These tips are provided for the Melissa & Doug blog by Cindy Utzinger, pediatric Occupational Therapist.
When I picked my daughter up from preschool the other day, her teacher said something that perked my ears and got me thinking. I heard her teacher telling another mom that she had the kids outside blowing bubbles. What got my attention, though, was when she said that about one-third of the class didn’t know how to blow bubbles and had never done so before. When we were out of an ear shot of her teacher, I found myself leaning over to check with my daughter to make sure that she wasn’t part of that one-third (she’s my youngest so her life tends to be a blur to me!).
Now, obviously being a good bubble blower isn’t a prerequisite to being successful in life, however, the skills involved in blowing bubbles are important ones. Blowing bubbles is what is considered an “oral motor exercise”. So, while a person can live a full life without ever blowing bubbles, let me tell you why oral motor exercises are so important when it comes to child development:
- Oral motor input is important for self-calming and self-organization-Does your child chew on their shirt or tend to put anything they get their hands on in their mouths? What do you tend to reach for in the pantry or fridge when you are feeling tired or stressed out? My guess is that you grab for something crunchy like pretzels, chips, or nuts or something chewy like candy and not yogurt or a bowl of soup.
– Think about what else many of us do when stressed out….we bite our nails or pop a piece of gum in our mouths. Why are so many kids “shirt chewers”? Why do we eat what we eat when stressed or tired? Why do we bite our nails? We do this for the self-regulation that this biting and chewing gives us.
– Sucking, blowing, and chewing can help our children (and us) to calm down, focus and attend, and become more organized. This is because they get very strong sensory input (proprioceptive and tacile input) through using the strong muscles of their mouths when they do so.
- If you think about what infants do to self-regulate themselves (sucking on a pacifier or their fingers) you see that this need for oral motor input to help with self-calming and self-organization stems from infancy. By giving kids opportunities for oral motor activities, we are giving them the sensory input they often crave and the tools that they need for self-regulation.
- Oral motor input is important for the development of speech sounds and the ability to chew and swallow food successfully-Proper speech and feeding requires strong lips, cheeks, jaws, and tongues and requires oral muscles that can move the right way. How can we help our kids achieve this? We do this through giving our kids a great deal of opportunities to develop these muscles through oral motor activities.
Now, let me give you some great ideas on ways you can help your child get sensory input through using their mouth, and how they can develop the muscles and skills needed for proper speech and feeding:
- Straws- Try giving your kids a straw at every meal. Straws aren’t just for drinks though. They can also be used for eating applesauce, pudding, yogurt, etc. The thicker the better! I also love to do activities with straws such cotton ball races as using a straw to blow a cotton ball across the floor.
- Musical instruments- Recorders, harmonicas, kazoos, and whistles are great options. I know this can get a little loud, but think of it as an investment in your child’s future!
- Blowing bubbles- Melissa & Doug have some great toys to make this a lot of fun.
- Sprayza- My kids LOVE this!!! This activity makes strengthening oral motor skills so much fun with something beautiful to show for it at the end!
- Chewing sugar-free gum (if your child is old enough to do so, of course).
- Chewy and crunchy foods- Foods such as dried fruit snacks, raisins, bagels, granola bars, cheese chunks or sticks, Starbursts, pretzels, popcorn, apple slices, carrots, crackers, and dried cereal are great options.
So, get outside and enjoy the spring weather and have fun blowing bubbles with your children. They will have a ball and you can smile knowing you are doing something to help them developmentally!!
Cindy Utzinger is a pediatric Occupational Therapist, handwriting tutor, and founder of Building Write Foundations LLC. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and two young children (a son and a daughter). In her free time she can be found running through the streets of her neighborhood to get some exercise or enjoying time on the lake with family and friends. Through her website (www.cindyutzinger.com) she provides parents, teachers, and caregivers with information regarding the importance of building each and every child’s sensory foundation and provides ways to help build their sensory foundation and their foundation for learning. Through her website she also blogs and tackles issues dealing with handwriting problems, ADD/ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and diagnoses on the autism spectrum.