Monday, August 29, 2016

This Is Just The Beginning of Your Story

As my daughter gets older, I find that she has become much more interested in stories.  Not only listening to stories, but creating her own.  She likes coming up with the stories, the characters and drawing pictures to go along with her stories.  I love watching her work feverishly on these stories and can see that her confidence just soars as she shares them with whoever will listen to them.  She enters first grade next week and I know that the expectations for handwriting and being able to write stories will increase significantly and I am so happy to have her feeling more confident and sure about what kinds of things she has created.

In my years of working with school age children, I have come to realize that this ability to come up with and write stories can be quite difficult for children with learning difficulties.  The very thought of having to come up with a whole story can cause them to become incredibly anxious.  However, if you help them start the story, they are more likely to be able to come up with ideas on how to end the story.  I have used a lot of different things when working with some of my kids to help them including Rory's Story Cubes (these are really great but sometimes just not enough for some of my kids who are really struggling).  Recently, while out shopping with my daughter, I discovered something even more wonderful:  And Then Story Starters by Live Inspired.  In short, And Then Story Starters are a set of 20 illustrated cards with the beginning of a story.  After listening to the beginning of the story, it is up to the child to come up with how the story will end.  There is no right or wrong way to end the stories which helps children feel more comfortable with telling their story.  With my daughter, we have done a few different things which have all been fun. The simplest idea was we would read her the beginning of the story and then we would take turns telling our ending.  At times, we had to push her to come up with more than just a sentence and to add details.  After a few tries, we didn't have to prompt her quite as much.  The other thing we did was read the story to her, give her writing utensils and a blank piece of paper and let her draw out the way her story would end.  She enjoyed both of the ways, but she is really into drawing and I felt like she was more creative and her ideas were meatier when she was able to draw it out and then tell us her story.  

As a parent, I love finding products that will inspire and encourage creativity in my daughter.  But since I am a therapist, I am always looking at the possible therapeutic benefits of any of those products. In addition to what I have already mentioned above, And Then Story Starters are perfect for working on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-this is such a great activity to work on a variety of executive functioning skills.  It doesn't matter if the children are just verbally telling you the story or if they are writing it out and illustrating it, the skills being worked on are the same.  This activity requires the ability to focus and attend and organize their thoughts and ideas.  They need to be able to prioritize what It also requires a child to use working memory (the ability to hold information presented to them and use it to complete the task at hand).
Improve Graphomotor Skills-depending on the age and goals you have for the children you are working with, you can have the kids write out their stories.  For older kids, I would grab a composition book and have them copy the beginning part of the story that's been provided.  Once they are done with that, they can write the rest of their story.  Another great thing you can do is have kids illustrate the end of the story.  You can get a set of blank storybooks (I like these by Mead because many of the kids I work with need lines to write in and this one has the right size lines and a space for drawing a picture) and use it just for their story starter cards.
Improve Creativity/Imagination Skills-as I have already mentioned, not everyone is born with a creative side and the ability to use their imagination.  However, sometimes if they are given a little boost, they are able to tap into their creative side.   And Then Story Starters are a great tool to give those kids who need a push/some inspiration.  The hope is that once they build some confidence using these cards, they will be able to come up with their own thoughts and ideas when writing stories.

Not only are these cards great for use in an occupational therapy setting, they are perfect for educators and speech and language therapists to use.  Wouldn't it be fun for a teacher to give a class of students the same story and see how each child made the story their own?   For speech therapists, they can play a game where they can go back and forth in adding to the story (be sure to write it down so they can show their parents!)....helps with conversational skills, focus/attention and being flexible with thoughts and ideas.

I'm getting excited about using the And Then Story Starters at work and have already been recommending them to family and friends for their children.  In a day and time where so much of us (myself included) rely on technology and electronics, it's nice to have an option that is more hands on.  Not only is this a fabulous tool for all of the reasons I have mentioned above, it is a great way for parents and kids to work together and create.  The best thing about the And Then Story Starters is that you can use them over and over again coming up with different fun and creative stories each time.

If you have any other great products like this you have used in the past, I would love to hear about them and use them with my kids at work and my own child at home.  It's great to have a fun way to inspire imagination and creativity and improve a child's self-esteem and confidence.  I am always a click away and love hearing from all of you!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hatch N' Some Fun!

It's been a while since I have blogged about a toy.  I've been trying to recyle and re-discover some of my old stuff that has been hidden deep in my closet this summer but a couple of weeks ago, I could see that I needed something fresh and exciting for the remainder of the summer.  For those of you who read my blog consistently, you know that finding a new toy that the kids are excited to play with is like winning the lottery.  Finding a toy that will actually work on occupational therapy goals is even more exciting for me!

A couple of weeks ago, I was searching for some Finding Dory toys for work.  It's all the kids at work are talking about this summer and I wanted to see what I could find.  On my hunt, I found these things called Hatch N' Heroes.  I had never heard of them but I had to test them out as they seemed like the most perfect occupational therapy toy/tool.  Simply put, Hatch N Heroes are egg shaped toys that can transform into different characters.  Remembering how popular any transformer toys were when I was growing up, I felt like it would be a fun thing to try with the kids.  It was especially exciting to find characters like Nemo, Dory, Lightning McQueen, Woody and a bunch of other popular characters.

These simple and affordable toys are a great tool to work on improving fine motor and manipulation skills.  Some kids require some more verbal prompting and assistance from me, but I've been impressed with how kids are eager to figure out this "puzzle" So far, all the kids are loving them but some of the younger kids require verbal prompting and some hand over hand assistance to successfully turn the egg into the character.

In addition to being really cute, Hatch N Heroes are great for working on a bunch of occupational therapy goals.  Some of the skills that can be worked on when using them are:
Improve Fine Motor/Manipulation Skills-as already mentioned, these are a great toy to work on fine motor skills. The eggs are small, so the kids are forced to use a fine pincer grasp when pulling out some of the pieces.
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-while I have seen kids try to play with them with one hand, they have quickly discovered on their own that it is a lot easier and takes a lot less time when they use one hand to hold the egg and the other one to do all the work.
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-great for working on improving focus and attention, organizational skills and problem solving.  Kids need to be patient while they try and figure out how you move the pieces to transform the egg into the character.  For some of my older kids, I see if they can turn the egg into the character without my assistance.  For the younger kids, they tend it's a great way to work on following verbal directions.
Improve Graphomotor Skills-for some of my older kids who are working on writing, I use these Hatch N Heroes in an obstacle course where the final step is writing the name of the character they just rescued from the top of the mountain.  There is something about all the big body work that takes place prior to the actual handwriting that helps the kids get more organized and focused for the handwriting task. And let's be honest....if a kid gets to be a superhero and save anything, they will be way more open to any kind of handwriting activity!

As you can see, these little toys are packed with lots of benefits for kids.  I like that they are small and can be carried around easily in a bag for traveling.  There are no batteries required, so you don't have to worry about them making any noise other than the sounds that kids will make when they are acting out scenes with the characters (this has been happening a lot for me!).  One thing to keep in mind is that they are plastic toys with a little moving pieces and if one of the pieces is bent the wrong way or pulled too hard, it might fall off.  The good news is that they are easy to put back on.

So, if you are looking for something new and exciting for your kids, be sure to keep your eyes open for these toys.  These are the kinds of toys that you will want to play with with your kids!  I have been searching every local toy store, Toys R Us and looking for any  new ones.