Fine Motor Skills for Children with Down Syndrome

by: Paige Troutman, OT Graduate Student
University of TN Health Science Center
Department of Occupational Therapy & Brightsong, LLC

Posted in Down Syndrome, Fine Motor Skills, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , ,

Giant Shape Matching

by: Paige Troutman, OT Graduate Student

Giant Shape Match Activity

Posted in Fine Motor Skills, Fun Activities, Gross Motor Skills, Play is Important, Speech and Language Skills, Uncategorized Tagged with: , ,

Celebrating Handwriting Skills on National Handwriting Day

By:  Jennifer Henderson, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist
Brightsong, LLC

Handwriting is an important “occupation” for most children. However, handwriting development does not begin when a child starts school. It actually begins at a much earlier age.

Handwriting Development

Handwriting Table

Tips to Encourage Handwriting:

  • Work on vertical surface activities (on mirror, wall, wipe boards, felt boards) to encourage optimal wrist positioning.
  • Use regular sized crayons or even broken crayons (after you are sure the child has reached the developmental age where they won’t put them in their mouths).
  • Practice activities on prone or on all 4’s to strengthen hands, arms, and trunk.
  • Encourage child to perform 2 handed tasks (banging toys, zoom ball, accordions, pushing carts, rolling large balls).
  • Practice sensory play in a variety of tactile media such as noodles, pudding, finger paints, cotton balls

When To Seek Help:

Consult an occupational therapist if you have any concerns regarding your child’s handwriting development, including:

  • Little to no interest in coloring or drawing at 3 years and above.
  • Using 5 fingers or fist to hold writing utensil past age 5.
  • School-age child complains of hand pain or fatigue following handwriting tasks.
  • Very slow or messy handwriting compared to peers.
  • Difficulty with the use of fork, spoon, scissors or dressing skills over age 5. 
Posted in Fine Motor Skills, Handwriting Tagged with: , ,

Fun with Sensory Bins

by: Jessica Oppenhuizen, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, Brightsong

Sensory bins are a great tool to have around the house for a variety of reasons. Not only do they provide calming input and encourage children to tolerate and identify a variety of textures, but they can promote speech and encourage fine motor development as well. It is easy to change out the items in the bin and re-introduce it for play that is long lasting and changes with the seasons (or by the week!).  The following includes a variety of options for a sensory bin with specific suggestions for a fall themed sensory bin. You can easily substitute both the base of the sensory bin as well as the items within the bin depending on your child and their preferences.

Suggestions for the “base” of the sensory bin:
Various dried beans
Assorted dry pasta

Suggestion for fall themed sensory bin:
Popcorn kernels
Leaves / Artificial Leaves
Small pinecones
Miniature pumpkins / Artificial pumpkins

Suggestions for items to mix in (the possibilities are truly endless!):
Small plastic animals/bugs/figurines
Magnetic letters
Pom Poms

How to encourage fine motor development with a sensory bin:
In order to provide an additional challenge to the sensory bin, include a fine motor utensil (tweezers, tongs, chop sticks, measuring cups, spoons, magnet wands, etc) and encourage child to pick up items from the bin using the fine motor utensil or use measuring cups/spoons to scoop items into other containers without spilling. This is a great, fun way to work on feeding skills indirectly as well!

How to encourage speech development with a sensory bin:
Encourage children to name items when they retrieve them from the bin. You can focus on different colors, letters, shapes, etc. and have children name them when they are retrieved. You can also count items from the bin and talk about “in” and “out” when scooping/removing items from and back to the bin. Children can also talk about how the items feel (soft, rough, etc.) when touching different textures.

So, gather some great fall items and have fun!

Posted in Fine Motor Skills, Holidays, Sensory Processing, Speech and Language Skills Tagged with: , ,

Sensory Slime


Posted in Fun Activities, Play is Important, Playtime Connections, Sensory Processing, Uncategorized Tagged with:

Halloween Fun for Everyone


By: Mallory Bruce, MS, CCC-SLP & Jennifer Henderson, OTR/L

Halloween is upon us and all the excitement that comes with the fall season! Some families go “all out” and have costumes ready by October 1st! However, for some children, this tradition can be more daunting because of the many unknowns and inconsistencies that accompany a night like Halloween. “Trunk-or-treats”, fall festivals, and Trick-or-Treating can be very overwhelming for some children with speech and language disorders, feeding difficulties, and/or sensory deficits. Halloween can be an over-stimulating evening to a child’s senses. Keeping that in mind, here are some tips on how to make this evening fun for your child.

Visual: There are many different ways you can help things to not be overly stimulating visually.

  • For Decorations: Many sights accompany the idea of Halloween – some good, some funny, and some scary. Make your area (porch, trunk, festival booth) inviting! Incorporate colors such as orange, yellow, and purple as opposed to black and brown to cultivate a welcoming, fun atmosphere. Refrain from strobe lights and lasers as this could be very frightening for children.
  • For Costumes: Prepare your child for costumes and masks by talking about the concept of dressing-up. Explain that their friend Johnny is the same person whether he’s wearing a costume or not. Costumes and masks are great fun, but eye contact is a very important part of communication for children with speech or language disorders. Keeping your face visible allows children to participate in communication using effective eye contact.
  • For Food: Sometimes reaching into a large bowl to choose 1 piece of candy can be intimidating and overwhelming. Have some pre-made treat bags available, or offer items besides food such as small toys or stickers.

Hearing: When participating in fall festivals or Trunk-or-Treats, the atmosphere can be very loud and somewhat chaotic. It is important to remember to be patient with these children as they adjust to their surroundings and say “trick or treat!” Saying “trick or treat” may not be as easy for some children as it is for everyone else. Give children ample time to greet you with a “trick or treat” and reassure them with a pleasant, patient countenance.

Taste:  More and more in today’s society, children are susceptible to food allergies and food sensitivities. It is very important that we be sensitive to this matter and provide alternatives. The Teal Pumpkin Project is one way to alert others that you provide non-food treats for children with food allergies.  Simply paint a pumpkin a teal color and place it on your porch – this will let everyone know you provide non-food treats.

Touch: Some of you may be thinking, “What else can I give out on Halloween besides candy?” Some ideas for non-food treats include things such as glow sticks, bouncy balls, and rubber pop toys. These items are toys that the child can play with at home. Other beneficial toys would be bubbles and whistles that promote oral-motor coordination. Ideas could also include erasers and pencils that the child can use at school. All of these items can be found at a local dollar store or on party supply websites.

Practice: Some children may need to practice wearing their costume and practice the routine of what to do and what to say before the big night.  Talk with your neighbors and see if you can set-up a pre-Halloween Trick-or-Treating time.  Or, find community events such as the Pumpkin Party  at Brightsong, to practice wearing the costume, being around others in costumes and Trick-or-Treating. If your child needs help with the sequence of events, print off this visual sequence strip for them to use:


Our goal is for each child to feel a part of this fun night. By taking an extra step in preparation and thinking “outside the box,” this allows families the opportunity to participate in every way.

Happy Halloween!

Posted in Developmental Activities, Fun Activities, Holidays, Sensory Processing, Visual Boards Tagged with: , ,

5 Activities to Teach Your Child to Identify and Name Animals


By: Hillary Ross, MS, CF-SLP Speech Language Pathologist

Animals and animal sounds are fun to review while visiting the zoo, reading books, creating crafts, and singing songs. Here are 5 fun ideas on how to teach your child to identify and name animals using materials at home and in the community:

  1. Animal flash cards: While looking at animal flash cards at home, identify and name specific animals and their sounds. Flash cards including various textures on the pictures are a fun way to learn too! While looking at the flash cards ask your child various questions such as “what is it?” “what sound does it make?” “is it big or small?” to help keep your child engaged. If your child is unsure about what the animal is parents should name the specific animal to encourage imitation for example, “This is a cow. A cow says mooo.”
  2. A trip to the zoo: A trip to the zoo is a fun and easy way to help your child identify and name animals! Interacting and viewing the animals will give them a new perspective. While visiting the exhibit have your child label the animals, talk about their habitat, and the noises that they are making.
  3. Make animal crafts with your children: Creating animal crafts is fun for all ages. While creating crafts, parents can discuss the animals body parts, color, size, and texture of their fur or scaly skin. This is an activity to help your child get involved and a fun way to learn about animals. Craft ideas for all ages can be found on the Pinterest website.
  4. Animal books and puzzles: Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? is a great book for young children to help identify and name animals. The book includes great pictures that your child will enjoy. Another way to help your child name animals is by using animal puzzles that can be found at any local store. Have your child name the animal by asking “what is it?” or take out the animal pieces and ask “where is the pig?” and have them place in the correct animal piece.
  5. Animal songs: If your child loves music singing ‘Old MacDonald’ is an interactive way to help your child learn details of animals. While listening to the songs have your child produce the animal sounds. Also, using pictures of the animals as a visual will help increase learning.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Brightsong, LLC does not receive a commission on any of the products reviewed or listed. The Brightsong team only recommends products or services we personally use and believe will add value to the families we work with. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Developmental Activities, Fun Activities, Speech and Language Skills Tagged with: , , ,

Interactive Story: Leaves, Leaves by Salina Yoon

leavesBy: Brittany Jefferson, Brightsong Intern & Liz McMahon, MA, CCC-SLP

Give a shout!  Give a cheer!  We’re so happy that fall is here!  Fall is a great season for enjoying some beautiful weather, holidays, pumpkin patches, football and so much more.  Leaves, Leaves! by Salina Yoon is a great book to celebrate the fall season and here are some fun activities associated with the book:

  • Identifying Colors. Focus on the fall colors (green, orange, red, yellow and brown). You and your child can gather different colored leaves and encourage your child to identify the colors. Put several colors on the ground and encourage your child to “get red, get green, etc.” How many can they identify consistently?
  • Writing About Fall. Younger children can work on “prewriting skills” by coloring a fall picture, tracing letters, making horizontal and vertical marks, and writing targeted shapes or letters.  For older children, you can work on handwriting using writing prompts associated with the fall season and holidays.  Encourage them to write a story about a pumpkin, or make a special Halloween card for their grandparents.  These all encourage fine motor and handwriting skills.
  • Action Verbs. Verbs are important for children to learn. Parents can make learning verbs fun by gathering leaves and having their kids practice different action words through the pile. For example, parents can tell their child to “jump, run, stomp, or roll” through the leaves. Parents can also ask what their child is doing and encourage them to answer using action verbs (e.g. jumping, running, etc).
  • Hand-Eye Coordination. A great way to practice scissor skills is by cutting out different shapes. Parents can trace pumpkin, leaf or tree shapes on construction paper and encourage their child to cut out the shapes. How well do they do cutting a round shape like a pumpkin vs. a straight shape like a tree trunk?
  • Vocabulary. There are a lot of vocabulary words associated with fall. Focus on some of these words during play activities with your child:fall

There are so many fun activities for you and your child to enjoy this fall.  So, put on some warm clothes, head outside and have some fun!  Happy Fall!

Posted in Books, Fun Activities, Playtime Connections Tagged with: , , ,

Interactive Story: Color Farm by Lois Ehlert

Color Farm by Lois Ehlert

Blog By: Brittany Jefferson, Brightsong Intern & Liz McMahon, MA, CCC-SLP

September is National Read to a Child Month.  Reading to children has a big impact on a child’s life. Not only are you building and sharing positive relationships between you and the child, but also with books and learning.  Books show children another world.  They encourage imagination and creativity.  Books inspire us and help us learn at the same time. One of our favorite books at Brightsong is Color Farm by Lois Ehlert.  With simple shapes and bright colors, Color Farm encourages children to look at things in a different way. With a little manipulation of shapes, you can turn a dog into a goose or a cat into a cow.  Here are a few fun ways to incorporate learning activities with this book:

Identifying Pictures

To help work on receptive language and visual skills, parents can point to each picture and ask, “What does this look like?” You can give options and see what they say.  For example, “Does it look like a horse or a pig?”

Identifying Colors

Identifying colors is an important skill for children to learn. While reading the book, say, “I see something red” and see if your child can point to the correct color. You can also find other objects that are the same color and play a game like I Spy while looking around the room.

Imitating Animal Sounds

While talking about each animal, encourage your child to make the targeted animal sound. Ask questions and see if your child can remember what each animal sounds like. Imitating animal sounds is a great way to work on a variety of consonant and vowel combinations such as “moo, baa, quack, etc.”

Make Your Own Shape Animals

Cut out some colored shapes and encourage your child to make animals using the pattern blocks. This activity works on cognitive, fine motor, visual and spatial recognition, math and problem solving skills. Encourage your child to get creative using the different shapes and colors.

Identify Shapes and Counting

This book is a great way to work on identifying colors and shapes. After talking about the shapes in the book, find other objects around the house that are similar in shape.  Another skill to encourage is to work on counting the shapes. How many squares do you see?  How many circles?

Color Farm is a great book and targets a variety of skills. We hope you and your child enjoy it as much as we do!  Happy Reading!

Posted in Books Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Encouraging Language Skills at the Beach

Beach (1)

By:  Mallory Bruce, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Summertime is officially here! The sun is out and the temperature is up! One place that is a popular vacation spot for summer is the beach. Many families visit this famous spot for multiple days to enjoy relaxation and sunshine. Not only is the beach great for relaxation, but many language activities can be used while playing in the sand or in the ocean waves. Here are some ideas for your family:

1.) Identifying functions – “What do we do with that?” “Why do we need this?”

Many families not only have children to carry down to the beach, but there are also practical things that must be taken to enjoy a day in the sun. Equipment such as umbrellas, sunscreen, beach towels, sand toys, and coolers are just a few essentials for a successful day at the beach. Ask your children simple “WH” questions to introduce the function and purpose of seasonal items while you’re packing them such as beach umbrellas, coolers, and sand toys. You can also expand on their knowledge of these items and explain the parallel between these items and everyday items.  For example, a beach umbrella vs. a regular umbrella, a sand shovel vs. a garden shovel, etc.

2.) Following Directions and Introducing Sequences – “First, Second”; “First, Then”

A favorite pastime on the beach is building sand castles. This is a great activity for young children who are working on following directions as well as older children who are working on learning sequences. For younger children, provide 1-2 step simple directions for children to build a sand castle. Instructions could include steps like “Go to the ocean and fill your bucket” or “Come back and pour it here.” Parents may structure this activity to be as simple or as complex as needed. For older children, sequences can also be targeted while giving directions. Discuss what was done first, second, etc. Having the correct sequence is very important when building a sturdy sand castle!

3.) Hide and Seek – Identifying and Describing Items

This could be a great activity for first time visitors to the beach. Some children are hesitant to interact with the sand and different elements that the beach provides. Have one adult bury items in the sand and encourage your child to find them. This activity is a way to get your child involved with the sand and provides immediate rewards when they find the hidden items. They can also name items that they have found and answer basic “WH” questions if desired.

4.) Involve All Senses – What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel?

At the beach, many new things are introduced that involve all of our senses such as hearing the rolling of the waves, smelling salt in the air, feeling the sand between our toes and even tasting the salt from the ocean water. Simply asking your child what they hear or smell provides an opportunity for them to make inferences and predictions from input they receive from all of their senses. This also gives parents an opportunity to introduce new vocabulary.

Beach Vocabulary:
palm tree

Enjoy your next beach vacation and have fun encouraging your child’s speech and language skills!

Posted in Fun Activities, Speech and Language Skills Tagged with: , ,
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