Photo by from Pexels

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




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

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

A new way to look at stress

In this Goop Q&A, Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal explains why stress may actually be good for us sometimes, and that there is more than one type of stress.

The body has a whole repertoire of stress responses. Sometimes when we experience stress we’re experiencing a state that is healthy, that makes us resilient, that makes us more caring and connected, that makes us more courageous. The experience might be physically similar in some ways to stress states that we would describe as debilitating anxiety or other negative stress states, but they are not toxic. There are a lot of different ways to experience stress…

…And then there’s a relatively new idea, which is that there’s an ability to grow from stress built into our biology. I think people have always recognized that holistically, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—they recognize that as a platitude. But to see it in the biology of the stress response—that your stress response can increase neuroplasticity to help your brain learn from the experience, that you can release stress hormones that function like steroids for not just your body but also for your brain—that’s an incredible and very new insight…

…we’ve been so inundated by this belief, this mindset, and this message that stress is toxic, that stress is harmful, that you should avoid or reduce stress, that in moments of feeling stressed out, we think: “I shouldn’t be stressed out right now. If I were a good parent, if I were a good mom, I’d be calm right now, I wouldn’t be upset. If I were good at my job, I’d be so smooth right now under pressure. I wouldn’t be frantic, I wouldn’t be worried, I wouldn’t be overwhelmed.”

And then that leads us to cope with situations in ways that make it harder to find meaning in them. It makes it harder to solve problems that can be solved. It makes it harder to connect with others so that we know that we’re not alone. And I think that’s what makes believing stress is bad for you so toxic. It’s not a magic trick. It creates thoughts and emotions that make it harder to thrive. And it changes the way we cope.

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.