Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Helping Children with Special Needs Cope with Stress through Play

By Child Therapy Chicago's guest blogger from Lekotek
The pressures of school can be tough on kids, especially those with special needs. Play can help children relax, recharge their batteries and take on new challenges.
It’s hard to remember a time when kids had more stress in their lives. Schools are forced to pressure children more and more to pass tests to keep their stream of funding. Our educational system is also under mounting pressure as the global ranking for America’s schools continues to trend downward. Homework has trended upward with little impact.
What research has proven again and again is that kids learn best through play. Guided play advances cognitive skills like language, as well as social skills such as emotional regulation. Group play experiences also greatly impact a child’s coping abilities, empathy, mood and resiliency. Despite evidence linking play to development, parents, educators and policy makers have allowed children’s play time to drastically erode in the last two decades.
Play functions as an antidote to the pressures of life, including school anxiety. Here are some product ideas to help kids defuse stress and refresh their bodies. These suggestions are especially beneficial for children with special needs who have their share of school struggles:

Sing, Dance and Play Music
Music therapists know the power of listening to and making music. Rhythms are a way to cut up time just like learning fractions. Music is a mood enhancer, and making music empowers and engenders the creative spirit. It also positively affects attention and focus. Here are some products that strike the right chords with kids.
Beamz is an interactive music system that lets kids use their hands to interrupt four laser beams, thus creating their own original music and melodies. It’s a great way to encourage young bodies to move rhythmically.
Schoenhut’s Band in a Box inspires movement as well as music with a set that combines maracas, a triangle, bells and a tambourine. Kids can knock the kinks out of their day as they shake away on the instruments.

The Rhythm Tree Music Therapy set is an interactive music set that introduces music and all its benefits to children with special needs, promoting developmental milestones through engaging tunes. The set includes a DVD, instructions and instruments.

Write Out Feelings
Journaling, drawing and exploring emotions through writing are good ways to channel concerns and clear them out.
Carolina Pad combines the function of school supplies and the fun of fashion-making with notebooks, folders and more that come alive with color and patterns. They are great for journaling the day and putting it away. The Fundanoodle series of writing tablets and multi-activity kits also inspires kids to develop school skills while having a whole lot of fun.
Weight Can Feel Great
Weighted pads can help kids with sensory processing issues find some calm and comfort.
Covered in Comfort makes a series of weighted items ranging from lap pads to pencil pals that provide proprioceptive input, pacifies some kids’ nervous systems, promotes focus, and diffuses tension by providing weight and pressure.

Move, Just Move
Encourage movement in children any way you can. It is the best defense against depression.
Pedz is a pedometer that looks like a frog, and can inspire little ones to leap into action.

Fidget, Squeeze and Cuddle
Sometimes a child just needs to cuddle and tell her woes to a secret pal. Other kids need their hands kept busy to free up their brains to focus.
WishPuppies are soft plush and the perfect size for a canine hug or two. The secret pocket in their soft underbelly is a place for a child to bury worries or shelter secrets.

Squigz by Fat Brain Toys are aptly described as “fun little suckers,” and they are just that. These sensory, rubbery connectors can entertain tiny hands, promote focus, provide sensory stimulation and pop when pulled apart. Great for kids whose hands need to be kept busy.
Sqwishland Bracelets are fun, flexible bracelets that can be customized with different squishable animal characters. They’re soft, pliable and fidget-friendly.

This article was written by Ellen Metrick, Director of Industry Relations & Partnerships for the National Lekotek Center. Lekotek is a not-for-profit and leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities. Lekotek is dedicated to providing children of all abilities access to the benefits of play experiences. Visit AblePlay.org for a complete listing of toys for children with special needs and follow us on Facebook!
Source: Educational Dealer Magazine, June/July, 2013