Monday, February 25, 2013

It's All in the Wrist

One of my many occupational therapy jobs is that I am a founding member of The Meeting House, an after school program for school age children with social special needs.  It's a recreational based program that focuses on fun, friendship and community but at the same time provides children who struggle socially with tools and skills that will help them be better friends at school, at home and any other place where they need to be social.  As the occupational therapist, I am there to provide my expertise but not provide 1:1 therapy.  The therapeutic aspect of the program is embedded and my job is to provide suggestions and insight to help the children succeed in this setting.   It's a fantastic program and we have some of New York City's most amazing kids attending the program.  If you are in the area, you should definitely come and visit us.  Contact me if you are interested in learning more about The Meeting House.

When the kids first come in after school, they have the choice of doing homework or hanging out and playing games with their friends.  It's a time for them to relax after a busy and sometimes stressful day at school.  I think it is one of the most important parts of our afternoon and am on a constant search for fun, but simple, games that they can be independent with.  I can spend hours a week scouring toy stores looking for such games.  A few months ago, I was on the hunt for games that would be good for our kids and found the perfect game:  Tenzi.

Tenzi is a 2-4 person dice game (more if you have children partner up with each other).  The rules are simple and everyone can play with little support from grown-ups.  Each child or team gets 10 dice.  One of the players shouts out a number and everyone rolls their dice until they have 10 of the same number.  It's really as simple as that and the kids have a great time.  While it seems like it could get competitive, I have yet to see that amongst our group of kids.  Because it is so fast paced, it's really more about having fun and less about being the winner.  When the first person rolls 10, they are encouraged to help a peer out.  I love watching the kids play this game; there is so much laughing and cheering friends on.  A truly perfect game to encourage social skills at The Meeting House.

This is not only a great game for improving social skills, it's also perfect for using with my kids at my private practice.  Because it is usually is me and one child at the gym, I can focus more on occupational therapy goals.  I tend to have my kids play this game while lying on a net swing or lying prone on a bolster to work on increasing upper extremity and neck strength.

Here are a few of the many goals that can be worked on playing Tenzi.

*Improve visual tracking skills-a child has to carefully scan the playing space to look for the number of dots on each dice
*Increase grasp/hand strength-by having the child use just one hand (I usually encourage the child to use the hand that they write with) to pick up the dice, you can work on improving the hand muscles which is important for handwriting, cutting and other school related skills
*Improve wrist control-rolling dice is a great way to work on improving wrist control and strength.  You would be surprised how difficult something as simple (to us) as rolling dice can be for children with fine motor difficulties and strength issues.
*Improve attentional/focus skills-a child has to pay close attention to the number of dots on the dice.  If they are not paying attention, they might keep picking up dice that already have the desired number.
*Improve modulation/regulation skills-a child has to not be impulsive when rolling the dice and not just pick up the dice again before finding the desired number.  In the thick of the game and out of pure excitement, I have had to remind the kids I work with to not pick up a dice that is not theirs.
*Improve organizational skills-a child has to organize their dice in a way that they don't constantly pick up the dice that already have the desired number.  I talk to my kids about having a place to roll the dice and having a place to put the dice that have already got the correct number.  This can be VERY difficult for the children I see who have impulse control issues.

While I have played this game mostly with the school age children on my caseload, I have been thinking about ways to make this work for the younger children.  I think I am going to try using only 5 dice and help my children work on counting and 1:1 correspondence while counting.

I really do enjoy this game and think you will all love it too.  As always, check out your local toy stores to see if they carry this game (I found mine at Little Things Toy Store in Park Slope).  I always feel better buying local even if it means spending a little more than from online stores.

 I would love to hear if you have any other suggestions/adaptations for younger children.  Remember, I am only a click away and would love to hear from you all.

Friday, February 22, 2013

They Did it Again-Bugs and Bubbles

Months back, I wrote this blog about Bugs and Buttons.  Recently, I discovered another great app from Little Bit Studio, creators of Bugs and Buttons.  Bugs and Bubbles is another fantastic app that is already one of Quinn's favorites.  Best part?  18+ games for only $2.99!  This app is colorful, motivating and will engage your child for hours on end.  Because there are so many games, they won't get bored quickly.  My favorite games so far are Whack'em, Pinch Garden and Follow Me.

Similar to the arcade game, Wack A Mole.  Bubbles come out of a blower and you have to pop them before they float off into space.  You have to beware of the ones that have bees inside them and not pop those.  I like that it starts off with just one bubble and then moves up to five bubbles at once.  Great for visual tracking, grasp development and focus/attention.

Pinch Garden:
A fun way to work on developing pinching and grasping skills.  Watch the flowers grow and when you see a bubble come out of it, pinch it and pop it.  I find pinch and grasp skills difficult to work on at times (the children get bored with the manipulative toys we work with) so when I find a game like this that has a pinching/grasping component, I am all over it.  An iPad can motivate the most unmotivated child!  

Follow Me:
This is a cute game that works on teaching letters.  There is a foggy window and a bug will fly to form each letter.  Once you trace the letter, the fog disappears.  They only do one part of the letter at a time and seems to follow the Handwriting Without Tears format.  If you are using this app on the iPad and working on pencil grip, be sure to use a stylus.  

I hope you enjoy this game as much as Quinn and I have been!!  Would love to hear from you all about your favorite game on this app and why.  Honestly, I think this these apps are some of the best out there.  And it isn't just because of all the games you get at such a low price.  If you have any questions or comments, I am just a click away!  Now go download this game and pop away!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Square by Square a Mosaic is Made

For the last several years, I have compiled a holiday toy suggestion list for the families I work work with; this is my 2012 Holiday list.  I am going to try and go through and highlight some of my all time favorite toys that make the list year after year.  The first one will be the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics.

I discovered the Sticky Mosaics about 4 years ago when I was looking for new toys and ideas for some of the older girls I worked with.  I wanted a long term project that didn't involve coloring.  I stumbled upon the mosaic sets and have probably spent hundreds on them since.  They are brilliant and I still kick myself that I didn't think of it myself.  At this point, there are a variety of collections so you will easily find one that your child will love and be motivated by to work hard to complete.  They are colorful and some even have gem-like stickers to complete the mosaics which the kids love!  I have to admit, I am a big fan of some of their most recent additions to the Orb Factory family such as the room decor collection (jewelry boxes, picture frames, etc.).

What I love most about this toy is how many OT goals can be focused on with these mosaics.  First and foremost, it is a perfect activity to work on with children who have immature grasping skills.  The size of the mosaic tiles are just right to encourage a fine pincer grasp which many children with hand weakness don't have.  For some of my children who lack bilateral coordination, I will stick the stickers on the back of their hands so they have to pull the stickers off with the opposite hand.  For children struggling with learning numbers and colors, you can use this activity to work on those skills as well.  All the squares have a number on it and you have to match the correct color with the numbers.  My favorite thing is that after weeks of working on the mosaic (I typically see children one time per week so this can take several weeks to finish; if you are working on it at home, it most likely will not take as long) and the picture is finally complete, the look of pride and excitement on the child's face is priceless.  This ends up being ideal to work on improving a child's self-esteem and confidence.  Other OT goals are:
*Improving visual motor/eye-hand coordination skills
*Improving sequencing skills-give the child a number or color pattern to work on when putting the stickers on
*Improve upper extremity strength by putting the templates up on a vertical surface (easel or tape to the wall) and have your child have to reach up to put the pieces on; when at my sensory gym, I will have a child lie prone on a net swing and work on the mosaics.
*Improve focus and attention.  For some children, challenging activities lead to a significantly decreased attention span to said activities.  I will sometimes give my children a time challenge and say they have to put as many as they can on the template in a given amount of time.  I increase the amount of time with each visit.
*Improves social skills.  There are a few oversized mosaic collections that I have used at The Meeting House; you can put the larger kits out and tell a group of children to complete it together.  Assign a color/number to each child and make sure they work out any conflicts themselves.  

Over the last few years, Orb Factory has expended their products to include products not only appropriate for boys, but also collections for toddlers or children with more significant fine motor delays.

Instead of matching the little squares to a number, a child is expected to match the colors and shapes.  The tiles are slightly larger so this is perfect for children with smaller and possibly weaker finger muscles.  I have begun to work on one of the toddler sets with my almost 3 year old daughter and she loves it.  While she has no fine motor delays, she does need some help in building her focus and attention to activities that do not involve an iPad or television.  I know she will be very proud to show off her completed project when it is all finished!

I hope that you found this blog helpful and if you are looking for a reasonably priced and battery free gift, you should definitely check these mosaics out.  While you can find plenty of collections online, be sure to check out your local toy and book stores to see if they carry them first.  I know I always feel better about supporting small businesses when I can.  If you have any questions or would like to share any ideas or products with me, I am a click away and would love to hear from you!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Writing is on the pad...the iPad

I am always looking for great handwriting apps.  One of the things I work on with most of my children is handwriting and encouraging them that it can be fun.  With the introduction of the iPad to my professional (and personal) life, I have been able to motivate some of the kids who struggle most with handwriting by using the iPad.  I have a bunch of them on my iPad and iPhone.  Have even begun to use them with my almost 3 year old daughter, Quinn.  She is already eager to learn because of the super cool apps out there.  LetterSchool is definitely one of my go-to apps.  I use this in conjunction with the Handwriting Without Tears program and have found that my kids at work are more motivated and excited about learning how to write their letters and alphabet.

Today, during one of my home sessions, I was talking to an 8 year old who his struggling with handwriting and has recently been introduced to cursive.  She is one of the most awesome and hardest working girls I know and I want to find ways to make her feel better about her handwriting.  As we were practicing writing, I decided to do a search for fun and motivating iPad apps that featured cursive handwriting.  I am so excited about what i stumbled upon.  Fizzbrain Apps has a series of handwriting apps that will be sure to excite and motive your child.  I have already downloaded the Touch and Write and Cursive Touch and Write apps on my iPad.  And I can't wait to start using them at work.

There are a lot of great features of this app and I am still learning them all.  One of the things I really like is that it follows the Handwriting Without Tears way of writing so I will be able to use this in conjunction with the workbooks I use.  One of the things my kids love is that you can choose from over a dozen different materials to write with such as shaving cream, green jello and ketchup!

Another great feature is that you can change the level of difficulty depending on your child's skill level. For beginners, there is are cupcakes throughout the letter you are practicing that you have to drag a monster too.  Once you have mastered that level, you can choose to just drag the monster through the letter without the cupcakes as a visual cue.  If you don't draw the lines in the correct order, you have to keep trying.  The picture below shows the monster being dragged using chocolate frosting and having to follow the cupcakes as a visual cue.  

One of the last features I really love is that you can work on writing words as well.  There is an option so you can add words that you want to work on.  Great for children who need practice with their spelling lists.  Could also add your name (as seen above) and maybe the names of your friends or family members.  I love the idea of being able to personalize the app to your child's needs and/or interests.  

I can't wait to spend more time exploring this app with my children at work.  There is nothing like watching a child begin to master and feel more confident with their handwriting.  Children have so much on their plates in school these days.  So many expectations and they are constantly comparing themselves to other children and recognize their struggles or how things come easily for other children. My goal with finding these apps is to have fun while helping to develop a sense of mastery with skills.  As a therapist, I try and "hide" the work aspect of things and focus on the fun.  Chances are they will master and generalize the skills much easier and faster if i do it that way.  

For those of you with younger children who aren't working on letters yet, they have created a shapes version of this app.  Check out Shapes Touch and Write for you little ones.  It is never too early to start working on developing good graphomotor skills.  I am definitely going to begin using it with my almost 3 year old daughter Quinn.  

Do any of you have any great handwriting apps that you can share with me?  Would love to hear of any others out there or if you too have had success with either of these Fizzbrain writing apps.  As always, I am just a click away and would love to hear from you and answer any questions you might have.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

EZ as 1, 2, 3

This is mainly a toy blog, but as an occupational therapist, I spend a lot of time helping children in becoming more independent.  Not only in play, but in their self-care skills.  Children who are able to independently get dressed will be more confident and become less reliant on grownups to do things for them.  As a parent, I love that my almost 3 year old daughter insists on dressing and undressing herself. Things may be on backwards and her legs may end up in the wrong holes in her underpants, but she is proud of herself.

A couple of years ago, I read about EZ Sox and began to tell everyone I know who has children about them.  They are not only adorable, but they are brilliantly designed.  They are a pair of cotton socks that have two loops on the top.  A child can easily grab onto them and stretch the sock to get them over their toes.  There are a variety of patterns, but I love the animal prints because it gives children a clear visual as to where the top and the bottom are.  I also think that

The first thing a child has to do when they come to my gym is to take off their shoes and socks.  Since many of them have a goal of being able to independently remove them, this is a great opportunity to work on it every time they come visit me.  In the last couple of years, when I see a child struggling with socks, which is quite often, I share EZ Sox with them and they are always so happy with them.  For many of my children who have decreased grasp strength, just putting socks on can be very challenging and frustrating.  Not only are these socks cute, they are stretchy enough that children with fine motor difficulties can quickly get the hang of them.  And when a child is able to master putting their socks on without help, they are often more eager to start working on the more difficult dressing/undressing skills like buttons, snaps and zippers.

These socks are not just for children who have fine motor difficulties.  They are great for toddlers who are just beginning to learn how to dress and undress themselves.  My 7 year old niece still uses them just because they are so cute!

If you have any questions about this or anything else, remember I am just an email away.