Monday, October 27, 2014

Trick or Treat? These Halloween Apps Are A Def Treat!

I've spent the weekend working on Halloween costumes, decorating pumpkins and decorating the front of our house with a very excited 4 1/2 year old girl I know.  It's funny how my excitement and interest in almost all holidays has increased each year since my daughter was born.

In preparing for a long car ride this weekend, I decided to take a look at the App Store and see what kind of fun Halloween apps were out there to entertain her.  I also had the kids I would be working with in mind when looking at the apps and trying to figure out what kind of fun things I would have in my bag of tricks for Halloween week.  In addition to lots of fun craft ideas, I also have found some great apps that I can whip out this week.  For any of you who are regular readers of my blog, you will know that the iPad is a tool that I use quite often in conjunction with all kinds of other techniques.  I never use the iPad by itself and try and be sure to pair it up with a hands on activity to work on generalizing the skill.  When possible and appropriate for a child's goals, I will have a kid play the iPad while lying prone on the net swing to work on increasing upper body strength.  For older children who are struggling with developing a proper grasp, I try and use a stylus to encourage the development of a more mature grasp when holding writing instruments.

Sago Mini Monsters-children get to create their own colorful monsters...they can make a different monster each and every time they play the game.  Perfect for children ages 2-4 years old but I guarantee like all of the other Sago Mini apps, the older children in your life will enjoy it as much.  Some of the fun things you get to do with your very own monster is feed them a yummy treat, brush their giant teeth and color them in and decorate them.
One of the nice features of this app is that you can take a picture of the completed monster.  I like this so I can share with parents what we worked on during our session and then talk to them about it with them later on.  So many of my families would love to be able to come to sessions and see what's happening but can't so this is an easy way to involve them.
If you want to add a hands on/take home activity, have all kinds of monster bodies, eyes, ears, horns, teeth, etc. cut out and let the kids create a monster to take home.

Grandma Loves Bugs-this is actually an app that has been around for a while but has a fun update for Halloween.  For a limited time, it is free so don't miss out on getting it!
It is an educational app that helps children (mostly under the age of 5) learn to spell, count and learn about bugs and creatures that live in the forest that they are exploring.  Letter matching, identifying number groups and spot the difference are just a couple of the games you can play.  In addition to educational games, there are a lot of mini games that keep the kids entertained.  And right now, many of the mini games go along with a Halloween them.  For example, catch the bugs from the mama's beak to feed the baby bird.  Make sure you don't feed them any of the Halloween candy they throw down every once in a while.  Or build a spider web and see how many bugs fly into it once it is completed.  So many of these games are great for visual motor and visual perceptual skills.

Toca Boo-my iPad has been full of Toco Boca apps since they first started creating their awesome apps.  In their newest Halloween themed app, Bonnie, a little girl, dresses up as a ghost ride before bedtime.  She is sneaking around the house trying to scare her family as much as she can and she needs your help!  As the player, you are responsible for exploring Bonnie's house and finding people to sneak up on a scare.  You have to explore the whole house, including (but not limited to) under the Toca Boca apps, the visuals are fun and very kid friendly.
covers in bed, inside the toilet, behind furniture...nothing is out of the question as you explore the whole house.  I think this app is great for working on improving focus and attentional skills and increasing language skills for preschoolers and school age children.  Like all of the other apps, the graphics are kid friendly and motivating for kids.  If you work with small groups of kids, this could be a really fun app to play to encourage team work as they navigate the house and figure out the best rooms to explore.

Go Away Big Green Monster-I have been reading this book to the kids I work with, and now my own daughter, for years.  I was excited to see that it was an interactive book available for the iPad, especially this time of the year.  The iPad version of the book is narrated by Ed Emberley, the author and illustrator of this longtime popular book.  There are three different modes to the app:  read along with a friend, read along with Ed (Emberley) or Sing Along as the app turns into a musical and animated experience.  There is also an option to read the story yourself.  I like this option to work on building awareness of colors and different parts of the body for my younger kids.  The kids will love how they can interact with the story as they watch the monster react to them touching their body parts.
I love this book/app for so many reasons, but especially for the ability to take the book and turn it into a really fun and meaningful arts and craft activity after it is read.  You can have all the different parts of the monster's face cut out and have the kids build their own monster to take home to share with their families.  This is a great craft activity for children who need to work on improving body awareness.  
As a bonus, have the kids "read" this while lying in the net swing to work on increasing upper extremity/neck strength.  They will be so involved with the story that they will forget that they are actually working.

I hope you all have a wonderfully spooky and fun Halloween.  Like I said earlier, there is nothing more exciting than getting to live all the holidays through the little monsters in your life.  It's only Monday and the energy of the kids today was infectious.  They are all ready for the big day on Friday!  If you have any other great Halloween apps that you want to share with my readers, please feel free to email me and let me know and I will pass them along!  I am always a click away and love learning from each and every one of you!

Friday, October 17, 2014

It's The Most Boo-tiful Time of The Year!

Let's face it, Halloween is a really fun time of the year.  Not only do the kids love it, grownups do too.  The gym I work in is all decorated for Halloween right now and the kids have been squealing with delight when they see all the pumpkins and ghosts.  As a therapist who works with kids, I find this a great time of the year for fun craft projects.  Kids LOVE Halloween and all that comes with it.  Here are a few crafts that I have done and will continue to do with the kids at work over the next couple of weeks.  I try and choose ones that don't require a ton of supplies or time to complete so the kids can take them home and show off their completed project to their families.  

Pipe Cleaner Spiders-a few weeks ago, my daughter and I were walking around our Brooklyn neighborhood and saw a fence all decorated for Halloween.  The spiders that were attached to the fake cobwebs were so cute and upon careful inspection, we realized we could easily make these at home.  It's a simple project that only requires two supplies:  medium size beads (we have been using wooden circle and square shaped beads) and pipe cleaners (I LOVE the Eeboo pipe cleaners that come in all kinds of beautiful colors).  For each spider, you will need 4 pipe cleaners and one bead.  Decide on the length of the legs (we have made large mommy and daddy spiders and smaller baby spiders at home); if you are making a smaller spider, you can cut two pipe cleaners in half.  When the pipe cleaners are your desired length, put them all together and string them through the bead all at once.  Separate and bend the legs and your spider is done.  My daughter likes to put googly eyes on her spiders but you can use permanent markers (adult supervision required of course) to add details to your spider's face!  This activity is great for improving bilateral coordination skills, eye-hand coordination skills and improving grasping skills.

Paper Pumpkins-there are easily thousands of paper pumpkin ideas out there.  I like this pumpkin craft because it is great for working on cutting skills.
-orange paper
-scissors (regular or zigzag)
-pipe cleaner
-hole punch (make sure that it is easy enough for the children you work with to use this independently.  Some hole punchers can be very difficult to use)
Before the kids begin this project, I use a ruler to divide the paper into an 1 or 2" think lines (depends on the child's skill level) so they can cut the paper.  Make the lines thicker for kids who have a more difficult time with cutting.  Once the strips are cut, have the child use the hole punch and put a hole on either end of each strip.  I like to place an X or a dot on each end for the children to have a target.  Take one of the pipe cleaners and twist a loop at the end then thread one side of each strip of the paper.  After all of the pieces of paper are threaded, then thread the other end of the paper onto the pipe cleaner.  Twist the top of the pipe cleaner in a loop to trap the paper in place.  Take the paper strips and spread them out until they form a pumpkin.  Take a marker or stickers and add eyes, nose and a mouth.


Paint Chip Puzzles-I won't lie, I have gone into Lowes and
Home Depot many times for something for our house but always leave with paint chips to use at work.  They are great for working on color recognition.  They are also amazing for working on improving cutting skills.  The thickness of the samples are great for kids learning how to cut.  Take a look at this wonderful Halloween project...I can't wait to try it with my kids in the next couple of weeks.
-Halloween colored paint chips (square/rectangle shaped)
-permanent markers (adult supervision required!)
Depending on the age of the child you are working with, you can adapt how much or how little they do.  Make pumpkin, ghost or monster faces on the paint chips.  Once you are done drawing on the paint chips, cut the chips into your desired number of pieces.  If you are working on improving cutting skills with a child, turn the chips over and draw lines on the non-colored side and have them cut the puzzle up.  
This activity is great for working on visual motor and visual perceptual skills, cutting skills, drawing skills and can even work on color recognition.

Halloween Sensory Bags-the kids I work with love making sensory bags.  They are an easy project and inexpensive.  For many of the kids I work with, Halloween can be overstimulating and cause anxiety.  Have them make one of these bags and keep them in their trick-or-treat bag to use as a fidget when they start to feel anxious.
-Green, Orange and/or Purple hair gel
-ziploc freezer bags
-miscellaneous craft supplies like googly eyes, pompoms, etc.
-plastic spiders
I love this project because it is an easy one for kids to do all on their own.  Have the kids pick out the color gel they want to use and squeeze enough into the bag that it will cover fill the whole bag when laying flat.  Place the googly eyes, spiders, pompoms in the bag and seal it tight (parents, make sure the bag is completely sealed before letting them play with it to avoid a giant mess!).  If you want to add to this activity, grab a pair of kid's chopsticks and have them put the spiders, eyes, etc. into the bag to work on grasp strength.

These are just a few of the millions of Halloween projects you can do with your children over the next few weeks.  I look forward to any holidays because it gives me a chance to switch things up with the kids I work with and find new ways to work on their fine motor, visual motor/perceptual and other skills.  Kids love to take their projects home and show off what they are practicing at therapy.  I try and find projects that are easy enough for parents to do at home with the rest of their family.  For some of my older kids who are working on higher level skills (organization, motor planning, executive functioning skills), I like to send them home with the supplies they need in order to complete the project and have them teach someone else how to do it.  This is also great for building up their self-esteem and confidence which is something so many of the kids I work with lack.

Do you have any fun, easy and quick Halloween craft ideas?   I would love to have more ideas to test out over the next couple of weeks and I am sure my readers will as well.  If you have any great ideas, please share with us all!  If you have any questions or comments, I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tiggly...Take 2

Several months ago, I blogged about Tiggly Shapes and the associated apps.  I am happy to say that even after months of use, I am still as happy with them as can be.  More importantly, the kids who I work with are still happy and motivated by them.  For those of you unfamiliar with Tiggly Shapes, it is an interactive iPad app that allows you to use actual geometric shapes to enhance shape recognition and creativity.  For many of my kids, it has been a motivating to work on visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  I have been able to use the Tiggly apps in conjunction with other therapeutic activities to make sure that they are generalizing the concepts of shapes .

Just a couple of days ago, I was invited to test out Tiggly's newest product.  I was excited for many reasons but mostly because I have been searching for good early math apps to begin working on this with  my daughter.  Quinn is most definitely my hardest client and gives me more trouble than anyone else when I want to work on anything to get her prepared for school.  So when I told her about Tiggly Counts, I was thrilled to see how excited she was to learn about math.

Both of us were very excited when the box arrived on Saturday and wanted to get started immediately.  In short, Tiggly Counts is a iPad math toy created for children 3 and older that will begin teaching children about counting, number sense and math skills.  Using 5 counting rods (inspired by the cuisenaire rods typically used in Montessori schools), a child is able to interact with 3 different math apps and learn early math skills like counting and addition.   It can be adapted to work for a child's skill level.

Below you will find a description of each of each of the apps and what they will teach your child:

Tiggly Adventure:  cute little Tiggly is on an adventure to deliver apples to his grandmother.  You will need to use your counting toys to build bridges, ladders and much more in order to help him get to her.  Tiggly Addventure introduces children to number-line concepts while improving their number sense and counting skills.

Tiggly Cardtoons:  I love this app and have used it with some of my younger and more involved children.  It's simple yet totally interactive and easy to use so even those younger/more involved children can use it independently.  You place any one of the 5 counting rods on the iPad screen and the same number of dots will show up.  After you touch each dot, they start to move around and you have to catch them and place them in circles.  Once all of them are in place, two pieces of cardboard turn into a variety of things.  A juggling owl, a hungry shark or a truck filled with snakes are just a few of the fun things your child can create.
*great for working on visual motor, visual perceptual and visual tracking skills
*encourage a child to use their pointer finger when playing with the dots.  For those who need to work on grasping skills, you can use a stylus with this game.
*for early learners, a fun way to work on counting skills like one to one matching

Tiggly Chef: this has definitely been the favorite in my house and with the few kids I have tried it with.  Using the counting toys, you help the chef create some of the most fabulous and silly dishes!   Your job is to add the exact number of the ingredients the chef asks for.  You can use the exact counting rod (this is what I have been doing with my daughter) or you can use several counting blocks to add up to the correct number.  There are different levels and with each one comes different challenges.  This helps keep it fresh and exciting for older children.

In addition to all of the skills mentioned above, Tiggly Counts can work on improving focus and attentional skills and improving frustration tolerance.  When working with older children, you can focus on improving executive functioning skills such as organizational skills.  For my speech therapist colleagues, there are tons of opportunities to work on language skills when using all of the apps.

As I am getting to know the new apps, I have only used Tiggly Counts 1:1 with the kids but look forward to trying this with a small group of kids to work on social skills at the same time.  I think that all of the apps lend themselves to working as a team or in a small group.  For example, each child can take a turn putting ingredients in while playing Tiggly Chef.  Math can be a frustrating thing for many kids and watching and working with their peers is almost always more beneficial than it being led by a grownup.

Tiggly Counts is available for pre-order until October 21st.  If you order before then, there is a 25% discount and free shipping.  For any of my therapist/educator colleagues who use the iPad with kids, this is a great addition (no pun intended) to your bag of tricks.  I have already tested it out with some of my kids and it's been a huge success.  I have even gotten my kids to lie in the net swing while playing with it so we have been able to work on building upper body strength at the same time.  For educators and parents, this is a highly motivating system to work on math skills.  If you have a hard time getting your kids to sit down and do work with you, I guarantee this is something your children will not only enjoy but will ask to play!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tell Me a Story...with Dice!

I am always looking for fun, motivating and interesting ways to work on handwriting with the school age kids I work with.  For many of the kids I work with, this is one of the biggest things that they struggle with and finding ways to work on it without frustrating them can be really tricky.  I have used apps on the iPad but there haven't been many I have fallen in love with and use much.  Plus, when it comes to my older kids and the handwriting thing, I try and keep technology out of the equation if possible.

I'm going to give a big shout out to my friends at Norman & Jules, a toy store (or my home away from home) in Park Slope.  In the two years they have been in my neighborhood, I have spent a lot of time (and a lot of money) walking through the store finding the most amazing of toys for my own child and the children I work with.  They have an eye for unique gifts but what I love most is that they sneak in the educational piece in a really good way.  They find things that can work on academic skills but in the most interesting and fun way.

One of my most recent purchases are the storytelling dice designed by Hannah Waldron.  There are two sets, a pirate themed set and a fairy-tale themed set, that will be sure to get your child motivated to work on expanding their imagination and storytelling skills.  The Pirate Adventure Dice set has 9 wooden dice with different pictures on each side of the dice.   A child is encouraged to create a story using the pictures that they roll.  Some of the pictures on this pirate themed set includes a ship, mermaids, parrots, a message in a bottle and several more!  The Magic & Fairy-Tale Dice, also 9 wooden dice with all different pictures.  Using pictures like magic potion, a wizard, a frog and a ball gown, a child can create their own fairy tale.  From beginning to end, the story belongs to the child(ren) and how they interpret each of the pictures.  There is no right or wrong and a child is allowed to be as creative as they want.  Just try and remember each child's abilities and don't expect more from them; always set up a situation where the child will be successful and motivated to try something more challenging the next time around.

These dice can be used in so many ways and can be adapted to work for any child, no matter what their skill level is.  It can be used in a 1:1 therapy setting, in a group/social skills setting or at home for family game night!  Many of my families ask me for suggestions on what they can do at home to work on what I am working on in therapy and it's most important to me that my suggestions are fun for everyone and cause as little stress as possible.  These dice will be fun for everyone!

Suggested Uses
For beginners or younger children, I recommend choosing 3-4 cubes to roll at first.  Work up to adding more pictures.  Work together to come up with a story using the pictures.  Great for working on sequencing and organizational skills.  Have the child really think about what makes the most sense when arranging the pictures.  If you are in a small group setting, give each child one dice and allow them to add to the story.

For older children who are working on handwriting goals, this is a great tool to use to get them excited about writing.  I have used these with great success for just that purpose with a wonderful 9 year old boy who struggles with organizing his writing and struggles even more to get his wonderful ideas onto paper.  Again, start off small and don't overwhelm a child.  I start with 4 dice for the older kids, have them roll them and then work with them to organize the pictures into place before beginning the actual writing part of the activity.
**require a certain number of sentences for a story, making sure that there is a beginning, middle and end.  This can be really difficult for some children but if you let them talk through the story before they write it, you may find they are more successful.  I find it is helpful to give some children a set amount of time to work on their story to encourage them to take their time.
**discuss what is expected before beginning this writing activity.  For example, if you are working on spacing, sizing, etc., go over those rules before they begin to write.

These are also great for groups up to 9 kids.  I can't wait to try these with an older group of kids I work with.  Not only will it be great for working on storytelling, it will be great for working together to come up with a collaborative story.  Compromise, turn taking and being flexible are important life lessons, both socially and academically, and it's important to teach kids about these things.  To make it more exciting for a group of kids, you can take a picture of the pictures used and have someone write up the story that they came up with as a group to share with their families and friends.
**if you are working on specific social skills with a group, you can have the kids come up with a story based on that theme.  It could be a really fun way to help generalize the skill and get the kids to think of your lesson in a more meaningful way.

Another great thing about the Pirate Adventure Dice and the Magic & Fairy-Tale Dice is that it is hard to get bored with them.  Every time you roll the dice, your pictures are different which means your stories are always going to be different.  I can't think of a better way to keep the imagination flowing for kids of all ages.

So if you are in the New York City area, I highly recommend making the trip to Park Slope to check these dice out in person at Norman & Jules.  I apologize in advance to those of you who walk out with an empty wallet because I guarantee you won't be able to walk out without many of their awesome toys!  For those of you out of town, be sure to check out their website.