Category Archives: Gross Motor

Saturday Seminar: Specialized Brain Gym and Building Block Activity Workshop

The 2018 Saturday Seminar Series kick-off on January 20 featured June Smith, OTR/L’s presentation: Specialized Brain Gym and Building Block Activity Workshop. June is a full-time clinician and mentor at South Shore Therapies in Massachusetts and is a specialist in sensory integration (SIPT certified), NDT, ocular-motor dysfunction and visual-vestibular treatment. She is a certified Brain Gym instructor and a provider for the Therapeutic Listening Program. June teaches nationally on Brain Gym and Integrated Learning Concepts to support stress-free learning and efficiency of the ocular-motor system.

Brain Gym empowers; it supports alerting and quieting using a total of 26 exercises that require only one tool – your body. June displayed a Venn diagram that aptly described Brain Gym as interlocking concepts that involve 1). a series of simple body movements that 2). integrate all areas of the brain and 3). enhance learning and self-esteem. To demonstrate these concepts with the group, June led us in an alerting activity called “thinking cap.” She feels it is a powerful way to begin a session to facilitate engagement. We started by turning our heads to the right, then left, to examine any tension in our necks. We were asked to massage our ears simultaneously by unrolling the fold of the outer ear, moving from top to bottom. We then were asked to turn our heads again to see if we felt a decreased amount of tension compared with our pretest. Most agreed that head turning was less restricted after “thinking cap.”

June demonstrated a variety Brain Gym exercises that are used in the “PACE” process, an acronym for Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic,” beginning with Energetic and working in reverse sequence (ECAP) because each of the four activities prepares you for the next. June described it as a ladder, working your way upward toward the top. She demonstrated three exercises that involved arm activation, the first assisted by using a Gertie Ball for arm extension to maintain internal rotation; a “double doodle” where one hand mimics the other, and “lazy 8s” in which the hand traces a large horizontal figure 8, crossing midline of the body using a Race the 8s large marble maze or Trace the 8s, that is based on the infinity sign. She offered suggestions for adapting the exercises for different populations to ensure success.

Several publications from Therapro were endorsed by June today including: Fraid Not: Empowering Kids with Learning Differences, by occupational therapist Pam FormosaThe Learning Gym, and Drive Thru Menus Attention & Strength (New Edition) and Drive Thru Menus Calming and Stress Busting (New Edition), by occupational therapist Tere Bowen-Irish.

June presented an interactive, stimulating seminar today that supported the philosophy that Brain Gym stimulates movement based learning. It incorporates simple, gentle movements that activate brain function. There has been much research conducted on how movement positively influences the brain and our health, and Brain Gym is a powerful tool that helps put a student in the best possible frame for learning as they become calm and organized.

Here’s what attendees had to say about June’s seminar:

“Great information! June convinced me.” – Lise S., Occupational Therapist

“Very informative, lots of practical ways to apply, fabulous ideas. Can’t wait to practically apply these strategies.” – Christin M., Occupational Therapist

“Great presenter. Very informative and interactive! FUN! – Susan P., Physical Therapist

“Fabulous. Recharged my OT battery to use in my school sessions. Used to do Brain Gym daily, changed school districts & haven’t been using.” – Jodi D., Occupational Therapist

Thank you, June!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L
January 20, 2018

Getting Creative with Sweatshirts and Seat Cushions!

Guest post by Barbara A. Smith.

Sensory Processing disorders (SPD) impact how children and adults respond to sensory stimulation such as sound, touch, what they see and movement. One basic principle of occupational therapy for individuals with SPD is to provide controlled, graded and individualized sensory stimulation to promote functional skills such as playing catch or writing one’s name. This means that activities such as tossing bean bags into containers while the child is suspended on a swing can be:

  • Controlled – as the therapist responds to the child’s reactions. For example, the therapist might push the swing faster, slower or in a different direction,
  • Graded- as the therapist chooses the type of swing used, how long the activity lasts, how heavy the bean bags are and how far away the container is positioned, and
  • Individualized – according to the child’s sensory, emotional and motor needs. For example, the child may wear a squeeze vest during the activity, name an animal each time the bean bag is thrown or have a special friend hold the container.

What is a Sensory Diet?

Parents can implement individualized sensory strategies at home in what is called a “Sensory Diet”. This is like a recipe book of activities and adaptations that the therapist designs for parents to carryover at home, school or in the community. It is important to frequently discuss with the therapist how these strategies are working out since children grow and change rapidly along with their sensory needs in different settings.

In my book From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills, I describe the 6 different subtypes of SPD and some general strategies to use with children who have each type. These strategies usually impact the following 3 sensory systems:

  1. Tactile – uses sensory receptors in the skin to interpret sensations, such as light and heavy touch.
  2. Proprioception – uses receptors in joints and muscles to tell us where the body is and how it is moving in relation to objects and space.
  3. Vestibular – tells our body how to respond to the pull of gravity and movement of the head. It is also called the balance system.

Now for the fun part…

Many children with or without SPD LOVE deep, heavy pressure experiences and movement. This includes children on the autism spectrum or those with other types of developmental disabilities. One very simple strategy is to provide some type of “dynamic seating”. This simply means that the child can bounce, wiggle, rock or move around in some other way while seated. Many teachers incorporate seat cushions and ball chairs in the classroom to help students focus. The Disco Seat is one popular product. An inexpensive alternative is to sit on a deflated ball, as I am doing in the photo. Don’t have one available while eating out or sitting in the movie theater? Consider rolling up a sweatshirt for the child to sit on or curl up inside of to get a full body squeeze.


Speaking of sweatshirts, I have had great success in helping a young lady named Judy to be more focused and less agitated by placing a Disco Seat cushion inside the body of a sweatshirt. The photo shows Judy sitting on the cushion, enjoying some gentle bounces with the sleeves slung over her lap.


The sleeves are heavy because I put bags filled with sand inside of them. Next I sewed the wrist and shoulder ends of the sleeves closed so that the bags wouldn’t fall out. This adaptation can be used in a various of ways. The sweater may be placed over the back of a chair so that the heavy sleeves are draped over the child’s shoulders and body. Placing the cushion inside the sweater is optional.


A young man named Eddy, craves extreme movement and is typically agitated unless in a rocking chair, bungee seat or swing. You can see in the photograph that his chair is adapted to not tip over given all of his body rocking. He LOVED when I attached the sweatshirt with enclosed seat cushion to the back of his chair so that he could slam his back into it while rocking. I know that he enjoyed the deep pressure bouncy sensation because he became calmer, quieter and smiled. The heavy sweatshirt sleeves are draped over his lap. I did my best to capture how I set this up in the following video while maintaining his privacy.

Seat cushions and lap bags that are a lot nicer than the ones I make with a deflated ball, sand and plastic bags are sold by Therapro, Inc. Whether you are reading this blog post as a caregiver, therapist or other type of professional, I hope that adding these simple sensory strategies to your tool box helps the people you love or work with improve their quality of life. This is why I love being an occupational therapist!


Barbara A. Smith has worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities for over 40 years! She is the author of the Recycling Occupational Therapist, From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills and From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills. Learn more about her work at

Therapro’s Free Activity of the Month: Math Fact Moves

No arts and crafts for this month’s activity; we want you to get outside and show us your moves! This month we are moving and learning, our activity comes from our Drive-Thru Menus Body Challenges cards.

Drive-Thru Body Challenges are meant to be used in the K-5 elementary classroom; the cards are designed to help teachers incorporate movement into foundation skills such as literacy, math, science and social studies.

Each of the 25 cards provides a script for leading students through the Body Challenge and several suggested Academic Challenges for teaching and reinforcing the curriculum.


Math Fun Facts Moves


  1. Instruct the group to stand against the wall, side- by-side.
  2. Ask a math question. (Tell the group to raise their hand if they know the answer)
  3. Pick a student to answer the question.
  4. If the answer is correct assign them a “move” (skip, hop, jump, twirl, etc.)
  5. The student will “move” towards the other side of the room and they sit and wait for the other students.

Math Facts

Practice math facts. If the problem is 10 minus 6 the students “move” 4 times. Provide other math challenges using math fact families (4+1, 4+2, 4+3, and so on).

Moving in Pairs

Have children work in pairs. For example, if the problem is “2+3” one child jumps twice and the other jumps three times. Together they jump the answer of five.

Show Us Your Moves!


Take this body challenge outside to practice math emphasizing gross motor movements. Try some of these moves:

  • Hopping on one foot
  • Jumping with two feet
  • Giant Steps
  • Twirls
  • Side Stepping
  • Army Crawling
  • Walking Backward
  • Heel-Toe Steps
  • Tip-Toe Walking
  • Stomping
  • Marching
  • Scissor Walking
  • Skipping
  • Crab-Walking