Starfish Therapies

July 23, 2017

It’s All About Motivation


Many times I get asked about what kinds of activities we do with the kids, or how we get them to do what we want them to do when it may be hard work for them. The answer is always the same, it’s all about motivation. If you can make an activity into something that a child wants to do, then they will work hard at it, and usually repeat it multiple times.

I had written two posts a while ago about when we used songs to motivate kids that you might find interesting.

Well one of our other ways is to use obstacle courses, which we have talked about before. But how we make those obstacle courses fun is what this post is about! Here are a few ideas!

  • American Ninja Warrior Junior – I’ll be honest, I’ve never watched American Ninja Warrior. That being said, I’ve noticed a lot of our kids have, and they love it! We have been able to get more leverage from that show for motivating kids. We have done it in obstacle course format where we time them on the course (but they lose points if the quality isn’t there, so they don’t just rush through). We have created training programs for it so that the kids do exercises that will help them be American Ninja Warriors and then they get to create a course at the end of the session for fun. But the ‘training’ is where they put in the work. Although, even the courses they create are pretty challenging and work on the things that we would want them to work on.
  • Adventures – Some kids like to go on adventures. This could involve crossing a bridge (balance beam), climbing mountains (stepping stones), navigating the swamp or quicksand (crash pads), traversing lily pads (spots), rescuing friends (climbing up and down stairs), going into the dungeon (stepping up and down a ‘curb’ type step), setting off the flare for the support team (stomp rocket), using the magic key to open the secret door (making a basket with the basketball while standing on a balance board), crossing the forbidden forest (walking over a yoga mat with obstacles underneath to make it uneven), and the list could go on and on. Usually we have friends we rescue (a puzzle with animals, bean bag animals, stuffed animals) or we go collect treasure (a puzzle with different shapes) and the child gets to choose which we are doing on that adventure. That way they also have to go through multiple times.

What are some fun ways you have motivated kids?


May 29, 2017

Transitional Movements

2017-03-28 23.23.452017-03-28 23.23.502017-03-28 23.23.28

What are transitional movements you may wonder. They are when a kiddo moves from one position to another. This can look like rolling, getting in or out of sitting, getting in or out of quadruped, getting up into standing, getting back down to the floor from standing, and the list can go on and on.

For many kids learning to transition between positions comes easily to them. However, this isn’t the case for all kids. There are many reasons that some kids may have to ‘learn’ how to transition and move. Some of those reasons may include weakness, motor planning challenges, increased time in ‘positional equipment’, and many others.

Transitions are important because they help your child learn how to move. They begin to understand that they can explore on their own. They can increase their independence with exploration and expanding their curiosity.  It also helps them to learn more about their bodies as well as cause and effect. They learn to grade their movements and how to problem solve. They begin to understand and develop body awareness.

How can you help your kiddo develop and work on their transitional movements? Rather than pick them up and place them in a new position, help them to move into it. Another way is to set up the environment so that they are encouraged to explore. Here are a few ideas:

  • Rolling – Instead of picking your kiddo up and placing them on their belly, use a toy and get them engaged and then help them roll over onto their belly so that they can get to the toy. Even if you don’t have time to get them engaged, you can still help them to roll so that they start to learn there isn’t some magic force that moves them from one place to the next!
  • Sitting (from the belly or the back) – I’m probably going to start sounding like a broken record but the same ideas apply for all the areas I’m going to mention. Instead of picking your baby up and placing them in sitting, help them to get into the position on their own.
    • You can do this almost anytime you are changing their diaper, just help them to move into sitting before you pick them up rather than picking them up from a lying down position.
    • If they are already maintaining sitting independently you can also work on this from a sitting position. Have them lean over onto one arm and have a toy in front of them so that they have to push back up to get into sitting to reach for it.
    • When your kiddo is in a sitting position you can help them move into a lying down position. You can also have them try to do this by putting toys just a little further out of reach so they have to move from sitting onto their belly to get it.
  • Quadruped – This is similar to going from sitting to on the belly. If they are already sitting put your leg on one side of them and put a toy they like on the other side of your leg. Encourage for them to reach for the toy so they move over top of your leg (you may have to help them at first so they know what to do), keeping their legs on one side and their arms on the other. As they get stronger and willing to try the movement more you can take your leg out of the way. They may go all the way to their belly a few times but that’s the fun of trial and error and how they learn.
  • Standing – Again, it’s all about finding what engages your child. Use an elevated surface that they can pull up on (not too high but not too low) and place something they really want on top. Help them to figure out how to pull/push into standing so that they see they can get to the toy they want!

As you noticed a lot of the concepts are the same. You want to make sure that their toys aren’t always right within their grasp, make them have to work a little to get to them. Don’t just pick them up and place them in a position, take a few extra seconds to ‘help’ them move to the new position. They begin to understand how to motor plan and problem solve so that they will begin to want to move and explore!

January 29, 2016

Football Fun

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 1:40 am
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Football 2   Football 1

In honor of Super Bowl 50 being in the San Francisco Bay Area next weekend, and the Broncos playing in the game, I thought I would share a football activity one of our therapists came up with. She used this as a motivating activity for one of our kids who is really into football and wanted his therapy activities to be meaningful.  I thought she did a great job of incorporating his age appropriate interests into something that was therapeutic and fun.

As you can see from the picture a football field was created along with goal posts.  This child was working on dynamic standing and sitting balance as well as walking, transitioning between sitting and standing, and squatting to pick things up from the ground.

With this set up his goal was to get it through the uprights. He got a certain number of points based on various criteria

  • Was he sitting or standing while he threw the ball
  • Did it go through the uprights
  • Did it land on the ‘field’
  • How far away from the target did it land

Clearly if he threw it standing and it went through the uprights he got the most points and then they were graded lower after that.  He had a target number of points that they kept on a white board (also allowing him to work on his math skills!).

After he threw the ball he had to walk to where it landed (or to the accessible place the therapist moved it to) and squat down to pick it up and then return to the bench and sit before he threw the ball again.

You could easily do this with bean bags or a soccer ball and goal or any other activity.  The part that was fun for us was all the skills he could work in a meaningful and fun way for him!  And, football was a regular discussion with regards to players, positions, teams, divisional standings, etc.

What ways have you made activities meaningful for your kids you work with?

January 13, 2015

Just Right Challenge

shapesorter Did you ever wonder why an infant or toddler would crawl or walk to get their favorite toy only sometimes as they are learning these skills? But at other times they’ll look, they may start moving for it, but ultimately look around and find something else to play with? We find it all has to do with their perception of their abilities and what they’d need to do to get their favorite toy.

When you are teaching or encouraging practice of motor skills by moving those favorite toys around your house, it’s important to keep in mind the idea ‘just right challenge’ or that your child perceives that they can accomplish their goal, but is still challenged to improve their skills. If they perceive the activity as something they are able to do, they go for it. If they think it’s too hard, they find another toy.

This is why you often see therapists moving furniture half an inch farther apart at time, or ‘accidently’ bumping a toy a little farther away when the child is half way there while crawling to push kids to go just a little further without significantly changing how the child perceives the activity.

If your child goes after that toy every time, would they still do it if it was a little farther away or on the couch or half way up the stairs instead of the floor? If your child looks around for something else to play with, what happens if you move their favorite toy just a little bit closer?  Have fun experimenting with finding the motivation that is ‘Just Right’ for your kiddo!


August 13, 2013

Rope Climb – With a Lycra Swing Twist

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 7:00 am
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Rope Climb

A great way to work on core and upper body strength, as well as bilateral hand use is to put your climbing rope in a lycra swing.  Its really hard to get any traction/stability from your feet and you get to rely on upper body and core strength to get yourself up high enough to rescue the monkey!

The kids find it to be hard work and are often exhausted after doing this activity but they get a great workout with it.

What are some variations that you can think of?

August 6, 2013

Boot Camp Ball

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 7:00 am
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boot camp 2

We are constantly looking for ways to keep things fresh for some of the kids we see here so we were excited when Your Therapy Source did a post on Beach Ball Ther-Ex Games.  Our therapists took that idea and came up with Boot Camp Ball.  There are a few ways you can use it, as there are numbers, shapes and colors involved but we kept it simple and just used the numbers.

boot camp 3

First, they came up with a list of activities that were numbered (see photo).

Boot Camp 1

Next, the kiddo would pick which hand would be the ‘magic’ hand

Then, they would catch the ball (in standing for this kiddo because we were working on standing balance and bilateral hand use).  Whatever number was under the ‘magic’ hand is the activity that they would do based on the corresponding number on the activity list.

Then they would repeat.

By calling it boot camp we were able to keep the pace moving and they thought it was great when there were activities like sit-ups on the list.

There are lots of ways to modify this depending on what you are working on with your kids.  For instance:

  • You could have them point to a number on the ball and touch it with one finger if you are working on finger isolation
  • you could use shape/color combinations for kids that are working on recognizing them, or to provide more combinations
  • By doing the shapes, numbers and colors  you could make a really fun flow chart that would mean they would have to match up which variables were present to find out their activity
  • You could do catching sitting down if standing up was too challenging, or standing on one foot if it wasn’t challenging enough

The big thing is, its another opportunity to make doing the same activities over and over again FUN!

How have you used this idea, or an idea similar to it?

January 16, 2013


Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 3:29 pm
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Transitions can be hard for everyone involved.  However, its also a good skill to practice so that it can slowly become easier.  We have been trying over the last several months to try to reschedule kiddos with a different therapist when their regular therapist is going to be out.  There are some really great benefits when this is done.

  • Kids are given the opportunity to use their skills with a new person (are they able to generalize outside of their comfort zone)
  • There is a new set of eyes on the kiddo which may see things that the regular therapist doesn’t notice because of familiarity
  • Brainstorming and idea generation can occur to keep therapy fresh
  • Transitions not only benefit the child, but the parents/care takers as well. Parents become so comfortable with their therapists, that it may be more difficult for them to do the transition, than the child.
  • Provides a fresh venue for the child and will often highlight challenges that the child is still having outside of the therapeutic environment because they are working with someone new and less ‘comfortable’

I know this is a short post but I thought I would share some of our observations!  That being said, I do believe in the continuity of a therapist working with a child, I just like to mix it up every once in a while because I do believe it is beneficial for all involved.

January 7, 2013

More Please – Repetition for Skill Mastery

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 7:00 am
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When kids begin to learn new skills repetition is key.  This is how they learn what works and what doesn’t work and what they need to fine tune until they have mastered the key.  For some kids repetition comes naturally, for some, they may need a bit more encouragement.  Basically you need to figure out what motivates them.  Over the holidays I was hanging out with my god daughter and I couldn’t help but push her gross motor skills a bit.  (poor kid her mom is a speech therapist so she didn’t stand a chance with the two of us around!)

Some of the things we practiced were jumping, going down stairs and standing on one foot.  Jumping as you can see in the video was easy to get the repetition.  We put words to the actions, I showed her what to do and she mimicked me.  She thought it was hysterical and wanted her dad to keep saying ‘bend-jump’.  For that activity it didn’t take much to motivate her to practice the skill (she even got air a few times).  With going down the stairs, I basically showed her once or twice on the bottom two steps how to hold her hand on the wall/rail and step down and she was just so proud of herself that my cousin reported she now only wants to walk down the stairs.  Lastly, with the single leg stance we were playing with the stomp rocket so the toy itself was motivating.  She loved ‘stomping’ on it and making the rocket fly.  She even got good at putting the rocket back on the launcher (ok, she needed some help but she knew that it needed to line up).

For some kids, doing a novel activity is enough to get them to practice because they want to keep doing the new thing, especially when there is a ‘reward’ at the end (i.e. the rocket flying off the launcher).  With tasks that aren’t as novel look for ways to change it up and make it fun.  For instance, with stairs practice at the park or in the house or make little steps (using stools) that are a path they have to follow throughout the house.  Change it up and add some fun and you’d be surprised at how quickly kids will engage!

November 7, 2012

Making Exercises Meaningful for Pre-Teens

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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We decided the ladder was the best for our needs based on the packing that was occurring and he tolerated me taking a picture as well as the video so I couldn’t complain when it was slightly blurry!

So I spent part of the week in San Diego helping my friend and her family pack to move across the country.  While there I spent some time with my ‘nephew’ because she has mentioned that he can struggle with running sometimes.  We’ve talked about the fact that he’s a toe walker and that his calves and hamstrings are extremely tight but its hard to give out advice over the phone, and even harder for ‘mom’ to motivate him.

I already had some ideas but I watched him for a few days to see what I thought and then on my last day, I asked him if he wanted some help with his stretches and some exercises to help him possibly run faster on the football field.  He agreed so we had an impromptu work out.  I gave him 3 simple stretches for his hamstrings and calves that he can easily do while watching tv and I didn’t make them very time consuming or requiring a lot of contortions.  I had him try them out and decide if it was something he could ‘easily’ do.  He agreed.

Next we went into the backyard (mainly so we could have some space since their house was in the midst of being packed up) and we practiced jumping and bounding.  I showed him the exercise and then he tried it.  Of course he did it really fast (the way he would normally) and then I asked him if he would try going slow and concentrating on each jump/hop/bound and pausing between each one so he could really make his toes into ‘jet rockets’.  When he did, he felt and saw the difference between how high he could jump/hop and how far he could bound.  I asked him if he knew why and he said its because he was thinking about it so he was able to make his muscles work the way he wanted.  I asked him what happened if he kept practicing it while thinking about it – and he (without prompting) said eventually he would be able to do it without thinking about it!  I loved that he got the concept!

Now, I know that he’s a 10 1/2 year old boy that would rather be watching tv or playing DS but he was genuinely interested in running faster during football practice and during the game.  When I asked if he wanted me to make him a chart, pictures or a movie, he picked a movie so we filmed him doing his exercises with the explanations and then I worked my magic with iMovie and made his own personalized exercise movie.

Do I think he will do it every day? Probably not but he had some choices with the exercises as well as with the delivery of the exercises.  He also got to ask questions about why we were doing them and how practice would make it easier.  He even got to see that when we went back to make the movie, the bounding and jumping were harder because his muscles were tired.  He could relate it to learning how to play football and the time he puts in on the practice field, so that by doing these it will get easier and he will start to see results.

Now, I’ll have to check back in a month or two to see how diligent he has been but my fingers are crossed!

What ideas have you used?

August 30, 2012

Activity Bingo


I love to find new and creative ways to get kids to do activities that may not always be their favorite, and to get them to do multiple repetitions of it.  We came up with a new game based on BINGO.  Instead of letters we used numbers on both the column and row labels.  This way the kids could roll two dice and find out their activity.  One die would correspond to the column labels and one die would correspond to the row labels.  Then you would follow the row and column until they met and figure out the activity.  Our pictures show a pre-made one for activities our OT is working on with a kiddo.  You could also use it for handwriting and put letters or numbers in the boxes.  You can pretty much get creative with what you want to work on and put into the boxes.  Once a box has been used you can have the kiddo cover it up (either by writing on it or using a bingo chip or a torn piece of paper, etc).  When the kiddo gets 6 in a row (as seen in the second picture) they can stop the activity.

You can modify this almost anyway you want to, whether its the activities in the boxes or the way you label the columns and rows.  Its just another idea for a novel approach to getting kiddos to do the activities you want them to do!  You can also do it on a white board so that you can make it reusable or you can laminate some pre-made ones so that you can have them ready to go.

Has anyone tried something like this?

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