Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Possibilities Are Endless...With a Blanket and Pillow

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

Who isn’t looking for some new and exciting treatment activities and ideas for a sensory diet?  It feels as if we are always being challenged to keep things fun and exciting.   And with a quick scan around our house, many times we overlook the things staring us right in our face.  So, let’s pull out those blankets and pillows and see what fun we can have, while working on some key areas.

Climbing aboard the Magic Carpet children can work on core stability in the upright sitting position while receiving some vestibular input.  This is also a great way to work on dynamic sitting balance.  Children can also lay on their bellies working on head and neck extension, or use a pillow for additional support.  And if you want to provide some proprioceptive input, have children pull peers for a little bit of heavy work.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to designing obstacle courses with both blankets and pillows.  Blankets can be rolled up to be logs or snakes to jump over working on coordination and propriocpetive input.   Or by placing some weighted objects on a blanket, children can pull along their treasure  (for a bit of heavy work and shoulder/core strengthening) to their hide out.  Using chairs or other pieces of furniture it is easy to cover them to make a tunnel that children have to crawl through.  Test their motor planning skill by having them have to get trough the tunnel in different ways, such as “coming through so that their feet exit first”.  Pillows can be used as rocks or lilypads to walk on or over working on balance and coordination.  Pile up a mountain of blankets and pillows to crawl or bear walk over, and increase the challenge by having them belly crawl.  What a fun way to work on trunk stability and bilateral coordination with no expensive piece of equipment.

Using a blanket as a swing is ideal for toddlers and small children to get some great vestibular input, but with the tactile and propriocpetive feedback given to the whole body, this is an ideal activity for those with body awareness difficulties.  With one adult, you can hold the four corners of a large blanket up high, giving children the feeling they are in a cocoon getting some gently linear movement.  When possible, having two adults (one on each end) children can lay inside the blanket and be swung side-to-side, making it is easier to provide more speed and input.  CAUTION:  This activity needs to be done with care, making sure the blankets being used are durable and large enough. Also, pay attention to the area around you making sure it is free from objects that can be hit.

Blankets make great burritos and hot dogs, working on body awareness, tactile and proprioceptive input when children are tightly rolled up to make sure favorite meal. Then topping them with your favorite condiments by rolling a ball over their body or just providing some deep pressure by providing deep pressure down their limbs.  Increases the fun and the input…they will come back asking for more.

Many of our childhoods included hours of play designing our own forts and castles with a couple of blankets, a table, chair, couch, whatever we could find to attach them to.  This activity not only provides the finished product of a small space for children to use a calming area or to do work with less distractions, it also inspires creativity, problem solving and works on sequencing skills.  So, with a little spark of imagination, this can keep them entertained for hours.

Pillows and couch cushions can be used an ideal balance board for sitting or standing.  Stack them to the ideal height and then put them into your activity as needed.  They can also be used to help work on trunk stability in sitting, as well as achieving proper hip and trunk alignment in sitting.

Attach a pillow to a child’s back with a belt for some slight extra input and let them be a turtle to crawl through to the finish line of the race against the hare.  To help improve positioning in crab walking activities, the use of a small pillow on the tummy is great as both a tactile and visual guide.

When working on boundaries and space issues, blankets provide an ideal play area.  Set up activities in the space provided and children have to remain there for a given time.  This is also effective when working on attention and sitting skills needed in school, especially for the younger ones required to be part of circle time.  And when made to the right size, it is a great way to visually cue children on personal space during game playing or doing an activity.

Blankets can bring out any child’s imagination as a cape of his favorite super hero or gown of her favorite princess.  It can be the wrap for a mummy or the veil of a bride.  The possibilities are endless.

And wouldn’t it be good to know that in your treatment and play you are using a toy from the National Toy Hall of Fame?  Yes, the blanket was inducted in 2011 (  So, pull out that pile of blankets and pillows, and let the fun and therapeutic play begin!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Making Creative Play.... Therapeutic

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

We often find that many of our children we see in the treating arena of sensory processing concerns lack imaginative and creative play skills.  In this case, as parents, therapists, teachers or anyone else that interacts with these children, we tend not to even bring it into our interactions and therapy sessions.  It is true that often times these children work best with direct, concise instructions.  However incorporating creative play can be both fun and therapeutic for these children, giving them an opportunity to connect to you.

With your standard therapy equipment, it is not hard to make a pirate hunt, a jungle adventure, or princess themed obstacle course.  Balance beams and tunnels are tree logs to walk on or crawl through, bridges to cross and underground passages.  Balance boards, bolsters, and rockers make great boats to travel down the river, and avoid the sneaking crocodile by using the trapeze swing to cross the river overhead. Rock walls and climbing ladders allow you climb the mountain or scale the castle wall in an effort to save the princess.  And do not forget the 'jewels' using beanbags or small balls to capture and toss or activities.  Weighted balls are also a great way to incorporate some heavy work to find the treasure and hide into the 'barrel' treasure chest. These are just a couple of ideas to spark your creative juices.

At Southpaw, we have taken some of the guesswork out of being creative.  Our Hot Dog and Hamburger sets are a great way to add some fun, creative play while providing proprioceptive input.  Set up an activity of having a picnic or going to ball game.  Having the child obtain the pieces not only addressed heavy work, but also works on sequencing skills.  And the best part, the finished product is a nice, yummy way to get some calming before doing more refined tasks.

Put together a garden or farm themed activity using our new Weighted Wheel Barrow. Not only does this item add some heavy work to your therapeutic activity, it also incorporates bilateral coordination, balance and spatial negotiation.  With the option of 1 or 2 front wheels, children of all sizes and skill levels can enjoy being "Old McDonald".

What child does not enjoy playing store or racing around a shopping cart.  With our Weighted Shopping Cart, available in two different heights, children of different sizes can participate in fun, therapeutic play.  Having a picture or word-based shopping list that the child has to follow works on sequencing, direction following, and independent work while getting in some heavy work, bilateral coordination and proprioceptive input.  Expanding this play into how they have to achieve the items (ie. wheelbarrow walk, crab walk, etc) and then doing some categorizing expands the therapeutic benefits of this single piece of equipment.

The Linear Glider Tent offers an ideal 'small' space with the additional vestibular input.  This tent can be made into a camping themed activity with the child going through a checklist to gather the materials for an activity to be done in the camping tent, such as finding the matching pieces to Velcro (separatable) food and then having to put it together.  Ideally used for calming, this item allows you to think outside of the box and bring imaginative play into your therapy session.

So, now is the time to get out of your rut and make therapy creative and fun again, and let the world of Southpaw help you achieve this.