Welcome Jill Howlett Mays, MS, OTR/L, author of a wonderful parenting book, Your Child’s Motor Development Story Understanding and Enhancing Development from Birth to Their First Sport. High fives to Jill Mays and five stars for your book! Thank you so much for participating in our Author Interview Series. My review of your book ends with, “Jill Howlett Mays has made this book so user friendly that after reading it once it becomes a resource book busy parents can easily refer to.” Read book review here. Also parents, caregivers of young children, and educators must visit your web site where they can find pull down menus with information pertaining to them.
Congratulations on such a well organized, user-friendly web site!
1. Tell us a little about yourself and about your work that enabled you to write such a beneficial book for all parents.
Jill Mays >> I’ve been working with children for over 25 years. In recent years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend towards kids’ time being over-planned and over-structured. Done with the sincere intention of enriching their children’s lives, parents schedule every minute of free time with a class or activity. What I wanted to show was that play is a powerful and essential tool for children’s development.
Relatively unsupervised time outside in the yard, for instance, compels children to create their own fun, and presents physical challenges unique to the outside environment. When children drive their own play, they are challenged by new and different sensory experiences, and they begin to develop decision-making and risk-assessment skills
My specialty is sensory integration and sensory processing, which sounds technical but it’s fairly simple. Sensory integration and sensory processing have to do with how we experience and process the outside world: touch, smell, noises, movement, etc., and how that relates to development, including the emotional and social well being of the child. In The Your Child’s Motor Development Story I aim to help families understand sensorimotor dynamics that contribute to children’s behaviors and skills, and I offer “user-friendly” strategies that naturally help children strengthen and use their bodies more effectively. My therapy is essentially “playtime” that incorporates different movements and new sensations to develop better processing of information.
The focus of my practice has been to use these play tactics to bring the child into balance and develop confidence. Integrating therapy into every day life is key. Making it fun for all leads to much better results.
Parents don’t need to be rocket scientist to understand the complexities of the brain and sensorimotor development. Armed with an understanding of key concepts and how to apply them to everyday life, parents can be quite effective in helping their children. That’s why I wrote the book.
2. I read you are a mom of three and that you have a private practice specializing in pediatrics and consultation in sensory motor development. I was a working mom of three also and I can presume you are very busy! What is a typical day like for Jill Mays?
Jill Mays >> Yes, as a parent of three, the younger two being boy-girl twins, I totally empathize with the daunting challenges parents face every day. Our household was fairly chaotic for many years. My children are all grown now, but back in the day, life was pretty hectic. As an occupational therapist, I was fortunate to be able to expand and contract my practice as the demands of my family life changed. My husband was wonderful about pitching in as well.
I live in a town where most mothers chose not to work, so I felt pressured to pretend that I worked part time, and regularly eeked out time to volunteer on different PTA or school-wide program committees. It was also important that we sat down to dinner as a family every night, and with a full-time schedule in addition to the kids’ after-school activities, you can guess that oftentimes we had dinner on the later side! Suffice it to say, I didn’t get much sleep.
Jill Mays>>The obvious answer is that motor development relates to how a child moves and acquires motor skills such as throwing a ball or running (gross motor), writing and tying a shoe (fine motor). But we’ve learned that the quality of movement, the stamina of the child, and the ability to figure out how to coordinate new activities are critical for learning and development in all areas (cognitive, social, emotional, behavioral). For example, when a child physically becomes tired from sitting at circle time, his or her ability to pay attention during circle time is also diminished.
4. What are some red flags that should alert parents of problems with their child’s motor development?
Jill Mays>>I have found that parents have very good intuition about their children. When they trust their instincts they usually have a sense if something is not moving forward as it should. There is great variability in how children develop and parents should not panic when the neighbor’s kid does something before their own. Likewise, motor charts are just a guide and if your baby doesn’t master a particular skill the month the development chart says it should be accomplished, it does not mean that it’s time to march him or her to a Child Study Team.
Red flags come up when children struggle or consistently avoid activities that should be fun and pleasurable. So a few examples of these Red Flags would be:
- If the child is afraid or refuses to explore toys and materials with rich textures (e.g. gooey substances such as shaving cream, kooshes)
- If the child is very fussy or rigid about the type of clothes to be worn.
- If the child is extremely fearful of certain movements (e.g. swings or slides) and clings to the caretaker, refusing to play. Playgrounds seem to be a traumatic experience rather than a joyful one.
- Many children are accident prone, but if the child consistently has accidents and seems oblivious or totally over the top distressed, there may be some sensory motor base to these frequent occurrences.
- Developmental skills are not moving forward, in spite of gentle nudging and fun simple activities to encourage exposure and growth.
When parents notice and wonder if something is amiss, it is a good idea to first talk to experienced caretakers and preschool teachers to get their sense of whether the concerns fall in the normal realm of development or if they, too, notice and are concerned. Talking to the pediatrician would be the next step.
5. Your book is enjoyable reading from cover to cover and then, with its extensive index, it becomes a handy go-to-book on motor development for the first ten years of a child’s life. Your use of case studies is very effective to paint a true picture of the problems some children have. Explain a few successes you have had with children who came to you with delayed motor skills.
Jill Mays>>One child I site in the book, a fourth grader, viewed me as a “torturer” because he had to pump on the swing 100 times to build his core strength and his ability to link or sequence his movements. He struggled to learn sports and play on a team. He had significant motor planning, spatial and physical endurance issues. Fast forward to 2011. He is a member of the National Honor Society and applying to college right now. This is an example of a family that never gave up, in spite of daunting challenges when the boy was very young. They always believed in him and worked diligently with the therapeutic team. He is a delightful young man!
I have many “preemies” referred to me. They always present with hypersensitivities to touch, sound and are frequently fearful of movement. They become terrified when their feet leave the ground. When one little girl played “Model,” wrapping herself in a feathery Boa and used the coffee table as a “run-way,” I knew my job was done!
6. I have seen hundreds of children during my years as mother, grandmother and thirty years as a teacher. As I turned the pages of your book, there were so many points in the book I totally agree with and that I could relate to. Your book is filled with great advice for all that live and work with children. When you had finished writing your book, what did you hope your readers would get out of it?
Jill Mays >> I want families to enjoy playing with their children and see the enormous value of doing so. Parents feel so much pressure to “do the right thing” for their children. In these economically difficult times, I want parents to feel empowered when they choose to let their children go outside for unstructured playtime and not feel guilty if they don’t sign their children up for every class and team. Sometimes less is truly more!
Similarly, when teachers are pressured by parents and others to ratchet up the academics at the expense of recess and play-based learning, I’d like them to have the neuroscientific explanation to give for why the latter approach is healthier and ultimately more effective for the student’s long-term learning.
7. How has your book been received? What feedback has made the arduous task of writing a book all worthwhile?
Jill Mays >> I am happy to report that parents, educators and child practitioners have all been very enthusiastic about the book. A very successful business woman and mom said she was so relieved when she read the last chapter and it validated her intuition that she didn’t need to sign her daughter up for every class in town, in spite of the advice of her peers. The director of an award winning independent school said “I wish I could give a copy of this book to all of my teachers and everyone I know who has young children.” Therapists have been excited to use the book to support home programming for families.
8. Do you do presentations about your book or about your work? How can readers follow you?
Jill Mays >> I have been doing many parent and educator workshops. I also have a website: www.TheMotorStory.com. The website has Parent, Teacher and Special Needs Sections and I periodically have guest columnists who write about their areas of expertise. These range from a NY Times best selling sports writer/author to nutritionist/documentarian who just published a book about School Lunch programs. Various health professionals (psychologists, music and physical therapists, to name a few) and educators also contribute. I have a blog that runs weekly on the website, where I share topical and timely activities and thoughts mostly related to sensorimotor development and play.
Friends, Jill Mays’s web site is really well worth to visit and do so often!
Read our review of Your Child’s Motor Development Story.