Friday, September 25, 2009

Toddler Activity: Sandwich & Burrito Game

One of my 5 year old daughter's favorite things to do is get wrapped up in a larger blanket or comforter and pretend that she is a sandwich or a burrito. We have played this game since she was 2 1/2 and it is a great toddler activity! After wrapping her up in the blanket, AKA bread, I then push on her joints or tickle her as I say that I am adding ketchup, lettuce, mustard or other condiments. I sometimes throw pillows on top of her while saying that I'm adding cheese. I am guaranteed to get a true giggle from her. Afterwards, she likes to switch and have me be the sandwich or burrito. If I am a "burrito" then she pretends to rub cheese, sauce, beans, or meat on me as she pushes or swipes her hands over me. When we really are in a silly mood, we are a double-decker sandwich and get in the blanket together and roll around in synchrony as we add things such as tomatoes and bacon to our sandwich. Often, my 15 month old son will jump or roll around with us, but obviously he is too young to add the imaginative components that her and I do. Yet, he giggles and has lots of fun, too!

This activity helps to develop language because you can ask the child to say what they want put on them. You can also ask goofy questions to an older toddler such as "Do you want chocolate or pickles on your sandwich?" this helps you know if they know categories of foods and that chocolate wouldn't go on a sandwich...although I may have to try it some day! This activity is also working on: cooperation, sharing/ taking turns, touch sensation, muscle strength, following directions (receptive language & cognition), and vestibular & proprioceptive sensations.

Even if you don't play the sandwich or burrito game, just getting on the floor and being silly with your young children is important. Many toddler activities include using the imagination and getting down on the floor. And if you are in the right mindset, you are guaranteed to have fun!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Info Spot 4 the Special Tot: Snacks for Toddlers with Oral-Motor Problems

It is important to know if your toddler has sensory or motor problems that are contributing to mealtime frustrations. This blog discusses symptoms of a problem & tips to help with snacktime Info Spot 4 the Special Tot: Snacks for Toddlers with Oral-Motor Problems

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mommy's Little Helper

I just finished a load of laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, dusting the windows to the breakfast nook, and sweeping the kitchen floor after a messy breakfast. My 15 month old son and 5 year old daughter were my helpers during these chores. Now, it took much longer to have them help than had I just done it myself. But having them help actually made it kinda fun. We sang, counted, and made a game of the chores. This got me to thinking how beneficial it is for children's development to be "Mommy's Helper". It helps them:

  • Learn to imitate. Imitation is needed for language, motor, self-help, and cognition skills. Whether it be imitating sounds or actions, this is a pertinent part of development.

  • Enhance sense of touch- various textures are touched within the laundry basket, dishes, etc.

  • Enhance visual perception- sorting laundry, putting articles of clothing into the dryer or basket, sorting utensils for mealtime, looking for food particles on floor, etc.

  • Enhance motor coordination- takes balance to walk around with a broom, to push laundry basket, fold laundry, dusting, wash windows (I don't recommend the use of harmful or strong chemicals, use milder fruit or water based cleaners), etc.

  • Develop listening skills and following simple directions

  • Increase attention span by staying with a task until it is finished

  • Gain responsibility by being responsible for the cleaning/care of their property. Also, not expecting the parent to clean up all of their messes for them: room, after meal, toys throughout house, bike outside, etc.

  • Socialize- when cleaning in a group

  • Taking turns, sharing, & waiting- if there is only one broom, then the kids must share

  • Language- have the kids make choices, label activities, and sing the steps to the chores. An example of a choice for a toddler might be "Do you want to sweep with the broom or wipe the windows?"

Because I have had my kids be "Mommy's Helper" from the beginning I have two kids who put their paper plates in the trash. My daughter actually cleans her own room without being asked, especially after a playmate leaves who didn't get a chance to help. Okay, go clean!

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Touchy" Toddler Activities

Toddlers are little investigators: they like to climb, touch things, make noises, & have fun (and tantrums)! They are learning through their senses. I am listing some fun activities for toddlers to do that help develop their sense of touch (AKA tactile sense):
  • Put small toys and trinkets within containers that have lids. I save the used wipee containers, then label it as toys. Next, I find "odds and ends" toys that are too large to be swallowed or choked on and stick them in the container. This is often where Happy Meal (R) toys end up! It is also where party favors from birthday parties end up! Specific toys that may end up in the container are: miniature plastic figurines such as army men or dinosaurs, mini maraccas, small balls, rattles, slinkies, fuzzy dice, small stuffed animals, and other random toys that no longer seem to have a home. My kids love to rummage through closed containers.
  • Home-made edible playdough. There are many good recipes out there on the Web. Common ingredients include: flour, peanut butter, koolaid (R) powder, and oatmeal
  • Helping to make cookies: use the rolling pin and cookie cutters. Kids love this. Someone bought me a box of over 200 cookie cutters which contains numbers, letters, shapes, and holiday characters and I use these for cookies as well as with playdough
  • Sandbox and water table outside. I didn't want a sandbox on the ground, so I bought two water tables and use one of them for sand. In the water, I put water toys such as fish that get squeezed or boats that float. In the sand, I leave a small shovel as well as plastic and rubber animals and fuzzy balls for my kids to search through
  • WikkiStix(R) or other candle-wick type sticks. These are fun to make things with, and aren't really for younger toddlers, but once a child is near 3 years or older, he should enjoy these. The best thing is that they can be used over and over again, because they are flexible and then can go back straight again
  • Finger painting. This is my all time favorite! Spread some newspaper outside on the sidewalk or inside on a table, and let the kids smear the paint around until they have beautiful artwork
  • Rice, macaroni, or bean containers with small items hidden within them. You can put large spoons or tongs in the container for the toddler to use as a search tool. Common items I hide in these mixtures are the same toys I would put out in a sandbox.
  • Spaghetti art: Cook spaghetti noodles and add a bit of oil, then a bit of food coloring. It sticks quite well to construction paper. The oil is necessary so that the noodles can be pulled apart. On the paper, noodles can become hair on a person's head or fur on an animal...what fun artwork!
  • Pudding or shaving cream art. Smear it on a cooking sheet and draw shapes and other things with a pointed index finger. Then rinse off, of course of using the pudding, you can also lick your fingers to help clean up!
  • Fidget toys: I keep small little toys for my kids to fiddle with during car rides, while waiting at a restaurant, or while sitting in a grocery cart. Party favors as well as stretchy rubber toys make good fidgets.

If you notice that a child is sensitive to touching things, then do not force him to participate. Think of a way to alter the activity to where he will think it is fun. For instance, if he dislikes digging through sand with his bare hands, then give him tongs. Or if he dislikes finger painting, give him a paint brush. Maybe with familiarity and repetition, the child may soon want to participate in the "feely" activity. If you feel that the child's disinterest in touching things is abnormal, then check out for "red flags" for sensory processing problems. If other symptoms are then noted after looking at this list, the child may benefit from an occupational therapy evaluation.

Info Spot 4 the Special Tot: Visual-Perceptual Skills...Do You See What I See?

Info Spot 4 the Special Tot: Visual-Perceptual Skills...Do You See What I See?

Info Spot 4 the Special Tot: Teaching Toddlers How to Play with Toys

Info Spot 4 the Special Tot: Teaching Toddlers How to Play with Toys

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Toddler Activities for a Sensory Diet: Magic Carpet Ride

I will be providing various toddler activities for a "sensory diet" during the next few blog entries. You may have heard the term sensory diet but weren't sure what it is. Well, it is extra sensory input provided to a person on a regular basis, just as food is provided on a regular basis throughout the day. We all get some amount of sensory input at all times: hunger, thirst, sights within the room, the feel of our clothing or jewelry, sense of motion and balance as we walk around, etc. But many of us need more sensation than just mere existence provides. This is especially the case for toddlers and preschoolers...they are in the sensorimotor stage of development. They need extra time for dancing, climbing, running, swinging, singing, coloring, building blocks, etc. That means some sit down fine motor play, but it also means "wiggly" gross motor play. Gross motor play is easy to provide a child when you have a park or swimming pool near your house, but not as easy on rainy days or for someone who lives in a high rise apt. with no place to run around.

I have blogged previously on obstacle courses and other indoor activities. But one of my all time favorite indoor gross motor toddler activities is having the child pretend that he is taking a ride on a magic carpet. The "magic carpet" could be a sheet, quilt, or blanket that is sturdy. Have the child participate by being the passenger or being the person that pulls another person as they are being taken for a ride. I often start out by letting the child be the passenger first and having him lie down on the blanket. Then, I hold one end of the blanket and run as fast as I can across the cleared room or hallway. Language skills can be addressed as well by having the child request to go slower or faster, or when to start and stop. If you really want to challenge the toddler's balance, have him sitting up as opposed to lying down. Whether the child is the passenger or the puller, he gets sensory input. Being the passenger provides tactile and vestibular input. Being the one who pulls the other person provides tactile, vestibular, and mostly proprioceptive input. Proprioception is the sense of body-in-space awareness and proprioceptors are located in muscles and joints. Anything resistive will provide proprioceptive input.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Proprioception: Knowing Where You Are In Space

Proprioception is one of the less known senses. It is the sense that lets you know where you are in space. This is needed to not bump into things or to turn around and back into a chair without falling. It also contributes to coordination, grading the pressure of your movements, timing, and speed. If it weren't for proprioception, we would look clumsy during our movements and they would appear segmented or robotic. Timing and speed are obvious during a game of soccer or when a baby is learning to walk and then can't stop because he's using momentum! Also, proprioception deals with grading movements such as when you pick up an item you think will be heavy, but it was light-weight. If your body didn't correct for this, the item would go flying across the room. Kids with problems with proprioception may break toys, crayons, and pencils accidentally. They may also be messy eaters and known as a "Dennis the Menace" or an "accident waiting to happen".

So, where are the receptors for proprioception? All throughout your body, but especially at your joints, muscles, and also within your vestibular system (sense of balance and motion within the inner ear). But enough of the technical lingo. Below are some suggestions on promoting a good sense of proprioception in babies and toddlers:

  • Let the children play with a variety of toys: balls to roll, rolling cars, tummy time mat, exercise ball, rocking horse, ride-on toy, push and pull toys such as a wagon, doll stroller, or "grocery cart"
  • Let the children play in a variety of positions: tummy time, sitting, rolling, & standing while on the floor; climbing on the furniture and crawling under or over items.
  • Let the children play in a variety of locations: inside different rooms of the home, restaurant indoor playground, playground indoors at mall. Outdoors: your yard, park, swinmming pool, etc.
  • Play animal walks: bear crawl (AKA downward dog in the yoga world), donkey kicks, slithering snakes on the belly, crabwalk, and any other pose that requres that the child hold his body weight with his muscles
  • Resistive activities: carry backpack or fanny pack, push wagon or inverted laundry basket, pulling toys that are lying on a blanket for a "magic carpet" ride, or any activity that is "heavy work". Remember to limit the weight to only an extra 5-10% of the child's body weight. 2 rolls of pennies is a pound and these rolls could be placed within a backpack or pockets to jacket to add resistance as the toddler is running around. Adult wrist weights could also be added to the tot's ankles for extra resistance. If the tot weighs 30 lbs., do not add more than 3 lb. of weights to his ankles.
  • Basically, remember that the first two years of life are known in the child development world as the sensorimotor stage. Young little ones should not be couch potatoes...which means neither should we as parents and/or caregivers. Get down on the floor and JUST PLAY!
  • During daily routines, offer sensory input to all of the senses: touch, sight, movement, taste, smell, hearing. See for ideas to do this with a baby during daily events such as car rides, bathing, etc. as well as during play
  • Minimize the time a baby is in a positioning device! The baby needs to feel movement against gravity unassisted by a device that he/she is likely to lean on.
  • Exercise classes such as "mommy and me" are fun too
  • Infant massage aids in body-in-space awareness as well as the sense of touch

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Paint" With Water

Most young kids love painting. I know that mine do. One way to make painting less messy is to paint with water while outdoors. This can occur with a brush, sponge, hands, and feet. Painting is a great way to develop the tactile sense! Some ideas include:

  • Get a large bowl of water and a wide paint brush. Then, start "painting" the bricks or wood fence outside. The water dries quickly when it's sunny outside.
  • Get a large bowl of water and place it on the drive way or patio. Then, you can put your hands or feet in the water, and make "tracks" on the cement surface.
  • Get a wet sponge and dab it on the sidewalk while drawing different designs or pictures.

With all of these ideas, once the surface is dry, the child can start all over again!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Splish, Splash, Have Fun During Bath!

Bathtime is one of my children's favorite routines! Approximately 7:15 pm everynight, my husband goes upstairs to our children's bathroom and starts the water. As soon as my 14 month old son hears the water, he comes running around the corner, crawls up the stairs (supervised by me), and then rushes to attempt to climb in the tub. Once in there, he then splashes and plays with bath toys. His favorite toy is my daughter's pink and blue mermaid with blue hair. Her favorite toy is farm animals and alphabet letters that cling on to the side of the tub. The only problem in our home to bath time is that neither child wants it to end, especially when they bathe together!

Bathtime is a great time to promote sensory development.

  • Tactile (touch) input is provided by the water, splashing, playing, and washing body parts.

  • Vestibular (movement and balance) input is provided by tilting the head back to wash hair, lying down in the bath tub, climbing in and out of the tub, and sitting upright.

  • Auditory input is provided by the sound of the running water and all of the conversation or singing that takes place.

  • Visual input is provided by, of course, everything that is in the tub and in the room within sight!

  • Smell input is provided by the scent of soaps, shampoos, and conditioners.

  • Hopefully the taste sensations are not stimulated...wouldn't want the kiddos to drink the bath water!

If possible make the kid's bathtime as fun as possible. Try bathtub paint or crayons, water or beach toys, foam soap, and fun smelling shampoo and/or conditioner. Character towels and washcloths such as Dora or Sesame Street characters have a way of making things fun, too.

Adaptations for children with touch sensitivity include providing firm hand circles on the head during hair washing, use a sun visor to keep water from dripping on the head, soft or infant washcloths, and infant massage or lotion rubs after the bath.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Child Development Information in Various Languages

I stumbled upon a website that will translate any website or document into a different language. Although I didn't memorize every language available, I do know that it will translate a website from spanish to english or english to spanish. Other languages I saw were portuguese, french, chinese, russian, and german. This is a great site because it is free. It also means that all of this wonderful information out there on child development can be understood by many more people!

As a professional that works with families of infants and toddlers from other cultures and who speak other languages, this is huge. For some reason, I do not have tons of child development information in chinese on the bookshelves in my study! I also know that you can go to search engines from other countries, pull up sites or articles, and then have them translated into english (or any other language you want).

One good site that offers information on infant and toddler development in english and spanish is For the most part, the site is in english. But some of the articles and handouts can be downloaded in spanish as well as english. If you know of any other great sites in other languages on child development in young children, send a comment my way!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Infant Massage

I am trying to remember the last time I had a professional's been a while. But what I do remember about the massage session was that the therapist was playing nature music in the background, had a candle burning, dimmed the lights, and was wearing white and blue tennis shoes. I remember what her tennis shoes looked like because I was up on this special table with my head faced toward the floor looking between a special pillow with a hole in the middle. What I also remember about that massage as well as all of the other professional massages I have received, was that she started to massage my back first then progressed to the legs/feet, went back to my back muscles next, progressed to my arms/ shoulders, and finished off with my neck/ head. I am relaxed just thinking about it except for the special pillow apparatus that you stick your face on...those things are never comfortable for me, maybe because I am short and they just don't fit me right.?.?

Massaging babies is a completely different experience than a professional massage for an adult. There isn't a certain progression of body parts that must be massaged and the baby can be in a variety of postures. Also, the time can vary from 3 minutes to as long as the baby and/or you last. This is different from the 1 hour massage you pay for as an adult, because when the clock strikes a certain is over!

Both of my babies thoroughly enjoyed being massaged. I went through the training to be a certified infant touch & massage instructor (CITMI) when my daughter was two years old. At the time, I needed someone to practice on, so my daughter was quite lucky. For the whole next year everytime she had a belly ache, she would come lay next to me and say "Soj me mama"...translation "Please give me a massage on my belly, mom". She not only enjoyed the touch and bond between her and I, she figured out that her belly ache went away shortly after the massage.

You can massage your baby anywhere: on the changing table or floor right after a diaper change, after a bath, during play while sitting upright, before a nap while lying down, as you are holding the baby over your shoulder- especially when he/she has constipation, and the list goes on. Don't worry about the baby squirming or being in a "just right" position. The touch and massage is the important part. It is usually best to use slower, slightly firm strokes with an open palm when giving a baby a massage.

Massage is safe for the majority of infants even those who are medically fragile. There are numerous benefits to massage including (all of which have been researched):

  • enhanced motor development

  • reduction of stress

  • improved sleep patterns

  • increased weight gain in premature infants

  • improved immunity

  • help for depressed infants and mothers

  • improved bonding and attachment with parents, both Dad and Mom

  • helpful for babies exposed to cocaine in-utero

  • improved digestion

  • improved sensory awareness & sensory integration

Typically when I train parents in how to massage their own baby, I break up the lessons in to at least 3 sessions. This is because there are sooooo many strokes and reasons for a massage. Of course, the babies that I work with as an occupational therapist may have tight muscles such as with cerebral palsy, indigestion due to medical problems or reflux, touch sensitivity due to problems with sensory integration, floppy muscles due to a genetic syndrome or developmental delay, as well as a few other issues. So, if you want to attempt infant massage on a typcially developing infant (or toddler or child), then the strokes may be learned in less sessions...maybe.

If you do not have access to a massage group or individual instructor in your area, that is okay. There are lots of good manuals, DVD/videos, and books out there on massage. If you are not into reading or watching DVDs, then at least massage your baby in a way that you would think might feel good. Though, be aware that without reading or being instructed, you may not know certain precautions. For example, always stroke the belly in a clock-wise direction which is with the flow of digestion in the intestines. You wouldn't want to stroke the opposite way and cause or worsen the constipation! In class, video, or in a book, you may also learn how to read the signals a baby is giving you and his sleep / wake levels. Understanding these two things lets you know when is and isn't a good time for a massage. At on the "alertness & crying" page this information is given in detail.

Also, remember to not use lotion or scented oils like you would with an adult. This is because babies and young children often have their hands in their mouth or are licking things. Instead use a small amount of non-allergenic cooking oil such as olive or canola. I took my son to a massage group and out of respect used the scented massage oil they gave me. Well, guess what. He had an allergic reaction to it! So, be careful. You could also use arrow root powder. Do not use talcum or baby powder. Now, go on, go massage your little one!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Singing Songs With Little Ones

You need not be a contestant on American Idol for a young child to like your singing. In fact, I can't sing in-tune very well at all, yet young children like when I sing to them. Whether it be "Wheels on the Bus", "Pat-a-Cake", or some song you just made up off of the top of your head, go ahead and sing to your precious little child. If you teach at a preschool, daycare, or church, then build time for singing into your lessons.

Some ideas on how to make singing fun are:

  • Choose songs with motions. Kids love marching to "The Ants Go Marching", moving back-and-forth to "Row Your Boat", and clapping to "If You Are Happy & You Know It"

  • Make up silly verses and actions for that verse

  • For a child who is 10-18 months, pause intermittently and wait for them to say the next word of the song. For kids this age, stick to singing just a few songs over-and-over until they get the words and motion. Then, add new songs to their repertoire

  • Find books that are song books. I have the "5 Little Monkeys" book and my daughter likes to act out the motions as she looks at the book

  • Listen to kiddy music during car rides or when playing around the house. Many cable plans have music stations. Also, many CDs and tapes are available with children's music and nursery rhymes

The above ideas stimulate the senses. They are good for the tactile (touch) sense such as when clapping or turning the pages of a book. They stimulate the vestibular and proprioceptive senses when moving around and balancing during actions made to the song. The ideas also stimulate the visual sense, especially when the child watches your mouth to sing or imitates your actions. Of course the number one sense that is stimulated when singing is the auditory sense!

If you notice that your little one has problems with imitating motions or is sensitive to noise, then consider that he or she may have problems with sensory integration and processing. See for "red flags" to sensory processing problems.

Alertness & Crying

Alertness & Crying

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How to Identify Sensory Overload in Your Baby |

How to Identify Sensory Overload in Your Baby

How to Stimulate a 7-Month-Old's Senses |

How to Stimulate a 7-Month-Old's Senses

How to Stimulate a 3-Month-Old's Senses |

How to Stimulate a 3-Month-Old's Senses

Tummy Time

As I write this blog I hear a little giggle in the next room over. I don't even have to go look, because I already know what is happening. My husband and 13-month old son have this little game where my son lays on his tummy over my large yellow exercise ball while my husband rocks him back-and-forth or slightly bounces the ball up-and-down. I am convinced that my son likes this position because I worked on him tolerating "tummy time" when he was a small baby.

Tummy time is when you lay your baby on his belly. Some babies love this position for play or sleep whereas others don't care for it too much. There are ways to help a baby like this position more. Why even bother you ask? Well, tummy time is a position that helps promote:
  • Good head control to look up and turn the head to either side
  • Less spit-up in a baby with reflux due to the position that the belly is in
  • Arm strength when the baby learns to push up
  • A pre-cursor to learning to roll (3-5 months) and crawl (7-10 months)
  • Visual development and eye tracking
  • A position that might motivate the baby to reach and grasp for toys. This develops fine-motor skills in the hands which is a pre-cursor to writing, cutting, and manipulating utensils to feed yourself.

And the list goes on. One saying is "Back to Sleep and Tummy for Play". It is not recommended to leave a young baby on his tummy while unattended, especially if he can't lift up his head. This is due to the concern that the baby will re-breathe carbon dioxide that he exhales and can suffocate.

My experience with tummy time with my two children was a good one. They both loved it. But for some reason my now 5-year old daughter had to be entertained a bit more than my toddler son did in order to stay on her tummy for over 5 minutes. I bought a tummy-time activity mat, used a Boppy pillow, or got down on the floor to sing or talk to her. Many babies need a little coaxing. Unfortunately, some parents are afraid that their baby is in pain if the baby fusses. Another reason they may not put the baby in this posture is they are afraid the baby will spit up. If waiting 15-30 minutes after a meal this should not be a problem. In fact, it should help with the reflux symptoms after that time frame. A few problems that may exist when a baby really resists tummy time are:

  • tactile (touch) sensitivity: the most sensitive body parts are the face, belly, soles of feet, palms of hands and genitals. Often babies who have developmental delays, born prematurely, have genetic syndromes, or have had medical problems tend to have an over-responsiveness to touch. This issue can be addressed by slowly building up the time the baby stays in tummy time. Also, the baby could lay faced down on your chest as you lay on a bed. Also, the baby could lay over your thigh.
  • vestibular (movement) sensitivity: the vestibular system is the sensory system in charge of movement and balance. Some children do not like their head and body in different positions. Once again, slowly work up to longer time increments. For these babies, start out by having them against your chest as you are slightly reclined. Then, progress to laying flat so that the baby is on his tummy on your chest. Then, advance to putting the baby on the floor, a pillow, or your thigh on his belly. Some may even like to lay over an exercise ball.
  • A baby that has had heart or other surgeries on his chest or abdomen. This sensitivity will diminish once the scar tissue heals.
  • hypotonia (low muscle tone): some babies have floppy muscles, but they still need to be put in tummy time. In order to build up strength, put the baby in tummy time multiple times per day for small amounts of time. Also, these babies may do better if giving them motion input first such as bouncing them on your lap or "swinging" them in the air while supported in your arms.
  • Visual impairment: depending upon the visual impairment, some of those babies might only want to be held upright by an adult or sleeping on their side.

Those are just a few ideas to promote tummy time and give you reasons why it is important! So, go on, go play with your baby while he is in tummy time. You never know, he may grow up to be a teenager who likes to watch TV and play video games while lying on his tummy!