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  • Must Reads

    Making "Book Time" Fun

    September 09, 2015

    Research tells us that early experiences with books have an incredibly significant impact on a child’s language and learning. Many of us know that books are a great way for children to learn new vocabulary words and begin to learn about letters and words. Furthermore, book-sharing experiences early on can create positive feelings toward books. Think about it: your child is cuddled in your lap, with your full attention, interacting with you, his loving caregiver!  The positive emotional experience promotes a love of book, one that can carry on into the school years and beyond. Here are some tips for making “book time” a fun time for toddlers:     Choose books that are visually simple. Look at the illustrations on the pages. Are they very busy with a lot of details? This might be too much visual information for a young child. I like starting out with board books that have a few pictures on each page, preferably brightly-colored photo-style pictures of objects that are familiar to a child. The “Bright Baby” series is a good example.   Choose books with simple language. Young children respond best to books with few words, and better yet, repetition throughout the book. A favorite of mine is “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?” by Eric Carle.  The beautiful, brightly colored images on each page, combined with the simple, repetitive language, make it a great choice.   Books whose words have a natural cadence or rhythm are enticing to children. For young children who might not be ready to attend to the words in a book, this rhythm or cadence can be an attractive quality. Try to read the book with this quality in your voice.  Another favorite of mine is “Moo Baa La La La” by Sandra Boynton.   There’s no need to ask a lot of questions. For some children, asking questions or trying to have them name pictures or repeat your words can turn the experience into a negative one. This is particularly true for children with delayed speech, language, and/or cognitive skills. It is perfectly okay for your child to remain silent!  It is better to have the child engaged non-verbally than to pressure him/her into talking. How can you do this?  Point out and name pictures.  Instead of asking a question, rephrase it as a comment:  “I wonder where the star is. Oh, I found it!”   Follow your child’s lead. Name the pictures he or she points to.  If your child is not yet pointing, try to attend to his/her eye gaze: What is he/she looking at?  Keep your language simple. You don’t need to do a lot of talking for a successful book-sharing activity!   Make your own books! Children love to look at pictures of people and items they know and love.  The easiest way to do this is to take pictures and place them into a 4×6 photo album.  You can take pictures of family, friends, favorite toys, and familiar objects.  Or, make a photo album with pictures from a fun outing or event your child participated in.   Try books with different textures or other interesting elements, such as mirrors. These can be interesting for children.  However, pay attention to how your child responds. Some children can get so fixated on these elements that it can be very difficult to engage them in other aspects of the book-sharing experience. This is especially true for books with buttons that make sounds. Sometimes the child becomes overly interested in pushing the buttons to hear the sounds.   Remember that the goal is to create a positive, enjoyable experience for your child. This will help prepare your child to be a successful reader later on!

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    Routines are Learning Opportunities

    August 09, 2012

    My kids haven’t been infants or toddlers for more years than I would care to mention, but my memory of those times would be that those days were anything but “routine.” I think that most families with young kids feel like the only thing routine about their day is “unpredictability.” For most people, a routine is doing the same thing, at the same time and in the same way each day. When trying to use routines as a learning opportunity for kids I find that parents or caregivers often respond that they don’t have a routine.   What does it mean to teach children during daily routines? We think of routines as the parts of your day that have a start and a finish.  This changes our thinking from a schedule to events. I would like to note that for most people schedules seem to imply structure.  While young children thrive on structure and predictability this article is focusing on how to use your daily routines to enhance your child’s learning.   Figuring out your Routine All families are different however we all generally share routines that involve eating, playing, bathing and bedtime.  These routines are great learning opportunities for any child.  For example, when your child is learning to walk, you might carry her to the highchair for breakfast or you could use that opportunity and help her walk to the highchair instead.   Ideas for using Routines as Learning Opportunities First, consider these questions: Think about the daily routines of your family. What skills are you child working to master?  Where are they in their development? What are your priorities as a parent? Consider your own needs. For example, my son was not a morning child.  On the days that I needed to get him to daycare, getting out the door on time was my only goal.  It probably took him longer to learn to dress himself than it took his friends but I was confident that he would learn it one day. In the morning I just didn’t have the time to make it a priority for him to practice that skill. On the other hand, he was a late talker so it was a priority to bring communication strategies into our daily lives. Take the high priority skills your child is learning and your daily routine to see how many opportunities you can give your child for mastering a skill. Practice, Practice, Practice – young children love repetition!   Using Routine Based Learning for kids with unique developmental needs Back in the day (as my grown-up children say), as a young occupational therapist, I would meet the family of a child in the waiting room of a specialized clinic, take the child away for “my” therapy, and return them to their parents at the end of 30 minutes with instructions for “their” home therapy program. Thank goodness we have evolved to understand that parents are the most important and most consistent teacher that children will have.  We have also recognized that children learn best when the task is relevant to their interests and needs.  Out of this research, we have what we call Routines-based Intervention. This process is more natural and creates a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience for your child. Those 30 minutes of therapy that I was able to give a child made little impact on his/her development compared to the number of minutes a child can practice each week with caregivers who have learned to enrich their routines with the learning opportunities that are so important to young children. My role as a therapist has changed from working in a one-to-one situation with the child to being a mentor and coach to the family.  I believe that with my background in development and the family’s knowledge of their child, their activities, and their priorities, we become a powerful team that can problem-solve and invent unique ways to help young children master new skills.

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    Jillian's Story

    July 07, 2016

    Jillian Leed stands at her stove, stirring a chicken, baked potato and vegetable soup. Just a year ago, this was something she couldn’t do.   The 35-year-old has been living independently in her own apartment for the last two years.   “I like it (here),” she said.   Her one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of her apartment complex is cozy, decorated with pictures of her family and complete with new furniture in the living room that Jillian proudly states she bought recently with her own money.   Jillian has been successful in achieving her dream of living on her own, now working full-time at Good Will on Lincoln Highway, taking public transportation to and from work, and managing her household with help only one day a week. But achieving this success didn’t happen overnight.   Anna Edling, Associate Director/Program Specialist for Residential, said Jillian first expressed an interest in having her own place in 2011. The first step was to find competitive employment, and then teach Jillian the skills she would need to be independent, including laundry, cooking, cleaning, navigating public transportation, and money management.   “It’s a process,” Edling said. “You don’t just say you want to move out and (then) move out the next day.”   After preparing her the best they could, Jillian moved into her apartment two years later in 2013. But even after she was on her own, Edling said they realized there were still skills she had to address. One of the big ones was socialization. When she lived at Frederick Circle, there was always someone to talk to or play a game with. Suddenly, Jillian was all alone. She started peering into her neighbor’s windows, looking for that contact with other people, Edling said.   Staff started role-playing with Jillian, training her in social situations. Since taking the bus to work every day was a major factor in Jillian’s success, staff addressed the safety issues that come along with being in public places all alone. One of the ways they role-played was having staff approach her while she rode the bus, asking her questions like her name and her address to make sure Jillian knew not to give out her personal information to strangers.   That practice has seeped in to her life in other areas beyond the riding the bus.   “No strangers! No strangers come into my apartment,” Jillian said emphatically.   Taking steps to move from a group home into one’s own apartment is a complicated process, Edling said. Many don’t realize all the many skills that are needed to achieve such a goal.   “Think about your everyday life and all the things you do,” Edling said. “All those little skills that we take for granted, she didn’t know how to do. We want her to live an everyday life like the rest of us.”   That includes waking up on time in order to take a shower and get to work, realizing at the end of the day that you didn’t plan for dinner, going to the grocery store, coming home and making dinner … the list goes on, she said.   “There are a huge amount of skills that we take for granted every day and she had to be taught,” Edling said.   For example, when Jillian lived on Frederick Circle, one of her chores was to mop the kitchen floor. As the scheduled was laid out, Jillian only had to mop the floor once every three weeks since her roommates did the other weeks. When Jillian first moved into her apartment, she was only mopping the floor once every three weeks. Edling said she had to remind Jillian that she alone was responsible for that now, so she had to do it every week.   Another skill was cooking, and Jillian seems to have mastered that. She frequently gets up from the couch to go to the stove and check on her soup, stirring it and tasting it. The apartment starts to take on the hearty aroma and warmth of the soup.   “I’m making tacos today,” she says excitedly, a new meal she is learning.   Brandy Inhenyen, program coordinator and staff member assigned to work with Jillian every Thursday when Jillian has off work, said she has been working with Jillian for about a year. Her job now is easy.   “She’s really improved in her cooking skills. She was scared to use the stove when I first started. Now, she does it all herself.” Inhenyen said. “I’m just here to give prompts. She knows what she needs to do.”   Inhenyen said the only thing that Jillian still struggles with is money management. She pulls out a roll of quarters and counts out the $1.50 Jillian needs to do her laundry.   “If I gave you this whole roll of quarters, you’d spend it,” she says to Jillian.   Jillian smiles sheepishly, admitting this to be true, as she takes the quarters and heads downstairs to the laundry room.   “Don’t put too much in,” she reminds herself as she puts her clothes into the washing machine.   Edling and Inhenyen said Jillian has inspired other clients to want to work toward independence. Two other clients have since moved out, but they are receiving help from their families and are no longer getting support from Excentia. Jillian is currently the only Excentia client living on her own.

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    Resting Easy

    April 08, 2016

    Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties parents regarding their children is sleep. The good news is that most sleep issues can be addressed. It’s a fairly unrecognized “routine” but probably one of the most important. It is during sleep that the brain is at its most active! This is particularly true in the developing child. The child is taking all the information that it experienced during the day and making sense of it, either filtering or storing for use. Each of the sleep stages has its own unique purpose and feature for assimilating information.   Lack of sleep results in a number of issues: Difficulty with concentration leading to poor learning Behavior changes including sleepiness, crankiness, hyperactivity, short temper Overall schedule disruption   Getting a good night sleep starts with good sleep hygiene.   Make sure a typical schedule is in place. Don’t think you have one? You might be surprised if you actually go through what a typical day looks like approaching bedtime. Almost everyone usually has some sort of pattern that they follow when winding down at night. After examining the routine, figure out where regular changes can be made to create a more relaxing situation heading into the bedtime hour. Eliminate screen time at least 1 hour prior to sleep – studies suggest screen time continues to stimulate the brain whether the person is engaged with it or not. Bath time – Try a warm bath with soothing scents and/or follow with lotions. Lavender, chamomile, and Eucalyptus are said to have calming effects on the senses. Add a deep massage for further calming. Snacks – Watch the type of snacks that your child is eating both before bedtime and during the day. Highly sugared, simple carbohydrate snacks will actually give a boost of energy. This includes most snack foods and many manufactured juices. Items that contain colored dyes can also create a hyper effect particularly those with red and orange colors. Nap time – make sure naps last no longer than 1-2 hrs depending on the age of the child (Infants vary) and they do not extend past 4 pm on average if the aim is an 8-9 pm bedtime. Bedtime – Consider gradually backing up bedtime by 15-30 min increments. Actually, a significantly earlier bedtime can be easier for getting a child to fall asleep then keeping them up until they seem really tired.   If the problem still exists, consider ideas like heavy quilts and blankets, swaddling, regardless of age, white noise, room temperature, etc. to help keep a child asleep. If the problem continues to be significant, consider talking to your doctor about some of the natural sleep aids that are readily available or investigating any underlying medical conditions. And don’t forget to discuss it with a medical/early intervention provider. While not every sleep problems is correctable, trying some of the above strategies may prove very restful!

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