10 Ways to have fun with your kids

 Camping in your backyard can be an unforgettable experience without going too far!

Camping in your backyard can be an unforgettable experience without going too far!

Most children are happy to receive a toy or two on their birthdays, around the holidays and on special occasions. Toys are great tools for fun and entertainment, and if well-selected they can also be fabulous for learning and stimulation, but sometimes children are actually craving quality time with their parents or family members. There are plenty of ways to share with your kids and have fun without breaking the bank, below are our top 10 favorite fun activities.

 Take time to read with your kids, let the older ones practice reading to you, or act fun stories to the younger children for a very fun time.

Take time to read with your kids, let the older ones practice reading to you, or act fun stories to the younger children for a very fun time.

10 Ways to have fun with your kids

  1. Visit a nearby park and enjoy beautiful winter weather, if it’s not too cold, a picnic can be ideal
  2. Visit a local children’s museum
  3. Schedule a session at an art studio, ceramic painting workshop, or creating on canvas
  4. Play some outdoor favorites like racing from point A to Point B balancing and egg on a spoon
  5. Do fun science experiments with your child, from ingredients you have in your kitchen. Kids love "getting dirty”, exploring textures, smells, and they can also learn about measuring. Some examples:
    1. Make your own slime
    2. Make your own organic play-doh
  6. Camp in the garden, set up a tent in the backyard and take time to appreciate the outdoors without going far
  7. Build an obstacle course in the backyard where kids have to complete a set of activities. Make it more challenging by timing each child and grown-up that completes the course. Make it more fun by being the “grown-up” participant.
  8. Play dress-up, let your kids select their costumes and be part of the fun by dressing up yourself
  9. Work on an easy cooking project that allows kids to be hands-on and see quick results
  10. Spend 30 minutes reading books, let your child select one of their favorite ones, if your kid is older, let them read to you, for the younger ones, make it a special time and act it out!

Some of these activities are already part of your child’s regular fun, but the fact that you take time to share the process with them can make all the difference.

 Select an easy cooking project and let your child work on it with you. Don't worry too much about a bit of flour on the floor, they'll love seeing (and tasting!) the end-result.

Select an easy cooking project and let your child work on it with you. Don't worry too much about a bit of flour on the floor, they'll love seeing (and tasting!) the end-result.

Have lots of fun and let us know if you have any special activities that have worked out for your family!

—Susan

How to select stimulating and age-appropriate toys

With the holidays right around the corner, people are searching their local stores and online vendors for the best possible gifts for the young ones, and we are often asked how to select toys that are mentally stimulating for kids, or that help them with physical development, or even better, toys that do a bit of both, while being age-appropriate.

It may seem like an obvious topic (just read the indicated age in the packaging, right?), but sometimes a little advise can come in handy. I recently had a mom who, after a couple sessions of physical therapy with her 9 month old baby, went home and put away a number of stuffed animals and took out a “sorting cookie jar”, a “crocodile piano”, and a set of “musical instruments” she thought her daughter was too young for, when the little girl was in fact eager to get creative with more interesting toys.

While toy recommendations vary greatly depending on each specific child, their interests, hobbies, preferences and individual development, here are a few of our favorite toys by age group, and we have indicated some of the specific skills these toys promote or help enhance.

Toys for Infants (Newborn - 18 months)  |  Discovering The Senses
0-3 months

  • Black and white cards  |  Eye focus
  • Black and white hard cover books  |  Visual tracking (side-to-side, up-and-down)

3-6 months

  • Rubber rattles for single hand  |  Grasp & release, wrist movement
  • Rattle or ring with 2 handles  |  Play with both hands at midline
  • Textured cloth animal design rattle  |  Play at chest level as hands and feet hug toy (abs strengthening)

6-9 months

  • Bucket and balls  |  Eye-hand coordination, grasp & release balls
  • Shape sorter  |  Eye-hand coordination, grasp & release balls
  • Stackers & Nests | Sitting balance as child reaches forward or sideways
   
  
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   Laugh and Learn Learning Piggy Bank

Laugh and Learn Learning Piggy Bank

 Laugh and Learn Cookie Shape Surprise (Shape Sorter)

Laugh and Learn Cookie Shape Surprise (Shape Sorter)

 Melissa & Doug Geometric Stackers

Melissa & Doug Geometric Stackers

 

9-12 months

  • Musical or educational ball  |  Promotes rolling, combat crawling, hands & knees crawling
  • Puzzles large knob  |  Side sitting, gross grasp
  • Puzzles medium knob  |  High chair sitting, 3 finger grasp
  • Puzzles small knob  |  Princer’s grasp
  • Learning piggy bank  |  Fine motor skills
   
  
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Kidoozie Dress Me Emily Doll

   
  
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VTech Catch-Me-Kitty

   
  
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B. Toys Parum Pum Pum Drum

   
  
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Brilliant Basics Boppin’ Activity Bugs (Fisher Price)

   
  
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   B. Toys Zany Zoo Wooden Activity Cube

B. Toys Zany Zoo Wooden Activity Cube

Toys for Young Toddlers (12 – 24 months)  |  Discovering the Whole Body

  • Activity table  |  Tall kneeling, independent play, cause & effect, exploration
  • Wooden blocks  |  Manual dexterity to stack them linear or upright, squatting to pick them up
  • Plate set, cup and spoon  |  Promote independent eating skills & begin use of utensils and cup
  • Dress-Me Dolls  |  Fine motor skills, visual motor, dressing skills
  • Catch-Me Kitty  |  Fine motor skills
  • Musical Instrument Set  |  Fine motor skills, sound awareness
  • Boppin’ Activity Bugs  |  Fine motor skills
  • Wooden Activity Cube  |  Fine motor skills
   
  
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Go baby Go! Poppity Pop Musical Dino (Fisher Price)

   
  
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Duplo Building Set (Lego) 

   
  
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Screw Block Wooden Toy

   
  
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Radio Flyer Inchworm Ride-On

   
  
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   Wooden Ramp Racer

Wooden Ramp Racer

Toys for Toddlers (2 –3 years)  |  Burning Toddler Energy

  • Tricycle with back handle  |  Leg strengthening
  • Scibble Pad  |  Pen grasp
  • Mr Potato Head  |  Manual coordination
  • Play Doh  |  Hand strengthening
  • Kitchen or tool set  |  Upright standing, creative & role model play
  • Lego  |  Creative play
  • Poppity Pop Musical Dino  |  Fine motor skills
  • Duplo building set  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
  • Screw block wooden toy  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
  • Radio Flyer Inchworm Ride-On  |  Gross motor skills
  • Wooden Ramp Racer  |  Fine motor skills
  • Imaginarium Robot Claw  |  Visual motor skills
   
  
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   Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! Game (Wonder Forge)

Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! Game (Wonder Forge)

   
  
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   Melissa & Doug Scoop and Stack Ice Cream Cone Playset

Melissa & Doug Scoop and Stack Ice Cream Cone Playset

   
  
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Disney Pixar Cars Hopper Ball (Hedstrom)

   
  
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   InterStar Rings (Edushape)

InterStar Rings (Edushape)

Toys for Preschoolers (3–5 years)  |  Thinking and Creating

  • Mesh hoops  |  Overhead throw into target
  • Bowling pines  |  Underhand throw
  • Foam balls  |  Throw and catch
  • Rubber balls (8”)  |  Bouncing and kicking
  • First Desk  |  Sitting still and playing with educational toys and arts & crafts
  • Play Doh  |  Hand strengthening, creative play, manual dexterity
  • Books  |  Early literacy, attention span
  • Coloring books  |  Self control
  • Train set  |  Motor planning
  • Dolls  |  Motor planning, role playing
  • Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It!  |  Fine motor skills
  • Ice Cream Cone Playset  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
  • Disney Pixar Cars Hopper Ball  |  Gross motor skills
  • InterStar rings  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
   
  
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Let’s Get Learning Activity Mats (Lakeshore Learning)

   
  
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Magic Mic (Toysmith)

   
  
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   Pop Up Pirate! (Tommy)

Pop Up Pirate! (Tommy)

 

Toys for Younger School Kids (6–8 years)  |  Elementary Learning

  • Pop-Up Pirate!  |  Fine motor and visual motor skills
  • First bike  |  Full body coordination
  • Baseball gloves  |  Hand strengthening
  • Small legos  |  Finger & pincer’s grasp
  • Basketball  |  Full body coordination
  • Lacing  |  Hand dexterity
  • Magic Mic  |  Speech and communication
  • Let’s Get Learning Activity Mats  |  Cognition and learning

Toys for Older School Kids (8–10 years)  |  Getting Active and Crafty

  • Jump rope  |  Arms and legs coordination
  • Skates  |  Arms and legs coordination
  • Pottery / Ceramic Kit  |  Creativity, manual dexterity

Toys for Early Adolescents (10-12 years)  |  Growing Up

  • Hockey sticks  |  Dynamic and fast action
  • Baseball bar and soft ball  |  Eye-Hand coordination
  • Pool and swimming gear  |  #1 Exercise, a favorite of the A+ Therapy team
  • Board Games  |  Taking turns, social interaction, motor planning, team playing
  • Jewelry creations  |  Creativity, manual dexterity
  • Keyboard  |  Harmony, musical awareness
  • Karaoke set  |  Verbal skills, phonics, use of diaphragm, core strengthening

Toys for Adolescents (12-14 years)  |  Creativity, Self-Expression and Self-Esteem

  • Tennis racket  |  Promotes interest in sports
  • Snorkeling equipment  |  Breathing control, full body workout during growth spurts
  • Books (series)  |  Mental and visual endurance
  • Hobbies (Model airplanes or cars)  |  Attention span, concentration, creativity
  • Painting easel  |  Upper body posture and strengthening, fine motor strokes
  • Camera / Video recorder  |  Imagination, mental relaxation
  • Guitar  |  Self expression, musical interest, creativity
  • Diary / Journal  |  Self expression, emotions
  • Clothes / Fashion  |  Self esteem

Holidays beyond toys

While toys are fabulous gifts for children around the holidays, don’t forget that there are many ways to provide fun and entertainment with minimal investment, children often crave a bit of special time with their loved ones doing the things they like. Here are some of our favorite activities:

  • Spend an afternoon at a park and enjoy crisp winter weather
  • Visit a local children’s museum
  • Spend time at an art studio painting pottery or canvas
  • Do a fun science experiment with your child like making slime or organic play-doh from ingredients you have in your kitchen. Kids love "getting dirty" and they can also experiment with textures, smells, and learn about measuring
  • Build an obstacle course in the backyard where kids have to complete a set of activities. Make it more challenging by timing them. Make it more fun by being the “grown-up” participant.
  • Play some outdoor favorites like racing from point A to Point B balancing and egg on a spoon

Happy shopping to everyone who’s looking for the perfect, and above all happy holidays, may you all find a few minutes during this busy time of year, to pause and spend quality time with your families.

Susan

Puzzles offer playtime fun for all ages

 

We love puzzles for playtime, and while many people feel inclined to wait until about babies are a year old to bring them out, we find that babies as young as 8 months old can already work with certain kinds of puzzles.

Babies are often curious about recessed puzzles which have large knob wooden pieces that fit into specific slots on a board and feature different knob sizes that are easy to manipulate. Even if babies are too young to put the pieces back in the right place (the lobster in the lobster “hole/slot”), pulling them out and handling them helps in so many ways such as hand-eye coordination and finger manipulation from full palmar grasp to tripod grasp to a more sophisticated pincer grasp. 

These are some of the advantages of encouraging babies to handle and play with puzzles:

  • Build fine motor skills by grabbing pieces by the handle, knob or peg.
  • Develop hand-eye coordination that will create a cerebral/intellectual problem-solving learning environment.
  • Exercise core rotation and side-sitting when puzzle is placed off from the center. Core rotation is very important for strengthening abdominals and core muscles. Applying upper body weight over one arm during side-sitting and reaching for a puzzle piece will enhance the next most important milestone—crawling.
  • Verbal skills can also be encouraged as parents model sounds when handling specific puzzle images; for example, while using a farm animal puzzle set with a cow image, caregivers can say a “MOO” sound for an 8 month old; “COW” word for an 18 month old; “WHITE COW” for a two year old.

In many ways we find that a baby playing with puzzles is actually doing Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy (PT, OT, ST), all in one!

From this point forward the possibilities are endless and puzzles continue to be amazing toys and exploring tools for children and grown-ups of all ages. Older toddlers can begin to use their imagination, pretend play, count and sort into categories (shapes, animals, fruits, etc.). They can also learn how to put basic jigsaw puzzles together. Preschoolers love the challenge of more pieces in their jigsaw puzzles and oversized floor puzzles, and they can also practice teamwork when working as a group on the bigger puzzles.

I recently spent a few days at a sunny Florida beach with some friends and the central entertainment was a 1,000 piece puzzle which featured a beautifully illustrated map of Florida complete with county and city names and full of highlights of our State. Grown-ups spent hours chatting over coffee and piecing together our major highways, while children loved seeing manatees, alligators and flamingos slowly come together, and this was a great reminder of the fabulous stimulation that puzzles provide for all ages and the whole family from siblings to grandparents.

Happy puzzle playing!
Susan

Q&A - How to develop patience?

Baby-Learning-Crawling
Baby-Learning-Crawling
Baby-Learning-Side-Sitting

A mom recently asked me how do I develop patience to do a session of Physical Therapy when a kid is crying, upset, fussy or otherwise challenging?

Part of it may be a God-given gift. Wanting to give each patient the best possible treatment, helping them get better while providing them with fun ways to learn and practice whatever skills they’re working on. But over the years I have also developed certain tips and techniques that have helped me, and that often help moms, dads and other caregivers as they continue to do the things they learn at A+ Therapy once they’re at home.

  • Ask yourself if the therapy you are doing is a want or a need. Generally it is a need because the benefits of the therapy outweigh the discomfort or annoyance a child may experience.
  • Make sure the child is well-rested so they’re physically ready for their session.
  • Provide them with interesting stimulus to accomplish their tasks. A baby may need a variety of colorful toys, items that make noise, etc, to maintain their attention.
  • Limit the amount of distractions that could cause them to lose focus.
  • Set everything up first. Whether it’s toys, mats and props for a baby who is learning to crawl, or pencils, pens and paper for a kid about to do homework, get everything ready before you begin and provide the most conducive environment to complete the session.
  • Know the exercises or activities that are the goal of a session. A cheat sheet might help so that you know how to guide them best and use time wisely.
  • If all fails and a kid is still cranky, know that you have done your best, and doing certain exercises is beneficial for their improvement and growth, even if they’re not particularly "having fun” on a given day.

What you do at home is as important as what you do with the therapist. 

Practicing what you have learned with consistency is extremely helpful and it can be easy to do if you follow some of these recommendations.

Susan

7 Tips to encourage good posture in children

Many parents ask us about ways to help their children improve their posture. The following article from NBClatino.com by Monica Olivera Hazelton summarizes a few interesting tips that are worth trying with your kids. Proper posture is a habit that will benefit kids not only during childhood, but also throughout their adult lives.

7 Tips for teaching your kids good posture
http://nbclatino.com/2013/04/04/7-tips-for-teaching-your-kids-good-posture/
by Monica Olivera 04/04/2013

Good posture is becoming harder to find nowadays. It makes sense because over the last century we have moved away from an industrial and agricultural society to an information-based one. Now, hunched over our desks and computers, our perfect postures are slowly eroding into slouched hunchbacks.

But ironically, societal assumptions haven’t changed that much. People with good posture are still assumed to have grown up intelligent, educated, and wealthy. They look successful, confident, and alert. As it turns out, good posture is important – and not just for the way that others perceive you. According to the Ririan Project, good posture has many physical benefits. It allows you to breathe better, improves your circulation and digestion, helps your muscles and joints, maintains a healthy spine, and even improves your frame of mind.

Having good posture – and the physical benefits mentioned above – may also turn out to be good for students. A positive frame of mind makes learning easier, and active brains definitely need good circulation and plenty of oxygen.

More schools are starting to explore ergonomic furniture and even yoga balls to help their students learn. Research suggests that physical activity improves learning. The yoga balls engage the lower body, causing the body to make small adjustments to maintain its balance. These small movements stimulate both hemispheres of the brain, which improves the students’ memories and helps them to focus. For fidgety children, the yoga balls are a valuable tool for academic success.

So what can you as a parent do to improve your child’s posture? Consider these 7 tips:
1. Be conscious of good posture
As they say, “Awareness is half the battle.” Make good posture a priority and soon your child will become more tuned in to his or her own body and how they are sitting or standing.
2. Praise your child
Children need positive reinforcement. When you see your child standing up straight, tell your son how tall he looks, or compliment your daughter on how grown up and mature she appears. Soon your child will be motivated to stand straight all the time.
3. Lead by example
Encourage your child by having good posture yourself! If you have a desk job, your posture may have deteriorated without you realizing it. So be conscious of your own stance.
4. Try yoga or tai-chi
Activities like yoga and tai-chi place a lot of emphasis on body awareness and movement. Many of the salutations and other positions require a straight spine to allow for deep breaths and proper extension. If your child is too self-conscious to join a class, pick up some videos to do at home. Don’t worry about him being too young; you can even find DVD programs on yoga for kids!
5. Enroll your child in ballet
Have you ever seen a ballerina who walks around slouching? Me neither.
6. Play a game
Take a page from My Fair Lady and have your child balance a book on her head, then walk around the house without dropping it. This is impossible to do when your head is tilting forward or backward!
7. Invest in ergonomic furniture
Learning is always easier with the right tools. There are a few companies that are carrying ergonomic furniture that promote good posture, like PostureInStyle and Kidsomania. And if you can’t find any you like or that are in your price range? Don’t forget, there’s always the yoga ball.

Download this article as a PDF.

Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.

Basic Posture Tips for All Children

 Be sure to sit at a desk when coloring to accomplish the best posture possible.

Be sure to sit at a desk when coloring to accomplish the best posture possible.

Posture is as important for children as it is for adults. Follow these tips to improve your child’s health and try them yourself as well.

  1. When playing with large puzzles over the floor, encourage your child to side sit.
  2. When your child is coloring, make sure they sit at a desk:
     • His or her back should not be hunched over
     • His or her hips should be resting toward the back of the chair
     • Occasionally stoke your hand on his or her mid back to straighten the spin
     • Knees should be 90 degrees flexed and feet flat on the floor.
  3. When reading a book, avoid lying in bed and bending your neck excessively. Encourage sitting upright with back support and keeping the book /ebook toward eye level.
  4. When sitting in front of an office desk or dining room table
     • Bring body close to the table
     • Lower back should be supported by the chair, not the upper back
     • The pressure on one’s leg should be evenly distributed from the back of the knee to the buttocks.
     • All objects on the desk should not be outside the length of your arm.

More information can be found at: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/positions.html