Improving your child’s motor skills in a winter wonderland

smiling girl making snow angel

Photo credit: Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) at Wikimedia Commons.

Michigan winters are cold and snowy. When the family has cabin fever, an outside snowy day is the perfect place to play. Not only is it a fun change, did you know it’s also a perfect way to improve fine and gross motor skills?

Getting ready for snow fun can be both challenging and rewarding. Putting on snow pants then adjusting the straps, pulling on the boots, zipping up a coat, placing on a hat, and finding just the right spot for your thumb in the mittens are all fine motor and body awareness skills children can achieve when given the time and the incentive. The youngest ones will still need a little help.

Once out the door all bundled up, a whole snow-filled playground awaits in the yard! Running with boots on is hard work! Check out the snow; is it soft, crunchy, wet, flaky, good for packing, or powdery? Make a footprint path in the snow for your friends and parents to follow. Take big steps, small steps, and jump with two feet. Making a snow angel is exercise; now try to get up without squashing the angel! Does it look like you?

Ready to build a snowman? Pack a snowball tight, now roll and roll. Keep pushing it, using all of your arm, core and leg strength. Make two more each smaller than the last. Kids can ask mom or dad to help stack the snowballs on top of each other to make the snowman.

Time to go sledding! Younger children enjoy being pulled on a sled while the older kids seek the hills. Sledding down and climbing back up over and over builds great strength and endurance. No hills in your yard? Children can pull each other on sleds or pack some snow and make their own hill – let their imaginations take over. Building a fort, shoveling a path and looking for animal tracks are all ways to enjoy being outside.

Are you ready for one more adventure? Go ice skating! Many rinks have open skate with rental skates available; some rinks offer plastic PVC walkers for children to help with balance. Bring your own helmet (bike or hockey) with you. Ice skating is fun and challenging. It incorporates balance, coordination, and strength. Children about 3 years old can really start to enjoy skating; they don’t have far to fall and they enjoy the quick progress they make.

Well that was fun! The kids will climb out of the layers of clothing, pile up the boots, and are ready for a snack. Soup or hot chocolate are just perfect to warm up all over. This was an exhausting day, so expect the kids to go to bed early tonight.

– Amanda Froling, PT, C/NDT, CKTP, is a physical therapist within the Beaumont Center for Children’s Rehabilitation in West Bloomfield.
– Carol Julien-Buell, PT, MPT, C/NDT, PCS is a board-certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist. She is physical therapist at the Beaumont Center for Children’s Rehabilitation in Beaumont Health & Wellness Center, Royal Oak.

Fun indoor activities to keep kids moving all winter

young kids doing Zumba

Altered image. Lori Yerdon, USAG Humphreys Public Affairs, Flickr. CC license.

Much like adults, children need regular physical activity, an hour a day, to reap numerous health benefits including improved cardiovascular health, strong bones and muscles, positive self-image, decreased stress levels, and improved sleep. Achieving an hour of exercise in the winter time can be a challenge due to the cold weather and shorter days. Here are some ideas and tips to keep kids moving all winter long.

Use what you have and what your child enjoys

Board games, puzzles, balls, arts and crafts all can be used as motivation to perform exercises. A familiar position we use as therapist is tall kneel and one-half kneel. These are great positions because they strengthen the hips and core muscles while working on balance, coordination and endurance. Once the child is in either position, he or she can play a board game, draw a picture, or play catch with a sibling, friend or family member.

tall kneel, one-half kneel

Yoga

Yoga is for everyone and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your home. Simply do an internet search for “storytime yoga” to locate kid friendly stories and themed yoga poses to go along with the stories. There are YouTube videos to follow along with or once you get the hang of it you can make up your own yoga poses to go along with some of your child’s favorite books. Ask your child to make up yoga poses as well. It’s great opportunity to be creative and silly. There are also kid friendly yoga pose cards that you can purchase or make your own from Pinterest. Take turns picking cards and performing the selected pose. Mix them up and create a yoga flow.

Play tag in a small space to improve agility

Do you have an area in your house that is pretty open, maybe a basement or play room? Create a “Tag Court” by sectioning off a small space, approximately 10′x10′ (smaller or larger if you choose), with use of masking tape. Play with two players at time and players cannot go outside the taped lines. Use stickers or football flags, if they are handy, to create a game of tag and keep track. This game is great fun and works on speed and agility. You will be surprised how quick this game gets your heart rate up. Variations of this game can also be used such as jump tag, playing tag while jumping, playing tag while crab walking, bear crawl tag and so on.

Have a dance party!

Time to be creative with your moves and get your heart rate up. Pick songs that your child enjoys, clear a space and have fun. You can keep it simple or decorate by putting up streamers, having balloons, different colored lights, flash lights, and microphones for singing. Invite friends over to work on dance routines and have a recital or just have fun. Want to change it up? Try a “freeze dance,” where dancers must freeze the music stops playing. This is a great activity to improve agility and direction following. You may want a theme dance: dance like your favorite underwater creature, favorite animal, cartoon character, etc. Try a dance in the dark with flashlights or incorporate instruments.

Turn screen time into activity time

Have you heard of Go Noodle? It’s an interactive website designed to get kids moving. Many classrooms are using this site and children are responding positively with improved attention and test scores. Sign up for the home version for free at gonoodle.com. There are limitless fun and catchy songs that incorporate academic content. There is also a section of mindfulness with calming activities.

I hope this gives you some more ideas on how to have fun and sneak in some exercise when stuck indoors over the winter. Imaginative play is limitless. Keep moving to stay healthy and stay warm!

– Christina Paniccia, pediatric physical therapist and pediatric supervisor at the Beaumont Neighborhood Club in Grosse Pointe, Mich.

Building Halloween excitement before the big day

house decorated for Halloween

With so many things to love about fall, it is definitely my favorite season. Football, cooler temperatures, changing leaves, apple orchards, cider, donuts, sweaters, boots, and of course … Halloween. Halloween is such a fun and exciting holiday, especially for kids. As soon as the calendar flips to October at our house, the spooky Halloween buzz begins. While I wouldn’t say we go Halloween “crazy,” over the years I’ve enjoyed doing simple little things here and there to make the month fun, and to build the excitement and anticipation of the day.

Halloween décor

Adding indoor and outdoor decorations always makes things seem more festive. You don’t have to go “all out” all at once. I’ve collected things over the years, often on clearance after the holiday. We always add one new decoration each year, and the kids love getting them out and helping me decide where things should go.

jack-o-lantern clementinesFun food

Pinterest is full of silly Halloween snack and food ideas. I usually keep it simple and the kids still love it. I always try to pick up a box of Halloween cereal to surprise them with, and you can make an adorable pumpkin for the lunchbox with just a clementine and a Sharpie.

Visit a Halloween supply store

Whether you already have the costumes set or not, visiting a Halloween store is lots of fun. There’s so much to look at, masks to try on, and even some spooky animatronics that might make you jump. Keep toddlers close by as many of these are motion activated. Older kids may enjoy this activity more than the little ones.

Local free events

Many cities host trick-or-treating at the local businesses before Halloween, and many schools have trunk-or treat events where you decorate your car and kids go car-to-car collecting treats. It’s nice to get some additional opportunities to wear those costumes!

Enjoy Halloween books and movies

Now is a perfect time to dim the lights, pop some popcorn and watch a Halloween movie or read your favorite spooky books together. Lighting some candles or giving the kids small flashlights, always helps to set the scene and make it even more special. There are many age-appropriate choices; here are a few of our family favorites:

Send out Halloween greeting cards

Receiving unexpected fun mail is the best! There are so many adorable Halloween cards in the stores or you can make your own. Pick a few friends and family and send them a Halloween greeting. I promise they will be surprised! People often expect a birthday card, but when was the last time you got a Halloween card? We have a family friend that sends one to my kids every year and they always look forward to it. You can also throw in some spooky stickers to make it even more exciting.

Happy Halloween!

– Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program Director. She is also mom to Cassie and Connor, and coordinator of Halloween shenanigans at the House of Ryan.

Having fun with baby’s first summer

big brother holding little brother on bench

Gray and Finley on Finn’s first road trip

There is a country song with a line that goes, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” I always love that line because the first time you do something is so underrated in my eyes. I feel like the last time you do something is always remembered but what about the first? Sure big firsts are remembered such as first words, first day of school, first kiss, and so on, but what about other firsts? Things like the first silly word (my 5-year-old boy calls salad dressing “salad sauce” and it will forever remain salad sauce in our house), your first challenge at school, your first bad kiss, etc.?

little boy playing with sandFirsts are a big deal! As a mom, I try to teach my kids that the firsts are just as important as the lasts. I have two boys (ages 5 years and 16 months). For my little guy’s “first summer” last year I made sure to document and photograph all of his firsts that the summer energy brings. Here are a few of my favorites along with a few notes:

  • First fourth of July (Note: Finley did not care for fireworks)
  • First time experiencing a glow stick
    • Mommy was quick to know Finn wanted to use it as a chew toy
  • First haircut
    • Bribed with snacks to try and stay still.
  • First road trip
    • Colorado at 6 months old.
  • First time feeling sand
  • First time strawberry picking.
    • No help picking the fruit but a big help in eating it.
  • First time camping.
    • Camping “up north” as a rite of passage
  • First time hiking.
    • Sure, he was carried on everyone’s back but still a first nonetheless.
  • First time in a bounce house (How fun is this first?)
  • First time swimming
    • Finley was naked in a bucket but we’re still counting it as first swimming.
  • First time playing at a park
    • Favorite park feature: swings
  • First time at the zoo
    • Loved seeing the polar bears
  • First time at the splash pad
  • First time having a picnic in the backyard
  • First time giving “kisses” to mommy, daddy and brother
  • First time eating peas
  • First time playing on slip and slide

trio of little boy "first" photos

Everyone says that the days go by slow but the years go by fast with children. Ain’t that the truth? I know someday I will look back and think about the last time my kids played on the slip and slide, or went up north, but for now I’m focusing on these first moments.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

Learning while we laugh

child jumping in puddle

Sometimes in this fast-paced world, we parents get caught up in making sure our children have all the skills they need to succeed—to the point where we over-schedule and stress our children and ourselves. From organized sports to lessons in language, art or music, not to mention school and educational apps or games, it can become overwhelming!

Here’s some great news: Good old-fashioned play has a multitude of benefits and involves lots of learning as well. Through play, kids model what they see, work out conflicts, build physical mastery of their environment, generate new ideas, and problem solve.

Sometimes unstructured play is thought of as not being as useful as lessons and classes, but it is actually essential to creativity and building perseverance and tolerance of boredom. When we are bored, we get creative and explore our environment, searching for something of interest. Educational television shows, websites or applications are fine in moderation, especially if you watch together and talk about what you see and learn. However, free-flowing, unstructured time is a must for both parents and kids.

There are lots of ways to make learning fun that don’t necessarily require set-aside time. Beyond the more obvious learning aspects of a toy or game, you can teach your kids to be curious and explore dramatic play or unexpected/silly play. Be creative and see what fits your family.

  • Take a walk together and explore a local park or even your neighborhood. It can be an open-ended exploration or set up like a scavenger hunt or I Spy. Really look around and see what you notice. Interesting flowers, scampering squirrels, crunchy leaves underfoot, piles of snow to climb, puddles to stomp in—all year round, there are things to appreciate and learn about, right outside your door.
  • Cook or bake something together and talk about all the ingredients (their different tastes, smells and textures) and how they combine to make the meal taste good. Practice using different units of measurement. You can even make cleanup fun with lots of bubbles, fun music, and good-smelling soap. Kids love to help and will have a sense of mastery and enjoyment over doing something we may take for granted. As they get older, they can help more and more, and can even cook (and clean up) the whole meal when they are old enough. Now that is a joyful moment!
  • Use sidewalk chalk and draw outlines of each family member on the pavement. Measure heights as well as hand and foot sizes. You can even make silly pictures out of the outlines.
  • Have races and use a stopwatch or timer to see how fast everyone can hop on one foot, run, walk, crab walk, crawl, walk backwards. Chart the times on a graph to teach graphing and comparison skills.
  • In the store, play I Spy for items you need. Have your children help find items in reach. Have them guess how much something costs and see who is closest to the actual price. Let them check items off your list. At the grocery store, have them help you pick one new healthy food to bring home and try; pretend you are curious scientists learning about the new food, and sampling its taste.

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, Center for Human Development and Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s

Time to celebrate reading

Boy reading to his stuffed animals

Modified image. John Morgan, Flickr. CC license.

March is National Reading Month, a time when schools across the country celebrate and promote reading. However, reading and literacy can start as early as birth. In fact, researchers state that promoting early literacy is in direct correlation with reading success when children enter school. That means it is never too early (or late) to encourage reading.

This month, find time to read and have fun with your children. Here are some reading activities you might like to try together. To make this extra special, make a tic-tac-toe board and have your child choose nine activities from this list. Put them in the squares and mark them off as you complete the activity. When they get a tic-tac-toe, create another game.

  • Read books from your child’s favorite author.
  • Celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday (March 2) by reading a book of his every day this month.
  • Record number of books or pages read for the month.
  • Visit your local library.
    • Introduce your child to the children’s librarian.
    • Get a library card in your child’s name. Check with your library to see when a child can get his own card. Some libraries have a guideline that a child must be able to write his first and last names legibly.
    • Spend extra time there and really look around to see what is offered.
  • Make a “reading place.”
    • Get a large appliance box and decorate it as a special area for reading.
    • Read under the covers with a flashlight or headlamp.
    • Make a tent with blankets over chairs as a special reading place. Use flashlights or headlamps to see.
    • If you have the space, decorate a special corner or area in your home for a reading space.
  • Bring reading to life.
    • Change your voice for the different characters in the book.
    • Dress up like the characters when you read your child’s favorite book.
  • Read as many different genres as you can.
  • Read and make a recipe from a child’s cookbook.
  • Get a book on drawing and learn to draw something new.
  • Read about things they are interested in. If they are interested in animals, visit a zoo.
  • Have your child read a familiar book to a pet or favorite stuffed animal. Reading aloud to a non-judgmental furry friend can improve reading skills and confidence.
  • Meet an author.
    • Some bookstores and libraries invite authors to speak and read aloud to children.
    • Get a book signed especially for your child by the author.
  • Read something other than a traditional book.
    • Listen to an audiobook. You can even follow along in a printed copy if you’d like.
    • Order a magazine for your child to come in the mail.
    • Comic books and graphic novels are unique options.
  • Read together at bedtime.
    • Take time to snuggle and read to your child, even after your child can read.
    • Start bedtime early or extend it by 5 to 10 minutes for extra reading time.
    • Read a chapter a night from a favorite author.
    • If your child can read, take turns reading a page.
  • Other literary-supporting ideas
    • Play with magnetic letters on the refrigerator.
    • Play rhyming games.
    • Let your child make up a story and tell it to you.
    • Plan a scavenger hunt in your home, with a book being the prize at the end.
    • As a parent, model reading for your child.  Let them see you read everyday.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Finding the Holy Grail of parenting: Date night

date ideas written on popsicle sticks

Cropped image. Personal Creations, Flickr. CC license.

There are some couples who are just good at it, and some who need a boost. I’m talking about date nights and nights out with grown-ups. No. Kids.

I have a friend who is really good at it. He and his wife schedule date nights once a month in advance. They usually try a new restaurant without their four kids and then run a few errands. My husband and I are horrible at it. I love the idea, but the mythical unicorn of “date night” hardly visits our marriage. I’m not sure if that unicorn even knows where we live.

When the opportunity does come our way, I’m all in though. To get myself motivated to plan a night out, I did some brainstorming about fun things to do without your shortys in tow.

Check out entertainment calendars. Try the Freep or MLive. They list special events at museums, concerts/music festivals, cultural events and more.

Try something different. The last time we went on a date, we tried mini golf. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. We were horrible! But it was a blast and totally out of the norm for us. Also consider indoor rock climbing (before adult beverages, please), a comedy show, go to the drive-in theater or a play, or attend one of the after-hours events at the zoo, Cranbrook Institute of Science or the Michigan Science Center.

If the scheduling gods are smiling on you and you actually make plans with other adults, first take a photo. It’s a rare event. Second, come up with something to do quickly so you don’t just end up camped out at the house of whoever sent their kids off to grandma’s house.

Consider:

  • Feather bowling
  • Normal bowling
  • A sporting event
  • Wine tasting/whiskey tasting
  • Casino
  • Museums
  • Visit Belle Isle and rent a paddle boat, kayak or bike
  • Preservation Detroit has excellent walking tours
  • Try an escape room
  • Trampoline park

Are you ready to plan a night out? Me, too. Where are you going?

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.