Monday, March 30, 2015

Eggcellent Crafting!

Easter is less than a week away.  I love Easter.  I'm not sure if it is knowing that Spring really has to be close if Easter is happening or if it's the candy or if it is the decorating of eggs that makes this one of my favorite holidays.  Actually, is is the candy...I've been hoarding Cadbury Mini Eggs since Valentine's Day was over.  But I really do love the other things about Easter too.  And I love having a reason to do some fun crafts and activities with the kids I work with.  Holiday weeks tend to mean that I have a week of very focused and organized activities set up.  Since many of the kids I work with don't celebrate Easter, I have backup activities that focus on Spring instead.  Here are a few of the things I will be doing with the kids I work with this week.

Fingerprint Bunnies and Chickens-I am a TOTAL sucker for any activity that involves fingerprints and Spring and Easter lend to this idea quite well.   When I think of spring, I think of bunnies, baby birds, chicks and other animals.  While the image I have shared shows these on eggs, this can be a spring related activity for those kids who don't celebrate Easter.  Fingerprint art is a quick and simple activity for kids of all ages.  It can be easily adapted to increase or decrease the expectations for whatever child is doing it.  For example, for your younger kids, you can have them do the very basic putting their fingers in the ink and pressing it on the paper and the grownups can add the details to the thumbprints.  As they kids get older, you can increase the expectations by asking them to add the details to the pictures.  For even older kids working on handwriting, you can have them make Happy Easter or Happy Spring cards for family and friends.  The best part about this project is that the supplies are minimal and that it takes a short amount of time to finish so the kids can take their picture or cards home with them right away.

Jelly Bean Sorting Game-as I have already mentioned, one of the things I love most about Easter is the candy.  I know that is what makes it a favorite holiday for a lot of the kids in my life.  So, why not make it into a fun learning opportunity?  This jelly bean sorting game is easy and can be easily adapted for kids of all ages.  Minimal supplies needed:  a bag of colorful jelly beans, plastic eggs, an empty egg carton and a pair of child friendly chopsticks (my favorite are the Zoo Sticks by Hog Wild).
For younger kids, place how ever many colored eggs into the carton that you want them to sort.  Put a bowl full of the same colored jelly beans in front of them and have them sort the jelly beans into the proper color.  Encourage them to use a pincer grip to pick up the jelly beans.  For older kids, add more colors and instead of using their hands to put the jelly beans in, have them use the chopsticks. By adding the chopsticks, you are working on increasing grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills.  If you want to add an element to work on improving bilateral coordination, you can have them pull the plastic egg out of the carton with one hand and have them pick out all the like colored jelly beans with their other hand.  For an increased challenge, you can have the kids open up the eggs and hide a number inside and the kids have to put that number of jelly beans into the eggs.

Tissue Paper (scrap paper) Easter Egg/Tulip-again, another activity that can be easily turned into a spring project instead of an Easter one.  You can either have the outline of an egg or a tulip on a piece of thick white paper.  Have lots of small pieces of tissue paper in pastel colors available for the kids to choose from.  Depending on the skill set of a child, you can have them take the square pieces of tissue paper and place them the picture or have them scrunch them up into little balls (great for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills) before placing them on the paper.  To work on improving grasping skills, you have have the kids use a paintbrush to put the glue on the paper (just a tip that you don't want them to paint the whole picture in but do small portions at a time in order to prevent the glue from drying).  For older kids, you can draw patterns on the eggs and have them use different colored tissue paper for each section.  This is a great activity for not only working on fine motor skills, but can work on color recognition, improving eye-hand coordination, biilateral coordination and focus and attentional skills.  One adaptation you can make to this activity is to use fun scraps of paper and have the kids tear them into pieces and then glue them onto the egg or flower template.

I have already tested these egg-celent activities out at work with the kids and they are all a big hit.  They are all simple, require few materials and can be finished during one therapy session which is a huge thing with the kids I work with.  They LOVE to be able to take their work home and show it off to their people.  

Do you have any great Easter or spring activities you love to do with the kids?  I'd love to hear from any of you with activities that you have found success with and that the kids have really loved?  Please share any ideas that you may have...I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Avokiddo Apps=A+ Apps

One of things I love most is finding a good app. Even better is when the design studio who created that app has several wonderful apps to choose from.  Two of my favorites, Toca Boca and Pepi Play, come up with new apps all the time that always blow my mind and I have blogged about several of their games.  Recently, I discovered a new studio and I can't get enough of their apps.  More importantly, the kids I work with are loving all the new apps on my iPad!

Avikiddo is an award-winning creative studio that specializes in creating quality educational apps for children.  They believe that when somebody enjoys something, they will connect with it in a way that learning will take place more naturally.  And I LOVE their philosophy (which I am sharing directly from their website):  Our philosophy is that education should be more than teaching math and literacy.  It should provide a challenging and stimulating environment where children obtain knowledge through active exploration and interaction.  An environment where they can use their imagination to reveal their true inner self; a world infused with purity and creativity.  We design our games with love and affection, truly believing in these principles.

I was originally drawn to the Avokiddo apps because of the awesome graphics.  There was something unique and creative about it that I hand't really seen before and thought I would check it out.  My fiIt's impossible to choose just one favorite of the Avokiddo apps so I have decided to write a little something about each.

Beck and Bo-a delightful and incredibly interactive app that takes two kids, Beck and Bo, on an adventure through 12 different scenes.  I would highly recommend this app for speech therapists and special educators who are working on building vocabulary.  The scenes vary from a day at the beach to building a snowman.  Each scene starts of pretty empty and it is up to the child to grab different objects falling from the sky and place them where they want in the scene.  For example, the winter scene starts off with snowy hill and you have to grab different parts of a snowman and put it together, including a hat and scarf.  From an occupational therapy perspective, this app is great for working on visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  It is also great for working on improving executive functioning skills such as attention, focus and organizational skills.  If you are working on improving grasping skills, you can always use a stylus to encourage a proper grasp on writing instruments.  Want to work on increasing upper body strength?  Have them play this app while lying prone either on a bolster or on the net swing.  They will be having so much fun that they won't realize how much they are "working" on getting stronger!

Avokiddo Emotions-this was my first Avokiddo app.  I was running a social schools group for preschoolers and we were focusing on emotions with the kids.  The iPad always motivates my kiddos and I did a search and found this.  It was a huge hit with the kids.  One of my favorite things about this app is how it allowed the kids to freely interact with different characters and then generate conversation about how they reacted.  It allowed them to really look at the animal's faces and recognize what different emotions looked like.  For example, the characters ears flatten and droop down when they are sad or they would jump up when they were startled by a loud noise.  For generalization purposes, we then would act out different emotions with the kids after we played the app.   This is a great app for working on speech and language skills and making kids more aware of social cues.

Thinkrolls-I just recently discovered this app and am loving both the original and the newest version which was just released on Wednesday!  Great for older preschoolers and school age kids.  It's a highly addictive game that has kids roll a variety of adorable characters through mazes.  While going through the maze, the encounter different challenges that requires them to think about how to use them.  They also unlock new characters which I have found makes for a really excited kid!  For example, as they are rolling through one of the earlier mazes, they run into a blocked path by a cracker that they must eat to keep going through the maze.  As you go through the levels, you may be blocked by a balloon that must be popped by the spikes on the wall or drop ice cubes on a fire so they can pass it.  One thing I really like about this game is that it is great for kids as young as 4 and as old as 9.  It's great for working on visual motor/perceptual skills like tracking and scanning.  Most importantly, I love how it works on problem solving and critical thinking.  It makes kids have to slow down and think about what they are going to do in order to pass the obstacles.  As they move through the mazes, they start to combine the different obstacles so the kids really have to think about what each thing does and make sure they do it in the right order in order to pass the obstacle.  This is a great app to work on improving social skills; you can have kids work together to talk about how to  overcome the challenges and take turns moving through each level.
Thinkrolls 2, the new version of Thinkroll does not disappoint.  It's the same concept of rolling through a series of mazes, but there are new challenges and characters introduced. Like the original Thinkrolls, kids are required to roll their characters through mazes, using problem solving and critical thinking to figure out how to overcome challenges.   Both games offer two levels of play, easy and hard, that makes this great for children of all ages.  Even adults will have fun playing this game and will find themselves stumped at times as they the game becomes increasingly more challenging.

Avokiddo ABC Ride-one of my absolute favorite alphabet apps out there!  Like all the other apps already discussed, it is incredibly interactive and engaging making learning super fun for the kids playing it.  The game starts off by choosing your character, Beck or Bo, and putting them on a bike and have them go on an alphabet adventure (you can go in order or have it be random).  Each letter has a mini-game to get the kids engaged and helps them associate a letter with a word.  For example, water the flowers to find the F or put the robot back together for the letter R.  My favorite is C where you have to cram the candy the hippo is dreaming about into his mouth.  Not only are the kids learning about the letter, they are working on following directions, matching pictures and maintaining their attention/focus.  Once the child has completed each mini-game, a whole word will show up on top, the letters will drop and the child has to match/drag the letters back into place.  This app is great for working on more than just learning letters.  It works on improving visual motor/perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, following verbal directions and improving focus and attentional skills.  For my older kids who are working on handwriting, I have them write the words before they move onto the next letter for an added step.  

Do you have any other design studios you really love?  Any games that you want to recommend to me or my readers?  I am always on the lookout for good apps, especially ones that will work on a ton of skills, motivate the kids I work with to learn and ones that can encourage social skills at the same time.  I would love to hear from you and am always a click away!  In the meantime, I hope you and your littles enjoy these apps!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Game On!

Last week I talked about how I was pretty much bored of all of the apps and toys I have been using since September.  It's not that they aren't fun or have lost their therapeutic value, it was just that I needed a change and something new to motivate the kids I work with.  I am pretty sure I heard some sighs and saw some rolling of the eyes in the last few weeks as I pulled about Barnyard Bingo and Whac-A-Mole!  I spent some quality time with Amazon and found a couple of great games by Educational Insights that have been a hit with the kids at work.  
First of all, I'd like to take a moment to talk about this company.  There isn't one thing that they have created that I haven't loved.  All of their games are fun, motivating and incredibly well made which means that they can handle the wear and tear of lots of kids handling and playing with them at the gym I work with.  As an occupational therapist, I adore that the games all have a fine motor component to them and can be graded to make it appropriate for pretty much any child on my caseload.  I don't have any of their actual toys, but as I was searching through their collection, I found many things that I will be adding to my collection very soon.  For example, check out these two drill sets:  Design & Drill Dazzling Creation Studios and Design & Drill BrightWorks.  I know a lot of kids who would flip out over these!

The two games that I picked up this week have been a hit amongst all the kids I have tried them with.  They have provided a just right challenge while working on a lot of different occupational therapy goals.  

Crazy Cereal-this electronic game is a fast-paced, exciting 2-player game that requires kids to match colors.  The game consists of 3 bowls (two small bowls for each kid to collect their cereal pieces and one large one to be placed in the middle for all the cereal pieces).  Each child grabs a bowl and a spoon, turns their spoon on and let the cereal grabbing begin.  The spoon lights up different colors and the child is expected to pick up whatever color it flashes one at a time.  Every once in a while, the spoon goes crazy and flashes all different colors at which point they can pick up two pieces of any colored cereal at a time.  I have modified the game for younger kids by not having them turn the spoon on (it moves pretty quickly) but by calling out the color that I want them to pick up instead.  Great game for working on color recognition and matching.  In addition that the aforementioned, Crazy Cereal works on the following occupational therapy skills:
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-great for working on using two hands in a coordinated manner.  As the kids are collecting the cereal, they need to hold onto the spoon with one hand and the bowl with the other.  
Improve Fine Motor Skills-once the kids have completed the game and have collected as many pieces of cereal as possible, I like to have them put the cereal back in the big bowl using a pair of Zoo Sticks.  This is great for working on grasp strength and manipulation skills.  
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-kids must look at their spoon and watch for what color it will turn before picking up their cereal.  I have to remind the kids quite often to look at the spoon after they collect each piece of cereal as the spoon changes color pretty quickly.
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-this game requires a tremendous amount of focus and attention in order to be successful.  If they aren't keeping their eyes on the spoon in between turns, they will often pick up the wrong color.  They also have to remember to pace themselves and only pick up one (or two) pieces of cereal at a time.  This requires them to regulate and be in control of their actions, which can be quite challenging when kids are excited and really want to win!  For older kids who are working on sequencing and organizing their work, you can have them read the directions and then tell the other kids the rules of the game.  
Improves Social Skills-while this game can be played independently but is way more fun playing with a friend.  It works on promoting good sportsmanship, especially learning how to be a good winner and loser!

Pancake Pileup-when I saw this game, I was sold by the fact that it was a physical game that got kids up and moving around the gym.  This has been a long, cold and snowy winter and so many of the kids I work with who benefit from running around outside have spent a lot more time sitting inside.  This game is not only great for occupational therapy but also for improving gross motor skills.  It is a fun movement game that has kids copy stacks of different flavored pancakes shown on a card.  Using a spatula, kids have to pick up the correct pancake and walk them over to their plate.  The child who finishes theirs first without making a mistake is the winner.  Depending on the age/skill level of the children playing, you can have them each pick up their own card or have them do the same card.  This is another one of those great games that can be adapted to be appropriate for all children.   I also love it because it can be done in a group as small as two but can also be done in classrooms or small social skills groups.  In addition to what has already mentioned, Pancake Pileup can work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-kids need to use eye-hand coordination as they scan the pile of pancakes for the correct pancake, as they pick up the pancake with the spatula and also when they are placing it on the plate.  
Improve Motor Planning-I've really enjoyed watching the physical therapists I work with play this game with the children they are working with.  They have been using it with just one child so they can be a little more creative.  While this game works on balance and coordination, it can also be played while doing a simple obstacle course.  Or you can play it while having a child walk across a balance beam or while stepping on stepping stones.  The kids have to be mindful of the obstacles that have been created.  
Improve Focus and Attention-the point of the game is to get your pile of pancakes stacked up as quickly as possible without dropping them from your spatula.  Kids need to focus on maintaining their attention to what they are doing because if they start looking around and drop the pancake off the spatula, they will have to start again.  
Improve Social Skills-great game for working on building sportsmanship, especially how to be a good winner or loser.  If playing in a larger group, you can work on teaching kids how to be part of a team, how to cheer their friends on and how to build up tolerance for others when they mess up. If you have a small group of kids, this is a great game to do relay-race style to work on taking turns and work as a team.  

It's so great when you find games that can be used in both therapeutic and social environments.  These are just two of many of the great games by Educational Insights.   When parents ask me for suggestions on what they can do with their children at home, I'm always happy to give them games and activities that can work on achieving our goals in a fun and stress-free way.  I love when kids are so comfortable with a game that they are able to tell the rest of their family how to play it.

Do you have any great new games that you like to recommend to families?  I'm still on the lookout for a few more new and exciting things to do at work and would especially love some more games that get the kids up and moving since this crazy weather has kept a lot of kids stuck inside for days on end!  I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

App Happy

I have had a really hard time keeping up with my blog these last few months.  Between the holidays and being buried with paperwork and reports, writing has been put on the back burner.  I'm happy to have a little time on this chilly Friday afternoon to write a quick blog about some of the fabulous apps I have been using at work these days.  I'm not sure if its the weather or the time of the year, but I basically got bored of every game, app, etc. that I have been using and if I was feeling bored, I can't imagine how the kids were feeling.  The following apps are ones that the kids love but also work on a ton of great skills.

Metamorphabet-this interactive alphabet app came out a few weeks ago and not only have the kids loved but every grownup I have showed it to as well.  My husband and daughter spent nearly an hour going through each letter one night.  Metamorphabet is a playful and interactive alphabet app appropriate for all ages.  With each letter there are several surprises that unfold as you poke, prod, drag and spin the letters around.  It is a wonderful educational tool, motivating kids to learn their letters in a playful way that makes it seem like more fun and less work for them.  Learning the alphabet has never been so much fun!  There are several ways to make this more therapeutic and educational if you want to use it at work.

Labo Paper Fish-another interactive game that the kids are loving!  Labo Lado has several create and play apps that all look fantastic and that I plan on checking out very soon!  Paper Fish is great because it works on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and organizational skills.  First kids get to choose one of 16 different fish templates that they will need to "cut" out; they need to trace the
lines of all the different parts of the fish in order to do that.  Once they are all cut out, they need to put the fish back together.  I like that if you go too fast while tracing, it stops and makes you go back; this is great for those kids you work with who rush through their work.  They can keep the fish simple or decorate it themselves to make their very own fish.  After they are all done creating the fish, there are 5 different games that can be played.  Each mini-game is fun and I like how they all work on different visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  My favorite is when you have to take pictures of fish while underwater; a picture of a fish will show up in the top right hand corner and you have to scan the sea to find the matching fish, drag the camera over and take a picture of it.

Pepi Ride-there isn't an app by Pepi Play that isn't a big hit with my kids.  Pepi Ride is no exception and is especially popular with the boys on my caseload who have a need for speed.  This app allows children to choose a character and create the car they will ride in.  They can make it as simple or complex as they want.  Once their car is complete, they can take the car out on the road for some adventures.  There are 9 different driving courses and as you go through the map, the difficulty level increases.  While this isn't complicated, it's a great app for helping kids make choices and really think about what they want to do.  So many of the kids I work with have a difficult time with organizing their thoughts/work and I like that this app can help them work on that.  Some of the racing games out there are super fast paced and have a time-limit which tends to be difficult for the kids I work with causing them to get frustrated and upset with themselves.  This is a nice racing game for younger kids because the goal is simple:  finish each course and pick up the 3 presents along the way for extra points.

Shape Arts: Geometry Creations-I can't tell you how hard I have been searching for a great tangram app (I love Osmo but I wanted something else as well).  Lighthouse Learning has a bunch of great math apps for kids of all ages and I am in love with Shape Arts.  Not only are there hundreds of puzzles for the kids to complete, there is also an option to make their own puzzles.  There is a template provided and each one has 7 shapes that must be moved into the puzzle to complete it.  Some fit in perfectly while others may have to be rotated before it fits in.  This app is not only educational, it is also fun while working on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and executive functioning skills.  While it says that this app is for children 7 and older, my almost 5 year old daughter was able to play it with minimal help from me.  

Toco Pet Doctor-this is not a new app but continues to be a big hit with the kids that I work with, especially the younger ones.  And for those of you familiar with Toca Boca, you know that there isn't a single app of theirs that isn't amazing.  There are 15 different pets waiting in the vet's waiting room with a variety of ailments that need to be tended to.  Choose an animal and make them healthy.  You may need to clean and bandage up a cat's ear, pull gum off a bird's foot or brush the messy teeth of a hamster.  Once they are all taken care of, you have to feed them.  None of the activities are overly challenging but require children to maintain their focus and attention on what needs to be done.  Great for working on improving visual tracking, visual perceptual and visual motor skills and can be worked on individually or in a group of two or three kids to work on improving social skills.

I know that there are still many therapists who don't agree with using an iPad in their sessions which I totally respect and appreciate.  I have found that when used in moderation and with other therapeutic interventions, it can be a highly effective and motivating tool.  I have found it to be most helpful with teaching handwriting to my more resistant kids because it is so interactive that they forget that they are actually working.  I never just do the handwriting apps alone but will have them practice the letter on the iPad and then immediately have them do it on the Boogie Board, dry erase board or on a piece of paper to generalize the skill.  There are so many wonderful apps that really address improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills in a fun way.  All of the apps I discussed above work on that skill.  In addition to what I have already mentioned, the iPad can be used to work on the following things:
*work on increasing upper body strength by playing the iPad while lying prone on a net swing or on a bolster
*work on improving grasping skills by requiring a child to use a stylus whenever it is appropriate to. iCreate crayon by Fred & Friends and the Mini Retro stylus by Kikkerland Design
 I will stop kids during play to encourage them to switch their grip.  My favorite stylus' are the
*work on improving bilateral coordination skills by making sure kids hold the iPad with one hand and use their dominant hand to play the game
*work on improving social skills by having kids play appropriate apps together
*work on improving executive functioning skills such as organization, attention/focus, working memory, sequencing, etc.

I love using the iPad at work and especially love when I find new apps to share with my colleagues and the parents I work with.  It's an easy way for parents to be able to work on some of the things that we work on in therapy and get them more involved in their child's therapy in a fun and less stressful manner.

Do you have any new apps that you just can't live without?  I'm always looking for new and interesting ones and would love to hear what's hot with your kids and I am sure many of my readers would love to hear as well!  Please share your favorite apps...I'm just a click away and love hearing from you all!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Let's Boogie

A couple of years ago, my daughter received a Boogie Board as a birthday gift.  She was a little young and totally uninterested in drawing or learning how to write.  As a result, my husband and I spent more time playing with this toy and it eventually ended up in the bottom of a basket of toys.  Fast forward about a year or two and we have a little girl has blossomed into an artist and a kid who really wants to practice writing letters and words all the time.  Every time I turn around, there is another drawing or list of words on scraps of paper in our house.  While we try and save as much as we can, many of them are not what Quinn had in mind so they end up getting thrown away.  As she has become more interested in spending her free time engaged in drawing or writing, I have found ourselves trying to use other less wasteful things.  She can spend hours working on an easel but that isn't always so easy to take with us when we are on the go so I was happy to remember our Boogie Board and pull it out of the basket.

For those of you who don't know about it, the Boogie Board is an ultra-light LCD writing tablet that can take the place of paper and pencils.  It's great for you on the go people who want to encourage your kids to draw/write and not always be attached to the iPad, iPhone, games, etc. It can be used for a variety of things and by kids of all ages.  The Boogie Board comes in a variety of colors which can sometimes make a big deal to certain kids (for example, my girlie girl loves the pink and flowered one).  Kids can draw, write and play games on the board and with a simple touch of a button, the screen clears and they can begin again.  If they make a mistake, it can be erased and they can try again.  Since the Boogie Board is so light weight, it can be thrown in a backpack or a purse without being too much of a burden.  I love looking out in a waiting room and seeing kids playing on theirs to pass the time between appointments.  We love to take ours in the car or on the subway to keep Quinn occupied and make the ride go by much faster.

I have not only been using the Boogie Board at home.  It has been a great tool to use at work and the kids love to use it.  It has been used for several purposes depending on the goals and needs of each particular child.  For example, it's a great tool to use for making To Do lists with kids who need the structure and routine.  I will write down our schedule for the session and after they complete each activity, they can then cross it off.  For kids who are working on handwriting, you can actually have them write the list for your session.

My favorite thing to use the Boogie Board for is to practice handwriting.  I tend to use it in conjunction with different iPad apps which can be a big motivator for those kids who like to avoid any handwriting activity.  My go to handwriting apps are LetterSchool or Writing Wizard as they are the most interactive and not just about tracing letters.  Kids will practice a letter on the iPad and then immediately pick up the Boogie Board to practice writing the letter.  There are several handwriting games you can play with kids based on their skill level.  For example, for kids who are learning how to read, you can make the sound of the letter and they then have to write the letter.  Another fun thing to do is to write words with some letters missing and have the kids guess what letter goes where and fill in the words.  If you have really creative kids, you can have them makeup their own handwriting games!

Some of the other occupational therapy goals that can be focused on using the Boogie Board are:
Improve Grasping Skills-each Boogie Board comes with a thin metallic stylus.  Any stylus is good for encouraging a proper grasping pattern, but I find that the stylus that comes with it is just the right size for adding a pencil grip onto.  I encourage the kids I work with to use a proper grasp whenever they use the stylus.
Improve Graphomotor Skills-I sometimes feel guilty about the amount of paper that I waste on daily basis practicing writing letters and numbers with the kids I work with.  Oftentimes, the kids end up leaving said papers on the floor in the waiting room and they never even make it home to show off to their parents.  With the Boogie Board, a child can practice over and over again without the guilt of what waste we are producing.  If kids want to show off their work to their people, you can take pictures and email it to them!
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-I love to have kids sit on the platform or bolster swing while using the Boogie Board as it forces them to use two hands.  They must hold the board with one hand and hold the stylus with the other.  When on a swing, they are also working on building trunk control and strength at the same time.
Improve Social Skills-I like to find ways to improve social development with all toys/products I use at work.  The Boogie Board can be used to encourage social skills by having kids play simple games together on it.  Tic-Tac-Toe, the Dot Game and Hangman are three good games that can be played in small group settings.

I love that the Boogie Board can be used for so many different things by children of all ages and it doesn't cost too much (approximately $30).  The Original Boogie Board can be found online but I have also seen it in several of the smaller, privately owned toy stores in my neighborhood.  While you may end up paying a little more in these stores, I always try and support small businesses whenever I possibly can.

Do you use a Boogie Board while working with your kids?  Do you have any other fun games or activities that you do while using it?  I would love to hear from any of you if you do.  I'm only a click away and love hearing from you all!

Friday, February 6, 2015

I Love Love!

Growing up, my family didn't do much to celebrate Valentine's Day.  My mom would pick up cupcakes or cookies with hearts on them and we would make cards for school, but that was it.  It was nothing against love or anything like that, it just wasn't one of those holidays we paid much attention to.  When I began working with children, I realized that there were so many great learning opportunities that could come out of the holiday and started to do more with it.  Now that I have my own daughter who loves pink, red, hearts and all the other things that you think about when it comes to Valentine's Day, I've gotten way more into it.  And since Pinterest makes it so easy to come up with ideas, I have found that I enjoy it so much more!  Here are a few of my favorite projects that I plan on doing with the kids I work with over the next weeks.  I have tried to find projects that can be completed over the course of one or two sessions so the kids don't get too frustrated or bored by it.

I Love You to Pieces Picture Frame-Whether you have old puzzles that you no longer use (maybe because you have lost a few pieces or kids just aren't into it any more), or have those blank do-it-yourself puzzles, this activity is quick and totally personal. You will need:
*Popsicle Sticks
*Crayons, Paint, Markers, Etc.

1.  Color 4 popsicle sticks and a handful of puzzle pieces in whatever medium and color your child chooses.

2.  Glue the popsicle sticks together and place the puzzle pieces along the sticks.

3.  Once dry, have a grownup write "I Love You to Pieces" along the frame.  Turn around and glue a picture to the backside of the frame.

Fingerprint/Eraser Heart Picture-you can make this on whatever background you want.  I am going to get some heavy stock paper and cut them into an oversized postcard so the kids can decorate the front with a heart and then turn around and work on their writing skills by writing messages to the recipient  on the back of the card.  I have seen this done on a canvas and a blank tote bag/apron (just remember you will want to use something more permanent on these things).  There are a couple of ways to do this.  The first way is that you can cut a large heart, tape it onto the surface you are working with and either use the eraser or your fingers to make different colored dots all around the heart.  Remove the heart when you are all finished and you will have a plain heart in the middle that you can write a message in.  The other way to do this is to cut a large heart out and tape the outline of the heart onto your working surface (so it looks like a stencil).  Use the eraser or your fingertips and fill in the blank space.  Be sure to have the children put dots all around the edge of the stencil so there is a definite heart shape when you pull the stencil off.  You will need:
*heavy stock paper/canvas/blank tote bags
*pink and red washable inkpads
*pencils with brand new/unused erasers
*wipes for cleaning hands between color changes
*canvas, tote bag, etc.

1.  Depending on the skill level of the child you are working with, you can have them cut out a heart or you can it out and have it ready for them.  This will be placed in the middle of the surface you are working on and the kids will work all around it.

2.  I have kids use one thumb for one color ink and the other thumb for another and first tell them to place their prints all around the edge of the heart.  Once they are done with that, they can fill the blank space all around the heart.

Toilet Paper Tube Heart Stamp-a very easy and inexpensive craft project to do with even your youngest of kids.  Take a paper tube and push the middle down until it makes a heart; take a piece of tape and wrap it around to hold the shape. You can use paint or a stamp pad and have the kids dip the end of the stamp into it and have them place it on a piece of paper after.  Depending on the age of the child you are working with, you can grade the activity.  For the little ones, let them go crazy and put them all over the paper.  For older children, you can place targets on the paper that they have to place the hearts on.  Once the hearts are dried, you can have them color the hearts in.  For even older kids, you can practice working on handwriting by having them write messages to their loved ones.  You will need:
1.  Toilet paper/paper towel tubes
2.  Red and pink paints or stamp pads
3.  White construction paper
4.  Crayons, markers, colored pencils

Hole Punch Hearts-another very easy, fun and quick activity that your kids will love to do and that
can be adapted for each child's individual skill set.  For younger children who haven't yet mastered cutting, give them pre-cut hearts and let them punch holes all over the heart.  For older children, have them cut out the hearts independently and then let them use the hole punch after.  You can set some guidelines to work on improving attention and organizational skills like punch holes only around the border of the heart.  This is also nice because it leaves space in the middle of the heart for children to write personal messages to their loves ones.  You will need:
1.  Pink, red, white paper
2.  Hole puncher (you can use a circle one or if you are really fancy, find a heart shaped hole puncher)
3.  Scissors
4.  Yarn or string

Arts and crafts can be great for working on so many occupational therapy skills/goals including:
*improving grasping skills
*improving eye-hand coordination
*improving bilateral coordination skills
*improving creativity
*improving self-esteem and confidence
*improve executive functioning skills such as focus and attention, sequencing and organization

One of the things I love most about Valentine's Day is that you can talk to kids about empathy and how you can make other people feel happy.  Too often, holidays are about getting things from others but this day should be more about giving to others to show them how much you love them.  I've been working on making Valentines with my almost 5 year old daughter, and I love watching her work so hard to make them just right for her friends and family.  The level of pride she feels just making them is great, but I can't wait for her to see how happy she is making people when they receive them.

Do you have any fabulous, quick and simple activities that you enjoy making with your children that you want to share with me and my readers?  I am looking forward to focusing on love and crafts next week during all of my sessions and would love to have a variety of activities for the kids to choose from.  I'm always a click away and love hearing from you!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Launch Into This

My daughter is at an age where games are really fun for her, especially those that we can play together as a family.  This summer, Quinn went to her cousin Lila's birthday party and got to play with one of her awesome new games and fell in love with it.  I had been on the lookout for Connect 4 Launchers but never had any luck.  So when Quinn received it for Christmas this year, I was really excited!  More importantly, she was really excited and immediately took it out and we played with her cousins, aunt and uncle!

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you know my love of pretty basic and battery/sound free games.  Of course, there are the exceptions for things like the new Lite Brite and Wok N' Roll.  The classic game of Connect 4 is still one of my favorites, especially when working with kids in small groups.  It's great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, grasping skills and focus/attentional skills.  It's a class game that kids always love to play and over the years they have taken the game and made it more hands on and exciting.

Connect 4 Launchers takes Connect 4 to the next level and adds some pretty awesome occupational therapy skills that will be sure to make this a favorite of kids and adults alike.  The goal of the game is the same:  the first player to get 4 checkers in a row is the winner.  The thing that makes this game so different is that instead of slipping the checker pieces into the slots, the players have special launching tools that will send your checker pieces zooming through the air to land in one of the two levels.  They are easy to use and so far, pretty durable.  The game can be played different ways which is good for making it more challenging for older kids who are getting tired of the regular game.

Connect 4 Launchers is great for working on the following occupational therapy goals:

Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-one of my favorite things about this game is the checker launcher.  Not only is it really fun to launch a checker piece into a target, it is a great tool for working on improving bilateral coordination skills.  It's hard to come up with fun ways to encourage kids to use both hands during activities, but Connect 4 Launchers makes it really fun!  Kids will realize without anyone having to tell them that if they don't use both hands, things just won't work well.  Once they place the checker piece on the launcher, they need to use one hand to hold the launcher still and the other to flick the launcher.
Improving Eye-Hand Coordination-kids really need to maintain their visual attention to the game board in order to be the first person to get four checker pieces in a row.  Unlike the original game of Connect 4, you really have to combine your visual attention with your eye-hand coordination.  When playing the game, each child (or team if that is the way you are playing) is given a special launching tool.  You place your checker piece on the launcher and aim.  In order for it to work, a child has to hold the launcher still with one hand and push it down with the other.
Improving Organizational Skills-one of the great aspects of this game is that you can work on improving executive functioning skills such as organizational skills.  For my older kids, I like to have them set the game up, sort the yellow and red pieces into piles, etc..  If playing with a group of children, I like to have one person who has played the game explain the rules of the game to the other.  Not only does this work on improving organizational skills, it helps to improve self-esteem and confidence when one child can act as a leader.  This game also works on improving planning skills.  I guarantee the kids will just launch the pieces as quickly as possible when they first play this game.  I let kids do that and after they are all done, talk to them about slowing down, moving the launcher, encourage them to look at the game and see where they should aim the launcher in order to get their four pieces in a row.
Improve Focus/Attentional Skills-for older kids, this is a super motivating game to work on focus and attentional skills.  When playing this game, you really need to be able to focus on the end goal of getting 4 game pieces in a row.  For some kids, the act of putting the game piece on the launcher and just shooting can end up being really fun, but also distracting.  It may take verbal reminders from the grownup, but keep reminding and make sure the kids playing the game are focusing on working towards the end goal of getting 4 in a row.  What I tend to see with many of the kids I work with who have focus and attentional difficulties is that they rush through the game to get rid of all of their pieces; what they don't attend to is the point of the game of getting 4 piece in a row in order to win.  When playing the game, a child has to not only focus on where they need to aim their piece, but where they need to move the launcher in order to shoot the checker piece so it can end up in a place where they may win.  Improve Social Skills-what I love about this game is that it can be played 1:1 or in small groups.  When my daughter first got this game, we played in teams of two:  one grownup and one kid against another grownup and kid.  If you have a social skills group, you can have two kids play against each other.  Great for encouraging kid to work as a team to come up with solutions for the best moves to win the game.  Whenever you are playing a game, you can work on good to be a good winner and how to be a good loser.

There are a lot of great games out there, but I am always happy to find new ones, especially at this time of the year when I am getting bored with all the games and activities we have been using all year.  I especially like when classic games come up with new versions of themselves that are as good as the original.  Connect 4 Launchers is not only a great family game, but a great game to have in a classroom or a therapeutic environment.  It's easy to set up and can be adapted based on a child's age and skill level.  Kids can also be creative and create their own rules if they wanted to.

Do you have any new games to share with me or my readers?  I'd love to hear from anyone with suggestions...we have a birthday coming up in our house and would love to have some new games to give her since she is so into them.  Would love to hear from you with any suggestions or questions!  I am only a click away!