Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What's On My iPad

I had grand plans this summer to do wonderful things with my blog and write at least weekly...maybe even more.  Well, the beach and my kid called and I hardly wrote at all.  Now I am playing catch up because this time next week, I'll be in that back to school panic mode and worry I won't have time to write.

I spend a lot of my summer trying to figure out ways to get things new and fresh for the new school year.  While there are a ton of apps on my iPad that I've had for years and that the kids never tire of, I like to add new ones.  In this post, I will share the apps that are the most popular with the kids in my life right now.  Some may have been written about before and others will be new.  The common factor is that they are fun, motivating and worth every penny (for those that you have to purchase).

I know that using an iPad in therapy is not for everyone and I certainly don't use as my sole means of
teaching a child a skill.  The truth is that using an iPad and finding good apps can be really motivating, especially to children who are struggling with skills.  I have found that an iPad is exciting for them, particularly for those children who don't have access to one at home.  Another great thing about it is that it is easily used in conjunction with other activities that address similar goals.  For example, how many of you have a kid or work with a kid who will avoid handwriting at all costs?  I have had so much more success with getting a kid to pick up a pencil and copy a shape or write a letter or number after they have practiced it on the iPad.  There are also a lot of ways to make using an iPad more therapeutic:
*use a stylus whenever you can while using the iPad, especially if you have a child who needs to work on improving their grip on writing instruments.  My favorites are the the iCreate Crayon stylus, the Kikkerland Retro Stylus and the Paper Mate 2 in 1 Stylus pen.
*whenever possible, I have my kids lie prone on the net swing or over a bolster when using the iPad.  This works on improving upper body strength but they are often so focused on what's on the screen that they aren't focusing on being or getting tired.
*when appropriate, try and have kids work together to play the iPad.  People don't think something like an iPad can encourage social skills, but I have found that it is a wonderful tool for that.  Turn taking, problem solving for puzzle games and increasing pragmatic language are all things that can be worked on using an iPad
*bring parents in and show them the apps you are using with their child so they can do them with them at home.  Parents are always asking me for things that they can do that isn't really work.  I know from trying to "work" with my own child, that if it looks like work to her, she won't do it for me.  Making sure it is fun goes a long way and parents feel good that they are having quality time with their children while working on important skills.

Here are my iPad choices for right now.  Each of them has been kid tested and therapist approved!  

Star Gurus-I'm always looking for connect-the-dot like apps but most of them are boring and the kids tire of them quickly.  Additionally, you get a couple of puzzles and then have to keep paying extra money in order to add more to your collection.  A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon Star Gurus by Colto, a wonderful a creative studio dedicated to creating educational apps that will "make your kids smile", and was so excited by how captivating and motivating they were.  In addition to teaching your kids to count, it works on improving eye-hand coordination, visual tracking and several other occupational therapy skills.  One of the things I like about this particular connect-the-dot app is that you also have the option of counting by 2s or 10s which makes this more appropriate for some of the older kids on your caseload.  I have also found that the kids I work with are super motivated about the final product of connecting the dots....once all the stars are connected, they form a constellation.  Very motivating and exciting for kids, especially those who are interested in stars!

Shape Gurus-another great app by Colto, Shape Gurus is a fun and motivating way to learn about shapes, colors and early geometry skills (I wish I  had something like this for myself when I was growing up!).  This app is appropriate for children as young as 2 years old, but the older preschoolers and young school age kids on my caseload are loving it.  Shape Gurus stimulates creative problem solving, sequencing, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and many more.  I like how each puzzle moves into the next one allowing the parent or therapist to work on building language skills at the same time.  At the same time, it can work on increasing attention span.  Since each puzzle moves into the next one, the kids are engaged and not wanting to stop playing the game.  Some of my kids with the shortest of attention spans easily spent the 15 minutes it took to complete the whole game without any encouragement from me.   

Lazoo Art Box-I wrote about this one in great detail here a few weeks ago, but didn't want to leave it off this list of my favorites.  Lazoo has been a long time favorite of mine and I discovered their apps because of the amazing activity books that they have developed over the years.  They have taken the magic and uniqueness of their books and put them into a truly dynamic and motivating app that encourages, motivates and gets kids excited about art.  The best part for me is that while there are clear ideas and suggestions about what to do (i.e. draw something coming out of an elephant's trunk, put swirly wool on a lamb or color in an airplane before it takes flight), they leave plenty of room for a child to think outside of the box and be as creative as they want to.  Lazoo Art Box is a great way to work on improving graphomotor skills such as 

LetterSchool-as for as handwriting apps go, LetterSchool continues to be my go to and the first one I recommend to parents who are looking for a fun way to practice letters with their children.  Whether you want to begin working on teaching children how to write their letters or if you want to review what they already know, this is the best app out there.  It comes with three options:  uppercase, lowercase and numbers.  There are two levels of play for lots of practice.  For each letter and number, you work through 3 games (tap, trace and write) in order to earn stars.  Once you have completed both the silver and gold levels of play, you can then unlock the opportunity to do free-form writing.   Don't forget to use your stylus when using this app!

Winky Think-Spinlight Studio is a series of logic puzzles that will help your kids develop problem solving and fine motor skills.  Due to the puzzles getting increasingly more challenging, this app is appropriate for preschoolers and school age children.  To quote my 5 year old daughter, "This started really easy but it's getting more difficult!"  However, it doesn't stop her from doing the harder puzzles and feeling more proud of herself when she gets the puzzles on her own.  I've tested it out a few times and must admit that I ended up getting sucked into it as well!  With each puzzle, kids learn a new tool that will help them solve puzzles that will show up later in the game.  One of the things I like most about this is that there is no timer and the children are given as much time as they need in order to solve each puzzle.  Often times these kind of math and reasoning games are timed and end up causing the kids I work with to get nervous and have increased difficulty in completing it.  Another great app for older kids.

Avokiddo Think Rolls/Think Rolls 2-another one of those apps that I have written about in great detail before but can't be left off this list.  Most of the apps I have are geared towards the preschool or early school age kids.  Finding apps that will keep the attention of the older kids on my caseload is more difficult and when I find one, I am super happy.  You can read all about all of the Avokiddo apps in this post here but Think Rolls and Think Rolls 2 is awesome for the older kids on my caseload.  Kids choose a character and have to move them through a series of obstacles and mazes.  Each chapter introduces a new object with a unique physical property that kids will have to manipulate and experiment with in order to get through each puzzle.  These games are great for working on focus, attentional and problem solving skills.  I sometimes have kids play this game together in order to work on improving social skills.  It's a great app for kids to problem solve and work together to solve the puzzles...especially as it gets more and more challenging.

So, these are the apps that are getting the most screen time on my iPad.  I love that almost all of them are appropriate for a wide range of ages and that they are interesting and challenging enough that parents won't mind playing them with their kids.  As a new school year begins and you might be looking for educational but fun apps for your kids, I recommend any or all of these 6 apps.  I know that we tend to try and decrease the amount of screen time our kids have during the school year, but rest assured that any of these will help with learning and building important skills that will carryover into what they are focusing on in school.

Do you have any great apps you discovered this summer?  Now that my own child is going into school, finding wonderful apps is even more important for me.  Send along any suggestions, questions or thoughts to me.  I am only a click away and love hearing from each and every one of you!

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