Obstacle Courses

Obstacle Courses

As a pediatric physiotherapist, obstacle courses are one of my favorite tools to use when working with my kiddos. As a Mom, they are my secret weapon for boredom. As the weather turns colder and wetter, many families spend more time indoors and often that means more screen time. I’m hoping this post can open give you another option for fun indoor time that most kiddos will love!

Benefits of Obstacle Courses

There are so many amazing benefits of doing obstacle courses. My usual objective as a physiotherapist is to work on gross motor skills including balance, strength and coordination. Depending on the activities you choose, it can also be great for working on motor planning or incorporating sensory input for those that need it. It is also a wonderful way to work on sequencing and memory skills, which are often non-physio goals for a lot of my kiddos. It really is a fantastic way to incorporate so many of the things that all our children need to work on in one fun, engaging activity.

Ideas For Success

The biggest key, in my experience, is to make the courses child appropriate, with respect both to tasks and the number of sequences.

Paediatric occupational therapists and physiotherapists often talk about the “just right challenge”. What we mean by that, is something that may be challenging for your child to complete, but is doable and not so hard that they get discouraged and give up.

If your child is seeing an OT or PT, you can often use therapy activities to give you an idea of a “just right challenge”. If not, think of what your child can do fairly easily and then try to push it slightly more.

As for the number of sequences, again, it depends on your child and their abilities. Younger children, or those with sequencing difficulties, may need to do 2 step obstacle courses, such as first and then/last. As that gets easier increase to 3-4 sequences. Older children may be able to do 10 or more sequences.

The next step to success is reviewing the course to make sure the child/children know what to do.

This could mean sitting and talking through all of the steps of the course; writing out the steps on a piece of paper or white board; or, for younger children, physically demonstrating the steps or using pictures to make a “map” of the course.

Lastly, pick activities that use different body parts and mix up gross motor and fine motor skills.

Perhaps your child might jump from one floor cushion to another, then blow through a straw to move pom poms over a line, and then pick up the pom poms with a clothes pin, and crab walk back to the starting line.

Extra Fun

To make obstacle courses extra fun, consider making up a story to go along with the course.

A favorite one at our house is the floor is the ocean and there are sharks waiting to eat you, so you have to get around and do the mission without the sharks getting you!

Encourage the whole family to get in on the action – nothing is more fun for a child then Mom or Dad doing the course with them!

Another idea to increase the fun factor is to use the furniture, especially if that is something not typically allowed.

And, lastly, make sure you revise and change the obstacles all the time.

It’s amazing how creative you can get with things you already have around you house!

Transitions

Transitions

Transitions are a vital, but often overlooked, part of development for most parents. I know that when I talk to my other parent friends, the only time the term transition comes up is when we are talking about transitioning to one or no nap, or to daycare and school. But, those aren’t the transitions that I’m talking about.

What are transitions?

When physiotherapists talk about transitions, we are describing the movements between two positions. For example, going from sitting to crawling, or from sitting to standing.

Why am I talking about them?

The first reason is that they are often sadly overlooked!

We are so excited to see that next big milestone that our kiddos can achieve, that we don’t think about the middle bit!

The next reason is that in the last few years I have seen more and more children that have most of their milestones ‘checked off’, but can’t get there themselves. So, they can sit and stand, and perhaps walk (these kiddos typically don’t crawl), but their parents have to put them in those positions. In addition, the child often cries until the parent comes to move them into a different position.

The last reason is that the increase in Container Baby Syndrome (check out my last post, Container Babies) means that it can often be even harder for children to get to practice these transitions.

Why are they important?

Transitions are vitally important because they help build those building blocks for future skills.

Typically, a child has to achieve one skill, and work on the transition skills to then get to the next skill. The only real exception is sitting, as children learn to sit before they learn to get into sitting by themselves – us parents put them there!

These in-between movements also help to develop a childs protective reactions and balance reactions, which in turn makes the next skill easier!

Hopefully parents will have a greater appreciation for how important all those attempts and fails (and potential face plants) are.  While a child is learning to get into and out of positions, opportunities for practice are promoted, which is so, so important – no matter how excited we are to see the next ‘milestone’!

If your child is unable to transition between positions, or they are doing the milestone ahead but can’t get there by themselves, please reach out to me if you are in the KW area, or contact your local paediatric physiotherapist for an assessment!

Container Babies

Container Babies

Some of you may have heard the term Container Baby in the media, or amongst new mom groups, and wondered what exactly that means. I mentioned the term in our previous blog post about plagiocephaly (check it out here). In fact, it is happening so much more frequently that it now even has a label – Container Baby Syndrome.

What Is A Container Baby?

A container baby is a child who spends a substantial amount of time in a device/container throughout the day. Containers include strollers, car seats, Bumbos, swings, vibrating chairs, jumpers and exersaucers.

Now, you might be thinking – my kiddo doesn’t spend a lot of time in a container! However, you might be surprised by how little time it can take. A recent study showed that the cumulative effects of 30 minutes per day was enough to change motor patterns and, therefore, reinforce inappropriate motor patterns.

Of course, you can’t avoid all containers – car seats and strollers being the big ones. But you need to add the time children spend in those to the time they spend being contained in other devices. 

Is This Really A Syndrome?!? 

Why have Container Babies become such a big deal that some are calling it a syndrome? It’s because we are seeing so many more children who are reflecting the outcomes of being contained. Fundamentally, our children are different from children who grew up a generation ago.

Why Does It Happen?

The biggest reason, in my opinion, is that baby companies are great at marketing ‘stuff’. It’s unusual to see a baby registry that doesn’t have at least a few of these items on it, and they appear on most ‘must-have’ lists. Moms I have spoken to say it’s the only way that they get things done, that they know their baby is ‘safe’, or that their child seems happy and that they like being in it, or that their child hates being on the floor.

But, at the end of the day, when there are all of these options of where to put a baby, this means that babies are spending less time on the floor – which is vitally important. 

What Are The Results?

One of the biggest things that we are seeing is children who have reflexes (primitive infant reflexes) that aren’t integrating when they should be, and it is affecting how they develop.

By placing children in positions that they developmentally aren’t ready for, they are not only being limited from being exposed to the positions that they are developmentally ready for, but they also aren’t able to learn the building blocks and fundamentals for the next steps.

The end result is those ‘milestones’ aren’t being met when they should be.

How Do We Correct It?

The biggest and most important step is, as with most things, prevention!

This one in particular is quite easy to prevent – just throw out all the non-essential equipment!

However, if this diagnosis has already happened, or if you suspect it, the first line of treatment is home repositioning. A physiotherapist can suggest things to change at home as well as showing you ways to foster more specific skills if your child is falling behind developmentally.

As always, should you have any questions, or if you feel that your child has Container Baby Syndrome, please reach out to me or your local paediatric physiotherapist!

 

Unique Gift Ideas For The Holidays!

Unique Gift Ideas For The Holidays!

It’s getting to be that time of year – Christmas shopping time. Parents are often asking for toy ideas to help promote development. There are a ton of lists out there but I’m going to focus on my favourites to help gross motor development!

Action Toys

Action toys are not toys that do things, but instead, encourage kids to be active. I also like to think of them as things that would make an awesome obstacle course (look for a future blog post about why obstacle courses are simply the BEST!).

Some ideas for little ones are:

  • play tunnels (Ikea)
  • balance beams (there are a ton of youtube videos on how to make some)
  • pikler triangle.

Another wonderful toy is the Bilibo! It can be used in so many ways and is great for those kiddos with sensory needs.

For those of us in winter, a toboggan/sled is also a great action toy.

For the older, or more adventurous, you can make your own Ninja Warrior course at home, there are a variety of kits including this Ninjaline Intro Kit.

Ride on Toys

Ride on toys are also an action toy but often are their very own separate category. I know sometimes ride ons are overlooked at this time of year given the winter weather, however, they are still such wonderful gifts to get children to be active and smaller ride on toys can be used inside or down in the basement!

Younger children may enjoy small ride on toys, and if you stick to those where they sit with their legs on either side (as opposed to a bench seat with legs in front) they can start to learn balance, steering and using legs reciprocally!

As they get older, rides ons could progress to balance bikes and plasma cars.

For even older kiddos, these are always great!

  • scooters
  • Y gliders
  • ripsticks
  • bikes

Balls

Balls are a great staple for fun and encouraging active play and coordination. Some ideas for a new twist are:

  • koosh balls (good for sensory kiddos)
  •  Waboba street or moon ball (these balls have unpredictable bounces for extra fun and in my experience lots of running)

For those little ones, kickballs, balls with a light in them and even beach balls are great additions!

Games

There are a few games out there that encourage movement.

My favourite for little ones is a game called ThinkFun Roll and Play. It’s a hit at our house and combines a variety of developmental categories including language, colours and active movement.

For the older kiddos, The Floor is Lava or ChronoBomb are great games to work on motor planning, balance – and they are FUN!

Experiences

As a parent, another favourite gift for my child to receive is the gift of experiences. Sometimes that means someplace fun to take the family, like the zoo or movies. However, the physio in me would recommend something active such as swimming, gymnastics or karate lessons.

If lessons are a bit much, passes to your local community centre for public skating or swimming is a great alternative. It’s often a great way for our children to learn new skills and continue to work on their development.

 

Hopefully this will give you some new ideas for useful Christmas gift ideas! Happy Holidays!

Sitting

Sitting

Let’s talk about sitting!

Sitting is often one of the big milestones that many parents look forward to – that and walking of course, but we will save that for another day!

Children often are excited to sit as well, as it opens up a new world for them to watch and interact with.

What does it take to sit?

Just like with rolling, in order to sit there are some fundamental skills a child needs to be able to do to sit independently.

Sitting requires control of flexion (bending) and extension (straightening) movement patterns, which start to develop during rolling.  Sitting also requires automatic postural reactions, which are made up of righting reactions (keeping head on body), protective reactions (putting our hands out if we are falling) and equilibrium reactions (balance).  These reactions also start to be developed during rolling and continue to progress with sitting.

So you can see why it’s important for children to achieve milestones in the right order, as they help develop skills that they need to complete the next one!

How sitting develops

Sitting is one of the only milestones that a child typically learns before they are able to get in and out of that position.  Parents typically put a child into sitting position and the child starts in what is called Tripod sitting – this is when a childs legs are out, often in a “V” position or a ring position, with their hands planted on the ground between their legs.  Once the child gains better control, they will start to come into a more upright position with the back in a c-shape and the child will start taking their hands off the ground to play briefly.

The child will then work on shifting directions and their body weight in the c-sit to gain more balance and control.  C-sitting should then continue to improve to nice upright sitting, with the child able to reach in front of themselves for toys, rotate to look the sides and reach up for higher toys.

When should my child be sitting?

Children can typically begin to tripod sit (within a parents legs) around 4 months of age.  C-sitting for brief periods (with lots of tipping over!) should start to develop just after 5 months.

I recommend parents stay close by, but allow their child to tip in order to help children develop those important reactions mentioned above.

You may also try propping pillows just beside and behind them (or use a breastfeeding pillow) so that you can be in front of your child to play and engage.

By 6 months, children should be starting to sit independently (working towards that tall sitting) with only the occasional loss of balance.  This typically coincides with introducing solids, as a child should be able to maintain good sitting posture in a high chair to ensure safe eating.

If your child is not showing the building blocks of sitting by 6 months, call your local pediatric physiotherapist for a consult.  As always, if you are in Kitchener-Waterloo or Perth County, give me a shout!

Rolling

Rolling

A typical question for most physiotherapists who see children (and honestly one I think most moms ask themselves at one point or another) is ‘should my child be doing X by now?’  So, I thought I would take a few blog posts and write a little about each of the big gross motor milestones.

Let’s start with rolling, the same thing most kiddos will start with.  I know for my husband, that was when ours stopped being “a loaf of bread” and became a tiny human to him – suddenly they can move!

What does it take to roll?

Rolling can seem simple to us as adults but in reality is quite complex.  There are a LOT of components to rolling.  A child needs neck control, shoulder mobility and control, the beginning of core stability and, finally, hip and knee control.  Without all of these components, the child may not be able to initiate the movement, or they won’t be able to control the momentum.

To start learning all of those fundamental building blocks (especially the neck control and shoulder mobility/control), it takes practice, and that means TUMMY TIME!  Tummy time is so vital – more on this another day!

The start of rolling

The first part of rolling that parents typically see is when their child is on their back and they are able to roll to their side.  This usually starts to emerge around 2-3 months.  This either happens because they are looking at something to the side and up from them or because they put their feet in the air and they tipped over.

Then it progresses to a purposeful head movement and the body follows the head. When this starts, the body is quite stiff and tends to roll like a log, and the roll can be a bit uncontrolled sometimes, startling a baby.  But, as those fundamental skills improve with practice, we see rolling with rotation and bending through the trunk.

To roll from tummy to back, babies need to bring one knee up toward their chest and lift their pelvis slightly to start the roll.

When should my child roll?

Some children start rolling as early as 4 months, but a typically developing child should roll both directions by 6 months.

If your child is not showing the building blocks to rolling by 4 months or isn’t rolling by 6 months call your local pediatric physiotherapist!  As always, if you are in Kitchener-Waterloo or Perth County, give me a shout!