Friday, May 23, 2014

This Tree Doesn't Need To Be Watered!

One of my favorite things to do is re-discover a favorite toy or game at work.  I'm sure you toy lovers (aka hoarders!) know what I am talking about.  You play a game multiple times a day with all different kinds of kids.  These are the games that are fun for the kids but also work on occupational therapy goals in a way that makes it not seem like work.  They are often simple and don't require a lot of reading to figure out how to play the game properly.  They are the games that rules can be changed and adapted based on a child's goals and needs.

Tricky Tree is one of those games for me.  I had lent it out a while ago and it was just returned to me a few weeks ago.  As soon as I got it back, I felt as though I had been reunited with an old friend.  We hadn't been together for a very long time but we picked up just where we left off!  Even better, it's a new game for so many of my kids at work and they are loving it!

Tricky Tree is a great game for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills.  The game is made up of leaves (clothespins) and branches and the goal is to make as big of a tree as you can before it falls over.  It is a great game for working on increasing grasp strength, improving in-hand manipulation skills and problem solving skills.  It can be used with preschoolers but also keep my older school age children motivated.  It can be played individually or with a group of children.   Best of all, it is a simple game and a ton of time does't have to be wasted explaining the rules of play.  The point of the game is simple:  try and build a tree using as high as you can without letting the tree fall over.  You take the clothespins and put them on the tree branches.  It requires a child to think about which side of the tree needs more leaves so it won't fall over.  For my younger children, I will work with them and figure out the best place for them to put the leaf.  For my older children who need to work on problem solving and organizational skills, I will talk to them about how to keep the tree balanced before they begin playing.  We talk about what happens if they put too many on one side of the tree and not enough on the other.  I will talk to them about balance and will sometimes try and compare it to their bodies....when they are carrying a super heavy backpack, they might feel like they will fall over.   I try and give them as few clues as possible while they are playing and hope that they will take their time and really think through what they are doing.

In addition to what I have mentioned above, the following occupational therapy goals can be addressed:

Improve Grasping Skills-this game was made for working on improving grasping skills.  Small clothespins to manipulate that act as leaves.  You need to use a pincer or three finger grasp to open the clothespins to not only put them on the branches, but to take them off at the end of the game.  For my younger children, I don't enforce the pincer grasp but for my older children, I always remind them to use the proper grasp.
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-Tricky Tree is great for working on encouraging bilateral coordination skills.  While one can try to play this game using one hand, they will have a truly difficult time being successful.  As you can see in the pictures, you need to pinch the clothespin with one hand and hold the tree steady with your other hand.
Improve Organizational Skills-if you have a child who needs to work on motor planning and organizational skills, this is a perfect game for them.  I like to have my kids sort the pieces into piles before beginning play to work on organizational skills.  All the leaves go in one pile, the two-point branches in another and the 3-point branches in a third pile.  I find that the more organized their work space is, the more organized their actual work will be.   To work on increasing hand strength, use a pair of zoo sticks to sort the different pieces into piles.
Increase Upper Extremity Strength-for older children who also need to work on building upper body strength, have them play this game while lying prone on the net swing.  You can place the clothespin leaves and the branches on the opposite side of where they are building so they have to walk on their hands more.  I always find that kids are more likely to spend more time on this swing when engaged in a fun and motivating activity.
Improve Social Skills-while this game can be played with just one child, it is even better when played with peers.  Part of being a good friend is not only being able to play games with peers, but learning how to be a good sport when you win or lose a game.  If you have enough kids (I would suggest 4 for this), you can put the kids in two teams and the kids have to work together to figure out how to put the tree together without it falling over.  They can work on problem solving together to figure out the best option for their moves so the tree doesn't topple over.

I love these simple, non-battery operated toys and feel like they end up being the most played with toys in my closet.  Some of my favorite games are beginning to change (and not necessarily for the better), so I love that games like Tricky Tree that won't ever change.  And if taken care of properly, it can last forever.

What are your favorite non-battery operated therapy games?  I would love to hear from all of you about what you are playing and more importantly, what games your kids love to play with.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!

Friday, May 16, 2014

So Much To Color...So Little Time!

I know we live in a technological world.  I am part of that techno world and love using my iPad in my work world because it is motivating and exciting and can do a whole lot in helping many of my kids meet some of their occupational therapy goals.  With that said, there is little that makes me as happy as finding an awesome coloring/activity book.  While there are a ton of wonderful coloring apps available for the iPad, nothing will ever take the place of using crayons or markers to make a beautiful picture.  I have a work closet full of them and a shelf at home dedicated to coloring books that I do with my own daughter.  When I find a good coloring/activity book, I buy many of them and encourage friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

When I find a good coloring book, I get giddy.  I wish I could say it was because I am only thinking about how much the kids at work (or my kid at home) will love it.  In reality, I am thinking about me and how much fun I will have watching the kids interact with the coloring books.  And maybe I am thinking about how much fun I will have looking through the book and doing some coloring of my own in some of my free time (hah...what is that?!!??).

I am fortunate to live in a city that is overflowing with awesome stores.  More fortunate that so many of those stores are targeted towards my love of children, toys and having fun.  Recently, I have found myself obsessed with two coloring/activity books and feel like anyone who works or has children should have them.  Not only are they super fun, they both have educational and therapeutic value that will make them a perfect addition to your work/home collection of toys.

I can't get enough of this book.  More importantly, my kids at work seem to be enjoying it as much as me!  When I first saw this book at West Side Kids, I thought my daughter Quinn and I would have fun with it.  When I opened it up and saw looked through each and every page, I realized that not only was it great for my kid, it would be great for so many of my kids at work.  This is not your ordinary coloring book.  While there are plenty of opportunities to work on improving your coloring skills, there is so much more here.  Each page has a different picture or theme and are perfect for boys or girls.  Maybe it is a spread of fairies or cars, maybe it is a bunch of yummy looking food or an under the sea scene.  Whatever it is, they are adorable!  Each page has specific instructions for a child to follow such as finding all the fairies holding wands and coloring them a certain color or look at a picture of a food item, find its match and color it the same color.   If you look at the picture below, you will see that not only does it give you specific instructions on what to look for and color, it also leaves a part of the page free for you to fill in with your own pictures.  So not only is this good for working on improving coloring skills, it is also great for improving a child's drawing and creativity skills.  I love that once the kids are done following the directions, they can then be free to do what they want with the rest of the images that are not colored.  I have noticed that my kids are excited to do what they need to so then they can be free to use whatever colors they want to!

This particular coloring book is great for working on visual perceptual skills and improving focus and attention.  I love that a child has to look for specific items; they are required to scan the pages to find what they need to.  For some of my kids, this is a tremendous challenge and I have to give them specific instructions on how to look for the picture by starting at the top and using their finger to help guide them.  This also requires a child to look at details; many of my kids will rush through and begin to just color anything that looks like what they are supposed to be looking for just to be finished.

This book is great for preschoolers and younger school age children.  With that said, some of the older kids on my caseload love it as well.  Okay, let me honest here.  I LOVE it and love doing it alongside my kids at work.  I find that coloring can help my children slow down and become more focused and attentive to other tabletop activities.  For many of my children who struggle with handwriting, I will start off with a coloring activity as a warm up.  It's great to do something fun and something they can be successful with prior to something that is more challenging.

The Colouring Book by Herve Tullet

My friends at Norman & Jules have a great selection of books and when they stock a coloring book, I rush up to pick it up.  They don't mess around with their toys and the same can be said about their coloring book choices.  They tend to have coloring books that you don't see at a lot of other toy stores.  I love how they think outside of the box when they pick something out for their customers.

This is a great coloring book for the older children on my caseload.  Like the book mentioned above, it's more than just a coloring book.  Many of the pages have special instructions for you to follow.  For example, there is a page with a bunch of numbers on it and it asks you to color in only the even or odd numbers (which is why this is more appropriate for older children).  There are pages that ask you to follow particular patterns or others that ask you to look for a certain shape/picture and color them all in the same color.  

All of the activity books by Herve Tullet are great.  I especially like to use them for my kids who have more difficulty with being creative or have a hard time thinking outside of the box.  His books are funky and sophisticated and make my kids really think about what they want to do and how they want their picture to look.  I like to look through the books before working with a child and figuring out what page(s) would be best for each child based on the goals I have with them.  The variety in pictures and activities makes it great for finding something that will motivate a child you are working with and allow them to be successful.  To me, it is most important to push my kids to do things outside of their comfort zone but also make sure that they will be successful so their self-esteem and confidence is not compromised.
In general, all coloring books are a great tool for occupational therapy and meeting fine-motor and visual motor/perceptual goals.  The books mentioned above are just 2 of the many that are out there. They can work on so much including:
Improve Grasping Skills-many of the kids on my caseload need to work on improving their grasping skills when holding a writing instrument.  Sometimes they need to be really motivated to work on this.  I find when I get the right coloring or activity books, the kids I work with are more likely to want to spend time working on something that is challenging for them.  I like to make sure that I have plenty of options available when it comes to writing instruments.  I like to use broken crayons that are only a few inches to try and encourage the kids to use a tripod-like grasp.  Sometimes I will use rock crayons; they are the perfect size for our little ones who are using more immature grasping patterns on writing instruments.
For my daughter's fourth birthday party (with a unicorn theme), I discovered this great Etsy shop.  Scribblers Crayons is the brain child of Randi, a mom who makes a bunch of fantastic shaped crayons. If you are looking for ways to motivate your child to color, take a look at her page and see if there any of her designs would make your child more excited about coloring.  I like the star and the heart shaped ones the best!
Improve Visual Motor Skills-coloring/activity books are obviously great for working on visual skills.  Whether it be improving eye-hand coordination when coloring in the lines or using visual scanning to find the hidden things on the page, these books can be a fun way to work on a skill that may cause a child frustration.
Improve Modulation/Regulation-coloring is a great activity to do when you want to work on modulation/regulation.  Many of my kids will scribble furiously only have paying attention to the boundaries of what they are coloring.  I like to challenge my kids to try and slowly color and remain in the lines as much as possible. This sounds easy, but for many of the kids I work with, it takes a lot to slow down and do this with accuracy.
Improve Executive Functioning/Organizational Skills-some of the pages in both books are tricky and require a child to be organized in their work.  It may require them to read through all the instructions before doing their work.  For my older children who might be working on improving homework organization, I will have them read through all the instructions and gather all the supplies that they need before beginning.  This can be critical for some children to be independent and successful with the task at hand.  
Improve Focus/Attentional Skills-I love a coloring book that doubles as an activity book.  For many of the kids I work with, it's a struggle to get them to just color and they do better when there are things to do.  I like being able to tell the kids that they have to do a certain number of things before they can switch tasks.  This keeps them focused and helps them to understand what is expected of them.

I know that there are hundreds of great coloring and activity books out there.  I haven't blogged about these kind of books in a while but if you check out this blog post here, you will see that these books are still amazing.  As a matter of fact, I still use and recommend them to my clients. Honestly, once a good activity book, always a good activity book (this is mostly relevant to books that are not created for a particular movie or character).  Do you have have any great books that you can share with me and my readers?  I am always on the lookout for good books to have both at home for my daughter and for work purposes.   Please share your favorites with all of us!  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all with your ideas!