Occupational therapy is mere child’s playJanuary 19, 2016
Maylia-Ray Graves, 3, smiled and quickly removed her shoes for Sensory Silly time at Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts, where she might not have expected to work.
“Play is child’s work,” said Kelly Beins, a pediatric occupational therapist, who leads a weekly children’s program at the shop.
In Sensory Silly, Beins guides children in activities that promote physical and cognitive development.
“Sensory systems build motor skills,” Beins said.
Maylia showed her mother, Marci Weddle, how to take off shoes and set them aside before starting.
“She’s a seasoned veteran,” said Brian Graves, Maylia’s father.
Weddle said Sensory Silly also gives Maylia, an only child, a chance to develop her social skills along with physical ones.
In a recent session, Maylia was the only attendee, so she and Beins interacted as playmates might. Beins had an agenda, though.
First it was a dance.
(Maryland) “Shake, shake, shake, shake your body,” Beins said in time with music and Maylia’s giggling.
They shook and stretched and twirled a bit before settling in to more interactive engagement.
Beins pulled out a plastic bag with some ice cubes after getting Maylia to think about different types of weather and precipitation, thinking of snow.
They explored how ice melted in their hands, and they blew on it.
“When you press it, it melts,” Maylia said. “It’s cracking,” she added, letting Beins know that she heard it.
“That’s using our hands and our ears,” Beins said with encouragement.
Before the half hour was up, they had used large muscles and small to move arms, legs, fingers, to lift heavy things and place them in a basket. They considered the weights of stuffed toys and textures of materials.
“Using heavy things helps them use their bodies … build muscles,” Beins explained to Maylia’s parents.
Beins and Maylia discussed the kinds of animals that live in snowy climates, and mimicked their behavior.
“Do you know how penguins walk?” Beins asked Maylia.
She helped Maylia position her feet, toes turned out and up, heels down, to walk more like a penguin.
“You’re doing it,” she said. “Good job.”
Dancing Bear’s programs address sensory skills and emphasize the importance of more play time and less screen time for toddlers and preschoolers, said Theresa Fer, the shop’s Children’s Program coordinator.
Dancing Bear, which excludes electronic and battery-operated toys and games from its merchandise, focuses on activities that engage imagination, intellectual curiosity and ingenuity. That aspect appealed to Beins.
“I choose activities that promote developmental opportunities and model how to play with the children, and parents and kids get an opportunity to play successfully together,” Beins wrote in email. “It’s not about the toys, but what experience the toys offer and what we do with the toys.”
Sensory Silly is for 3- to 5-year-olds, and another program that Beins’ office runs is for 1- to 2-year-olds: Big Moves for Little Feet.
Big Moves requires registration and costs $5 per session. Sensory Silly is a free, drop-in activity.
Fer said the shop started partnering with Beins to become a resource in the early childhood development, and a place where parents may come to socialize, while learning about the developmental stages. Beins and her associates explain to parents what skills are being developed with the activities.
Occupational therapy is about making purposeful activities, Beins said.
Parents get a chance to learn how to present activities in a way that supports development if they do not already know, Beins said. They also get to experience playful time with their child “which is huge in supporting development of all skills,” she wrote in email.
Childhood development starts with the parent-child relationship, she said.
“I see kids get an opportunity to interact socially with same-aged peers, and sometimes kids will do things with other children that they will never do with their parents. … It’s like pint-sized positive peer pressure,” Beins wrote.
Graves watched Beins pull Maylia on a rolling sled. The activity required Maylia to firmly hold one end of a rope that Beins pulled. Maylia had to keep her balance on the sled so she would not be pulled off it.
Graves said Maylia’s two years attending the sessions have had a positive impact.
“I think this program has really helped her progress,” he said.
Weddle said Maylia looks forward to attending.
“She really loves this,” Weddle said.