Friday, January 16, 2015

Sensory Room!

It's hard to believe that we're half way through the school year! As the school days quickly pass by, teachers and therapists are continually thinking about lesson plans, class activities and room arrangements.  I'm a lucky girl to work with some really, really amazing educators who are creative, resourceful, and just plain good at what they do!  I've learned so much and wanted to share some of the great sensory areas that have been set up for our students with various levels of needs.  One classroom in particular is for medically fragile preschoolers, many of whom have significant developmental delays.  The sensory area in this room can provide sensory stimulation or calming depending on the needs of the child.    Here are some pics for you!

This is a glimpse of the sensory area in the classroom~~the blue fabric limits bright overhead lights, visual distractions, and creates a calming mood.  There are soft mats on the floor and beanbags for positioning.

There are loads of ways to provide sources of visual stimulation!  Here we  have some very inexpensive metallic design folders and curly ribbons in multiple colors.  Wrapping paper is another option and is available in so many designs! The "disco light" spins slowly and lights up when the red switch is lightly touched.  The kiddos love this!

And check out this REuse-REcycle idea! Colorful strands of beads link together old CD's that hang from the ceiling for visual stimulation of another sort.  It only costs a couple of dollars and is so simple! 

Bumpy balls used to be something you would only find in therapy catalogs but now you can find them just about anywhere!  Walmart, Target, Amazon, and even the dollar store usually carry these kid favorites very inexpensively.

I'm not sure where this came from but it offers visual calming as the kiddos can hold it and watch the blue oil slide slowly down the sides of the container.
Soft, cuddly toys are also a hit with kiddos~~they can be used for dramatic play or simply for a soft snuggle :)

For kiddos in wheelchairs, this offers frame is built from PVC pipes and there are toys clipped to stretchy bands.  This has consistently been a favorite with students who enjoy looking at the brightly colored toys and batting at them with their hands.  

The thing I love most about this classroom is that so many of the ideas are very inexpensive!  They are simple to put together and offer a variety of sensory experiences for our kiddos.  

Jen Dermody, OTR/L

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lots of Activity at the Activity Table

My new favorite toy for my 8 month old baby is his activity table! I wanted one to encourage standing and found it to help with so much more. Keep in mind that these little tables can be a bit costly when you purchase new...anywhere from $40-$75 dollars depending on the brand, so I headed to our local child consignment shop where I found a very gently used LeapFrog brand table for only $10! This girl LOVES a bargain so that price most definitely helped this table earn a "favorite" spot in my book.
First of all, Liam likes getting his chunky little legs up straight and tall to stand and play with the lights and buttons on the table! He's only 8 months old so he needs close physical supervision as he will tumble right over (or backwards) when he gets distracted or tired. He still leans into the table and it helps to have it pushed up against the couch so it doesn't get away from him. Within the next few weeks, his standing practice will lead to "cruising" practice as he learns to take some steps around the table while holding on.
It seems that most brands have removable legs on the activity tables so for little ones who aren't quite standing, you can use the table top on the floor. In this case, I actually boosted it up just a bit on a pillow so that he could reach the buttons better. I've found this to be a great way to practice dynamic sitting balance as he tries to reach across for all of the lights and sounds but still has to try to maintain his sitting. He's getting much better at this!
Instead of removing ALL of the table legs, I can also remove just 2 to make more of an inclined position. This is another option for sitting to encourage higher level reaching and eye-hand coordination. He can also be placed on his tummy which is ALWAYS an OT's favorite position for babies! In this picture, he is on his tummy over the pillow, mainly for comfort so he'll play here a little longer. He had started on his tummy without the pillow before I added some cushion. Ironically, once he was on the pillow, he was quickly enticed by the TAG on the pillow and of course had to check it out! Who needs all of those lights and sounds when you can chew on a tag, right?!
This was well worth my $10 investment! Liam is strengthening his motor skills and is quite entertained as well. Did I mention that words and songs can be played in English OR Spanish? Put it all together and it makes for a very happy baby (and mommy)!
Jen Dermody, OTR/L

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Writing "Window"

When kiddos are learning letters and practicing how to write their name, it often helps to isolate the letters they are learning to recognize. A simple way to do this is to use the writing "window"~~ cut a small magnifier type window and laminate so the child can look through the window at the letter they are trying to copy. This is so simple yet so helpful for focusing attention and reinforcing recognition of each letter. Kiddos quickly learn to request the window when writing and always love this little tool!

Jen Dermody, OTR/L

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

Winter is certainly upon us and what kiddo doesn't love a good snowman?  Here's an idea for playing with the "snow" inside any day of the year!  Draw a snowman on large paper and laminate it or cover it with clear Contact paper.  Hang it up on an easel or tape it to the wall.  Now put on that favorite smock because the "snow" is actually shaving cream!  Fill a small container with shaving cream and let your kiddo "paint" the snowman.  This is a super fun sensory task but it's also fantastic for doing some work on a vertical surface, which helps to improve upper body strength and stability, important for pre-writing/writing skills.  Kiddos can erase and paint again by using a small wash cloth to wipe the surface clean.  Yet another great upper body task that incorporates using large muscles to help strengthen the shoulders for fine motor work.

Kiddos love this activity and it will only cost you a couple of dollars. Enjoy!

Jen Dermody, OTR/L

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sensory Strategies to Start the School Year

The start of a new school year brings together all sorts of kiddos with all sorts of unique personalities.  Some kiddos are happy to sit still and listen to the teacher while others seem to have a very hard time sitting still, following directions, and staying focused.  These kiddos might be a bit impulsive and might be sensitive to touch or noises in the room.  Often, these are not kiddos who are trying to be a behavior problem (though it sure might seem like that!); they might have be displaying characteristics of sensory processing disorder (also known as SPD).  A few simple sensory strategies incorporated into the classroom can be ever so helpful for these kiddos and will make the classroom run much more smoothly.  In fact, many sensory strategies are helpful to ALL of the might even notice that you use some of them yourself!
  • Get Movin'!  Before you expect kiddos to sit for group time or a class lesson, have everyone stand up for a short movement break guided by the teacher.  For example, "Stomp your feet; clap your hands; reach way up; touch your toes; turn around then touch your nose; reach once more; give a clap; sit down with hands in your lap."  This will take under a minute but provides an outlet to MOVE before being expected to sit still.
  • Deeeep Breathing:  Deep breathing helps to calm the nervous system and is another great exercise for kiddos to learn (and adults!).  For kiddos, you can ask them to hold up their "candles" (5 fingers), take a big breath, and blow out all of the candles as they put each finger down.  If needed, find the candles on the other hand and repeat.
  • Water Bottles:  Water bottles with a straw-like mouthpiece require sucking to get a drink and this is also a calming technique.  In addition, it keeps kids hydrated!  If you're worried about the water bottle "sweating" on the desk, the bottle can be placed in a sock that keeps water off the desk.
  • Chewing Gum:  Now you think I'm crazy, right?!  Once you establish the RULES for having gum in the classroom (such as "It stays in your mouth; when it comes out of your mouth, it goes straight to the trash can....") you'll be AMAZED at how chewing gum helps kiddos to calm.  Chewing is an "organizer" for your nervous system and helps to calm.  The same can be achieved with a StarBurst or other chewy foods.  
  • Fidget Toys:  Giving kiddos something to hold in their hands when listening to the teacher helps to keep their fingers out of their mouths and noses and can be a big help in keeping attention.  Toys such as Koosh balls, stress balls, etc are easy to store in a basket and can be given out as needed in class.  
  • Weighted Lap Pad:  You might have heard of a "weighted snake"---a soft weighted "tube" that can be placed on the student's lap when sitting.  It offers proprioceptive input that helps the kiddo to sit still.  These can be bought in therapy catalogs or better yet, make your own out of a little bit of material filled with rice.  My daughter made these cute snakes you see below!

  • Headphones:  Some kiddos simply cannot block out the classroom noise (and there might be a lot of it!), so you can offer noise cancelling headphones that can be used during work time or whenever the kiddo feels the need to diminish some of the distractions and noises.  
Hopefully with some sensory strategies, creativity, and maybe a little extra patience, you'll find that it's not so difficult to design a learning environment that works for all students!

Jen Dermody, OTR/L

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Kiddo at Jen's OT For Kids!

Well, my last posting was on July 18th and just a few days after that, there was some really big news at our household.  I'm proud to announce that my son Liam Matthew was born July 26th!  Let me explain that to call this sweet baby a surprise would be a bit of an other son is 15 and my daughter is 16 1/2!  There were no obvious signs of this pregnancy until my pants weren't fitting (thought I was gaining weight now that I'm in my 40's!) and I did not find out I was pregnant until I was 17 weeks along.  CRAZY!  Thankfully I live a healthy lifestyle, don't drink or smoke, I exercise daily and take a multi-vitamin, however I was 42 years old when I found out and a bit nervous.  My other children arrived at 35 and 36 weeks, so wouldn't ya know this little guy ALSO came at 36 weeks and was even born on his big brother's birthday! He is a sweet little soul and we are grateful for his good health.  This has been just a bit of an adjustment at this house but it's all good!  Liam is giving me all kinds of ideas for new postings as I start all over on the child development train~~oh, this poor child of a therapist who is always being observed on a developmental checklist by his dear ol' mom.  None the less, you're bound to see more pics of him as he gets to be the model of fine motor activities, but here is the first glimpse.  Pretty cute, huh? We sure think so!

Jen Dermody, OTR/L (aka, MOM!)