At Play Works we know most of a child's greatest learning and skill development takes place through activities and play. As an Occupational Therapy practitioner, I've compiled some of my favorite ways to play so you can practice with your kids at home!
This category of skill is essentially asking the question: what can I do in order to bring myself to an appropriate level of alertness based on the situation? Sensory regulation is something that many of us take for granted that allows us to learn effectively, avoid dangers, and help us deal with the environment around us. When I am working with individuals that have sensory processing issues, I like to alter the environment around them based on if they are sensory seeking and need more input from their senses to process information, or if they are sensory avoiding and are often overwhelmed by too many stimuli.
If they are sensory avoiding, dim or cover lights in a quiet space. Allow your child to choose a favorite game, put on a puppet show, or participate in activities they already enjoy but in a more accommodating environment.
If a child is sensory seeking and needs more input, get them involved with heavy working activities that get their bodies moving, especially when and pushing or pulling. Create an at-home obstacle coarse using boxes and cushions; throw a weighted medicine ball into a goal or basket; or taking turns jumping into a big pile of cushions. These sensory inputs will help get your child to the point where they are able to take a few minutes to participate in an adult-led activity.
Play with food
One of the biggest occupations that we can do is feeding ourselves and interacting with food, whether it is with utensils or just trialing a new food. Children are already at risk of being seen as ”picky eaters” when they have a routine food that they eat or slightly narrowed foods that they will eat, but there are some kiddos that have a very difficult time when it comes to trying a new food.
I like to tackle this introduction to a new food with play, starting with them tolerating a non-preferred food or a new food at the table just “watching us play or eat” the other foods. When they are comfortable enough with the new food’s presence then I proceed to get them involved in using the food as a play object (such as using lettuce, carrots, broccoli or celery as a paint brush, making art out of the noodles and sauce they are sent with, etc). Once they are comfortable enough to interact with these non-preferred foods then I can get them to try smelling, licking, biting down on, chewing (without swallowing) and ultimately taking a bite and swallowing, in that order.
I find that the key to this method is moving at a pace with a given food that the child is comfortable with, and if they will absolutely not try one step, then I respect that they aren’t ready to try it and end it on a step that I know they can do or have demonstrated previously. You can also have them “kiss it goodbye” and put it on an “all done” plate, so it is still present but the child knows that they won’t be forced to eat it and that their input matters.
Sequencing through board games
-Board games. Most everyone has seen or played one or a couple. Some may be guilty of having an enormous treasure trove of them tucked away for a spontaneous game night. What I love about board games is that they include instructions that offer such a varied amount of difficulty based on the game being played. Children who have difficulty identifying the steps to “what comes first?”, “When do you move your piece?”, “how many cards do I draw now?”, and the reason why behind these steps can work to hone these skills by participating in board games. They can be as simple as go-fish card games, or as difficult and involved as strategy games like Risk or Settlers of Catan. These sequencing activities develop executive functioning skills to work toward increased reasoning and thinking skills.
-When I am playing with a kiddo that has deficits in their gross motor skills and/or strength I love to use fun animal walks during an obstacle course or yoga. This encourages use of the whole body to develop coordination, as well as occasionally having a walk or yoga pose that crosses the midline.
-When focusing on improving fine motor skills I encourage use of small game pieces that involve pinching, in-hand manipulation, or threading pieces through small spaces. I also find that when coloring with a crayon I can snap the crayon into a piece that is small enough that it naturally enforces the use of a tripod or quadrupod grasp to color on the paper. This can also be accomplished with the small cap-eraser of a whiteboard marker if they enjoy coloring and erasing. These skills can strengthen their grip, form the habit of using an optimal writing grip (tripod/quadrupod), and prepare them for handwriting if they are at a stage where this is age appropriate (on average by the time they reach the age of six).