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 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
-a block of clay
-gold leafe paint pen
-small oven-safe bowls
-rolling pin
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
*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.

Friday, April 8, 2016

My Top 10 OT Tools

For those of you who aren't occupational therapists, you may not realize that April is Occupational Therapy Month.  It began in 1980 and was scheduled to coincide with the AOTA Conference and Expo.  I feel beyond fortunate to work in a field where there are so many dedicated professionals with the common goal of making life better and happier for people.

I thought it would be fun to make this week's post focus on my top 10 tools for my sessions.  While my closet and storage boxes are overflowing, there are a handful of things that I consistently use with kids of all ages and skill levels almost every single day.  The thing that is common amongst all of the items listed below are that they can be used at home with kids.  They are tools that a parent can have that will help us therapist's carry over some of the work that I do during my sessions.  They are things that don't take up a ton of space and don't require the knowledge of an occupational therapist to use.  Most of them are things that can be picked up in local toy stores or on  Lastly, they are all affordable and things that can be modified depending on a child's age and skill level.

1.  Discovery Putty-for years, I was hiding objects and coins in therapy putty.  It served the purpose to help build strength in those little hands, but it got old and boring and the kids would lose interest quickly.  When I heard about Discovery Putty by Fun and Function, I quickly became obsessed and it became a fan favorite of all my kids.  Kids who used to avoid this activity now ask to find the animals, treats, vehicles or school supplies hidden in varying resistance of putty.

2.  Zoo Sticks-where shall I begin with my love for Zoo Sticks by Hog Wild Toys???  I began using them to pick up these squishy plastic animals to work on improving fine motor skills and grasp strength.  I now use them for pretty much anything I can....whether it is to pick up the pieces of fruit from a game like Hi Ho Cherry O or to pick up M&Ms to work on sorting by color, Zoo Sticks are a great, versatile and affordable tool to have at home.  I often suggest parents pick a few sets of these up to have eat dinner with.  It's an easy way to work on improving eye-hand coordination, grasp strength, visual motor skills and independence for feeding.  Plus, they are super fun and cool looking!

3. Stylus for an iPad-there are a ton of different kinds of stylus' to choose from these days.  And like most things, when there are so many to choose from, it becomes too difficult and we just opt to avoid. If you are going to use an iPad to help facilitate skills, especially handwriting skills, I always suggest using a stylus as it is  I have 3 that I recommend to parents these days:
iCreate Crayon Stylus-looks and feels like one of those fat Crayola crayons.  Good for promoting an appropriate grasp on a writing instrument.  Kids like to use it because it looks like something they are used to using
Kikkerland Retro Stylus Pen-light weight and provides a 2 in 1 writing option.  Kids can practice using an appropriate grip on an iPad and a piece of paper using the same writing instrument.
Cosmonaut-I've been through a lot of different stylus pens but right now, this is my absolute favorite. There is a lot to love about this $25 stylus....the width of the stylus makes it good for encouraging an appropriate tripod grasp.  The weight of it is good for encouraging a child to use the appropriate amount of pressure when writing with it.  Lastly, it is a very well made and durable stylus so it is able to a beating from a lot of use from kids.

4.  Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-I discovered these years ago and now always have a couple of sets in the office to work on with kids.  The idea is very simple:  kids have to match different colored stickers to the number that it goes with to make a colorful picture.  It's a great craft to work on improving fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  They are super motivating and fun activity to do with children of all ages.  Over the years, the selection has grown making it easy to find a set that will make your kid excited to complete.

5.  Spot It Games-I'm a big fan of games that are not only fun for kids to play, but easily adapted for all different ages and skill sets.  Spot It, by Blue Orange Games, is one of those kind of games.  There are a variety of ways to play this game, but the basic gist of it is that you have to find matching objects between cards.  Each card has an equal number of objects and even when you don't think it is at all possible, there is always one matching object.  Great for working on a variety of visual skills, focus and attention and social skills.  One of the best things about this game is that it is small, lightweight and easy to take with you.

6.  Crayola Triangular Crayons-these days, there are so many different brands of crayons to choose from that you can easily get confused.  I am a traditionalist when it comes to crayons and stick to know they are good quality and offer the best colors!  For my little ones, those beginning to color and draw, it's important that the crayons are wider making it easier for them to hold. I also encourage parents to get the triangle shaped crayons for two reasons:  it encourages a tripod-like grasp and they won't constantly roll off a table!  Another little trick:  break the crayons into two or three small pieces to encourage kids to use a non-fisted grasp when holding them.

7.  ZoomBall-the zoomball has been one of my favorite gross motor/upper body strengthening tools from the very beginning of my career.  Kids feel so good about themselves when they finally figure out how to get the ball going back and forth with a partner.  This is a good toy to have at home since it doesn't take up a lot of space.  Parents often ask what they can buy or do at home to work on strengthening and this is one of my top suggestions.  It's great for a kid to play with with their parents or siblings.  If you want to add a challenge, you can play a word game while playing:  think of a category (sport, food, color, etc.) and every time you send the ball back to your partner, you have to call off something in that category.

8.  Usborne Drawing Books-learning how to draw can be a challenging thing for kids.  And when something is challenging, kids will avoid it.  For me as a therapist, helping a child gain confidence with drawing is an important thing.  Drawing is a critical skill in young children as it is their first way of telling stories.  Usborne has a wonderful drawing book that teaches children how to draw everything animals to hot air balloons in easy to follow steps.  Kids will begin to see how you can draw so many different things by joining simple shapes together.  At the same time, their confidence will grow!

9.  Kumon Workbooks-it can be incredibly overwhelming walking into a bookstore trying to find the best workbooks for kids these days.  There are so many choices making it difficult to know which ones to get.  For years, I have been using and suggesting the Kumon workbooks.  My favorites are the cutting, coloring and pasting books for the younger kids but I really do love all of the books.  The pictures are always motivating and the paper is often thicker than most of the workbooks I have tried out in the past.  This is especially important for cutting....the thicker the paper is, the easier it is for children to have success with cutting.  Personally, I have a 6 year old daughter who asks for her cutting books at least once a week!

10.  Fiskar's Scissors-when kids are learning how to cut, it's really important to provide them with a good pair of scissors.  Ones that are the correct size, easy to open and close and cut through paper with little difficulty.  I can't tell you how many times I have walked into classrooms and had a teacher tell me that so many kids can't cut and they can't figure out why.  When I look at their scissors, they are often too big and the blades are full of glue and stickiness making it impossible for the kids to cut with ease.  Whenever anyone asks me for a scissor recommendation, I suggest Fiskar's children's scissors.  They never disappoint!

It was a lot of fun to put this list together and hope it will help some of you parents out.  It can be hard knowing what kinds of things you need at home to help your children be successful and oftentimes you think that you have to rely on the therapeutic catalouges where everything is much more expensive.  It's important to me to educate parents that more often than not, you can just adapt toys or tools for your children who may need more support.  If you have any questions or want some advice on other tools you can use at home, please feel free to email me.  I am a click away and love hearing from you all!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Childhood Highlight

As many of you, I have a lot of childhood memories that make me smile.  Some of them exist in some form today, but very few are almost exactly like they were when we were growing up.  One of my favorite things while growing up was sitting in a doctor's office and looking through the Highlights Magazine.  It seemed to distract me from why I was in that doctor's office.  One of my absolute favorite parts of the magazine was the Hidden Pictures page.  I always felt like I had hit the jackpot when I got to look at it before someone else had circled all the hidden objects.

Fast forward a bunch of years and I am a grownup (for the most part) and I am asked by one of my goddaughters to support her magazine drive.  The first thing I ordered was the Highlights Magazine and have been getting it ever since for my daughter.  Quinn, who just turned 6, loves it and especially loves the Hidden Pictures page.  So a few weeks ago, when someone reached out to me and asked me to take a look at the new Hidden Pictures app, I jumped on it.  I am always looking for new apps, especially ones that are more appropriate for the older kids and this app definitely fits that description.  While they say that it's ideal for children ages 6-8, I think that it can be used with younger children who have strong visual skills, especially if an adult is playing it with them.

So far, I am a big fan of the Hidden Pictures app.  More importantly, the kids are really enjoying it. The pictures are colorful, bold and and great at encouraging conversation (for my speech therapy friends).  It's a great app to work on a variety of occupational therapy skills without the kids feeling like they are "working".  It's more of a game to find all the different objects hidden throughout the pictures and at the same time, the kids are working on improving visual skills (visual motor, visual perceptual and visual tracking).  If you want to try and work on graphomotor skills, you can have the kids use a stylus (I've been using the Cosmonaut lately and love it) when using the app.  You can also have the kids write out the objects on a piece of paper as they find them to work on improving their handwriting skills.  One more thing I like to do is after the kids complete a puzzle on the iPad, I have them do another one in this great Hidden Pictures puzzle book that I have.  There are a bunch of these workbooks out there but I like this one because they have a bunch of black and white pictures that you have to take a handful of stickers and put them on top of the object when they find them.  This adds a greater challenge for those kids who are doing really well with the app.

Unlike the older version of the app, the updated one acts more like a subscription plan.  You sign up and each month a new set of puzzle packs are available.  When you first download the app, there are already 60+ puzzles!  You unlock puzzles as you complete others and there are even special items in the puzzles that need to be collected.  One of the things I like is how there are different modes to choose from so you increase or decrease the level of difficulty/challenge for each kid you work with.  The three modes of play to choose from are:
Free Play-find the hidden objects in whichever order and in however long it takes you
Timed-find all the hidden objects before the timer runs out
Directed-you find the hidden objects in a the order in which they are listed

Oftentimes, parents ask me for app recommendations that would be good for the whole family.  If you are looking for an app that would be good to facilitate social skills and collaboration with a sibling or a friend, this is a great one.  While it can be played  individually, it's also perfect for working as a team to find all the hidden objects.  The kids can take turns finding something or you can have them find one and then they have to give a hint to their friend in order to find the object that they found.  This is great for working on improving language and organizational skills for those kids you know who struggle with these things.

As I have been getting to know the app, I have to admit that I have been sucked into playing  it all by myself for long periods of time.  It brings me back to my childhood in the best possible way.  It's been fun to play this at work and at home and makes me happy that something this simple still brings hours of entertainment to kids today.  If you are on the lookout for a new app for your little ones, I highly recommend Hidden Pictures.  It's not only something that will help strengthen your child's visual skills, it's an app that you won't mind playing with your children.  If you have any questions or want to know more about the Hidden Pictures app, I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Springing into Spring!

Living in New York City and working with kids, I happen to have a real mix of kids who celebrate different holidays.  Since I grew up in a home that celebrates Easter, I happen to have more ideas on how to incorporate Easter themed activities into my sessions with the kids who also celebrate.  As I have lived here longer, I have had to come up with ways to make all my activities work for all kids.  If you read my blog regularly, you know that I love the holidays and how they allow for some creativity and change in my routine during my sessions.  Not only is it good for me to have new things to do, it's really good for the kids I work with.  They are so motivated by a totally new activity and makes them work harder during our sessions. Additionally, they love being able to do things that they can take home and share with their parents, siblings, friends, etc..

Here are a few of the things I will be pulling out this week.  For some kids, the activities will be Easter related and for others, it will be to celebrate the arrival of Spring.

Eggercise Hunt-one of the kids I work with has a thing for plastic eggs.  When he does a great job with something that is especially challenging for him, his mother rewards him with a surprise egg.  When looking in the stores this week, I saw the plastic eggs and was trying to think of a way to use them in my sessions.  After a little while, I decided that I would have a bit of an egg hunt with them at the gym.  I have 12 eggs and in each egg I have an activity hidden inside: 12 fine motor activities and 12 gross motor activities.  I have a feeling that the kids will have so much fun looking for the hidden eggs that they won't even realize that they are working.

Pompom Art-one of the things my kids love the most is when they get to take something home to share with their parents.  I try and do things that can be done quickly in the beginning of a session and hopefully be dried in time for them to take it home with them.  If not dried, I always take a picture of the child with their project and send it to their parents and then they can take it home with them the next time.  This week, I will be letting kids choose between an Easter egg or a spring flower picture that they get to paint with pompoms.  I like to have the kids paint with the pompom attached to a clothespin so they can have more control of what they are doing.  It is also a great way to work on encouraging an appropriate grasp on a writing instrument.  This activity is also great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  I like to use washable paint or ink pads for this activity as the colors tend to pop more and obviously, they clean off of little fingers, clothes and tables easily!

Cupcake Liner Flowers-this is something I have seen done a bunch of times but haven't really tried until now.  Using large muffin or cupcake liners, you can have kids practice cutting and coloring.  I like to give the kids I work with broken crayons to color with as it encourages a more appropriate writing grasp.  You can also find little stickers to decorate the flower with which is a great way to work on improving grasping skills.  If you want to add a challenge, get coffee filters and have your kids color them and then cut out the petals. It means coloring a larger surface and having to practice cutting a little more. Once colored and cut, you can add a stem using a pipe cleaner.

Fingerprint Art-nothing says spring to me more than flowers, chicks and bunnies.  Many of the kids I work with don't have the skills to draw these things so I have to find ways to simplify it for them.  I've always been a fan of Ed a matter of fact, I wrote about one of his newer books Gumdrops, a few weeks ago. Using fingerprints and drawing a few simple lines, kids can have more success with drawing.  If you celebrate Easter, you can make bunnies and chicks all over a piece of paper and make a card saying "Hoppy Easter".  If you don't celebrate, you can have the kids make a spring themed card using all the same animals.  One of the nice things about this particular craft is that it can be finished quickly so it can be taken home that same day.  For my older kids, I have them fill out the card so they can practice writing at the same time.

With  many of the kids I work with on vacation this week, parents are looking for things to do with their kids to keep them busy.  All of the activities I have suggested are easy to complete at home with a bunch of friends or with siblings.  If you happen to be near a Target this week, you should check out their bargain would be surprised by you can find for a steal.  I picked up a few really cute spring stamps that will be a big hit with the kids this week.

Do you have any fun crafts or activities that you do with your kids?  Ones that don't require a lot of supplies or take too much time to complete?  I would love to hear from you if you have anything I should add to my sessions this week.  I am always a click away and love hearing from each of you!

Happy Spring!