Monday, February 22, 2016

We Are Family!

When you work with children, you end up working with their entire family....and that's pretty fantastic.  We all know the importance of family, especially the role a sibling plays to a child who may have delays.  I believe that a pediatric occupational therapist has a lot of very important jobs and one of them is helping parents figure out the best way to promote a healthy sibling relationship.  I have lost count of how many times parents have told me that they feel terrible about the lack of attention their non-therapy children get.

There are a lot of ways to include siblings, especially those that are close in age, in the therapeutic process. As therapists, our goal is to make sure that the kids we work with meet their goals.  However, I find it equally important that I provide parents with activities that they can do at home with all of their children.  Kids spend a lot of time at home and for some parents, figuring out what to do with them at home can be difficult.  I try and suggest games, crafts and activities that can easily be done at home, especially for those times where the weather prevents kids from getting out of their houses.

Below, you will find some of the things I have done over the years to help support sibling relationships:

*whenever possible, I have siblings join in on a session...even if only for 5 minutes.  This is far more important when a sibling is close in age or a twin to the child you are treating who is always dragged from session to session and having to spend so much of their time in a waiting room.  This practice goes a long way for all people involved!  Maybe the parents or the caregivers get 5 minutes to run to the bathroom or make a phone call or maybe they can actually observe the shared time and pick up some of the language that you use to help make play time at home more successful.

*one of the things I like to do is help kids learn how to be the "masters" of a game during our sessions.  This means that they not only know how to play the game, but are able to set it up and explain the directions to people.  Once they are masters, I have the parents buy the game for home so they can play it with their siblings.  It is such a confidence booster for the kids to be able to be in charge of something as their siblings tend to be the ones in control most of the time.  It's important that the games are good for a variety of ages and that they aren't too complicated, especially when it comes to explaining the rules.  Some of my favorite family games:
-Yeti In My Spaghetti 
-Tumbling Monkeys
-any of the matching or simple games by Eeboo
-Thumbs Up
-Spot It

*cooking and baking with kids can be a great way to not only address some of the occupational therapy goals at home, but can also be a fun way to help in developing a good sibling relationship.  You want to try and keep things simple and with not too many steps or ingredients so you can encourage as much independent and cooperative play as possible during these moments.  Something like making pizzas (put all the ingredients out and let the kids go to town) is a great choice and one of my favorites.  Need other ideas, check out this great website that has tons of videos with cooking activities just for kids.  Obviously, be there to supervise and do all the important parent things like turning on the oven, putting food in and out, etc. but really try and let kids work through any of the problems they may run into.

*arts and crafts can be a great way to have kids play together at home and if you choose the right thing, they may not even need that much help from grownups.  If you have an easel, set it up with an endless amount of paper for them to color, paint or draw all over.  Once they are done with their masterpiece, have them tell you what they did or maybe have them tell a story and write it on the paper and then make a big deal and hang it up somewhere for everyone to see.  If you need inspiration for craft activities, do yourself a favor and spend some time searching Pinterest.  It may be an easy way to procrastinate, but can help you come up with some great ideas. And check out this link on Parents that can send you to a bunch of kid-friendly crafting sites. Some of my other favorites craft ideas:
Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics (get a set of large ones that they can work on together)
Pirasta Coloring Posters-these are a huge favorite for my daughter and my nieces.  They are large enough that at least two can get involved in the coloring fun....many more if you get the super big posters!
Play-Doh Sets

*last, but not least, blocks and other kinds of building toys make a great activity for siblings to do together.  They can work together to build something and then can add characters and spend some time doing imaginative play together.  Investing in good building toys is worth might hurt the wallet at the time of the purchase, but good ones will take a good beating and still last forever.  Some of my favorites (and ones that are used in my house all the time) are:
Tegu Magnetic Blocks
Janod Building and Construction Toy Sets

As one of four girls, I realize how important a good sibling relationship is and how it is can be easy for one child to feel like they are getting short changed on attention.  As a therapist, I think it is important that we do what we can to help families understand how easy it is for them to play together, no matter what kind of difficulties one of their children may be having.  Try and encourage parents to take their kids outside and play together whenever the opportunity comes up.  Whether it be blowing and catching bubbles, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, kicking a ball back and forth to one another or one pushing the other on a swing, there are tons of ways that parents can help strengthen the relationship between their children instead of one feeling slighted.  Let's not forget how much children learn from each other...especially what they can learn from a sibling that they adore.

I know I am not the first therapist/professional who works with children that has faced this particular problem:  advising parents what to do to foster a healthy sibling relationship and limit the amount of guilt the parents feel about providing one child with more attention than the other.  What kind of advice or activities do you suggest?  Do you have a favorite Pinterest board or websites that you rely on for helping you come up with activities to do with your children?  Not only would I love to hear some of the things you all suggest to parents, I know that my readers would love to hear as well.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Monday, February 15, 2016

It's Okay to Play With This Food!

It's been a while since I found a new game that I felt worth sharing.  To be honest, when I find something, it sticks around for a while.  For example, Tumbling Monkeys and Wok N' Roll have been part of my work routine for as long as I can remember.  When I read about how cold it was going to be this past weekend and that I would be entertaining not only my daughter but also another friend of hers, I decided it was time to add some new games to my daughter's collection. I went into my local toy store, Little Things, in Park Slope and could have gone a little crazy.  I was drawn to many of the educational games but knew that it wouldn't be well received by my daughter who is officially on winter break.  Instead, I went with a game that help work on improving her fine motor skills, particularly something that might help promote a better grip.  Yeti In My Spaghetti, by Play Monster (formerly known as Patch), was a HUGE hit with both my daughter and her friend.

I like when games are simple and easy for kids to play...that means that grownups don't have to struggle when reading the directions in order to figure out how to explain the game to said kids! How many of you have purchased a game like that and then never played it because you just couldn't figure it out??  Nothing frustrates me more!  Even better, there are no batteries required which means that this is a quiet game free of noise and lights!  The object of Yeti In My Spaghetti is quite simple:  place the 30 pieces of spaghetti over the bowl in a criss cross pattern and then place the Yeti on top of your pile.  Choose who is going to go first and begin pulling the spaghetti out from under the Yeti without letting him fall into the bowl.  You must be mindful, look at what you are doing and take your time when pulling the spaghetti pieces out because if the Yeti falls while you are pulling it out, the game is over.

Besides the fact that this game is fun, it is great for working on a ton of skills for your little friends (I can't help but let my occupational therapy brain go there).  Ideal for kids starting at age 4 (or a super patient 3 year old) and perfect for working on:
*facilitating a pincer grasp as you pull the spaghetti pieces out
*improving eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills as you scan and plan what piece is best to take out from under the Yeti
*improve executive functioning skills, especially focus and attention and organizational skills
*improving social skills such as turn taking, good sportsmanship and teamwork (you can play in teams)

If you begin to get bored with the game, you can come up with some alternative ways to play it.  For example, add a dice to the game and have kids roll it and then take how ever many pieces of spaghetti that they roll.  If you really want to work on improving fine motor skills, have the kids remove the spaghetti pieces using a strawberry huller.  Do you have any other ways to vary how to play this game?

If you have kids or work with kids, I highly recommend this game.  Reasonably priced, easy to carry around and most importantly, fun to play.  Great for parents or therapists, even those that travel from home to home, since it is lightweight and doesn't require batteries.

If any of you have any great games that you have recently discovered or ones that are long time favorites, please share them with me and my my readers.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Goody Goody Gumdrops! Drawing Made Easy and Fun!

For those of you who are regular readers, you will know that I am always on the lookout for new activity and drawing books.  Yesterday, while walking through one of my favorite Park Slope stores, Annie's Blue Ribbon General Store, I found a great new drawing book:  Goody Gumdrops.  Some kids are naturals when it comes to drawing.  They think about what they want to draw and just go with it.  But for many of the kids I work with, this is not the case.  Not only is not easy for them, it is something that causes them to get frustrated and makes them want to avoid the task all together.

I was eager to test out Goody Gumdrops by Ed Emberley after I saw it the other day. My almost 6 year old daughter was also very eager to test it out and then played with it for about an hour. It is one of the cutest and easy to follow drawing books out there.  If you are unfamiliar with Ed Emberley, he has books filled with easy and creative ways to teach children (although I have learned as well) how to draw by breaking it down into simple steps.  I loved the fingerprint books that were (and still are today) around when I was growing up.  Each page of the Goody Gumdrops book contains two different colored gumdrops with two sets of directions to follow in order to learn how to make a variety of animals. On the back side of the page, there are two other gumdrops that you can try and make the animals without the visual cues.  Kids will learn how to make almost any animal you can imagine.  My daughter loved learning how to draw a hedgehog!  By adding simple shapes and lines to the gumdrops, they have a higher chance of success learning how to draw.  At the end of the book, there are a bunch of other pages with frames for kids to make larger creations that they can then share with people.

Learning how to draw is an important part of growing up.  Not only is it a great way to work on improving graphomotor skills, but it is also great for increasing a child's confidence and self-esteem.  It's also the way kids begin to learn how to tell stories.  Before they learn how to write, they need to rely on drawing pictures to tell us stories.  Often times, kids avoid drawing because it is hard for them and they don't think they are good at it.  Forcing them to draw won't make them learn any better or faster.  Actually, forcing a child to do something that is hard for them may make them hate it and avoid it even more. It's critical that when working on a more challenging skill, that you make it fun and motivating for them to work on.

I am excited to begin using Goody Gumdrops with my kids at work.  It's definitely going to be one of the books that I recommend to families to use at home with their kids.  Do you have any great learn to draw books that you use or recommend to others?  If you have anything wonderful to suggest, I would love to hear about them.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Book Worth Reading

I'm sure many of you have had this experience before:  you walk into a bookstore with something in mind and you are drawn to another book (or 5) for whatever reason.  This happens to me a lot lately.  In addition to my work as an occupational therapist, I run a social skills group for The Meeting House.  The group is made up of children 5-8 years of age with a variety of social delays.  During the beginning of the weekly group, we have free choice and one of the very popular choices is reading books.  It's been so fun to find books that help children learn about feelings, emotions and other aspects of social emotional learning. 
Last week, I saw drawn to the beautiful cover of the book Be A Friend by Salina Yoon.  I was brought close to tears reading the story in Barnes and Noble and have shared it with just about every person I have run into since.  The story and illustrations are so incredibly beautiful and teach such an important lesson:  it's okay to be different.  

The basic premise of the book is simple:  Everyone Needs Someone.  In this case, that someone is a little boy named Dennis who doesn't speak but has a wild imagination and shares his thoughts and ideas through his actions.  Not many of the kids who are near him can be bothered by his behaviors but one day a little girl named Joy decides to take the brave step to get to know Dennis a bit more.  With time, they develop a beautiful friendship that relies on accepting and embracing someone who might be different.  In the end, the other children in Joy and Dennis' class saw what fun they had together and ended up joining in on their imaginative play.  

If you work with children, have a children or know anybody with children, I highly recommend this book being part of their library.  Sometimes children learn lessons better through stories and this story will be such an opportunity to have conversations with your children about accepting and understanding how every child is different.  Just because they may look, act or talk differently, it doesn't mean that you can't be their friend.  

I have several books about friendship for kids, but I have a special love for Be A Friend.  If you have a child who feels different from others, be sure to get this for them and read it to them again and again.