Friday, July 21, 2017

The Plus of Plus Plus Blocks!

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am spending the summer learning as much about open ended play and how I could incorporate it more into my therapy sessions.  While I understand the importance of having specific activities in order to reach goals and parent/teacher expectations from occupational therapy, I think that there is an incredible benefit to incorporating open ended play materials into my sessions.  For me, I have come to the realization that if I search hard enough, I can find open ended materials that will work on reaching a variety of occupational therapy goals.

One might wonder what my sudden interest in open ended play is.  My interest was initially peaked by watching my daughter during the school year and how her structured routine over the course of the week was having an impact on her ability to "play" without us helping her decide what she should do and how she should do it.  She was constantly worrying about whether or not things were right and would like what she was doing or would they be disappointed with it.  I was watching her become more anxious about things and not enjoying them as much as she should have.  So, with some inspiration from the Instagram feed from the Workspace for Children, I began exploring the idea of open ended play with Quinn.  What I learned about open ended play is that it it is crucial for the development of imagination and creativity in children of all ages.  Through open ended play, kids can develop a variety of social and emotional skills such as empathy, cooperation, problem solving, and improved self-confidence and self-esteem.  There are also a number of cognitive benefits of open ended play including working memory, self-regulation, organizational skills and so much more.  So the more opportunities that children have to engage in open ended play, the more we are preparing them to be successful in school.

One of the first things that I purchased from the recommendation of Lizzie from the Workspace for Children were Plus Plus construction toys. I am not stranger to the Plus Plus products, and there have been many times in which I walked into different toy stores over the years and would be drawn to those little tubes filled with little pieces that look like plus signs.  There were several times I had them in my hand to purchase and then looked at those little pieces and thought about kids putting them in their mouths or getting frustrated if they were hard to put together.  I can't believe that I waited so long to bring these into work (or introduce them to my own daughter).  They are a great tool for any occupational therapist's tool chest because even if you move around from school to school or between homes, they are lightweight and take up very little space.  There are a variety of colors, so you can work on having kids learn their colors or work on matching and sorting when using them.  I have been encouraging kids to make whatever they want using the pieces and tell them they will have to tell me a story about what they built after.  There is no right or wrong thing to build or story to tell.  The most important thing is that they have fun.  For some of my older kids, I might tell them they need to use a certain number of pieces in whatever they create because even though I want them to be creative, I also want them to gain strength in their hands.  For smaller hands or children who might not have the strength and dexterity to use the regular size Plus Plus, you can use the Plus Plus Midi which are the same design but bigger and easier for smaller hands to manipulate.  Like the regular Plus Plus blocks, they come in a variety of bright or pastel colors.  I have been using them to help some of my younger kids learn their colors while they build.

One of the newest products from Plus Plus also happens to be another one of my favorite occupational therapy tools.  The Baseplate Builder is similar to the baseplate for Legos.  It acts as a platform for kids to be able to build scenes or anything else they want with the blocks.  My daughter happens to love everything rainbow and unicorns and built this awesome two level waterfall and rainbow scene using two baseplates while she was building a few weeks ago.  One thing that I have seen done with them is to practice building letters, numbers or shapes.  Any opportunity a child has to learn these types of things in a multi-sensory and playful way, the more likely they are to learn them at a faster pace.

In addition to all the things already mentioned, Plus Plus blocks can be used to work on the following occupational therapy goals:

Improves Grasping and Manipulation Skills-sometimes the simpler something is, the better it is.  In this case, Plus Plus' are just the right size to encourage appropriate grasping skills.  I have noticed more often than not, the kids are utilizing a fine-pincer grasp to pick them up and then manipulate them to put them together.  If you want to really work on developing age-appropriate grasping skills, you can use the Baseplate Builder.  I have had the kids use their pincers to place the pieces in and then remove them.  For some of my older and stronger kids, I have them lie in the net swing and use the Plus Plus' and the baseplate.  This is a great way to work on increasing upper extremity strength; increasing upper body strength leads to improved fine motor and manipulation skills.

Improves Bilateral Coordination Skills-the beauty of this activity is that you have to use two hands in order to put the pieces together and build things.  If you are using the baseplate, kids are forced to hold the plate down with the hand that is not putting the pieces in or taking them out.

Improves Visual Motor and Perceptual Skills-while I like to let the kids use them and build whatever they want, you also provide kids with templates on how to build certain things.  There are many kids who are in occupational therapy because they need to strengthen their visual skills so following visual directions when building with the Plus Plus blocks is a fun way to work on this skill.

Improve Social Skills-I have purchased a few sets of both the Plus Plus Midi and regular Plus Plus' blocks in a variety of colors so there are plenty for kids to share.  Whether it be at home, at the gym or in my social skills groups, I like to encourage kids to work together to create something.  For some kids, they need to work on thinking outside of their box and following the plan that someone else might have come up with.  In my social skills group, I allow the kids to play with the blocks for a few minutes on their own but tell them that in x-amount of time they will need to combine whatever they are building to make something bigger.

I could have gone on and on about the benefits of the Plus Plus building bricks!  The most important thing to me is that I provide a place and the proper tools for the kids I work with to work on all these skills.  I take great joy in knowing that there are materials out there that can provide so many therapeutic benefits without it seeming like a therapy toy.  This makes it more likely that the  kids will want to play with them not only during our sessions, but at home with their parents, siblings or with their friends.  I know that many families are planning on going on summer vacations and looking for things to bring with them and I couldn't recommend Plus Plus building bricks more.  They are lightweight and take up almost no room at all.  They are great for airplanes or keeping kids occupied in a restaurant without having to pull out an iPad or phone to keep them from complaining.

Do you have a favorite open ended building toy?  Especially ones that travel well?  Would love to hear your family favorites....I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Popping Good Time!

There are a few toys/tools that pretty much every occupational therapist and therapeutic gym has.  One of those are wrapper snappers or pop tubes.  This simple toy can bring endless hours of joy to kids and the therapeutic benefits are endless.  They are great for working on improving bilateral coordination, grasp strength, manipulation skills and problem solving and motor planning.  Kids love the funny sounds that they make as you push them together and pull them apart.  And you can be super creative and do lots of other fun things with them like make a marble run or use it as a slide for little toys to sort into different color containers.  The best part, they are inexpensive and easy to throw in a travel bag.

This past weekend, I was in my local toy store looking for a birthday present.  Imagine my surprise, okay, my childlike excitement when I found this amazing box filled with mini wrapper snappers and little plastic connecting pieces called Popoids.  Upon closer inspection, I discovered that Popoids was a popular toy in the late 70s/early 80s (my own childhood).  The toy is basically the same as the original one with some minor changes.  Each box comes with 60 pieces....36 pop tubes in a variety of colors and 24 connectors.  Don't get scared about that number of pieces....the box they come in is incredibly sturdy so you can use that as storage.  And if you want to keep your kids occupied on a long car ride, to take on vacation or eating out, you can pack a handful in a ziploc bag and throw them into your bag.  There are plenty of things your child can create with just a handful of the Popoids.

I am going to put this out there and say it might be one of the best toys I have purchased in a really long time.  In the week that it has been in my gym, just about every kid has used it and has had the best time.  One of the things that I am looking for in toys these days is that they encourage creativity in kids.  During the summer months, I want to not only work on meeting the IEP goals of kids, but also want to help kids think outside of the box and begin to use their imagination when building with different toys.  The best thing about this particular toy is that not only does it work on a bunch of occupational therapy goals, it encourages creativity and open-ended play.  There is no right or wrong which is a welcome change for so many kids who are used to having to do things just right in school or therapy.  Providing children with the opportunity to play with open ended materials such as Popoids help develop problem solving skills and enhances cognitive and executive functioning skills such as working memory, flexibility and self-regulation.

In addition to all that I have already mentioned, Popoids help work on the following occupational therapy skills:
Improves Grasp Strength/Manipulation Skills-pop tubes have been one of my go to finger/upper extremity strengthening activities since day one.  I have been using the smaller pop tubes from the Popoids set to "warm up" the muscles of the hands before kids do graphomotor activities.  The good thing is that the kids are having so much fun, they don't even realize they are doing work.
Improves Bilateral Coordination Skills-whether you are pulling the pop tubes apart or pushing them together, attaching pop tubes to each other or to the other pieces, kids have to use two hands.  For some of the kids I work with who have decreased upper extremity strength and shoulder stability, I have to really encourage them to not use their belly to stabilize/make this task easier.
Encourages Creativity-while there is a little guidebook to show you some of the things you can make with the Popoids, very vew of the kids that have played with them have wanted to use it.  They are having more fun building their own creations.  Whether it be a fireman hose, robots or a some kind of crazy alien, kids are choosing what they want to make and then they choose their pieces, put them together and then playing with them.  So in addition to improving creativity, it is encouraging open-ended play opportunities which many of the kids I work with don't get nearly enough time to do.
Improves Social Skills-I've had more fun watching the kids I work with play together and come up with something to build and then play with.  They have had to sometimes negotiate and be flexible about trying something different than they were thinking about making.  They have to share pieces or sometimes help their friend put the pieces together.  Once they are done creating their masterpieces, they can play together.

Here are a few other things you can do with the Popoids.
*have kids work on matching and sorting colors.  Make sure that you have them identify the colors as they sort them.
*for kids working on shapes, have them put together a few pop tubes and manipulate them into shapes.
What are some of your favorite open ended building materials?  I would love to hear from you about other great toys that will encourage and motivate creativity.  I am only a click away and love hearing from all of you.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sum..Sum...Summertime Writing!

For some kids, summer vacation is well under way.  For others, like my daughter, there are still a handful of days left.  We are so excited for the summer and a more relaxed schedule.  While many parents look forward to the more relaxed schedule, many of the families I work with, especially the older kids who will not be attending therapy due to long days at camp or because they will be spending the summers at their vacation homes, get anxious about their children regressing and losing some of the skills they worked so hard to gain during the school year.  For these parents, I often suggest things like having a pen pal over the summer (what kid doesn't love to get mail???) or keeping a journal of your fun summer activities.

For some kids, that open-ended kind of writing presents an increased challenge for them causing them to avoid it at all costs.  Since I want to work on keeping my daughter's creative juices flowing over the summer and get her ready for the increased demands of second grade, I have been trying to find motivating activity books or journals that will make this seem like less like homework.  Through my research (spending a whole lot of time in bookstores browsing their journals and activity books), I have found that there are so many great books out there that help to make writing fun.  There are a ton of books that provide you with a simple writing prompt which can help jumpstart those kids that are struggling to come up with what to write about.  Depending on the child, you may even want to have a discussion about the subject before they begin writing to help them organize their thoughts.

Below, you will find some of my favorite journals and activity books that will not only work on handwriting, but will encourage creativity,  stimulate possible conversation and eventually lead to increased confidence and self-esteem.

Mad Libs-I love when I find things from my own childhood that still brings about tons of joy to today's kids.   Mad Libs have been a huge hit with my own daughter and one of the biggest benefits is that she learned all about nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.  For kids who are able to write, be sure to take turns in letting them be the interviewer and have them write the words in themselves.  In addition to working on improving handwriting skills, Mad Libs are great for working on creativity and social skills.  For the younger kids, be sure to check out Mad Libs Junior.  Instead of having to come up with the words, they choose from lists (there are different shapes and under each shape are a bunch of words for them to pick from).  The best part of any Mad Lip collaboration between people is hearing the kids laugh like crazy as they read they completed story.

Write and Draw Your Own Comics-I have been a big fan of all things Usbourne for ages.  Now that some of my clients and my daughter are getting older, I have had to move from their coloring and sticker books to books that will meet their needs.  My daughter is a big fan of reading graphic novels so when I introduced the idea of creating her own comics, she was so excited.  In this book, kids are provided with simple step-by-step instructions and tips to show them how to create their own stories.  What's great about this book is that in addition to the templates, there are lots of ideas about characters and storylines to help those kids who might need assistance in getting their creative juices flowing.  For added detail, this book comes with a bunch of stickers to add to their completed comics.  This is a fun way to motivate kids to write, create and draw.  Additionally, it helps with executive functioning skills such as focus and attention, planning and organizational skills.
For kids who might not need the help with getting their ideas started, you should check out The Blank Comic Book For Kids.

Journal of Awesome-my daughter was given this journal by a family friend and we both love it.  I'm always struck at the increased educational demands that are placed on children and how it can have such a negative impact on their self-esteem and confidence level.  The Journal of Awesome helps to remind your child just how great they are and inspires them to remember how important the little things in life truly are.  Each page provides you with something to write about that will make you think of all the good things in life instead of focusing on the things that are going wrong or may be challenging for you.  Some of the things that they have you write about:
-coming back to your own bed after a long trip
-secret handshakes
-wearing a new pair of shorts
In addition to working on improving writing skills, kids will work on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organizational skills.  They will also be encouraged to focus on the positive side of things which will help develop confidence and self-esteem.

Choose Kind Journal-one of my favorite books is R.J. Palacio's Wonder.  For those of you not in the know, the book is about a boy named Auggie who was born with significant a significant facial deformity that has kept him from attending school.  The book Wonder follows Auggie on his first year in school with the overall message being all about choosing kindness.  When I saw the Choose Kind Journal-, I bought several copies.  This was something I not only wanted to do with my 7 year old daughter, but also to share with the kids I work with.  The Choose Kind Journal- is definitely geared towards older kids are are more independent in their writing skills.  However, you can easily go through and pick out questions that you can have conversations with your child about and write their answers down for them.  This journal provides daily prompts on how children can do something kind each day through quotes and questions for the kids to think more deeply about kindness.  Some of the things they will write about are:
-what annoys you that you will choose to ignore this week?
-is there someone older in your life that you feel might be lonely?  Spend a day asking him or her questions about life at your age.  What might you want to know?
-Today is random acts of kindness day.  What random acts of kindness will you do for someone today?
In addition to working on handwriting skills, this journal can help generate empathy and kindness in children who might need support in that area.
**if you are looking for a great summer reading book, I can't recommend Wonder enough.  My daughter and I are reading it together and the conversations we have about acceptance and kindness have been wonderful.  

Me:  A Compendium: A Fill In Journal For Kids-this fill in the blank journal is geared towards the preschool set of kids and helps them to identify all their unique qualities.  If kids can write themselves, have them fill in answers themselves (do not focus on the spelling); if they can't write, do it for them.  What I like about this book is that on many of the pages, kids can either write or draw their answers.  This book is filled with kid-friendly illustrations that get the kids thinking about things about themselves, things they like and how they might see different images.  For example, one page has a picture of two pieces of bread and they have to draw what they like inside of their sandwich.  Another page has a picture of a person and they have to either draw or write what's in their brain right now.
Kids will work on developing graphomotor skills, creativity and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.  This is a fun book to do with your child and can stimulate conversational skills, confidence and self-esteem as they complete each page.

I Like.....Activity Book-similar to Me, this activity book is geared more towards younger children (but kids of all ages will have fun filling it in) and can be done with a grownup if a child might need more help.  Kids can fill in the blanks while writing a letter to someone (encourage a child who can write to fill in the answers without worry about the spelling), draw toppings on a pizza or circle multiple choice questions about themselves.  The illustrations by Sara Walsh are beautiful and kids will love looking back at this as they get older.  In addition to working on improving graphomotor skills, it can encourage conversation and creativity skills.  Also great for working on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organizational skills and improving confidence and self-esteem.  

642 Things to Write About: Young Writer's Edition-this book encourages children ages 4-8 years to become more creative writers through over 600 prompts.  If you have a younger child, you will have to write their answers down for them but I would encourage you to have them draw a picture to go along with the story.  Older kids who are independently writing should write on their own.  For kids who might have a hard time organizing their thoughts for writing, you may want to have them talk through their response before writing and help them outline what they will write.  This will help improve executive functioning skills such as focus and attention, planning and organization.  Some of the things that your child might be asked to do are:
-write a story that includes a streetlight, a bear and a kid with a jar of honey
-describe your dream house (have your kid draw a picture at the same time!)

In addition to improving creative writing and graphomotor skills, kids' confidence and self-esteem will improve.

Just Between Us:  a no-stress, no-rules journal for girls and their moms-as a mother to a young girl, I aim to have meaningful conversations with her as often as possible.  Sometimes it ends up being much more challenging than others to get her to share her feelings with me, tell me about her day or talk about a variety of things.  When I saw Just Between Us, I was so excited about a way to deepen our conversations over the summer.  Through a variety of writing prompts, quizzes and questionnaires, moms and daughters get to know each other a little better and helps encourage conversation in a stress-free way.  I love how it includes pages for mom and daughters to make lists about things and has lots of free space to encourage writing about things that come up at any given time.  It's important to establish guidelines as a unit about using this book.  Make sure your daughter feels safe that the information she shares with you will stay between the two of you.  And make sure you are having fun while getting to know one another just a little bit better.
Some of the things moms and daughters will write about are:
-answering 20 different questions about yourself (page for mom and for daughter)
-things I talked about with my mom at your age/things I wish I had been able to speak to her about (mom)

And because I never want to leave anyone out, I found these other journals for parents and kids to complete together:
Between Mom and Me: A Mother Son Journal
Dad & Me: Journal for Fathers and Their Sons or Daughters

Scribbles and Doodles:  Kid's Summer Journal-this summer journal is intended for children 6 and up and most appropriate for kids who are generally independent writers.  The 90-page journal has a kid-friendly design with the top half of the page meant for writing about your day and the bottom half blank space for drawing.  While it is meant for kids to keep track of what they did each day during the summer, I had a different idea for my own daughter when I saw it.  When I saw this book, I immediately thought of how it would make a great journal for keeping track of her daily reading.  Since my daughter has been journaling about her reading all year in school and is now obsessed with reading chapter books, I figured she wouldn't mind doing a daily writing activity.  She was especially excited about the idea of having the space to draw a picture about what she read that day.  
In addition to working on improving writing skills, Scribbles and Doodles works on improving creativity skills and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organization.  

Putting this list together has been so much fun.  Perhaps it is because my own daughter will benefit so much from so many of the books that I have suggested.  I think it was mostly fun because I was able to discover so many great books that not only encourage children to write, but make it fun and motivating at the same time. During the summer, we want to keep our kids thinking, want them to continue to let their creative juices flow and prepare them for the increased demands of the next school year.  Most importantly to me, is that kids realize just how fun writing can be and how many ways there are to work on this skill.  The added bonus for me is that we can boost a child's confidence and self-esteem by making this kind of work as much fun as possible.

A few final important reminders/tips to make summer writing as successful as possible:
-find fun writing instruments to make summer writing more fun/less work.  My favorites are the Super Duper Scented Gel Pens by Ooly and the Cadoozle Colored Mechanical Pencils.
-focus on the content and not the other words, don't correct spelling or suggest changes.  If you start to micro-manage what your child is creating, you run the risk of them not wanting to participate at all.
-make this fun for your child....if you are going to set aside time each day or a few times a week, make them look forward to it.  I plan on picking up a special snack that my daughter can have while she is writing.
-if your child has decreased hand strength/endurance, encourage them to take breaks.  Maybe start the writing activity with a quick strengthening activity like playing with Discovery Putty or building with Legos.  My new fine motor obsession, which I will blog about soon, are Plus-Plus toys.  

While I want to say it the most important message from this blog is that kids will become better writers, that would be a lie.  I really worked hard to find books that would help kids get a better sense of who they are, help in create relationships with people they might write with each day, encourage kindness and empathy and help kids become more confident in their skills.  

Keeping writing fun and as stress-free as possible is the ultimate goal with each of the books I suggested. If you have any journals or activity books that you recommend, I would love to hear about them.  I am always a click away and love hearing from all of you.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

More Than Meets the Eye

As the end of the school year approaches, I am trying hard to make these last few months of therapy as fun and motivating as possible.  By this time of the year, everyone (kids and therapists alike) is struggling to enjoy the toys and activities that have been used all year long.  Last weekend, I spent some time at my local bookstores looking at some of the new books that work on visual skills.  As a child, I remember spending hours and hours playing with the Where's Waldo books.  Little did I know, that those books accomplished way more than just passing time and having fun with friends.  Looking at them now with my therapist eyes, I see just how many skills can be worked on while using books like Where's Waldo.  For some of the kids I work with, working on visual perceptual skills can be difficult and requires much encouragement.  Making the activity as fun as possible makes it way more motivating.  I have introduced some of my kids to a few new books (and shared it with parents who are looking for things to do at home with their kids) and they have loved them.  We have been able to work on improving visual scanning/tracking, visual attention, visual discrimination and many other visual skills that are critical for the development of graphomotor and reading skills.  Below, you will find a handful of the best books to work on improving visual perceptual skills.  These are ones that have been kid tested and approved by the experts....the kids I work with!

Taro Gomi's Playful Puzzles for Little Hands-I have been a longtime fan of the books by Taro Gomi so when I saw this puzzle book, I was immediately intrigued by it.  This book contains over 60 different finger games that are completed using your fingers so it's perfect for working on improving fine motor control and strength.  There are a variety of different kinds of activities including mazes, matching games, brain teasers and many, many more.  One of my favorite things about this is that since you don't use writing instruments, you can use it over and over again making it a perfect addition to any teacher or therapist's bag of tricks.

One Is Not A Pair-in this search and find book by Britta Teckentrup, kids have to find the object that doesn't have a match on the two page spread.  Each page contains several sets of pairs but there is always one that doesn't have a match.  For example, try and find the house on the street that is unlike all the others or find the teddy bear that doesn't have a twin.  This sounds like it would be too easy but it is actually quite challenging.  Great for working on improving visual scanning, visual discrimination and several other visual skills.  It is also great for working on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and modulation/regulation.  Additionally, you can work on improving language skills by having kids describe what makes the object different than the others on the page.

Where's The Pair?-another great search and find book by Britta Teckentrup.  In this one, kids have to find the two animals that are exactly the same on each page.  Each two page spread features a different group of animals and kids have to find the ones that are the same  Sounds easy, but it is actually pretty tricky and requires the kids to really focus and look at the details.  Be sure to remind the kids that the animals might be a different size or looking in a different direction.   Once they find the matches, you can play a game of I Spy to have them find different things on the pages.  Great for working on improving visual scanning, visual discrimination and several other visual skills as well as focus, attentional and organizational skills.  

Who Done It?/Who What Where?-these two books by Olivier Tallec are great books for younger children to work on improving their visual skills. In these book, kids are asked a different question on each page about the lineup of featured characters.  They need to really listen to the question and carefully look at each animal to figure out the right answer.  For example, one page asks to find the animal who ate all the jam.  By looking at each animal, they will find that one animal has jam all over their face.  In addition to working on improving visual skills, kids will work on improving language skills, focus and attention and organizational skills.  Can be done 1:1 or you can have kids work together to find the correct animal on each page.

The Lost House (A Seek and Find Book)-I was drawn to this book by B.B. Cronin because of the bright colors and beautiful illustrations.  In this seek and find book, kids have to find a variety of objects to help Grandad get ready to leave the house.  The kids I work with have gotten the biggest hit out of having to find the grandad's teeth on one of the pages!  You don't have to just look for the objects that grandad has can spend some time looking at each page and come up with a list of other items that would be fun for kids to find.  This book is great for working on a variety of visual skills such as visual tracking, visual attention and visual discrimination skills.
I have graded this activity for younger children by giving them hints about where the object is hidden which works on following directions and auditory processing skills.  For older kids, I make them come up with hints to help me find where the object is hidden.  This is great for working on improving language skills and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.

Undercover...One of These Things is Almost Like the Others-another book that I was drawn to because of the beautiful illustrations.  There is a simplicity to this book but so many opportunities to work on improving visual perceptual skills, including visual attention, visual scanning and visual discrimination.  Each two page spread has a series of pictures that are similar shapes/categories but there is always one that doesn't belong for one reason or another.  For example, on one page, there are a series of insects with an airplane hidden in there.

Busy Bunny Days-another awesome book by the brilliant Britta Teckentrup. I was drawn to this book because it reminded me so much of the Richard Scarry books I loved when I was a child.  The illustrations are similar and I love the fact that there are a lot of things happening in each picture.  In this one, kids follow the Bunny family from morning until night in their home town.  On each two page spread, the Bunny family is in a different part of their town.  There are 3 questions that require the kids to search the pages to find the answer.  This is not only great for working on improving visual skills, it is also great for language development, improving conversation skills and executive functioning such as focus, attention and organizational skills.  You don't have to just use the questions that are already can get creative and come up with your own.

These books have been a great addition to my bag of tricks at work these last few weeks.  The best part is that the kids are really enjoying them and don't even realize that they are working!  Do you have any great books that you would recommend to me or my readers?  I know as a parent, I am always willing to spend money on books, especially ones that will engage my daughter.  If you have any other suggestions, please share them with me.  I am always a click away and love hearing from all of you!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spring Into Action!

Here on the east coast, there are little glimmers of hope that Spring is actually on its way.  Between the rainy days, there is warmer weather, flowers blooming and the sun is staying out much later at night.  I am a big fan of seasons, even winter and the cold, and am always excited for a new season to begin.  With each season brings new adventures.  What I love about spring is that it allows more outdoor play and, at least in my case with my daughter, less screen time.  For many of the kids I work with, the change from winter to spring helps with so many things.  First of all, outdoor time means more running around in the playground, climbing, jumping, scooting, bike riding, etc..  All of this movement always leads to improved sensory processing, attention and focus and overall organizational skills in children.  Additionally, kids show improved strength and endurance from being outside and moving around more often.

Recently, I was asked to write a blog for Friendship Circle on Outdoor Toys.  The focus was on toys, games and other products that helped with the development of body strength, motor planning executive functioning and encouraged social skills.  It's amazing how many great products there are out there that can be easily adapted to meet the needs and skill set of individual kids.  As always, I try and find products that parents can find in local toy stores without having to shop in special needs catalogues.  Be sure to check my Outdoor Toys post to learn all about them.

In addition to the toys I talked about in my post for Friendship Circle, there are a lot of great activities that you can do with kids.  Using some of the products I discussed, you can make outdoor play more meaningful while hiding the fact that it is actually working towards therapeutic goals.

1.  Go On a Picnic-my daughter loves our impromptu picnics in the park when the weather allows.  You can make this a therapeutic activity by making a list and having your child help pack the basket you are taking to them park.  This can help with executive functioning skills such as planning, and organization.  Have your kids go around and take sandwich orders on a pad from family and friends and then they can help with making sandwiches and packing up snacks which helps with fine motor and visual motor/perceptual skills.  Be sure to bring some fun activities to do with your kids during your picnic.  Pack some bubbles, stomp rockets or other kinds of outdoor games that you can do as a family.

2.  Gardening-if you are able to, find a patch of space to plant some flowers or easy to care for vegetables with your children.  There are so many skills that can be worked on through gardening and at the end there is an end product that will make your child feel so proud of.  First of all, gardening helps with improving fine motor and bilateral coordination skills (shoveling out dirt, placing seeds in the ground, covering the seeds with dirt, etc.).  It is also great for teaching kids responsibility as they have to be sure that they care for their garden each day by watering it, picking out weeds, etc..
**FYI....some fast growing plants (for our not always patient little ones) are:
-Morning Glory
-Sweet Pea
-Green Beans

3.  Chalk Drawing-one of my favorite activities to suggest to families during the warmer months is chalk drawing.  Whether you have a giant driveway or a patch of sidewalk in front of your apartment, this is a great family activity to work on improving fine motor, graphomotor and executive functioning skills.  It is also great for encouraging creativity and social skills as well.  One of my favorite spring/summer traditions in my family is to hang out outside our apartment after a day of school and work and draw chalk creations.  We will all take turns adding things to a picture and then we tell a story about it when it is complete.  As my daughter has gotten older, we have also made fun of learning how to write letters and now words outside.  It definitely makes it feel more like play than work.

4.  Scavenger Hunt-kids love a good scavenger hunt and I love that this activity can encourage social skills, teamwork and cooperative play for kids.  Depending on the age of the children, you can make this as simple or as complicated as they can handle.  For example, if you want them to find a flower you can tell younger kids to simply find a flower or make it more challenging for older kids by having them find a certain color flower.  If the space you are having the scavenger hunt allows, try and add some gross motor challenges to help work on building strength, endurance and motor planning.  For example, have them climb ladders on a swingset or lift garage doors to find things hidden.

5.  Outdoor Obstacle Course-if your space allows, have your kids come create an outdoor obstacle course using different outdoor toys.  Some things to include:  stomp rockets, scooters, draw chalk targets for them to jump into, shoot a basketball into the hoop, hula hoop x amount of times.  There are so many options and kids don't realize that they are actually working towards meeting some of their therapy goals.  Obstacle courses are great for working on improving motor planning, organizational and sequencing skills, increasing endurance and overall body strength.  Be sure to let your child help you come up with the obstacle course if they are able to.  For older kids, you can make this more challenging by timing them and having them try and beat their personal records.

Do you have some fun outdoor activities that you are your family enjoy during the nicer weather?  I would love to hear about family traditions or activities that you suggest to the families that you work with.  As always, I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Big Kid Finger Fun!

When kids are younger, I find it is easier to get them to do their strengthening work during our therapy sessions.  Oftentimes, you can hide the fact that they are actually "working" by making it seem like it is a game and not exercise.  For example, Discovery Putty by Fun and Function is one of my kids favorite things to do during my sessions.  Finding the various objects hidden in the putty is still a game for them and they are so excited to see what they find next.  As kids get older, something like this becomes "boring" and they need more to get them motivated to do their strengthening exercises.

Some of you may wonder why this is important, right?  Kids who have decreased grasp strength tend to be those kids who complain that their hands get tired when writing for a long time.  They may have a hard time getting all their work done in the classroom because they require breaks to rest their hands.  These are the kids who may have an immature grip on their writing instrument.  These are also the kids that may have a hard time with activities of daily living such as manipulating buttons, snaps, etc. or being able to tie their shoes independently.

Below, I share a handful of my favorite games and toys that could help work on building grasp strength and manipulation skills in some of your older kiddos.

Finger Hockey Mini Set-this is a great way to work all those muscles in the hand.  The best part, kids don't even realize that they are "working".  This mini hockey set comes with a playing mat, 2 finger goalie pads, a net, 2 hockey sticks and a puck.  This fun game is great for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills.  Also great for working on improving visual skills such as visual attention, tracking and hand-eye coordination.  It's a great social activity for siblings and/or friends.  If your kid isn't so into hockey, check out the Desktop Croquet Mini Kit or Desktop Basketball Kit.  These are so reasonably priced (all under $10 each) that you could grab the whole collection!

Legos-I can speak from personal experience with my 7 year old daughter how Legos have been incredibly helpful for developing fine motor and grasping skills.  She recently became obsessed with them and will spend hours a week putting together these elaborate sets.  Since then, I have seen that her grip on a writing instrument is now appropriate (yay!!) and she can write, color and draw for much longer.  In addition to working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, building with Legos is great for working on visual motor and perceptual skills and executive functioning skills such as motor planning, organizational skills, focus and attention.  It can also encourage creativity when you let your kid build whatever they want to with a bunch of pieces.  If your kid is up for a real challenge, check out the Nanoblock sets.  Same concept as Legos but much tinier and more challenging to manipulate.

Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty, Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kit-I have been and recommending Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty to my families for years.  Hide little objects in the putty, have kids find them and you have an easy strengthening activity.  However, this is something that my younger kids love and the older kids find to be a bit more boring.  The Mixed by Me Kit is great for older kids, especially those who are into the whole DIY science experiment fad that seems to be all the rage right now.  Each kit comes with five tins of clear putty, three concentrated color putties, three special effect putties and a guide that will help your kid make their very own Thinking Putty colors.  This is a great activity for working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills.  It is also great for working on executive functioning skills such as planning, organization, focus and attentional skills.  It will also build confidence and self-esteem and can help improve social skills if you have them do this while working with a friend or a sibling.

Brynk-in this fun stacking game, kids can work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills.  One by one, kids take turns sliding any of the pieces onto the base of the game or attaching them to other game pieces.  The pieces are different shapes, sizes, etc. meaning that they have to look carefully making sure that the piece they choose won't make the structure topple over.  They have to make sure that they really pay attention to where they place their pieces to keep the structure from falling over.  If you have kids who need to work on improving social skills, this game could be a fun way to work on that.  Kids can play against each other or they can work in teams.  Be sure to discuss the rules of the game as a group and establish expectations on being a good winner/loser.

Paint by Sticker-if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know how much I love the Sticky Mosaics by Orb Factory.  While even my bigger kids enjoy doing these, they do find them to get babyish and not challenging enough after a certain age.  So when I discovered the Paint by Sticker book by Workman Publishing, I got really excited.  This books is a collection of 12 black and white pictures (animals, flowers, landscapes, etc.) that come to life by adding stickers.  The stickers are a variety of shapes and each one matches up with a number.  colorful paintings that gets to design my matching stickers to numbers.  These are great for working on the development of fine motor and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual scanning and visual motor skills.  In addition, it is a great activity to work on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and planning.  Once completed, you can frame the picture which will help in boosting confidence and self-esteem.

Klutz Cootie Catcher Book-I remember spending hours making these with my friends growing up!  We used to call them fortune tellers but this book by Klutz refers to them as cootie catchers.  It is a simple origami kind of activity that has different colors, numbers, questions, and fun message at the end.  This book comes with 22 preprinted punch out and fold cootie catchers all with different themes/messages/etc..  These are great for working on improving fine motor skills such as grasping, manipulation and grasp strength.  It's also great for improving visual motor and perceptual skills.  Additionally, this is a fun way to encourage social skills in kids who may be experiencing challenges in this area.

Pirasta Coloring Posters-I absolutely love these giant coloring pages by Pirasta.  Not only are they great for working on improving coloring and hand-eye coordination, if you hang it up on a wall in your house, it is a great way to work on improving upper body and wrist strength/control.  My nieces got one for Christmas one year and it is still hanging on their wall and people still finding objects to color in on the poster.  I make sure that there is a really good variety of pencils, gel pens, markers, etc for the kids to choose from such as these Super Duper Scented Gel Pens or these Triangular Colored Pencils (triangle-shaped pencils help to encourage a tripod grasp when holding them) by Ooly.

Finding fun ways to work with older kids, especially ones that they won't mind doing at home, can be challenging but as you can see, there are a lot of great options out there.  Do you have any toys or games that you use with your older kids that have been a big hit?  I love hearing about new products and I know that the parents of the kids I work with appreciate it as well.  As long as we can keep things fun for those hard to please older kids, they won't mind doing "homework" in between sessions.  I look forward to hearing from you with your suggestions.  I am always a click away!

Monday, January 30, 2017

New Year, New Toys

One of the things that tends to happen to me during holiday shopping for my daughter and other kids is that I end up getting lots of new things for work.  This is the time of the year where I begin to get bored with all my toys and games at work.  If I am getting bored, I imagine the kids are getting bored too.  After the holidays, I always roll out some new toys, games and activities and the kids are totally excited to come into therapy to see what new things await them.  I love the idea of starting the new year off with fresh toys and ideas and the kids are more motivated and engaged in our sessions because of them.  I sometimes even ask kids to bring in some of their favorite gifts that they got to share with me.  Not only are they excited to tell me all about their new things, I get to learn about other great products out there that I might not have heard about before.

During my holiday shopping, I discovered lots of new products.  That's what happens when you are in and out of tons of stores and spending too much time searching online.  So, while shopping for all the little ones on list this year, I also picked up lots of stuff for work.  Here are the things that have been the biggest hits so far:

Mame Ohagki Rainbow Beans-I am a total sucker for almost any wooden toys.  There is no stopping me from buying almost any rainbow wooden toys I stumble upon.  The rainbow bean set  by Mame Ohagki is a beautiful toy that comes with a bunch of little rainbow colored wooden beans, a bowl and a set of wooden chopsticks.  While this can be used to encourage free play and creativity, it is also great for working on developing fine motor and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination skills.  You can have kids work on sorting the different colored beans into piles or have them work on their counting skills.  By using the chopsticks, they are also working on increasing their grasp strength.
*for some of my younger kids, I have found that they have a hard time using the chopsticks provided.  I will provide them with a set of Zoo Sticks to make sure they have more success and don't end up getting frustrated by the task. 

Magic Moves Electronic Wand-getting kids up and moving around is important all the time, but it's especially important during the winter months when kids are not outside as much.  Let's face it, kids would rather be watching television or playing on some kind of electronical device so they need to be motivated to get up and workout.  The Magic Moves wand by Educational Insights promotes movement, gross motor skills and following directions.  Kids give the wand a shake and it will callout one of 90 different movements that the child then has to act out.  They may be asked to slither like a snake, fly like a bird, stomp like a bear and loads of other things.  This can be used 1:1 or with a group of kids.  Another similar product is the Magic Moves Jammin' Gym which is similar but instead of acting out movements, kids have to follow the directions to complete exercise movements (including some warm-up tasks).  One of the cool things about the Jammin' Gym wand is that if you go to their website you can print out 3 different posters that give you a visual to go along with the exercises.

Tobbly Wobbly-I was sold by this toy by Fat Brain Toys when I saw that they used one of my all time favorite toys, Squigz, on it to make an adorable little creature.  Think of this as a modern day Mr. Potato Head.  Tobbly Wobbly is an egg-shaped toy that comes with a 14 different Squigz and a two sheets of reusable stickers (everything can be conveniently stored inside the toy).  The Squigz can be turned into legs, arms, ears and even hair.  Kids can work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills while also working on improving body awareness.  Additionally, kids are working on improving bilateral coordination skills, hand-eye coordination, imagination and creativity.  Sometimes, I have the kids draw a picture of their Tobbly Wobbly all completed, especially for those kids who are still having a hard time drawing a picture of a person.

Willy's Wiggly Web-when I was looking for cooperative games for my social skills group, I found this one by Peaceable Kingdom and felt like it was made for an occupational therapist.  In this cooperative game, kids work together to cut all the bugs free from the web before Willy the spider falls.  Kids not only get to work on cutting skills in a fun and creative way, they also work on improving hand-eye coordination, problems solving and organizational skills.  There are 3 levels of play so kids of all ages and skill levels can play whichever one that they will be successful.

Getting Ready to Write Gumball Grab-this is a great game by Lakeshore Learning that works on improving fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Additionally, kids can work on learning colors and counting skills.  The point of the game is quite simple:  be the first to fill your gumball machine by matching the colors.  I love how easily adaptable this game is based on the skill level of your child.  For example, if you have younger kids, you can remove the cards that have you take gumballs off of your mat and just use the ones that have the kids add gumballs.  If your kids are struggling using the grabbers that are provided with the game, Kids can use their fingers but make sure that you encourage them to use their "pinchers (thumb and pointer finger)" when they pick up the gumballs.

These are just a few of the new things that I have been playing with this first month back at work after the holidays.  The kids have been excited to test things out and I am happy to have some fresh things to do with the kids that have them motivated to participate in therapy.  Did your children receive anything wonderful this holiday season or did you find a gift while you were shopping that may be a good addition to my bag of tricks?  I love hearing about new toys, games and activities!  I am just a click away and am always excited to hear from you all.