Category Archives: Parenting tips

Fire Safety For Kids

firephoto by matthewvenn

We were in Chicago over the weekend and visited the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier. If you ever have a chance to go, I highly recommend it. One of their exhibits is on fire safety. There is a firetruck to climb on, fireman costumes to dress up in, pretend hoses to spray, flashing lights, radios, and a bedroom with lightweight fabric draped all around to simulate smoke. The bedroom is to train kids to “get low and go” to stay under the smoke. They find their way in the dark, under the hanging “smoke.” It’s a great opportunity to talk to kids about fire safety. They had brochures for parents to pick up, so I did. I know we need to work a little more on a concrete plan.

Here are the 10 Steps to Fire Safety (from the Chicago Fire Department):

Smoke Detectors Save Lives! Put a smoke detector outside your sleeping areas. Change batteries twice a year (when you change your clocks) and test them monthly so kids can hear the beeping sound.

Have an Escape Plan! Create and practice escape routes from different areas of your house – especially from your bedrooms at night.

Sleep With Doors Shut! Fire travels through open areas first. Closed doors help keep fire and smoke from spreading.

Get Low and Go! Smoke and heat rise toward the ceiling. Air is more breathable near the floor.

Never Hide – Crawl Outside! Young children may fear the sights and sounds of firefighting equipment. Talk about why they should NEVER hide from firefighters, no matter what.

Know Two Ways Out! A fire may block a certain path. Know two ways out of the house or building.

Feel Every Door! As you crawl, feel doors with the back of your hand. Don’t open a door if it’s hot – there may be flames on the other side.

Go to the Family Meeting Place! Make sure everyone knows where to meet after they leave the home (a neighbor’s house, street corner, or particular tree).

Call 911 for Help! It’s OK to scream and yell in an emergency. Find a neighbor and call 911.

Practice Your Escape Plan! Practicing how to exit your home in a fire is the BEST way to prepare.

If your child has disabilities, call your local fire department’s non-emergency number and explain your family’s situation. They can suggest escape plans, perform a home fire-safety inspection, and recommend special equipment, such as smoke alarms with flashing lights and vibrating elements to place under pillows.

More information for those with disabilities:

U.S. Fire Administration

Great books for kids:

A Day with Firefighters

Fighting Fires

Firefighters A to Z

Fire Truck

I Want to be a Firefighter

No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons) – we love!

Free coloring book download

If your child is curious about fires, the bedroom is the most common place for children to “play” with fire. If you suspect your child is experimenting, look for burnt matches or burn marks under your child’s bed, desk or in the closet, and GET EXPERT ADVICE.

Hopefully, you never need any of this information, but if you do, preparedness is key and can truly save lives.

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Posted by on August 23, 2011 in Parenting tips, Special Needs


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The Calming Effect of “Heavy Work” for Sensory Processing Disorder

Pull!photo by Steve Weaver

In therapist lingo, “heavy work” refers to proprioceptive input. The definition of proprioceptive is “the awareness of posture, movement, and changes in equilibrium and the knowledge of position, weight, and resistance of objects as they relate to the body.” Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder sometimes seek out proprioceptive input when they are looking for a way to calm and organize their nervous system. They may seem disruptive, full of excessive energy, or even unsafe. They might purposefully crash into things (or you), jump off of things, or seem in constant motion. Jenna seems to alternate between “sensory seeking” days and “sensory avoidant” days. When she’s sensory seeking, one of my first clues is that she purposefully bumps or crashes into me (or walls & furniture). I thought I’d share with you a list of suggested “heavy work” activities that our therapist provided to us, along with some of my own additions of what we’ve found that works.

To experience the calming effect, these activities need to be performed 5-15 minutes.  Slow, steady resistance that requires effort to be exerted against the muscles and joints is required. Avoid fast, “jerky” motions that will tend to gear up the nervous system and work against what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s important to pay attention to your child’s specific reaction. What works for one child, might not work for yours! Keep track of which activities seem to work best, as well as which activities they seem to prefer. You will generally notice an increase in eye contact as the child calms and becomes more focused.

  • Push a loaded stroller or shopping cart (we have a play stroller & shopping cart that are great for this)
  • Shovel snow (or dirt if you need a hole dug!)
  • Push a dust mop, broom or mop (Jenna LOVES the dust mop)
  • Pull a rake, wagon, loaded sled, loaded laundry basket or blanket loaded with toys
  • Carry a bag of groceries, a diaper bag, a gallon of milk, a loaded backpack, watering can, garden hose, etc.
  • Move or push furniture
  • Ride a bicycle (Jenna has a bike she rides inside)
  • Joint compressions (simply gently/firmly squeeze joints – Jenna tells us how much to squeeze) We call this “Squeezies”
  • Tug of war with a theraband, broom handle, rope, blanket, etc.
  • Rocking gently back & forth while on all fours
  • Wrap a blanket around the child and massage (we call it a burrito)
  • Hang upside down on monkey bars or over an ottoman or bed (or you can hold them if it doesn’t wreck your back!)
  • Sitting with a weighted blanket or vest
  • Lay or sit on scooter board and use hands and feet to move
  • Play catch with a weighted ball
  • Make a kiddo sandwich with child laying on their back & you pressing slowly/firmly with large cushions or pillows
  • Jumping – trampoline, jump rope, hopscotch, on a bed, into a beanbag, etc.
  • Bouncing on a therapy ball (with adult support) or this bouncing ball
  • Lizard crawl on belly and pulling self with elbows
  • Washing windows, erasing a chalkboard, paint with water on a fence, the side of a building, or the shower wall, wiping down the shower walls
  • Cooking activities like stirring, pressing, kneading, or rolling dough
  • Brush a family pet
  • Squeezing a stress ball, theraputty, or playdoh
  • Use a paper punch to make confetti
  • Sand a piece of wood
  • Play “parachute” with a large, thin blanket stretched between you – hold corners, throw blanket up & then pull it down, try running under, etc.

Whatever you choose to do, making it fun makes all the difference! Take a deep breath, smile, and be calm and patient yourself (I know it’s easier said than done sometimes!). YOUR attitude is often contagious and truly makes a difference in their ability to calm.

Om & Namaste!


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Sparking a Love of Reading

I’m pretty sure reading has always been magical to me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love reading (thanks Mom & Dad!). I’ve been so excited to foster the same magical excitement in Jenna. We have read to her since she was in the NICU as a baby, and she LOVES hearing stories. We started a routine of reading two stories before nap and again before bedtime at night, and it was a wonderful thing when she started bringing us books at all other moments of the day to snuggle down for a story. I still waited for that magical moment when she would start to get excited about reading on her own.

When she turned 4, I started working with her more by pointing to words and sounding them out. She quickly got irritated and frustrated and told me to “just read the story, Mommy!” She just didn’t seem interested in learning to do it herself. I backed off, watched and waited. I was thrilled last fall (at just past 4 and a half) when she spontaneously started sounding out words on signs when I was driving! She became infatuated with her Spinny Speller and she LOVED building words with this. I was excited for her. This continued for 2 or 3 months, then, somewhere around her 5th birthday, it seemed to shut off. She’s back to being frustrated & impatient when we sound things out, she says she doesn’t WANT to read it herself and insists that she just wants us to read to her. What happened?? I have no idea. None. And I’ve thought about it A LOT.

I began trying to think of ways to gently spark that magical excitement again. I say gently because I ASSURE YOU that any sort of pushing will be immediately met with her stubbornly applying the brakes. She needs to do things at her own pace. At some point, I started thinking about how much kids learn through modeling and imitating our behavior. I realized that I very rarely (almost never) pick up my OWN book and read when Jenna is around/awake. My reading time is while she’s sleeping. I decided to try initiating a “Quiet Reading Time” where we set aside time where the rules are no talking allowed and we BOTH spend time reading our own books. I knew that she wouldn’t be able to actually read on her own, but was hoping that this might push her into practicing sounding out words on her own again as well as reigniting her spark of interest in learning to read. She was excited about the idea. I set a timer (for just 15 minutes at first, so she doesn’t get to frustrated), and it became clear instantly that I was on the right track during that very first session. She got a teensy bit frustrated at first and stated that she couldn’t do it, but I gently encouraged her to just look at the pictures and try sounding out words if she wanted to. She quickly became engrossed, and now, two weeks later, she’s asking me more and more about words and sounding things out on her own. Hooray! That first day, she proudly told Daddy when he came home from work, “Guess what, Daddy? I’m doing Quiet Reading Time with Mommy every day now! Because I’m big!” We have Quiet Reading Time every day before naptime, now, and I’M loving it because I’m actually getting in some reading time of my own! Here’s what today’s session looked like:






What kind of stories do you have about reading with your kids? What got them excited about reading? What worked and what didn’t work for you? Do you read with your kids every day? If you don’t, I encourage you to give it a try. There’s nothing more magical and fun than snuggling down with a favorite little person to open a world of adventure simply by opening a book!

P.S. I should note that she independently declared today “Fancy Day” and just as independently chose her outfit & accessories! There’s also a tutu under that book!   🙂


Posted by on February 18, 2011 in Family, Favorite Things, Jenna, Parenting tips


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Sensory Urge to Chew or Bite

Like many kiddos with SPD (sensory processing disorder), Jenna often has a need for oral input that manifests itself in chewing or biting. She’ll seek out toys or other objects to put in her mouth, but most frequently, she chews her fingers. Our largest concern with this is that she’s transferring the germs from whatever she touched directly into her mouth and body, and we’re doing everything we can to protect her fragile immune system. We started keeping teething items of different shapes and textures in the freezer, but found we were frequently prompting her to remove her fingers from her mouth to go get a “chewie” from the freezer. Her fingers were just always more immediately available. Then, I saw an ad for this product at the website Shop Sensory (which I love!). A chewable necklace that looks “fashionable” (OK – by kiddo standards) AND is readily available for sensory seeking chewing. Brilliant! BUT. Then, I noticed the price and the fact that the company is Canadian, which equates to a hefty charge for shipping. Ugh. I stored the information away, bookmarked the site, and frequently considered a purchase.

Time passed, and I noticed the chewies we were storing in the freezer were getting worn and ragged looking. I again considered a purchase of the Kid Companion. Soon after that, I happened to be at Target, and I noticed teethers on sale for a very reasonable price for a package of three different shapes. I picked up a package and brought them home. Then, something clicked. Why not make my own necklace chewie? Here’s what I came up with:

It’s a pink, star-shaped teether on a sturdy turquoise shoestring. Voila! Jenna LOVED it the moment I showed it to her and wears it all the time. I don’t think it’s as “fashionable” as the Kid Companion – in fact, I think it looks pretty obviously like a teether on a shoestring – BUT, she’s worn it out a couple times already, and she’s gotten compliments from people that they “love her necklace” which just makes her glow. And just check out the wonderful bumpy texture on the chewie:

Jenna says: Sometimes I like the bumps, and sometimes I like the stripes!

The other thing that I don’t like as well is a somewhat bigger deal. The Kid Companion comes with a breakaway safety lanyard, so that if the string circling the neck gets caught on anything, it releases instead of choking the child. I’m currently on the lookout for a similar lanyard to purchase for Jenna’s chewie. I haven’t found any with a breakaway feature yet. Most require manual clipping (like a five-point harness on a carseat). I don’t fret too much about it at this point, because I’m always with her when she’s wearing it. The main level of our home where we spend most of our days is a completely open floor plan, so even if I’m working in the kitchen or at my desk, I can easily see her. I would NOT let her play outside with this on (and quite frankly, she rarely seeks oral input when she’s engaged in outdoor, gross motor play), and I wouldn’t send her to school or another child’s house with this. I’m still considering the Kid Companion for times like those, but would also feel a lot more confident if I could find a similar breakaway lanyard. I noticed that you can simply purchase replacement lanyards from the website, and that might be what I end up doing.

This little invention solved our immediate problem very cost effectively, but I have to say that I think the Kid Companion is a fantastic idea, especially for older kids who might be more put off by the “babyish-ness” of a teether on a cord.


Update: I was just cruising the Kid Companion online store and saw a notice that they reduced their shipping rates! Hooray! Sorry! I should have checked before I posted.


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Movies for Tube Feeding and Oral Motor Therapy

Popcornphoto by ayelie

These might not be popcorn-type movies, but I recently borrowed two movies from The Oley Foundation that I thought I’d share with you.

  • Tube Feedings are Mealtimes, Too!
  • The “Get Permission” Approach to Mealtime and Oral Motor Treatment

Both are done by Marsha Dunn Klein, MEd, OTR/L of Mealtime Notions, and both are good. I, personally, got the most out of the “Get Permission” Approach. I appreciated the reminder to watch for Jenna’s cues and let her take the lead in feeding. It’s so easy to slip into worrying about how many mL I push, on what schedule and at what rate, and forget that there’s a kiddo involved who should be having at least some control over her eating. Especially if we want to be moving her toward oral feeding independence!

Keep in mind that these are clinical presentations, not Oscar nominee potential, and glean whatever information you can. Plus? It’s a free resource! WIN!

You can find these two DVDs and others at The Oley Foundation under “Resources” – Videos & DVDs, or follow the highlighted link.


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Fine Motor Therapy at Home


Jenna has very little grip strength.  Working with a pencil, crayons or paintbrush is incredibly hard for her, and she becomes easily frustrated and fatigued.  Her written lines look shaky because she doesn’t have the fine motor control to steady herself when she can barely muster the strength to grip.  We try to find ways at home that are both fun and therapeutic to build up her strength and fine motor coordination.  Today’s activity: Sorting.

We began with a small bowl of assorted beads (including some TINY seed beads), small snaps, jingle bells and puffy pom poms.  I gave Jenna both a small set of tweezers from a drug store, and a larger set from a crafting store.  She chose to use the smaller, cosmetic set (pictured below) and claimed that it was easier for her.  I set out the bowl of assorted pretties (which served a dual purpose for sensory stimulation for SPD), a mini muffin tray (Wilton silicone) and a mini ice cube tray that I picked up at the grocery store over the weekend.  I let her decide how she wanted to sort them, because I find that the more control I give her, the more cooperative and engaged she is.  Here’s what she ended up with after 40 minutes of concentrated effort:

She sorted the beads by color and type, gave the snaps their own compartment, and gave each pom pom a cup in the ice cube tray, arranged by color.  As she sorted, we talked about the letters on each letter bead, the shapes and colors of the other beads, how the pom poms felt, the sound the jingle bells made, how a snap works (we opened & closed the snaps), and problem solved how to pick up the large orange bead and the jingle bells with the tweezers when they didn’t easily pick up.  Not surprisingly, she pulled the pom poms out first, followed by the larger beads, then focusing on the (MANY) letter beads, and finishing up with the smaller beads.  She sorted the tiniest seed beads last, and they were obviously more difficult for her.

Throughout the exercise, she complained that her hand hurt and we would pause to shake it out and wiggle her fingers.  She also tends to want to use her thumb and middle finger, rather than a pincher grip with forefinger and thumb.  To correct for this, I take a large marble or small rubber ball and have her close her middle, ring and pinky fingers around it to hold it in her palm (a trick I learned from our occupational therapist).  This forces her to use a correct pincher grip.  She also only wanted to use her right hand and was quite resistant to the idea of switching to her left.  I let her finish all the sorting with her right, then asked her to pick 10 things up with her left to put back in the starting bowl.  She ended up doing more than 10, but still did not give the left equal time.  Something we’ll need to work on in the future.

This is a very easy exercise to do with craft supplies or various things around your house.  You can even use small pebbles, leaves, sticks and grass from outside!  This was such a hit with Jenna that I hope to find different materials to use in the same way in order to hold her interest.  Here’s the breakdown of what I used: cosmetic tweezers (drug/dollar store: $2), pom poms (Target craft aisle: $2 for a LOT), letter beads (Target craft aisle $1), mini snaps, assorted beads, and jingle bells were all purchased at a garage sale last summer for $1 in a bag of assorted craft supplies, mini ice cube tray (grocery: $3), Wilton muffin tray (I have no idea. I’ve had it for years and use it for baking most of the time), small sorting bowl (dollar store: $1 for 4).

A variation we’ve used in the past is to sort cotton balls into muffin trays  or from bowl to bowl using tongs.  You can use large, salad tongs or smaller, ice tongs.  This doesn’t encourage the pincher grip as much as smaller tweezers with smaller items, but it’s still a great (and FUN!) exercise.  If you have variations on this task or other ideas for strengthening grip, please feel free to share in the comments.  I always love hearing from you!

Finally, the cat wanted in on the photo shoot:



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Noodle Trick

Noodlephoto by ashleigh290

Jenna’s been in a “big girl bed” (twin) for almost 2 years now, but we’ve had the occasional bad experience of her ending up on the floor.  A toddler rolling out of bed in the middle of the night isn’t fun for anyone in the house, let me tell you.  We treasure our sleep around here.

We weren’t thrilled with the idea of forking out the money for fancy side rails that she hopefully won’t need for long and started looking for alternatives.  I think I gave a shout out to the lovely Twitter mamas I follow and got this fantastic idea: Simply tuck one or two pool “noodles” in the edge of the bed inside the fitted sheet!  The fitted sheet holds them in place, and they provide a “bumper” that keeps the kiddo from easily rolling out.


They’re also easy to transport when traveling.  We use two at home for Jenna and take one when traveling.  We’ve also asked if the homes we’re visiting have them already.  Many people do, which saves on packing space.

I’m so sorry that I don’t remember who gave me this tip and that I’m not properly crediting you!  If it was you, give a holler in my comments.



Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Family, Jenna, Parenting tips, Travel