Thursday, August 28, 2014

Oldies but Goodies

After over a decade at my sensory gym, I am making a move.  Not a big move (just a couple of blocks away) but for me, it's a big move because I don't like change.  Things are working just fine where I am.  I have met amazing people, worked with the coolest kids in NYC and made some amazing memories.  This is just a new chapter of my life and one that will help simplify my life and hopefully lead to a more organized and less hectic me.  While it is hard to imagine that I won't be back at my current gym to work again, I know that I am making a move makes more sense. After two years of being in two gyms and having my supplies scattered between the gyms andhome, I am looking forward to having my professional roots firmly planted in one place.

With this new chapter comes a cleansing of sorts.  I will admit it here...I am a toy hoarder.  It's impossible for me to walk away from a cool new toy or game without trying it out. I love finding new toys that will get my kids to work on things that they typically avoid.  My work closet it busting at the seams.  BUSTING!  I have gotten rid of so much stuff the last several years but have held onto much more than I have thrown away.  I'm using this move as an opportunity to really take a look at what I have, what I use and what I still need and I must admit, it feels good to get rid of things.

As I have been sifting through my treasures, I have realized how some of the best stuff I have are the most simple of toys.  Many of them have been in my closet since they were placed there when I first moved in.  The saddest thing is that many of the games I am about to talk about are no longer available. Those that are available have been updated in a way that don't compare to the original game.  I'm not sure why they tried to fix something that wasn't really broken and still have hopes that they offer the original game soon.  That hope is re-ignited as I have seen versions of the original Monopoly and Candyland in local toy stores in the last few months!

Out of all of my "treasures", the ones listed below are my favorites.  More importantly, the kids love them and they work on so many occupational therapy goals.

Fisher-Price Matchin' Middles
Still a favorite amongst my toddler, preschool and younger elementary school kids and in near perfect condition!  A shape has gone missing here and there, but between extra sets, I still have a complete set of this game in the box!  This game was really well made and has withstood being played with literally thousands of times the last 10 years!  It's a great game because it can be easily modified depending on the skill level of all children. There is no right or wrong way to play this game which is one of the reasons I think my kids don't get bored with it.  
My favorite way to play this game is by combining it with some kind of strengthening activity.  I either have the kids sit on a large ball and work on improving trunk strength by going back to pick up a piece or work on increasing upper extremity strength by having them match the shapes while lying prone on a net swing.  For the older children, I have them stand on a balance board or the platform swing while putting the cookies together to work on improving balance skills.  
Improve Bilateral Coordination-great simple game to work on using two hands together.  In order snap the cookies back together, a child has to use two hands.  For the more complicated shapes (heart, star, etc.), one hand must hold one side of the cookie while the other hand is used to twist the other side until it snaps into place.  If you have a child who doesn't consistently cross midline during activities, set the game up so a child is forced to cross midline to find the match. 
Improve Visual Skills-perfect for children who need to work on visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Place all the cookie parts (choose either the brown or the white part) in one place and a child will have to scan them to find the matching shape. 
Improve Shape Recognition/Matching Skills-this is a great game to introduce shapes to the younger set and to help older children learn some of the more complex shapes.  
Improve Social Skills-if you are working in a small group, this is a perfect game.  You can use it more like a memory game or modify it to work on whatever skills you are focusing on with the children you are working with.  

Barnyard Bingo
Another very simple game. No batteries required and really well made.  The object of the game is to take the animals out of the barn and match them to their animals. This game can also be adapted and modified to work on whatever it is you are focusing on with each child.   There are two playing sides to the matching boards; one is just colors and the other is colors and animals.

I tend to use this game with my toddlers and preschoolers more than any other age group.  Like the cookie game, I tend to have the kids play this game while doing some kind of other activity on the ball or on a swing.  Work on increasing upper extremity strength while lying prone on the net swing; place all the animals on one side of the "field" and they have to rescue them and place them back in the barn.  If you have a child who is working on motor planning skills, use this as part of on obstacle course.

Other skills that can be worked on while playing Barnyard Bingo are:
Improve Color Recognition/Matching Skills-fun game to introduce young children to colors.  I like that you can start very simple by having the kids matching the animals to the right color board and then as they master it (which is quite quickly for many kids), you can flip the cards over and they can work on matching both the animal and the shapes.  
Improve Fine Motor Skills-I encourage my kids to use their "pinchers" when placing the animals in the barn or removing them to then place it on the matching picture.   
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-no matter how you play this game, the kids favorite part is taking the animals out of the barn.  I often have all the pieces in the game already so they are motivated to play the game and get the animals out of the barn.  Encourage a child to hold the barn with one hand while using the other hand to take the animal out of the barn.  
Improve Social Skills-while this can be played with just one child, it can also be a great game to begin working on game playing with the younger children.  Each child can take two colors and they have to match all their shapes.  Great for working on turn taking and how to be a good sport.  If the kids get an animal that doesn't match for them, I encourage them to hand it off to their friend and help them.  This can be very hard for some kids but a great way to begin teaching kids how to be a good friend.  

I don't think I have ever been more disappointed by any game update more than when I saw new Perfection game.  The original, pictured below, has 25 different shapes to match.  The new version has 9.  Maybe 25 was too many for some kids but 9 is just ridiculous.  The good news for me is that I still have a pretty intact version of the original.  It's missing a few of the pegs from the shapes, but for the most part, the game is in great condition.  For those of you who want the older version, you will have to shell out a little more money but you can still find a new/gently used game on

I love this game because it can be adapted to suit the needs of so many children.  It's easily adaptable for many ages and skill levels.  I rarely play it the traditional way which is to get all of the shapes in their matching spot before the timer runs out and all the pieces pop out.  For many of my sensory kids, the popping sound can be upsetting so I have them put all the pieces in; if they don't mind the sound, we will let them pop out after they get them all in.  For my older kids who are up for the challenge, I tend to wait until they have about half the pieces in before starting the timer so their is a greater chance for success.  Like the other games, I like to pair Perfection up with some kind of strengthening activity.  This is a great game to play while lying prone on the net swing or place the pieces at the top of a scooter board ramp and have the kids pull themselves up to the top to retrieve them.  

Other skills that can be worked on while playing Perfection are:
Increase Grasp Strength-I love killing two birds with one stone when working with the kids.  With this game, I take the pieces and hide them in theraputty so they can work on making those little hand muscles stronger.  Take a look at this link at Fun and Function to choose the right resistance putty for your child.  For some of my kids, I will have them pick up the shapes using a pair of the Zoostick chopsticks as another way to increase grasp strength and also promote proper grasping patterns. 
Improve Fine Motor Skills-each piece has a little peg which is perfect for working on improving grasping skills.  I encourage my kids to use a fine pincer grasp when picking the pieces up from a flat surface.   If you want to work on in-hand manipulation skills, you can have the kids pick up more than one piece at a time and have them move the pieces from their palm to fingertips; increase the challenge by increasing the number of shapes they have to pick up.  
Improve Visual Motor/Perceptual Skills-great game for working on matching and visual scanning.  No matter how many times the kids play this game, they still need to scan the playing board in order to find the matching shape.  I don't have a single child who has been able to memorize the board and know exactly where each shape goes without scanning it first.  

Who doesn't remember playing the arcade game Whac-A-Mole growing up?  I still have visions of playing that game for hours!  I was really excited when I discovered that it was a game that I could play with my kids.  And when I say play with my kids, I mean I really like to participate in playing this game!

Whac-A-Mole is great because it can be played individually or with other people.  I like to to get my kids comfortable with the rules before having them play with a peer.  There are three levels of play:  Solo, Easy and Difficult.  Solo (which I actually find harder than the actual difficult mode) allows a child to try and beat the game (which I have never done EVER) by hitting all of the moles.  Easy mode gives each player a sound that will go off every time the mole lights up.  Difficult mode gives each player a sounds but no light will go off; this requires a tremendous amount of attention and I rarely play on this mode.  Because of the different modes, this game can be used with children of all different ages.

Once the kids master the rules of the game, I like to pair it with a strengthening activity.  It must be clear to all my readers that my favorite swing is the net swing.  It allows you to work on improving upper extremity strength, increase neck/head control and improve wrist control/stability.  What I love most about the net swing is that you can pair it up with so many different activities, such as playing games like Whac-A-Mole, and you can distract kids from the hard work that it requires.

Like Perfection, Whac-A-Mole has gone through a bit of a facelift since I first purchased mine.  I haven't really tested the new one out so I have no idea how it compares to the one that I have had for years.  I'm not sure why they had to change it since this one was so good to begin with, but I'm happy to know that you can still find new/gently used games on as well.

Other skills that can be worked on while playing Whac-A-Mole are:
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-fun way to work on improving visual motor skills, especially eye hand coordination.  I start with having kids only being able to use their hands when playing the game and tell them they get to earn the hammer only after they have shown me they can play by the rules.  I like to use hands better because so many of my kids do well with the sensory input from hitting the top of the mole's heads with the palm of their hands.
Improve Modulation/Regulation-I am surprised I haven't lost my voice telling kids to not hit their moles before they hear their sound and see the hat light up.  They get so excited about winning that they just start hitting away.  This game is also great for helping kids work on modulating how much pressure they use when they hit the moles on the head.  It is the kid's instinct to hit as hard as they can.  I want this game to last forever and tell the kids that they might break the game if they use all their muscle power on hitting the heads.  I encourage kids to be gentle which can be quite difficult for them once they get excited, and sometimes anxious, about winning.
Improve Focus and Attention-it can be very difficult for a child to focus and attend to only their mole.  They often get distracted by the other flashing lights/sounds and miss the chance to hit their mole on the head.  I don't know of many games that require such visual attention as this one.  As they master the simple mode and move onto the difficult mode, it requires a tremendous amount of auditory attention.
Improve Social Skills-my older kids love playing this game against each other.  I let the kids decide amongst themselves what color mole they will be and what level of play they will tackle.  Choosing a color can be difficult for many of the kids I work with; they get stuck on only being able to play their favorite color and need to be flexible about their choice sometimes.  As with all other games, this is a great game to work on being a good sport, especially being a good winner (and a good loser).

So now that you have gotten a taste of my oldie but goodie favorites, I would love to hear from you guys about some of your favorite occupational therapy toys, games, etc. that have played a role in your therapy sessions.  I focused on just the games, but must say that there were so many other things I found while cleaning out my closet that I have used for years and years.  What do you have in your bag of tricks that hold a special place in your therapy heart?  More importantly, what do you have that you won't part with because your kids love them year after year?
I look forward to hearing from you.  I am always a click away and loving getting emails and comments from you all.

A happy holiday weekend to you all.  May you spend some special time soaking up the last days of summer and enjoying time with those you love before the craziness of a new school year hits us all!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back to School Already??

Summer is flying by and school supplies are out on the shelves for purchase.  While I am not even remotely thinking about the fall and trying to take in all that summer has to offer, I know that there are some people who want to get their kids thinking about school.  One of the big things parents want to do over the summer is keep their kids busy with fun activities, but also make sure that they don't lose any of the academic skills that they worked on during the school year.  Now that my daughter is getting older, I find myself spending time this summer getting her prepared for pre-k.  She is a typically developing girl but I have discovered that she is very hard on herself about getting things just right and gets frustrated easily and gives up when she isn't able to accomplish that.  I have found that working on things like handwriting needs to be done in a way that is fun and meaningful to her.  And this is not just for her but for all kids, especially those who may struggle with learning in the most traditional way.

If you read my blog consistently, you already know how much I love the iPad in motivating children to learn.  It is not the only thing I use and will often use it with an activity that is related to what the app is working on.  For example, if I am using an app that is working on learning shapes, I will use a puzzle, shape sorter or shaped beads as a related activity so they can do something hands on and sensory based to help generalize the skill.

Whenever possible,  I use a stylus when kids are engaged in apps so they can work on improving their pencil grip at the same time.  Find one that your child feels most comfortable with and try and make it a rule that if they want to use the iPad, they have to use the stylus.  My favorite is the iCreate Crayon stylus by Fred & Friends as it is just the right size for those little hands.  In addition, children have to work on using the proper amount of pressure when using the stylus; if they press to hard, it won't work as well for them.

The app store is a magical place with new and amazing apps being added daily.  It's hard to keep up with what is out there and even more difficult to really know which ones are worth the money and the space on your iPad.  For those of you (parents and therapists alike) who are looking for some new apps that will keep your kids motivated while also working on preparing them for the upcoming school year, I will share with you what has been hot with my kids this summer and what you can use to get your kiddos geared up for the upcoming school year.

Curious About Shapes and Colors:
Looking for a fun app to motivate your preschoolers to learn their shapes and colors?  Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat lead you through five different levels of matching and sorting fun to help build a toy. Within each level, you will find 5 or 6 activities.  After you have completed all of the activities in each level, there is a game for you to play with whatever you have built....a robot, a boat, a train, a dinosaur, a castle or a spaceship.

While this game is most appropriate for the younger preschool set, I have found that my 4 and 5 year olds attention can be held as well.  The nice thing about this app is that there is no reading involved and that the directions are all spoken to the children so they can be somewhat independent (a child should always be supervised when they are using the iPad but it's also important for children to become more independent when engaged in educational apps).

Skills that can be worked on using this app are:
*Improving matching and sorting skills
*Working on introducing colors and shapes to younger children
*Begin introducing concepts such as same/different and spatial concepts such as in, around, below, etc..
*Improving attention span and frustration tolerance

Other early learning apps worth exploring:
*Monkey Preschool Fix-It by Thup
*Tiggly Safari by Tiggly
*Endless Alphabet by Originator Kids

Writing Wizard:
I am always on the lookout for the perfect handwriting app.  I have found that nothing motivates a child to learn how to write more than using the iPad.  As I have already mentioned, I NEVER use just the iPad to teach a skill but will use it in order to get a child motivated to try something that consistently causes them frustration.  It is a great tool to use to show a child struggling with handwriting that they can be successful; not only will it be fun, it will be educational and can give them the motivation to try handwriting with less argument.

There are a lot of writing apps out there but I am a particular fan of Writing Wizard by L'Escapadou.  There is also a cursive version of this app which I have used with the older kids on my caseload who are struggling with learning how to write in cursive.  Writing Wizard allows a child to practice upper and lowercase letters, different shapes and pictures and numbers.  There are two different modes:  Free Play Mode and Star Mode.  With Free mode, you can practice 1 letter (shape or number) at a time and move onto the next one.  With Star mode (you can set it to 1-5 stars), you practice the same thing over and over again with it getting more challenging each time.  For example, the first time you practice, you just trace the letter.  Eventually the letter will become smaller and the lines will even disappear and a child then has to draw it by memory.  What makes this different from other apps, is that there are 26 animated stickers and "pencils" to draw with and interact with after you are done writing.  My kids especially love watching the flying objects fly back into place to make whatever they just practiced.  

Be sure to practice writing each letter with a writing instrument and paper after you use this app in order to generalize the skill.  In my opinion, it doesn't matter if a child knows how to write the letter on the iPad if they can't do it on paper as well.  A child does not "master" writing letters for me until they are able to write letters in both the iPad and paper.  I tend to find that my children are more motivated to write their letters if it is done in a fun way so I ask parents to send in stickers with their favorite characters, sports teams, etc. so we can practice writing the names out.  Kids will run out of our sessions with their page full of stickers and their names written out and a huge smile on their face.  

Skills that can be worked on while using this app are:
*Improving shape, letter and number recognition
*Improve tracing skills
*Improve grasping skills (use a stylus when using this app to encourage a proper grasp)
*Improve letter and number writing skills

Other handwriting apps worth exploring:
*Touch and Write (shapes, letters, cursive) by Fizzbrain

Highlights Hidden Pictures:
One of my favorite childhood memories was when my issue of Highlights came in the mail.  There were so many great activities to do in the magazine (and I am happy to say that we get this magazine now for my daughter and it is still wonderful) but nothing compared to the excitement I felt after finishing a Hidden Pictures page.

I have been keeping my eyes open for a Hidden Pictures app for ages but it wasn't until recently that Highlights came out with one that resembles the magazine version.  This is a great app for my older children who have visual motor difficulties.   One of the nice things about this app is that you can grade it for children who may need more help by using the "clue" option.  I tend to see if my kids can do it without the clues before turning that on.  For my children who need to work on handwriting, I have them work on practicing while finding the pictures.  After they find each hidden item, they then have to write the name of the object that they have found. With over 50 different pictures, it's difficult for kids to get bored with this app.

Skills that can be worked on using this app are:
*Improving visual perceptual skills, including visual spatial skills and visual organization skills
*Improving handwriting skills by writing out the objects you find after you find them
*Improve attention span, frustration tolerance and many other executive functioning skills

Other visual perceptual apps worth exploring:
*Bug Mazing by Little Bit Studios
*Pick-Up Sticks
*Jigsaw Box

Bug Art:
It's no secret how much I love all the apps by Little Bit Studios.  My kids NEVER tire of them and any time a new one comes out, I have to get it.  Bug Art is their newest app and works on inspiring imagination, creativity and play in children.  Children can paint, design and explore the app in a fun and easy way.  They are encouraged to paint whatever comes to their minds (some kids may need a little help from their grownups to think about what they want to make and how to go about that).  Some may be able to draw independently and others may need the interactive tracing...whichever allows for your child to be successful!  Once they create a bug all of their own, they can then play one of the several games built into the app.  For example, they can take their bug and have them participate in fast and furious bug racing.  For those children who might not be ready for that, they can test out having their bugs fly through different environments.

Skills that can be worked on using this app are:
*Improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills
*Improve grasping skills (be sure to use a stylus whenever possible)
*Improve attention span and frustration tolerance
*Improve creative skills

Other drawing apps worth exploring:
Doodlecast by Sago Sago
Draw Along with Stella and Sam by Zinc Roe Designs

These are just a handful of the many apps that have been played by the children I see all summer.  As we head into the final weeks of summer and parents are asking you how to get their children back into the whole school mode, you can suggest some of the apps listed above.

Do you have any apps not mentioned here that you have loved working on with the kids that you work with?  I am always looking to freshen up my iPad and keep my kids motivated by changing out apps often.  Like the toys that I have in my closet, it's important to rotate the apps that you present to the kids to make sure they are constantly learning.  If you have any great apps to share with all of us, please let us know!  As always, I am just a click away and love hearing from people.  Not only do I appreciate you taking the time to read, I appreciate the suggestions I have received from you all.

Enjoy your final weeks of summer.  I hope that you are spending them creating memories with your loved ones!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sum, Sum, Summertime!

After what seemed like the longest winter in the history of winters, Summer has finally arrived.  School's over and everyone is looking forward to some time off from the craziness of the school year.  With warmer weather here, I know people are looking for fun things to do outside to keep their kids cool and occupied.  If you are like me, you want to be able to  Many families go away for the summer or take the summer off from therapy so their kids can get a break and regroup after a long school year.  However, they are always asking me for activities that can be done that will work towards their occupational therapy goals.  I am always quick to tell parents to go to the park and play sports or run around in the sprinklers at the different playgrounds, especially after a long day of camp.  However, there are SO many activities out there that will work on a variety of occupational therapy skills.  The best part is that they can be done with inexpensive toys/supplies and can be done as a whole family.

One of my daughter's favorite things to do is play in the water.  Whether it be in the water table, running through the sprinkler or watering our plants, it elicits pure happiness.  I look forward to the evenings where we hang out outside after a long day of work, watching her play.  What are some of your family favorite summer activities?

If you are looking for things to do with your children this summer, here are a handful of summertime activities that you can do that will work on fine motor, visual motor and organizational skills.  It's amazing how easy it is to work on goals/skills but still have fun.  To me, it is most important that kids have fun over the summer.  There are so many pressures on kids during the school year and I am a huge believer in allowing summer to be about having fun.  If you must work on academic stuff, make sure you make it fun and don't put too much pressure on them.  I always find that not only does my own child do better, but the children I work with do as well when the work is hidden from them and it only looks like fun.

Here are a few of my favorite summer time activities.  I have also included ways to adapt each of them for older/younger children and talk about what kind of occupational therapy skills can be worked on for each of the activities.

Water Table-water tables are great for keeping kids cool when you don't have access to a pool.  Living in Brooklyn, we don't have a large enough space for a little pool.  However, we have enough space for a water table and it has brought Quinn and many other children in the hood tons of joy!  And if you have your kid put on a bathing suit, they can get just as wet and cooled off as if they were in a pool!

Depending on what kind of toys you throw into your water table, a variety of occupational therapy skills can be worked on.  For example, throw a bunch of measuring cups in there and you can work on bilateral coordination by filling up one cup from another.  You can take a turkey baster or a water dropper and work on increasing grasp strength by filling up buckets, cups, etc.  You can do the same by putting a bunch of bath toys in there as well.

There are a variety of water tables out there for purchase.  I prefer the simple one that is pictured above.  If you have a big backyard though, you can get some pretty awesome ones with lots of fancy features.  If you don't feel like spending any money at all, you can create your own water table by taking a large tupperware and filling that with water.  Fill it with some fun toys and let the fun begin!

Water Balloons-there is nothing more exciting to a kid than throwing a water balloon and watching it explode.  Even better is when that balloon explodes at a target or a person!  A couple of summers ago, I discovered the Pumponator; a balloon pumping station that makes filling water balloons easier for kids!  The best part is that it is perfect for working on improving bilateral coordination skills, increasing upper extremity strength and motor planning/organizational skills!
The Pumponator is simple for even toddlers to use but still fun for older children.  You fill the container up, pump air into the container, attach the balloon to the nozzle and push the button to fill the balloon with water.

If you want to make this activity a little more therapeutic, you can work on having kids work on visual motor skills by having them throw the water balloons at targets or have them try to throw them into different buckets.  If you are playing with other kids, have them try throwing it back and forth to each other as many times as they can before dropping it.

**Side Note:  the Pumponator was invented a couple of years ago by fourth grader, Lexi Glenn.  She became frustrated by how difficult it could be to fill a water balloon using a hose and after finding an old garden sprayer and using it to fill her balloons, invented the Pumponator!

Make Homemade Ice Pops-nothing says summer (at least in NYC) more than hearing the music from all the ice cream trucks.  We love going up to the ice cream truck and having an occasional treat from them.  Last summer, I blogged about the Zoku Quick Pop Maker.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Zoku, it is an ice pop maker that makes yummy and simple ice pops.  It comes with a bunch of recipes and ideas for you and your child to make together.   You can go traditional or you can be really creative and adventurous.  My daughter likes traditional recipes but I am hoping that we can branch out a bit more this summer!

While I purchased my ice pop maker, there are a ton of ways to make ice pops without a fancy kit. Some people use ice cube trays and I have seen ice pops made out of small paper cups and a popsicle stick stuck in the middle of it.

If you have a child who is weary about trying new foods, this could be a fun way to get them involved in the process of trying new foods.  Some people can take advantage of a picky eater by mixing desirable juices with some questionable fruits and making a tasty treat.  Try dropping some fresh fruit into the ice pops as they are freezing to get them to try

I am a huge fan of cooking, baking, etc. and how many occupational therapy skills can be worked on during this activity.  You can work on executive functioning skills such as sequencing and organizational skills.  While you are measuring ingredients out or cutting fruits up, you can work on bilateral coordination skills.  These are just a couple of skills that can be focused on when making ice pops.

If you are a fan of Pinterest, be sure to check out some of the millions of different ice pop recipe ideas that are on there.  There are so many fun and interesting ideas out there and many of them are great for your child to do with minimal help from you.

Chalk Drawing-sometimes kids just want to take a break over the summer.  They don't want to be hassled by working on things like reading, writing and math.  However, there is a way to make practicing writing fun for your kids using sidewalks (driveways if you aren't a city girl like me) and lots of chalk.  For younger kids, you can work on color recognition, matching and drawing simple shapes.  If you have a child who needs to work on coloring, draw a bunch of fun shapes all over the sidewalk or driveway and have them color them in.  Be sure to have the kids color the shapes using the correct colored chalk for an increased challenge.

For older kids who may need to work on handwriting and letter/number recognition, use chalk and make a game out of it.  You can have children label the pictures they draw or make a hopscotch board to work on writing numbers (added bonus, you can work on improving motor planning and coordination skills).  While you can totally make the traditional hopscotch board pictured here, you can also get really creative and use letters, try drawing different shapes, etc..  If you want to work on improving grasping skills, use smaller pieces of thin chalk instead of the fat chalk.

If you want to try something new and totally refreshing for the summer, check out this recipe for ice chalk.  Using every day ingredients like water, cornstarch and food dye, you and your child can have loads of fun making chalk that will cool you off at the same time.  This could be a really fun way to work on color recognition for your younger children.  And for those of you who are reading and thinking how messy this will be, you can easily clean up the chalk mess with a hose when you are finished.  I can't wait to try this with Quinn this summer!

The great thing about each of the activities I have talked about above are that they can be done individually or with friends.  Each of these activities can be equally fun either way!  Sometimes, children can motivate each other to do more challenging things if they have a partner in crime.  Let your children figure out different ways they can play with each of the things mentioned.  I know that some of the best activities for me have come out of listening to ideas from the kids and taking them and making them appropriate for each child.

Now that you have read about some of my favorite summertime activities, I'd love to hear from you about yours.  Do you have any great activities that you recommend to the families you work with or that you do with your own children that make summer unforgettable?  Please share your ideas with me and my readers.  I am only a click away and love hearing from all of you!  I am sure we would all welcome the chance to introduce new things to our children this summer!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I'm Going to Huff and Puff.....and Calm Myself Down!

This is going to be a quick post, but one that I think will be super valuable.  I am not sure about any of you, but I find May and June to be harder than almost any other time of the school year.  So many of my kids are feeling nervous and worried about all the changes that summer usually brings about.  For some of them, it's ending school and realizing they will be in a new school next year with so many new faces.  Others are worried about camp, taking a bus for the first time.  Whatever the changes are, it often brings about kids with increased energy and more difficulty with being able to modulate/regulate their behaviors.

One of the skills I love to teach children when they present with these types of behaviors is how to take deep breaths.  When a child is feeling anxious or scared, his or her breathing will change and instead of taking normal breaths, they will be observed to take short, quick and shallow breaths.  Deep breathing is
important because it can lower a child's anxiety and give them a sense of control over their body.  Teaching a child how to do calm breathing is a great tool that they can have with them at all times, especially when their grownups aren't there to help guide them through it.  However, teaching children, especially the younger ones, how to properly take deep breaths can be more challenging than one may think.

Ever since discovering Free App Friday by Smart Apps For Kids, I have found a handful of great apps.  Ones that I most definitely wouldn't have discovered without me reading it about on their post.  Last week, one of the apps features was Huff-N-Puff by Duckie Deck.  Their description of the game is:  Huff n' PUff lets children learn about physical effects of wind and air, in a simplified setting.  Now, a youngster can have a more direct interaction with the digital world by using the power of their own breath.  Just blow some air near the iPad's or iPhone's iOS 5 microphone and delight in the realistic effect on-screen.  As an occupational therapist, I read this as follows:  Huff n' Puff lets children learn about how to effectively take deep and controlled breaths in a fun, motivated and simple setting.

There isn't much to the game, but it is fun and so far, my kids are loving it!  There are about 25 different activities that your child can play with.  I
pick and choose which ones are most appropriate and most motivating for the child I am working with.  The only thing the child needs to do is breath into the microphone of the iPad or iPhone and something fun will happen.  So far, my favorites are blowing the seeds off the dandelion, making the pinwheel spin or blowing the whistle.  I like these because they require a child to work on sustaining a long, deep breath.  I sometimes challenge my kids to see how many times they can make the pinwheel spin which they love!

One thing I really love about this game is there are ways to generalize and practice your deep breathing with real life activities.  For example, one of the activities is to blow up a balloon.  Right after you blow the balloon up on the game, you can have a child practice using those deep breaths by blowing up a real balloon.  Who remembers that pipe where you have to keep the ball in the air without having it fly away?  They have that as an activity on this game!  I have a few of the real pipes at work and the kids love it, but they often have trouble with it.  Some of my kids think it is really funny to make it fly away and have to chase it.  I am going to see if I can get them to be more successful by practicing with Huff-N-Puff first.

I hope you all have as much fun with this game as I am having.  Deep breathing is such an important skill and I have struggled with finding the most effective way to help my kids learn this skill.  It is an essential skill for learning how to cope when faced with challenging situations.  I am sure many of you have other ways to work on this without using technology and I would love to hear from with your ideas.  As the end of the year approaches and our kids are faced with an increased number of changes and challenges, I would love to be able to help empower them with a skill that will help them get through these difficult times.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

This Tree Doesn't Need To Be Watered!

One of my favorite things to do is re-discover a favorite toy or game at work.  I'm sure you toy lovers (aka hoarders!) know what I am talking about.  You play a game multiple times a day with all different kinds of kids.  These are the games that are fun for the kids but also work on occupational therapy goals in a way that makes it not seem like work.  They are often simple and don't require a lot of reading to figure out how to play the game properly.  They are the games that rules can be changed and adapted based on a child's goals and needs.

Tricky Tree is one of those games for me.  I had lent it out a while ago and it was just returned to me a few weeks ago.  As soon as I got it back, I felt as though I had been reunited with an old friend.  We hadn't been together for a very long time but we picked up just where we left off!  Even better, it's a new game for so many of my kids at work and they are loving it!

Tricky Tree is a great game for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills.  The game is made up of leaves (clothespins) and branches and the goal is to make as big of a tree as you can before it falls over.  It is a great game for working on increasing grasp strength, improving in-hand manipulation skills and problem solving skills.  It can be used with preschoolers but also keep my older school age children motivated.  It can be played individually or with a group of children.   Best of all, it is a simple game and a ton of time does't have to be wasted explaining the rules of play.  The point of the game is simple:  try and build a tree using as high as you can without letting the tree fall over.  You take the clothespins and put them on the tree branches.  It requires a child to think about which side of the tree needs more leaves so it won't fall over.  For my younger children, I will work with them and figure out the best place for them to put the leaf.  For my older children who need to work on problem solving and organizational skills, I will talk to them about how to keep the tree balanced before they begin playing.  We talk about what happens if they put too many on one side of the tree and not enough on the other.  I will talk to them about balance and will sometimes try and compare it to their bodies....when they are carrying a super heavy backpack, they might feel like they will fall over.   I try and give them as few clues as possible while they are playing and hope that they will take their time and really think through what they are doing.

In addition to what I have mentioned above, the following occupational therapy goals can be addressed:

Improve Grasping Skills-this game was made for working on improving grasping skills.  Small clothespins to manipulate that act as leaves.  You need to use a pincer or three finger grasp to open the clothespins to not only put them on the branches, but to take them off at the end of the game.  For my younger children, I don't enforce the pincer grasp but for my older children, I always remind them to use the proper grasp.
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-Tricky Tree is great for working on encouraging bilateral coordination skills.  While one can try to play this game using one hand, they will have a truly difficult time being successful.  As you can see in the pictures, you need to pinch the clothespin with one hand and hold the tree steady with your other hand.
Improve Organizational Skills-if you have a child who needs to work on motor planning and organizational skills, this is a perfect game for them.  I like to have my kids sort the pieces into piles before beginning play to work on organizational skills.  All the leaves go in one pile, the two-point branches in another and the 3-point branches in a third pile.  I find that the more organized their work space is, the more organized their actual work will be.   To work on increasing hand strength, use a pair of zoo sticks to sort the different pieces into piles.
Increase Upper Extremity Strength-for older children who also need to work on building upper body strength, have them play this game while lying prone on the net swing.  You can place the clothespin leaves and the branches on the opposite side of where they are building so they have to walk on their hands more.  I always find that kids are more likely to spend more time on this swing when engaged in a fun and motivating activity.
Improve Social Skills-while this game can be played with just one child, it is even better when played with peers.  Part of being a good friend is not only being able to play games with peers, but learning how to be a good sport when you win or lose a game.  If you have enough kids (I would suggest 4 for this), you can put the kids in two teams and the kids have to work together to figure out how to put the tree together without it falling over.  They can work on problem solving together to figure out the best option for their moves so the tree doesn't topple over.

I love these simple, non-battery operated toys and feel like they end up being the most played with toys in my closet.  Some of my favorite games are beginning to change (and not necessarily for the better), so I love that games like Tricky Tree that won't ever change.  And if taken care of properly, it can last forever.

What are your favorite non-battery operated therapy games?  I would love to hear from all of you about what you are playing and more importantly, what games your kids love to play with.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!

Friday, May 16, 2014

So Much To Color...So Little Time!

I know we live in a technological world.  I am part of that techno world and love using my iPad in my work world because it is motivating and exciting and can do a whole lot in helping many of my kids meet some of their occupational therapy goals.  With that said, there is little that makes me as happy as finding an awesome coloring/activity book.  While there are a ton of wonderful coloring apps available for the iPad, nothing will ever take the place of using crayons or markers to make a beautiful picture.  I have a work closet full of them and a shelf at home dedicated to coloring books that I do with my own daughter.  When I find a good coloring/activity book, I buy many of them and encourage friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

When I find a good coloring book, I get giddy.  I wish I could say it was because I am only thinking about how much the kids at work (or my kid at home) will love it.  In reality, I am thinking about me and how much fun I will have watching the kids interact with the coloring books.  And maybe I am thinking about how much fun I will have looking through the book and doing some coloring of my own in some of my free time (hah...what is that?!!??).

I am fortunate to live in a city that is overflowing with awesome stores.  More fortunate that so many of those stores are targeted towards my love of children, toys and having fun.  Recently, I have found myself obsessed with two coloring/activity books and feel like anyone who works or has children should have them.  Not only are they super fun, they both have educational and therapeutic value that will make them a perfect addition to your work/home collection of toys.

I can't get enough of this book.  More importantly, my kids at work seem to be enjoying it as much as me!  When I first saw this book at West Side Kids, I thought my daughter Quinn and I would have fun with it.  When I opened it up and saw looked through each and every page, I realized that not only was it great for my kid, it would be great for so many of my kids at work.  This is not your ordinary coloring book.  While there are plenty of opportunities to work on improving your coloring skills, there is so much more here.  Each page has a different picture or theme and are perfect for boys or girls.  Maybe it is a spread of fairies or cars, maybe it is a bunch of yummy looking food or an under the sea scene.  Whatever it is, they are adorable!  Each page has specific instructions for a child to follow such as finding all the fairies holding wands and coloring them a certain color or look at a picture of a food item, find its match and color it the same color.   If you look at the picture below, you will see that not only does it give you specific instructions on what to look for and color, it also leaves a part of the page free for you to fill in with your own pictures.  So not only is this good for working on improving coloring skills, it is also great for improving a child's drawing and creativity skills.  I love that once the kids are done following the directions, they can then be free to do what they want with the rest of the images that are not colored.  I have noticed that my kids are excited to do what they need to so then they can be free to use whatever colors they want to!

This particular coloring book is great for working on visual perceptual skills and improving focus and attention.  I love that a child has to look for specific items; they are required to scan the pages to find what they need to.  For some of my kids, this is a tremendous challenge and I have to give them specific instructions on how to look for the picture by starting at the top and using their finger to help guide them.  This also requires a child to look at details; many of my kids will rush through and begin to just color anything that looks like what they are supposed to be looking for just to be finished.

This book is great for preschoolers and younger school age children.  With that said, some of the older kids on my caseload love it as well.  Okay, let me honest here.  I LOVE it and love doing it alongside my kids at work.  I find that coloring can help my children slow down and become more focused and attentive to other tabletop activities.  For many of my children who struggle with handwriting, I will start off with a coloring activity as a warm up.  It's great to do something fun and something they can be successful with prior to something that is more challenging.

The Colouring Book by Herve Tullet

My friends at Norman & Jules have a great selection of books and when they stock a coloring book, I rush up to pick it up.  They don't mess around with their toys and the same can be said about their coloring book choices.  They tend to have coloring books that you don't see at a lot of other toy stores.  I love how they think outside of the box when they pick something out for their customers.

This is a great coloring book for the older children on my caseload.  Like the book mentioned above, it's more than just a coloring book.  Many of the pages have special instructions for you to follow.  For example, there is a page with a bunch of numbers on it and it asks you to color in only the even or odd numbers (which is why this is more appropriate for older children).  There are pages that ask you to follow particular patterns or others that ask you to look for a certain shape/picture and color them all in the same color.  

All of the activity books by Herve Tullet are great.  I especially like to use them for my kids who have more difficulty with being creative or have a hard time thinking outside of the box.  His books are funky and sophisticated and make my kids really think about what they want to do and how they want their picture to look.  I like to look through the books before working with a child and figuring out what page(s) would be best for each child based on the goals I have with them.  The variety in pictures and activities makes it great for finding something that will motivate a child you are working with and allow them to be successful.  To me, it is most important to push my kids to do things outside of their comfort zone but also make sure that they will be successful so their self-esteem and confidence is not compromised.
In general, all coloring books are a great tool for occupational therapy and meeting fine-motor and visual motor/perceptual goals.  The books mentioned above are just 2 of the many that are out there. They can work on so much including:
Improve Grasping Skills-many of the kids on my caseload need to work on improving their grasping skills when holding a writing instrument.  Sometimes they need to be really motivated to work on this.  I find when I get the right coloring or activity books, the kids I work with are more likely to want to spend time working on something that is challenging for them.  I like to make sure that I have plenty of options available when it comes to writing instruments.  I like to use broken crayons that are only a few inches to try and encourage the kids to use a tripod-like grasp.  Sometimes I will use rock crayons; they are the perfect size for our little ones who are using more immature grasping patterns on writing instruments.
For my daughter's fourth birthday party (with a unicorn theme), I discovered this great Etsy shop.  Scribblers Crayons is the brain child of Randi, a mom who makes a bunch of fantastic shaped crayons. If you are looking for ways to motivate your child to color, take a look at her page and see if there any of her designs would make your child more excited about coloring.  I like the star and the heart shaped ones the best!
Improve Visual Motor Skills-coloring/activity books are obviously great for working on visual skills.  Whether it be improving eye-hand coordination when coloring in the lines or using visual scanning to find the hidden things on the page, these books can be a fun way to work on a skill that may cause a child frustration.
Improve Modulation/Regulation-coloring is a great activity to do when you want to work on modulation/regulation.  Many of my kids will scribble furiously only have paying attention to the boundaries of what they are coloring.  I like to challenge my kids to try and slowly color and remain in the lines as much as possible. This sounds easy, but for many of the kids I work with, it takes a lot to slow down and do this with accuracy.
Improve Executive Functioning/Organizational Skills-some of the pages in both books are tricky and require a child to be organized in their work.  It may require them to read through all the instructions before doing their work.  For my older children who might be working on improving homework organization, I will have them read through all the instructions and gather all the supplies that they need before beginning.  This can be critical for some children to be independent and successful with the task at hand.  
Improve Focus/Attentional Skills-I love a coloring book that doubles as an activity book.  For many of the kids I work with, it's a struggle to get them to just color and they do better when there are things to do.  I like being able to tell the kids that they have to do a certain number of things before they can switch tasks.  This keeps them focused and helps them to understand what is expected of them.

I know that there are hundreds of great coloring and activity books out there.  I haven't blogged about these kind of books in a while but if you check out this blog post here, you will see that these books are still amazing.  As a matter of fact, I still use and recommend them to my clients. Honestly, once a good activity book, always a good activity book (this is mostly relevant to books that are not created for a particular movie or character).  Do you have have any great books that you can share with me and my readers?  I am always on the lookout for good books to have both at home for my daughter and for work purposes.   Please share your favorites with all of us!  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all with your ideas!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Foiled Again!

Every once in a while I stumble upon an arts and craft project and I feel like I have hit the jackpot.  I first felt that way when I discovered the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics.  To this day, I still buy tons of these sets each year to do with my kids and they never get bored of it.  Actually, I have 12 kids on my caseload working on different pictures as we speak.  So when I was searching through the craft aisle at West Side Kids on the UWS the other day, I was thrilled to find the Foil Art Sticker Kits by at Peaceable Kingdom.

I am a big fan of craft projects that take more than one or two sessions to work on.  I find that it makes it more exciting and rewarding for the children that I work with to spread projects out over a few sessions.  I love seeing the pride on their faces when they finish something that they worked on for so long and try and make it a really big deal when they get to proudly show off their work to their parents or caregivers.  It's a really great thing to watch them run out of the room and share their work and tell everyone how they did it.  Sometimes, I will talk to my kids about the process and how hard it was when we started the project and how it got easier.  This is a great opportunity to build a child's self-esteem and confidence.

Foil Art Sticker Kits by at Peaceable Kingdom are a fun and motivating project for any child.  So far, I have found that they work better for my older preschool kids or my school-age kids because it requires a decent amount of patience, and more importantly, focus.  It also requires a certain amount of hand strength in order to complete the project which means an older child will have more success completing it independently.  These projects are a great way to work on a variety of fine motor skills, including increasing hand strength and manipulation skills.  For kids who avoid those kinds of activities, this is a great way to hide that work and end up with a really cool project to take home at the end.  Another nice thing about the Foil Art Sticker Kits is that the options are not too overwhelming.  Each set comes with 4 different colors to choose from which I find to be helpful in organizing ones work and attention.  When there are too many colors to choose from, I notice that some of my kids become more distracted and end up jumping from one color to another rather quickly.

In addition to what has already been mentioned above, Foil Art Sticker Kits by at Peaceable Kingdom can work on the following skills:

Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-looking for a simple but fun activity to promote using two hands?  This is perfect.  It will be nearly impossible to make your picture without using two hands.  First, you have to hold the sheet/picture with one hand while you peel the stickers off with the other hand.  Once you have the sticker off the picture, you have to hold the picture still with one hand while you rub the foil onto the sticker using a finger from your other hand.  Sounds simple but I can't tell you how difficult this can be for some children.
Improve Modulation/Regulations Skills-I have done these with a few kids at work and at home with my own 4 year old and have learned that the whole "slow and steady" motto really helps.  When a child tries and rub the foil really fast, it moves around too much and won't stick well.  They will have to redo their work which can be quite frustrating.  The nice thing about making this a long-term project is that after a session or two, I can see the kids slowing down and being more attentive to what they are doing and how quickly they are doing it.  As I say to my kids.....they don't have to be perfect but they must try their best to do their best.  For some of my kids, just being able to slow down is their best and that is a huge thing.
Improve Grasping Skills-a child is required to pull the sticker off before they place the colored foil on top of the picture which will work on developing a fine pincer grasp.  Additionally, a child has to use a fine pincer grasp to pull the top of the sticker off so they can place the foil on top.  For some of my kids, this is quite challenging and requires some encouragement and assistance from me to make sure to take only one sticker off at a time.
Improve Organizational Skills-for my older children who may be working on improving organizing their work and improving executive functioning skills, I have them think about what color they want each section to be prior to completing the activity.  After they have figured out what color will go where, they then have to complete all of the same color at one time.

Peaceable Kingdom is a great company and I love that they make so many great products that I can feel good about supporting and recommending to others.  First of all, they have an amazing mission:
Make good, do good, be good!
They use sustainable materials in their products whenever they can using recycled papers and soy-based inks.  They work with independent illustrators, giving people the chance to make their mark on this awesome world we live in.  Most importantly, they believe in creating products that help you connect to the kids in your life and for kids to connect to other kids.  Awesome, right?  Plus, they have awesome customer service.  If you lose a piece to one of their games, they will replace it for you at no cost.  Lastly, they are big into giving back to their people through a "Donation a Day" program.  I don't know about you, but I would like to see more companies out there like this and I will do what I can to support and promote them.

I found my Foil Art Sticker Kits at West Side Kids, an amazing toy store on the upper west side of Manhattan.  Be sure to check out your local toy stores to see if they carry these kits (or any of the fantastic products by Peaceable Kingdom).  I am a huge supporter supporting our local businesses whenever possible and hope that my readers do the same.  If you don't see these products in your local toy stores you can always find them on their website by clicking here.

I am always looking for new craft projects that will motivate my kids at work.  Ones that will work on improving their fine motor and attentional skills are awesome especially if they will help on building self-esteem and confidence.  Do you have other great projects like the Foil Art Sticker Kits or the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics that you would recommend to me and my readers.  I am always looking for something new to add to my OT closet and love hearing from you all.  I am always a click away so please be sure to send me your favorites!