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Bumping-and-Crashing, Touching-and-Feeling:

Suggestions for Helping Toddlers' and Preschoolers' Sensorimotor Development Blossom

by Stephanie Ward

Active preschoolers develop their minds and bodies as they run, jump, crash, and climb. The information in this article is from the perspective of sensory integration theory, which occupational therapists use in helping children with special needs. However, I feel it is a wonderful model for how a "typical" young child develops, and suggests fun ways to play with your child.

My daycare kids are always on the move. They love to run, jump, crash to the floor, and climb. They also love to play in mud or water, touch sand, grab anything that catches their eyes, and feel grass or dirt under their bare feet. While preparing them for academic success - such as teaching colors and numbers - is quite worthwhile, I believe what they do with their bodies and their senses is more important at this stage.

Young children usually crave active movement: crawling, walking, running, jumping, and climbing. They also love to explore the world through their senses. Starting in infancy, they explore with their eyes and ears, and they grasp, touch, feel, and put things in their mouths. As toddlers and preschoolers, they thrive on the playground; love sand, water, mud, beads, blocks and playdough. Physical and sensory play is not only fun for young children, it is essential for kids' physical and cognitive development. These activities help them develop their muscles and motor skills to their fullest potential. They also facilitate brain development.

Much as a baby bird is created with the innate ability to learn to fly, children are created with the desire to play in ways that stimulate their bodies and their senses. This helps a child's sensory integration skills develop. These skills include the brain's ability to to process what the body sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes. They also include vestibular development (includes the sense of balance) and proprioceptive development (includes awareness of and ability to use joints and muscles, and a sense of where his body is in space). This sensory integration lays the groundwork for future physical, emotional, and intellectual, and cognitive development.

We will be exploring activities to help with this aspect of a child's development. Most kids - if given a safe place and time to do so - will do some of these things naturally (such as playing in sand, climbing, and jumping). However, they should still be facilitated and encouraged in school or daycare or at home. This is especially important for kids with high sensory needs. These are often the kids are are either extremely active, or inactive and reticent about trying these things.

The following section is by Carol Kranowitz(1):
Bird gotta sing, fish gotta swim, and kids gotta MOVE AND TOUCH. Moving and touching are how children first learn about the world. Feeling a blanket with their skin, touching a flower petal, stretching their arms up to the celing, climbing a jungle gym, and running in circles are examples of ways that children gain the important information they require to function well. Nature's educational plan is for young children to absorb sensory knowledge through their skin, muscles, and joints before they "graduate" to a developmental level where they can gather information through their eyes and ears.

Many children seem to seek more movement and touch than others. We think of them as Bumpers-and-Crashers, and as Touchers and Feelers. These children are telling us with their actions what their brains and bodies are telling them: THEY MUST ACT. They are telling us that if they can play "bumpety-bump" on the tire swing, or jump off a table onto a gym mat with an exaggerated crash, or wallow in muddy puddles -- for as long as they wish -- they will "get it all together." They are right.

Suggested Activities for Young Children:

Encouraging Vestibular Development (includes sense of balance; it helps organize the brain to work efficiently.)

1. Hoppity Hopping Like a big balloon with handles, a Hoppity Hop is great for bouncing up and down. Let the child try it first on the rug, before trying it on the sidewalk or floor.(1) (I purchased them for my own kids at Lillian Vernon - SW)

2. Playing on a Large Ball You can purchase therapy balls, or buy large balls at places like Wal Mart. A child can balance on it, sit on it and bounce (my daughter did this while playing video games), or lie on his belly on it.

3. Rolling Cut out the bottom of a cardboard box, so the child's head and arms are free at one end and feet are free at the other. Let the child roll down a grassy hill. Wrap her up in a beach towel for a different rolling experience.(1)

4. Swinging in a Blanket Two adults hold opposite corners of a blanket and a child gets an exciting ride. A hammock works too. (1) (My daughter LOVES this - SW)

5. Swinging Encourage the child to use regular swings as well as tire swings. Let the child swing, spin, and bump as much as she wants, even if it makes you dizzy just watching! (1)

6.Spinning on a Playground Merry-Go-Round Let the child control how fast and how long to spin. Let her propel the merry-go-round by herself. Try a Sit 'n Spin at home or in the classroom. (Never force a spinning activity on a child who resists it). (1)

7. Sliding How many ways can a child swoosh down a slide? Sitting up, lying down, frontwards, backwards, holding on to the side, not holding on, with legs straddling the sides, etc. (1)

8.Balancing on a Teeter-Totter Center a wooden board or a sheet of plywood over a two-by-four or railroad timber. Let the child walk back and forth, jump up and down, and balance at the fulcrum. (1)

9.Jumping on a Trampoline A kid-sized trampoline with a handle is a good investment. Jumping is hard work - and so much fun!(1)

10. Jumping from a Table Place a kid-sized mat beside a low table and encourage the child to jump. After each landing, stick a piece of masking tape on the mat to mark the spot. Encourage the child to jump farther each time. (1)

Encouraging Proprioceptive Development (includes body awareness; it helps organize the brain to work efficiently.)

1. Pulling, Pushing, or Carrying Heavy Loads Encourage the child to pull a wagon, push a small wheelbarrow, carry a laundry basket full of toys, or carry a loaded back pack.

2. Cocooning Wrap the child tightly in a sheet, blanket, or beach towel and then hold tight like a caterpillar in a cocoon. (2)

3. Climbing the Mattress Hill Place the foot of the child’s bed mattress down on the floor and the head of the mattress on the top of the middle of the child’s bed, then have the child climb the mattress to get up on the top of the mattress hill. (2)

4. Tom Sawyer Travels Using a carpet square, a carpet sample, or a large sturdy piece of cardboard, have the child lie forward on the sample and use arms and legs to raft along a slick floor. Then, have child lie backward on carpet and repeat the raft travels. (2)

5. Animal Walks Encourage your child to walk like a bear (walking on hands and feet, with legs straight), a crab (in sitting position, walking on hands and feet), a snail (in crawling position, but moving self forward with arms while scooting on knees), and a dog (crawling on all fours). How many other animal walks can he invent?

6. Wheelbarrow Walk Hold the child's legs as he walks forward on his hands.

7. Jump Up Game Have child squat, "wind him up," and have him jump up when winding is done, like a jack-in-the-box. (2)

8. Windshield Wipers Have the child lie on floor and use his arms and legs as windshield wipers. (2)

9. Climbing Encourage your child to climb on a playground jungle gym, climbing wall, or ladder.

10. Tug of War Each player pulls on an end of a thick, sturdy rope. See who can get it away from the other player.

Encouraging Motor Planning (ability to perform new or fine- or gross-motor activity) and Balance

1. Balance Beam Let the child practice walking on a rope or a piece of tape stretched across the floor, then let him tackle a low balance beam. My son enjoys pretending there are ravenous sharks below the balance beam (nothing like an element of danger!)

2. Rope Jumping Stretch a rope or a piece of tape across the floor, and have your child jump from side to side over the rope.

3. Obstacle Course Devise an obstacle course for your child. He could climb through tunnels, step over large boxes, crawl under tables, etc.


(1)Handout complied by Carol Kranowitz (2) Sensory Modulation Training

Copyright 2001 Stephanie Ward

Growing Together Family Learning Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 2, page 7

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