alternating feet as well as giving a clear visual target for where to place your foot.
  • Also when they are in a path it can be used to work on narrowing a kiddo’s base of support by having them stay on the circles or for increasing their step length by having them place one foot on each circle.
  • You can have kids balance them on their head for posture and body awareness while standing or walking.
  • We use them in obstacle courses so that at each spot they have a new task/skill that starts such as standing on one foot, lifting the heavy ball, doing jumping jacks, etc.
  • They are also great visual cues for early jumping jacks skills by placing them in a sequence of 1-2-1-2 to begin working on jumping open, then jumping together.  It is also great for early hopscotch of one foot, two feet.

What are some of the things you use spots for?

March 16, 2012

Beyond the First Jump

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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I love working with kiddos on learning how to jump.  And then they finally master their first jump all by themselves and I want to jump with them (I usually do).  I get so excited that I forget there can be so much more to jumping.  Don’t get me wrong, jumping all by themselves opens up a world of possibilities for kids.  It can help them with peer interaction, it can assist with self regulation, it can show when they are excited, it can provide them proprioceptive feedback and it can strengthen their legs as well as help to get the wiggles out of them.

Once they are able to jump up into the air with two feet leaving the ground they are on their way to becoming jump masters.  I know it seems like jumping up in the air should be all it takes but there are jumps beyond this basic jump that you probably haven’t even stopped to think about.  I’ll name a few below:

  • Jumping multiple times in a row
  • Jumping forward
  • Jumping backwards or sideways
  • Jumping in a circle
  • Jumping up for an object overhead
  • Jumping off of a height (like a step, curb, chair, etc)
  • Jumping onto a height (like a step, curb, etc)
  • Jumping over something
  • Jumping open and close (like in jumping jacks)

I’m sure there are plenty of others that I am forgetting but these are plenty to get you started with your jumper!  With each new task your kiddo has to go through a different set of motor planning, as well as mental readiness before they can do the jump that is needed.  What I do now is I just start adding in scenarios for kids to practice different types of jumping (once they are able to jump with two feet – although sometimes I will start a few of these while they are still learning to jump).  For instance, for jumping off of things, if I am having them practice the stairs or a balance beam or stepping stones, I will usually hold their hands and have them jump off with my help.  This way jumping off of things becomes routine.  Jumping up for something is the one that always surprises me as being more challenging than I would have thought.  I will usually use things like the stacking cups and hold them up in the air so the kiddo will jump while trying to reach for them.  Or I will use suction cup balls on a wall/window/mirror and have the kiddo jump up to try to pull them off the surface.  Jumping forward works really well with colored spots or using a hopscotch board because you get great visuals.  We also work on numbers at the same time.  If I make the pieces into a straight line so its a number path from 1-10 we start with jumping on each number and then we switch to jumping only on evens and then only on odds.  I usually have to give a hand hold assist to help them get the clearance.  I also use hopscotch boards to work on jumping open and close.  I love the boards that let you move the numbers around!  Jumping onto things I start with something that’s barely elevated.  I use these foam colored spots that we have that are maybe a little over a quarter of an inch and I have the kiddo jump onto the spot.  Then I may have them jump onto the mat (which is maybe a little over an inch high).  By doing it this way they often don’t realize they are jumping up onto something and don’t have time to mentally psych themselves out.  Same with jumping over something I start with something little like a line and then I may have them jump over my leg and slowly increase the height until they aren’t even thinking about it.

These are just a few ideas for progressing jumping.  I’d love to hear other ideas you have or any questions you have about different jumping tasks!

March 12, 2012


Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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Hopscotch is one of my favorite games to play.  It allows kids to work on so many skills.  It works on jumping, hopping, sequencing, balance, timing, visual motor and coordination to name a few.  That means it takes many skills to create the final result.  I love to take these higher level coordination and motor planning skills and break them down into pieces to make them more manageable for the kiddos I am working with.  The great thing about the hopscotch board is it provides a visual cue for jumping practice.  In fact, I have used it just to help kids work on figuring out how to jump forward into the next square or even further by skipping a square.  Once a kiddo can jump forward, I help them to work on jumping with their feet open (for the double squares) and together (for the single squares).  This helps them figure out sequencing as well as can carry over to learning jumping jacks!  After that I try to work on getting the single leg stance on the single squares.  In between all this we are working on balance on one leg as well as hopping on one foot.  Sometimes this breakdown can look like the kiddo walking into each square and recognizing that they need one or two feet and then they have to work on being able to jump into the squares and figure out how many feet.  Even the timing of switching from one to two feet and then back again takes time to learn.  Once they have these components its putting it all together for the finished product.  Then I usually start having them practice putting a marker on a number and having to avoid the marker on the way out and picking it up on the way back.  Its so much fun to watch the kiddos progress with these skills!

March 2, 2012

Easter Egg Hunt for Motor Skills


Ok, now don’t judge, but the original inspiration for this idea came from a ski trip I took with some college friends (a year or two after graduation) over Easter weekend.  Two of our friends arranged an ‘adult’ easter egg hunt with jello (of the adult variety) in each Easter egg.  Well we were all like big kids because of course we each had certain colors (and flavors) we wanted to find!

Now, translate this to a kids Egg hunt and here are some ideas:

  • You can fill each egg with a different motor skill you want the kid to do and you could have numbers on the egg for number of reps or that could be included on the paper with the skill.  I would also add in fun ones such as ‘play a game on the wii’ where they are still working but think they are playing!
  • You can put pictures of different skills or games in the eggs so the kiddo has to go find the object/game or perform the skill.
  • You can put different sensory materials in each egg and the kiddo can explore the textures.
  • If you put finger paint in each one they could use the paint to add to their picture (of course you would have to wipe their hands off after each egg)
  • Make it into a treasure hunt for direction following.  Each egg gives a clue as to where the next egg is hidden.  For instance they could have to hop down the hallway to find the blue egg and then that egg would give the next set of directions. The final egg could lead them to something fun!
  • Fill them with beans or rice or sand and have the kids have to shake them to guess what is inside, and to make music!
  • Ask the kiddo to find a certain number of each color so they get to work on color recognition and numbers.
  • You can also mix and match the colors and then when the kids come back they have to put the correct colors together as a group or individual.
  • And, the best part is that opening the eggs works on fine motor skills!

What other ways have you found to use an Easter egg hunt?

PS- Try the adult egg hunt too, its lots of fun!

February 16, 2012

Stomp Rocket – Oh the Possibilities!

The stomp rocket is one of my favorite toys to use in therapy.  Initially we started using it to encourage standing on one leg, but over the years we have come up with a plethora of ways to create therapy uses for it!  Some of them are listed below:

Single Leg Stance – In order to step on the stomp rocket the kiddo will ideally have to pick up one of their feet while the other one stays on the ground.  Because they have to pick it up higher than they would for taking a step during walking, they leave their foot in the air for a little longer, also allowing them to get a better stomp!  Once our kids master the ‘stomp’ part we will have them hold it for a count of (pick a time) so that they have to start balancing on one foot.

Weight Shifting – Again, in order to pick their foot up to stomp on the toy, the kiddo needs to shift their weight onto their standing leg.  Because they have to pick the foot up a little higher to clear the ‘stomp’ part its harder for them to do a partial weight shift.

Force Production/Regulation – Whether they are using the stomp rocket with their hands or their feet, they need to generate enough force (in a timely manner) to propel the rocket off the end of the stand.  Some kids have no problem with this, however, some kids will take tentative steps or allow gravity to pull their foot down which doesn’t allow the proper pressure to generate for shooting the rocket off!  A trick to give them some success in the beginning is to only put the rocket part way down so that less force is required to propel it into the air.

Visual Tracking – When kids first start to use the stomp rocket they often can’t attend to what they are doing and then watch the rocket go into the air.  A lot of times they miss the actual rocket flying through the air.  Because its fun to watch and the kids are motivated they will pretty quickly start to figure out (with some help from you) that they need to also pay attention to where the rocket is flying through the air.  If you have them retrieve the rocket as well, it helps if they know where it has landed!

Sensory Input – We had a kiddo the other week who was loving the stomp rocket.  He wanted to do it over and over again.  His mom was amazed because he has really tactile sensitive feet, and he was doing this activity in bare feet.  With that in mind, we adapted the stomp rocket to add different textures to it so that he would get input from different textures to the bottom of his feet while doing an activity that he really liked.  Also, we changed the surface the stomp rocket was resting on.  We put it a few steps into a grassy area so that he had to walk a step or two on the grass to get to it.  You could easily make walkways of different sensory material as well as the overlays of sensory material to decrease tactile sensitivity or just to increase tactile input (can be used on hands and feet).  Here are some ideas for sensory input to incorporate!

Jumping – Kids can practice jumping onto the stomp rocket to get a more powerful flight.  It allows them to work on jumping forward, up and to a target (all of which can be challenging when done purposefully).

Hand Use – You can work on hand strength by having a kiddo squeeze the bulb in their hand to make the rocket go.  You can also work on using an open hand by having the kiddo activate the stomp rocket by having to use a flat hand.  They can crawl to it or bear walk to it or just sit and use a flat hand.  You can also use this activity for upper extremity weight bearing and weight shifting.

Target Practice – You can also set up a target to try to aim the stomp rocket at and see if you can hit the target, whether with the rocket starting from the floor or the child holding it and pointing it at the target.

One more thing – they also make a bubble stomp rocket which should provide tons of motivation and other ideas such as finger isolation to pop the bubbles and running to chase them!

What are some of the things you have used the stomp rocket for?

January 27, 2012

More Great Songs for Therapy

After my last post on fun songs to use in therapy my coworkers suddenly started remembering songs that they frequently use in therapy so I thought I’d share some more ideas.

If You’re Happy and You Know It

This is a great song because you get to insert your own action.  You could pick skills that you are working on such as: jump up and down, stand on one foot, stand on tip tiptoes, jumping jacks, etc.  I also use it when we are on the ball and I am trying to keep the kiddo from using their hands to stabilize so I will often insert actions like:  clap your hands, reach to the ceiling, touch your ears, touch your head, reach to the sides, wiggle your fingers, touch your shoulders, say hooray (and reaching arms up overhead).

Hokey Pokey

Just by following the words of the song the kiddos get to work on motor planning and balance (and single leg stance for left and right foot).  To spice it up a bit you can have them jump (or hop on one foot) at the end instead of clapping.  You can also use the words ‘Touch the ground, stand back up, touch the ground and shake it all about’ to work on squats.  You could have the kids pretend they are dogs or cats and they can put their ‘paws’ and ‘tails’ in to work on crawling and balance in quadraped.  You can also just change animals for every turn so if they are frogs they hop in and hop out, or butterflies tip toe in and tip toe out.

I’m a Little Tea Pot

This is another fun song to use on the ball.  You can work on postural control while singing the song and then when you get to the ‘tip me over’ part you tip the kiddo backwards so they have to do a sit-up to get back up.

Old MacDonald

Great song for getting repetition of activities in.  If you are using an animal puzzle or play animals it works even better and the kids get to work on animal recognition because they get to select the animal that is on Old MacDonald’s Farm!  Usually we use this type of song for working on things like walking on a balance beam or going up and down the stairs.  Activities where they need lots and lots of repetition for mastery but may not be that exciting to do over and over again.

Winnie the Pooh

I only use the first lines from this song when it says ‘When I up,down,touch the ground it puts me in the mood.  Up, down, touch the ground in the mood for _____‘.  This can be a fun one to get a kiddo ready to do something.  You can have them squat up and down and then change what they are in the mood for.  It could be jumping, walking, running, crawling, spinning, etc.  (You just have to be okay if the rhyming is off!)  And it works even better if you do a big dramatic pause before you give the action!

More of Our Own!

  • Mr. Helper (to the tune of Frere Jacques) – Mr. Helper, Mr. Helper, – Hold, Hold, Hold, – Hold, Hold, Hold, – Hold the paper steady, – Hold the paper steady, – Helping hand, Helping hand.  Great Song to use when trying to teach a kiddo to use their secondary hand for stabilization or to ‘help’ with the task.
  • This is the Way We Wash Our Hands – I’ve adapted this one to go with gross motor tasks such as This is the way we (climb the stairs, jump around, skip along, stomp our feet, crawl away, run around, cross the bridge [for balance beam walking], bend our knees [squatting], walk on our toes, walk on our heels, etc).  Also lets the kids work on changing tasks because they have to switch what they are doing as the words in the song change!
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