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Madelyn Girardi

Playgrounds & Their Role in Child Development

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Growing up, I remember spending hours and hours at playgrounds with friends and family. Running around, scraping our knees, and swinging from one structure to the next. While we all know that playgrounds can be loads of fun, the therapeutic benefit children can gain from these unique environments is often overlooked. Playgrounds allow children to explore the environment around them, develop important social/emotional skills, and build the necessary motor abilities to be successful in life.

Think of your average playground and consider the range of equipment that is present. Each type of equipment offers its own benefits in helping a child to build skills in different areas. Some common examples of playground equipment include:

  • Slides
  • Swings
  • Spinning equipment (e.g., tire swing, Sit N’ Spin, merry go round)
  • See-saw
  • Zipline, Static trapeze
  • Climbing structures
    • Ladders, monkey bars, stepping stones, vertical/fireman’s pole, coil climber, rock wall, rope structures
  • Imaginative play/Sensory-based equipment
    • Sandboxes, ball pits, splash pads, water tables, playhouse/kitchen set-ups

Gross Motor Skills

Playgrounds are great places for children to gain exposure and practice using gross motor skills. Some of the gross motor skills that can be targeted include upper and lower extremity strength, core strength and postural control, balance, shoulder/elbow/wrist stability, and bilateral coordination. Gross motor skills are important because they allow us to perform everyday functions, navigate and interact with our environment, and engage in leisure activities like sports! They also lay the foundation for our body to develop more refined motor skills in the hands. In other words, the child must have proximal stability before achieving distal mobility (Miss Jamie O.T, 2021). As our bodies develop these gross motor skills, this sets the groundwork for fine motor control. The more opportunities we give children to practice and explore, the better!

Image Credit: (Miss Jamie O.T, 2021)

Fine Motor Skills

Traditionally, we think of seated activities, such as coloring, writing, puzzles, or beads, as targeting our fine motor –  or hand –  skills. While this may be true, engagement in playground activities is also a great way to build hand strength, dexterity, grasp patterns, upper extremity coordination, and more. Think of a child climbing on a ladder, up a slide, or across a monkey bar structure. Our hands play a vital role in these activities. While engaging with playground environment, a child has ample opportunity to develop and use what is known as the “power grasp.” This is the grip needed to stabilize an object with the pinky side of the hand, while the thumb side of the hand wraps around the object (Miss Jamie O.T, 2021). This grasp is used in everyday life, such as when holding a cup, turning a doorknob, or opening a jar. Many skills established in this environment can then be transferred to the functional tasks performed in our daily routines. The playground is the perfect place to learn them!

Sensory Processing and Integration

In addition to motor skill practice, a playground environment can provide children with a plethora of sensory experiences that benefit overall regulation. When we think of playgrounds, many times swinging, spinning, and sliding activities come to mind. These activities provide a child with important vestibular information that allow for understanding of head/body position in space. This input can be crucial for regulation, social interaction, and successful navigation of the environment. Additionally, playground activities give our bodies ample proprioceptive, tactile, and visual input. Consider a child swinging on the monkey bars. While suspended, a child receives pulling/pushing input to the joints, which allows for increased body awareness and accurate grading of movements through space. Furthermore, a child is interacting with his or her environment, constantly taking in tactile, auditory, and visual information. For many children, exposure to these sensory-rich experiences can positively impact regulation, arousal, and social and emotional development.

Social/Emotional, Play Skills

Playground environments also provide abundant social interaction for children as they are often shared, public spaces utilized by mixed ages, genders, and abilities. We know that many children are highly motivated by peers and benefit from the opportunity to observe and learn from the actions of others. Consider the different components of a playground; each promotes different patterns of play, and therefore, reinforces different developmental skills. For example, overhead structures, such as monkey bars, tend to attract older children and facilitate independent, gross motor play. This kind of activity promotes problem-solving and persistence. See-saws and swings tend to promote collaboration between children, as they require turn-taking skills, communication, and teamwork. An area such as a sandbox or water table may facilitate imagination skills, as children use their creativity and explore tool use. While we know a playground allows for progression of development in various areas, the actual type of equipment being used may influence which specific skills are being targeted (Landscape Structures Incorporated, 2021).

References

  1. Landscape Structures Incorporated. (2021). Developmental Benefits of Playground Equipment. Benefits of Playground Equipment. https://www.playlsi.com/en/playground-planning-tools/education/playground-equipment-benefits/#:~:text=Stimulate%20Development%20through%20Playground%20Equipment&text=The%20movements%20children%20perform%20on,and%20develops%20better%20body%20awareness.
  2. Miss Jaime O.T. (2021). Promoting Fine Motor Skills on the Playground. Developing Fine Motor Skills at the Playground. https://www.missjaimeot.com/promoting-fine-motor-skills-playground/

 

About the Author
Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

The Benefits of Sensory-based Play

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

The importance of play for child development

Play is considered an essential aspect of child development as it contributes to cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being. As a pediatric occupational therapist, play is an integral part of my job. When children have opportunities to play, this allows them to build their creativity and imagination, resolve conflicts and learn self-advocacy skills. Through play, children develop new abilities that lead to enhanced confidence and resiliency, skills crucial for navigating day to day challenges. Play allows kids to practice decision-making skills, discover areas of interest and engage in passions. (Ginsburg, 2007).

 What is sensory-based play?

Sensory play can be described as any play activity that stimulates an individual’s sensory system. The sensory system includes touch (tactile), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), sight (visual), hearing (auditory), balance (vestibular) and movement (proprioception). Common examples include sensory bin or sandbox play, play with shaving cream, finger paint and/or food, use of a balance beam, ball pit, and/or swings, sound tubes, and so much more!

Why is sensory play beneficial?

While we know that play is a critical part of child development, incorporating a multi-sensory approach into play activities can be particularly beneficial. When activities are fun and meaningful – our senses are engaged – we learn best!

  • Promotes learning – children who engage multiple senses to accomplish a task are better able to remember and recall learned information.
  • Facilitates exploration, creativity and curiosity in children who may be seeking, or avoiding, certain types of stimuli.
  • Allows for strengthening of the brain pathways and connections that allow for efficient sensory integration.
  • Promotes self-regulation by allowing for interaction with different mediums that may be calming for the child (Educational Playcare, 2016).

What kinds of OT skills can be targeted through sensory play?

  • Sensory processing skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Feeding skills
  • Body awareness
  • Motor planning
  • Visual perceptual skills
  • Communication and play skills
  • Self-regulation and coping skills

References:

Educational Playcare. (2016, October 27). Why Sensory Play is Important for Development.
https://www.educationalplaycare.com/blog/sensory-play-important-development/#:~:text=Sensory%20play%20includes%20any%20activity,%2C%20create%2C%20investigate%20and%20explore

Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and
maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics119(1), 182-191.

To learn more about Maddie Girardi, watch this video interview between NESCA Occupational Therapists Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, and Maddie Girardi, OTD, OTR/L.

About the Author
Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Getting Through Thanksgiving Day

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Setting Expectations

Thanksgiving may be different this year, but it can still be a long day full of sensory stimulation, new social interactions and possibly unfamiliar faces and experiences. By providing clear expectations, this can help prepare the child for upcoming events, minimize surprises and set the child up for success. Talk openly about events, review pictures of anticipated people/events, and/or watch a video describing an experience beforehand. Use a calendar or visual schedule at home to display the sequence of upcoming holiday events. A social story is a great tool to prep the child for the day (Lewis, 2016).

Open CommunicationBeing transparent with family members/friends can allow for greater understanding and a more positive experience for those involved. Help those present understand if there are certain obstacles/triggers that can be avoided, or if there are particular tools/language that can be incorporated throughout the day (Lewis, 2016).

Devotion of TimeFor parents, we know that much of Thanksgiving is devoted to cooking and meal preparation. Make sure to communicate with family members beforehand about the plan for the day. Will there be other children or adults around to play with the child, or should my child be expected to play independently if I am occupied? If so, have a few preferred toys/activities accessible. Or involve the child in the meal preparation process as appropriate.

Consider the Environment

How will your family be celebrating Thanksgiving or other holidays this year – in-person or virtually?

In-personFestivities this year may take place with modifications. Will it be less crowded this year? Will events be taking place in a different set-up this year (outside, in the garage, socially distanced)? If so, prepare your child by communicating expected changes beforehand.

  • Is my child expected to wear a mask or keep a distance from others? If so, use a social story or designate a “code word” to act as a reminder for proper mask/social distancing etiquette. Allow the child to practice wearing a mask beforehand. Model expected behavior (Lewis, 2016). Provide mask breaks as appropriate.

VirtuallyWith current social distancing guidelines, Thanksgiving interactions may instead take place virtually. If possible, it can be helpful to make children aware of this change beforehand. Many children may experience difficulty attending to a Zoom call. Here are some tips to help:

  • Provide a tool to help with heightened arousal: fidget toy, squeeze ball, putty, fidget band (at feet), chewing gum/oral tool, etc.
  • Consider the environment: Eliminate distractions as much as possible (visual plus auditory), ensure adequate lighting and proper seating, etc.
  • Rehearse events beforehand, identifying potential “rough spots” and positive coping strategies (Lewis, 2016). Proactively establish talking points if helpful.
  • Establish guidelines for both the beginning and end of a videocall. Use a timer if necessary.

Sensory EnvironmentThanksgiving Day will likely be full of stimulation for the senses: sight, smell, touch, sound and taste.

  • Food sensitivity: Many children may experience sensitivities to food textures, tastes or smells. Ensure access to “safe,” or preferred foods beyond traditional Thanksgiving dishes. If attending a celebration outside of the home, make sure to pack a few options for meals/snacks. For children who experience sensitivity to smell, consider bringing a comfortable nose plug.
  • Sensory overload: Ensure access to calming tools in the case that overstimulation, or sensory overload, occurs. Some options include a weighted or compression vest/blanket, chewy, squeeze ball, pushing/pulling activities, noise canceling headphones or a mini trampoline for a movement break. Create a calming jar with the child beforehand. Ensure that the child has a safe space they can go to, such as a dark, quiet room, when feeling overwhelmed. For children who may experience challenges self-regulating, help to guide the child in identifying states of arousal before a meltdown occurs. Use visuals as needed.

 

References

Lewis, K. S. (2016). Full Inclusion Holidays: An SLP offers tips to prepare clients for a season full of social and sensory stimuli—and people who may not understand their communication and behavioral challenges. The ASHA Leader21(12), 52-56.

 

About the Author

Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.