Sunday, February 2, 2014


A few weeks ago, my girlfriends came over as the boys were playing with play-doh at the kitchen table and Livvy was in the ergo baby, the place where she is pretty much glued these days. Babywearing, however, is a whole other blogpost meant for another day! Back to the subject, my friend said to me, "do you do this stuff [play-doh] with them often?" My answer, "yes." Since that day, I have realized that as much as I usually leave my OT hat at the door and do not overanalyze my children, I do engage in many activities with my kids that I recommend to my clients to do with their children. We paint, fingerpaint, draw on the easel, play with play-doh and putty, play with zoo sticks and chopsticks, are always cooking, and incorporate multi-sensory experiences into a lot of our play both indoors and out. What I began to realize is that; maybe I do play with my kids a little differently. Is this because, somewhere in my brain, there is a little OT that is always making sure we are engaging the senses, enhancing fine motor skills, working on balance, or engaging in bilateral activities, to name a few. This winter has given us some weekend days that have been too cold to bear the outdoors, and with a newborn in the mix, play in the snow has been tricky. Creating games indoors that can entertain all day can sometimes be a challenge, but we have made it work with some of the activities listed below.

Gluten Free Spinach Brownies and Coconut Milk Whip Cream, YUM! 
I rely on for a lot, meaning 99% of my baking needs! It is an amazing website filled with awesome, healthy, gluten free recipes that my kids (and I) love! I have tried other websites, and I'm never as happy when I just follow Tapp. My son Henry is gluten free, which has pretty much changed our lifestyle as a family. This particular day we had my niece's birthday party on the agenda. That means that I have to be prepared and have a dessert on hand that Henry can enjoy too! Now, including kids in on the baking is not always easy, but it is such a great family activity, which also incorporates an array of skills for all ages! Before we get into the OT areas of focus, here are some tips when deciding to cook or bake with your kids.

1. Be prepared! Have everything, I mean everything, out that you are going to need. If you don't, I guarantee a mix up somewhere! In the picture to the left, I have all of our ingredients, measuring tools and bowls ready to go. I also pre-blended the cooked spinach and cacao powder to make things go smoothly. The boys are so excited to cook when I am ready that they are happy to play in the living room until I call them to have fun in the kitchen together! Being prepared can also go beyond one cooking activity. Prepping and having things ready for the week makes time in the kitchen more enjoyable during cranky hours and keeps the family eating healthy!

   2. Relax and be ready for a mess! My husband thinks that I am crazy     when I let the kids stir, mix, and in essence, sometimes destroy the kitchen! However, healthy eating is a huge part of our lives (not that I am saying brownies are but these aren't so bad ;), and I think that learning to be in the kitchen and enjoy cooking is a wonderful tool for my kids. If I am not including my kids in the actual food that I am cooking, they are often times at the counter or table mixing up old spices, flour, water, playing with a rice and bean bin, or making pretend food with play-doh. I know they are engaging their tactile senses while making a mess, and not to mention allowing me to cook so that we can eat at a decent time, so I don't mind the extra clean-up!

    3. Teach Safety. Let your kids know what the safe kitchen tools are for them to touch and what the dangerous ones are, tell them about oven safety and that they cannot get near an open oven. You will be surprised how much they can understand and will respect when told to them in a respectful, loving manner! The "freak out" when a child grabs a knife or comes to close to the stove does not benefit anyone, so pre-teach when your kids are going to be in the kitchen.
Happy Coconut Faces!

4. Have Fun! Just enjoy this time with your kiddos. Cooking from scratch is not easy and we spend A LOT of time in the kitchen in my house! There are plenty of times that I wish I was in there alone, but then I think, I will never ever have this time with my kids again, they are learning great life skills, lets all just enjoy it! Believe me, my house is usually insane between 5 and 6 pm and I am ready to pull my hair out, but when I remind myself to have fun with the kids and that everything will be clean and calm in a few hours, it does help, I promise!

What Are We Working On?
In speaking about cooking/baking, the benefits from an OT perspective are endless. This is also an activity that OT's use in pre-schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. showing it is an ageless task! It incorporates fine motor skills, fine motor strengthening (stirring, kneading, pinching) visual motor skills, bilateral skills, math skills, reading skills, it engages the senses (to name a few: tactile, visual, oral, proprioceptive; how much pressure to use, auditory; following directions or jamming to music in the background while cooking :), organization, motor planning, and life skills! You can grade the activity to the level of your children, meaning, they could be as involved as making the grocery list to just the pouring, mixing and licking of the tasty mixers!  The benefits truly are endless so families, get cookin'!

Docks, Boats and Sharks, oh my, 
All with the use of couch cushions
When I was an OT providing homecare in Manhattan apartments, creativity was a must! Making a small space into a therapeutic, sensory haven for an hour, couch cushions became a staple. On this cold, winter Saturday morning, while the brownies were in the oven, our living room became the ocean. The boys think that this is one of the greatest activities ever, little do they know they are working on essential developmental skills each time the couch cushions hit the floor!
On this particular day, the couch cushions were docks to get to the boats, which were now the empty couches and chairs. They were also sharks in the ocean, unsteady rocks and huge clumps of seaweed! This activity has also brought us to the moon, on a safari and the couch cushions have also just been on the floor as a landing pit for jumping or incorporated into an obstacle course. Let your imaginations fly and this can entertain for hours!

What are we working on?
In the photo directly above, Lukey, who is 20 months old, is challenging his balance by walking across the soft, unsteady couch cushions while also engaging his vestibular and proprioceptive systems. Looking at the middle photo, Henry is in the background dragging the cushions off of the couch and placing them on the floor. This is a great 'Heavy Work' activity that can organize and calm a child. The sky is the limit and pretend play is the cornerstone to our couch cushion game. Often times, children have a difficult time expanding on their play skills. Using a concrete item such as couch cushions and pretending they are sharks, for example, works to expand play and creativity. Adult facilitation may be needed to enhance these skills, but that depends on the age, level of pretend play and the goal. This game also works on gross motor skills (again, walking on the cushions and jumping from the cushionless couches, aka boats to the docks!). Turn taking is also involved and a great deal of social interaction is going on! All in all, our Saturday morning is not lacking in skill building while having a blast!


Due to Lukey's age, Henry and I saved this activity for nap time. Henry is into building right now and Lukey is into demolition. This makes for some sibling battles, which on this day, I was not willing to referee! These old school blocks that I picked up at a yard sale are heavy duty and sturdy and can make virtually anything under the sun. Again, imagination and creativity can take you anywhere!

What are we working on?
Visual-motor skills are the focus of this activity allowing the hands and eyes to work together in a coordinated manner to construct a final product. We also work on naming shapes, that proprioceptive system again, and the tactile sense. Of course, pretend play leads and carries us through because without the motivation to continue, you really can't focus on other areas of development.


Working on a vertical surface is a great way to help kiddos strengthen their shoulder girdle, which in turn aids in fine motor development and intrinsic hand control. If you don't have an easel at home, simply tape a large piece of paper to a door or a wall you don't mind getting dirty. OT areas of focus include: fine motor skills, fine motor strengthening, intrinsic hand strengthening, finger isolation, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills, bilateral skills. Working on an easel is also a tactile activity (finger painting, touching crayons, markers, textured paint brushes, chalk), it incorporates proprioceptive functioning, enhances ocular motor skills, works on colors, shapes, and turn taking. You can have your kids stand, sit in a chair or sit on a small therapy ball to include core work and trunk strengthening while playing at the easel. Finished products can be placed on the fridge, hung on a string in your children's rooms with decorated clothes pins, or framed for some wall art. Therefore, building self-confidence in your artists as they see their work displayed!

Not being able to go outside as much this winter makes for 2 stir crazy outdoors kiddos! So, what to do? Bring outside in? Yup, and as with cooking, the mess can be cleaned up later! In the picture above, the boys put on their flip flops, got out their beach blankets and we pretended to bathe in the sun! I also let them play in a small tub of sand (this bin is usually filled with rice and beans for kitchen play), we had some extra left in the basement from an OT group that I did one summer. 
What are we working on?
Well, there is, of course, the pretend play again! Play is truly the way to engage kiddos in so many activities and even makes learning letters, numbers, pre-writing and writing fun, as children get older. This is actually where I came up with the name Pediatric Play! Kids always loved coming to OT, even when I made them work hard, because I tackled the challenges with play!
This activity also works on self-help skills (we just put on flip flops but you can also have your kiddos get on their swimsuits, put on lotion as pretend sunscreen [also a great deep pressure touch/calming activity], wear their life vests, etc), fine motor skills playing in the sand, and stereognosis (finding hidden objects in the sand and naming them by feel). You can also hide puzzle pieces in the sand and incorporate visual-motor skills into the activity or have your kids pull out the hidden objects with zoosticks or chopticks really focusing on fine motor skills and strengthening. Since we had the blankets out, we also did some yoga, engaging the whole body, especially the core, and working in a nice calming activity great before nap time.

Another fun way to entertain kids while stuck indoors (on this particular day, I'm pretty sure that the temperature never reached beyond -2 degrees, that's cold!), is to bring the snow in. The great part about snow is that it melts and needs a quick towel swipe to mop it off of the floor. I have to give credit to a teacher that I work with for this idea, she posted pictures of her kids playing with snow and food coloring indoors, and I was so grateful for the idea to entertain my own kids! Now, we also used food coloring to decorate the snow and small cups to make snow castles! An important note; the only reason that we have food coloring in our cabinets is for making play-doh and now, for decorating snow. Follow the link here for a great article on the dangers of food dyes. I highly recommend you always read ingredients when buying food, and anything with food dyes, please return the item to the shelf. Your children do not need them in their developing systems. 
What are we working on?
There is a level of heavy work involved in this activity, as I allowed my older son to help me carry the pool and also shovel some of the snow into the pool. Again, we're engaging the tactile senses (touching the snow, feeling varying temperatures), self-help skills (donning and doffing mittens), a small amount of fine motor skills are involved (squeezing the snow, crushing the castles and finger isolation, drawing in the snow), bilateral skills, visual-motor skills (building castles, making various size castles with the stacking cups helping to understand small, medium, large), visual perceptual skills (guessing what Mom drew in the snow), and oral motor skills (chewing on the snow and awakening the mouth with a cold, cold temperature)! This honestly entertained the boys for 2 hours in the kitchen, and I felt good that we brought a piece a nature in for the day!

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about some of the activities that we like to engage in on weekends at home. Upping the ante or adding in variables can also make an activity fun or increase the amount of developmental skills you are focusing on, without even meaning to! If you think that your child is demonstrating challenges with any of the skills areas discussed, these activities are not meant to take the place of consulting with an occupational therapist. I think that it is important for families to know how much you can incorporare the sensory systems and enhance development with activities in the comfort of your own home!

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