Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Best of January

It's been a bit rough getting back into the swing of things at work. January is historically a tricky month because of all the paperwork that is required as children get ready for the upcoming school year. I know that sounds crazy since that is months and months away but that is the way in NYC. All of that to say that blogging has been put on the backburner and I'm ready to focus on it again.

Starting this month, I will be doing a monthly blog (along with more regular posts in February) with a wrap-up of some of my favorite things I discovered each month. This will include games, craft sets, activity books, story books and a variety of other things that were a hit with the kids at work. I will end each of these posts with a picture book recommendation that will focus on some kind of social emotional topic. Over the last couple of years, I have spent more time than I can count trying to curate a collection of books that will help children have a better understanding of a variety of social difficulties that they may face. I have found that even if children are having similar social difficulties, they can't quite talk about it or problem solve when it is about them. But when you read a book and a character is struggling with something, they seem to find it easier to talk about.

I am really excited to share some of the products I discovered this month with all of you.

Learn To Write Stencils-a little while ago, my local toy store, Norman and Jules, shared a picture of these stencils on their Instagram page and I became obsessed. I have found finding good stencils can be really tricky and often times frustrating for kids. If they are too flimsy, they are hard for the kids to use. This set of 15 wooden stencils comes with a variety of simple lines that are all used in developing the letters of the alphabet or numbers and can encourage open-ended drawing. One of the things I like to do with them is have the kids look at them and think about what they look like. For example, there is one that looks like waves, another that looks like mountains and another that looks like the top of a castle.  My daughter, who is almost 9 years old, tested these out for me and I loved seeing how these simple lines helped to encourage her creative drawing process. I gave her a set of gel pens, some stickers and blank paper and let her run with her ideas. Learn To Write Stencils are also great for working on developing grasping skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. They encourage creativity and imagination skills which helps with the development of self-esteem and confidence.

Grapat Nins Carla Wooden Figures Game-over the last few months, I have been adding more open-ended toys to my therapy sessions. I am a sucker for nice wooden toys and am pretty much can't not buy something if there's a rainbow them to it. This set of rainbow dolls is of my new favorites and I have loved watching my kids play with them. As you can see from the picture, the set comes with 6 colored peg dolls with matching discs and rings. I love how many occupational therapy skills can be worked on while also encouraging open-ended play in children. Some of the skills that can be worked on are color identification, sorting, categorizing, improving hand-eye coordination and grasping and manipulation skills. These are also great for improving focus, attention and self-regulation because you need to concentrate and take your time while stacking the rings and discs. I have found these are great to combine with some of my gross motor activities when at the gym. For example, I will have them sort and stack while lying prone in the net swing so we are adding a strengthening component to a fun fine motor activity.

Pencil Nose Game-I discovered this game at another local New York City toy store when looking for a game to entertain our New Year's Eve guests. In this hilarious game, people wear a pair of glasses with a marker attached and have to draw a pictures listed on the cards they pick while being timed. They keep drawing as many as they can to rack up the most points. This game is definitely geared towards older children but could probably be adapted for younger children. For example, you could have the kids come up with a list of simple objects that they think they could draw and pick from those instead of the ones provided. One of the things I like about this is that it encourages kids to be silly and do something differently than typically expected. So many of the kids I work with, especially those older ones, struggle with being perfect or doing things just so so I like that this makes them step outside of their comfort zone and be silly.

OOLY DIY Eraser Kit-I love a good art kit and am pretty much obsessed with all of the art products from OOLY. This simple kit comes with 12 blocks of dough that can be molded into things to create erasers. There are several kinds of DIY Eraser Kits out there, but I really like this one because it is completely open-ended and encourages creativity and imagination skills. There are three simple steps in order to make your erasers:
1. Come up with what you want to make. This requires thinking about colors, size, etc.. Using their fingers, they mold the dough into what they would like to create.
2. Bake it for a short amount of time.
3. Erase!
In addition to encouraging creativity and imagination, it is great for working on improving fine motor skills such as grasping and in-hand manipulation skills. If you want to work on bilateral coordination with kids, provide the kids with a variety of safe tools (knife, fork, rolling pin, etc.) to use.
If you want to make an eraser to put on top of a pencil, you can stick a hole in the bottom before baking it.

LetterSchool Spelling Words App!-LetterSchool is my most used and most frequently recommended handwriting app so when I saw that they had developed a spelling app, I immediately downloaded it. It has quickly become a new favorite of mine and the kids. I find this to be perfect for my pre-kindergarten or kindergarten students who are just beginning to learn how read. Much like LetterSchool, this interactive game provides multiple opportunities for children to learn how to spell and read a variety of words. Kids learn how to read and spell hundreds of words that are grouped together by their ending sounds. They have to listen to the word and then drag the correct letter to complete the word. Once completed, each letter is spelled out while being matched up with fun animations and sounds. For each group of words, there are three levels of game, each becoming more challenging. I like to add a hands-on step by having the kids practice writing out the words either on paper, Boogie Board or dry erase board once they have completed each group of words.
The first five groups of words are free but I think that this app is one that is worth every cent!

The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell-this children's book was new to me but came highly recommended to me by one of the awesome staff at Stories Bookshop and Storytelling Lab, my go-to for all of my children's books for my social skills group, The Meetinghouse Juniors. Our social skills curriculum the last few weeks has been focused on Thinking vs. Saying when  talking to people. We are all guilty of saying things out loud that we think are innocent but may come out the wrong way and actually upset others. The Snurtch is one of the books we have read to help explain this concept to children. The gist of the story is that Ruthie, the main character, has big feelings and will say or do things that hurt the feelings of her teachers and peers. She says it isn't her but is the Snurtch....this monster who makes her do all of these terrible things. This book brought up great conversations with our group about whether or not the Snurtch was a real thing or Sophie's way of dealing with things when they are challenging. It was great to hear the kids talk about how Sophie could have done or said something differently that didn't make her friends feel sad. It was a perfect book to read before launching into our activity about Thinking vs. Saying.

These are my favorite things for January 2019. I am really looking forward to putting these together each month. I am working on some other fun things this year that I think you'll all love and find helpful. If there are things you are looking for, let me know. I love hearing from you all and am just a click away!







Friday, December 7, 2018

The Small Stuff-Stocking Stuffers and Small Gifts





There are lots of times when you just need a small gift for people on your list or you are looking for some new and really fun things to fill up a stocking with. Today, I share a bunch of my favorite small gifts that are all kid tested and approved. Everything recommended have some kind of therapeutic benefit but the kids won't even know it! Whether it be helping with the development of fine motor and grasping skills or provide time for sensory exploration, all of the items recommended are guaranteed to make your kids happy. The thing I love about these small gifts is that they can be taken on the go to keep your kids entertained when necessary.











1. Ninja Erasers
2. Yummy Yummy Scented Glitter Gel Pens
3. Tenzi Dice Game
4. Pinch Me Therapy Dough
5. Wikki Stix
6. Bop It Micro 
7. Mad Mattr
8. Marker Pens 









1. Sticker Puzzles
2. Meteor Monster
3. Discovery Putty 
4. Build Your Own Alphabet Straw
5. Do-Overs Erasable Highlighters 
6. 32 Ways to Dress Fox Activity Book
7. Pop Tubes
8. On The Go Monster Kit










1. Kiko and Wakka Water Game 
2. Kid Made Modern Bits & Pieces Jewelry Kit
3. Melting Snowman
4. DIY Window Cling Art Kit
5. Eraser Puzzles
6. I Am a Rebel Girl Journal 
7. Zoo Sticks
8. Animal Poppers 








1. Tegu Rainbow Magnetic Tram Set
2. Orb Soft N' Slow Squishies
3. Teebee Play and Store Box
4. The Offbits Building Sets
5. Mad Libs/Mad Libs Juniors 
6. Wubble Fulla Sensory Balls
7. Kid Made Modern Comic Book Kit
8. Donut Pom Pom Maker 

While I have links for all of these items, I have to tell you that most of them were purchased at my local toy stores here in New York City. Your local toy and book stores are often treasure troves for wonderful gifts. While I like to support my local toy stores all year long, I find it extra important this time of the year. If any of you have found anything amazing, please share! I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and fun-filled holiday season!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

2018 Holiday Gift Guide-This and That

In this installment of the 2018 Holiday Gift Guide, I share a bunch of my favorite toys, games and craft sets. I have also included a handful of my favorite monthly subscriptions. This is a new addition to my list and it is something I am really excited about. There are a lot of great ones out there and the ones I included are ones that are ideal for children who may need to work on improving fine motor and sensory processing skills. The fun thing about these subscriptions are that they give kids something to look forward to each month after the holidays are over.

Easel-one of the greatest gifts my daughter got for one of her first Christmas' was an easel. She had it for years so it was certainly worth the investment of getting a really good one. Working on an incline is great for developing upper extremity strength, trunk control and encourages grasping skills. I am going to recommend two different ones depending on what kind of space you have. For those of you have a significant amount of space, this Wooden Art Easel from Crate Kids. One side has a black chalkboard, the other has a white board and there is a place for a roll of paper on the top for painting and drawing. There is also plenty of storage space in the frame to store your paints and paintbrushes. If you don't have quite as much space, Crate Kids has this awesome Table Top Easel which features a chalkboard on one side, magnetic white board on the other, a dowel on the bottom that holds a roll of paper and space to hold four paint cups. The nice thing about this one is that if you don't have the real estate to keep an easel out permanently this one folds up for easy storage.
Here are some of my favorite craft accessories that can be paired with an easel and are perfect for kids of all ages. 
*OOLY Chunkie Paint Sticks
*'lil Poster Paint Pods
*Chroma Blends Watercolor Paint Set
*Mumbo Jumbo Chunky Markers
*'lil Paint Brush Set
*Washable Paint Set

I Can Do That! Activity Books-I am totally addicted to these activity books for preschoolers from Lazoo. Even better, my kids love them and are so motivated to work on challenging fine motor and graphomotor skills. Finding good activity books can be difficult so when I do find them, I love to share them with everyone I know. The books described below are small and can be thrown in a bag, keeping kids entertained while in the car, traveling or when in restuarants.
I Can Do That! Erasable Art-this coloring book is perfect for keeping kids entertained on the go. The pictures are simple but of familiar objects.
*I like to have my kids use these neon gel highlighters from Ooly. Not only are they great for kids who might have decreased grasp strength because it doesn't require much pressure for the colors to show up, they are easy for kids to erase. The bonus for the kids is that they smell delightful!
I Can Do That! Origami-this super simple cutting and folding projects for preschoolers helps develop cutting skills and folding skills which are great for developing fine motor and grasping skills. There are a bunch of activities with no more than 3 steps where kids can turn pictures into something else.
I Can Do That! Stickers-this is another favorite of the kids at work. I mean, anytime you include stickers in a project it's sure to be a big hit! Kids not only work on developing fine motor, grasping and coordination skills, they can work on problem-solving, early math and reasoning skills through the simple activities. Another great thing about this is that the stickers are reusable so it isn't a one and done kind of thing.

Wooden Magnetic Earth Tiles-I am a huge fan of Magna-Tiles and have given them as first birthday gifts countless times. However, I love the idea of non-plastic options so when I found these, I was psyched. Earth tiles are made from a durable, sustainable wood with magnets hidden inside so they easily stick to each other. These open-ended building toys encourage creativity and imagination skills, help with developing fine motor and grasping skills, improves bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination and visual motor skills. At the same time, young children can learn about shapes with these triangular and square shaped blocks.

Squigz-a holiday gift guide wouldn't be complete without mentioning Squigz. For younger kids, be sure to check out pipSquigz and the Suction Kupz. These oversized suction cup toys will keep your kids entertained for hours  while helping develop fine motor and grasping skills (and can even help with giving some relief when teething). Each one of the pipSquiz is a different shape, has a different tactile experience and a different sound. The Suction Kupz come in a set of 6 and can be used to put other little toys in, house snacks or just be used as a toy to explore. They are both perfect for keeping kids engaged while sitting in their stroller or high chair or even while getting bathed. For older kids, there are a whole series of Squigz from Fat Brain Toys. These open ended toys are great for working on developing grasping skills and bilateral coordination, improve hand-eye coordination, focus and attention and encourage kids to be more creative and imaginative. These are great to keep in your bag for long car trips as they can stick to windows and provide your child with hours of entertainment.

Lalaboom Pop Beads-I love when I find a traditional toy that has been given a bit of a modern update to it. I can remember playing with the Fisher-Price pop beads as a child and still recommend pop beads to parents who are looking for developmental toys for their babes. I was killing time at the beginning of the year and scouring Fat Brain Toys when I stumbled upon the Lalaboom beads. These snap together beads are a great way for young children to work on increasing grasp and upper extremity strength, improves bilateral coordination, motor planning skills and hand-eye coordination. What's nice about these beads are that they each have a different texture on the outside making it an opportunity for sensory exploration. The other great thing about them is that each bead is actually two parts and can be screwed apart and they can mix and match beads. So as kids grow, the way they can play with this toy changes and becomes increasingly more challenging.

Bright Basics Peg Garden-peg boards are so great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination and focus and attention in children as young as 1 years old but are oftentimes so simple that they don't always hold the interest of children for long. Educational Insights has a way of making this important toy more fun for kids. Last year, I featured the Learning Resources Peg Friends Stacking Farm set (which I still use multiple times per week at work). I am in love with this garden themed pegboard which comes with 15 flower pegs and 12 different insects that they can place on top of the flowers. This is great for improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills and focus and attentional skills. What's nice about this pegboard set is that it can be graded to work on different kinds of skills such as sorting the flowers by color, matching the bugs, counting and color identification.

Yeti, Set, Go!-this new game from Play Monster is a mix between Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Yeti in My Spaghetti and has been a huge hit with my kids at work. This goal of this four player game is to be the first player to get all of your meatballs on the mountain ledges. Kids put the meatball on the Yeti's foot, aim in the right place and push the head down. The trick is that if you hit the head to soft the meatball won't go anywhere and if you push too hard it will fly across the room! This game is great for working on hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills, focus, attention and self-regulation.


Googly Eyes Game-finding games for older children can be a challenge. How many times do kids roll their eyes when parents suggest a game night? The key to this not happening is finding a super fun game. Googly Eyes is just that. Players pick a card with a word on it and have to draw a picture. The challenge is that they are wearing glasses (three different lenses) that alter their vision making it much harder to draw what they are supposed to. Kids roll the dice, move their pieces and where they land will determine which set of lenses they have to use to draw their picture. This is not only a fun game, it is a great way to work on graphomotor skills without the pressure of things having to be perfect.

Panda Rollers-this game is geared towards preschoolers and is a really fun way to work on improving visual skills such as visual discrimination, visual tracking and visual motor skills. Kids shake the dice and race to be the first player to match your panda face cards to the colors of the dice shown. The first one to correctly make their panda face receives a reward tile. The person with the most tiles is the winner. This game is also great for working on improving social skills such as being a good winner/loser and turn taking.

Bop-It-I have to admit I am a bit of a sucker for toys that were popular when I was younger. Bop-It was one of those toys that always provided me with that just right challenge and I now love using it with my kids at work. It is one of my go-to toys to work on developing executive functioning skills and to help with increasing frustration tolerance. While there are quite a few to choose from these days, I think the original is the best, especially for kids who might have decreased frustration tolerance or difficulty with focus and attention. In addition to being great for working on executive functioning skills, it is a fun tool to help develop fine motor and grasping skills, improves hand-eye coordination and improves bilateral coordination.

Simon Game-another oldie but goodie and a great game for older school age children who are on your list this year. This is another game that I encourage parents to get for their kids who need to work on improving executive functioning skills. The Simon game is an electronic game where the players have to watch a light sequence and then repeat it in the correct order. The more they can repeat, the higher their score is. In addition to working on executive functioning skills, playing the Simon game also works on hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills, sequencing and can work on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills.

Giant Coloring Posters-these are still one of my favorite things as it is a gift that can last a long time and can be done with friends and family making it a true collaborative project. There are a ton to choose from but my friends over at Norman & Jules have a great selection from a company called Omy that I like the best. Other than the obvious goal of working on improving graphomotor skills, there are a ton of other skills that can be worked on using these giant coloring posters. For example, if you hang it on a wall, kids can work on a vertical surface which is great for building upper extremity strength and shoulder stability and improves core strength. Additionally, it can be a wonderful social activity. We have actually had one one year in my social skills group and it was really fun to watch the kids talk about what they were coloring, what colors they were choosing and having to compromise when someone else might have wanted to color in part of the picture that someone else might have wanted.

Kid Made Modern Arts and Crafts Supply Library-this craft kit is easily one of my most favorite gifts and I actually use it at work on a daily basis. This kit comes with over 1,200 different art supplies including pom-poms, beads, various kinds of pipe-cleaners, googly eyes, felt pieces and SO much more. The best part about it is that it comes in a super sturdy case with compartments for everything. While they give you a simple guide with some ideas of things you can make, this kit is intended to ignite creativity and encourages kids to come up with their own ideas. I have loved seeing how my kids have looked through all the supplies, make a plan and then bring their idea to life. Not only are they working on developing fine motor and grasping skills, they are working on improving executive functioning skills such as task initiation, planning and prioritizing and organizational skills.

Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-these are a long time favorite of mine and they have recently added a bunch of new sets. Sticky Mosaics are a great activity for working on developing grasping skills, increases grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, visual tracking and focus, attention and organizational skills. As kids complete their pictures by matching the stickers to the correct number, their confidence and self-esteem soar as they see their hard work turn into something that they can hang up and display. Be sure to check out local toy stores for these. I have found that they are in lots of the local small businesses here in the New York City area.

DIY Pin and Flair Set-this DIY kit was a gift my daughter received last year for her birthday and she loved it. Kids can color, cut and then bake (think Shrinky Dinks) 18 different pins or other kinds of accessories. This simple activity encourages kids to be creative and express themselves through their color choices and design while working on improving coloring skills, executive functioning skills and increasing confidence and self-esteem.

Chalk Blocks-if you are a regular reader, you know that I am a sucker for a good set of blocks. I am totally obsessed with this set of wooden chalkboard building blocks. Each set comes with 7 blocks, dustless chalk (which lasts longer than conventional chalk), a set of mini paint brushes and a chalk sharpener. What I love about these are kids can work on handwriting and drawing skills while also encouraging creativity and imagination skills. Building with any kind of blocks is also great for developing executive functioning skills such as planning, problem solving and task completion.

Alphabet Blocks-i'm always on the hunt for tools that make learning and writing letters and shapes more motivating for kids. A few months ago, my friends over at Rose and Rex send me this set of alphabet blocks that has quickly become a favorite of the kids at work. These oversized wooden blocks have hand-painted letters, numbers and shapes on all the sides. What makes these unique is that one side of each block is painted in chalkboard paint which kids can use to practice their writing skills. I have had kids practice writing their names by filling in blank letters or have them fill in missing letters of common sight words. They love that after they are done, they love that they can erase it.

Eeboo Pretend Play Stickers-one thing we know about the holidays is that we end up with a ton of cardboard boxes of different sizes. One of my daughter's favorite things to do to this day is to use these boxes to build all kinds of things with. The hours that were spent making and creating were some of our favorite and most creative hours. When I discovered these pretend play stickers by Eeboo, I was ecstatic. Many of the kids I work with are too young or have trouble with initiating play and these are perfect for them. There are 3 sets to choose from (Car, Kitchen, Spaceship) and each comes with 5 sheets of reusable stickers. In addition to being a perfect tool for encouraging pretend play, creativity and imagination skills, it is great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination and visual motor skills. It's also a great social skills tool!

Design and Drill-this is a big hit with so many of the kids I work with and I love how many ways it can be used to address therapeutic goals. There are a ton of great sets to choose from depending on what your child's interests are. They have sets that use a battery operated drill or a screwdriver that requires children to use more muscle power but the goal of each of them is pretty much the same. Using the drill or screwdriver, kids fill in the holes with different colored bolts. Kids can either follow patterns provided with each set or create their own designs. Some of the sets have you decorate robots, princess crowns, etc. and others that are just a blank canvas for the kids to fill in. These are great for working on increasing grasp strength, improves visual motor and perceptual skills and helps with focus, attentional and organizational skills.

Buggzle-I like this puzzle game for a variety of reasons. First of all, I like that it is small and can be thrown in a bag to keep kids entertained while waiting for an appointment, while traveling or in a restaurant. Kids pick one of the 40 challenge cards and then have to use the puzzle pieces to make their bug match what is shown on the card. This game is a great way to work on developing fine motor and grasping skills, encourages spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, critical thinking, focus, attention and organizational skills.

Sensory TheraPlay Box-this is something I discovered last year and tried out myself for work and I now look forward to the email each month telling me this sensory subscription box is on it's way. First of all, I have been introduced to a countless number of new products that have had been such a positive addition to my practice. It's also given me a ton of tools to be able to recommend to other therapists and families I work with. Each month I receive a box arrives at my door with 5-7 sensory tools hand-picked by the occupational therapist who started this product. I have received fidget toys, special kinds of putty and play doh and home exercise plans to name just a few. While this subscription box was intended for children on the spectrum or for children with sensory processing difficulties, I have been introduced to so many great products that help children of all abilities.

Pipsticks Sticker Club-this is one of my daughter's favorite things she has ever gotten. Each month, she receives an envelope filled with 15 sheets of unique stickers, a pre-stamped postcard (that she often uses to send her cousins or a friend), an activity booklet and a reusable pouch to store everything in. In addition to kids just loving stickers, using them has a lot of therapeutic value and they don't even know it. They are great for working on improving grasping skills, improves visual skills, improves hand-eye coordination and can encourage creativity. I can't tell you the number of hours my daughter and her friends have spent endless hours creating stories and comics using her Pipstick sticker collection.

Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Club-this is another awesome sticker club but one that I recommend for younger kids. Very much like Pipsticks, this monthly subscription comes with at least 15 sheets of Mrs. Grossman's stickers. What's fun about this sticker club is that in addition to getting new stickers, they include classic and not-yet released stickers. Like I mentioned above, using stickers has a lot of therapeutic value and they don't even know it. They are great for working on improving grasping skills, improves visual skills, improves hand-eye coordination and can encourage creativity.

We Craft Box-I have a kid who is really into her arts and crafts but we don't always know what to do with the supplies that we have lying around our house. There are a lot of families out there that would like to be into crafting but don't know where to start. When I discovered the We Craft Box I thought of so many of the kids I work with now who would love to get a box filled with all the supplies necessary to complete 2-3 themed crafts for two children. What I really love about this is that they come with photo directions so kids can follow them independently (with supervision from an adult) when possible. For older siblings, they can help develop confidence and self-esteem by helping their younger siblings to complete their craft projects. This gift that keeps on giving is great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, encourages creativity and imagination skills, works on visual motor, and perceptual skills and SO many other developmental skills.

There is so much more that I could have added to this list! If there is something specific that you are looking for, I have a lot more gift ideas that are great for working on a variety of skills. Just remember, I am only a click away and love hearing from everyone. Don't hesitate reaching out with specific ideas for your children!

The most important thing I look for when I put this list together is that the products don't seem like a therapy exercise for the kids. An added bonus is when they can be something that children of all ages and abilities can enjoy. Sometimes it might mean you have to adjust the rules or expectations for some children to be successful, but those adjustments are simple.
























Saturday, November 24, 2018

2018 Holiday Gift Guide-Gross Motor Toys

When people think of occupational therapy, they probably think of fine motor and sensory processing skills. While that is often the main focus of the work we do, there is also a lot of opportunities to work on gross motor skills as well. Below, I share ten of my favorite gross motor toys, games and activity sets that make developing body strength, improving motor planning and organizational skills and improving balance and coordination fun.

Calm Mind Kit-this is one of my favorite new items to my whole gift guide this year. I have been a huge fan of Rose & Rex for years so when I heard they were developing their very own product that would work on mindfulness and mediation, I was immediately sold. This beautiful set was designed for children as young as 3 years old and can be used through the ages. Created by childhood development and wellness experts, it provides children with a variety of tools that encourage emotional development and improves their overall well-being making them more able to focus, self-regulate and to have improved confidence and self-esteem. Each kit contains three handmade toys and a set of Calm Mind Activity cards that provide instruction on how to use the toys for different meditative, movement and breathing exercises.
One of the best things about any purchase made from Rose & Rex is that for each toy you buy, toys will be given to a child in need. For example, for each Calm Mind Kit purchased, 8 toys will be given in turn.

Gel Floor Tiles-these are a big hit with all the kids at my sensory gym and I love how they can be used for a lot of different things. First things first, they are a huge motivator to get kids to jump, leap, hop and other gross motor activities. These colorful tiles are filled with gel so when they are being stepped or crawled on the gel moves all around. We have used them in a variety of ways but my favorite has been to set it up like a simplified Twister game where kids have to listen to and follow the verbal directions given to them. This is great for working on increasing motor planning and organizational skills, focus and attention and following multi-step directions. Also a motivating way to work on increasing gross-motor skills.

Wobbel Board-I had been coveting this beauty for a long time after following someone on Instagram. I've been using it at home with my daughter (because she won't let me take it to work) and it's been so fun to see how she uses it. When I purchased it, I imagined I would bring it to work and use it as a balance board with the kids. At home, it is being used not only as a balance board, but also as a prop in some of her imaginative play. The Wobbel Board is great for working on improving overall strength, trunk control, motor planning and organizational skills.

Stomp Rocket-this is one of those toys that makes my list each year and one of those things that kids love no matter how old they are. It's a simple toy that can help with the development of so many gross motor skills, especially jumping and overall strengthening. Their line has expanded over the years so be sure to check out the link. I like the Dueling Rockets set because it helps kids learn how to jump with two feet at the same time, but they are all great and keep kids entertained for hours. I am kinda excited to check out their newest product, Stomp Rocket Stunt Planes. Kids can work on building endurance (by running to collect the rockets), hand-eye coordination (trying to catch the stomp rockets as they fall down) and motor planning skills when using any of the stomp rocket sets.

Rody Horse-the physical therapists I work with recommend the Rody Horse for a lot of our younger kids (they recommend for kids 2-4 years old but depending on the size of a child, they can be used as young as 1 years old). Similar to the hippity-hop ball, kids bounce up and down on Rody. These are great for working on developing balance, coordination and motor planning skills. Also great for working on increasing core strength and trunk control.

Kick Scooter-living in NYC, parents are always looking for ways to get to places quicker. Once kids outgrow the stroller, they want a faster way to get to place from place so I always recommend a scooter. There are a lot of them out there but I personally love the children's scooters from Micro Kickboard. They are lightweight and the two wheels up front make it a bit easier for kids to maneuver. Scooters are great for working on developing bilateral coordination, motor planning, focus and attention, organizational skills and visual motor and perceptual skills. I also recommend having kids who may have sensory processing difficulties ride their scooters to school to help "wake up their bodies" before getting into the classroom.

Move Your Body Fun Deck-parents often ask me for simple activities they can do with their children at home. Super Duper has a whole series of activity cards that I highly recommend and use at the gym. In the past years, I have recommended (and still do) the Yogorilla cards. This year I thought I would switch things up a bit and find something a little different Move Your Body Fun Deck has 59 illustrated cards that help your child improve their body strength, balance, coordination, motor planning and motor organizational skills. I like this set because the activities are simple and can be done as a whole family. They are easy enough to include in a sensory diet at home or in school that won't require equipment. Some of the activities are to stand on one foot like a flamingo, do a long jump or to do a log roll.

Door Pong-I am loving this game for older kids and it is especially a great thing for kids who live in the city. It is essentially ping-pong without the table. Attach the clamp to the top of any doorway and then turn the dial to adjust the length of the string for your kid. The goal of it the game it to see how many times you can hit the ball back and forth to each other without missing. Door Pong is a fun way to improve hand-eye coordination, executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills, increase upper extremity strength and encourages cooperative play.

Handee Band-I wrote about these in depth a few months ago and feel like they definitely deserve a shout out on this years gift-guide. Parents are always looking for ways to get their kids moving or exercising at home. As kids get older, it's important that they can be more independent and take more control of their physical well-being. The Handee Band, created by a California based occupational therapist, was designed with that exact thing in mind. The Handee Band Exercise Kit comes with 1 6 pound resistance Handee Band (you can order extras if you want more for your family), a book with 15 illustrated exercises with easy to follow 5-step directions, Handee Band Spinner Board and a dry erase Handee Checklist for children to keep track of their progress. Using the Handee Band will be a fun and motivating way for children to work on building body strength and will improve bilateral coordination, motor planning and motor organization, hand-eye coordination, balance and coordination skills.

Zoom Ball-this will always be a huge favorite of mine. First of all, it's super affordable and can be used with our without another person. The second thing I like about it is that it can be used in a variety of ways to work on a bunch of different skills. The goal of the Zoom Ball is to fly the ball back and forth by opening and closing your arms. This is amazing for working on increasing upper extremity strength, bilateral coordination, motor planning, organizational skills and focus and attention. I try and throw in some kind of language aspect when using the zoom ball at work. For example, I have them list the months of the year or name a color every time they open their arms. If you don't have someone to do the zoom ball with, you can attach the second set of handles to someplace higher and the kids can shoot the ball up and it will drop down on it's own.

In addition to the aforementioned toys, there are a bunch of great family board/big body games that encourage gross motor development. Some of them are Twister, Seek-a-Boo, Sturdy Birdy: The Game of Balance, I Got This, Giant Wooden Tower Stacking Game and Crocodile Hop Floor Game.

Gross motor skills are crucial for children of all ages. Not only is it important for keeping kids physically active and healthy, it provides opportunities for building confidence and self-esteem. Additionally, research shows that encouraging free movement can give children the space to develop a more keen level of self-awareness, learn non-verbal ways of communicating with family and peers and help in developing improved body and safety awareness.

What are your favorite family or work based gross-motor games? I'm sure that my readers would love to hear about your favorites just as much as I would. I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.


















Sunday, November 18, 2018

2018 Holiday Gift Guide-Children's Books

One of my favorite gifts to give is a good book. Unlike many gifts, it is something that can be used over and over again and when it is a truly special book, it can be held onto and saved for future generations. Over the years I have spent quite a bit of time building a library of books for the social skills group I lead at The Meeting House. Each of the books has some kind of social emotional lesson to teach children. Some of the major themes covered in the following books are labeling and identifying feelings, kindness and empathy, being brave and overcoming fears and perspective taking.  One of the things I have learned over the years is that children can have a difficult time talking about or recognizing their own social difficulties. By providing them with a story that has some kind of social theme, you provide them with a safe outlet to discuss things that may be tricky for them. I have been amazed over the last few years with my kids at The Meeting House how they have been able to talk about and problem solve a variety of social difficulties we all experience at some point. By taking away the personal part and focusing on a character, they feel less intimidated to talk about them around their peers. Below I share 25 of my favorite children's books that would be a great addition to any personal library or classroom.

Be Kind by Pat Zieltow Miller-When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind? From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference-or at least help a friend. 
The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas-we spend a lot of time teaching children about concepts such as colors, numbers and letters, but not enough time teaching them about feelings and emotions. This interactive pop-up book helps kids learn about emotions by matching them with a color and helps to open up the conversation about what feelings look like. 


After The Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat-everyone knows that when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. But what happened after? We learn about Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high on the city wall-that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can no longer do many of the things he loves most. Will he find the courage to face his fear? This book teaches children about what happens when you face your fears and take chances. 

ish by Peter Reynolds-Ramon loved to draw. Anytime, anything and anywhere! Drawing is what Ramon does and what makes him feel good about himself. It is what makes him happy until his older brother makes a mean comment and he no longer can find the joy in drawing. Ramon can't draw without feeling sad and worried about what he is doing. Luckily for him, his younger sister the world differently and opens Ramon's eyes and makes him realize that things don't always have to be "just right". This is a great book for children who are always seeking perfection and need to know that "just right" is different for everyone and just because someone doesn't like what you are doing, it shouldn't stop you from finding joy from it.

The Book Of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken-one eye was bigger than the other. That was a mistake. The weird frog-cat-cow thing? It made an excellent bush. And the inky smudges....they look as if they were always meant to be leaves floating gently across the sky. As one artist incorporates accidental splotches, spots and mishapen things into her art, she transforms her piece in quirky and unexpected ways, taking readers on a journey through her process. Told in minimal and playful text, this story shows readers that even the biggest "mistakes" can be the source of great ideas...and at the end of the day, we are all works in progress. 


The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds-as art class ends, Vashti is sitting in her chair staring at a blank piece of paper feeling frustrated by not being able to complete her art assignment. Her teacher walks over and tells her to make a mark on the paper...any mark will do. She angrily makes a dot on her paper and then her teacher tells her to sign the paper. When she comes into class the following week, her picture is hanging above her teacher's desk which ignites her confidence and encourages her to try more. As her confidence continues to grow, so do her artistic abilities. This book is a good reminder to kids of all ages that sometimes you have to take a chance and step outside of your comfort zone in order to get better at something. 


The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires-a little girl and her assistant, her beloved dog, set out to make the most magnificent thing. But after spending a lot of time and energy on her project, the final product just isn't what she had imagined. Frustrated, she quits. Her assistant suggests a long way to cool off and as she calms down, she realizes what she has to do in order to succeed. This is a great story that teaches kids about perspective, not giving up even when feeling frustrated and helps them realize that there is no reason for things to be perfect all the time.  


Fair is Fair by Sonny Varela-"It's not fair!" This is something that parents and teachers hear all of the time when they think someone else, a sibling or classmate, is getting more than they are. Do special needs for one mean less love for another? This is the question explored in this short children's story of three zoo animals. They learn that being equally loved doesn't necessarily mean that they're treated the exact same. Rather, true love is expressed when each animal gets what they need. This is a perfect book for all families with siblings who think may think that things are never fair. 

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry-when Stick rescues Stone from a scary situation with a Pinecone, the pair becomes fast and best friends. But when Stick gets stuck, can Stone return the favor? This simple book uses a nice rhyming text that makes it easy for children to follow and is a nice introduction to bullying, friendship and kindness. 

Everybody's Welcome by Patricia Hegarty-poor Frog's pond has dried up and he has nowhere to live. Luckily, he meets friendly Mouse, who is just starting to build a new house. "Everybody's welcome, no matter who they are, "explains Mouse. "Wherever they may come from, whether near or far." As Frog and Mouse build a house together, they meet more animals without a place to live. Soon, they all join to build a big, beautiful home where everyone is welcome, safe and war. Children will learn about how important it is to always lend a helping hand to those in need no matter who they are. It also teaches them about community and how all kinds of people can not only live together, but work together to help each other. 

Courage by Bernard Waber-What is courage? Certainly it takes courage for a firefighter to rescue someone trapped in a burning building, but there are many other kinds of courage too. Everyday kinds that normal, ordinary people exhibit all the time, like "being the first to make up after an argument," or "going to bed without a nightlight." In this book, all acts of courage, both big and small, are celebrated and show that we are all heroes when we can overcome some of our fears. 

We Are All Wonders by RJ Palacio-so many people were moved by the book Wonder, a novel about a little boy named Auggie born with significant craniofacial differences. In this picture book, we hear more about Auggie and get a better understanding of every child's desire to belong and be seen for who you are and not what you look like. It's a beautiful and simple book that helps kids learn about empathy, kindness and accepting. 

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts-hardly anyone noticed young Sally McCabe. She was the smallest girl in the smallest grade. But Sally notices everything-from the 27 keys on the janitor's ring to the bullying happening on the playground. One day, Sally has had enough and decides to make herself heard. And when she takes a chance and stands up to the bullies, she finds that one small girl CAN make a difference. This book is great for teaching kids that anyone can make a difference, no matter how big or small and how those acts of kindness can be contagious.

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel-teaching children about perspective taking can be really challenging, but is also very important. This is a great book to teach children about perspective and how everyone may see or feel things differently. The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws....In this glorious celebration of observation, curiosity and imagination, kids learn about how perspective shapes what we see. 

Waiting by Kevin Henkes-five friends sit happily on a windowsill, waiting for something amazing to happen. The owl is waiting for the moon. The pig is waiting for the rain. The bear is waiting for the wind. The puppy is waiting for the snow. And the rabbit is just looking out the window because he likes to wait! What will happen? Will patience win in the end? Or someday will the friends stop waiting and do something unexpected. Waiting is a big, and oftentimes very difficult, part of being a kid....waiting in line, waiting to have a turn at something, waiting to grow up to do big kid things and waiting for something special to happen.

The Bad Seed by Jory John-this is a book about a bad seed....a really bad seed! How bad? Do you really want to know? He has a bad temper, bad manners and a bat attitude. He's been bad as long as he can remember. This seed cuts in line every time, stares at everybody and never listens. But what happens when one mischievous little seed changes his mind about himself and decides he want to change and be happy? This book is great for teaching kids that if you put in some effort and try new things, positive change can happen for anyone. 

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein-It's time for the little red chicken's bedtime story-and a reminder from Papa to try not to interrupt. But the chicken can't help herself! Whether the tale is Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood or even Chicken Little, she jumps into the story to try and save the characters from doing silly or dangerous things. When it is time for the little chicken to finally tell her story, will he be able to stay awake and keep from yawning/interrupting her? This is a great way to teach kids about interrupting and the effect it has on other people....even if they are doing it out of pure excitement.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson-there are many reasons for children to feel different. Maybe it's the way you look or talk, where you come from or maybe it is because you may have a harder time talking or walking. It's not easy to take the risks to join a group when nobody really knows you yet, but you know you have to do it. This book is a helpful reminder to children how we may all feel when you have to join a new group and that if you open up and share  some of your own stories, there just might be others that you can connect with. This is a story about being brave, especially when you feel like you might be alone.

Tough Guys: (have feelings too) by Keith Negley-a boldly illustrated picture book talking about how everyone gets sad-ninjas, wrestlers, knights, superheroes, everyone...even daddies have emotions! We live in a society where some kids, especially boys, believe that they have to act a certain way. It's incredibly important for all kids to know that feelings are a normal thing and that EVERYONE feels them, no matter how tough they may seem. This is an important book that shows all people are allowed to express their feelings no matter what gender expectations and social norms say. 


In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek-this is one of my favorite books about feelings. What I like about this is that it gives children a better idea of how feelings can physically feel to you. It is totally normal for kids to feel a certain way but it is also normal for those physical reactions to feelings can scare children at times. Happiness, sadness, bravery, anger, shyness....our hearts can feel so many feelings! Some makes us feel as light as a balloon, others as heavy as an elephant. 

Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig-meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game or birthday party...until, that is, a new kid comes to class. When Justin, the new boy arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine. This story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. 


The Way I Feel by Janan Cain-feelings are neither good or bad....they just are. Kids need words to name their feelings and that can be really difficult for some kids. The Way I Feel uses bold, colorful and expressive images to go along with simple verses to help children connect the word and the emotion. While your child is being introduced to new words, you can take this opportunity to talk to kids about what makes them feel those emotions or how they might be able to notice these feelings in other people. 


The Way I Act by Steve Metzger-in this companion book to The Way I Feel, children learn that feelings come and go and that it is okay to feel all different kinds of feelings. The Way I Act looks at 13 different kinds of behaviors you may feel/see and provide tips on how you can maybe change the way you act in those situations. The pictures are fun and great for opening up conversation with kids on how it is normal to behave in certain ways but that we have the chance to redo moments and behave differently. 

Everyone by Christopher Silas Neal-in this book, children are invited to explore how we feel and also how other people feel things too. From the animals in the woods to the neighbors in their homes nearby, everyone has feelings and shares them in this whimsical story. Vivid, childlike art in a limited palette conveys a full spectrum of emotion. Young children easily frustrated by a popped balloon or overjoyed by a sky full of starts with relish this simple exploration of empathy. 

Can I Play Too by Mo Willems-Gerald is careful. Piggie is not. Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can. Gerald worries so that Piggie doesn't have to. Gerald and Piggie are best friends. In Can I PLay Too:, Gerald and Piggie meet a new snake friend who want to join their game of catch but they are worried how they can include snake since you need arms to play catch. This book is great for showing kids that sometimes you have to be flexible and think outside of the box to include friends into an activity that you think should go a certain way. 


This is just a sampling of some of my favorite children's books that have a social emotional lesson to teach kids. If you are looking for a book with a specific theme, please don't hesitate reaching out to me. I have so many more book suggestions and am only a click away. If you have any books that you think should be added to my library, please share! I am always happy to have a new books to share with the kids I work with. 

I have intentionally left out links to these books. I make a point of purchasing my children's books from local bookstores. Do you know if you go into bookstores, they can special order any book you want and get it to you almost as fast as ordering online? Here are some of my go-to children's bookstores in New York City:

Stories Bookshop and Storytelling Lab-Park Slope, Brooklyn

Community Bookstore-Park Slope, Brooklyn
Greenlight Bookstore-Fort Greene, Brooklyn 
powerHouse on 8th-Park Slope, Brooklyn (there is also a second location in DUMBO)
Books Are Magic-Cobble Hill, Park Slope 
Bank Street Bookstore-multiple locations on the UWS of Manhattan
Books of Wonder-Union Square and UWS locations
Shakespeare and Co-UES and UWS locations