Spring is here! And so is the warm weather. With this blog we begin a series in which we will share activities, games, and crafts for springtime. Stay tuned for fun sensory play ideas that can also improve eye-hand coordination and gross and fine motor skills.
Outdoor activities provide wonderful and rich sensory experiences. Together with your child explore the sights, sounds, and smells that are so unique at this time of year. Look at all the sprouting and budding plants and flowers. Listen to the birds and the sounds of people walking and playing outside. Smell the cut grass and fresh flowers.
The playground is full of opportunities to enhance sensory input. If your child finds the park overwhelming, start in your own backyard or plan to come to the park when it is not as crowded.
Swinging is a great way to get vestibular input. Experiment with different types of swings and using familiar swings in more than one way. Using a variety of swings will provide the opportunity for movement in different planes, which will enhance the sensory input. Sitting on a strap swing is good for linear, front-to-back movement. Alternatively, have your child try swinging on his belly, which will allow him to invert his head. If your child likes to spin (rotary movement), turn round and round on a strap swing so that the ropes are twisted and then release. Try hanging a Little Tikes disc swing from a tree or on your swing set for wide, circular motion (orbital movement). The type of the input will vary depending on several factors, including the position of the head while swinging (upright vs. upside down) and direction of the motion (linear, rotary, orbital). A more intense experience is achieved by swinging fast, high, and upside down. Note which positions and motions your child craves and which he avoids. Approach each new position and motion gently and provide only what your child can comfortably tolerate and enjoy.
Playing catch while your child is swinging on his belly is a challenge for eye-hand coordination. Or try kicking the ball back and forth while your child is sitting on the swing for eye-foot coordination. Start with a bigger ball that is easier for catching and kicking and progress to a smaller ball as your child’s skill level improves.
If your baby tends to slide around too much in the swing or your child slips off the swing, try placing Dycem or a Rubbermaid non-slip mat on the seat of the swing for added safety.
For a child who is tentative about getting on the swing, start at your child’s comfort level and slowly amp up the challenge as he becomes more comfortable and confident. If needed, place him on your lap. When he is ready to be on his own, start off with a swing that offers more support. Many parks have swings for older children that have backs, which may make your child feel more comfortable. Slow, gentle, front-to-back swinging is a good way to start since the movement can be very calming. Allow your child to set the pace. Maintaining an even speed will make the ride smooth, predictable, and calming. The jolting movements from sudden starting and stopping can be alerting or over-arousing, so set the pace carefully.
Swinging and playing in the park are great ways to feed your child’s sensory needs in an age-appropriate social setting. While coming to occupational therapy provides essential basics, it is also important for parents to help children find ways to satisfy their sensory needs in a natural setting. The playground is a social environment for parents and children alike and provides a good opportunity for peer interaction for all.
Written by Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR and Chaye Lamm-Warburg, MA, OTR, POTS Director