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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Snow Day Fun!

I spent most of this past weekend playing outside in the snow.  I'm not sure who enjoys the snowy weather more:  me or my 6 1/2 year old daughter.  As soon as it starts snowing, she is asking to go out and play.  Whether it be helping out with shoveling the snow, building a snowman or going sledding, this kid of mine is happiest when it snows.

Playing with and in the snow offers lots of opportunities to work on occupational therapy goals.  For example, shoveling snow is a great activity to work on providing sensory input and work on overall body strengthening.  Building a snowman requires focus, attention and organizational skills, can work on improving strength and motor planning skills.  Even having a friendly snowball fight can be a therapeutic activity.  If you don't want to encourage throwing snowballs at other people, you can play a game where you set up targets (trees, garage doors, etc.) for the kids to throw snowballs at.

There are lots of people who like the way snow looks but don't want to have anything else to do with it.  There are also lots of people who love snow but live in places where it never snows.  Below, I have shared some things you can do inside when it snows and you'd rather stay warm and cozy inside or for those of you who live in warmer places and want to bring winter to you!

Homemade Snow: while many of us are lucky enough to get to play with actual snow, there are a lot of people who live in parts of this country/world who don't ever get to experience snow.  The good thing is that no matter where you live and what the weather is like, there are ways you can make your own snow.  In this very easy recipe, you can mix baking soda and white conditioner and make your own snow that you get to play with inside without having to get all bulked up or having to deal with the cold weather.
Mix 2 1/2 cups of baking soda with 1/2 cup of white conditioner....stir together in bowl until it reaches the consistency you like.
*this is super simple and affordable activity that works on improving bilateral coordination (hold bowl with one hand while using a spatula to stir the ingredients).
*if you have a kid who needs to work on improving tactile defensiveness, mixing these two ingredients with your hands can work on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills as well as help to expose kids with tactile defensive tendencies to an opportunity to get their hands dirty and in the mix of things.

Make Snowflakes: who doesn't remember spending hours as a child making paper snowflakes?
This is a great activity for kids of all ages because you can make it as simple or as complicated as they can handle.  My favorite thing is that all you need are scissors and paper to make something really cool and beautiful.  You can add paint, glitter or stickers if you want to add details.  One thing that I do is save the extra stickers from the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaic sets I have done with the kids to decorate the snowflakes.  They love adding the sparkly colors and I love that they can work on fine motor and manipulation skills at the same time.  This activity allows kids to work on improving fine motor skills in a fun and creative way.  For some of my younger kids, I will draw shapes for them to cut out and then have them color or paint their snowflake in to work on graphomotor skills.  With the older ones, I encourage them to design their snowflake by themselves.  If you need some inspiration, Kinderart has a bunch of templates for you to choose from.  Making paper snowflakes is also great for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination skills and focus, attentional and organizational skills.

Indoor Snowball Fight: my daughter loves a good snowball fight.  It doesn't matter if she is on the giving or receiving end of the fight, she just thinks it is one of the best parts of winter to her.  If you are fortunate enough to have enough space where you live and don't necessarily have the weather to have a snowball fight, then you should definitely pick up these indoor snowballs by Snowtime Anytime.  These soft snowballs are perfect to keep your kids entertained for hours on end.  The best part is that they are getting exercise and working on developmental skills without realizing it!  Kids can work on upper extremity strength, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and focus, attention, motor planning and organizational skills while playing!
There are so many different ways your kids can play with these snowballs.  They can have a safe snowball fight against each other.  You can set up targets for them to throw at with each target being worth points and the person with the most points at the end is the winner.  Another idea is that you can have a snowball throwing contest; each take a certain number of snowballs and throw as far as you can....the person who throws theirs the furthest is the winner.

Snowglobes: I've always loved looking at snow globes.  I am one of those people who can shake and stare at a snow globe for hours on end.  Once I realized how simple it was to make them, I have been doing it with the kids I work with.  This project can be customized based on your child's interests, favorite color, etc.. This project requires just a handful of inexpensive materials and very few steps.  You will need:
*Mason Jar (whatever size you want)
*Pure Glycerin
*Waterproof Glue or Epoxy
*Small, waterproof toys or figurines to put inside your globe
Here is how you make your snow globe:
1. Remove the lid of the mason jar and decide where you would like to put your figurines.  You will have to make sure that you don't put them too close to the edge or you won't be able to close the jar.
2.  Glue the figurines in place and let them dry.   Start by removing your mason jar lid and decide where you'd like to place your figurines. Make sure you are able to close your jar once they are in place.
3.  While things are drying, pour about a tablespoon of glitter into the jar (you can add more or less depending on how snowy you want it).
4.  Pour water into the jar leaving some room at the top (the water should not reach all the way to the top).  Add 3-5 drops of glycerin to the water (this makes the glitter fall more slowly when you shake it).
5.  Once the glue has dried on the lid, apply glue around the rim and to the threads around the jar (this forms a tight seal and prevents leaking).
Floof Mr. and Mrs. Snowman Kit: I discovered Floof a few months ago and immediately fell in love with it.  Floof is a relatively new sensory material.  It is a light, fluffy and moldable white material that sticks to itself making it easy for kids to play with.  Kids can make whatever structure they want to but I especially love their snowman making kit which includes a molds to make different sized snowballs and all the pieces to dress your snowmen.  This is great for working on improving bilateral coordination, motor planning and organizational skills and can help work on improving body awareness.  The best part of this snowman making experience is that nobody complains about being cold!  For parents who are concerned about making a big mess....even if your kids get sloppy while playing with Floof, it is incredibly easy to clean up and won't ruin clothing.

So here are just a few things that you can do to keep your kids entertained if the weather is too frightful to be outside or if you want to bring winter to you.  Do you and your family have any special snowy day activities or traditions?  How about you readers who don't get snow....what kinds of things do you do with your kids to bring winter weather to your family?  I love hearing about different family traditions and activities and I know my readers do to!  I look forward to hearing from you....I'm always a click away!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Meet Norman & Jules

Today, I am featuring one of my favorite Park Slope toy stores.  Norman & Jules, established in 2012 by long time Park Slope residents, Courtney Ebner and Avi Kravitz, has one of the most beautiful selection of handcrafted toys that not only encourages imaginative play in kids of all ages, but many of them are great for working on improving a variety of fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  One of the things that I find sets it apart from many of the other toy stores I shop in is the fact that almost none of their toys are battery operated, make lots of noises (the Loog Electric Guitar
makes noise but teaches children how to make music) or lights up in crazy ways.  The gifts that you find here are ones that will end up in your family for years and  years.

 Norman & Jules is committed to providing parents and children with options that are not only aesthetically beautiful, but are carefully crafted from sustainable materials. Norman & Jules works with a number of local and international artists and craftsman in order to support both our community and other entrepreneurial spirits.  

Being an occupational therapist and having spent much of my career working with children who were born prematurely, I love the fact that a percentage of all sales at  Norman & Jules are donated to The March of Dimes.  This beautiful gesture is in honor of their 6 year old daughter Charley and other children who have spent time in the NICU due to premature births.  

Below, you will find Courtney and Avi's picks for this holiday season.  If you are in the neighborhood or looking for one of a kind toys that you won't find elsewhere, please be sure to check out their store. 

Make A Face-How are you feeling today? Express your feelings with Moon Picnic’s Make a Face kit! This adorable, silly, sad, scared, laughing, crying, grumpy, happy, kookie kit is a fun way to play with your emotions. Originally inspired to help children with Autism find an outlet to best describe their emotions, Make A Face has become a fantastic tool for parents of children with all abilities to discuss emotion in a comfortable and fun environment. Use the eight different facial features on your face plate and make a face to match your feelings! Make a puzzle game with the play booklet to match frightening and funny faces or cute and clever creations. Use your imagination to make emotions all your own! 
This kit is made with solid beech wood and non toxic paint.
*OT skills that can be worked on using Make A Face is improving fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.  If you follow some of the images in the pamphlet that comes with the toy, you can also work on visual motor and perceptual skills

Min Yellow Star Light -Wish upon a special star every night with this charming light beside your child’s bed.  A Little Lovely Company has a fantastic knack for making products that make everyone say “Aww!” Touch activated, battery powered and eco-friendly, this whimsical little light is redefining the night light. With a friendly face and soft LED glow, Mini Yellow Star Light is an eye-catching accessory made especially for wishing for a good night’s rest and the sweetest of dreams. The touch sensitivity lets your child easily control this small night light all on their own. It’s also a wonderful way for children to feel safer in the dark and at bedtime. We all know how tricky that can be! The Mini Yellow Star Light will help everyone feel safe and cozy at bedtime. 
*this is a great gift for a child who may have a hard time winding down at the end of the day and having a hard time falling asleep.  The soft light will help calm a child down and relax. 

Bella Nail by Nailmatic-Let your child be the stylist and the star with Nailmatic’s Bella nail polish! This brilliant concoction of color and fun is a darling and safe way to play with nail color. Made specifically for little fashionistas, this nail polish can easily come off with warm soapy water. With no mess and no stress, Nailmatic polishes are a fantastic way for children to play together to further develop their social and fine motor skills. Enjoy having your very own nail artist right in your home! 
*I love these nail polishes and have used them with my own daughter.  Putting nail polish on is a great fine motor activity for those older girls who are resistant to doing work for parents.  Also great for working on improving bilateral coordination, crossing midline and visual motor and perceptual skills.  

Stencil City-Use tools to create your own world with fun packs in Stencil City! Each stencil sheet is full of creative characters, outdoor elements, automobiles and accessories, with big buildings to make a wacky world all your own! A fantastic way to play for children of all abilities, Stencil City helps children develop their fine motor skills and find pride in their carefully crafted creations. Great for kids to play during quiet time alone or as a family activity, Stencil City will be hours of fun for everyone! 
*OT skills that can be worked on with Stencil City are improving fine motor, grasping and graphomotor skills, improving bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination.  Also works on encouraging creativity and imagination as they build their scenes.  
Rainbow Bowl Sorting Game-These differently colored bowls, each containing a fish, a star, and a heart, turn learning colors and shapes into a fun game for everyone! With the stylized simplicity for infancy, this clever set will grow in difficulty as your child grows up. Introduce the oversized tweezers to add an extra challenge as your child ages and develops greater hand dexterity. The genius behind the sorting game is that it can truly be hundreds of games in one, helping your child develop and grow for years. The only limit is your imagination! Add building blocks and use these unique shapes to create worlds, play matching games with the colors and shapes, role play dinnertime fun with the tweezers and pieces, we can’t wait to see how you play! 
*OT skills that can be worked on with the Rainbow Bowl Sorting Game are color recognition and identification, improving fine motor, grasping skills, building hand strength, improving visual skills, bilateral coordination and focus and attentional skills.