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.

Friday, May 15, 2015

One Potato, Two Potato, Mini Potatoes....SCORE!

There are some toys that will never get old.  They will get thrown in the back of a closet or put in storage for a while, but you'll never throw it away and when you take it out again, you are reminded just how great said toy is.  One of those toys for me is Mr. Potato Head.  The original one has been in every gym and school I have worked in.  While you can still get the original Mr. Potato Head in almost every toy store you walk into, you will see that there are many newer versions of this toy.  There are the princesses, Star Wars characters and several others.  One of the best parts about Mr. Potato Head is that no matter what set you have, they can be used on any potato and you can mix and match the pieces to be as creative as your child wants it to be.

Recently, one of my co-workers at Heads Up brought in these mini Marvel Mr. Potato Heads and I can't get enough of them.  I mean, the kids can't get enough of them!  First of all, they are tiny and super light-weight and a set of four potatoes with their interchangeable outfits can be thrown in a bag for those of you who do any kind of traveling therapy.  Secondly, it doesn't matter what the kids age or gender is, all of them love playing with them.  After I purchased the mini potatoes, I spent some time on Amazon and discovered that there are a ton of these mini potatoes, including Transformers and a bunch of other super heroes.  It's amazing how motivated the kids are to use these mini Potato
Heads and how many ways they can be used in a therapeutic setting.  They are great for working on problem solving and improving organizational skills.  Each potato comes with three pieces:  a helmet/mask, arms and legs.  It's important that the kids put the pieces on in a certain order or they won't work (the arms are held in place by the legs so it is important that they put the arms on first).  Some of the kids get frustrated when first using them but it's a good chance to work on encouraging kids to learn how to ask for help and work on improving their frustration tolerance.  To work on improving organizational skills, I will dump out all the pieces and have the kids sort them into characters.

It's been really fun to see how all the different therapists in my gym have been using these in their treatment.  Since I work with two physical therapists, I've noticed that they are using them in obstacle courses....walking across balance beams, jumping on a hopscotch board, etc..  In my treatment, I have been using them while having kids on a slowly moving swing (to work on improving trunk control/strength).  I have also put them on a large therapy ball to work on improving trunk strength by making them reach backwards and then pulling themselves back up (with assistance from me) to a sitting position.  I've also put the pieces at the top of a ramp that they have to climb up and then crash into a big pillow before putting the pieces onto the potato.

In addition to what I have already mentioned, the mini Potato Head toys can work on the following occupational therapy goals:

Improve Body Awareness-one of the things I like to use Mr. Potato Head with is to work on improving body awareness.  Parents of typically developing children may not understand just how difficult it might be for children with sensory and body awareness issues to be able to learn body parts.  Use Mr. Potato Head to get kids to begin understanding what body parts look like and where they are on a body.  For kids who are struggling with this, I will have them put the pieces in, point them out on me and then show them in a mirror where they are on their own body.
Increase Grasp Strength/Manipulation Skills-the pieces are tiny enough that a child can work on improving manipulation skills.  And while the pieces aren't hard to put in, they do require that you use some strength to push them in and take them out.  
Improve Bilateral Coordination-it doesn't matter what size or version of Mr. Potato Head you have, it's a great toy to work on improving bilateral coordination skills.  It's nearly impossible to put the pieces in only using one hand.  If you are working on developing a hand preference, encourage the kids to hold the potato with their non-dominant hand and use their dominant hand to pick up the pieces, push them into place and then to remove them.  If you have a child who struggles with crossing midline, be sure to put the pieces in a place where they are forced to cross midline to reach for them.
Improve Social Skills-if you work with small groups of kids, these are a great toy to use with them.  They can build the potatoes and then do some role playing with them.  It's a good opportunity for working on turn taking, compromising and being a flexible friend.  For example, one child might want to put all of the characters back together as they are meant to be and another one might want to mix and match the pieces to make their own superheroes.  

One thing that I have seen but haven't tried (yet) is to use Playdoh to make your own potatoes and then take the pieces and put them onto it.  This is great for working on building up hand strength and bilateral coordination skills as well.  I definitely plan on trying this with some of my kids next week!  One thing I would like to try with some of my older kids who are working on handwriting is have them make their own superhero mixing all the pieces up.  They will have to come up with a name, a super power and then write a short story about them.

Those of you who read my blog know that when I find something great, be it an app, toy, activity book, etc., I must share it.  My favorite thing about these mini Potato Heads are they are not that expensive and can work on a ton of therapeutic goals in a way that the kids don't even know they are working.  They are so motivated by these toys that the work is truly hidden from them.  It's a real bonus for everyone involved.  With summer coming up and lots of people traveling, they are a great, light weight toy that can be thrown into a bag without taking up space.  They can be good for the car or plane or whatever mode of transportation you may be using.

If you are looking for your own mini Potato Heads, you can find them on  I have also found a few of the Transformer ones in CVS.  I know that you can find them in many of the big box stores like Walmart and Target.

If you have any questions or comments, I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Eye Spy the Difference

I'm always downloading new apps.  It's just something I love to do and expose the kids I work with to.  At least once a week, I go onto the App Store and see if anything wonderful catches my eye.  This past week, I discovered an awesome app, Toonia Differences.  It reminded me of this game that my sister Katie and I first started playing at a local bar ages and ages ago, Photo Hunt.  The point of the game was simple (yet totally stressful):  look at the same picture side by side and find what is different.  When it became available as an app, I spent countless hours playing it and got such satisfaction from beating a friend or a previous score.

Toonia Differences is the cutest "spot the difference" game for kids that I have seen.  Very much like the game I described above, the object of the game is to look at the side by side picture and notice the 8 things that are different.  Some are obvious at first glance and other are much trickier to spot.  I first tried this game with my daughter who turned 5 in March.  After explaining the rules of the game, she caught on quickly but required prompting from me to only touch one of the images that were different....her initial instinct was to hit the images on both pictures which caused her time to increase which then lead to frustration.  This game requires a child to really focus and attend to what is on the screen.  The app uses simple graphics and colors with quiet/organizing music playing in the background.  Since there are so many details in each picture, the differences can change over and over again so the kids don't get bored or memorize the things that are different.  Kids of all ages are loving this game and I really like that you can change your expectations for each child you are working with based on their level of functioning.  For younger kids, you may have to provide them with some subtle hints to get them to find the differences.  For the older kids, you can have the kids explain what they notice before touching the screen.  If you are working on handwriting skills, you can have them write down what they notice...make sure they go into detail and write full sentences!

This app works on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Visual Perceptual Skills-there are so many visual skills that can be worked on with this game.  Visual scanning, visual tracking, visual attention...I could go on and on.  The great thing about it is that the pictures are cute and the kids really like them. If you want to work on improving eye-hand coordination, you can have the child play the game while using a stylus.
Improve Language Skills-clearly, speech and language isn't my area of expertise, but I can't help but notice how much a speech therapist could work on improving language skills using this app.  For my older kids, I have been having them describe the differences in the pictures before they can touch the screen.  This sounds easy, but so many of my older kids struggle with this task...they recognize what is different, but putting it into words is tricky for them.
Improve Modulation/Regulation Skills-for so many of the kids that I have tried this game with, their instinct is to just start tapping away and hoping that they find the differences by luck.  They have needed prompting from me to be mindful and attentive to what they are looking at, making sure that they are really finding the images that are different.  I try not to focus on the fact that there is a timer tracking their work (and thankfully, very few of the kids I have played this with have noticed that) because once they realize that they were being timed, they became much more impulsive and less focused.
Improve Social Skills-this is an ideal app for improving social skills and can easily be done in a group of two or three kids.  You can work on taking turns finding the differences.  You can also have the kids work together to create stories about what is happening in the pictures.

Toonia Differences is available in the app store and the first 5 pictures are free.  There are a variety of sets available via in-app purchases for $2.99 or their super pack (45 pictures) for $6.99.  For the amount of time you can spend on this game and all the skills that can be focused on, I think it is totally worth splurging on the whole collection.

If you wanted to do something fun with your kids, you can make your own Spot the Difference game using your own pictures.  One thing you can do is take pictures of different places in a child's life.....their bedroom, their classroom, etc..  Take the pictures on different days so the environments look different.  Print the pictures out and put them side by side and see if they can find all the things that are different.  This could be a really fun project to do with a social skills group....have each kid bring in a few different sets of pictures from their house and put together a book.

Finding a good app is still one of my favorite things.  Sharing those finds with my readers is another one of my favorite things!  This is a great app that parents can do with their kids while being able to work on occupational therapy goals in a fun way.  Kids can play it with their friends or siblings.  Do you have any great new apps that you have discovered lately?  As the end of the school year approaches, I would love to be able to put together a list of fun and educational apps that parents can do with their children over the summer.  Please share your favorite apps with me...I'm just a click away and love hearing from you all.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Has Sprung!

After what seems like the longest winter ever, spring has finally arrived in my corner of the world (Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York).  Flowers are blooming, windows are open more than closed and there is no sign of snow or winter anywhere.  Don't get me wrong...I love winter and all that comes with it.  But when March and April roll around, winter gets gross in New York City.  The snow is dirty and when it finally melts, there is so much gross stuff on the sidewalks that you want to walk around with your eyes closed.  So the fact there are flowers growing and birds chirping is totally welcome and exciting for me.

As an occupational therapist, there are a lot of exciting things that can happen therapeutically once the warmer weather arrives.  Parents are always asking me for things that they can do with their children to get them outside, get them moving and get them away from the television and other electronics that tend to be used to entertain our kids during the colder months.  I typically see a huge jump in skills with the kids I work with this time of the year because they are spending more time outdoors in the park or at the playground.  They are watching the big kids do things and they want to try and be just like them.  After months of therapy and boosting their confidence in their skills, kids who were once timid about taking risks at the playground are trying things they couldn't do before.  They are spending more time socializing with other kids and less time indoors so you tend to see a huge boost in their language skills as well.

Below, you will find a handful of activities that I suggest to parents to try with their kids in order for them to carryover some of the things we are working on in our sessions.  In order for kids to really learn skills, they need to be able to generalize them in different environments.  All of the activities will work on improving fine motor, gross motor and sensory processing skills.  They also can help in developing improved language and social skills.  Most importantly, they are guaranteed to be lots of fun!

Grow a Garden-in NYC, we don't always have the luxury of having a lot of space for such things.  With that said, my husband and I have found a way to get our 5 year old daughter into gardening in the last couple of years.  We are fortunate to have a garden in front of our brownstone and can really garden with her and it has been such a great experience for her.  If you don't have the outdoor space, you can get a couple of clay pots and have your kids grow herbs or flowers that don't require a lot of sunshine to grow.  Gardening is good for so many occupational therapy related goals from the moment you pick out the seeds to that magical moment when the flowers actually bloom.  Have kids fill up pots with soil using kid sized gardening tools.  This is great for working on building upper body strength, bilateral coordination and improving eye-hand coordination.  If you have a child who presents with tactile defensive behaviors, encourage them to use their hands to put the soil into the pot to work on that.  Gardening also teaches kids responsibility and gives them an opportunity to have a "job" every day.  Use a spray bottle to water your plants every day; this will work on increasing grasp strength and bilateral coordination skills.  Check out this adorable Garden Tote with tools perfectly sized for your little ones.

Ride a Scooter-in the winter, it's easier to get from place to place by throwing your kid in the stroller and not having to worry about them getting cold or slipping on the ice.  Now that it is nicer out, make sure you leave enough time in your day to allow your kids to get themselves to places on their own two feet.  Whether it be walking or scooting, getting your kids moving is key.  My favorite is the Mini Micro Kick scooter as I have found that it is light weight and easy for the kids I work with to use.  Even the kids on my caseload who have difficulties with balance, coordination and motor planning have success with this scooter.  So many parents come to me and tell me that the hardest time of their child's day is starting the school day.  Oftentimes, I find that kids are rushed through their morning routines, thrown into their strollers so they can be brought to school on time and then are thrown into the morning craziness and get overwhelmed and have difficulty.  When possible, I suggest to parents that they let their kids walk part of the way.  Even better, let them scoot the whole way.  It provides them with an incredible amount of organizing input to their sensory system.  The foot to pavement action gives them a ton of deep proprioceptive input that helps kids to be more organized and ready for a great day at school.
**one of the biggest complaints I get from parents about getting their kids to use a scooter is that they don't like the helmets and how they feel.  Take your kid to the store with you and have them try on helmets and let them pick which one they want.  Kids are way more likely to wear a helmet if they feel like it's one that they really like!

Chalk It Up!-one of my favorite things about the warmer weather is coming home at the end of the work day and seeing my own daughter outside drawing with chalk in front of our apartment.  She has learned how to write her name, draw pictures of people and so many other great things.  Writing with chalk is a great activity and can really be most enjoyed during this beautiful spring weather.  There are so many chalk choices these days:  think, thick, one colored or rainbow, egg or square shaped.  Keep in mind that using thinner chalk will most resemble a writing instrument in turn encouraging a proper grasp when using writing instruments.  If you can, have your kids draw on an elevated surface to work on increasing upper extremity strength.  If you don't have a driveway or a place in front of your apartment, grab the chalk and go to the playground.
You can make this a social experience by gathering a few kids together and having them make pictures together.  For example, draw a picture of a person and have each kid add their how part to complete the person. Or play a game of tic-tac-toe or hangman.  You can work on letter recognition, executive functioning and social skills at the same time!  If you have the space, you can have your kids draw a hopscotch board so they can work on improving gross motor skills too!

Bubblerama!-I don't know what it is, but kids and bubbles go together like bread and butter.  They just love blowing them, chasing them, catching and popping them!  A fun thing you can do with your kids is make your own bubbles.  Sure, you can go out and buy bubbles anywhere, but making them can be really fun and is really easy.  It is also great for working on a lot of occupational therapy goals in such a fun way that your kids don't even realize that they are working.  For example, you can work on improving bilateral coordination (holding bowl while pouring ingredients in and stirring all the ingredients together), increasing upper body strength (stirring the ingredients) and working on improving executive functioning skills like focus, attention and organizational skills.  For older kids, you can give them a list of all the supplies needed for the activity and have them gather them before beginning.  You can also write out the steps on a piece of paper, cut them into strips and have the kids put the directions in the proper order before beginning the activity.

To make your own bubbles, check out this recipe:
6 cups water (you can use tap but distilled is better)
1/2 cup blue Dawn dish detergent
1/2 cup corn starch
1 tablespoon baking POWDER
1 tablespoon glycerine

Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, stirring really well.  Once the cornstarch is completely dissolved, gently stir in the remaining ingredients (in no particular order) trying to not make too much froth.  Let the mixture sit for at least an hour, stirring occasionally if you see that the cornstarch is settling to the bottom.   Don't get discouraged if your first few bubbles don't come out too great...the mixture gets better after a few uses.

You can use bubble wands and blow bubbles (great for improving oral motor strength) or you can make your own super big bubble wand using straws and yarn (you need your yarn to measure about 6 to 8 times the length of a straw).  Take the yarn and string it through the straws, tie a knot and you have your bubble wand.  You can take your bubble solution and put it in a big bucket and start making giant bubbles!  Guaranteed fun for kids of all ages!

These are just a handful of fun and simple activities that you can do with your kids now that the weather is nicer.  I have chosen activities that can be done whether you live in the city or in the country...they just may need to be adapted based on what kind of space you have.  What are you most excited about doing with your kids now that spring is actually here?  Please feel free to share your fun outdoor activities with me and my readers.  I'm just a click away and love hearing from each and ever one of you!   I am looking forward to a fun-filled outdoor weekend with my own family and wish you all a very happy and warm weekend!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Two Thumbs Up!

Good, simple and fun games are surprisingly hard to come by these days.  Too many games require batteries, make lots of loud sounds and can end up over-stimulating so many of the kids I work with. Obviously, the most important thing I look for in a game is that the kids will have fun.  After that, I look at the directions and make sure that they are kid-friendly and that they can be adapted for a variety of ages and skills.  Lastly, I begin to think about all the occupational therapy goals that can be worked on while playing the game.  

Thumbs Up, by Blue Orange Games (makers of Spot It and several other wonderful games that sit in my work closet), is one of those games that you don't think will be that big of a hit until you start playing it and then you just don't want to stop!  The goal of the game is simple:  be the first to stack different colored rings on your thumb based on the order shown in the challenge card that you pick up.  Sounds easy, right?  From personal experience, I can tell you it is way harder than you think.  First of all, try taking a kid who has sensory processing and body awareness issues and tell them they have to place all these rings on their thumb...and that they need to keep their hands in a hands up position for the whole game.  It's probably the biggest challenge I have witnessed with the kids I have been playing it with.
"That's your pointer finger" and "Tuck those fingers in" have never been repeated more often in my life than the last few days.  The other challenge is that each card is very different from each other.  You have to really take a moment or two before starting to collect your rings to look at the card and get a sense of the order.  So many of the kids I work get excited/anxious and just dive into a game without thinking about the most organized way to do it.  I have found that for the kids I have been playing it with, it has been helpful to play a round or two together and talk out strategies before beginning the actual competition.  I actually have gone through the cards and picked out the ones that I think the kids I am playing with will be successful with.  For the younger kids, this is a great opportunity to talk to them about colors and matching and you can play the game with them without dealing with competition part of it.

One of the best things about this game, especially if you do any kind of therapy that takes you into homes or schools, is that once taken out of the box, it takes up very little space and weighs almost nothing.  It's can be thrown in a bag and not take up much space at all.  As we are all dreaming of warmer days, it is a great game to take with you to picnics and on vacations.  It's not just for kids...I promise grownups will love to play it too!

In addition to what I have already discussed, Thumbs Up can work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Grasping Skills-the rings are very thin and I encourage my kids to pick them up using their "pinchers".  As they get into the game, it's harder for them to focus on what kind of grasp they are using because they are so focused on winning!  I've actually working on improving grasp strength and grasping skills by having the kids clean up the rings using Zoo Sticks.
Improve Focus/Attentional Skills-it's super easy to get distracted while playing this game.  I noticed that the kids I played this game with were more focused on how I was doing that they kept losing track of where they were and what they should be looking at.  They were hyper-focused on winning that they would become distracted and lose track of where they were.  After that happened a few times, I had to remind them that they needed to keep their attention/eyes on their challenge card and not be so worried about what I was doing.  For a competitive kid who really wants to win, this proved to be quite a challenge, but a very important lesson.
Improve Visual Skills-so many great visual motor and perceptual skills can be worked on while playing this game.  You need to be able to visually track from the challenge card to the stack of colored rings and then put it on your thumb.  You also need to be visually organized to look at the challenge card and find the number and color you need to pick up.
Improve Social Skills-great game for 2-6 players which means it could be perfect for those of you who run social skills groups.  Since it is a fast-paced game that doesn't require much set up, it's perfect to have in your bag of tricks when your group needs a little something to get you going.  From start to end, the game lasts about 10 minutes (you can change that based on the kids you are working with).  I've been playing against the kids I work with and maybe haven't been trying as hard as I can to allow them to win, but kids aren't going to play that way.  If working in a group, you can use this game as a perfect opportunity to talk about how to be a good vs. a bad loser, being a good sport vs. a bad sport, etc..  If you want to, you could pair kids up into teams and have them work together to be the first to get all of their rings stacked (one can pick up the rings as their partner calls out the color to them).

Blue Orange Games continues to make quality games that keep kids learning and having fun at the same time.  I found Thumbs Up at a great toy store located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan called Fantastic Kids Toys.  Be sure to check out your local toy stores and support those small businesses who work so hard to keep your kids entertained.

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.