Monday, March 30, 2015

Eggcellent Crafting!

Easter is less than a week away.  I love Easter.  I'm not sure if it is knowing that Spring really has to be close if Easter is happening or if it's the candy or if it is the decorating of eggs that makes this one of my favorite holidays.  Actually, is is the candy...I've been hoarding Cadbury Mini Eggs since Valentine's Day was over.  But I really do love the other things about Easter too.  And I love having a reason to do some fun crafts and activities with the kids I work with.  Holiday weeks tend to mean that I have a week of very focused and organized activities set up.  Since many of the kids I work with don't celebrate Easter, I have backup activities that focus on Spring instead.  Here are a few of the things I will be doing with the kids I work with this week.

Fingerprint Bunnies and Chickens-I am a TOTAL sucker for any activity that involves fingerprints and Spring and Easter lend to this idea quite well.   When I think of spring, I think of bunnies, baby birds, chicks and other animals.  While the image I have shared shows these on eggs, this can be a spring related activity for those kids who don't celebrate Easter.  Fingerprint art is a quick and simple activity for kids of all ages.  It can be easily adapted to increase or decrease the expectations for whatever child is doing it.  For example, for your younger kids, you can have them do the very basic putting their fingers in the ink and pressing it on the paper and the grownups can add the details to the thumbprints.  As they kids get older, you can increase the expectations by asking them to add the details to the pictures.  For even older kids working on handwriting, you can have them make Happy Easter or Happy Spring cards for family and friends.  The best part about this project is that the supplies are minimal and that it takes a short amount of time to finish so the kids can take their picture or cards home with them right away.

Jelly Bean Sorting Game-as I have already mentioned, one of the things I love most about Easter is the candy.  I know that is what makes it a favorite holiday for a lot of the kids in my life.  So, why not make it into a fun learning opportunity?  This jelly bean sorting game is easy and can be easily adapted for kids of all ages.  Minimal supplies needed:  a bag of colorful jelly beans, plastic eggs, an empty egg carton and a pair of child friendly chopsticks (my favorite are the Zoo Sticks by Hog Wild).
For younger kids, place how ever many colored eggs into the carton that you want them to sort.  Put a bowl full of the same colored jelly beans in front of them and have them sort the jelly beans into the proper color.  Encourage them to use a pincer grip to pick up the jelly beans.  For older kids, add more colors and instead of using their hands to put the jelly beans in, have them use the chopsticks. By adding the chopsticks, you are working on increasing grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills.  If you want to add an element to work on improving bilateral coordination, you can have them pull the plastic egg out of the carton with one hand and have them pick out all the like colored jelly beans with their other hand.  For an increased challenge, you can have the kids open up the eggs and hide a number inside and the kids have to put that number of jelly beans into the eggs.

Tissue Paper (scrap paper) Easter Egg/Tulip-again, another activity that can be easily turned into a spring project instead of an Easter one.  You can either have the outline of an egg or a tulip on a piece of thick white paper.  Have lots of small pieces of tissue paper in pastel colors available for the kids to choose from.  Depending on the skill set of a child, you can have them take the square pieces of tissue paper and place them the picture or have them scrunch them up into little balls (great for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills) before placing them on the paper.  To work on improving grasping skills, you have have the kids use a paintbrush to put the glue on the paper (just a tip that you don't want them to paint the whole picture in but do small portions at a time in order to prevent the glue from drying).  For older kids, you can draw patterns on the eggs and have them use different colored tissue paper for each section.  This is a great activity for not only working on fine motor skills, but can work on color recognition, improving eye-hand coordination, biilateral coordination and focus and attentional skills.  One adaptation you can make to this activity is to use fun scraps of paper and have the kids tear them into pieces and then glue them onto the egg or flower template.

I have already tested these egg-celent activities out at work with the kids and they are all a big hit.  They are all simple, require few materials and can be finished during one therapy session which is a huge thing with the kids I work with.  They LOVE to be able to take their work home and show it off to their people.  

Do you have any great Easter or spring activities you love to do with the kids?  I'd love to hear from any of you with activities that you have found success with and that the kids have really loved?  Please share any ideas that you may have...I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Avokiddo Apps=A+ Apps

One of things I love most is finding a good app. Even better is when the design studio who created that app has several wonderful apps to choose from.  Two of my favorites, Toca Boca and Pepi Play, come up with new apps all the time that always blow my mind and I have blogged about several of their games.  Recently, I discovered a new studio and I can't get enough of their apps.  More importantly, the kids I work with are loving all the new apps on my iPad!

Avikiddo is an award-winning creative studio that specializes in creating quality educational apps for children.  They believe that when somebody enjoys something, they will connect with it in a way that learning will take place more naturally.  And I LOVE their philosophy (which I am sharing directly from their website):  Our philosophy is that education should be more than teaching math and literacy.  It should provide a challenging and stimulating environment where children obtain knowledge through active exploration and interaction.  An environment where they can use their imagination to reveal their true inner self; a world infused with purity and creativity.  We design our games with love and affection, truly believing in these principles.

I was originally drawn to the Avokiddo apps because of the awesome graphics.  There was something unique and creative about it that I hand't really seen before and thought I would check it out.  My fiIt's impossible to choose just one favorite of the Avokiddo apps so I have decided to write a little something about each.

Beck and Bo-a delightful and incredibly interactive app that takes two kids, Beck and Bo, on an adventure through 12 different scenes.  I would highly recommend this app for speech therapists and special educators who are working on building vocabulary.  The scenes vary from a day at the beach to building a snowman.  Each scene starts of pretty empty and it is up to the child to grab different objects falling from the sky and place them where they want in the scene.  For example, the winter scene starts off with snowy hill and you have to grab different parts of a snowman and put it together, including a hat and scarf.  From an occupational therapy perspective, this app is great for working on visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  It is also great for working on improving executive functioning skills such as attention, focus and organizational skills.  If you are working on improving grasping skills, you can always use a stylus to encourage a proper grasp on writing instruments.  Want to work on increasing upper body strength?  Have them play this app while lying prone either on a bolster or on the net swing.  They will be having so much fun that they won't realize how much they are "working" on getting stronger!

Avokiddo Emotions-this was my first Avokiddo app.  I was running a social schools group for preschoolers and we were focusing on emotions with the kids.  The iPad always motivates my kiddos and I did a search and found this.  It was a huge hit with the kids.  One of my favorite things about this app is how it allowed the kids to freely interact with different characters and then generate conversation about how they reacted.  It allowed them to really look at the animal's faces and recognize what different emotions looked like.  For example, the characters ears flatten and droop down when they are sad or they would jump up when they were startled by a loud noise.  For generalization purposes, we then would act out different emotions with the kids after we played the app.   This is a great app for working on speech and language skills and making kids more aware of social cues.

Thinkrolls-I just recently discovered this app and am loving both the original and the newest version which was just released on Wednesday!  Great for older preschoolers and school age kids.  It's a highly addictive game that has kids roll a variety of adorable characters through mazes.  While going through the maze, the encounter different challenges that requires them to think about how to use them.  They also unlock new characters which I have found makes for a really excited kid!  For example, as they are rolling through one of the earlier mazes, they run into a blocked path by a cracker that they must eat to keep going through the maze.  As you go through the levels, you may be blocked by a balloon that must be popped by the spikes on the wall or drop ice cubes on a fire so they can pass it.  One thing I really like about this game is that it is great for kids as young as 4 and as old as 9.  It's great for working on visual motor/perceptual skills like tracking and scanning.  Most importantly, I love how it works on problem solving and critical thinking.  It makes kids have to slow down and think about what they are going to do in order to pass the obstacles.  As they move through the mazes, they start to combine the different obstacles so the kids really have to think about what each thing does and make sure they do it in the right order in order to pass the obstacle.  This is a great app to work on improving social skills; you can have kids work together to talk about how to  overcome the challenges and take turns moving through each level.
Thinkrolls 2, the new version of Thinkroll does not disappoint.  It's the same concept of rolling through a series of mazes, but there are new challenges and characters introduced. Like the original Thinkrolls, kids are required to roll their characters through mazes, using problem solving and critical thinking to figure out how to overcome challenges.   Both games offer two levels of play, easy and hard, that makes this great for children of all ages.  Even adults will have fun playing this game and will find themselves stumped at times as they the game becomes increasingly more challenging.

Avokiddo ABC Ride-one of my absolute favorite alphabet apps out there!  Like all the other apps already discussed, it is incredibly interactive and engaging making learning super fun for the kids playing it.  The game starts off by choosing your character, Beck or Bo, and putting them on a bike and have them go on an alphabet adventure (you can go in order or have it be random).  Each letter has a mini-game to get the kids engaged and helps them associate a letter with a word.  For example, water the flowers to find the F or put the robot back together for the letter R.  My favorite is C where you have to cram the candy the hippo is dreaming about into his mouth.  Not only are the kids learning about the letter, they are working on following directions, matching pictures and maintaining their attention/focus.  Once the child has completed each mini-game, a whole word will show up on top, the letters will drop and the child has to match/drag the letters back into place.  This app is great for working on more than just learning letters.  It works on improving visual motor/perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, following verbal directions and improving focus and attentional skills.  For my older kids who are working on handwriting, I have them write the words before they move onto the next letter for an added step.  

Do you have any other design studios you really love?  Any games that you want to recommend to me or my readers?  I am always on the lookout for good apps, especially ones that will work on a ton of skills, motivate the kids I work with to learn and ones that can encourage social skills at the same time.  I would love to hear from you and am always a click away!  In the meantime, I hope you and your littles enjoy these apps!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Game On!

Last week I talked about how I was pretty much bored of all of the apps and toys I have been using since September.  It's not that they aren't fun or have lost their therapeutic value, it was just that I needed a change and something new to motivate the kids I work with.  I am pretty sure I heard some sighs and saw some rolling of the eyes in the last few weeks as I pulled about Barnyard Bingo and Whac-A-Mole!  I spent some quality time with Amazon and found a couple of great games by Educational Insights that have been a hit with the kids at work.  
First of all, I'd like to take a moment to talk about this company.  There isn't one thing that they have created that I haven't loved.  All of their games are fun, motivating and incredibly well made which means that they can handle the wear and tear of lots of kids handling and playing with them at the gym I work with.  As an occupational therapist, I adore that the games all have a fine motor component to them and can be graded to make it appropriate for pretty much any child on my caseload.  I don't have any of their actual toys, but as I was searching through their collection, I found many things that I will be adding to my collection very soon.  For example, check out these two drill sets:  Design & Drill Dazzling Creation Studios and Design & Drill BrightWorks.  I know a lot of kids who would flip out over these!

The two games that I picked up this week have been a hit amongst all the kids I have tried them with.  They have provided a just right challenge while working on a lot of different occupational therapy goals.  

Crazy Cereal-this electronic game is a fast-paced, exciting 2-player game that requires kids to match colors.  The game consists of 3 bowls (two small bowls for each kid to collect their cereal pieces and one large one to be placed in the middle for all the cereal pieces).  Each child grabs a bowl and a spoon, turns their spoon on and let the cereal grabbing begin.  The spoon lights up different colors and the child is expected to pick up whatever color it flashes one at a time.  Every once in a while, the spoon goes crazy and flashes all different colors at which point they can pick up two pieces of any colored cereal at a time.  I have modified the game for younger kids by not having them turn the spoon on (it moves pretty quickly) but by calling out the color that I want them to pick up instead.  Great game for working on color recognition and matching.  In addition that the aforementioned, Crazy Cereal works on the following occupational therapy skills:
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-great for working on using two hands in a coordinated manner.  As the kids are collecting the cereal, they need to hold onto the spoon with one hand and the bowl with the other.  
Improve Fine Motor Skills-once the kids have completed the game and have collected as many pieces of cereal as possible, I like to have them put the cereal back in the big bowl using a pair of Zoo Sticks.  This is great for working on grasp strength and manipulation skills.  
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-kids must look at their spoon and watch for what color it will turn before picking up their cereal.  I have to remind the kids quite often to look at the spoon after they collect each piece of cereal as the spoon changes color pretty quickly.
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-this game requires a tremendous amount of focus and attention in order to be successful.  If they aren't keeping their eyes on the spoon in between turns, they will often pick up the wrong color.  They also have to remember to pace themselves and only pick up one (or two) pieces of cereal at a time.  This requires them to regulate and be in control of their actions, which can be quite challenging when kids are excited and really want to win!  For older kids who are working on sequencing and organizing their work, you can have them read the directions and then tell the other kids the rules of the game.  
Improves Social Skills-while this game can be played independently but is way more fun playing with a friend.  It works on promoting good sportsmanship, especially learning how to be a good winner and loser!

Pancake Pileup-when I saw this game, I was sold by the fact that it was a physical game that got kids up and moving around the gym.  This has been a long, cold and snowy winter and so many of the kids I work with who benefit from running around outside have spent a lot more time sitting inside.  This game is not only great for occupational therapy but also for improving gross motor skills.  It is a fun movement game that has kids copy stacks of different flavored pancakes shown on a card.  Using a spatula, kids have to pick up the correct pancake and walk them over to their plate.  The child who finishes theirs first without making a mistake is the winner.  Depending on the age/skill level of the children playing, you can have them each pick up their own card or have them do the same card.  This is another one of those great games that can be adapted to be appropriate for all children.   I also love it because it can be done in a group as small as two but can also be done in classrooms or small social skills groups.  In addition to what has already mentioned, Pancake Pileup can work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-kids need to use eye-hand coordination as they scan the pile of pancakes for the correct pancake, as they pick up the pancake with the spatula and also when they are placing it on the plate.  
Improve Motor Planning-I've really enjoyed watching the physical therapists I work with play this game with the children they are working with.  They have been using it with just one child so they can be a little more creative.  While this game works on balance and coordination, it can also be played while doing a simple obstacle course.  Or you can play it while having a child walk across a balance beam or while stepping on stepping stones.  The kids have to be mindful of the obstacles that have been created.  
Improve Focus and Attention-the point of the game is to get your pile of pancakes stacked up as quickly as possible without dropping them from your spatula.  Kids need to focus on maintaining their attention to what they are doing because if they start looking around and drop the pancake off the spatula, they will have to start again.  
Improve Social Skills-great game for working on building sportsmanship, especially how to be a good winner or loser.  If playing in a larger group, you can work on teaching kids how to be part of a team, how to cheer their friends on and how to build up tolerance for others when they mess up. If you have a small group of kids, this is a great game to do relay-race style to work on taking turns and work as a team.  

It's so great when you find games that can be used in both therapeutic and social environments.  These are just two of many of the great games by Educational Insights.   When parents ask me for suggestions on what they can do with their children at home, I'm always happy to give them games and activities that can work on achieving our goals in a fun and stress-free way.  I love when kids are so comfortable with a game that they are able to tell the rest of their family how to play it.

Do you have any great new games that you like to recommend to families?  I'm still on the lookout for a few more new and exciting things to do at work and would especially love some more games that get the kids up and moving since this crazy weather has kept a lot of kids stuck inside for days on end!  I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all.