Yet another way of empowering parents, caregivers and teachers.

Let’s be honest, as it gets darker and colder, no one really wants to take young children to the park. It’s always been remarkable to me that children don’t seem to feel the frigid temperatures in the same way adults do. From an educators’ standpoint, gross motor work at a park or playground is important for all children and can be incredibly helpful for children with special needs. Having said that, anyone who spends time with young children knows that running around is essential!

I could go into a long explanation of the value of outdoor play, but instead I will share with you Educators Secret #147: Grabber Hand Warmers. (Ok, truth be told, I picked that number indiscriminately, but the item is still fantastic!) Cracking one of these little gems and keeping it in your pocket will keep you toasty while your children run like lunatics. I buy the packs of 10 pairs. If you want to make them really economical, use 1 instead of 2 and pass them from one pocket to the other. While the link brings you to, I recently purchased them at an even lower price at TJMaxx.

Note: Stay tuned for Part 2: Gross motor activities to do indoors, when even hand warmers can’t help!

What’s Educare? Find out this Weekend (for free)!


On Saturday, August 20th, Beyond Teaching and Mommy’s Links will be holding the first Educare Fair, sponsored by Jones New York.

Beyond Teaching, which connects parents seeking qualified individuals to tutor or provide after-school/weekend care for their children, began using the term educare to describe the work that teachers do when they provide childcare services.  Educare is care from qualified, skilled professionals – teachers – to give the best ongoing learning in every situation, developed as a means of describing.  It takes “babysitting” to a new level, and takes into account a teacher’s unique ability to engage children at all levels.

Next Saturday, Beyond Teaching and Mommy’s Links are teaming up to connect parents and teachers in person via a speed-networking event.  The goal is for parents to find teachers who can meet their family’s tutoring/childcare needs for the upcoming school year, and for teachers, who come from public, private and charter schools, to build a network of local parents who can provide them with work opportunities outside of school.  In addition to this big take-away, guests will get a free gift bag filled with goodies from our sponsors as well as an opportunity to win exciting prizes.

Join us Saturday, August 20th, in the ballroom at the Hostel International (891 Amsterdam Avenue, Corner of 104th) in New York City from Noon – 3pm!

Educare Fair Schedule

I recently came across an incredibly supportive group for parents of children with sensory processing disorder.   On the website, The SPD Blogger Network explains its purpose:

“This group blog is designed for those writting – or those who want to write – about raising a child with Sensory Processing Disorder or sensory issues (that often are comorbid to other diagnoses like Autism, Aspergers, PDD-NOS, Bipolar, ADHD, ADD, Cerebral Palsy, OCD, NVLD, CAPD, Apraxia of Speech, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Anxiety, Gifted and many others). This is a place to share stories. All of our stories. Share your potty training nightmares, sleeping challenges, new friends, occupational therapy success, picky picky eating (or none at all), social skills challenges, meltdowns at the grocery store, first words (even if your child is 3!), sensory diet victories and the every day chaos (and joy) that is raising a child with Sensory Processing Disorder. Here is a place for you to write it all down. Join us!”

After reading many of the inspiring and helpful posts I contacted the founder, Hartley Steiner, to find out more about the origins of the site.  Hartley has an incredible story that is worth reading.  The site also gives you the option of signing up for their monthly newsletter, for which I recently wrote an article.  Children with sensory processing disorder (and related issues) frequently have social challenges as well.   My article discusses the top 3 social skills (and activities to support them) children should  work on before entering mainstream kindergarten.  As I was writing, I noted that these were skills I hoped all children would have by the time they were beginning kindergarten.  So whether you are the parent of a child with special needs or a typically developing child, take a look.  To read the article go to and sign up for their newsletter.

Where to start? Where to start? One needn’t looking any further than the first photograph in Kate Zernike’s recent New York Times article, “Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten.” The poor munchkin in that picture looks so overwhelmed. And why shouldn’t she be? Developmentally, her mind and body are not ready for this work. I’m all for enrichment and supporting children’s growth, but we should be following the child’s lead, the topics that attract them and their developmental capabilities. A proficient educator can teach any number of skills through a variety of topics that originate with the children. Reading this article, I thought longingly of the days when after-school and summer activities were simply playing with friends and exploring the world.

As an educator, I encourage all parents to reflect on their children, run with their interests and expose them to a variety of experiences. In this way children build skills and self-esteem. Expecting toddlers and preschoolers to sit for long periods of time and do homework is developmentally inappropriate and has the potential to be emotionally and psychologically damaging. This article made me feel sad for the child, the parents, and our world. I’m not naive. I understand the pressure and the reality. Maybe it’s time we start pressuring parents and caregivers to let kids be kids. They’ll have plenty of time for drill and kill.


For most children, farm animals are a standard toy chest item.  Two of my favorites are Soft Touch Baby Farm Animals and Aurora My Barnyard Friends Carrier with Sounds.  For a barn and animal set, the Fisher Price Little People Animal Sounds Farm is a favorite!  The problem is, one can only play with animals on the farm for so long.  Today’s “Plan to Play,” shakes up the routine.  As children are learning animals and animal sounds and expanding their dramatic play skills, why not give the animals a ride on a bus or in a car.  This is a great game for children with special needs who play repetitively with the same materials in the same way.

What You’ll Need:

-Farm animals

-Car, bus, or other vehicle with room for the animals

The Plan:

Children who have not yet played with animals on the farm should be supported as they explore that scenario first.  Those who are familiar with the animals that live on the farm can begin this “plan to play” by investigating the animals.  Remember that children should be encouraged to lead the play whenever possible, but modeling new ways to play with familiar materials expands your children’s creativity and skills.  You might start by saying to your child “I wonder what would happen if the animals left the farm.  Do you think they could go for a ride on the bus/in the car/on the train?”  Many children will take the lead at this point and respond both verbally and by manipulating the animals to reflect your suggestions.  For children who don’t, you could follow up with “My horse is going to have a turn riding the bus.”  To the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus” try singing:  The horse on the bus says neigh, neigh, neigh.  Neigh, neigh, neigh.  Neigh, neigh, neigh.  The horse on the bus says neigh, neigh, neigh.  Al through the town.  Continue this with the other animals and see what your child does.  Math and problem solving skills can be incorporated by asking your child how many animals he or she thinks might fit in the vehicle.  Have fun with it!  Let other figurines take their turns as well.  Young children will understand and enjoy the humor in animals going for rides in vehicles meant for people. 

(Note: You can extend this play with children 3 and older by asking where the animals might be going and what they are going to do there.)

Recently, more and more early childhood programs have opened their doors to children with a variety of needs.  These integrated and inclusive communities are wonderful places for all children to learn and are fantastic in a multitude of other ways.  The law says that children with special needs must be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  Very often, that environment is a general education classroom, or a program or class for typically developing children.  Typically developing children serve as wonderful models for children with special needs.  Children with special needs teach typically developing children about diversity and bring a wealth of skills and education that they also model in the classroom.  I could write more about why and how the best inclusive classrooms work, but that’s not why I am writing this post. 

The truth of the matter is that more often than not, children in early childhood programs don’t recognize their peers as being different.  In fact, while we frequently discuss the things that make us each unique, we generally don’t bring up “special needs” unless a student asks.  That is one of the joys of young children.  To them, the child with special needs is simply another friend.  The title of this post “Why does he have that?” is something I do hear occasionally from children.  I’ll hear the statement while brushing a child, if they are sitting in a chair at meeting time to help contain their body, or if they are mouthing a chewy tube for oral input.  The best part is that the typically developing child is not asking because they see that child as different, instead they are asking because they want one too!  That’s an important message.  Certainly chewy tubes can not be shared, but I will brush a typically developing child if they are curious about it. 

When children ask about an item that a child with special needs is using, I consistently respond (in a neutral, matter-of-fact tone) with “Everyone gets what they need and everyone needs something different.”  If a typically developing child wants a chair because a child with special needs is using one, I will repeat that statement and add “is that what your body needs right now?”  If they say “yes,” they may have a chair.  In this way, all children are learning to tune in to and manage their bodies and are developing the ability to evaluate and ask for what they need.  This phrase can be used during school, at afterschool classes, the park, and other times when your child with special needs is using an assistive device (for example: a PECS communication book, wheelchair, deep pressure vest, hand fidget).  It can also be helpful when your typically developing young child asks about one of these items. 

The anxiety associated with talking about special needs is usually reserved for adults.  Children consider the things they are “used to,” to be the norm.  They read your cues.  If “everyone gets what they need and everyone needs something different” is presented as a fact, children will believe it.  Let’s take a page from the young child’s handbook and simply accept the people around us for who they are.  Set the example.  If we can, the world will be a better place for us all.

(Note: As children get older or are interacting with individuals who have more severe challenges, they may have additional questions.  Keep an eye out for a post with resources to support this discussion.  Conversation is also incredibly important for the siblings of children with special needs so that they have an understanding of their brother and sister.  This will also be a topic in a separate post.)

I thought about naming this post “big work for little hands” but decided to go with the title you see above.  That being said, my discarded title brings up an important point.  I believe strongly that typically developing children accomplish tasks when they are ready.  Developmentally, not all little hands are ready for big work.  The activities and materials below will help prepare your child’s hands and fingers for writing and other fine motor skills by strengthening muscles, developing dexterity, and exposing children to fine motor experiences.

1. Play dough and Theraputty- Whether you buy play dough or make your own, squeezing, rolling, pinching and cutting are great activities for hand strength.  To add another challenge, Theraputty is like play dough with extra resistance.  The product comes in multiple colors where each color is a different level of resistance.  For children with special needs, Theraputty’s texture is more like silly putty than play dough which can be helpful, in addition to the numerous hand strengthening activities to which it lends itself.  Let your child pull, squeeze, and roll to their hearts desire.  Hiding small items in both play dough and Theraputty is fun and another fine motor skill builder. 

2. Broken, Triangle, or Finger crayons- Broken crayons naturally put children’s hands into the tripod grip they will eventually use for writing and more advanced drawing.  (Note: Some children will use modified grips, which are appropriate as well.)  Triangle crayons also lend themselves to proper finger placement, while finger crayons strengthen the whole hand when place in the palm.  Repeated use of crayons will help children feel more proficient in creating marks, letters, etc. and will naturally strengthen fine motor muscles.

3. Hole and Paper Punches-Both products are great for working on hand and finger strength, dexterity and using a helper hand to manipulate paper while the other hand presses the punch.   I find it helpful to cut a regular 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper into four pieces.  You can give children glue and extra paper and have them make collages.  For younger children, tape contact paper sticky side up to a table and let them place the pieces on top.  Plus, children love having these items for craft and other projects.

4. Zoo Sticks and Chopsticks-You can buy official Zoo Sticks or go to your closest Asian restaurant and ask them to set up chopsticks for a child (they’ll do this with the paper wrapper and a rubber band).  Chopsticks can be used for eating, sorting materials (cotton balls, small animal figures, beans, etc), searching for hidden items in sand and much more.  Both Zoo Sticks and chopsticks can improve hand and finger strength, hand-eye coordination, and add intrigue to a meal for even the pickiest eater.

5. Windup toys and Mini Squeeze Rocket- Two great games for working on finger and hand strength.  Wind-up toys are a delight to young children.  They take some getting used to and children may ask for help initially, but with some practice they’ll be able to get them going and will really “fine-tune” their fingers.  The Mini Squeeze Rocket is another game that will have children squealing with delight.  What they may not realize is that the squeeze motion is strengthening their arms and hands while they play.

The challenge of this list was that it could go on and on!  There are so many ways to support your young child’s fine motor development.  Stay tuned for 5 more!


The Stomp Rocket Ultra and Stomp Rocket Junior are some of my favorite activities to use with children.  While they recommend you use these toys outside, with a few precautions (moving breakable items), I think the Stomp Rocket Junior can be a perfect activity for working on gross motor development while inside.  It’s a great way for ALL children to use those “big” muscles while inside on a rainy or snowy day. 

Children with low muscle tone are easily enticed by this toy and can work on jumping with two feet, landing on a target, as well as other developmental goals.  Children with special needs can also use the Stomp Rocket Junior to enhance their visual-tracking skills.  Both Stomp Rockets attract all children which can be a helpful aid for children working on social skills.  Every child using the Stomp Rocket will improve their understanding of cause and effect and most importantly, it’s fun!

Have a bubble lover in the house?  Pustefix Bubble Bear is a great product for children of all ages and abilities.   For babies, blow the bubbles so that they can track  with their eyes and reach out with their hands.  Toddlers love running to catch bubbles with different parts of their body.  As toddlers become 2s and 3s, most have mouth and lip muscles that are strong enough to blow bubbles on their own.  The Bubble Bear is wonderful because as your child gently squeezes its belly, the wand slides up for bubble blowing.  The extra bubble juice goes back in!   Full disclosure, this is not a no-spill bubble solution.  If your child tips the bear or squeezes too hard the bubbles will spill over the top.  Bubble Bear encourages the understanding of cause and effect, hand/finger strength, and oral-motor skills.  Have fun!

Learning to problem solve begins at a very young age, and is a lifelong skill that helps us as we make our way through the world. 

Infants learn to problem solve as they track a toy with their eyes and slowly begin to reach out to grasp it.  Babies problem solve when they have a toy in each hand but there is a 3rd one on the floor that they would like to hold as well.  Toddlers are learning to problem solve when they take a toy from another child and realize that when they give that other child something else to hold, the child may not scream.  As toddlers become 2 year olds and their language abilities improve, parents and caregivers can ask “what should we do?”  The caregiver can then model solutions.  This works for everything from learning how to stack tall towers to supporting children’s ability to have their needs met by using simple words rather than crying or screaming.

Older 2 year olds begin to play together rather than side by side and offer items to friends, often in the hopes that the other child will give them something as well.  When they say “my turn,” or as their language develops, “Can I have a turn when you’re done,” they are problem solving.  Problem solving is also often seen when two year olds find a bottle or pacifier to give to a crying baby.  At this age, caregivers can help children hone their problem solving skills by again asking “what should we do” and then waiting for the child to come up with an idea.  If the child is having difficulty, try suggesting a few possibilities.

The big change comes when children are about 3.5 years old (some slightly older, some slightly younger).  Many children have been problem solving with the support of an adult and can now take over some of the responsibilities.  For parents and caregivers it is time to take a step back and when a child looks to you to save the day, simply say “what can you do?”   Or, “How can we solve this problem?”  Leave the rest to them.  Problem solving comes up when children are playing with peers, and can also be useful when a child is unhappy or concerned about something.  At these times you might say “what can we do to make you feel better?”   The more opportunities children have to problem solve, the better they will be at it.

Being able to problem solve strengthens a child’s sense of self and reinforces their ability to make their needs known while taking into account the points of view of others.  Problem solving is important for children as individuals, in relationships with siblings and peers, and in the long run, with coworkers and spouses.  This is another opportunity to for parents and caregivers to be children’s first and best teachers.

Dana’s Kids.  Empowered Parents, Happy Families.