Exploring Nature with Purpose

Recent studies have identified the benefit – even necessity – of spending time outdoors for people of any age. Specific to children, research has found that children who play outdoors are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than those who spend most of their time inside. But why? Here is what the Child Mind Institute has to say about the benefits of exploring nature:

  • It builds confidence: Trying something new and being successful builds confidence. Unstructured time in nature offers unlimited options for novel experiences and in turn gives children more control over their play and learning.
  • It promotes creativity and imagination: Unstructured play allows children to think more freely, design their own play schemes and in turn approach the world in creative and novel ways. What can they do with a twig or a rock? The sky is the limit!
  • It provides different stimulation: Nature activates all the senses as your child can see, hear, smell, and touch the environment. For our children with sensory processing differences outdoor play is a safe place to explore different sensory experiences and provide that just right challenge.
  • It gets kids moving: In today’s society we are in a constant battle to pull kids away from the screen. Outdoor play remedies that dilemma by providing a fun way to get their bodies moving and engaged with the world around them.
  • It makes them think: Nature creates a unique sense of wonder for children, setting the stage for them to ask questions, try new experiences, and figure out how to engage with their surroundings.

So, get out of the house! Whether it be your backyard, a neighborhood park, or one of the many beautiful state parks in our area, provide safe opportunities for your child to explore. Go on a nature treasure hunt, identify birds or plants (there is an app for that!), dig with a stick, start a collection of rocks, take a hike, make art projects such as leaf etchings, or build something creative with things you have collected from nature. The opportunities are endless and the benefits are invaluable.

Let’s Dig in the Garden!

As a little girl, if there was dirt or mud nearby, I was going to find it! I am sure my poor mom was forever doing laundry. I loved, LOVED, to get muddy! If I could not find glorious squishy mud, then I would make my own. Fast forward to me all grown up and my love for all things nature is much more refined – working outdoors on my deck during a beautiful Spring day like today, exploring new parks and trails, and gardening. There is something so satisfying about planting, nurturing, and eventually eating what you have grown in your yard or on a patio.

Turns out gardening is more than just an adult version of a favorite childhood occupation – there are very real health benefits to gardening including reduced anxiety and stress, improved self-esteem, and opportunities for social engagement. For our children, gardening also offers an opportunity to engage in creative play that does not rely on batteries or a screen. Gardening can help your child work on motor, sensory, cognitive, and social-emotional goals in a unique and engaging way. Smelling a mint leaf crushed between their fingers, digging with a shovel, feeling the fuzzy leaves of a lamb’s ear plant, or taking turns pulling weeds. Gardening with your child can be as simple as a small indoor garden or outdoor planter, joining one of the many community gardens near you, or exploring your neighbor’s garden.

Locus Family Centered Therapies is so excited to launch our own gardening program, Seeds and Sprouts. We have created home gardening kits that include everything you need to get started planting, nurturing, and eventually harvesting plants with your child. We are also in the process of developing larger raised planting beds in the area where you and your treating therapist can hold a session and plant, water, and nurture existing plants; maybe taking home a vegetable (or three!) to cook together. Ask your occupational therapy provider for more information and let’s get outside and dig!

Telehealth: A Road Less Traveled

Nature is my happy place. During a recent morning walk, I was struck by the image of the empty path stretched out in front of me.  I was not sure what was waiting for me around the bend – perhaps some horses grazing wanting to greet me or another walker trying to get out of the house and reconnect with nature. But on this morning, in this time of uncertainty, the image took on a different meaning. When will my team be able to resume sessions with children and their families? Thankfully, telehealth has become the answer. Here are some of the things we have learned at Locus on this road less traveled:

  • We have been able to more fully implement an evidence-based coaching model of care as parents are now actively trying strategies with their child and in turn feeling more valued and successful.
  • It has been easier to accommodate family schedules and observe daily routines such as mealtime or bedtime as they are naturally occurring, which has been invaluable to my team in regards to problem-solving and offering solutions.
  • Surprisingly, there have been few if any technical issues that have interrupted or delayed our service delivery and my team has found creative, fun ways to engage and interact with the children via video.
  • Families parenting children who are medically fragile have consistently requested that all sessions moving forward be held remotely while other families have expressed an interest in a hybrid approach where some sessions are in-person and others are remote. We hope for the opportunity in the future to honor their requests.
  • We have been able to answer referral requests that are in rural or remote areas of North Carolina and typically out of our radius. One parent who lives in the northern corner of our state recently expressed gratitude as her son who has autism has not been able to receive the occupational therapy services he desperately needs for over 18 months. I foresee, if telehealth continues, that my company will be able to serve remote locations and underserved populations.


Adapting to Uncertainty

Our world has changed a lot in these past few months with most of us now required to practice social distancing, gather with friends and family virtually, and restrict our engagement in valued activities and hobbies. Who knew that the simple act of shopping or going out to dinner was such a valued activity in our lives? As occupational therapists, the people who we serve are more familiar with this sense of disruption than most. An injury, illness, or chronic condition has interrupted their “status quo” and they are forced to seek our help in creating new ways to engage in daily activities and routines. Perhaps it is time for us to follow our own advice!

  • Plan: Critical routines have been disrupted and new ones must be developed. Identify what routines you value most. What activities have traditionally been familiar or comforting? Write them down and find ways to adapt those routines and activities to meet new demands or limitations. Establish a new daily routine that includes time outdoors or exercising.
  • Pace: While the temptation may be to binge-watch a new Netflix series for hours, in the long haul you will become under-occupied, stressed, bored and unhappy. Intentionally engage in a wide variety of different activities during the day, seeking “occupational balance”.
  • Pause: Give yourself permission to slow down. Breathe. Be kind to yourself and look for joy. Ask for help when you need to, offer help when you can.

A Valentines Hug

Valentine’s day is a time to stop and take stock of all the people in your lives that you care about and this post is intended to give a great big (deep pressure) hug to the moms and dads on my caseload.  I am continuously inspired by your dedication to learning more about “that sensory processing stuff” and giving some of my unusual suggestions a try!   I know that at times you may feel like we should light incense and hum but you humor me anyway and I have to say the results have been impressive.  Here are a few of my recent sensory success stories which include the universal love language of deep pressure…..

Photo by Siddhant Soni on Unsplash
  • For the first time EVER one darling two year old slept through the night after making some easy changes to their evening bedtime routine and giving her a weighted blanket to sleep with.
  • Another family has been using the Wilbarger brushing protocol diligently and have noticed less aggression and fewer tantrums (he also offers to brush them which is way cute!)
  • One creative family took some snack bags filled with sand to Build a Bear and asked them to create an extra heavy stuffed animal for their child who craves deep pressure – they were happy to help and it has been a hit with their daughter!
  • Wearing a back pack weighed down with sensory goodies and favorite toys has helped one little friend tolerate going out to eat with his family
  • Creating a cozy spot with weighted blankets, pillows and a small sleeping bag has proven to be the perfect place for one of my friends to calm and self-regulate towards the end of their day when they are most likely to tantrum (and their parents are busy preparing dinner)
  • A lap buddy (made from their dad’s athletic sock filled with beans) has enabled one little boy to sit with his preschool class and participate during circle time