A million therapy tasks, with little wiggle room in your day
Is the idea of therapy daunting for you? If you’re just starting your journey with special needs homeschooling, you may be wondering what to expect from therapy. Here’s what it’s really like to have a kid working with a bunch of therapists.
Speech therapist: “This week I want you to work on smooth sentences using familiar books and poems he can repeat.”
Occupational therapist: “I want you to focus on proper pencil grip and calming techniques for meltdowns this week.”
Physical therapist: “He needs to work on core strength. Keep working on his animal walks and start doing yoga.”
Me: *silently panicking* “HOW ON EARTH am I supposed to fit in all this ‘homework’ for therapy and still get SCHOOL and LIFE done!?!”
Have you been there?
Are you there now?
Fear not! Here are 5 easy ways to add therapy into your day!
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1) Take Frequent Brain Breaks
Many children with special needs have struggles with sensory processing and with a lack of proprioceptive sense. Getting up and moving can help with both of these problems. You’re probably familiar with sensory issues but may not have heard of proprioception. Simply put, it is the brain’s ability to sense where the body is in relation to things around it. Kids with proprioceptive struggles may seem clumsy, play too rough, and intensely seek (or conversely tend to avoid) gross motor activities.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but kids (especially those with special needs) can get a bit squirrelly during school. That’s why brain breaks are so handy. Brain breaks are when you pause whatever you are working on and get the body moving. As Heather Haupt discusses in her book on the topic, when your kids are getting antsy or losing focus, you should stop for a brain break!
It’s all well and good to know the problem, but what should you actually do? Should you just make your kids run laps around the house every few minutes? Well, running laps is an option, but there are things that can help even more. My FAVORITE brain breaks are called animal walks. Gallop like a horse. Walk like a crab. Crawl like an inchworm. Taking frequent breaks for animal walks offers several specific benefits.
- Building limb strength and coordination by moving their bodies in unique ways
- Meeting sensory-seeking needs by getting kids moving
- Improving academic readiness by strengthening the proprioceptive sense
2) The Magic of Music and Rhyme
If you have a child in speech therapy you know how important it is to practice at home. That homework brings about the true change. It can be pretty time consuming, though. Is there an easier way to do it? YES! Through the magic of music and rhyme. Whatever your child’s troubles are, music and rhyme can help.
- Signing practices volume and tone control.
- Many nursery rhymes have repeated sounds that make it easy to focus on specific articulation issues.
- The repetition of familiar passages builds fluency.
So how do you do it? Start by choosing 3-4 songs and nursery rhymes to do together as a family. You want short, simple songs. If you’re feeling short on ideas, these Preschool Song Cards are a great resource. Even Bible verses can be a great choice. For advice on how to make scripture memorization easy and painless, check out my post on it here.
Do the same songs/rhymes/verses every day for at least a week. Preferably two weeks. It may seem boring to you to do the same songs over and over, but it’s what will help the most. Songs that rhyme are especially helpful. Not only will they help with speech difficulties, they can help strengthen your children’s reading skills.
3) It’s Craft Time
I’m going to be honest with you ladies. I have a MAJOR aversion to kids’ crafts. My face gets all twitchy just thinking about the mess they create. I know they are good for my kids, though, so I do them. You should, too.
Arts and crafts can help your kids in SO many ways. Drawing and coloring practice pencil grasp and fine motor strength without the pressure of handwriting practice. Activities with scissors and glue build bilateral coordination. That’s a fancy way of saying that someone can use both sides of their body well at the same time. Using different types of materials (soft, smooth, rough, gooey, etc.) can also help kids with SPD. You get the idea. Crafts are GOOD (even if they can be a bit stressful).
If you’re worried about your lack of artistic skills, take heart! These don’t have to be elaborate projects. You won’t need an art degree to help. You also won’t need to take out a second mortgage to cover supplies. Keep it simple.
- Something to color with: These Pip-Squeaks are what they suggested for my son’s occupational therapy.
- Scissors: Assisted scissors are great for kids still developing their cutting skills.
- Glue: Glue sticks may seem easier, but bottles do more for building motor skills.
- Paper: Whatever kind is cheap and easy to get. Different colors are fun.
- Basic household supplies: food coloring, rice, pasta, shaving cream, etc.
See, nothing crazy or expensive needed. Most of what you need you probably already have buried in your cupboards!
4) Yoga is the New PE
My LEAST FAVORITE class growing up was PE. What I learned most was that if you weren’t into sports, exercise wasn’t for you. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized that was wrong. That’s when I discovered yoga. It turns out yoga is good for much more than relaxation. It’s good for the body and good for the brain!
Yoga is the perfect way to get the brain ready for learning. ‘Heavy work’ (things that push or pull the joints) like yoga builds core strength and the proprioceptive sense. We talked about the importance of the proprioceptive sense earlier. Core strength is also vital to school success. It has a huge impact on handwriting and the ability to focus.
How Do You Combine Yoga and Academics?
I know what you’re thinking. How can you possibly fit in daily yoga sessions on top of all your other work!?! It’s simple. Incorporate this form of therapy into something you are already doing!
Do you teach or practice spelling? Are your kids learning letters and sounds? This alphabet yoga chart is what we use to do that. Are your kids a bit past the basics? Try composing a story and acting it out with yoga poses like they do on Cosmic Kids Yoga. You could even retell historical events by acting them out with yoga moves!
5) Go Retro with Home Economics
Have you seen those videos with perfectly capable adults who can’t do the most basic of tasks? These are 20-somethings who don’t know how to bake a potato or do a load of laundry. They’re at a complete loss. I don’t think ANY of us want that for our children. So what’s the solution? Home Economics! Those classes taught many of our parents how to ‘adult.’
Many household chores include ‘heavy work’ that builds the proprioceptive sense. They can also fulfill the needs of sensory seekers. A chore like carrying laundry bags to and from bedrooms is perfect for this. That’s what they suggested in occupational therapy to prevent Milo’s evening meltdowns. They get the physical work out to regulate their bodies while learning to manage their lives.
I want you to picture yourself baking cooking with your child. As you read through the recipe he is practicing sequencing (and you didn’t even need a worksheet). Then as he pours the ingredients into the bowl he is building his coordination and fine-motor skills. Next up is stirring, which requires him to cross the midline (an essential skill for reading and writing). As the cookies bake and cool he must be patient, which is a skill that those with executive function issues struggle with. All that came from just a simple batch of cookies!
I’m not going to lie. There are times when parenting a child with special needs is HARD. Sometimes it feels like a giant game of whack-a-mole! Like you can’t ever keep up with all the issues popping up. It’s easy to get overwhelmed! You’re going to have to be creative and find ways to add therapy into your daily life. Let’s recap how to do that:
- Brain breaks
- Music & rhyme
- Home Ec.
Take a deep breath, relax, and get creative. Don’t let therapy be the thing that pushes you over the edge. You CAN do this!
More about Heather Gonzales
Heather is wife to a contractor, mother to 5 and servant of God. When she and her husband were first married, she was a middle school teacher. When their oldest child was a few years old, they started to feel the call to homeschool. She’s pretty sure God got a bit of a kick out of all those comments she used to make about homeschoolers before she really knew what it was all about! She blogs at Fearless, Faithful Mom.
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