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Since play is the main way a child learns, giving your child aquatic tasks designed with play in mind can be both fun and therapeutic! Aquatic therapy has been around since ancient times. The therapeutic benefits of the water are tremendous. While submerged in the water we feel effects that mimic weightlessness. Exercising in the water provides relaxation and gives both proprioceptive and calming input. By adding some well-planned activities and games to your child’s summer routine, you can increase muscle strength, endurance, balance, and work on social skills. Coordination in all body areas can also improve greatly with pool games. Adding peers into the summer fun can also help our children with special needs to build confidence and lasting friendships.
1) While there are a variety of products specifically marketed for aquatic therapy, you can easily duplicate them with a little creativity. Swim vests are critical if your child is not a confident swimmer. The added security of the vest is a good way for children to build up their confidence slowly. Aqua vests can be purchased at local swim stores or at websites such as aquagear.com or swimoutlet.com.
2) Purchasing a few differently textured pool noodles is a must. Since the skin is the largest organ in our body, providing a variety of textures is important. The more variety you can find in the shape and texture, the more different tactile (feeling) experiences your child will have. For example, there are smooth noodles, bumpy noodles, noodles made out of foam, and some made of plastic that are blown up.
- Ride the noodles like a horse. Your child must “ride the horse” across the pool to feed him out of a bucket and “ride” back to the starting point. Do this back and forth across the pool.
- Loop the noodle in a U shape and have your child sit on it like he is sitting on a swing. Have him maintain his balance while tossing a ball to you.
- Use the noodle as if jumping rope. This is a fun challenge and works the arm muscles to push the noodle under the water.
3) You can hold one end of a large towel or noodle and have your child hold the other end. Pull him around the pool in different ways. Adjust your speed and pull him quickly then change to a slow pace. For example, ask him to hold on with both hands while he is laying on his back, next, try it while he lies on his tummy, then on his side.
4) Use flippers on the hands or feet to increase resistance and work on strengthening muscles. Pretend your child is on a scuba excursion and drop interesting things on the bottom of the pool for him to search for. Have him place the items in a bucket on one side of the pool so that he has to swim back to it each time. Of course, adding cuff weights made specifically for water use is a good way to exercise muscles during any pool activity.
5) A large raft can be used as a pretend boat.Your child can sit on top of the raft and hold a paddle with both hands. He can pretend he is on a canoe. The work he is doing while alternating the paddle across his body works on body awareness, crossing the midline, and bilateral integration (using the arms together for functional tasks). In addition, large water shooters such as the “Max Liquidator” are large enough so that a child must use both hands to complete the task of filling them up and shooting them. Make a bulls-eye pattern on a tree or large box at the edge of the pool and see who shoots the most accurately.
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6) Make up an obstacle course where he holds onto one kickboard with both hands or two smaller kick boards-one under each arm. Both kick board activities work on building strength in the arms, legs, and core body. At one station, provide a watering can to fill with water and lift up to pour into a big bucket placed on the pool’s ledge. Another station can include putting on articles of clothing such as shirts or socks. Have children race to see who can “get dressed” while wet for added fun. Swimming with the added weight of wet clothing gives input to the pressure receptors of the body.
Remember that there is no wrong way to exercise in the pool. Virtually all aquatic activities your child does will help him to develop muscles and key skills that will benefit him outside of the water. The most important thing to keep in mind is to have fun and relax. You are helping your child to make memories and skills that will last a lifetime!
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