Tag

outdoors

Executive Function Skills in the Outdoors

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Executive functioning skills are a “family” of skills that operate in a “top-down” process, controlling and regulating brain regions associated with attention, impulse control, emotion regulation, and meta-cognition or “thinking about thinking.” For more information about executive function skills, please refer to my previous NESCA blog “Teenage Stress and Executive Functioning.” As an evaluator, I often emphasize two key points about executive function skills: (1) Developing executive function skills is a combination of brain development and life experience; and (2) These skills are built through interactions (with others and our world) and practice.

Now with more access to New England summer weather, there are plenty of opportunities for children and teens to grow executive function skills in interaction with the natural world. I recommend a “must-download” if you want to review practical, science-based activities and games for children from the ages of six months old through adolescence, “Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence.” This is a wonderful resource that provides a clear list and description of practical activities to strengthen executive function skills based on a child’s age. This resource was developed by The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, a multidisciplinary team supporting research, policy, and practice for childhood development. Their website also provides excellent free resources for parents, clinicians, and educators related to topics such as stress, resiliency, play, and brain structure/development.

Here is a short list of outdoor summer executive function activities based on your child’s developmental age:

  1. 6-18 months-old: Peekaboo and Patty-Cake on the grass and other textures, such as dirt, mud, water, or wood (a multi-sensory experience), encourage joint attention and object focus by naming, pointing, and sustaining focus on natural objects at the beach or in the woods.
  2. 18-36 months-old: Match/sort natural objects, such as placing rocks in one bucket and flowers in another bucket, blow bubbles with a variety of wand shapes, pretend play as fishermen, construction workers, or farmers/gardeners.
  3. 3-5 years-old: Pretend to be an outdoor superhero in an obstacle course or race (e.g., running through Hula Hoops or around traffic cones), assist with cooking/preparing an outdoor picnic, or make a nature bracelet.
  4. 5-7 years-old: Play the I-Spy game and participate in scavenger hunts, use strategy board games (e.g., Uno, Concentration) on land or maybe even in the water, go on a sensory walk (name something you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch).
  5. 7-12 years-old: Star-gaze and find/name constellations, create a bird house or other wood structure through woodworking activities, garden one or more plants, play with a super soaker toy or laser/flashlight tag.
  6. Adolescents: Maintain a summer sketching and drawing journal of natural objects, participate in sunrise or sunset yoga or dance classes, outdoor animal-assistant yoga (e.g., Goat Yoga), or sports-oriented camps and activities.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and 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.

 

Why Kids Need to Outdoor Free Play

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

One of the best ways to make the most of your summer is to get outside and engage in lots of outdoor play. We live in a society where we tend to over-schedule ourselves and our children. Particularly during the school year, this makes it very difficult for children to get the amount of free play that they require. With this, I’m going to tell you five great reasons why you should throw away your schedule, put down the tablet, and get outside.

The first reason is probably the most obvious. Outdoor play provides great benefits to physical development. It improves motor coordination, strength, and balance, and it puts kids in an overall healthier position.

The next reason to play outside is that there are benefits for internal regulation. Not only does it make kids sleep better at night, but there is research to show that it aids attentional control and stress reduction. Being outdoors also provides kids with different sensory experiences – such as feeling the texture of sand and mud, or feeling the wind blow on your face – which will help to build children’s sensory tolerance.

The next reason to get outside is to improve cognitive development. Being outdoors provides a lot of opportunities to make observations, draw conclusions about things, see cause and effect, and be imaginative.

Next, playing outside aids emotional development. When we are over-scheduled, children do not have the opportunity to feel confident in their ability to step outside of their comfort zone or take risks. Experimenting and taking risks during outdoor play can help children understand that they have some control over what they can do within their environment, as well as begin to recognize boundaries.

Finally, the last reason to get outside is that it really bolsters social development. When there is no structure or there are no rules to follow, kids have to learn how to initiate their interactions, engage in conversation with each other, communicate, problem solve, and find ways to along, even when others have different ideas.

With all of the above benefits, outdoor free play is one of the best things you can give to your child. So as the weather is getting nicer and summer is fast approaching, if you are looking for something to do, sometimes it is best to just put down your schedule, get outside, and get dirty.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

Approaching 2021 with Ease and Grace

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS

Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

I think we are all relieved that 2020 is behind us. All of us experienced a “mental health crisis” of some level of anxiety, depression and fear since March, 2020. As the pandemic spread across our globe, ravaged our lives, took loved ones from us, created economic upheaval, food insecurity and amplified the technological discrepancies that existed within our communities, we adapted and survived…we had to. And the Black Lives Matter movement gained strength also because it had to. From the crisis came opportunity.

Hopefully we learned something about ourselves and each other both across the globe and within our small circles. Now we know the unfathomable and unexpected can and does happen, and it upends our lives like we never expected. What we once thought was important doesn’t seem as important any more. Hopefully, as the months passed in 2020, we settled into the “new normal” and began to develop rhythms and beliefs that sustained us and fed our souls. Let’s hope that we developed a sense of what is truly important and can approach 2021 with new-found hope, resiliency, ease and grace. Approach 2021 by cultivating and remembering the bright spots of this past year, the surprises or treasures of 2020. They may help you think more clearly about 2021.

At the start of a new year, many people make New Year’s resolutions that are long-term goals. Some people manage to keep their resolutions while others aren’t able to sustain the motivation and commitment. Given this past year, it may be difficult to think about resolutions or even conceptualize what the future will look like. Even with vaccines on the horizon, our brains are not ready for long-term planning as our futures may still be a bit unclear. We can hope for a “return to normal,” but what will that “normal” look like?

There is still an uncertainty of what the future holds, so my thinking is to keep it simple. As we start 2021, remember what’s important. If you chose to make New Year’s resolutions, keep them manageable and small. Hopefully what you learned in 2020 can guide your thinking in 2021. Some everyday ideas might be to be kind and gentle with oneself and others. Don’t sweat the small stuff; most of it is small stuff. Smile and laugh every day. Promise yourself to go outside every day and breathe fresh air, be amazed at the glistening snow, the warmth of the sun, the flight of a bird. Take a walk. Three times a day, focus on your breath for at least three minutes. Before going to sleep, think of something to be thankful and grateful for. 2021 can be a year of hope, wonder and faith in a “newer normal” that will emerge, where each of us is responsible for creating a better day, world and a normal that may be even better than the normal of the past.

To everyone, peace, good health and Happy New Year!

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

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 Therapeutic Great Outdoors—Part 2

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

In last week’s blog, we provided the first five ideas on how to teach and build OT skills by getting outdoors. This week, we bring the next installment of ideas to help build skills while also providing a break from being cooped up together. Take it a step further and build in some kindness lessons by offering neighbors or passers-by some of the outputs from the suggested ideas and projects!

  1. Make Fossils. This activity consists of finding unique and special treasures outdoors and making imprints of them back inside. First, find some small solid objects, such as rocks, small sticks, acorns, leaves or shells. This is a perfect activity to do after a nature scavenger hunt! Then have your children press these objects into playdough or plaster of Paris to make their own fossils. Children work on their fine motor skills as they roll out the plaster, pinch their objects and push them down to make an imprint. Try making this great playdough recipe together before you get started. For some extra creative options, to try include: incorporating small toys, such as dinosaur figurines or LEGOs or using cookie dough as a base, then eat your fossils for a snack!
  2. Make a Bird Feeder. There are many different creative ways to make bird feeders with your children. Choose a bird feeder that requires multiple fine motor skills and is appropriate for your child’s level! Two options are:
    1. Bagel Feeder – Start with a bagel. Help your child tie a string or piece of ribbon through the center hole of the bagel in a large loop. Next, have your child choose a topping to put onto the bagel. I generally suggest peanut butter! Have the child practice spreading this topping all over the bagel. Using a knife to spread such a thick, sticky substance is a pretty difficult fine motor task! Next have your child use their “pinchy fingers” (thumb and pointer finger) to pick up bird seed and sprinkle it on the peanut butter. The end product will be a bagel covered in peanut butter and bird seed that is ready to hang on a tree outside. Place it near a window and let your children watch the birds enjoy their creation!
    2. Cheerio Feeder – You may have heard that stringing beads is an excellent occupational therapy activity that promotes bilateral coordination, fine motor precision, motor planning and a pincer grasp. Consider making a bird feeder by stringing Cheerios (or any cereal with a hole in the center) onto a piece of string and hanging them in the trees. Birds will love to peck off the individual pieces as a snack.
  3. Paint Rocks or Shells. Painting rocks and other outdoor treasures is a great activity that allows children to be creative while using tools and practicing a functional grasp. Allow children to pick up the rocks and get messy to help promote some bilateral coordination!
  4. Draw with Sidewalk Chalk. While writing with chalk may seem very similar to writing with a pencil to us adults, for children who are just learning to manipulate a pencil, it can be a hugely different experience. Writing on the uneven ground provides tactile feedback. Holding a piece of chalk that moves with the contours of the ground requires increased hand strength. Children get to practice modulating how hard they need to push down on the chalk to make a solid line. If your child is hesitant to practice handwriting, try sneaking outside 5 or 10 minutes before them to create a few “sidewalk worksheets” for them to complete before they start to draw their creative masterpieces. For some children, there is a huge sensory piece to sidewalk chalk, as they work to tolerate the new texture and the feeling of chalk on their hands.
  5. Bring out the Bubbles. In occupational therapy, we often use bubbles to help children work on their oral motor skills. Children work to make their mouth into a round “O” shape and blow with enough force to create the bubbles themselves. Prompt your kids to pop bubbles by clapping their hands together. This helps to practice eye-hand and bilateral coordination. Next, have your child try to keep their eyes on one bubble as long as possible to practice visual tracking!

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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 Therapeutic Great Outdoors—Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

Aside from a spring snowfall this week, it looks like springtime may have truly arrived here in New England. Flowers are popping up on trees, the peepers and morning birds are singing and the warm sun is finally convincing most of us to leave the coats and hats inside. Now more than ever, the opportunity for children to get outside seems like a welcome reprieve from the weeks either cooped up or bundled up.  Mother Nature is a fabulous teacher and has created the perfect environment for children to work on building some of their fine motor, visual motor and sensory skills. This week, we’ll explore five of 10 creative ways to use the outdoors as the classroom, OT gym or playground that it can be! Check back next Tuesday for the next five!

  1. Get Dirty! Thankfully, some of the simplest activities work on the most skills. Letting kids get as dirty as they can works on building sensory tolerance. Digging in the dirt builds hand strength and endurance. Squatting down to play in the mud builds gross motor coordination and whole-body control. Consider bringing out utensils, cups and bowls and so your children can practice scooping, pouring and mixing!
  2. Plant a Garden. Take playing in the dirt one step further by incorporating the steps to planting a garden. This “garden” could be flower or veggie patch, a planter or just a little pot to keep on the window sill. Children work on isolating one finger by poking a hole in the soil, a pincer grasp by picking up small seeds between their thumb and pointer finger and hand strength by digging holes and burying seeds. This is also a great opportunity for children to practice the responsibility of watering plants every day. Add in some math review by having them measure the height of their plants and recording the information in a table.
  3. Climb Trees. The age-old activity of climbing trees works on building gross motor coordination, muscle strength and motor planning. To incorporate some visual skills practice, have children bring “binoculars,” or two toilet paper rolls taped together, to seek out different things that they can see from a new vantage point.
  4. Nature Scavenger Hunt. Scavenger hunts are an excellent way to target building visual skills as they prompt kids to scan their environment, search for specific things in a busy visual field and ignore the overwhelming amount of visual stimulation around them. Bring in a sensory element by asking children to observe, feel and smell each of their treasures. Check out this fabulous Egg Carton Nature Scavenger Hunt created by The Silvan Reverie.
  5. Build a Fort. Encourage kids to use their imagination and build outside. Provide them with twine or string, an old sheet, and a hammer and nails (if they can use them safely). If they are not ready to use these tools, they can practice propping sticks up against a tree to build a lean-to or gathering sticks and branches to make a platform to sit on. All of these options require motor planning, trial and error, and get kids to move their bodies.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

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.