Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keep Those Little Turkeys Busy This Thanksgiving!

Here's wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving.  And for those of you who celebrate Hanukkah, may it be a joyous one.

I am thankful for all of you for reading and following my blog.  I hope that I have been able to add some fun to your lives with my suggested toys, games and apps.  

As Thanksgiving day approaches, I know we are all busy planning our meals and getting ready for friends and family to come and spend the day with us.  Need something to keep your little turkeys occupied while prepping for the Thanksgiving Feast?  Here are a few activities that you can easily prepare for them before hand
Instead of using this picture, use blank card
stock and have them write a name and add
a Thanksgiving sticker

1.  Thanksgiving Placecards-Do you have a child who needs to work on handwriting?  Put them in charge of making the Thanksgiving placecards.  Provide them with a list of names to copy and some stickers to decorate the placecards with.  
*works on improving graphomotor, grasping, visual perceptual and organizational skills.  Better than all that though is how proud your little one will feel when they look around the table and see everyone sitting behind the placecard they created especially for them

2.  Create a Thanksgiving Thankful Tree-have your kids cut out leaves (that you have already drawn out on construction paper) and have them write down what they are thankful for.  Give your children the job of going around to all of your guests and having them write down what they are thankful for as well.  Using Crayola Window Markers, draw a tree on a large window or a glass door and have your children tape them on the tree.  
*works on improving graphomotor, grasping, visual motor/perceptual skills, improves speech and language skills (asking people to fill out their leaves) and improves organizational skills

I love this traditional hand Thanksgiving
turkey....brings back so many
early memories 
3.  Handprint Thanksgiving Turkey-I vividly remember this arts and craft project from my childhood and since becoming an OT, I have done it with my kids at work year after year.  Depending on the age and skill level of the child, I change the expectations.  For my younger children, I will trace their hand and assign a color for each finger/feather.  For my older children, I make they trace their own hand and then figure out what colors they want to use.  They can cut the handprint and then glue it onto a piece of paper.  If you have a houseful of guests coming and need your little ones occupied for a bit, give them each a handful of names and ask them to make them special holiday cards that they can hand out to your guests as they arrive.
*works on fine motor, coloring, cutting, graphomotor, bilateral coordination and visual motor/perceptual skills

I love these napkin rings made from empty
toilet paper tubes.  They use buttons but you can
use any odds and ends kind of materials to
make something special for your guests.
4.  Homemade Napkin Rings-if you have some empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls lying around, reuse and recycle them to make some homemade napkin rings for your Thanksgiving table.  The possibilities are endless and you can let your children's imagination run wild by providing them with the correct supplies.  Use stickers, markers, buttons, glue, tissue paper, etc. to create unique and special napkin rings for each of your guests.
*works on improving fine motor, grasping, graphomotor, bilateral coordination and visual motor/perceptual skills.  Again, your children will feel so proud when they look around that table filled with all the people they love

Again, I wish you and yours a very happy and healthy holiday season.  I can already feel the excitement in all of the children I work with and look forward to the upcoming weeks.  Do you have any wonderful holiday craft ideas to share with me or my readers?  I know we are all looking for ways to keep our kids involved in the holiday season and would love to hear from my readers with any ideas they would like to share with me.  I am just a click away and can't wait to test out some of the great ideas you have!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

These Blocks are Golden!

I don't really blog about things that I haven't personally tried but with the holidays about a week away and people looking for gifts, I felt it necessary to share this idea.  Yesterday on Facebook, many of my friends, most of them being moms of girls, posted this video.  It's an amazing 2 minutes of creativity and fun and if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend putting the volume up really loud and watching it now!  I watched this video and was instantly convinced to buy these for my own girl.  I can't wait to play these with Quinn once she opens them on Christmas morning.  I will post a full review after that but in the mean time, here is some information for you.  I have a feeling that after this video, these will be selling out so get them now!

I had heard about Goldie Blox last year from my sister Kara, a mother of two girls herself.   I am sure many moms of girls out there can agree that Legos and other building toys are great but almost always geared towards boys.  Goldie Blox are created by Debbie Sterling, an engineer who was bothered by how few women there were in the field.  She decided that she wanted to change that and became obsessed with creating a building toy that would introduce young girls to the world of engineering at a young age.  I think she has succeeded!

As a mother of a creative and spirited little girl who wants to be a butterfly or a violin when she grows up, I love the idea of introducing her to a world of possibilities when it comes to choosing a career path that makes her happy.  Whether she becomes a butterfly or an engineer, I just want her to know that she can be whatever she wants to be as long as she works hard.

As on occupational therapist, I love there is a toy I can bring into my office and play with my girls who lack confidence and a belief that they can be whatever they want to when they grow up.  In addition to working on a million occupational therapy goals, I believe these construction toys will build self-esteem and confidence in these amazing little girls I work with.  Some of the goals that can be worked on are building fine motor strength and coordination, improve visual motor and visual perceptual skills, improve motor planning and improve bilateral coordination skills.  The best part of this is that they can have fun while working on those skills.

Below, you will see a couple more pictures and the toy description taken right from the Goldie Blox website.  I will be back after Christmas with a complete review and talk more about the specific occupational therapy goals that can be focused on but I was too excited about this product after watching the wonderful video that I had to share.  I can't wait to see what Quinn comes up with when playing with them.  I can already picture hours of fun and building ahead of us this winter.

Happy building friends!  If you have used the Goldie Blox, I would love to hear from you and about your experiences working with kids who have fine motor or visual motor/perceptual/spatial issues.  Do you have suggestions on how to make this a successful activity for them?   I am always a click away and loving hearing from you all!

At GoldieBlox, our goal is to get girls building. We’re here to help level the playing field in every sense of the phrase. By tapping into girls' strong verbal skills, our story + construction set bolsters confidence in spatial skills while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things.

In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math...and girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8, GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they've been considered "boys' toys". By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.
We believe there are a million girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. We think GoldieBlox can show them the way.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2013 Holiday Gift Guide

I honestly can't believe it's that time of year already.  It seems like it was just yesterday when I put together last year's gift guide.  I'm not sure how long I have been doing this, but I can date myself by saying that I know it is only in the last couple of years that I have added an iPad app section.

Year after year, families I work with ask for suggestions on not only what they can get for their kids for the holidays, but also what they can tell their friends and families to get.  As we all know, there is an overwhelming number of toys out there.  The commercials for light up pillows, animal slippers whose mouths open when you take steps, mood sand and magic markers are enough to drive us all mad and into the poor house!

My goal for my gift giving guide is to provide you with items that are not only fun, but will have a therapeutic value for those of you whose child needs that.  For the most part, the things I recommend are items which can be used by all children, not only those that need support.  They are (for the most part), items that can be purchased in local toy stores or online. Anyone who follows this blog knows that I love to support the local toy stores!

I hope you find this list helpful.  If you click on the name of each product, you will be directed to the website or a place where you can purchase that item.

Please use the list below to reference the abbreviations under each product.  These codes will tell you what skills can be addressed using the toy, game, app, etc.

FM- improves fine motor skills
GR- improves fine motor grasping skills and in-hand manipulation skills
VM- improves visual motor skills
VP- improves visual perceptual skills/visual scanning skills
EH- improves eye-hand coordination skills
SP- improves sensory processing skills, such as attention and focus
SA- improves safety awareness
MP- improves motor planning skills
ST- improves strength
BC- improves bilateral coordination/using two hands at the same time
EF- improves executive functioning skills
SS- improves social skills
GM- improves gross motor skills (jumping or whole body movements)
SC/Ind- improves self-care and activities of daily living skills; improves independence 

Happy Holidays to you all!  I hope that they are filled with lots of love and laughter and, for the little people in your life, lots of fun and playing!

Drawing Books
Don't Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book-I am a huge fan of all things Mo Willems so when I saw this book in the Community Bookstore in Park Slope, I had to get it.  It's a great book with a variety of really fun activities for kids.  Opportunities to practice writing letters, drawing and coloring with your favorite characters from the Mo Willem books.  One of the things I really like about this book is that there are some activities that can take more than one session.

Lazoo-there are nine different books to choose from and I can't say one is better than the other.  I adore all of these and each one is so unique and different from other coloring and activity books.  My first book was the Holes book and my kids couldn't get enough.  I quickly picked up the Squiggles and Stickers/Incredible Stickers books.  Perfect for preschoolers who may not always love coloring and drawing books because the pictures are motivating and exciting for them to complete.  Many of the kids I work with get stressed with coloring books because the pictures are too big and their hands get tired.  With drawing, they avoid this task because they aren't quite sure where to start the picture.  These books are great because they give you something concrete to begin with and then you can allow your imagination to run wild.  These books allow for success and the more successful they are, the more likely they will be to try coloring and drawing activities outside of their comfort zone. Here is a link to the Lazoo Store....warning, you may not be able to stop yourself!

Zolocolor coloring books- I'm not going to lie.  I love when my kids at work want to use these books. The pictures are so fun to color and I find it therapeutic to just zone out and color with the kids.  My kids love these books because the shapes are fun to color in and you can do whatever you want.  For many of my kids, this ends up being a bit of a long-term project.  Great for older kids who love to color but have outgrown many of the character coloring books out there.

The Usborne Coloring Books- Another fantastic collection of coloring and drawing books for older kids.  These books are filled with beautiful pictures and designs to color in and/or complete the pictures.  For those kids who struggle with starting a drawing project, these books are great because they don't need to worry about that.  There are a bunch of different versions of this book so you will easily find one for your child (boy or girl) will enjoy.  Take a look at the picture on the left and you will see an example of just one of the images you can find in these books.  This one here allows you the jumping off point for so many things:  draw people in the windows of the houses/buildings or draw clothing hanging off the clothesline.  There is no right or wrong here.  It's about having fun and doing your best and at the end, they will have a picture they can be proud of!  I have seen these books at Barnes and Noble and many independent book stores.

Arts and Crafts
Rainbow Loom- I blogged about this a few months ago and think it was by far my most popular post ever.  No surprise since the Rainbow Loom only gets more popular each and every day!  I can't say enough about this product.  I love that it has become so popular amongst school age kids and that you are seeing them excited about making bracelets and not glued to an iPhone, iPad or portable gaming device.  For kids with fine motor and motor planning difficulties, this may be difficult, but the amount of pride they feel when they master it is amazing.  For my older kids who need to work on executive functioning skills, I have them find a video on YouTube so they can follow the step-by-step instructions.  I have spent many hours on YouTube myself learning different bracelet patterns.  Many local toy stores sell the real loom (I am a bit of a Rainbow Loom snob and after trying a few of the knock-off brands, I won't use any but the real one) but if you have a Michael's nearby you will be sure to find a loom and dozens and dozens of different colored bands.

Orb Factory Mosaics- I have been using these in my private practice for years now.  It's hard to contain my love for them, evident by my previous blog posts here and here.  What I love about this company is that they could have easily stopped creating and still be super popular but they didn't do that.  Their products continue to grow and keep me coming back for more.  They have sets made for toddlers (matching different colored shapes) and for older kids (matching different colored squares and gems to assigned numbers).  They are all brilliant and at the end, the kids have an amazing piece of art that they get to take home and show to their loved ones.  This helps foster self-esteem and confidence which is the most important factor in a toy or craft.

Crayons- We all love the traditional set of Crayola crayons and I am not saying that you shouldn't have those in your house. In fact, no home would be complete without its own set!  As an occupational therapist, I would tell you to take those perfect crayons and break them in half to promote a proper grasp.  If you can't do that (and I totally understand...I cringe every time I do it myself), here are some crayons that will help in promoting a proper grasp for those of you who have children with strength or grasping issues:

Star Crayons- The shape of these crayons is perfect for encouraging a tripod grasp.  The star shape also makes all coloring and handwriting activities a little more fun for the little ones I work with!

Left Right Ergonomic Crayons: Perfect for those kids who are too young to have a hand dominance or kids who keep switching.  The shape is made so that no matter what hand you choose, you will be forced into a tripod-like grasp.

Crayon Rocks- Designed to strengthen the tripod grip muscles, which are essential for creating a proper grasp, and is so important for graphomotor and handwriting skill development.  Soy wax crayon,s that offer bright and vibrant colors, are small crayons whose size helps to encourage a tripod grasp.  Because they are small, there is no way that a child can't fist them, which is a common grasp I see with my younger kids.

Djeco Collages for Little Hands- Super cute set of animal collages perfect for your preschooler/early school age child.  Each set comes with four different collages that you can make.  Following the visual directions, you use a variety of materials to make a cute animal.  Great for working on early organizational skills in our little ones.  At the end, they have a set of four ridiculously adorable collages that they take great pride in.

Yellow Owl's Little Prints-as with many things these days, I discovered this book at Norman & Jules in Park Slope.  This book teaches readers a wide variety of crafting skills such as stenciling, printing and stamping in order to create different keepsakes, decorations and gifts that will make the special people in your life feel loved.  Great for the tweens/teens in your life who have outgrown many of the arts & crafts kits out there and want to be more hands-on with their crafts.  

Hiho Batik-I blogged about this awesome Park Slope store months ago and you can read about my amazing experience here.  I can't say enough about this place and the people who run it.  There is a passion and devotion here that comes out in all the work they do.  Not only can you buy some of the coolest homemade clothes out there (Quinn's been sporting Hiho Batik clothing since the day they opened), you can make your own in their studio located at the back of the store.  I have gone for a 1:1 session and a birthday party and couldn't have been more impressed with the attention that goes into every detail.  Both times I went, the children needed a little extra love and attention; I mentioned it to Julia, store owner, before coming and she did everything in her power to make sure the time we spent there was a successful one.  Your child walks out of this experience with not only a really cool piece of clothing, but a sense of pride and confidence that is infectious.    Check out this link that shows a video of the make your own batik experience at Hiho Batik.  For those of you in the NYC area, gift certificates are available for purchase if you need a little something for the stocking.  This could be a great way to spend a cold and snowy winter day.

Tegu Blocks- I absolutely love these blocks.  Tegu Blocks are simple, wooden blocks that have a magnet inside.  So a child can not only build their sets up, but also out to the sides.  There are a variety of sets, including ones that allow you to build a moving car.   My daughter has been playing with these blocks for years and never tires of them.  They are more expensive than your typical wooden block sets, but they are not your typical blocks.  Because of how well made and durable they are, this is a toy that you will be able to pass down to your kid's kids in the years to come.

Lego Duplo Read and Build- Legos seem to be another one of those toys that never get old.  When I discovered the Lego Duplo Read and Build Sets, I was so excited.  These sets are perfect for those smaller hands that have difficulty with the small size Legos.  The accompanying instructions are great because they give very clear visuals on how to build the different objects (jungle and farm animals, bugs/caterpillar, and a car set) in the book.  This requires a child to organize their work, plan what they are doing and follow visual directions.

Ogobild Bits- I discovered this Brooklyn-based company last holiday season when I saw them at one of the many amazing holiday markets all over the city.  If you have kids who love building, but you have enough Lego sets, this is a great gift for them!  There are small and large sets and each comes with a bunch of suggested items to build.  Great for working on building a child's imagination skills while building the muscles of the hands!  I have used them in my social skills group both with preschoolers and school age kids and they had an absolute blast.
MagnaTiles- I bought these years ago and my kids still love them.  These magnetic plastic shapes help foster creativity and imagination.  I have used this both in my 1:1 work and in my social skills groups.  Another toy that comes with a bit of a price tag, but will last forever.

LaQ- I discovered this awesome manipulative building set this summer after a trip to The Bronx Zoo.  For the Lego lovers, this is another great toy.  These are actually flat shapes that snap together to make a ton of different shapes.  For tons of different patterns to make cars, animals, people, etc. using these different shaped blocks, clink here.  My kids love them and I don't see them getting too frustrated when it gets difficult to follow the directions.  Better suited for the older kids I work with (often too difficult for the preschoolers, especially those with fine motor difficulties).

Giraffe Safari Nest & Play Blocks- I've been a fan of Skip*Hop products since the beginning when they were just diaper bags.  A few years ago they began making really nice wooden toys.  This cute toy is ideal for your little ones (around 1 1/2 years old).  They can be stacked on top of each other, match the towering animals and then you can drop the ball into the holes.  For those of you who live in smaller spaces, they can nest inside of each other and take up little room.

Giraffe Safari Stacking Animal Blocks- These adorable blocks are a perfect gift for those little people in your life.  Included is a set of five jungle animals that can be stacked on top of each other, lined up next to each other or used in conjunction with other block sets.  A great toy to work on improving play skills and teaching your child about different kinds of animals.

Stack Up- A great cooperative game perfect for preschoolers or young school age children.  The purpose of the game is to work as a team to build a stack of blocks using sticks (the blocks have a hole on either side and children must work together to put their stick in the hole and place it on top of the other blocks).  There are challenges as well that keep the kids on their feet and moving around.  I love watching the kids figure out how to work together to make the tower.  Cooperative games are great for teaching kids the importance of team work and that sometimes winning is not the most important part of a game!

Spot It- I was late to the Spot It world but haven't turned back since I discovered it.  It's a great card game that works on matching, visual scanning and visual perceptual skills in a fast-paced fun way.  It's a perfect game for as few as two, and as many as six, kids.  It comes in a small and compact container that makes it easy to throw in a bag for car rides, train rides, etc. Kids don't seem to ever tire of this game and there are multiple ways to play to keep it fresh and exciting.  I have both Spot It and Spot It, Jr. and use both all the time.
SS  VP  SP  

Tumbling Monkeys- This is by far one of my most favorite games- ever!  It's fun for both my preschoolers and my school age kids.  It's similar to the game Kerplunk, but you have a tree filled with monkeys instead of a tower filled with marbles.  I let the children playing decide the rules of the game- mainly, is the winner the one with the least or the most monkeys?

Tenzi- I love this fast paced dice game.  Each container has 40 dice (10 of four different colors) and the rules are quite simple.  Roll all 10 dice at once and the first person to get all 10 dice to have the same number is the winner.  My older kids love this and come up with their own rules to play which is really heartening to see.  With my younger kids, I like to use five dice instead of 10. They often get the rules, but their hands are smaller and it is much more difficult to hold onto so many dice at a time.  Check out their website for different and exciting ways to play this game.

Perfection- An oldie but a goodie.  I use this game almost every day with my kids and they never get sick of it.  Perfection is great for learning shapes and improving matching skills.  For my older kids, I may use the timer but only if they want it.  Sometimes I hide the shapes in theraputty in order to work on increasing grasp strength at the same time.  The original version of the game is not so easy to find, but you can find it here. There is a newer version with different shapes, but instead of having to match 25 shapes, you only have to match nine which is good for much younger kids.

Obstacles- I have fallen in love with the toy company Eeboo.  They have an amazing selection of games, crafts, etc.  I have used Obstacles both in my social groups and in my 1:1 sessions.  There are a bunch of cards that have barriers/hazards and a bunch of cards that have tools that can be used to overcome those barriers in order to get yourself home.  When used individually, I may have my kids who need to work on handwriting write out their thoughts and ideas.  When used in a group setting, you can pair kids up to work as a team to come up with the best way to overcome the obstacle with the tool they have.  I love games that can be adapted to meet the needs of a particular child and his/her goals and this is definitely one of them.  This game will provide hours and hours of entertainment to your child and encourage creativity and problem solving at the same time.

Gross Motor Toys
Kickboard Scooter- Once children have outgrown their strollers, I suggest parents get their kids a good scooter to get around on.  I live in NYC, but there are a lot of other families out there whose children are within walking distance of scool who would benefit from using a scooter.  The Mini-Micro scooter is perfect for your preschooler while your school-age child will love the Maxi-Micro scooter.

OgoDisk- Another great product created by Brooklyn-based, OgoSport.  The OgoDisk is a perfect gross motor activity for your kids.  Super light and easy to bring to the park, playground or beach, this toy comes with two disks and a ball.  The disks are made from a hard foam outside which allows for a comfortable grip and a nylon-spandex center.  My kids have such a fun time with this activity and I love that it can be a social activity at the same time.

Yogarilla Cards- I love using these yoga cards with all my kids.  The large cards provide a great visual for the kids to imitate and on the back of each card, there are alternate positions for those who may have difficulty with the poses.  I am not a yogi by any means, but I love using yoga to help organize, ground and get my kids to focus. I totally appreciate the instructions written on the back of each card that can be used when giving the instructions.  I have a lot of kids who typically hate yoga, but they love these cards and actually ask to use them.

EZ Sox- I have loved these socks since first reading about them years ago and have been recommending them to families ever since.  I even used them with my typically developing daughter who wanted to independently put her socks on.  They have expanded their products to not only offer a wider range of sock styles (in both  kids and grownup sizes) but also have underwear now.  I know that many of my kids who have fine motor difficulties have difficulty with dressing and undressing and I love that this company has created something that looks really cute and promotes independence for self-care skills.  With increased independence comes increased self-esteem and confidence.
SC/Ind  MP  BC  EF

Soft Clothing- As a therapist I'm very well aware of how sensitive some of the kids I work with are to clothing...the tags, the buttons, the seams, etc. Am I right, fellow therapists?  Which is where Soft Clothing comes into play. They offer a wide range of cute clothing made especially for these kids.  In addition to having seamless socks and underwear, they have really cute clothes that have wider necks (to avoid rubbing up against the skin and causing irritation) and are made from soft and comfortable fabrics.  We all know how much better we function when we are comfortable in our clothes, so the same goes for kids.  How can we expect them to have a good day if they aren't wearing clothes that make them feel good?  As a bonus, many of the pants have elastic waistbands so kids who have strength issues but want to be independent for dressing and undressing, can benefit from these clothes as well.  I have recommended this company to parents of kids with down syndrome who had decreased grasp and upper extremity causing dressing and undressing to be hard for them.
SC/Ind  MP  BC  EF

Magical Apparel Vests and Dress-up- For those of you who have kids with (some) sensory difficulties or fine motor delays, here is a set of dress-up clothes that will support them.  Large buttons and fasteners make it easier for them to be independent when putting these clothes on.  They are made to hold some weights to provide deep input to your child who may need that in order to remain calm in social situations.  Fun and Function, a fantastic therapeutic catalog, has many different costumes for your to choose from.
SC/Ind  MP  BC  EF  SS

Stocking Stuffers
Aaron's Thinking Putty- Who doesn't love putty?  I know that I still play with it, especially since my sister Kara discovered this awesome company.  This putty is great for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills in a fun way.  There are all different kids of putty to choose from- magnetic, glow in the dark, see through and, my personal favorite, the changing color ones!
Discovery Putty- I have been using theraputty with my kids for as long as I can remember.  I will take small objects and hid them in there to make it more fun.  How happy was I when I heard about Discovery Putty by Fun and Function?  There is a soft-resistance putty with 15 different food treats hidden inside and a firm-resistance putty with 15 different safari animals inside.  This is a fantastic way to work on building fine motor skills in a fun way.  My kids LOVE this putty and ask for it over and over again.
Zoo Sticks- I use these chopsticks all the time with my kids.  This is a fun way to encourage kids to eat while working on increasing grasp strength at the same time.  They are not only good for eating, but it's a fun way to pick up small toys and sort them into different containers.  Kids love them and don't even realize that they are working when they play with them.  The best part? There are over 30 different ones to choose from!
Marbleous Necklaces- I have to give a little shout out to two of my favorite 9-year olds who came up with the idea for these beautiful necklaces and their moms for supporting their creativity and turning it into a reality.  If you're looking for a special gift made with love, please check out their Facebook page.  These necklaces can be custom made for special events.  I have actually had to give the necklace off my body to someone who loved it so much!  As if this couldn't get any sweeter, I'm happy to share that 10% of the annual proceeds will go to Autism Speaks because the people behind this awesomeness believe in giving and spreading love, tolerance, joy and hope.

For all you locals, you can head to Norman and Jules in Park Slope to browse through their special selection of Marblous Necklaces!

iPad Apps
  I love using the iPad during my therapy sessions.  I don't use it alone, but find it to be a truly motivating tool, especially for things like handwriting, learning letters and drawing pictures.  I don't want to say that using the iPad is the end all and be all of therapy, but my kids work harder and generalize skills.  When used in conjunction with more hands-on experiences, like paper and pencils, I find that progress is seen faster.  
Lately, I have found more apps that focus on improving fine motor skills such as pinching, grasping, etc.  Here are just a few of my- I mean the kids'- favorites!

*I highly recommend using a stylus as often as possible when using the iPad in order to work on developing a proper grasp on a writing instrument.  Check out this crayon stylus by iCreate or this number 2 pencil stylus by Amin Swessi Designs. Each link will bring you to my blog posts which describe each one in depth along with all the OT goals that can be addressed by using these apps.  

Pepi Tree- I find myself playing this app every once in a while without any kids around.  The animals are so cute and I love that you can work on improving fine motor, visual motor and sensory-processing skills while also working on building language skills.

Bugs and Buttons/Bugs and Buttons 2-Little Bit Studio offers some of the finest apps out there. The best part is that each of their apps contains 18 fun and motivating games that work on a variety of educational games.  My kids don't tire of these apps and since there are so many games available, you can go weeks without repeating a game!

Bugs and Bubbles- Another amazing app by Little Bit Studio   Honestly, I can't get enough of this app and how many occupational therapy goals can be addressed when using it.

Face iMake ABC- This app provides users with a great way to learn the ABCs and work on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and matching skills. iMagineMachine outdid themselves with this app.  Be sure to check out their link here because there are plenty of other amazing apps to choose from that will not only entertain but educate your children.

Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App- Not only great for working on OT skills, but my speech therapy friends love using this entertaining app to work on language skills with the kids on their caseload.  Totally worth the more expensive price tag than I normally pay for a single app.

Lazoo Apps- There are five apps by this brilliant company.  Many of them are free and the ones that cost anything are well worth the small price tag!

Pinch Peeps- A great, free app.  It's perfect for older children who need to work on finger strength and grasping skills.  The more peeps you pinch, the more challenges you face so it keeps a child on their toes and maintaining their attention.

Dexteria Jr.- A great app that works on improving fine motor skills in pre-school age children (although many of the older children I work with love it as well).  This app is so much fun that the kids don't even realize they are working!

Doodlecast-Sago Mini- Offers an amazingly creative and fun line of apps for toddlers and preschoolers. I am a tremendous fan of Doodlecast, but my 3 1/2 year old daughter just loves all of their apps that we have on our iPad.

Toca Boca- I really love their line of apps. In fact, it's hard to have any self-control when looking through their amazing selection of apps.  Highly motivating and educational apps that will provide entertainment for all family members.  My favorites (and it is really difficult to choose) are Paint My Wings, Toca House and Toca Cars.

These are just a few but there are so many apps out there. Please email me if you want more specific suggestions for any particular skill. The apps listed above are a very small sampling of what I have reviewed and what I have on my iPad.

NYC Area Toy Stores
I say this on each and every blog post, but it is more important to me this time of the year: shop small business when possible.  Support those local toy and book stores near you.  These people work so hard and provide so much to your neighborhoods.  Here are a few of the local small businesses that I support throughout the year in NYC:

Norman and Jules- Park Slope, Brooklyn.  This is a beautiful toy store located in the heart of Park Slope with the most amazing selection of wooden toys and games.  One of my favorite things about this store is that there is almost nothing in the store that requires batteries.  Courtney and Avi do a tremendous amount of research to get the best of the best in there and are always willing to help a customer find the perfect gift.

Little Things- Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Two locations- one dedicated to Lego, Arts and Crafts and Seasonal items while other has dolls, games, baby toys, etc.  A true go-to store for all your holiday shopping!

Acorn- This small toy store has a beautiful selection of wooden toys, doll houses and dolls.  If you are looking for a special toy for a special person in your life, this is a perfect place to check out.

Stationery Toy World-I have worked on the UWS for 10 years now and have been shopping in this store for just as long.  The owner, Donna, is incredibly helpful and dedicated to keeping the most popular items in stock.  If you need suggestions on what to buy for a particular child, she will help you out.  You may pay more here than on Amazon, but the customer service is unbeatable.

Kidding Around- A great toy store with locations in both Chelsea and Grand Central Station.  There is a wonderful selection of games, puzzles, arts and crafts supplies and all other play essentials.  I have always found the staff to be friendly and helpful when looking for gifts.

Greenlight Bookstore- Fort Greene, Brooklyn.  An awesome selection of kid's books.  I never leave this store without something wonderful!

A Time for Children- Located on the UWS of Manhattan.  A Time for Children is owned and operated by a NYC-based philanthropy and donates 100% of its profits to The Children's Aid Society.  Here you will find a special selection of toys, clothes and gifts.

Toy Stores Outside of NYC Suggested by Others
Magic Beans- Four locations in the Boston area.  Independently owned and operated by parents.  They have a wide selection of baby, toddler, kid and educational toys.

The Village Bookstore- Littleton, NH. I grew up in Northern New Hampshire so I may be a little (or a lot!) biased, but this is so much more than a bookstore. Some of my happiest childhood memories are from when my sisters and I were cut loose downstairs in the children's/toy/play section. Here you will find an amazing selection of toys, puzzles and arts and craft supplies.

Animal Instinct- Ogunquit, Maine.  I hit this toy store up every summer on vacation.  There is a great selection of toys, games, puzzles and books.  I am a bit of a sucker for their Maine/Moose section when you first walk into the store!

Mom and Pop Place- Neenah, Wisconsin.  This is a natural parenting store and baby store featuring wooden toys, cloth diapers and other baby essentials.

Go Bananas- There are two locations in Loudon County, Virginia.  About 30 miles west of Washington DC.  It's an award-winning family-owned and operated specialty toy and gift store for children.

Fun Stuff Toys- Seaford, New York.  Specializing in kids' toys, here you can shop for creative, educational, developmental games, puzzles and specialty toys.  

Whirlygigs- Exeter, NH.  A classic shop from the past packed with toys of every kind.  From the latest craze to the classic toys you grew up with, they can help you find what you are looking for.

Matty's Toy Stop- Nassau County, Long Island, New York.  With multiple locations, this store offers a great selection of kids toys, educational items, learning and fun toys for all ages.

The Acorn Store-Santa Monica, California.  There is a beautiful selection of wooden and imaginative toys for children from birth to school age.

Wonderland- Brentwood, California.  A magical placed filled with quality treasures and gifts that will satisfy the fun inside of you all!  They scour the planet for unique, specialty toys that will be fun and educational for all kids.  

JennyBec's-Brentwood, California.  From books, toys, games, furniture, wall art and fine linens, you will find all you want from newborn through tween.  They pride themselves on being able to provide practically any gift, toy or furnishing!

Growing Tree Toys- State College, PA.  They offer a quality selection of educational toys to aid child creativity and intellectual growth.

Oliver's Trains & Toys- Evanston, Illinois.  A small, family operated toy store in the suburbs of Chicago. This store offers a wonderful selection of trains and educational toys.

Becky & Me Toys- Evanston, Illinois.  Becky was a teacher with 15 years of early childhood experience.  Here they try out the toys, play the games and read the books before they put them out on the shelves of their store.  They are constantly looking for new companies and products that have value to all the children who walk in their door.

Creative Kidstuff-Twin Cities, MN.  This store specialized in creative, innovative and educational toys.  They have a staff full of knowledgeable and kind-hearted people who truly love kids.

A2Z Science & Learning Store-located in downtown Northampton, MA, this toy store is filled with educational toys, skill toys, construction toys, flying toys, books, games, minerals and fossils.

The Toy Box-Amherst, MA.  This store has a dynamic environment where kids and adults are encouraged to play!  They pride themselves on their high level of service and hand picked products.

***I would love to add to this list, so if you have any other suggestions of great toy stores in your neck of the woods, please let me know.  I am a click away and would love nothing more than to generate a list of small, independent and specialty toy stores that we can all support***

I hope that you find this list helpful and that there is something special for the little (or not so little) people in your lives.  If you have anything you would like me to add to the list, please let me know.  I am always looking for new toys and products to motivate the kids I work with to learn and gain new skills.  Email me and I will add to this list.  I know there are a million other great things out there and I look forward to hearing from you about them.

I tried to add as many new things as possible to this year's list.  However, there are so many other great toys and activities out there for you to know about.  Please check out my previous years' lists if you need or want additional ideas:
2012 Holiday Gift Guide
2011 Holiday Gift Guide

Most of all, I hope that you have a very happy and healthy holiday season.  May joy fill your hearts and homes.  May the New Year bring health and happiness to you and those you love.  Thank you for joining me this year and helping me help you!  I look forward to the upcoming New Year and discovering and sharing all kinds of new toys, crafts, activities and apps with you.

Thank you and happy, happy holidays,

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Three Cheers for Lazoo!

When I first began this blog, I wrote about my favorite coloring books.  Included in that were a series of  activity books by Lazoo.  They were a staple in my therapy closet then and still are now.  So how excited was I when I discovered they now had a series of apps for the iPad?  So far there are 4 of them and 3 of them are free which is always a bonus.

I just downloaded these but already am in love with them.  More importantly, my 3 1/2 year old daughter loves them.  They all keep her attention and engaged (which isn't so easy since she is a kid that likes to be on the go ALL THE TIME).  I can't wait to test them out with my kids at work next week.

I'm going to attempt to briefly review each of them here.

Lazoo Zoo

It's snack time at the zoo and all these animals are hungry and wanting to be fed!  There are 11 different animals to feed and fun things happen to them depending on what you feed them.  For example, the giraffes spots will change depending on what you feed him or the ape whose hairstyle changes when you have fed him too much.  For my speech therapist friends, there are lots of opportunities here to work on expanding language with kids and work on story telling.

Magic Stickers
I have the activity book of this and LOVE it!  I love the book version of this because you can work on fine motor skills and creative skills at the same time.  Makes kids think outside of the box and can really encourage a lot of language from them at the same time.  For me the problem always has been that once you complete the page, that's it.  So the fact that there is an app for this makes me so happy.  There are 8 different backgrounds that you can decorate with over 50 stickers to choose from.  There are suggested stickers for each background but you can use whichever one you want to.  You can decorate a piece of broccoli or a loaf of bread any way you want and then you can make it come to life.  Bonus feature to this app....you can create your own stickers!

Let's Color
What's better than have a coloring book where the pages come to life?  I can't think of anything much better!  The app comes with 18 different pages and there are additional ones you can purchase.  
For many of the younger kids I work with, they struggle with figuring out where to start a picture.  Sometimes I will give them ideas based on their interests but this can still be difficult for them.  I like that the picture gives you a starting point to jump off from.  And there are no wrongs here which is always important.  For example, there is a picture of a little boy playing a trumpet and the app reads "What COULD come out of a trumpet?".  The child can choose from different colors and "writing instruments" and go crazy.  For some of my more unorganized kids, I may have them talk me through what they are thinking about drawing, how they will draw it, etc. in order to get them more organized and focused on their drawing.  Once the child is happy with their picture, they press go and their picture comes to life.  One of the things I like about this app is that once the picture is done, you have the option of saving it and emailing it to the child's parents.  Great way for a parent to know what they were doing in therapy but also a great way for children who may have language issues to talk about their picture and tell a story.

This activity book by Lazoo is still one of my favorites.  The concept is so simple but can foster such creative thinking, especially in many of the kids I work with who struggle with that important piece of being a kid.  There are 8 pictures with scenes that you need to complete by adding a squiggly line to bring them to life.  For example, there is a page with a bunny asking you to draw squiggly clouds so it can rain and water her flowers.  You can begin by tracing the clouds already shown and then the kids can make their own.  They can use whatever color they want and whichever tool they want (chalk, crayon or a ketchup bottle to name a few!).  There is a picture with a bunch of cars and you have to draw the exhaust coming out of the pipes.  Once you are satisfied with your picture, hit play and watch your picture come to life.  The squiggly rain clouds start raining and the flowers start to bloom.  The cars race back and forth on the screen.

I can't really choose my favorite app because each one offers something so unique and different from the others.  What I do know is that each one is motivating and encourages creativity and imagination skills.  For many of the kids I work with, this is something difficult to bring into our therapy sessions so it is always nice to find something that can do that in a motivating and fun way.  I also like each of the apps make a child think outside of the box.  They make them look at the pictures and see something different than what it is.  For example, they tell you to look at a head of broccoli and imagine as a tree and fill it up with birds, flowers, etc..  I am sure many of you can relate to this:  many of the kids I work with are creatures of habit, routine and can be too literal at times.  It is so difficult for them to have a different perspective about things and this is a fun way for them to begin to look at things a little differently.

These apps can also work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-fun way to work in improving eye-hand coordination for those little ones who struggle with this skill.  In the Lazoo Zoo app, there is a series of foods for a child to choose from and they have to pick that out and then drag it to the animal.  They need to make sure they are putting the food in the right place or else it won't do what it is supposed to.
Improve Visual Motor/Perceptual Skills-these apps are chock full of ways to work on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  A child must visually scan the screen in order to pick out the stickers/writing tools/colors.  They must visually track when dragging the stickers over to the animals in the Zoo app.  They need to maintain their visual focus on the objects they are coloring in and you can require that they need to remain in the lines or they will have to try it again.  You can work on tracing skills by having them trace some of the images already on the screen.  I am sure there are many, many more that I am leaving out but I think you get the picture.
Improves Graphomotor Skills-each of the apps can focus on improving handwriting, drawing and other graphomotor skills.  You can require children to include certain shapes and lines in their pictures before they are allowed to do free drawing.  For your older kids, you can ask them to write some letters in the picture as well.
Improve Fine Motor Skills-I plan on having my kids do this at times with the iCreate crayon stylus to work on improving their fine motor and grasping skills at the same time.  For my younger kids, who avoid handwriting activities, I can get them to do so much of the same stuff on the iPad but with much less complaining.  The rule for them though is that if they don't use the stylus, they don't get to play the iPad.  For those kids who have difficulty with isolating fingers for fine motor work, the rule can be that they are only allowed to use their pointer finger to drag stickers over, draw lines or color in the pictures.  This sounds easy, but I can't even begin to count the number of times I have to remind kids to only use their pointer finger when using the iPad!
Improve Attention and Focus Skills-each of these apps require a different kind of attention and focus.  It may be important to set boundaries and guidelines with the child you are working with prior to them beginning.  For example, I can envision many of my kids just wanting to draw one line here or there and then making it come to life.  Or they may get bored with what they are doing and ask to move onto another page.  Sometimes what works best for me with any handwriting or drawing app is to say that they need to spend a specific number of time on their drawing before doing something different.  I also like to require that they use a certain number of colors and shapes (this clearly depends on the child's individual goals).  I like to see how long they can do things independently but if I see their attention starting to go, I will try and guide them in order to complete it entirely.  Not only is it important for a child to follow through on what they start, it is a real confidence and self-esteem booster.
Improve Bilateral Coordination-when my kids use the iPad, I make sure that I can always see two hands.  One hand has to be on the iPad doing the work and the other must be holding the iPad in order to keep it from moving around.  Way too often, I see the kids using the iPad zoning out with one hand just hanging down doing nothing.  These are often the kids who need to be reminded to keep both hands up on the desk when participating in handwriting or drawing activities.
Increase Upper Extremity Strength-I can't wait to test this out with my kids on the net swing!  So many of my kids complain after just seconds of lying prone on the net swing.  However, when I place the iPad in front of them, the complaining decreases significantly.  These apps are motivating enough that I believe it will keep the kid's attention and they won't even realize they are getting tired on the swing.
Improve Social Skills-while these apps are great to do 1:1, they can also be used in small groups.  I find that kids tend to take suggestions and ideas better from their peers at times.  Or that they are more willing to try something new and different if they see a friend doing it.  Other social skills that can be addressed are turn taking, improving frustration tolerance (a friend may want to put a different sticker on that broccoli tree and you need to let it happen) and flexibility (a child may have an idea of what the final picture should like but they have to be flexibly and allow their friends to add whatever they want to the picture).

I hope that you all enjoy these apps as much as I am already.  I can see them becoming a presence in so many of my therapy sessions.  I would love to hear what you think about these apps and how the kids you work with are liking them.  I am always a click away and love getting feedback and suggestions from you all.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Sorry for the hiatus.  Getting into the swing of things this school year has proven to be a bit tricky.  Lots of new things going on work-wise for me that has me working around the clock at times.  Throw in Halloween and I feel like I have lost all control of my own life!

This time of the year can be dangerous for a toy hoarder like me.  SO many great things arriving each day at all my local toy stores in preparation for the holidays and I get sucked into the stores to see all the great things coming in.  The best part for me this year is that my own daughter is at an age (3 1/2) where she may really benefit from all this shopping.

One of my new favorite finds so far is the Ready, Set.... Draw! books by Peter Pauper Press.  Peter Pauper Press is a publisher of books, stationary and gifts for all ages.  They happen to have a tremendous line of kids products that include, but are not limited to, picture books, magnetic games, origami sets and a series of drawing books.  Ready, Set.... Draw! books are great, especially for those of you who have kids who are interested in drawing but struggle with it.  I know that I have several kids on my caseload this year who really want to draw pictures, but can't get started and then are disappointed with the final product because it doesn't look the way they wanted it to.  Ready, Set.... Draw! books are great because there 6 steps for each picture in order to complete them.  You have the option of tracing each step and then underneath the six steps, there is a scene that you can draw the picture step-by-step.  There a bunch of different themes, including princesses, dinosaurs, sea creatures and a Christmas themed book. Definitely something out there for every child and his or her interests.  

As on occupational therapist, I am constantly on the lookout for drawing books that are appropriate for the kids I work with.  So many of them look like they will work, but then when I spend some time looking through them, there may be too many steps so I don't purchase them.  My kids at work are more successful when the steps are clear and not too overwhelming.  Sometimes, the pictures that the children are supposed to be creating are just too small which makes it difficult for them to copy.  These books are a great size  and each step has a limited number of instructions which allows a

Occupational therapy goals that can be addressed using the Ready, Set.... Draw! books are:
Improve Grasping Skills-make sure that you provide the child with crayons, markers or colored pencils that will encourage an age-appropriate grasp. While the goal of this activity is clearly to follow the steps to draw a picture, it is always important to encourage a proper grasp.  For younger kids, break crayons into small pieces so they can't fist the writing instrument.  For older kids, use a grip on the writing instrument in order to get them to use a more appropriate grasp.  While the book comes with 4-double sided pencils, you can use whatever is best for the child you are working with.
Improve Visual Motor/Perceptual Skills-in order to make the completed picture, one must follow the steps provided.  They must look at the picture and copy what they see.  They need to look at the shapes and place them in the correct places; if not, the picture will not turn out to be what they are expecting it to.
Improve Organizational Skills-if you have a child who has difficulties with organizational skills, this is a great book for them.  Many books have step-by-step directions, which is great for improving a person's ability to organize themselves.  If a child isn't focused and keeping their attention on the task at hand, they can become disorganized and lose track of what step they are on and then they have to spend a lot of time fixing mistakes or getting themselves back on track.
Improve Attention and Focus-in order for the picture to come out the way it is intended to, you must focus and pay attention to the details.  You need to focus on the shapes that need to be drawn, where they need to be added to and their position in the drawing and on the piece of paper.  If you stop paying attention, you may end up making a mistake and having to erase some of your work or having to start from the beginning.
Improve Confidence/Self-Esteem-one of the things I focus on more than anything during my sessions with all of my kids is improving their confidence and self-esteem.  It's important for a child to have a good sense of themselves and the work that they do.  I find that when a child is able to draw a picture and tell a story through their pictures, they feel much better about themselves.  I also find that they work harder on other graphomotor skills, such as coloring and handwriting activities.  Additionally, a while a child is working on building their confidence and self-esteem, they can work on improving their creative skills.
Improve Social Skills-since I run social skills groups, I am always looking for the social benefits of games and activities.  While this would be hard to use in a larger social skills group, if you work in a group of 2-3 kids, you could definitely use this book to improve turn taking skills, improve frustration tolerance and working on encouraging and helping out a peer.  If given the right support from the adults, this could be a great way to work on being a good friend/helper to a peer.

The Ready, Set.... Draw! books are not only great for therapeutic purposes, but also for the parents who want to give their children more opportunities to be creative and tech-free.  I have featured drawing apps on this blogs and used many drawing iPad apps in my private practice, but nothing is as important as teaching your children how to draw using paper and crayons.  I will be the first to talk about all the benefits of the iPad and other technological devices, but nothing will ever take the place of something created by the hands of those little people we love.  My apartment is covered with the pictures Quinn has drawn for us and each of them has their own story.  They tell us something about her at that time of her life.  For those kids who struggle with drawing and being creative, the Ready, Set.... Draw! books help them become more confident and help them to organize their work in a way that may encourage them to take creative/artistic risks in the future.

I was able to find the Ready, Set.... Draw! at a local toy store in Park Slope called Little Things.  Before going online and searching Amazon and other big stores, check out your local toy and book stores to see if they carry these items.  While it is important to support the small businesses in your hood all year long, I find that doing it this time of the year is even more important.

I hope to be better in the next few weeks about blogging and sharing holiday gift ideas.  I am beginning to work on my annual gift list which has to be done early this year since Hanukkah starts on Thanksgiving this year!   I am always excited to hear from my readers so if you have any questions about gift suggestions or ideas of what I should include on this year's list, please email me and let me know what you are thinking.  I'm always a click away and eager to hear from you all!