Saturday, February 28, 2015

App Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Let's Boogie

A couple of years ago, my daughter received a Boogie Board as a birthday gift.  She was a little young and totally uninterested in drawing or learning how to write.  As a result, my husband and I spent more time playing with this toy and it eventually ended up in the bottom of a basket of toys.  Fast forward about a year or two and we have a little girl has blossomed into an artist and a kid who really wants to practice writing letters and words all the time.  Every time I turn around, there is another drawing or list of words on scraps of paper in our house.  While we try and save as much as we can, many of them are not what Quinn had in mind so they end up getting thrown away.  As she has become more interested in spending her free time engaged in drawing or writing, I have found ourselves trying to use other less wasteful things.  She can spend hours working on an easel but that isn't always so easy to take with us when we are on the go so I was happy to remember our Boogie Board and pull it out of the basket.

For those of you who don't know about it, the Boogie Board is an ultra-light LCD writing tablet that can take the place of paper and pencils.  It's great for you on the go people who want to encourage your kids to draw/write and not always be attached to the iPad, iPhone, games, etc. It can be used for a variety of things and by kids of all ages.  The Boogie Board comes in a variety of colors which can sometimes make a big deal to certain kids (for example, my girlie girl loves the pink and flowered one).  Kids can draw, write and play games on the board and with a simple touch of a button, the screen clears and they can begin again.  If they make a mistake, it can be erased and they can try again.  Since the Boogie Board is so light weight, it can be thrown in a backpack or a purse without being too much of a burden.  I love looking out in a waiting room and seeing kids playing on theirs to pass the time between appointments.  We love to take ours in the car or on the subway to keep Quinn occupied and make the ride go by much faster.

I have not only been using the Boogie Board at home.  It has been a great tool to use at work and the kids love to use it.  It has been used for several purposes depending on the goals and needs of each particular child.  For example, it's a great tool to use for making To Do lists with kids who need the structure and routine.  I will write down our schedule for the session and after they complete each activity, they can then cross it off.  For kids who are working on handwriting, you can actually have them write the list for your session.

My favorite thing to use the Boogie Board for is to practice handwriting.  I tend to use it in conjunction with different iPad apps which can be a big motivator for those kids who like to avoid any handwriting activity.  My go to handwriting apps are LetterSchool or Writing Wizard as they are the most interactive and not just about tracing letters.  Kids will practice a letter on the iPad and then immediately pick up the Boogie Board to practice writing the letter.  There are several handwriting games you can play with kids based on their skill level.  For example, for kids who are learning how to read, you can make the sound of the letter and they then have to write the letter.  Another fun thing to do is to write words with some letters missing and have the kids guess what letter goes where and fill in the words.  If you have really creative kids, you can have them makeup their own handwriting games!

Some of the other occupational therapy goals that can be focused on using the Boogie Board are:
Improve Grasping Skills-each Boogie Board comes with a thin metallic stylus.  Any stylus is good for encouraging a proper grasping pattern, but I find that the stylus that comes with it is just the right size for adding a pencil grip onto.  I encourage the kids I work with to use a proper grasp whenever they use the stylus.
Improve Graphomotor Skills-I sometimes feel guilty about the amount of paper that I waste on daily basis practicing writing letters and numbers with the kids I work with.  Oftentimes, the kids end up leaving said papers on the floor in the waiting room and they never even make it home to show off to their parents.  With the Boogie Board, a child can practice over and over again without the guilt of what waste we are producing.  If kids want to show off their work to their people, you can take pictures and email it to them!
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-I love to have kids sit on the platform or bolster swing while using the Boogie Board as it forces them to use two hands.  They must hold the board with one hand and hold the stylus with the other.  When on a swing, they are also working on building trunk control and strength at the same time.
Improve Social Skills-I like to find ways to improve social development with all toys/products I use at work.  The Boogie Board can be used to encourage social skills by having kids play simple games together on it.  Tic-Tac-Toe, the Dot Game and Hangman are three good games that can be played in small group settings.

I love that the Boogie Board can be used for so many different things by children of all ages and it doesn't cost too much (approximately $30).  The Original Boogie Board can be found online but I have also seen it in several of the smaller, privately owned toy stores in my neighborhood.  While you may end up paying a little more in these stores, I always try and support small businesses whenever I possibly can.

Do you use a Boogie Board while working with your kids?  Do you have any other fun games or activities that you do while using it?  I would love to hear from any of you if you do.  I'm only a click away and love hearing from you all!

Friday, February 6, 2015

I Love Love!

Growing up, my family didn't do much to celebrate Valentine's Day.  My mom would pick up cupcakes or cookies with hearts on them and we would make cards for school, but that was it.  It was nothing against love or anything like that, it just wasn't one of those holidays we paid much attention to.  When I began working with children, I realized that there were so many great learning opportunities that could come out of the holiday and started to do more with it.  Now that I have my own daughter who loves pink, red, hearts and all the other things that you think about when it comes to Valentine's Day, I've gotten way more into it.  And since Pinterest makes it so easy to come up with ideas, I have found that I enjoy it so much more!  Here are a few of my favorite projects that I plan on doing with the kids I work with over the next weeks.  I have tried to find projects that can be completed over the course of one or two sessions so the kids don't get too frustrated or bored by it.

I Love You to Pieces Picture Frame-Whether you have old puzzles that you no longer use (maybe because you have lost a few pieces or kids just aren't into it any more), or have those blank do-it-yourself puzzles, this activity is quick and totally personal. You will need:
*Popsicle Sticks
*Crayons, Paint, Markers, Etc.

1.  Color 4 popsicle sticks and a handful of puzzle pieces in whatever medium and color your child chooses.

2.  Glue the popsicle sticks together and place the puzzle pieces along the sticks.

3.  Once dry, have a grownup write "I Love You to Pieces" along the frame.  Turn around and glue a picture to the backside of the frame.

Fingerprint/Eraser Heart Picture-you can make this on whatever background you want.  I am going to get some heavy stock paper and cut them into an oversized postcard so the kids can decorate the front with a heart and then turn around and work on their writing skills by writing messages to the recipient  on the back of the card.  I have seen this done on a canvas and a blank tote bag/apron (just remember you will want to use something more permanent on these things).  There are a couple of ways to do this.  The first way is that you can cut a large heart, tape it onto the surface you are working with and either use the eraser or your fingers to make different colored dots all around the heart.  Remove the heart when you are all finished and you will have a plain heart in the middle that you can write a message in.  The other way to do this is to cut a large heart out and tape the outline of the heart onto your working surface (so it looks like a stencil).  Use the eraser or your fingertips and fill in the blank space.  Be sure to have the children put dots all around the edge of the stencil so there is a definite heart shape when you pull the stencil off.  You will need:
*heavy stock paper/canvas/blank tote bags
*pink and red washable inkpads
*pencils with brand new/unused erasers
*wipes for cleaning hands between color changes
*canvas, tote bag, etc.

1.  Depending on the skill level of the child you are working with, you can have them cut out a heart or you can it out and have it ready for them.  This will be placed in the middle of the surface you are working on and the kids will work all around it.

2.  I have kids use one thumb for one color ink and the other thumb for another and first tell them to place their prints all around the edge of the heart.  Once they are done with that, they can fill the blank space all around the heart.

Toilet Paper Tube Heart Stamp-a very easy and inexpensive craft project to do with even your youngest of kids.  Take a paper tube and push the middle down until it makes a heart; take a piece of tape and wrap it around to hold the shape. You can use paint or a stamp pad and have the kids dip the end of the stamp into it and have them place it on a piece of paper after.  Depending on the age of the child you are working with, you can grade the activity.  For the little ones, let them go crazy and put them all over the paper.  For older children, you can place targets on the paper that they have to place the hearts on.  Once the hearts are dried, you can have them color the hearts in.  For even older kids, you can practice working on handwriting by having them write messages to their loved ones.  You will need:
1.  Toilet paper/paper towel tubes
2.  Red and pink paints or stamp pads
3.  White construction paper
4.  Crayons, markers, colored pencils

Hole Punch Hearts-another very easy, fun and quick activity that your kids will love to do and that
can be adapted for each child's individual skill set.  For younger children who haven't yet mastered cutting, give them pre-cut hearts and let them punch holes all over the heart.  For older children, have them cut out the hearts independently and then let them use the hole punch after.  You can set some guidelines to work on improving attention and organizational skills like punch holes only around the border of the heart.  This is also nice because it leaves space in the middle of the heart for children to write personal messages to their loves ones.  You will need:
1.  Pink, red, white paper
2.  Hole puncher (you can use a circle one or if you are really fancy, find a heart shaped hole puncher)
3.  Scissors
4.  Yarn or string

Arts and crafts can be great for working on so many occupational therapy skills/goals including:
*improving grasping skills
*improving eye-hand coordination
*improving bilateral coordination skills
*improving creativity
*improving self-esteem and confidence
*improve executive functioning skills such as focus and attention, sequencing and organization

One of the things I love most about Valentine's Day is that you can talk to kids about empathy and how you can make other people feel happy.  Too often, holidays are about getting things from others but this day should be more about giving to others to show them how much you love them.  I've been working on making Valentines with my almost 5 year old daughter, and I love watching her work so hard to make them just right for her friends and family.  The level of pride she feels just making them is great, but I can't wait for her to see how happy she is making people when they receive them.

Do you have any fabulous, quick and simple activities that you enjoy making with your children that you want to share with me and my readers?  I am looking forward to focusing on love and crafts next week during all of my sessions and would love to have a variety of activities for the kids to choose from.  I'm always a click away and love hearing from you!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Launch Into This

My daughter is at an age where games are really fun for her, especially those that we can play together as a family.  This summer, Quinn went to her cousin Lila's birthday party and got to play with one of her awesome new games and fell in love with it.  I had been on the lookout for Connect 4 Launchers but never had any luck.  So when Quinn received it for Christmas this year, I was really excited!  More importantly, she was really excited and immediately took it out and we played with her cousins, aunt and uncle!

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you know my love of pretty basic and battery/sound free games.  Of course, there are the exceptions for things like the new Lite Brite and Wok N' Roll.  The classic game of Connect 4 is still one of my favorites, especially when working with kids in small groups.  It's great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, grasping skills and focus/attentional skills.  It's a class game that kids always love to play and over the years they have taken the game and made it more hands on and exciting.

Connect 4 Launchers takes Connect 4 to the next level and adds some pretty awesome occupational therapy skills that will be sure to make this a favorite of kids and adults alike.  The goal of the game is the same:  the first player to get 4 checkers in a row is the winner.  The thing that makes this game so different is that instead of slipping the checker pieces into the slots, the players have special launching tools that will send your checker pieces zooming through the air to land in one of the two levels.  They are easy to use and so far, pretty durable.  The game can be played different ways which is good for making it more challenging for older kids who are getting tired of the regular game.

Connect 4 Launchers is great for working on the following occupational therapy goals:

Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-one of my favorite things about this game is the checker launcher.  Not only is it really fun to launch a checker piece into a target, it is a great tool for working on improving bilateral coordination skills.  It's hard to come up with fun ways to encourage kids to use both hands during activities, but Connect 4 Launchers makes it really fun!  Kids will realize without anyone having to tell them that if they don't use both hands, things just won't work well.  Once they place the checker piece on the launcher, they need to use one hand to hold the launcher still and the other to flick the launcher.
Improving Eye-Hand Coordination-kids really need to maintain their visual attention to the game board in order to be the first person to get four checker pieces in a row.  Unlike the original game of Connect 4, you really have to combine your visual attention with your eye-hand coordination.  When playing the game, each child (or team if that is the way you are playing) is given a special launching tool.  You place your checker piece on the launcher and aim.  In order for it to work, a child has to hold the launcher still with one hand and push it down with the other.
Improving Organizational Skills-one of the great aspects of this game is that you can work on improving executive functioning skills such as organizational skills.  For my older kids, I like to have them set the game up, sort the yellow and red pieces into piles, etc..  If playing with a group of children, I like to have one person who has played the game explain the rules of the game to the other.  Not only does this work on improving organizational skills, it helps to improve self-esteem and confidence when one child can act as a leader.  This game also works on improving planning skills.  I guarantee the kids will just launch the pieces as quickly as possible when they first play this game.  I let kids do that and after they are all done, talk to them about slowing down, moving the launcher, encourage them to look at the game and see where they should aim the launcher in order to get their four pieces in a row.
Improve Focus/Attentional Skills-for older kids, this is a super motivating game to work on focus and attentional skills.  When playing this game, you really need to be able to focus on the end goal of getting 4 game pieces in a row.  For some kids, the act of putting the game piece on the launcher and just shooting can end up being really fun, but also distracting.  It may take verbal reminders from the grownup, but keep reminding and make sure the kids playing the game are focusing on working towards the end goal of getting 4 in a row.  What I tend to see with many of the kids I work with who have focus and attentional difficulties is that they rush through the game to get rid of all of their pieces; what they don't attend to is the point of the game of getting 4 piece in a row in order to win.  When playing the game, a child has to not only focus on where they need to aim their piece, but where they need to move the launcher in order to shoot the checker piece so it can end up in a place where they may win.  Improve Social Skills-what I love about this game is that it can be played 1:1 or in small groups.  When my daughter first got this game, we played in teams of two:  one grownup and one kid against another grownup and kid.  If you have a social skills group, you can have two kids play against each other.  Great for encouraging kid to work as a team to come up with solutions for the best moves to win the game.  Whenever you are playing a game, you can work on good to be a good winner and how to be a good loser.

There are a lot of great games out there, but I am always happy to find new ones, especially at this time of the year when I am getting bored with all the games and activities we have been using all year.  I especially like when classic games come up with new versions of themselves that are as good as the original.  Connect 4 Launchers is not only a great family game, but a great game to have in a classroom or a therapeutic environment.  It's easy to set up and can be adapted based on a child's age and skill level.  Kids can also be creative and create their own rules if they wanted to.

Do you have any new games to share with me or my readers?  I'd love to hear from anyone with suggestions...we have a birthday coming up in our house and would love to have some new games to give her since she is so into them.  Would love to hear from you with any suggestions or questions!  I am only a click away!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

All Lit Up!

So Santa was really good to my girl this year.  He not only brought her all of the crazy things she asked for (he failed on the real live unicorn but she is keeping her fingers crossed he comes through next year), he also brought the toys her mom would have wished for.  He must have known that I had some concerns about her fine motor skills and the way she grasps objects.  With that in mind, he brought her the new/updated Lite Brite.  I wasn't sure if it would be a hit with her (or me for that matter).  I tend to not like the updated versions of great games...remember how they updated Perfection so instead of 25 shapes to match you only have 9?  Total bummer of an update.   I'm happy to report that all of the updates made to this latest version of Lite Brite are good ones...ones that actually make this an amazing toy for not only my little girl, but also for the kids that I work with that have fine motor, visual motor or sensory processing difficulties.

I have been a huge fan of Lite Brite since I began working as an OT.  In the almost 15 years since I began working in schools and private practice, I have tried just about every version that has come out! Many of them may be in storage in my basement right now but for one reason or another, haven't made it out of the basement to my office.  While I loved the original version of Lite Brite, it was large and took up a lot of space.  And you were limited to how you could use it because it needed to be plugged in in order to work.  The screen was also large, so it took several sessions to finish the picture and often times, it would get messed up and the kids wouldn't want to fix it.  I'll admit, that I haven't been using it much in therapy lately because I have found a lot of other things to use that will accomplish the same goals.  I'm excited to bring Lite Brite back into the rotation at work in the new year!

First, let me tell you about all the new features of the Lite Brite:
*the magic screen blocks the light when pegs are removed, making it easier for kids to make their own designs.  I can't wait to try having kids practice making letters, numbers and shapes with this
*the templates are reusable.  I used to get so upset that once the design was completed, you couldn't easily use it again.  Not only are the templates reusable, the paper is thicker and more durable for multiple uses.
*templates are smaller making it easier for children to complete a design in one sitting if you want.
*the board comes with 8 templates but there are also two refill sets you can buy each with another 8 templates and pegs that go with the them.  Check out the Lite Brite Underwater and Lite Brite Animal refill sets.
*the pegs now come in different shapes and designs to help make more detailed and realistic looking pictures.  There are also animal and nature pegs.
*the storage box can be attached and detached for the actual Lite Brite unit.  One of the versions I have has a door that flips open and with just a little bit of a bump, they would all fall out and get everywhere.  For some of my younger kids, I like to dump out all the pegs onto a flat surface so they can see better.
*the square/flat shape makes it great for us therapists to be creative with where and how we have the kids use this.  I plan on having kids work on a design while lying on their belly on the net swing or putting it up on an inclined surface so they have to reach up to place the pegs in.

In addition to everything I have already mentioned, the Lite Brite is great for working on a variety of occupational therapy goals including:
Improve Fine Motor Skills-the reason I have always loved Lite Brite was because it was a great tool to work on improving grasping skills in a motivating way.  It's also great for working on improving grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills.  Depending on what your goals are for a child, you can adapt your rules for completion of the template.  For example, if you want to work on improving grasp strength, have a child use a pair of zoo sticks to pick out the peg that they need.  If you have a child working on developing more mature in-hand manipulation skills, give them a certain number of pegs they have to pick up at a time and challenge them not to drop them from their palm while they are putting the pegs in the board.
Improve Visual Motor/Perceptual Skills-one of the things I really like about this new version is that the pegs not only come in varying colors, but different shapes and designs as well.  This requires a child to be attentive to what shape they are looking for to complete their design.  It's also great for working on visual tracking and visual discrimination since the pieces are hard to distinguish at times.  A child needs to pay careful attention to whether or not they need a square or circle peg which can be tricking to do sometimes.
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-unlike some of the older versions of Lite Brite, this one offers smaller sized designs that can realistically be completed in one sitting for some of the older children I work with.  This can be a great way to work on improving attention and focus.  Additionally, you can work on improving organizational skills by changing your expectations for the kids.  For example, you can have a child pick one color to work on at at time and have them count, find and sort all the pegs they will need.
Improve Social Skills-I've always found that Lite Brite can be a great activity to do with a small group of children because it requires turn taking, helping each other out and can foster conversation. Especially when working with older and more

I know that everyone is probably on toy overload right now and the idea of adding something else into their collection is the last thing you are thinking about.  However, if you are looking for a new toy to add to your bag of tricks at work in 2015, I highly recommend the new and improved Lite Brite.

Now that I have shared my favorite gift that my child received this year, I would love to hear from any of you about yours.  I'm certainly not in any rush to buy new toys for home, but as the new year approaches, I want to have fresh ideas to motivate my kids at work to continue to work towards reaching their goals.  More importantly, I want to make sure they are having fun while with me at the gym!  I am only a click away and love hearing from each and every one of you!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Big Kids Still Like Toys!

As I finish up my holiday shopping this weekend, I realize that many of the kids that I give to have gotten older and require the next level of gifts.  Because many of these kids are picky about what they wear, I tend to avoid buying clothes.  Buying toys for older kids/tweens can be tricky but there are so many great things out there to choose from.  I love finding things that allow kids to be creative and think outside of the box.  They spend enough time engaged in school activities that they have to complete a certain way that I want to give things that allow kids to think, create and will build self-esteem and confidence.  And while it's probably way easier to get gift cards, I love seeing kids actually open up real gifts.  

Here are a few of my favorite things you can get for the older kids that work not only work on a variety of skills, but are kid tested and approved for lots of fun!

Project Kid-do you have a crafter on your hands?  If you do, Project Kid is a perfect gift for them.  This book is filled with over 100 activities that can be completed using many items in your home.  Kids can learn how to weave, make pom poms and design many things to decorate the home or bedroom.  I love the Rubber-Band art and Puff-Pain Window Clings projects and plan on doing these with my older kids at work.  To make this an even better gift, go through the book and pick out an activity you think the recipient will enjoy and buy all the supplies needed to complete it to give with the gift to get them started.  

Diggin Wobble Deck-this gross motor gift is designed to get kids up and moving around.  It is also great for working on improving executive functioning skills such as following directions, memory and focus/attention.  Essentially, this is a balance board and Simon Says game combined.  The board has five numbered, colored edges and each one has a sound associated with it.  It will call out numbers, colors and sounds a child has to shift their weight so that part of the board touches the ground.  There are three modes and multiple difficulty settings so kids can be constantly challenged.  

Fashion Design Kits-Creativity for Kids by Faber Castell has some amazing craft kits and I especially love the ones they have for older kids.  This kit comes with all the supplies needed to design and create a dress.  I like this one because it includes a 12" dress mannequin that you can put your dress on once it is completed.  Not only does it come with fabric samples and thread but all kinds of fun embellishments so a kid can be as creative as they want.  Great for not only working on all kinds of fine motor skills, but also great for working on executive functioning skills and encouraging creativity.  Follow this link to see all the different fashion and fiber sets you can choose from!

Spirograph Deluxe-I remember spending hours and hours playing with my Spirograph sets as a child
and I love that this game is still around.  Choose from the gears and wheels, place it on your paper and create whirling and spiraling patterns.  I like to give kids blank cards and have them design the covers of their own stationary.  Kids never get bored with this activity because each time they do it, they can create something new and wonderful.  The set comes with gears and wheels, colored pens, paper and comes in a box perfect for storing everything.  If you want to add something to the gift, get a bunch of different colored blank cards and envelopes so the recipient can create their own stationary.  Great for working on bilateral coordination skills, improve eye-hand coordination and graphomotor skills.  

Make Your Own Comic-Lulu Jr. is an amazing company that has created products that encourage creativity, builds self-esteem and strengthens literacy and writings kills.  This awesome comic book kit gives kids the chance to write, illustrate and publish their very own book.  Once their story is complete and they have finished filling in all the pages, they send it in to Lulu Jr and they will print the comic out so it looks like a real comic book!  What could be more motivating and exciting for kids than to see something they have created turned into a real book?  

Little Bits Kits-for those kids who are interested in learning more about science, engineering and building things, look no further.  The base kit comes with 10 color-coded modules that when snapped together, can make over 150, 000 circuit combinations.  There are other kits to choose from which allow you to do different kinds of engineering activities.  Kids are encouraged to design tons of different circuit sequences and come up with imaginative uses for those circuits including making a dimmer switch, a motorized car and a night light.  

So here are a few of my top picks for the bigger kids you may have to shop for.  While I know that many of the kids say they are too old for toys, I don't believe that you are ever too old to get toys at the holidays!  Do you have any other great gifts that you like to give older kids in your life?  I would love to hear from you about what has been a hit with your tweens.  I am just a click away and love hearing from you all and getting new ideas!  

If you are still shopping and looking for more ideas, be sure to check out my complete 2014 Holiday Gift Guide.  You will find dozens and dozens of toys and games here for children of all ages.  


Friday, November 28, 2014

Let's Get Crafty!

I could spend hours looking at the craft section of any toy store.  Arts and crafts are a dream for occupational therapists because they can work on so many skills including fine motor, visual motor/perceptual/spatial and executive functioning skills.  What I love most, is that at the end of all their hard work, a child has something to show off.  Many of the gifts below are craft kits that can be done in one sitting or over time.  I have seen every single one of these gifts at local toy stores so be sure to check out your local stores before hitting up the internet...remember tomorrow is Small Business Saturday and these people work so hard and give so much to your community.  I know that I will be hitting up my toy stores this weekend when I begin my shopping.

Below, you will find just a sampling of the many craft kits and supplies you can get for your kids.  I know that last year was all about the Rainbow Loom (which is still an awesome gift) but there is so much more out there that will keep your kids creating for hours!

Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-these craft kits have been on my list for years and years and each year, they come up with even more sets.  They now have sets for girls and boys, little kids and big kids.  There are bracelets, prince and princess crowns, treasure and jewelry boxes and SO much  more.  Each set comes with different colored square stickers and a guide for what color goes on what number on the empty mosaic grid.  These are great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, executive functioning skills such as organization, focus and attention and visual motor, perceptual and tracking skills.   Kids love that after a long time of hard work, they get a really cool piece of art to take with them.  This is a highly motivating craft kit that won't break the bank.
Boogie Board-my daughter was given this a couple of years ago and used it off and on.  Now that she is really into practicing writing letters and drawing pictures, this has come out again.  The Boogie Board is a thin and light weight LCD writing tablet...think Etch-A-Scetch...that kids can use for school or play.  With the push of a button, the screen clears and you can draw something new.  It comes with a stylus that attaches to the board so you don't lose it (It also works with your fingernail if you happen to lose it). Perfect for long car rides, while waiting between appointments, etc.. Great for working on improving graphomotor skills, creative thinking, grasping skills, bilateral coordination and visual motor/perceptual skills.
Foil Art Sets-Peaceable Kingdom has a ton of wonderful products but the Foil Art sets are probably one of my favorites of theirs.  They are inexpensive and can be used with kids of all ages.  There are sets where you can make your own stickers (great for younger children or kids with decreased attention span) and sets with larger pictures.  Each set comes with shiny colored foil that you use to decorate the stickers or pictures.  Peel off the top layer of the picture, choose a color and then use your finger to press the foil onto the sticky paper.  Great for working on bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills such as improving grasping skills and finger strength.
Loopdeloom Weaving Loom-so many of the kids I work with talk about wanting to learn how to knit but have a difficult time learning and get frustrated.  While the Loopdeloom is not a knitting kit, you can use it to make a lot of the same things that you would if you were knitting.  This weaving kit is made for older kids and great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, focus and attentional skills, executive functioning skills such as following directions, organization and sequencing and fine motor skills.
Project Kid-this craft book from Park Slope mother of two Amanda Kingloff has a ton of great
projects for your little ones.  It shows you how you can build fun and creative things from everyday products you might have in your home.  Take spaghetti boxes and turn them into skyscrapers, paper straws and cupcake liners and make a vase full of flowers or turn toilet paper tubes into a train.  You can teach your children about recycling while making some really cool crafts that you will all enjoy putting together.
Make Your Own Superhero Cape-who doesn't love to pretend they are a superhero?  This amazing kit comes with all of the necessary supplies, including tips to help you choose your design, to help your child's inner-superhero come to life!  I have seen this awesome kit at Hiho Batik in Park Slope and other local toy stores.  Great for working on encouraging creative skills.  Also great for working on improving fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, organizational skills and focus and attention.
Goose Grease DIY Peg Dolls-Goose Great dolls are made right here in Brooklyn and while you can easily buy a set of these adorable wooden peg dolls or have a set custom made of your family!  My favorite thing is that you can also buy a pack of 4 dolls to make your own dolls the way you want to! These DIY kits come complete with wooden dolls, paint, paintbrushes and all the other necessary tools to make your very own dolls.  Great for working on fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, focus and attentional skills and eye-hand coordination.  Also great for working on improving creative thinking.
Make Your Own Monster-this adorable kit comes with all the necessary supplies to make your own monster.  Each kit is unique and comes with a pre-stitched monster, stuffing and felt pieces.  No sewing skills required!  Great for working on improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, organizational skills and improving focus and attention.
Usborne Big Colour By Numbers Book-all of the books by Usborne are wonderfully creative and motivate the kids I work with.  This color by number book has beautiful pictures and patterns for kids to color in.  I like that there are also pages with no numbers and just colored dots for a child to use as a guide.  Great for working on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and visual scanning skills, grasping skills, eye-hand coordination, focus/attentional skills and organizational skills.
Usborne The Big Book of Things to Find and Colour-another great activity book by Usborne.  This one is packed with tons of fun pictures.  Each page has directions for things to find and color in.  For example, there is a page filled with fairies and you have to find all the ones holding wands and color them in a certain color, find the one with wings and color them in, etc..  This highly motivating activity book works on improving visual motor and visual scanning skills, focus and attention, grasping skills and planning and organizational skills.
Lazoo-I adore all the coloring and activity books by Lazoo.  So many great ones to choose from that will motivate even the most unwilling kid to pick up a crayon and color. Incredible Stickers, HolesSquigglesLet's Color and Imagine That! stock my shelves at work and at home.  Each of the books has a unique quality to them but each of them helps to work on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, helps to encourage imagination and creative thinking, improves grasping and graphomotor skills as well as focus, attentional and organizational skills.
NPW Build your Own Kaleidoscope-this is a simple yet very fun craft kit you can pick up for your little one.  My 4 1/2 year old had one this summer and loved it and still plays with it.  This kaleidoscope kit comes with all the pieces necessary and takes just a short amount of time to assemble.  While it comes with beads that you can put in but you can also collect buttons, leaves or flowers to put in as well.  The tube can be decorated with stickers or markers which allows a child to be as creative as they want.  Kaleidoscopes are great for bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination and sparking a child's imagination.
Klutz String Art Kit-looking for something fun for an older kid on your list this year?  This string art kit is perfect for those crafty kids.  They can create intricate designs and be super creative.  They can choose a pattern, pin the design and start looping the string around the pegs.  It comes with a custom pin-pushing tool that makes sure that pins are in correctly as well as lots of colored string, patterns and a book with detailed instructions.  Great for working on fine motor skills, improving eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and working on executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, following directions and organizational skills.

Do you have any other great art and craft kits that you recommend?  I have a lot of crafty kids on my gift list and am always looking for something fun and creative for them.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!

Happy Holidays!