Thursday, November 12, 2015

Life Is An Open Book

This is a new addition to the gift guide.  My daughter is now 5 years old and in kindergarten so this is something that has been a major focus at home with her.  Finding fun and motivating ways to teach her how to spell, read and tell stories has been tricky.  However, there are so many great books and writing activities out there that have made such a big difference for

Over the course of the year, I've discovered some pretty great books that would make the perfect gift for those little bookworms in your life.  There is nothing like a good book, especially a good book that teaches important  life lessons to our little ones.  I could list a million books (not even exaggerating) but I am going to stick to ones that have teachable moments built in.  Ones that you can use to help children learn to be more creative are my favorite.

Just as important as the books, are the tools you can use to teach children how to learn the letters of the alphabet and numbers, learn how to read, spell and write.  Over the course of my career, I have tested out more toys than I can remember.  There are a lot to choose from and as parents, it can be very confusing to figure out which ones are the best for your child.

Below, you will find a handful of books that I think should be part of everyone's library.  You will also find different toys, games and activities that have been proven to be successful with the kids that I have worked with.  All of the activities I have mentioned are ones that can be used at home in a fun way.  They aren't workbooks, but real toys and activities that can be fun for children of all abilities.

I Am Books-I was introduced to these amazing children's books by one of the families I work with.  Brad Meltzer has written a series of books about real life heroes.  They are each written from the perspective of these heroes as children and talks about the struggles they had growing up.  He highlights what made them different and how they took those differences and made the world better.  For example, did you know that Albert Einstein was a later talker?  Or that Lucille Ball was encouraged to not be so funny?  My daughter who is 5 1/2 adores these books and I have been so impressed with what she has learned from each of them.  The questions she has asked and what she has taken from each book has been so fun to watch.
I Am Amelia Earhardt
I Am Rosa Parks
I Am Lucille Ball
I Am Helen Keller
I Am Martin Luther King
I Am Albert Einstein
I Am Jackie Robinson
I Am Abraham Lincoln
Disney Pixar Inside Out Box of Mixed Emotions-the success of the movie Inside Out was no surprise to me once I saw it the first time.  The kids I work with loved it and I loved how this movie helped kids feel okay about expressing their feelings and gain a better sense of understanding about their emotions.  When I saw these books, I had to pick them up to bring to work.  I run a social skills group at  The Meeting House for children with a variety of social difficulties.  We have put these books out for the kids during our snack and hangout time and they love them.  This set of 5 books features each emotion.  They are easy to read and even if you have a kid who can't read, they can look at the pictures instead.
In My Heart:  A Book of Feelings-this book by Jo Witeck is a brilliant and beautiful book about feelings.  For many of the kids I work with, understanding your feelings can be quite challenging.  In addition to being an occupational therapist, I work for The Meeting House, a recreational based after school program for awesome kids who have social difficulties.  This book is great for
Little Book of Big Fears-this book is written and illustrated by Monica Arnaldo and talks about all different kinds of things that people may be afraid of.  It introduces you to 16 children (in alphabetical order) who are each afraid of something different.  Drew is scared of raccoons and Quinn is horrified by needles.  Not all letters of the alphabet are in the book, but that is on purpose.  The letters that are missing spell out Gutsy and Brave....two things that will help a child get over their fears. This is a cute little book that helps children understand that it's okay to be scared of things and that there are ways to deal with those fears.
Hope Learning Toys-this brand of nature based learning toys have been created by a mother, teacher and toy lover.  Using a variety of objects found in the beautiful state of Maine, Heather has gathered rocks, shells, branches and wood to come up with an amazing set of learning toys.  My daughter has the Vintage Letter Alphabet Stones and adores them.  As soon as she received them, she started exploring them.  I loved that she wanted to put all the stones in alphabetical order while making their sounds.  We have been using them with her to practice her sight words during homework time and it has made it more interesting and exciting for her.  There are so many products to choose from beyond just the alphabet products.  I, for one, can't wait for the phonics matching game using wood from my favorite tree, the lilac tree.  You need to really spend some time exploring the Hope Learning Toys Etsy shop to find what products are best for your child.
Kids Story Maker-created by Magnetic Poetry, this kid friendly magnet sets encourages kids to build their own crazy stories using over 150 different word magnets.  I love how they have color coded all the words by different parts of language to reinforce nouns, verbs, prepositions, adjectives, etc..  For so many of the kids I work with, writing a story can be really challenging for them (decreased writing endurance) but they have lots of ideas.  For those kids who need some creative ways to practice telling stories, this is a great solution.  You can make a long-term project out of it by having them write a few sentences at a time...first they create their story by putting the magnets up and then they can copy them into a book.
Tell Tale-another great storytelling game by Blue Orange.  Tell Tale has three different versions to choose from (original, Fairy Tale and Disney Pixar).  Using the 60 different cards and illustrated rules, kids and families work together to make a story.  It's hard to bore of this game because it's different every time you play.  The best part is that kids are learning the whole entire time but having tons of fun.  If you want to work on handwriting, you can have the kids write their stories out as they are telling it.  It might take more than one session in order to complete it, but I am always happy to find activities that we can do over the course of a few sessions.  Great for working on improving processing speed, verbal abilities, attention and problem solving and reasoning skills.
Alphabet Magnetibook-another great magnet book by Janod.  This is the perfect on the go toy to work on learning how to spell.  The set comes with 26 pictures and over 100 letter tiles. Each picture has the name spelt out so kids can dig through the letters and put them in the correct order.  I love how the magnet board is in a grid (reminds me of graph paper), requiring them to focus on putting the letters in the blocks and staying in order.  For older kids, you could find magnets of pictures without the words written on them in order to practice spelling.  This toy is not only great for working on learning the alphabet and learning how to spell, but great for working on developing fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills.
BabyLit Playsets-I am a HUGE fan of the BabyLit series of board books.  They make such great  presents for all kids, especially kids of parents who love the classics.  When I saw these playsets, I got so excited.  There are four to choose from:   Pride and PrejudiceAlice in WonderlandMoby Dick and The Jungle Book.  Each set comes with the original board book and different punch-out cards featuring the different characters from the story. The box it comes in doubles as the scenery/background for the story.  These are great for working on improving focus and attention, language skills and creative skills.  You can also work on improving fine motor skills and visual motor/perceptual by pushing the pieces out of the board and putting them together to play with them.  I can't wait to get a couple of these sets not only for gifts, but to use in my social skills groups to put on little plays with the kids.

When kids learn how to read and write, the world opens up to them in the most exciting of ways.  The tricky part is actually finding ways to encourage kids.  The books and activities I talked about in this post have been proven to teach kids.  The most important thing about each of them is that they are fun and that it ends up giving them confidence.  My rule is to always start out simple and increase the challenges as the kids master them.  Kids are way more likely to keep trying when they are given the time to move at their own pace.

Do you have any great books that you have read that you want to share with my readers?  How about alphabet and handwriting games or activities that your kids love?  I would love to hear from any and all of with your suggestions.  I am always a click away and so appreciate all the suggestions that have been given to me from you all.

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