Friday, April 26, 2013

So Many Obstacles, So Much Fun

Several weeks ago, I blogged about a toy from one of my favorite toy companies, eeBoo.  I have loved this company for years, but have fallen more madly and deeply in love with them after that post.  I was fortunate enough to go spend some time at the eeBoo studios in New York City a few weeks ago.  Oddly enough, my sister and I had been to a sample sale there many years ago and it wasn't until I was walking in the doors that I remembered that.  I blame me not remembering on being pregnant.  Yes, that explains it all!

Right before I went to the eeBoo studio, I was talking to my speech therapist colleague Jacki Barredo who was telling me all about this great game she purchased over the weekend, Obstacles.  It sounded great.  Actually, it sounded amazing and asked her to bring it in so I could see it and possibly get it for The Meeting House.  Fast forward 20 minutes; I am standing in the eeBoo studio taking a look at all their toys, dreaming a bit about how cool it would be to have my OT office in their space!  As I look around, my eyes fall on the game Obstacles that Jacki was talking about!  I love coincidences like that!  In addition to a handful of other games and products, I walked out with the game Obstacles and have been playing it nonstop ever since.  

Obstacles is a game of imagination, problem solving and collaboration.  There are 25 obstacle cards that have scenes and you have to figure out how to get through each one using one of the 100 tool cards.  Check out a few examples in the image to the right.  The goal of the game is pretty easy: get home using the best tool card to overcome the obstacles.  My favorite way to play the game with a small group of kids is to have them each put down a tool on each obstacle and explain how they would use it.  After each of them has finished explaining how they would use their tool, the group has to decide which tool would be most effective for that given card.  It might take time to negotiate and come to a decision but I think it is a tool that will help our kids in so many life situations.  Learning how to negotiate can be a difficult thing to teach kids, especially the ones that I work with.  Doing it in a fun and lighthearted way may be a good non-stressful way to practice the skill before generalizing it to other life situations.  

There are so many things to love about this game, but one of the things I like best is that there is no right or wrong answer.  It's not about winning or losing.  It's all about being creative and using your imagination in order to get through each obstacle.  It's about encouraging a child to compromise and recognize that sometimes others may have good ideas too.  One of the most interesting things I have seen when watching this game is how stubborn a child can be about thinking that the other players tool might be more effective.  Children are competitive beings and are so used to winning and losing that it can be quite difficult to realize that they need to work together to get home.  

Here are a few more skills that can be worked on when playing the game Obstacles    

Improve Social Skills-I have used this game at The Meeting House and in my smaller social skills groups.  I love watching the kids come up with reasons why their tool will be the the best to get through the obstacle successfully.  There are many ways to play it but the way I mentioned above seems to be the best way to encourage team work and collaboration.  

Improve Imagination Skills-what I love most about this game is that you can never be wrong and that you are required to really think outside of the box.  So many of the children I work with, both individually and in groups, struggle with this.  It's really fun to watch the excitement that comes out of a creative explanation of how they might use a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to overcome a herd of sheep or how they might use a vacuum to get through a street filled with tacks.  

Improve Problem Solving-so many of the children I work with struggle with solving problems (whether it be with their school work or dealing with a social situation).  This can cause a child to get frustrated and often give up too easily on things.  This game is a really fun way to get children, especially those who are concrete thinkers (or rock brains as we tend to call them in our group) to become more flexible and really think things through.  

Improve Organizational Skills-you can work on improving organizational skills by really thinking about what tool you will use for each obstacle.  I tend to lay out a certain number of obstacle cards in front of the players and give each player a number of tool cards at the beginning of the game.  I then allow them a little time to look through their tools and organize them and figure out what tool would be best with each obstacle.   

I am sure my love for this company is obvious.  But let me tell you one more thing that makes me want each and every one of my readers to support this company.  If you want to, you can go onto their online store and purchase any product they create.  However, that is not what they want or encourage.  They are a true small business supporter and encourage you to find a small business in your neighborhood to purchase their products from.  How cool is that?  If you live in Park Slope, I can tell you that you can find a tremendous selection of eeBoo products at Little Things and Lulu Toys and Cuts.  I realize that sometimes it is more convenient to order online, but let's all do what we can to support these awesome small businesses.

While I think this game is great for social groups and individual therapy sessions, I think it is an also a great family game.  I think this game will turn into a family favorite as it is fun for children of all ages and grownups.  It's pretty awesome that the game can be different every time you play it because each person will have different ideas for the different tools.  You may not always use the same cards.  I know that I have as much fun playing and strategizing with the kids when they are struggling to come up with solutions.

I look forward to hearing from you all about this game and how you use it during therapy, groups and at home.  I am sure that there are many other ways to play this game and am always looking for ways to adapt and modify the games and toys that I blog about.  I am only a click away so please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Stella!!! and Sam

My iPad is full of apps.  I have actually had to go through and delete some to make room for the new and improved apps that I have discovered lately.  I am a tough critic for apps but my 3 year old daughter Quinn is a tougher critic.  If she likes a new app then I know that I have hit the app jackpot.

I discovered Stella and Sam a few weeks ago after I blogged here about another zinc Roe app, Doodlecast.  History has told me that if a company makes one good app, there is most likely another great one out there by them.  History has proven itself correct.  Stella and Sam has not only kept Quinn occupied for hours, it has motivated so many of the kids I work with at my gym to do things that they are usually resistant to.  

Stella and Sam is a series of stories featuring a brother and sister who go on various adventures in the snow, rain and at night time.  Each story has a couple of chapters and and after each chapter there is a hands on activity to go along with it.  What I love about this app is that the story moves at a good pace and the conversation is slow enough that they can really follow and understand the story.  Also, the art work is beautiful which makes it easy for the grownups who may be playing along to not get too annoyed.

Increase Attention Span/Focus-I love that this app requires a child to listen to a story in each chapter and then complete some kind of related activity after you hear the story.  A child is forced to sustain their attention through each story in order to do something interactive.  Sounds easy, but can be quite challenging for younger children.

Improve Sorting/Matching Skills-in one of the stories (Go There Square), you have to sort and match the leaves of a dandelion.  This is just one of the many examples throughout the various games that you can work on this skill.

Improve Visual Motor/Visual Perceptual Skills-the mini games after each chapter vary but often incorporate some kind of visual motor or visual perceptual skill, such as matching, connect the dots, etc..

Improve Grasping Skills-many of the games can be completed using a stylus which will help in encouraging an appropriate grasp.  As mentioned before, the Fred and Friends crayon stylus is one of my favorites.

Improve Visual Tracking-a few of the mini games are perfect for children who need to work on visual tracking.  There is a game associated with Cocoons and Caterpillars, pictured here, that requires a child to take a butterfly through a field and fly through the flowers.  When they hit each flower, their wings change colors and patterns.

Increase Upper Extremity Strength-as I do with many iPad activities, I have the children play this while lying prone on the net swing.  This way they can work on making those neck and arm muscles stronger while having fun.  It's amazing how much longer I can get a child to stay in this challenging position when they are engaged in something so fun and motivating.

These are just a few of the skills that can be worked on when using the Stella and Sam app.  Have any of you used this in therapy or with your own children?  What story or game is your favorite?  I love that as Quinn plays this game, she says things like "Momma, I want to have a rainbow come to me".  Her imagination skills are expanding and I feel like she is looking at nature and the world with a different set of eyes.  While this game is ideal for preschool age children, I think that your elementary age child will enjoy it as well.

I would love to hear from you about your thoughts about Stella and Sam.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The OgoDisk is Oh So Much Fun

Now that it is starting to really feel like Spring, I thought I would write about one of the toys that I use at the gym and at The Meeting House that would be a great toy for any and all of you occupational therapists and parents.

Months ago, I blogged about OgoBild Bits toys.  I was initially drawn to the OgoSport Company because I loved that it was born and raised in Brooklyn just down the street from where I live.  I was also drawn to them for their great design and durability after being introduced to them by one of my toy loving parents (thank you Alice) and knew that they would be a huge hit with all my kids.  These manipulative toys have been a huge hit with kids of all ages.  So once I fell in love with the OgoBild Bits, I decided to check out their gross motor sports game, OgoDisk.  Since adding it to my bag of tricks, it has become one of the most popular toys I have used.  It's been especially popular with our older group of boys at The Meeting House.

OgoSport makes many great products, the OgoDisk being one of my favorites.  The game comes in three different sizes (12-18") and two different styles (with and without handles).  It consists of two paddles and a koosh ball for passing back and forth.  The middle of the paddle is made out of a mesh-like material that helps the koosh ball bounce with great force.  So even if your child has decreased upper extremity strength, they can still hit the ball far enough to another person.  For children who have difficulty with grasping or decreased hand strength, there are two different paddle styles, one with handles and one without (pictured above).  You can experiment with what works best for your child and will allow for success.  Since the koosh ball is light, it can be played indoors to some extent without having to worry about broken windows or other valuables.  The three different sizes of the paddles makes it possible for kids of all different ages to be able to play it.  I have also heard of people taking this to the beach or to the pool because of the lightweight design and not being affected when it gets wet.  I can't wait to take our set to the beach this summer!
There are many occupational therapy goals that can be met using the OgoDisk.  Listed below are just a few of them.

Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-when hitting the koosh ball, it requires a tremendous amount of eye-hand coordination in order to get the ball back to your friend(s).  You need to make sure that your eyes are focusing not only on the ball, but where your friend is standing so you can get it to them with accuracy.
Improve Modulation and Regulation Skills-I love many of the skills that can be worked on using the OgoDisk, but think that it works on modulation and regulation really well.  The springy material on the paddle makes the koosh ball really fly, sometimes much further than anyone is anticipating.  When first introducing the toy to the kids at work, I spend a lot of time telling them to not hit so hard or to hit harder.  It takes a tremendous amount of patience and self-control for a child to hit the ball with the right amount of force for them to be successful in playing this with their peers.
Improve Attention and Focus Skills-while I have used this game in groups, I have also used it individually.  I challenge the kids to hit the ball up in the air as many times as they can before it hits the ground.  This is great for working on focus and attention (as well as eye-hand coordination).  In addition, this is a perfect activity to work on improving frustration tolerance in kids.
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-if you have an older child who struggles with bilateral coordination, this is a good way to practice it in a fun way.  When a person serves the ball to their peer, they have to hold the paddle with one hand and hold the ball with the other.  This is challenging, but once they get it, they will feel so good about themselves.
Improve Social Skills-as mentioned earlier, we use this game at The Meeting House with a group of the kids.  They LOVE it and have come up with their own version of monkey in the middle using two sets of the game.  This gross motor game is great for encouraging good sportsmanship and encouraging your friends when they do well.  It's great for turn taking and making compromises amongst a group of kids.

While I tend to use this game with the older kids on my caseload (school age), I have used it with success with some of the younger ones as well to work on many of the aforementioned skills.  I may adapt the expectations of the game and instead of having them stand up while playing the game, I may have them sit so they are more grounded and focused on the task at hand.

This is also a great toy to throw in your bag as you are headed for a picnic somewhere this spring and summer.  I promise that your people, big and small, will all be entertained for hours!  I have seen the OgoDisk at many of the local Park Slope toy stores, including Lulu's Cut & Toys on Fifth Avenue and Little Things Toy Store on 7th Avenue.  You can also check out the OgoSport online store if you can't find it locally.  Keep in mind how much the small businesses depend on our support so do what you can to support them.

Have any of you used the game in therapy or with your families?  Do you have game variations to share with the rest of the MAC&Toys readers?  I would love to hear your thoughts about the OgoDisk and how you use it not only therapeutically but recreationally.  I am always a click away and love hearing from my readers.

Hope you are all enjoying your spring.  Now get out there, get your self some OgoDisks and enjoy the fresh air!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Don't Let the Pigeon Run This Blog

Mo Willems writes some of my favorite children's books so when I heard that there was an app featuring the Pigeon from his books, I had to test it out.  What I love most about this app is that I have just as much fun playing it as the kids do.  There are some that are totally entertaining for them but painful for the grownups who have to play with them.  Definitely not the case with Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App.  This app is not cheap ($5.99) but worth every penny you spend on it.  

This game is a hit at the gym with my older preschoolers and younger school age kids and I would recommend it for kids between the ages of 3 and 8 years old.  There are three modes of play so you can increase the challenge as they become used to the game and the expectations.  

The first mode of play (Egg) is best for the little pigeons in your life.  Mo Willems has a few stories that he has read and they come to life.  For any kid who is familiar with any of the pigeon stories, they truly love seeing their little friend come to life.  

The second mode (Chick)which is better for younger children and children who may have difficulty with expressive language requires a child to help narrate a story by choosing answers provided.  A child goes through and answers a series of questions with 3 choices for each question.  What's great about it is that there are pictures to choose from so a child who has difficulty with auditory processing can answer the questions by relying on the visual cues presented to them.  Once all those questions are answered, the story is read back to you.  

The third mode of play (Big Pigeon) is for children who can answer questions more independently.  In this part of the game, children have to answer questions, without any visual cues.  Best part, they answer into the iPad speaker so their voice is recorded.  When the story is complete, it is read back to them with their answers mixed in there.  I can't tell you how much the kids love this part of the game.  In some ways, it is like a Mad Lib game because you don't know how your answers will be used in the story until you hear it read back to you.  The laughs that I have heard from these stories is worth every cent I spent on this app.

The last feature I love about the game is that you can work on following directions and graphomotor skills in the Draw the Pigeon portion of the app.  Mo Willems himself takes you through a step by step guide of drawing the famous pigeon.  The completed picture drawn by your child is then incorporated into the stories that are read back to you.  The kids get such a kick out of seeing the picture of the pigeon (or whatever else they may have decided to draw) as their story is read back to them.

There are so many goals that can be addressed with Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App.  And they can be done in a fun way so the kids don't even realize that they are working.  I will list a few below.

Improve Attention/Receptive Language-a child must listen to the questions being asked and come up with appropriate answers.  I am all for allowing a child to be silly but if I know that they present with processing difficulties, I want to be sure that I know they are listening and paying attention to the questions asked of them.  If they insist on being silly, I will tell them that they have to answer 3 questions appropriately and then can answer the next one however they want.

Improve Modulation/Regulation-this can be worked on by making sure a child answers questions in a slow and clear voice.  I have observed some of my kids getting so excited that they rush through the answers and then they have to re-do their answer.  If the iPad doesn't get your answer, they will make you repeat it until they do.  I try and explain this to them before they begin answering the questions, but sometimes they have to learn by trial and error.

Improve Upper Extremity Strength-like with many of the apps and games I have spoken about on this blog, I am a big fan of having children play them while they are lying on their belly in a net swing.  So many of the kids I work with have decreased upper body strength and resist activities that work on this.  With motivating apps and games, they can be so motivated and focusing so much that they don't even realize their bodies are getting tired!  That's a win-win situation, right??

Improve Grasping Skills-when playing with the drawing portion of the app, encourage your child to draw with a stylus.  This will allow them to work on developing a proper grasp.  For some kids, they also have more control and ability to follow the directions when using something that resembles a writing instrument and not their fingers.

Improve Social Skills-I have used this with a group of children with great success.  This app is a perfect opportunity to work on having children take turns, be flexible when a peer might answer a question differently then them and being part of a group in order to accomplish a goal.  This might sound easy, but so many of the children I work with in group settings have a difficult time giving up control  and letting everyone have a say in something.  Be sure to explain the rules and expectation and what the consequences of not following them are.  I find that that helps the whole thing go much smoother for everyone involved.

I have a feeling that you will all become fans of this app.  And if you weren't a fan of Mo Willems before this, you most certainly will be after.  Like I have already mentioned, Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App is great for the whole family.  You will have fun playing it together and I promise you that you will spend a lot of time laughing as you do.

If you have any questions or want to tell me your favorite part of this app, send me a note.  I am just a click away and would love to hear your success stories while working with your kids.  Do you have another occupational therapy or speech goal that can be met that you would like to share.  I love learning from all of you out there and look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Wonders of 'Wonder'

*I know that I have dedicated this blog to toys and apps but am taking a bit of a detour because I think this book is that good and should be read by anyone who works with children.

At the suggestion of my sister Molly, I began reading the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio on Thursday night.  I didn't know much about it other than I had to read it and had to read it immediately.  As mentioned, I began reading on Thursday and I couldn't put it down.  I finished it tonight while standing on the subway platform.  And I was unable to control myself and had tears running down my cheeks as I read the final pages.

The first thing you should know about this book is that it was written for young adults and tweens.  It's not meant for adults but I know of more adults reading this book right now, perhaps at my encouragement.  The second thing you should know is that you will cry.  Both the good kind of tears and the sad kind of tears.  Don't do what I did by reading the last few pages without a tissue handy.  You will need it.  Lastly, make sure that you have chunks of time to read it because you won't want to put it down.  You will be as anxious as I was to find out more.

I'm not going to share much about this book because I want you all to read it the same way I did.  Full of wonder and excitement with each turn of the page.  I will tell you that you will fall in love with 10 year old August, the main character of Wonder, and his friends and family.  You can go to the author's website here and check out the book trailer.  Below, I will share the description as written by R.J. Palacio:

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

I don't feel this way about many books but Wonder is the kind of book that I think everyone should read.  Especially those of us who work with children; most especially those of us who work with children with special needs.  Your eyes will be opened and your heart will want to burst.  I couldn't help but think of so many of the children I have worked with over the last 10 years and wonder if they ever felt the way the August felt.  I think parents of young adults and tweens should read this either with their child or at the same time.  It can teach your child about empathy, putting yourself in other's shoes and learning about how so much can be accomplished with the simple act of kindness.

Be sure to check out your local bookstores for your own copy of Wonder.  R.J. Palacio has written a gem of a story and I hope that this is just the first of many books we will be reading from her.  I read mine on my iPad but will be going out tomorrow to The Community Bookstore in Park Slope to get my hard copy.  I am already looking forward to reading this a second time because I feel like I rushed through in order to finish it!

I do hope that you all run out to purchase this book and would love to hear from all of you about your thoughts on this book if you choose to read it.  I would love to hear about what your favorite part was or what lessons you learned from reading August's story.  I am just a click away and hope to hear from some of you.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Felt These Were Amazing!

A few years back I discovered an amazing toy company called eeBoo.  They are a New York based company who's products are tremendously well made and can .  Many of them have a timeless feel to them and could see them being ones that I save for my grandchildren way, way down the line.  Their products range from arts and crafts to puzzles and paper dolls.

I love mosaic activities, as I am sure is already obvious with two of my previous posts here and here.  For an occupational therapist, mosaics and tangrams can work on generalizing so many occupational therapy goals.  And if you find the right set, it can be incredibly fun and motivating.  So when I saw the eeBoo Felt Mosaic game at my sister's house a few months ago, I knew I had hit the jackpot.

The eeBoo Felt Mosaic game is amazing for a ton of reasons.  Using a variety of different colored triangles, a child is given the chance to create tons of different images.  While I love Tangrams, I find that for some children it is more challenging to try and differentiate all the shapes to create the pictures.  By having one shape, I feel like there is more opportunity for success for many of the kids I work with who present with learning difficulties.  This could also make it easier to adapt for some of the children we work with in an occupational therapy setting.  While this is suggested for children age 5 and older, I think that some of the simpler cards could be appropriate for some of the younger children on my caseload.

The other thing I love about this game is that if you want to use it with younger children, you can use it as a game to teach shapes.  With a hands on approach, you can use the triangles to teach younger children about colors and a variety of shapes.  You can also work on improving fine motor and grasping skills when picking up and releasing the different shapes.  For children who have difficulty with fine motor control, the material on the board (the board you put the felt pieces on is made of a material that helps the pieces stay in place) allows the pieces you have already laid in place to stay still.

The eeboo Felt Mosaic game can work on a variety of other skills.  I have listed just a few below.

Improve Visual Perceptual Skills-mosaics/tangrams are a perfect way to work on improving visual perceptual skills.  This is something that many children really struggle with but it is important for so many academic skills.
Improve Organizational Skills-one way to help a child with this activity would be to talk to them about organization.  When beginning to work on a picture, have the child pull out all the pieces that they may need prior to putting the picture
together.  Just getting them to look at the picture and figure out what triangles they will need will help them have more success in completing the picture.
Improve Imagination Skills-even though the game comes with tons of cards for you to copy, it also allows you to use the different shapes and colors to make your own designs.  This can be a great opportunity to help a child work on thinking outside of the box and begin to try and create different pictures.  Sometimes I like to get the kids to make pictures of things that interest them.  It's fun to see how their thought process works and what the end result is.  Plus it helps to build confidence when a child feels like they have created something from beginning to end.
Improve Problem Solving Skills-children must really problem solve and think about where the shapes go and how they would fit into the "puzzle" to make their picture look the same as the card.  This could also be a great opportunity to work with children on how to ask an adult appropriate questions to help them problem solve.  Sometimes children who have difficulty with problem solving also present with decreased frustration tolerance.  As a child's ability to problem solve improves, so will their frustration tolerance.
Improve Social Skills-this is a perfect activity to work on in groups of 2 or more and work on cooperation and team work.  With supervision from an adult, encourage children to take turns or help their friend out if they are having trouble.
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-take a look at the picture to the right.  Here is one of my awesome friends enjoying this game while in the net swing.  He is SO excited to be building a rocket ship that he doesn't even realize how hard he is working on building his upper body and neck/head strength.  If you can find a game that is fun and motivating, they won't even realize that their bodies are getting tired.  Try it!  And let me tell you my little friend pictured was really proud of himself after completing the rocket picture!

I have a feeling this will be my first of many posts featuring the fabulous games and toys of eeBoo.  My closet at work has many of their products and I have given so many as gifts to people that I probably should buy stock.  I highly encourage you to browse their online store and see what they have to offer your kids but to also check out your local toy stores and see what they have in stock.  What I love about this company is is that on their website, they encourage you to shop your local book and toy stores.  I know for a fact that many of the toy stores in NYC carry eeBoo products.  Support your local small businesses.  They count on us!  I know that Little Things in Park Slope carry a ton of their products but check here to see a listing of stores across the country that are sure to carry their products.

I would love to hear what you all think about the Felt Mosaic game and if you have an eeBoo product that you use and love with your kids.  I am just a click away and love hearing from my readers.  Have you used this game and made adaptations to it that your fellow therapists/teachers/parents could use to help their kids have more success?   I would love for this blog to become a place for all us dedicated therapists to share their thoughts and ideas.

To end this blog, April is OT month.  I would love to come up with a way to use my blog this month to not only promote the benefits of occupational therapy, but to educate people about what occupational therapy is all about.