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getting the garden ready is a great THERAPY THURSDAY activity!
Planting seeds for your garden or in your home is a great activity for your kiddos. It is wonderful for them to learn about how things grow, what we can do to help and how we get food to the table (did you know it doesn’t just magically appear at the grocery store?). For our kiddos that need a little extra help on developing their fine motor skills, it is a wonderful task. I have a 3 year old with Down Syndrome, we are working on developing his fine motor skills due to his low muscle tone and delayed coordination skills. I also have a 5 year old whose unit in preschool (4K) is nature, which goes great with what we are doing at home!
We completed this task about a month ago, but it’s never too late to plant seeds to get food for the summer or fall. We assembled our items: bowl of seed starter dirt, empty cardboard egg cartons, seed packets, scoops and a spray bottle. The cardboard egg cartons are cheap, easy to transplant and breaks down well in the garden. Once the seeds have sprouted and the threat of frost has passed we cut out up the carton with the seedling inside and plant the whole thing in the garden. The cardboard breaks down in the dirt and the seedling survives the transfer, usually. I also labeled the spaces with the seed that we intended to plant.
seed planting step one: stability & strength
D-Man (5 year old) and Big-C (3 year old) took turns scooping dirt one tablespoon at a time into the cartons openings. The scooping action is great for perfecting our utensil skills. To have accurate scooping your child has to have a stable shoulder and elbow joint for the hand and wrist to be able to move with accuracy. This repetitive scooping (they each scooped at least 12 times) from the bowl into the egg carton increases the strength of their shoulder & elbow to improve stability. If your child is bracing their arm against their body or is shaky and inaccurate with this step it may mean that he/she needs help with shoulder/elbow stability. This is also great to work on supination/pronation (that is turning your hand from a palm up to palm down position). Depending on how you arrange your containers they can work on crossing the midline of their body.
seed planting step two: pinching skills
D-Man and Big-C then took to dropping the seeds into the egg carton sections. Depending on the size of your seed you can work on a variety of fine motor skills here. If you are working with bean or squash seeds, these tend to be bigger, you can focus on accurate pincer grasp using only the thumb and the index finger. Place another large seed (or pom pom) under the middle, ring and pinkie fingers to try and get a more precise pincer grasp. If you are planting multiple large seeds you can work on a variety of in hand manipulation skills:
Translation: moving individual seeds from the palm of the hand to the fingertips
Translation with stabilization: moving an individual seed out of the palm of the hand to the fingertips, while leaving a few seeds behind in the palm
When using medium sized seeds, like for cilantro (coriander), D-Man was able to individually pinch with his index and thumb to place into the egg carton. Big-C’s fingers were not yet ready for that much prehension to individually pinch a small seed, but he was able to pinch 2-3 at a time and accurately place. With the tiny seed (parsley and basil) we did a pinch like you would if you were adding a pinch of salt to a dish.
seed planting step three: watering
We used a spray bottle (every pediatric OT has a spray bottle) for watering. This is a great tool that is inexpensive, kids love to use them and it makes very little mess (compared to a watering can!). The little seeds need water but to not be flooded and as they become seedlings they need a spritz every once in a while. This is the ongoing part of the activity and a chance for your 3 year old to have a chore they can do! The spray bottle works with shoulder and elbow stability, again. It also improves grip strength and separation of the sides of the hand.
Separation of the sides of the hand: a well developed hand is made up of two sides; radial (thumb and index) and ulnar (middle through pinkie fingers). The radial side is in charge of manipulation while the ulnar side is in charge of stabilization.
D-Man is using his left hand less than Big-C to stabilize the bottle because his right hand is able to provide some stability as well. Big-C’s fingers aren’t as long and his ulnar grasp not as strong, therefore needed to use his left hand for greater bottle stability. D-Man is also holding the bottle away from his body where Big-C is using his body to help with stabilizing the bottle. All of these differences add up to D-Man having more stable core and shoulders, which should be true he is two years older than his brother and lacks the low muscle tone his brother has.
In addition to the fine motor skills we were developing we also worked on judgement and grading of activity. How close or how far should you spray, how much should you spray, it the dirt wet/dry are all great conversations to have. This was a great chance for them to see what was just right.
This weekend we planted the seedlings that survived into the outside garden. We will be looking forward to caring for our new squash, beans, cilantro, parsley, and lemon balm. Check out our past Therapy Thursday posts for other helpful ideas, by following the link or category. I hope you are able to fit your therapy homework into your hectic life and enjoy the garden!