Sunday, September 29, 2013

Un-bee-lievably Fun Word Game!

Since most of the kids I work with are between the ages of 3 and 6, I tend to blog about items appropriate for that age group.  I do have a handful of older children on my caseload and most of them come to me to focus on handwriting and fine motor skills.  So it is important to me to find fun games or activities that will motivate these older kids to work on this challenging activity.  I want to make sure that our time together is fun but also spent working towards achieving goals that will help them be more successful in both school and at home for academics.

A  few weeks ago I spotted Speedeebee! by Blue Orange.  Ever since discovering and blogging about Spot It by the same company, I have been drawn to their products.  Besides being super portable (which is great for those of us who do home care or work between a couple of offices), it is a fun game that can work on a variety of occupational therapy goals.  I also love that many of their games can be adapted to allow for success for whatever child I am working with.  I also like the fact that the game can be different every single time you play it.

Speedeebee! consists of 50 cards containing 150 challenges and 4 alphabet dice.  On each of the cards there are three challenges to choose from.  Some examples of the many challenges are:
**Name something you love to do, starting with one of these letters (throw all four dice)
**Name something you love to eat, containing one of these letters (throw all four dice)
**Find a word containing two of these letters (throw the red and green dice)
I think the questions are great and make kids think, but aren't all so challenging that they won't be successful.  And I think it is nice that they have a choice of 3 so they can find a question that they are comfortable with.  There is a lot about the game that sets the kids up to not only have a good time but to be successful.  The fact that a child gets to pick out a question means less stress for them during game play and unfortunately, playing games can be something that produces a lot of stress in the kids I work with.

There are two different ways to play the game (although with my kids I don't always play by their rules)
Challenge Mode:   Place 20 cards in the middle of the playing area face down.  The remaining 30 cards are not used for the rest of the game and are returned to the storage tin.  The first player holds all 4 dice  (great for fine motor skills and improving in-hand manipulation skills), picks the top card from the deck and picks one of the 3 challenges on the card and reads it out loud to the group.  Once all players understand the challenge, the person who selected the challenge will roll the dice and as quickly as possible, all players attempt to complete the challenge using the letters rolled.  Whoever answers first takes the card and a new turn is started.   This continues until there are no cards left in the draw pile and at the end, the person who gets the most cards is the winner.
Freestyle Mode:  Set up the game the same way you would if playing with the Challenge cards, but rather than reading the challenges on the cards, the players are required to make up their own.  The first person to complete the challenge/answer the questions correctly gets the card.  The person who has the most number of cards at the end is the winner.

Here are a few occupational therapy goals that can be addressed when playing Speedeebee!:
Improve Handwriting Skills-while the game is meant to be a language game, I have adapted it to be able to work on improving graphomotor skills.  Instead of having the kids shout out their answers, I have them write their answers down on paper.  Whether they are working on print or cursive, I find this to be a motivating way to work on a skill that is typically challenging for them.  I actually did this with a 9 year old girl I work with who needs to work on handwriting and endurance; she was totally engaged for much longer than she would have been if I had just had her practice words or other random sentences.  She actually asked to play longer when I said it was time to put the game away!  I encourage the children to write whole sentences and use proper grammar.  Depending on their handwriting goals, you can work on grasping skills, building up writing endurance,
Improve Social Skills-as I have already mentioned, this is actually a game that is meant to be played in a group.  If you are looking for a good game for a social skills group or to have at your disposal for family game options, this is a great game.  If you a group of younger and older kids, you can pair them together (since this is more appropriate for kids who are 7 years of age or older) and have them work as a team.  This could also work on improving frustration tolerance for those older kids who get annoyed with the younger ones.  I know that the point of the game is to be the fastest to answer the questions, but in my adaptation of the game I encourage the kids to take turns and allow all friends to be able to have an opportunity to answer the questions as well.  I find that in my social skills groups, there tends to be one or two kids who dominates play which discourages other children from taking risks.
Improve Executive Functioning/Organizational Skills-many of my older kids are also coming to me to work on improving their executive functioning skills.  The most common aspect of executive functioning I work on is improving organization skills for improved performance in school or at home with homework.  For my older kids who are fluent readers, the first thing I make them do is read the directions to themselves.  Once they have read them, I ask them to repeat the directions back to me...I will interrupt them if they forget something or mess them up.  I also make them set the game up and if they do something incorrectly, they have to read the directions again and fix their error.

I love games that can be adapted to be appropriate for a variety of children and their varying needs.  Speedeebee! is one of those and while I intend on adapting it when necessary, it is also a great game the way it was created.  I have a feeling that my speech therapy friends will love this game and am definitely interested in hearing their thoughts and opinions.  One thing I would like to figure out is a way to make this game work for my preschool population, particularly the social skills groups I run with my colleagues.   Any thoughts or suggestions from you my readers on how to do that?  I love hearing from you and am always a click away.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pinch It To Believe How Great It Is

When I think about how much has changed since I became an occupational therapist over ten years ago, I think about the iPad and how this piece of electronics has added to my practice.  While I know there are many of you therapists out there who don't use iPads or technology in their work, I know there are just as many of you who do.  I make a concerted effort to not rely on it too much and be sure to use it minimally and only for certain kids.  My goal is to use it as a reward or to work on skills that may be more challenging and need more motivation to spend the necessary time on it to make a difference in his/her skills.

Every once in a while I stumble on an app and get so excited.  I belong to this awesome group on Facebook for pediatric occupational therapists and it's been such a great resource.  I've used it to find clients who are moving and need to find therapists in their new town or to helpf find specialty therapists for clients I currently work with.  The best thing though is that we are able to bounce ideas and suggestions off of each other and because of it I have discovered some great toys, activities and apps from these other great therapists.  One of the things I have recently discovered is the app Pinch Peeps by Everplay Interactive.  While the game is simple (in theory), there are so many occupational goals that can be addressed during play.

The point of the game is to pinch two similar creatures together before they explode.  It sounds easy, but it is a fast moving game and it moves faster and faster so focus and attention is crucial.  Before the iPad, I had a hard time working on this skill without it being boring for the kids.  How long could you ask a kid to pick up small beads from a table or to pull little pegs out of a pretend birthday cake made out of putty or playdough?  For me, it wasn't long before the kids got bored and wanted to move on or would just avoid this activity entirely.  A few months ago, I blogged about Dexteria Jr..  This app was a huge hit with my kids from the beginning and continues to motivate them to work on their fine motor skills.  I am sure there a bunch of apps out there I don't know about (if you know of them, please tell me!!) and Pinch Peeps seems to be one of those I will be relying on all year long and telling parents about.  I try and use this game right before a handwriting activity as I find that once you warm up those hand muscles through games like Pinch Peeps, the hand is warmed up to hold a writing instrument.
A child must find the matching peeps and pinch them together.
Starts off easy and gets increasingly more challenging

Here are just a few of the occupational therapy goals that can be addressed using the Pinch Peeps app:
Improve Pinching Skills-clearly, if you want a game to work on improving and encouraging pinching (a crucial prerequisite skill for graphomotor skills), this is your game.  The whole purpose of the game is to work on pinching skills by finding the matching peeps and pinching them together. As you get better and better, there will be challenges such as pushing the bombs away from each other with your fingers instead of pinching them together.
Improve Eye Hand Coordination/Improve Visual Perceptual Skills-in addition to pinching, you have to be sure that you find the matching "peeps" so it makes this app perfect for targeting visual perceptual and matching skills.  At first, there is only one pair to match but as you go on, you get more creatures to match at a time.  Eventually, there are challenges (avoiding bombs, obstacles and such) which require you to really focus on the visual cues on the screen.  And this is great for working on eye-hand coordination skills because you have to scan the screen to find the matches and then use your hands in order to pinch the matches together.
In addition to the regular part of the game, there are
challenges such as these throughout
Improve Focus and Attention Skills-one of the great things about Pinch Peeps is that it moves quickly which requires a child to really focus and pay attention to what is happening on the screen.  If they aren't paying careful attention, they will match the wrong peeps and they will lose a life.  If they don't pay attention to the obstacles that are placed on the screen (bombs need to be pinched away from each other or a bar will show up in the middle of the screen and you have to pinch the bombs together by avoiding touching the line)
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-I love killing two birds with one stone.  Whenever it is appropriate, I will put my kids in the super hero (aka net swing) to play with the iPad.  Sometimes my kids tolerance for lying in the prone position is minimal and it requires a tremendous amount of encouragement from me for them to stay in the swing for even a minute.  Give them something interesting and motivating, and I can get them to stay on that swing for ages.  They don't even realize they are tired or how hard they are working because they are so focused on the game.  Pinch Peeps is a perfect game to distract kids from doing other things.
While you have to pinch the peeps together, you need to
pay attention to the bombs and pinch them apart
before they explode
Executive Functioning/Organizational Skills-for the older kids on my caseload, organization skills is something that I try and hide into our work.  I feel like when I am all on top of them and forcing them to do it, it becomes more of an argument or stress inducing thing.  With this game, I have my kids watch me play the game for a little while and tell them to pay close attention to what I am doing because I will have them tell me the purpose of the game and the instructions based on what I am doing.  This helps them organize themselves before they begin the game; helps them regulate their actions and prepares them for success with the game.  It's also a great way to see how well a child can understand visual cues/directions (this game doesn't give verbal directions, instead there is a little video (that I mute) to watch that gives you all the directions.  Depending on the child, I will have them repeat part or all of what they saw back to me.

I am loving this game and love that it is sold (and by sold, I mean it is free!  You just have to deal with this annoying thing before you start the game of a popup ad.  Be sure to "x" out of the ad and avoid a trip to the app store before each game begins.) as a game for everyone, not kids with special needs.  I'm not gonna lie...I have found myself playing this between clients and have fun with it.  I am pretty sure if I were to put this on my niece's iPods, they would love it too and they are typically developing 5 and 8 year olds).  There is enough of a challenge that it can be played by everyone.  I love the added dimension of matching the peeps so a child can work on more than one skill at a time.

If any of you are looking for a new (and cheap) game to add to your iPad repertoire, Pinch Peeps is a perfect one.  It offers the just right challenge that I am sure you are all looking for when working with your kids but allows the kids to have a good time at the same time.  No matter how great an app is, if the kids don't have fun while playing it, then it just won't have the lasting power if there isn't an element of fun to it.

I would love hear from you guys and your thoughts on this game.  Does anyone have any other games similar to this that might encourage pinching and other fine motor skills like Pinch Peeps and Dexteria Jr.?  I am just a click away and looking forward to hearing from you with other fine motor app suggestions.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Just Scratching the Surface

In general, I have been a big fan of scratch art for as long as I can remember.  I have memories of making my own scratch paper as a child in art class using crayons and a special kind of black paint.  It was magical scratching away the black paint and see what was underneath.  So when I discovered Scratch Art I was psyched.  Over the years, the products have evolved from drawing pages to stickers, fashion books, and key chains (to name a a few).  It makes me happy that Melissa and Doug continue to develop great products that I am happy to suggest to my families.

I have always had some form of Scratch Art in my closet at work but didn't use it as much as I had wanted because it tended to be too challenging for many of my kids, especially the ones that required a lot of imagination and creativity.  Recently, when looking through the Scratch Magic Art products at a local toy store, I discovered the Safari Animals Mosaic book.  I immediately purchased it and began using it with my kids, both younger and older.  I was happy to see that kids of all ages and abilities were successful in the activity and motivated to keep working on it until they completed it.

What sets this book apart from their others is that many of them will give a template but then you have to use your imagination to fill them in.  For example, the fashion design one will provide you with the outline of a dress or a shirt and then you have to figure out how to design it.  While this can be fun for a child where creativity comes naturally and easily, it can be stressful for children who lack that skill and they may lose the motivation to complete the activity.  The Safari Animals Mosaic book provides you with clear instructions to scratch all shapes that have a dot on them.  For so many of the kids I work with, something as simple as that helps them as it is clear what is expected of them.  They don't need to worry that what they are doing is right or wrong (even though when my kids do the other types of scratch art I am constantly telling them there is no such thing as right or wrong when it comes to imagination) and just focus on scratching out the correct shapes.

Here are a few more occupational therapy goals that can be addressed when using the Safari Animals Mosaic book:
Look at this amazing tripod grasp being used
by my little friend.  
Improve Grasping Skills-I am not sure if you guys have similar experiences, but I find that my kids tire of handwriting activities to improve their pencil grasp skills.  Or maybe you have kids who are able to write their letters and all that fantastic stuff but they need to work on endurance and using the proper amount of pressure on a writing instrument.  If that is the case, this is a perfect activity for that child.  I work with a 7 year old girl who knows how to make her letters and is able to write beautifully but slowly because she uses too much pressure on the writing instrument.  She was getting bored with the handwriting activities we were doing during our sessions.  I introduced the Scratch Art Mosaic Color Reveal Book to her a few weeks ago and she flipped!  I was able to motivate her to use a proper grasp when holding the wooden stylus and she was able to realize on her own that when she scratched too hard, her hands would tire and she wouldn't get as much done.  Without much prompting from me, I could see her begin to use the proper amount of pressure and was able to complete the whole picture in one session (she was very motivated to be able to keep it and show her mom who was coming home later).
**I find that the wooden stylus can be too thin for some of my kids and am trying to figure out a way to improvise....any thoughts??**
Improve Visual Motor Skills-if you have a child who needs to work on their visual motor skills, this is a great activity.  This requires a child to visually scan their work for where they have to scratch.  It requires them to remain in the boundaries of each shape.
Improve Modulation/Regulation-the fact that their are lines and boundaries requires the children to control how fast and where they are coloring.  Often times, the kids are observed to scratch all over the place as fast as they can.  For this activity, I do not allow that.  I want them to learn how to slow down and focus on the details.  It is important that they learn how to color one thing in at a time and to complete it before moving onto the next area.  If they can do it with this activity, then they should be able to generalize that skill to coloring books or other coloring activities.
Improve Focus and Attention-What I love about this particular Scratch Magic product is that it requires you to focus on what you are coloring.  For my older kids, I am definitely harder on them about scratching away the whole surface and trying their  hardest to remain in the lines.  I may tell them they can't move onto the next shape until there is almost no black left on the one they are working on.  I want them to really focus on completing something instead of rushing through the activity.   For my younger kids, I may encourage it but not as much as the older kids.  A sign of attention and focus improving is how long they will stick with the activity before asking to stop.  For many of my kids, this ends up being a multi-session project.  I like to keep track of how many shapes they fill out from session to session and share with the kids how they are able to color more in each time.

There are just a few of the many goals that can be addressed using Scratch Art Safari Mosaic and other Scratch Magic products.  Do you have other goals that you have worked on that you want to share with us?

I'm not sure about all of you, but when I start the school year, I like to have new items for my kids.  I find that my returning kids definitely have their favorites and will ask for certain activities, but love the idea of finding out what is new in my closet or work bag.  The Scratch Art Safari Mosaic is a perfect addition to your toy chest if you are looking for something new and motivating for your kids.  It's also a great book to recommend to families who want to follow through on what you are working on during therapy without the kids feeling like they are never getting a break.  A child can be doing this at home with mom and dad or with his/her siblings and working on developing a proper grasp, building grasp strength and working on improving his/her endurance for graphomotor activities.

Have any of you found any other products like this that would be good for me to look into?  There are so many great Scratch Art sets out there and I am sure that I'm missing something great that could be used with my kids.  I love hearing from you guys and am always a click away.

Remember to check out local toy stores to see if they carry Scratch Art Safari Mosaic and other Scratch Magic products.  I know in my neighborhood, I can find tons of different books and sets.  Small businesses count on our business and I always feel better when I purchase from them.