Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Childhood Highlight

As many of you, I have a lot of childhood memories that make me smile.  Some of them exist in some form today, but very few are almost exactly like they were when we were growing up.  One of my favorite things while growing up was sitting in a doctor's office and looking through the Highlights Magazine.  It seemed to distract me from why I was in that doctor's office.  One of my absolute favorite parts of the magazine was the Hidden Pictures page.  I always felt like I had hit the jackpot when I got to look at it before someone else had circled all the hidden objects.

Fast forward a bunch of years and I am a grownup (for the most part) and I am asked by one of my goddaughters to support her magazine drive.  The first thing I ordered was the Highlights Magazine and have been getting it ever since for my daughter.  Quinn, who just turned 6, loves it and especially loves the Hidden Pictures page.  So a few weeks ago, when someone reached out to me and asked me to take a look at the new Hidden Pictures app, I jumped on it.  I am always looking for new apps, especially ones that are more appropriate for the older kids and this app definitely fits that description.  While they say that it's ideal for children ages 6-8, I think that it can be used with younger children who have strong visual skills, especially if an adult is playing it with them.

So far, I am a big fan of the Hidden Pictures app.  More importantly, the kids are really enjoying it. The pictures are colorful, bold and and great at encouraging conversation (for my speech therapy friends).  It's a great app to work on a variety of occupational therapy skills without the kids feeling like they are "working".  It's more of a game to find all the different objects hidden throughout the pictures and at the same time, the kids are working on improving visual skills (visual motor, visual perceptual and visual tracking).  If you want to try and work on graphomotor skills, you can have the kids use a stylus (I've been using the Cosmonaut lately and love it) when using the app.  You can also have the kids write out the objects on a piece of paper as they find them to work on improving their handwriting skills.  One more thing I like to do is after the kids complete a puzzle on the iPad, I have them do another one in this great Hidden Pictures puzzle book that I have.  There are a bunch of these workbooks out there but I like this one because they have a bunch of black and white pictures that you have to take a handful of stickers and put them on top of the object when they find them.  This adds a greater challenge for those kids who are doing really well with the app.

Unlike the older version of the app, the updated one acts more like a subscription plan.  You sign up and each month a new set of puzzle packs are available.  When you first download the app, there are already 60+ puzzles!  You unlock puzzles as you complete others and there are even special items in the puzzles that need to be collected.  One of the things I like is how there are different modes to choose from so you increase or decrease the level of difficulty/challenge for each kid you work with.  The three modes of play to choose from are:
Free Play-find the hidden objects in whichever order and in however long it takes you
Timed-find all the hidden objects before the timer runs out
Directed-you find the hidden objects in a the order in which they are listed

Oftentimes, parents ask me for app recommendations that would be good for the whole family.  If you are looking for an app that would be good to facilitate social skills and collaboration with a sibling or a friend, this is a great one.  While it can be played  individually, it's also perfect for working as a team to find all the hidden objects.  The kids can take turns finding something or you can have them find one and then they have to give a hint to their friend in order to find the object that they found.  This is great for working on improving language and organizational skills for those kids you know who struggle with these things.

As I have been getting to know the app, I have to admit that I have been sucked into playing  it all by myself for long periods of time.  It brings me back to my childhood in the best possible way.  It's been fun to play this at work and at home and makes me happy that something this simple still brings hours of entertainment to kids today.  If you are on the lookout for a new app for your little ones, I highly recommend Hidden Pictures.  It's not only something that will help strengthen your child's visual skills, it's an app that you won't mind playing with your children.  If you have any questions or want to know more about the Hidden Pictures app, I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Springing into Spring!

Living in New York City and working with kids, I happen to have a real mix of kids who celebrate different holidays.  Since I grew up in a home that celebrates Easter, I happen to have more ideas on how to incorporate Easter themed activities into my sessions with the kids who also celebrate.  As I have lived here longer, I have had to come up with ways to make all my activities work for all kids.  If you read my blog regularly, you know that I love the holidays and how they allow for some creativity and change in my routine during my sessions.  Not only is it good for me to have new things to do, it's really good for the kids I work with.  They are so motivated by a totally new activity and makes them work harder during our sessions. Additionally, they love being able to do things that they can take home and share with their parents, siblings, friends, etc..

Here are a few of the things I will be pulling out this week.  For some kids, the activities will be Easter related and for others, it will be to celebrate the arrival of Spring.

Eggercise Hunt-one of the kids I work with has a thing for plastic eggs.  When he does a great job with something that is especially challenging for him, his mother rewards him with a surprise egg.  When looking in the stores this week, I saw the plastic eggs and was trying to think of a way to use them in my sessions.  After a little while, I decided that I would have a bit of an egg hunt with them at the gym.  I have 12 eggs and in each egg I have an activity hidden inside: 12 fine motor activities and 12 gross motor activities.  I have a feeling that the kids will have so much fun looking for the hidden eggs that they won't even realize that they are working.

Pompom Art-one of the things my kids love the most is when they get to take something home to share with their parents.  I try and do things that can be done quickly in the beginning of a session and hopefully be dried in time for them to take it home with them.  If not dried, I always take a picture of the child with their project and send it to their parents and then they can take it home with them the next time.  This week, I will be letting kids choose between an Easter egg or a spring flower picture that they get to paint with pompoms.  I like to have the kids paint with the pompom attached to a clothespin so they can have more control of what they are doing.  It is also a great way to work on encouraging an appropriate grasp on a writing instrument.  This activity is also great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  I like to use washable paint or ink pads for this activity as the colors tend to pop more and obviously, they clean off of little fingers, clothes and tables easily!

Cupcake Liner Flowers-this is something I have seen done a bunch of times but haven't really tried until now.  Using large muffin or cupcake liners, you can have kids practice cutting and coloring.  I like to give the kids I work with broken crayons to color with as it encourages a more appropriate writing grasp.  You can also find little stickers to decorate the flower with which is a great way to work on improving grasping skills.  If you want to add a challenge, get coffee filters and have your kids color them and then cut out the petals. It means coloring a larger surface and having to practice cutting a little more. Once colored and cut, you can add a stem using a pipe cleaner.

Fingerprint Art-nothing says spring to me more than flowers, chicks and bunnies.  Many of the kids I work with don't have the skills to draw these things so I have to find ways to simplify it for them.  I've always been a fan of Ed a matter of fact, I wrote about one of his newer books Gumdrops, a few weeks ago. Using fingerprints and drawing a few simple lines, kids can have more success with drawing.  If you celebrate Easter, you can make bunnies and chicks all over a piece of paper and make a card saying "Hoppy Easter".  If you don't celebrate, you can have the kids make a spring themed card using all the same animals.  One of the nice things about this particular craft is that it can be finished quickly so it can be taken home that same day.  For my older kids, I have them fill out the card so they can practice writing at the same time.

With  many of the kids I work with on vacation this week, parents are looking for things to do with their kids to keep them busy.  All of the activities I have suggested are easy to complete at home with a bunch of friends or with siblings.  If you happen to be near a Target this week, you should check out their bargain would be surprised by you can find for a steal.  I picked up a few really cute spring stamps that will be a big hit with the kids this week.

Do you have any fun crafts or activities that you do with your kids?  Ones that don't require a lot of supplies or take too much time to complete?  I would love to hear from you if you have anything I should add to my sessions this week.  I am always a click away and love hearing from each of you!

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Luck of the Crafty Irish

As a child, I grew up being told that there was no day more important for us irish than St. Patrick's day.  There was always a special treat for me and my sisters and there is even a fun family story about our father decorating our house from top to bottom after my sister complained that we never did anything to celebrate Valentine's Day!  As a pediatric therapist, I like to have a few good crafts up my sleeves for the big day.  Here are a few that I will be doing with my kids at work over the next few days.

Shamrock Dot Craft-this is a very simple and quick project for children of all ages.  All you need is a cardboard shamrock that you can most likely find at any party or card store.  Take the shamrock and tape it onto a piece of white paper.  You can either use green washable paint or a green stamp pad to make the outline.  Depending on the kid you are working with (do they freak out when their hands get dirty???), you can use their finger or an eraser on a pencil as their "stamp". Once they are done stamping around the shamrock, and it dries a little, they can peel off the shamrock template and they will have a big white space in that shape.   I prefer to find a larger shamrock to work around so that kids can then write about what they feel lucky for.

Shamrock Marble Painting-I am a big fan of marble painting in any form.  Great for working on bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination and focus and attention.  It's also a great activity for kids who may be more sensitive to getting their hands messy.  You can either find pre-cut shamrocks or cut one out on white paper or cardstock, tape them to the bottom of a cardboard box or a large tupperware that you are okay with getting dirty.  Choose some different shades of green paint and squirt a little of each into the box, throw about 1/2 dozen marbles into the box and let them roll away to make a fun pattern all over the shamrock.  If you are working with a kid over a couple of days, you can have them make the shamrock one day and write a message on the back when they come back.

Marshmallow Shamrock Stamping-if you are looking for something super easy and really fun, this might be your project.  All you need are a bag of large marshmallows, some green paint, a q-tip and some white paper.  Show the kids how to make a shamrock by placing three circle near each other, take a q-tip and have them make a stem and've got yourself a St. Patrick's Day clover.
*a real challenge for older kids would be to have them use the smaller marshmallows to make their shamrocks.  Makes them use those little hand muscles to a different level.  Plus, you can have the kids make cards for their loved ones either telling them what they feel lucky for or have them copy some Irish Proverbs onto a card.

Rainbow Bracelets or Necklaces-St. Patrick's Day isn't just about shamrocks, it's about rainbows and pots of gold.  A very simple, colorful and tasty activity is to make rainbow bracelets using Fruit Loops and pipe cleaners.  This is a fun way to work on improving bilateral coordination, visual motor, grasping, fine motor and sequencing skills.  Depending on the age of the children you are working with, you can have the colors all sorted out or make them sift through a bowl of Lucky Charms as they string the cereal onto the pipe cleaner.  You can decide on a necklace or bracelet based on the child's age, skill level and attention span.

Fruit Loop Rainbow and Pot of Gold-for some of my younger kids who are quite ready for shamrock making and stringing beads, I am going to use the Fruit Loops to make a rainbow.  It's an easy activity but works on so many great fine motor, visual motor and eye-hand coordination goals.  I found this free template that I will be using with the kids.  Again, depending on the child's age and skill level, I will either have all the colors pre-sorted for them or have them sift through and find the color they need.

While many of the kids I work with aren't Irish, it doesn't mean we can't use the day to do a fun craft and think about why we think we are lucky.  Kids also like any reason or holiday to be able to make something and take it home to give to those they love.  Do you have a work or family favorite St. Patrick's Day craft?  I would love to see some of the amazing things you do with your kids!  I am always a click away and love hearing from you.  And for those of you who celebrate....May The Luck of the Irish be with you always!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Let's Play Princess Dress-up

Almost two years, I wrote a post about the Disney Magiclip Dolls that had become a favorite of mine at home and at work.  All this time later, they are still a huge hit amongst the kids I work with and my almost 6 year old daughter.  I'm happy to report that they have been used hundreds and hundreds of times (literally) and have stood up to the beating they have gotten.

A few weeks ago, while trying to kill some time between clients, I stopped into a little toy store in the city and discovered a new line of Disney Princess dolls by Hasbro that grabbed my attention.  They looked a lot like the Magiclip Dolls mentioned above, but as an OT, I noticed that there was a bit more to them that would help improve fine motor and manipulation skills.  These Disney Princess Little Kingdom dolls and accessories have become a favorite of my almost 6 year old daughter.  I'm sure I've mentioned it before here, while my daughter doesn't receive therapy, she does have some weakness in her hands and has a terrible pencil grip so I am always on the lookout for toys that will help her in that area. Since she adores all things princesses, I knew that these dolls would be perfect at hiding the fact that we were working on something that she doesn't like to work on with me.  These princesses are easy to play with and all the outfits are interchangeable amongst the dolls.  The skirts and the bottom of dresses kind of slip on and off and the tops get pushed into a little hole on their chests.

You can buy a big set of the dolls or get them individually.  Some of the sets come with pets or other kinds of things (Anna has a bike that my daughter loves!).  Additionally, you can buy castles or some kind of home for them which is great for working on play and language skills.  Each of the dolls are only 3" tall meaning they don't take up a lot of room!  Excellent news for parents and therapists on the go.  As already mentioned, the outfits and accessories for each of the dolls are interchangeable so each time kids play with them, they can make different outfits.  My daughter has loved swapping the outfits  or having them wear just part of the dress and making it into a skirt instead.  Once you get the hang of it, it becomes quite simple to remove and replace all the different parts of the outfits. My favorite part of the dolls is the itty bitty accessories that come with each of the sets that you can use to decorate the outfits.  This is the part that is great for working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills.  Remind kids to use their "pinchers" when picking up the small pieces and pushing them into place!

In addition to working on fine motor skills, the Disney Princess Little Kingdom work on improving bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, motor planning and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.  The best part is that they are reasonably priced, especially when you think about the fact that you can use all the outfits and accessories with any doll.  I found a really good selection of them at State News on the Upper East Side of Manhattan but have also seen them at other local toy stores (I always like to support the mom and pop toy stores before going to Target or Amazon).

If you are on the lookout for an affordable, fun and portable toy (think restaurants, car/airplane rides, etc.), Disney Princess Little Kingdom dolls are the perfect thing.  If you have any questions, be sure to email me...I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!