Starfish Therapies

March 19, 2017

What is the Vestibular System?

The vestibular system is made up of fluid filled organs that are located in the inner ear.  It is one of the essential components of balance and helps provide us information about our body’s movement.  The vestibular system responds to gravitational pull in order to send signals to our brain about the direction and speed at which we are moving.  It is also responsible for allowing us to stabilize our eyes during movement and helps us maintain our head in an upright position.


A properly working vestibular system is essential for all activities! Some essential tasks the vestibular system helps your child complete include: scanning words in a book to read, following a ball as it travels towards them through air, maintaining their balance during playtime activities, and maintaining an upright posture.


If a child’s vestibular system is not properly functioning, they may be under or over reactive to movement input.  If your child has an under reactive vestibular system, they may constantly attempt to seek out vestibular input-such as enjoying spinning in fast circles, swinging, or running fast and crashing down.  They may also appear more unbalanced or “clumsy.” Over reactive signs may include being more sedentary, fearful of fast movements, or being overly sensitive to fast or sudden movements.


Some additional common signs and symptoms of inadequate vestibular function include: dizziness, unsteadiness, vertigo, and trouble reading or reporting dizziness when reading, occasional stumbling/falls, or reports of the room spinning around them.


Even a fully developed and normally functioning vestibular system can be impacted by traumatic events. For example, vestibular dysfunction is often seen following concussion.  The vestibular system, does; however, have great potential for rehabilitation. Specific treatment techniques have been shown to re-train and enhance vestibular function.


There are many ways to help activate and develop your child’s vestibular system-and many of these activities you may already be doing on a daily basis.  Going to the park provides endless opportunities for vestibular system stimulation, including swings, slides, ball play, monkey bars, and running! Spinning and jumping activities are also very stimulating for the vestibular system.

February 11, 2016

How to Make a Tennis Ball Monster

tennis ball monster

What you need: A tennis ball, scissors or knife, marker, small manipulatives such as paperclips, pennies, beads, pom poms, etc.


  1. A whole or slit needs to be cut across the ball first for the mouth. The adult should do this possibly before beginning the activity with the child. This can be difficult to do so be fully away of what direction the knife it going and how you are pushing down on it. I prefer to rotate the knife back and forth to make a puncture first. It’s then easier to put the knife into the ball and saw back and forth to make a mouth. It’s ok if it’s not straight, it will still work the same. The wider you make the mouth, the easier it will be for the child to open it. The smaller the slit the more they will have to squeeze and the difficulty increases.
  2. Let the child draw a face on the ball with a marker. They can get creative and make it into an animal instead of a person as well by drawing on ears, whiskers, etc.
  3. Have them pick different items to place in the ball. Pennies, buttons, paperclips, etc. are all going to be easier and they won’t have to squeeze open the ball as much with their other hand to place these in. Items such as pom poms, beads, and marbles will increase the difficulty level once they’ve mastered the easier manipulatives.

What this works on:

  • Fine motor strength: squeezing the ball for an extended amount of time to place all the items in can be challenging and build on fine motor strength and endurance.
  • Bilateral hand use: They have to use two hands to place the pieces in. The ball is round so they have to pick it up to squeeze and then use their other hand to place the items into the ball.
  • Pincer grasp: Picking up items off the floor and placing them into a smaller hole can encourage pincer grasp.
  • Imaginative play: They can pretend the ball is eating and make sounds or open and close its mouth to make it talk. It’s great to work on your child’s imagination if this is an area that they have trouble with.

Adapting it:

  • If they won’t use two hands to place the items in. Do hand over hand to help them hold the tennis ball, and allow them to place the items in. You’ll find you can release after awhile when they begin to get it.
  • Have them take items out of the ball instead. This still encourages them to squeeze the ball or to isolate their fingers and stick them inside. You may have to place something of high interest into the ball to work on this.

Or, if you want to buy a fabulous version, with fun games and instructions included visit Therapy Fun Zone! (Check out their other fun products and ideas as well – this site has so much to offer) And, here are a ton of blogs giving you awesome ideas for how to use this toy – the best part about this version is that you can get them wet and messy – our kids have loved playing with them in shaving cream and other messy materials!

Munchy Ball 1 Munchy Ball 2 Munchy Ball 4 Munchy Ball 5

January 14, 2016

Knee Bounces, Lap Bounces, and Lap Jogs

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 1:00 pm
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Puppy Rides
Different names but all one and the same activity. Do you remember these from when you were young? Sitting as child on an adult lap and bouncing or swaying in time to a tune or poem. Knee bounces are a wonderful activity for so many reasons. Common benefits include a child spending time engaged with the parent or learning new rhythms and vocabulary from poem or hearing and feeling a beat at the same time. Not commonly known are the therapeutic benefits from knee bounces.
Lap bounces can be a wonderful way to encourage eye contact and language. When a child requests more, as therapists and parents, we typically ask for eye contact and the initiation of movement or the utterance of a word or phrase or sign. These help with the development of language by having a shared, enjoyable activity that elicits communication to repeat the desired activity.
More sneaky therapeutic benefits are trunk strengthening and balance responses. Completing the knee bounces slowly and pausing at the end range is a fun way to work on trunk strengthening and giving the child the chance to initiate a response to the loss of balance in a secure and fun way.
Another therapeutic benefit includes eye (ocular) and inner ear (vestibular) exercises. When a child is being moved in space and their eyes are locked onto their reflection in a mirror or to the parent’s face it helps to teach them how to use these two senses to tell where they are in space and how to right themselves.

Please give lap bounces a try. Look up lap bounces on the internet and see what you find or click on this link for one example, YouTube Video.

Please let us know what you find and if this works for you.

February 11, 2015

Valentine’s Day Games and Ideas


With Valentine’s Day coming up, you can make this day special for your kids as well. Here are some fun ideas that you and your kids can participate in together, while learning, and working on some gross and fine motor skills. Have fun!

1)   Scavenger Hunt: Hide a bunch of hearts or valentines all over the house or room. Place these items in hard to reach spots so your kids will have to get on their hands and knees (quadruped position), tip toes, or run to find them. Quadruped position will help build shoulder, core and leg strength; while tip toes works on calf strength, which will allow for more power with jumping, skipping, and running!

2)   Heart Hop: Cut out large construction paper hearts and tape to them to the floor. Have your kids help so they can work on their cutting and fine motor skills. Put on some music and have them hop on to each heart. You can either have them hop with two feet or one foot. If you want to work on hop scotch, place the hearts into a hopscotch line up and hop away!

3)   Make a heart with your feet: Get some paint and use your feet to create a heart on large construction paper. This will allow your kids to work on balance with their feet close together, which makes things more difficult. To keep them in this position, add a ball and play toss, to challenge their balance to keep their feet on the floor to make a heart.

4)   Musical Hearts: This is similar to musical chairs except instead of sitting, kids will work on gross motor activities. What you will need is construction paper, scissors, and a marker. Cut out large hearts that you can place on the floor for kids to step on. Write whatever activities you would want on the hearts (5 jumping jacks, standing on one leg for 10 seconds, hop 5 times, crab walk, etc.) All these activities work on strength, coordination, and motor planning. Once you have all your hearts, place them on the floor and start some music, have your child and friends or family walk around the hearts until the music stops. Once the music stops, find a heart and perform the activity. Find the link here.

5)   Valentine’s Day glitter and sensory board: For only two dollars, Target has some great valentine’s day themed vinyl placemats that would be a great way to make a sensory board. Then, all you need is some shaving cream (unscented to avoid any allergies), glitter, and sparkles. Spray the shaving cream on the board and let your child feel the texture of the cream. Once they are comfortable with the cream, feel free to add some sparkles and glitter to make it more colorful and texture oriented. They can make different shapes, like hearts, and X’s and O’s. Find the link here.

6)   Heart straws: This activity is meant to help your child with their fine motor skills. All you need are some straws, play dough, and heart shaped pastas. Find a hard surface, like a cutting board and use play dough to make a base for your stand. Place a clump of play dough on the table or board and stick a fun colorful straw as a pole. Then have your child grab the heart shape pastas and start stacking and unstacking. This will work on your child’s finger pinching grip and hand, eye coordination.

7)   Heart themed sensory box: This is a great activity to help promote learning through sensory input. You will need, a plastic bin, rice, shredded red paper, and Valentine’s Day items. Some Valentine’s day items you could use include hearts cut out with different textures (felt, paper, glittered ), heart bracelets, balloons, and whatever else you may want. You can promote learning by having your child put in only the felt hearts, and then only the glittered, promoting categorizing. Then you can have them count how many bracelets you may have as they put them into the bin. If you have different color hearts, have them choose the pink ones, red ones, or white ones, in order to learn the colors. Find the link here.

July 23, 2014

Sensory Options at Home

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 2:11 pm
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crash pad

There are kids out there that seek out rough play because it feels good to them. Examples would be crashing to the ground, wrestling, running into friends/adults, and/or just doing many things throughout the day with a greater amount of force. To register touch input they often seek it out in a way that seems to us like it may hurt. They have a higher pain tolerance and are more likely to cry from a scratch that they can see, than a bruise from crashing to the ground onto their knees. What follows is some ideas that you can have on hand to provide them with some deeper input to decrease them seeking it out throughout the day.


Lycra Tunnel: This is basically lycra material sewed into a tunnel (it does have some stretch to it). Have the kids crawl through on hands and knees while you hold one end. It’s going to give them resistance as they go through. For increased resistance have them push a therapy ball through that fits in the tunnel with them.


Therapy ball: You can bounce or roll your child on top of the ball. You can also roll it on top of them and pretend your rolling them out like dough. You can ask them if you are doing it hard enough. Kids will typically want a good amount of pressure if they are input seekers.


Mini Trampoline or Pile of Pillows/Crash Pad: A mini trampoline if you have access to one can be beneficial in giving lots of heavy input to feet and bodies. If you don’t have this, setting up a pile of pillows, couch cushions, or things that are soft in general can work as well. You can allow your kids a safe place to run and crash so that they are not doing it on the ground or into walls or friends.  You can also make a crash pad out of high density foam pieces and a comforter cover!


Heavy Blanket: Have them crawl underneath and all the way through and playing a game with it (ex. bring all of the puzzle pieces through). You can also roll them up like a burrito, depending on their tolerance for this, but it does give a good amount of input if you roll them tighter. If they like to move, you can have them transition the blanket from place to place and carry toys in it as well to add some weight.


Household Chores: Have the kids help with heavy carrying or moving. Let them know the laundry basket is too heavy and you need their help in moving it. Pushing the vacuum can be another good one, as well as pushing/moving furniture.


You are replacing your child’s ‘crash’ seeking behaviors with more purposeful and safe activities throughout their day. Teaching them safe ways to get the input they need will hopefully cut back on the amount they are seeking through peers or when not in ideal situations. You can teach them to ask for some of these activities to replace the other unsafe behaviors as well so that they become more independent with accessing these tools. Trying to decrease this behavior all together would be difficult for both the child and yourself since it’s something they feel their body needs. Instead, giving them options to increase their safety, but still access the input they seek, will in the end benefit both of you.

July 9, 2013

Guest Post – I Can Do it Myself: Messy Steps to Self Feeding

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 7:26 pm
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by Melanie Potuck


Chapter Three

Isaac’s grandmother diligently swiped his chin with the tip of the spoon after every bite, ensuring that no puree remained on his face. She kept a wet washcloth nearby for swiftly wiping down soiled fingers and the high chair tray should any food drip off the spoon. “He likes to be neat and clean,” she stated proudly. Isaac was 18-months-old and had yet to touch a spoon or any food on his tray. Thankfully, this grandmother was open to my suggestions and, months later, Isaac, Grandma and I were elbow-deep in chocolate as we played pudding car wash on his back patio! That grandmother later told me: “If you haven’t played pudding car wash, you’re missing out on life!”

I always turn my radar up a bit when I see a one-year-old sitting in his high chair, being fed by his parent and spotless — not a mess under the high chair, not a stain on his bib, not a speck on his tray. Well-meaning parents try to spare their child (and themselves) the mess by continuing to spoon feed their little one. Not only is the mess part of the learning curve for self-feeding, it’s essential for children to encounter the sensory experience of each and every food. Many children need to first explore new foods with their eyes, ears, nose and hands before putting it in their mouths. Please refer to Chapter 4 for more information on sensory experiences with food.

Once your child is sitting on her own or with a bit of support and you have her properly positioned in her high chair (see Chapter 1), she is ready to begin more independent feeding. This stage of the game is all about you providing a variety of safe foods for her to try, engaging with her as she eats and letting her get messy as she explores all of the new foods.

Self-spoon feeding is an art. You can support your child by encouraging her to hold the handle of the spoon fairly close to the bowl. This varies depending on the shape of the handle, but, in general, the closer her little fist is to the bowl, the easier she will be able to guide the bowl into her mouth with less mess. Keep in mind that the closer her fist is to the bowl, the messier her hand will get when she scoops up that first spoonful of applesauce!

Try coloring a wide circle around the handle with a permanent marker so that she has a consistent spot to aim for when she grasps the handle. Pick a spot for her grasp about one inch from the bowl, or, if the handle is curved, have her grasp it at the top of the curve. A short, fat handle with a curve or “hill” built into the handle is often ideal. The deeper bowl will hold the puree or chopped food as it travels the long trek up to your child’s mouth, but the child may not be able to clean the spoon with his top lip as easily.

Some spoons come with holes in the bowl to allow liquid to drain and solids to stick to the bowl. Other spoons have textured bowls for those children who need the added tactile input to their mouths in order to tell where the spoon is about to dump the food. Some spoons come with bendable “necks” where the handle and the bowl meet, so that parents can adjust the angle of the neck to facilitate better hand to mouth coordination.

Provide extra traction beneath the slippery bowl with a sheet of shelf liner (see Chapter 1) or use a suction cup bowl. Suction cup bowls that are deep with high sides are ideal, especially if filled with non-slippery foods such as cottage cheese, oatmeal or chopped, room temperature macaroni and cheese.

I am not sure which is messier — independent spoon feeding or independent finger feeding! A washable mat under the high chair tray is a must. Finger feeding is the perfect opportunity for your little foodie to begin to develop his pincer grasp, where he engages his thumb and forefinger to pick up pea-sized foods, such as halved blueberries and cheerios.

At about six months, your child will begin to rake up objects by using his whole hand and curling all four fingers around the desired item. Letting go of the food can be tricky.  You may see your child use his mouth to grab the food while he fists it in between his little fingers.

Slowly, between seven and nine months, the pincer grasp will begin to emerge. This is also the time that children have enough trunk stability to sit in a high chair and focus on this new skill. Typically, by the end of the first year, the pincer grasp is perfected! At that time, you will see your child begin to pick up small pieces of food and place them in her mouth with more precision and thankfully, less mess.

Support the natural progression of finger feeding by offering soft or meltable foods first, such as a buttery cracker. It’s relatively easy to grasp and mouth until a soft, mushy piece falls into his mouth. Over time, he will develop his ability to grade his jaw movement and truly bite into the cracker in a controlled, even manner. As his skills improve, offer pea-sized pieces of soft and/or meltable foods that expose your child to a variety of tastes, safe temperatures and textures. Small chilly blueberries cut in half, warm, buttery pieces of pasta or tofu or cheerios spritzed with apple juice are all good starters.  See Chapter 15 for additional ideas.

To encourage pincer grasp development, try the following games with your favorite round cereal or pea-sized pieces of soft food:

1.    Using a plastic “shot glass” or similar sized narrow container (about two inches tall and just wide enough for your child’s thumb and forefinger), put a few pieces of cereal in the bottom and encourage him to get them out by reaching in and picking up the pieces using a pincer grasp.

2.    Take a round plastic coffee stirrer and thread three pieces of circular cereal on it. Hold it perpendicular to the high chair tray and let your child pull off the cereal one by one using his thumb and forefinger.

3.    When giving your child a piece of the cereal, hold it in your pincer grasp (with half sticking out and available for his little fingers to grab onto) as you move it toward his hand. Wait. Let him take it from your grasp before putting it in his mouth on his own.

As your child learns to feed himself with fingers and/or spoon:

·      Rejoice in the mess! It’s good for his sensory system and just part of the learning curve.

·      Position little fists near the bowl of the spoon.

·      Layer shelf liner under a small, deep plastic bowl or use a suction cup bowl.

·      Offer pea-sized soft and/or meltable foods to encourage pincer grasp.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP is a certified speech language pathologist, a national speaker on the topic of picky eating, and the author of the award winning parenting book,  Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of Food! With over 15 years’ experience treating children with feeding difficulties, Mel’s approach to developing feeding skills includes the fundamentals of parenting in the kitchen, such as how to avoid mealtime debates and creating more joyful mealtimes, even with a hesitant eater. Mel embraces her work with families with an open heart and a touch of humor.  After all, the journey to more adventurous eating should be celebrated each step of the way!  She has also produced the award winning children’s CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food as a tool to keep mealtimes joyful and family centered.  Connect with Melanie at My Munch Bug on facebook and twitter or email her at

May 2, 2013

Wearing Sensory Strategies

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 1:55 pm
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retrieved from

retrieved from

Receiving proprioceptive input throughout the day is important for children who seek sensory input.  Sensory breaks are an important part of their day to assist with regulation so they can function in whatever situation they may be a part of.  That being said, it may not always be possible to get in the needed sensory break.  Here are some different options that may help them meet their sensory needs throughout the day:

Hats: Tighter caps or hats can provide input to a child’s head throughout the day. This is especially beneficial for prepping those kids that have difficulties tolerating hair cuts.

Tighter clothing: Tighter shirts, such as Under Armor can provide some input and comfort throughout the day. These can be worn under clothing if needed as well.

Wrist Fidgets: A variety of bracelets can be bought or made to be used as fidgets in order to help maintain attention. Rubber bands, thera tube, thera bands, Velcro, beads, hair elastics, etc. could all be used.

Chewy necklaces: Great for those kids that come home with drenched shirts from chewing on them all day.

Sunglasses: For those visually sensitive kids with sunlight and lighting in rooms.

Puff paint pick: Some kids have the urge to pick at things throughout the day, whether it be themselves or items. Buying some cheap t-shirts and decorating them with puff paint can be a great alternative strategy. This way they’re picking at their shirt all day instead, as long as you don’t mind finding trails of puff paint.

Self Regulation Reminders: Some kids need reminders of when their regulation levels start raising in certain situation or going the other way and getting extremely low. Verbal cues don’t always work, especially in busier areas where there may be a lot of stimulus to become overwhelmed by. Visual reminders can help with this. Make a key chain out of tiny laminated visuals to attach to your child’s belt loop, bracelet or backpack. This way it’s with them and easy to refer to when they need a regulatory strategy and it can be their choice.


April 9, 2013

OT Month Handouts

In honor of OT month we decided to create a few handouts for the school districts we work with.  I made them into photo format so that I could share them here but please let me know if you would like the PDF format and I will send them to you.  Happy OT Month!

Fine Motor Skill Development


Functional Pencil Grip


Movement Breaks for the Classroom

February 8, 2013

Marbles and Water

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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I was perusing Facebook the other day and I saw my friend post that she put some marbles in her son’s bath and it resulted in hours (ok maybe an exaggeration but probably lots) of fun.  I loved it as soon as I saw it and in fact told her I would probably use it for a blog idea.  She said that she had gotten the idea for the marbles from one of my previous blog posts (I love when life happens like that).

If you are doing this you need to make sure you are supervising the marble and tub time with your kids.  Just think of the sensory input they are getting.  They can feel around for the marbles with their hands or their toes (as mentioned in my post).  They can try to pick up as many as they can or just one at a time.  You could also have funnels or other containers that they can practice putting them into and then pouring them out of.  You can use different colors and have them search for the colors and sort them, or have them count a certain number of marbles and see if the can do it faster with their hands or their feet or their right or their left.

Who else has used marbles in the tub and what did you notice in the process?

January 9, 2013

Play This, Not That

I am so excited to have Dana from Embrace Your Chaos guest posting here today!  She is a mom and an occupational therapist and has some amazing ideas and great things to share so make sure you check her out at Embrace Your Chaos.  I hope you enjoy her post here as much as I did! (PS – I included the photos)

Just as there are better choices for the foods that we eat, there are also better choices for the types of things our kids play.  Some salad dressings are better for us than others, some brands of chips are better than others, and even some fast food burgers are better than others.  In just the same way, some board games are better for development of your child’s skills, some organized sports are better for our kid’s gross motor coordination, and even some video games benefit our kids more than others do.


As adults with tons of responsibility and long lists of “to dos,” we tend to forget about why play is so important for kids.  Some of us get caught up in running errands and in the things we have to get done while some of us tend to over-schedule our kids, both resulting in less time to engage in play with our children.  Play is a vital part of a child’s life for many reasons.  It develops creativity and social skills.  It provides a natural context for the child to learn and problem-solve.  It motivates kids to challenge their gross and fine motor skills.  The list could go on and on.  While it is our responsibility as adults to go to work, pay the bills, and clean the house, it is a child’s primary responsibility to learn and grow through play (while also helping to clean the house from time to time).


It is even more important in our current society that we, as parents, encourage our kids to play.  With growing expectations at school, entailing more time at the table and more homework, and with the growing fascination of electronics, our kids are engaging in play less and less.

Corbin - Construction

With all types of play, including electronics, there are some choices that are better for encouraging development of our kids’ skills than others.  When thinking about play, consider these factors:

  • What are the sensory experiences?  How many sensory systems does the activity incorporate?  Does it get the child moving, exploring, and touching?  Also consider if the activity is too over-stimulating, which many video games tend to be.
  • What are the physical components?  Does the activity challenge the child’s coordination, balance, strength, and/or endurance?
  • What are the social opportunities?   Does the play activity provide opportunities for turn-taking, sharing, group problem-solving, or conflict resolution?
  • What are the cognitive aspects?   What are the opportunities for problem-solving, for following multi-step directions, for learning to sequence, and for learning other concepts and ideas?
  • What are the fine motor and visual motor components?  Does the activity work the small muscles of the hands?  Does it develop the manipulation skills needed for a good pencil grasp? Does it encourage the eye-hand coordination skills needed for handwriting development?  Does it improve the fine motor skills needed to manipulate fasteners, tools, and other small objects?

Some of these components may be more important for some kids than others.  Some children may need more opportunities to build their gross motor skills while other kids may be struggling more with their social skills.  It is ALWAYS important to give a child opportunities to create and choose his or her own play activities; but, there are also times when it is appropriate to provide direction to ensure their play tasks target the areas that will benefit them.  Take video games for instance.  The Wii will provide a greater challenge to your child’s coordination and gross motor development than the X-Box.  “Mother May I” may engage more cognitive and sensory-motor skills than “Tag.”  And gymnastics may provide more calming and organizing sensory input for your child than soccer.

corbin cake18

Most of all, don’t forget the importance of all types of play.  And remember that play is one of the best ways to foster your child’s development and target the skills your child needs.  When thinking about how to best encourage your child’s skills through play, remember these different components to find those activities that provide your child with the “just right” experiences and challenges!

Be sure to check out Embrace Your Chaos’ “101 Ways to Play” series to find great play activities and learn more about how play can foster your child’s development!

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