Why I Love This Activity…

Photo Cred on IG: @play.and.lear.activities

While perusing Instagram one day, I ran into this awesome activity idea by @play.and.learn.activities. I couldn’t help but become a huge fan of this simple idea of using everyday home items to create a developmental play and learn activity. In the picture you’ll see what looks like a tray filled with toys and a yarn web to make it more challenging for the little one to retrieve the toys. However, as a pediatric occupational therapist, my brain got super excited at the many developmental skills this activity addresses and the different ways to upgrade and downgrade this activity to customize it to different children’s abilities. To upgrade and downgrade an activity means to make the task more difficult (upgrade) or more easy (downgrade).

The pure thought process of thinking of what developmental milestones and functional skills are addressed in a specific activity, and how to upgrade/downgrade the activity is called “task analysis” in the OT world. It’s such an integral part of our profession, and what sets us OTs apart from other therapies, that my grad school program had an entire class designated to teach us this important skill. While it’s been a while since I’ve done a detailed task analysis for an activity like I did in grad school, it’s still a thought process I use everyday to determine my daily treatment activities.

For this particular activity, I love how the baby has to maintain an appropriate upright sitting posture, which is difficult for babies with lower tone and core strength to be able to do. In this picture, you see the baby stabilize sitting up by using the non-working arm as a support, thus helping to bear weight and strengthen this arm, while the working hand is reaching into the tray to retrieve toys. Notice that I didn’t say dominant and non-dominant hand because at this young age, there is no expectation of hand dominance being established. In fact, developmental speaking, babies are learning to use both hands collaboratively and interchangeably. Hand preference begins around ages 2-4, but hand dominance is not established until about 6 years of age. Visual processing and motor planning is addressed in this activity by looking at a target toy, planning how to approach the toy, and managing the retrieval of toy through the “web”. Fine motor strength and skill is addressed with the type of grasp and ability to maintain grasp until the toy is pulled out.

Here is a developmental milestone chart for your reference. Please remember that developmental milestones are just guidelines as each child is unique in developing at his/her own pace.

To upgrade this activity: -add more webbing -use smaller toys -use tools for retrieval (ex: tongs, scoop, chopsticks) -extend play opportunity by retrieving puzzle pieces or snap together toys

To downgrade this activity: -use less webbing -use less toys -use bigger sized toys,

In case you need some supplies to get you started, here are affiliated links for products that will get you started on creating your own version of this fun activity. All of the toys listed below can also be used in other creative play schemes as well. Please comment if you’d like more informational posts about task analysis, pediatric occupational therapy, or more developmental play ideas. Enjoy!

How Monkey Bars Help Your Child’s Brain

Photo Cred: Reader Report File Photo https://www.stuff.co.nz/

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I know that core strength and upper body strength and stability is the foundation for building fine motor strength and coordination skills for play, self-care, and academic skills (cutting and handwriting). The most popular question I get asked by parents of primary grade level students is in regards to their child’s poor handwriting. While there are many components that I consider as a therapist as to why a student is having difficulty with handwriting, including body positioning, access to appropriate writing tools and paper, learning abilities, I often find that handwriting legibility issues are related to decreased fine motor strength. The best way for kids to develop their fine motor strength is to develop their core strength and upper body strength through play.

This awesome article is by a teacher who breaks down the science behind building neural pathways of the a child’s brain through myelination. I love how she explains in in simple to understand terms. There is so much research highlighting the neuroplasticity of children’s brains…this is a fancy way of saying how the brain is sooo trainable. However, in order to train the brain, active and repetitive movement is needed, and oftentimes in the case for kids this is frequent engagement in gross motor play. The best quote of the article cites a passage in the book,  “A Moving Child is a Learning Child, ” which states “Climbing, hanging, swinging, and any other high-energy activities that build strength in his upper body and core muscles are vital precursors to fine motor skills”. (McCarthy, C. Connell, G. p.236).  YES!!! MONKEY BARS!!! One of my favorite playground equipment! I always made it a point to make sure both of my kids mastered the monkey bars at our home playset and at their school playground. I can get lost in breaking down an activity analysis of monkey bars, but in short, the benefits include: core strengthening, upper arms strengthening, reciprocal upper body coordination (advancing one arm after the other to the next rung), weight bearing (excellent for joint stability), proprioceptive input, and vestibular input.

Here is the link to the article, and as always, please leave a comment or question below on your thoughts of this article or my post.