Friday, March 28, 2014

Free App Friday...Who Knew?

This will be a short post, but one that I think many will appreciate.  Not sure how I hadn't heart of it before, but there is a great website,  that offers a Free App Friday blog. Smart Apps For Kids is a website dedicated to helping people find the best apps out there.  They will help guide you by age, subject and skill you are interested in working on.  today's list.  While many of them are not ones that I am familiar with, I was excited to see some really good ones on there that are already on my iPad and enjoyed by many of the little ones I work with.

For example, Drawnimal by YAYATOY is on there.  This is a great app that can work on not only introducing children to the letters of the alphabet but encourage drawing skills.  Many of the kids I work with have a desire to learn how to draw and I have struggled with the best way to teach them.  I have this on both my iPad and my iPhone.  I have had better success with it using my iPhone but am looking for the writing surface to use in order to use the iPad as I think it is more interactive and exciting for my younger children.

Another one on today's list is Shiny Bakery.  My daughter loves Shiny Party and the characters in this game are the same.  Alice the Zebra has opened her own bakery and she needs your child's help.  A child has to follow the recipe and then help her bake cookies or cakes and then decorate them.  This app is great for working on developing a sense of numbers, expanding a child's creative juices and improving problem solving skills.

There is an app I have been very excited about that is also mentioned on today's list but is not a free one.  However, I think that the $.99 will be well worth it for Bug Art by one of my favorite app creators out there, Little Bit Studios.  While I have not had a chance to use Bug Art, I continue to use Bugs and Buttons 1 and 2, Bugs and Bubbles and Bugs and Numbers on a daily basis with my kids at work and my own daughter loves them as well.  Bug Art is described as an app that allows your child to free paint whatever they want to create.  They can learn to draw with interactive tracing or design their own bugs.  Using their bug creation, they will then be able to play, explore and challenge themselves in a different games and environments.  Their are 13 other bugs included in the game that your bug can compete against in mini games.  Like I said, I haven't played this game but am sure it won't disappoint.

For those of you who are constantly on the lookout for new and exciting apps, keep the Free App Friday list by Smart Apps For Kids on your radar.  I know that I will be checking in every Friday to see what apps I can find.  I love a bargain and there are lots on here.  Do you have any other app lists that you subscribe to and can recommend to all of us?  Please share if you do.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Giggly for Tiggly

Last month, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a quick run through the NY Toy Show at The Javitz Center.  To say I was completely overwhelmed and overexcited is an understatement!  I could have spent hours and hours looking at all the toys and figuring out which one of my kids would benefit from what.  One of the coolest things I saw was an interactive iPad toy called Tiggly.  I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to someone from the company and was so impressed with what they showed me.

A little bit about Tiggly.  They are a team of PhDs, MBAs, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts who want to help parents introduce their children to the digital world in an easy and educational way.  What they ended up creating was an interactive tablet toy that works with learning apps.  They believe that there learning can be fun and more powerful for some when children are given the opportunity to combine digital and physical play.   With Tiggly, children are given the opportunity to explore geometric shapes (circle, square, triangle and star) and work on spatial relations by manipulating physical shapes while interacting with the creations they make on the iPad.

The Tiggly Shapes and the apps are designed for children between the ages of 18 month and 4 years.  I have used them in my office for some of my older children who may have more language and cognitive delays and they have had great success with them.  The shapes have a soft plastic cover and silicone touch points that allow them to be recognized by the iPad apps.  They are well made and durable objects that can withstand the damage a tough toddler can cause but gentle enough that they won't damage your iPad screens.  I really like the size of them as they can work on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills for younger children in a fun way.

As of right now, there are three apps available in the App Store.  All are free for download and can be used without the shapes but are much more fun and engaging with them.  Below you will find a brief description of each and some of the goals that can be worked on when using them.

Tiggly Safari-while using the 4 Tiggly shapes, this game is designed to help facilitate a child's spatial cognition development.  In the first level, children match shapes with what they see on the screen and create simple animals out of single shapes.  As the children master that level, the challenge increases and they are asked to create more complex animals while combining different shapes.  Sometimes it is combining the same shapes in a single screen but as it gets more complex, they combine shapes to make animals.  For a real challenge, the shapes will begin to move around the screen so you have to track where they go and match the shapes.  Sounds easy, but it can be difficult for some of my kids.  
*great for working on shape recognition, matching and improving eye-hand coordination.  For children who are younger, you can begin to introduce new animals and encourage language skills.  

Tiggly Stamp-this app is all about being creative and encourage open-ended play.  Using the Tiggly shapes, a child can build seasonal scenes on their iPad.   Depending on the background and the shape that you use, different objects and animals are created.  You have the option of moving them all around the screen and changing them up.  It's great for creativity and expanding your play skills.  
For my speech therapist friends, this app is perfect for you because you can use the video/camera recorder to save the stories they tell about the scenes they have made.  For parents who aren't able to come to therapy sessions, you can record the stories and then send them to them so they can have some conversation about what they did during their session that day.

*great for working on shape recognition, language skills and visual motor/perceptual skills.  

 Tiggly Draw-while I love each of the Tiggly apps, I am a particularly fond of this one.  As an occupational therapist, I am constantly looking for ways to work on building body awareness and work on drawing skills in a fun and motivating way.  For some of the kids I work with, learning how to draw a person is an important and crazy difficult skill.  Kids who have decreased body awareness have a much more difficult time drawing a person than a typically developing child.  It can also be very frustrating for that child so you have to come up with fun ways to work on it.  I have used this app so that kids place a couple of shapes on the iPad and then have to add body and face parts.  We talk about what body parts they added, what they help us do and then have them try and draw a picture themselves.
*improve body awareness, improve grasping skills (after using the  Tiggly Draw app, have the child draw a picture using paper and crayons) and improve language skills (talk about the body parts you add and what they do).

In addition to the goals addressed above, Tiggly shapes can be used to work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-for some of my kids, I will have them sit on the platform swing while playing the game.  They have to hold the iPad with one hand and use the other hand to grab and hold the shapes.  For some kids, working with two hands can be difficult and tiring.  If motivated enough, they won't tire as easily because they will be so engaged with what they are doing that they don't notice they are working so hard!
Encourage Crossing Midline-I like to place the Tiggly shapes on the opposite side of a child's body so they have to cross midline to find the matching shapes.  Sometimes I have to gently hold one hand down or use verbal prompts to remind them not to switch hands but once they are in a routine, they do it more independently.  If you look at the picture to the right, you will see how you can set up a working environment to encourage crossing midline during this activity.
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-I have used the shapes and apps while my kids lie in the net swing or barrel to work on increasing upper extremity and neck strength.  When they are engaged and focused on the iPad (and these games are super interactive and engaging), they forget that they are in the swing and can get them to remain in that challenging position for longer periods of time.
Improve Social Skills-I am excited to try the Tiggly Draw and Tiggly Stamp apps in a small group setting to work on improving pragmatic language, turn taking and being a flexible friend.  The great thing about these two apps is that children can work in small groups and take turns placing the shapes onto the iPad.  With Tiggly Draw, the kids can take turns putting different body parts on the shapes.  This may require one friend to be flexible and deal with a friend making a choice that they didn't have in mind or expect.  Tiggly Stamp can be an opportunity to work on friends telling a story together.  I think it would be really fun for the kids to come up with a story together and be able to listen to it together and then problem solve on what they might change or do differently.

If you read my blog, you will know that I talk about apps and iPads quite often.  While I feel like it is an awesome motivator for many of my kids, it is not my end all and be all as far as therapy goes.  One of the many things I like about the Tiggly shapes and apps is that they can be used in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities.  For example, I talked about how you can use the Tiggly Draw app to work on expanding drawing skills.  By using the Tiggly Stamp, a child can work visual motor and perceptual skills along with improving language skills.

If you read my blog you will also know that I love to support small companies and businesses.   Tiggly is a new company but I think that it's got some big things happening and think it will be a really big deal soon.  I know for a fact that they have some big things happening that will be launched soon.  Things that will be great for older kids and make our kids be better thinkers and problem solvers.

For my fellow Park Slopers who are interested in buying these, you don't have to go very far to get them yourselves.  Norman and Jules carry them in store and online.  For those of you who are not in my hood, check out this listing to see where the most convenient place to purchase them is.  Try and buy them from a local small business as they count on us for their business!

Have you used the Tiggly shapes and apps yet?  What do you think of them and what are some of the occupational therapy goals that you address when using them?  I am always a click away and would love to hear from you about how you are using Tiggly and what your kids (work or personal) think of them.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What's On Your Pad?

While I know there is still a lot of controversy about using handheld devices/tablets with children, I happen to be one of those therapists that has found an incredible amount of success using the iPad in my private practice.  It is by no means my sole means of therapy but when used in conjunction with other modes of therapy, it can be a very motivating and meaningful tool.  I use the iPad with children of all abilities and ages and always combine it with another occupational therapy goal.  For example, for my children who need to work on increasing upper extremity strength, I will have them play with the iPad while lying on their belly while in a barrel or on the net swing.  Typically, I can get them to remain in these challenging positions for much longer when distracted by a fun app.  Another common skill I address is grasping skills.  For almost all the games that I use in therapy, I try and have the child use a stylus.  Even though I know the iPad is all about the touch screen, I find that if I am going to use it with the kids I work with, I want them to practice holding a writing instrument.  As I have mentioned in several of my posts, I prefer to use the iCreate Crayon Stylus by Fred & Friends.  It is the perfect size for little hands and a fun and distracting way to work on improving a child's grasp on a writing instrument.  It can be found in many local toy stores (I got mine at West Side Kids on the UWS of Manhattan) and on

I wanted to share some of the top apps that are being played both at home and in therapy these days.  When I purchase an app, I am never sure of how good it is until it has been kid tested and approved.  Here are four of the top hits on my iPad these days by the kids in my life (personal and professional) these days.

Sago Mini Pet Cafe
This app is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers and I have found great success with some of my children with significant language and cognitive delays.  There are three engaging games within the app that helps children learn about colors, shapes and numbers.   There is a matching game that requires a child to drag a piece of food into the right shadow.  My favorite, and the favorite of many of my kids, is the counting and sorting game that requires you to drag 10 pieces of food onto a platter.  Once they are on the platter, you have to feed the correct animal based on the color of the food.

Some of the occupational therapy skills that can be worked on are:
*visual tracking/eye-hand coordination skills-great way to practice these skills is when placing the food on the platter.  Don't just let the kids swipe the food onto the plate; instead, encourage
*color recogntion-make a super colorful drink for your animal to drink; have the child choose the color that you ask them or have them identify the color as they are putting it in the cup
*sequence/patterns-when making the colorful drink, you can up the challenge for certain children by having them follow a color sequence/pattern.  I have used a visual prompt for my kids to refer to so they don't need verbal prompts from me and can be more independent.
*grasping skills-if you are trying to work on improving grasping skills, be sure to use a stylus when playing this game.  Make sure that you tell the child to not push too hard when using the stylus so their hands don't tire (it can be difficult for the kids I work with to use an appropriate amount of pressure on writing instruments.  When using the stylus that I talked about earlier, if you push too hard, it is actually harder to use it.  When they use just a little bit of pressure (like they should when using crayons, markers and pencils) they have greater success.)

Toca Boca Pet Doctor
It's difficult for me to find an app by Toca Boca that I don't love.  My iPad speaks for itself and you will see that I have almost every single one and they are used quite often depending on the interests of certain children.  A couple of days ago, my husband told me I had to look into Toca Boca Pet Doctor.  It has become a fast favorite for my daughter who just turned 4 this week.  All Toca Boca apps are highly engaging for kids of all ages.

While they claim that Toca Boca Pet Doctor is good for children ages 2-6, I would say it is more appropriate and entertaining for the toddler and preschoolers.  The point of the game is to help the 15 different ailing animals.  Each one has something uniquely wrong with it and you have to help them so they can eat a snack and then go to sleep.  My daughter's favorite is the helping remove all the fleas from the dog and then getting to feed him dog treats.

Some of the occupational therapy goals that can be be focused on when using this app are:
*eye-hand coordination skills/visual motor skills-many of the games require good visual motor skills.  For example, you have to pull the hopping fleas off the dog and put them into a jar.  You have to be careful and watch where the fleas go (and they can move pretty fast) so you can grab them and place them in the jar.
*visual perceptual skills-if you want to work on this skill, be sure to choose the bunny.  Somehow the poor bunny got hurt and has booboos all over his face and needs someone to put bandaids on him.  There are four different shaped bandaids and booboos and you have to match them up.
*problem solving skills-for some of the animals, you have to figure out how to move them around in order to feed them.  For example, the turtle is lying on his back and can't eat so you have to figure out how to flip him over in order for him to eat.  It not only takes problem solving, but requires you to be patient and not get frustrated.
*grasping skills-as I have said a million times, you can always work on improving grasping skills when using almost any app.  Use the iCreate Crayon Stylus to encourage a proper grasp on writing instruments.

Writing Wizard
Many of the older children I work with come to me because they need to work on improving their handwriting or drawing skills.  They are often resistant to working on handwriting the traditional way (with paper and pencil) and require a tremendous amount of encouragement.  I have found that by using the iPad in conjunction with paper/pencils, kids are more motivated and willing to work on this challenging task.  A few months ago, a colleague of mine recommended Writing Wizard by L'Escapadou and since she did, it's been my go to handwriting app.  I always use the iCreate Crayon Stylus when using this app in order to work on improving pencil grasping skills at the same time.

Writing Wizard is a handwriting app that offers a lot of fun and keeps kids motivated to keep learning.  They can trace letters, numbers and shapes/pictures using a variety of animated stickers and sound effects.  Once the child has completed tracing, they can then interact with it which gets them excited about doing it the correct way.  There are two different modes of play (free mode and 5-star mode); I tend to use the 5-Star mode because I like that the challenge increases on each star so by the end, your child has to write the letter without tracing but by actually remembering how to write the letter.

I love that you can also create a list of words for children to practice.  For some of the kids I work with, I am asked to work on practicing spelling words and this could be a fun and engaging way to keep them interested.  I would not just let them write them on the iPad; once they write it on the iPad, I would have them write it with a pencil on paper to work on generalizing the skill and further practicing their words.  

I have several writing apps on my iPad but this is my go to one right now.  Some of the occupational therapy skills that can be worked on are:

*letter recognition-you can use this app for the very basic skill of learning, recognizing and identifying letters and numbers and shapes.
*grasping skills-if you are trying to work on improving grasping skills, be sure to use a stylus when playing this game.  Make sure that you tell the child to not push too hard when using the stylus so their hands don't tire (it can be difficult for the kids I work with to use an appropriate amount of pressure on writing instruments.  When using the stylus that I talked about earlier, if you push too hard, it is actually harder to use it.  When they use just a little bit of pressure (like they should when using crayons, markers and pencils) they have greater success.)
*eye-hand coordination/visual motor skills-as with most handwriting apps, this requires you to use good eye-hand coordination when tracing the letters, numbers or shapes.
*focus and attention skills-when using the 5 star mode, it will require a child to focus and attend to a specific letter, shape or word through five turns.  The difficulty increases for each turn and by the final star, a child is required to write the letter without tracing the lines.

Bugs and Numbers
I am a huge fan of Little Bit Studio and their awesome apps.  I have already blogged about Bugs and Buttons and Bugs and Bubbles and continue to use them all the time in therapy.  Bugs and Numbers is equally as awesome as the other Little Bit Studio apps.  It's a great app for beginning to work on math skills, including number recognition, fractions and patterns.  It's perfect for preschoolers and younger school age children.  As with all the other Little Bit Studio apps, there are 18 different games within the app so there is little chance that you can't find something that is appropriate for almost any child.

Some of my favorite games in the app are:
Color By Number-great for working on learning numbers in a fun way.  Children have to color in different parts of the picture based on the number.  
*don't forget to use the  iCreate Crayon Stylus for this game in order to encourage a proper writing grasp

Hotel Matching Shapes-great for working on improving visual tracking and visual perceptual skills.  The level of difficulty increases as they complete each level making it more of a challenge for some of your older preschoolers/early school age children.  You start off by matching numbers and shapes and can move up to having to match/put together different pictures (robots and bugs).  
Left Right-I find it can be quite difficult to teach a child with body awareness difficulties right vs. left.  This game requires that you take a bug through a path without hitting obstacles that might be in his way.  Using left and right arrows, you avoid hitting soda cans and other objects.  I like to ask my kids to show me their left and right hands before we begin in order to organize them for the activity.  
Garden Patterns-children need to get a bug through a maze to a cookie by following a pattern provided.  It starts off with a two shape pattern and then continues to get more difficult.  Great for working on visual perceptual skills and organizational skills.

Each of the apps describe above can also be worked on with friends in order to encourage social skills.  I am a big fan of working on improving social skills at any chance I can.  With all of these apps, you can work on taking turns, being flexible with a choice a friend might make or doing things differently than you might.  These are skills that are hard to teach sometimes and need to be taught in the moment based on what happens when they play together.  Some of the best learning moments in regards to social skills happens when we are least expecting it.

Additionally, all of the apps can work on improving language skills.  If you are working with a child who also receives speech and language therapy, be sure to check in with their therapist and find out how you can support the work they are doing.  I happen to be super lucky and work with a handful of speech therapists who often ask me what they can do to support my work.  I promise you that the speed at which a child acquires and generalizes skills is faster when you work as a team.  

Now that I have shared some of my favorites with you, I would love to hear from all of you about your top apps these days.  So many of the apps that I download are done so because I have read great things about them or they have been suggested by other people.  With the thousands of apps out there to choose from, it is often difficult to pick out which ones are worth the money and space on my pretty full iPad.  If you have a great app that you find works wonders with your kids, please share them with me and my readers.  If you have any questions about the apps that I have suggested, please don't hesitate reaching out to me.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.