Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Share your therapy-play tips, win a $50 CVS/pharmacy gift card

Ever felt like you could be a professional therapist? Uh-huh. After seven years of sitting through speech, physical and occupational therapy sessions with Max, I've picked up a lot of tricks of the trade. Not that I've got the experts' skills or training, of course, and not that the insurance company would pay me $100 bucks an hour.

Since Max was a baby, I've come up with my own, fun ways to help him with his challenges; there's nothing like Silly Mommy Therapy. Lately, we've been doing the "Blow out the birthday candles" game. Max hasn't yet gotten the hang of blowing and controlling his breathing; once he does, sounds and speech should come more easily. So I hold up 10 fingers and ask Max to blow out each "candle," putting my fingers down as he blows and humming the Happy Birthday song. Sometimes Max snorts through his nose, sometimes he lets out a little trickle of air through his mouth, but he's trying and he thinks that game is a laugh riot.

We also like to play "The mommy and the boy in the mirror." (Max has always been fascinated by mirrors; there he is above at nine months admiring his cuteness.) We sit in front of a mirror, both of us staring into it. I say a word and then Max has to repeat the word as we look at each other in the reflection.

What kind of games and play activities have you concocted to help your kids with their challenges? Share your favorites in a comment! I'll randomly pick 10 commenters by midnight on Friday, February 26, and CVS will send each one a $50 CVS/pharmacy gift card (good for online, too). Priceless: all the stuff we can learn from each other.

You know how much I enjoy cruising the aisles of CVS, but I appreciate that place even more since I found out about CVS Caremark All Kids Can. It's a five-year program that's dedicated $25 million dollars to one goal: making life easier for children with disabilities. It supports nonprofits that help kids learn, play and succeed in life, and raises awareness about inclusion. (CVS has other grants programs too.)

All Kids Can regularly partners with major organizations like Easter Seals; this Saturday, Houston's first fully inclusive playground is opening at Eastwood Park thanks to Boundless Playgrounds and funding from All Kids Can. If you're in the area, the grand opening is from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and there will be free face painting, a wheelchair basketball game and free health screenings. I wish there were an inclusive playground near us; do any of you have them?

OK, go ahead, share your bright ideas, therapist mommies! And please leave your e-mail if yours is not on your blog.


  1. Let kids paint using prepared instant pudding instead of paint. No indelible mess, and little ones can eat the 'paint'. Might give Max incentive to use both hands if you color vanilla pudding purple.
    Cooking with kids: Making any recipe let kids measure ingredients and add - help with math and measurement skills. For kids whose goal is to use a hand thats not as mobile, parent can measure ingredient give it to child to add. An added incentive here is that child can eat finished product.
    Children with limited manual dexterity can try to learn to squirt parent in watergun fight. Soaking parent is incentive.
    Play stacking blocks using empty cardboard containers. Empty containers may be lighter. Also less noise when they fall -good for those hyper sensitive to noise. Also good for recycling.
    Bowling using empty plastic milk bottles: practice rolling balls; work on manual dexterity and eye hand coordination. Gives a chance to compete with parent and siblings. Large container is easier to hit and falls easier.
    Take a shoe box, fill with dry oatmeal, rice, salt -whatever- and
    hide tiny items , like those from a gum ball machine. Have child use hands to pull out item. Can ask them to identify before pulling it out. Can let them keep them as incentive.
    Make scent bottles or containers - saturate cotton balls with orange extract, perfume, alcohol, even things like mustard etc. Child can practice inhaling with purpose. Can also verbally identify scents.
    Educational supply stores carry button boards, tie boards, snap boards,zipper boards even boards with lock and key and hook and eyes. Talented parents can make these themselves. Its often easier to learn to tie a bow, snap snap,use a zipper when you can see it facing you, not on an item of clothing. Also you can make items
    using larger snaps or zippers than you find on clothing. Or have a child learn to tie an adult size shoe or adult sized zipper. Much easier than learning to do their own.
    If trying to learn to use a scooter or bike try it on the grass. If child is afraid of falling, grass is a much softer surface, less intimidating.
    Sit on floor, facing child, both have legs open Roll ball back and forth. Can use large ball. Works on manual dexterity eye hand coordination.
    Blow bubbles - good for breath control.

  2. For years, my kids have had shallow "totes" of lentils outside to play in. When they want to play, they drag their tote of lentils (and measuring cups, lizards, construction equipment, cars. etc) out onto the grass. No sandbox mess, and a great sensory experience.

  3. We like to play "baby" with Faith. She likes to be a little momma and do momma things with baby. I also like to "go shopping" where when we go to the store we pick up objects-feel them, hold them, identify them, select things out of baskets, put them back where they go, find more objects like them. We also practice wheelchair use during these times...big aisles and all!

  4. Our spech therapist had us make Anna a "phone" out of PVC pipe. One straight piece with a curved piece on either end. When you talk into it, it echoes really loud. We have Anna talk into the phone so she can hear herself in an effort to get her to better control her volume and breathing. She talks to quietly right now but it is getting better. We also blow bubbles a lot to work on getting the breath out just like you do with the candles.

  5. Great contest and thanks for the heads up about CVS's program.

    My daughter is fearful of making mistakes, and instead will give up before she starts a challenge. It didn't work to tell her to try or encourage her about the specific task. Instead, we are modeling making mistakes, reading stories about how it feels to try even if you aren't perfect, and telling stories about when we were younger and challenged by something.

    rachel @

  6. This is a great post Ellen!
    I've recently become a fan of using a mirror with Little Man. We sit facing it & I feed him in front of the mirror so he can see himself eating. He;s getting better with his aim when he has his own spoon:)

  7. Music is a big thing for us. Anything set to music becomes easier to learn and recall. Also, I like to take advantage of time spent in the car driving to our various appointments. So I have playlists on my iPod that I can access and play to work on our latest project. In our ten minute rides to and from therapy, I've taught D. his birthday, his address, and now we're working on his phone number.

  8. Oh, Ellen... I have done so many!

    My two favorites:

    1) When Sadie was diagnosed with CVI (Cortical visual impairment) we learned that she could best see shiny objects. Using origami paper, I made a series of books for her (one shapes, one fruit, one colors). The only thing on the page was the large item... no writing... Just Shine! She loved them... for once, she could see the item!

    2) Recently I made the girls "Ribbon belts". They are cloth belts with rainbow ribbons (attached with velcro ~ think tag football) The goal is for Sadie to use her hands to pull off her ribbons...and her sister's. My other goal is for her to cross her body mid-line..and even reach behind her to pull her own ribbons.

    We make many things ... and use many house hold items to help Sadie live her best life! I praise God for this!

  9. There was a time when everything was therapy and we spent all day trying to make everything meaningful - no wonder we wore ourselves out! I am so thankful for excellent OT PT ST to carry the burden...BUT - of course we still stay creative at home.

    This is something I do with all of my children but I add compression for my 8 year old daughter who has repetitive hand movements, constant mouthing, and no functional hand use (due to Rett Syndrome).

    Nail cutting time! Always a challenge at our house so I sit with my children in my lap and as I trim their nails with the clipper I tell a story...

    "There was once a little kitten named [child's name] and she got stuck on the top of the roof..."

    For my child diagnosed with Rett Syndome I use it as a time to help her become more aware of her hands by gently squeezing (compressing) her fingers up and down one by one as I trim and tell the story. At the end she gets a quick hand rub, too.

    No struggle, input into her hands, and a story about THEM to top it off.

  10. We have created our own Audiology booth testing as play. I sit with Austin on the floor and train him to listen for sounds. Someone else sits elsewhere in the room or in another room and rings bells or plays a xylophone. Austin needs to listen, hold a poker chip to his ear and then drop it in the bucket when he hears the sounds. Our next appt is in April so I hope all this "training"/playing pays off when the time comes.

  11. My child needs a lot of sensory integration-type stuff, and since I can't afford to build him a huge playground, we "make them" at home...putting one mattress on top of another to create a slide for him to climb up on, using a mini trampoline, dragging him on the floor on a blanket and spinning, swinging him in a blanket, etc.

    We also have him play with dry beans, rice, sugar, and other things in a bowl to help him get some sensory input from those things. I LOVE the painting with pudding idea!

    This is a fantastic idea. We all need to share our tips and successes with one another!

  12. I've been working with my daughter to count, say words, etc. Some days definitely go a lot better than others! :) But, I've learned that patience and having set reading times throughout the day has helped a little. Also, whenever we go outside, I will identify an object (say a rock) and while she's fascinated with "experiencing" it, I'll say the word several times. She doesn't always mimic it very well, but praising her even when she doesn't succeed, seems to help bolster her confidence to keep trying. :)


  13. Just found your website and can't wait to catch up on past posts. The therapy ideas are great..I'm taking note. My son is just 14 mo. w/CP. He is just at the age where he wants to be doing whatever mommy & daddy are doing. Instead of keeping him out of "adult stuff" we attempt to make every activity accessible to him in some way so he can practice everyday things.

    One example is that when I put on my make-up in the morning I have a box of "make-up" for him to copy what I'm doing. The box is filled with empty cosmetic containers, hair bows, clean blush brushes. He mimics what I'm doing and gets good practice using both hands w/out me prompting him constantly. He also has a plastic toy that he uses to "shave" when daddy is shaving in the morning.

  14. Ooo... lots of good ones we did already posted.

    We have a wonderful bar hooked up that has different swings for her to accomodate sensory stuff.

    I made my own weighted blankets out of those bean like stuffings that you use for dolls.

    When she hated even touching finger paints, etc, we put the stuff in ziploc bag. No mess, no sensory issue & it still allowed her to attempt it.

    Grocery shopping is a huge therapy tool for us as well. The walking, the reading of a list, actually looking for the items, the bending & lifting to get the items, literally tossing things in the cart, "running" to get the next item, etc. People think we are NUTS there, but we go super early when it is quiet.

    Thanks CVS & Ellen for a great contest!

  15. ok - totally pushy and off subject, but...
    more helpful than the blog archive by date would be adding the topic list to the sidebar of your page.

    I wanted to go back and read posts about stem cell treatment, but couldn't figure out how to get to it besides using the "older post" button until I came to the latest one, then clicked the topic to sort by that tag.

    Maybe you do have the topic list somewhere and I couldn't find it??

  16. my son was very slow to talk or make sounds other than crying..i think he was too busy trying to figure out how to jump off/climb/run over things at an early age...but he loved every night when he'd take one & be sitting still...i'd pretty much sing songs to him...laa...looo, luuu, get it..hoping i'd find a sound he liked and would try to repeat...slowly after many many baths,,,,he started trying to repeat me...finally when he turned 2 his vocab went from very low to hundreds...almost overnight...yeah!

  17. Wonderful suggestions so far! Kathy, that is an excellent point about a topic list. I have been considering a redesign, at which point I'll do a coherent topic list... You can do a search to find stuff, but for now, here are two posts I did on Max's stem cell therapy:

  18. Just read up on the CVS Caremark program - what a great vision they have!

    One of our favorite therapy-play ideas is the 'bean box' (using a rectangular plastic tub) -although right now I'm using an old cookie-dough tub :) and fill it with dried beans. Great sensory and fine motor therapy. Kayla loves this...she'll sift through the beans, scoop, pour, hide small objects etc.

  19. My favorite "silly mommy therapy" was actually created by Jailen himself. We call it "Jailen Says". He makes movements/gestures with his hands, legs, head, face, etc. & we have to copy him. He gets good range of motion exercise because he will stretch & do things that he doesn't normally do trying to "out-do" us if you will. He thinks it's hysterical because of course we sometimes pretend that he is just too cool & we can't keep up with him. This has been his favorite for probably 3 years now.

  20. First of all I am wiping tears away as I read your piece on the woman in Whole Foods. My daughter Abby is soon gong to be 7 and she has Downs Syndrome. I found your blog through CVS foundation and now must subscribe because you have so aptly writen what is in my heart...I am still crying.
    Okay so one of my favorite games I have made up for Abby is Wolfie and Doggie. Wolfie is my right hand in the hand making dog shadows on the wall pose as is Doggie his friend the left hand. Wolfie and Doggie bathe her, feed her, help dress her, taker her blood sugar, give her insulin shots, kiss her in the morning, make her giggle, wipe her tears, turn flash cards with the alphabet and sight words. You name it they have been here for me and Abby. They make everything fun!!

  21. Wow I'm so glad I found your blog. My 3 year old son has Ds and these are some great tips parents have shared.

    Our fav therapy time includes using Riley's older brother Rex to do most anything. When Riley was first learning signs we made a book by using a photo album. We uses a flash card of the object and then I took a picture of Rex making the sign. They both love that book still.

    Currently we are learning to jump and count. Riley stands on the autamen and we count to 3 before he can jump (stage dive) in to his bean bag chair.

  22. When my daughter and granddaughters, all of whom are blind, were small, my husband put yarn along the lines of drawings in coloring books so they could "color" using scented markers. We also made a face with different sets of eyes and mouths that could be stuck on to show them what various expressions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and surprise look like. Thanks for the opportunity to share.


  23. Our favorite Speech/language activity was a song book that has both a visual image of the song and all the lyrics. My son could look through the book, choose the song by the image, and I could point to each word in the song as we sang it together. I also eventually collected finger puppets to go with each song so he could incorporate fine motor skills.

  24. It's gotta be the shaving cream. I don't have kids but I work at a special needs summer camp and even my most sensory avoidant kids got into the shaving cream. I think it was because we were in a group setting and they could see all the other kids laughing and playing with it, so they just decided to give it a try!

    Also, filling a bucket with snow and using it as a water table, but instead of water, snow! Today we used potato stamps and fingerpaint and when the kids were done they washed their hands off in the snow bucket. It was awesome to see all the different colors swirled together!

  25. Love it, love it, love it! I'm actually trained in play therapy and was a in-home therapist for kids with special needs who at the moment is taking time off to be a stay-at-home mom for my two kids!

    I could go on and on with this topic but I will just share one tip.

    Many times young children are unable to express and name feelings because they don't know what they are. This can be a big issue for kids with ADD or that are on the autism spectrum. I place a variety of toys, usually animals, houses, family figurines, and cars out for my kids to play with. Then I just sit back and watch their imagination go! My kids aren't very verbal (one is two and one is 1)but when I see them act out an emotion with the toy, I label it. For example, my little boy likes to make the lion "roar". I say, "That lion is mad." If that is what he is trying to convey he usually smiles. You just labeled his feeling with a word! Keep doing this and when your child shows that emotion himself and you say, "you're mad like the lion" he begins to associate the two!!!

    OK I've babbled enough. go here
    to find out more about play therapy toys!

  26. i have one in a few city's over but i have not been there being 18 and all. Our local park could use a new playground so i hope they have one there. there is also a central park that is acessable

  27. Create an obstacle course out of couch cousins by laying them on the floor. Put a blanket over a coffee table. Encourage your child to crawl over and under around the living room. If you have a child without mobility impairments they can be the leader in the game.

  28. What a great thing that CVS is doing.

    This is a suggestion from one of my daughters STs but it is kind of fun and silly to, have your child lay down on his/her back and try to make the r sound that way by laying on their back gravity helps the tounge to be in the right positon to make a good r sound.

    Antoher thing to help fine moter skills when a little one is first starting tocolor use small crayons broken in half not chunky ones

  29. My daughter was recently diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder with ADHD. She's 9 now. We have been in denial for years and just thought it was poor behavior.

    Now that I have a "framework" to work with, we have been much more sensitive to her needs and try to limit her being overwhelmed with too many stimulants at once.

    She loves cooking. So when we do, we make sure that she has my undivided attention and that we follow the steps one by one. This has carried over to other areas in her life such as school work and getting ready for dinner.

    She loves art work and I just let her do her thing, again, in a less stimulating environment.

  30. Hmmmm. . . at our house, we make everything a song. Whatever we're doing, we do it to music. Gets us through a lot of rough spots.

  31. Oh where to begin?! I have a 5yo son who has Classic Autism. He was dx'd at 18 months old. So between the Infant's & Toddlers Program, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Spec.Ed PreK and K, and a private in-home speech therapist, I can honestly say that I have learned to be a "teacher" to my son! They all have taught me so much! In the beginning, I purchased anything and everything related to Autism and teaching. And then one day, I realized that I could make therapy games and activities for him, and not spend thousands of dollars (like we already had done!) Here are a few of my favorites:

    "Noodle Box"-plastic container filled with elbow macaroni, and lots of little toys. It helped him with his sensory issues, fine motor control, and sorting. And it's just fun :)

    We made a ball pit in our playroom. I took a blow up pool, and filled with plastic balls that I bought on eBay. This really helped him with his gravity sensitivity and gross motor skills.

    One of the latest activities we have been playing with is this: I take a dollar store metal cookie sheet, laminated the letters of the alphabet and put on a magnetic 'dot' so that it sticks to the cookie sheet. I take beanie babies or small toys, and show it to him. He then spells out the name and I ask him questions, to work on his communication skills and lengthening his sentences. I'll ask him what the animal is, what sound does it make, what it eats, where does it live,etc. He LOVES this game! (he also has hyperlexia, so he has been reading & spelling since he was 3yo) This activity really helps his academic skills.

    I also sing alot to him. I noticed early on that he really responds well to music. So most of what I say to him is in a 'sing-songy' voice, or to teach him something, I will turn it into a song. This really helps with his eye-contact. He will look at you if you are singing, but if you just talk..he may not look, or may look just briefly.

    I also have Boardmaker, so I make tons of learning games with that. Right now, I mostly make books related to the "Wh" questions. By making them myself, instead of buying them, I can taylor them to his needs at the time. Right now, we are working on "who" questions.

    I could go on and on with all of the activities I have made for him!

    I'm really enjoying reading everyone's ideas and look forward to reading more of your blog!


    mdlangmead at gmail dot com

  32. My 2 year old son has CP and his best therapist is his 4 year old brother. He has been in therapy since he was 6 months old, so he can quickly que in to when something is becoming too "therapeutic." Recruiting and engaging his brother (which was not a difficult thing to do at all) to participate and initiate therapy-play activities at home has been the best thing. They set up forts and obstacle courses, create train towns and lego worlds, ride bikes and blue bubbles, bake mud pies and share snacks, and the best therapy activity ever... they just run around in circles most of the time. I know for parents whose first child is born with disabilities, it can be overwhelming to think about having more kids. Can I just encourage you that it could be the best thing for your children. They make each other better. If your child doesn't have siblings, encourage as much playtime with other children- cousins, neighbors, friends, etc. Sometimes kids can get way more out of kids than we adults can even conceive.

  33. My son has Apraxia, which is delayed speech. One of the biggest tips our SL told us, was to teach him to blow through a straw, not only drink through it, but we bought some fun, twirly ones and he blows bubbles in the tub with them. Great for lip strength.

    tesnjen at aol dot com

  34. 1.We play board games this helps my daughter's fine motor and speech skills.
    2. Shaving cream, painting and playdough are a lot of help for her sensory issues.
    3. Check out your local dollar store sometimes you can find great therapy tools for more than half the therapy price. I found a cushy seat for my son to sit on for $9

    Thanks. Love this blog

  35. don't enter me- but I tweeted this for you. I think it's a great contest.


  36. My son is 3 and I have been using the stepladder in the kitchen to keep him involved in all that I do. He gets to climb up to the counter level and then help me break eggs, pour milk, open jars, twist bottles open - anything that I am doing. And he LOVES it!

  37. My 4 year old had a speech delay and I would do anything to get him to talk. Our favorite game would have to be Cariboo. He has to say the word to try to find the ball. After he finds all the balls he get the treasure. I even made more word cards (using card stock) to put on the game so he would do more words than just the ones in the game.

  38. My son loved to play with "switches" from the aisles of home depot. Like Light Switches and PVC connectors. He accumulated quite a collection and they were very child friendly.

    It was always cheaper than Thomas the tank and stuff like that !

    jtrophy at gmail dot com

  39. Well since I am a therapist for special needs kids I might be cheating. But scooters are awesome for a million reasons. Not the kind you stand up and push, but the kind you probably used in gyms class on your belly.

    If you can find a rolling plant stand they make awesome ones. Or buy a board and attatch rolling wheels to the bottom. Have your kids propel around on their belly. It is rather hard on carpet, but if you have hard wood floors they really get a good little workout.

  40. I love to take my daughter who has spina bifida,hydrocephalus,and chiari II to our local grocery store(Kroger) and let her push her own little kid cart. It is great physical therapy and she thinks it's so fun to be like mommy!! She has a ball and doesn't know all the good it does her!!

  41. This is a great idea!

    We do lots of therapy 'stuff' in our home due to Autism (2 boys).

    We have the most fun with OT type activities for my sensory seeking 4 yr old.

    We have a mini tramp, do a lot of joint compression 'squeezies' and the Mash Game. He stands on the couch, up against the back cushion and I lean back on him and maaaassshhhh him. lol He pushes me off and then pulls me back again. (And again!)

    We also do burrito rolls using a big blanket-making sure his head is completely out, of course.

    Lisa @
    All That and a Box of Rocks

  42. Here's an idea for a kiddo who has some sensory issues - make a maze out of shoeboxes - each with a diff textured item in them. The goal is for him/her to step into each box and really feel the item. Just touching them period is a great first start!

  43. I'm a play therapist and I always encourage the parents of my clients to find creative and fun things to do at home. You've all made some excellent suggestions and I'm going to pass these ideas along to some of my parents who could use some encouragement.

  44. I am not a mother but refer to the kids I work with as "my kids." I have done aquatic play based therapy with kids as young as 3 months old all the way up. I worked with several kids in the age range of 4-8 who were doing Constraint Induced Therapy. To break up the long days I would do some "play" with them in the pool. We did a lot with sponges cut into different shapes. We would try to squeez the water out and fill up a cup or watering can then pour the can/cup on my head. I also cut the sponges into skinny pieces (like french fries) and put them in a cup and had them pinch one out at a time. We do some pretend planting. We would dig a hole in the water, plant our seeds, cover the hole and then water the seed. This worked on some fine and gross motor skills wih the kids.
    One of the other games we played was using poly spots (like from PE) and hidding the sponges under them on the bottom of the pool. The kids would have to use their feet to move the poly spot and find the sponge that was hidden. This worked on targeted foot movement, balance and coordination.

    The pool, especially a warm water pool, is a great place to play and sneak in the work your theapist wants you to do. You can reinforce all of those skills all while having fun. Some of this can be done in the bath tub too!

    My background is as an adaptive physical education teacher but I have always worked for non profit organizations that provide sports adn recreation for kids and adults with physical or visual impairments.

    Hope you have fun splashing and playing!

    Keri Schindler

  45. Wow thanks for all the great ideas!! I shop at CVS all the time, so glad to hear about this program, I had no idea...

    As for Mommy therapy ideas, here are a couple easy ones that always bring smiles for John.

    Everybody knows the song, Hokey Pokey..... this is a great song to sing when dressing.... and is appropriate for all developmental levels.... John is very low functioning but mentally aware.... He loves it when I sing this to him as he is dressed. Great for body identification and as a self awareness activity.
    As a side note, I've found caring for someone who is non-verbal can sometimes lead to just 'going through the motions' when mom/nurses are only focused on what they are doing and loose touch with who it is being done to --- limiting interaction.... songs help brake this barrier.

    Make a felt board (I used a piece of cardboard) then make shapes from a variety of colors. These can then be used in any multitude of ways.
    Matching, sorting, big/little, opposites, soft/rough.. etc, etc.
    Again, this is an activity that crosses developmental lines... everything from hand over hand to picking out/cutting out the materials.

    Felt is cheep and can be purchased at most fabric stores. Virtually anything can be made into a 'felt' piece simply by gluing a piece of felt on back... for instance try sand paper, dried flowers, old mylar balloons, just let your imagination go .....

    one more idea. If you want to encourage blowing through a straw... put a piece of paper inside a shoebox lid add a few drops of paint or food color then let your child blow this around...what you get is usually quite pretty and can be framed to hang on your child's wall or made into pretty cards....
    As always, love this blog....

  46. We have a few different "play/therapy" techniques with my 28 mo. old son Alex:

    IKEA cups - they make some great plastic cups in bright colors that can be good for stacking and hand-eye coordination. Also good for putting items in and out, and working on the pincher grasp with Cheerios. Empty cardboard boxes are good too.

    Foam bath letters - great fun, even outside of the tub and also for speech therapy tasks. We use a big 5 gallon bucket for putting these in and out - with the lid.

    Blowing bubbles.

    Play tents and tunnels - good for learning to crawl, peek-a-boo and high kneeling.

  47. A10 has ADD and dyslexia and we play a version of rock paper scissor- only we put out any number of fingers (1-5, sometimes through 10) and she must add, subtract, multiply, or divide them together. It's a great way to keep her from forgetting!

    We have literally about a thousand alphabet magnets so we can spell her spelling list on the fridge every week as well.


  48. Tons of great ideas - I skimmed through them all, and as a teacher of kids with special needs I am happy to see so many great ideas!
    Some people mentioned play-doh and I find that hiding small objects in harder play-doh or clay makes a great challenge for kids and really makes those little fingers work!
    Also, I think music and song are great for teaching most everything. If you have access, I've also seen therapy dogs have a HUGE impact on kids, especially with their speech. We once had a totally non-verbal kindergartener say "sit" to the dog!!

  49. Does "pick up that paper and throw it in the trash" count? I figure it's good for Eddie's receptive language, ability to follow multi-step directions, motor planning and sequencing, gross motor and, when he comes back and I thank him, his manners!



    (My "word verification" for this comment is "fartized." I just had to share.)

  50. I like to encourage creativity in my children.Making jello molds is something they like and is safe and easy to do-they get to help and pick the shapes and colors of jello.I also let them decorate cupcakes using candies and sprinkles and gels-I might say make a heart out of pink candies or a star with yellow helps with shapes and colors as well as coordination and hand control(especially when they get to eat them after).

    My middle son had to wear an eye patch because of his vision,so we played "I spy" to help him strengthen his weak eye while still having fun.His specialist also reccomended an hour a day of video games or computer games for eye focus and rapid movement


  51. I read that music therapy is very good for children with CP. To make your own musical instrument you can put pasta,rice or beans inside a toilet paper/paper towel roll, I covered mine with masking tape and the finished it off with colorful satin ribbon....the problem that I had was that Hailey couldn't grip it too good because the roll was too fat for her little fingers, but I modified it by wrapping empty prescription bottles instead, this seems to be easier for her to hold on to. We just started using this but she likes to shake it to music and when we are in the car listening to Mickey Mouse. I believe it will help her fists from being so tight and place it in her clenched fist when she is concentrating on doing something with her other hand.

  52. i also follow you on Love That Max blogspot, if ind myself going there everyday now, Thank-you

  53. If sensory issues are of concern, I found it is great to have a range of textures available for them to explore: a have filled a water table with rice and supply measuring cups, small boxes, spoons, etc to play with the rice. Also soft brushes to brush on the skin, fuzzy material (such as on a furry pillow), balls with 'bumps' on them (such as massage balls), etc. Anything that has variable (and safe!) textures for your child to explore. You can make it interactive by gently brushing the textures on the childs hands, face, back, arms, etc.

  54. Kids love colors and shapes and they love typing with the keys on a computer keypad,so i link up to sites that are educational for children that have disabilities and can match colors and pronounce words or sounds,and best of all theres a wonderful program(non-profit)that donates free computers to our children whom are disabled.Its ,all you do is simply show a note or letter from your childs doctor stating their disability and they give them a woking computer,keyboard and speakers.These computers are used and fixed up in great condition with parts that others donate.We have one and its a great help with the learning sites.Thanks,Shannon

  55. There's a little known service called an IDS, or Infant Development Specialist, or is even called Early Intervention. Rhymes and songs are important. I was surprised how often I had to teach Pat-a-Cake to new parents. Pat-a-cake takes a rhyme (cognitive) and adds clapping, or fine motor. The OT and PT are just looking for the motor skills. Parents can work on these skills and never know it.

  56. My daughter has trouble putting pegs in a pegboard, so we used cupcake picks instead. They go in easier for her. We told her she was making a flower garden. You can see it here

    Hope I win, we get her Thick-It from CVS :)

  57. Finding a toy that's been hidden in silly putty or playdough - builds fine motor skills and hand strength

    "Super Baby": carrying her by her hips and "zooming" around the room - building torso strength and teaching her to keep her hips in the right position.

    Loving all of the ideas here. Would also love to win the gift card! :)

  58. LOVE this post & all the ideas!! Our daughter (4) is diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder & Developmental Dyspraxia.

    We make a pile of cotton balls on the floor and give her tongs and a bowl. She picks up each puff with the tongs, one by one, and moves them to the bowl.

    We have cotton ball races on the tile or harwood floor by blowing through a straw directing the air to the puff. We make a finish line with masking tape & see who wins.

    We play tug of war with a theraband.

    We bought a rocker board in the exercise department at Target and have her practice balancing on it.

    We make Jenna Sandwiches by having her lay on the floor, laying pillows over her torso & legs and applying gentle, steady pressure.

    We have a 9 x 13 pan filled with buttons. We spend time scooping & pouring them, sorting them by colors or sizes into muffin pans or egg cartons, stringing them on dental floss, or picking out the ones small enough to fit through the spout of her play teapot.

    SO many more, but that's a start!


  59. I don't have kids but I do a lot of nannying, so I guess I'll say what I've come up with for my babysitting kids. This game is most popular with the age 5-7 crowd. I like to put a lot of objects (small to medium size, usually trinkets like small plastic figurines, stuffed toys, blocks, cars, pieces of fruit etc.) in an opaque bag. The kid then has to reach in and grab a toy without taking it out of the bag (practicing motor skills). They have to describe what they feel (speech and visualization skills) and then guess what the item is (conjecture skills) based on what they feel. It's super fun!

  60. Not sure if this has been posted or not (didn't have time to go through all 59 comments).

    We used to have pom-pom races across the kitchen floor. Use the little craft pom-pom and blow them across the floor.

    They also like to blow the dandelion poms in the yard. I live with a few more weeds to get the practice blowing. (Just have to watch that he doesn't 'eat' them)

    Blowing the bubbles in the bathtub works too. I put him in a bubble bath and then scoop bubbles and blow them off my hands.


  61. I am not a parent, but I work at a residential facility/vocational program (organic farm) for adults with autism. I love your attitude! Life is better when silliness is involved : )
    One activity that is usually a favorite is scavenger hunts. In the past I worked at a camp and sensory hikes were always a hit - although this takes some planning. I've also worked somewhere that had a sensory room if that is of interest... a dark, quiet place with cool lights/light up toys, and interesting textures.

  62. my email is oheeyore at hotmail dot com

  63. Thanks so much for visiting our blog. Love your blog and all the wonderful ideas people are sharing.

    We are always working on head control and getting Junior to push stiffen his arms to push himself up while on his tummy. He loves watching my niece play with a skateboard so we got one for him. I then covered it with padding and put him on it on his tummy and used a velcro strap to hold him on. He loved it and it really got him to lift his head and build strength.
    For sensory issues we do lots of painting. We put paper in a shallow tub and then let him feel and then put in the tub many different types of balls(all with different textures). A huge mess but has really gotten him to try to move those arms.
    A small inflatable pool filled with pool noodle pieces is also a favorite sensory activity for him. We also add some regular ball pit balls as well as other toys for him to find hidden in the pool noodles.
    Pieces of pool noodles and a jump rope also work great for motor skills(string the pieces of pool noodle onto the jump rope like giant beads)

  64. Ah, the parent therapy! One of the first things I noticed with our OT was that all of the therapy "tools" were the same toys that you could get at the local toy store. This is not a therapy tip, but is a financial tip, at the end of the year if you have flex benefits left, ask if you can use them to purchase "tools" for your child's therapy. We ended up stocking up on gifts for his birthday one year instead of losing the therapy dollars.

    My favorite homemade therapy tool is a potato salad container that had been washed out and holes cut in the top. Shoe laces were threaded through each of the holes and we have him use righty to pull them out - it was hours of enjoyment for him & almost no cost.

    The other therapy we do in the cold Minnesota winters is what I refer to as "McDonalds therapy." There is a McDonalds with a great indoor playground a block from our house. We will bring him there and have him try the tunnels over and over again. It is nice because it is a little harder for him to ask for help, so he is more inclined to try it on his own first.

    This is a great idea to share our experiences! I have loved reading through other's comments!

  65. We play a game that I call "Ticky Wicky". My son will lay on the floor or the bed (or wherever) and he will tell me with his limited language where he wants me to tickle him. He will say "Toes" and I will proceed to tickle his toes while saying "Ticky Wicky Toes". We go through various body parts. He surprised me the other day and said "everything". This allows for great reciprocal play as well as increasing his vocab and body part awareness. We also play a variation of "This little piggy". When it gets to the part that normally says "this little piggy ate roast beef", instead, we work on remembering something that we ate and we include the location and dessert and whatever we can to elaborate on it. He loves this!

  66. Ok - well, I can't take total credit for this because I had some help from the wonderful Anchor Center in Denver, but we make the greatest toys for Cici out of the most ordinary things. My favorite is a sensory/color board, where I take a see-through clipboard, and then hot glue all types of "stuff" on there - battery powered lights, mardi gras beads, bunches of stuff found in the Target dollar bins, pieces of mylar and then she can touch and play with the items - as she has limited mobility and limited vision, this is something that exercises both, and uses things from around the house. She can do it at her own pace, and rest when she gets tired. And I can help position the board in a way where it's easy for her to touch. She loves it!

  67. When my oldest was in occupational therapy, one of the tips was to roll him around in a rug before pre-school. We would roll, roll and roll some more to get all those senses working. He had some sensory integration delays and also needed to push against a wall or door to get all the right "juices" flowing.
    Love the tips!

  68. My daughter needs practice opening her fisted hand. I take all my receipts from stores and banks and give them to Hannah to stuff in a box. We spend some stuffing them in her hand and coaching her to open her hand to release the paper. she enjoys crumpling with her good hand and I hope she'll transfer that skill, but she will also enjoy just putting it in and out of the box. She takes long receipts in both hands and raises her arms over her head so bonus points there for shoulder and back stretching.

  69. We used to have my son string Cheerios onto a shoelace to practice his fine motor skills. Then we tied the shoelace into a "snack necklace' and he would wear it and eat his snack for the day.

  70. When my daughter, who has CP, was little, she had no voice. To encourage her to vocalize, we used to go outside at night and "howl at the moon." All my kids enjoyed it. I often wondered what the neighbors thought when we were all outside howling at the moon. It was a great way to combine therapy, fun, and real life!

  71. I have a son who is 6 and a 3 year old daughter who passed him cognitively 2 years ago. It is hard to find things that they like to do together (he is a little afraid of her). One thing that has helped was when she started singing took his hand and danced "here we go round the mulberry bush" -- he did not even mind it when she pulled him down. He laughed and laughed and suddenly, for the first time, he was actually the equal participant in a game! Not parallel play!

    Our son also likes any game that has anticipation -- so I will sing a song like "all around the mulberry bush the monkey chased the weasel..." and hesitate before the line "POP goes the weasel" and he loves it -- he really anticipates what is going to happen next!

    Finally, when I was desperately looking for a game for the whole family for Christmas, I found a game that is a set of buckets that you can tie to your waist and a set of small bean bags. The whole family can go outside and run and put things in eachother's bucket or take them out -- and he loves to put things in and take things out of buckets. Lots of fun.

    Thanks for the contest! I learned a LOT of wonderful tips!

  72. My daughter likes to draw in the tub using tub crayons or markers. Drawing on the side of the tub (verticle) is great for the hand muscles. We also work on her ABC's. I'll draw the letters and name them and she repeats them. She loves when I write her name.

  73. Oh what a beautiful thread to share tips and learn from each other. I am a mom of two beautiful kids and here are some of the exercises / fun things that I do with my 4 year old son who has hearing loss, speech delays, gross motor and fine motor skills delay.
    For Oral motor muscles :
    1. He loves art, so I take a card stock and put drops of colors on it and water and give him a straw. He loves to blow the color on the paper to make different patterns. It helps him with oral motor muscle exercise. To make it difficult, I move the paper to his left and right and hold him from his back. So he has to extend on his sides to blow - helps with trunk muscle strenghtening.
    2. We blow lots of bubbles.
    3. I put yogurt on the sides, top and bottom of his lips and ask him to lick it. Again, helps with the oral motor muscle.
    4. Slurping like doggies. Give him grapes in a wide shallow bowl filled with 2 - 3 inches of water. And I ask him to slurp it without using his hands.

    For Speech -
    1. Silly rhymes - its just absurd words that sound alike. My son still cannot do it, so my husband and I play this game and make him our referee. We say something like lola, pola, kola, sola and then say liki. He has started catching the error now :)
    2. What am I thinking - I tell him 4 parameters about something I am thinking and he has to guess that. Then it is his turn and he gives me 4 clues and I have to guess what he is thinking.
    3. We take turns telling stories. It is an imaginative story (whatever we can think of). Helps him with expressing himself and encourages him to use his vocabulary more than the gestures.

    For physical dexterity -
    1. I have a ribbon baton (the kind acrobats use) and we just dance silly waving it. He loves to twirl it and make different shapes.
    2. He loves Dora- so I create three obstacle course for him to conquer before he gets something he wants. His fav- Tie jump rope low between two chairs and ask him to cross it ( I hold his hands).. Put a cushion on the floor and jump over it and then crawl under the bench.
    3. I inflate balloons and give it to him and ask him to throw it up and keep patting it. It helps him to trace the object with his eyes and also hand, legs and vision coordination.
    4. We sit with our back touching each others back and take turns pushing and slouching to the song of Row Row Row your boat. It acts like mini crunches and helps his abdomen muscles.
    5. Hold his hand and make him walk on the dinning bench (helps with his sense of balance)
    6. We play tug of war a lot.
    7. I make him sit on an exercise ball and slowly move the ball side to side. He really has to work hard to keep his balance.
    I can go on and on, but these are some of the things that has always worked for my son.

    BTW, the word verification code I got is Mater, and my son's current obsession is Disney's CARS movie. Lolz.

  74. We play freeze dance to promote gross motor skills as well as listening skills. I randomly and discretely hit the pause button to see if anyone moves. The last person (1 of 2) who stays still gets a prize. We recycle prizes, but Mardi Gras beads and pencils are great.

    One more tip: Wear solid colors like dark brown or black when performing therapy type tasks. If you want the child to focus on the task, not to be distracted by a Hawiian shirt, which can bring a meltdown in some...

  75. I do not have kids of my own, but I have two friends who have special needs children. One child is autistic and one child has ADHD. I have learned a lot from them and have used this knowledge to interact with both children. One thing that I learned was very helpful with the autistic child was making crayons out of crayons. He has a tendency to strike out violently, so regular crayons become weapons. His mother melts them down in muffin tins and makes them round = no more weapons!
    one 4 earth at aol dot com

  76. Hi Ellen,
    I've read your blog for a few months, but just officially became a follower. Glad to meet you! :)
    I read on Team Inspire this morning about your "Play and Activities for Special Needs" discussion. Well, are you in good company or what!?
    I taught Early Childhood Special Needs for 12 years before having Roa who was officially diagnosed with quadra spastic cerebral palsy at 1 year. I have my Master's in Education with my thesis on "Learning through Play".
    I am the QUEEN of homemade games and toys. Poor Roa, I must say..or lucky, which ever way you look at it.
    My personal favorites, you ask? Roa has difficulty with hand opening and grasping. He finds success with fine motor tasks given ribbons, strings, Marti Gras beads, etc (We call them Roa's fancies) Well, I make a variety of container play activities with his fancies. Coffee cans, lunch meat containers, baby food jars- name a container and I'll make a toy! Velcro is a great way to attach fancies to a surface that he can pull off.
    Also one of his favorites is "Roa's Carrot Patch"- simply an egg carton with holes in the bottom and inserted fabric carrots.
    You can see the video on Roa's blog-
    Thanks for the great discussion and inspiring motivation to play in parents of special kiddos.
    See you around the Blogger!

  77. I love your blog and enjoy reading about all of these amazing and creative activities you are doing with your child. My daughter loves to eat and chew, but sometimes the food comes out the front of her mouth and we've been working with her on biting and chewing. She is really trying hard, and we are trying our best to not make her feel bad for her way of eating. This will take time, but we will continue to say things with love, and never in a critical manner.

  78. My 7yo has some pretty big sensory issues so we play games that are geared towards keeping the noise level down. We play "whisper phone" where we whisper a phrase to the person sitting next to you and they whisper it to the person next to them.
    The kids love practicing soft touches so we sit behind each other and touch the back of the person in front of us as lightly as you can. the goal is to see how much pressure you can put into the touch without the person feeling it.

    For my 9yo with ADD, we play lots of relay races outside and add an element of math to it. Put the problems at one end and yourself at the other. Each time he runs down, he has to write the answer to a problem and run back to me. If it's right, he runs down again and does it again. If it's wrong, he has to count to ten before he runs back. The object is to see how many correct answers he can get in 90 seconds.

  79. I'm so glad to find this blog through a twitter link! My son just turned two and has cerebral palsy, so we haven't gotten that far into the big OT tasks yet. We're still working on sitting up and crawling, and for those I've found the best play therapy to be our long suffering cat Gizmo.

  80. One of my best friends makes his living taking care of autistic children. I have no personal experience with it, but he has told me thru many conversations some of the skills he uses and things he has found that work well for coping. He said one of the best places he ever worked (he works for individual families via state government referral programs) had a quiet room. They had a room that was all white floor to ceiling and carpeted with cushions all over the floor. He said that the family made it just for their son. When the son would get distracted from a goal or over-stimulated, they would take him into that room to calm him or refocus him as there were no distractions.
    nynekats at aol dot com

  81. I made my son a toy to help him with texture and he loves to "pretend" cook with spoons, cups, and measuring cups. I got a big tupperware tote and filled it with about 5 bags of dried assorted beans and a couple of bags of dried rice. You can use food coloring to decorate. He absolutely LOVES it! Also we can't go outside much, so this is a wonderful alternative to a sandbox. It does require supervision that they don't try to eat it, but he is big enough that he knows what no means. He is pretty good about keeping it in the box too. This inexpensive therapy toy has occupied him for lots of time!!

  82. 1.My husband and I will play a game where we each hide in a different part of the house and make noises to help our daughter with a BAHA implant learn localization.
    2. Mattie is also the official chip bag opener and shoe lace tie-er to work on her hand muscle coordination.She loves having the job and working on her hands without it feeling like therapy.
    3. We signed Mattie up to be a pen-pal to work on her handwriting.

  83. First, its good to know where your child is developmentally; knowing what he/she can do and can't yet do. Play can use different toys or objects that use what they do know to introduce & move towards learning or discovering new abilities or skills. Many 3-4 year olds like to play copy games, but may struggle with hand & finger skills. So you can make a copy game out of drawing circles or squares. In that way you are "scaffolding" their learning based on existing skills.
    Probably the most important thing is to create connection. To actually get down on the floor with them and play and have fun.

  84. Ty has a ball pit. One that I saw runs hundreds of dollars. Ours was less than 20. I got a end of season swimming pool for 99 cents and the balls come in bags at walmart for like 7 bucks. We used a total of 400 balls to fill the pit and we still use the ball pit today and he is 4. All of my nieces and nephews love the ball pit. It helps with sensory, physical and ocupational therapy. He has done tons of things in it.

    We finger paint on our windows to. I don't care how messy the window is he loves to makes circles and squares on my window and laughs as someone does it from the other side.

    make your own sensory bags by putting different feeling stuff in a ziplock baggies.

  85. When my daughter was diagnosed with a massive hemangioma behind her left eye just a few weeks after her birth, I didn't realize how much that one cluster of blood vessels would effect her entire development for her first year and beyond. At first I was scared of doing something wrong, of allowing that eye to become lazy, or of her development stopping entirely like her body did once she was on medication. It was exhausting trying to get her motivated to do the things her peers were doing and even more so that I didn't have all the information I thought I needed.

    In my trial and error phase I came up with a few games to really get her using the eye with the mass behind it, and found out that those pirate patches they sell at costume stores are your best friend. We played pirate for hours and hours on end.

    To get her moving, we played puppy. I was Mama Puppy, naturally, and she was Sweet Puppy and we would crawl (army style at first) around our living room to certain puppy places. It made her far less frustrated when I was crawling with her and the game help distract her from the fact that it was hard work.

    When she was finally able to stand she had little interest in baby walkers and other walking aides, so we were really lucky that we got to review a baby stroller that she was much more excited about pushing. While learning to walk was a long and hard process, the fact that she got to take her special baby along for the ride made it fun and exciting.

    She had a hard time rolling a ball and throwing, so we made up "puffs containers bowling" with all our empty plastic cartons and she would get so excited that she could bowl like Daddy.

    For dexterity, we worked on her sign language and really focused on that for her first 18 months so she would have to use her hands regularly.

    The payoff? He doctor was convinced she had gone through physical therapy at her last appointment, and was shocked that she had made an almost complete recovery from the issues she was facing just a few short months ago. While much can be attributed to her growing and becoming more active and dexterous on her own, our hours of working with her seemed to have made a large difference as well. And nothing feels better than that!
    Leanne (at) raveandreview (dot) com

  86. My 8-year-old son is autistic. We tried (years ago) to encourage tactile play, to help with his sensory issues and fine motor development, but the strange textures and/or smells turned him off.

    He's become fascinated with marble and domino runs, so we pulled out the marble run kit his uncle got for him a long time ago, some marbles and a box of dominoes. He LOVES making different layouts for the marbles and dominoes to go through. He's getting great cognitive stimulation and practice with his fine motor skills, too. There is also tactile development since each of the three types of items are of different material and texture! :)

    Now, when he gets out of sorts or overstimulated, he'll go to his room and play with the marbles and dominoes. He likes that it's such a quiet activity, too.

  87. This is such a great thread! I am an Early Interventionist and am glad to find some new ideas to add to my bag of tricks!

    One trick I didn't see was playing chasing games. My clients with autism, premies, downs, etc love to be chased! I say, "Sam, I'm going to get you!' so they learn to respond to their name, then chase after them once they've made eye contact with me. It doesn't take them very long to turn to their name being called and making eye contact to be chased. When I catch them I put them down close to a wall or piece of furniture so they can pay attention to their surroundings to stop and turn, or stop and move back instead of running into things. This activity is a lot of fun and helps me get my exercise in too!


Thanks for sharing!

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