There are many fun activities your child can do on the playground to help facilitate gross motor development, develop coordination skills, and increase overall body strength. Below are just some examples of how to do this to get you started:

Playground Stairs & Ramps: Many playgrounds are equipped with a set of stairs that take kids all the way to the tippy top of a slide. Many of them also have landings that are the perfect height off the ground to allow the kids to jump down (this would be a height of around 16 inches). Practicing this skill lets kids use two feet together to take off and two feet to land at the same time. If they haven’t yet mastered a two footed landing, practicing by jumping down will help with the development of this skill!

Climbing walls: Many playgrounds have climbing walls these days (which is really cool). Climbing walls are a great way to use and develop a child’s upper body and lower body strength, core strength, and whole body coordination. They have to use their brain to figure out where to place their feet and hands and then coordinate what they have figured out with their bodies to get their bodies to execute each motion. It’s a whole body team work activity!

Swings: Swings provide a great foundation to work on postural control and balance using many muscles of the trunk, legs, and arms to do so! The swinging motion requires a child to move their body in opposition to the motion of swing to continue to generate momentum. Each transition of their body between back and front uses a give and take of the front versus the back muscles that help support their spine, hips, shoulders, and etc. Negotiating their body in this way helps teach them how to use these postural muscles and how much to use on each side to create a desired movement. In other words, it teaches them how to coordinate these muscles. 

Tubes: Tubes are a great way to build upper body strength and use the core in a way we typically don’t once we learn how to walk. You can encourage your child to be creative with their movement in tubes too, not only crawling forward but crawling backward, moving in a bear crawl, trying a commando crawl (on their belly), or even crab walk!

Slides: Last but not least, slides are also a great tool to help develop body strength and coordination. When a child slides down a slide, they have to keep their body upright in a sitting position. While they are doing this, inertia is pushing their trunk backward and they have to use their core to stay upright! When they land at the bottom, they again have to coordinate the front and back core muscles to keep from falling forward as the force of inertia is decreased on their trunk (when the movement stops). They also must stop themselves with their legs without losing their balance, which requires a lot of strength, control, and coordination of the legs and body!

We hope you have so much fun on the playground this June! Remember to always supervise your kiddos while they are playing and stand close to them while they are trying new and difficult skills, in case they need your help! At the same time, remember that the playground is the perfect place for kids to take risks, challenge their skills and learn how to problem solve.

If your kiddo is having trouble with coordinating or performing some of these gross motor skills, give us a call at KidPT to schedule a free Discovery Visit today! We would love to talk to you about your child’s potential PT needs!

Happy JUNE! June is in full swing and with this fun Summer month comes warmth, and lots of SUNSHINE! To celebrate this sunny month, here are three fun in the sun exercises to get ready for summer! Yay!

  1. The Sunbeam Stretch: Start with your body in a little ball and streeeeetch up tall toward the sky to feel like beams reaching out from the middle of the SUN! Repeat this 10 times to create 10 shining sun beams!
  1. The Sprinkler Jump: Pretend that there are sprinkler beams spraying near your ankles (or get out a real sprinkler). Jumps sideways over the water streams! Repeat this 10 times to each side and try not to hit the water (whether it is real or imaginary)!
  1. The Sunscreen Slide: Grab your bottle of sunscreen, hold it in one hand, then do a slide with arms out before putting the sunscreen on your face (imaginatively) when your feet come together! Repeat this one 5 times to each side to evenly honor the skin saving lotion in your hands!

We hope you have fun doing these three simple activities and that you are excited for the start of SUMMER!

Did you know… there may be a link between your child’s core control and their level of anxiety? When we learned about this link, it just about blew our socks off… and then we quickly put them back on because it made so much sense to us! 

People are always saying that core control and strength is SOOO important for kids and adults to move efficiently and to support our bodies. This is true and when someone has difficulties keeping their bodies stable and centered in one place for a bit of time, it is often related to their core strength or core control. This we usually expand beyond the idea of the core alone and relate this difficulty controlling the body to the term “postural control”. If you read our blog on a regular basis, you know that we talk about postural control ALL THE TIME! We talk about it so much because it is so important to everyday life and our ability to move through it with ease. If we can’t control our bodies in a still state, hold our bodies in an aligned posture, and activate our core in the right way, performing higher level tasks is HARD! If your child is focusing SO much on maintaining control of their body, any tricky coordination or tricky mind components of the task may be a very big ask and that specific task may be very hard for them to do.

We see this and recognize this in many of the kiddos we treat, which is why we are always mindful of adjusting a task to meet them where they are at that given point in time. Although we are always thinking in this way, what we hadn’t necessarily thought about was how difficulty with postural control and core activation may be linked with emotions, specifically elevated levels of anxiety.

HOW you ask? In a study performed comparing the balance and postural reactions of children with anxiety to children without anxiety, it was found that during simple balance tasks, children with anxiety exhibited greater postural sway with less variety when compared to children without anxiety. The differences between the two groups grew larger as the balance tasks became more challenging. The researchers concluded that the pattern of postural sway they saw suggested that decreased stability during balance tasks causes the task to demand more attention. This, they felt, may explain the link between decreased balance and higher levels of anxiety in children.

SO, if your child has more trouble controlling their posture at baseline, they may be devoting more attention to postural control at all times. When they send more attention to their body in that way, it takes up cognitive power that they need to complete hard school tasks or that they need for harder motor tasks… AND life demands them to do these higher level tasks ALL THE TIME. This has the potential to increase their anxiety and overall frustration when asked to do these challenging things. As is stated above, researchers predict that this may be why these two things are linked, because the mind is being forced to devote attention to SO MANY hard things all at the same time, and that shifting attention in this way is STRESSFUL. This is especially so because as children shift some of the attention they are giving to maintain their  postural control away from the body and toward another task, they may start to lose their balance, forcing the brain to give that attention back AND then they complete the big task in a slightly haphazard way. 

If your child has trouble with balance, they may benefit from physical therapy. We look at each child as a whole being and consider more than just the basics of balance and strength, because we as human beings are so much more than just these things! If you are curious about physical therapy for your child and want to test the waters, come in for a free Discovery Visit to see if we are the right fit for you, your family, and your child. Don’t worry, there are so many things in life that make us stressed and nervous but we have your back and we are here for you! Breathe in and out , everything is going to be okay!

Resources:

https://behavioralandbrainfunctions.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1744-9081-5-42?fbclid=IwAR3HNmXlyiwQSHMpyudJy0_i-IMCPkPlp6bWFzlL0eIB5n92I3st-kxcSWM#Sec19

Everyone is always saying “Exercise is good for you!”… yeah yeah we’ve all heard that before. We know that exercise makes our bodies healthier BUT did you know it can make your mind happier too?? This month is National Mental Health Month. We wanted to raise awareness this week by helping you understand WHY exercise can lift you and your child’s moods and help to reduce unwanted stress at the chemical level (aka within the brain)!

When we exercise, our brains release something called ENDORPHINS. Endorphins are released when our body feels physically exerted, which usually happens when we start to sweat, our heart rate goes up, and our cheeks turn pink! When our brains release endorphins, this helps to decrease our responsiveness to pain and also relieves stress within the brain. Also when we exercise, our brains release many mood-boosting chemicals. These are called DOPAMINE, NOREPINEPHRINE, and  SEROTONIN. These brian chemicals are all responsible for regulating our mood and promoting internal happiness on short and long term scales. One of the really cool things about Serotonin is that when we exercise regularly, the levels of serotonin in the brain have been shown to increase over a longer period of time. This promotes a greater sense of well-being, which can help your kiddos feel very secure.

Another great benefit of exercise is that it decreases potentially harmful stress chemicals, specifically adrenaline. With regular exercise, the levels of adrenaline in the brain become more balanced. If your kiddo exercises on a regular basis, this may help them feel less of this hormone which tends to make people very stressed out when over produced. 

We know hormones and brain chemicals can get very complicated very quickly BUT the bottom line is….Regular exercise can make your and your child’s brain happier and less stressed. No matter what that exercise might look like for you and your kids, as exercise comes in many forms for many types of bodies, it is important to move in a way that is healthy for your and your child’s body as much as is possible! 

Looking for ideas to jump start your family’s movement today? Watch this youtube video created by Coach Corey Martin, he will have the whole family ducking, dodging, and jumping over imaginary obstacles in no time!

Information retrieved from:

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise#Exercise-and-brain-chemistry
Feet are funny, they are those things at the end of your legs that hold up all of your weight all day long. They provide a stable base to balance on and the way they move when you put your weight on them helps you walk in a stable way. 

Feet come in many different variations and all feet are different! As physical therapists, when we take a first look at your child, we always make sure to look at their feet along with the rest of their body. Sometimes the way the feet are structured OR the way they move when your child stands on them can make balance VERY hard. What do we mean by this? Sometimes the feet have a little bit of extra motion to one side or the other. When this happens, the heel will often make a C shape, and that C can either point out or point in when you are looking at your child’s foot from the back. If the C’s point out, with the curve of the C in the middle, they may also have a “dropped arch” or a “flat arch”. If it looks like your child’s arch is close to the ground when you look at the inside of their foot, they may have arches that are more on the “flat” side.

Arches that are on the “flatter” end of the spectrum are not necessarily all bad, they absorb forces nicely when someone walks or runs. With enough foot strength, an arch that is on the flatter side can be very strong and can maintain that strength when challenged by difficult activities like walking, running, jumping, etc. When flat arches DO become a problem is when they start to affect a child’s balance and development of gross motor skills, like standing and walking. 

This is often the case when a foot with a flat arch lacks either the strength, dynamic stability, or both to stabilize the foot in a strong position during weight bearing. This can be seen when the child tries to stand, walk, or jump, where the arches remain in a “collapsed” position despite all the hard work the child is probably doing on top of their feet with their leg, butt, core, and trunk muscles to keep their balance. When this is the concern, we pediatric physical therapists often turn to orthotics and SMOs. When orthotics and SMOs are the right fit for your child, they allow the foot, and body on top of it, to practice dynamic stability. This helps develop a stronger foot while minimizing the effects of gravity that the foot is constantly losing the battle to! Think of it as getting the feet AND the whole body on top of the feet to work SMARTER and not HARDER for the time being! Once given a little extra help in the feet department, many kids take off and achieve milestones and new feats that were previously very challenging from them, because they are stabilizing their feet in a more efficient way.

For children who have a flat arch on one foot and not on the other, these children often have imbalances traveling from higher up in their bodies that are affecting their foot position. These children will benefit from physical therapy exercises, as orthotics won’t address the source of the problem.

If you were thinking about your child while you were reading this, come on in to KidPT for a free Discovery Visit! We can take a look at your child, how they are moving, and at their feet while they are moving! We can let you know what we are seeing and help steer you in the right direction!

Hi everyone! This week we are here to bring you insight on another way Physical Therapy can help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Like we discussed last week, many people do not know how PT can help individuals within the ASD community. Well, we are here to tell you just how we can help (PART 2)! Not every individual within the ASD community has motor difficulties, but some individuals within the ASD community need a little bit of help to overcome different motor challenges that may be preventing them from flourishing as their best selves!

Some children with ASD love to move move move! While movement may just be something they love love love to do, sometimes they may be moving without stopping because they have trouble STOPPING their own body movement. Just like we discussed last week, this is often related to postural control as well. Postural control affects their balance and one’s ability to keep their body stable in one place for a given period of time. If your child has difficulty with postural control, it may cause them to stand up and then sit down, and then stand up again, in rapid succession. They may also be more inclined to run than walk OR when they are walking, their steps may be ALL over the hallway, like they are losing their balance. Like we talked about last week, these are both strategies kids may use to keep themselves from falling, because believe it or not, moving SLOWLY takes so much CONTROL of the body. Slowing down may be too much work for your child’s body so it is easier for them to move fast OR just to keep moving in general, because then they are less likely to fall. 

On the other hand, sometimes children with ASD have trouble starting new movements. This may happen when they are doing something like walking from standing still, reaching for an object from standing still, or transitioning from walking on a flat surface to walking up the stairs. It may seem like your child is refusing to move or refusing to do something hard, like climbing the stairs, when in reality they may be stalling because their brain is having trouble telling their body to GO! We in the PT world call this idea “movement initiation” and most of us take our own easy ability to initiate different movements for granted. Children who have trouble with movement initiation try very hard to start a movement, but sometimes it takes a bit OR they need some outside help to do it. This “outside help” is referring to things outside their brain, and some examples of this would be rainbow stripes on steps giving a visual cue to walk OR a song with a good beat, giving a sound cue to keep on moving! 

The goal of physical therapy in either of these realms is to generate either more postural control or easier movement initiation. How does PT do this, you ask? By making new neural connections in the brain and central nervous system which then inform the rest of the body. By making these changes in the brain and body, both processes of postural control and movement initiation become automatic processes. This way, your child does not have to think about it too hard and their body will do it automatically. This will let your child do other important tasks, like learning in school, eating a meal, or climbing the stairs, without their brain and body having to work so hard. By making these processes automatic, they can move with greater ease and freedom!

If any of these descriptions sound like your child, call us at KidPT today for a free Discovery Visit, where we can discuss if physical therapy is the right fit for your child and why!

Earth day is April 22nd this year, and we wanted to prepare all of the kiddos out there with ways to celebrate! We’ve said it before and we will say it here again, getting outside is great for so many things, including calming and attention (see our blog post about this HERE). It is also great for promoting movement of many varieties!

Here are some fun, Earth Day themed activities to get you and your family moving in the great outdoors:

  1. Hiking – Hit the trails with your family, there are so many great hiking trails in Somerset, Mercer, and Middlesex Counties, you will never be bored! Many of these trails feature wildlife and beautiful flowers as well as inclines and declines that are sure to get the blood pumping! Hiking can be used to teach your child about the “Leave No Trace” rules that apply to all hiking paths, where what is found in the forest, stays in the forest. This is a way to honor the nature found there and to leave it undisturbed for all hikers and wildlife alike.
  2. Gardening – Gardening exposes your child to many fun colors and textures while having them work and help by carrying plants to be potted, then squatting down low to help plant them! They get to feel dirt, feel the many different textures that come along with different plants, and maybe even find a worm or two! This can be turned into an educational experience about what animals and nutrients are needed to help a garden grow big and strong too!
  3. Plant a Tree – This is similar to gardening, but to plant a tree you need to use a big shovel. Have your child grab their mini-shovel and start digging! This can also be turned into an educational experience where you teach your child about how important trees are for our Ecosystem and for life, to teach them about why we celebrate Earth Day in the first place! When the little tree is all planted, they can look at your work and feel a sense of accomplishment that will last years and years as the tree grows!
  4. Canoe or Kayak – Both of these water related activities are very fun AND involve a lot of core and upper body strength! There is a lot of wonderful wildlife to be celebrated in lakes, rivers, and streams, and paddling on the water with your family is a wonderful way to experience the outdoors from a new perspective. You may see turtles and fish, and seeing these creatures living in their natural habitat will help your children learn about why bodies of water are important to protect as well.
  5. Go for a Bike Ride – Go to either a bike path or start from your house and bike somewhere that you want to explore with your family. Bike riding is a whole body activity and is easy for the whole family to do together. If you bike on Earth Day, you can teach your kids all about alternative forms of transportation and how riding your bike for transportation helps decrease the harmful emissions in the air, helping create a cleaner environment for everyone.

Happy Earth Day everyone! Go out there and explore the great outdoors! We hope this post helps generate some ideas for combining movement and activity with the outdoors for some teachable moments so that your kids can learn why we celebrate the green world all around us!

by Dr. Ali Clodfelter, PT

When it comes to the link between physical therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), many people do not know how PT can help individuals within the ASD community. Well, we are here to tell you just how we can help! Not every individual within the ASD community has motor difficulties, but some individuals within the ASD community need a little bit of help to overcome different motor challenges that may be preventing them from flourishing as their best selves!

Sometimes individuals within the ASD community also have a diagnosis of Low Tone. Low Tone makes it hard for kiddos to activate their muscles as quickly and easily as those without low tone. It can make dealing with gravity on an everyday basis very challenging. When a child is frequently losing the battle with gravity, they might sit with a very forward, rounded spine, have difficulty reaching for objects while sitting and standing, have trouble getting onto and off of the floor or into and out of a chair. They may have difficulty keeping their balance when challenged, and may even have trouble walking or running without tripping or falling. Kids with low tone can really benefit from physical therapy because it helps improve their ability to make their muscles ready for challenging tasks. This means, when they go to try a task where gravity previously won the battle, they know how to activate their muscles beforehand (eventually without even thinking about it), and can perform the task with greater ease and safety. 

Children with Low Tone also have difficulty with postural control. Postural control affects their balance. If your child has difficulty with postural control, it may cause them to have difficulty keeping their balance when sitting in a chair, walking on unstable surfaces or narrow surfaces, and it may make it very hard for them to stand still. Often when a child has difficulty with postural control that affects their balance in standing, they will keep moving or keep taking steps forward just to keep from falling! That is a lot of work that they are doing every day just to keep their balance!

With improvements in muscle readiness and postural control, kids with Autism gain the stability they need to do everyday tasks with greater ease. With greater ease of movement, kids are able to grow and learn to do motor tasks they never thought possible. It is this growth we love to see and support, and it is why we do what we do!

If any of these descriptions sound like your child, call us at KidPT today for a free Discovery Visit, where we can discuss if physical therapy is the right fit for your child and why!

This month is Autism Acceptance Month (formerly known as Autism Awareness Month). The purpose of the month, which was originally geared toward raising awareness and sharing resources to raise awareness for the Autism Community, is now aimed at both raising awareness and fostering a culture of acceptance. What does this mean exactly? The name change to Autism Acceptance Month urges for a change in how the community at large embraces individuals with Autism as well as their families. A large source of stress for individuals with Autism and their families is a lack of community support, this includes difficulty finding support within the education system, providing accessible housing, providing affordable healthcare, and helpful, comprehensive long term services. 

That said, we wanted to highlight one resource we found that was designed to help individuals within the community and to help educate the community as a whole. This resource is a children’s book, created by an individual who has Autism, that seeks to describe and normalize various sensory needs, mobility needs, and even nutrition needs for children with disabilities, and is not solely limited to ASD. This resource does so in a way that does not teach children who are neurodivergent or who have a disability to feel like their difference is their fault OR that it is something that needs to be hidden in order for them to fit into everyday life. This children’s story highlights that children all have differences from each other, that the needs of many children can be met within the school setting, and that this is a great thing! It seeks for foster “Neuroinclusion” rather than to create an environment of othering and exclusion. This story is called “A Room For Us All: A Neuroinclusive Story”.

Below is the link to the article written on this topic which has a PDF of the story we mentioned at the bottom of the article!

Other references resourced here:

by Alison Clodfelter, PT, DPT

April is finally here, and you know what that means, APRIL SHOWERS! With April showers comes so many PUDDLES! We know how much your kiddos probably love to jump in puddles, and while it may get their clothes a little wet, it certainly is fun! Jumping is also great for coordinating the muscles of your tummy and back with your arms and legs because all these different muscle groups need to fire at just the right times. This needs to happen in a certain sequence for each jump to occur, which means it is helpful to practice different kinds of jumps to learn all kinds of coordination patterns!

You and your kiddo may want to pull out your rain boots for these fun puddle jumps to keep your feet dry:

1. Jumping AROUND the puddles: Jumping two feet apart then two feet together: Start with both feet together (in front of your puddle), then jump forward and move both feet apart at the same time (two feet outside of the puddle). Then jump with two feet back together to make it to the other side of your puddle!

2. One foot puddle jump: Start with two feet in front of your puddle, then hop onto one foot RIGHT INTO THE PUDDLE (SPLASH)! Now jump back onto two feet! Turn around and try jumping into the puddle on your other foot!

3. One foot OVER the puddles: Start on the side of your puddle on one foot, quickly bend the knee your standing on and jump sideways OVER the puddle to land on your other foot. Try not to land in the puddle! Keep repeating this and see how many sideways jumps you can do without getting your feet wet!

4. Backwards puddle jumps: Jumping backward gives a whole new moving view of the world to your kiddo while they are trying to coordinate their jumping, challenging their coordination with a new visual flow, making their brain work in a new way to move!

5. Puddle LEAPS: Have your child RUN up to the puddles, lift one foot off the ground, and push off the leg that is still on the ground to do one big LEAP over the puddle. Again, try not to land in the puddle, and see how many you can do without making a splash!

6. Puddle Half Turns: We had to end with one right in the puddle! Start with your rain boots standing in the puddle. Jump UP and turn your whole body 180 degrees to do one half turn. This one is great for coordinating the rotational muscles of your tummy with your jump.

These fun jumps can of course be performed without puddles too if you don’t want to get messy! Happy puddle jumping!