What I do

What I do: Robin Bahr, general education physical therapist

Robin BahrMiller Photography A physical therapist for 16 years, Bahr has been practicing at Manhattan’s PS 87 for five years and this year travels to neighboring PS 9 and PS 452 to work there as well.

In today’s glued-to-the-screen world, what physical problems are you seeing in schoolchildren?

I think decreased core strength is a general social phenomenon. Plenty of kids are fine, but we’re seeing a larger number with poor strength and difficulties with coordination and balance. I do think increased technology is one of the reasons.

What are some other reasons?

Decreased opportunities for natural, unstructured physical activities. The societal fear of injury and lawsuits. For example, you don’t see merry-go-rounds or teeter-totters in playgrounds much anymore. There’s also another theory.

Which is?

With the whole issue of SIDS — sudden infant death syndrome — babies are no longer allowed to sleep on their bellies. Yet that’s the position in which they begin to develop the ability to come up against gravity, pushing their hands onto a surface, getting on their hands and knees. For some kids, that has an impact on their motor development, causing weak ligaments in their hands and decreased shoulder mobility and strength, ultimately resulting in poor performance in their fine motor skills.

How could a classroom teacher spot these problems?

You might see kids slumping in their chairs or on the reading rug. Diminished core, hand and shoulder-girdle strength affects posture. There would be problems with fine motor skills like writing and cutting with scissors. I see a lot of kids with undeveloped hands: loose ligaments, poor muscle tone.

I take it your days are spent correcting these conditions.

Absolutely. Working with kids to strengthen their trunk and pelvic muscles, motor skills, doing exercises such as curling up like an egg, which is wonderful for the back extensor muscles.

Do you see improvement?

Oh, yeah! For one example, there was a boy missing gross motor skills like being able to hop. He didn’t have the strength or balance. He’s hopping now! Plus there are three kindergartners I had last year I’m about to graduate.

What’s a typical day?

I teach kids individually and in small groups. I work in the gym with the phys ed teacher. I pull kids out of class, but I also see them in class — one of my biggest goals is to help teachers implement some kind of movement break, doing neuro-sensory exercises to help kids to be ready to learn and to enhance the learning process, like the Brain Gym exercises.

But are these things that any educator could pick up?

Yes, there are websites and workshops, and I especially recommend the S’cool Moves and the Move to Improve programs.

Do kids like movement breaks or dread them, or is it a mix?

They really respond, and sometimes I talk to them about the movement opportunities I had as a child in Michigan, with recess every morning and afternoon, walking to school and back, and playing outside all day after school, and they’re like wow … you were SO lucky!

I can hear the gratification in your voice as you talk about your work.

Yes, I’m lucky, and I tell the children how lucky I am to go up and down stairs, go from one classroom to the other, and that I ride my bike everywhere and am constantly moving. I do this work because I like to move!

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