Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The (Pet) Doctor Is In!

It's been a while since I last did a post on apps here.  I think it might have to do with the fact that I am not so into change and I keep using the same ones.  Cause let's be honest, if it isn't broken, why fix it? Sounds crazy, but that is how I feel about a good app.  If you want to read about some of my favorite apps, you can read this post from this past December or this one from last September.

I just replaced my cracked iPad and with that came a cleansing of sorts.  You know those Facebook status updates that talks about cleaning out their friend list?  Well, I did that with my apps.  I am carefully picking and choosing which ones to put on my new iPad and spending some time trying to find new apps that will motivate the kids I work with.

I feel like it is my duty to share good apps when I find them.  Especially when said apps will work on improving a variety of occupational and speech and language goals.  I do realize that the use of an iPad during therapy isn't for everyone but I have found that when used in conjunction with more hands on kind of therapeutic modalities, it can be highly effective and motivating.  Just to be clear, use of the iPad during my sessions is a treat and is only used for a short period of time.

My new favorite app is one called Little Fox Animal Doctor created by Fox and Sheep digital publishing.  Little Fox Animal Doctor is just one of the many apps I have created by this brilliant company (for fun, check out Chomp, Pony Style Box and Unicorn Glitterbox).  I was initially drawn to this app because the kids I work with love any of the apps I have that allow them to be a doctor.  They have played Pepi Doctor and Toca Boca Pet Doctor for hours so I was excited to offer another choice to them.  In this app, there are 5 different animals with 15 different possible ailments that you need to help cure.  Whether it be the bat who tore her wing that needs to be stitched up or the mole who hit his head on a rock while digging through the ground, kids get to play the doctor and take care of the cute animals who live in the forest.

Little Fox Animal Doctor has become a fast favorite amongst the kids I work with.  Here are just a few of the things that I like about it:
*before you can actually treat your animal patient, you have to watch a short video that shows how they got hurt.  Before we can move on, I have the children tell me what they saw and explain to me why their patient is there.
*this app is a wonderful tool to work on improving speech and language skills.  Jacki Barredo, a colleague and speech therapist in NYC says "Great app for speech therapists to work on goals for: sequencing, memory recall, and HOW questions.  The visuals are very dynamic and colorful, which is also great for working on descriptors."
*while the characters remain the same every time you play, their illnesses and the plan of treatment changes.  This makes it so the kids are not memorizing what they are doing but actually thinking about and what they have to do.  I love that it isn't as predictable as some of the other doctor ones I
*great for working on visual skills such as tracking, matching and organization.  On the top left hand part of the screen, there are pictures of the tools that you need to use to help your patient.  You then have to follow the steps provided in the correct order by finding the tools you need from the rotating medicine cabinet on the top right.  If you look at the picture to the right, you will see there are also some mini-games embedded within the app.  Here my friend Mack is fixing the broken bones of Ms. Owl who hurt her back while cleaning the house.
*great for working on improving executive functioning skills, such as focus/attention, modulation and regulation, planning and organizational skills.  For some of the kids I work with, I have them tell me their plan before helping their patient as I find this helps them organize and pace themselves while working.

As I have said in previous posts about apps and the iPad, there are lots of opportunities to work on additional goals while using the iPad.  For example, if you are working on improving grasping skills, have a child use a stylus when playing games.  My favorites are the Cosmonaut stylus and the crayon stylus by Fred & Friends.  Both are wide which helps to encourage a more age-appropriate grasp.  Another thing that can be done, which I do all the time, is have kids lie prone on a bolster or in the net swing while using the iPad.  This helps work on improving upper body strength and neck control/strength.  Kids are often so engaged by the app that they don't realize how hard they are working and can maintain this position for longer periods of time.  If you have a child who needs to work on improving social skills, you can have them play the iPad with a sibling or friend.  They will have to work together to make choices, talk through a plan and then execute said plan.

If you are looking for a new and engaging app for your children, be sure to check out Little Fox Animal Doctor.  It's one of those apps that are not only educational but fun for you to play with your children.  If you have a great family app that you have been using, please send them along.  I am only a click away and love hearing from each and every one of you.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Sometimes It's Good To Manipulate

One of the most common goals I have to work on is improving hand strength with the kids I work with.  Decreased grasp strength leads to children having delayed fine motor skills, including how to grasp a writing instrument and manipulate small objects. It also has an impact on children being able to be independently dress and undress themselves by manipulating buttons, snaps and other fasteners. It's important to find creative ways to work on building strength since it's not uncommon for kids with decreased grasp strength and delayed fine motor skills to have self-esteem and confidence issues.

When it comes to manipulative toys, everyone knows about Legos.  They are awesome and the most accessible manipulate toy in toys stores these days.  Personally, I have a daughter who has been collecting the Disney Princess and Elves collections over the last few months and we both have a ton of fun putting them together.  But if you are looking for something a little different to work with, there are a lot of options out there that may actually be a bit more affordable and lend themselves to encouraging creativity in young children.  An added bonus to all of the manipulative sets I will talk about are that they are great for working on improving hand strength, eye-hand coordination and bilateral coordination.  I can also tell you from my personal experience with all of the following building toys is that parents will have just as much fun playing with them!
Straws and Connectors Building Sets-thanks to an awesome SEIT/friend, I was introduced to straws and connectors.  There is nothing fancy about these toys but the kids love to build and create with them.  There are visual instructions that can be followed but oftentimes, it's great for kids to work together and build what comes to their minds.  The nice thing about these is that you can build something small or something really large that kids can interact with.  The kids that attend the social skills class I co-teach (The Meeting House in NYC) worked together to build a giant house that they could sit inside.  So in addition to being great for working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, they also can work on improving gross motor and motor planning skills.

Multicolor Snowflake Building Blocks-these snowflake shaped manipulative toys are perfect for encouraging kids to expand their imagination and creativity skills.  Whether children follow the visuals that come with the snowflake pieces (great for improving visual perceptual skills) or build something on their own, they will work on improving grasping skills, bilateral coordination and work on increasing hand strength in a fun and creative way.
Creative Toys Building Blocks 3D Puzzles-I saw these when I was working at The Meeting House last week and loved them at first sight.  One of the things I like best is that the kids were working together to build these elaborate creations.  It was fun to see how they were taking simple shapes and different size bars and pushing them together to connect them to build and create.  Kids who typically had a hard time working together and compromising with their friends were successfully planning out what they were going to make and helping each other add onto the structure.  In addition to working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, these are great for working on learning colors and shapes and sorting skills (have kids sort by shapes, colors, size, etc.).
Tinkertoys-there are certain toys that have been around for a long time and even though they have changed a bit over time, the purpose is still the same.  Tinkertoys are one of those toys.  I remember playing with them as a child and spending hours building and creating with friends.  This set from Fat Brain Toys is similar to the classic set from my childhood.  I liked how the straws/rods bend a bit so kids can add more details to their structures.  Spokes and spools snap together, bendable straws help connect pieces and use miscellaneous wheels, flags, washers, etc. to create and build whatever comes to a child's imagination.

The best part of all the toys above is that there is no right or wrong way to use them.  You can follow step-by-step directions if you want to, but you can also allow kids to interact with them and create with them using their imagination.  Given the amount of structured work our children have in school these days, it's important to offer lots of opportunites for kids to have open-ended and unstructured play.  Kids need to be able to have time to let their imaginations grow and all of the aforementioned manipulation toys do just that.  They can all be used independently or used with friends or siblings to work on improving critical social skills such as turn taking, compromise, flexibility and language skills.

I've had such fun testing and playing with all the toys written about above.  I am always looking for new products to keep the kids I work with excited and motivated to come to our sessions.  Do you have any great building toys that you/your kids love?  Please share your ideas with me and my readers if you do.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Friday, April 8, 2016

My Top 10 OT Tools

For those of you who aren't occupational therapists, you may not realize that April is Occupational Therapy Month.  It began in 1980 and was scheduled to coincide with the AOTA Conference and Expo.  I feel beyond fortunate to work in a field where there are so many dedicated professionals with the common goal of making life better and happier for people.

I thought it would be fun to make this week's post focus on my top 10 tools for my sessions.  While my closet and storage boxes are overflowing, there are a handful of things that I consistently use with kids of all ages and skill levels almost every single day.  The thing that is common amongst all of the items listed below are that they can be used at home with kids.  They are tools that a parent can have that will help us therapist's carry over some of the work that I do during my sessions.  They are things that don't take up a ton of space and don't require the knowledge of an occupational therapist to use.  Most of them are things that can be picked up in local toy stores or on Amazon.com.  Lastly, they are all affordable and things that can be modified depending on a child's age and skill level.

1.  Discovery Putty-for years, I was hiding objects and coins in therapy putty.  It served the purpose to help build strength in those little hands, but it got old and boring and the kids would lose interest quickly.  When I heard about Discovery Putty by Fun and Function, I quickly became obsessed and it became a fan favorite of all my kids.  Kids who used to avoid this activity now ask to find the animals, treats, vehicles or school supplies hidden in varying resistance of putty.

2.  Zoo Sticks-where shall I begin with my love for Zoo Sticks by Hog Wild Toys???  I began using them to pick up these squishy plastic animals to work on improving fine motor skills and grasp strength.  I now use them for pretty much anything I can....whether it is to pick up the pieces of fruit from a game like Hi Ho Cherry O or to pick up M&Ms to work on sorting by color, Zoo Sticks are a great, versatile and affordable tool to have at home.  I often suggest parents pick a few sets of these up to have eat dinner with.  It's an easy way to work on improving eye-hand coordination, grasp strength, visual motor skills and independence for feeding.  Plus, they are super fun and cool looking!

3. Stylus for an iPad-there are a ton of different kinds of stylus' to choose from these days.  And like most things, when there are so many to choose from, it becomes too difficult and we just opt to avoid. If you are going to use an iPad to help facilitate skills, especially handwriting skills, I always suggest using a stylus as it is  I have 3 that I recommend to parents these days:
iCreate Crayon Stylus-looks and feels like one of those fat Crayola crayons.  Good for promoting an appropriate grasp on a writing instrument.  Kids like to use it because it looks like something they are used to using
Kikkerland Retro Stylus Pen-light weight and provides a 2 in 1 writing option.  Kids can practice using an appropriate grip on an iPad and a piece of paper using the same writing instrument.
Cosmonaut-I've been through a lot of different stylus pens but right now, this is my absolute favorite. There is a lot to love about this $25 stylus....the width of the stylus makes it good for encouraging an appropriate tripod grasp.  The weight of it is good for encouraging a child to use the appropriate amount of pressure when writing with it.  Lastly, it is a very well made and durable stylus so it is able to a beating from a lot of use from kids.

4.  Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-I discovered these years ago and now always have a couple of sets in the office to work on with kids.  The idea is very simple:  kids have to match different colored stickers to the number that it goes with to make a colorful picture.  It's a great craft to work on improving fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  They are super motivating and fun activity to do with children of all ages.  Over the years, the selection has grown making it easy to find a set that will make your kid excited to complete.

5.  Spot It Games-I'm a big fan of games that are not only fun for kids to play, but easily adapted for all different ages and skill sets.  Spot It, by Blue Orange Games, is one of those kind of games.  There are a variety of ways to play this game, but the basic gist of it is that you have to find matching objects between cards.  Each card has an equal number of objects and even when you don't think it is at all possible, there is always one matching object.  Great for working on a variety of visual skills, focus and attention and social skills.  One of the best things about this game is that it is small, lightweight and easy to take with you.

6.  Crayola Triangular Crayons-these days, there are so many different brands of crayons to choose from that you can easily get confused.  I am a traditionalist when it comes to crayons and stick to Crayola...you know they are good quality and offer the best colors!  For my little ones, those beginning to color and draw, it's important that the crayons are wider making it easier for them to hold. I also encourage parents to get the triangle shaped crayons for two reasons:  it encourages a tripod-like grasp and they won't constantly roll off a table!  Another little trick:  break the crayons into two or three small pieces to encourage kids to use a non-fisted grasp when holding them.

7.  ZoomBall-the zoomball has been one of my favorite gross motor/upper body strengthening tools from the very beginning of my career.  Kids feel so good about themselves when they finally figure out how to get the ball going back and forth with a partner.  This is a good toy to have at home since it doesn't take up a lot of space.  Parents often ask what they can buy or do at home to work on strengthening and this is one of my top suggestions.  It's great for a kid to play with with their parents or siblings.  If you want to add a challenge, you can play a word game while playing:  think of a category (sport, food, color, etc.) and every time you send the ball back to your partner, you have to call off something in that category.

8.  Usborne Drawing Books-learning how to draw can be a challenging thing for kids.  And when something is challenging, kids will avoid it.  For me as a therapist, helping a child gain confidence with drawing is an important thing.  Drawing is a critical skill in young children as it is their first way of telling stories.  Usborne has a wonderful drawing book that teaches children how to draw everything animals to hot air balloons in easy to follow steps.  Kids will begin to see how you can draw so many different things by joining simple shapes together.  At the same time, their confidence will grow!

9.  Kumon Workbooks-it can be incredibly overwhelming walking into a bookstore trying to find the best workbooks for kids these days.  There are so many choices making it difficult to know which ones to get.  For years, I have been using and suggesting the Kumon workbooks.  My favorites are the cutting, coloring and pasting books for the younger kids but I really do love all of the books.  The pictures are always motivating and the paper is often thicker than most of the workbooks I have tried out in the past.  This is especially important for cutting....the thicker the paper is, the easier it is for children to have success with cutting.  Personally, I have a 6 year old daughter who asks for her cutting books at least once a week!

10.  Fiskar's Scissors-when kids are learning how to cut, it's really important to provide them with a good pair of scissors.  Ones that are the correct size, easy to open and close and cut through paper with little difficulty.  I can't tell you how many times I have walked into classrooms and had a teacher tell me that so many kids can't cut and they can't figure out why.  When I look at their scissors, they are often too big and the blades are full of glue and stickiness making it impossible for the kids to cut with ease.  Whenever anyone asks me for a scissor recommendation, I suggest Fiskar's children's scissors.  They never disappoint!

It was a lot of fun to put this list together and hope it will help some of you parents out.  It can be hard knowing what kinds of things you need at home to help your children be successful and oftentimes you think that you have to rely on the therapeutic catalouges where everything is much more expensive.  It's important to me to educate parents that more often than not, you can just adapt toys or tools for your children who may need more support.  If you have any questions or want some advice on other tools you can use at home, please feel free to email me.  I am a click away and love hearing from you all!