Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hatch N' Some Fun!

It's been a while since I have blogged about a toy.  I've been trying to recyle and re-discover some of my old stuff that has been hidden deep in my closet this summer but a couple of weeks ago, I could see that I needed something fresh and exciting for the remainder of the summer.  For those of you who read my blog consistently, you know that finding a new toy that the kids are excited to play with is like winning the lottery.  Finding a toy that will actually work on occupational therapy goals is even more exciting for me!

A couple of weeks ago, I was searching for some Finding Dory toys for work.  It's all the kids at work are talking about this summer and I wanted to see what I could find.  On my hunt, I found these things called Hatch N' Heroes.  I had never heard of them but I had to test them out as they seemed like the most perfect occupational therapy toy/tool.  Simply put, Hatch N Heroes are egg shaped toys that can transform into different characters.  Remembering how popular any transformer toys were when I was growing up, I felt like it would be a fun thing to try with the kids.  It was especially exciting to find characters like Nemo, Dory, Lightning McQueen, Woody and a bunch of other popular characters.

These simple and affordable toys are a great tool to work on improving fine motor and manipulation skills.  Some kids require some more verbal prompting and assistance from me, but I've been impressed with how kids are eager to figure out this "puzzle" So far, all the kids are loving them but some of the younger kids require verbal prompting and some hand over hand assistance to successfully turn the egg into the character.

In addition to being really cute, Hatch N Heroes are great for working on a bunch of occupational therapy goals.  Some of the skills that can be worked on when using them are:
Improve Fine Motor/Manipulation Skills-as already mentioned, these are a great toy to work on fine motor skills. The eggs are small, so the kids are forced to use a fine pincer grasp when pulling out some of the pieces.
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-while I have seen kids try to play with them with one hand, they have quickly discovered on their own that it is a lot easier and takes a lot less time when they use one hand to hold the egg and the other one to do all the work.
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-great for working on improving focus and attention, organizational skills and problem solving.  Kids need to be patient while they try and figure out how you move the pieces to transform the egg into the character.  For some of my older kids, I see if they can turn the egg into the character without my assistance.  For the younger kids, they tend it's a great way to work on following verbal directions.
Improve Graphomotor Skills-for some of my older kids who are working on writing, I use these Hatch N Heroes in an obstacle course where the final step is writing the name of the character they just rescued from the top of the mountain.  There is something about all the big body work that takes place prior to the actual handwriting that helps the kids get more organized and focused for the handwriting task. And let's be honest....if a kid gets to be a superhero and save anything, they will be way more open to any kind of handwriting activity!

As you can see, these little toys are packed with lots of benefits for kids.  I like that they are small and can be carried around easily in a bag for traveling.  There are no batteries required, so you don't have to worry about them making any noise other than the sounds that kids will make when they are acting out scenes with the characters (this has been happening a lot for me!).  One thing to keep in mind is that they are plastic toys with a little moving pieces and if one of the pieces is bent the wrong way or pulled too hard, it might fall off.  The good news is that they are easy to put back on.

So, if you are looking for something new and exciting for your kids, be sure to keep your eyes open for these toys.  These are the kinds of toys that you will want to play with with your kids!  I have been searching every local toy store, Toys R Us and Amazon.com looking for any  new ones.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Road Trip Fun!

I'm only a couple of days into summer vacation with my daughter and it's going really well.  I mean, the fact that we don't have to get woken up by an alarm in the morning is all kinds of magical.  And ice cream for dessert every night makes my girl happier than you could imagine.  I'm so looking forward to a summer with my girl.  This means lots of adventures and many of them require us getting into the car for long stretches of time.  While Quinn is a champion traveler, she is like all other kids and can get bored quickly and sick and tired of being strapped into her booster seat for hours on end.

Many of you will be traveling this summer as well, and whether you will be traveling by train, planes or automobiles, you will want to have a bag of tricks to keep your kids entertained.  Like many of you parents, I don't like to just give her an iPad for hours on end.  She also gets bored with it pretty quickly and wants to be entertained in different ways.  Entertaining a child in a car can be quite challenging but it can be used as an opportunity to work on some occupational therapy goals.   Below, you will find my top 10 activity/suggestions to help make this summer's traveling a little more entertaining for your kids and less stressful for you.

1.  AquaDoodle Travel Doodle Mat-I've been a fan of all things by Aqua Doodle for years.   I love the idea that you can use water to draw, color and create on a mat and that you can re-use it over and over again.  There is no mess at all other than a little wetness from water as you are filling up your pen.  Your kids can practice writing letters, draw pictures or play some tic-tac-toe/hangman with each other.  If you are willing to spend money and be a bit patient (these take about a month to get delivered), do a search for Tomy Aquadoodle mini mats on Amazon.  Instead of it being a blank canvas for kids to use their water marker on, they are little pictures where some of the images are blank that they can color in.  Once the water dries, the kids can use them again.

2.  Usbourne Sticker Books-my daughter is a huge fan of these books and has gone through several of them over the years.  There are a lot of different ones to choose from so you will be sure to find one that your son or daughter will enjoy.  Each book has a handful of characters that you have to dress up with stickers in a bunch of different scenes.  For example, there is one that focuses on school and you have to dress the 3 different characters for gym class, for art class, etc..  Not only are these great for improving fine motor skills, it is great for working on eye-hand coordination.  If you have a child who needs to work on language skills, you can have them tell a story about the pictures they have created.


3.  Boogie Board-the Boogie Board is an old favorite of mine; check out this post from the past that tells you all about the Boogie Board and all the occupational therapy benefits.  In summary, it is a portable LED writing tablet....think modern day Etch-A-Sketch.  Kids can draw, practice writing letters/numbers or play games with friends or siblings while in the car.  If you have kids who like to draw, but you don't really feel comfortable with them using markers or crayons in a car, this is a perfect option for them.  There is no mess to worry about!  The best part is that it is incredibly thin and lightweight, taking up almost no room in a travel bag.



4.  Water Wow Books-Melissa & Doug are known for so many things, but their collection of reusable coloring books are one my favorite.  They are especially great for younger children who aren't really into coloring yet.  All you do is fill the pen provided with water and let them color away.  As the water dries, the pictures lose their color and they can color them again.  This no mess activity can keep your kids entertained for hours!  Another great thing is that the books aren't limited to just pictures.  They have a great selection of books that help kids learn how to write letters and numbers.

5.  Crayola Color Wonder Books-you know you can't go wrong with Crayola!  Their line of Color Wonder Books are great for preschoolers who may not be quite ready to color with real markers (or any coloring tools) while in a moving vehicle.  Kids like that they can color their favorite characters in and parents love that the markers are 100% mess free so if your kid tries to color on themselves or the car, it won't matter.  To make coloring a little easier, I suggest getting your child a clipboard so they have a sturdy surface while coloring.



6.  Puffy Sticker Play Sets-these reusable puffy sticker sets are a great thing for long car (plane, train, etc.) rides.  Each set comes with over 50 reusable stickers and a two sided case to store your stickers when not in use.  The set is like a folder so you can easily keep all the stickers in one place when it isn't in use (and it will fit in perfectly in the pocket of a set in your car). Great for working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, eye-hand coordination and visual perceptual skills.  Also great for encouraging creativity and pretend-play with kids.  If you want to work on improving language skills, you can have kids tell you a short story about the scene that they worked on once it is complete.

7.  Lee Sticker Puzzles-I have been a big fan of these sticker books by Lee Publications for a long time.  I was originally drawn to them because they were affordable, motivating and easy to carry around with me from my home-based and school-based sessions.  When I started  using them, I was excited about how many occupational therapy goals could be worked on when using them.  Great for working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, eye-hand coordination and visual perceptual skills.  Also good for working on focus, attention and organization skills.  These sticker books are great for all ages as they have books that have only 8-piece puzzles and some that have as many as 45-pieces.

8.  Take 'N' Play Anywhere Games-sometimes kids need more than activity books to keep them occupied on those long car/plane/train rides, especially if you have kids who like to play together.  I love all these magnetic games by PlayMonster.  They offer a large assortment of magnetic games that are great for kids of all ages.  One of the best parts is that they games are small, don't take up a lot of room and all the pieces can be stored inside.  My favorites are the Hangman and Matching games.  Not only are these magnetic games great for passing some time, they are also great for working on improving fine motor skills such as grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills, eye-hand coordination and focus and attentional skills.

9.  Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-easily and hands down one of my absolute favorite therapeutic activity.  The Orb Factory Sticky mosaics are great for working on fine motor and grasping skills, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills.  Additionally, it's a fun and motivating way to work on improving focus, attention and organizational skills.  Kids love that they get to show off their completed project.  There are a variety of sets to choose from so if you have a kid who is into fairies or dinosaurs or pirates, you have plenty to choose from.  There are also smaller sets available for the younger crowd because you know that if a younger sibling sees their big doing something, they want to be doing it too.  These kits don't take up much room and easy to throw in a bag and take with you wherever you are going.

10.  Clipboard/Lap Pillow-earlier, I mentioned that kids might have an easier time with some of the coloring and activity books if they had a sturdy surface to lean on.  A cheap clipboard from Staples or an office supply store is all you need and it's super easy to store in the pocket of a car seat.  Each kid should have their own and you can let each of them personalize it with stickers, markers, etc.. Another great option is a lap pillow but it takes up more room.  I like this one by Kikkerland because there is a space for you to put an iPad or tablet so kids can work on an incline surface.

So here are a few of the things that I use with my daughter and always recommend to families to pick up before a long trip.  It's so important that kids are kept occupied on long trips or else everyone will go crazy.  And let's be honest here....there is only so much kids music (if any) that us parents can tolerate on those long trips.  All of the activities and toys that I have recommended are also great for taking from the car to restaurant tables.

Do you have any wonderful on the go toys, books or activities that you rely on for long trips or recommend to your families?  I have a lot of long car trips coming up with my girl and am ready to add some new things to her backpack of tricks!  I love hearing from all of you and am just a click away!

Happy Summer to you all and may your travels be filled with happy memories!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Just The Two of Us!

One of my favorite things to do is color.  Now this shouldn't come as a surprise since I blog about coloring books all the time.  But most of those posts focus on books that are appropriate for children.  While I love to color by myself to help calm down after a long day or when I am feeling particularly overwhelmed by some kind of life event, I have found that it is also an activity that my daughter and I can enjoy together.  The good news is that my 6 year old daughter has inherited my love for coloring and it's one of the things that we love to do together.  For a while, we would color side by side sharing our special pens, markers and pencils.  She would color in her princess or unicorn books while I tackled the more complex ones like Secret Garden by Johanna Basford.  As Quinn has become older, she wants to do exactly what I am doing but they are often too difficult for her, causing her to become easily frustrated and wanting to give up.  So what was once a fun and bonding experience for us began to turn into a more stressful activity than I was willing to make it.  

So, imagine my excitement when I discovered a whole set of coloring and activity books that encourage kids and their adults to color, draw and create side-by-side!  Not only that, there are a handful of books out there that allow kids to do the same thing!  Below, you will find the ones that I have tested out and fallen in love with.  

Draw With Me, Dad!  Draw, Color and Connect With Your Child-I happen to be married to a guy who loves to draw and create with our daughter.  I will do the coloring but have failed when it comes to being more creative with her.  What I love about this book is that there are these great pictures and illustrations that you need to complete together.  Since my husband is super creative, he often has an easier time coming up with big ideas than our daughter.  What I have noticed is that that tends to stress Quinn out (although this is improving and she is becoming much more creative.  Over a span of two pages, there is a scene that a dad and kid can complete together.   They give you suggestions on what you could add to your pictures if needed but you can be as creative and imaginative as you want.  

Color With Mom-there is finally a coloring book out there that is perfect for moms and their kids to work on together.  You can sit next to each other or across from each other and each color in your own page.  The pictures have a similar theme but one page is a little more complex while the other one is a bit simpler so your child can have success.  After you both complete the picture, you can display them side by side (some may even choose to frame them) for everyone to see

Color With Me: A Coloring Book to Share-from the same people who created Color With Mom.  Color With Me is intended for friends to do together.  Each spread has two different pictures with a similar theme that can be done side-by-side.  Kids are encouraged to not only color the pictures in but to also add details to the images.  

A Coloring Book for Two-Best Friends Forever-Color Together-I'm sure I am not the only one who has watched their kids on a playdate trying to negotiate what picture each of the kids will color.  What sets this book apart from others is that kids don't have to choose one because there are two identical pictures side-by-side.  Each can do the same picture just the way they want to.  

There are so many occupational therapy benefits to coloring including: 
*improving bilateral coordination skills
*improves fine motor coordination and graphomotor skills
*improves self-regulation, modulation, focus/attention and other executive functioning skills
*improves self-esteem and confidence.  When a child completes a picture and is able to show it off or display it for others to see, they end up feeling much more confident in themselves and will be much more willing to try more challenging graphomotor activities in the future

Additionally, these side-by-side activity books are a great way to encourage social and language skills in children.  The social benefits of coloring with a friend are learning things such as sharing materials, waiting your turn if the materials you want are in use and improving social conversation.  Encourage children to talk about what they are coloring or have them work together to add details to their pictures.  While you are coloring with your children, you should be talking to them about what they are doing or what is happening in the pictures.  For older kids, you can encourage them to write a sentence or two about the picture in order to work on improving handwriting skills at the same time.

One of the other great benefits of coloring with your children, especially if you have a child who is a perfectionist like mine, is for them to see that you have to patient and focus on your work.  I have found that my daughter has become more creative and less concerned about things being perfect since she has started coloring and drawing with us more.  Things used to have to be by the book and being silly made her feel anxious.  She is now the one who is initiating the additions of silly things to some of the pictures these days and she is having more fun in general.

Now that summer is officially here, parents may be looking for something to do with their kids at the end of a long day.  These coloring and drawing books are a perfect way to wind down with your kids.  If you have any questions or want some more suggestions, please don't hesitate asking.  I'm just a click away and love hearing from you all!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

It's Okay To Be Bored

It's been a while since I last posted.  Between a really magical family vacation and the end of the year school madness, I have found myself longing for summer to get here.  While I am looking forward to a lighter work schedule, my 6 year old daughter is excited for sleeping in and not having to go to school for a couple of months.

One thing I want to do this summer is follow through on a limited screen time policy with my daughter.  When the school year began, I was pretty strict about it and she had to earn being able to watch television or play with the iPad.  As the year went on, my schedule became so crazy that it became easier to get what I had to get done at night if I just let her have screen time.  For me, the summer is going to be about trying new things and being outside.  More importantly, I want her to learn what to do when she gets bored.  Kids these days don't know how to be bored....they feel like they need to be entertained constantly.   And parents who work a lot often feel badly about not spending enough time with their children and then overcompensate by never letting kids feel bored.

Boredom is a critical part of child development.  When a child is bored, it encourages them to become more creative and engage in imaginative play.  It also helps them to develop problem solving skills and become more independent throughout their day.  As parents, we sometimes feel that we need to constantly entertain our kids and provide them with as much stimulation as possible.  As a therapist, I tell parents how important it is to provide some unstructured down-time into their child's lives.  This is especially important for the kids I work with who have incredibly busy school and therapy schedules.  Being bored and not having something to do will help their development in ways that direct 1:1 attention will.  It will also help prepare them for those moments as they get older and will be required to do much of their homework and school work independently.


What can we do to help our kids defeat boredom?  While I am sure there are a million different ways to do this (and hope that this post will trigger some ideas from all of you!), I have come up with a plan for my daughter this summer.  And by plan, I mean I have a few ideas I will share that I will be using this summer to help her defeat boredom.

1.  Block off a certain part of each day where she has to play by herself.  This means no iPad, no television and no other electronic devices to keep her entertained.  Together, we will come up with activities that she can do when she feels bored and I (or any other adult caregiver) am busy with other things.  We will look around our apartment and see what she has that she can play with and keep herself entertained without another person.

2.  My daughter loves art.  She loves drawing, painting, cutting, gluing or any other thing that allows her to feel like an artist.  While we have a nice collection of art supplies, I am going to make sure that all her favorite markers work and that she has a fresh supply of glue, tape, etc..  I am also going to find something new and special to throw in her art box each week for her to discover and play with.  Each week, I will take pictures of her art projects and at the end of the summer, we will make a photo book so she can remember all the fun and creative things she did during her summer.

3.  I am still researching but one thing I want to do is find a really cool and motivating project for my daughter to work on throughout the summer.  At first I was thinking of getting her a really big Lego set, but she's still a little too young to be able to complete those big sets by herself.  One of my ideas is to pick up one of those giant coloring pages/posters that can be spread out on the floor and when she is feeling bored, she can spend some time working on it.  The best part is is that when you want to, it can be a good family or friend project.  My favorite is this What a Colorful World one by Pirasta since my daughter has become obsessed with learning as much as she can about the world we live in.

4.  Since my daughter loves her special mom and dad play time, I will be sure to reward her with something special each week this summer.  Whether it being a trip to the beach, exploring new parts of New York City or just a special meal together, it will be something that she has to look forward to at the end of each week.  I know that this will be a huge motivator for her and I am excited to be able to plan some really fun weekly excursions.

I am clearly not an expert in this, but am hoping that this summer will teach both me and my daughter about how to handle being bored.  While I think it is incredibly important for her to learn how to problem solve and figure out what she can do to overcome boredom, I want to actively work on not getting frustrated with her when she repeatedly tells me she is bored.  I imagine there will be some resistance, but I do believe that being bored and teaching her how to be able to make choices to defeat being bored will help her become even more creative and independent than she is now.

Any of you readers have any specific thoughts/ideas about how to beat the boredom blues?  I would love to be able to add to my summer plan.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Soaring Into Summer

It seems like just yesterday I was preparing for the beginning of the new school year.  It was a new experience for me...my only child was entering kindergarten.  She was way more emotionally prepared for it than I was.  Now it is May and we are thinking about summer vacation.  Where did the time go??

End of the year can be an equally exciting and scary thing for many of the kids I work with.  They have become accustomed to their routines, seeing their friends and having a place to go to every day. It can also be a challenge for parents and caregivers who have to figure out how to keep their children entertained for the entire summer.   I find that the end of the year can also cause parents to panic about their children regressing and losing some of the skills that they worked so hard to gain over the year.  

Here are a few ideas I share with parents to help them prepare for the end of the school year and to get them through the long summer months.  Hopefully some of these will help you and your little ones ease into the summer.  

1.  Countdown Calendar-with the end of the year comes a lot of activities out of the routine for kids.  this can be fun, but also overwhelming.  One way to help kids plan for the end of the school year is by putting up a calendar for the May and June that they can see each day (I suggest a dry erase one or a blank one that you can fill in).  Be sure to include any special events like field trips, end of year parties, concerts, etc.. In addition to putting the dates on the calendar, you can also include how many days of school are left in each box. This visual reminder may ease some of the stress and anxiety a child might experience towards the end of the year.

2.  End of the Year Gifts-for some children, saying goodbye to teachers and therapists can be really hard.  They have come to depend on seeing these people every week day and formed some meaningful relationships with them.  The idea of having to say goodbye can be hard and cause some children to get really anxious.  Having your child be part of the gift process could help ease some of that anxiety.  One of the things I am doing with my daughter is having her reflect on her school year and think about her favorite memory with both of her teachers.  Since she essentially learned how to read using the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems, so we have purchased his last book in the series called The Thank You Book and she will write a message to her teachers inside.  

In addition to that, we will be making a homemade gift for them.  If you haven't heard of Project Kid, I recommend you take a look at it.  Tons of great craft ideas that your child can make and give to his/her teacher at the end of the year.
I really like this Clay Ring Dish using Fimo or Sculptey clay.  Each block of clay (which comes in a ton of fabulous colors) makes 4 bowls
Supplies
-a block of clay
-gold leafe paint pen
-small oven-safe bowls
-rolling pin
Directions
1.  Roll clay to about 1/4" thick.  Trace around a small bowl or shape it freehand into a circle
2.  Lightly press circular disk of clay into the small bowl (make sure it's oven safe) and bake in an oven at 275 degrees for 15 minutes
3.  Have your children decorate the bowls (maybe personalizing for each of their teachers) with the gold leaf pen

3.  Summer Journal Activity-some people ask me what they can do to keep up with writing and such during the summer months when they won't be coming to therapy quite as much.  Many of my kids are in camp for long hours or traveling for much of the summer.  Instead of having kids come to therapy exhausted after a long day of camp, I give parents activities that they can do at night or on the weekends.  Keeping a summer journal is a fun way for kids to work on handwriting.  There are a lot of different ways to keep journals.  One idea is to use a polaroid camera and have your child take a few pictures each week.  They can glue the picture in a book and then write about it.  For younger children who aren't really writing yet, you can have them tell you a story about the picture and you can write out what they want.  This is a great thing for kids to bring with them back to school to talk about what they did all summer.  

4.  Pen Pals-the end of the school year often means that friends part ways for several months which can be hard for some kids.  Letter writing seems to be a dying art but something that can be a fun and motivating way to work on handwriting.  My daughter loves nothing more than when she receives an actual letter or postcard in the mail.  This year, I am going to have her begin to write letters to people.  She has a lot of older kids in her life who go to camp and I am going to have her write to them while they are away.  This is also one of my suggestions I give to parents during the summer.  Even if you aren't really going anywhere, you can pick up fun postcards from day trips and send those out.  It would be particularly helpful to find friends or family members who will write back to your child in order to keep them motivated to spend time writing during their summer vacation. To get them really excited, you can have them design their own stationary to write on.  Maintaining friendships over the summer months can be hard as kids spread apart, but writing letters is a great way to keep them connected.  



5. Summer Bucket List-not everyone goes to camp or away for the summer.  Some families I know use the summer to do lots of fun family activities and don't want to be stuck to a daily routine and schedule after the school year.  A good friend of mine, and a former NYS public school teacher, has two sons that she must keep busy during the summer.  To quote her "Boredom only goes so far. And frankly we need a schedule to keep us going!"  She has done different things each summer to organize their activities trying to balance fun with work/educational based activities.  One year she took a bunch of popsicle sticks and wrote all the summer learning activities on one set and the screen time choices on other sticks.  
With my daughter entering first grade in September and the academic expectations increasing, I feel like we need to spend time this summer keeping up on her reading, writing and math.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to sit down and start brainstorming about things she wants to do this summer. Living in New York City, there are a lot of fun adventures we can go on that we will include on her list.  Additionally, she loves to bake and craft so we will look for new recipes and crafts to try over the summer.  Mixed in with all the fun and adventure, will be built in time to work in all the learning things!

So here are just a few ideas for making the end of the school year as smooth as can be for you and your kids.  Do you have any great ideas, activities or anything that you do with your children or that you suggest to the families you work with?  I would love to hear some of the other great things people do and I am sure my readers would love to as well.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The (Pet) Doctor Is In!


It's been a while since I last did a post on apps here.  I think it might have to do with the fact that I am not so into change and I keep using the same ones.  Cause let's be honest, if it isn't broken, why fix it? Sounds crazy, but that is how I feel about a good app.  If you want to read about some of my favorite apps, you can read this post from this past December or this one from last September.

I just replaced my cracked iPad and with that came a cleansing of sorts.  You know those Facebook status updates that talks about cleaning out their friend list?  Well, I did that with my apps.  I am carefully picking and choosing which ones to put on my new iPad and spending some time trying to find new apps that will motivate the kids I work with.

I feel like it is my duty to share good apps when I find them.  Especially when said apps will work on improving a variety of occupational and speech and language goals.  I do realize that the use of an iPad during therapy isn't for everyone but I have found that when used in conjunction with more hands on kind of therapeutic modalities, it can be highly effective and motivating.  Just to be clear, use of the iPad during my sessions is a treat and is only used for a short period of time.

My new favorite app is one called Little Fox Animal Doctor created by Fox and Sheep digital publishing.  Little Fox Animal Doctor is just one of the many apps I have created by this brilliant company (for fun, check out Chomp, Pony Style Box and Unicorn Glitterbox).  I was initially drawn to this app because the kids I work with love any of the apps I have that allow them to be a doctor.  They have played Pepi Doctor and Toca Boca Pet Doctor for hours so I was excited to offer another choice to them.  In this app, there are 5 different animals with 15 different possible ailments that you need to help cure.  Whether it be the bat who tore her wing that needs to be stitched up or the mole who hit his head on a rock while digging through the ground, kids get to play the doctor and take care of the cute animals who live in the forest.

Little Fox Animal Doctor has become a fast favorite amongst the kids I work with.  Here are just a few of the things that I like about it:
*before you can actually treat your animal patient, you have to watch a short video that shows how they got hurt.  Before we can move on, I have the children tell me what they saw and explain to me why their patient is there.
*this app is a wonderful tool to work on improving speech and language skills.  Jacki Barredo, a colleague and speech therapist in NYC says "Great app for speech therapists to work on goals for: sequencing, memory recall, and HOW questions.  The visuals are very dynamic and colorful, which is also great for working on descriptors."
*while the characters remain the same every time you play, their illnesses and the plan of treatment changes.  This makes it so the kids are not memorizing what they are doing but actually thinking about and what they have to do.  I love that it isn't as predictable as some of the other doctor ones I
use.
*great for working on visual skills such as tracking, matching and organization.  On the top left hand part of the screen, there are pictures of the tools that you need to use to help your patient.  You then have to follow the steps provided in the correct order by finding the tools you need from the rotating medicine cabinet on the top right.  If you look at the picture to the right, you will see there are also some mini-games embedded within the app.  Here my friend Mack is fixing the broken bones of Ms. Owl who hurt her back while cleaning the house.
*great for working on improving executive functioning skills, such as focus/attention, modulation and regulation, planning and organizational skills.  For some of the kids I work with, I have them tell me their plan before helping their patient as I find this helps them organize and pace themselves while working.

As I have said in previous posts about apps and the iPad, there are lots of opportunities to work on additional goals while using the iPad.  For example, if you are working on improving grasping skills, have a child use a stylus when playing games.  My favorites are the Cosmonaut stylus and the crayon stylus by Fred & Friends.  Both are wide which helps to encourage a more age-appropriate grasp.  Another thing that can be done, which I do all the time, is have kids lie prone on a bolster or in the net swing while using the iPad.  This helps work on improving upper body strength and neck control/strength.  Kids are often so engaged by the app that they don't realize how hard they are working and can maintain this position for longer periods of time.  If you have a child who needs to work on improving social skills, you can have them play the iPad with a sibling or friend.  They will have to work together to make choices, talk through a plan and then execute said plan.

If you are looking for a new and engaging app for your children, be sure to check out Little Fox Animal Doctor.  It's one of those apps that are not only educational but fun for you to play with your children.  If you have a great family app that you have been using, please send them along.  I am only a click away and love hearing from each and every one of you.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Sometimes It's Good To Manipulate

One of the most common goals I have to work on is improving hand strength with the kids I work with.  Decreased grasp strength leads to children having delayed fine motor skills, including how to grasp a writing instrument and manipulate small objects. It also has an impact on children being able to be independently dress and undress themselves by manipulating buttons, snaps and other fasteners. It's important to find creative ways to work on building strength since it's not uncommon for kids with decreased grasp strength and delayed fine motor skills to have self-esteem and confidence issues.

When it comes to manipulative toys, everyone knows about Legos.  They are awesome and the most accessible manipulate toy in toys stores these days.  Personally, I have a daughter who has been collecting the Disney Princess and Elves collections over the last few months and we both have a ton of fun putting them together.  But if you are looking for something a little different to work with, there are a lot of options out there that may actually be a bit more affordable and lend themselves to encouraging creativity in young children.  An added bonus to all of the manipulative sets I will talk about are that they are great for working on improving hand strength, eye-hand coordination and bilateral coordination.  I can also tell you from my personal experience with all of the following building toys is that parents will have just as much fun playing with them!
Straws and Connectors Building Sets-thanks to an awesome SEIT/friend, I was introduced to straws and connectors.  There is nothing fancy about these toys but the kids love to build and create with them.  There are visual instructions that can be followed but oftentimes, it's great for kids to work together and build what comes to their minds.  The nice thing about these is that you can build something small or something really large that kids can interact with.  The kids that attend the social skills class I co-teach (The Meeting House in NYC) worked together to build a giant house that they could sit inside.  So in addition to being great for working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, they also can work on improving gross motor and motor planning skills.


Multicolor Snowflake Building Blocks-these snowflake shaped manipulative toys are perfect for encouraging kids to expand their imagination and creativity skills.  Whether children follow the visuals that come with the snowflake pieces (great for improving visual perceptual skills) or build something on their own, they will work on improving grasping skills, bilateral coordination and work on increasing hand strength in a fun and creative way.
Creative Toys Building Blocks 3D Puzzles-I saw these when I was working at The Meeting House last week and loved them at first sight.  One of the things I like best is that the kids were working together to build these elaborate creations.  It was fun to see how they were taking simple shapes and different size bars and pushing them together to connect them to build and create.  Kids who typically had a hard time working together and compromising with their friends were successfully planning out what they were going to make and helping each other add onto the structure.  In addition to working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, these are great for working on learning colors and shapes and sorting skills (have kids sort by shapes, colors, size, etc.).
Tinkertoys-there are certain toys that have been around for a long time and even though they have changed a bit over time, the purpose is still the same.  Tinkertoys are one of those toys.  I remember playing with them as a child and spending hours building and creating with friends.  This set from Fat Brain Toys is similar to the classic set from my childhood.  I liked how the straws/rods bend a bit so kids can add more details to their structures.  Spokes and spools snap together, bendable straws help connect pieces and use miscellaneous wheels, flags, washers, etc. to create and build whatever comes to a child's imagination.

The best part of all the toys above is that there is no right or wrong way to use them.  You can follow step-by-step directions if you want to, but you can also allow kids to interact with them and create with them using their imagination.  Given the amount of structured work our children have in school these days, it's important to offer lots of opportunites for kids to have open-ended and unstructured play.  Kids need to be able to have time to let their imaginations grow and all of the aforementioned manipulation toys do just that.  They can all be used independently or used with friends or siblings to work on improving critical social skills such as turn taking, compromise, flexibility and language skills.

I've had such fun testing and playing with all the toys written about above.  I am always looking for new products to keep the kids I work with excited and motivated to come to our sessions.  Do you have any great building toys that you/your kids love?  Please share your ideas with me and my readers if you do.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.