Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Just Spot It!

Sometimes the simpler the game, the better.  I can't tell you how many games I have purchased because they looked awesome and I thought the kids would love them.  Come to find out that upon opening them, the directions were too complicated for me to follow let alone teach it to a group of children who may present with processing and/or learning differences.  To me this is one of the most frustrating things about purchasing games without it being recommended by someone else or having watched in action.  So when I found out about the game Spot It, created by the amazing company Blue Orange Games, I had to run out and buy it.

I was introduced to Spot It this year from my speech therapist colleague, Jessica Pangretic. We used it with our school age kids during one of our social skills group and I can't believe I deprived all my kids at work and at The Meeting House the awesomeness of this game until this year!  Spot It and Spot It Junior are now just part of my therapy and I love that there are a variety of ways to play the game so kids of all different abilities can be successful in it.  One of my favorite things about this game is that it is small and portable and can easily be brought anywhere with you, unlike many games out there today.  Instead of giving your child an iPhone or iPad to entertain them in the various places they need entertainment, try this game.  It will keep them entertained for a long time!

Spot It seems simple enough when you first play.  You have a deck of round cards that have either 8 (regular Spot It) or 6 (Spot It Jr.) different objects on it.  Each card has one match to another card....no exceptions.  I know for a fact that sometimes it doesn't feel that way but it's the truth! Check out the image to the right and I think you will have a better idea of what I am talking about. While I tend to stick to the traditional way of playing, if you look in the tin, there are a few different suggestions on how to play it.  

One of my favorite ways to play this game when at the gym is to have the kids lie on their stomach while in the net swing.  Not only can you work on all the visual perceptual and attentional skills while playing the game, you can also work on increasing upper body and neck strength.  Since the kids tend to be so focused on the game, they don't even realize that they are working on making their bodies stronger!  

Here are a few more occupational therapy goals that can be addressed when playing Spot It or Spot It Jr. :
Improve Visual Perceptual Skills-being able to find your match and do so in a timely manner is the name of the game.  Matching is a visual perceptual skill that children may have mastered with puzzles and such, but this game really ups the challenge as the cards are each different and you just can't predict what card will come up.
Improve Visual Tracking-when searching for your match, you must carefully track from your card to the other.  If you do this in an organized way, you will have an easier time finding your match in a timely  manner.  
Improve Social Skills-this game can be played with up to 6-8 players so it is a great game to play in social situations.  I have even used this with children playing in pairs, matching a child who has strong visual skills with a child who may struggle more, in order to work on building team work.  As always, teaching a child how to be a good winner and loser is always important.  
Improve Modulation and Regulation Skills-I have seen children so eager to win and get rid of all of their cards first that they will just blurt out an object before even looking.  I gently hand the card back to the child and ask them to really look at the card and find the match. 
Improve Attention Span/Focus-depending on a child's attention span, I may not use all of the cards at once when first introducing this game.  I want them to be successful and feel good about themselves so I may just use half the deck and as they get more comfortable with the game, I will add more cards to the pile.  You can measure a child's increasing attention span/ability to focus by trying to keep track of how many times you may need to tell the child to keep their eyes on the cards.  I tend to see wandering eyes when children are challenged by visual activities, especially new ones, and requires me to tell them over and over again to keep their eyes on the activity at hand.

For all of you therapists, teachers and parents looking for a fun game that can be entertaining for you all, I highly recommend adding Spot It and/or Spot It Jr. to your toy box.  Not only is it fun for all, it can work on so many skills without your children even realizing it.  To me, that is the best part of the game.

I have found the game in many local toy stores but you may also find it at Barnes and Noble or Whole Foods.   As always, I encourage you to support local toy stores.  I am sure if they don't carry it, they would be happy to order it for you.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.  I am just a click away and love hearing from you all.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sticky Business-Orb Factory Forest Friends

Just a quick post for any of you looking for a cute Easter present for your preschooler or school age child, I have the perfect suggestion.  You know my love for the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics since I raved about them in this blog post.  They are constantly coming up with new products and they just get better and better.  You can read about all the occupational therapy benefits there but had to share this adorable new set I discovered on my shopping trip yesterday.

The Forest Friends set is just about the cutest thing I have ever seen and would make the perfect addition to any Easter basket!  For my Brooklyn peeps, I know that Little Things on 7th Avenue in Park Slope carries this and a few other very cute sets.  I have already done this with one of the older children I work with and she loved it!  I have a feeling this set will be a constant in my therapy closet!

As always, I am just a click away if you want to ask any questions or need any other gift suggestions.  I love sharing ideas that I know will bring fun and happiness to your lives!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Let's Get the Doodling Started

Until I began working with kids what seems like a lifetime ago, I didn't realize that not being able to draw was something so many kids struggled with.  I just assumed that everyone knew how to draw and that some were just better at it than others.  

It is quite common that children who have handwriting difficulties will also have a hard time with being able to draw.  When I evaluate a child to determine their occupational therapy needs, I always ask that they draw a picture of themselves or their family and to draw another picture of their choice.  It is really interesting to see 

I am a big believer that sometimes it requires some motivation and bribery to teach kids new skills.  Typically, kids avoid things that are difficult because it doesn't make them feel happy.  This shouldn't come as a surprise to any of the adults reading this blog as I think we are all guilty of the same thing.  I know I still avoid doing things that aren't easy or that I might not be very good at.  As an adult, we can do that without too much backlash.  Children are sometimes forced to do things that they aren't good at or that is hard for them and it makes them much more resistant to wanting to do it.  So it is really important to me that I find fun and creative ways to work on those more challenging things so that it ends up being more fun and less work for them.  As a child I wasn't a great drawer, but I had fun and could draw a variety of things so it made me sad to see kids get stressed out when drawing.

Doodlecast for Kids, created by zinc roe Design, is a super cute app that works on teaching kids how to draw.  The really cool thing about this app though is that while you are drawing, it records your drawing process including your voice.  You can then save it on You Tube and send it to parents, teachers, etc..  As a therapist, I love that I can share this process with parents so they not only see their child's work but that they can have a better understanding of what kind of language I am using in order for their child to be successful.  The chances of seeing progress quicker is more likely if we are all using the same language and a similar process with kids.  

As you can see in the picture to the right, there are different ways to start the drawing process.  I like the idea of giving the kids a starting place like the water and the eyes.  When I use it, I brainstorm with the kids even before they begin to draw about what they will include in their picture.  For example, if completing the water picture, I would ask what kind of animals could be in the water, what could be in the bottom of the water and/or what might be on top of the water.  If you choose to use the word bubbles it will ask you to draw something yucky, wet, etc..  

As you can see in the picture below of the octopus, you can let your imagination run wild.  Sometimes once kids are given a starting place, they can jump into completing a picture with greater ease.  As they become more adept at completing the pictures, you can start to use more of a blank canvas and allow them to draw pictures of their own.  Many of the kids I work with struggle with the motor planning and processing part of drawing a picture and end up shutting down.  Even when they feel comfortable enough to draw a picture using the blank template, I would still talk through the process with them to help organize their work and know what they are thinking so I can then help them if they get stuck at any point.  

Listed below you will see just a few of the many therapeutic benefits of Doodlecast for Kids.  

Improve Grasping Skills-as with many other handwriting apps, I like to have the kids hold a stylus when using this app.  Check out this link to the Fred and Friends iCreate Crayon stylus.  I find apps like this are perfect for being able to work on holding a writing instrument the correct way because they tend to become so engrossed in their work.

Improve Motor Planning and Following Directions-sometimes when I ask children to draw pictures, they just scribble all over the paper and quickly finish what they are doing.  When using this app, you could help talk through the process and come up with a plan and then encourage them to follow that plan.  I would make it simple and stick to 3 or 4 steps in the beginning and begin increasing the demands as they are more comfortable with the app and their drawing skills.  

Improve Imagination Skills
-this app can be a great way to get kids to start thinking outside of their boxes when drawing.  Many kids I work with will draw the same picture every time I ask them to draw.  Hopefully this will help them begin to feel more comfortable drawing new things and add more details and ideas to their drawings.  It might take time, but I have a feeling that they will become more confident in their drawing skills.  

Improve Social Skills-this is a perfect game to do with siblings, parents or friends.  It would be fun to do this with a small group of kids and see what each one adds.  This is a great way to work on improving a child's flexibility about working with friends and doing something they may not want because each person will be able to add to the picture and they have to not get upset. 

I am really looking forward to using Doodlecast for Kids more with the kids at work.  I think they will really get a kick out of the fact that after they finish their picture, they can watch what they did and see how they got to the finished product.  As I mentioned before, I also love the fact that you can share the videos with the parents.  It is a great way for them to see what we are working on in therapy, what their child is capable of doing and how they can do similar things when they are working with them at home.  

I would love to hear your thoughts about this app and how you might use it with your kids and how you might adapt it for even greater success for your kids.  As always, I am just a click away and would love to hear from you.  Happy Doodling!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

This is Monkey Business!

There are a few games that have been a staple in my therapy life for years now.  I recommend them again and again on my holiday gift guide and when anyone asks me for a toy suggestion for their child, I will often suggest Tumblin' Monkeys.  It is one of the most popular games at my gym and is often used as a reward for children who need some motivation to do the more challenging activities I might ask them to do when they are with me.

Tumblin' Monkeys is similar to the old school game, Kerplunk.  That is a great game but I like monkeys and so do a lot of the kids I work with so this tends to be more motivating for them.  Plus, no matter how hard I try when playing Kerplunk, those pesky marbles roll all over the place.  While it is recommended for children ages 5 and older, if you change the rules a bit, it is a great game for children as young as 3 years old.  It's a fast moving game with directions that are easy to follow, even if your child has difficulties with following directions or processing information.  I love that it is a game that children of varying skill levels can be successful with.

The rules of the game are quite easy:  you put together a tree with different colored sticks that act as branches for the monkeys to hang onto.  You roll the dice and you pull the orange, green or pink stick out based on the color you roll.  The actual rules are that you win if you have the least amount of monkeys, but when playing with younger children, I play that whoever gets the most monkeys is the winner.

*Improve Grasping Skills-I not only encourage but insist that children use their "pinchers (thumb and pointer finger) when pulling the sticks out of the tree.  If they don't, they have to put it back, and any monkeys they may have won, into the tree and go again.  For kids who have a really hard time with this, you can use a chip clip or clothes pin to have them work on this skill.

 *Improve Problem Solving Skills-I really encourage children to look at the sticks that are left in the tree and figure out which one will help them get the most or least monkeys.  If I see a child trying to just pull the first one they see, I will make them stop and answer "Do you think this is the best stick for you to take out or if you look around, do you think you might find a better one?".  Eventually, I hope the children will learn to look at that independently once they are skilled Tumblin' Monkey players.

*Improve Counting Skills/1:1 Correspondence:  at the end of the game, each child is responsible for counting their monkeys and determining who is the winner.  I encourage the children who are better counters to help their friends out with the counting if need be.

*Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-just putting the sticks into the tree is work enough for the kids!  There are tons of holes all over the tree trunk and you have to carefully put the stick in one side and out the other side of the tree.  Sounds simple enough but it can be quite tricky to get it on the right level or to make sure there is just one stick in each hole.

*Improve Social Skills-this is a great game to work on improving social skills.  The children have to decide together whether they will play the game to win by getting the least number of monkeys or the most number of monkeys.  They have to negotiate the rules together and who will go first, second, etc. and wait patiently while their friends take their turns.  As always, I think it is important to teach the kids how to be good losers and learn how to congratulate their friends at the end.

*Improve Modulation/Regulation Skills-the children I work with are encouraged to take their time in making a decision and to not just grab the first stick they see.  This can be quite challenging for some of the kids I work with as they just want to hurry up and get their turn done and see if they can get a monkey or not get a monkey.

*Improve Focus and Attention Skills-it is important to me that the children I work with focus on the game and not only pay attention to what they do on their turn, but what their friends are doing.  I like to tell the kids that they might be able to figure out their next move better if they are paying attention to the whole game.  It is also an important social skill to be able to pay attention to the whole game and not just your turn.

Tumblin' Monkeys is a great game for any playroom, classroom or therapeutic setting.  As you can see, there are many skills that can be worked on with the game.  I also love the fact that it's a battery and noise free game which is great for the children we work with who may be more sound sensitive or get stuck on the sounds.

While I have included a link to Amazon, I continue to strongly encourage you to check out your local toy stores to see if they carry it or can order it for you.  I have seen this game in many of the little toy stores in Manhattan and I know how much these small businesses rely on our business.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this game and what your little ones think of it.  I have offered one way to modify the game for younger children, but would be curious if any of you have any other suggestions.  I am only a click away and am always happy to answer any questions you might have.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

One Potato Head, Two Potato Heads, Three Potato Heads More!

I was all set to write about another of our favorite iPad apps this morning when Quinn and I discovered a new one from the creators of Endless Alphabet, which I wrote about two weeks ago.  Callaway Digital Arts has done it again with their Mr. Potato Create & Play iPad app.  Even though we have just downloaded it, we have already played with it a ton.

Who doesn't love Mr. Potato Head?  I think we can all say that we have spent hours playing with one, either as children, with our children or with the children we work with.  This classic toy is always a part of my therapy supplies at my gym and can work on so many skills.  The toy version of Mr. Potato Head is great for working on bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, sequencing and a bunch of other things.  It's great for learning body parts and body awareness.  Plus, the kids love it.

Mr. Potato Head Create & Play app definitely doesn't take the place of the actual toy but for kids who need some motivation to work on some of the more challenging skills mentioned above, this is a great place to start.  There are a lot of things to love about this app.  First of all, it is free.  TOTALLY FREE!  When that happens, I am used to a lame app that you can play with for a little while before feeling like you have to purchase all the costly in-app purchases.  Not this one.  When you download the app, there are only a couple of options that resemble the original Mr. Potato Head but there are dozens of other Mr/Mrs. Potato Heads to download immediately.  Some of the free downloadable options are an alien, ballerina, pirate and cowboy.  Not only that, there are a variety of different scenes that you can choose from to place your completed Mr. Potato Head in.  In those scenes, Mr. Potato Head will do a bunch of different things.  For example, the space alien will fly in the air and lose all of his body parts before landing back on the moon and having them fall right back into place.  There are so many opportunities to interact with the game and work on speech and language skills at the same time.  I have a feeling that my speech and language and special education friends will love this app as much as I do.  

Here are a some more specific occupational therapy goals that can be worked on with Mr. Potato Head Play & Create:

Body Awareness-putting the body parts onto Mr/Mrs. Potato Head will help a child become more familiar with their own bodies.  I will most likely use the iPad app along with a real Mr. Potato Head to add a multi-sensory approach.

Graphomotor Skills-in conjunction with the iPad app and the regular Mr. Potato Head, you can have your child work on drawing the face and body parts onto a blank Mr. Potato Head picture.  This way you can work on handwriting and drawing skills at the same time.

Visual Motor/Visual Tracking-you have to look around the whole screen and find the different body parts and visually track in order to get them into the correct spot on the body.

Number Recognition/Identification-there are a bunch of different scenes you can download for your completed Mr/Mrs. Potato Head to interact with.  On the bottom of that screen, there are 5 choices so you can work on number identification and recognition by asking them to touch a certain number or tell you the number they are going to touch before they do it.

Language Skills/Sequencing-this app is great to use to work on building a child's language skills.  The object of the game/app is simple enough that you can add more expectations by encouraging your child to use their words to tell you what they are doing.  An even bigger challenge, have your child place the pieces in in a certain order.  For example, tell them to start with the top of the head and move down to the feet to work on sequencing.

Social Skills-this app is great for working on encouraging appropriate social skills.  If used in more of a group like setting, you can work on taking turns, asking a friend for help, working together to choose the Potato Head you want to put together, etc..

Updates/Additions-one of the great things I noticed about the app is that you can already tell that there will be updates and additions to the app.  Looks like there will be new characters and scenes to download in the near future.  It will be quite difficult for your child to get bored by this game if they continue to update it.

I already know that this app will end up becoming part of my daily play routine with Quinn and look forward to trying it out at the gym with the kids I work with.  I can already see them lying on their bellies while on the net swing playing this game.  We get to work on building upper extremity strength and head and neck control while they are having fun so it won't seem like so much work!  I love when I can sneak the hard work in without them even realizing it!

I hope that you all enjoy this app and would love to hear your thoughts about it.  I can't say enough about how great the apps are by Callaway Digital Arts and can't wait to see what their next awesome app will be.  As always, I am just a click away if you want to email with any questions or comments.   Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hiho, Hiho, Hiho Batik We Go

I don't consider myself entirely crafty.  I love it and am inspired by crafty moms who spend hours crafting with their children.  When I had my daughter 3 years ago, I imaged making holiday cards for all our family and friends using her footprints or letting her go wild with markers and finger paints.  Well, that hasn't totally happened but as she gets older we are attempting it more and this year we made the cutest Valentine's Day cards.

Living in New York City has so many advantages.  Awesome restaurants, great shopping and amazing cultural opportunities.  Once you have children, you realize there are so many great places to go to as well.   I live in Park Slope and love it for all the reasons mentioned above.  However, we also are the home to many independent shops and not overrun by chain places quite yet.  Not long ago, one of my favorite shoe stores closed and I was totally bummed.  I had bought shoes for me and for Quinn and was sad that I wouldn't have this place so close anymore.  A couple of weeks after it closed, I discovered a kids batik clothing store would open in its place.  Not so disappointed anymore.  Right before it opened, I came to discover that not only would they sell insanely adorable clothing, they would have a studio in the back room so you could design and then paint your own batik article of clothing.  No longer sad about old shoe store but super excited for a new place to learn a new craft.

I have purchased many of the awesome shirts from Hiho Batik.  A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to finally try out the studio in back with one of my favorite people.  There are certain kids I work with who I just connect to.   Years ago, when I began working in my private practice in the city, I had the great luck to meet Jen and Riley.  I fell in love with this family immediately and felt so connected to this little 1 1/2 year old girl who wouldn't stop crying for anything.  Riley and I shared a birthday and I felt that we were meant to be working together and when she finally stopped crying, a relationship was born.  Riley has graduated from occupational therapy with me but the relationship has lasted for 7 1/2 years and each year I try and do something special with her for her birthday.  This year I knew exactly what that would be....we were hitting up Hiho Batik together for the first time.

I didn't realize until I went to Hiho Batik how many occupational therapy goals can be addressed.  I quickly learned that this fun little afternoon taught me that I could use this with the children I work with to help them gain skills and feel better about themselves.  I could not have been more impressed with Julia and Robyn, the owners of Hiho Batik.  They were so welcoming and helpful for us novice batikkers.   When we were feeling stressed about what we were doing, they bent over backwards to help us and reassure us that we were doing a great job.  They offered us extra templates, gave us support and made us feel like we were doing a great job  As a therapist, it means so much to find a place like this that will make an artist of any level feel good about what they are creating.  I can easily suggest this place to any of the families I work with because I know that when they go there, they will be treated like royalty.  They will be made to feel like they are doing a great job and that is what matters to me.  I spend a lot of time talking to the children I work with that things don't have to be perfect; they have to try their hardest and their masterpiece will be just right.

*Improve eye-hand coordination/visual motor skills-any time you are working with a writing instrument (in this case, the wax "pen") and tracing something, you are working on eye-hand coordination
*Improve attention and focus-when you are tracing over your design with the hot wax, you have to pay careful attention and focus on the lines.  If not, your design won't come out the way you imagined it
*Improve creativity and imagination-if you decide you don't want to use one of the patterns that Hiho provides, you can make any design you want.  This is a great opportunity to have a child work on being more creative and thinking outside of the box
*Improve self-esteem-the look on Riley's face when she finished her shirt was priceless.  Then when she got to see her completed shirts (and they were AMAZING) she was super psyched.  She put her shirt on immediately and the compliments kept pouring in.  While this is an activity that is great for any school age child, if you have a child who loves fashion, this is the perfect activity for them.  How much fun is it to tell you friends that you actually created the shirt/dress/sweatshirt you are wearing???
*Improve social skills-this is a great activity to do with a friend.  You can talk about what you are doing, what colors you are choosing, why you have picked a particular template, etc..  I would love to plan a weekend event for The Meeting House down the line because I think it would be amazing and a great place to practice so many of the social skills that we have been working on this year.

I can't wait to go back to Hiho Batik with the kids I work with and with my family.  I know that my nieces will love this.  During my visit last week, Quinn and I made an awesome dress for her third birthday celebration.  While it isn't an ideal activity for a toddler, we certainly had a great time making her special dress together.  Here Quinn is wearing her lollipop dress for her candy store birthday party!
She was so excited to put it on and was showing it off to her friends.  I love that we had that special time with Riley and we created a memory together.  Every time I look at this picture or her dress, I will think of this amazing time we all had together at Hiho Batik.

For all my New York City readers, I highly recommend this place.  I am not the only one who thinks this place rocks.  Check out New York Magazines writeup about Hiho Batik.  They were included in this years Best of New York issue.  For all my out of town readers, if you have plans to come to NYC, definitely hit up this place.  It will make your trip to the city that never sleeps even more memorable.

I would love to hear from any of you who have visited Hiho Batik.  It would be fun to see what you or your child have created while there.  If you have any questions or comments, I am only a click away and love to hear from my readers.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pep, Pepi Hooray!

I love the iPad.  Love it a lot.  I love it for all the things I can do with it personally (write emails, check the internet) and professionally (write reports).  And I really love that I can use it at work and help my kids works towards learning new skills.  It's an incredibly motivating tool and if used in moderation along with other therapeutic techniques, I have found that the kids I work with are more eager to be challenged.

At the recommendation of a colleague, I downloaded Pepi Tree created by Pepi Play.  She raved about what a great app it was and how much her daughter, very close in age to my own almost 3 year old, loved the game.  Of course, I had had to download it and test it myself.  I am so glad I did!   It is a great game and is already bringing much enjoyment at home and at work.

Pepi Tree is a beautifully designed app.  The graphics are wonderful and very kid-friendly.  The music that is playing during the games is soothing and not too fast paced which helps keeps the attention and focus of the kids while they are playing.  The animals are super cute and some of them are uncommon enough that you can make it a learning experience for some of your kids.  Best part is that I have found that the games are simple enough (but not too simple that your child will get bored) that they can be successful independently.  A great way to build self-esteem and confidence.

There are six games included in this app.  When you open the app, you will see a tree and each level of the tree contains a different animal/game.  The six games included in Pepi Tree are perfect for pre-schoolers.  However, the animals are cute and the activities are engaging enough for younger school-age children as well.  I know that my 7 1/2 year old niece will love this game the next time she gets hold of my iPad!

It's hard to pick my favorite because they are all great and so different from each other.  For the sake of this post, I will choose one.  The level with the owl might be the one I have played the most.  It begins with an owl during the day and then it quickly turns into night and you have to use his eyes like a flashlight.  You drag the light around the screen until you see another animal; once you find it, you tap on it and then have to drag it into the matching shape on the bottom.  As an OT, I love that you can work on visual tracking, eye hand coordination, matching/visual perceptual skills and finger isolation all in one game!  The kids I work with have had so much fun with this part of the game.

I have already listed some of the skills that can be focused on with Pepi Tree but here are a few more.  This is a motivating game that can work on:

*Visual tracking-when matching the shapes, your child will be required to find the shape and then move it into the correct spot.  During the spider game, you have to visually follow/track the flying bugs and either feed them to the spider or put them in the spider web.
*Matching-in the owl game (my favorite despite of the raccoon) you have to match the animals you find to the shadows provided below.
*Modulation/regulation-when feeding the squirrels, your child has to focus and not rush to feed the squirrels the acorn with the worm in it or the mushrooms.  They have to take a moment to make sure that the item the squirrel is holding is one that their fellow squirrels will eat.
*Develop finger isolation/pointing skills-I try and encourage the children I work with to use their pointer finger when playing this game.  The spider game is ideal for encouraging finger isolation.  After building a spider web, you have to catch the bugs with your finger (again, I encourage using just the pointer finger) and drag them into either the spider's mouth or stick them in the spider web.
*Upper extremity strength-when working at the gym with the kids, I will have them play this game while lying on their belly on the net swing.  This way they can work on building their upper extremity and neck strength at the same time.  The game is so engaging that the kids forget that they are getting tired!
*Social skills-as always, I feel like it is important to try and build in a social aspect to the iPad when possible.  I have used this game in my social skills group with preschoolers and it was great for turn-taking and problem solving.  One of my favorite things to do is to have a child who may have played the game before give the directions to his/her friends.  This will also work on improving self-esteem and language skills.

I would love to hear which of the 6 games is your favorite and why.  I am just a click away and always excited to hear from my readers and answer any questions you might have.

 If you want to check the game out before downloading, check out the cute video on Pepi Play's website.  I guarantee you will be running to your phone or iPad to download this great game!

Happy Friday to you all!

Monday, March 4, 2013

This Game is Nut-Tastic!

I tend to have a hard time finding board games that are good for younger children.  As an occupational therapist, I am constantly on the hunt for a game that will work towards achieving goals but not be too complicated that they can't be successful without maximum support from a grownup.  When I was putting together my annual holiday toy list this year, I found a great board game that met my sometimes unrealistic expectations:  The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel game.

The goal of the game is quite simple so even your youngest of children can follow the directions.  Each player has a tree stump with five colored holes on it.  Whoever fills the tree stump up with all 5 of the different colored acorns first is the winner.  You may be attacked by a sneaky squirrel who steals one of your acorns or the wind  may blow your acorns off the tree stump and you have to begin again.

There are a lot of things to like about this game but lets just begin with the packaging.  It's a very sturdy box that can withstand the brute force of a wild 3-year old Quinn.  The best part about the box is that it is doubles as part of the game.  Open the box and turn it over and you will see a tree to hold all the acorns.

One of my favorite parts of the game is the adorable squirrel grabbers that you use to pick up the acorns.  The cuteness of this little guy can distract the user (in my case, many children who have grasp strength weakness and poor motor control) that they are working on getting stronger. Talk about sneaky!  Another way to work on strengthening is by using the spinner.  I encourage the kids I am working with to make sure they are only using their pointer and thumb when flicking the spinner.  This sounds easy but can be quite difficult for a child with fine motor delays.

Here are a few more occupational therapy goals that can be focused on when playing this game.

Matching-you can work on matching skills as you put the little acorns into the tree trunk.  Make sure that your kids are putting the acorns in the correct color hole.  If they aren't, stop the game until they do.

Color Recognition-this game is a great way to begin introducing young ones to some of the basic colors.  For those kids who know their colors already, this game is great for generalizing the skill in different mediums.

Social skills-it is never too early to begin teaching your child the social skills that are involved in game playing.  Turn taking, not cheating, cheering a friend on when they win, not bragging and not being a sore loser are a few of the social skills that can be focused on when playing this game.  Personally, I think it is very important that a child learns how to be a good loser.  Nobody wants to play games with a child who must always win or gets upset when they lose.

Visual tracking and visual motor skills-you can work on these skills in many different ways when playing this game.  For example, a child has to scan the "tree" with all the acorns to find the color that they spun.  They use visual motor skills when they take the acorn out of the "tree" with their squirrel grabbers and bring it into the correct hole in their tree-stump.

Focus/attention-playing games is a great way to increase a child's attention span and ability to focus.  It is important to encourage a child to to finish the game they are playing, even if they are having a hard time.  If you know your child has a hard time completing games, you may start the game by having them only have to put 3 acorns in and build up to them being able to play by putting all 5 acorns in.  As a child's attention and focus improve, you may want to add more distractions in their environment, such as music since this will eventually happen to them as they get older and are in school.

One of the best things about this game is that my husband and I have fun playing it with Quinn, which rarely happens with her games.  I also know that my 4 1/2 year old and 7 1/2 year old nieces love playing The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel game as well.  I love when I can find a game that is meant for typically developing children and can incorporate tons of occupational therapy goals.  While I may have talked about the therapeutic benefits of this game, it is a game that is intended for all children and not just those who may struggle with any of the things mentioned above.

If you are looking for this game, ask your local toy stores if they carry it or can order it for you.  I got mine at Barnes and Noble but try and shop small business before the big box guys if possible.   I want to see these hardworking and dedicated shop owners survive and do my part to ensure that.

I hope you and your sneaky ones enjoy this game as much as we are.  I am excited to try out some of Educational Insights other toys and products.  This is a company that is really invested in making really good games that will teach your child something new.  Do any of you readers have a favorite Educational Insights game I should get for Quinn's upcoming 3rd birthday?   I would love to hear from any of you with with your questions or comments.  I am just a click away and always happy to hear from you.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Endless fun learning your alphabet

Every once in a while I find out about a new app and have to share it with everyone.  Endless Alphabet is one of those apps.  I saw it on Cool Mom Pics about a month ago and immediately downloaded it to my phone.  It was love at first sight and as soon as I got home I put it on my iPad and introduced it to Quinn.  While she is not even 3 years old and doesn't know all her letters (we are working on it...I promise!), she has been hooked on the game ever since.

The reasons to love this game are, well, endless.  And the occupational therapy and speech therapy goals that can be addressed using this game are, again, endless.  Because there are so many great things about Endless Alphabet, I am going to make this easy and make a list for you all.  Before getting to that list, let me tell you about the game.  There is a word or words for each letter of the alphabet.  You choose the word and a bunch of really cute monsters come knock the letters out of their spots.  Your job is to put all the letters back into the correct place.

A.)  Letter Recognition-motivating way to work on introducing letters (and their sounds) to early learners.  Every time you pick a letter, it will tell you the sound it makes.  As you place it into the correct place in the word, it will repeat the name of the letter.
B.)  Matching (Visual Motor and Visual Perceptual skills)-this game is great for working on matching and visual motor skills.
C.)  Visual Tracking-a child has to look at the whole iPad screen and look (track) to find the letters to go in the correct spot.  Once they find them, they have to make sure that they are dragging them into the correct space.
D.)  Grasping-I tend to have my kids at work use a stylus when using this app.  This way we can not only work on the aforementioned goals, we can also work on encouraging a proper grasp.
E.)  Sequencing-for the older children, I not only encourage, I demand that they put the letters back in in the proper order.  That way they can begin to learn how to spell the words they are working on.  This also helps with improving organization skills, which so many of the kids I work with lack.

F.)  Increase attention/focus-if you are working on improving a child's attention and focus, you can set goals like you have to complete 7 words before being able to move onto the next activity.
G.)  Improve graphomotor skills-for my older kids who are also working on handwriting goals, I will have them write the words they have just "fixed".  For those who struggle with handwriting, being able to play a game and possibly learn a new word and then writing that word is much more fun for them.

H.)  Learn phonics-every time you pick up a letter, they make the sound that the letter makes.  Quinn loves this part of the game and has already started pointing to letters and telling us the sound it makes. Proof that if you make something fun your child can learn skills much faster.

I.)  Add new words to your child's vocabulary-while there are many familiar words in the Endless Alphabet library, there are also many new words for your child to learn.  After you complete putting all the letters into the correct spot, there is a short video that defines the word in a very entertaining way.  
J.)  This app is FREE-endless hours of alphabet fun for free.  Endless hours of alphabet learning for free.  Did I mention this app is free?

K.)  New words added weekly-you would think that for that large price-tag you would only get a few words.  Nope.  There is at least one word for each letter and new words and monsters are added weekly.  It is important to agree to the push notifications for this app so you can be alerted of the weekly updates. 
After a few minutes of playing this (not my daughter, not the kids I work with, ME!), I reached out to my speech therapy friends with iPads and told them that they had to download this game immediately.  I could see all the benefits for me as an occupational therapist, but knew that my speech friends would be addicted to it.  I was totally right.  Here is what speech therapist and my good friend Jacki Barredo had to say about Endless Alphabet:

Endless Alphabet is a speech therapist's dream! It's a great way for kids to practice listening to and producing individual speech sounds, while increasing their vocabulary skills.  It also incorporates sound-letter recognition skills, matching skills, and spelling skills.  And it really holds the kids' attention!  The videos which depict each word are funny and engaging, too.  Speech therapists will love how easily Endless Alphabet can be modified and navigated through to set up each child for success.

Parents, OTs, and other teaching professionals will love this app, too!
 #brilliant :)

This app has already brought hours of learning and enjoyment to not only the kids I work with, but also to my almost 3 year old daughter.  I know that my 4 1/2 and 7 1/2 year old nieces are loving this game as well which proves that this is a game that can be used for children of all ages.  It's no secret that I am a fan of the iPad in therapy, but if it can be used at home with all children, I love it even more.  I think this game is a brilliantly designed game and motivating for children of all ages and abilities which makes it a complete winner in my book, or really on my iPad.  

I would love to hear what you all think of this app.  Do you have a favorite word (mine are Juggle and Gargantuan)?   Shoot me an email or share your comments with the readers if you have any questions or comments about Endless Alphabet.  As always, I am just a click away and love to hear from my readers.  If you have specific questions for Jacki regarding speech and language skills and/or goals, let me know and I will get your questions to her.  

Hoping you and your lovies have endless fun with Endless Alphabet!