Sunday, December 22, 2013

Once Upon A Time

With just 3 days before Christmas (how in the world did that happen?), I am sure there are many of you still on the lookout for last minute gifts.  If you have a child on your list who loves creative play and listening to stories, this gift I am about to write about was made for them.

Yesterday, Quinn received one of the most adorable gifts from her bestie Liv and it has immediately become one of her favorites.  Storytime Toys has designed three toy house and story sets for your preschooler (young school age children will love these as well).  Quinn got the Three Little Pigs story but I ran out this morning and purchased the Hansel and Gretel set as well for her to open on Christmas morning.   She insisted on putting together the Three Little Pigs set as soon as we got home and played with it for hours.  The image below shows all three of the sets: Three Little PigsHansel and Gretel  and Goldilocks and The Three Bears.

There are a ton of things to love about these sets, both for kids and their grownups.  For the kids, they are colorful and easy to manipulate.  Once they get the hang of putting the pieces together, they should be able to put them together on their own, or with just a little help from their big people.  They can follow the story provided in the book or they can make up their own stories.  For adults, each of the Storytime Toys sets is made of super durable materials that will take the abuse that your child(ren) are sure to give it.  They come with a sturdy box that you can store all the pieces in after your little storytellers are finished playing.  This is a bonus for all families who have more toys than they know what to do with, but an even bigger bonus to people like me who live in tiny apartments with WAY too much stuff.  Quinn was asking for a giant dollhouse from Santa this year, but we just don't have the square footage in our place for such a thing yet.  This is a great compromise for our household (especially since Quinn is a giant fan of fairytales).

In addition to all of the pieces for the houses, including people and accessories, each set comes with a book with the story included.  This is a great way to work on improving focus and attentional skills and play skills in children who may struggle with that.  This is a toy that I think every single one of my speech therapy friends should have for their offices.  One of my favorite things about each book is that they with a couple of DIY activities related to the set.  For example, in the Three Little Pigs set, there are instructions to make mud puddles and picture frames to hang on the walls of the pigs houses.  I am sure that there are a bunch of other ideas that you can come up with on your own to go along with each of the stories.

In addition to what has been mentioned already, the following occupational therapy goals can be worked on when playing with the Storytime Toys toy house and story sets:
Improve Fine Motor Skills-putting the pieces of each of the houses together helps to work on improving both increasing grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills.  There are some small pieces that need to be together which is great for encouraging children to use a fine pincer grasp during play.  I will be sure to remind the kids to use a fine pincer grasp when pulling the pieces apart after they are all done playing.
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-in order to put these sets together, you will need to use both hands at the same time.  You may need to remind your child to hold one piece stable while putting the other pieces into place.
Improve Visual Motor/Perceptual Skills-each set comes disassembled.  Putting them together is a great way to work on improving visual motor and visual motor skills.  The kits don't come with step by step instructions, but by looking at the picture on the box, it is easy to figure out how to put them together.  For your younger kids, they may need more assistance with this but be sure to try and get them to problem solve and figure it out on their own before doing it for them.  This could also be a great way to work on building a child's frustration tolerance when presented with more challenging activities.
Improve Language Skills-like I have already mentioned, this toy set is perfect for all my speech therapist friends.  It is a great way to work on expanding a child's language and vocabulary skills.  The Three Little Pigs set is also great for working on breath control because you can have the kids work on blowing the houses down while following the story.  I am sure I am missing at least a million other speech and language goals that can be worked on with these sets.  Maybe if any of you out there reading this are speech therapists and want to comment on what goals you work on while using these sets, please message me and I will add any and all suggestions.
Improve Social Skills-this is a great way for children to play together.  Not only can they put the sets together as a team, they can then act out the story after it is all put together.  I am excited to try this with one of my preschool social skills groups.  I love the idea of having them work together to put the whole thing together, but then to act out the story as a group.  I am already trying to brainstorm the fine motor or arts and craft project that can be done at the end so they can take it home and be able to tell their parents what they worked on during group.

I am already trying to think about all the kids I can get these sets for.  I am thinking how nice these would be for some of my friends who have an older child and a preschooler....they older sibling could be the one to read the story and help the child put the houses together.  A great activity to encourage play skills at home especially for those parents who worry about their kids relying on electronics and television too much.

So if any of you are still trying to figure out what to get that special little one in your life, I think this would be a perfect gift.  I have seen them in two stores so far, Little Things in Park Slope, Brooklyn and Tinker Toys in Woodstock, NY.  If you go to this link here, you will find a list of all the stores that sell them.  I know how convenient it is to buy things from Amazon, but remember what a difference each of your purchases make to all these independent toy stores.

If you have any of these sets and want to share some craft activities to go along with them, please share them with us.  I love hearing from each of you and have gotten such great suggestions that I am able to use both at work and at home.  I am always a click away and check my email all the time!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Kids Can Be Comics Too!

Many of my blog posts are directed towards the preschoolers that I see.  I can't seem to stop myself when I see great toys for preschoolers because I have a preschooler of my own at home and can get double usage out of the toys that I purchase.  This doesn't mean that I am not constantly on the lookout for great toys and activities for my school age children.  Last week, I picked up the most amazing activity after I saw a Facebook post by Norman & Jules, my favorite toy store in Park Slope.  I was sold by just seeing the picture for the mu Magnetic Comic Strip Kit that they posted.  I couldn't get there fast enough and when I did, I was delighted to see that there were two kits.  I quickly purchased both the Original and the Aquamarine series and rushed off to see my 9 year old who was going to love them.

There are so many things to love about this toy.  I love anything that requires a child to use their imagination; more importantly, I love a toy that requires imagination AND no electronics.  I feel like so many kids depend on electronics these days and while I do use them during my sessions with kids, I like to do as much hands on work as possible.  Many of the older kids that are on my caseload are seeing me to work on handwriting and organizational skills so it is much more important that work on the iPad is kept to a minimum.  These magnetic comic strip kits are a perfect way to work on handwriting, organizational skills and other executive functioning goals.  They can be used on a fridge or any other magnetic surface but can also be used on the floor or a table.  

Each kit comes with over 20 different magnets.  There are also blank magnets and speech bubble magnets included in each kit so the comic creator can add their own pictures and write their story out.  Depending on the age and skill level of the child you are working with, you can come up with specific requirements for their comic strip.  For example, you might tell a child that they need to use 8 magnets that are provided and then use a certain number of blank magnets and speech bubbles.  For those school age children who have difficulty with organizing his/her work and thoughts, giving them those specific instructions might help them be more successful with this activity.  I have already tried it with some of my kids and have noticed that when I let them do what they want without any direction from me, they have more difficulty focusing and keeping their story flowing.  Like many of us, simple directions and guidelines will often guide us to be more successful in almost all of our work.

Here are a few more occupational therapy goals that can be worked on using the mu Magnetic Comic Strip kits:
Improve Grasping Skills-this is a great activity to work on handwriting and for those kids who have a poor grasp but love comics, can be easily tricked into working on holding that marker the correct way if they are doing something fun.  While each set comes with their own dry erase marker, I also would have these smaller sized dry erase markers on hand; remember that sometimes the shorter a writing instrument is, the more likely you will see an expected grasp.
Improve Organizational Skills-so many of the school age kids I work with are struggling with organizing their work.  They have fantastic, I mean REALLY fantastic ideas, but get so distracted that they don't get their point across the way they intended to.  Sometimes they are so anxious to just get it finished and share it that they forget to focus on the important details that keep a story flowing.  Try and have the children you are working with pick out a certain number of magnets before even beginning and then have them talk through their idea before they even begin writing and drawing.  With time, you can take away some of the prep work but to begin with, it is important to help guide our kids and give them good organizational skills that they can not only use with this activity but with their homework and schoolwork.
Improve Graphomotor Skills-this is a great activity to work on both handwriting and drawing skills. In addition to having a variety of awesome magnets, you have 4 blank magnets and 2 speech bubbles to fill in on your own.  When I have used these, I have asked that the child be sure to write a certain amount of sentences and draw a certain number of pictures.  They must make sure that whatever they draw relates to the magnets that they have chosen.  For many of my older kids, they are so worried about being perfect and right that they avoid most drawing and handwriting activities.  I find that when they are given specific instructions in addition to being able to be creative, they can be more successful.
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-I often have children with decreased upper extremity/hand strength work on a raised surface to work on strengthening those muscles.  It tends to get harder to ask a 8 or 9 year old to work on an easel because they think it is childish.  Have the children you are working with put these on the fridge while standing up....make them put their magnets up as high as they can without it being a strain.  They will be so busy creating that they won't even realize that they are working on building up those arm muscles!
Improve Social Skills-this is a great activity for a dyad or small group of kids to do together.  They can come up with a story as a team and each be designated one speech bubble and two blank magnetic squares.  The most important thing is that they work together to come up with a story and do all they can to stick to the story at hand so that when they are putting it all together at the end that it makes sense.  This may require compromise and flexibility...something that so many of the kids we work with struggle with.  

As I mentioned earlier, I purchased my sets at Norman & Jules in Park Slope.  If you can't get to the store in person, then be sure to check them out online.  I promise you that you will find more than you intended if you spend enough time in their store or on their website!  In addition to having an amazing selection of toys, books and craft sets, they donate a portion of all their yearly sales to The March of Dimes in honor of their daughter and her friends who were all born prematurely.

I would love to hear from you and am only a click away.  I love the idea of using comics for my older kids who need to work on handwriting, drawing and executive functioning skills.  Do any of you have any other great create your own comic kits to share with me and my readers?    I love hearing from all of you and really appreciate all your comments and suggestions.  They not only help me but also benefit all the kids I work with!