Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Book of the Week-Stick and Stone

Unfortunately, one of the things kids have to deal with these days is bullying.  What was once something you typically saw more frequently with older children is now something that you see beginning way earlier these days.  In my career, I have noticed that cliques begin forming in preschool.  On many school visits, I have seen groups of children cluster together and witnessed the leaving other children out for one reason or another.

This weeks book recommendation is Stick and Stone written by Beth Ferry and illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld.  In this book, kids learn about kindness and the importance of being a good friend.  The main characters of the book are Stick and Stone...both felt lonely until they found each other after Stick steps in to defend Stone after Pinecone is making fun of him.  They quickly become best friends and end up protecting each other when they are both most in need of a good friend.

Stick and Stone is a simple book making it easy for even the youngest of children to understand.  I've used it with my group of kids at The Meeting House and they loved it and were really able to engage in meaningful conversations about friendship and even begin a simple conversation about bullying.  I think it's important to help young children not only learn about what it means to be a good friend but also be able to recognize when someone isn't being a good friend to you or your friends.

Below, you will find some questions you can ask your children and activities that you can do with them while reading Stick and Stone.

-ask your children what makes them a good friend.  Discuss qualities that make them a good friend and what they love about different friends of theirs.  If you are doing this in a group/classroom setting, keep a running list of these qualities for children to reference throughout the year.

-in addition to talking about what makes someone a good friend, it's equally important for children to recognize the opposite.  Since bullying is beginning at a younger age, it's important for kids to be able to know if they or other friends in their class are being bullies.  Talk about what kinds of things make someone a bully (and this conversation and the language you will use will be different for different aged kids).  Talk about what they should do if they feel like they are someone else is being bullied.  Most importantly, they should not keep quiet and they should talk to grownups.

-this book offers a lot of opportunities for role playing.  If you check out this link, the author and illustrator have put together an activity pack that includes some finger puppets.  You can go through a bunch of scenarios with the kids to help them problem solve difficult moments they may encounter in school, at the playground, etc..

-this summer, I learned about a beautiful initiative called The Kindness Rocks Project.  They have two simple goals: 
~Inspire others through randomly placed rocks along the way
~Recruit every person who stumbles upon it to join in the pursuit of inspiring others through random acts of kindness. 
Painting rocks and writing messages about friendship and kindness that were brought up in Stick and Stone is a craft to do after reading the book.  Kids can paint or draw using permanent or paint markers and then hide them in their neighborhood.

While it's hard to imagine that we have to worry about the idea of kids being bullied at such a young age, I think if we begin to teach children at a very young age about being a good friend and how NOT to be a bully, we may help avoid kids becoming bullies as they get older.  One of the things we can teach our children from this book that it might not be easy, sticking up for others like Stick did for Stone when Pinecone was being mean to him could lead to lifelong friendships!

If you have any other books that may address this subject in a child-friendly manner, I would love to hear about them!   I am only a click away and LOVE hearing from all of you!

Monday, March 5, 2018

What's App?

One of the most asked questions I get is what is on my iPad?  While parents want to limit the amount of time their kids spend on electronic devices, they know that there are a lot of educational apps out there that will motivate their children to learn a variety of things.  And like most everything else, all things done in moderation will not be harmful to your children. 

Below, I share some of my favorite educational apps that I use both at work and at home with my daughter.  The most important thing to me when choosing what apps I put on this list is that they are ones that are easy for families to use.  I especially like when they can work on a variety of skills in way that makes the work seem more like play than "work".  I also am sure to add as many apps that will encourage language building skills at the same time.  I am always having the kids answer questions about what's happening or talk about the directions or the sequence of steps before they complete tasks. 

Sago Mini Pet Cafe-this was my first app by the genius' at Sago Mini and is still one of my favorites for the little ones on my caseload.  Kids learn how to count and sort while interacting with some pretty cute animals in a diner.  There are three different games to choose from: matching pictures, counting and sorting treats and making a colorful smoothie.  This app is also great for working on learning colors, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and great for increasing language skills.  An added bonus is that it is available in 15 languages!

Artie and The Magic Pencil-this fun and interactive app by Minilab Studios helps introduce preschool and early school age children to drawing a variety of shapes and early art concepts.  Kids get to play the hero while learning at the same time!  There's a monster on the loose and he's destroying the town.  Kids help Artie rebuild the world by tracing simple shapes bringing the town back to life.  For example, trace a triangle and put a roof back on a house  It can be played as a story or you can focus on the same part drawing until they have mastered the shape.  A nice feature of this app is that you can download drawing worksheets so kids can practice drawing with a writing instrument. 

LetterSchool-I have tested out so many handwriting apps that I have lost count.  In the end, I always come back to LetterSchool and continue to recommend it to all parents who are looking for ways to teach their kids to write.  What I love most about this handwriting app is the multi-sensory approach it has for learning all the letters and numbers.  For each letter/number, there are 3 ways to practice:
1.  Tap-this level has kids tap where the lines start and they then watch the letter get formed
2.  Trace-this level kids have to drag the lines from their starting point to end point to form the letter
3.  Write-this level has a chalkboard feel to it and the kids are given a clue as to where to start the letter but the lines disappear and they have to write it from memory
On each level, there are fun visuals to watch the letters come to life which is incredibly motivating for even the most ambivalent student.
In addition to learning how to write letters and numbers, kids can work on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and introduces kids to letter sounds and names and learning how to count.

Pepi Doctor-this app by PepiPlay is another that has been on my must have app list since I discovered it years ago.  In this app, kids get to play the doctor to three different patients (Amber, Eva and Milo).  Each one of the kids has the same 5 ailments that need to be taken care of: a cold, a toothache, earache, broken bone and clean up cuts from a fall.  Each ailment requires them to complete several tasks in order for their patients to feel better.  Some of the tasks are putting the bone back together, brushing teeth, putting bandaids on scrapes and many, many more.  This app is great for improving visual motor and perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, focus, attention and organizational skills.  It's also a great app to work on improving language skills.

Peppa Pig Theme Park-recently, I have found that so many of my kids are pretty obsessed with Peppa Pig....I can't blame them!  I remembered from my own daughter having some Peppa Pig apps and how great they were.  There are many of them, but my favorite right now is the Theme Park one because it works on a lot of skills that my younger kids need to focus on.  There are 10 different games to choose from including:
-make Cotton Candy for Peppa and her family....make sure you choose the right color and don't make it too big or they won't be able to eat it
-ride in a hot air balloon and collect balloons as you go up and down
-steer a race car around the sure to avoid the puddles!
This game is great for working on improving hand-eye coordination, visual tracking, focus, attention, motor planning and organizational skills.

Endless ABC-hands down my favorite literacy apps out there and kids of all ages on my caseload love it as well.  Endless ABC from Originator is great for introducing preschool kids to the letters of the alphabet and encourages early reading skills.  In this interactive game, kids will learn lots of new and interesting words.  Super cute monsters run across the screen and knock all the letters out of place.  Kids have to match the letters (I encourage kids to put them back in the correct order).  Once they have them all in place, there is a little video that teaches kids about the word. In addition to the aforementioned skills, kids work on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, executive functioning skills (focus, attention and organization) and grasping skills.

Math Tango-I have been on the hunt for a good math app for a really long time and have been mainly disappointed by what's out there.  That was until I saw that the brilliant people at Originator came up with a math app and I couldn't have been more excited.  I actually didn't get too excited until I had my 7-year old daughter test the app out but once she gave it 2 thumbs up, I was sold and have been recommending it to others.  The game is structured in a way that kids have to complete 24 different missions where they earn monsters and other kinds of items that will help them on the island that they inhabit.  While playing over 200 different addition and subtraction games will learn some of the following concepts:
-adding single digit numbers
-adding doubles
-adding near doubles
-making 10 to add 9
-adding 10's

Trilo Spelling-when my daughter was finishing up kindergarten and preparing for first grade, I started to really panic about her reading skills.  I knew developmentally she was where she was supposed to be but living in NYC, academic expectations are higher.  I had spent a lot of time looking for the right app and each time I thought I had found it, she didn't like it.  So when we found this one, we were both thrilled!  In Trilo Spelling, there are five levels of spelling and reading fundamentals with each level introducing kids to a different letter blends.  Within each level, there are three different games/challenges they can play.  The graphics and monsters within the app are fun and friendly, motivating children to want to learn how to spell.  In addition to learning how to spell, children can work on improving executive functioning skills, hand eye coordination,

Dexteria Junior-this is a great app for working on developing fine motor and grasping skills with your little ones.  What I love about this app is that the creators worked with occupational therapists to make it.  Perfect for preschoolers and getting them ready for school.  There are three different games:
Squish the Squash-encourages children to use their pointer finger to squish squashes.  There are 15 levels for the kids to work through.
Pinch the Pepper-encourages children to use their thumb and pointer fingers to pinch the peppers.  Great for developing a fine pincer grasp which is important for the developing proper pencil grips later on.  There are 10 levels that become increasingly more challenging.
Trace and Erase-kids can learn how to draw various lines and shapes.  They first trace the lines and then use an eraser after.  Once they finish erasing the lines, they can take a silly selfie of themselves which my kids love.  I have my kids use a stylus with this particular game to encourage proper grasp patterns when holding a writing instrument.
In addition to what I have already mentioned, this game is great for working on hand-eye coordination, visual tracking, focus, attention and planning and organizational skills.

Little Fox Animal Doctor-hands down, one of my favorite apps for my preschoolers and early school age kids.  The characters are adorable and the animations are amazing.  There are 7 different animals with 15 different injuries or illnesses that you have to help cure.  First kids choose their patient and before they can help them get better, they have to watch a short little movie that explains why they are at the doctors.  Once the movie is done, there are visual directions on what kids  need to do in order to cure the animals.  Some of the ailments they will have to help with are: helping a sick animal who has had too many sweets, sewing together a wing that got torn or helping an animal with a cold.  My favorite thing about this app is the short little movie they have to watch before helping the animal out.  This is great for helping with language and organizational issues.  The other thing I like is that the visual directions help kids work on sequencing and following directions.  In addition to those skills, kids also can work on improving fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and executive functioning skills.

Planets Puzzle-this is a great app for older children who need to work on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and executive functioning skills.  In this puzzle game, kids have to put the animal in the right place on the rotating world.  They have to figure out where the animals go by matching their terrain.  For example, place the dolphin in the ocean and the elephant on the grassy patch.  There are over 30 levels of play with increased challenges as they move through the puzzle.  In addition working on the aforementioned skills, this app is great for working on improving focus and attention, organizational skills, logic and problem solving.

Thinkrolls and these two apps by Avokiddo are a huge hit with my older children and are my go-to's when I have children who need to work on improving their executive functioning skills.  Through this app, kids will improve problem solving, memory, motor planning and organizational skills.  In these interactive logic puzzles, kids learn about different scientific theories such as gravity, heat, buoyancy, speed, friction and so many more.  There are two levels of play for younger and older children.  In addition to the aforementioned, kids can work on improving visual motor skills, hand-eye coordination, focus and attention.  I have found that this is a great app for kids to do together; they have to work together and talk through a plan in order to complete each part of the game.

I always wrap up my app suggestions post with ways you can make screen time as beneficial as possible for the kids.  During my sessions, I always combine using an app with some other activity or skill.  Here are a few things you can do to make the most out of screen time for your kids:

-use a stylus whenever possible.  This is especially important when using any kind of handwriting or drawing app.  Like everything else, it can be confusing to know which stylus is best.  My two top recommendations are the Cosmonaut Wide Grip Stylus and the Crayon Stylus by Boxwave.  These two stylus' have are wider and encourage a more age-appropriate grasp, especially for those little hands.

-encourage use of language during when playing on the iPad.  One concern parents have about using an iPad with their children is that they observe them to zone out or disconnect from the real world.  When I have kids using the iPad, I am constantly asking them questions and encouraging conversations with them.  Whether it be saying the name of the letter during Endless ABC or counting out loud when playing Sago Mini Pet Cafe, I am making sure the kids don't have an opportunity to zone out. 

-there are a lot of apps that can encourage social skills.  When I am working with small groups of children who have similar goals, I will occasionally pull out the iPad.  We work on turn taking, cooperative play and being flexible with ideas peers suggest.

-work on a vertical surface when using the iPad (I sometimes lean mine up against an easel and have kids sit on a ball or bolster).  Working on a vertical surface is great for encouraging bilateral coordination, encourages bilateral coordination and helps with improving upper extremity and core strength.

-when at the gym, I have my kids work in a prone position either on the net swing or over a bolster.  This is a good way to work on increasing upper extremity strength.  I have found that my kids who tire easily with this task have more endurance when they are distracted from some fun apps.

These apps are just a handful of the dozens and dozens I have on my iPad.  If you are looking for specific suggestions for your children, I would be more than happy to help you find the right apps for them.   And if you have any great app suggestions for me, I would love to hear them....I am always happy to add something new to my app collection!  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book of the Week-The Dot

For the last several weeks at The Meeting House our theme has been not having to be perfect.  We have read several wonderful books about this topic but my favorite has been The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.  This book, and many others of his, has been part of my personal library for a while since the topic was something that I had to work on with my own daughter: when it comes to creating, there is no wrong way.

My book recommendation this week is not just for the kids I work with but also for the parents, teachers, therapists and caregivers who spend time with those kids.  Sometimes us grownups need to know how to best motivate and inspire the little ones in our lives.  We tend to get wrapped up in what is expected of kids at different stages of life and making sure our kids aren't behind.

In The Dot, we meet a little girl named Vashti who is sitting at her desk in art class looking sadly at her blank piece of paper.  She's feeling stuck...doesn't know what she should be doing with that blank piece of paper and is feeling discouraged by her lack of artistic abilities.   ut is encouraged by her teacher to draw a dot on her paper "and see where it takes you".  She angrily makes a dot on her paper and her teacher has her sign the paper.  The next time she enters the art class, she finds her picture framed and hanging on the wall for all to see.  Seeing this picture makes Vashti's confidence soar and inspires her to take things to the next level.  She starts out small and then goes bigger and bigger.  The story ends with her encouraging a little boy who feels like he isn't an artist just like her teacher did for her.

The Dot has many important lessons to teach children of today.  In my line of work, I have too many children who avoid trying something because they don't feel like they will be good at it.  Or maybe they won't try it because they are worried someone will criticize their work.   It's not isolated to an art can be trying some kind of big body activity or obstacle course, or answering a question a peer is asking because maybe they don't know the "right" answer.  What I have learned over the years as both a therapist and a parent is that you have to gently push these kids because even though they don't think they will be successful, I know they will be.   What I like most about The Dot is how it is Vashti's personal story and not one that compares her to other children.  It really teaches kids of all ages about challenging yourself to be better for yourself and not to satisfy others.

Below,  you will find some questions you can ask your children and activities you can do with your children when you read The Dot.

~be sure to talk about all the different feelings Vashti is feeling throughout the book.  Have them look at her face and tell you how she is feeling at different points of the book

~ask your children what kinds of things might be hard for them and how they feel when they are presented with something new and maybe out of their comfort zone.

~in The Dot, Vashti sits there and does nothing during her art class because she doesn't think she is a good artist.  Have a conversation with your child about what other things Vashti could have done at that time instead of avoiding the task.

~there are SO many fun dot art activities that you can be used when reading this book.  I am currently obsessed with these watercolor pencils and paints by OOLY which are perfect for  making some pretty awesome dots like Vashti.  Have your children experiment with different sizes, colors, patterns, etc..  Talk to them about how each one is different and unique and how they are all perfect in their own way.

~if you have a group of kids, you can make a dot "quilt".  One of my favorite craft activities we have done with the kids at TMH Juniors was to give each kid a handful of squares with circles drawn on them.  We put out different materials and writing instruments for the kids to use to decorate their circles however they want.  At the end, we worked as a group to place all of the dots onto a big piece of cardboard and made a TMH Quilt.  The kids loved the final product and we loved watching them work together to create it.

~for younger children who aren't as comfortable with using writing instruments, have them make their own dot pictures using different kinds of objects as stamps.  For example, cut a potato or an apple in half and have them dip it into paint.  You can use also use bottle caps, empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls or anything that has some kind of roundish shape.

~for older children who need encouragement to try new things, have them keep a daily dot journal.  Encourage them to make their mark on each page and write about what it is.  As the year goes on, they will see how their creativity and imagination have grown.

The Dot is a great book for all times of the year, but especially great to pull out before your child is about to start something new.  I know many teachers who begin a new school year off by reading this book and doing a variety of craft projects.  If you have any other books that focus on this topic or activities that you have done in conjunction with this book, I would love to hear from you.  I am only a click away and love hearing from all of you!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Book of the Week-Wally Wants To Hug

My book recommendation this week is one that I have not only used with my kids at TMH Juniors, but one that I've suggested to the parents of kids I work with as their occupational therapist.  A very common concern that comes up in my initial conversations with parents is that they notice their children are rough with their siblings or their friends in school.  Or sometimes they get into other people's personal space and have a hard time controlling that.  While they know it isn't always intentional, they are concerned because it is having an impact on socializing with people.

Wally Wants To Hug by Barbara Joose is an adorable story that can help teach kids about personal space.  Wally is a boa constrictor who loves hugs.  He starts his days out with a big hug from his mother and ends his day with a big hug from his dad. Not only does he like getting hugs, he loves giving them out as well.  This isn't a problem until his friends become scared of him and his too tight hugs.  Wally doesn't want to make his friends scared, he also wants them to know how much he cares about them.  

One of the things that I love about Wally Wants To Hug is how it normalizes the behaviors we some from those sensory seeking kids we all know and love.  Those kids who have nothing but love to give but lack the understanding that what feels good to them may not feel the same to others.  Those big hugs, that getting close to talk to your friends and that bumping into your friends to let them know they want to with be with them is usually not an attempt to annoy or hurt their friends but rather them trying to let them know they want to play with them. These kids with decreased body awareness often have big hearts and just like Wally, they want to hug because it makes them feel good.  How is it possible that not everyone feels the same way they do? 

Teaching kids about personal space, especially those who are sensory seekers, can be challenging.  It's incredibly important to help children be able to read body language of others.  With my group at TMH Juniors, we talk about being a Personal Space Invader....someone who gets into others space and may make people feel uncomfortable.  Here are some things you can help your children identify in others that might indicate they are feeling uncomfortable:
-is the other person squirming around trying to move away from you?
-does the other person's body get stiff?
-how does the person's face look?  Do they look like they are happy or feeling uncomfortable?

Below, you will find some questions you can ask your children and some activities you can do with your children when reading Wally Wants To Hug.  

~discuss the various ways you can say hello or show their affection towards a family member or a friend.  This can include hand shakes,  gentle high fives or gentle fist-bumps.  

~practice hugging with your child at home so they can learn when to stop or when it is just too much.  I think it's important for a child to be able to read body language so make different faces (scared, sad, happy, etc.) so they can become more aware of how their friends may be feeling when they are hugging them. 

~if your child is one of those kids who really benefits from deep proprioceptive input and truly has difficulty controlling how hard they hug, get a stuffed animal they can keep at school to hug when they are craving that input.  

~I find that sometimes that kids benefit from visual reminders of what the appropriate amount of personal space is.  While being too close to people can make others feel uncomfortable, it's equally important for them to understand that being too far away can also be a problem.  The visual to the right is simple and can be a good reminder for kids who have a hard time respecting personal space.  You can make a game out of it by taking some of your child's favorite characters and do some role playing with them.  

~there are a lot of fun gross motor games that you can play to help children work on improving their body awareness.  One of our favorites at TMH is a version of musical chairs combined with freeze dance using hula hoops.  We put out a bunch of different colored hula hoops out and play music; when the music stops, we call out a color and the kids have to run to that hula hoop.  The challenge is that there is never enough for each kid to have their own hula hoop so they have to share the hula hoop with a friend without touching them.  

If you have a child who tends to be too rough with their friends or family or has a hard time with respecting personal space, Wally Wants To Hug is a great book to have in your personal library.  Teaching children about personal space at a young age will help set them up for social success as they get older.  If you have any other books that deal with this topic, I would love to hear from you.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.  

Friday, February 2, 2018

Boom Yah!

One of the things I love about the holiday season is that it often means the discovery of new toys to bring into work.  I am a bit of a stalker on Facebook and Instagram when people post pictures of the gifts their kids got for the holidays because I always find something new.  This year, one of my colleagues posted pictures and videos of a game and I just knew I had to have it.  The pure joy and the hysterical laughter coming from everyone playing it made me go right to Amazon and order it.

Boom Blast Stix by Moose Toys has quickly become not only one of my favorite games, but the kids love it too.  My daughter was actually upset with me that I was taking it to work.  It's a simple game that doesn't require batteries and can keep kids entertained for a long time. The directions are very straightforward making it a great game for kids (and grownups) of all ages.  While it says it's meant for kids who are 6 and older, I have played it with some of my 4 year olds and they have been successful.  The game comes with a container and lid, which acts as the gameboard and 32 stix.  Kids have to lock the sticks into place, great for improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, and then gently place them on top of the lid.  The key to this game is placing the pieces on as gently as possible with the goal being stacking as many as possible before the stix explode.  The biggest obstacle I have found with  my kids is the whole idea of gently placing them on top of each other.  So many of my kids I work with have difficulty with regulating their movements and are often in a rush to finish their turn.  While I remind them at the beginning of the game to take their time with their turn, I have found that after a couple of times of their stick unsnapping, they remember to slow down without verbal prompting.

**one other kids have a tendency to put their heads right above the game as they are putting their pieces down.  It's important that they keep their faces away as you have no idea when the pile will explode and where the pieces will go!

In addition to working on the aforementioned skills, this game is great for working on the following skills:
Improves Grasp Strength/Manipulation Skills-the locking of the sticks is a great activity to help make those little muscles in the hands get stronger.  Kids also have to pay attention to how they are snapping the pieces into place.  I also require that the kids use a pincer grasp when placing it on the lid.
**I sometimes sneak an extra strengthening activity during cleanup by making them pick up all the pieces with a pair of child-friendly chopsticks
Improves Bilateral Coordination-in order to lock the stix, kids must use two hands at a time.  Many of the kids I work with will try and use their dominant hand at all times but with this game, you just can't snap the pieces into place without using both hands.
Improves Hand-Eye Coordination-this game requires a tremendous amount of visual attention and focus.  Kids must look at the pieces carefully before placing the piece down.
Improves Executive Functioning Skills-this game is great for working on improving focus and attentional skills.  It's also perfect for working on self-regulation and organizational skills.  It requires a child to control the impulse to throw the pieces down on the lid.  It also works on motor planning and organizational skills because they have to look at the pieces on the lid and see what spot is the safest/least likely to cause the pieces to explode when they put them down.
Improves Social Skills-while the directions are very straight forward with this game, you can challenge the kids you are playing with to try and come up with their own rules.  Throw a dice into the box and have them roll the dice to see how many sticks they need to put down on that turn.

What I really love about Boom Blast Stix is how many occupational therapy goals can be addressed while playing this game.  The kids don't even realize that they are "working" which makes it doubly great.  Parents are always asking me what they can be doing at home with their kids and the thing that is most important to me is that kids don't feel as though they are in another therapy session.  Good family games are always my go-to recommendations and Boom Blast Stix will be on the top of that list!

If you have any other fun family games that you have recently discovered, especially ones that would be good for the whole family, I would love to hear about them.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book of the Week-Be A Friend

This weeks book recommendation is one of my all time favorite children's books and one that I have previously blogged about.  I truly believe that this book should be in every preschool and early school age classroom.   Be A Friend by Salina Yoon is a beautiful book about what it means to be a friend...especially to someone who is different than you.  While many children can just roll with it, other children can become nervous or anxious by children who are not just like them. 

The basic premise of the book is simple:  Everyone Needs Someone.  In this case, that someone is a little boy named Dennis who doesn't speak but has a wild imagination and shares his thoughts and ideas through his actions.  Not many of the kids who are near him can be bothered by his behaviors but one day a little girl named Joy decides to take the brave step to get to know Dennis a bit more.  With time, they develop a beautiful friendship that relies on accepting and embracing someone who might be different.  In the end, the other children in Joy and Dennis' class saw what fun they had together and ended up joining in on their imaginative play.  There are so many wonderful lessons that this book teaches, most importantly that not everyone is the same and being different is okay.  Being a good friend means thinking outside of the box sometimes and learning something new from a friend. 

This book not only tells a beautiful story about friendship, it has some of the most beautiful illustrations I have seen in a children's book.  Kids are drawn into the story because of the stories the pictures tell.

Below, you will find some questions and activities you can do with in conjunction with reading Be A Friend:
~sometimes kids need help identifying what characteristics make a good friend.  After you finish reading the book, you can talk about what made Joy a good friend to Dennis and then extend that conversation to have them think about things they have done that make them a good friend or what someone can do for them that shows them they are a good friend. 
~this is a great book to read to a classroom/group of kids in the beginning of the school year as everyone is getting to know each other.  After reading it to the group, you can come up with a list of things that makes them a good friend.  You can try and expand this by not only discussing characteristics that make them good friends but talk about things they can do that shows someone who might be different that they are a good friend. 
~for older children you can have a conversation about what kinds of things they have in common with their friends and also have them identify what makes them different than their friends.  Being able to recognize that it is normal to not always have the same interests as your friends....being different is normal and what makes us each unique.
~have the kids pretend to be mimes and have them act different things out.  You can start with having them mime different feelings and emotions and eventually move onto having them act out activities they like.  This could be a great way for kids to get to know each other better and discover what kinds of things they have in common with their friends.

When I find a book like Be A Friend, I feel like I have to share it with everyone.  I work with so many kids who feel different from their peers and I think it is important for them to know they are not alone.  I once heard that it's more important to have one good friend than to have lots of acquaintances and this book shows just that.

Be sure to check back next week to see what book I will be sharing with you all.  If you have any book suggestions, I would love to hear them!  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.   

Monday, January 22, 2018

Book of the Week-The Most Magnificent Thing

At the end of last summer, I sat down with my friend Maggie at Stories Bookshop in Park Slope who helped me find lots of books that I could use with my kids at The Meetinghouse during the school year.  One of the reasons I partnered with Maggie on this year long blog project is that she is not only a book expert, she has two school-aged children so I knew she would help me identify some great books.  We talked about some of the themes that children struggle with and one that we both identified with with our own children is the idea of making mistakes and having to be perfect.  It's amazing how many books are out there that cover this.

My pick for week number is The Most Magnificent Thing written by Ashley Spires.  Over the last few weeks at TMH, our focus has been working on helping kids deal with making mistakes and understanding that perfection is not the most important thing.  I spend lots of time talking to parents and other professionals working with children, and this is something that they see quite often.  While wanting to do well is a great thing, sometimes what happens is that kids have this need to be perfect and if something isn't perfect, they aren't good enough.  When wanting to do well interferes with a child's success in school or socially, then it becomes a problem. 

In The Most Magnificent Thing, we follow a little girl and her best friend, her puppy, as they set out to make the most magnificent thing.  Nobody knows what this magnificent thing but the little girl knows just what it is and exactly how it will look.  She collects all kinds of bits and pieces and begins putting it together.  Her first attempt doesn't go as she had planned and while she becomes upset, she tries again and again.  After a few times she becomes so angry and wants to give up on her idea.  Her dog convinces her to take a walk which gives her time to calm down and rethink her magnificent thing.  She comes back to see all of her attempts laying out and it gives it another go.  In the end, she is able to finally make exactly what she set out just took not giving up.

In addition to focusing on the theme of making mistakes, this book is also great for teaching kids about the following:
perseverance-not giving up, even when things aren't going just the way you want.  Sometimes you have to keep going despite the obstacles you may face along the way
feelings and emotions-in this book, the little girl experiences a whole range of feelings and emotions.  When I read this book to my group, I have them pay attention to the illustrations and look at the little girl's face and how her feelings are changing as the story progresses.  I think it's extremely important for kids to learn how to read another person's expressions and be able to identify how they may be feeling.
coping skills-it's easy to just get angry and give up.  However, the more upset one becomes, the harder it is for them to focus on the task at hand.  In The Most Magnificent Thing, the little girl is convinced by her dog to take a walk which gives her time to calm down and think about her project.  Taking that break allowed her the time to think about things and not be so angry.
team work-it took the little girl's dog telling her to take a break that allowed her time to cool off and come back with a new attitude.  In the end, he helped her accomplish exactly what she wanted to!

Below, you will find some questions and activities you can do with your children:
~ask your child to name some of their most magnificent ideas.  You can talk about what they would need to make their idea, how they would go about it and what they would do if something doesn't go just right.  Being able to problem solve on how they would go about to make their creation is important, but discussing strategies they could use when things don't go just right is equally as or possibly more important.

~be sure to have your children analyze the little girls face throughout the story.  This is a great opportunity for kids to work on being able to work on identifying a variety of thoughts and feelings.  You can discuss what triggered these feelings in the little girl and what she could do to deal with some of the bigger feelings and emotions.

~if you have a group of children, provide them with materials (such as wooden building blocksMagna-Tiles, Popoids and Straws and Connectors Building Set are a few of my favorites) and have them decide as a group on something to build.  If they are old enough, you can encourage them to draw out what they want beforehand and then they must work together to build their most magnificent thing.

~check out a bunch more activities from the folks at The Core Coaches.  They have a lot of great ideas to teach school age children about growth mindset and character development if you want to use this as part of your curriculum.

Be sure to check back next Monday to see what book I'll be sharing.  As always, if you have any wonderful ideas or have any questions, please reach out ot me.  I am always a click away and love hearing from all of you!