Courtney’s Corner: Holiday Shopping

As the holidays near, I always begin to panic. Not about putting up decorations or hosting a holiday meal, but about having an influx of gifts in the house, which ultimately create more clutter and often go unused. Each year, I try to take a step back and come up with a list of gifts that my children will both love and have an opportunity to learn from.

I turn first to “experience gifts,” gifts that cannot be wrapped. Memberships to the zoo, museums, dance classes, or local community centers all offer opportunities for physical activity paired with education. Gift certificates to bowling alleys, tennis clubs and swimming pools again encourage family outings, and build both memories and muscles.

As a mother, I do appreciate the importance of having fun things to unwrap as well. I love stuffing the stockings full of gifts that promote fine motor development: Wikki Stix, sidewalk chalk, beads to string and paint sets. For presents that take more paper to wrap, consider shopping for items that address gross motor development: scooter boards, golf clubs, balance beams, soccer ball and cones. Board games are always a great option for encouraging family bonding time while also working on fine and gross motor skills. Some examples include Hullabaloo, Twister, and Cranium.

Pooling funds is also an excellent idea for the holidays! Access to technology can be fun and educational, but often very expensive. Asking grandparents and other relatives for gift cards to Apple or Microsoft can allow your kids to purchase big ticket items (especially after the holidays when sales can make these items more affordable).

Many of the unique items I mentioned are available online. Check out these family favorites:

  • Zoom sliding ball
  • Bean bags
  • Connect the Dots
  • Books
  • Soccer goals
  • Sewing kit
  • Twister
  • Fishing poles
  • Wikki Stix
  • Maze books
  • Scooter boards
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Cranium Hullabaloo
  • Balance beam (easily made with a 2×4)
  • Bubbles (especially in a no spill container)
  • Soccer Cones (for building obstacle courses)

Happy holidays!

Courtney Dunn, PT, DPT

Fun Halloween-themed Therapy Activities and Apps

CSpider Webelebrate Halloween with more than just costumes, candy and trick-or-treating this year! There are many fun Halloween-themed activities you can do with your children to hone their gross motor, fine motor and visual motor skills which they may struggle with as a result of their NF1. Here are a few fun suggestions for activities and iPad apps to keep your children occupied this Halloween.

Pipe Cleaner Spider Webs
Materials: pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, duct tape and googly eyes (with sticker backs)
Skills Addressed: fine motor, visual motor, motor planning
Instructions: Place the popsicles in a cross pattern and tape them together to create the structure. Then wind the pipe cleaners around the popsicles in different patterns to form the web. Twist a couple of pipe cleaners together to form the spider, stick it into the pipe cleaner web and stick a couple of googly eyes on for a fun Halloween spider web, complete with spider!
Many thanks to Therapy Fun Zone for this great idea!

Ghost Walk

Ghost Walk
Materials: white copy paper, colored markers, scissors and tape
Skills Addressed: gross motor, fine motor, academic – shapes, colors and counting
Instructions: Trace each child’s foot on the white copy paper, and (depending on age) have your children cut out about 20 feet total using child-safe scissors. Decorate each foot “ghost” by drawing on black eyes and different colored/shaped mouths with markers. Then tape the ghosts to the floor in a large circle. Turn on your favorite spooky Halloween music (or anything you have on hand) and have your children walk around the circle stepping on each ghost as they go. Stop the music and:

  • Call out a specific mouth color/shape they have to locate and stand on.
  • Ask the children to call out the color and/or shape they are standing on.
  • Ask the children to do an activity on a specific colored/shaped ghost – “Go sit on the ghost with the purple triangle” or “hop with one foot on the ghost with the red circle”

Repeat the steps and try having them do different things each time the music stops!
Thank you Toddler Approved for this fun Halloween activity!

Halloween Eyeball Toss
Materials: Plastic pumpkin tub, ping pong balls and colored markers
Skills Addressed: gross motor, fine motor, visual motor, balance, coordination
Instructions: First, draw eyeballs on the ping pong balls. Then, set up the pumpkin in a safe area without any breakables.The children can try to toss or bounce the eyeballs into the pumpkin from different distances while sitting or standing. Increase the difficulty by having them stand on one foot while tossing the eyeball!
Thanks to Ramblings of a Crazy Woman for this fun and easy activity!

Halloween-themed Apps Toca Boo
Sago Mini Monsters: Children can create their own loveable monster, choosing from different features, colors and decorations. Once their monster is complete, they can feed them snacks, brush their teeth and take pictures to share with friends and family.
Toca Boo: In this fun app, children can help Bonnie sneak around her big old house in a ghost costume scaring her family as they are getting ready for bed.
Go Away, Big Green Monster!: This interactive book is a great read for children on Halloween. Children can read or sing along with the book’s narrator as they interact with the story and watch the monster react to their selections.
Thank you to MAC and Toys for these great Halloween app suggestions!

HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Therapy Activities for the 4th of July

Happy 4th of July from the Washington University NF Center!

Summer is here and it is time to celebrate! Get outside and enjoy Independence Day weekend as a family. While you’re at it, consider trying out these 4th of July themed therapy activities.

Occupational Therapy – Fine Motor Skill Development

“Fireworks” in a Jar

This science experiment will get your child thinking as well as practicing important finger skills. Fill a clear jar with water and 2 tbsp of oil. Then add a few drops of multiple colors of food coloring. Watch as the colors mix and separate just like fireworks!

What this activity works on: grasp, finger isolation, pre-writing skills

This activity can be found on

Physical Therapy – Gross Motor Skill Development

Build a Flag Relay Race

Have your child and his or her friends build a giant flag together out of materials from home. Here’s the catch, put the materials in different places around the yard and make up different rules for how to get to each item. Maybe they have to skip to get to the stripes. Maybe they need to frog jump to get to the stars. The possibilities are endless!

What this activity works on: coordination, motor control, balance, visual motor integration

This activity, and other great play-based therapy activities, can be found on the blog The Inspired Treehouse.

Speech Therapy – Language Skill Development

Watch Fireworks

Sounds simple, right? It is! Doing something as simple as watching fireworks together can be an excellent opportunity to work on language development. Have your child describe what he or she sees. What colors? What sizes? What shapes? Have little ones describe the sounds such as “boom” and “pop” to develop those tricky b and p sounds.

What this activity works on: articulation, language comprehension, expressive language

This activity, and other great speech therapy activities, can be found on the blog Chicago Speech Spot.

HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Therapy Activities for Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Washington University NF Center!

Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to remind those around you that you care. Try out one of these Valentine’s Day inspired therapy activities with your child and help him or her work on developing important skills!

Occupational Therapy – Fine Motor Skill Development

Fun with Conversation Hearts

Don’t know what to do with all the excess candy from school parties? Use conversation hearts in unique ways to work on fine motor skills! Have your child stack them in a tower and see how high they can go before the tower topples. Use a straw to suck up a heart and pass it to a friend. Pick up hearts with tweezers and see how fast you can fill up a glass.

What this activity works on: fine motor skills, grasp, motor control, visual motor

This activity, and other great play-based therapy activities, can be found on the blog The Inspired Treehouse.

Physical Therapy – Gross Motor Skill Development

Alphabet Yoga

Spell out Valentine’s Day words–like love, kiss, hug–with your bodies!

What this activity works on: balance, bilateral coordination, body awareness

Speech Therapy – Language Skill Development

Hearts a Plenty

Write words on paper hearts and hide them around the house. As children discover the hearts have them read out the words. If your child is working on making specific sounds, make sure to choose words that involve those sounds.

What this activity works on: articulation, vocabulary, expression

This activity, and other great speech therapy activities, can be found on the blog Speech Therapy Ideas.

Bravelets™ for Valentine’s Day

Consider giving someone you love a Bravelet for Valentine’s Day!

With each item purchased, $10 will be donated to the Washington University NF Center in support of the outstanding research and educational resources provided by the Washington University NF Center daily. To learn more, please visit our Bravelets™ Storefront.

Thank you! And remember to be brave.

HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Help Your Child Develop Skills Delayed in Children with NF1

Help your child start off the New Year right with a resolution to get active this year. The Washington University NF Center promotes play-based therapy for children with NF1, and it’s easy to integrate this philosophy into your everyday life.

Play-based therapy is all about using play to work on skills that are sometimes delayed in children with NF1. By having your child try out new activities like skating or painting you are actually giving your child the opportunity to work on developing important skills such as gross motor or fine motor skills.

new year 3To make your resolution:

  1. Have your child choose some new activities that he or she might be interested in trying
  2. Set a realistic schedule for your family to engage in these activities
  3. Have your child write his or her goals on colored paper so he or she remembers what to work toward
  4. Get active! Practicing is the best way to get good at something. Remember, it may take a child with NF1 longer to master some skills, like riding a bike, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Children learn at their own pace. Be supportive and remember to let your child take breaks if he or she is feeling frustrated.
  5. Celebrate victories. As your child achieves his or her goals, remember to celebrate and then take on new challenges!