It’s been tough to feel inspired lately with the increased busy-ness of moving into my new space. Who knew that furniture assembly could be so time consuming?! AND mentally and physically challenging. The next time I need a visual spatial and fine motor challenge for a teen or adult, I will simply have them take apart and re-assemble my new office furniture.
Needless to say, I’ve been time challenged lately, but the one time saver, (aside from my handy husband) has been…wait for it…wait for it…don’t hate me…Pinterest! Time drain? Yes. Time saver? That too. It’s like the medications that are supposed to help but if not monitored closely could cause a rebound effect and make the symptoms worse.
Many times over the last two weeks, I’ve gone to Pinterest in search of treatment ideas, therapy app reviews, and yes…office ideas. I’ve also used it to save some resources to share with parents, highlight websites with therapy research and resources I’d like to go back to, and it’s served as something I have in common with others on twitter (two tech learning curves collide). I have organized most of my Pinterest Boards according to skill areas, like “tactile processing“, “fine motor“, “gross motor“, and “vestibular“, but there are also some diagnosis specific boards like “autism” and topic boards such as “books“, “parent support“, and “do it yourself adaptive devices“. In this way, I hope followers can learn a little about the types of skills that people get from those kinds of activities and find practical ideas they can use to improve their lives. Additionally, there is a board for “my OTC blog posts“, in hopes of helping people find me, and I also have a “Role of OT” board that holds position papers about what OT’s do for people with a variety of different challenges. In short, I want my OT Pinterest boards to be the “one stop practical shop” for the people who follow or find me there, that all of Pinterest has become for me.
Let me know if you’re not on Pinterest and would like to be! I’ll send you an invite and convert you. (Warning: Pinterest may be addictive, and may be contraindicated for those suffering from lack of time, but has been shown effective at saving time and increasing personal satisfaction when taken in small meaningful doses).
This morning I am stepping up firmly onto one of my soap boxes: the need for healthier food in school cafeterias and keeping recess in school! FYI this all comes from my daughter announcing that the special dessert at school today was chocolate filled sugar cookies.
Now don’t get me wrong, and those of you who know me know this to be true: I LOVE sweets!!! I keep a personal stash of chocolate chips (and always have), I bake because I like to (making a perfect baked cheesecake is on my bucket list), I have an active mission to find the best local flourless chocolate cake, and eating out is one of our families favorite activities to do together! I truly do honor and openly celebrate the joy of eating sweets. I would like to say I appreciate being lazy but that would be a stretch. I don’t often sit for long periods, so I may be a bit biased in my lack of empathy for those who don’t like to move. BUT, I do appreciate (and am learning to incorporate) the need for rest and relaxation. But that’s not what I’m upset about. I’m upset about the combination of too much sugar and too little exercise, for our kids. And as a parent trying desperately to teach my children moderation and a healthy lifestyle, I struggle with the constant bombardment of challenges to that value. As an OT I struggle with setting kids up for failure and not supporting conditions that promote optimal learning and development.
Research abounds on the link between movement and learning (a bing search yields 346 million results). People learn better when they have sufficient opportunities for movement. It makes sense. Imagine the neurological connections that are being made when one simply sits still and listens to a teacher. Hearing is one sense and maybe vision is engaged, so that’s two senses, but that’s not even always the case. Now imagine the connections that get made when hearing is paired with a hands-on or movement-based activity. Hands-on activities involve more head movement (the vestibular sense), body or limb movement (the proprioceptive sense), touching things (the tactile sense), typically multiple items are used so there is more to look at (sense of vision is engaged), people are interacting with each other (more to listen to and a social element is included) and depending on the activity, taste and smell may also be incorporated; that’s SEVEN different neurological pathways that could get used to ingrain a concept! Brain research tells us that “neurons that fire together wire together”. Our brain makes sense of information better when multiple senses are engaged. Movement engages multiple senses. Additionally, movement through gross motor activity, like that at recess, gives more opportunity to increase the heart rate which increases blood flow & oxygen circulation and again uses all the sensory systems. The brain ”wakes up”, so that people can pay attention better and focus on learning related stimuli. Of course there are exceptions, and I recognize that it’s difficult to manage 27 (or more) children who are all excited and not motivated to sit still for long periods because they’d rather be outside playing games and running around, but I do firmly believe that decreasing movement opportunities is counterproductive to learning and managing those 27 children would become a whole lot easier if we followed their lead and creatively offered more of what they are craving so we could support them in learning instead of requiring them to go against their developmental instincts and sit still all day! (aka my rant). I also firmly believe there are ways to offer bits of movement. Providing “motor minutes” or movement breaks throughout the day is one simple solution for teaching kids of any age. Older kids can take a “walk break” or “run laps” or do “jumping jacks, wall push-ups, run on the spot, or go up and down stairs”, or simply alternate reaching for the sky then touch the ground, repeat 10 x and you’re done. Younger kids are easy to engage with games like “leap frog”, “musical chairs”, “London Bridge”, or “Freeze Dance” and while “games” take time away from instruction, the learning that takes place during instruction that follows the “games” might be that much more efficient, or better yet, if the movement or games are made a part of the instruction, no time is lost and learning is optimized. When something becomes a part of the regular routine it is normalized and more readily accepted, so incorporating the movement at regular predictable intervals throughout the day should mean that it becomes less disruptive to the learning environment and that it actually becomes something kids and teachers will look forward to doing.
Which brings me to my next portion of this rant…the sugar. High sugar, high calorie low nutrition food at school and around children in the excess that it is, has become such a part of our routines it is “accepted” and a “normal way of operating.” I have seen it become such a part of every day life that I don’t think people question it any more. School cafeterias serve “fruit cups” that consist of sugar syrup covered already high calorie fruit. Desserts like chocolate filled sugar cookies have become the highlight in the cafeteria and drinks like gatorade, juice boxes, and soda pop are often the staple for many children. Lollipops are given out as incentives in kindergarten. Chips and chocolate bars are given after sports games coupled with high calorie sports drinks or juice boxes, the combination of which often far exceeds the calories burned by one young child who is on the field for often only part of the less than one hour game. Even if that child played the whole game, why do we want to teach them to “re-fuel” their bodies with nothing but sugar? Their little developing brains and bodies need and deserve better than that! Burning calories is not a bad thing!!! They will be replaced at dinner! If the “treat” is being used as a “reward”, I think it’s only proper we allow each individual parent the opportunity to decide what “rewards” to use and when, for their own child. Deciding that for the parent ahead of time, and then putting that parent (me) in the position of having to limit their (my) child because I disagree with it, only sets up unnecessary battles and stigma for me and my child and other parents who are bold or energized enough to actively “make an issue of it”. I am not a biochemist, so I can’t speak knowledgeably about the body’s response to sugar and other processed foods, but I can tell you I pay attention to the media, read research articles regularly for work, work with children daily who struggle with the effects of various “foods” in their bodies, and have seen first-hand the behavioral changes that can happen when people (adults and kids alike) modify their diets to eliminate or even just minimize things like sugar and other additives and processed ingredients. This is where I start to run the risk of labeling myself in the eyes of more “mainstream mom’s” or practitioners and align myself with one camp or the other, when it comes to lifestyle, but I can tell you my OT brain wins on this one. I know what supports a foundation for optimal function because that’s what OT’s do, there is scientific evidence to prove it, and I can tell you, nutrition and movement offer the brain and body the fuel needed to develop, learn and function. Plain and simple. Sugar and no recess do not. Enough said by me. What do you think?
For resources related to the above rant, interested readers may go to my Bing Search or one of my two favorite play resources: Playworks or Kaboom
As many of you know, I’ve been working on and recently completed my iLs certification. I attended a training this past weekend, which in my mind, was the final step to feeling more confident in moving forward with using this new and promising intervention for people with motor, attention, reading and auditory processing challenges. That said…I am again, in awe. The brain and body amaze me.
I know I’ve dropped the ball when it comes to writing more frequent posts and I know I may not have come across as especially inspired, lately, but in the spirit of trying to stick to at least the intentions (not necessarily resolutions) I set for the new year, I am sharing this amazing video I picked up this past weekend at my training (at least I think it’s amazing). If you’ve ever heard and/or liked classical music, you’ll appreciate this video. OT’s are doing some amazing things when it comes to neuroplasticity and changing the brain. This video is but one glimpse into the complexities that bring us seemingly simple pleasures such as listening to music. By understanding and using the connections being made between sound and the rest of the body, OT’s can use interventions like iLs to help change people’s lives.
Have a watch and listen! Let me know what you think!