I am currently helping one of my awesome elementary schools with ideas to build a sensory room/gym. A sensory room is a great resource for parents and schools to facilitate the sensory needs of a child in a safe way. In the picture above, you can see this is a pretty large sensory room. This was my gym in the first space that I leased for Learning Charms. The gym itself was a little over 1000 square feet. You can see the exposed steel beams in the ceiling which made it easy to hang swings. The owners of all the spaces I looked at thought I was crazy because the first thing I'd do was get a ladder and peep up in the ceiling -- looking for steel beams!
Below, you'll see a list and links to some must have's for your sensory room. A sensory room can be small-- you just will need to be careful and follow manufacturer's recommendations about padding and clearance. The recommendations below are for a medium sized (about a 10'x10') sensory room for kids aged 3.5 up to school aged children. The ideas below are all from Amazon and you can click and read more about the product. You can find these items all over the web, so look around and find what you need/want!
Lastly, you HAVE to supervise your child in a sensory room.
TO SWING OR NOT TO SWING?
This will depend on if you can easily tie into your ceiling for support. If you cannot, then it will depend on creating a structure that will support a swing (or buying one). A swing provides amazing amounts of proprioceptive and vestibular input, so if at all possible, get a swing system. If you don't have the ceiling support then look for swings such as below to use outdoors on a tree or existing playset.
I love this stuff. Way back, us therapists had to order blah putty from rehab suppliers and although it worked, it was just, blah. Crazy Aaron has a variety of putty and kids love it. Adults love it. Other than being fun, and a tactile experience, what do therapists use it for?
Most of my kiddos I see at Learning Charms need hand and finger strengthening and tendon excursion. These things are necessary for proper fine motor skills (think handwriting and arts).
Often I use it initially for preschoolers who are not exhibiting a functional crayon grasp, such as in the picture here. In this picture, this little girl is using a whole hand grasp for drawing. She also has difficulty with buttoning, cutting and manipulating small items.
If the Charlotte weather is keeping your kids inside, consider an obstacle course, like the one here in our gym. You don't need fancy equipment to do it. Obstacle courses are extremely fun for kids and they increase skills in: gross motor coordination, sensory processing, visual motor, sequencing, timing and even visual perceptual skills. A three year old can handle about 3 parts, while older kids (3td grade) should be able to complete 5-6 part obstacle courses.
On mine, I incorporated visual discrimination and matching with the white letters (face down) around the swing. The child had to match letters (visual discrim) of her last name while laying on the swing on her belly (core strength). She picked up the letter and propelled the swing with her arms (upper body strength) to match the letters.
If you have some cushions, pillows, and old comforters, then consider making a big crash area in your obstacle course. Kids love it and it is a great way to get some proprioception (think calming) on an indoor day.
There seems to be lots of questions each year about what is on the CAIS (Charlotte Area Independent Schools) tests for pre-schoolers. First of all, not all private schools participate in CAIS testing. The private schools that do require it (as of today) are:
Charlotte Christian School
Charlotte Country Day School
Charlotte Latin School
Charlotte Preparatory School
Providence Day School and
Trinity Episcopal School
The CAIS test looks at kindergarten readiness in a variety of areas. The CAIS testing for preschool students are administered by a licensed psychologist that is on the CAIS approved list. For the 2014-15 school year, there are 10 psychologists that can administer testing, including: Melanie Powell, Frank Gaskill (Southeast Psych) and Trey Ishee (Southeast Psych).
The assessment is the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-IV). Here are some of the areas it tests:
Often, we get occupational therapy referrals from these CAIS tests. The psychologists will note a deficit in an area that needs improvement and suggest O.T. prior to entrance to kindergarten. Really good psychologists will also note children who need to work on their pencil grasp, handwriting, motor skills and processing speed. Sometimes a referral is made to a speech therapist if verbal areas need improvement.
There are times when a child will get "conditional" acceptance to a school based on the criteria that a child makes improvement in a needed area. Schools may even ask for a written progress report from speech or occupational therapy to demonstrate adequate progress and parental involvement.
This is a great article about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and behaviors associated with SPD.
Pencil grasp questions are common with parents so I will try and provide some thoughts on the matter. There are lots of components that go into handwriting competence (see my previous blog on handwriting ), but the most obvious one is grasp.
How do grasps develop? Children learn to grasp objects from the time that they shake a rattle. Development begins at the core (proximal) and develops outward (distally). So, if you don't have good core you may have difficulty with handwriting. Efficient handwriting uses the small, intrinsic muscles of the hand. These intrinsic muscles are designed for dexterity, not strength. The muscles on the side of your thumb are your movers and the ones near your pinky finger are your stabilizers. A proper grasp ensures that handwriting is being produced by these small muscles so that there is a precise between movement and stabilization.
How are our toys changing grasps? Kids learn proper grasp patterns by playing with fine motor toys, finger foods, and coloring. This develops and refines over time. However, as toys change, so do fine motor exposure. Small pieces in toys have long since been replace with big pieces due to choking hazards. Thus, a reduction in exposure to small toys/parts requiring dexterity.
What does a proper / functional grasp look like? A functional grasp is one that allows the little muscles of the hand to work, not the big one. There are 3 optimal grasps: Dynamic Tripod, Modified Quadrupod, and the Adapted Tripod Grasp.
What does an inefficient grasp look like? A child should start developing an efficient grasp by their fifth birthday or within that year. Most inefficient grasps are developed, not only from lack of proper fine motor toys/experiences, but also from writing /drawing with large or heavy markers and pencils, along with just writing too early (before the hand has fully developed). This creates habits which can be hard to break. Here are some pics of INEFFICIENT GRASPS:
How can I improve my child's grasp?
Around the age of 3, I recommend using crayons that have been broken down to no more than 1" long. If your child still tends to put everything in the mouth, then you'll want to either supervise or wait until they have kicked the habit. For girls, DO NOT, I say, DO NOT break them in front of them as their heart may break! For boys, they will enjoy it and will likely help you in breaking the rest of the crayons in the house. :--)
Activities that strengthen grasp are:
2) spray bottles
3)picking up coins and putting into piggy bank
4) hiding and seeking beads/coins in theraputty or in PlayDough
5) stringing beads (start with large and go smaller as child improves)
6) craft projects with scissors, stampers, hole punchers, etc
7) allow child the time to get dressed fully by him/herself
8) if you need more ideas, go Google crazy! There are tons of great posts by O.T.s and teacher
My child doesn't have a good grasp, but the handwriting is fine. Should I worry?
If your child is past 1st grade them changing grasp is quite difficult. Having an inefficient grasp will not make your child lose vocational ability. For the most part, an inefficient grasp may cause issues as the demands of amount and speed of handwriting increase (think middle school). Your child may complain of : hand fatigue, arm fatigue, not keeping up with note taking, and sometimes a callous on the middle or ring finger. Cursive may be more difficult to execute because it requires more precision and flow. If the student is past 1st grade, I simply show him/her some options for a grasp (such as the adapted tripod below) and explain why and what they can do when their hand hurts from writing.
Most of our clients come to us to improve some component of handwriting (manuscript/print/cursive) skill. Parents often question why occupational therapists work with handwriting so much.
Handwriting is a very complicated neurological and anatomical process. Usually poor or inefficient handwriting or penmanship is most often the symptom of a developmental process that is not functioning smoothly. When a well trained pediatric occupational therapist evaluates handwriting issues, they should be evaluating specific developmental areas.
Optimal handwriting skills also require fundamental skills such as:
upper body strength
visual motor integration (also known as eye hand coordination)
visual perception (vision to brain processing)
pencil grasp, finger strength and
When children participate in needed occupational therapy, the child is more successful in academic work. Often, if a child does not make quick progress through conventional academic tutoring then the student may have a developmental need, not an academic need. If your child is typically developing and has participated in handwriting tutoring by someone other than an O.T. for more than 2-3 months without great improvement---then it is likely not an academic need.
Mini Charmer's Class:
All of this to make a cool ice cream cone! I would say this was one of the kids' top 5 art activities all year long. I think they would have played in this mixture of shaving cream, paint, and school glue, all day long!
They first cut out and glued on their waffle cones to paper. Then, they used droppers to add colors of their choice to the shaving cream.
Our children in the Mini Charmer's Preschool class had a great time with this glue and salt art activity. I love this multi-sensory activity, but not as much as the kids do! First, they squeeze glue into any shape onto card stock paper. Then they cover the glue with salt. The grown ups shake off the extra salt and then the children use droppers to drop paint (we use water and food coloring) onto the salt. The color "drives" up the salt path, which is fun to watch.
Our gym activity was a new "treasure hunt" game. The kids were divided into 3 teams. Each team had to find the same number of cones, gingerbread mean and round shapes. These items were hiding in the gym. It was fun to watch the kids count (they had to have the exact number of each item to win), to see who ended up to be the "counter", the item seekers, and the mediators.
Yesterday, our Mini Charmer's class enjoyed our rice tubs that had letter stickers "hiding" in them. The kids were instructed to find and then match letters (building a letter team) on the wall. The boys liked counting and keeping current stats. The "W" team ended up winning with the most! This activity helps with letter recognition (visual discrimination), sensory processing, pre-handwriting, fine motor dexterity and team work.
On the other center, kids were instructed to pick out a stencil and use 2-3 marker colors to create the design on a coffee filter. Once done, we put the filter over a white piece of construction paper. The kids then used a spray bottle to squirt about 5 squirts on the design. The colors bleed together to make a cool design. Kids will lift the coffee filters this coming week to see what kind of design it made on the construction paper. This activity helps with pencil grasp, non-dominant stabilization, truck stability, finger/hand strength, and sensory exploration.
About the blogger: Stephanie Wick is a pediatric occupational therapist that founded and is lead O.T. at Learning Charms.
Read past Blog here