By Mary-Justine Lanyon
There’s nothing silly about what goes on at The Silly Room in Rimforest.
Mandy Krzeminski – who is registered by the National Board of Occupational Therapists and licensed by the California Board of Occupational Therapy – is passionate about what she does.
“I love my job – I love helping children who are struggling academically and who have special needs,” she said. “I opened The Silly Room because I wanted to provide services for our community.”
Initially, Krzeminski met with clients at their homes or at the library. When she opened her clinic, she left the word “therapy” out of the name to create “a place for a child to have fun without the stigma of therapy tied to their experiences.”
The name she chose, Krzeminski said, “implies a safe place where a child has the freedom to ‘be silly’ during play and not worry about the inability to perform at a certain level.”
Everything at The Silly Room is done through play. There are a lot of sensory experiences, designed to get the sensory system organized, Krzeminski said. A client – most of whom range from 5 to 18 years old – may roll on a scooter board on their tummy while holding a hula hoop. “They get pulled around,” Krzeminski said. They also use the fitness wheel – which they call the hamster wheel – to develop their core strength and their vestibular system.
There is also a rock wall clients can climb and a squeeze machine that calms the client, relieving anxiety. They may climb up into the Lycra swing, crawling from one end to the other.
“These are foundational skills,” Krzeminski said. Those skills have traditionally been developed on merry-go-rounds or monkey bars. “There is something missing from our children’s development, which is contributing to their academic struggles. Here we work on getting those developmental skills up to age level.”
When you get the sensory and motor skills aligned, Krzeminski noted, “you see more success in the classroom.”
Her clients are referred to her by their schools, where they have an IEP in place or are being assessed for one. Schools will also refer students to Krzeminski for an assessment, which she uses to determine how she needs to work with that client.
Krzeminski was asked for help by Laurie Johnson, a third-grade teacher at Lake Arrowhead Elementary School. “She had several students who were struggling. It’s overwhelming when you have 30 students with a wide range of abilities.”
Krzeminski took in some of the tools she has used – movement patterns, listening to therapeutic music. Johnson found, Krzeminski said, that her struggling learners who engaged in these activities started seeing big improvements in their academic abilities.
Krzeminski also implemented a program where she taught fifth-grade students how to work with the third-graders. “They pulled out the struggling students and worked with them while Laurie was able to continue with the rest of the class. The older students got to be role models and learned the importance of helping.”
Krzeminski is trying to figure a way to create something she can put in the hands of all the teachers – a video, perhaps. “If your students are struggling, here’s what they can do,” she would suggest to the teachers.
At The Silly Room, the clients also do fun things academically. “Ninety percent of our clients hate reading and writing because it is so difficult for them,” Krzeminski said. “I say, ‘I bet I can make you have fun reading.’ They don’t believe it.”
She plays a game with them where spelling words are put up on the wall. Krzeminski will use a laser pointer to point to a word and read it. “It’s important to put the information in their brains first, instead of challenging them and making them guess.”
Then, as Krzeminski says the words, the clients can throw bean bags or shoot Nerf guns at them.
Krzeminski and her intern, Sarah Scharry, an occupational therapy assistant student at Stanbridge University in Irvine, demonstrated another word game. Krzeminski held up a word and said it while Scharry, playing the client, hit the card with her hand.
They also played whack a mole, laying the cards on the floor. As Krzeminski said each word, she hit the card. Then she said the word while Scharry hit the card.
The parents have to do their job, too, Krzeminski said. “They are an essential part of the team. Coming here once a week is beneficial but the carryover into the home is hugely important.”
Depending on the child, the parent may or may not be in the room where the child plays with the equipment. “Some use their parents as a safety blanket and we are working on more independence and want to reduce separation anxiety,” Krzeminski said. “Others, because of the importance of the carryover, and if they do well with the parent in the room, we’ll have the parent there so they can replicate the activity at home.”
Sometimes, she noted, it’s beneficial to have other children in the room. “They learn to take turns. And, if they see someone else do something that’s challenging, they’re more likely to give it a try.” She will sometimes, with the approval of the parent, have her 8-year-old daughter or 12-year-old son help out.
“I have a passion for helping children learn,” Krzeminski said. “I believe this to be my God-given gift. Every single person has their talents and their gifts but not all of us are fortunate enough to have them nurtured and developed.”
For more information on The Silly Room, visit www.thesillyroom.com.