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Working Out of the House

For most of us, a home gym means a treadmill, a few weights and a TV stuck in a basement that we visit rarely (if at all). But for some, a home gym is a source of inspiration.

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The Sensory Gym

 Bethesda’s Carol Kranowitz plays with two of her grandkids, Aaron, 8, and Eden, 11, in her sensory gym. Photo by Morgan HowarthAt some point during her 25 years of teaching music at St. Columba’s Nursery School in Northwest Washington, D.C., Carol Kranowitz noticed something odd: A number of the kids avoided the sandbox, finger paints and shaving cream activities. These were the same kids who didn’t respond to the piano.

When an occupational therapist came to the school, Kranowitz learned that these children had sensory processing disorder (SPD), a condition that makes it difficult to process information received through the five senses, plus movement/balance and body position.

“It explained the behavior of a lot of these kids—they were out of sync,” the Bethesda resident says.

Kranowitz eventually earned a master’s degree in education and human development at George Washington University and wrote a book, The Out-of-Sync Child (Perigee Trade, 1998). A flapping blind, a table full of sequins, glue—these things can overwhelm a kid with SPD. On the other end of the spectrum, sensory cravers can’t get enough rough play.

Kranowitz says kids need concrete experiences that involve the senses in order to learn effectively. “It takes much, much longer to learn by watching Sesame Street,” she says.

So she took her knowledge of SPD to her classroom, making a tactile road of corrugated cardboard, velvet, Bubble Wrap, wooden balls, cotton balls and packing peanuts.

Then she slowly introduced kids to the textures. “Or I’d give them the tiniest bit of movement on a swing or the smallest bounce on the trampoline,” she says.

Today, at 66, she travels around the country speaking about SPD. Back home, she spends time with her five grandchildren and four step-grandchildren, all of whom range in age from 3 to 11. None has SPD, but Kranowitz has brought elements of her classroom into her basement via a sensory gym.

She made a crash pad by stuffing a duvet cover with pillows, and got scraps from local upholsterers to fill a dress-up trunk with velvet and yards of beautiful Chinese silk. She has a therapy ball (sometimes called a Swiss ball or exercise ball), marbles, a net swing, a platform swing and a collection of rhythm band instruments made from twigs, nuts, shells and gourds.

Given that childhood obesity is on the rise, Kranowitz likes seeing her grandkids moving around. She stays active, too, by riding her stationary bike in the sensory gym, walking outside or taking a muscle conditioning class at Sport & Health in Bethesda.

Not long ago, she co-authored Growing an In-Sync Child (Perigee Trade, 2010) with Joye Newman. Though an expert on the subject, Kranowitz finds she isn’t always in sync herself.

She recalls trying different tactile therapies and activities for two grandkids who were fighting and crying one day. Nothing worked. The kids continued to cry. Finally she explained the situation to their father, and suddenly everything became clear. “Mom, they’re hungry!” he said.

Jenny Rough is a freelance writer who keeps fit by playing tennis, though she doesn’t envision a home tennis court in her future. To comment on this story, email comments@bethesdamagazine.com.

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