Monday, January 30, 2017

New Year, New Toys

One of the things that tends to happen to me during holiday shopping for my daughter and other kids is that I end up getting lots of new things for work.  This is the time of the year where I begin to get bored with all my toys and games at work.  If I am getting bored, I imagine the kids are getting bored too.  After the holidays, I always roll out some new toys, games and activities and the kids are totally excited to come into therapy to see what new things await them.  I love the idea of starting the new year off with fresh toys and ideas and the kids are more motivated and engaged in our sessions because of them.  I sometimes even ask kids to bring in some of their favorite gifts that they got to share with me.  Not only are they excited to tell me all about their new things, I get to learn about other great products out there that I might not have heard about before.

During my holiday shopping, I discovered lots of new products.  That's what happens when you are in and out of tons of stores and spending too much time searching online.  So, while shopping for all the little ones on list this year, I also picked up lots of stuff for work.  Here are the things that have been the biggest hits so far:

Mame Ohagki Rainbow Beans-I am a total sucker for almost any wooden toys.  There is no stopping me from buying almost any rainbow wooden toys I stumble upon.  The rainbow bean set  by Mame Ohagki is a beautiful toy that comes with a bunch of little rainbow colored wooden beans, a bowl and a set of wooden chopsticks.  While this can be used to encourage free play and creativity, it is also great for working on developing fine motor and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination skills.  You can have kids work on sorting the different colored beans into piles or have them work on their counting skills.  By using the chopsticks, they are also working on increasing their grasp strength.
*for some of my younger kids, I have found that they have a hard time using the chopsticks provided.  I will provide them with a set of Zoo Sticks to make sure they have more success and don't end up getting frustrated by the task. 

Magic Moves Electronic Wand-getting kids up and moving around is important all the time, but it's especially important during the winter months when kids are not outside as much.  Let's face it, kids would rather be watching television or playing on some kind of electronical device so they need to be motivated to get up and workout.  The Magic Moves wand by Educational Insights promotes movement, gross motor skills and following directions.  Kids give the wand a shake and it will callout one of 90 different movements that the child then has to act out.  They may be asked to slither like a snake, fly like a bird, stomp like a bear and loads of other things.  This can be used 1:1 or with a group of kids.  Another similar product is the Magic Moves Jammin' Gym which is similar but instead of acting out movements, kids have to follow the directions to complete exercise movements (including some warm-up tasks).  One of the cool things about the Jammin' Gym wand is that if you go to their website you can print out 3 different posters that give you a visual to go along with the exercises.

Tobbly Wobbly-I was sold by this toy by Fat Brain Toys when I saw that they used one of my all time favorite toys, Squigz, on it to make an adorable little creature.  Think of this as a modern day Mr. Potato Head.  Tobbly Wobbly is an egg-shaped toy that comes with a 14 different Squigz and a two sheets of reusable stickers (everything can be conveniently stored inside the toy).  The Squigz can be turned into legs, arms, ears and even hair.  Kids can work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills while also working on improving body awareness.  Additionally, kids are working on improving bilateral coordination skills, hand-eye coordination, imagination and creativity.  Sometimes, I have the kids draw a picture of their Tobbly Wobbly all completed, especially for those kids who are still having a hard time drawing a picture of a person.

Willy's Wiggly Web-when I was looking for cooperative games for my social skills group, I found this one by Peaceable Kingdom and felt like it was made for an occupational therapist.  In this cooperative game, kids work together to cut all the bugs free from the web before Willy the spider falls.  Kids not only get to work on cutting skills in a fun and creative way, they also work on improving hand-eye coordination, problems solving and organizational skills.  There are 3 levels of play so kids of all ages and skill levels can play whichever one that they will be successful.

Getting Ready to Write Gumball Grab-this is a great game by Lakeshore Learning that works on improving fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Additionally, kids can work on learning colors and counting skills.  The point of the game is quite simple:  be the first to fill your gumball machine by matching the colors.  I love how easily adaptable this game is based on the skill level of your child.  For example, if you have younger kids, you can remove the cards that have you take gumballs off of your mat and just use the ones that have the kids add gumballs.  If your kids are struggling using the grabbers that are provided with the game, Kids can use their fingers but make sure that you encourage them to use their "pinchers (thumb and pointer finger)" when they pick up the gumballs.

These are just a few of the new things that I have been playing with this first month back at work after the holidays.  The kids have been excited to test things out and I am happy to have some fresh things to do with the kids that have them motivated to participate in therapy.  Did your children receive anything wonderful this holiday season or did you find a gift while you were shopping that may be a good addition to my bag of tricks?  I love hearing about new toys, games and activities!  I am just a click away and am always excited to hear from you all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Snow Day Fun!

I spent most of this past weekend playing outside in the snow.  I'm not sure who enjoys the snowy weather more:  me or my 6 1/2 year old daughter.  As soon as it starts snowing, she is asking to go out and play.  Whether it be helping out with shoveling the snow, building a snowman or going sledding, this kid of mine is happiest when it snows.

Playing with and in the snow offers lots of opportunities to work on occupational therapy goals.  For example, shoveling snow is a great activity to work on providing sensory input and work on overall body strengthening.  Building a snowman requires focus, attention and organizational skills, can work on improving strength and motor planning skills.  Even having a friendly snowball fight can be a therapeutic activity.  If you don't want to encourage throwing snowballs at other people, you can play a game where you set up targets (trees, garage doors, etc.) for the kids to throw snowballs at.

There are lots of people who like the way snow looks but don't want to have anything else to do with it.  There are also lots of people who love snow but live in places where it never snows.  Below, I have shared some things you can do inside when it snows and you'd rather stay warm and cozy inside or for those of you who live in warmer places and want to bring winter to you!

Homemade Snow: while many of us are lucky enough to get to play with actual snow, there are a lot of people who live in parts of this country/world who don't ever get to experience snow.  The good thing is that no matter where you live and what the weather is like, there are ways you can make your own snow.  In this very easy recipe, you can mix baking soda and white conditioner and make your own snow that you get to play with inside without having to get all bulked up or having to deal with the cold weather.
Mix 2 1/2 cups of baking soda with 1/2 cup of white conditioner....stir together in bowl until it reaches the consistency you like.
*this is super simple and affordable activity that works on improving bilateral coordination (hold bowl with one hand while using a spatula to stir the ingredients).
*if you have a kid who needs to work on improving tactile defensiveness, mixing these two ingredients with your hands can work on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills as well as help to expose kids with tactile defensive tendencies to an opportunity to get their hands dirty and in the mix of things.

Make Snowflakes: who doesn't remember spending hours as a child making paper snowflakes?
This is a great activity for kids of all ages because you can make it as simple or as complicated as they can handle.  My favorite thing is that all you need are scissors and paper to make something really cool and beautiful.  You can add paint, glitter or stickers if you want to add details.  One thing that I do is save the extra stickers from the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaic sets I have done with the kids to decorate the snowflakes.  They love adding the sparkly colors and I love that they can work on fine motor and manipulation skills at the same time.  This activity allows kids to work on improving fine motor skills in a fun and creative way.  For some of my younger kids, I will draw shapes for them to cut out and then have them color or paint their snowflake in to work on graphomotor skills.  With the older ones, I encourage them to design their snowflake by themselves.  If you need some inspiration, Kinderart has a bunch of templates for you to choose from.  Making paper snowflakes is also great for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination skills and focus, attentional and organizational skills.

Indoor Snowball Fight: my daughter loves a good snowball fight.  It doesn't matter if she is on the giving or receiving end of the fight, she just thinks it is one of the best parts of winter to her.  If you are fortunate enough to have enough space where you live and don't necessarily have the weather to have a snowball fight, then you should definitely pick up these indoor snowballs by Snowtime Anytime.  These soft snowballs are perfect to keep your kids entertained for hours on end.  The best part is that they are getting exercise and working on developmental skills without realizing it!  Kids can work on upper extremity strength, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and focus, attention, motor planning and organizational skills while playing!
There are so many different ways your kids can play with these snowballs.  They can have a safe snowball fight against each other.  You can set up targets for them to throw at with each target being worth points and the person with the most points at the end is the winner.  Another idea is that you can have a snowball throwing contest; each take a certain number of snowballs and throw as far as you can....the person who throws theirs the furthest is the winner.

Snowglobes: I've always loved looking at snow globes.  I am one of those people who can shake and stare at a snow globe for hours on end.  Once I realized how simple it was to make them, I have been doing it with the kids I work with.  This project can be customized based on your child's interests, favorite color, etc.. This project requires just a handful of inexpensive materials and very few steps.  You will need:
*Mason Jar (whatever size you want)
*Pure Glycerin
*Waterproof Glue or Epoxy
*Small, waterproof toys or figurines to put inside your globe
Here is how you make your snow globe:
1. Remove the lid of the mason jar and decide where you would like to put your figurines.  You will have to make sure that you don't put them too close to the edge or you won't be able to close the jar.
2.  Glue the figurines in place and let them dry.   Start by removing your mason jar lid and decide where you'd like to place your figurines. Make sure you are able to close your jar once they are in place.
3.  While things are drying, pour about a tablespoon of glitter into the jar (you can add more or less depending on how snowy you want it).
4.  Pour water into the jar leaving some room at the top (the water should not reach all the way to the top).  Add 3-5 drops of glycerin to the water (this makes the glitter fall more slowly when you shake it).
5.  Once the glue has dried on the lid, apply glue around the rim and to the threads around the jar (this forms a tight seal and prevents leaking).
Floof Mr. and Mrs. Snowman Kit: I discovered Floof a few months ago and immediately fell in love with it.  Floof is a relatively new sensory material.  It is a light, fluffy and moldable white material that sticks to itself making it easy for kids to play with.  Kids can make whatever structure they want to but I especially love their snowman making kit which includes a molds to make different sized snowballs and all the pieces to dress your snowmen.  This is great for working on improving bilateral coordination, motor planning and organizational skills and can help work on improving body awareness.  The best part of this snowman making experience is that nobody complains about being cold!  For parents who are concerned about making a big mess....even if your kids get sloppy while playing with Floof, it is incredibly easy to clean up and won't ruin clothing.

So here are just a few things that you can do to keep your kids entertained if the weather is too frightful to be outside or if you want to bring winter to you.  Do you and your family have any special snowy day activities or traditions?  How about you readers who don't get snow....what kinds of things do you do with your kids to bring winter weather to your family?  I love hearing about different family traditions and activities and I know my readers do to!  I look forward to hearing from you....I'm always a click away!