Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spring Into Action!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Big Kid Finger Fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 30, 2017

New Year, New Toys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Snow Day Fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Meet Norman & Jules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Meet Rose and Rex!

One of the things I worked very hard on this year while putting my together my 2016 Holiday Gift Guide was to try and link to as many small and independent toy stores as possible.  In the days leading up to Hanukkah and Christmas, I am going to be inviting some of the owners of the toy-stores that I linked to and having them tell us their top 5 holiday picks for a particular group of children.  Today, I would like to introduce you to Allie Klein, the founder of the New York City based online toy store, Rose and Rex.  Allie earned a dual M.S.ED degree in Early Childhood and Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education.  While in graduate school, she studied the importance of play on early childhood development.  Her work helped her to create Rose and Rex, an online toy boutique that has a tremendous selection of hand-picked toys and products.  All toys were chosen with the following goals in mind:
*promote imaginative play and creativity 
*create empathetic thinkers
*encourage problem solving

I asked Allie to share her top 5 picks this holiday season for babies.  
**If you purchase any item from Rose and Rex, a portion of the sales will be donated to one of two organizations, Second Chance Toys or One Percent For The Planet**

Floating Shape Bath Blocks:  Made from all-natural, plant-based rubber, this bright set of eco-friendly shapes goes from play room floor to bathtub for endless floating fun.  A baby toy that grows along with a child, these blocks are perfect for helping ease into bath-time, learn new shapes and bring the sensory experience of water play into block building.  Whether on dry land or catching a wave, your little one will be mastering spatial awareness and getting acquainted with scientific principles-but to them it will just feel like stacking and splashing.
*OT skills that can be worked on while playing with the bath blocks are improving bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination. 

Eco Ice Cream Rattles: We all scream for ice cream!  Here's the scoop-baby's first type of play is sensory play, which helps your little one start to understand the world and contributes to their cognitive and physical growth.  From touch to sound, stimulate baby's developing senses with the charming three-piece set of ice cream cone rattles, lovingly hand-crocheted with soft organic bamboo yarn.  As kids get older and no longer need the rattle, they can be encouraged to increase free play and imagination skills when playing with them.
*OT skills that can be worked on while playing with the rattles are hand eye coordination, encourages cause and effect and grasping skills.  

Whale Push Toy:   Under the sea!  Timeless, eco-friendly and handcrafted, this Whale push toy is a special children's gift.  Perfect for little hands as a child pushes the whale around their latest block creation, pretends to swim or makes up a story with the whale as the start they are exercising essential physical and cognitive skills while having fun.  Made from high-quality wood, this toy will grow with your baby.
*OT skills that can be worked on while playing with the whale are improving hand-eye coordination, grasping skills.  As kids get older and more mobile, you can add a string to the whale and they can take their whale for a walk.  

Sunglass Teether: Cool shades for cool babies.  Nurture baby's budding senses with this stylish, eco-friendly and all natural teether.  Hand crafted out of solid, rock-hard maple, this teether is naturally antibacterial, safe from chemicals and toxins and is non-splintering.  
*OT skills that can be worked on while playing with the sunglass teether are improving grasping and coordination skills, hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination  

Watermelon Rattle: We're wild for watermelon, so this sweet hand-knit watermelon rattle has us totally charmed.  Stimulate baby's developing senses and introduce your little cutie to their first type of play-sensory play!  From touch to sound, sensory experiences help babies understand the world around them and help to cultivate their cognitive and physical development.  Ratte, smile, repeat!

A big thank you to Allie this post and her wonderful ideas.  Be sure to check out the entire line of products at Rose and Rex for any of your last minute holiday gifts.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tweens Like To Play Too!

Over the years, I have heard from parents of tweens and soon to be teens how tricky buying gifts for this age can be.  Because of this, I started my Tween Gift Guide last year.  This year, I have tried to offer as many new ideas as possible for this hard to please crowd but suggest you take a look at last year's guide for additional ideas.

So many of these kids still want to "play" but at the same time, want to act all grown-up.  I know from my own 11-year old niece, that she has been asking for a phone or a computer for years but at the same time, she still wants to be a kid and get presents that will entertain her.  And she is not any different than any kids her age...no matter how into clothes and technology they are, they still want to get presents that they can "play" with.  So, this particular list is dedicated to all those kids of mine who I have known since they were babies and who are now tweens.  To those kids who are in limbo and aren't quite ready to grow up and just get all clothes and big kid kinda stuff...this blog is for you!  

Polaroid Camera-I think this is one of the greatest gifts that you can give a tween, especially those who don't have their own phone yet.  Kids love taking pictures and I have found that when kids use digital cameras, they are just clicking away without really understanding what they are taking and why they are taking them.  I have found that using a Polaroid camera makes kids pay attention to their environment a bit more...makes them connect to the people they are with more.  This is because you have to be certain about what you want to take a picture of because you can't erase it or do it over.  One thing I recommend to people is that kids have a book or journal dedicated to the pictures they take with their camera.  This allows them to store and write about the picture in a place where they can use it as a keepsake item.  

DIY Ukelele-there was something about this DIY kit that really caught my eye.  First of all, I think more and more kids are getting into music these days.  I know that many of the kids in my family are all inspired by music and arts so that is probably what made me want to include this on this years list. The kit is easy and the end-product is something that your kids will enjoy for years.  It comes with an unfinished and pre-assembled body, guitar neck and the strings.  Once it is put together, your child can make it all their own by painting it or adding stickers, decals, etc..   Great for working on improving fine motor, visual motor and perceptual skills, executive functioning skills such as following directions, focus and attention and organizational skills.  Once it is completed, kids have this boost in confidence and self-esteem from having built something from scratch.  Then there is the added benefits of being able to learn how to play a new instrument!

Sewing Machine-another thing I feel like kids are much more interested in these days are fashion and some of them even want to learn how to make their own clothes at a young age.  I have actually been on the lookout for a good sewing machine for my own daughter who has aspirations to become a fashion designer when she grows up.  I didn't want to spend a ton of money, but I definitely wanted one that was more than just a kid one.  I reached out to a family friend and she highly recommended this one by Janome (full disclosure...you can get it much cheaper on Amazon)....it's definitely not top of the line but it is one of the best portable ones and intended for younger sewers.  There are a tremendous amount of developmental benefits from learning how to sew and they say that the ideal age to introduce your children to this is between 8 and 12 years of age.  Some of the benefits are working on improving fine motor skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and developing executive functioning skills such as organization, motor planning, time management and following instructions.  Most importantly, it helps kids develop self-esteem and builds confidence when they complete their projects.

Air Power Soccer Disc-another great and affordable product that encourages kids to get up and move around.  Part air hockey puck, part levitating ball, this durable disk glides over floors with a push or a kick.  It's made of plastic and rubber and has a cushion around the outside so it can be used for indoor or outdoor use.  It also lights up making it suitable for nighttime play.  Kids can work on improving gross motor skills such as balance, coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.  Great for working on improving social skills, teamwork and collaboration while also working on improving confidence and self-esteem.  

Tabletop Air Hockey Table-I've had more hours of fun playing air hockey over the years with my family and friends and I love that it is still a game that kids love to play.  Living in NYC, having a giant air hockey table is not possible so I was excited when I found this tabletop one and have been suggesting it for some of my older kids over the years.  I love air hockey because it is a fun way to work on improving hand-eye coordination skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, fine motor skills and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.  This is a great activity for kids on playdates or to do with their siblings or with their parents.  

Emoji Uno-Uno will continue to be one of my favorite games.  First of all, it's easy to play as a family or with a group of friends.  Secondly, it's easy to carry around with you, making it perfect to take on vacations or when you know you are going to be waiting somewhere for a long time (think a sibling's sporting event or therapy appointment).  This version of Uno is almost exactly like the original Uno game except that all the special cards have a different emoji on it.  If someone puts that down, the person who follows them has to hold that face for two turns.
Great for working on visual motor and visual perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, fine motor strengthening (holding the cards) and a fun way to work on improving focus, attention and organizational skills. There are also a tremendous amount of opportunities to work on social skills and becoming a little bit more in touch with and understanding emotions and feelings.   

Fündapop-as you can see, I am trying to suggest things that get kids playing together and up and moving around.  I've been recommending the OgoSport Ogodisk to families for years and years and while I think it is something great for all ages, I was really drawn to the Fündapop for the older kids.  Fündapop is a catching game with a bit of a twist.  Kids put their hands in the mit and when they want to throw the ball, they open their hand and the ball pops out super fast. Once the ball lands in the other mit, it will snap closed.  This could be a great gross motor gift for kids who may have a hard time with throwing a ball.  Fündapop works on improving hand-eye coordination, grasp strength and manipulations skills, focus, attention and organizational skills and improves social skills as kids play together to catch and "throw" the ball with each other.    

Beat The Parents-let's be honest, at a certain age, your kids just don't want to spend too much time with you...they would much rather be with their friends or playing some video game.  You have to make sure that you find something to do with them that will be fun and definitely not too serious.  Beat The Parents is a great board game that is meant to bring kids and parents together.  This trivia based game has kids answer questions about their parents and parents answer questions about their kids.  Whoever crosses the finish line first (watch out...wild cards can send you back to the beginning or help you get to the end faster) is the winner.  This is a great way for families to connect and learn more about each other at the same time.  Also great for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, organizational skills and could be a great way to encourage conversation amongst families.  

Slapzi-from the makers of one of my all time favorite games Tenzi comes Slapzi.  This is a fast-matching, card-slapping game that will be sure to entertain kids and their families for hours.  The point of the game is to be the first to match the correct picture to the clue card.  Each player gets 5 picture cards that have images on both the back and the front.  A player is assigned to flip the clue cards over and then everyone has to quickly look at the front and back of their card to see if either of the pictures match the clue.  The first person to slap on of his/her picture cards on top of the clue gets to discard the card.  This continues until one of the players gets rid of all of their picture cards.  This game is great for working on improving visual motor, perceptual and tracking skills, hand-eye coordination, and bilateral coordination skills.  Also great for working on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills in addition to a ton of social skills!

Coloring Books/Pages-this is a broad recommendation but one of my favorites.  Coloring books have come a long way in the last few years and there is such a huge selection now that are appropriate for tweens/teens.  Coloring can do way more than just work on improving graphomotor and visual motor/perceptual skills.  The benefits of coloring are endless but here are a few of the most important things that can be accomplished through coloring:

*coloring can be a calming and therapeutic for kids who might be feeling stressed about all of the social and educational demands
*coloring can decrease stress and anxiety levels
*coloring encourages kids to focus on the "now"
*unlike drawing, coloring can be done by anyone.  So many kids avoid art activities these days because they feel like they won't do it well but coloring gives these kids a clear idea of what they need to do.  
*coloring encourages creativity and individuality.  While there may be a template for them to color in, they can use whatever colors they want.  They can express themselves through their coloring in the colors they choose.
*coloring is a portable hobby....you can easily take your favorite coloring book and writing instruments with you wherever you go.  
Some of my favorite coloring books/posters are listed below but there are SO many more to choose from based on your kid's interests.
Pirasta Coloring Posters
Harry Potter Coloring Book
Cats In Paris Coloring Book
Pusheen Coloring Book
Secret Garden
The Lost Ocean
The Dr. Seuss Coloring Book
Trolls....It's Color Time
Star Wars Doodles
Wreck It Journals