Let’s play outside!

Summer is here and what better way to spend it than playing outside! Studies have shown that being outdoors promotes mental wellness; therefore, not only will your child benefit from being outdoors, but so can the whole family. Outdoor play can be anywhere from the backyard, your neighborhood park, the beach or a hiking trail. Summer also means school is out and your child might have some extra energy to burn. This is the perfect time to plan an activity incorporating all of the eight senses that your child may be working on during their occupational therapy sessions.

Eight senses:

  • Auditory: how we process sounds
  • Gustatory: how we process taste
  • Interoception: how we process what we feel within our body (hunger, toileting, stomach ache)
  • Olfactory: how we process smell
  • Proprioception: how we process where our body is in space
  • Tactile: how we process touch
  • Vestibular: how we process movement and balance
  • Visual: how we process what we see

Let’s go to the beach:

  • Tactile play/fine motor skills – Building a sand castle
  • Hand strength/grading of force – carrying a bucket of water, digging a hole in the sand
  • Visual scanning – Looking for seashells or rocks
  • Proprioceptive Input – Getting buried in the sand or running with the waves
  • Body/Safety awareness – Being aware of their surroundings and not wandering too far
  • Auditory – listening to the sounds of the waves

Let’s go on a nature walk:

  • Proprioceptive/vestibular input – walking up a hill or steep incline, safely balancing on a tree stump
  • Visual scanning – I spy a/some….
  • Tactile play – picking up different leaves and flowers
  • Auditory – listening to the sound of birds
  • Olfactory – smelling flowers

Let’s go to the park:

  • Vestibular input – Going down the slide and swinging
  • Proprioceptive input/motor planning – climbing up the play structure
  • Visual scanning – I spy a/some…
  • Tactile: playing in the sand box

Let’s play in the backyard:

  • Tactile/fine motor skills – water play: filling up containers to pour and scoop water
  • Vestibular input – Setting up a little obstacle course to climb, crawl, and jump to get from one end to another
  • Proprioceptive input/motor planning: animal walks around the backyard
  • Visual motor skills – drawing on the sidewalk with chalk

All of these examples will not only target the eight senses but it can also work on core and upper body strengthening, motor coordination, sequencing, endurance, self-regulation, social skills and building your child’s confidence to navigate their natural environment. Children learn more about themselves via play and can become more aware of their surroundings when playing outside. Studies have shown that there has been a decrease in outside play due to screen time and busy school schedules with extracurricular activities. Being around green plants and play yards reduce children’s stress levels; the natural space and surroundings can stimulate a child’s imagination and creativity. While playing outside, children can also benefit from natural sunlight, fresh and natural elements that contribute to bone development, a stronger immune system and physical activity. Green outdoor environments also promote improved attention and mental well-being.

June is safety awareness month and with outdoor play, it is important that your child also learns to be aware of their surroundings and their peers. You can practice having your child safely navigate their environment and provide verbal cues to stay within safe boundaries. You can initiate outdoor play in a smaller space before moving into a large space to practice safety. Although you want your child to engage in free play outside, it is important to create rules, safe zones and buddy systems. Remember to explore, have fun, let your child get dirty and enjoy the outdoors!

Monica Kem, M.S. OTR/L, SWC

Feeling the LOVE

February is here! And so are our themed therapy activities. We love thematic learning – it is relatable and helps kids make meaningful connections within their everyday lives.
Here are some of our favorite ideas to try incorporating at home:

Books about Feelings and Love

Themed books are a great way to teach vocabulary, encourage early literacy, and promote positive relationships and acceptance. When reading books with your child, we recommend using the “PEER” approach.

P: Prompt your child with a question about the story. Prompting your child focuses attention, engages the child in the story, and helps the child understand the book.
Point to something in the picture, for example, a balloon. “What is that?”

E: Evaluate your child’s response.

“That’s right! That’s a balloon.”

E: Expand on what your child said.

“That’s a big, red balloon! We saw one of those in the grocery store yesterday.”

R: Repeat or revisit the prompt you started with, encouraging your child to use the new information you’ve provided.

“Can you say big, red balloon?” Each time the book is reread, the expanded vocabulary words are verbalized again.

Here are some books worth checking out:

  • Froggy’s First Kiss, by Jonathan London
  • The Day it Rained Hearts, by Felicia Bond
  • Guess How Much I Love you, by Sam McBratney
  • Love Splat, by Rob Scotton
  • Love Monster, by Rachel Bright
  • Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch
  • The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
  • Llama Llama I Love You, by Anna Dewden
  • No Matter What, by Debi Gliori
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Making Valentines

Arts and crafts activities are a great way to work on making choices, requesting and describing during play. Here are some useful strategies to incorporate during the craft at home:

  • Provide two choices during card-making: “Do you want the heart or the lip sticker?” or “Do you want the purple or red crayon?”
  • Model the use of adjectives: “Ooo, I pick the sparkly, red and white heart!” or “I’m going to draw a big chocolate candy.”
  • Teach location concepts: “Do you want to put the sticker in the middle or on the side?” or “Let’s write your name on the front.”
  • Practice “who” questions by asking who your child wants to make the card for.
  • Sabotage. Give your child an unsharpened pencil or a glue stick with the lid still on it so that they need to ask you for help.
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Trip to the Post Office

Once your Valentines are complete, we recommend taking your kids on a trip to your local post office. Here are some ideas on how you can incorporate speech and language skills into the outing:

  • Teach related vocabulary: stamps, envelope, delivery, etc.,
  • Model comments: “I see a mail truck!” or “Wow, look at all of those mailboxes!”
  • Verbally sequence the steps to mailing a package: “First you fill the box, then you tape the outside, next you write the label…”
  • Take turns dropping mail into the mailbox and discussing who the mail is for.
  • Practice ordering stamps at the counter.
  • Bonus: Let your therapist know if you went on the outing, that way it can be a topic of conversation in their speech session. :)
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We wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day and look forward to hearing how your activities go! We LOVE meaningful activities, making connections, and all of our wonderful families at SmallTalk.

Author: Julia Navarra, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist

Surviving the holidays with picky eaters

The holidays are times of family and traditions, many of which involve food and eating. However, when your child eats very few foods, the holidays can bring frustration and stress as you navigate the changes in routine, new foods and the expectations of eating them, and the abundance of desserts and sweets.

We’re sharing some recommendations to help you decrease stress surrounding mealtime so that you can enjoy the holidays with your loved ones.

  • Limit changes in routine. Holidays can often mean traveling, time changes, and lots of familiar and new faces. These changes can be overwhelming. Try to keep your child’s mealtime routines, including the time of day they eat and any cleanup routine, the same. If possible, bring familiar plates, utensils, and cups too!
  • Have your child eat a typical meal or snack before the big meal, especially if the big meal is later than the child’s usual mealtime. Then, keep a preferred snack at the ready for your child to eat with the whole family. The focus of the holiday meal should be family, not a struggle to explore new and tricky foods. If available, you can always bring some leftovers home for food exploration at a later time.
  • Prepare your child and set expectations. Explain to your child what activities may be happening and show pictures of who they can expect to be there. If there is going to be food present that may be tricky for your child to tolerate, try exploring the food through play the weeks before the holiday at home, where they will likely feel the safest.
  • Limit sweets! The holidays are filled with desserts that are sometimes hard to resist. Sugar can suppress appetite limiting consumption of nutritious foods. Try to keep sweets until the end of a meal; however, avoid making the availability of dessert dependent upon how they ate the rest of their meal.

Try these suggestions so you can focus on enjoying your time with loved ones.

The SmallTalk family wishes you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Lauren Fong

SmallTalk’s spooktacular Halloween tips and tricks!

October has officially arrived, triggering a return to school, apple picking, frolicking in the pumpkin patch, tractor rides, and the delicious aroma of pumpkin spice coffee. Of course, fall also stirs up the ghosts, goblins, and witches of Halloween!

While Halloween can be a memorable and exciting time for children all over the country, it is also a time of uncertainty, confusion, and stress for those who experience communication and sensory challenges. For these children and their families, Halloween can prove to be a difficult and overwhelming experience to navigate.
At SmallTalk, parents and families often ask how we can help prepare their children for the holiday seasons.

Below is a list of tips and tricks to help our families and emphasize the treats as opposed to the tricks of Halloween.

Prepare for Unexpected vs. Expected Situations

If Halloween brings discomfort to your child, discuss what they might expect to see, hear, or feel around or on that costume-filled night.

  • Read a non-threatening Halloween book/social story, watch a fun Halloween movie, listen to upbeat Halloween music or make a trip to a Halloween store.
  • Prepare and practice a written script for how and what to say for trick or treating interactions with neighbors and friends.
  • Review with your child a Halloween social story or sequence of events that will occur on Halloween while trick or treating.
  • Share your trick or treat route and script with your neighbors before Halloween night.
  • Discuss how your child is feeling about Halloween- excited, scared, happy, etc.
  • Anticipate and talk about some unexpected situations that could occur.
  • Reassure your child that friendly faces will be by their side throughout the night.

Augmentative/Alternative Communication

Create a Halloween page on your child’s AAC device with various Halloween icons and answers to possible Halloween questions such as “What is your costume?” “Are you having fun?”

  • Practice using the device’s Halloween page with your child, so they feel comfortable using it on Halloween night.

Articulation/ Phonological Delays

  • Suggest Trick or Treating in a small group of familiar people.
  • Consider a group costume with friends/family (i.e., Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, circus, etc.) to help your child feel more included.
  • If Halloween trick or treating is too overwhelming for your child, many communities, local churches, and schools provide Trick or Treating options.
  • Encourage your child to attend/participate in a Halloween party at school or local community.
  • Try an alternate Halloween plan.
    • Allow your child to hand out candy to trick or treaters and practice asking “Wh” questions to trick/treaters (i.e., What is your costume? Where did you get that?).
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Sensory Challenges

  • Provide a Halloween craft or carve a pumpkin to expose your child to different textures.
    • Create a Halloween sensory bin.
  • Trick or treat before it gets dark.
  • Before Halloween night, walk around your trick/treating route and observe your neighbors’ decorations and lights.
  • Schedule sensory breaks while trick or treating or at Halloween festivities to avoid possible overstimulation and provide distance from foreseeable stressors.
  • Bring headphones to block out overwhelming/loud noises.
  • Try tasty candy alternatives if you have a “picky” eater.
  • Allow your child to pick a costume that makes them feel comfortable.
    • Try on the costume on several different occasions before trick or treating to make sure it is comfortable.
    • Allow it to hang in a visible spot days before Halloween to familiarize your child with the costume.
    • Create your own costume out of preferable fabric if a store-bought costume cannot be tolerated, and invite your child to be a part of the process.

We wish you a fun-filled and SPOOKTACULAR Halloween season. We cannot wait to see your costumes and hear your children tell us about their experience!

by Pamela “PJ” Baragona, MA CCC-SLP

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