Monday, September 17, 2018

Crazy for OOLY

I'll be the first to admit that I might have a bit of an obsession when it comes to buying supplies for work. It's pretty safe to say that my co-workers would agree BUT also totally appreciate when I find new things for all the kids that come to our gym. When it comes to markers, crayons and other writing instruments, I have absolutely no willpower and must try something that looks good. Over the years, I have learned that kids tend to be more motivated to participate in graphomotor (coloring, drawing, writing, etc.) activities when they get to use fun writing tools. Over the past year or so, my collection has become almost exclusively products from my most favorite company, OOLY. Their products are not only super high quality, they are totally unique and fun. I love how so many of them can be used in various ways that make learning fun. Below, I share some of my favorite OOLY products and include ways that they are therapeutic. 

Mumbo Jumbo Chunky Markers-not all parents/therapists believe in giving young children markers to play with but I think it is a perfect first writing instrument, especially if you have a child has decreased grasp strength. One question I get asked a lot is what markers are best for toddlers. These markers are by far my favorite for little hands. This set of 16 washable markers are the perfect size for toddlers. The thick barrel of the marker makes them easy for the kids to hold.

Switch-Eroo Color Changing Markers-this set of markers are one of my favorite and my kids at work love them for how magical they are. These color changing markers have one regular color on one end and a mystery color appears when you use the "magic" tip on the opposite end. These are one of those things that I use to make learning how to write letters and numbers more magical/fun. First I have kids color in big rectangles and then have them practice writing letters/numbers in boxes that I make for them. They are truly delighted as they see the color magically change as they learn how to write at the same time.

Do-Over Erasable Highlighters-as kids get older and academic expectations increase, you may need to help a child with organizing their work. This is especially important for children who may have executive functioning difficulties. One tool I often recommend to help with organizing homework and other things are highlighters. They may be used for a variety of things including highlighting important information in their work or helping to organize their weekly calendar. I love this set of 6 erasable highlighters because if kids make mistakes, they can easily fix that mistake without it being a big deal. They can assign a color to each subject to help them be able to visually keep track of what assignment is due for what class in their planners. Another great use for these highlighters is if you keep a family schedule: assign each family member a color and highlight their activities in that color so when kids are looking at what their plans are for the week, they can quickly look for their color.

Pretty Pop Mechanical Pencil and Eraser Set-I have become obsessed with this new set of mechanical pencils this school year. More importantly, my daughter has tested them out and agrees that they are the best. There are a few things that make these great and not just that they are like eye candy with their bright and fun colors. The extra thick #2 lead makes it hard for kids to break the tip even if they are using an increased amount of pressure (which is commonly seen in kids who have decreased grasp strength). The other awesome thing about this pencil is that the triangular shape naturally encourages kids to use a tripod-like grasp when holding it. In addition to 4 pencils, this set comes with an eraser and extra lead. 

Unmistakables Erasable Crayons-I am a huge fan of any kind of erasable crayon. While I certainly don't encourage kids to be perfect, I do understand how many of them, especially older children, like to be able to fix their mistakes or change things if necessary. You can also encourage creativity and imagination skills when using these crayons by letting the kids color a piece of paper in and then using the eraser to make pictures, write letters or numbers or anything that comes to their mind. 

Left Right Crayons-I found these years ago in a little toy store when on in vacation in New Hampshire and was immediately obsessed. Many of the children I work with, especially the itty bitty ones, don't have a hand preference (which is totally normal up until the age of 5 years old) but I still work on developing a proper grip. These ergonomically designed crayons are easy for little hands to hold and automatically encourage a tripod-like grasp. The set of 10 bright colored crayons are made of eco-friendly polymer, are nontoxic and can be erased.

Mighty Pencil Sharpener-it sounds silly, but I have gone through more pencil sharpeners over the years with many of them being totally junky. I actually encourage the children I work with to sharpen their own pencils when I am working with them because it works on a bunch of skills: bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, motor planning, organization and focus and attentional skills. This pencil sharpener is just the right size and shape for child-sized hands and has three sharpeners built in for different sized pencils. 

On-the-Go Stationery Kit-one of the things I worked on with my daughter this summer was letter writing. She loves getting mail but needed encouragement to send mail to people. Since she is obsessed with unicorns, I knew that this stationery set would be a huge motivator for her. These stationery sets are fantastic and not only come with stationery and envelopes but also postcards, stickers, a little notepad, a mechanical pencil and a 4-color click pen. In a time when people are so attached to their phones or other electronic devices, it is nice to keep the art of letter writing alive, especially in kids. It's a great way to work on writing and executive functioning skills with older children.

Color Pop All In One Notebook-I am one of those parents who likes to have a notebook on me at all times. I prefer to not allow my daughter to use electronic devices outside of the house so it's important to carry a notebook so she can draw, write, etc. instead of relying on a screen to keep her entertained. I adore this all in one notebook because even though it's small, it has a lot in it. In addition to having lined, graph and blank paper pages, it also has an envelope behind the front cover where you can store things (we fill ours with stickers). It's small enough to easily throw in any bag but also big enough for your kids to have plenty of space to create whatever their hearts desire.

Creatibles DIY Window Cling Art Kit-I was so excited when I saw that OOLY had a bunch of new craft kits out this fall. My daughter and I had so much fun playing with this. The set comes with 5 bottles of colored paint (you can also mix them together to create other colors), a black outliner paint, 2 reusable transparent films and a book with 14 traceable designs. This requires time and patience (which I like to help work on executive functioning skills) as you have to do it in two steps and then wait for the paint to dry. First kids use the black paint to trace the outline of pictures (you can also create images of your own). Once they let that dry for a couple of hours, they can use the colored paints to fill in the picture. Kids can work on improving hand-eye coordination, focus, attention and grasp strengthening while creating stickers that will look like stained-glass pictures on your windows. It also helps in building confidence and self-esteem as they display their completed stickers.

These 10 products are just the tip of the iceberg. I didn't even get to include my favorite scented gel pens that we can not NOT have in our house or their amazing erasers that can not only clean up any mistakes but are also good for working on developing fine motor skills and increase hand strength because you can take them apart and put them together  . If you are looking for high-quality, unique and fun products, I highly recommend spending some time on the OOLY website to check out everything. One thing that I love about their website is their gift section where they have put together gift sets for girls, boys and teens. They have bundles of products that will surely be a huge hit for any party, holiday or just because gift. I can speak from experience, every time I have gifted someone anything from OOLY, I have been asked where to get them. If you are looking for something specific for your child, feel free to reach out to me for suggestions. These are just a few of the many, many products I have used. I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Back to School Essentials

I am in complete denial that we are in our final moments of summer vacation. However, it's hard to be in denial when so many people around the country have already sent their kids off for their first day of school. One of my favorite parts of going back to school when I was a kid was the back to school shopping. I started putting together a list of my favorite school supplies last year. I decided to do it again this year but added some of my new favorites alongside some of the old standbys. Starting the year off with fresh supplies helps a child to feel more excited about all the new things that are about to happen to them in a new school year.

American Tourister Backpack-one of my favorite things to shop for as a child was my backpack. Even if my old one was in good condition, we were always allowed to start the year off with a new bag. There's something about a fresh backpack that makes you feel more confident. Many of the kids I work with have a hard time keeping their things organized so finding a backpack with lots of pockets and compartments is something I recommend to parents of those children. I am a big fan of this American Tourister Keystone bag. Not only is it an affordable option, it has multiple pockets that will help a child keep their supplies organized. For some children, I even recommend that parents label what each pocket is for as they are putting everything in with their children.

See Through Pencil Pouches-this is especially important for children who may have difficulty with visual perceptual skills. In addition to having different color pouches for different kinds of supplies, make sure that your children can easily see what is inside. This makes it easier for them to be able to reach into their bag or desk and find out what they need. It's important that if you have seperate supplies at home that you keep your system consistent. For example, if you have all your writing tools in a blue pencil pouch for school do the same at home. I recommend having 3 pouches: one for writing tools (pens, pencils), one for coloring supplies (markers, crayons, colored pencils) and one for miscellaneous items (scissors, glue, etc.). Another important tip: don't fill them too much. Just put in what you need and nothing extra.

Fiskar Scissors-good scissors are an essential for me. This is especially important if you have a child who has delays for the acquisition of fine motor skills. Over the years I've tried a variety of different scissors but always go back to the child-sized Fiskars. I find they are the most comfortable and the sizing is perfect for those little hands. Not only do they have a large variety of colors, they have different sizes for larger hands and also have left-handed scissors.

Cadoozles Mechanical Pencils-I prefer mechanical pencils for a variety of reasons. The first one is that sometimes kids can't get to a pencil sharpener or have difficulty manipulating one due to fine motor delays. The second reason I am a fan of mechanical pencils is that they are a great way to get kids to use a proper amount of pressure when writing. If they press to hard, the lead will break. After a while, kids start to understand just how hard they should press down when they are writing. There are a lot to choose from but I tend to recommend these. They come in a variety of patterns and colors and are super can get a pack of 28 for $8! For children who need to use a pencil grip, many of the grips that I recommend fit on these pencils.

Ooly ClickOit Erasers-for some reason, my daughter loses erasers more than any other school supply. She also has this terrible habit of chewing the eraser off of her pencils (it makes me cringe just thinking about it). I have been on the hunt for an eraser that might be a little more difficult to lose and was psyched when I discovered these erasers. One of the things I like about these is that they are shaped like a pencil (just thicker) so kids who have difficulty with fine motor and manipulation skills have an easier time holding them.

Do-Overs Erasable Highlighters-highlighters are great for helping kids with organization, especially when studying. I have found with my own daughter, that she tends to over-highlight so have to go back and help her figure out what is most important to highlight. That's why I am obsessed with this set of erasable highlighters from OOLY. There are no such thing as a mistake when you have these. If they happen to accidently highlight something, they can easily fix it.

Just Getting Started 17-Month Large Planner-as kids get older, we expect them to be able to keep track of their own schedule. This includes being able to keep track of their homework assignments, when projects are due and when they have tests. One way to help school age children do this is to have them have carry around a daily planner and help them fill it out the beginning of each week. Working together, you can fill in all of the things that remain the same each week and then talk about any special events that may be occuring. At the end of each school day, you can look through their homework and see if they have tests or reports.

Study Wall Organizer-another great way to keep kids organized, especially if they have a busy schedule, is to have a wall calendar that you can fill out as a family before the school week begins. I recommend this one from Pottery Barn because in addition to having just 7 days to fill out (as opposed to the entire month), it has a cork board that you can put announcements from school, birthday party invites or other pieces of important information. I have found with my own daughter, who has a very relaxed schedule compared to others, that if we fill out her schedule together on Sunday night, she feels less anxious about the upcoming week. We write down days that she has gym/art/Spanish, what after school activities she might have, play dates, birthday parties and any other important things she needs to know about (tests, 1/2 days, etc.). If you have multiple children, I highly recommend assigning each child their own color so they can quickly look at the calendar and know what their week is going to be like.

Desk Organizer-many of the kids I work with struggle with keeping things organized. This can lead to homework time being a stressful and anxiety-producing part of the day for not only children, but the parents or caregivers who need to help them. One thing that I started doing with my daughter is to set up a homework station with all of the supplies she needs. This means that when we go school supply shopping, we buy an extra of everything and set it up in a desk organizer so she doesn't have to take anything out of her bag other than her homework folder. This helps in preventing her forgetting to put something back that she needs during her school day.

Yoobi Folders-I didn't realize how important a sturdy school folder was until I began working with school age kids who had a hard time with keeping their backpacks organized. I can't tell you how many folders I have seen stuffed to the gills and ripped from being shoved into the bag by their owners. This leads to frustration from parents, teachers and the kids when they can't easily find what they are looking for. One way to avoid some of this is to assign a specific color folder to each subject (be sure to label the front of the folder). Another little trick I learned is that you should avoid buying cardboard/paper folders as they rip easier. I LOVE these poly covered folders by Yoobi. They are the only ones I use with my daughter and they last us all year long. They hold up to 100 pieces of paper (although we weed through her papers a couple times a month) and can take a beating. Another great thing is that this company does an amazing thing: for every Yoobi item you buy, a Yoobi item is donated to a classroom in need somewhere in the US. Certainly makes me feel good about doing as much of my school supply shopping from them as possible.

Many of the recommendations on this list are ones that will help with children becoming more organized and independent. As kids get older and the expectations increase, I have noticed that they can become more disorganized which leads to all kinds of other problems. Providing children with simple strategies for organization will lead to increased success in school and at home when doing homework. It also leads to increased confidence and self-esteem, which is one of the most important things to ensuring that a child has a good school year. The other school supplies recommended are ones that I have used for years and years in my private practice and with my own daughter. They are affordable and easy to find in local stationery or office supply stores.

Do you have favorite school supplies? Things that help children with organization or lead to improved fine motor skills? I love finding new supplies, especially ones that have been tested out by others. Be sure to send me your ideas. I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

Wishing everyone out there a very happy, fun and organized school year!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Summer Crafting With Your Bigs!

Today's blog post was inspired by all the summer camp posts I have been seeing all over Facebook and Instagram. I have an 8 year daughter who happens to love crafts but doesn't go to camp. She prefers to spend her summers relaxing and just enjoying some downtime, but I need to keep her brain working and I like to do this by introducing fun arts and crafts projects. Since we both love crafting, this happens to work out perfectly for a summer plan. We spend a lot of time hanging out on a beach and not always into being in the water. In today's blog post, I share some of my favorite craft kits....many of which can be thrown in a beach/pool/travel bag without taking up much room. They can keep kids entertained while traveling, at restaurants or on rainy day.  Many of these are intended for school-age children and work on higher-level skills....mostly executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, sequencing, organization and managing frustration when challenged.

Aquabeads-I blogged about these sets a while ago and even though my daughter has outgrown them, I am still obsessed with them...especially as a therapeutic activity.  Kids get to make cute little collectable toys or jewelry by placing the correct color beads on the plate with a template underneath.  One of the things I like about this is that you can use your fingers (great for developing grasping skills!) or use the bead pencil that kids can fill up with multiple beads to make placing them easier and faster.  Once all of the beads are in place, kids use a little spray bottle which makes the beads stick together.  There are so many fun themes to choose including Tsum Tsums, Disney characters, Calico Critters and SO many others!  Not only is this great for working on developing fine motor skills, it helps develop hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, visual tracking, focus, attention, organization and motor planning.

Bead Weaver-this bead loome is great for older children who want to up their jewelry making skills. Kids can weave bracelets, headbands, keychains and much more using glass beads.  This set comes complete with the loome, loads of glass beads, thread and the needle tool. I watched a couple of You Tube videos to figure out how to use it and if I could learn from a video, so can kids who have learned how to do so much from them!  In addition to working on executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization, sustaining and shifting attention and dealing with frustration, this tool also works on improving bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills. Another great thing is that kids master this and are able to create jewelry or other things, their confidence increases making them more willing to keep trying more challenging activities.

Arts And Crafts Supply Library-I am obsessed with all the products from Kid Made Modern.  If you have a child who loves creating, you have to check out all of their products.  I am a big fan of open-ended activities for my daughter and this Arts and Crafts Supply Library is perfect for that.  This set comes with loads and loads of craft supplies in a sturdy carrying case that holds everything in little compartments.  The set includes beads, sequins, pom poms, felt pieces, googly eyes, wooden discs, pipe cleaners, scissors, craft sticks and SO much more.  The supplies invite a child to use their imagination and create whatever their hearts desire including murals, jewelry, keychains, etc..  In addition to encouraging creativity, the Arts and Crafts Supply Library is great for working on developing fine motor and in-hand manipulation skills, improves bilateral coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and works on developing executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization, time management and motor planning.

Super Easy Friendship Bracelet Kit-I spend much of my free time knitting which means that I spend an awful lot of time in yarn stores. While searching for yarn one day at Purl Soho, I discovered their friendship bracelet kits and fell in love and have been giving them out as gifts ever since. Each set contains enough material for 5-12 bracelets and comes 5 yards of Chinese Knotting Cord, a safety pin, the pattern for two different friendship bracelets and a sturdy storage case.  There are 5 color waves to choose from. Making friendship bracelets is great for working on fine motor and grasping skills, encourages bilateral coordination, motor planning, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and develops executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organizational and sequencing skills. Additionally, they make perfect gifts for kids to give friends.

The Loome Tool-I'm on a bit of a kick here, but I am a sucker for things that work on developing fine motor skills and encourage friendship at the same time. I'm also intrigued by things that will help me use up my excessive yarn supply! I was first introduced to the Loome Tool at a holiday fair in Brooklyn as a pom-pom maker and I fell in love with it! I have been using it ever since to add pom-pom-poms to my knitted hats but now that my daughter has more patience, we are using it for more than just that. This little tool (and there are a bunch of different versions to choose from) has SO many uses and is such a great on-the-go crafting tool. In addition to being a pom-pom maker, kids can make tassels, friendship bracelets, small weavings and cords. The website has amazing tutorials that you can watch with your children and help them learn how to do all the things this tool allows them to. By watching the videos, kids not only learn how to make some super fun things (building confidence and self-esteem) but work on developing a ton of executive functioning skills such as focus, sustaining attention, organization, frustration management and so many more. Additionally, kids work on improving fine motor and in-hand manipulation skills, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.

OffBits-for kids who love Legos but are ready for an increased challenge, you should check out the OffBits. In addition to being just awesome, I like how these sets are a bit smaller and easier to take with you on the go. I discovered these when I was looking for something for some of my older kids who needed to work on improving fine motor/in-hand manipulation skills and developing executive functioning skills. Kids get to build robots and vehicles using a variety of screws, nuts, bolts and other hardware bits and pieces. They can use their hands as tools or use the multi-purpose tool that comes with each set. What's nice about OffBits is that the kits is that kids can follow step-by-step directions to create what is recommended or they can make their own creations combining different sets. In addition to improving executive functioning and fine motor skills, OffBits work on improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages creativity and imagination.

Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kits-while make your own slime is the thing, I happen to come from a home where my little girl hates slime. She typically jumps on the current trends but not this one. What she does like is putty and happens to be obsessed with all things Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty. So while everyone else has been making slime with a million different recipes, my girl has been mixing her own putty using the Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kits. There are two sets to choose from, Glow in the Dark and Holographic. Each kit comes with enough supplies to make 5 tins of their own Thinking Putty, including putty, tins, tin labels, colored pencils and the special ingredients to make them sparkly or glow in the dark. In addition to being great for working on developing fine motor and grasping skills and increasing grasp strength, these sets encourage creativity and imagination skills by coming up with special names/colors for your creations.

Orb Micro-Mosaics-for anyone who reads my blogs/annual holiday gift guides, you know my love of the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaic kits. While many of my older kids still love them, I wanted to find something a bit more challenging and "grown-up" looking. No surprise that Orb came up with something amazing...Orb Micro-Mosaics. Instead of matching stickers to numbers, kids create stone-like mosaics by pressing the sticky micro pebbles into the correct spaces. Each set allows kids to create a poster, door hanger, picture frame and magnets. Kids can work on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and a slew of executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning, organization, flexible thinking and so many more. This also requires children to be patient and control their frustration when things get challenging. In the end, kids end up with some really cool looking products that will make them feel really good about themselves.

Craft-tastic Empower Poster Kit-one of the things I find for many children of this age is that they tend to be more self-conscious and sometimes have a hard time knowing their personal strengths.  I LOVE this poster kit because it makes kids focus on finding their strengths and identifying what makes them special and unique.  The kit comes stocked with a long list of inspirational words, poster board and glue and tissue squares to decoupage the poster to make it their own.  This is not only great for building confidence, self-esteem and positive self-thinking, it is great for working on improving fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills all while encouraging creativity.

XYRON Creative Station-this was one of my impulse purchases from a weekly trip to Paper Source that my daughter insists we make. It also happens to be one of my favorite impulse buys and I have recommended it to a lot of my friends who are looking for a gift for a school-age child. My daughter loves stickers and loves to draw and color. The Creative Station is meant for many things but we have been using it as a sticker maker and it's been awesome.  I have used it with my kids at work and they love it too! While this has many purposes, I use it primarily for making stickers. I have kids either find things that they want to cut out or have them draw pictures and color them in. Once they have finished cutting/coloring, they stick the picture in the machine, turn the handle and the sticker back attaches to the picture. This is not only a great tool to work on improving cutting and graphomotor skills, it also works on improving bilateral coordination, focus, attention, organization and motor planning skills. At the same time, kid's confidence and self-esteem increase as they create their unique stickers.

These are just a handful of the many craft sets that you can use with your older children to help keep their brain working during these school-free summer months. Since many of the families I work with travel these last few weeks of summer, I chose many of them based on the ability to throw it in a bag to also keep kids entertained (screen-free) while traveling. Do you have any great arts and craft kids that your big kids love? I'm always on the lookout for new stuff for both work and for my own child. If you are looking for some specific ideas that target specific goals, let me know and I will share some other ideas. I'm always a click away and love hearing from all of you!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Awesome Activity Books for All Ages!

This is one of my favorite posts to write all year long.  I spend a kind of ridiculous amount of time in bookstores.  Now that  my daughter is a total bookworm, we spend a lot more time in them.  While she is looking for her books, I spend time hunting for new activity books to use at work.  A good activity book makes me happy.  Not only do I love them for work, I love being able to recommend them to the families I work with.  As I have mentioned in other summer blogs, parents are always looking for things to keep their kids thinking and working while they are taking time off from therapy.  Below I share some of my favorite activity books that work on developing a variety of occupational therapy and academic skills.  While many are new, there are some that I just can't not share time and time again!

I Can Do That!  Color and Draw-I used to recommend a series of drawing and sticker books by this company years ago but then they were discontinued (and I was heartbroken!).  So when I realized they had released a whole new series of books, I was thrilled.  They are still as great as they used to be and really motivating for younger children.  The book is filled with fun pictures that kids need to add details to.  For example, there is a picture of frogs holding blank balloons that kids can decorate or color in a picture of fireworks.  This book is great for younger children who have a hard time with coming up with their own ideas.  I like it because the directions are simple and easy for children to follow and that kids can work on not only improving drawing and coloring skills, but are encouraged to be creative at the same time.  

I Can Do That!  Cut and Paste-another fabulous book from Lazoo that works on developing cutting skills for younger children.  The purpose of this book is to create pictures by tearing or cutting paper and gluing them to decorate a series of pictures.  This is great for improving bilateral coordination, hand strength and manipulation skills, visual motor and perceptual skills and executive functioning skills.  At the same time, kids are working on creativity and imagination which helps to boost confidence and self-esteem.  Some of the activities in this book are cutting out a series of buttons to decorate a dress or cutting/tearing out paper to create flowers to put on the end of stems.  

Arty Mouse Trace, Copy, Color and Cut-the whole series of Arty Mouse books are my new favorite and I have recommended this to a bunch of people already.   Intended for pre-schoolers, this activity book is chock-full of pre-writing activities that will help children develop skills necessary in order to learn how to draw and eventually write.  While you can get individual books for each of these skills, I like having them all in one big book and have kids do one of each activity in one sitting.  What's nice about these activities is that they start easy and get increasingly more challenging.  As kids work through the various activities, their confidence and self-esteem increase which actually encourages them to try more challenging activities.  Be sure to have the correct instruments for your children for when doing them.  For example, have child size scissors, markers for a child who may have decreased grasp strength or broken crayons/small pencils for children who need to work on developing a more age-appropriate grasp.  

Usbourne Lots of Things to Find and Color-these coloring books have been a long time favorite of mine for a ton of reasons.  The pictures are fun and motivate the kids to work even harder when they are doing their work.  Each page has a handful of directions on what they need to find in the pictures and how they have to color it in.  An example of a direction might be "find all of the ice cream cones with two scoops of ice cream and color them in pink".  Once they have finished finding all of the requested objects, they are then free to color the rest of the picture any way they want.  This is a great activity book for working on improving all kinds of visual skills, hand-eye coordination, grasping and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, following directions and organization.  

Go! My Adventure Journal-it's hard to get kids to sit down and write or do work while they are on vacation.  One of my recommendations for children who are taking family vacations is to keep some kind of travel journal.  For older journal, I suggest taking polaroid pictures throughout their trip and write about each picture.  For younger children, I am totally obsessed with this journal from Wee Society.  This hardcover journal comes in three different colors and is filled a variety of thought-starters so kids can keep track of and remember their special vacation adventures.  For example, there is a two-page spread that has a picture of a plate and you have to draw a new food you tried and the other side has a bunch of different faces and you have to check off what you thought of that food.  It also comes with a bunch of stickers, badges your kids can earn while on vacation, a place to keep pictures and postcards that they can send out to family and friends. 

Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Kaleidoscope Sticker Books-I found these at Norstroms when I was out in California and became obsessed with them!  These are great for older children who may have to work on developing fine motor, visual motor, visual perceptual and executive functioning skills.  Each book comes with 8 designs that you fill in with stickers that match the letters.  Each page comes with extra stickers just in case you tear a sticker or so you can create your own kaleidoscope picture.  Not only is this great for all of the reasons I already mentioned, but once it is completed, a child feels so proud which is great for building up their confidence and self-esteem.  

Adventures with Zap: 107 Creative Writing Prompts for Beginning Writers-if parents are looking for a fun way to work on writing skills over the summer, I highly recommend this activity book.  What's nice about this book is that they actually had younger children in mind and provide writing prompts that are good for children of all ages.  If your child is unable to write, you just find an adult and have them write down your thoughts.  Each page has both a writing prompt and pictures....the child's job is to write (or tell) a story for each picture.  For each writing prompt, there is also space for a child to draw pictures.  For example, one page asks a child to make a list of people they would like to receive a letter from you and another has some characters who are saying goodbye and the writer's job is to invent space alien words that mean goodbye.  This activity book was created by a veteran writing coach and the purpose of all the activities is to work on the following:
-create characters, settings and action scenes
-bring pictures to life with words
-learn how to brainstorm when stuck
-write thoughts and dialogue
-use "power"words
-express feelings and wishes
I like that this book works on handwriting and drawing in a fun way....some make it so serious that kids get discouraged.  I find that kids are more willing to take writing risks when they are allowed to be silly and think outside of the box. 

The Kid's Awesome Activity Book-this is one of my newer finds and I love it, especially for school age children (those finishing kindergarten and older).  Over the 96 pages, kids will find a variety of crafts, games, writing prompts, etc. that will keep your kids entertained (and learning) for hours on end.  Some of the activities you will find in this book are find the difference pictures, word searches, mazes, write a song for a cat rock band, build a time machine using the items they provide you and SO much more.  Additionally, it comes with over 400 stickers you can use throughout the book or to create your own pictures, stories, etc..  This is great for working on improving writing and drawing skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and a ton of executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning, organization, sequencing and problem solving.

Mindful Me Activity Book-mindfulness is something that has been growing in popularity the last few years.  I think introducing some kids to the mindfulness is incredibly important and meaningful, especially for kids who are experiencing a lot of stress or anxiety.  There are a lot of different books out there on this topic but the Mindful Me Activity Book by Whitney Stewart is my go-to at this point.  By completing the different activities in this book, kids will learn how to handle some of the problems they are experiencing.  Through a series of fun writing prompts, games and meditation exercises, kids will learn how to settle their thoughts and ground some of their big feelings.

Journal Sparks-this is one of my daughter's favorite activity books!  This is one that she actually will look through all by herself to figure out what she wants to do.  Emily K. Neuburger has put together 60 interactive writing prompts and art how-tos to help your child's (best for children 7 years and older) imagination grow and encourage creativity.  One of my daughter's favorite activities from this book is the visual map of her day.  I like it because it helps with recalling the events of her day and combines drawing and writing in a non-stressful way.  Another fun activity is turning into a Potion Pantry.  Kids get to draw a pantry and fill the shelves with all kinds of bottles/potions.  They then need to name them.  This is a great jumping off place for conversations with kids about what their potions are for.  In addition to being awesome for sparking creativity and imagination, Journal Sparks is a motivating way for school-age children to work on improving handwriting and drawing skills and executive functioning skills such as organization, planning, sequencing, focus and attention.

One other recommendation I have to make when using any of these books is to make sure that you provide children with the correct writing instruments and tools for increased opportunities for success.  For example, if you have a child who has decreased grasp strength and endurance for graphomotor activities, give them markers because it doesn't require as much hand strength and pressure.  If you have a child who is a leftie, be sure to make sure you don't give them a pair of right-handed scissors!  It sounds crazy, but having the right instruments is as important to a child's success as important as finding motivating activity books that will make kids want to learn.

A really important thing I want to add to this post.  While I linked to Amazon for most of these books since a majority of my readers are not local, it is not where I purchased my copies of these books.  I am a huge supporter of local bookstores and am actually quite fortunate to have some amazing ones in Manhattan and Brooklyn where I tend to pick up my activity books.  Be sure to support your local book (and toy stores) whenever possible.  Not only do they count on our business more than we can appreciate, they are also always open to ordering books that you want and finding what you may be looking for.  Here are my local go-to bookstores for those of you who happen to be local:
Stories Bookshop and Storytelling Lab
Community Bookstore
Greenlight Bookstore
Books of Wonder
Bank Street Bookstore

I actually could go on and on with recommendations, but I will keep it to this list of 10!  If you are looking for activity books that work on specific activities, I would be more than happy to provide suggestions.....feel free to reach out with questions or advice.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all and helping you all out.  If you have fabulous activity books that your children love, please share with me!  I am always excited to add something new to my library.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Hands Up for Handee Band!

When I was Christmas shopping this year, I discovered this really subscription box that I had to get.  The Sensory Theraplay Box comes once a month and is chock full of some pretty awesome products.  Some of them are ones I have seen or already have but there have been more than a few that are new to me and I couldn't be more excited about them.  One of the things I have been introduced to and have to share with you all is the Handee Band.  This is an awesome and totally affordable exercise program for children that is kinda perfect for those kids who might be taking a break from therapy over the summer but need to maintain some kind of home-based strengthening routine.

Let me tell you about the Handee Band.  It was created by a Los Angeles based occupational therapist, Francesca Avalli, who has years and years of experience working with children with a variety of learning disabilities.  It is intended for children between the ages of 3 and 7 years old and the goal is that they can independently exercise at home with this program.  The exercises are taught to kids from the different monsters created by Francesca.  Everything is bright, cheery and child-friendly.  This is meant to be something that once a child is comfortable with it, they should be able to do it on their own.  What's nice is that they don't have to do all of them....they should choose a few and do however many they can in about 15 minutes.  The exercises are intended to help a child do the following:
-increase core strength and trunk control
-increase upper extremity and grasp strength (which leads to improved fine motor and manipulation skills)
-improve endurance
-improve bilateral coordination skills
-improve motor planning and organizational skills
-work on following multi-step directions
-improves balance and coordination

All of the things mentioned above are important skills for preschool and school age children to help get them ready for academic skills.  For example, in order for a child to develop age-appropriate grasping skills, they need to core, upper extremity and grasp strength.  Also, for kids to be more independent for dressing and undressing themselves, they must have good balance and coordination, use two hands in a coordinated manner and follow multi-step directions.

Here is a small sample of some of the exercises:
Flamingo Hops and Frog Jumps-while holding the Handee Band tightly in each hand, take a deep breath, bend both knees and jump up and down like a frog 10 times.  For an increased challenge, jump on just one foot like a flamingo
Karate Chop-while holding the Handee Band tightly with two hands, stand up straight with arms at your side; raise arms high and straight above your head, take a deep breath and when someone yells "chop", lower arms down until they are in front of your chest 10 times.
Row Your Boat-while sitting on the floor with legs straight out in front of you, wrap the Handee Band around your feet while holding the ends in each hand.  Start with straight arms while sitting up as tall as possible and bend your arms at the elbows before straightening your arms again. 

There are two kits to choose from The Handee Band Exercise Kit contains 1 Handee Band, an illustrated book with 15 different exercises broken down into 5 easy to follow steps, a spinner with all of the activities, a dry erase marker and checklist to keep track of progress and a sheet of stickers.  The book is a high quality book that can stand up making it easy for a child to see/follow the instructions.   What I like about this, especially when doing it in a bigger group of kids, is that with the addition of the spinner, you can make it more of a game and a chance for them to be leaders.  Each child can take a turn spinning the The Handee Band Exercise Cards Set is intended to be able to take with you/throw in your bag.  It comes with 1 Handee Band and 17 exercise cards stored on a reclosable ring for storage purposes.  This is perfect if you are going to be doing a lot of traveling but want to keep up with some kind of exercise routine with your children.

One of the nice things about the Handee Band program is that it can be done individually, with a friend or siblings or can be part of a larger exercise curriculum in classrooms or social skills groups.  I am actually going to be introducing an abbreviated version of this program to my kids this summer at The Meeting House.  So many of the children who attend my group are not only in need of working on increasing overall body strength but also need to work on following directions, staying with the group and doing what their peers are doing.  I believe that if they can master some of these fun exercises, they may be more motivated to try more challenging things throughout the afternoon.  Additionally, as they master each activity, their confidence and self-esteem increase. 

I am so excited to have found something like Handee Band to be able to recommend to the families I work with.  So many programs I have tried in the past get too clinical or therapeutic making it difficult for parents to follow-through on.  Finding something like this that can be implemented at home is like winning the lottery for me.  Do you have any awesome home-based exercises programs that you use with your kids or recommend to the families you work with?  I am only a click away love hearing recommendations from you all!


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Stick It To Me!

For any of you who follow me regularly, you may know my love for the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics.  Unfortunately, it seems like they are not as easy to get anymore....perhaps to make way for a lot of their new awesome products....and I have been trying to find things to replace them.  The thing is that stickers, no matter what they look like, motivate kids.  Whether it be a reward for a job well done or part of an arts and crafts set, kids LOVE stickers.  Since the Sticky Mosaic sets are no longer as easy to find in my local toy stores (be sure to check out Amazon since they do still have a bunch available), I have started looking for options that will help to accomplish a similar goal. 

Below, you will find a handful of my new go-to sticker activities.  They are not only great for working on developing a variety of fine motor and visual skills, they are ideal for encouraging creativity, helping to build confidence and self-esteem once they have completed their work.

Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Kaleidoscopes-I am just returning from vacation with my daughter.  What that means is that I spent time checking out kid's stores for new things.  One of the things I discovered, and am completely obsessed with, are these series of sticker books from Mrs. Grossman's.  There are 4-different books to choose from and a handful of 1-sheet sticker sets to choose from.  It's fun, easy and not too many directions to follow:  peel off stickers and match them to the right letter.  Sounds simple, but there is a bit of a challenge:  there are some stickers that face different directions so you have to be mindful of the letter associated with it and make sure it's in the right place.  Once all the stickers are on, you have a beautiful sticker mandala creation to show off.  This is great for working on developing fine motor and grasping skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and improves executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organizational and sequencing skills.  It's also wonderful for building up confidence and self-esteem once your child has completed the whole picture.
**one of the bonus' of these books is that each page has extra stickers just in case you mess up.  At the end of the book, there are blank pages for your child to create their own kaleidoscope creations.

Paint By Sticker Kids-these books are definitely intended for older children, particularly those with a good frustration tolerance.  Over the years, I have found that many of the kids I work with don't like coloring or drawing but want to be creative.  It can be for a variety of reasons, but most often kids avoid coloring because of decreased grasp strength or decreased endurance activities using those little muscles in the hands.  Paint By Sticker Kids books allow kids to be creative but take away the use of a writing instrument which can be stressful for some kids.  Each book contains 10 illustrations that kids bring to life by putting the stickers in the correct place.  This requires a lot of focus, attention and organization making it a perfect activity for children who need to work on developing higher level executive functioning skills.  Additionally, it's a great activity for improving fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Most importantly, kid's confidence and self-esteem will soar when they complete this challenging activity. 

Melissa and Doug Peel and Press Sticker by Numbers-another great sticker activity for school age children that works on developing fine motor skills.  Kids complete the picture by matching the different shapes to their numbers.  Unlike the sticky mosaics, the stickers are different shapes and sizes, not just different colored squares.  One of the really nice things about this activity is that it comes on a wooden frame that can be hung on a wall once completed.  In addition to working on fine motor skills, they are great for working on focus, attention and organizational skills and helps to improve hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Also great for increasing confidence and self-esteem when they complete the picture and get to display it for all to see.

Alex My First Mosaics-these sticker mosaics were created for preschoolers and are very similar to the Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics.  What's nice about these and what makes them better for younger kids/smaller fingers is that the stickers are bigger and easier for them to manipulate.  Each set comes 5 pictures to complete using different colored shaped stickers.  Instead of matching the stickers by number, kids match the color and shapes.  My First Mosaics are great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and improves focus, attention and organizational skills.  Additionally, they are great for introducing younger children to colors and shapes.

Usbourne Sticker Dolly Dressing Books-these have been a favorite of my daughters for years and I have been recommending them to friends and the families I work with all the time.  I especially love this sticker book to keep my daughter entertained while traveling because you don't have to worry about making a mess with markers or other writing instruments.  There are several different themes to choose from based on your child's interests.  Using the stickers provided, kids dress the dolls and bring the pages to life.  Great for working on developing fine motor and grasping skills, improves hand-eye coordination and works on increasing focus, attention, organizational and planning skills.  They are also great for encouraging language skills by having kids talk about what is happening on each page.

On-The-Go Make A Face Craft Kit
-if you follow me, you know I have a complete obsession with all of the Kid Made Modern products.  They are affordable, well-made and encourage creativity in an open-ended manner.  Using hundreds of different colored felt stickers with a variety of facial features, kids can create faces, monsters, robots or whatever else comes to their mind.  This kit is especially made for taking on the go and all of the stickers and googly eyes can be stored in the canvas tote that it comes with.  I like to throw some scraps of papers and some markers in the bag so kids can add details to their creations.  Great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, encouraging bilateral coordination, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on developing executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and motor planning.  The open-ended aspect of this activity helps to build confidence, self-esteem and creativity in children of all ages as there is no right or wrong way to do it.

Arty World:  Early Learning Through Art-this is a great book for preschool age kids.  They can learn about different shapes while completing a variety of activities using the stickers in the book.  Kids fill in missing parts of the pictures using the correct stickers.  This is great to work on developing fine motor and grasping skills, improves bilateral coordination skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages creativity.  One of my favorite things about this whole series of books is that there are notes throughout the books that help parents know what is expected of their children for each activity.  This is nice because it also helps with engaging kids in conversation while completing each page.

Pipsticks Sticker Club-my 8 year old daughter insisted I include this in this post.  We have been member of this sticker club for well over a year and we just love it.  Each month, my daughter receives an envelope filled with 15 sheets of different stickers, a prepaid postcard and paper goodies.  One of the first things Quinn does after looking through her new stickers is to decorate and write a note to a friend or family member.  If you have a sticker lover in your life, I couldn't recommend this more.  Here are some of the activities I do with some of the stickers:
*practice handwriting by having kids write out the names of different stickers
*work on developing grasping skills and increase grasp strength by having them remove stickers from the sheets and placing them on paper.  To add a visual motor component to it, I draw dots all over the paper and have them put the stickers on to the dots.

One of the things I love about all of these sticker based activities is that it gets kids who may struggle with drawing or coloring to have success with crafts.  By taking away the graphomotor aspect of things, they are more motivated to complete the tasks presented to them.  I also find that if I can use the stickers as a starting place for an activity, I can encourage the kids to add details with writing instruments much easier.  Do you have any amazing sticker activities, books or craft sets that your family loves?  If you have any ideas, definitely share them with me and my readers.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.