Saturday, February 28, 2015

App Happy

I have had a really hard time keeping up with my blog these last few months.  Between the holidays and being buried with paperwork and reports, writing has been put on the back burner.  I'm happy to have a little time on this chilly Friday afternoon to write a quick blog about some of the fabulous apps I have been using at work these days.  I'm not sure if its the weather or the time of the year, but I basically got bored of every game, app, etc. that I have been using and if I was feeling bored, I can't imagine how the kids were feeling.  The following apps are ones that the kids love but also work on a ton of great skills.

Metamorphabet-this interactive alphabet app came out a few weeks ago and not only have the kids loved but every grownup I have showed it to as well.  My husband and daughter spent nearly an hour going through each letter one night.  Metamorphabet is a playful and interactive alphabet app appropriate for all ages.  With each letter there are several surprises that unfold as you poke, prod, drag and spin the letters around.  It is a wonderful educational tool, motivating kids to learn their letters in a playful way that makes it seem like more fun and less work for them.  Learning the alphabet has never been so much fun!  There are several ways to make this more therapeutic and educational if you want to use it at work.

Labo Paper Fish-another interactive game that the kids are loving!  Labo Lado has several create and play apps that all look fantastic and that I plan on checking out very soon!  Paper Fish is great because it works on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and organizational skills.  First kids get to choose one of 16 different fish templates that they will need to "cut" out; they need to trace the
lines of all the different parts of the fish in order to do that.  Once they are all cut out, they need to put the fish back together.  I like that if you go too fast while tracing, it stops and makes you go back; this is great for those kids you work with who rush through their work.  They can keep the fish simple or decorate it themselves to make their very own fish.  After they are all done creating the fish, there are 5 different games that can be played.  Each mini-game is fun and I like how they all work on different visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  My favorite is when you have to take pictures of fish while underwater; a picture of a fish will show up in the top right hand corner and you have to scan the sea to find the matching fish, drag the camera over and take a picture of it.

Pepi Ride-there isn't an app by Pepi Play that isn't a big hit with my kids.  Pepi Ride is no exception and is especially popular with the boys on my caseload who have a need for speed.  This app allows children to choose a character and create the car they will ride in.  They can make it as simple or complex as they want.  Once their car is complete, they can take the car out on the road for some adventures.  There are 9 different driving courses and as you go through the map, the difficulty level increases.  While this isn't complicated, it's a great app for helping kids make choices and really think about what they want to do.  So many of the kids I work with have a difficult time with organizing their thoughts/work and I like that this app can help them work on that.  Some of the racing games out there are super fast paced and have a time-limit which tends to be difficult for the kids I work with causing them to get frustrated and upset with themselves.  This is a nice racing game for younger kids because the goal is simple:  finish each course and pick up the 3 presents along the way for extra points.

Shape Arts: Geometry Creations-I can't tell you how hard I have been searching for a great tangram app (I love Osmo but I wanted something else as well).  Lighthouse Learning has a bunch of great math apps for kids of all ages and I am in love with Shape Arts.  Not only are there hundreds of puzzles for the kids to complete, there is also an option to make their own puzzles.  There is a template provided and each one has 7 shapes that must be moved into the puzzle to complete it.  Some fit in perfectly while others may have to be rotated before it fits in.  This app is not only educational, it is also fun while working on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and executive functioning skills.  While it says that this app is for children 7 and older, my almost 5 year old daughter was able to play it with minimal help from me.  

Toco Pet Doctor-this is not a new app but continues to be a big hit with the kids that I work with, especially the younger ones.  And for those of you familiar with Toca Boca, you know that there isn't a single app of theirs that isn't amazing.  There are 15 different pets waiting in the vet's waiting room with a variety of ailments that need to be tended to.  Choose an animal and make them healthy.  You may need to clean and bandage up a cat's ear, pull gum off a bird's foot or brush the messy teeth of a hamster.  Once they are all taken care of, you have to feed them.  None of the activities are overly challenging but require children to maintain their focus and attention on what needs to be done.  Great for working on improving visual tracking, visual perceptual and visual motor skills and can be worked on individually or in a group of two or three kids to work on improving social skills.

I know that there are still many therapists who don't agree with using an iPad in their sessions which I totally respect and appreciate.  I have found that when used in moderation and with other therapeutic interventions, it can be a highly effective and motivating tool.  I have found it to be most helpful with teaching handwriting to my more resistant kids because it is so interactive that they forget that they are actually working.  I never just do the handwriting apps alone but will have them practice the letter on the iPad and then immediately have them do it on the Boogie Board, dry erase board or on a piece of paper to generalize the skill.  There are so many wonderful apps that really address improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills in a fun way.  All of the apps I discussed above work on that skill.  In addition to what I have already mentioned, the iPad can be used to work on the following things:
*work on increasing upper body strength by playing the iPad while lying prone on a net swing or on a bolster
*work on improving grasping skills by requiring a child to use a stylus whenever it is appropriate to. iCreate crayon by Fred & Friends and the Mini Retro stylus by Kikkerland Design
 I will stop kids during play to encourage them to switch their grip.  My favorite stylus' are the
*work on improving bilateral coordination skills by making sure kids hold the iPad with one hand and use their dominant hand to play the game
*work on improving social skills by having kids play appropriate apps together
*work on improving executive functioning skills such as organization, attention/focus, working memory, sequencing, etc.

I love using the iPad at work and especially love when I find new apps to share with my colleagues and the parents I work with.  It's an easy way for parents to be able to work on some of the things that we work on in therapy and get them more involved in their child's therapy in a fun and less stressful manner.

Do you have any new apps that you just can't live without?  I'm always looking for new and interesting ones and would love to hear what's hot with your kids and I am sure many of my readers would love to hear as well!  Please share your favorite apps...I'm just a click away and love hearing from you all!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Let's Boogie

A couple of years ago, my daughter received a Boogie Board as a birthday gift.  She was a little young and totally uninterested in drawing or learning how to write.  As a result, my husband and I spent more time playing with this toy and it eventually ended up in the bottom of a basket of toys.  Fast forward about a year or two and we have a little girl has blossomed into an artist and a kid who really wants to practice writing letters and words all the time.  Every time I turn around, there is another drawing or list of words on scraps of paper in our house.  While we try and save as much as we can, many of them are not what Quinn had in mind so they end up getting thrown away.  As she has become more interested in spending her free time engaged in drawing or writing, I have found ourselves trying to use other less wasteful things.  She can spend hours working on an easel but that isn't always so easy to take with us when we are on the go so I was happy to remember our Boogie Board and pull it out of the basket.

For those of you who don't know about it, the Boogie Board is an ultra-light LCD writing tablet that can take the place of paper and pencils.  It's great for you on the go people who want to encourage your kids to draw/write and not always be attached to the iPad, iPhone, games, etc. It can be used for a variety of things and by kids of all ages.  The Boogie Board comes in a variety of colors which can sometimes make a big deal to certain kids (for example, my girlie girl loves the pink and flowered one).  Kids can draw, write and play games on the board and with a simple touch of a button, the screen clears and they can begin again.  If they make a mistake, it can be erased and they can try again.  Since the Boogie Board is so light weight, it can be thrown in a backpack or a purse without being too much of a burden.  I love looking out in a waiting room and seeing kids playing on theirs to pass the time between appointments.  We love to take ours in the car or on the subway to keep Quinn occupied and make the ride go by much faster.

I have not only been using the Boogie Board at home.  It has been a great tool to use at work and the kids love to use it.  It has been used for several purposes depending on the goals and needs of each particular child.  For example, it's a great tool to use for making To Do lists with kids who need the structure and routine.  I will write down our schedule for the session and after they complete each activity, they can then cross it off.  For kids who are working on handwriting, you can actually have them write the list for your session.

My favorite thing to use the Boogie Board for is to practice handwriting.  I tend to use it in conjunction with different iPad apps which can be a big motivator for those kids who like to avoid any handwriting activity.  My go to handwriting apps are LetterSchool or Writing Wizard as they are the most interactive and not just about tracing letters.  Kids will practice a letter on the iPad and then immediately pick up the Boogie Board to practice writing the letter.  There are several handwriting games you can play with kids based on their skill level.  For example, for kids who are learning how to read, you can make the sound of the letter and they then have to write the letter.  Another fun thing to do is to write words with some letters missing and have the kids guess what letter goes where and fill in the words.  If you have really creative kids, you can have them makeup their own handwriting games!

Some of the other occupational therapy goals that can be focused on using the Boogie Board are:
Improve Grasping Skills-each Boogie Board comes with a thin metallic stylus.  Any stylus is good for encouraging a proper grasping pattern, but I find that the stylus that comes with it is just the right size for adding a pencil grip onto.  I encourage the kids I work with to use a proper grasp whenever they use the stylus.
Improve Graphomotor Skills-I sometimes feel guilty about the amount of paper that I waste on daily basis practicing writing letters and numbers with the kids I work with.  Oftentimes, the kids end up leaving said papers on the floor in the waiting room and they never even make it home to show off to their parents.  With the Boogie Board, a child can practice over and over again without the guilt of what waste we are producing.  If kids want to show off their work to their people, you can take pictures and email it to them!
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-I love to have kids sit on the platform or bolster swing while using the Boogie Board as it forces them to use two hands.  They must hold the board with one hand and hold the stylus with the other.  When on a swing, they are also working on building trunk control and strength at the same time.
Improve Social Skills-I like to find ways to improve social development with all toys/products I use at work.  The Boogie Board can be used to encourage social skills by having kids play simple games together on it.  Tic-Tac-Toe, the Dot Game and Hangman are three good games that can be played in small group settings.

I love that the Boogie Board can be used for so many different things by children of all ages and it doesn't cost too much (approximately $30).  The Original Boogie Board can be found online but I have also seen it in several of the smaller, privately owned toy stores in my neighborhood.  While you may end up paying a little more in these stores, I always try and support small businesses whenever I possibly can.

Do you use a Boogie Board while working with your kids?  Do you have any other fun games or activities that you do while using it?  I would love to hear from any of you if you do.  I'm only a click away and love hearing from you all!

Friday, February 6, 2015

I Love Love!

Growing up, my family didn't do much to celebrate Valentine's Day.  My mom would pick up cupcakes or cookies with hearts on them and we would make cards for school, but that was it.  It was nothing against love or anything like that, it just wasn't one of those holidays we paid much attention to.  When I began working with children, I realized that there were so many great learning opportunities that could come out of the holiday and started to do more with it.  Now that I have my own daughter who loves pink, red, hearts and all the other things that you think about when it comes to Valentine's Day, I've gotten way more into it.  And since Pinterest makes it so easy to come up with ideas, I have found that I enjoy it so much more!  Here are a few of my favorite projects that I plan on doing with the kids I work with over the next weeks.  I have tried to find projects that can be completed over the course of one or two sessions so the kids don't get too frustrated or bored by it.

I Love You to Pieces Picture Frame-Whether you have old puzzles that you no longer use (maybe because you have lost a few pieces or kids just aren't into it any more), or have those blank do-it-yourself puzzles, this activity is quick and totally personal. You will need:
*Popsicle Sticks
*Crayons, Paint, Markers, Etc.

1.  Color 4 popsicle sticks and a handful of puzzle pieces in whatever medium and color your child chooses.

2.  Glue the popsicle sticks together and place the puzzle pieces along the sticks.

3.  Once dry, have a grownup write "I Love You to Pieces" along the frame.  Turn around and glue a picture to the backside of the frame.

Fingerprint/Eraser Heart Picture-you can make this on whatever background you want.  I am going to get some heavy stock paper and cut them into an oversized postcard so the kids can decorate the front with a heart and then turn around and work on their writing skills by writing messages to the recipient  on the back of the card.  I have seen this done on a canvas and a blank tote bag/apron (just remember you will want to use something more permanent on these things).  There are a couple of ways to do this.  The first way is that you can cut a large heart, tape it onto the surface you are working with and either use the eraser or your fingers to make different colored dots all around the heart.  Remove the heart when you are all finished and you will have a plain heart in the middle that you can write a message in.  The other way to do this is to cut a large heart out and tape the outline of the heart onto your working surface (so it looks like a stencil).  Use the eraser or your fingertips and fill in the blank space.  Be sure to have the children put dots all around the edge of the stencil so there is a definite heart shape when you pull the stencil off.  You will need:
*heavy stock paper/canvas/blank tote bags
*pink and red washable inkpads
*pencils with brand new/unused erasers
*wipes for cleaning hands between color changes
*canvas, tote bag, etc.

1.  Depending on the skill level of the child you are working with, you can have them cut out a heart or you can it out and have it ready for them.  This will be placed in the middle of the surface you are working on and the kids will work all around it.

2.  I have kids use one thumb for one color ink and the other thumb for another and first tell them to place their prints all around the edge of the heart.  Once they are done with that, they can fill the blank space all around the heart.

Toilet Paper Tube Heart Stamp-a very easy and inexpensive craft project to do with even your youngest of kids.  Take a paper tube and push the middle down until it makes a heart; take a piece of tape and wrap it around to hold the shape. You can use paint or a stamp pad and have the kids dip the end of the stamp into it and have them place it on a piece of paper after.  Depending on the age of the child you are working with, you can grade the activity.  For the little ones, let them go crazy and put them all over the paper.  For older children, you can place targets on the paper that they have to place the hearts on.  Once the hearts are dried, you can have them color the hearts in.  For even older kids, you can practice working on handwriting by having them write messages to their loved ones.  You will need:
1.  Toilet paper/paper towel tubes
2.  Red and pink paints or stamp pads
3.  White construction paper
4.  Crayons, markers, colored pencils

Hole Punch Hearts-another very easy, fun and quick activity that your kids will love to do and that
can be adapted for each child's individual skill set.  For younger children who haven't yet mastered cutting, give them pre-cut hearts and let them punch holes all over the heart.  For older children, have them cut out the hearts independently and then let them use the hole punch after.  You can set some guidelines to work on improving attention and organizational skills like punch holes only around the border of the heart.  This is also nice because it leaves space in the middle of the heart for children to write personal messages to their loves ones.  You will need:
1.  Pink, red, white paper
2.  Hole puncher (you can use a circle one or if you are really fancy, find a heart shaped hole puncher)
3.  Scissors
4.  Yarn or string

Arts and crafts can be great for working on so many occupational therapy skills/goals including:
*improving grasping skills
*improving eye-hand coordination
*improving bilateral coordination skills
*improving creativity
*improving self-esteem and confidence
*improve executive functioning skills such as focus and attention, sequencing and organization

One of the things I love most about Valentine's Day is that you can talk to kids about empathy and how you can make other people feel happy.  Too often, holidays are about getting things from others but this day should be more about giving to others to show them how much you love them.  I've been working on making Valentines with my almost 5 year old daughter, and I love watching her work so hard to make them just right for her friends and family.  The level of pride she feels just making them is great, but I can't wait for her to see how happy she is making people when they receive them.

Do you have any fabulous, quick and simple activities that you enjoy making with your children that you want to share with me and my readers?  I am looking forward to focusing on love and crafts next week during all of my sessions and would love to have a variety of activities for the kids to choose from.  I'm always a click away and love hearing from you!