Let’s Get Vertical

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Parents are always asking me what they can do at home to help support their kids and the work that we are doing in therapy. I try not to ask too much of parents because one thing I know as both a parent and a therapist is that kids give parents the hardest time about doing “work”. It’s not uncommon from me to hear from parents that they have tried all of the tricks to get their kids to do the homework I have given them and they just flat out refuse. So when parents ask me things they can do at home, I try my hardest to make sure that the suggestions and activities I provide are manageable and fun. One of the easiest and effective things parents can do at home to help support their children’s occupational therapy goals is to work on a vertical surface. Most people think of an easel or a chalkboard when they think of a vertical surface but there are a lot of ways this can be done.

Working on a vertical surface seems simple but the benefits of doing it are endless. Some of the developmental skills that can be developed while working on a vertical surface are:
*increases upper extremity strength
*improves shoulder and forearm stability*encourages wrist extension which helps to encourage a better grasp on writing instruments
*encourages bilateral coordination skills
*works on improving crossing midline *helps with visual focus and attention by putting a child’s gaze closer to the activity
*helps with developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills
*you can work on increasing trunk control and strength, you can have a child stand on a Bosu ball or sit on a therapy ball while working on the vertical surface

Below, I am going to share different types of vertical surfaces and activities you can do on each of them. Since I work in New York City, I try and keep in mind that space is sometimes an issue and getting an easel is not always possible. Thankfully, there are so many vertical surfaces at home that can be used without taking up any space.

 Easel-there are so many easels to choose from these days and if you have the luxury of space, I can’t recommend the ones with different options like a chalkboard, dry-erase board, roll of paper on top to paint and draw, etc. enough. There are all the obvious activities you can do on an easel such as painting and drawing, but there are so many other great activities you can do such as:
*create long and windy mazes so kids can work on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, work on improving visual tracking and visual attention
*tape pieces of ribbon to the top of the easel and have them string beads onto them. For an added challenge, put up a few different colored ribbons and give them a bowl full of multi-color beads that they have to match to the correct ribbon
*get a large Lego Baseplate that can be put on the easel (a lot of the multipurpose easels have a large clip on the top that you can attach it to). Kids can practice making shapes, letters, numbers or different patterns and sequences using Legos while at the same time are working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and a variety of visual motor and visual perceptual skills


Refrigerator Door-this is a vertical surface that everyone has (whether or not it is magnetic is another story)when my daughter was little and I needed to keep her busy while I was in the kitchen, I always made sure to have fun magnetic sets we could rotate through. This could keep her entertained for a long period of time and she was working on improving her fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills. If you don’t have a refrigerator that is magnetic, you can always get this magnetic contact paper that you can put somewhere in your kitchen or on a closet door that will serve the same purpose. Here are some magnetic sets, sticker sets and activities you can have on hand to encourage your child to work on a vertical surface:*LeapFrog Phonics Fridge Magnetic Set-great for working on learning letters and their sounds while also working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills. Put the letters on the bottom of the fridge and the base higher up so your kids can also working on improving overall body strength and motor planning.*Magnetic Gears Toy-if you have a little science loving kiddo, this is a great and affordable set that will keep them busy while also working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, works on motor planning and organizational skills and encourages bilateral coordination. The set comes with 5 colorful and interactive gear magnets that your child can mix and match if they connect them just right, they will all interact with each other.*Melissa and Doug Magnetic Jigsaw Puzzles-for your puzzle loving kids, these take-along puzzle sets are great for working on the vertical on your fridge. Each set comes with 2 15-piece interlocking puzzles and are not only great for traveling, but perfect for working on the vertical on your fridge. Place all of the pieces on the closer to the bottom of the fridge (or freezer) and encourage your kids to squat down to pick out a piece and then stand up and put the puzzle together up at standing level.*Melissa and Doug Puffy Sticker Sets-there are so many puffy sticker sets to choose from from animals, Paw Patrol and Princess dress-up. There are so many reusable stickers out there but these are such great quality and can stick to a variety of surfaces, including a fridge. Stickers of any form are great for working on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, encourage bilateral coordination and also encourage creativity and imagination skills.

Bathtub or Shower Wall-bath time can be tremendously meaningful and sneakily therapeutic for kids! First of all, bathing is child is a great way to help calm and regulate a child before bedtime. While not always possible, I encourage parents to not let their children have screen time after they are bathed because it can cause them to become hyper making bedtime more challenging. It’s also a great time to work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, can improve visual motor and perceptual skills, encourage bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination all while being able to work on a vertical surface which we have already discussed works on so many developmental skills. Here are some bath-time toys that can be used on the bathtub or shower wall:
*Foam Bathtub Letters and Numbers-I love this adorable set of foam letters and numbers for bath time because they are not only adorable, they are machine washable. I remember when my daughter was little we would have to replace our bath toys because they could get moldy and smelly so easily. The other thing I love about this set is that each letter has a picture of an object that starts so kids can work on learning letter sounds at the same time.
*Bath Crayons-encourage creativity and imagination skills while working on improving drawing and other graphomotor skills. This set of 7 brightly colored crayons are designed for those little hands. Kids can doodle, practice writing letters, numbers and shapes while in the bath. The drawings wipe off easily with warm water and the crayons come in a container with holes in the bottom so the water can drain out.
*Timber Tots Bathtub Bay-bath time is also a great time to work on developing play and language skills and this adorable bathtub toy does that and so much more. There are suction cups on the back of the toy so it can easily attach to the bathtub/shower wall. There are doors to open, slides to put the animals down, a boat that acts as a water scoop so it’s great for working on fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, works on improving hand-eye coordination and motor planning and organizational skills.
*Foam Soap-there are so many benefits of shaving cream and kid-friendly foam soaps, especially if you have a kid who has sensory issues. Not only can you use it for cleaning, you can spray some on the bathtub wall and do some sensory exploration. I tell parents to practice drawing shapes, writing letters and numbers or have them doodle while sitting in the bathtub. If you have a child who is sensitive to the feeling of the shaving cream, give them a paintbrush to use until they are comfortable using their fingers.

Window, Mirrors or Glass Door-as I have already mentioned, there are so many other ways to have your kids work on a vertical surface if you don’t have space for an easel. One of the most simple solutions is to use a standing or wall mirror, a window or a glass door if you have one. There are so many fun things that can be done on this surface and kids won’t even know that they are working on improving grasping and manipulation skills, increasing upper extremity strength and shoulder stability and improving hand eye and bilateral coordination skills.  Here are some of my favorite toys/activities that can be done using a window or mirror:
*Squigz-these are easily one of my favorite toys and can be used in so many ways. These suction cup toys stick to many surfaces including any mirror or window and work on so many skills including improving grasp strength and manipulation skills. It also encourages kids to use both hands at the same time. There are a lot of different things you can do with Squigz. One thing you can do is draw a bunch of targets on the mirror or window using a window crayon or maker, drop a bunch of them in a pile on the floor and have kids pick them up and put them in the targets. This is also a great way to work on squatting and improving trunk control and strength.
-there are so many different kinds of suction cup toys out there including alphabet and numbers, animals, bugs and make believe creatures. Find what will motivate your child the most.
*Window Markers or Crayons-I have gotten some pretty resistant kids to draw or practice writing letters and numbers by letting them use window markers or crayons on our mirrors at the office. There is something about it that makes it exciting for kids and they have no idea that it’s helping them get stronger and encouraging a proper grasp on a writing instrument.
*Spirograph Window Designer-this is a fun activity for your older and more creative kids.  They hold the device up to a window and use the provided wet erase markers to make amazing designs using different stencils and templates provided in the kit. Just like the original Spirograph, the spinning wheel will help to create a really cool design on the window or mirror. This requires a lot of patience and decent upper body strength so make sure if you are getting this for someone, they have the necessary skills to be successful with this activity.
*StretchTube Suction Cup Toys-another favorite of mine and the kids at work. Poptube toys are a staple for most occupational therapists because they are super verstatile and work on a ton of goals. Over the years, they have become more fun and now some of them even have suction cups on them making them perfect for using on a window or mirror. In addition to working on a vertical surface, these are great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, encourages bilateral coordination and works on improving organizational and motor planning skills.

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