Touch: A Multi-Sensational Feeling

OT mom says, “Don’t touch me, unless you’re going to hug me!”

Ok, maybe I’ve never said those exact words, but firm, deep pressure touch is definitely more calming than light touch, and obviously more comforting than any kind of painful touch. Our sense of touch, known as the tactile system, is essential for everyday functioning and is interestingly quite complex. TOUCH

As children, we learned about the sense of touch as one of our five main senses (although there are other senses as well, such as the proprioceptive and vestibular senses). When we think about the sense of touch, most of us will first think about what we might feel with our hands, how we use our hands to identify objects, and the different sensations we may feel on our skin. While all of this is true, there is so much more to the sense of touch.

The tactile system works closely with the proprioceptive system to make up what is known as the somatosensory system. This is important for developing body awareness, and this system sets the foundation for our ability to engage with our surroundings and navigate our environment. This system also includes sensory information about pain, temperature, and vibration.

Receptors for touch are found in our skin and there are multiple kinds of receptors that react to different types of touch sensations. For example, we have receptors known as Meissner’s corpuscles as well as Merkel discs and instead of boring you with an anatomy lesson, just know they are sensitive to different types of touch (light discriminative touch and vibration, and pressure for fine touch awareness, respectively… in case you were wondering). Tactile information is also relayed from receptors on hair roots and from free nerve endings in our skin.4

From all this information, not only are we are able to identify what we are feeling through our skin, we are able to use this information with our other sensory systems to complete complex motor control tasks such as writing, walking, and tying our shoes.

tactile functioning sets the stage for higher level skills

As I mentioned before, touch does even more for us. The sense of touch has a direct influence on our arousal level as well, meaning that it can influence how alert and focused or calm and relaxed we are at any given time.

For example, light touch tends to be alerting. Think about when a bug lands on your arm and displaces a hair or two. Those hair follicle receptors fire and alert you to the possible threat. How do you respond? Most of us automatically swat the area of skin or at least immediately look it over.

On the other hand, touch can be calming. Think about a nice massage- the firm, moderate to deep touch calms most people down, especially when it’s slow and linear.3 Another example I like to think about is the sensation of soft, warm, and heavy blankets when you climb into bed.

Let’s not forget about the emotional components of touch. Even before we are born, we are developing our sense of touch. From as early as five and a half weeks after conception, reflex avoidance reactions occur in response to touch. As soon as we are born, we begin to bond with our parents through touch. The research about kangaroo care (the practice of a parent holding their infant with skin to skin contact) demonstrates numerous benefits of this touch, both physiologic and behavioral, and for both the parent and baby. Benefits such as improved weight gain and growth, stable body temperatures and heart rates and better self-regulation have been seen for infants and parents may demonstrate more confidence in parenting and have decreased stress levels.1

emotional benefits of touch

As babies, we bond with through the sense of touch, then we learn and explore our environment and develop a body map that will allow for higher level functioning, such as moving through our environment and manipulating items.

As we grow up, the sense of touch continues to influence our emotional functioning. Studies have indicated that married couples that engage in more touch, such as through hugs and massage, have correlated decreases in cortisol levels and blood pressure, and increased oxytocin levels.2

Moderate touch through activities such as massage have been seen to decrease heart rate and change EEG patterns, so not only does it feel nice, it has systemic influence over the entire body.2

But wait!  The list continues…. benefits of specific types of touch, such as massage protocols, have also been correlated with decreased pain, increased immune function, reduction in depression, and increased attention.2

As with every sense, we are on a continuum of how sensitive we are to that particular sense stimuli. Some people are over-responsive to touch and others under, with most of us somewhere in-between.

Those who are hyper-responsive may react more strongly to touch than others. They may demonstrate extreme discomfort with certain fabrics or clothing, may dislike having their hands and/or mouth messy, and may be distraught when being touched by others.

On the other side of the continuum, some people are hypo-responsive and may not notice tactile input quite so much, such as the person who doesn’t notice the food on their face. Finally, there are sensory seekers in the world- those who crave specific sensory inputs, such as a person who has the need to touch and fidget with different materials or even touch other people.

Recognizing that some people may be very sensitive to touch is importation, as the tactile system has connections with the autonomic nervous system and could potentially trigger a fight or flight response. Therefore, it’s important NOT to force tactile situations on kids or who demonstrate tactile defensiveness. Often, it’s easier to present tactile stimuli in combination with proprioceptive input, but of course, if you have major concerns, consider a referral to an OT to look at the specific situation.

tactile input to calm or alert

So how can we use this understanding of our sense of touch? By promoting the development of this sense, and utilizing the tactile system in our daily routines:

Alerting activities include light touch, such as tickling. You can try using a feather boa or light clothing to let kids play games and to play dress up. Calming activities include using massage, weighted blankets, moderate and deep pressure inputs such as hugs.

Allowing children to have ample opportunities for tactile exploration may promote the development of this sense and tactile discrimination abilities. Some ideas to do this include:

  • Sensory bins/boxes- filled with sand, rice, dried pasta, beans, small balls, etc.
  • Play with your food
  • Manipulate play dough, gak, slime, floam
  • Use nature– sand sticks, grass, rocks
  • Put on lotion
  • Play dress up

Also, don’t forget to hold those babies, squeeze your spouse, and utilize this sensational sense of touch!  On that note, I think I need to go hug my family now 🙂

 

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.

 

References:

  1. Case-Smith, J. & O’Brien, J. (2009) Occupational Therapy for Childretn (6th). Mosby Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri
  2. Field, T. (2009). Touch for socioemotional and physical well-being: review. Developmental Review, 30, 367-383. Doi:10.1016/j.dr.2011.01.001
  3. Kramer, P. & Hinojosa, J. (2010). Frames of Reference for Pediatric Occupational Therapy (3rd). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA
  4. Lundy-Ekman, L. (2007). Neuroscience: Fundamentals for Rehabilitation (3rd). Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri
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Go Outside! (Reasons Why and Ideas for What to do While You’re Outdoors)

OT Mom says, “Let’s go outside!”

Dr. Dad says, “Let’s go outside!”

Finally, something we can agree on. When it comes to spending time outdoors, we are completely on the same page. Not only do we both enjoy it, we know there are countless benefits to outdoor time.

There is a growing base of evidence that identifies both physical and mental health benefits to spending time outdoors and in natural settings.

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In a 2015 Environmental Health Perspectives article,  Nate Seltenrich summarizes some of the benefits, “… research has shown that outdoor exercise in nature can enhance emotional well-being and amplify the benefits of physical exercise. And for kids in particular, being in or near green spaces has been found to be associated with better test scores, improved self-discipline and cognition, and reduced behavioral problems and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” You can find the original article, including the sources from the research here.

There’s even a movement for health professionals to prescribe time outdoors. Such “park prescription” programs aim to promote knowledge and information about the benefits of spending time in nature and community green spaces with the overall goal for increased individual and community health. The National ParkRx Initiative  is a great resource with more information about the health benefits that parks and green spaces can offer as well as resources for agencies that want to or currently participate in a park prescription programs.

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The best part about spending time in nature is it’s generally FREE. And whether it’s spending time in your backyard, a nature preserve, an urban green space, or any other park, there’s likely going to be benefits.

Now that you know some of the numerous mental and physical health benefits of nature, here’s some fun ideas to try if you don’t quite know what to do with your kids (or yourself) once you’re out enjoying the fresh air.

Walk, Jog, or Run

Try a stroll on a beach, a jog through the woods, or a race across a park, depending on your fitness level, abilities, and interests. My kids love playing simple, classic games like “chase” and tag. It gets us all moving and the fresh air is reinvigorating.

While you’re at it, don’t be afraid to splash in some puddles, jump in a pile of leaves, or lay down in the snow to make a snow angel, depending on the season.

Outside health collecting

Look for Something

I have fond memories of collecting rocks as a child and my kids just started to show interest in it too. However, currently they prefer to look for worms. Adults may enjoy bird or butterfly watching. Every spring our family looks for edible mushrooms in the woods (I only suggest this if you are certain you know which are edible as many are poisonous and even deadly). Kids and adults alike may enjoy looking for things like wild blueberries, or collecting colorful leaves in the fall.

You can even try a scavenger hunt. Here’s an example of a general one:

Nature Scavenger Hunt

Please feel free to download the pdf if you’d like to give it a try: Nature Scavenger Hunt

Create Something (out of nature or for nature)

Draw in the dirt, build a sand castle, stack up some rocks, or plant a garden. An activity I love is making bird feeders with my kids and putting them out in the trees in our yard.

Create with nature

Use Some Equipment

Ride a bike, kick a ball, head down a slide, or go kayaking.  While a lot of equipment may cost money, you can keep it simple and utilize public parks with things like swings and slides for your kids or invest in a football to play catch.

We invested in a bean bag toss (corn hole) game that even gets the adults wanting to play outside.
 

Visit Some Animals

Many communities have outdoor green spaces that have an abundance of wildlife. Ideas would include checking your area for places like fish hatcheries, and nature preserves.  You can keep an eye out for free events such as free fishing days for kids and farm days/petting zoos.

EnjoyNature

Just Enjoy It

Look around and take all the beauty in. Look at the clouds and day dream. Stop and smell the flowers.

As a mom, I’m so happy to have read much of the research to motivate me to get my kids outside as much as possible. As a healthcare worker, I am excited to spread some knowledge and try to incorporate more nature into practice as well.

Still, not quite motivated to head outside? Maybe getting outside will give you the mental and physical energy you’re looking for. In yet another study, spending time in nature was found to be correlated with improvements vitality. So now that you’ve read this, turn off your device and (weather permitting) head outside.

go outside

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.  Please use common sense and safety when engaging in outdoor activities (for example check weather conditions, supervise children, and take precautions such as sunscreen, etc).

References:

n.a (2016) About the Initiative. ParkRx.org/community-of-practice retrieved 4/24/2017

Ryan, A., Weinstein, N. & Bernstein, J (et al) (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 30: 159-168

Seltenrich, N (2015). Just what the doctor ordered: using parks to improve children’s health. Environ Health Perspect 123: A254-A259; http//dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.123-A254

 

Non-Candy, Skill Promoting Easter Gift Ideas

Dr. Dad says, “Let’s not go overboard with the Easter candy this year.”

OT Mom says, “Great idea, I have some better alternatives in mind.”

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While my husband is not a pediatrician, according to recent research, he’s right on the money when it comes to limiting excess sugar in our kids’ diets.  In a recent scientific statement published by the American Heart Association (2016), too much sugar is linked to risk factors for heart disease such as elevated blood pressure and an increased risk of obesity.

They recommend that kids over 2 years old consume no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day and that children under 2 years avoid it altogether. With so many sugary snacks marketed to kids, these recommendations are surely good to keep in mind this Easter.  For more nutritional guidelines for kids, broken down by age group, check out MayoClinic.org Nutrition for Kids Information.

So this Easter, instead of filling those baskets and eggs with sugar, why not go for goodies that  promote developmental skills? In addition to the sugar being a nutrition downfall, in our house some of it ends up getting thrown out anyway, so it turns into a waste of money as well.

That being said, here are my favorite alternatives to candy and a little bit about why they can be much more beneficial than sugary snacks:

ART INSPIRED

Art supplies

This list could be almost endless, but engaging in art projects has a ton of benefits for the development of skills such as fine motor, visual motor/hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual perceptual, and in-hand manipulation skills. The items you could choose from are almost as endless as the benefits. A few ideas to get you started include: child-safe scissors, sidewalk chalk, stickers, markers, paint, crayons, glue and accessories to glue (feathers, noodles, cut out shapes/pictures, pom poms, etc).

There are also a lot of little craft sets available that come with everything you need or you can compile your own. A favorite project of my son’s is  painting wooden ornaments with watercolors. Another idea could be a small notepad with a set of stickers and markers.

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Bubbles

From traditional bubble wands to the newer whacky, bubble blowers, you can’t go wrong with bubbles. This activity is great for visual tracking skills, oral motor skills, and visual motor skills to name a few.

Self care items

As a child I often got a toothbrush in my stocking from Santa. I think the Easter Bunny could do something similar. Getting something like a toothbrush, comb, or even  a special pair of socks may encourage your little one to practice the self care skill related to that item with more motivation.

Books

In my opinion, you can never have too many books. Reading with your children not only promotes literary and language skills, but is a great time to bond with them. Try to pick out books specific to your child’s age.

Play Dough

If we didn’t already have tons of this stuff, it’d be right at the top of my list. Play dough is so much fun and can help with hand strengthening, proprioceptive input for the hands, tactile exploration, bilateral coordination, and more. There are tons of homemade recipes you can find online if you don’t want the store bought stuff.

Blocks and/or Legos

Blocks are great for learning spacial relationships and promoting motor skills. Building with blocks encourages problem solving, creativity, and self esteem.   Legos add the need for hand strength and provide some sensory input (proprioception) into the little joints of the hand.

Balls

So many motor skills are at work when throwing, catching, kicking, or bouncing a ball. From small to large and everything in-between, balls are always a great gift.

www.OTMOMSAYS.com

Fidget/Sensory Toys

Anything with fun textures are especially great for young kids or kids with sensory needs. Restless hands benefit from exploring different textures, so things like rubbery squeeze toys, bumpy balls, crinkly textures, fabrics and the like could work. Sensory items that are geared for the visual sense are great too, such as sensory bottles.

Bug Gathering Equipment

It’s spring, so let’s get the kids outside! I think a butterfly net and an insect viewer are perfect spring time outside toys. This encourages outdoor exploration, problem solving, and motor planning.

Gardening Tools

Not really up for the bugs? How about some gardening instead. Kid sized spades, gardening gloves, and watering cans can make a great spring themed basket.

Seeds

In addition to the gardening tools, what about some seeds? Perhaps the Easter Bunny could leave some carrot seeds for your kids to plant for him!

Sand Toys

If you don’t have sand toys, now’s a good time to get some. Playing in the sand at the beach or in a sandbox is such a fun tactile sensory experience, and adding tools such as shovels, buckets, rollers, and sand molds add motor development into the mix.

how to take betterfamily vacationpictures

Kites

Kites are the best reason to hope for a windy day. They’re fun to watch in the sky, but can take a lot of skill to get into the air and maintain their momentum. Both of my children are very young, so I get the kite started for them then hand it over. Older kids can have the chance to practice to do it with minimal or no help.

Finger Puppets

Not only are finger puppets fun, they promote finger isolation, bilateral coordination, body awareness, tactile (touch) discrimination, and imaginative play.

Musical Instruments

From motor skills, to language development, and an overall fun sensory experience, musical instruments are wonderful. Take your choice from maracas, drums, recorders or kazoos (for an oral motor bonus), bells, xylophones, etc. Jam on, little people!

Flashlights

Not only do kids love flashlights, they can be used in a way that promote visual tracking, visual memory, and visual motor skills. Try using flashlights for games such as watching you make a pattern on the wall with the light and then having them copy it with their own flashlight.

Tweezers and Tongs

Using tweezers can help with hand muscle strengthening, coordination, development of the arches of your hand, and allows kids to learn to use effective grasp patterns that promote differentiating the two sides of their hand (an important skill for fine motor development).

Non-Candy

Yoga/movement cards

Activities such as yoga provide some powerful prorioceptive input that do amazing things for our kids, you can read more about proprioception here.

Card games

Games are great for teaching turn taking, problem solving, and attention skills.

Squirt toys

Water play is an easy,  but not terribly messy activity that gets kids up, moving, and using their hands. Squeezing the variety of squirt toys available these days can strengthen little hands, while engaging in the sensory experience of it.

Pretend Play Toys

This is a broad category, but pretend play is an important skill that helps children in multiple areas of develop. Pretend play promotes thinking skills, creativity, social-emotional development, and cognitive flexibility. Toys such as cooking sets, cleaning sets, doll houses, etc. are all good choices.

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Healthy Treats

Instead of jelly beans in ALL the easter eggs, I think we’re going to have raisins in some. Or you could try fresh fruit instead of fruit flavored candy. Perhaps the Easter Bunny will leave a few of his carrots behind as well. Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, but maybe if there’s a special healthy treat left by the Bunny, himself, the kids might try it! It’s worth a shot. I’m hoping my son will regain his appreciation of carrots.

Now the hard part is deciding which ones to go for!  I think I might need a couple bigger baskets. Do you have some more ideas? I’d love to hear them 🙂

References:

Vos, M. B., Kaar, J. L., Welsh, J. A., Van Horn, L.,V., Feig, D. I., Anderson, C. A. M., . . . and Council, o. H. (2016). Added sugars and cardiovascular disease risk in children: A scientific statement from the american heart association. Circulation, Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1859733288?accountid=143111

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.

Little Helping Hands in the Kitchen bring BIG Benefits

Dr. Dad says, “I’m hungry!”

OT Mom says, “Have the kids help you make a snack.”

HealthBenefits ofOranges

While it sometimes takes a few minutes longer to have kids help make meals and snacks, it’s very beneficial in more than one way, and the best part is that kids love to help. Even the smallest of hands can help with kitchen tasks like ripping up lettuce for salads or helping gather kitchen tools.  There’s evidence that involving kids in meal preparation of healthy foods can lead to good dietary habits and increase the amount of healthy foods they eat1. Since we all have to eat, why not let your kids help prepare what’s going into their bodies?

In addition to learning about healthy, wholesome foods and instilling good habits, food preparation has these following benefits as well:

An opportunity to work on motor skills

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There are tons of hands on tasks that challenge hand strength and coordination when working in the kitchen. Here’s just a few examples to try (but the list could be endless): 

  • Bilateral coordination is needed to complete tasks such as to stabilize a bowl with one hand while stirring with the other.
  •  Strength and bilateral coordination is needed to open food containers, bag, boxes, etc.
  • Proximal stability, strength, and hand eye coordination is needed to use kitchen tools such as hand held mixers, which also give a nice dose of proprioceptive input.
  • Fine motor coordination skills are needed when manipulating smaller ingredients and small kitchen tools such as measuring spoons.

Sensory exploration

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Not only do we get to taste the food, we see the different colors of the food, we can feel the textures with our hands and mouths, smell the aromas of the ingredients and hear the sounds of chopping, sizzling, and manipulating of the food.

When I’m cooking certain things that the kids can’t help with, such as using the hot stove top, I let my kids explore some of the ingredients prior to cooking them. If I’m sautéing vegetables, I let the kids feel the raw zucchini and smell it. Prior to making guacamole, I let my daughter play with the avocados. It’s also fun to show your kids how something looks before it’s cooked and compare how it transforms, such as hard noodles that turn to soft, sticky spaghetti.

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This leads to learning

When we talk about the foods and the process of cooking, kids can learn new vocabulary and it can open discussions about other things. For older kids, you could branch out and talk about where the food came from, such as:  Was it local or imported? Did it grow in the ground or from a tree?

When following a recipe, you are reading together, and using math to measure and count out ingredients. Research has even identified that frequent family meals have correlations with improved intellectual development including vocabulary and reading skills2. Another important skill they learn is SAFETY. You can teach your kids about hot and cold and how avoid getting burned. You can talk about sharp knives and how kitchen appliances work so that they know what to do to avoid getting hurt.

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Self Esteem

Cooking has the wonderful outcome of instant gratification of something yummy (usually). To know they helped make something that tastes good and nourishes them can really give kids a sense of pride. I see people posting pictures of the meals they’ve cooked up on social media to show off their culinary skills, and our kids feel that same pride when they help makes something yummy.

Fun!

Spending time as a family is just fun. It gives you a chance to be silly with your kids, try new foods, make a mess (then clean it up together), learn and grow together.

in reverie

Still not quite convinced? Here’s a few tips that I’ve found helpful when cooking with messy, busy toddlers:

  • Bring it to their level- This can be up or down. My son likes to do the classic maneuver of bringing a kitchen chair to stand on to help me cook at the counter level. My daughter, however, would not be safe doing this, so sometimes we cook on the floor or on a toddler size table. My kids love helping me make pizza and we usually do this on the little table. When we bake, I will put a big sheet on the floor and put the mixing bowls on that. It doesn’t completely eliminate the mess, but it reduces it dramatically and everyone can help mix the ingredients.
  • Clean up is important too- my dogs like to help with this (especially when we are making pizza and the cheese is flying all over), and young kids like to help with light clean up tasks. It’s also a great teaching opportunity. My son like to use the vacuum (a hand held minivac is great too) and my daughter likes to sweep and wipe.
  • Oh soSweet!-2
  • A tiny amount for tiny hands- when my youngest is being a little rambunctious (as one-year-olds tend to do) and she can’t quite help with a recipe requiring more precise measurements, I give her her own bowl with just a little of what we are making, or even with just a little water.  This way, if she spills it, it’s not a big deal and she feels involved in the process. Some kids are even satisfied with just banging around with the pots, pans, wooden utensils, and/or measuring cups and engaging in some parallel pretend play while you cook.
  • Non-food meal tasks- in addition to preparing the food, kids can help with the smaller tasks that go along with meal time, such as setting the table, gathering the ingredients from the pantry, helping with the grocery shopping list, and even putting the clean dishes away (besides the hazardous ones, of course). Sorting silverware is a great job for preschool aged children.

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Now for the fun part… here are just two of our EASIES but YUMMY recipes (if you like these let me know so I can post more in the future):

Easiest Guacamole Ever

Easiest Guacamole Ever

Ingredients: avocados, 2 TBSP of your favorite salsa per avocado, 1 tsp lemon juice per avocado, salt/pepper to taste.

Directions: Mash up your avocados, combine with all other ingredients, stir, enjoy! We usually don’t even measure the ingredients, we just pour a little salsa in, but my son like using the measuring spoon too. My favorite salsa to use in this recipe is a HOT habanero lime salsa.

buttermilkpancakes

Fool Proof Pizza Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 can tomato paste (6 oz) and equal parts warm water
  • 2 TBSP Honey
  • 1/2 Tsp dried Basil
  • 1/2 Tsp dried Oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried Marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 3/4 onion powder
  • 1/8 Tsp dash of black pepper
  • A dash crushed cayenne pepper to taste (optional- my family loves spice so we use a generous dash)

Directions: Just combine all ingredients and use on your favorite pizza crust with whatever toppings you love.

This recipe is super forgiving (that’s why I call it “fool proof”). My son usually measures the the herbs so sometimes there’s different amounts. We’ve made this without the onion powder and used some Mrs. Dash instead, and it came out tasting good. We’ve also used fresh garlic in it as well. It’s a good base to start with and play around with. I hope you like it as well as we do!

A quick note on picky eaters- it takes most kids many exposures to a new food before they will like it, so just because your little one didn’t like something a few times, keep introducing the food and try pairing it with a preferred food item.

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References

1. Chu, Y. L., PhD., Storey, Kate E,PhD., R.D., & Veugelers, P. J., PhD. (2014). Involvement in meal preparation at home is associated with better diet quality among canadian children. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 46(4), 304. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1539994846?accountid=143111

2. Fruh, S. M., Fulkerson, J. A., Mulekar, M. S., Kendrick, L. A. J., & Clanton, C. (2011). The surprising benefits of the family meal. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 7(1), 18-22. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nurpra.2010.04.017

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information and entertainment purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.

10 Noodle Activities for Kids

Upon returning home from grocery shopping one evening, my three-year-old was running around the house with a box of noodles looking for something.

Dr. Dad watched him in confusion and finally asked, “are we going to eat those noodles?”

OT mom said, “Probably not.”

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Our son was looking for the laces that go to his lacing card activity set. You can tell he hangs out with his OT mom a lot, as he views this food as so much more than potential dinner. There are just so many fun things that you can do with a box of noodles besides simply eating them. My three-year-old was one the right track when he was looking for his the laces to his lacing cards, which brings us to our first activity.

(Please keep in mind, though, that many young kids will try to put dry noodles in their mouth, so always keep them under close supervision. Some types of dried pasta can also break or crack leading to sharp edges).

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1. Lace/string them. This activity promotes a lot of great skills, including bilateral coordination and fine motor control. Prior to learning to write and before little hands can complete advanced fine motor skills, some prerequisite abilities are needed, such as strength, coordination, and the ability to utilize a variety of grasp patterns efficiently. This activity includes the need for more mature grasp patterns (such as the pincer grasp and three-jaw-chuck) and encourages wrist extension (also needed in for higher level fine motor skills, including writing) and challenges visual motor skills. You can make this activity even more educational by including patterns to the stringing or practicing counting while stringing.

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2. Sort them. You can do this a couple different ways: using visual and/or tactile discrimination. Learning to sort is a great activity for young kids. It teaches children to recognize similarities and differences. You can make this a fun game by having kids rely on only their tactile sense to discriminate different kinds of pastas (a sense known as stereognosis). To do this, occlude your child’s vision from the bowl of pasta and have them try to identify the different shapes without seeing them.

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3. Use pasta in a sensory box! Sensory boxes are a great and quick activity go-to. You can use smaller pastas for activities that are similar to those you could do in a sand box or rice box. Adding different textures or sizes of noodles can be fun, or just one unified kind can be used as well. I really like giving my kids little cups and spoons so they can scoop, pour, and stir the noodles. If you really think about the ability to be able to accurately pour and scoop, there is a lot going on. You practice your proprioceptive sense to adjust the right muscle force as to not throw the pasta across the room. You use visual motor skills to be able pour directly into what you intend to. You get a lot of sensory feedback from the restriction of the noodles as you stir and move them and you can hear them rattle around as you are doing so. Kids just love it, and there’s a lot they gain from it.

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4. Glue them/use them as an art medium. My kids love art and sometimes it’s great to break away from the usual crayons and markers. I remember making macaroni pictures as a kid, and years later my own kids still embrace this classic activity. Not only is creativity engaged, but once agin fine motor manipulation of the small piece is needed and practiced. You can find tons of ideas online (try pinterest) or let your kids free style it. Above is the one we came up with this week.

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5. Use them as an art tool. Who needs a paint brush, when you have a noodle? Well, we had a bunch of rigatoni noodles hanging around and I thought that the circular shape would be fun to make four leaf clovers for some St. Patrick’s Day crafting. I thought they turned out looking like clovers, but my son called them “butterflies.” I think that works too! We also made caterpillars and flowers. The most fun part was that the paint made little paint bubbles most of the time we “stamped” with the noodles.

6. Learn with them. Why not use a multi sensory approach to learning with noodles? You can line them up to learn letters or build a person to learn body awareness and body concept. My son liked counting out the right amount of noodle pieces for two eyes and ten fingers. You can make and copy patterns to work towards early math skills. You can play a visual memory game in trying to recall what kind of pastas were on a tray after having your kids look at them for a minute then taking them away. The options are as endless as the noodle varieties.

7. Pretend with them. Pretend play is an important area of play and contributes to social emotional development for kids, and pasta is an easy tool to let their imaginations run wild. I have an old blender that I often pull out (NOT including the sharp parts) as well as some bowls, spoons, whisks, etc. to allow my kids to “cook” in the kitchen while I make dinner.

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8. Stick them in play dough. This sounds simple enough, and it is. Pushing the noodles into play dough strengthens hand muscles that will be necessary for writing and other self care and fine motor tasks young kids need as they develop. You can also hide smaller noodles in the play dough for a sort of dig and find game.

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9. Shake them up! What kid doesn’t like to make noise? I think I remember doing something similar with beans as a child. Noodles work just as well. Find some kind of old cup or container (we used a couple plastic take and toss cups) and pour some noodles in. Cover the end with wax paper or parchment paper secured with a rubber band and shake away. This activity can get your kids up and moving and I think it’s just more fun to make your own toys sometimes. We used two different kinds of pasta shapes, and talked about the subtle difference in sounds each shaker had.

10. Free play. I was just about out of noodle ideas whey my kids came up with their own. My son decided to use them in place of the balls that came with an activity play set involving ramps. He found that the noodles slid down the ramps just fine, and he could jam enough of them in the toy to kind of line them up. This activity actually kept him entertained for nearly 45 minutes (Dr. Dad was impressed). My younger child usually prefers sticking them in cups and empty bottles but also joined her brother in the slide the noodle game. Either way, free play allowed them some unstructured kid time to just explore this item and see how it interacted with their environment. How fun is that?

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What might be the best thing about all of these ideas is that noodles are super cheap. So even if you don’t end up eating them, why not try something fun with a box dried pasta goodness? A lot of these activities you can use with other household goods, like rice, dried beans, cereal, etc. I like using pasta since it’s a little less messy than rice and my youngest seems less likely to eat it than things like beans that could be mistaken for candy, etc. If you have even more ideas, use your noodle and leave a comment! 🙂

 

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information and entertainment purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc) if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.

Embrace the Power of Proprioception

Dr. Dad says, “Stop taking apart the couch!”

OT Mom says, “Not just yet. Stack those those cushions, kids!”

You may be wondering, what the heck is proprioception? Proprioception is the sense of our joints position, the location of our body parts in space, and the awareness of the strength being used for a particular task. It allows us to know where our limbs are and how much force we are using at any given moment. The sense receptors for proprioception are within the muscles and joints of our bodies. This sensory system is super important and allows us to move and react to our environment and works in connection with our other senses. In particular, the tactile (aka touch) sensory system and proprioceptive system work closely to help use develop body awareness as children (Kramer & Hinojosa, 2010).

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While most of us can self regulate our sensory needs to succeed throughout life, some of us need or could use a little more help. We are all on a continuum in the realm of sensory experience, and I believe that my kids happen to be more towards the sensory seeking end of the spectrum.

When my 3 year old gets out of bed, the first thing he does is STOMP down the hallway. He love to to crash, spin, jump, and dance. He screams just to scream and instead of just walking to his door of the car, he rubs against the car on his way. My daughter, who loves to spin and dance and push our kitchen chairs around the house seems to be following in his foot steps. It’s pretty normal for toddlers to be full of energy and active and it’s such a good opportunity to let them engage in sensory  activities. 

Your own kids (or yourself) may not be towards the sensory seeking end of the spectrum, but they are somewhere on the sensory continuum. Some of us seek out input, some of us avoid it, and most of use do a combination or do something in-between.  Sensory input is all around us, and the way we process the world impacts our functioning in many ways.

So adding proprioceptive activities to your daily routine can help regulate your alertness or arousal to an optimal state.

Proprioceptive input is powerful.

It can calm you down or amp you up a bit. An easy way to think of proprioceptive input is to think of “heavy work” activities. You want these sensory experiences to impact your muscles and joints. My son is awesome at figuring out ways to engage in heavy work through play, but he sometimes needs a little help with he’s getting off track or when we are not at home when his usual go-to’s are not available.

Learning from the best, we can look at the favorite self-sought activities from my awesome little three year old:

  •   Stacking the couch cushions– Although it’s probably not the best thing for our couch (and drives Dr. Dad crazy) it provides multiple sensory inputs. He gets the heavy work from lifting and stacking the cushions. He also loves to climb over them and squeeze himself under them providing deep pressure input. An added bonus is that I can see his imagination at work. He likes to build “volcanos” and “hotels.” This activity obviously benefits from close supervision to prevent fall, injury, etc, but with supervision, it’s been a big favorite in my house.
    • In addition to being buried under the couch cushions, my son loves to be buried by toys. Deep pressure following the hard work of moving the toys seems to comfort him. He will remove all of his toys from the toy box and ask to be buried. Again- use common sense and caution. I am looking forward to summer when he might like getting buried in the sand.

Since we are not always able to play in the living room by the couch and my kiddo still craves sensory input throughout the day, here are some additional ideas we’ve come up with to sneak in some input and/or add it to your daily routines.

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  • While at the store– push a shopping cart and help lift the shopping items- this obviously engages the muscles, and most kids think it’s pretty fun. I love that some grocery stores have mini carts for kids, what a great idea, load it up!
  • Have them help with chores– shovel, rake, sweep, vacuum, mop, and scrub. While little ones might not do the best job, they are sure good helpers. Even if the chores take a bit longer, I find it rewarding to allow my kids to help and it provides such great sensory experiences. In addition to proprioception, you’re using lots of other great senses too (visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular)! It also helps develop a sense of accomplishment and roles within the family unit which I think is great for a child’s self-esteem.1
  • Push and pull– my son is a great helper and loves pulling his little sister in a wagon or sled, or pushing her in a stroller. Proprioceptive input that is in a consistent direction tends to be more calming, while push and pull actives (like tug-a-war, mopping, vacuuming) tend to be more alerting. Keep that in mind if you are considering a game of tug-a-war before bed… it might be best as a first thing in the morning activity.
  • In a pinch- Adding proprioception throughout your daily routing takes just a few minutes.  If you don’t have time for a big session, there are little things that can provide some great sensory input. Things like jumping jacks, dancing, yoga poses, animal walks (walk like a “bear,” “crab,” etc), clapping and marching/stomping games can be effective, quick, and easy to incorporate throughout the day.
  • Don’t forget the small joints, they count too! Hard work for little hands can give some good input too. Some ideas for play time include actives like play dough, legos type snapping blocks, and popping bubble wrap. While helping out around the house, kids can help with kneading pizza or bread dough, squeezing a spray bottle, or maintaining control of a hand held electric mixer when baking.

Finally, please remember, proprioception is not just for kids. Perhaps my kids are on the sensory seeking end of the proprioceptive spectrum because I am as well. People who know me, know I have trouble sitting still, and Dr. Dad can attest to my sometimes strange dance moves/hops that can seem to come out of nowhere while just walking through my house (though I tend to restrain myself in public). Part of my sensory routine is going for runs whenever I get the chance or at least doing some light to moderate physical activity on a daily or near daily basis. While my husband isn’t quite the sensory seeker I am when it comes to proprioception, he does feel great and balanced after lifting weights. What do you do to regulate yourself? 

References:

Kramer, P. & Hinojosa, J. (2010). Pediatric Occupational Therapy (3rd ed). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information and entertainment purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.