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  • From Zoo to Zen

    As schools put more pressure on young
    students to read and write at earlier ages, children are fighting a battle to
    maintain a lifestyle of learning through play. The preschool years are now
    cutting back on the playtime necessary to develop the sensory and motor skills
    needed prior to instructing skills like handwriting. In addition the increase
    in use of technology is changing culture and creating norms that are deterring
    adequate social skills needed for engaging human interaction and motor skills
    needed for fine motor and daily living tasks. This is having psychosocial
    consequences on children leading to a generation of children that do not enjoy
    learning nor have adequate attention spans to absorb what they are learning.
    Their brains can be compared to a zoo full of monkeys swinging from one idea to
    the next without the skills needed to rest the mind.

    With
    each passing day, the practice of mindfulness is finding its way into daily
    conversation and advice columns. It seems like everyone from comics to
    corporate CEOs are finding ways to zone in on Zen practices to clear the mind,
    escape technology addictions, and find new ways to connect with humans. The
    idea of mindfulness, the state of being aware of the present moment, may sound
    sophisticated, but research now suggests it should make its way into classroom
    curriculum.  In fact, actress Goldie Hawn
    is the founder of a mindfulness classroom curriculum called MindUPTM.
    Its proven benefits include increased optimism and self-concept,
    improved academic achievement, increased planning and organizational skills,
    and increased empathy and other pro-social skills.  

    Here are some simple mindfulness
    activities that I practice with children to foster these skills at an early
    age.

    Body Awareness- Practice squeezing individual body parts upon request while lying on floor face up with eyes closed. Recall which body parts were squeezed at the end of the exercise.

    Breathing Bundy- Practice breathing
    while lying down with a stuffed animal resting on the tummy. Watch the animal
    rise and fall with each inhale and exhale.

    Blind Touch- Practice holding and feeling an unknown object with eye closed. Determine its qualities through the use of the sense of touch.

    I hope you find these tips helpful.
    If you child has difficulty focusing despite practicing mindfulness activities,
    consider consulting with an occupational therapist for additional strategies. To
    learn more about MindUPTM and its research findings, check out the
    TheHawnFoundation.org.

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play
    Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational
    therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more
    information about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

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  • Yoga Benefits for Youngins

    In recent decades
    yoga has become increasingly more mainstream as a form of exercise. Most
    fitness centers offer a variety of classes, and more often parents are allowing
    their children to participate with them. It may seem strange to think a child
    would have the discipline to attend or enjoy an adult class, but many young children
    are being exposed at a early age to yoga in schools that understand and value
    the benefits.

    As a pediatric
    occupational therapist, I have been incorporating elements of yoga with my
    young patients for years to help with skills such as concentration, coordination,
    flexibility, strengthening, self-control, balance, relaxation, and body
    awareness. Since many yoga poses have corresponding animal names, I find it
    easy to get children to imitate poses and engage in challenging poses for
    extended periods of time. The increased use of muscles not typically practiced
    in traditional play allow a child to benefit physically as well as the mental
    health boost that comes with stress relief and increased confidence.

    Some common yoga
    postures with animal names include: cat, cow, down dog, and dolphin.  These and many others are easy to search
    on-line and can be completed separately or in a sequence. Although it is
    important to practice intensive yoga with a trained instructor, parents can
    easily incorporate simple poses into play without much worry. For assistance in
    learning more, many product brands also sell flash cards that are created
    specifically for use with children including YogaCards by Think Fun and
    Yogarilla by Super Duper Publications.

    I hope you find
    this insightful. If your youngin struggles with coordination skills, balance,
    strength, or flexibility that has negatively affected other skill areas, consider
    consulting with an occupational therapist to develop a plan for your child.
    Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play
    Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational
    therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more
    information about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading
  • April is Autism Awareness Month

    playapyplatform:

    Recent reported estimates in the news have stated as many as 1 in every 68 children in the United States has autism, a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.  The numbers and methods of obtaining these new estimates are subject to debate, but what is clear is that the increase in cases in going up and up year after year.  Some of this is attributed to the increase in awareness of symptoms, which may be leading to inaccurate diagnosing from parents and doctors.  However, the increase in awareness can also help to get children services needed to improve developmental skills despite having the correct diagnosis.   There are screenings available that include checklists to help in this process.  The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised with Follow-Up is a 2-stage parent-report screening tool to assess risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The M-CHAT-R/F is an autism screening tool designed to identify children 16 to 30 months of age who should receive a more thorough assessment for possible early signs of ASD or developmental delay.  The M-CHAT-R/F is intended to be administered by a trained health care professional, so if you answer the questions at home, please discuss your results with your doctor regardless of the results.  You can view and complete the checklist at no cost on www.m-chat.org.  

    If your child is having difficulty with language and social skills or play, learning, and self-care skills, you should consult with your doctor about having a speech therapist or occupational therapist conduct an evaluation and create a treatment plan if deemed necessary.  Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information, visit www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

    Celebrating Autism Awareness Month with a reblog of this 2014 blog post. 

    Continue reading
  • Does Your Child Have (Sensory) Issues?

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    As the number of
    children diagnosed in the United States increases each year, so does the
    public’s awareness of autism and its symptoms. Sensory processing problems,
    also referred to as “sensory issues,” are one of the most common symptoms of
    autism. They, however, can be experienced in children without the other
    criteria required for an autism diagnosis, which include communication
    difficulties, social challenges, and repetitive behaviors.

    Sensory
    processing is defined as the way the nervous system receives information from
    the senses and interprets it into motor and behavioral responses. Sensory
    issues occur when the body has a response that is considered to be outside of
    the normal range. For example, a child may be overly sensitive to light and may
    not be able to tolerate brightly lit supermarket. This may cause the child to
    act out or have “issues.” When a child has responses that seriously affect or
    interfere with everyday life, a diagnosis such as Sensory Processing Disorder may
    be given.

    Everybody knows the
    five senses of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. Yet, sensory input also
    can be received from the sense of balance and spatial orientation in movement
    (vestibular sense) and the sense of position and strength needed in movement
    (proprioceptive sense). When a child is hyper-responsive, that means he or she
    demonstrates a low or hyposensitivity. When a child is hypo-responsive, that
    means he or she demonstrates a high or hypersensitivity.

    Examples of hyposensitivity
    include:

    Touches people or things excessively or when
    not appropriate

    Craves movement and/or has difficulty
    remaining still

    May harm others by not recognizing his or
    her own strength

    Does not respond to requests or name being
    called

    Examples of hypersensitivity
    include:

    Easily distracted or annoyed by background
    noises

    Avoids or is fearful of playground
    equipment like swings or monkey bars

    Walks on tiptoes or is hesitant to walk on
    sand or grass

    Very particular about clothing or food textures

    Occupational
    therapists (OTs) specialize in helping children regulate the sensory system
    through sensory integration therapy. If your child has disruptive sensory
    issues, consider consulting with your pediatrician about prescribing an evaluation
    with an OT who can create and implement a plan specific to your child. I hope
    you find this information helpful. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play
    Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational
    therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more
    information about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading
  • Good Night, Sleep Right!

    image

    The phrase “sleep
    like a baby” seems like an oxymoron to most parents of newborns. Yet many
    people are not aware of how often sleep disturbances affect the home life for
    parents of children much older as well. With National Sleep Awareness Week
    taking place March 6-13th, I would like to shed some light on the
    issue of sleep concerns related to children. Sleep issues can cause a host of
    problems for children involving their mood, behavior, memory, concentration,
    safety, and reaction time. Hence, not only can home life be disrupted but
    school as well. 

    Signs of sleep
    problems that should be brought to a doctor’s attention include:

    Snoring or irregular breathing while
    sleeping

    Difficulty falling or staying asleep

    Difficulty staying awake during the day

    Unusual nightmares or sleep walking

    Unexplained poor performance during
    waking hours

    image

    Parents can help
    their child in many ways. Here are some commonly known and smart suggestions:

    Establish a regular and consistent bed
    time and stick to it.

    Create a relaxing routine that is similar
    to a spa experience.

    Adjust the lighting, noise level, and
    temperature of the room for comfort.

    Turn and keep off electronics an hour
    before bedtime.

    Avoid caffeine six hours before sleeping
    and big meals close to bedtime.

    Put your child to bed before falling asleep
    and don’t get into the bed.

    I hope you find
    these tips helpful. If your child regularly struggles with sleep, consider
    consulting with your pediatrician or an occupational therapist to develop a
    plan for your home specific to your child. There are many alternative options
    including sleep apps, specialty pillows, and books that may be worth the cost
    if you can gain sleep for you and your child. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play
    Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational
    therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more
    information about Playapy services and products, visit
    www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

    Continue reading
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