Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spot It and Disney....A True Happily Ever After Ending!

I didn't really need another reason to love the game Spot It by Blue Orange Games but last weekend I discovered a whole new series of Disney Spot It games.  For me, this is a game changer for some of my kids who are much more resistant to learning their numbers and letters...especially a certain 4 year old little girl I know.  I had to hold myself back from buying every single version of the Disney Spot It games.  Instead I decided to try out the Frozen and Doc McStuffins for now with the intention of slowly adding to my collection.   They have already been used a ton of times and it's been a big hit so far!

Each of the new Disney Spot It games has a different educational focus. While there are alphabet and number Spot It games, I haven't found them to be that motivating for the kids I work with.  Just seeing the letters and numbers wasn't exciting enough for them so when I saw these Disney versions of the game, I was pumped.  In addition to a certain educational focus, there are pictures of your favorite characters and objects from the television show/movies.  The best part is that the variety allows for you to find one that will be good for your child.  There are ones that are targeted to the preschool population and others that are targeted to the older kids.
Doc McStuffins-numbers, shapes and alphabet
Jake and The Neverland Pirates-numbers and shapes
Sofia the First-alphabet
Disney Princesses-words/pre-reading

I have written about Spot It before here so I won't go on for long.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the game, it is a card game that requires a child to find matches between two cards.  Even when you don't think it is possible, every single card has a match to another card.  There are several ways to play the game but the simplest form is to hand out an equal number of cards to each player; flip one card in the middle and start spotting your matches.  The first person to get rid of all of their cards first is the winner.  For some of my older kids who are working on organization and sequencing skills, I will have them tell me the directions, set up the game and deal the cards.  This can be tricky but since there are not many steps to the game, it is a good game for them to attempt this task.

Spot It is great for a variety of other skills such as:
Improving Visual Perception/Motor Skills-finding and matching your letters, numbers, shapes, pictures, etc. is the point of the game.  Having good perception skills is important for many other things like puzzles, handwriting, cutting, etc..  A child also has to be able to visually track in order to look at both the card in the middle and the card in their hand.
***for some of my older kids who are working on handwriting, I have been making them write the letter or number that they have found when playing the game.  It slows the game down, but it's a fun way to get the kids to work on their graphomotor skills.
Improving Speech and Language Skills-my speech therapy friends can certainly elaborate much more than I can about all the speech and language benefits of this game.  When I play with the kids, they must shout out their match and not just point it out.
**each of these games comes with a guide of what each picture is so you can go over that with the kids prior to playing to make sure they can identify everything before the game begins
Improve Focus and Attention-this game typically lasts about 10-20 minutes depending on the speed of the kids playing.  I like that there is a definitive end to the game and can encourage my kids to stick with it until someone wins.  Often times, the kids I work with struggle with completing a game, especially ones that are more challenging for them.  If you have children who really have a hard time with focus and attention, don't start with a full deck of cards and work towards being able to play the game with the full deck down the line.
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-looking for a way to work on other goals at the same time?  Try putting a child prone on the net swing while playing Spot It to work on increasing upper extremity strength and head/neck control.  This can be difficult for some kids so I like to give them a goal of a certain number of cards need to be put down or a certain amount of time must pass before they can get out.  Sometimes get so into the game, that they forget they are tired and work through it!
Improve Social Skills-Spot It can be played with as few as 2 people and as many as 8 (I like to start small and build up to more kids/stimulation).  Great game to work on developing good social skills such as compromise, being a good winner/good loser and many other skills.  For older kids, let them negotiate how they want to play the game including the rules.

So if you are looking for some new and motivating ways to work on some of these academic skills and work on a variety of occupational therapy goals at the same time, I highly recommend the Disney Spot It games.  I have already introduced them to my daughter and for the first time, she is asking to play a game that she knows will work on something she typically avoids.  And while she still gets frustrated, we work together to help find the numbers or letters of the alphabet and she is quickly picking them up and generalizing that knowledge to other things.

If you have any questions or suggestions on other ways to use these games, please do share with all of us.  I am a click away and love hearing from you all!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Learning Can Be Fun!

One of the things that my colleagues know about me is that I love using the iPad during my therapy sessions.  I was an early lover of the iPad and what it could bring to a therapy session.  There were many times I felt really bad about my iPad causing a distraction to the other children and therapists around me.  As the years have gone by, many more of my colleagues are joining me and realizing that when used in conjunction with a ton of other therapy approaches, the iPad can be a tremendously motivating and useful.  What I love most about it is that you can combine the iPad with a ton of other occupational therapy goals and kill two birds with one stone.  Have a kid who needs to work on building upper extremity strength and is resistant to those activities?  Place them on the net swing and find a game for them to play; I guarantee you will get them to stay in that challenging position for much longer!  Do you have a child who needs to work on improving handwriting skills or grasping on a writing instrument?  Give them a stylus when doing handwriting apps so they are working on both letter writing and using a proper grip.

Recently, I have been asked to share my favorite iPad apps with my colleagues and the families I work with.  As more people begin to join the tablet world, they want to make sure that they have enough on their iPads to meet the needs of their children.  There are SO many great apps out there and sometimes it's so overwhelming looking through the app store that people get scared away.  While I have shared many of my favorite apps recently, I thought I would share this comprehensive list I created last week.  There are probably a million more apps out there (and please share your gems with me...I am ALWAYS looking for new ones), but I thought I would share my most recent list with you all.    There are a lot here but it's just a sampling of what is on my iPad and what I use during my sessions.

Little Bit Studio happens to have some of the most amazing and motivating apps that I know of.  Not only do the kids that I world with love them, I love to play them with the kids!  They all range in price from $1.00-3.99.  For some, that might seem like a bit of a steep price for an iPad app, but each game comes with about 15 mini games.  

 Bugs and Buttons-18 really fun games that work on a variety of academic skills.  Great game for working on fine motor, visual tracking, visual motor and critical thinking.  
 Bugs and Buttons 2-follow up game to Bugs and Buttons, another 18 games that work on pinching, counting and letter recognition.  
 Bugs and Numbers-another 18 games that make learning math loads of fun for preschool and school-age kids.  Number/shape identification, sequencing, tracking numbers and learning fractions are just a few of the math skills a child can work on when using this app.
 Bug Mazing-created for pre-school and school age children.  Great for working on reinforcing number, letter and shape recognition while working on fine motor and problem solving skills.  

Binary Labs has created a series of apps that are great for preschool and school age children.  What I love about this company is that they recognize the importance of how good fine motor skills can support handwriting and math skills down the line.

Dexteria-the first app I discovered by Binary Labs has been one of the apps I regularly recommend to other therapists and parents.  There are few apps that work on fine motor skills such as grasping, pinching and fine motor control like dexterity and control skills.  Great for older children or even adults who need to work on developing these skills.

Dexteria Jr-hand and finger exercises that develop fine motor skills for kids between the ages of 2 and 6.  The activities are fun and motivating so the kids don't realize they are working on skills!  Squish the Squash works on finger isolation/using your pointer finger while Pinch the Pepper works on developing grasping skills and improving finger strength.

Dexteria Dots-I have been on the hunt for good math games so was thrilled when I heard about this game.  Fun and intuitive game that work son teaching kids the concepts of addition, subtraction and relative size.  There are different levels so this game is good for children between the ages of 2 and 8.

Dextetia Dots 2-this is a great app that works on fine motor, visual motor and visual motor skills while doing math at the same time.  Helps to reinforce math concepts such as greater/less than/equal to from a conceptual standpoint for school age children 5-10 years of age.

Fizzbrain Apps is a mom and pop company that has dedicated themselves to creating a series of apps that will motivate children to learn.  My favorite ones are their series of Touch and Write apps which . In addition to these apps, they have many apps created for children on the autism spectrum.   
Touch and Write-kids can practice writing the letters of the alphabet using 16 different materials; my kids really love practicing writing with shaving cream or jello!  What I love about this handwriting app is that not only can you practice writing individual letters, but they give you the option of personalizing this for each child and making word lists so they can work on spelling at the same time.
Touch and Write Cursive-for older children who need help with learning cursive.  This app is the same as the original and offers you the opportunity to practice upper and lower case letters and full words.  
**with both of these apps, I suggest using a stylus so you can encourage a proper writing grasp.  I also like to have the children write the letters and words on paper after they have practiced on the iPad in order to generalize their skills.  

Highlights Hidden Pictures-just like the classic puzzles found in the Highlights and High Five Magazines, this app has over 50 puzzles to choose from.  You can change the level of difficulty by turning hints on and off.  Great for working on visual skills such as visual perception, visual tracking and visual organizational skills.  My school age children love this app.  Sometimes, I will have them use the iPad first and complete a puzzle and then give them a page in workbook after to work on generalizing the visual skills.

Whac-a-Mole-I was really excited to see that one of my favorite games to use with my kids was also an app.  There are over 50 levels of play with it getting more challenging as you beat them.  The object of the game it to earn as many coins as possible as you tap and swipe the moles out of your way.  This is a great app for older children who need to work on visual motor skills.  In addition to improving visual motor skills, you can work on executive functioning skills such as organization, focus and visual attention.  

MOMA Art Lab-wonderful app that works on improving creativity and art skills.  Intended for children ages 7 and older, this app allows children to explore how artists can use lines, shapes and colors to create artwork inspired by some of the artwork seen at MOMA.  I love to use this with small groups of older children and watch them work together to create a piece of art.
So many of the kids I work with have a difficult time doing a more abstract art project.  They can be successful with activities that have clear rules and expectations, but get frustrated by more open-ended art activities. This can be a great app to show them that they can be successful and expand their imagination.  If you want to take it to the next level, have materials available for them to make a real life project that resembles what they have just practiced on the iPad.

Pinch Peeps-fast paced and fun app that works on improving fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Pinch and drag together similar peeps in order to score as many points as possible.  The faster you go, the more points you get.  I love using this with my older kids who need a fun way to work on improving executive functioning skills such as organization, focus and attention and following directions.  As an added requirement, I have my older kids tell me the rules and steps of this game before they can play the game.

Faces iMake ABC-looking for something fun and different to work on teaching your little ones their letters?  Faces iMake ABC is just for you then!  This is an interactive game that works on letter recognition and learning the sounds of each of the letters.  What I love about this is there is a puzzle for each letter of the alphabet which works on visual skills, such as tracking, eye hand coordination and perceptual skills.  The kids I work with love how they use every day objects like buttons and different foods to turn them into pictures.
If I have a child who is working on learning how to write the letters, I will let them put the puzzle together first and then they have to practice writing the letter after.  For those who need encouragement for handwriting, I find this to be motivating.
There is a second piece to this game that is more appropriate for older children.  For each letter, the child is asked to find the 5 objects in a field of about a dozen pictures that start with the letter.  This works on improving organizational skills, focus and attention.  

Dipdap-do you have a child who has a really time with drawing?  This is a really fun app that can work on improving drawing skills in a unique way.  Dipdap is a cute character and your job is to help him through 16 different adventures by completing pictures.  In each of the 16 pictures, an object is missing that your child has to draw.  For example, Dipdap is in a car but the whole outside is missing.
For kids who shy away from drawing because they have difficulty with it, I find this to be a non-threatening drawing app that they can be successful with.  I like to talk through it with them before they start drawing; for some kids the planning part is more difficult than the actual drawing part.
As I like to do with the handwriting apps I use, immediately after a child draws on the iPad, I like to get them to practice drawing a picture on paper that they can take home and show off to their people.
Don't forget to have a child use a stylus of your choice when doing this drawing app.  I think it's tremendously important for a child to always be encouraged to use a proper grasp when drawing so find the one that your child is most comfortable with and let them draw away!

Letterschool-one of my favorite handwriting apps out there.  The more important thing is that it also happens to be the favorite of my of the kids I work with as well.  Not only will your child work on letter (upper and lowercase) and number recognition, they will also be learning the sounds that go with each letter.  For each letter, there are three different choices....tap (this helps a child learn where each part of the letter starts) and watch the lines get drawn; drag (drag the arrow from the starting point to the end point) and draw on the chalkboard.  Once the letter is complete for each game, the letter comes to life....racecars zoom, flowers bloom and a train moves along the tracks are just a few of the fun things that your child is rewarded with after they have completed the letter.
I love that you can change the mode so if you are doing the Handwriting Without Tears program with a child, you can use this app along with it.  For my kids, they know that when they use Letterschool, they will have to practice writing the letter either on a chalkboard or a piece of paper.

L'Escapadou has created two wonderful handwriting for print and one for cursive...that my kids love to play with.
Writing Wizard/Cursive Writing Wizard-practice writing all the upper and lowercase letters and numbers while tracing them using animated stickers and sound effects.  Once the tracing is complete, they can interact with the letters.
The game is customizable and you can play around with the settings to make it best for your child.  There are two modes:  free and 5 Stars mode.  In the 5 Star mode, the focus is on learning the letter by tracing it 5 times.  Once it's successfully traced 5 times, the child earns a star that is then displayed on the home screen with all of the letters.
Don't forget to use a stylus when using this app with your kids.  Also, anytime possible, have them practice writing on paper or a chalkboard immediately after completing it on the iPad.  

Pepi Play has a series of apps that are ideal for preschoolers that work on fine motor, visual motor/perceptual and other academic skills.  My own daughter can play these games for hours and they are often the go to apps when my children at work have earned iPad choice!  
Pepi Tree-in this educational game, children get to explore a variety of tree-dwelling animals and learn about some of their habits.  They get to learn about where they live, what they eat and what different animals look like.  There are six separate games in this app and each one works on some kind of occupational therapy goal.  My kids really love feeding the caterpillars different foods and watching them turn into beautiful butterflies.  I like the owl who uses his night vision to find all of the other animals who are also away at night.  Highly motivating app that works on improving visual motor, visual tracking, fine motor, bilateral coordination and focus/attentional skills.

Wallykazam!  Letter and Word Magic-this preschool literacy app is a big hit amongst my preschoolers and younger school age children.  For kids who are struggling with reading, I find that they are more motivated to work on this skill when some of their favorite characters are involved.  The goal of the game is to help Wally and all his friends in a variety of adventures.  There are several games built into this app that work on phonemic awareness, letter recognition and letter-sound associations.  Additionally, your child can learn how to write letters by tracing them in the stars.  It is highly interactive and keeps even the most frustrated early learner motivated and engaged.  For some of my older children, I have them trace the letters using a stylus so we can work on proper grasp on writing instruments.  If you have children who are struggling with handwriting as well, this is a good game to use in conjunction with handwriting activities.  After they have traced the letter in the sky, have them write it on paper or on a chalkboard.

Super Stretch-while I am not one who does yoga personally, I recognize and appreciate the therapeutic benefits of it and have used it often in my sessions.  Not only is it great for working on overall body strength, it also works on motor planning, focus/attentional skills and breath control.  Whether you do it individually or in a small group, I have found that my kids love following Super Stretch on his adventures.  I like that you can pick and choose which poses you want to work on so it can work on individual goals for each child.  I have used this in my social skills group many times and I love how the kids look at each other to figure out how to get themselves in the different poses.  If you have a child who has modulation and focus/attention difficulties, you can use this app in the beginning of your sessions to work on grounding them and getting them ready for their session.

I know this is a lot of information...perhaps too much!  I also know that this is just a small sampling of the amazing apps out there that can be used to motivate and encourage children to learn a variety of skills.  I feel like it is highly important for me to repeat that it's important to use the iPad as an addition to your regular therapy sessions and not let it replace the hands on, multi-sensory experiences you offer in your work environment.  For some of my kids, the iPad is used as a reward for doing all of their other work.  For others, it is used as a side-by-side activity when working on handwriting.

If you have any outstanding apps that you would like to share, please let me know!  I am always excited to learn about new apps out there and use them during my sessions.  I also know that many of my readers would be excited to hear what you have to say as well.  As always, I am just a click away!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Oldies but Goodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back to School Already??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sum, Sum, Summertime!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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