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Choosing toys that support healthy development

The American Academy of Pediatrics has put out a great position paper advising on the place of toys in a child’s life and what types of toys are best. This point is great:

Recognize that one of the most important purposes of play with toys, especially in infancy, is not educational but rather to facilitate warm, supportive interactions and relationships.

Simpler toys tend to be better for kids’ developmentally and will have more longevity than flashy, electronic toys. Look for toys that promote creativity and imagination. A toy that has one purpose will grow old quick, but something like a wooden block set can have many uses.

Some of the toys and games that are perennial favorites at Solaris include:

  • Finger putty such as Crazy Aaron’s
  • Play-doh
  • Modeling Foam
  • Kinetic sand
  • Legos / Duplo
  • Don’t break the ice
  • Giggle Wiggle
  • What’s in Ned’s Head
  • Beanie babies (great for symbolic play)
  • Balls
  • Bubbles
  • Puzzles
  • Zoom ball
  • Mini trampoline

Further reading:

Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era

Toy Buying Tips for Babies & Young Children

How Play Connects To Learning




Play is important for kids…and adults!

Play is so fundamental to our work here. It’s the natural way for children to learn about their world. But play is equally important for adults.

The importance of play for children is well documented. Now researchers are turning their attention to its possible benefits for adults. What they’re finding is that play isn’t just about goofing off; it can also be an important means of reducing stress and contributing to overall well-being.

“What all play has in common,” Brown says, “is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.”

Read more here.

Brain Gym Workshop April 6-8

Brain gym is a series of fun and energizing  exercises designed to prepare the brain and  body for a more efficient pattern of movement, learning and communication promoting whole brain processing and balance in a stress-free environment.

Learning Objectives:

Summarize whole brain integration through  whole body movement

Describe the role of the  26 brain gym exercises in relation to efficiency with immediate improvements and automaticity for skills such as memory, writing, reading,  communication, coordination, balance, stability, grounding, tracking, memory, lengthening  and concentration

Learn and perform the four step warm-up that will awaken learning potential in the brain body connection

Participate in “hands on” exercises and  describe how to implement a brain body diet for you and/or your clients

Outline the three dimensions of movement  and the correlation to the brain, learning and communication

Describe developmental pieces and brain  re-education

Understand and Implement Edu-K balances and discover a stress free learning environment and tool for reaching goals and maximizing potential

This course is beneficial for students, teachers, administrators, parents, athletes, business professionals, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists.

Click here for the registration form: brain gym 101 flyer

QRI Cold Laser Workshop

Join us on July 30th for our QRI Workshop to learn the amazing benefits of the QRI cold laser on the integration of primitive reflexes. You will also have the opportunity to buy your own laser at a discounted price.

QRI is a program of low level laser therapy on specific acupoints and reflex patterns to achieve reflex integration. Reflexes are the body’s primitive response, forming in utero, and are supposed to activate during certain developmental milestones and then integrate. When reflexes are not integrated fully or not at all, this can affect cognition, movement and behavior.

Using reflex integration, QRI has been successful in addressing many cognitive, behavioral, and physical challenges, which include but are not limited to, learning disabilities, autism, strokes, cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s disease.

If you are interested in attending, please register on Eventbrite.

How Meditation Can Help Kids

In this blog post on the NY Times, the author discusses new research around the benefits of meditation for children:

These investigations…illustrate how meditative practices have the potential to actually change the structure and function of the brain in ways that foster academic success.

Fundamental principles of neuroscience suggest that meditation can have its greatest impact on cognition when the brain is in its earliest stages of development.

This is because the brain develops connections in prefrontal circuits at its fastest rate in childhood. It is this extra plasticity that creates the potential for meditation to have greater impact on executive functioning in children.

Handwriting & Yoga Summer Camps June 2016

Solaris Camp - Gish Pics

Our Handwriting and Yoga Camps are ideal for kids between the ages of 5-10 who need improvement in writing legibility, are having issues with letter reversals and need to work on developing cursive skills. We will be using the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum which was developed by occupational therapists. To lay the foundation for good handwriting, each day we will incorporate sensory motor activities that work on the proprioceptive, vestibular, tactile and visual systems as well as activities to improve fine motor and visual motor skills. The daily yoga practice will help your child to improve body awareness, attention, self-regulatory abilities and learn relaxation techniques (important for reducing stress and anxiety). Your child will get the most benefit if they sign up for at least 2 weeks. Camps will be led by occupational therapist Yulene Broussard and yoga instructor Annette Raj, and facilitated by volunteers. Each camp is limited to 6-8 kids.

Camp dates:

  1. June 6th – June 10th
  2. June 13th – June 17th
  3. June 20th – June 24th
  4. June 27th – July 1st

Daily schedule:

8:45 Drop off

9:00 Sensory Motor Activities

9:45 Snack (bring from home)

10:00 Fine Motor & Visual Motor

10:15 Handwriting Activities

10:50 Break

11:00 Yoga

12:00 Pick Up


Your child must be able to do the following:

  • Sit at a table and attend to a task
  • Can write and identify all letters of the alphabet
  • Be able to participate in age appropriate classes
  • Follow activities without direct one on one supervision


$400 per week.

$20 off each week if all 4 weeks are booked.

$20 sibling discount.

$100 non-refundable deposit for each camp week is required to secure a place. The balance is due by May 2nd.

Please fill out the registration form to register. Solaris Camps June 2016

The Importance of Play

The importance of play for children before the age of 7 should not be underestimated. Outdoor, unstructured play is particularly important for children to develop the social-emotional tools they need to navigate life successfully.

In a blog post by pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, she recounts an interview she conducted with a highly experienced preschool teacher:

A few years ago, I interviewed a highly respected director of a progressive preschool. She had been teaching preschoolers for about 40 years and had seen major changes in the social and physical development of children in the past few generations.

“Kids are just different,” she started to say. When I asked her to clarify, she said, “They are more easily frustrated – often crying at the drop of a hat.” She had also observed that children were frequently falling out of their seats “at least three times a day,” less attentive, and running into each other and even the walls. “It is so strange. You never saw these issues in the past.”

Clumsiness, an inability to sit still, poor problem-solving, and poor emotional regulation could be avoided in many children if they were given the ample time they need to play and use their senses to explore the natural world. The three ‘R’s will happen in good time. There is no need to rush it. But giving children the space and time to play should not be neglected.

Screen Addiction is Taking a Toll on Children

Too much technology and not enough social interaction is a pitfall for developing young minds. Read the full article published on the New York Times website here.

Excessive use of computer games among young people in China appears to be taking an alarming turn and may have particular relevance for American parents whose children spend many hours a day focused on electronic screens. The documentary “Web Junkie,” to be shown next Monday on PBS, highlights the tragic effects on teenagers who become hooked on video games, playing for dozens of hours at a time often without breaks to eat, sleep or even use the bathroom. Many come to view the real world as fake.

Before age 2, children should not be exposed to any electronic media, the pediatrics academy maintains, because “a child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” Older children and teenagers should spend no more than one or two hours a day with entertainment media, preferably with high-quality content, and spend more free time playing outdoors, reading, doing hobbies and “using their imaginations in free play,” the academy recommends.

Out in public, Dr. Steiner-Adair added, “children have to know that life is fine off the screen. It’s interesting and good to be curious about other people, to learn how to listen. It teaches them social and emotional intelligence, which is critical for success in life.”

How creeping and crawling influence children’s first step in education

This article by Sheila Wayman for The Irish Times, published June 2, 2015, explains very well how movement and learning are linked. At Solaris, we work with children to help them integrate reflexes and build a strong physical ‘base’ to support learning and social interactions.

Link to original.

‘Grey-area’ children, who are not physically developed, may underperform in the classroom

It’s endearing the way newborn babies fling their arms out when somebody closes a door too loudly, in what is known as the “startle” reflex. And the way they instinctively grasp an outstretched finger, or turn their heads to “root” when their cheek is stroked.

These are all examples of primitive reflexes that should disappear between six and 12 months as the brain starts to inhibit them when more sophisticated, neural functioning begins to develop. If these reflexes persist, they will interfere with the mastering of intentional control of muscles and, in the run-up to starting school, hinder the development of physical readiness for academic learning.

What is later seen in the classroom as bad behaviour, lack of impulse control, poor social skills and difficulty in learning, despite good intelligence, may, in some cases, be symptoms of an underdeveloped central nervous system.This issue of what’s called “neuromotor immaturity” brings a whole other dimension to the common parental dilemma of whether or not a child is ready to start school. It’s a topic that will be addressed by the director of the UK’s Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology (INPP), Sally Goddard Blythe, at a seminar in Tralee, Co Kerry this Saturday, June 6th.

Entitled “The Secrets of Thriving Children”, it’s the annual conference of the locally based Parenting Our Children – Art and Science, which has a great record in securing interesting keynote speakers. Last year it had the renowned Australian parenting writer Steve Biddulph.

Physical maturity supports learning at all levels, Goddard Blythe tells The Irish Times, ahead of her visit to Tralee. “Just as with any foundations, if they are a bit rocky, it doesn’t matter how good the intelligence in the executive brain at the top, it is going to have to work much harder because it hasn’t got the structural support from underneath.”

She quotes the philosopher and educationalist Rudolf Steiner as saying the time of reading readiness comes at the time of shedding the first milk teeth, usually around age six.

“While there may not be a scientific basis for that, there is a lot of empirical evidence that it is probably a valid observation,” she remarks. As a result, the education systems in Britain and Ireland may be “forcing – not all, but some – children into reading and writing before they have all the neurological tools in place to be able to succeed”.

There is a big variation in children’s development, Goddard Blythe stresses, and some children will be ready at four, while others won’t be ready until they are nearly seven. “Those who are not ready are the ones who are potentially at a disadvantage, unless that is recognised” and a physical remedial programme put in place, she says.

Assessment at entry

Going back 30 or more years in the UK, every child was assessed by a doctor at the time of school entry, she says. They were asked to do simple physical tasks such as stand on one leg, hop to the end of the room and back, pile some bricks, as well as have their sight and hearing tested. “Those tests were phased out because they didn’t know what to do with the children who failed them,” she says.

Her institute has developed screening tests for neuromotor immaturity that teachers can use, as well as movement programmes they can implement to help children overcome it.

We’re talking about “grey-area children” here, Goddard Blythe explains. “They’re not bad enough that they are picked up as having a medical problem but neither do they have all the tools in place to succeed in the classroom.”

In 2005 the INPP published a series of studies, of which the biggest was conducted in Co Antrim, where the institute’s screening tests were used and the results compared to educational measurements in children aged five to six and eight to nine.

“They found 48 per cent of the five- to six-year-olds still had traces of baby reflexes that should not be active beyond the first year of life, and that 35 per cent of eight- to nine-year-olds had a similar profile, and there was a correlation between neuromotor immaturity and lower education performance.”

Similar findings are being made in an ongoing study in the UK and the day we speak she has just got results from schools in New York. “They all show that children with lower physical skills are performing in the lower third of every group they are looking at in educational measures.

“We can’t say it is the cause,” she stresses. “It could be part and parcel of the same thing, but it suggests a very interesting picture and that there is room for remediation in the physical sense, rather than simply looking at more reading and writing.”

The remedial programme she and her colleagues have devised for teachers involves 10 minutes of exercises in school every day for an academic year, taking children through repetitions of movements they should have made from being an infant to the creeping and crawling stage of development.

“What we have found in small-scale studies – and they are only small-scale studies – is that it does improve the measures of neuromotor immaturity. There is a significant improvement in all children participating,” she reports.

But the improvement in educational measures occurred only in a much smaller group: those who had both neuromotor immaturity and were underperforming at the outset. However, that is what the programme is targeting: “It wasn’t designed for those children who didn’t have problems,” she points out.

Early learning

What can parents do to reduce the likelihood of such problems arising? Well, for a start, we need to know that we turn our backs on nature and evolution at our children’s peril. Early learning is done through movement.

With an over-riding emphasis on academic achievement and developing technology we are hot-housing cognitive skills, “at the expense of the fact that we are all mammals”, says Goddard Blythe. “Mammals require sensory, emotional and social development before they become adults.”

There is “growing ignorance among first-time parents – just as bad among the highly educated as among the other socioeconomic groups – of what babies and children need in biological terms from the environment in which they are developing, to become well-rounded, well-adjusted children”, she continues.

Without wanting to guilt-trip parents, she says they can help to minimise the potential for developmental problems but they can never eliminate them because there are so many different reasons for them.

The mother of three grown-up children, Goddard Blythe was amazed at the array of modern baby equipment when her first grandchild was born five years ago. Not only could you buy a car seat, but a car seat you take out with the baby in it, place in a rocker and then press a button so that it plays nursery rhymes and rocks at the same time.

“That’s lovely, and nobody is saying a parent shouldn’t do that for periods of time, but the danger is that they get overused,” she warns.

Then the child is deprived not only of the movement experience they get by lying on the floor, waving their arms and legs in the air, but they lose out on touch and communication between parent and child.

“Artificial equipment does something completely different,” says Goddard Blythe, whose books include The Genius of Natural Childhood. Children pick up nuances of mood from the quality of a parent’s touch and movement, from how they are held and whether the parent has time to talk to them, the eye contact, and so on.

“All those are non-language verbal skills that contribute up to 90 per cent of effective communication between individuals later on.”

And “when I see the iPad plonked on the front of baby equipment, I think, really . . . ” she trails off as her effort to be diplomatic about modern parenting wears thin.

“Conversation is completely different from sitting in front of an iPad where the entertainment is provided for you: lots of things are thrown at the baby but the iPad is not interested in what the baby has to say back.”

Conversations with a baby

Studies led by psychology and psychobiology professor Colwyn Trevarthen at the University of Edinburgh have shown if an adult doesn’t wait for the baby to respond when carrying on a “conversation”, the baby gives up trying, says Goddard Blythe.

Before babies can talk they will respond to conversation through babble, kicking their feet or making facial expressions. “They try to talk back; if you wait they will continue to try, but if you ignore it or interrupt, the baby gives up.”

Other traditional parenting practices such as singing lullabies also have a specific developmental spin-off. “Singing slows down the sounds of speech in preparation for being able to hear the individual sounds in reading,” she explains. And then being read to frequently in early childhood is a big help in developing speech, vocabulary and reading skills.

Meanwhile, as the human race has “become almost too good”, she remarks, at minimising physical effort. “Children are missing out on the building of physical vocabulary, which is what helps us to understand the world around us. “We are losing the recognition of how important physical development is for anything else we want to happen later on.”

Sally Goddard Blythe is speaking at the ‘Parenting Our Children’ conference this Saturday, 9.30am-1pm, at the Institute of Technology, Tralee, Co Kerry.

The Benefits of Slow Parenting

It’s too easy to get caught up in the trap of busyness and lose track of what is important. We really like this slow parenting movement which calls for families to simplify their life and be present with each other.

John Duffy, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Available Parent”, advises parents how to start slow parenting.

I encourage parents to take some time to just watch their children, whether they are playing, doing homework, or eating a snack. Take a moment to drink them in. Remember and remind yourself how remarkable your children are. That pause alone, even if momentary, can drive a shift in the pace.

Slow parenting is good for young brains too!

Doing too much can be draining on adults, but it can be debilitating for kids whose brains are still developing.“In early development, kids are still wiring. They need to have moments of doing and moments of being for integration to happen,” says Contey (Carrie Contey, cofounder of Slow Family Living). “If they don’t take space for integration that leads to meltdowns and overtiredness. Kids then think they’re not good at school or a certain sport, when that’s not the fact but the byproduct of being overdone.”

Read the full article on Slow Parenting here.