Take a group of creative, energetic occupational and physical therapists with years of experience in pediatrics and you might expect to find them running an outpatient therapy clinic. But Lauren Drobnjak, PT; Pam Braley, OTR/L; and Claire Heffron, OTR/L decided to use their passion for children's health and wellness to pursue a different practice setting: the blogosphere.
In September, 2013, the three therapists teamed up to create The Inspired Treehouse a popular online collection of tried and true theme-based activities that encourage health, wellness, and development for children of all ages. The blog appeals to its audience of teachers, parents, and therapists with easy-to-implement activities that require simple materials and minimal planning while packing a lot of punch when it comes to developmental benefits.
Beginning their careers in outpatient and specialized school settings, Drobnjak, Braley, and Heffron gained experience and expertise with providing therapeutic interventions for children with neurological conditions, developmental delays, autism, chromosomal and metabolic disorders, and orthopedic issues. For the last eight years, the therapists have practiced together in a school district outside of Cleveland, Ohio, focusing mainly on the preschool and early elementary school population.
Working in a community that faces significant economic and health care disparities, the three therapists became frustrated with seeing so many children arriving to school ill-prepared for the developmental demands of the educational environment.
"We see so many kids coming into kindergarten without having had exposure to basic activities like drawing, writing their names, and using scissors," said Heffron. "And most often it's because families aren't sure exactly what activities to do with their kids and they simply don't know how crucial these fine motor, gross motor, and sensory play experiences really are to their children's development. So many students who haven't had exposure to basic skills like grasping a pencil, imitating movements for gross motor games, and following multi-step directions come into kindergarten already lagging behind their peers and they end up requiring therapy services that might not have been necessary otherwise."
After being approached by so many teachers in the school district regarding concerns for their students' ability to perform basic skills and safely navigate their school buildings and classrooms, Drobnjak, Braley, and Heffron began providing group interventions in early education classrooms where they would target basic developmental skills like grasping a pencil, using scissors, and motor planning for all of the students in the class (children with special needs and their typically developing peers).
Eventually, the therapists decided that they could reach an even broader audience through a blog format, making their group activities available to any parent, teacher, or therapist with access to the internet.
A New Approach to Treatment
During some downtime at a pediatric school-based conference, the three therapists spent hours brainstorming what the blog's concept would be. They decided to create a resource full of attainable, simple, playful ways to interact with kids that encourage healthy development.
"We spent several hours during our three days together at this conference, trying to come up with the perfect representation of our blog. We wanted it to be clean and well-organized but with a colorful, playful vibe," explained Drobnjak. "The name, The Inspired Treehouse, came from our desire to highlight the creativity of our activities and the strong focus on play that we are passionate about."
With a focus on answering questions, addressing misconceptions, and promoting other child development resources around the web, The Inspired Treehouse strives to convey factual, beneficial information about health and wellness for children to as many people as possible. Drobnjak, Braley, and Heffron believe that knowledge about child development should not be reserved for medical professionals and that the more parents and teachers know about child development, the better off kids are.
The team of therapists puts their experience and expertise to work, formatting their blog posts to highlight the developmental and therapeutic benefits of each of the activities they feature, breaking the therapy and medical lingo down into terms everyone can understand. In their informational features, called Tricks of the Trade, the team tackles developmental issues like W-Sitting and Sensory Integration, giving teachers and caregivers useful tips and strategies for the classroom and home. In addition to informing parents, teachers, and therapists, the blog has become a way to archive all of the therapists' creative treatment ideas, forming an extensive inventory of therapeutic activities organized for easy access based on developmental skill area or seasonal theme.
The ideas for what to write about on the blog seem to come easily to the team of therapists, but they describe their journey to becoming bloggers as being anything but easy. "We were so excited to put our ideas into writing," said Braley." We had no concept of how much work and time blogging actually takes. We had to learn how to create and operate a blog from scratch with hours and hours of research."
"We are all working moms," continued Braley, "so late evenings and early mornings to keep up with blogging, social media, and marketing in addition to all of our other responsibilities are now part of our daily routines The Inspired Treehouse sparks creativity in what we do at work and also how we can have fun with our own kids at home, so we get to see our efforts pay off first hand."
Drobnjak, Braley, and Heffron are constantly looking for ways to market and promote The Inspired Treehouse, forming partnerships with organizations like Move Forward PT (beginning in March, 2014), securing featured posts on other online resources, and pursuing sponsorship agreements with companies that specialize in child development products and services.
Their vision for the blog is that readers will walk away inspired with ideas to interact with the children in their lives, helping them engage, grow, develop, and build strong, healthy bodies and minds through play.
Lauren Drobnjak is the co-creator of Inspired Treehouse and a pediatric physical therapist in Ohio.