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?

March 5, 2017

Monkey Bars

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

December 14, 2009

The Importance of Playing

Playing is an important part of childhood development.  In fact, it could be said that playing is the job of a child.  Unfortunately, in society today we are so busy that we look to avoid what can be perceived as  a waste of time.  This is actually far from the truth.  According to this article there are several key points to playing that may not be considered when it is being replaced by an ‘educational’ activity.  These points are as follows:

  • Play allows a child to be ‘in charge’
  • Play allows a child to learn about their world by looking at cause and effect as one way
  • Play builds self-esteem
  • Play builds social skills
  • Playing with parents helps a child develop superior social skills
  • Play allows an opportunity for a child to work out their feelings
  • Play helps with language development
  • Play allows a child to grow (even beyond their years) by using pretend
  • Play stimulates your child’s creativity

This site provides several articles on childhood play and one of the articles lists  some tips on how to make the most of play time with your child.

  • Follow your child’s lead, it doesn’t have to be the ‘right’ way to use they toy, they may have a new way
  • Go slowly.  Try not to show your child how something works everytime, the key is to provide just enough help so that the frustration doesn’t get overwhelming
  • Read your child’s signals, it can tell you what activities they prefer
  • Play it again!  The more a child practices a new skill through repetition and master’s it the more likely they are to take on new challenges and therefore continue learning.

In addition, it discusses the importance of ‘rough and tumble’ play in infants and toddlers.  In infants this looks like touching, laughing, and holding while in toddlers it involves climbing on the furniture and on people, tossing kids in the air, running, jumping, chasing, wrestling, crashing into pillows and piles of blocks, kicking balls, throwing things, etc.  Some benefits of this type of play are:

  • emotional such that your child is having fun, enjoying themselves and life, releasing energy, reducing tension and practicing self-expression
  • social such that is encourages cooperation, sharing, turn taking, conflict resolution, development of leadership skills, control of impulses and aggressive behavior
  • educational by experimenting and taking risks, practicing skills, building self confidence and self esteem, enhancing communication skills, developing persistence and promoting attention regulation

In Topics in Pediatrics, published by the American Physical Therapy Association it warns to never underestimate the power of play.  In play a child uses their higher order thinking skills, and as an adult if we are playing with them there is a balance where we become ‘encouraging playmates.’  This means that we get to be ‘encouraging playmates.’  The terms Free Play and Therapeutic Play were also further looked at.

Free Play is spontaneous, intrinsically motivating and self-regulating.  This type of play encourages and enables a child to explore their capabilities, experiment with objects, make decisions, study cause and effect relationships, learn persistence and realize consequences.  In addition it can help a child to cope with anxiety, frustration and failure.

Therapeutic Play is used to provide motivation, get the child’s attention, and provide practice for motor and functional skills.  It is a tool to promote sensory processing, perceptual abilities and cognitive development.

On Sunday December 20th in the Bay Area there is a radio show with a call in segment looking specifically at the importance of play for childhood development.

Let Kids Play is a site devoted to encouraging play in children, including kids with disabilities.  In their newsletter this week they talk about the initiative that is being spearheaded by the NFL, United Way and President Obama to get the message out about the importance of playing.

Locally in the Bay Area Palo Alto is creating an accessible playground for all ages.

In summary, play is critical for children to develop many skills.  In addition to promoting gross motor skills it also encourages creativity, role playing, study of cause and effect, how to deal with failure such that persistence occurs. Play is also a great way to encourage repetition to the point of mastery, it makes learning fun.  On top of all that it is a great chance for you to interact with your child to let them take the lead and see what they can teach you!

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