Friday, May 1, 2015

Eye Spy the Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Has Sprung!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 10, 2015

Two Thumbs Up!

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Eggcellent Crafting!

Easter is less than a week away.  I love Easter.  I'm not sure if it is knowing that Spring really has to be close if Easter is happening or if it's the candy or if it is the decorating of eggs that makes this one of my favorite holidays.  Actually, is is the candy...I've been hoarding Cadbury Mini Eggs since Valentine's Day was over.  But I really do love the other things about Easter too.  And I love having a reason to do some fun crafts and activities with the kids I work with.  Holiday weeks tend to mean that I have a week of very focused and organized activities set up.  Since many of the kids I work with don't celebrate Easter, I have backup activities that focus on Spring instead.  Here are a few of the things I will be doing with the kids I work with this week.

Fingerprint Bunnies and Chickens-I am a TOTAL sucker for any activity that involves fingerprints and Spring and Easter lend to this idea quite well.   When I think of spring, I think of bunnies, baby birds, chicks and other animals.  While the image I have shared shows these on eggs, this can be a spring related activity for those kids who don't celebrate Easter.  Fingerprint art is a quick and simple activity for kids of all ages.  It can be easily adapted to increase or decrease the expectations for whatever child is doing it.  For example, for your younger kids, you can have them do the very basic putting their fingers in the ink and pressing it on the paper and the grownups can add the details to the thumbprints.  As they kids get older, you can increase the expectations by asking them to add the details to the pictures.  For even older kids working on handwriting, you can have them make Happy Easter or Happy Spring cards for family and friends.  The best part about this project is that the supplies are minimal and that it takes a short amount of time to finish so the kids can take their picture or cards home with them right away.

Jelly Bean Sorting Game-as I have already mentioned, one of the things I love most about Easter is the candy.  I know that is what makes it a favorite holiday for a lot of the kids in my life.  So, why not make it into a fun learning opportunity?  This jelly bean sorting game is easy and can be easily adapted for kids of all ages.  Minimal supplies needed:  a bag of colorful jelly beans, plastic eggs, an empty egg carton and a pair of child friendly chopsticks (my favorite are the Zoo Sticks by Hog Wild).
For younger kids, place how ever many colored eggs into the carton that you want them to sort.  Put a bowl full of the same colored jelly beans in front of them and have them sort the jelly beans into the proper color.  Encourage them to use a pincer grip to pick up the jelly beans.  For older kids, add more colors and instead of using their hands to put the jelly beans in, have them use the chopsticks. By adding the chopsticks, you are working on increasing grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills.  If you want to add an element to work on improving bilateral coordination, you can have them pull the plastic egg out of the carton with one hand and have them pick out all the like colored jelly beans with their other hand.  For an increased challenge, you can have the kids open up the eggs and hide a number inside and the kids have to put that number of jelly beans into the eggs.

Tissue Paper (scrap paper) Easter Egg/Tulip-again, another activity that can be easily turned into a spring project instead of an Easter one.  You can either have the outline of an egg or a tulip on a piece of thick white paper.  Have lots of small pieces of tissue paper in pastel colors available for the kids to choose from.  Depending on the skill set of a child, you can have them take the square pieces of tissue paper and place them the picture or have them scrunch them up into little balls (great for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills) before placing them on the paper.  To work on improving grasping skills, you have have the kids use a paintbrush to put the glue on the paper (just a tip that you don't want them to paint the whole picture in but do small portions at a time in order to prevent the glue from drying).  For older kids, you can draw patterns on the eggs and have them use different colored tissue paper for each section.  This is a great activity for not only working on fine motor skills, but can work on color recognition, improving eye-hand coordination, biilateral coordination and focus and attentional skills.  One adaptation you can make to this activity is to use fun scraps of paper and have the kids tear them into pieces and then glue them onto the egg or flower template.

I have already tested these egg-celent activities out at work with the kids and they are all a big hit.  They are all simple, require few materials and can be finished during one therapy session which is a huge thing with the kids I work with.  They LOVE to be able to take their work home and show it off to their people.  

Do you have any great Easter or spring activities you love to do with the kids?  I'd love to hear from any of you with activities that you have found success with and that the kids have really loved?  Please share any ideas that you may have...I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Avokiddo Apps=A+ Apps

One of things I love most is finding a good app. Even better is when the design studio who created that app has several wonderful apps to choose from.  Two of my favorites, Toca Boca and Pepi Play, come up with new apps all the time that always blow my mind and I have blogged about several of their games.  Recently, I discovered a new studio and I can't get enough of their apps.  More importantly, the kids I work with are loving all the new apps on my iPad!

Avikiddo is an award-winning creative studio that specializes in creating quality educational apps for children.  They believe that when somebody enjoys something, they will connect with it in a way that learning will take place more naturally.  And I LOVE their philosophy (which I am sharing directly from their website):  Our philosophy is that education should be more than teaching math and literacy.  It should provide a challenging and stimulating environment where children obtain knowledge through active exploration and interaction.  An environment where they can use their imagination to reveal their true inner self; a world infused with purity and creativity.  We design our games with love and affection, truly believing in these principles.

I was originally drawn to the Avokiddo apps because of the awesome graphics.  There was something unique and creative about it that I hand't really seen before and thought I would check it out.  My fiIt's impossible to choose just one favorite of the Avokiddo apps so I have decided to write a little something about each.

Beck and Bo-a delightful and incredibly interactive app that takes two kids, Beck and Bo, on an adventure through 12 different scenes.  I would highly recommend this app for speech therapists and special educators who are working on building vocabulary.  The scenes vary from a day at the beach to building a snowman.  Each scene starts of pretty empty and it is up to the child to grab different objects falling from the sky and place them where they want in the scene.  For example, the winter scene starts off with snowy hill and you have to grab different parts of a snowman and put it together, including a hat and scarf.  From an occupational therapy perspective, this app is great for working on visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  It is also great for working on improving executive functioning skills such as attention, focus and organizational skills.  If you are working on improving grasping skills, you can always use a stylus to encourage a proper grasp on writing instruments.  Want to work on increasing upper body strength?  Have them play this app while lying prone either on a bolster or on the net swing.  They will be having so much fun that they won't realize how much they are "working" on getting stronger!

Avokiddo Emotions-this was my first Avokiddo app.  I was running a social schools group for preschoolers and we were focusing on emotions with the kids.  The iPad always motivates my kiddos and I did a search and found this.  It was a huge hit with the kids.  One of my favorite things about this app is how it allowed the kids to freely interact with different characters and then generate conversation about how they reacted.  It allowed them to really look at the animal's faces and recognize what different emotions looked like.  For example, the characters ears flatten and droop down when they are sad or they would jump up when they were startled by a loud noise.  For generalization purposes, we then would act out different emotions with the kids after we played the app.   This is a great app for working on speech and language skills and making kids more aware of social cues.

Thinkrolls-I just recently discovered this app and am loving both the original and the newest version which was just released on Wednesday!  Great for older preschoolers and school age kids.  It's a highly addictive game that has kids roll a variety of adorable characters through mazes.  While going through the maze, the encounter different challenges that requires them to think about how to use them.  They also unlock new characters which I have found makes for a really excited kid!  For example, as they are rolling through one of the earlier mazes, they run into a blocked path by a cracker that they must eat to keep going through the maze.  As you go through the levels, you may be blocked by a balloon that must be popped by the spikes on the wall or drop ice cubes on a fire so they can pass it.  One thing I really like about this game is that it is great for kids as young as 4 and as old as 9.  It's great for working on visual motor/perceptual skills like tracking and scanning.  Most importantly, I love how it works on problem solving and critical thinking.  It makes kids have to slow down and think about what they are going to do in order to pass the obstacles.  As they move through the mazes, they start to combine the different obstacles so the kids really have to think about what each thing does and make sure they do it in the right order in order to pass the obstacle.  This is a great app to work on improving social skills; you can have kids work together to talk about how to  overcome the challenges and take turns moving through each level.
Thinkrolls 2, the new version of Thinkroll does not disappoint.  It's the same concept of rolling through a series of mazes, but there are new challenges and characters introduced. Like the original Thinkrolls, kids are required to roll their characters through mazes, using problem solving and critical thinking to figure out how to overcome challenges.   Both games offer two levels of play, easy and hard, that makes this great for children of all ages.  Even adults will have fun playing this game and will find themselves stumped at times as they the game becomes increasingly more challenging.

Avokiddo ABC Ride-one of my absolute favorite alphabet apps out there!  Like all the other apps already discussed, it is incredibly interactive and engaging making learning super fun for the kids playing it.  The game starts off by choosing your character, Beck or Bo, and putting them on a bike and have them go on an alphabet adventure (you can go in order or have it be random).  Each letter has a mini-game to get the kids engaged and helps them associate a letter with a word.  For example, water the flowers to find the F or put the robot back together for the letter R.  My favorite is C where you have to cram the candy the hippo is dreaming about into his mouth.  Not only are the kids learning about the letter, they are working on following directions, matching pictures and maintaining their attention/focus.  Once the child has completed each mini-game, a whole word will show up on top, the letters will drop and the child has to match/drag the letters back into place.  This app is great for working on more than just learning letters.  It works on improving visual motor/perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, following verbal directions and improving focus and attentional skills.  For my older kids who are working on handwriting, I have them write the words before they move onto the next letter for an added step.  

Do you have any other design studios you really love?  Any games that you want to recommend to me or my readers?  I am always on the lookout for good apps, especially ones that will work on a ton of skills, motivate the kids I work with to learn and ones that can encourage social skills at the same time.  I would love to hear from you and am always a click away!  In the meantime, I hope you and your littles enjoy these apps!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Game On!

Last week I talked about how I was pretty much bored of all of the apps and toys I have been using since September.  It's not that they aren't fun or have lost their therapeutic value, it was just that I needed a change and something new to motivate the kids I work with.  I am pretty sure I heard some sighs and saw some rolling of the eyes in the last few weeks as I pulled about Barnyard Bingo and Whac-A-Mole!  I spent some quality time with Amazon and found a couple of great games by Educational Insights that have been a hit with the kids at work.  
First of all, I'd like to take a moment to talk about this company.  There isn't one thing that they have created that I haven't loved.  All of their games are fun, motivating and incredibly well made which means that they can handle the wear and tear of lots of kids handling and playing with them at the gym I work with.  As an occupational therapist, I adore that the games all have a fine motor component to them and can be graded to make it appropriate for pretty much any child on my caseload.  I don't have any of their actual toys, but as I was searching through their collection, I found many things that I will be adding to my collection very soon.  For example, check out these two drill sets:  Design & Drill Dazzling Creation Studios and Design & Drill BrightWorks.  I know a lot of kids who would flip out over these!

The two games that I picked up this week have been a hit amongst all the kids I have tried them with.  They have provided a just right challenge while working on a lot of different occupational therapy goals.  

Crazy Cereal-this electronic game is a fast-paced, exciting 2-player game that requires kids to match colors.  The game consists of 3 bowls (two small bowls for each kid to collect their cereal pieces and one large one to be placed in the middle for all the cereal pieces).  Each child grabs a bowl and a spoon, turns their spoon on and let the cereal grabbing begin.  The spoon lights up different colors and the child is expected to pick up whatever color it flashes one at a time.  Every once in a while, the spoon goes crazy and flashes all different colors at which point they can pick up two pieces of any colored cereal at a time.  I have modified the game for younger kids by not having them turn the spoon on (it moves pretty quickly) but by calling out the color that I want them to pick up instead.  Great game for working on color recognition and matching.  In addition that the aforementioned, Crazy Cereal works on the following occupational therapy skills:
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-great for working on using two hands in a coordinated manner.  As the kids are collecting the cereal, they need to hold onto the spoon with one hand and the bowl with the other.  
Improve Fine Motor Skills-once the kids have completed the game and have collected as many pieces of cereal as possible, I like to have them put the cereal back in the big bowl using a pair of Zoo Sticks.  This is great for working on grasp strength and manipulation skills.  
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-kids must look at their spoon and watch for what color it will turn before picking up their cereal.  I have to remind the kids quite often to look at the spoon after they collect each piece of cereal as the spoon changes color pretty quickly.
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-this game requires a tremendous amount of focus and attention in order to be successful.  If they aren't keeping their eyes on the spoon in between turns, they will often pick up the wrong color.  They also have to remember to pace themselves and only pick up one (or two) pieces of cereal at a time.  This requires them to regulate and be in control of their actions, which can be quite challenging when kids are excited and really want to win!  For older kids who are working on sequencing and organizing their work, you can have them read the directions and then tell the other kids the rules of the game.  
Improves Social Skills-while this game can be played independently but is way more fun playing with a friend.  It works on promoting good sportsmanship, especially learning how to be a good winner and loser!

Pancake Pileup-when I saw this game, I was sold by the fact that it was a physical game that got kids up and moving around the gym.  This has been a long, cold and snowy winter and so many of the kids I work with who benefit from running around outside have spent a lot more time sitting inside.  This game is not only great for occupational therapy but also for improving gross motor skills.  It is a fun movement game that has kids copy stacks of different flavored pancakes shown on a card.  Using a spatula, kids have to pick up the correct pancake and walk them over to their plate.  The child who finishes theirs first without making a mistake is the winner.  Depending on the age/skill level of the children playing, you can have them each pick up their own card or have them do the same card.  This is another one of those great games that can be adapted to be appropriate for all children.   I also love it because it can be done in a group as small as two but can also be done in classrooms or small social skills groups.  In addition to what has already mentioned, Pancake Pileup can work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-kids need to use eye-hand coordination as they scan the pile of pancakes for the correct pancake, as they pick up the pancake with the spatula and also when they are placing it on the plate.  
Improve Motor Planning-I've really enjoyed watching the physical therapists I work with play this game with the children they are working with.  They have been using it with just one child so they can be a little more creative.  While this game works on balance and coordination, it can also be played while doing a simple obstacle course.  Or you can play it while having a child walk across a balance beam or while stepping on stepping stones.  The kids have to be mindful of the obstacles that have been created.  
Improve Focus and Attention-the point of the game is to get your pile of pancakes stacked up as quickly as possible without dropping them from your spatula.  Kids need to focus on maintaining their attention to what they are doing because if they start looking around and drop the pancake off the spatula, they will have to start again.  
Improve Social Skills-great game for working on building sportsmanship, especially how to be a good winner or loser.  If playing in a larger group, you can work on teaching kids how to be part of a team, how to cheer their friends on and how to build up tolerance for others when they mess up. If you have a small group of kids, this is a great game to do relay-race style to work on taking turns and work as a team.  

It's so great when you find games that can be used in both therapeutic and social environments.  These are just two of many of the great games by Educational Insights.   When parents ask me for suggestions on what they can do with their children at home, I'm always happy to give them games and activities that can work on achieving our goals in a fun and stress-free way.  I love when kids are so comfortable with a game that they are able to tell the rest of their family how to play it.

Do you have any great new games that you like to recommend to families?  I'm still on the lookout for a few more new and exciting things to do at work and would especially love some more games that get the kids up and moving since this crazy weather has kept a lot of kids stuck inside for days on end!  I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

App Happy

I have had a really hard time keeping up with my blog these last few months.  Between the holidays and being buried with paperwork and reports, writing has been put on the back burner.  I'm happy to have a little time on this chilly Friday afternoon to write a quick blog about some of the fabulous apps I have been using at work these days.  I'm not sure if its the weather or the time of the year, but I basically got bored of every game, app, etc. that I have been using and if I was feeling bored, I can't imagine how the kids were feeling.  The following apps are ones that the kids love but also work on a ton of great skills.

Metamorphabet-this interactive alphabet app came out a few weeks ago and not only have the kids loved but every grownup I have showed it to as well.  My husband and daughter spent nearly an hour going through each letter one night.  Metamorphabet is a playful and interactive alphabet app appropriate for all ages.  With each letter there are several surprises that unfold as you poke, prod, drag and spin the letters around.  It is a wonderful educational tool, motivating kids to learn their letters in a playful way that makes it seem like more fun and less work for them.  Learning the alphabet has never been so much fun!  There are several ways to make this more therapeutic and educational if you want to use it at work.

Labo Paper Fish-another interactive game that the kids are loving!  Labo Lado has several create and play apps that all look fantastic and that I plan on checking out very soon!  Paper Fish is great because it works on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and organizational skills.  First kids get to choose one of 16 different fish templates that they will need to "cut" out; they need to trace the
lines of all the different parts of the fish in order to do that.  Once they are all cut out, they need to put the fish back together.  I like that if you go too fast while tracing, it stops and makes you go back; this is great for those kids you work with who rush through their work.  They can keep the fish simple or decorate it themselves to make their very own fish.  After they are all done creating the fish, there are 5 different games that can be played.  Each mini-game is fun and I like how they all work on different visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  My favorite is when you have to take pictures of fish while underwater; a picture of a fish will show up in the top right hand corner and you have to scan the sea to find the matching fish, drag the camera over and take a picture of it.

Pepi Ride-there isn't an app by Pepi Play that isn't a big hit with my kids.  Pepi Ride is no exception and is especially popular with the boys on my caseload who have a need for speed.  This app allows children to choose a character and create the car they will ride in.  They can make it as simple or complex as they want.  Once their car is complete, they can take the car out on the road for some adventures.  There are 9 different driving courses and as you go through the map, the difficulty level increases.  While this isn't complicated, it's a great app for helping kids make choices and really think about what they want to do.  So many of the kids I work with have a difficult time with organizing their thoughts/work and I like that this app can help them work on that.  Some of the racing games out there are super fast paced and have a time-limit which tends to be difficult for the kids I work with causing them to get frustrated and upset with themselves.  This is a nice racing game for younger kids because the goal is simple:  finish each course and pick up the 3 presents along the way for extra points.

Shape Arts: Geometry Creations-I can't tell you how hard I have been searching for a great tangram app (I love Osmo but I wanted something else as well).  Lighthouse Learning has a bunch of great math apps for kids of all ages and I am in love with Shape Arts.  Not only are there hundreds of puzzles for the kids to complete, there is also an option to make their own puzzles.  There is a template provided and each one has 7 shapes that must be moved into the puzzle to complete it.  Some fit in perfectly while others may have to be rotated before it fits in.  This app is not only educational, it is also fun while working on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and executive functioning skills.  While it says that this app is for children 7 and older, my almost 5 year old daughter was able to play it with minimal help from me.  

Toco Pet Doctor-this is not a new app but continues to be a big hit with the kids that I work with, especially the younger ones.  And for those of you familiar with Toca Boca, you know that there isn't a single app of theirs that isn't amazing.  There are 15 different pets waiting in the vet's waiting room with a variety of ailments that need to be tended to.  Choose an animal and make them healthy.  You may need to clean and bandage up a cat's ear, pull gum off a bird's foot or brush the messy teeth of a hamster.  Once they are all taken care of, you have to feed them.  None of the activities are overly challenging but require children to maintain their focus and attention on what needs to be done.  Great for working on improving visual tracking, visual perceptual and visual motor skills and can be worked on individually or in a group of two or three kids to work on improving social skills.

I know that there are still many therapists who don't agree with using an iPad in their sessions which I totally respect and appreciate.  I have found that when used in moderation and with other therapeutic interventions, it can be a highly effective and motivating tool.  I have found it to be most helpful with teaching handwriting to my more resistant kids because it is so interactive that they forget that they are actually working.  I never just do the handwriting apps alone but will have them practice the letter on the iPad and then immediately have them do it on the Boogie Board, dry erase board or on a piece of paper to generalize the skill.  There are so many wonderful apps that really address improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills in a fun way.  All of the apps I discussed above work on that skill.  In addition to what I have already mentioned, the iPad can be used to work on the following things:
*work on increasing upper body strength by playing the iPad while lying prone on a net swing or on a bolster
*work on improving grasping skills by requiring a child to use a stylus whenever it is appropriate to. iCreate crayon by Fred & Friends and the Mini Retro stylus by Kikkerland Design
 I will stop kids during play to encourage them to switch their grip.  My favorite stylus' are the
*work on improving bilateral coordination skills by making sure kids hold the iPad with one hand and use their dominant hand to play the game
*work on improving social skills by having kids play appropriate apps together
*work on improving executive functioning skills such as organization, attention/focus, working memory, sequencing, etc.

I love using the iPad at work and especially love when I find new apps to share with my colleagues and the parents I work with.  It's an easy way for parents to be able to work on some of the things that we work on in therapy and get them more involved in their child's therapy in a fun and less stressful manner.

Do you have any new apps that you just can't live without?  I'm always looking for new and interesting ones and would love to hear what's hot with your kids and I am sure many of my readers would love to hear as well!  Please share your favorite apps...I'm just a click away and love hearing from you all!