Friday, January 31, 2014

Let's Wok and Roll!

I am sure we all have games or toys in our collection that have been there forever.  They are the ones that you aren't sure about when you buy them and then you get them and you wonder what you did before.  Wok n Roll is one of those games for me.  I bought it on a whim years ago and have used it on a weekly basis ever since then.  Not only is it a favorite of mine, it is a favorite of my kids.

A child holding onto the chopsticks with 3 fingers
Wok n Roll is a great game for many reasons.  Not only is it a fun game for the kids to play, it works on a ton of occupational therapy goals at the same time.  It can be played in a group as large as four children or individually.  My favorite thing about the game is that it can be easily adapted to a child's skill level so it can be used with children as young as 2 years old and all the way up to school age children.  Wok n Roll is a battery operated game that shakes and moves around.  The goal of the game is to get all your food into the matching bowl as quickly as possible.  Over the years, I have adapted the game and the expectations for the children depending on what we are working on in therapy.  For my younger children or those that have to work on building their grasping skills and fine motor strength, I won't turn the game on to have it shake and just focus on holding the chopsticks correctly and getting the food into the bowls.  When kids are first playing, they need to be reminded to open and close the chopsticks; I have learned the hard way what happens when a child squeezes the chopsticks too hard-flying plastic food can be very difficult to find!  As the kids get older, I will add the challenge of turning the wok on so it moves around while they are sorting the food into the bowls.  One doesn't realize how difficult this is to do until they actually try it.  This is a perfect game to work on helping a child who has a decreased frustration tolerance because that shaking causes the food to fall out of the chopsticks.  I also love using this game to work on increasing attention span and focus.  Once the game is turned on, I encourage a child to find a piece of food to pick up and not give up.  It may require them tracking where that food moves around to in the bowl and not giving up until you have successfully picked it up.

In addition to what was already mentioned above, Wok n Roll can work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Grasping Skills-the chopsticks are great for working on increasing grasp strength, fine motor control and grasping skills.  For children who have an immature grasp when holding writing instruments, it's important to find fun ways to work on encouraging a proper grasp in a variety of ways.  When using chopsticks, be sure to have your child use 3 fingers (the same number a child should use when holding crayons, pencils, etc.).

Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills/Crossing Midline-when a child is using this on their own, I encourage them to hold the chopsticks in one hand and hold the shaking wok still with the other.  This encourages them to use both hands in a coordinated manner which is important for other graphomotor and fine motor skills.  To encourage crossing midline, I purposely but the bowls on the opposite side of their body so they are forced to cross midline when putting the food into the correct bowls.  
Improve Matching Skills/Color Recognition-a great way to begin on simple matching skills and color recognition.  Because this game can be so easily adapted to a child's skill level, you can use it with even the youngest of clients.  I have had my younger kids who aren't ready for the challenge of chopsticks work in developing grasping skills by using their "pinchers" (pointer and thumb only) to pick up the food and place them in the correct bowl.  A child who has difficulty recognizing and identifying colors can work on that skill by being asked to name each color as they place it in the matching bowl.
Working on crossing midline
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-for older children who need to work on organizational skills, you can require them to set the game up and tell their peers the directions for proper playing of the game.  You can require them to put the food in the bowls in a certain order to work on sequencing and organizing their work.
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-once a child knows the rules of the game and seems comfortable, I start increasing the challenges.  One way of doing that is by adding a strengthening component to the activity.  I like to have the kids lie on their belly on the net swing and complete this task.  They are not only working on improving the skills mentioned above, they are able to work on increasing upper extremity and neck strength at the same time.  Sometimes getting my kids to work on upper extremity strengthening can be difficult but if they are engaged in a motivating and fun fine motor or visual motor/perceptual activity, the "work" is hidden from them.
Improve Social Skills-this game is great for individual play but even better for group play.  I don't think I have a game that makes kids laugh as hard as they do when they play Wok n Roll.  For the older kids, I turn it on and make it shake and that cracks them up.  This is a great game to work on building a child's frustration tolerance with their peers and to work on how to be a good sport during games.  Being a good sport means letting your friends have turns, using kind words during play and not only being a good winner, but also being a good loser.

As I write this up, I am reminded that I should probably pick up one or two as a backup.  So many of the great games that I have used in therapy for years and years keep changing (Perfection and Wack a Mole both changed their designs and no longer as good as they used to be) and are then impossible to find.  I have seen Wok n Roll in some of the local toy stores in Park Slope and Manhattan but also on many websites, including which I have linked to.

I would love to hear from some of you about your favorite games that you use during your therapy sessions.  Not only do I want to hear for me personally so I can add to my game collection, but also want to share with parents who are always asking for activities to do at home.  I especially love games that can be adapted for a variety of skills and can have challenges added as they gain skills so if you have any recommendations, please share them with me and my readers!  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Friday, January 10, 2014

More Than Just Statistics

In addition to being a full-time occupational therapist and mother, I am also proud to be a founding member of The Meeting House, a recreational based after school program for school age children with social special needs.  It's an amazing place that provides a place for some of New York City's most awesome kids who have a tremendous social motivation but need the support of professionals in order to be successful in social situations.  In addition to our after school program, we offer a monthly weekend event which provides opportunities for our children to generalize the skills that we teach during the week.  It also gives them a chance to go to some of the coolest kid's spots in New York.  We have been to a lot of really great places in the last year and a half, including Our November event was at the Museum of Mathematics near Madison Square Park.

Now, I know what you are could a math museum be fun?  I was wondering the same thing but had heard such great things from friends and colleagues who had been there in the past.  I am so glad we gave this museum a chance because it was really great and our kids had the best time.  They didn't want to leave when our event was over, which is pretty telling.

As we enter the colder months, I know there are a lot of people who are looking for things to keep their kids busy outside of the house.  I can't say enough about this place and guarantee that you will have just as much fun at this hands on museum as your kids will.  You can spend hours here without being bored and there is plenty of different exhibits to keep children of all ages occupied.  One of the things I like best was the size of the museum.  It is only two floors so manageable and if you have an older, more independent child, you can let them explore on their own a bit or with a friend while you hang with the younger ones.

There are so many great exhibits at the Museum of Mathematics and the best part is that each and every one is interactive and hands on.  Even better, this is a perfect place to work on a zillion occupational therapy goals without the children even realizing they are working!  If you have read my other posts, you will know how much I love hidden therapy.

There are over 30 exhibits at the museum.   Each of them is unique but all are fun.  Here are a few of my favorite exhibits and what kind of therapeutic  

Coaster Rollers:  Glide on a rounded triangle down a track on rollers that are not ball but acorns and other lumpy shapes.  Great for working on upper extremity strength and bilateral coordination.  If on with a friend, they need to work together to get all the way to the end of the track.
Tessellation Station:  create tiling patterns called tessellations using unusual magnetic shapes.  Pictured to the right, you can see some of the cool creations kids can make using the different shaped magnets.  Works on increasing upper extremity strength (since it is on a raised surface), visual perceptual skills (having to fit the magnets together), color recognition and improves creativity.  I loved this so much that I had to buy the monkey magnets pictured to use in my private practice and at home.  I was psyched when I walked into the museum gift shop and saw these for sale.  They are a bit pricey, but they are incredibly well made and unlike anything else I have ever seen.
Square Wheeled Trike:  take a smooth ride on square wheels.  This was definitely the highlight for the kids at The Meeting House.  It's one of the first things you see when you walk into the museum and clearly gets kids attention because who has ever seen a bike with square wheels?  This exhibit works on improving overall body strength and motor planning.  There are two sized bikes so even your little ones can enjoy this cool activity.
The Human Tree:  strike a pose and see your body replicated as the trunk, branches, and sub-branches of a tree made of you. Move around and watch as the tree morphs producing a surprising array of effects.  Great for working on motor planning, improving upper extremity strength bilateral coordination.  Our kids at TMH did this in groups of two and each child had an opportunity to be the leader and their friend would have to do the same movement that their friend did.

I am excited to go back to the Museum of Mathematics with my own daughter who will be 4 years old in March.  While she may not understand all the math elements, she will be able to participate and interact with all the exhibits.  I have already recommended this place to many of the parents I work with and they have truly loved it.  If you are in NYC and need something to do with your kids, I highly recommend you check this place out.  While there, be sure to check out their amazing gift shop.  I could have spent hours and a whole lot of money in there.  They do have an online store with many of the items they have created, including these tessellation monkey magnets.

Have you been to the Museum of Mathematics?  I would love to hear what your favorite exhibit was.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.