Occupational Therapy Consulting, LLC


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Sucking on straws means more than just sipping

I bought a fruit smoothie at Panera Bread the other day and what impressed me, aside from the yummy icy mango flavour, was the size of their straws!  Those straws are HUGE!!!  Now to the average person, this might not mean much.  But to me, an OT, who struggles to turn off that part of her brain (ask my husband, my kids, and my close or not so close friends…) I saw a therapeutic opportunity.  Those straws could be used in SO many ways.  They would be great for oral motor activities (blowing) and to decrease the sucking demands for young kids still learning to drink from a straw, or for those who don’t have the oral strength to to close the seal for suction, OR to use in some kind of bimanual (two-handed) craft activity.  They would also be a great thing to use for learning to cut with scissors.  Some straws make a nice “pop” sound, when you snip them, so it’s fun for kids who are learning, and straws are stiff so they are easier to cut than paper (sometimes). These doozies from Panera, might be ever so slightly thicker and thus ever so slightly harder to cut, raising the inherent challenge of the cutting task.  It got me to thinking, how absolutely versatile straws can be, and how parents might be surprised to learn the many developmental applications of straws…beyond sipping (of course).

Believe it or not, while formulating my thoughts, I came across this highly relevant recent “pin” on pinterest; and then this one.  It seems, I’m not the only one interested in the many uses of straws!  Below is a list of things that parents can do with different types of straws, to boost their child’s skills:

Straws can be fun: Try bubble blowing, play marshmallow games, have a “blowing” race (put cotton balls on the ground and see who can blow theirs across the finish line first!)

Straws can be crafty: Try blow painting with straws, bubble fish painting, making prints with straw pieces, polka dot painting, and many many other craft projects

Straws can help kids learn to cut: snipping straws in pieces to make straw confetti or small little “beads”; helps to strengthen hand muscles for scissor skills and helps kids to learn the motion of opening and closing the scissors; the adult can hold the straw while the child cuts and as the child’s skills progress, you can make it more challenging by having the child use both hands; one to hold the straw and the other to cut the pieces

Straws can be stylish: use small tubes (from above snipping) to make straw jewellery by threading the pieces onto string, yarn, or for toddlers or kids with weaker fine motor skills, use pipe cleaners instead of string (the pieces don’t slide off as easily)

A little known fact…straws can be calming.  buy silly straws or “crazy” twisted straws.  Per the HANDLE Institute, “drinking through a crazy straw can help to improve many functions: interhemispheric integration, binocular functions (eye teaming), light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, articulation, bowel and bladder control, tongue and lip control for articulation, facial muscle tone for nonverbal communication, and more.”

If you get a Camelbak Water Bottle with a bite valve, sucking and sipping from this water bottle simulates an oral motor sequence that is similar to what most babies use when nursing or bottle-feeding and thus it not only strengthens the small but essential muscles of the tongue and mouth for things like talking and eating, it also gives calming input.  Nursing or bottle feeding is one of the earliest most primitive means of comfort that every human gets in their lifetime.  If that experience was not positive or was interrupted somehow for a person, it might be helpful to find ways of offering similar input.  Not only is drinking lots of water healthy and often calming to the body, but the action of drinking it from this water bottle can be a gentle and subtle way of offering healthy input to the brain and body.

I often offer drinking straws to the kids I work with, while we are doing an activity.  They choose to fiddle with it to help them concentrate or more often than not, they chew on them.  The stiff nature of the straw makes for more resistance and the “tough to chew” aspect provides calming input to those who seek or need more input than the average child.  Sometimes kids who are feeling upset need to chew (and some grown-ups too…think comfort eating) and once given the opportunity to chew, they feel much less frustrated, more focused and more relaxed.  It’s true!  (Note chewing on straws has zero calories!)

While I am tempted to recount my highschool Science Olympics experience of using pins and straws to build a contraption that kept a raw egg safe upon impact after being dropped from a 20 ft. ladder, I will refrain (the egg survived by the way…I had a lab partner who is now a materials engineer).  That said, I urge you to think beyond the obvious purpose of sipping, the next time you suck on a straw, and if you have or spend time with children, have some handy.  You may be surprised at how helpful these little (or big) suckers can be!


2 comments on Sucking on straws means more than just sipping

  1. Melitsa
    March 23, 2012 at 10:56 am (894 days ago)

    My sons used straw activities to help with their oral motor during their speech session. They loved all the different straws. It’s so hard to find the variety. Straws don’t have a section in the store just on those little hooks everywhere :) We still love straws especially the silly ones.

    • Kelly
      April 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm (882 days ago)

      I’m glad straws are a much loved thing in your house too! :) Thanks for commenting!


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