Saturday, July 25, 2015

Finger Looming Good

Two summers ago, the must have toy for everyone was The Rainbow Loom.  It would sell out in stores before they even had a chance to placed on the shelves.  You would go to the beach or the pool and see gaggles of kids gathered around their looms chatting, sharing their ideas and bracelets.  It was such a phenomenon.  I wrote about it in depth in this post here (which happens to be the most viewed post of mine) which still gets hits even two years later.  While Rainbow Loom isn't as popular as it was two summers ago, I find that kids still like making them, particularly my 6-8 year old kids.

The other day, I had time to kill between clients and walked into Learning Express and saw a handful of new items. One of the things that caught my eye was the Finger Loom.  Made by the creators of the original Rainbow Loom, this kit requires no hook and bracelets are made using just your fingers.  Even though I knew how great it would be for me to have in my bag of tricks at work, I immediately thought of my 5 year old daughter.  When the Rainbow Loom craze was going on, she was a sassy 3 year old who wanted to do everything her 5 and 7 year old cousins were doing.  She was so frustrated and sad when she couldn't do it but has been asking to learn ever since.  We have tried the bigger loom, but she would give up pretty quickly.  Yesterday, I was spending the day at the beach with just her and figured this would be a fun thing to bring out and show her.  At first, she wanted me to do it for her, but I insisted she at least give it a try.  When she first started, I agreed that we could take turns making the bracelet but after just a couple of times, she took the loom and the bands and took over the bracelet making.

There are a lot of things I like about this particular loom, especially for younger kids.  While I take out the original loom quite a bit at work, I find that for my kids who lack coordination, the big size can be awkward for them to hold onto and they require more help.  I also love that this doesn't require a hook to complete the bracelet.  This allows kids to get the hang of the process of making the bracelet without worrying about manipulating the hook, especially if they are holding it the right way.  Since there are only 4 pegs, there is less for them to be distracted by and they can keep their focus on just the bands and not the rest of the loom.  For so many of my kids, this will be a great way to introduce them to Rainbow Loom bracelet making and get them motivated to be challenged and try the bigger ones once they have master the Finger Loom.

Like the original Rainbow Loom, the Finger Loom has a tremendous amount of therapeutic benefits. Some of the skills that can be worked on using the Finger Loom are:
Improve Fine Motor Skills-this bracelet maker might be small, but it it is a great way to work on improving grasping skills and in-hand manipulation skills.  From picking the bands out of the pile, to placing them on the loom to using your fingers to pull the bands off the pegs, there an endless number of skills that can be addressed.  The best part is that the kids are so engaged and motivated by the bracelet making, that they don't realize that they are actually doing work!
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-this is a great tool to work on improving bilateral coordination skills (the use of two hands in a coordinated manner). It is nearly impossible to be successful making a bracelet without using both hands.  My 5 year old daughter tried it and realized quickly that she needed both hands because I wasn't going to hold onto the loom for her while she made her bracelet.  Once I prompted her to hold the loom with her non-dominant hand and to do all the fine motor work with her dominant hand, she become more independent and successful.
Improve Focus and Attention/Improve Executive Functioning Skills-like the original loom, the Finger Loom is great for working on building executive functioning skills.  If you want to work on working memory, you can give a child the directions and have them either write them down or repeat them back to you or another friend.  If you want to work on organizational skills, you can have the child you are working with pick out a pattern that they must follow and get out all of the bands that they will need to complete the bracelet out before beginning.  I like to have older kids work on these more challenging activities in a room with some distractions present in order to work on being able to build their focus and ability to attend and complete tasks in a more typical environment.  It seems silly, but if they can do something like making a bracelet with distractions present, they will be more likely to complete classroom assignments.

As we head into the end of July, I know many families are getting ready to go on family vacations and are always looking for things to keep their kids occupied on long drives, dinners out or time at the beach or by the pool.  The Finger Loom is a perfect thing to pack as it is light, small and takes up very little room in a bag.  It is also very reasonably priced (you can get a party pack of 9 looms for $16 on Amazon!) so you can pick one up for all the kids and/or guests who might enjoy them.  So in addition to being a great occupational therapy tool, it can be an activity that can keep a group of kids engaged with each other and develop social skills (sharing the bands, making bracelets for each other, etc.).

Happy Looming!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Let's Get Cooking!

It's totally crazy to think about how quickly this summer is going.  I don't know about you, but even though we are having a lot of fun and doing lots of things with our own daughter, my husband and I are sometimes trying to figure out what to do with her.  We are getting to that point, especially these last few days, that it's so hot out that we don't even really have the motivation to go outside.  So even though there are several weeks left of summer, it is now it is time to get creative and keep us all from going to stir crazy.

One thing that brings me more joy than pretty much anything is baking.  It is something that connects me to my father and acts as my personal therapy.  As soon was Quinn was old enough, I started having her bake with me.  As a matter of fact, one of my favorite gifts for her was her first apron (thank you Carrie Cook!  Quinn still wears it when baking all these years later).  It started off simple and I would have her pour all the ingredients in for me.  As she got older and could be more involved, I'd let her do more.  The day I let her crack her own eggs was a pretty exciting day for her.  Baking with Quinn has been something that has not only been something we could do together to bond over, but has been a fun way to teach her new things.

Cooking and baking with your kids can be a wonderful activity, especially in air conditioning on these super hot days.  When parents are asking me for things to do over the summer to keep their kids up to speed with their occupational therapy goals, baking is one of the first things I suggest.  Not only is it fun, it can be tremendously therapeutic. Additionally, introducing kids to cooking/baking early on in life makes them more likely to take risks when eating and try new foods.  There are also a lot of ways to sneak in opportunities for learning when baking.  For example, if your child is working on learning their letters and numbers, they can make cookies using alphabet or number cookie cutters. If they need to work on building up strength, you can do it while stirring ingredients.

**before I begin the next half of my post, I am going to admit I am much more of a baker than a cooker.  So going forward, when I say baking, it represents both baking AND cooking***

Some of the therapeutic benefits of baking with your kids are:
Improve Upper Body and Hand Strength-baking is a great way to work on this skill in a fun and sneaky way.  Stirring the ingredients, especially as they start blending all together, can become increasingly difficult and require a lot of strength and endurance.  When baking for your family, I suggest that parents let their kids roll up their sleeves and mix with their hands instead of a spoon or a spatula....this really helps with building up the strength in those small muscles of the hands.
Improve Bilateral Coordination-baking is a great way to work on improving bilateral coordination because there are so many parts of this activity that require the use of two hands.  For example, when pouring the ingredients you need one hand to hold the measuring cup or spoon and the other pours the ingredients.  When mixing the ingredients together, it's essential that you hold the you hold the spoon or spatula with one hand and keep the bowl stable with the other one.  How about cracking an egg?  You need to hold the egg with one hand and keep the cup or bowl still with the other.
Improve Fine Motor Skills-do you have kids who need to work on improving cutting, grasping and other fine motor skills?  Baking is a great way to do that in a really fun way.  Need to work on cutting?  How about getting your kids to cut open the bag of chocolate chips?  If you have a ton of patience and time, you can use a pair of Zoo Sticks to put some of the smaller ingredients in (chocolate chips, pieces of fruit, etc.).  Even the simple task of pulling the paper off the butter is a great fine motor activity.
Improve Visual Motor/Visual Perceptual Skills-baking is a great way to work on improving visual skills.  When you are following a recipe, you have to be able to visually track between the recipe and the ingredients.  You need to be able to pour ingredients into a measuring cup or spoon and be able stop pouring them when they hit the line.
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-what I love about baking is that it is a great activity to work on improving higher level skills for older children.  Baking requires an incredible amount of focus and attention.  It requires one to be able to organize their ingredients, sequence and follow directions.  If you one doesn't (and I have lots of experience here) follow directions and focus carefully, you can end up with a mess of a project.  Baking is a great activity for older kids who need to work on improving their executive functioning skills and the best part is that much of the work can be hidden.
Improve Social Skills-baking is an incredibly social activity. Even though I am an occupational therapist and I tend to see kids on a 1:1 basis, I have also been lucky enough to spend a lot of my time working in social skills groups.  As a matter of fact, in September, I will be working with The Meeting House again as we begin our TMH Juniors group.  One of our program offerings will be a baking/cooking class once per month.  The social benefits of baking are endless and can be easily carried over at home with siblings and friends.  You can work on taking turns (pouring ingredients in), work on compromise and working as a team to complete a final project.  Once a cooking project is finished, there is a tremendous social opportunity to take advantage of.  You can set up a table or a picnic blanket and let the kids have conversations about what is happening in their lives.  If you have kids who have difficulty with conversation, you can throw a pile of conversation cards out in the middle of the table for them to reach out for when there is a lull in conversation.

There are a lot of fun and simple baking and cooking activities that you can do with your children...some that don't even require oven or heat!  Just keep in mind, when cooking with children, you will need patience and extra time.  Kids will ask a lot of questions, make a mess and may even lose their attention part way through your activity.  One thing to do in order to prevent that from happening is set up all the materials before you call your kids in....have your ingredients out, eggs cracked and in a cup, measuring spoons and cups ready, etc..  As children have more success with a cooking activity, you can start to add on responsibilities such as having them take out the ingredients.
Here are a few ideas for you to try with your kids, either at home or at work. I've tried them all and they have been a huge hit!

Zipsicle-I saw these when in Bed, Bath and Beyond a few weeks ago and had to try them.  Who doesn't love a refreshing ice-pop?  How about making your own with your kids?  These little pouches are perfectly designed for making your ice pops.  If you go here, you will find a bunch of tasty and easy recipes you can follow to make your very own ice pops.  The best part, is that you can avoid artificial flavors and colors, which so many of the kids I work with are unable to eat, and add lots of fruits and other healthy ingredients.  
Zoku-this is another fun way to make your own ice pops at home.  I wrote out the Zoku ice pop maker about two years (check out that post here) and since then, they have expanded their line.  They still have their original pop maker, but now have smaller ones that don't take up as much room in your freezer.  They also have molds that are in the shape of fish, people and rockets, which might make your little ones more willing to try a new flavor. You can follow one of their recipes or make something of your own.  
Rainbow Fruit Kabobs-another activity that doesn't require the use of an oven or heat.  I love the idea of fruit kabobs and have actually made these with many of my kids when I was running social skills groups.  This activity is great because it can encourage your child to try new fruits.  It works on building fine motor, visual motor/perceptual and bilateral coordination skills.  For younger children who are just beginning to learn their colors, it's a fun way to reinforce it for them.  It's also nice to work on improving organizational and sequencing skills for older children who are struggling with both of these things.  Lastly, this is a simple enough of an activity that you can do it in small groups and encourage conversation, cooperation and team work.
Alphabet Cookies-I have always found that if you hide the work in learning, kids are more likely to hold onto the information.  I have always had a set of alphabet cookie cutters in my office to use with playdough and the kids really love it.  At home, you can take those same cookie cutters and make cookies instead.  If you are motivated, you can make your dough from scratch but if you want to
make it simple and fast, buy the rolls of sugar or chocolate chip dough at the store....the end product is the same.  There are so many opportunities to talk about the letters during this can have them look through the pile to find a certain letter and talk about words that start with certain letters.  Once they are all baked (and cooled), you can have children put them in order.  And if you want to make it really fun and therapeutic, you can decorate the cookies after using icing, sprinkles and other fun decorations.

These are just a few ideas to get you started but really, you can make any recipe a good recipe for kids.  I know that my daughter just loves being part of the process.  It can be as simple as pouring the cheese, butter and milk into the macaroni when making mac and cheese or as complicated as shredding cheese with a grater (kid friendly of course) for meals.  In addition to all of the skills that can be worked on while baking or cooking, it's a great source of pride for a child to be able to tell people that they helped make whatever they are eating.

Do you have a favorite recipe or cooking activity that you do with your child?  It would be fun to be able to put together a list of things that you have been successful with and share them with each other.  While I am an avid baker, I am always looking for new and tasty recipes to try with Quinn.  I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Stay cool and fun baking with your kids.  Who knows, if you start your kids off early in the kitchen, maybe they will be the next top chef!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Make the Fourth Fun!

As I prepared for my July podcast with Parenting Roundabout that will go live this morning, I thought I would share my Fourth of July pointers with you all.  As exciting as this day can be for some, it can be equally as stressful and scary for children, especially those with sensory processing difficulties.  For some of the children I work with, they have a heightened sense of sound.  What sounds pleasant to you and I can sound horrifying for them and make a fun event (watching fireworks, going to a picnic, etc.) an incredibly difficult experience for them.  And we all know that a difficult experience for a child means that those around them may have an equally negative experience.

There are so many things that can go right on this fun summer holiday.  There are a ton of opportunities to hang out with friends and family....go to the beach or the parks and have picnics, go to Fourth of July town parades and of course, watching fireworks.  All of that sounds fabulous, right?  Well, if you have a child who has sensory processing difficulties, it can be as stressful as fun.  For example, those parades can be lots of fun but the unexpected noises and large crowds of people getting in your space can be a disaster.  Same thing with the fun beach or picnic event you attend each year.  The sand or the grass may cause your sensory defensive child to not want to get off the blanket or out of their strollers.  Or maybe it is too sunny or their is loud music playing close-by or the water just splashed them and got them wet.  And where do we start with the fireworks?  To most people, the fireworks are a thing of excitement and beauty but for those defensive kids, it can be a scary, scary thing between the loud noises and the crazy bright and flashing lights.  

For some families, avoiding these kinds of events are the easiest solution.  However, that is not a realistic solution and could mean that several other family members who were really looking forward to these special things will lose out on the fun.  I am going to provide a few strategies below that might help this Fourth of July weekend go smoother and be fun for everyone.  

Plan Ahead-if you know that you will be attending an event that might be difficult for your child, be sure to plan ahead and problem solve.  For example, talk to your child about what to expect, the schedule of events, who they might see and what might happen that might be hard for them.  Some things you can do are:
*take your child on a quick visit to the destination before the event.  Spot out a quiet/safe spot for them to go to in the case of an emergency.  Let them know that even if they are scared, there will be a place you can go to together to get calm and away from all the action.  
*get to your destination early before the crowds arrive.  Get your child comfortable and make a game of watching all the people arriving.  Maybe play a game of I Spy and talk about all of the different Fourth of July things you can see while you wait for the action to start.  
*if you are going to a party at a friends house, be sure to not only arrive early but to talk to the host with your child and tell them that there is a chance you may need to sneak out for a bit and take a break from the festivities.  Ask them if they have a special spot close-by that they sneak out to to get some quiet time.  Rest assured that if you have been invited to a friend's house and they know your child has some sensory difficulties, they will be more than happy to help you and your child have the best experience possible.  
*watch a fireworks display online before watching them live.  Talk to them about what was exciting and what was scary and what you can do in order to make watching fireworks a fun experience for them.  

Have A Bag of Tricks-it's times like this that you want to be sure to have a bag filled with tricks/supplies in order to make this a great holiday for your whole family.  
*if you have a child who is afraid of loud noises, bring along a pair of noise-canceling headphones.  Your child may really love the looks of fireworks, but the loud and unpredictable noises may be too much for them.  Be sure to test these out before going to a fireworks display. It's never a good idea to try something out prior to an event to find out your kid hates the way they feel.  If you really want to get festive, find some stickers to cover the headphones!  This can make your child who might be resistant to wearing them more likely to put them on. 
*bring your child's favorite lovie or stuffed animal to an event so they know they have a friend and source of comfort during a scary moment.  
*pack a bottle of bubbles.  Whether you are at a crowded park or parade, bubbles will make things better.  Blowing bubbles encourages kids to take deep breathes which helps to calm and organize themselves.  The best thing about bubbles, especially in a crowd of people, is that they will just add to the fun of the event.  
*pack a pair of sunglasses to dim the excitement of the holiday.  Maybe your kids don't mind the loud noises but the fast and flashing lights may become too much for them.  There are so many good child-sized sunglasses  to choose from so make sure you take your kids to try them on and find the ones that they are most comfortable in. 
*bring your child's favorite snacks/comfort food.  As a grownup, I have my special foods that I keep in my bag for those stressful moments in life.  Kids can be easily comforted by their favorite foods so be sure to have them in hand (and plenty of them) during times that may be more stressful for them.  Chewy foods, such as gummy snacks and dried fruits, are highly recommended as they provide a lot of sensory input.  
*if your child is of stroller age, be sure to bring it with you to these events.  It can be a place of comfort for your child.  I remember going to concerts in Prospect Park with our daughter...she loved the music but would often pull down the top of her stroller and chill out in her little cocoon of a space to listen to the music.  For older children, you can bring their favorite reading or activity books and let them chill out in there while all of the excitement is taking place. 
*for family/friend parties, bring a bag of activity books and coloring instruments.  Not only is this a very calming and organizing activity, it is one that can encourage socialization and conversation with other children at the event.

While I love the Fourth of July and all the things that go along with it, I know from a professional standpoint, that it can bring out lots of sensory behaviors.  It's important to recognize if the behaviors you are seeing from your child are coming from sensory overload or if they are just being poorly behaved.  I hope that some of my strategies will be helpful for you and your littles this holiday weekend.   I would love to hear from any of you about some of your "tricks" that you use for your children when they become overstimulated and overexcited.  I am sure that if they help your child, they will help other parents and children have a happier and less stressful time.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July! 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Put Your Arms In The Air Like You Just Don't Care!

In an effort to make this blog more informative for my readers, I am going to begin sharing interesting and helpful blog posts that I stumble upon.  For some reason, it hadn't occurred to me until just today that if I found these articles helpful, that my readers would also feel the same way.  The internet is a wonderful resource, especially when working with children. There is a ridiculous (in the best way possible) amount of information out there to be shared with everyone.  However,trying to sift through all the information can be exhausting and time-consuming.  So thanks to Kristin, here is my first article share blog post!

Today, the mom of one of my clients sent me a great article that talked about the importance of working on a vertical surface.  It was written by Lauren Drobjnak, a pediatric therapist and mother who began The Inspired Treehouse with her colleagues in order to share playful activities for children that promote development and wellness.  Their belief is that if kids are given a little help, they can build strong and healthy bodies and minds through play and exploration.  Do yourself a favor and check out and subscribe to their blog here...I promise you won't be disappointed by their emails.

Motor Skills and More!  Working on a Vertical Surface is a quick, easy and informative read about
what can be achieved by working on a vertical surface.  Some of you may be asking "What is a vertical surface!?!?".  Simply put, a vertical surface is a chalkboard or an easel... a surface that is on an incline that requires a child to have to raise their arms in order to write on it.  It is something that requires upper body strength and endurance.  When I was growing up, there was a chalkboard in every classroom I entered.  Daily, I was asked to go up and answer a math question or write the answer to a teacher's question on that board.  I never would have imagined that that simple task, something that seems so "normal" to so many of us, would be something that isn't really part of a kid's school routine these days.  Nowadays, we have the SmartBoard or a dry erase board in classrooms.  You may not sneeze because of all the dust from the chalk, but it will serve the same purpose in writing on a raised surface and sharing information with your classmates.

Whenever I am asked by parents about what can be done at home to help support our work in therapy, one of the first things I suggest is to get an easel.  Living in NYC, some parents worry that they don't have the space for a large and bulky is limited and we all know that kids come needing a lot of things to keep them busy!  For those parents, I suggest that they get a chalkboard or a dry erase board that can be mounted to the back of a door or the wall of a bedroom.

Working on a vertical surface can be beneficial for children of all ages, especially those who need to work on increasing core strength and postural stability.  Depending on the height of the working surface, you can have a child kneel, stand or sit on a therapy ball to draw, paint or write.  Another great thing about working on the vertical is that it is ideal for working on improving bilateral coordination skills.  I have kids hold a piece of paper up with one hand while using their other to hold the writing instrument.  This article talks about playing with stencils to also work on developing skills.  Please click here to learn about all the other benefits of working on the vertical that Lauren Drobjnak talks about.  

Fort those of you wondering what kind of vertical surfaces would be good for you and your home, I have provided a few suggestions below.
Chalkboard Wallie (Extra Large)-these extra large panels can easily be repositioned and placed wherever is most convenient/space allows.  Hang on the refrigerator, the back of a door or in a playroom.  I have one of their smaller versions hanging in my kitchen and my daughter has loved drawing pictures and practicing writing her letters on it.  They are easy to clean and can be used with any kind of chalk.  Be sure to hang them up in a way that makes your child have to have their arms extended in order to work on increasing upper body strength.

Dry Erase Board-there are a lot of dry erase boards to choose from that will work on all of the things mentioned in Motor Skills and More!  Working on a Vertical Surface.  I have always been partial to this one by The Container Store simply because it takes up no room at all and is easy to hang up.  It can go on the back of a door, inside a closet or wherever you happen to have the space for.   Also, another important thing, it is very reasonably priced!

Artist's Portrait Easel-if you happen to have the real estate in your apartment for a real deal easel, don't look any further than this one by Land Of Nod.  When my mother asked me what she could get my daughter for a Christmas gift one year, this was the one and only thing that came to mind.  It's been a favorite of Quinn's for years and has gotten so much use since it was gifted to her.  My favorite thing about this easel is that while it is large, it isn't bulky.  It can be folded up and set against a wall without taking up too much space.  Another great feature is that it is double-sided and can be used for many things.  One side has a chalkboard while the other has a dry-erase board.  That's not the top you will find a place to hold a roll of paper for drawing with crayons or markers or paintbrush or finger-painting.  A bonus's modern and sleek looking.

Backpack Slant Board-Fun and Function, one of my favorite therapeutic catalogues, has a variety of slant boards to choose from.  I recommend slant boards for many of the older kids I work with for homework time.  Slant boards are great because they don't take up a lot of room.  This one I have
suggested is even better because it can easily fold up and fit into a child's backpack making it easy for them to transport back and forth with them.  The most important thing about using a slant board for kids with graphomotor difficulties is that the design of a slant board automatically puts the wrist in an extended position, thus encouraging hand stabilization for greater ease in controlling writing instruments.  I don't only use this for handwriting/grasphomotor activities...when using an iPad in therapy, I will put the iPad on it to accomplish the same thing.

Thank you to The Inspired Treehouse for this wonderful and informative article!  I hope you all find this as helpful as I did!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Coloring...Not Just For Kids!

I wrote a long time about about coloring books and often refer to my favorites in some of my posts.  I
love having a good selection of coloring and activity books in my office and at home.  One thing that I have discovered is that coloring isn't just for kids these days.  I will often join the kids I work with or my own daughter when she is coloring.  I do this for several reasons:
*if I am engaged in a coloring activity, I find that the kids will color for longer which ends up building up their grasp strength and endurance.  It also helps on increasing a child's attention span
*I will often mess up or ask a child for their suggestions on what colors I should use to help them understand that their pictures don't have to be perfect or that they shouldn't get too frustrated when coloring
*I find coloring to be one of the most calming and organizing activities.  Not just for kids, but for anyone.  

In this post, I am not going to focus just on kids coloring/activity books, but also ones that are good for older kids and for adults who may love to color.  Coloring with your kids is a great way to stimulate conversation and imagination skills.  It is a wonderful way to build confidence and self-esteem...when a child completes a picture that they have worked really hard on, they feel really good about themselves and want to show it off to their people.  There is no greater source of pride for my own daughter when someone compliments her on her work and then hangs it up.

Some of my favorite coloring and activity books right now are the following:
Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest-these two books by Johanna Basford are more than just coloring books.  They are also coloring adventures that take you on a journey through a beautiful garden and an enchanted forest to discover what is in the magical castle.  The pictures are all in black and white and have so many little details to color in.  In addition to coloring some of the most magnificently drawn pictures, you have to find objects hidden within each picture.  I also like that some of the pages have mazes to go through and pictures to complete.
While these books are most definitely for older children, they are definitely something that could be done together with your child.  Having them look at the pictures and tell a story based on what they see is great for building up their language and imagination skills.  You can play a game of I Spy while looking at the pictures to find some of those hidden objects.  I first discovered these beautiful books when shopping at my local toy store, Norman and Jules, but you can also find them at the bigger bookstores and other speciality toy/bookstores.

Color Me Calm-this is a book that was designed for busy and crazed adults.  At a time where life gets busier and more complicated each day, we find ourselves to become more stressed and overstimulated by work and family obligations.  Created by art therapist Lacy Mucklow and artist Angela Porter, Color Me Calm has about 100 different coloring templates that were created specifically to get a person to color themselves to a calmer and more relaxed state of being.  The book is broken down into seven therapeutically-themed chapters including Mandalas, Water Scenes, Wooded Scenes, Geometric Patterns, Flora and Fauna, Natural Patterns and Spirituality. The intention of the book is for adults to put pencil to paper and get themselves into a state of creativity and relaxation.  Some of the pictures could be appropriate for younger children, but this is definitely intended for older children and adults.

Daydream Doodles-I've been looking through the shelves at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores non-stop lately trying to find new coloring and activity books for not only the kids I work with, but for my own daughter who has officially turned into one of those kids who can't stop drawing and coloring.  While I love to see her imagination come to life on paper, it isn't always so easy for her and she needs some jumping off ideas.  Throughout this book, there are several different kinds of activities.  You can color in pictures, complete different kinds of pictures or draw your own patterns on objects.  This coloring book is definitely more appropriate for older children (they suggest 6 and older).  In addition to working on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, it is great for working on creative thinking and imagination skills.  I like that you can also work on language skills while the kids are completing their pictures.  You can also work on improving executive functioning skills be encouraging them to talk about what they are going to draw, how they are going to do it, etc..

Usborne Big Book of Drawing, Doodling and Colouring-I am a huge fan of all the Usborne activity books.  They have a wide range of coloring and drawing books that will spark the imagination of children.  This book is especially awesome because it has a wide range of activities in one book.  There are pictures and patterns to color in and complete, various scenes for children to color in and add their own details and pages that will teach your child how to draw things step-by-step.  The book is filled with a ton of modern and stylish pictures ranging from monsters, animals and food.  I have found that many of my kids, even those who typically resist any kid of drawing/coloring activities, love looking through this book and finding the "right" picture for them.   My favorite pages are those that teach kids how to draw different animals, people and objects step-by-step.  The directions are easy to follow but also leave plenty of room for kids to use their imagination and add their own details to pictures.  This book promises to be fun not only for your children, but for the adults who want to color and draw with them!

Here are a few handwriting/coloring tips to keep in mind when coloring with your children:
*always encourage a child to hold a writing instrument properly.  Broken crayons or short colored pencils are an easy way to get a child to hold a writing instrument with a tripod-like grasp. Some of my favorites are the Faber-Castell Jumbo Triangular Colored Pencils, Flip Crayons by Handwriting Without Tears and the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Markers.
*if you are working on increasing upper body strength, have children color on an elevated surface like an easel or tape the paper to a wall.
*let kids do what they want with colors....let them choose whatever color they want for what they are doing without telling them what they should do.  Coloring should be an activity that allows kids to express themselves and expand their imagination skills.  They want to color an elephant pink...go for it!
*try and encourage a child to stay in the lines when coloring, but don't make a big deal about it if they don't.
*work on building language skills by having children tell you a story about their picture.  Encourage them to elaborate and talk about the details by asking them meaningful questions.

With summer just a few days away, I'm finding that parents are asking me more about what they can do for their children to keep working on their fine motor and visual skills while they are taking a break from therapy.  Coloring, drawing and activity books are a great and fun way for kids to keep working on skills that have been addressed in therapy during the school year.  So many parents want to be more involved in their child's therapy but complain that the kids won't "work" for them.  Coloring is a great way to hide the therapy piece.

The books I suggested in this post are definitely geared more towards older kids, but there are many other books out there for younger kids.  If you want to read about books that are better suited for younger/pre-school aged children, check out this post here.

Do you have any great coloring or activity books that I should add to my library?  I'm looking forward to nights of coloring with my little girl this summer and would love to test out some new ones.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Screen Free Summer Fun

Last week, I blogged about a bunch of apps that would be good for kids to use during the summer.  I know, and totally respect, that technology and screen time aren't for everyone (you can see that post here).  There are too many kids who get sucked into the games and have a hard time pulling themselves away from an iPad so sometimes it's just easier for those kids to not use it at all.  I know that there are some kids who just do better with more hands on activities for learning.  This post will focus on activities, games and toys that can be used this summer to help kids work on maintaining what they worked on during the school year in therapy and school.

Many of the things I will suggest below are ones that I have written about before but are ones that I think would be great for the summer.  I have tried to find things that don't take up a lot of room for those of you who will be traveling and don't want to bring things that are heavy or take up a lot of room.  The most important thing is that everything I suggest has been kid tested and approved.

Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-one of my absolute favorite activities to do with my kids at work.  These are also one of the first things I recommend to parents who are looking for an easy but therapeutic art activity to do with their children at home.  When I first discovered Sticky Mosaics, there were only a few sets to choose from.  Now you can find dozens and dozens to choose from which means there is a set that will be right for whatever your child is interested in.  I stumbled upon this awesome Dragon set which was a HUGE hit amongst my older boys more interested in scary and more "boy" like things.  The goal of each mosaic is to match the different colored square and gem stickers to the the number associated with it.  There are different kinds of sets for younger/toddler kids which require the kids to match larger stickers that are varying colors and shapes.  No matter what set your child chooses, this is great for working on developing fine-motor skills, increasing grasp strength, improving bilateral coordination, focus/attention and eye-hand coordination.  Each set typically comes with 4 or 5 different pictures to complete and plenty of stickers to complete them.  For those of you who will be traveling, take all the pieces and throw them in a ziploc bag.  The box it comes in takes up a lot of space and could be annoying to travel with.  Take that away and you have a very lightweight activity that won't take up space in a travel bag and will occupy your kids for hours!

Boogie Board-the Boogie Board has been around for a while but it's only been in the last year or so
that it has become a staple not only at my office but in my work and personal bag.  This lightweight writing tablet is perfect for keeping kids busy while in the car, plane or at the beach/pool.  They can practice writing letters, draw pictures or play games against their friends (Hangman, Tic-Tac-Toe or the Dot game). Like I have already mentioned, the Boogie Board is lightweight and takes up very little room in a bag making it a perfect thing to pack.  I encourage parents to use the Boogie Board in conjunction with an iPad if they are working on handwriting apps; first they can practice the letter on the iPad and then practice using the Boogie Board.  If you are concerned about how much paper your kids waste when playing games, this is perfect because no paper is required!  Some people have mentioned that the stylus that comes with the board is a bit too thin for their kids.  If this is the case for your kids, there are a lot of pencil grips that can fit right onto the stylus which will make using it easier for those little hands.

Uno Dare-I just found this new version of the classic game Uno the other day.  I have loved Uno forever and always have a full set in my bag of tricks for work.  Uno is great for working on so many things:  color and number recognition, eye-hand coordination, focus, attention, social skills, executive functioning and several other things.  One of the things I like most about Uno is that it can easily be adapted to suite the level of different children.  For example, when I am just teaching a child how to play, I remove all of the extra cards and focus on mastering the concept of matching the numbers or colors.  As kids become more comfortable, I slowly introduce the extra cards.  I find that kids, especially those who may have some learning difficulties, end up being more successful when you play it this way.  So, back to Uno Dare.  The game is essentially the same but they have added a more physical/gross motor aspect to the game.  On the wild and choose 2 cards are put down, opponents have the option of taking the number of cards or doing a dare.  They get kids up and moving around which I have found really helps with focus and attention.  Some of the dares are jumping like a bunny rabbit until your next turn, holding a card against the wall with your nose until your next turn or having to try and blow just one card off the top of the deck.  It's fun to watch the kids get into the dares that are provided.  I am excited to try this with one of my social skills groups and have them come up with their own dares for their friends!

Thumbs Up-I'm always excited to see new games by Blue Orange Games.  I was in an Upper East Fantastic Kids Toys,  and one of the employees there suggested I try out Thumbs Up.  It's become a fast favorite of mine and every kid that I have used it with at work.  Like all the other games/activities I have written about, I have included this on a summer list because of how light and easy it is to travel with. Take it out of the box, throw it in a ziploc bag and you can throw it in a travel could be a great game for a plane ride or family game nights when on vacation.   Thumbs Up is a fast-paced game that works on improving visual skills such as visual motor, visual perceptual, visual tracking and visual attention.  It can also work on improving color and number recognition.  The game consists of 4 different colored rings and a stack of cards; the cards all have fun pictures with numbers and colors.  The point of the game is simple:  each player is given 8 rings (2 of each color), the cards are placed in the middle of the group and each player takes a card.  The first person to correctly put their rings on their thumb in the order wins that round.  The first person to get 5 cards is the winner of the game.  For a game to be a true winner for me, it's important that it be easily adaptable for kids of different ages and cognitive levels.  Thumbs Up is great because you can sift through the cards and finds one that will be appropriate for younger children.

Discovery Putty-Fun and Function now has 4 different putty sets for you to choose from.  I happen to have all four at the gym I work at which makes it fun for the kids as they get to do something new and different every session.  Their job is to find all the animals, sweet treats, vehicles or school supplies hidden in the putty.  While doing this, they are working on building up their fine motor skills, especially grasping skills and hand strength.  Once they have found all of the objects, they can hide them for the next person to try and find them.  Unlike regular theraputty, kids are more motivated by the kid-friendly colors and objects hidden inside.  I love how much conversation can be had while finding the objects.  For children who are also working on language skills, be sure to ask them about each found object, what it does, how it is used, how it tastes, etc..  Like many of the other things already written about, the containers of putty are lightweight and won't take up much room in a bag.

Usborne Activity Books-while I find it is important to rest and relax over the summer, I also think it Lots of Things to Find and Color and it is still my favorite.  Each page is filled with a new might be a page filled with fairies or an ocean filled with fish.  On each page, there are several rules for the kids to follow.  For example, on that page of fairies, you have to spot all the fairies with a wand and color them a certain color.  Another great one is the Usborne Big Color by Numbers Book.  This is better suited for older kids and requires that kids recognize their numbers.  There is a lot of coloring to do on each page so it requires attention, focus and coloring endurance.  The completed pictures are really fun and the kids truly feel like they have accomplished something once they have completed it.  For kids who are struggling to learn how to draw, I have found that the Usborne Big Drawing Book to be really motivating and successful.  A child is taught how to draw animals, objects and people step-by-step in a visual and easy to follow way.  I will have the kids practice the steps first on a Boogie Board and once they feel confident, have them draw in the book.  They are encouraged to add their own details, color them in the way they want to and really make the picture their own.
These are just 3 of the dozens and dozens of activity books by Usborne.  Next time you are in Barnes and Noble, or any bookstore for that matter, look through their selection and find the book that's right for your kid.  Any of their books are perfect for keeping your kids entertained and learning on long car/plane rides.  They will keep meals out from being a dreaded experience for you all!  Most import
is important for the kids I work with to spend some time focusing on the skills that we worked on so hard all year long.  I don't want kids to be drilled with flash cards or asked to spend time every day doing boring workbooks...that's not what summer should be about.  What I would like is for kids to spend some time working on fine motor, handwriting and drawing skills in a fun way.  There are so many great activity books out there....spend some time at a local bookstore or a Barnes and Noble and you will easily get lost in all of your options.  I discovered the magic of Usborne books a couple of years ago when on the hunt for something new and different to get my kids motivated to color.  The first book I discovered was the

Magnetic-Go Hangman-when traveling with older kids, it's important to have lots to entertain them.  From my personal experience, no matter how complicated or mature those kids are, it doesn't take a crazy amount of energy to entertain them.  Hangman is one of those classic games that can keep even the most high maintenance of kids entertained.  I was killing time the other day between clients and found this fantastic magnetic hangman game.  I've already played it with a few of my kids and it's great.  The kid I happened to play this Hangman game with is someone who has a difficult time with coming up with an idea....she needed a lot of support to come up with words and organize her work in order for us to play this game.  If playing this game with a typically developing child, the sky is the can explain the rules of Hangman and run with it.  What I have found to be helpful for the kids I work with is that you (the therapist/grownup) start the game off by being the person to choose the word that the kid has to guess.  Give them a clue about what your word is....for example, you say something like "This is something I like to eat" or "this is something you play on in the playground". I have actually used a Boogie Board and have the kids write their word on that so they can refer to it as their opponent is guessing letters so they can easily figure out if a letter is in the word and where it goes.  This game is recommended for kids ages 5 and older but really should be for kids who are reading and writing.  I have a pretty smart 5 year old but she wouldn't be able to play this game successfully.  The best thing about this game is that it's compact, lightweight and won't take up space.  It doesn't need to be turned off during takeoff and landing.  It's great for problem solving, improving social skills, visual motor/perceptual skills and literacy skills.

Spot It Games-I've been a fan of the Spot It games by Blue Orange Games forever.  Truth be told, I love any game that can be played quickly, with few rules and guarantees a lot of fun.  Added bonus with all of the Spot It games are that they come in a cute little tin and take up almost no room at all in your bag.  You can't go wrong with any of the Spot It games.  My princess loving 5 year old really loves the Frozen and Princess Sofia editions that came out earlier this year but if have a sports loving kinda kid, there are lots to choose from as well.  There are several ways to play Spot It but whatever way you choose to play, you will work on improving visual motor/perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, focus and attentional skills and social/pragmatic skills.  There are several ways to play the game and I tend to encourage the kids I work with to decide on the rules they want to play by before starting play.  Great to play in a group of two or as a whole family which makes it perfect to take on summer vacations.

OgoDisc -I include the OgoDisc on my Holiday Gift Guide each year.  It's a great outdoor game (and indoor if you have the right space).  We use it at The Meeting House and at Head's Up (the therapeutic gym I work at in New York City) with some of our older kids to work on gross motor, sensory motor and executive functioning skills.  Additionally, it's great for working on improving social skills, especially being a good sport, playing by the rules and sometimes, being part of a team.  OgoSport describes the OgoDisc is a hand trampoline that can be used to throw, catch and bounce balls back and forth.  They have several sizes and versions (with or without handles) but the point of the game is very simple:  see how many times you can catch and bounce the ball back to one or more people before it hits the ground.  One of my favorite things about this set is that it is lightweight and has a great grip for even the littlest of hands to easily grab onto it.  I have found that when I introduce this game to some of my kids, it's best to have them practice by themselves and see how many times they can (gently) hit the ball up and down without it falling to the ground; this gives them a sense of what is expected, how hard they need to hit it, the importance of keeping their eyes on the ball, etc.. As they get better and more comfortable, you can have them play with other kids.  This is a great family game.....perfect for taking on camping trips and vacations.  My daughter loves playing with us and I love watching her confidence grow as she gets better at catching and hitting the ball.

There is a lot here to keep you and your kiddos busy this summer that gets them away from an iPad, video games or any other screen.  Everything here has been kid-tested and therapist approved and can be perfect for taking on vacations.  I love that they will not only work on improving a ton of occupational therapy skills, but can help with improving social skills and encourage families to play together.  While I don't want kids to lose any of the skills that they worked so hard on all year, I also want to make sure that they get a chance to have fun, rest and have fun with their friends and family.  I have tried to suggest things that I thought could accomplish all of those things!

Do you have any games/toys that you love using at work or with your family?  I would love to hear from you about your family favorites, especially those that are great for traveling and taking on a long car/plane tripe.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

Happy Summer to you all!  May it be filled with tons of opportunities to create some amazing memories.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Summer hAPPiness

It seems like just yesterday I was writing about the school year beginning.  Somehow, this year has
gone by faster than seems real and I am doing summer scheduling and helping families who will be out of the city for the summer come up with activities to keep their kids busy and learning.  I have several kids on my caseload who will take the summer off but need to remain a bit focused on what we have been working on in occupational therapy all year so when they come back we don't have to spend too much time reviewing things.

Every year, parents ask me what they can do with their kids over the summer.  They don't want to spend too much time focusing on academics but they also want to make sure that their kids don't lose any of the skills that they have worked so hard on acquiring over the course of the year.  So many of the families I work with spend a lot of time traveling so I like to give them a list of apps that they can work on while in the car, planes, etc..

It's a proven fact that kids are motivated by an iPad.  I can't tell you the number of things I have been able to accomplish and get kids to work on when presented to them in app form first.  For those of you who read my blog, you will know that I don't believe that the iPad is the end all and be all of things.  When used in conjunction with more hands-on activities, it can be a tremendously motivating tool.  There are so many great apps out there that can work on a ton of occupational therapy skills, especially handwriting and visual motor/perceptual skills.  I highly recommend setting up a folder on an iPad for each of your kids with the apps that are best for them.  I think it is also important to note that using an iPad can not only be good for learning, but can be good for encouraging social skills and language development.  Kids should always be supervised when using the iPad...not only to make sure that what they are playing is appropriate for them but also so adults can step in and encourage kids to be social if they are using it together.

Whenever appropriate, I have my kids use a stylus when using the iPad.  This helps on working on fine motor skills, especially proper grasping skills when using writing instruments.  My two favorites are this crayon stylus by Fred & Friends and this mini stylus pen by Kikkerland.  Both are the perfect size for little hands!

Here are a just a few of my favorite apps and a brief description of what they will work on:

LetterSchool-one of my favorite and definitely my go-to app for handwriting.  Whether you want to begin working on teaching children how to write their letters or if you want to review what they already know, this is the best app out there.  It comes with three options:  uppercase, lowercase and numbers.  There are two levels of play for lots of practice.  For each letter and number, you work through 3 games (tap, trace and write) in order to earn stars.  Once you have completed both the silver and gold levels of play, you can then unlock the opportunity to do free-form writing.
Toonia Differences-I blogged about this awesome app by Toonia a couple of weeks ago here.  This app is similar to those Spot the Differences games you have may have played at some point.  You have two pictures side by side that are almost exactly the same and you have to find the 8 things that are different about the picture.  This is a great app for working on improving visual perceptual skills, especially visual scanning and visual attention.  You can read more about this app here.
Toonia Storymaker-another great app by Toonia.  This one is a fun and educational app that encourages children to be the author of their own story.  They are allowed to choose their own characters and scenes to tell their own story.  They can change colors, shapes, size, posture and emotions while creating their story.  This app encourages creative thinking, sequencing, organization and focus and attention.
Dexteria Jr.-I've had this app on my list of favorites for a long time.  This occupational therapist created app is a set of hand and finger exercises that help develop fine motor skills and work on getting kids reading for handwriting.  It's great for children as young as 2 years old and can be motivating enough for those as old as 8-10.  There are 3 games with multiple levels of play in each game.  Squish the Squash works on pointing skills; I am pretty strict with the kids about using their pointer finger during this game.  Pinch the pepper works on developing in-hand manipulation skills, specifically pinching using the thumb and pointer finger.  The last is game is Trace & Erase and kids work on graphomotor skills by tracing lots of different lines and shapes.  Once they are done tracing, they have to erase the lines and then the built-in camera will take a silly picture of the kids.  It's a simple game that works on visual motor and visual perceptual skills as well as improving focus, attention and concentration.
Pepi Play-it's hard to choose just one of the apps by Pepi Play.  I have all of their apps and they are big favorites with the kids I work with.  They are incredibly interactive and within each app, there are several games for them to play with.  Right now, my kids are really loving Pepi Bath 2 and Pepi Doctor.  Pepi Bath 2 has 6 different bathroom or cleaning situations.  It's the kid's job to help their character (3 to choose from) get all cleaned up:  they may help them go to the bathroom, get cleaned in the bathtub or get their clothes cleaned after some dirty play!  In Pepi Doctor, the kids help their character "get better"; they may need to help them get better from a cold, after falling off their bike or scooter (I ask the kids to tell me what they think happened to the kid and how they got hurt) and getting lots of scrapes and dealing with an aching tooth.  These apps are just two of the several that you and your kids will love playing together!
Tiggly-Tiggly has created two interactive games and several apps that work on fine motor, visual motor/perceptual, eye-hand coordination, early literacy and math skills.  Tiggly Shapes are rubberized shapes (circle, square, triangle and star) that children can use for learning and play with three different Tiggly apps.  The shapes have a soft plastic cover and silicon touch points that interact with the iPad screen.  They are incredibly durable and can withstand crazy toddlers but gentle enough that they are safe for the iPad screen.  Read more about Tiggly Shapes here and find out all therapeutic fun your kid will have with them.  You can read more about TigglyMath in an early blog post here.  Rumor has it that Tiggly will be releasing a third learning system next week....just in time for the summer!  I can't wait to see what they have in store for all of us.  It's sure to be both educational and fun!
Endless Alphabet/Endless Numbers-Originator Kids is another wonderful studio creating fabulous apps for kids.  My two favorite are Endless Alphabet and Endless Numbers.  Endless Alphabet is a fun way for kids to get ready for early reading by being introduced to new words.  Kids have to match the letters of the word and then get to watch a short little video with some really cute monsters once the letters are all placed in the right spot.  Endless Numbers is a really fun way for kids to learn numbers, sequences and quantity.  It is incredibly interactive and fun so the kids don't even realize that there is a tremendous amount of learning going on at the same time.  These are just two of the great apps by Originator.  Be sure to check out all the others, especially the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head Create and Play apps!

Bugs and Buttons /Bugs and Bubbles/Bugs and Numbers-Little Bit Studios may be one of my favorite app designers for children.  First of all, the games are fun and educational at the same time.  Each app comes with 18 different games which means that your kids can be entertained for a really long time.  The likelihood of them getting bored quickly is pretty slim which leads to lots of learning as the explore all the mini games.  Check out this blog post here that talks about just how amazing Bugs and Buttons (original and Bugs and Buttons 2).  If you want a real bang for your buck, then I highly recommend any and all of the apps by Little Bit Studios!
Avokiddo Apps-I wrote about this amazing company extensively in this post from March 27th.  So far, there are 5 different apps to choose from and they work on a variety of skills ranging from learning the letters of the alphabet to recognizing emotions to problem solving and several executive functioning skills.  The graphics are just amazing, the music is soothing and because of that, the kids I work with are totally motivated to play, explore and learn when using them.  I know when apps are really amazing when the kids I work with constantly ask for them and that is what happens with all of the apps by Avokiddo!

So, these are just a handful of the many apps I would recommend for summer learning.  As I was going through my iPad that is chock full of wonderful apps, I had a hard time choosing which ones to share with you all.  I ended up picking ones that kids are most likely to be independent with....they won't have to ask their grownups for too much help.  I also chose ones that I thought would be good for kids to play together in order to promote important social skills like turn-taking, compromise and conversation skills.

I would love to hear from any of you with some of your favorite apps.  If you have specific questions about apps that would be good for your children or ones that would work on specific goals, I would be more than happy to help you find the perfect ones.  I am always a click away and love helping parents and professionals identity apps that are better than others.  It can be a daunting experience going through the thousands and thousands of apps out there and since I have done so much research, let me be the one to help you as you figure out what would be best for your child.