5 tips to a more relaxed holiday!

The holidays can be a stressful time for kids and grown-ups alike. Here are 5 tips on ways to help you and your children cope.

1. Do More Physical Activity – It’s easy to allow the TV or iPad to become the entertainment but children who are stressed need some type of physical activity or exercise to release their stress.  Bundle up and go outside, babies and big kids alike.  Too cold to go out?  Play a rousing game of Twister or roll your kids up in a big towel or blanket and turn them into “burritos”!

2. Take a Belly Breath – That’s right, take a deep breath in and let your belly gently expand out.  This sends a signal to your brain that it’s okay to relax and unclench those tight shoulders and jaw.  Go ahead.  Take another belly breath.  Just like a yawn, your kids and other adults around you will start to copy you. Everybody breathe!

3. Remember Routines – Many routines are disrupted during the holidays and this can be especially upsetting for all children (and adults, too!)  Talk about the schedule each day with your child and try to keep meals and naps at the same time.  Calendars and picture schedules are also a great way to help kids know what’s coming next.

4. Laugh – Laughter is the best medicine!  A great way to relieve stress and change everyone’s mood from bad to good.  Make up silly “knock-knock” jokes or have a tickle fest.

5. Rest and Relaxation – Everyone needs a “time out” over the holiday season to re-group and recharge, children and adults alike.  Naps are great way to do that even though your preschoolers might not think so!

Strategies to Relieve School Time Stress

Strategies to Relieve School Time Stress

Back to school time can be both exciting and stressful for children and parents. Returning to a faster pace, the morning rush, homework and after school activities can add additional stress to family life. Here are four helpful strategies you can do to relieve back to school stress in yourself and in your kids:

Start Early

Let’s face it — over the summer, most families take their cues from the sun and stay up later. While it is tempting to keep the late-night fun going up until the end, starting your school routine a few weeks early can help ease the transition back to school. Starting two to three weeks before the beginning of school, start going to bed and getting up close to when you need to for school, and try to eat on a more regular schedule as well. This advice isn’t just for little kids — teens and adults need quality sleep for optimal brain functioning as well, and getting your schedule straight now will help ensure that you all start the school year off more prepared and don’t feel as much anxiety over the start of school that first day.

Do a Walk-Through

It’s a good idea to visit the school before the first day. For kids who are going to be first-timers for kindergarten, first grade, middle school, or even high school, this can help them feel more comfortable with the new place and get a better idea of where to go once they’re there. With preschoolers and young grade-schoolers, take advantage of playing on the school playground. Even for returning students, it doesn’t hurt to know where the classroom is, say hello to whatever staff is there getting ready, and start getting excited about going back.

Have a Family Meeting

One of the best ways to relieve back to school anxiety and prepare for the coming year is to simply talk to your child about what he or she may be feeling. When the subject of school comes up, let your child tell you what’s exciting about school as well as what may be a little anxiety-provoking. If your child expresses some negativity about school, don’t immediately discount his or her concerns; instead focus on validating feelings. Then you can help find solutions or shift the focus to a more positive one like seeing friends and growing up. Create a “social story” about your child going to school that you and your child can read every day. The story can be a few sentences that describe what your child will do and how he or she might feel. If your child is a visual learner, another option is to take pictures or videos of their school that your child can look at on your phone or iPod.

Tap Away Stress

Imagine your stress level rising, or having a problem nag at you, and then being able to decrease your anxiety and relax just by tapping your fingers lightly on specific areas of the body while thinking positive thoughts. This is called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or “tapping”). This is a surprisingly simple yet very effective technique that both kids and their parents can use to help decrease stress and anxiety. Psychologist Dr. Lynne Namka has written a book about it, Good Bye Ouchies and Grouchies, Hello Happy Feelings, which describes how teachers and parents can use EFT to help children release unhappy feelings.

Following these practical tips can help get the school year off to a healthy, happy start. The main thing to remember in dealing with back to school jitters is to be prepared (mentally, physically and emotionally) as much as possible, and to play up the fun stuff, friends, new supplies, great teachers and growing up. If you show your enthusiasm for what the new school year brings, your kids are sure to pick up on it, and the nervous energy will turn into excitement. Happy back to school!



Summer is around the corner and so is the HOT weather! It is not just the heat or being active that can dehydrate children. Dehydration can also be caused by not drinking enough water EVERYDAY. From a study conducted in 2012, nearly two thirds of children are not drinking enough at breakfast time to be properly hydrated. Researchers in Sheffield, UK believe the analysis of more than 450 children between nine and 11, showed 60 percent were classified as ‘not sufficiently hydrated’ – the stage just below ‘clinical dehydration’.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children drink six glasses of water on an average day. During activity, however, your child can lose up to a half-liter of fluid per hour. The AAP suggests about 5 ounces (or two kid-size gulps) of water every 20 minutes for an 88-pound child. Kids and teens weighing about 132 pounds should drink 9 ounces every 20 minutes.

Living here in Denver, it is important to drink plenty of water. It is the number one way to help your body function at its best in the higher altitude. The low humidity in Colorado keeps the air dry, like the desert, so you need about twice as much water here as you would drink in other cities.

Water is essential for optimal brain health and function. It enhances circulation and aids in removing wastes. Water keeps the brain from overheating, which can cause cognitive decline and even damage. This is one of the main reasons to encourage students to drink water during exercise. Dehydration most commonly occurs because children go long periods of time without drinking water. When they are thirsty they often choose sweetened drinks instead of water. By the time thirst is felt, there may be a loss of body weight up to 2% from water loss, and a 10% cognitive decline may be present.

Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, poor concentration and reduced cognitive abilities. Even mild levels of dehydration can impact school performance. It is interesting to note that hydration has been found to affect exercise tolerance. Children who are dehydrated tend to feel tired during exercise and avoid activity, a risk factor for obesity. When students are hydrated well before exercise and drink water during their exercise, they have a more enjoyable experience with less fatigue. Furthermore, children have a different response to exercise than adults, and tend to overheat more quickly, making good hydration essential. Children in classrooms can be given structured water breaks or encouragement to keep a water bottle at their desks to sip throughout the day.


1.  FRUITS AND VEGGIES: These contain 70-95% water. Try produce like watermelon, cantaloupe, berries, carrots, cucumbers, and lettuce.

Fun idea: Freeze cups of applesauce for an icy treat.

2.  YOGURT: Contains up to 80% water either plain or with fruit.

Fun idea: Blend some frozen berries with plain yogurt for ten seconds for a sorbet.


3.  OATMEAL, BEANS, COUSCOUS, & PASTA: These foods absorb more than 50 percent of their weight in water as they cook.

Fun idea: Serve cute pasta shapes: bow ties, wagon wheels, or shells to make it appealing.


4.  POPSICLES/FROZEN FRUIT BARS: Get little ones hydrated; using 100% fruit bars, or low sugar are a better alternative.

Fun idea: Puree watermelon, mix with white grape juice and freeze.

5.  WATER BOTTLES: Find a water bottle that works for your child that will motivate them to drink more.

Fun Idea: Have them pick out a straw cup or sports cap bottle that has their favorite character, color, or their name. Make flavored (mint, lemon, lime) ice cubes and put them in the water bottle in the morning to help keep the drink cold and provide flavor throughout the day.


6.  FLAVORED WATER: Instead of juices or sugary artificial flavored drinks, make your own tasty water combinations.

Fun Idea: Mint, lemon, strawberry, lime, orange are just a few flavors kids may enjoy! Use seltzer or club soda to create a fizzy treat!


Visual Development

What Parents Can do to Help With Visual Development

Vision is such an important part of early development and impacts your child’s learning throughout their life. There are many things parents can do to help their baby’s vision develop properly. The following are some examples of age-appropriate activities that can stimulate an infant’s visual development. Many of these activities can also be used with older children that struggle with eye-hand coordination.

Birth to four months

  • Change the crib’s position frequently and change your child’s position in it.
  • Keep reach-and-touch toys within your baby’s focus, about eight to twelve inches.
  • Talk to your baby as you walk around the room.
  • Alternate right and left sides with each feeding. This helps the eyes cross midline, an important foundational skill for reading.

Five to eight months

  • Hang a mobile or gym and place various objects near the baby to grab, pull and kick.
  • Give the baby plenty of time to play and explore on the floor. This helps develop the muscles of the neck and shoulders, the foundation for eye-hand coordination.
  • Provide blocks, whiffle balls, small plastic cups, or bracelets that can be held in the hands. This stimulates eye-hand-mouth coordination.
  • Play patty cake and other games, moving the baby’s hands through the motions while saying the words aloud.

Nine to twelve months

  • Play hide and seek games with toys or your face to help the baby develop visual memory.
  • Look at and name objects when talking to encourage the baby’s word association and vocabulary development skills. This also helps develop shared attention, an important communication skill.
  • Encourage crawling and creeping by placing interesting toys (and siblings or pets!) just out of reach on the floor.

One to two years

  • Roll a ball back and forth to help the child track objects with the eyes visually. This skill is used later in school to look up at the board and back at their desk.
  • Finger feeding small pieces of food and learning to use a spoon develops both fine motor and visual perceptual skills.
  • Read or tell stories to stimulate the child’s ability to visualize and pave the way for learning and reading skills.
  • Toys like building blocks can help boost fine motor skills and small muscle development.

Adapted from the American Optometric Association, www.aoa.org

Fine Motor Skills

The Finer Things: The Development of Fine Motor Skills in Children

by Jill Loftus, OTR

Sometimes as parents and caregivers, we focus so much on our children’s gross motor, speech and social emotional development, we sometimes forget about the finer things – their FINE MOTOR SKILLS. From very early on, the way that babies reach, grasp and manipulate objects sets the foundation for more mature skills, like handwriting skills. Below are the stages of fine motor development and some activities that can help foster those tiny fingers and hands to take on those BIG activities in their daily routine.

1. Newborn (0-4 months)

Between 0 and 4 months, your baby will move their arms and hands together to bat at objects or visual stimuli. Your child will also develop the ability to move their eyes and head in a coordinated manner from side to side. This skill is required for your baby to further develop their fine motor abilities. For example, a baby of this age may turn their head from left to right in response to the sound of their mother’s voice. Starting tummy time as early as possible is important during this developmental period. It can be started as early as one week! Between 2-3 months your child will begin to reach for objects and hold them in the middle of his/her body. Their grasp is reflexive at this age, so they will not be able to purposefully release the objects they are holding. Using rattles, cause and effect toys and play mats are just some ways to engage your newborn.

 2. Infant (4-12 months)

During this period, your baby will gain more control over their arms and progress from reaching with both hands to reaching with one hand. Voluntary movement emerges and the baby will become capable of grasping and holding objects. Around 4 months they will only be able to squeeze objects and hold them in a closed fist. By about 6 months your baby will begin to pick up small items like raisins and by 12 months they will pinch and hold small objects between their thumb and index finger as adults do. In addition, your child will transfer objects from one hand to the other and be able to release objects from their grasp voluntarily. Your baby’s visual skills continue developing during this stage. Initially they will learn to coordinate their head and eyes to move up and down together. Soon afterwards they will watch their reach and eventually be able find an object visually, and then purposefully reach for it. Activities can include stacking rings and blocks, turn pages of a book, large knob puzzles and rolling a ball.

3. Toddler (1-3 years)

Your child’s sitting balance and trunk control will improve to the point that they no longer need to use their arms for support. They will be able to sit unsupported while using their hands for play. At this age, hand and arm use is characterized by the whole arm moving together and both arms being used equally. However, as the child approaches 2 years of age, the emergence of a hand preference may be demonstrated by one hand initiating activity more often than the other. Their hand preference is beginning to emerge at this age but not yet established. As a result, the child will frequently alternate hands for leading activities. Hand use will also change dramatically. The child will begin to move fingers independently of other fingers. This may be evident in the ability to poke bubbles or point at objects. When coloring with crayons, your child will use whole arm movements to color and will hold the crayon in a closed fist with their thumb pointing up. Usually by 2 years of age your child’s coloring should progress from circular scribble to imitating, copying or drawing horizontal or vertical lines. Using small stubby crayons can help promote your child’s grasp. Other activities include completing simple puzzles and stringing beads on a string.

During this stage of development, your child’s balance and trunk stability should allow them to maintain their posture when they reach away from their body or shift their weight to one side. During hand use, less shoulder movement will be observed and more movement will occur at the elbow. During activities such as opening a jar, one hand will clearly be leading the activity (the hand turning the lid) and the other hand will be assisting (the hand holding the jar). How about scissors? At 2 years, the child will use both hands to open and close scissors. By 3 years, they should be able to snip paper with the scissors in one hand and eventually cut a piece of paper into 2 pieces. You can introduce activities like using tweezers to pick up small objects like beads or small erasers to develop the small muscles of the hand.

 4. Preschooler (3-5 years)

Your child will have a strong preference for a lead/dominant hand, but switching continues. When drawing, the lead hand will be holding the crayon while the assist hand is stabilizing the paper. The child will attempt to color within the lines but with limited success. You can use a product called Wikki Sticks, bendable wax sticks to create an outline of the picture and provided a guide for your child to color inside the lines. Using play dough to roll long pieces to shape letters and numbers is another way to promote prewriting skills. By 4 years of age, your child should be holding the crayon with three fingers.

The crayon will be pinched between their thumb and index finger and resting on their middle finger. This is called a tripod pencil grasp and is the manner in which most adults hold a pen or pencil. It is also called a mature or efficient pencil grasp. During cutting, your child should use a “thumb’s up” grasp to smoothly open/close the scissors in a forward direction and cut along a straight line and cut a circle and square. They should also be able to draw a person with 3-6 body parts. This may also be a great time to introduce an effective prewriting and handwriting program called Handwriting Without Tears, www.hwtears.com.

During this stage hand use is characterized by refined wrist and finger movement and decreased elbow and shoulder movement. During drawing, a combination of finger and wrist movement should be observed. Hand dominance is typically established around 5-6 years, so a hand preference should be apparent and consistent. During coloring, the child will become capable of staying within the lines as well as drawing crosses, diagonal lines and squares using a tripod pencil grasp.

5. School Age (5+ years)

Both hands should work together. The roles of the right and left hands should be easily identified as dominant and non-dominant, or lead and assist. They should be able to write their first name using capital letters and start to write all capital letters entering kindergarden. By the end of kindergarden, lower case letters should become more natural. Entering first grade, writing 3-4 letter words and working on developing short sentences will also start to develop. Small precise finger movement should be observed during coloring. When using scissors, the child should be able to hold them in a mature fashion and cut out complex shapes. Remember to keep an eye on your child’s posture in the chair, making sure they are sitting upright, knees are bent and feet are flat on the floor. In addition, homework does not need to be completed at the table. Switch it up! Hang worksheets on the wall or easel, use a 3” ring binder/slant board and lie on your belly, sit at the table on a large therapy ball.

Embracing Technology – The Use of Apps to Foster Fine Motor Development

This is a list of just some of the apps that are great for helping to support your child’s fine motor development. Here are a few ways to maximize the experience – Use a stylus AND get a cover that can be angled to promote wrist extension. Wrist extension is when the wrist is working against gravity. Work at the table or on the floor while on your belly!

Links to Fine Motor Apps:

• Dexteria – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dexteria-fine-motor-skill/id420464455?mt=8

• Dexteria Jr. – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dexteria-jr.-fine-motor-skill/id624918435?mt=8

• Letter Tracer/Little Writer – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/little-writer-tracing-app/id515890480?mt=8

• Paper Toss – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/paper-toss/id317917431?mt=8

• Bugs and Buttons – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bugs-and-buttons/id446031868?mt=8

• Draw Animals – http://www.drawnimal.com

Letter Reflex – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/letterreflex-overcoming-letter/id485920074?mt=8





Knowing Your Senses

Knowing your Senses…

Most of us are familiar with the 5 senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

But did you know that we have two other important senses??

Our VESTIBULAR sense is what helps our body stay balanced and know how fast it is moving. The inner ear is mainly responsible for this sense. You may have felt your vestibular sense get overwhelmed on a roller coaster.

Our sense of PROPRIOCEPTION is what tells our brain about our body position and helps us feel where our arms and legs are in space without looking at them. It also helps us to know how much force to use when picking up an object or pouring a liquid.

In order to make sense of our world, coordinate our movements, and stay balanced when walking, running and climbing we need to have all senses calibrated.

When children are having difficulty organizing or integrating their senses, they may have difficulty with routines, may seem over-responsive or under-responsive to sounds, textures, heights, etc. They may seem clumsy or have difficulty learning new motor tasks.

When all of our senses are working well together, our bodies feel comfortable, we feel in control, and we have fun learning and growing.

As a pediatric physical therapist, I work with many children helping their bodies to integrate their senses in order to improve their strength, coordination and balance. Here are some things you can do at home to help your child maximize the coordination of all his senses.

1. Make time to be active as a family.

Take an evening walk after dinner. Have jumping, pushups, crab walking, jogging in place, jumping jacks, standing on one foot, etc. challenges at commercial breaks during your favorite family TV show – instead of channel surfing, mute the TV and watch your child get stronger every day…or join in! Add a park visit to your weekend grocery shopping trip – even use it as a reward for good behavior or helpfulness at the store. Watch one fewer TV show each day and use that time to run, walk, jump, kick a ball, throw and catch, or ride a bicycle with your child.

2. Make the environment challenging.

Help your child to walk along the rim of the playground or lines on a basketball court with one foot in front of the other, as if it were a balance beam. Put the couch cushions down on the floor and challenge your child to crawl across or between them on hands and knees – add to the game by placing puzzle pieces at one end of the row of cushions and the puzzle board at the other. Walk or run up and down the hills in your neighborhood or at the park. When heading to put on pajamas or brush teeth each night, have your child choose an animal and then “walk” or move like that animal to the bedroom or bathroom.

3. Schedule a few minutes of quiet time every evening for finger practice.

Give your child a specific time and place every day to do projects like coloring, cutting shapes out of paper, practicing handwriting, stringing beads or dry noodles, playing with stickers, squeezing playdough, completing puzzles, stacking blocks, etc.


4. Encourage your child’s sensory integration, dexterity and coordination.

Allow your child to have a small sample of whatever you are cooking for dinner, to practice stirring, pouring, tasting, mixing, touching with hands, etc. Make sure it is sanitary and safe, but you would be surprised what your child can learn and do just by experimenting with water, sauces, dough, rice, beans, etc. Let your child help you open and close Ziploc bags. Push your child around the house in a cardboard box or laundry basket. Put on some old clothes and let your child play in the mud, jump in the puddles and roll around in the grass.


5. Show your child the world from a different angle.

Tipping your child upside-down, showing her how to lie upside down with her head hanging off the edge of the bed for a few seconds, dancing with your child, piggyback rides, holding hands and walking in a circle, and jumping or walking backwards will not only help your child improve her coordination, but it might even teach her to approach a problem from a variety of angles to find the best solution.

6. Consider extracurricular activities like martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, and swimming to help improve strength, balance and coordination.

Jennifer Spiric, PT, DPT

The Power of Play

The Power of Play

Imagine Eddy, a 4-year old boy, in the playroom with his mom. He tells her, “Let’s build a construction site!” Eddy drags an empty box across the floor and declares it to be a skyscraper. He then pulls out an assortment of trucks and drives them over to the site. His mom takes out a container of blocks offering, “Oh, Eddy, look at these giant boulders in our site!” Eddy replies, “My truck can move them!” And the stage is set for a beautiful play sequence that could last for hours…in a perfect world of course.

We all know that children love to play, but, did you know that play, when done right, helps children’s brains grow? Imaginative play that is guided and open-ended is like fertilizer to a child’s brain. In the past several decades an increasing amount of research has gone into looking at how play impacts a child’s cognitive skills. Studies have shown that kids who spent time playing in a specific way and on a regular basis were: more creative, better at problem solving, less anxious, better at language, better at memory, and more socially skilled. These are a lot of benefits!

Here are links to two great videos (both of which I am not affiliated with) on pretend play that show nice examples of play with an explanation on why it is so important.

PBS video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6nVZ1t107A

Tulsa world news https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMwqMuRtGDs

As a pediatric speech language pathologist, I use play as a means for teaching a variety of language, cognitive and social emotional skills. As a result, parents often ask me how to play with their child. It is true that in a therapeutic situation there may be specific strategies to modify the play and address a child’s specific needs, but there are also general suggestions that can be used to enhance any family’s play environment:

1. Create an environment that encourages open play.

Turn off the T.V.! And all other screens for that matter. We have all heard that screen time should be limited, especially for young children. According to the American Pediatric Association, children under two shouldn’t watch any T.V. Televisions, computers, smart phones and tablets are integral parts of our lives, but they are not conducive to quality play time. So turn them off for a while each day.

Rotate toys and limit the number they can access. Children often get bored if they play with the same toys day in and day out. They can also get overwhelmed by too many choices. Select a few toys to have out at the child’s level and store the others in a closet or high shelf. Rotate the selection every few weeks.

Look for toys to serve a variety of purposes. Open ended play encourages creativity, social skills, and language development. Blocks, dolls, stuffed animals, play-doh/clay, empty boxes, crayons, glue, “dress up” clothes, old purses and accessories, books, and pots and pans all make for great options. Have an assortment of these types of toys available at your child’s level and in a safe area of the house, and remember to rotate the selection!

2. Get involved.

Find a little time each day. We are all incredibly busy and it is hard to imagine, and often impractical to carve out hours of play time each day. Instead, look for shorter intervals of maybe 10-20 minutes, to join in and play with your child.

Show some emotion! Be in the moment with your child during playtime. Show your child that you are happy and excited to be playing with him.

Encourage and expand your child’s skills. Talk about what you are doing together. Parallel talk is a language building strategy where the adult narrates what the child is doing. Observe what your child does with the toys then copy her, after all imitation is the highest form of flattery! While you play alongside him, give suggestions to expand the play- maybe the dump truck could be filled with blocks to carry or maybe the baby doll needs a diaper change.

3. Let your child lead the way.

Follow the child’s lead. Let your child choose the toys and how to play with them. After all, you’ve already created a safe and stimulating environment for playing. Now let their imagination run wild and those neural pathways to creative thought will multiply. You are there as a guide and a participant, but not to dominate. You can encourage ideas by expanding on them, but remember to use your child’s idea as the starting point.

Give wait time. Wait time is a strategy I use frequently in speech therapy. The adult models a new skill, maybe a new word or another step in the play sequence, then waits several seconds for a response. Waiting is important because it gives children time to process the new information and to create a plan for what to do with it. Maybe he will repeat the new word back to you or copy your play idea in his own sequence. Or maybe she’ll have a question. Who knows, the important part is to wait and see.

Hopefully you are feeling empowered to set aside time for play with your child. Play has a powerful impact on early childhood development with benefits that last into adulthood. Take the time now to promote learning through play, and we will have a new generation of creative thinkers who can solve the World’s problems and communicate their ideas effectively amongst one another. Sounds pretty great!

Laura Elizabeth Baukol, M.A. CCC-SLP