Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sum, Sum, Summertime!

After what seemed like the longest winter in the history of winters, Summer has finally arrived.  School's over and everyone is looking forward to some time off from the craziness of the school year.  With warmer weather here, I know people are looking for fun things to do outside to keep their kids cool and occupied.  If you are like me, you want to be able to  Many families go away for the summer or take the summer off from therapy so their kids can get a break and regroup after a long school year.  However, they are always asking me for activities that can be done that will work towards their occupational therapy goals.  I am always quick to tell parents to go to the park and play sports or run around in the sprinklers at the different playgrounds, especially after a long day of camp.  However, there are SO many activities out there that will work on a variety of occupational therapy skills.  The best part is that they can be done with inexpensive toys/supplies and can be done as a whole family.

One of my daughter's favorite things to do is play in the water.  Whether it be in the water table, running through the sprinkler or watering our plants, it elicits pure happiness.  I look forward to the evenings where we hang out outside after a long day of work, watching her play.  What are some of your family favorite summer activities?

If you are looking for things to do with your children this summer, here are a handful of summertime activities that you can do that will work on fine motor, visual motor and organizational skills.  It's amazing how easy it is to work on goals/skills but still have fun.  To me, it is most important that kids have fun over the summer.  There are so many pressures on kids during the school year and I am a huge believer in allowing summer to be about having fun.  If you must work on academic stuff, make sure you make it fun and don't put too much pressure on them.  I always find that not only does my own child do better, but the children I work with do as well when the work is hidden from them and it only looks like fun.

Here are a few of my favorite summer time activities.  I have also included ways to adapt each of them for older/younger children and talk about what kind of occupational therapy skills can be worked on for each of the activities.

Water Table-water tables are great for keeping kids cool when you don't have access to a pool.  Living in Brooklyn, we don't have a large enough space for a little pool.  However, we have enough space for a water table and it has brought Quinn and many other children in the hood tons of joy!  And if you have your kid put on a bathing suit, they can get just as wet and cooled off as if they were in a pool!

Depending on what kind of toys you throw into your water table, a variety of occupational therapy skills can be worked on.  For example, throw a bunch of measuring cups in there and you can work on bilateral coordination by filling up one cup from another.  You can take a turkey baster or a water dropper and work on increasing grasp strength by filling up buckets, cups, etc.  You can do the same by putting a bunch of bath toys in there as well.

There are a variety of water tables out there for purchase.  I prefer the simple one that is pictured above.  If you have a big backyard though, you can get some pretty awesome ones with lots of fancy features.  If you don't feel like spending any money at all, you can create your own water table by taking a large tupperware and filling that with water.  Fill it with some fun toys and let the fun begin!

Water Balloons-there is nothing more exciting to a kid than throwing a water balloon and watching it explode.  Even better is when that balloon explodes at a target or a person!  A couple of summers ago, I discovered the Pumponator; a balloon pumping station that makes filling water balloons easier for kids!  The best part is that it is perfect for working on improving bilateral coordination skills, increasing upper extremity strength and motor planning/organizational skills!
The Pumponator is simple for even toddlers to use but still fun for older children.  You fill the container up, pump air into the container, attach the balloon to the nozzle and push the button to fill the balloon with water.

If you want to make this activity a little more therapeutic, you can work on having kids work on visual motor skills by having them throw the water balloons at targets or have them try to throw them into different buckets.  If you are playing with other kids, have them try throwing it back and forth to each other as many times as they can before dropping it.

**Side Note:  the Pumponator was invented a couple of years ago by fourth grader, Lexi Glenn.  She became frustrated by how difficult it could be to fill a water balloon using a hose and after finding an old garden sprayer and using it to fill her balloons, invented the Pumponator!

Make Homemade Ice Pops-nothing says summer (at least in NYC) more than hearing the music from all the ice cream trucks.  We love going up to the ice cream truck and having an occasional treat from them.  Last summer, I blogged about the Zoku Quick Pop Maker.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Zoku, it is an ice pop maker that makes yummy and simple ice pops.  It comes with a bunch of recipes and ideas for you and your child to make together.   You can go traditional or you can be really creative and adventurous.  My daughter likes traditional recipes but I am hoping that we can branch out a bit more this summer!

While I purchased my ice pop maker, there are a ton of ways to make ice pops without a fancy kit. Some people use ice cube trays and I have seen ice pops made out of small paper cups and a popsicle stick stuck in the middle of it.

If you have a child who is weary about trying new foods, this could be a fun way to get them involved in the process of trying new foods.  Some people can take advantage of a picky eater by mixing desirable juices with some questionable fruits and making a tasty treat.  Try dropping some fresh fruit into the ice pops as they are freezing to get them to try

I am a huge fan of cooking, baking, etc. and how many occupational therapy skills can be worked on during this activity.  You can work on executive functioning skills such as sequencing and organizational skills.  While you are measuring ingredients out or cutting fruits up, you can work on bilateral coordination skills.  These are just a couple of skills that can be focused on when making ice pops.

If you are a fan of Pinterest, be sure to check out some of the millions of different ice pop recipe ideas that are on there.  There are so many fun and interesting ideas out there and many of them are great for your child to do with minimal help from you.

Chalk Drawing-sometimes kids just want to take a break over the summer.  They don't want to be hassled by working on things like reading, writing and math.  However, there is a way to make practicing writing fun for your kids using sidewalks (driveways if you aren't a city girl like me) and lots of chalk.  For younger kids, you can work on color recognition, matching and drawing simple shapes.  If you have a child who needs to work on coloring, draw a bunch of fun shapes all over the sidewalk or driveway and have them color them in.  Be sure to have the kids color the shapes using the correct colored chalk for an increased challenge.

For older kids who may need to work on handwriting and letter/number recognition, use chalk and make a game out of it.  You can have children label the pictures they draw or make a hopscotch board to work on writing numbers (added bonus, you can work on improving motor planning and coordination skills).  While you can totally make the traditional hopscotch board pictured here, you can also get really creative and use letters, try drawing different shapes, etc..  If you want to work on improving grasping skills, use smaller pieces of thin chalk instead of the fat chalk.

If you want to try something new and totally refreshing for the summer, check out this recipe for ice chalk.  Using every day ingredients like water, cornstarch and food dye, you and your child can have loads of fun making chalk that will cool you off at the same time.  This could be a really fun way to work on color recognition for your younger children.  And for those of you who are reading and thinking how messy this will be, you can easily clean up the chalk mess with a hose when you are finished.  I can't wait to try this with Quinn this summer!

The great thing about each of the activities I have talked about above are that they can be done individually or with friends.  Each of these activities can be equally fun either way!  Sometimes, children can motivate each other to do more challenging things if they have a partner in crime.  Let your children figure out different ways they can play with each of the things mentioned.  I know that some of the best activities for me have come out of listening to ideas from the kids and taking them and making them appropriate for each child.

Now that you have read about some of my favorite summertime activities, I'd love to hear from you about yours.  Do you have any great activities that you recommend to the families you work with or that you do with your own children that make summer unforgettable?  Please share your ideas with me and my readers.  I am only a click away and love hearing from all of you!  I am sure we would all welcome the chance to introduce new things to our children this summer!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I'm Going to Huff and Puff.....and Calm Myself Down!

This is going to be a quick post, but one that I think will be super valuable.  I am not sure about any of you, but I find May and June to be harder than almost any other time of the school year.  So many of my kids are feeling nervous and worried about all the changes that summer usually brings about.  For some of them, it's ending school and realizing they will be in a new school next year with so many new faces.  Others are worried about camp, taking a bus for the first time.  Whatever the changes are, it often brings about kids with increased energy and more difficulty with being able to modulate/regulate their behaviors.

One of the skills I love to teach children when they present with these types of behaviors is how to take deep breaths.  When a child is feeling anxious or scared, his or her breathing will change and instead of taking normal breaths, they will be observed to take short, quick and shallow breaths.  Deep breathing is
important because it can lower a child's anxiety and give them a sense of control over their body.  Teaching a child how to do calm breathing is a great tool that they can have with them at all times, especially when their grownups aren't there to help guide them through it.  However, teaching children, especially the younger ones, how to properly take deep breaths can be more challenging than one may think.

Ever since discovering Free App Friday by Smart Apps For Kids, I have found a handful of great apps.  Ones that I most definitely wouldn't have discovered without me reading it about on their post.  Last week, one of the apps features was Huff-N-Puff by Duckie Deck.  Their description of the game is:  Huff n' PUff lets children learn about physical effects of wind and air, in a simplified setting.  Now, a youngster can have a more direct interaction with the digital world by using the power of their own breath.  Just blow some air near the iPad's or iPhone's iOS 5 microphone and delight in the realistic effect on-screen.  As an occupational therapist, I read this as follows:  Huff n' Puff lets children learn about how to effectively take deep and controlled breaths in a fun, motivated and simple setting.

There isn't much to the game, but it is fun and so far, my kids are loving it!  There are about 25 different activities that your child can play with.  I
pick and choose which ones are most appropriate and most motivating for the child I am working with.  The only thing the child needs to do is breath into the microphone of the iPad or iPhone and something fun will happen.  So far, my favorites are blowing the seeds off the dandelion, making the pinwheel spin or blowing the whistle.  I like these because they require a child to work on sustaining a long, deep breath.  I sometimes challenge my kids to see how many times they can make the pinwheel spin which they love!

One thing I really love about this game is there are ways to generalize and practice your deep breathing with real life activities.  For example, one of the activities is to blow up a balloon.  Right after you blow the balloon up on the game, you can have a child practice using those deep breaths by blowing up a real balloon.  Who remembers that pipe where you have to keep the ball in the air without having it fly away?  They have that as an activity on this game!  I have a few of the real pipes at work and the kids love it, but they often have trouble with it.  Some of my kids think it is really funny to make it fly away and have to chase it.  I am going to see if I can get them to be more successful by practicing with Huff-N-Puff first.

I hope you all have as much fun with this game as I am having.  Deep breathing is such an important skill and I have struggled with finding the most effective way to help my kids learn this skill.  It is an essential skill for learning how to cope when faced with challenging situations.  I am sure many of you have other ways to work on this without using technology and I would love to hear from with your ideas.  As the end of the year approaches and our kids are faced with an increased number of changes and challenges, I would love to be able to help empower them with a skill that will help them get through these difficult times.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

This Tree Doesn't Need To Be Watered!

One of my favorite things to do is re-discover a favorite toy or game at work.  I'm sure you toy lovers (aka hoarders!) know what I am talking about.  You play a game multiple times a day with all different kinds of kids.  These are the games that are fun for the kids but also work on occupational therapy goals in a way that makes it not seem like work.  They are often simple and don't require a lot of reading to figure out how to play the game properly.  They are the games that rules can be changed and adapted based on a child's goals and needs.

Tricky Tree is one of those games for me.  I had lent it out a while ago and it was just returned to me a few weeks ago.  As soon as I got it back, I felt as though I had been reunited with an old friend.  We hadn't been together for a very long time but we picked up just where we left off!  Even better, it's a new game for so many of my kids at work and they are loving it!

Tricky Tree is a great game for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills.  The game is made up of leaves (clothespins) and branches and the goal is to make as big of a tree as you can before it falls over.  It is a great game for working on increasing grasp strength, improving in-hand manipulation skills and problem solving skills.  It can be used with preschoolers but also keep my older school age children motivated.  It can be played individually or with a group of children.   Best of all, it is a simple game and a ton of time does't have to be wasted explaining the rules of play.  The point of the game is simple:  try and build a tree using as high as you can without letting the tree fall over.  You take the clothespins and put them on the tree branches.  It requires a child to think about which side of the tree needs more leaves so it won't fall over.  For my younger children, I will work with them and figure out the best place for them to put the leaf.  For my older children who need to work on problem solving and organizational skills, I will talk to them about how to keep the tree balanced before they begin playing.  We talk about what happens if they put too many on one side of the tree and not enough on the other.  I will talk to them about balance and will sometimes try and compare it to their bodies....when they are carrying a super heavy backpack, they might feel like they will fall over.   I try and give them as few clues as possible while they are playing and hope that they will take their time and really think through what they are doing.

In addition to what I have mentioned above, the following occupational therapy goals can be addressed:

Improve Grasping Skills-this game was made for working on improving grasping skills.  Small clothespins to manipulate that act as leaves.  You need to use a pincer or three finger grasp to open the clothespins to not only put them on the branches, but to take them off at the end of the game.  For my younger children, I don't enforce the pincer grasp but for my older children, I always remind them to use the proper grasp.
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-Tricky Tree is great for working on encouraging bilateral coordination skills.  While one can try to play this game using one hand, they will have a truly difficult time being successful.  As you can see in the pictures, you need to pinch the clothespin with one hand and hold the tree steady with your other hand.
Improve Organizational Skills-if you have a child who needs to work on motor planning and organizational skills, this is a perfect game for them.  I like to have my kids sort the pieces into piles before beginning play to work on organizational skills.  All the leaves go in one pile, the two-point branches in another and the 3-point branches in a third pile.  I find that the more organized their work space is, the more organized their actual work will be.   To work on increasing hand strength, use a pair of zoo sticks to sort the different pieces into piles.
Increase Upper Extremity Strength-for older children who also need to work on building upper body strength, have them play this game while lying prone on the net swing.  You can place the clothespin leaves and the branches on the opposite side of where they are building so they have to walk on their hands more.  I always find that kids are more likely to spend more time on this swing when engaged in a fun and motivating activity.
Improve Social Skills-while this game can be played with just one child, it is even better when played with peers.  Part of being a good friend is not only being able to play games with peers, but learning how to be a good sport when you win or lose a game.  If you have enough kids (I would suggest 4 for this), you can put the kids in two teams and the kids have to work together to figure out how to put the tree together without it falling over.  They can work on problem solving together to figure out the best option for their moves so the tree doesn't topple over.

I love these simple, non-battery operated toys and feel like they end up being the most played with toys in my closet.  Some of my favorite games are beginning to change (and not necessarily for the better), so I love that games like Tricky Tree that won't ever change.  And if taken care of properly, it can last forever.

What are your favorite non-battery operated therapy games?  I would love to hear from all of you about what you are playing and more importantly, what games your kids love to play with.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!

Friday, May 16, 2014

So Much To Color...So Little Time!

I know we live in a technological world.  I am part of that techno world and love using my iPad in my work world because it is motivating and exciting and can do a whole lot in helping many of my kids meet some of their occupational therapy goals.  With that said, there is little that makes me as happy as finding an awesome coloring/activity book.  While there are a ton of wonderful coloring apps available for the iPad, nothing will ever take the place of using crayons or markers to make a beautiful picture.  I have a work closet full of them and a shelf at home dedicated to coloring books that I do with my own daughter.  When I find a good coloring/activity book, I buy many of them and encourage friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

When I find a good coloring book, I get giddy.  I wish I could say it was because I am only thinking about how much the kids at work (or my kid at home) will love it.  In reality, I am thinking about me and how much fun I will have watching the kids interact with the coloring books.  And maybe I am thinking about how much fun I will have looking through the book and doing some coloring of my own in some of my free time (hah...what is that?!!??).

I am fortunate to live in a city that is overflowing with awesome stores.  More fortunate that so many of those stores are targeted towards my love of children, toys and having fun.  Recently, I have found myself obsessed with two coloring/activity books and feel like anyone who works or has children should have them.  Not only are they super fun, they both have educational and therapeutic value that will make them a perfect addition to your work/home collection of toys.

I can't get enough of this book.  More importantly, my kids at work seem to be enjoying it as much as me!  When I first saw this book at West Side Kids, I thought my daughter Quinn and I would have fun with it.  When I opened it up and saw looked through each and every page, I realized that not only was it great for my kid, it would be great for so many of my kids at work.  This is not your ordinary coloring book.  While there are plenty of opportunities to work on improving your coloring skills, there is so much more here.  Each page has a different picture or theme and are perfect for boys or girls.  Maybe it is a spread of fairies or cars, maybe it is a bunch of yummy looking food or an under the sea scene.  Whatever it is, they are adorable!  Each page has specific instructions for a child to follow such as finding all the fairies holding wands and coloring them a certain color or look at a picture of a food item, find its match and color it the same color.   If you look at the picture below, you will see that not only does it give you specific instructions on what to look for and color, it also leaves a part of the page free for you to fill in with your own pictures.  So not only is this good for working on improving coloring skills, it is also great for improving a child's drawing and creativity skills.  I love that once the kids are done following the directions, they can then be free to do what they want with the rest of the images that are not colored.  I have noticed that my kids are excited to do what they need to so then they can be free to use whatever colors they want to!

This particular coloring book is great for working on visual perceptual skills and improving focus and attention.  I love that a child has to look for specific items; they are required to scan the pages to find what they need to.  For some of my kids, this is a tremendous challenge and I have to give them specific instructions on how to look for the picture by starting at the top and using their finger to help guide them.  This also requires a child to look at details; many of my kids will rush through and begin to just color anything that looks like what they are supposed to be looking for just to be finished.

This book is great for preschoolers and younger school age children.  With that said, some of the older kids on my caseload love it as well.  Okay, let me honest here.  I LOVE it and love doing it alongside my kids at work.  I find that coloring can help my children slow down and become more focused and attentive to other tabletop activities.  For many of my children who struggle with handwriting, I will start off with a coloring activity as a warm up.  It's great to do something fun and something they can be successful with prior to something that is more challenging.

The Colouring Book by Herve Tullet

My friends at Norman & Jules have a great selection of books and when they stock a coloring book, I rush up to pick it up.  They don't mess around with their toys and the same can be said about their coloring book choices.  They tend to have coloring books that you don't see at a lot of other toy stores.  I love how they think outside of the box when they pick something out for their customers.

This is a great coloring book for the older children on my caseload.  Like the book mentioned above, it's more than just a coloring book.  Many of the pages have special instructions for you to follow.  For example, there is a page with a bunch of numbers on it and it asks you to color in only the even or odd numbers (which is why this is more appropriate for older children).  There are pages that ask you to follow particular patterns or others that ask you to look for a certain shape/picture and color them all in the same color.  

All of the activity books by Herve Tullet are great.  I especially like to use them for my kids who have more difficulty with being creative or have a hard time thinking outside of the box.  His books are funky and sophisticated and make my kids really think about what they want to do and how they want their picture to look.  I like to look through the books before working with a child and figuring out what page(s) would be best for each child based on the goals I have with them.  The variety in pictures and activities makes it great for finding something that will motivate a child you are working with and allow them to be successful.  To me, it is most important to push my kids to do things outside of their comfort zone but also make sure that they will be successful so their self-esteem and confidence is not compromised.
In general, all coloring books are a great tool for occupational therapy and meeting fine-motor and visual motor/perceptual goals.  The books mentioned above are just 2 of the many that are out there. They can work on so much including:
Improve Grasping Skills-many of the kids on my caseload need to work on improving their grasping skills when holding a writing instrument.  Sometimes they need to be really motivated to work on this.  I find when I get the right coloring or activity books, the kids I work with are more likely to want to spend time working on something that is challenging for them.  I like to make sure that I have plenty of options available when it comes to writing instruments.  I like to use broken crayons that are only a few inches to try and encourage the kids to use a tripod-like grasp.  Sometimes I will use rock crayons; they are the perfect size for our little ones who are using more immature grasping patterns on writing instruments.
For my daughter's fourth birthday party (with a unicorn theme), I discovered this great Etsy shop.  Scribblers Crayons is the brain child of Randi, a mom who makes a bunch of fantastic shaped crayons. If you are looking for ways to motivate your child to color, take a look at her page and see if there any of her designs would make your child more excited about coloring.  I like the star and the heart shaped ones the best!
Improve Visual Motor Skills-coloring/activity books are obviously great for working on visual skills.  Whether it be improving eye-hand coordination when coloring in the lines or using visual scanning to find the hidden things on the page, these books can be a fun way to work on a skill that may cause a child frustration.
Improve Modulation/Regulation-coloring is a great activity to do when you want to work on modulation/regulation.  Many of my kids will scribble furiously only have paying attention to the boundaries of what they are coloring.  I like to challenge my kids to try and slowly color and remain in the lines as much as possible. This sounds easy, but for many of the kids I work with, it takes a lot to slow down and do this with accuracy.
Improve Executive Functioning/Organizational Skills-some of the pages in both books are tricky and require a child to be organized in their work.  It may require them to read through all the instructions before doing their work.  For my older children who might be working on improving homework organization, I will have them read through all the instructions and gather all the supplies that they need before beginning.  This can be critical for some children to be independent and successful with the task at hand.  
Improve Focus/Attentional Skills-I love a coloring book that doubles as an activity book.  For many of the kids I work with, it's a struggle to get them to just color and they do better when there are things to do.  I like being able to tell the kids that they have to do a certain number of things before they can switch tasks.  This keeps them focused and helps them to understand what is expected of them.

I know that there are hundreds of great coloring and activity books out there.  I haven't blogged about these kind of books in a while but if you check out this blog post here, you will see that these books are still amazing.  As a matter of fact, I still use and recommend them to my clients. Honestly, once a good activity book, always a good activity book (this is mostly relevant to books that are not created for a particular movie or character).  Do you have have any great books that you can share with me and my readers?  I am always on the lookout for good books to have both at home for my daughter and for work purposes.   Please share your favorites with all of us!  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all with your ideas!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Foiled Again!

Every once in a while I stumble upon an arts and craft project and I feel like I have hit the jackpot.  I first felt that way when I discovered the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics.  To this day, I still buy tons of these sets each year to do with my kids and they never get bored of it.  Actually, I have 12 kids on my caseload working on different pictures as we speak.  So when I was searching through the craft aisle at West Side Kids on the UWS the other day, I was thrilled to find the Foil Art Sticker Kits by at Peaceable Kingdom.

I am a big fan of craft projects that take more than one or two sessions to work on.  I find that it makes it more exciting and rewarding for the children that I work with to spread projects out over a few sessions.  I love seeing the pride on their faces when they finish something that they worked on for so long and try and make it a really big deal when they get to proudly show off their work to their parents or caregivers.  It's a really great thing to watch them run out of the room and share their work and tell everyone how they did it.  Sometimes, I will talk to my kids about the process and how hard it was when we started the project and how it got easier.  This is a great opportunity to build a child's self-esteem and confidence.

Foil Art Sticker Kits by at Peaceable Kingdom are a fun and motivating project for any child.  So far, I have found that they work better for my older preschool kids or my school-age kids because it requires a decent amount of patience, and more importantly, focus.  It also requires a certain amount of hand strength in order to complete the project which means an older child will have more success completing it independently.  These projects are a great way to work on a variety of fine motor skills, including increasing hand strength and manipulation skills.  For kids who avoid those kinds of activities, this is a great way to hide that work and end up with a really cool project to take home at the end.  Another nice thing about the Foil Art Sticker Kits is that the options are not too overwhelming.  Each set comes with 4 different colors to choose from which I find to be helpful in organizing ones work and attention.  When there are too many colors to choose from, I notice that some of my kids become more distracted and end up jumping from one color to another rather quickly.

In addition to what has already been mentioned above, Foil Art Sticker Kits by at Peaceable Kingdom can work on the following skills:

Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-looking for a simple but fun activity to promote using two hands?  This is perfect.  It will be nearly impossible to make your picture without using two hands.  First, you have to hold the sheet/picture with one hand while you peel the stickers off with the other hand.  Once you have the sticker off the picture, you have to hold the picture still with one hand while you rub the foil onto the sticker using a finger from your other hand.  Sounds simple but I can't tell you how difficult this can be for some children.
Improve Modulation/Regulations Skills-I have done these with a few kids at work and at home with my own 4 year old and have learned that the whole "slow and steady" motto really helps.  When a child tries and rub the foil really fast, it moves around too much and won't stick well.  They will have to redo their work which can be quite frustrating.  The nice thing about making this a long-term project is that after a session or two, I can see the kids slowing down and being more attentive to what they are doing and how quickly they are doing it.  As I say to my kids.....they don't have to be perfect but they must try their best to do their best.  For some of my kids, just being able to slow down is their best and that is a huge thing.
Improve Grasping Skills-a child is required to pull the sticker off before they place the colored foil on top of the picture which will work on developing a fine pincer grasp.  Additionally, a child has to use a fine pincer grasp to pull the top of the sticker off so they can place the foil on top.  For some of my kids, this is quite challenging and requires some encouragement and assistance from me to make sure to take only one sticker off at a time.
Improve Organizational Skills-for my older children who may be working on improving organizing their work and improving executive functioning skills, I have them think about what color they want each section to be prior to completing the activity.  After they have figured out what color will go where, they then have to complete all of the same color at one time.

Peaceable Kingdom is a great company and I love that they make so many great products that I can feel good about supporting and recommending to others.  First of all, they have an amazing mission:
Make good, do good, be good!
They use sustainable materials in their products whenever they can using recycled papers and soy-based inks.  They work with independent illustrators, giving people the chance to make their mark on this awesome world we live in.  Most importantly, they believe in creating products that help you connect to the kids in your life and for kids to connect to other kids.  Awesome, right?  Plus, they have awesome customer service.  If you lose a piece to one of their games, they will replace it for you at no cost.  Lastly, they are big into giving back to their people through a "Donation a Day" program.  I don't know about you, but I would like to see more companies out there like this and I will do what I can to support and promote them.

I found my Foil Art Sticker Kits at West Side Kids, an amazing toy store on the upper west side of Manhattan.  Be sure to check out your local toy stores to see if they carry these kits (or any of the fantastic products by Peaceable Kingdom).  I am a huge supporter supporting our local businesses whenever possible and hope that my readers do the same.  If you don't see these products in your local toy stores you can always find them on their website by clicking here.

I am always looking for new craft projects that will motivate my kids at work.  Ones that will work on improving their fine motor and attentional skills are awesome especially if they will help on building self-esteem and confidence.  Do you have other great projects like the Foil Art Sticker Kits or the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics that you would recommend to me and my readers.  I am always looking for something new to add to my OT closet and love hearing from you all.  I am always a click away so please be sure to send me your favorites!  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Pinch Me! These Princesses are Perfect!

One of the benefits of having my own child is discovering all the new toys out there and getting to use them first hand.  I happen to have a kid who is obsessed with princesses.  I have learned from personal experience that even if you don't push the princess thing on your little girl, it still happens somehow.  Not that I am complaining.  I love playing with Quinn and all her princesses and watching her girly girl personality grow bigger with each passing day.

A few months ago, Quinn and I were hanging out with good friends and she discovered Caraline's princess dolls.  Princess dolls that we somehow didn't have or know anything about.  Somehow we have gone through her short life without having knowing anything about the MagiClip dolls by Mattel.  They are indeed magical.  Especially if you are a 4 year old girl (or the mother of a 4 year old girl and an occupational therapist).  Fast forward a couple of weeks and Quinn gets these magical dolls for her birthday and they may or may not have been her favorite toy.  And she may or may not have played with them for hours.  The truth is is that the more I played with them with her, the more I realized just how awesome these simple toys are.  The best part is that there are so many occupational therapy goals that can be worked on when playing with the MagiClip Dolls.  I am now using them during my sessions with many of my kids as are the physical therapists I work with!  I like to place the kids on a large therapy ball and work on core strengthening by having them lie back and reach for one doll and a dress.  It's a great way to get some of the kids who avoid the more physical work to be motivated to participate in the task.

The MagiClip Dolls are so simple yet so much fun.  They are a huge hit with any princess lover of any age.  My older nieces love these dolls as much as Quinn does!  Each doll has a dress (or two depending on which set you get) that is removed and put back on by pinching the bottom of the dress.  It is kind of like a clothes pin in the way it opens/closes.  The doll slips out and can easily be switched into one of the other princesses dresses.  Take a look at the pictures to the sides to see how they work.

There are several occupational therapy goals that can be worked on when playing with the MagiClip Dolls.  Here are just a few:
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-these highly motivating toys are great for working on improving bilateral coordination skills.  In order for these to work, a child is required to use two hands.  They must hold the doll with one hand and pinch the bottom of the dresses with their other in order to remove the dresses and then to put them on again.
Improve Hand Strength/Grasping Skills-these dolls are great for working on improving both hand strength and grasping skills.  I make sure that my kids use their "pinchers" when opening the dresses to pull the dolls out.  Many of my kids try and use their whole hold to open them, but if necessary, I will do hand over hand modeling to get them to use three fingers only. For the typically developing child, the opening/pinching of the dresses isn't too difficult but for those children who low muscle tone or decreased strength in their hands, it can be a challenge and can really work on improving their grasp strength.  
Improve Organizational/Attentional/Problem Solving Skills-I love that a child really has to focus and maintain their attention on the dolls when they are putting the dresses on the doll.  There is a definite front and back and the doll won't slip into the dress if it is on backwards.  For some of the dolls like Rapunzel or Aurora, a child has to have patience and pay attention that the dress goes under their long hair.  Some of the kids I work with get very frustrated with this and need encouragement to focus and keep at it until it is on all the way.  Once I get them to slow down and focus, they are able to problem solve to figure out the best way to get the dress on the doll.
Improve Visual Perceptual/Matching Skills-at home, my daughter can play with these dolls and dresses for hours and hours.  She loves putting different dresses on the dolls and then setting them for a ball or a party.  For my kids at work, I like to let them play around but also try and make these as therapeutic as possible.  For the starter set (7 princesses each with their own dress), each princess has shoes/undergarments (I call it a bathing suit) that matches the color of the dress that they are supposed to wear.  I work on improving matching skills and color recognition by encouraging the children to find the right doll to go with the right dress.  This sounds easy but can be complicated for some children.

I don't have many complaints about the MagiClip Dolls.  My only major complaint is that there just isn't enough of a variety of them and that they are getting harder and harder to find these days!  I love me some princesses but would love to see some of the other characters be represented with this toy.  How about some characters for my "I am a boy and don't play with princesses" kids on my caseload????  I would love to see some of the other Disney characters represented as well.  One of the other things I really like about these dolls, especially compared to other princess doll sets, is that the sets just come with a doll and dress.  There aren't a million little accessories to go along with them and potentially lose.

Every once in a while, I have been able to find these magical dolls at some of my local toy stores but they are hard to find. I have been able to buy big sets here on Amazon.com and seen some of the individual sets during my Target runs.  Keep your eyes open at your local toy stores to see if you can find them there.  It's no secret that whenever I can, I like to support my local small businesses.  Recently, I have been able to buy some of the dolls at Little Things Toy Store in Park Slope and at Toy and Stationary World on 72nd (between Broadway and Columbus) on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Are there any toys like this that any of you have used with your kids at home or at work that you can share with me and my readers?  I would love to hear from you and am just a click away!

Have a Happy Friday you princess loving people!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Who Needs The Beach?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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