Activity Ideas for the Home
In our day and age, we are surrounded by so much information at any given moment that it can be overwhelming. Parents are told to do this but not that, always do one thing but never another, and mom and dad shaming is a real thing that has inundated our social media channels and newsfeeds. I am not a parent myself, but as a pediatric occupational therapist, I feel the shame and guilt that comes from wanting to do things “right” on a daily basis.
Once you add the word “therapeutic” or “educational” to something, the item always doubles or triples in cost. This can be overwhelming to families doing their best to satisfy the basic needs of their children, and only further perpetuates that shame and guilt.
This month, I wanted to share some activities and tools I’ve learned over the years that can be completed with even the most basic household items and objects. All we have to do is put our creative goggles on, and the whole world becomes a therapeutic “clinic!”
We will start with the big body exercises or “heavy work” as we like to call it in the clinic. Heavy work involves large muscle groups and joints and promotes a calm body, a focused state, and is great to sandwich around fine motor or tabletop focus tasks for wiggly bodies experiencing a hard time sitting still. There are tons of ways to incorporate gross motor activity without having to purchase new equipment!
-Crash corners: Crash corners consist of a safe space to allow our bodies to literally “bounce off the walls!” These can be created with pillows, old mattresses that no longer need to be used, bean bags, or pieces of foam/Styrofoam from packaging. This also creates a designated safe space for wiggly bodies in order to compartmentalize that behavior in one area, so we can redirect our kiddos to that space when they need to get some wiggles out.
-Obstacle courses: Obstacle courses can be created with all household items! When we put our creative goggles on, we will see couch cushions as hurdles to jump over, paper plates as “ice skates” to coast along the floor, yarn as a laser maze, painter’s tape as a way to create easily removed hop scotch or other jumping tasks, and two different floors coming together (carpet and linoleum, for example) as a place to hop side to side to complete ski jumps with visual feedback. Creating an obstacle course from household items allows the whole family to get creative as we set up a course and complete it together.
-Using our bodies! My last suggestion for adding safe gross motor activities into the day is to get creative with how we transition from place-to-place. When it’s safe, allow your kids to run! Running gives great feedback to our joints and muscles and burns up pent up energy. When running isn’t a safe option, try bunny hopping, wheelbarrow walking, skipping, crab walking, bear walking, or army crawling. These gross motor movements give our bodies feedback about where our bodies are at in space and allow us to get wiggles out in between our daily tasks.
Getting creative with fine motor tasks is so fun and most households are full of ideas and activities that help strengthen the tiny muscles in our hands and arms.
-Broken Crayons: Broken crayons facilitate a more efficient grasp, as they aren’t long enough for us to hold it in a fisted grasp, and we have to use our fingers. Using broken crayons and small pencils are great for small hands and building the tiny muscles in our hands that we need for grasping and gripping efficiently.
-Everyday Items: If we put on our creative goggles, we will see tons of options for fine motor dexterity and precision tasks all around us. Saving old milk jugs, cans, jars, and containers as well as using age appropriate small “manipulatives” such as beans, buttons, beads, and dry pasta can make for really fun fine motor tasks. One task I love to create is using a Pringles container and slicing a small slit in the lid, and then pressing popsicle sticks through the slit. This works in bilateral skills, grasp, visual motor skills, and dexterity. When the lid is removed, the container can hold the popsicle sticks and it keeps everything together really nicely. You can also cut a slit in a tennis ball and glue eyes on it to create a face, and then squeeze the ball to open the mouth and “feed” it tiny erasers, beans, or any other small items. I also really like to create sorting tasks with different colored items to address color identification, matching, and visual motor skills.
Sensory play is really important to help develop a child’s tactile system as well as help to avoid tactile defensiveness, which is when a child avoids certain feelings or textures on his or her skin. This can be addressed by playing in everyday items such as shaving cream, hair gel, pudding, whipped cream, or slime. This can also be an oral motor experience if a child is given a edible item and a safe place to explore this in a tactile way (with their hands) as well as orally (with their mouths.) This can help picky eaters learn that food can be enjoyable by taking the pressure off of them having to eat the food and allowing them to play in it first and foremost. I love artist’s smocks for this type of play, because the smock can be removed and thrown in the sink and makes cleanup really easy. This can become a total body experience by placing the textured item in a bathtub or on linoleum or hardwood and then wiping it up once the child is done or simply turning the bathtub on and cleaning the bath and the child after messy play is complete. If the child is really defensive at first (pulls away, cries, gags, or refuses to engage,) a “barrier” can be used to touch the item. This could be gloves, a straw, a popsicle stick, or a motivating toy such as a car, barbie, or dinosaur. This takes the pressure off the child and allows them to first explore the tactile medium with something other than his or her body before exploring it with their skin.
This information can seem overwhelming at first, but once you have the hang of putting your creative glasses on, almost all everyday tasks become a therapeutic experience. Get your kiddo in the kitchen to help with meal prep or cleanup, have your child help with organization by sorting same colored or sized items, and encourage frequent body breaks where your child can help create obstacle courses or fun ways to transition from task-to-task or place-to-place in new ways.