Messy Play Movement pairs pizza and learning at Pizzeria Locale

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Any room can be a classroom. Even a kitchen.

That's what one group of students in Johnson County learned on Monday, as their developmental therapy sessions expanded into a local pizza kitchen. They're using touch-based therapy techniques to aid in their progress, using little hands to make big pizzas.

Everyone talks about hands-on work. A group of kids from Children's Therapy Services in Johnson County did just that on Monday morning, entering the kitchen, and getting lessons in making pizza from the staff at Pizzeria Locale in Overland Park.

Restaurant managers, including Chris Deperalta, who oversees all three Pizzeria Locale locations in Kansas City, spent time teaching local kids how to use their hands to create perfect pizza dough.

"Look, it's stretchy now," Deperalta could be heard saying, while demonstrating the elasticity of the dough.

Managers stepped aside, and allowed the kids, many of whom receive therapy for conditions ranging from developmental delays to autism to get their hands dirty making delicious pizza pies.

"Being able to touch the flour and touch the dough," Jennie Bjorem, who has spent 18 years as a child speech pathologist, told FOX 4 News. "They were able to use the language and talk about the experience around it."

Bjorem owns Children's Therapy Services, where a number of the children at Monday's gathering, are exposed to the Messy Play Movement. Bjorem says touch training is another way to stimulate and develop young minds by using sensory play. Allowing kids to get messy is part of that practice.

"All children learn through sensory play, so when children are touching or smelling or tasting, they're experiencing and evaluating," Bjorem said.

Leawood's Kim Leach, a mother of two, has her twin sons, Porter and Grayson, enrolled in developmental programs at Children's Therapy Services. Leach says the boys, who are nearly five years old, are using sessions like this pizza dough therapy to catch up in their respective delays.

"(They're learning) life skills too. Cutting, how to be polite, how to ask for things, how to take turns. There's so much life skills we've learned," Leach siad.
Jennie Bjorem adds that a number of these children have no clinical conditions or delays whatsoever. These pizza making lessons were still beneficial for them, since it offered them instruction in table manners and food preparations, some of which turned out to be delicious.

Children's Therapy Services offers additional programs where students can grow through music and other sensory play techniques.