Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Inside Moves, Part Two

More ideas about staying sane while staying indoors.  {If the weather at all permits, please, take your children outside to play!}  

therapy ball is invaluable for a young child who needs a lot of intensity but insists on maintaining control of the activity.  The child can sit and bounce to his heart's content, with the added bonus of strengthening up the intrinsic musculature around the spine and working the eyes.  The correct size allows the child to sit with hips and knees at 90 degree angles.  The therapy ball can used for homework, eating dinner, or sitting while watching television or working on the computer.  The child can play catch and shoot targets from the ball, as well.

large therapy ball is great for all kinds of play activities at  home.  An excellent activity the child can do independently is to drape himself over it and roll back and forth, landing forward onto his hands and then rolling back onto his feet.  This develops protective extension responses, which are frequently lacking in low tone children.   He can also spin himself around in a circle using his hands and feet on the floor.   Another great game to promote strengthening and vision is to hold the child by the legs while he lays across the ball, have him walk forward on his hands to pick things up and toss them at targets, then walk back.  You can use foam alphabet letters and spell words, or use Handwriting Without Tears wooden pieces and build letters.

Games that require the child to use his body with his head in different positions are very challenging and alerting.  I have children bend over and shoot at targets through their legs, sing "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes", and play Twister.

I have a long tube made out of stretchy fabric, purchased at a fabric store, that the children love to crawl through.  Drape it over sofa cushions for an obstacle course.  Put stuffed animals inside, and have the child rescue them, or have him push a therapy ball through.  Two adults can also pick the child up and swing him back and forth while he's inside.

An indoor tunnel is a great workout, especially for a child who did not crawl I  toss toys inside for the child to rescue, or pieces of a puzzle which he can then put together.  You can gently roll the child back in forth inside, or have him roll himself across the room.

Roll the child up in a blanket like a burrito, and then unroll him by holding onto the end and unfurling him.  If he enjoys deep pressure, bury him in sofa cushions while he lies on his belly and then roll the therapy ball on top of him.  This is very calming.

Piggy back rides are as therapeutic as they are fun. This is a great way to improve endurance, strengthen up the child's flexor muscles, and to work on head righting, which is often weak or absent in children with poor balance.  While the child is clinging to your back, put on some music and do a dance, dipping and leaning from side to side.  Shake your hips and spin around in a circle. The child should be able to wrap his arms and legs strongly around you and hold on to  you without assistance.  If he can't, that's something to work on.

 If he is not righting his head and is falling off when you lean over, dance in front of a full length mirror so he can use his reflection to keep his head in midline.  Or another adult can provide a visual target by holding something interesting for the child to look at on the opposite side.  {When you lean to the left, the target is moved to the right, and vice versa.}

Old fashioned calisthenics are great for building strength and endurance, and for turning restless, antsy, oppositional children into exhausted, compliant ones.  {I refer to this tactic as fatiguing them into submission.}  Running and marching in place to music, deep knee bends, jumping jacks, push ups, planks, and sit ups are all great.  If there is room, military style frog crawling under and around an obstacle course of chairs set up around the room is fun and a very good way to improve brain functioning. 

Wrestling is a great, high intensity indoor activity.  Let the child pin you, but make him work for it.  Keep it as low to the ground as possible.  Or I will get on my hands and knees and challenge my friend to do the same and try to knock me over by pushing me steadily or slamming into me with his booty.  This is an excellent activity for a child who constantly squirms around in his chair or doesn't like to wear underwear.

Booty walk: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms across your chest.  Walk yourself across the room, keeping your bottom on the floor and your legs straight in front of you, by leaning slightly and using the muscles in your behind.  Race the child across the floor, or start on opposite ends of the room and meet in the middle, then booty-walk backwards.   {Jane Fonda did this in her exercise videos.}

A pair of foam bats can be used for indoor fencing or for sparring.  {The ones in the link are flimsy, and don't last long.  You could probably get a pretty good custom made pair at the local foam or futon shop.}

The child can practice somersaults, go crab walking, and do wheelbarrow walking with you.  

roller racer is a great way for the child to improve trunk rotation and upper body strength.

Set up a water filled basin with a magnetic fishing game, {easily purchased at the 99 cent store} and have the child lie on his belly with his head over the edge of a bed or coffee table and fish from that position.

Install a chin up bar, and have him get in the habit of hanging and doing chin-ups whenever he walks by.

Many more great ideas here.

To learn more about how movement affects learning and development, I recommend this book.

{And I surrender to the inevitable: there is always the Wii.}

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Inside Moves, Part One

I can't urge parents strongly enough to make sure that their children get outside to play every single day.  It's critical to their health and to their neurological development.  A body that is not strong, stable, and healthy does not adequately support the work of the child's brain, eyes, and hands, and can't be counted on to keep him effortlessly upright against gravity.   A weak, unstable body makes it difficult for the child to sit, to be present and alert and able to pay attention, and to learn.

If a child can't sit still, it's because he needs to move. A child with sensory processing or attentional issues especially needs a great deal of gross motor activity, the more intense the better.  Movement is what focuses and organizes the brain and body, and drives development forward.

 Playtime should be outdoors whenever possible.  But when circumstances prevent you from getting the child to the playground, here are some suggestions for providing movement and intensity indoors, in small spaces.  

If the child has difficulty focusing on homework, one of these activities can be used as a quick movement break to increase focus and attention.

All homework should be preceded by intense exercise, a drink of water, and a protein rich snack.

Trampoline:  Jumping is a superb high intensity exercise and a very high quality rebounder is not too expensive.  {Even a medium quality trampoline will take a surprising amount of abuse.}  There are so many fun games to play while jumping.  I use a trampoline a lot in my work and encourage parents to invest in a trampoline for home use.  Children love it.  It is a powerful way to work on joint stability, balance and endurance.   It deepens respiration and promotes lymphatic flow, cleansing and detoxifying the system.  It's also excellent for vision.   Most of the children I work with have weak eye muscles, and jumping while aiming and shooting at targets is a great way to stabilize their eyes.

Some ideas for playing on the trampoline:

1. Put on some lively music and have a jumping/dancing party.

2.  Set up some targets and have the child toss beanbags or little stuffed animals at them.  If the child is able, have him jump while you throw his ammo to him, catch it, then turn and shoot, all while jumping. {If he can't catch, hand him the animals while he jumps.}  I use play bowling pins or cardboard bricks as targets.  You can also use large numbers or letters, a Nerf Hoop, a hula hoop, or make a tic tac toe board out of oaktag and colored tape.

2.  Play catch while jumping.  For a very young child, a big Nerf ball or an OBall are good choices.  For an older child, a large playground ball, like a foursquare ball, is fine.

3. Have the child bounce and catch a ball against the wall while jumping.  This is quite challenging.  You can make it even more challenging by standing behind him while he jumps and having him turn his upper body to toss the ball back at you, then turn to the other side and catch it, then bounce it at the wall again, while he is jumping.  Upper body rotation encourages integration of the two halves of the brain, improves bilateral coordination, and solidifies dominance in children who tend to be indiscriminate in hand use.

4.  Play balloon volleyball while jumping, either with racquets or hands.  This is great for visual tracking.

5.  Blow bubbles to the child as he is jumping and have him pop them.

6.  Play horseshoes while jumping.

7. Have the child copy your movements, like hopping, bending, twisting, waving his arms, jumping from side to side, jumping feet apart and together,  clapping,  while he is jumping.

8.  Do the Freddie.

Bosu can also be used in similar ways to the trampoline.  There are many videos and articles available on the web that outline exercises and activities that can be done on it.

A Sit n Spin is a great, compact toy for a toddler who needs to spin.  Older children can use an office chair.  Spinning is  very high intensity and is good for children who never seem to tire or get dizzy.

An inexpensive scooter board is fun if there is room inside your home.  The child can lie on it and propel himself around, or you can spin him around in a circle while he holds on to a rope or a hula hoop, or you can spin him around by the legs.    Here are some ideas for games.

{Next week:  even more ideas for indoor fun!}

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Twenty Four Reasons Why a Child Can't Sit Still

1.  The child does not get enough exercise.  Children require huge amounts of movement, preferably outside, every single day.  Movement and exercise is as essential as food for children in order to stay organized, develop and  mature their nervous systems, improve their coordination, strength and motor planning, and to be healthy!  So many of us live in cities now and have just forgotten how vital it is for a child's health and development to go outside and play.  Bring the child to the playground for half an hour, or whatever you can manage, before school starts, and let him play on the equipment, or have a game of touch football, statues, or tag.  If this is truly not possible, buy a trampoline or have him play an exercise game on his Wii.  And if his teacher takes away recess as a punishment, you must insist that she find another way to help him manage his behavior.  He is acting out because he needs to move more, not less!

2.  The child has poor postural stability, low muscle tone, and a weak trunk and spine.  This makes sitting physically exhausting, uncomfortable and painful.  Circle time is especially grueling since sitting unsupported is such hard work.

3.  The child's chair/desk at school does not fit.  I can't tell you how many times I've walked into classrooms and seen children whose desks literally come up to their necks while their chairs are so high that their feet are dangling on the floor.  Could you sit and do your work like that?

4.  The child is tactile defensive and his clothing bothers him. Or he is sitting in too close proximity to others and his alarm system is clanging away, instructing him to flee.

5. The child is sitting with his back exposed and people are walking behind him, again setting off alarm bells.  He should be sitting with his back to the wall, preferably in a corner.

6.  The child is auditory defensive and his ears hurt.  A child who can manage in a quiet, low stimulation atmosphere but can't control his behavior in a noisy environment is probably suffering mightily in all of the chaos.  Or he may not understand the teacher's instructions if she is talking over many chattering voices.  A good clue about auditory defensiveness:  a child who runs around the perimeter of the classroom, acts out, and can't engage in any goal oriented behavior when the room is noisy.

 7.  The child is a poor breather.  Shallow breathing sets up the body for fight or flight, and it's very hard to sit still when every cell in your body is urging you to get up and check for predators.

8.The child has undetected visual problems.  It's exhausting and frustrating to try to attend to close work if you can't see what you're doing.  His eyes may be so unstable that he is seeing double, or seeing floaters, or visual images are shimmering.  Or the light in his classroom might be bothering him.  In Manhattan many children are expected to sit all day long in inside classrooms with no natural light or outside ventilation.  I get headaches just thinking about it.

9.  The child's inner ear is not functioning well.  The inner ear tells us how alert/upright or at ease we should be in response to movement.  {Roller coaster: very alert and upright! Hammock: very drowsy and relaxed.}  If the child's inner ear is not registering movement very well, it's not telling the body to sit up and attend.  The child is driven to move in order to provide the intensity he needs to stay upright and aroused.

10.  The child's nervous system has not matured along with his chronological age.  This means that primitive movement patterns, which should be dormant, are instead active and present, dominating the way the child responds to his environment.  Primitive reflex patterns lower the child's muscle tone automatically when he turns his head and body in certain positions. This interferes with, among many other things, his balance, equilibrium, and vision. Or things that would not even register to us, like a dog barking in the distance, can throw the child's system into a startle, making it hard for him to stay grounded.

11.  The child's metabolic processes are not functioning well.  Does the child have undetected food allergies, difficulty sleeping, leaky gut syndrome, candida, heartburn?  Is the child constipated?  Is he subsisting on a diet of refined carbs, sweets, and processed food, and so is inadequately nourished?  Children need lots of high quality protein and complex carbs to fuel their bodies for learning and attention.

12.  The child does not get enough sleep, or the sleep that he does get is not resting him properly.  Can he transition well to bedtime?  Does he get ten or eleven hours every night?  Is there good ventilation in his bedroom?  Are the lights off in his room?

13. The child may be too young or too immature to be in a classroom.  In my clinical opinion, most three year old boys would be much better off waiting another year or two before starting school.  They simply don't have the emotional or neurological maturity to be handle all of the rules and expectations of the classroom.

14.  The expectations of the classroom are too much, and the  child feels lost, inadequate, and confused.  Four year olds should not be expected to learn to write.  They simply don't have the internal stability, attention span, or visual discrimination required for such high level work yet.  Let them wait until they are developmentally ready.  One of the very best schools in Manhattan, the Rudolph Steiner School, does not start the children writing until they are seven. Their children have beautiful handwriting and are exceptional scholars.

15.  The child is hungry, thirsty, tired, or has to go to the bathroom.

16.  The child is over scheduled.  Children need lots of down time to recharge their batteries and connect with their creativity.  A child who has two or three activities every day after school and on the weekend is expected to be "on" way too much.  Cut back to just an activity or two a week and use the time instead to take him outside to play.

17.  The child is spending too much time in front of screens.  This is especially true if the child can't transition well to sleep after spending time on a computer.  Is the child watching or playing games with excessively violent content?   Strictly limit time spent in front of televisions and computers and use the time instead for creative pursuits {crafts, painting, writing stories, playing a musical instrument, dancing, etc.}.  Turn off the computer a minimum of two hours before bedtime, or, better yet, allow the child just an hour or two on the weekend.  It's just not realistic to allow a child to spend all day Saturday and Sunday watching TV, playing video games, and eating frozen waffles, and then expect him to be alert, relaxed, grounded, able to sit still for hours at a time, and ready to learn on Monday.  Don't you feel more clearheaded and able to manage at work after you've taken a brisk walk?

18.  His parents are going through a hard time, or don't get along.  Strife at home will upset any child's equilibrium.  If parents are stressed out,  rarely home, argue a lot, or are going through their own issues, it will show up in the child's behavior.

19. The child's parents don't teach him to respond to adult redirection, so he thinks that obeying grownups is optional.

20.  The adults who care for the child spend inordinate amounts of time on their electronic devices during their time together, or otherwise ignore him.

21.  The child is expected to sit still for too long.  I have so very often observed classrooms where very young children were expected to sit for long periods without getting up, being given a drink of water, or anything to eat.  And if the child has endured a long bus ride to school, he is at a disadvantage before he even walks into the building.

22.  The child is bored.  Many reasons why this could be  -- the grownups don't have a realistic idea about the child's attention span, the activity is too difficult or too easy, or the child expects everything to be like television or the computer: loud, lots of chatter and images quickly passing by, lots of novelty.

23.  The child has sustained structural damage due to a fall or other accident, poor handling, or birth trauma which affects cranial nerve function and would benefit from manual therapy.

24.  The child may have issues with body/brain chemistry.