Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sensory Saturday: Shaving Cream!

I buy shaving cream by the case. Literally. Shaving cream is one of those "go to" activities that is a must in any sensory diet. There's something about that creamy yet fluffy stuff that kids just go nuts over. I buy the fragrance free kind. LM has never had a problem with sensory or tactile defensiveness so he just jumps right in. For the more sensitive child you can spread the shaving cream on a tray and try encouraging them to use one finger to draw with and then gradually move to spreading it with their whole hand.

Shaving Cream Artist: A simple tabletop activity - spread a thin layer of shaving cream on a plate and let your child draw shapes, letters, squiggles ... be creative! Let them "erase" and start over again. This is a great one to introduce new concepts. LM is doing simple addition now and we always practice in shaving cream drawings.

Shaving Cream Car Wash: A little messier ... we often do this in the bathtub. Take a small car and cover it completely with shaving cream. Child first uses his hands to get as much of the suds off. Give your child a washcloth to finish washing the car. We use a lot of language with this one. Make up a story to encourage pretend play. "Daddy and LM drove this car through the mud and now its all dirty!" - make all sort of car sounds and squeaky cleaning sounds. Ask "WH" questions ... "What are you cleaning now?" "Oh! Good job cleaning the wheels!" "Who got this car all dirty?" "Daddy and me!"

Window Washer: Getting high on the messy scale with this one, but great now that summer has arrived! We go outside and spray shaving cream on the sliding glass door. Encourage your child to use great big arm movements to spread shaving cream way up high and left to right crossing midline. This is a great gross motor skill and LM gets heavy work activities out of it by pushing his arms against the door. We taught LM the concepts of UP and DOWN when he was younger this way. "Reach up, up ,up ,up!" "Slide down, down, down, down". Of course you can draw in the shaving cream too - I sometimes even add a squirt of nontoxic washable paint to the shaving cream. And when you're done, time to clean up. Take out the hose or spray bottles (I'll take any opportunity to get some fine motor activities in too!) and give him a washcloth or a squeegee. In this case kids think the clean up is just as fun!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sensory Saturday: In the Kitchen

I know there are a hundred articles about cooking with your kids, but I figured I'd put a sensory spin on this one. From homemade pretzels to fruit smoothies, my kids love to cook. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your time in the kitchen.

Besides having fun playing dress up, giving LM an apron and chef's hat transitions him into this activity. I remind him that now that he's "Chef LM" he needs to have quiet hands and wait his turn. I bought a kid's sized apron, but we make a new hat every few weeks. Easy to do and gets some fine motor cutting and stapling activities in too.

1. Cut a piece of white poster board 4 inches wide and measure length to child's head.

2. Staple ends closed to form a crown.

3. Take white tissue paper, fold a few times to give it strength and attach to the inside of the crown to make a tall column.


Think about your favorite cooking show where they have all the ingredients set out in small dishes. You can talk about the recipe and count ingredients or work on sequencing (first crack the eggs, then pour the water). Let your kids help with this part. Set out the bowls and help them use measuring cups and spoons. Kids can crack eggs into a small bowl (and you can pick out the shells LOL), or grease a baking sheet. If you have more than one child this is great for turn taking as well. Each chef gets assigned an ingredient to prep and then add to the dish.


Use this opportunity to discover all your senses. Describe the food ... it's color, it's shape. How does it smell? What does it feel like ... wet, bumpy, sticky? What do you hear ... an egg cracking, a timer ticking, water boiling? And best of all, how does it taste?


Let the kids get their (clean) hands into the food. Who needs Play-Dough when you have the real thing? Let the kids explore what different ingredients feel like. Let them stir and pour, and try not to worry about a few spills.


In other words, the food doesn't have to be gourmet. While this is a great way to introduce your child to new foods (they'll like it more if they helped make it!) "cooking" frozen waffles together is a great activity too. It's about spending time together and experiencing new things.

There are a bunch of great "kid-friendly" recipes. Here's one of our favorites.


2 medium bananas

1/2 cup almond butter

1/4 cup flaked coconut

4 raisins

thin pretzel sticks

1. Peel and slice each banana into 10 slices. Make caterpillar by spreading slices with almond butter and pressing slices back together.

2. Sprinkle half of coconut over each caterpillar and press lightly with fingertips to coat.

3. Attach 2 raisins to one end with a little bit of almond butter to form eyes.

4. Break pretzel sticks into small pieces and press between banana slices for legs and antennae.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sensory Saturday: Pack and Play Ball Pit

When LM was 2 year old (and not yet diagnosed)I took him to a friends birthday party at a local kids gym. The party program itself was a recipe for disaster: 20 toddlers shrieking, wide open spaces, no transitions between activities, and worst of all: me. An "unseasoned" mom new to this whole diagnosis, neurotic because LM was alternating between tantruming and spinning in circles.

But then a breakthrough. It was "freeplay" time and they opened the ball pit. (I'll add a sidenote here: I was totally THAT mom who believed the chain email I got about the disgusting germ infested toxic dump that is a kids ball pit - it took everything in me not to snatch him out!)So LM dove in and did this dolphin-like spin/dive/swim and for the first time had some interaction with another child. At least he looked in her direction and sort of played a "ball toss" with her. I won't say that the rest of the party was great, but there was a huge difference in his activity level after this.

A week later we started OT in a sensory gym and I learned all about the wonders of the ball pit. The ball pit is one of those super great activities that can both awaken AND calm senses depending on the needs of the child. I'll also add that its the one activity that a child instinctively knows what they need to do to regulate themselves in. Even as a 2 year old with no language (expressive or comprehensive) and the play skills of a 3 month old, LM knew just how to "use" the ball pit.

After seeing how much LM loved it and understanding the sensory benefits we decided to set up a ball pit at home. We went out and bought a mid-priced inflatable one. It was junk. It looked cute and had characters, but was much too shallow for even a small 2 year old to really "submerge" in. Next we got a small kiddie pool and bought 300 extra balls. Defenitely better, but took up a lot of room and the balls went flying everywhere when LM statred playing. And my neat-freak husband was twitching with all the balls everywhere.

LM was napping in his pack and play playpen and I had an epiphany. How about a ball pit in the pack and play? It was perfect. Deep enough to hold 400 balls that didnt spill out the top and enough room for LM to dive and roll in. And an added bonus: I could lift and shake the whole thing making "waves". The PNP ball pit is still the most used "toy" in our house and the first thing our playdate friends run for. It's the perfect multifunction toy.

The best part is that LM knows to go play in his ball pit for a few minutes when he needs to calm down. Giving him this self-regulation opportunity is priceless and a huge step towards getting him to manage on his own. If I had a must-have list, this would be at the top.

Happy Saturday!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sensory Diet

LM's sensory diet has become such a natural part of our lives, that I forget not everyone is familiar with what a sensory diet is. First of all, it's not a food diet. First referred to as a "diet" by OT Patricia Wilbarger (of Wilbarger brushing protocol fame), a sensory diet is a variety of activities designed to be incorporated into your child's day to help regulate his senses. Just as we need meals to nourish us, and snacks to get us through our day, a person with any type of sensory processing disorder needs specific activities to continually regulate their 7 senses. (Yes, I wrote 7: touch, taste, hear, see, smell, vestibular and proprioception)

LM is typically a sensory seeker - he is under-responsive to touch and movement, he can get "hyper" to the point of total distraction, has some personal space issues, and just craves movement in general. We started a sensory diet when he was 2, now at 5 it's a way of life and he's very good at knowing what activities he needs and when he needs them.

An OT with Sensory Processing Disorder training should evaluate your child and work with you to put together an individualized diet. It takes some initiative and planning to get into the routine of activities several times a day, but it becomes natural very quickly. The best part is that the results are almost immediate.

Here's a few of our favorite sensory diet activities. I'll blog about each of them individually with more info, but this will give you an idea.

A mini trampoline and a ball pit. These are both great because LM has access to them throughout the day as he needs. No setting up required and no mess. These are our two most used activities. By the way if you have a toddler, - no need to go out and buy an expensive ball pit, and don't waste your money on the blow up plastic ones - they're too shallow anyway. We took our old pack and play playpen and filled it with about 350 balls (bought at target). Jumping and rolling around in the ball pit address the proprioceptive and vestibular senses.

Smoothies. We make smoothies every morning. It's usually orange juice and bananas with a bunch of supplements. I make them extra thick and give LM a straw to drink with. A great oral motor activity, this "wakes up" his taste and smell senses as well.

Massage. We incorporate massage often throughout the day for different reasons. While getting LM dressed I use baby powder (corn starch) and massage his feet, hands and legs. It's a quick vigorous massage, (think getting blood flow moving) and it gives him the sensory input he's looking for. Also makes wearing shoes less of an issue. At night or during the day if he needs to quiet down I take out a scented lotion and do a slower massage to his arms, legs and back. I sing to him very slowly, very quietly ... and both of us relax.

Heavy Work. You've seen me refer to heavy work before. These activities also address the proprioceptive system and help calm and regulate senses. Look back at some of the Sensory Saturday activities - most of them have heavy work ideas.

Shaving cream. A favorite around here, we buy it by the case! Besides being played with in every bath and shower, it's great for teaching letters and numbers as well. Spread some out on a cookie sheet and "draw" in it.

Need more info? Stay tuned for more detailed blogs about each of these activities and more. And in the mean time ... check out the Sensory Smarts website. It's fantastic!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sensory Saturday: Slice and Bake Cookies

I'll start this by saying the creative side of me usually shies away from "commercial toys" as I get a big kick out of finding new functions for everyday items. But I'll make an exception for this Sensory Saturday because my family LOVES LOVES LOVES Melissa and Doug's Slice and Bake Cookies.

They're great quality of course - M&D do wooden toys like no other. The set consists of 12 round cookies with a piece of (very strong) velcro on each side; 12 decorated "frosting" pieces with a square of velcro, a baking pan with 12 velcro squares, a cardboard tube container, an oven mitt, a wooden spatula and a wooden knife.

I hope you all have already discovered the wondrous sensory joy that is velcro. If not, remind to blog about it, it's worth a whole entry on its own! So back to the cookies ... the cookies are beautifully minimalistic. Maria Montessori would approve for sure. There's a nice weight to the set, and that alone starts giving some great sensory input. LM dove into the box and started velcroing cookies together and then pulling them apart. Again, hooray for super duty velcro, he really had to get a good grip and then use some muscle to get them apart. RRRIIIIPPPP ... ah, a satisfying sound as well! I gave him some suggestions on how to expand this activity - next we tried to "unscrew" them. (Think Oreo cookies). Then my favorite part. We stacked the 12 cookies on top of one another and laid them on their side like a log. Time to slice with the wooden knife. There was a good amount of resistance and LM really had to push down on the knife. We're definitely incorporating this slicing into his sensory diet. He was so calm and focused.

Bear was his little helper and got to stick the cookie slices to the baking pan. Great opportunity to introduce multi-step directions and processes. "First slice the cookie, then put it on the sheet, then put it in the oven and put on the frosting last." Also a great turn-taking activity. 2-3 kids could work cooperatively. Of course the pretend play opportunities are endless. Next time we'll pull out the chef hats and aprons. They both like playing restaurant, but maybe I'll get LM to put on a cooking show demonstration. Look out Food Network, here we come!

Keep up the good work Melissa and Doug! This one is a winner!

Sing and Play the Sensory Way! ~Lea =)

PS - My favorite Melissa and Doug vendor!