Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Welcome to pediatricOT!

Welcome! I'm an occupational therapist living and practicing in New York. I love what I do and I love to talk about and write about my work. You can leave questions for me about your child in the comments section.

Today, I want to share something that I tell all of the parents of the children I treat. Much has been written about prescribing sensory diets for children, and I could get quite clinical about the reasoning behind choosing different activities to achieve different behavioral outcomes. But here is a simple thing that everyone should do: make sure that your children play outside every day.

I was raised just outside the city limits of Chicago and am old enough to recall when there was still a good bit of prairie surrounding our neighborhood before it was developed. Soon after I learned to walk and talk, I was free to roam around the neighborhood, playing jump rope, hopscotch, tag, statues, and red rover with the other children on our block. When we were about seven, my friends and I all got bicycles, and we took off in packs. We went to one of the many parks in our town, or we went to the empty lots behind the golf ball factory looking for golf balls, or we went to the dime store on the little shopping street nearby and bought comic books and candy. Our parents didn't have to worry about our safety and they never tried to curtail our activities. Every day in the summer and on the weekends during the school year, our mothers let us out the back door after breakfast and expected us home sometime before dinner.

Now I live in New York City, and this opportunity for young children to operate with such a large degree of autonomy and freedom simply doesn't exist. As far as I can tell, most of the children I treat in my practice rarely get to play outside on any regular basis. This has the effect of delaying the development of their gross motor coordination and their core strength, and aside from the inability to bounce a ball or do a jumping jack, it affects their postural control, which in turn makes it hard for them to sit still for long periods and to regulate their behavior. I have almost never seen a child who was born and raised in Manhattan hit anything close to age appropriate gross motor skills acquisition. No wonder there is an epidemic of school related issues these days!

Now that the weather is getting better, it's important to take your children outside every day. Take them to the park, put them on the swings and slide and jungle gym, let them climb on the rocks, play tag with them, teach them how to jump rope and play hopscotch. It's more than mere fun. It's necessary to help the body to support the mind and spirit for learning and for behavior. If your child has a hard time sitting still in school, try making sure that he or she has an opportunity for intense movement before school starts. Take him to the playground and let him play for twenty minutes before drop off. Or arrange for your child to walk at least partway to school.

Last year I evaluated a little boy who was almost three years delayed in his gross motor development, and I suggested that he be taken to the park near his home every day. I ran into his father a few months later, who told me that this simple prescription had made a huge change in the child's behavior. He was more confident, since his balance and strength were better, and he could sit and focus for much longer periods. Also, he and his dad, who was taking him most of the time, had become much closer and had improved their often rocky relationship by having so much happy play together.


laykakobe said...

Congratulations on the blog page! Great article. Looking forward to seeing you in September.


DaMomma said...

I forget to do this. I think it's because I got it into my head that taking them to the play ground is a lot of work. I forget that I'm supposed to let them play and stay out of it. (Unless the obnoxious Miller kid is there, I'm on her like white on rice!)

I am so excited for your new blog! What a fabulous idea. I can't wait to read and learn.

Anonymous said...

This was a great post and an important reminder about how important it is (not to mention challenging) to get NYC kids outside.

My soon-to-be 9 year old started his second season of little league last week and after an intense 1.5 hour practice, stayed for another 45 minutes to play catch with a friend. I watched him, blown away at how good he's gotten, remembering when he started OT at almost 4 and couldn't catch a ball. Period. From there to making plays in the outfield is nothing short of amazing. And after reading this post I'm going to make sure I get him practicing more than just at practice.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your new blog! What you're saying is so very important. Although I'm not a parent, I actually did grow up in NYC--Brooklyn, actually. Our mothers sent us out to play every day after school. We made up our own games, which nearly always involved running around like maniacs, screaming at the tops of our lungs, skinning our knees, and getting covered with dirt. Our parents never worried about where we were and what we were doing, because they assumed that they had given us enough common-sense instructions to keep us out of serious trouble.

I'm not sure how to make this practical in today's very different world, but I do encourage any parent readers to get your kids out there. Let them get some air in their lungs and experience some actual weather!

Catherine V said...

Thanks for this new blog! My son will be visiting the playground at school before he goes in, another useful tool for me to use!

Blonde Guy said...

OK, kid. Get up from the computer. It's time to learn to juggle. This is a unicycle. The doc says we all need to be coordinated now. One, two three, go!

Um. I think it went under the couch...

Regula said...

Loren, you are absolutely right! Playing outside is the most important thing for children. They learn so much. As a mother of four boys and a teacher, this is my deepest beliefe, and I always say to people they d' better let their pre-schooler play in the sand than make them sit in front of the computer to train Mathematics for three year olds for a headstart in first grade.

When I was in Canada last summer I watched a TV program about the fact that children don't play outside anymore. Maybe you know it? Maybe you can find out more about it. It was very interesting! And of course, they came to the same results.

tatjana said...

Being the mom of a 5 year old boy who enjoys and needs a significant amount of gross motor activity, I fully endorse and thank Loren for her words of wisdom. We live in the city and can't just open the door to the yard, but the park is near, and we are out EVERY day unless ill. Nothing like getting outside balances our son's mood, makes for good sleep and fun times together when everyone is happy.

To me personally, Loren's advice on effective disciplining while being a loving mom has been immensely helpful, and I feel so grateful for that.

If you are in a position to let you or your child benefit from Loren's expertise, 20+ year experience and wisdom, don't hesitate!

Anonymous said...

great idea to have your own blog. I agree kids and adults should get more outside and move more,

Anonymous said...

It sounds like this is a perfect echo of what my mom figured out 20+ years ago. One of my brothers "J" was a tough kid to handle, especially at school. Even though we could take the school bus, we walked (with mom, dog, and baby in stroller) whenever we could. "Everyone had a better day when J didn't have to ride the bus to school"