When I tell people I'm a pediatric occupational therapist and that I run nature programming, a look of confusion often crosses their face.
"You're a special needs camp?"
"I don't get it. You're going to do occupational therapy with our children?"
From the beginning, I quickly realized that the concept of TimberNook is "out-of-the-box" thinking for many people. Some don't get it at first. The concept is totally foreign to them. Typically, when people think of occupational therapy, they automatically think of children with special needs and treatment.
TimberNook makes everyone take a step back and look at the world a little differently. I've used my skills as a pediatric occupational therapist in an unconventional way; to create a unique camp that benefits and challenges the minds and bodies of all children. I'm looking at the camps as a form of preventative health.
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I was taught to be really good at two things: 1) Observing children's every move and making sense of it, and 2) Analyzing and breaking down an activity into its multitude of therapeutic components. I'm constantly observing and analyzing both children and the activities they choose during the camps.
What am I watching for?
I'm watching children to see if they can smoothly and age-appropriately move from one obstacle to another.
I'm looking to see if they can calm themselves down after falling.
I'm curious to see if they don't mind getting their hands dirty or being barefoot.
I'm watching to see if they'll socially connect with their peers with ease.
I'm wondering if they can pay attention and respond quickly to the people around them.
I'm looking to see if they can stay calm when it is time to be calm.
I'm watching for many things all at once... Like I said, this is what I was trained to do.
I'm also looking at the activity the child has chosen. I ask myself:
Is the activity meaningful to the child?
Does it engage their senses?
Does it challenge the child, but is not too much of a challenge?
Are they using their muscles in new ways?
Is the activity calming to the child?
Is it over-stimulating?
Is it getting them to think creatively and in new ways?
Does the activity help foster coordination, visual skills, balance, hearing and touch skills?
I could go on, but I'll spare you all the gritty details.
When most people watch a child play....they simply see the child having fun. Maybe they are also interested in what the child is learning. They know on some fundamental level that play is good for them. When I watch a child play, I see so much more. Not only do I see the where the child is at with their current level of ability, but I also see the potential in both them and the activity they have chosen--on a neurological level.
I guess that is partly why planning for and implementing TimberNook programming not only comes naturally to me, but I thoroughly enjoy assessing the results as well. I enjoy providing a unique setting that literally fosters imagination, creativity, and integration of the senses. Children are not rushed or forced to do anything. There are rules to keep the children safe, but the boundaries are larger than most places, in order to allow children to fully test their limits in a safe and unique way.
I'm not performing traditional occupational therapy treatment on children, nor do I train new providers to do this. I'm teaching a new way of doing things. I'm using the occupation of play outdoors to enrich all children's lives...one camp at a time.
To put it simply: We are more than just play.