Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Who Needs The Beach?

After this long, long winter, I've been dreaming of summer, the beach and playing with my girl in the sand.  I can spend hours playing in the sand with her, building sand castles and digging for treasures.  She tells such tales while playing at the beach and it makes me so happy.  So, when I heard about WABA Fun Kinetic Sand, I had to give it a try.  I had seen small samples when I was at the NYC Toy Fair in February and have been on the lookout ever since.  Thanks to my good friends at Norman and Jules, I now have a place to get it whenever I need it.  That is only if they can keep it on the shelves long enough for me to snag more!  According to them, it is flying off the shelves quicker than they know what to do.  I think that that alone tells you how great this stuff is.

WABA Fun Kinetic Sand is a perfect occupational therapy tool and I highly recommend it to all therapists out there!  You should buy extra though because you are going to want one for home and work...advice from the girl who hasn't been able to leave hers at work yet!  Quinn and I have spent hours playing with ours and have come up with many different ways to play with it.  I have used other kinds of "sand", but this is by far the best out there.  First of all, you get a lot of it in the package for about $16.  There are other brands out there that sell far less for far more and it isn't as good quality.  Secondly, I have used a couple of brands that have an odd smell to them.  So for kids who have sensory issues and may be tactile defensive, having something that might smell strange to them is bad news.  I was so happy to have found the perfect "sand"!

One of the things I like most about Kinetic Sand is that while it is fun to play with and easy to make a mess with, the cleanup is easy.  I know that I have a hard time playing with certain sensory materials because it takes so long to clean up and it gets EVERYWHERE.  When I am at work, I like to use things that are easy to take out and put back away.  Things that won't get all over the sensory equipment or require me to spend valuable therapy time cleaning up the mess.  Not with Kinetic Sand; even if it gets all over the place, it can be cleaned up quickly (with a broom or a vacuum).

While Kinetic Sand has many therapeutic benefits, I love finding something new and exciting to use to work on increasing grasp strength.  I have used playdough for years and that's always fun for the kids, but I have found that they changed the recipe in the last few years and it is way too soft and not that great for strengthening purposes.  Plus, it can make such a mess and a real pain in the neck to get it out of carpeting.  Another great thing about this sand is that it is ideal for all ages.  My 4 year old loves it but so do my older school-age children.  It's also a great tool to recommend for parents to get at home to work on strengthening activities.  I am very careful about what I suggest for home use because I don't want parents to turn into therapists; it's important that whatever I recommend to parents that it is fun for the whole family and doesn't seem like they are in a therapy session.  My daughter likes taking her PlayMobil fairies and trees and building a place for them to play.  It's great to be able to take something that has so much therapeutic value and use it with everyday toys to make it seem much more like play.

Some of the other occupational therapy skills that can be worked on are:
Improving Tactile Defensiveness-it's difficult to find a good material to work on improving tactile defensive behaviors.  I have found that many of the materials I have worked with at work get stuck all over the kid's hands which causes them to to get anxious.  Or sometimes it doesn't stick together well and they get frustrated.  Kinetic Sand has a super soft feeling as it flows through your fingers but at the same time, it can easily stick together and make some great shapes with little effort.
Improving Bilateral Coordination Skills-a good way to work on encouraging the use of two hands at a time would be to provide children with tools to dig with, shovel into containers, etc..  They need to hold the tools with one hand and fill up a cup with the other one.
Improve Grasping Skills-if you want to work on improving grasping skills, hide some small objects in here and have the kids pull them out.  You can make a birthday cake and have the kids put small pegs in for birthday candles.  You can hide different size and shaped shells in it, have them dig through and use Zoo Sticks to get them out of the sand to work on increasing grasp strength.  My daughter is obsessed with unicorns these days and a friend gave us these food picks.  We had been struggling to figure out the best way to use them and then Quinn decided on this.  Putting them in and then pulling them out are a great way to work on improving fine motor grasping skills.
Improve Creative Skills/Language Skills-if you have a child who has a hard time thinking outside of their box and likes to do things the same way all the time, you can use this and try and come up with some play scenarios.  You can create something together with the child you are working with and then have them tell stories about what they made.  If you have a child who gets speech and language therapy, consult with their therapist and ask what their goals are and how you can incorporate it into the work you are doing with the child.  There is nothing better than being able to work on multiple skills at a time during any given session.
Improve Social Skills-I can't wait to try this with my social skills group!  Playing with Kinetic Sand can be a great way to get kids talking and improving conversational skills.  Get a couple of packages of Kinetic Sand and place it in tupperware or sensory table big enough for a few children to gather around.  Provide them with different sand tools that require them to share with one another.  For kids who need a bit more support or structure, give them something they need to build together, such as a sand castle or a sand animal.  They can only build one and must do it together instead of building separate ones.  This can be much more difficult than it sounds for children who have language and social difficulties.  As I mentioned above, you can also take characters and have the children use them with the Kinetic Sand to work on improving language skills.

As I already mentioned, I got my Kinetic Sand at Norman and Jules in Park Slope.  If you are making a special trip to get some, be sure to give them a call first to see that they have it.  When I was in there last, they said that they really couldn't keep it in the store!  You can also order directly from the WABA fun website here.  Check out your local toy stores and see if they carry it.  However, keep in mind that there are a bunch of different versions of moveable sand and be sure to get the WABA Fun Kinetic Sand.

Do you have any other awesome sensory materials you use and can suggest to me and my readers?  I know there are a ton out there but would much rather use something that has been kid and therapist approved!  Until I started using the Kinetic Sand, I forgot just how much therapeutic value there was to manipulative materials!  I love hearing from you all and am always a click away so please send me your suggestions!

So, until you can make it to the beach to play with the real deal, enjoy your WABA Fun Kinetic Sand!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Free App Friday...Who Knew?

This will be a short post, but one that I think many will appreciate.  Not sure how I hadn't heart of it before, but there is a great website,  that offers a Free App Friday blog. Smart Apps For Kids is a website dedicated to helping people find the best apps out there.  They will help guide you by age, subject and skill you are interested in working on.  today's list.  While many of them are not ones that I am familiar with, I was excited to see some really good ones on there that are already on my iPad and enjoyed by many of the little ones I work with.

For example, Drawnimal by YAYATOY is on there.  This is a great app that can work on not only introducing children to the letters of the alphabet but encourage drawing skills.  Many of the kids I work with have a desire to learn how to draw and I have struggled with the best way to teach them.  I have this on both my iPad and my iPhone.  I have had better success with it using my iPhone but am looking for the writing surface to use in order to use the iPad as I think it is more interactive and exciting for my younger children.

Another one on today's list is Shiny Bakery.  My daughter loves Shiny Party and the characters in this game are the same.  Alice the Zebra has opened her own bakery and she needs your child's help.  A child has to follow the recipe and then help her bake cookies or cakes and then decorate them.  This app is great for working on developing a sense of numbers, expanding a child's creative juices and improving problem solving skills.

There is an app I have been very excited about that is also mentioned on today's list but is not a free one.  However, I think that the $.99 will be well worth it for Bug Art by one of my favorite app creators out there, Little Bit Studios.  While I have not had a chance to use Bug Art, I continue to use Bugs and Buttons 1 and 2, Bugs and Bubbles and Bugs and Numbers on a daily basis with my kids at work and my own daughter loves them as well.  Bug Art is described as an app that allows your child to free paint whatever they want to create.  They can learn to draw with interactive tracing or design their own bugs.  Using their bug creation, they will then be able to play, explore and challenge themselves in a different games and environments.  Their are 13 other bugs included in the game that your bug can compete against in mini games.  Like I said, I haven't played this game but am sure it won't disappoint.

For those of you who are constantly on the lookout for new and exciting apps, keep the Free App Friday list by Smart Apps For Kids on your radar.  I know that I will be checking in every Friday to see what apps I can find.  I love a bargain and there are lots on here.  Do you have any other app lists that you subscribe to and can recommend to all of us?  Please share if you do.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Giggly for Tiggly

Last month, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a quick run through the NY Toy Show at The Javitz Center.  To say I was completely overwhelmed and overexcited is an understatement!  I could have spent hours and hours looking at all the toys and figuring out which one of my kids would benefit from what.  One of the coolest things I saw was an interactive iPad toy called Tiggly.  I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to someone from the company and was so impressed with what they showed me.

A little bit about Tiggly.  They are a team of PhDs, MBAs, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts who want to help parents introduce their children to the digital world in an easy and educational way.  What they ended up creating was an interactive tablet toy that works with learning apps.  They believe that there learning can be fun and more powerful for some when children are given the opportunity to combine digital and physical play.   With Tiggly, children are given the opportunity to explore geometric shapes (circle, square, triangle and star) and work on spatial relations by manipulating physical shapes while interacting with the creations they make on the iPad.

The Tiggly Shapes and the apps are designed for children between the ages of 18 month and 4 years.  I have used them in my office for some of my older children who may have more language and cognitive delays and they have had great success with them.  The shapes have a soft plastic cover and silicone touch points that allow them to be recognized by the iPad apps.  They are well made and durable objects that can withstand the damage a tough toddler can cause but gentle enough that they won't damage your iPad screens.  I really like the size of them as they can work on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills for younger children in a fun way.

As of right now, there are three apps available in the App Store.  All are free for download and can be used without the shapes but are much more fun and engaging with them.  Below you will find a brief description of each and some of the goals that can be worked on when using them.

Tiggly Safari-while using the 4 Tiggly shapes, this game is designed to help facilitate a child's spatial cognition development.  In the first level, children match shapes with what they see on the screen and create simple animals out of single shapes.  As the children master that level, the challenge increases and they are asked to create more complex animals while combining different shapes.  Sometimes it is combining the same shapes in a single screen but as it gets more complex, they combine shapes to make animals.  For a real challenge, the shapes will begin to move around the screen so you have to track where they go and match the shapes.  Sounds easy, but it can be difficult for some of my kids.  
*great for working on shape recognition, matching and improving eye-hand coordination.  For children who are younger, you can begin to introduce new animals and encourage language skills.  

Tiggly Stamp-this app is all about being creative and encourage open-ended play.  Using the Tiggly shapes, a child can build seasonal scenes on their iPad.   Depending on the background and the shape that you use, different objects and animals are created.  You have the option of moving them all around the screen and changing them up.  It's great for creativity and expanding your play skills.  
For my speech therapist friends, this app is perfect for you because you can use the video/camera recorder to save the stories they tell about the scenes they have made.  For parents who aren't able to come to therapy sessions, you can record the stories and then send them to them so they can have some conversation about what they did during their session that day.

*great for working on shape recognition, language skills and visual motor/perceptual skills.  

 Tiggly Draw-while I love each of the Tiggly apps, I am a particularly fond of this one.  As an occupational therapist, I am constantly looking for ways to work on building body awareness and work on drawing skills in a fun and motivating way.  For some of the kids I work with, learning how to draw a person is an important and crazy difficult skill.  Kids who have decreased body awareness have a much more difficult time drawing a person than a typically developing child.  It can also be very frustrating for that child so you have to come up with fun ways to work on it.  I have used this app so that kids place a couple of shapes on the iPad and then have to add body and face parts.  We talk about what body parts they added, what they help us do and then have them try and draw a picture themselves.
*improve body awareness, improve grasping skills (after using the  Tiggly Draw app, have the child draw a picture using paper and crayons) and improve language skills (talk about the body parts you add and what they do).

In addition to the goals addressed above, Tiggly shapes can be used to work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-for some of my kids, I will have them sit on the platform swing while playing the game.  They have to hold the iPad with one hand and use the other hand to grab and hold the shapes.  For some kids, working with two hands can be difficult and tiring.  If motivated enough, they won't tire as easily because they will be so engaged with what they are doing that they don't notice they are working so hard!
Encourage Crossing Midline-I like to place the Tiggly shapes on the opposite side of a child's body so they have to cross midline to find the matching shapes.  Sometimes I have to gently hold one hand down or use verbal prompts to remind them not to switch hands but once they are in a routine, they do it more independently.  If you look at the picture to the right, you will see how you can set up a working environment to encourage crossing midline during this activity.
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-I have used the shapes and apps while my kids lie in the net swing or barrel to work on increasing upper extremity and neck strength.  When they are engaged and focused on the iPad (and these games are super interactive and engaging), they forget that they are in the swing and can get them to remain in that challenging position for longer periods of time.
Improve Social Skills-I am excited to try the Tiggly Draw and Tiggly Stamp apps in a small group setting to work on improving pragmatic language, turn taking and being a flexible friend.  The great thing about these two apps is that children can work in small groups and take turns placing the shapes onto the iPad.  With Tiggly Draw, the kids can take turns putting different body parts on the shapes.  This may require one friend to be flexible and deal with a friend making a choice that they didn't have in mind or expect.  Tiggly Stamp can be an opportunity to work on friends telling a story together.  I think it would be really fun for the kids to come up with a story together and be able to listen to it together and then problem solve on what they might change or do differently.

If you read my blog, you will know that I talk about apps and iPads quite often.  While I feel like it is an awesome motivator for many of my kids, it is not my end all and be all as far as therapy goes.  One of the many things I like about the Tiggly shapes and apps is that they can be used in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities.  For example, I talked about how you can use the Tiggly Draw app to work on expanding drawing skills.  By using the Tiggly Stamp, a child can work visual motor and perceptual skills along with improving language skills.

If you read my blog you will also know that I love to support small companies and businesses.   Tiggly is a new company but I think that it's got some big things happening and think it will be a really big deal soon.  I know for a fact that they have some big things happening that will be launched soon.  Things that will be great for older kids and make our kids be better thinkers and problem solvers.

For my fellow Park Slopers who are interested in buying these, you don't have to go very far to get them yourselves.  Norman and Jules carry them in store and online.  For those of you who are not in my hood, check out this listing to see where the most convenient place to purchase them is.  Try and buy them from a local small business as they count on us for their business!

Have you used the Tiggly shapes and apps yet?  What do you think of them and what are some of the occupational therapy goals that you address when using them?  I am always a click away and would love to hear from you about how you are using Tiggly and what your kids (work or personal) think of them.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What's On Your Pad?

While I know there is still a lot of controversy about using handheld devices/tablets with children, I happen to be one of those therapists that has found an incredible amount of success using the iPad in my private practice.  It is by no means my sole means of therapy but when used in conjunction with other modes of therapy, it can be a very motivating and meaningful tool.  I use the iPad with children of all abilities and ages and always combine it with another occupational therapy goal.  For example, for my children who need to work on increasing upper extremity strength, I will have them play with the iPad while lying on their belly while in a barrel or on the net swing.  Typically, I can get them to remain in these challenging positions for much longer when distracted by a fun app.  Another common skill I address is grasping skills.  For almost all the games that I use in therapy, I try and have the child use a stylus.  Even though I know the iPad is all about the touch screen, I find that if I am going to use it with the kids I work with, I want them to practice holding a writing instrument.  As I have mentioned in several of my posts, I prefer to use the iCreate Crayon Stylus by Fred & Friends.  It is the perfect size for little hands and a fun and distracting way to work on improving a child's grasp on a writing instrument.  It can be found in many local toy stores (I got mine at West Side Kids on the UWS of Manhattan) and on

I wanted to share some of the top apps that are being played both at home and in therapy these days.  When I purchase an app, I am never sure of how good it is until it has been kid tested and approved.  Here are four of the top hits on my iPad these days by the kids in my life (personal and professional) these days.

Sago Mini Pet Cafe
This app is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers and I have found great success with some of my children with significant language and cognitive delays.  There are three engaging games within the app that helps children learn about colors, shapes and numbers.   There is a matching game that requires a child to drag a piece of food into the right shadow.  My favorite, and the favorite of many of my kids, is the counting and sorting game that requires you to drag 10 pieces of food onto a platter.  Once they are on the platter, you have to feed the correct animal based on the color of the food.

Some of the occupational therapy skills that can be worked on are:
*visual tracking/eye-hand coordination skills-great way to practice these skills is when placing the food on the platter.  Don't just let the kids swipe the food onto the plate; instead, encourage
*color recogntion-make a super colorful drink for your animal to drink; have the child choose the color that you ask them or have them identify the color as they are putting it in the cup
*sequence/patterns-when making the colorful drink, you can up the challenge for certain children by having them follow a color sequence/pattern.  I have used a visual prompt for my kids to refer to so they don't need verbal prompts from me and can be more independent.
*grasping skills-if you are trying to work on improving grasping skills, be sure to use a stylus when playing this game.  Make sure that you tell the child to not push too hard when using the stylus so their hands don't tire (it can be difficult for the kids I work with to use an appropriate amount of pressure on writing instruments.  When using the stylus that I talked about earlier, if you push too hard, it is actually harder to use it.  When they use just a little bit of pressure (like they should when using crayons, markers and pencils) they have greater success.)

Toca Boca Pet Doctor
It's difficult for me to find an app by Toca Boca that I don't love.  My iPad speaks for itself and you will see that I have almost every single one and they are used quite often depending on the interests of certain children.  A couple of days ago, my husband told me I had to look into Toca Boca Pet Doctor.  It has become a fast favorite for my daughter who just turned 4 this week.  All Toca Boca apps are highly engaging for kids of all ages.

While they claim that Toca Boca Pet Doctor is good for children ages 2-6, I would say it is more appropriate and entertaining for the toddler and preschoolers.  The point of the game is to help the 15 different ailing animals.  Each one has something uniquely wrong with it and you have to help them so they can eat a snack and then go to sleep.  My daughter's favorite is the helping remove all the fleas from the dog and then getting to feed him dog treats.

Some of the occupational therapy goals that can be be focused on when using this app are:
*eye-hand coordination skills/visual motor skills-many of the games require good visual motor skills.  For example, you have to pull the hopping fleas off the dog and put them into a jar.  You have to be careful and watch where the fleas go (and they can move pretty fast) so you can grab them and place them in the jar.
*visual perceptual skills-if you want to work on this skill, be sure to choose the bunny.  Somehow the poor bunny got hurt and has booboos all over his face and needs someone to put bandaids on him.  There are four different shaped bandaids and booboos and you have to match them up.
*problem solving skills-for some of the animals, you have to figure out how to move them around in order to feed them.  For example, the turtle is lying on his back and can't eat so you have to figure out how to flip him over in order for him to eat.  It not only takes problem solving, but requires you to be patient and not get frustrated.
*grasping skills-as I have said a million times, you can always work on improving grasping skills when using almost any app.  Use the iCreate Crayon Stylus to encourage a proper grasp on writing instruments.

Writing Wizard
Many of the older children I work with come to me because they need to work on improving their handwriting or drawing skills.  They are often resistant to working on handwriting the traditional way (with paper and pencil) and require a tremendous amount of encouragement.  I have found that by using the iPad in conjunction with paper/pencils, kids are more motivated and willing to work on this challenging task.  A few months ago, a colleague of mine recommended Writing Wizard by L'Escapadou and since she did, it's been my go to handwriting app.  I always use the iCreate Crayon Stylus when using this app in order to work on improving pencil grasping skills at the same time.

Writing Wizard is a handwriting app that offers a lot of fun and keeps kids motivated to keep learning.  They can trace letters, numbers and shapes/pictures using a variety of animated stickers and sound effects.  Once the child has completed tracing, they can then interact with it which gets them excited about doing it the correct way.  There are two different modes of play (free mode and 5-star mode); I tend to use the 5-Star mode because I like that the challenge increases on each star so by the end, your child has to write the letter without tracing but by actually remembering how to write the letter.

I love that you can also create a list of words for children to practice.  For some of the kids I work with, I am asked to work on practicing spelling words and this could be a fun and engaging way to keep them interested.  I would not just let them write them on the iPad; once they write it on the iPad, I would have them write it with a pencil on paper to work on generalizing the skill and further practicing their words.  

I have several writing apps on my iPad but this is my go to one right now.  Some of the occupational therapy skills that can be worked on are:

*letter recognition-you can use this app for the very basic skill of learning, recognizing and identifying letters and numbers and shapes.
*grasping skills-if you are trying to work on improving grasping skills, be sure to use a stylus when playing this game.  Make sure that you tell the child to not push too hard when using the stylus so their hands don't tire (it can be difficult for the kids I work with to use an appropriate amount of pressure on writing instruments.  When using the stylus that I talked about earlier, if you push too hard, it is actually harder to use it.  When they use just a little bit of pressure (like they should when using crayons, markers and pencils) they have greater success.)
*eye-hand coordination/visual motor skills-as with most handwriting apps, this requires you to use good eye-hand coordination when tracing the letters, numbers or shapes.
*focus and attention skills-when using the 5 star mode, it will require a child to focus and attend to a specific letter, shape or word through five turns.  The difficulty increases for each turn and by the final star, a child is required to write the letter without tracing the lines.

Bugs and Numbers
I am a huge fan of Little Bit Studio and their awesome apps.  I have already blogged about Bugs and Buttons and Bugs and Bubbles and continue to use them all the time in therapy.  Bugs and Numbers is equally as awesome as the other Little Bit Studio apps.  It's a great app for beginning to work on math skills, including number recognition, fractions and patterns.  It's perfect for preschoolers and younger school age children.  As with all the other Little Bit Studio apps, there are 18 different games within the app so there is little chance that you can't find something that is appropriate for almost any child.

Some of my favorite games in the app are:
Color By Number-great for working on learning numbers in a fun way.  Children have to color in different parts of the picture based on the number.  
*don't forget to use the  iCreate Crayon Stylus for this game in order to encourage a proper writing grasp

Hotel Matching Shapes-great for working on improving visual tracking and visual perceptual skills.  The level of difficulty increases as they complete each level making it more of a challenge for some of your older preschoolers/early school age children.  You start off by matching numbers and shapes and can move up to having to match/put together different pictures (robots and bugs).  
Left Right-I find it can be quite difficult to teach a child with body awareness difficulties right vs. left.  This game requires that you take a bug through a path without hitting obstacles that might be in his way.  Using left and right arrows, you avoid hitting soda cans and other objects.  I like to ask my kids to show me their left and right hands before we begin in order to organize them for the activity.  
Garden Patterns-children need to get a bug through a maze to a cookie by following a pattern provided.  It starts off with a two shape pattern and then continues to get more difficult.  Great for working on visual perceptual skills and organizational skills.

Each of the apps describe above can also be worked on with friends in order to encourage social skills.  I am a big fan of working on improving social skills at any chance I can.  With all of these apps, you can work on taking turns, being flexible with a choice a friend might make or doing things differently than you might.  These are skills that are hard to teach sometimes and need to be taught in the moment based on what happens when they play together.  Some of the best learning moments in regards to social skills happens when we are least expecting it.

Additionally, all of the apps can work on improving language skills.  If you are working with a child who also receives speech and language therapy, be sure to check in with their therapist and find out how you can support the work they are doing.  I happen to be super lucky and work with a handful of speech therapists who often ask me what they can do to support my work.  I promise you that the speed at which a child acquires and generalizes skills is faster when you work as a team.  

Now that I have shared some of my favorites with you, I would love to hear from all of you about your top apps these days.  So many of the apps that I download are done so because I have read great things about them or they have been suggested by other people.  With the thousands of apps out there to choose from, it is often difficult to pick out which ones are worth the money and space on my pretty full iPad.  If you have a great app that you find works wonders with your kids, please share them with me and my readers.  If you have any questions about the apps that I have suggested, please don't hesitate reaching out to me.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

All You Need Is Love

As a child, Valentine's Day was just like any other day.  As a family, we didn't do much to celebrate the day.  We would make homemade cards to give all our classmates, but my sisters and I weren't one of the girls that got called down to the office to have flowers delivered to us from our dad.  Now that I work with children (and have one of my own), I try and do some fun things related to the holiday with the kids I work with during our sessions.  

Looking for some cute activities to be used both at home and during your sessions?  Here are a handful of ideas for your little loves.

1.  Sweethearts Sorting-using a pair of Zoo Stick chopsticks, empty a box of candy Sweethearts and have a child sort them by color.  This works on improving grasp strength, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Depending on a child's skill level, you may limit the number of colors to increase the chances of success.  For those children who are able to read, you can have them sort by the phrases written on each heart.  

2.  Valentine's Day Yarn Hearts-I don't know about you, but I don't ever know what to do with those wire hangers I get from the dry cleaners.  Here is a simple idea that will make a perfect gift for a loved one.  You will need yarn (of any color) and a wire hanger.  Take the wire hanger and bend it into a heart.  Begin wrapping the yarn around the heart.  You may need to wrap around a couple of times in each place in order for the yarn to stay in place.  This is great for working on visual motor and bilateral coordination skills.  

3.  I Love You To Pieces Heart-I made this card with my daughter a couple of years ago and it was simple, fun and made those she loved feel very happy.  This is a great activity because it can be graded depending on a child's skill level.  For a young preschooler, give them strips of colored paper and have them tear them into small pieces.  For older preschoolers and school age children, draw lines on colored paper, and have them cut out the strips and then tear the strips into pieces.  Once they have all their small pieces, they can glue them onto a heart.  This project is great for working on a variety of occupational therapy goals, including bilateral coordination (tearing paper) and improving cutting skills.

4.  Cereal Hearts-using Cheerios (if you want to be more healthy) or Fruit Loops and a pipe cleaner, you can make a cute heart for someone you love.  A fun way to work improving grasping, beading and bilateral coordination skills.  Depending on the skill level of your child and what cereal you use, you can change what you want from each child.  If you have a younger child who is working on improving fine motor skills, you can keep it simple; put all the cereal in a bowl and have them place them on a pipecleaner.  If you are working with an older child, use a set of Zoo Sticks and have them take out a certain number of cereal.  Want to throw in an extra challenge, using Fruit Loops you can have a child follow a pattern as they place them on the pipe cleaner.

5.  Paint Chip Bookmarks-I have seen so many great projects with those paint chip samples that you find in the paint section of hardware stores.  I have used them to practice cutting and color recognition in the past.  If you grab a bunch of the pink samples (which I plan on doing tomorrow), you can make some really cute bookmarks.  In addition to the paint chips, you will need a heart hole puncher and some pink ribbon.  Have the children punch a single heart on each color/rectangle and one in the middle of the top rectangle.  Help them string the ribbon through the top hole.  Great for working on increasing grasp strength, bilateral coordination skills and color recognition (you can do this with any color paint chip sample).

Here are just a handful of ideas that will not only end up being cute, they are easy and require very little supplies or setup.  While I have tried some of these, I look forward to testing out the new ideas with my kids at work and with my daughter at home.  Who out there has some great Valentine's Day craft ideas that they have had great success with that they can share with me and my readers?  Would love to have a bunch of ideas to choose from in the next few days.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.  Share the love with us please!

May you all have a love-filled Valentine's Day with those you love!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Doctor's In The House

For those of you who follow my blog, you will know that finding a new app to use at work brings me a tremendous amount of joy.  I have begun using my iPad more and more at work because I find it to be a truly motivating thing for the kids I work with.  I can get them to do things and work on skills that they might otherwise resist if it wasn't coming to them in the digital way.  A while back, I blogged about Pepi Tree by Pepi Play.   Pepi Play is a Lithuanian based company that develops apps for children.  I have all three and they are each amazing and unique and kids have a great time playing with them.  This company's philosophy is simple: they believe a good app should teach a child something but it doesn't necessarily have to be educational in form.  Having fun is the most important thing to them and they are doing a great job accomplishing this will all three of their apps.

Recently, I discovered Pepi Doctor.  Like their other apps, it is highly engaging and keeps my kids at work entertained for long periods of time.  Actually, this app has been been great for my almost 4 years old daughter who has recently started to be a little more fearful of going to the doctor.  Pepi Doctor is a medicine-themed role play app where children get to take on the role of doctor.  There job is to help cure patients Amber, Eva and Milo of a variety of diseases and ailments.  Some of their doctor responsibilities include helping cure them of a cold, fix an aching tooth or put back together some broken bones.  Within in each patient, there are 5 sub-games so kids are kept busy for a long time.  Take a look at this video to get an idea of what you are getting.   Pepi Doctor is perfect for preschoolers but I think that young school age children will also enjoy and benefit from it.  

My daughter is loving this game and I am really enjoying playing it with her and the kids I see at work. For Quinn, it has been a good way to talk about being a doctor and begin to decrease her fears associated with going to the doctor.  For my kids at work, I think my favorite aspect of the game is how many visual motor and visual perceptual skills can be addressed.  I find that my kids tire easily of puzzles and need variety when working on visual skills.  There are so many visual motor/perceptual activities and the kids are having fun while doing them.  For example, a child can work on visual tracking when pulling the thorns out of their patients hand and throwing it into the garbage can.  They can work on visual perceptual skills by fixing their patients broken bones by putting them together properly (mini puzzles). These are just a couple of many, many examples.  

In addition to what I have already mentioned above,  Pepi Doctor can also address the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Fine Motor Skills-when my kids are playing this, I force them to use their pointer finger in order to work on improving hand strength and finger isolation.  This sounds so simple, but so many of the children I work with who have a poor grasp (both for picking up small objects and on writing instruments) have great difficulty with this.  There are many opportunities to work on this with this game like when you have to pull the thorns out of their hand and when placing bandaids on them.  
Improve Grasping Skills-as I mention often when talking about apps, I try and encourage my kids to use a stylus when they can.  Sometimes the kids I work with are resistant to work on proper grasping skills but using the iPad and finding different ways to work on this skill helps.  Here is a link to the stylus I recommend for the kids I work with.  The crayon is the perfect size for their little hands.  
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-I like to have my kids use the Ipad while lying on their belly either in the net swing, in a barrel or while lying over a bolster.  I can typically get them to spend more time in this challenging position for much longer if they are engaged in something as highly motivating as  Pepi Doctor.  Not only does this work on increasing upper extremity strength, it will work on increasing neck strength/control.  
Improve Attentional Skills-for my younger kids, I work on increasing their attention to tasks by getting them to focus on particular activities within the game.  For example, while they are trying to help their patients get rid of a tooth ache, they need to brush/clean their teeth.  Instead of brushing the whole mouth at once, I have them do one tooth at a time; they are not allowed to move onto the next tooth until the other is completely clean.  This can be hard and for my children who have modulation and regulation difficulties, they need a lot of reminders from me to stick to one tooth at a time.  
Improve Social Skills-this is a great game to play in small groups or dyads.  They have to work on taking turns and being flexible with friends choices.  For example, when choosing which patient to treat, someone may not get their first choice and they will have to be flexible and play the game in spite of that.  It's also a great game to help expand social conversation between children since going to the doctor is something that all children do.  

I hope that you and your kids have as much fun with Pepi Doctor as I am both at home and at work.  Do any of you have any other great new apps you want to share with us?  I know that I am always looking for new ones that will not only work on occupational therapy goals, but keep kids engaged and excited to learn.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.  

Friday, January 31, 2014

Let's Wok and Roll!

I am sure we all have games or toys in our collection that have been there forever.  They are the ones that you aren't sure about when you buy them and then you get them and you wonder what you did before.  Wok n Roll is one of those games for me.  I bought it on a whim years ago and have used it on a weekly basis ever since then.  Not only is it a favorite of mine, it is a favorite of my kids.

A child holding onto the chopsticks with 3 fingers
Wok n Roll is a great game for many reasons.  Not only is it a fun game for the kids to play, it works on a ton of occupational therapy goals at the same time.  It can be played in a group as large as four children or individually.  My favorite thing about the game is that it can be easily adapted to a child's skill level so it can be used with children as young as 2 years old and all the way up to school age children.  Wok n Roll is a battery operated game that shakes and moves around.  The goal of the game is to get all your food into the matching bowl as quickly as possible.  Over the years, I have adapted the game and the expectations for the children depending on what we are working on in therapy.  For my younger children or those that have to work on building their grasping skills and fine motor strength, I won't turn the game on to have it shake and just focus on holding the chopsticks correctly and getting the food into the bowls.  When kids are first playing, they need to be reminded to open and close the chopsticks; I have learned the hard way what happens when a child squeezes the chopsticks too hard-flying plastic food can be very difficult to find!  As the kids get older, I will add the challenge of turning the wok on so it moves around while they are sorting the food into the bowls.  One doesn't realize how difficult this is to do until they actually try it.  This is a perfect game to work on helping a child who has a decreased frustration tolerance because that shaking causes the food to fall out of the chopsticks.  I also love using this game to work on increasing attention span and focus.  Once the game is turned on, I encourage a child to find a piece of food to pick up and not give up.  It may require them tracking where that food moves around to in the bowl and not giving up until you have successfully picked it up.

In addition to what was already mentioned above, Wok n Roll can work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Grasping Skills-the chopsticks are great for working on increasing grasp strength, fine motor control and grasping skills.  For children who have an immature grasp when holding writing instruments, it's important to find fun ways to work on encouraging a proper grasp in a variety of ways.  When using chopsticks, be sure to have your child use 3 fingers (the same number a child should use when holding crayons, pencils, etc.).  

Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills/Crossing Midline-when a child is using this on their own, I encourage them to hold the chopsticks in one hand and hold the shaking wok still with the other.  This encourages them to use both hands in a coordinated manner which is important for other graphomotor and fine motor skills.  To encourage crossing midline, I purposely but the bowls on the opposite side of their body so they are forced to cross midline when putting the food into the correct bowls.  
Improve Matching Skills/Color Recognition-a great way to begin on simple matching skills and color recognition.  Because this game can be so easily adapted to a child's skill level, you can use it with even the youngest of clients.  I have had my younger kids who aren't ready for the challenge of chopsticks work in developing grasping skills by using their "pinchers" (pointer and thumb only) to pick up the food and place them in the correct bowl.  A child who has difficulty recognizing and identifying colors can work on that skill by being asked to name each color as they place it in the matching bowl.
Working on crossing midline
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-for older children who need to work on organizational skills, you can require them to set the game up and tell their peers the directions for proper playing of the game.  You can require them to put the food in the bowls in a certain order to work on sequencing and organizing their work.
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-once a child knows the rules of the game and seems comfortable, I start increasing the challenges.  One way of doing that is by adding a strengthening component to the activity.  I like to have the kids lie on their belly on the net swing and complete this task.  They are not only working on improving the skills mentioned above, they are able to work on increasing upper extremity and neck strength at the same time.  Sometimes getting my kids to work on upper extremity strengthening can be difficult but if they are engaged in a motivating and fun fine motor or visual motor/perceptual activity, the "work" is hidden from them.
Improve Social Skills-this game is great for individual play but even better for group play.  I don't think I have a game that makes kids laugh as hard as they do when they play Wok n Roll.  For the older kids, I turn it on and make it shake and that cracks them up.  This is a great game to work on building a child's frustration tolerance with their peers and to work on how to be a good sport during games.  Being a good sport means letting your friends have turns, using kind words during play and not only being a good winner, but also being a good loser.

As I write this up, I am reminded that I should probably pick up one or two as a backup.  So many of the great games that I have used in therapy for years and years keep changing (Perfection and Wack a Mole both changed their designs and no longer as good as they used to be) and are then impossible to find.  I have seen Wok n Roll in some of the local toy stores in Park Slope and Manhattan but also on many websites, including which I have linked to.

I would love to hear from some of you about your favorite games that you use during your therapy sessions.  Not only do I want to hear for me personally so I can add to my game collection, but also want to share with parents who are always asking for activities to do at home.  I especially love games that can be adapted for a variety of skills and can have challenges added as they gain skills so if you have any recommendations, please share them with me and my readers!  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.