Starfish Therapies

July 11, 2010

How to Encourage Gross Motor Development in Kids

Here is a brief article (I had a word limit which is why it is on the short side) I was asked to write about encouraging gross motor development in kids.  What I’m adding to it are several blogs I have written that all play into this topic and will support you in supporting your child.

Gross motor skills in kids are continuously changing as they grow however as a parent there are certain things you can do to encourage their development regardless of what stage they are at.

A specific tool for all little one is to make sure they are getting on their belly. Tummy time is extremely critical for developing the building blocks that they will use as they progress their gross motor skills. This doesn’t mean just put them on their belly and walk away, use it as time to bond and play with your child. Make tummy time fun for them!

A more general tool for all kids is, don’t make it too easy on them. If you pick your child up as soon as they cry or you keep everything in their reach they don’t have to learn how to move because everything is being done for them. A little bit of frustration is a good thing because it drives their development. Knowing your child is important though because while a little bit of frustration is good, too much can cause the opposite effect and they won’t do anything. So, if they start to get a little frustrated, give them a little help to obtain their goal. For example, if they are lying down and want to sit up but don’t know how to, instead of picking them up and placing them in sitting, help them move and use their muscles to get into sitting so they start to learn how to do it. Kids learn by doing!

What Influences Gross Motor Development

Practice Makes Perfect

Motor Planning 101

Repetition and the Beauty of ‘Redo’

Frustration:  A Catalyst to Learning

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 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!

November 30, 2009

Motor Planning 101

Motor planning is what happens when a child figures out how to interact with their environment.  In other words, it is the process that happens when they decide they want to do something (like roll over) and then their brain sends the message to their muscles and their muscles work like a symphony in that they all turn on and off at the right time to produce a coordinated movement that will allow the child to roll over.  This is not something that your child just wakes up with one day.  Motor planning develops as your child develops and goes through the developmental sequence.  This is why it is important for your child to have adequate opportunities to explore their environment and ‘figure’ things out.

Having your child spend time on activities such as tummy time is not just a waste of time.  From this position they begin to learn how to push themselves up and roll over.  Part of their motor development is the process of ‘figuring it out’.  This is how they develop their motor planning.  When a child first starts standing you may see them bouncing up and down in their crib by bending and straightening their legs while they hold onto the rails.  This is one of the ways they learn how their muscles work.  Motor planning happens with all level of skills, its our way of becoming masters at a movement.  Just think about jumping jacks, having to coordinate the arms and the legs takes time.  Some people pick it up faster than others but everyone requires practice.

I have seen that a lot of times, we want to help our kids out when they get frustrated with trying to figure out how to do something such as crawling over an elevated surface.  By letting them work on it and encouraging them, but not doing it for them, you are actually helping them to enhance their motor planning skills.  The more they get to practice figuring things out the easier it will be for them to generalize their newly developed skills to new and different environments.  It will also help build their resilience for dealing with new situations.  I realize that there is a fine line between letting them figure it out and letting them get so frustrated they have a tantrum.  What I usually do is give them a little help when they start to escalate their frustration.  For example if they are trying to crawl over a cushion and they can’t figure out how to do it I may bring one of their knees up and let them bring the other knee up.  Or I may stabilize one leg so they can get the leverage to bring the other one up.

I think the biggest area I see this becoming a problem today is in sitting.  We get so excited when our kids can sit up on their own that we are constantly placing them in sitting rather than letting them figure out how to get into sitting.  One way around this is to help them get into the sitting position rather than just picking them up and putting them in sitting.  With gross motor development its not just the end result that’s important, its how they get there as well!  This is how they develop and enhance their motor planning.  One more quick example is when you first learned to drive a car.  It required practice in order to be able to steer, brake, check the mirrors, change lanes, etc.  Now you can drive without even thinking about it.  If you had never been given that practice time do you think you would be able to drive as easily.  For your child, learning to move in and out of positions and physical play time in general is their practice time!

October 19, 2009

Repetition and the Beauty of ‘Redo’


Repetition is critical for learning new skills.  Its how mastery occurs.  This is true for a child learning to roll over or for a basketball player who wants to make the varsity team.  Its only through practice that they will learn the skills.  Now, most children don’t realize they are practicing as they begin to develop new gross motor skills, its just a natural progression for them if they are provided the opportunity.  For instance, if your child is in a bouncy or car seat a lot, they don’t have as many opportunities to practice as a child who gets to spend time on the floor for a significant portion of each day.  This PT Journal article looks at the effects of practice conditions on motor skill acquisition.

In addition to opportunity, you will also have different personalities that will influence their practice.  I also touch on this topic in ‘How Resilient is Your Child?‘  Some kids will be determined to do something and will keep going and going until they have succeeded.  Other kids will attempt, not get it, and decide ‘ah, who needs to roll over, I’m kind of content right here.’  Usually they get their needs met by crying or vocalizing or because their caregiver moves them.  This deprives them of opportunities to practice.  Check out ‘Tips on Encouraging Motor Development in Infants‘ for more information on what I am attempting to convey in the previous two paragraphs!

As your child gets a little older, and maybe the tasks become a little more challenging, I have found its important to find the right balance of encouraging them to practice something so that they get it correct and not discouraging them because they still haven’t mastered the skill or task.  I know I am in a unique situation because I am working with kids on developing their gross motor skills or higher level coordination skills and its necessary to sometimes do the same thing over and over.  This is how I discovered the word ‘Redo!’

‘Redo’ is a phrase most of my kiddos quickly become familiar with.  In fact, after a while they will start saying it before I do.  Why is this a great thing?  Well for me I have found that when learning a new skill it requires a lot of practice to get comfortable with it and even more to master it.  Well by using ‘redo’ it becomes a fun way for the child to do it over again if they didn’t quite do what they were supposed to do (in terms of the skill).

An example of this is when I work on teaching a child how to jump off of a step (usually as low as 1-2 inches to start).  In the beginning they want to step down with an extra bounce in their knees.  Instead of telling them they did it wrong, I usually make a joke saying, ‘Was that two feet… Nooo.  Redo!’  Its surprising how funny they find this.  I guess it could be my tone of voice that makes them laugh as well!  Its amazing though because instead of getting frustrated the majority of the time they are laughing over the fact that they have to do it again!  Make limits though because otherwise you could continue ad nausea on the same skill.

This reminds me of the old saying, ‘practice makes perfect.’  This is not to say that perfection is expected but in order for your children to learn, grow and develop repetition and practice is required.  We can support them by creating opportunities in their physical environment as well as keeping them motivated to continue to practice until they get it and achieve success.  My use of ‘Redo’ is one way to not discourage while still getting the desired result.  You may have something different that works best for your child but I have found that making it as much like play and involving play is a sure-fire way to success!

August 31, 2009

The Art of Falling


No one wants to see their child, or any other child, fall and get hurt, me included.  That said, I think it is important for kids to learn that falling happens and to get back up, with your encouragement.  I have seen the tendency for a child to fall, and not hurt themselves, and they get so much attention for the fall that they learn to start crying anytime they stumble.  Its important to make sure your child isn’t seriously hurt when they fall but its also important to teach them to ‘brush it off’ and get back up again.  By over-reacting to their falling they tend to increase the amount of crying they do as well as their need for attention.

In addition to building their resilience, falling also teaches kids safety awareness.  I have seen kids who have never been allowed to fall and they have no concept of their own safety.  They plow straight ahead without any balance because someone has always caught them or stopped them before they lost their balance.  I think its great if you can set up a ‘safe’ environment for your child to start learning to walk and letting them topple occasionally.  The great thing is that you will be there to make sure they aren’t going to go head first into the corner.  If it looks like it will be a bigger fall and may be scary for them I will often assist their fall but I still let them go to the ground.  I then work on teaching them to get back up!

When a child loses their balance and possibly stumbles and falls it also provides input for their brain that can help develop their balance reactions.  Their body starts to recognize that when they start to lean too far forward with walking they will fall unless their muscles kick in to move their center of gravity back over their base of support.   Just as if they fall backwards when first walking or standing their body starts to recognize this and react by using the muscles that will move their center of gravity forward over their base of support.

Going hand in hand with balance reactions is protective extension which begins to develop when your child first begins to sit and then stand.  I will go into more depth on protective extension in another post.

So, as much as we don’t ever want our children to fall, sometimes it is a good thing for them, it is part of development.  We get to figure out how to react to their falls as well as set up the scenarios where they can learn to fall safely!

August 9, 2009

Do Video Games Promote or Hinder Child Development?

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In an age of technology where video games are becoming more and more prevalent, I often wonder what the effects of video games are on a child’s development.  There is a mixture of information out there and I found a few articles that look at everything from physical development to their creativity and imagination to the importance of play for kids.  These articles still didn’t answer my questions and I think that’s because there is good and bad that can come out of playing video games.  The Wii Fit encourages kids to start exercising which is a good thing these days with childhood obesity on the rise, however what are they missing out on by not getting out and playing outside or actual sports?  Are they missing out on quality social interactions with their peers?

I have also always wondered if the ability to restart a game when it doesn’t go the way you want it to carries over into a child’s ability to handle obstacles that go along with gross motor development?  There isn’t a restart button in life but we can pick ourselves up and keep going.  I often see kids who are learning a more complex task like jump rope or monkey bars, or even riding a tricycle/bike want to give up after they haven’t mastered it on the first few tries.  It takes enrollment skills to keep them going, such as pointing out what they did master and encouraging them to go for the next step.  I think this relates back to developing a child’s resilience.

I do know that video games can improve hand eye coordination but do we then encourage our kids to go out and utilize that hand eye coordination away from the video console?  It can be as simple as playing catch, or frisbee, or hopscotch.

I think the conclusions I’ve taken away from looking at the information out there as well as observing a plethora of children is that video games can be a good tool although the question is how much are they being used and what other tools are you utilizing with your child to encourage their fitness and physical development?  Does anyone else have thoughts on this topic?

July 6, 2009

How Resilient is Your Child?


The article “Building Resilience in Children” by Bonny McClain, talks about using the seven “C”s by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg to build your child’s resilience.  In this article they are referring to helping kids and teens to develop the strength and skills that they can use to recover from hardships and prepare for future challenges.  Although this article is mainly talking about stress and the challenges we are all faced with on a day to day basis as we continue to grow, I realized that resilience can also be an important trait to have when developing gross motor skills.  When I talk about gross motor skills I am referring to not only rolling, crawling, walking, jumping, but also learning sports, new skills (like riding a bike), playing on the playground, etc.

Navigating their way through gross motor development can be a challenging time for growing kids.  Each child reacts differently to learning new skills.  The youngest ones may not even realize how they are reacting.  There are many times that I am teaching kids to perform a new skill and they will get frustrated or give up after a perceived ‘failure’.  Just imagine if a child gave up learning how to walk after they fall for the first time.  If we all did that, the world would be full of people who crawled to get around!  Teaching your kids to ‘brush it off’ after a fall can help them to learn how to get back on their feet again and keep trying.

You can help your child to develop resiliency with gross motor development in a few different ways.  When they are learning a new skill and get frustrated or suffer a set back focus on what they did, not what they didn’t do.  Encourage them to try again, and give them some support as they do, whether its a little bit of hands on assist or talking them through it.  For example, when a child is learning to walk and they fall the first time, they may want to cry and stay on the floor.  Instead of making a big deal about them crying, congratulate them on what they did and help them get back up again.  This time when they go to take a step, maybe move the target closer or hold the back of their pants or even give them a finger to hold onto.  Allow them to have a little success.  Also know when to redirect.  If continuing with the task is beginning to bring on a meltdown change something up.  For example rather than having them walk between two support surfaces, have them sit down on a stool and attempt to stand up to the target support surface.

This may all seem simple but that may be all it takes to help your child develop resiliency that can support them not only in their gross motor development but also dealing with challenges later in life.  A kids who can bounce back from a fall should in theory have an easier time bouncing back from non-physical stresses or challenges that they will face as they continue to grow.  As much as we may want to protect our children, surrounding them with bubble wrap (physically or emotionally) is not always the answer, rather teaching them the tools early in life will be most beneficial.  In other words, help your child to ‘get back on the horse that threw them‘!

Lastly, developing resilience is a unique experience for each family and child, so use your knowledge of your child to guide them on their journey.  I have a feeling it will be lifelong!

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