Like all things topsy turvy in this strange new world we’re learning to live in, learning to learn, itself, has been turned upside down.
As occupational therapists working with children, we talk a lot about and address challenges common for children with sensory processing disorder – or the difficulty in dealing with sensory overload. Now, with parents, teachers, caregivers and peers all wearing masks, suddenly the problem is a lack of enough sensory input, in this case, visual input, making it difficult for young children developing early social skills, to understand feelings and expectations being communicated to them.
Our whole body is responsible for non-verbal communication, with verbal communication only accounting for 10%-30% overall. For young children or children with neuro-developmental differences, interacting with others in masks can be challenging – but our smile or frown, or anything in between, only accounts for a small amount of our non-verbal communications.
Now is a good time to encourage and guide your child to become a “social detective”, looking for whole body language (non-verbal) cues that hold the clues to ideas, thoughts, feelings, attitude and state of mind being communicated, much of which is produced subconsciously. While eyes opened wide or brows furrowed are pretty obvious indicators of feelings, many children have difficulty with the intimacy of sustained eye contact. The “social detective” will need to pay closer attention to a person’s posture, movements, and arm placement (crossed or open, for example), for bigger and easier indicators to use when determining friendship and attention.
To support a child’s critical early social development during this time of masks and social distancing, parents might try role playing with their children, pointing out different body postures and positions, and discussing what information those positions might be relaying. Practicing guessing how family members are feeling at home with and without masks can help with feelings of anxiety when venturing out of the house. Using favorite TV shows or YouTube characters can be helpful as well! Pause the show, cover up the character’s face on the screen and see if the posture of the character matches the emotion they are feeling. A few non-verbal check-ins a day will help grow your child’s awareness and understanding of non-verbal communication, and how to connect to those communications and the people sending them.
Yummy sensory opportunities for children to explore the tastes and textures of food.
Exploring foods provides young children myriad opportunities to get messy and experience delicious and colorful sensory play! Paige, one of our deeply trained pediatric occupational therapists, shares some of her favorite summer food sensory activities for you to try at home with your kiddos.
Containers of food for “musical containers“.
To target the auditory, olfactory, visual, and tactile systems play a game called, “musical containers.” Fill various size containers with various foods with unique sensory attributes. Cereal or pretzels will make lots of noise when the container is shaken. Orange slices will tantalize the olfactory system. M&M’s or Skittles will literally be eye candy as a child’s visual system is delighted by all the bright colors.
After you have filled various containers, pass them around the table or back and forth, playing music your child enjoys. Stop the music, then open the containers to look, smell, and touch! The benefits of this activity include developing your child’s impulse control (waiting until the music stops to open the containers and to stop passing when the music is paused). Your child’s auditory system is challenged by having to focus on listening to know when the music has stopped. They will learn to filter out distractions in his/her environment to focus on the activity. The different food items give your child a chance to explore his or her sensory systems, talk about those systems, and label how he feels about each of the sensory experiences. All processes which are crucial for development.
Changing the shape of food for fun messy play.
This next activity suggestion helps to develop your child’s motor skills and encourages messy tactile play. Gather various food in the house in which the form of the food can be changed. For example, you can chop up zucchini, you can slice apples, you can peel an orange, you can sift your hands through flour; you can place raspberries on each of your fingers. By facilitating your child’s exploration of food, he or she is gaining more comfort, which in turn helps children who are picky eaters due to sensory challenges and/or tactile sensitivity. By utilizing various tools/body parts to alter the form of the food (fingers, knife, fork, food hammer etc.), you are facilitating your child’s development of his/her fine motor skills, and hand dexterity – skills necessary to develop age appropriate self-care skills and be successful in the classroom setting as well!
Categorizing food for academic based learning
The following food activity is academic based and helps your child learn. It is recommended you choose a variety of food items that can then be categorized. Some categories you can choose include sorting by color, shape, size, attributes.
For example, peaches, apples, and bananas are all fruit. Tomatoes, apples, ketchup, and pasta sauce are all red. You can also facilitate your child’s vocabulary development by having him or her practice describing flavors during mealtimes/snack time. For example, this piece of broccoli is crunchy; this apple is sweet; this sweet potato is mushy and sweet.
Take a field trip and check out your local farmers market
When your child is involved in picking out the food he or she wants to try, he or she may be more excited about trying the food, especially if your child is a picky eater. Children will enjoy meeting the farmers and learning about where the food they eat comes from.
Resources for parents:
“The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear” – the playful account of two animal’s interactions surrounding their strong desire to eat delicious strawberries.
Zoom Teletherapy: An Educational Therapist’s Perspective
A series of articles by Ann B. – Educational Therapist
In these uncertain, and sometimes bleak days the Corona virus has imposed upon us, I am going to admit to something surprising, and perhaps controversial: I enjoy, and actually benefit from, treating my educational therapy clients using Zoom. I know, I agree – it has its drawbacks, but its advantages are too numerous to ignore.
I’ve been using Zoom to conduct my 50-minute educational teletherapy sessions since the shutdown, and it was surprisingly easy to transition from “in-person” to “in-camera,” even though I had limited experience with Zoom prior to the pandemic. My clients range from age 6-17 – some have special needs, while others have some identified learning difficulty such as dyslexia or ADD. My overall experience these past 4 months (is that all it’s been?) with distance learning has been unquestionably positive. Zoom is, hands-down, a helpful tool that aids me in keeping my clients’ skills from becoming rusty, and much more. I am even using Zoom to teach clients to read, to write, and to actually create and use a schedule! I profess, even I am a little surprised at this!
The Zoom Benefits
The benefits of using Zoom are both personal and professional. Personally, I sure don’t miss those pre-Covid early morning wake-ups, followed by a quick dog walk, then making breakfast, which I drank on my drive to work. Nor do I miss the responsibility of keeping up appearances by dressing up for work. I find I use less make-up now, due to how well Zoom’s “touch up my appearance” feature works. No commute means the expense of time and money are now erased, and I get to sleep in a little.
Professionally, the benefits of Zoom teletherapy are even broader. It definitely makes sharing digital resources with students a more direct experience. It’s ironic – we call it “distance learning,” but it’s really the opposite. In fact, when you think about it, the distance between my lips and my students’ ears actually decreases in the Zoom environment. Same with the digital document and my students’ eyes. Being this “close” enhances both the educational and the therapeutic relationship, and I still feel connected when I see my students’ faces. That is, when I can see their face, which, at times, can be a challenge. Imagine what it looks like if your view is being controlled by a youngster holding an iPad (i.e., your head) between their two hands. I usually end up getting queasy at the sight of bouncing unintelligible objects that appear upside down and this way and that. Often I get to admire the ceiling, but sometimes I am rewarded by the sight of my student’s quizzical face, because s/he needs to “check in.” Those can be the best moments, because it usually happens when they just learned something – sigh.
Here’s a recent example of what I mean by ease of using resources. I had to get creative to get my 1st grade client with special needs back to our session (she thinks it’s hilarious to pretend to shut the laptop, saying, “OK, ‘bye!”). Once, she walked away, but I felt she must be nearby, so I Googled the first thing I could think of – an armadillo. The educational video that I was playing for her, less than 10 seconds later, brought her back with eyes wide and mouth closed. Then we continued with the session, and later rolled up like an armadillo for a body break. And that’s just one resource – I could have pulled up an eternal supply of relevant and effective material. It’s virtually unlimited!
I have two adult children of my own, and I really feel for the parents out there who have young children in school in 2020. Let’s face it – it’s scary to send your child to school these days! I am glad we have teletherapy, now at CSC, so that I can continue to deliver vital educational therapy to the fabulous kids I work with.
Learning – it’s fundamental. Teaching – a job parents and caregivers gladly shared with teachers and others trained in child development and education. Until now.
During the time of Covid-19 school closures, the role of “teacher” now falls much heavier on parents at home, and as a result, a “reimagining of learning” is having to occur.
How to Help your Child Thrive this Summer and Beyond.
You’ve heard it before; we are living in challenging times. As we move through this summer, you may be wondering what challenges your child will face when they return to school/if they return to school, in the fall. You may feel lost and have many questions that seem to have no easy answers. How will I make sure my child keeps learning the academic skills they’ll need for success? How can I support my child while keeping them safe? While we don’t know exactly what schools will look like in the fall, we can use this opportunity to reimagine what education can be for our kids over the summer as they shore up important skills they will need in the new school year.
Creating a Micro Learning Pod
One option for your child may be to partner with other families to create a “micro learning pod.” Unlike a typical homeschool, in which parents can be left to fend for themselves, this setup is integrated with teachers and other professionals to lessen the load on the family and increase positive learning outcomes.
One or more educators are hired to work with a small group of children (typically 2-4 works best) to facilitate learning. An educational specialist helps develop a curriculum based on the specific needs and interests of the students in the group, and also consults with teachers to make sure progress is occurring.
Children experience the first critical window of brain development between the ages of 2 and 7. Research indicates that some skills cannot be learned nearly as well after this time. For example, research also shows that this is the best time for children to learn the patterns of language development, even master a second language! The same can be true for the acquisition of musical abilities, which in turn can set the path for the enjoyment of math learning. Special classes such as foreign language or music class could be added as well.
Classes could be held outdoors and with social distancing to promote both safety and learning. Online learning could also be incorporated. Parents could rotate during instructional time, if necessary, to provide support without feeling overwhelmed by the academics.
If you are interested in setting up a micro learning pod for your child, we are currently offering consultations with our Lead Educational Therapist, Jennifer, who is creating and coordinating our learning programs here at Child Success Center. She is available to discuss educational options to reimagine learning and support you and your child, this summer and beyond. Call our office to set up your consultation today.
During the Covid crisis, speech therapists are using telehealth to support kiddos and their families during extended at home time.
At this time, perhaps more than ever, we count our blessings, and we are indeed blessed to have at Child Success Center, an extraordinary team of therapists. This May, as usual, we honor our speech therapists during Better Hearing and Speech Month.
Two of our speech therapists, Jeni and Samar, recently spoke via Zoom with CSC Director, Melissa Idelson, about their use of telehealth therapy sessions during the “shelter-at-home” period associated with the Covid-19 crisis, and how they have benefited both therapist and client.
Jeni talks about why she became a speech therapist, and how she uses various methods of therapy, including Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) to help children communicate and build their social brain. She also shares the ways she’s currently using telehealth to support her clients during the Covid-19 crisis.
Samar shares her experiences using telehealth to conduct speech therapy sessions during “shelter-at-home” period. She has discovered a plethora of new online resources that she is utilizing in her sessions, and feels strongly that many of them will continue to be useful, even after in-person therapy resumes. She is looking forward to having teletherapy as a future alternative when children are unable to make an appointment in person, like during a vacation or when mild illness makes staying home preferable.
The weather is perfect for some time outdoors engaging your child in fun sensory motor activities!
The 4 videos below demonstrate easy, fun and engaging ways to use sensory motor activities to advance academic learning. The kids will have a great time as they are motivated and challenged, both physically and mentally.
Practicing math, spelling and handwriting has never been so much fun!
Sensory motor play with shaving cream is a great way for kids to practice letter and number formation.
How to use fun, engaging sensory motor learning to advance academic learning at home.
Fun and engaging “at home” activities for kids use balance and core work while practicing math and spelling.
Listening, thinking, matching, moving – sensory motor learning at home.
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Your child is entering Kindergarten in the fall. But is he really prepared for the big transition?
The big day is almost here – your child is making the transition from pre-school into Kindergarten in the fall. As a parent, this can be both an exciting and emotional time, but for the child it is a major shift in routine, environment and academic expectations. Is your child really prepared? Common Core Standards have raised the academic bar, even at the Kindergarten level, but it is a child’s ability to attune, adapt, anticipate and efficiently process information, that is critical to a successful transition from the pre-school environment.
Typically, in pre-school a child may be given a single level task, that when autonomously completed, frees the child to go off and play. In contrast, as a Kindergartener a child may be asked to remain with an activity for a longer period of time, requiring auditory attention to both learn and follow an external plan. The activity may involve a series of directions that require the child to adjust his perspective or body multiple times, while self-regulating his emotions and actions. Since more time is spent in Kindergarten with whole-class, teacher-led instruction, a child must have the ability to think as a “we”; to attend and adjust to a group activity that requires social collaboration such as discussions about a story being told, its characters, settings and how they can relate to the story.
Social Brain Building Skills
The new Kindergartener will now have to attune to surroundings and peers, a shift from the more self-attuned pre-school positioning. The child must be able to walk into a situation and be able to observe and listen, then perceive what is expected of them. For example: the child walks into a classroom where other children are sitting and drawing. The child can then conclude that he/she is expected to sit and draw. This awareness, or metacognition, will keep the child from getting distracted and disorganized, helping to facilitate the efficacy of each learning experience. Auditory processing allows the child to attune to teacher directions and turn language into actions in order to follow new routines or complete a task. Repetition established by the kindergarten teacher will support this learning curve throughout the kinder year.
The ability to think as a “we” and follow directions, listen, attend, modify behavior and anticipate change, are the building blocks of executive function, a set of processes, or neurologically-based skills, that all have to do with managing oneself (mental control and self-regulation) and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. A solid foundation of Executive Function skills is imperative to all future learning.
Understanding Letters and Numbers
All of these so-called “soft skills” are necessary for the Kindergartener to achieve success in the development of the “hard skills” such as the acquisition of the understanding of letters and numbers. Kindergarteners are expected to recognize the letters of the alphabet, both in upper and lower cases when they enter kindergarten. They need to understand the difference between sounds, letters and words and that words have meaning and make up sentences. They must know number formation so they can begin the process of learning how to break out numbers.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills such as holding and using a pencil/crayon/marker/ and scissors, are required as children, over the course of the school year, will need to be able to express their thoughts, ideas and experiences through drawing and writing.
How to Prepare Your Child for the Transition from Pre-School into Kindergarten
It is important to note that approximately 1 in 5 children experience one or more challenges with behavior, communication, body movement and learning. While these challenges are common, each child’s root issues can be vastly different. If your child is struggling in any of these areas as the transition to Kindergarten approaches, it would be wise to seek out a consultation or assessment with a pediatric therapist who can get to the root issue and facilitate a program of occupational, speech/language, educational or multi-disciplinary therapy.
Kindergarten Enrichment Camp is fun way to help prepare children over the summer for the new challenges of Kindergarten. This type of program helps children develop confidence when taking the first steps toward reading, writing, attending to a new routine, developing social-emotional skills, being mindful of themselves and others and making new friends.
It’s that time again, summer is winding down and schools are back in session! For all you pre-school parents it’s a big time of change and transition. There’s so much to balance that it’s hard to keep track of everything! Lucky for parents SLPs (Speech/Language Pathologists) are here to make part of that process a little easier with preschool speech and language screenings.
What is a pre-school speech and language screening?
A pre-school speech and language screening is a way for an SLP to observe children (approximately ages 2.5-5) in the school environment to determine if they demonstrate appropriate understanding and use of language, production of speech sounds, attention, and social skills with peers. The SLP will then determine if the child passed the screening or if they will recommend a full speech and language evaluation.
What does it mean if my child does not pass?
Being recommended by a pre-school language screener is an open conversation to talk about your child’s needs. As a parent you should be aware, but not alarmed! Early intervention is a wonderful opportunity to address areas where your child is struggling and give them the extra help they need before academic and social demands increase as they get older. Research continues to show that identifying children with language disorders as early as possible is important because the earlier children receive speech and language intervention, the better their language outcomes will be.
Each child develops at their own pace, so SLPs use typical age ranges of speech and language development as a guideline to recommend assessment.
6 hidden speech and language skills that SLPs look for and why:
- Speech intelligibility (in words and conversation) – Often it’s easier for close family members and familiar adults to understand kids, but if less familiar people have trouble understanding your child’s speech it could mean their speech is somewhat unintelligible. This can make it hard for children to be understood by peers and teachers, which can impact their communication at school. It can also be indicative of phonics or reading issues down the line if left untreated.
- Attention to tasks – Can the child sit and listen during story time? Are they able to focus and listen when the teacher is talking? This can appear like the child struggles to follow directions when they may just need help learning how to focus and maintain their attention at the same level as their peers. Without appropriate attention skills, children can miss important things going on around them at school.
- Early social skills (relating to peers, pretend play, functional play) – Are they able to initiate games and social interactions with their peers? Are they playing with toys functionally, such as stacking blocks or putting shapes in a shape sorter? Are they engaging in pretend play with their peers, like feeding their animal dolls or making their toys go on adventures? If not, they may need some help to gain these skills! If left untreated, this can lead to trouble relating to their peers and losing out on opportunities for social interactions.
- Emotional regulation – Is your child able to react and respond appropriately when things do not go according to plan? Are they self-directed and on their own agenda or can they follow along and participate in what the group is doing? If not, it could mean that they need some help learning how to regulate their emotions.
- Vocabulary development – SLPs take a look at the content and vocabulary your child is using in their speech. Preschool-age children are expected to understand and express a variety of concepts and word forms (e.g. verbs, adjectives, location words) at the same level as their peers. If your child is not using age-appropriate vocabulary or using only limited phrases or sentences, they might need help to expand their expressive skills.
- Clear communication – Is your child able to clearly communicate their thoughts and their wants and needs? Are you noticing breakdowns in communication? Your child might need help in this area in order to help them be clearer communicators and to prevent frustration that breakdowns in communication can often cause.
Every year, with the weather warming and the anticipation of the end of the school year, our CSC team looks forward to the summer camp program. Our Kindergarten Camp is always a favorite, and this year we added the Summer Brain Building Camp, which proved to be great fun for the kids and us!
Kindergarten Enrichment Summer Camp
K-Camp is such a joyful experience for the campers. For many of them, this is their first “camp” experience. That, combined with the anticipation of entering Kindergarten, creates excitement and glee for the children as they embark on their social learning journey.
While playing and making new friends, each camper was actually being challenged to build their capacity for adaptation and flexibility, supporting transitions between our sensory gym and classroom-like environments.
At the outset, each child engendered mindful attention, active listening, and presence to sculpt a grounded infrastructure. Such practices created a platform for social and emotional balance and regulation that promoted “whole body and brain” listening and engagement.
Our focus on learning stemmed from an array of structured, tabletop activities, to less structured, independent tasks that included sound/letter identification and pairing, rhyming, handwriting, word creation, and initial reading practices.
Through a social-emotional lens, we explored group plans and dynamics, problem-solving, expected and friendly ways of being, the sense of belonging, and further developed confidence and competence. Taking a look inward and building on self-reflective practices and attunement, each child began to expand their self-awareness and interpersonal skills. Through such dynamics emerged a child’s sense of openness, curiosity, and creativity to explore and build pathways for learning and academics, motor skill development, play, and social-emotional integration.
Whew! That said, the kids had a blast laughing, playing, giggling, and making friends and memories. Good luck new kindergarteners – you got this!
Social Brain Building Summer Camp
New this year to CSC’s summer camp program, was Social Brain Building Camp. Designed for children entering 1st grade in the fall, this camp invites children to exercise their imaginations, and role play while having fun building dynamic social skills that prepare them for successful relationships in 1st grade…and life!
Campers attending CSC’s Social Brain Building Camp embarked on their social-emotional journey with eagerness to make new friends, enjoy physical activity, and learn the fundamentals of “we-thinking”. These were big challenges that the group worked on through various fun activities, including building a rocket ship to go to the moon, painting and coloring emotions, playing board games, watching interactive social skills videos, having a shaving cream party, and performing space man exercises.
The camp’s goal was to develop social and emotional balance, regulation for first time listening, and cooperative conversational skills. Taking a look inward and building on self-reflective practices and attunement, each child began to expand their self-awareness and interpersonal skills. Campers began to take charge of their own emotions by identifying their feelings, utilizing the “take a break space” when needed for re-centering, and using their words to communicate their needs to peers.
Each week helpful hints were sent to parents to support and encourage ongoing social learning within the home.
Overall, the children at both camps, created a toolbox that shaped the development of the brain and body, enhancing capacity for social relationships, emotional experiences, and cognitive opportunities on the learning journey.
“How do I help my child? What am I supposed to do?”
That is the question most parents ask when we begin speaking to them about their children’s developmental and learning challenges. It comes from a feeling of helplessness. They’ve either tried everything they know or they’re at the beginning of their attempts to make sense of things, and the myriad treatment options seem too overwhelming to make decisions about. The result is burnout or, worse yet, the inability to act. With knowledge and support, parents are empowered to act swiftly and confidently on their child’s behalf.
It takes a village to help my child.
You can’t do this alone, nor should you have to. The best thing a parent can do when seeking support for their child, is to get support for themselves. Parents are the ones helming the ship, and if the captain isn’t operating with optimal knowledge, the whole crew suffers. Self-care, groups, therapy resources, and just being kind to yourself, are all recommendations for parents. Give yourself a break – give yourself compliments – don’t give in to negative self-talk.
There’s no right or wrong way to find community and get support. Some parents prefer one-on-one meetings with a therapist, others prefer parent groups, while others find community in their yoga class or religious community. Podcasts, books, blogs, and online groups are great resources. Finding others to talk about these topics and share experiences, gives a parent a sense of belonging and connection as opposed to feeling isolated and alone.
At the Child Success Center we understand the hurdles and intricacies of parenting “outside the box” kids. We offer various opportunities for parents to learn how to continue and support in the home and school environments, the strategies that we work on with the kids during sessions.
Our goal is to provide the resources and tools needed to facilitate happiness and success for children and peace of mind for parents.
Behavioral Therapy – A child’s problematic behavior may, in actuality, be the resulting reaction to any number of unseen factors. Our therapists work closely with family members to help determine what lies beneath the surface of the behavior, including a variety of sensory, social emotional, environmental, and physical issues.