Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Put Your Arms In The Air Like You Just Don't Care!

In an effort to make this blog more informative for my readers, I am going to begin sharing interesting and helpful blog posts that I stumble upon.  For some reason, it hadn't occurred to me until just today that if I found these articles helpful, that my readers would also feel the same way.  The internet is a wonderful resource, especially when working with children. There is a ridiculous (in the best way possible) amount of information out there to be shared with everyone.  However,trying to sift through all the information can be exhausting and time-consuming.  So thanks to Kristin, here is my first article share blog post!

Today, the mom of one of my clients sent me a great article that talked about the importance of working on a vertical surface.  It was written by Lauren Drobjnak, a pediatric therapist and mother who began The Inspired Treehouse with her colleagues in order to share playful activities for children that promote development and wellness.  Their belief is that if kids are given a little help, they can build strong and healthy bodies and minds through play and exploration.  Do yourself a favor and check out and subscribe to their blog here...I promise you won't be disappointed by their emails.

Motor Skills and More!  Working on a Vertical Surface is a quick, easy and informative read about
what can be achieved by working on a vertical surface.  Some of you may be asking "What is a vertical surface!?!?".  Simply put, a vertical surface is a chalkboard or an easel... a surface that is on an incline that requires a child to have to raise their arms in order to write on it.  It is something that requires upper body strength and endurance.  When I was growing up, there was a chalkboard in every classroom I entered.  Daily, I was asked to go up and answer a math question or write the answer to a teacher's question on that board.  I never would have imagined that that simple task, something that seems so "normal" to so many of us, would be something that isn't really part of a kid's school routine these days.  Nowadays, we have the SmartBoard or a dry erase board in classrooms.  You may not sneeze because of all the dust from the chalk, but it will serve the same purpose in writing on a raised surface and sharing information with your classmates.

Whenever I am asked by parents about what can be done at home to help support our work in therapy, one of the first things I suggest is to get an easel.  Living in NYC, some parents worry that they don't have the space for a large and bulky is limited and we all know that kids come needing a lot of things to keep them busy!  For those parents, I suggest that they get a chalkboard or a dry erase board that can be mounted to the back of a door or the wall of a bedroom.

Working on a vertical surface can be beneficial for children of all ages, especially those who need to work on increasing core strength and postural stability.  Depending on the height of the working surface, you can have a child kneel, stand or sit on a therapy ball to draw, paint or write.  Another great thing about working on the vertical is that it is ideal for working on improving bilateral coordination skills.  I have kids hold a piece of paper up with one hand while using their other to hold the writing instrument.  This article talks about playing with stencils to also work on developing skills.  Please click here to learn about all the other benefits of working on the vertical that Lauren Drobjnak talks about.  

Fort those of you wondering what kind of vertical surfaces would be good for you and your home, I have provided a few suggestions below.
Chalkboard Wallie (Extra Large)-these extra large panels can easily be repositioned and placed wherever is most convenient/space allows.  Hang on the refrigerator, the back of a door or in a playroom.  I have one of their smaller versions hanging in my kitchen and my daughter has loved drawing pictures and practicing writing her letters on it.  They are easy to clean and can be used with any kind of chalk.  Be sure to hang them up in a way that makes your child have to have their arms extended in order to work on increasing upper body strength.

Dry Erase Board-there are a lot of dry erase boards to choose from that will work on all of the things mentioned in Motor Skills and More!  Working on a Vertical Surface.  I have always been partial to this one by The Container Store simply because it takes up no room at all and is easy to hang up.  It can go on the back of a door, inside a closet or wherever you happen to have the space for.   Also, another important thing, it is very reasonably priced!

Artist's Portrait Easel-if you happen to have the real estate in your apartment for a real deal easel, don't look any further than this one by Land Of Nod.  When my mother asked me what she could get my daughter for a Christmas gift one year, this was the one and only thing that came to mind.  It's been a favorite of Quinn's for years and has gotten so much use since it was gifted to her.  My favorite thing about this easel is that while it is large, it isn't bulky.  It can be folded up and set against a wall without taking up too much space.  Another great feature is that it is double-sided and can be used for many things.  One side has a chalkboard while the other has a dry-erase board.  That's not the top you will find a place to hold a roll of paper for drawing with crayons or markers or paintbrush or finger-painting.  A bonus's modern and sleek looking.

Backpack Slant Board-Fun and Function, one of my favorite therapeutic catalogues, has a variety of slant boards to choose from.  I recommend slant boards for many of the older kids I work with for homework time.  Slant boards are great because they don't take up a lot of room.  This one I have
suggested is even better because it can easily fold up and fit into a child's backpack making it easy for them to transport back and forth with them.  The most important thing about using a slant board for kids with graphomotor difficulties is that the design of a slant board automatically puts the wrist in an extended position, thus encouraging hand stabilization for greater ease in controlling writing instruments.  I don't only use this for handwriting/grasphomotor activities...when using an iPad in therapy, I will put the iPad on it to accomplish the same thing.

Thank you to The Inspired Treehouse for this wonderful and informative article!  I hope you all find this as helpful as I did!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Coloring...Not Just For Kids!

I wrote a long time about about coloring books and often refer to my favorites in some of my posts.  I
love having a good selection of coloring and activity books in my office and at home.  One thing that I have discovered is that coloring isn't just for kids these days.  I will often join the kids I work with or my own daughter when she is coloring.  I do this for several reasons:
*if I am engaged in a coloring activity, I find that the kids will color for longer which ends up building up their grasp strength and endurance.  It also helps on increasing a child's attention span
*I will often mess up or ask a child for their suggestions on what colors I should use to help them understand that their pictures don't have to be perfect or that they shouldn't get too frustrated when coloring
*I find coloring to be one of the most calming and organizing activities.  Not just for kids, but for anyone.  

In this post, I am not going to focus just on kids coloring/activity books, but also ones that are good for older kids and for adults who may love to color.  Coloring with your kids is a great way to stimulate conversation and imagination skills.  It is a wonderful way to build confidence and self-esteem...when a child completes a picture that they have worked really hard on, they feel really good about themselves and want to show it off to their people.  There is no greater source of pride for my own daughter when someone compliments her on her work and then hangs it up.

Some of my favorite coloring and activity books right now are the following:
Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest-these two books by Johanna Basford are more than just coloring books.  They are also coloring adventures that take you on a journey through a beautiful garden and an enchanted forest to discover what is in the magical castle.  The pictures are all in black and white and have so many little details to color in.  In addition to coloring some of the most magnificently drawn pictures, you have to find objects hidden within each picture.  I also like that some of the pages have mazes to go through and pictures to complete.
While these books are most definitely for older children, they are definitely something that could be done together with your child.  Having them look at the pictures and tell a story based on what they see is great for building up their language and imagination skills.  You can play a game of I Spy while looking at the pictures to find some of those hidden objects.  I first discovered these beautiful books when shopping at my local toy store, Norman and Jules, but you can also find them at the bigger bookstores and other speciality toy/bookstores.

Color Me Calm-this is a book that was designed for busy and crazed adults.  At a time where life gets busier and more complicated each day, we find ourselves to become more stressed and overstimulated by work and family obligations.  Created by art therapist Lacy Mucklow and artist Angela Porter, Color Me Calm has about 100 different coloring templates that were created specifically to get a person to color themselves to a calmer and more relaxed state of being.  The book is broken down into seven therapeutically-themed chapters including Mandalas, Water Scenes, Wooded Scenes, Geometric Patterns, Flora and Fauna, Natural Patterns and Spirituality. The intention of the book is for adults to put pencil to paper and get themselves into a state of creativity and relaxation.  Some of the pictures could be appropriate for younger children, but this is definitely intended for older children and adults.

Daydream Doodles-I've been looking through the shelves at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores non-stop lately trying to find new coloring and activity books for not only the kids I work with, but for my own daughter who has officially turned into one of those kids who can't stop drawing and coloring.  While I love to see her imagination come to life on paper, it isn't always so easy for her and she needs some jumping off ideas.  Throughout this book, there are several different kinds of activities.  You can color in pictures, complete different kinds of pictures or draw your own patterns on objects.  This coloring book is definitely more appropriate for older children (they suggest 6 and older).  In addition to working on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, it is great for working on creative thinking and imagination skills.  I like that you can also work on language skills while the kids are completing their pictures.  You can also work on improving executive functioning skills be encouraging them to talk about what they are going to draw, how they are going to do it, etc..

Usborne Big Book of Drawing, Doodling and Colouring-I am a huge fan of all the Usborne activity books.  They have a wide range of coloring and drawing books that will spark the imagination of children.  This book is especially awesome because it has a wide range of activities in one book.  There are pictures and patterns to color in and complete, various scenes for children to color in and add their own details and pages that will teach your child how to draw things step-by-step.  The book is filled with a ton of modern and stylish pictures ranging from monsters, animals and food.  I have found that many of my kids, even those who typically resist any kid of drawing/coloring activities, love looking through this book and finding the "right" picture for them.   My favorite pages are those that teach kids how to draw different animals, people and objects step-by-step.  The directions are easy to follow but also leave plenty of room for kids to use their imagination and add their own details to pictures.  This book promises to be fun not only for your children, but for the adults who want to color and draw with them!

Here are a few handwriting/coloring tips to keep in mind when coloring with your children:
*always encourage a child to hold a writing instrument properly.  Broken crayons or short colored pencils are an easy way to get a child to hold a writing instrument with a tripod-like grasp. Some of my favorites are the Faber-Castell Jumbo Triangular Colored Pencils, Flip Crayons by Handwriting Without Tears and the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Markers.
*if you are working on increasing upper body strength, have children color on an elevated surface like an easel or tape the paper to a wall.
*let kids do what they want with colors....let them choose whatever color they want for what they are doing without telling them what they should do.  Coloring should be an activity that allows kids to express themselves and expand their imagination skills.  They want to color an elephant pink...go for it!
*try and encourage a child to stay in the lines when coloring, but don't make a big deal about it if they don't.
*work on building language skills by having children tell you a story about their picture.  Encourage them to elaborate and talk about the details by asking them meaningful questions.

With summer just a few days away, I'm finding that parents are asking me more about what they can do for their children to keep working on their fine motor and visual skills while they are taking a break from therapy.  Coloring, drawing and activity books are a great and fun way for kids to keep working on skills that have been addressed in therapy during the school year.  So many parents want to be more involved in their child's therapy but complain that the kids won't "work" for them.  Coloring is a great way to hide the therapy piece.

The books I suggested in this post are definitely geared more towards older kids, but there are many other books out there for younger kids.  If you want to read about books that are better suited for younger/pre-school aged children, check out this post here.

Do you have any great coloring or activity books that I should add to my library?  I'm looking forward to nights of coloring with my little girl this summer and would love to test out some new ones.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.