Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book of the Week-The Dot

For the last several weeks at The Meeting House our theme has been not having to be perfect.  We have read several wonderful books about this topic but my favorite has been The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.  This book, and many others of his, has been part of my personal library for a while since the topic was something that I had to work on with my own daughter: when it comes to creating, there is no wrong way.

My book recommendation this week is not just for the kids I work with but also for the parents, teachers, therapists and caregivers who spend time with those kids.  Sometimes us grownups need to know how to best motivate and inspire the little ones in our lives.  We tend to get wrapped up in what is expected of kids at different stages of life and making sure our kids aren't behind.

In The Dot, we meet a little girl named Vashti who is sitting at her desk in art class looking sadly at her blank piece of paper.  She's feeling stuck...doesn't know what she should be doing with that blank piece of paper and is feeling discouraged by her lack of artistic abilities.   ut is encouraged by her teacher to draw a dot on her paper "and see where it takes you".  She angrily makes a dot on her paper and her teacher has her sign the paper.  The next time she enters the art class, she finds her picture framed and hanging on the wall for all to see.  Seeing this picture makes Vashti's confidence soar and inspires her to take things to the next level.  She starts out small and then goes bigger and bigger.  The story ends with her encouraging a little boy who feels like he isn't an artist just like her teacher did for her.

The Dot has many important lessons to teach children of today.  In my line of work, I have too many children who avoid trying something because they don't feel like they will be good at it.  Or maybe they won't try it because they are worried someone will criticize their work.   It's not isolated to an art can be trying some kind of big body activity or obstacle course, or answering a question a peer is asking because maybe they don't know the "right" answer.  What I have learned over the years as both a therapist and a parent is that you have to gently push these kids because even though they don't think they will be successful, I know they will be.   What I like most about The Dot is how it is Vashti's personal story and not one that compares her to other children.  It really teaches kids of all ages about challenging yourself to be better for yourself and not to satisfy others.

Below,  you will find some questions you can ask your children and activities you can do with your children when you read The Dot.

~be sure to talk about all the different feelings Vashti is feeling throughout the book.  Have them look at her face and tell you how she is feeling at different points of the book

~ask your children what kinds of things might be hard for them and how they feel when they are presented with something new and maybe out of their comfort zone.

~in The Dot, Vashti sits there and does nothing during her art class because she doesn't think she is a good artist.  Have a conversation with your child about what other things Vashti could have done at that time instead of avoiding the task.

~there are SO many fun dot art activities that you can be used when reading this book.  I am currently obsessed with these watercolor pencils and paints by OOLY which are perfect for  making some pretty awesome dots like Vashti.  Have your children experiment with different sizes, colors, patterns, etc..  Talk to them about how each one is different and unique and how they are all perfect in their own way.

~if you have a group of kids, you can make a dot "quilt".  One of my favorite craft activities we have done with the kids at TMH Juniors was to give each kid a handful of squares with circles drawn on them.  We put out different materials and writing instruments for the kids to use to decorate their circles however they want.  At the end, we worked as a group to place all of the dots onto a big piece of cardboard and made a TMH Quilt.  The kids loved the final product and we loved watching them work together to create it.

~for younger children who aren't as comfortable with using writing instruments, have them make their own dot pictures using different kinds of objects as stamps.  For example, cut a potato or an apple in half and have them dip it into paint.  You can use also use bottle caps, empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls or anything that has some kind of roundish shape.

~for older children who need encouragement to try new things, have them keep a daily dot journal.  Encourage them to make their mark on each page and write about what it is.  As the year goes on, they will see how their creativity and imagination have grown.

The Dot is a great book for all times of the year, but especially great to pull out before your child is about to start something new.  I know many teachers who begin a new school year off by reading this book and doing a variety of craft projects.  If you have any other books that focus on this topic or activities that you have done in conjunction with this book, I would love to hear from you.  I am only a click away and love hearing from all of you!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Book of the Week-Wally Wants To Hug

My book recommendation this week is one that I have not only used with my kids at TMH Juniors, but one that I've suggested to the parents of kids I work with as their occupational therapist.  A very common concern that comes up in my initial conversations with parents is that they notice their children are rough with their siblings or their friends in school.  Or sometimes they get into other people's personal space and have a hard time controlling that.  While they know it isn't always intentional, they are concerned because it is having an impact on socializing with people.

Wally Wants To Hug by Barbara Joose is an adorable story that can help teach kids about personal space.  Wally is a boa constrictor who loves hugs.  He starts his days out with a big hug from his mother and ends his day with a big hug from his dad. Not only does he like getting hugs, he loves giving them out as well.  This isn't a problem until his friends become scared of him and his too tight hugs.  Wally doesn't want to make his friends scared, he also wants them to know how much he cares about them.  

One of the things that I love about Wally Wants To Hug is how it normalizes the behaviors we some from those sensory seeking kids we all know and love.  Those kids who have nothing but love to give but lack the understanding that what feels good to them may not feel the same to others.  Those big hugs, that getting close to talk to your friends and that bumping into your friends to let them know they want to with be with them is usually not an attempt to annoy or hurt their friends but rather them trying to let them know they want to play with them. These kids with decreased body awareness often have big hearts and just like Wally, they want to hug because it makes them feel good.  How is it possible that not everyone feels the same way they do? 

Teaching kids about personal space, especially those who are sensory seekers, can be challenging.  It's incredibly important to help children be able to read body language of others.  With my group at TMH Juniors, we talk about being a Personal Space Invader....someone who gets into others space and may make people feel uncomfortable.  Here are some things you can help your children identify in others that might indicate they are feeling uncomfortable:
-is the other person squirming around trying to move away from you?
-does the other person's body get stiff?
-how does the person's face look?  Do they look like they are happy or feeling uncomfortable?

Below, you will find some questions you can ask your children and some activities you can do with your children when reading Wally Wants To Hug.  

~discuss the various ways you can say hello or show their affection towards a family member or a friend.  This can include hand shakes,  gentle high fives or gentle fist-bumps.  

~practice hugging with your child at home so they can learn when to stop or when it is just too much.  I think it's important for a child to be able to read body language so make different faces (scared, sad, happy, etc.) so they can become more aware of how their friends may be feeling when they are hugging them. 

~if your child is one of those kids who really benefits from deep proprioceptive input and truly has difficulty controlling how hard they hug, get a stuffed animal they can keep at school to hug when they are craving that input.  

~I find that sometimes that kids benefit from visual reminders of what the appropriate amount of personal space is.  While being too close to people can make others feel uncomfortable, it's equally important for them to understand that being too far away can also be a problem.  The visual to the right is simple and can be a good reminder for kids who have a hard time respecting personal space.  You can make a game out of it by taking some of your child's favorite characters and do some role playing with them.  

~there are a lot of fun gross motor games that you can play to help children work on improving their body awareness.  One of our favorites at TMH is a version of musical chairs combined with freeze dance using hula hoops.  We put out a bunch of different colored hula hoops out and play music; when the music stops, we call out a color and the kids have to run to that hula hoop.  The challenge is that there is never enough for each kid to have their own hula hoop so they have to share the hula hoop with a friend without touching them.  

If you have a child who tends to be too rough with their friends or family or has a hard time with respecting personal space, Wally Wants To Hug is a great book to have in your personal library.  Teaching children about personal space at a young age will help set them up for social success as they get older.  If you have any other books that deal with this topic, I would love to hear from you.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.  

Friday, February 2, 2018

Boom Yah!

One of the things I love about the holiday season is that it often means the discovery of new toys to bring into work.  I am a bit of a stalker on Facebook and Instagram when people post pictures of the gifts their kids got for the holidays because I always find something new.  This year, one of my colleagues posted pictures and videos of a game and I just knew I had to have it.  The pure joy and the hysterical laughter coming from everyone playing it made me go right to Amazon and order it.

Boom Blast Stix by Moose Toys has quickly become not only one of my favorite games, but the kids love it too.  My daughter was actually upset with me that I was taking it to work.  It's a simple game that doesn't require batteries and can keep kids entertained for a long time. The directions are very straightforward making it a great game for kids (and grownups) of all ages.  While it says it's meant for kids who are 6 and older, I have played it with some of my 4 year olds and they have been successful.  The game comes with a container and lid, which acts as the gameboard and 32 stix.  Kids have to lock the sticks into place, great for improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, and then gently place them on top of the lid.  The key to this game is placing the pieces on as gently as possible with the goal being stacking as many as possible before the stix explode.  The biggest obstacle I have found with  my kids is the whole idea of gently placing them on top of each other.  So many of my kids I work with have difficulty with regulating their movements and are often in a rush to finish their turn.  While I remind them at the beginning of the game to take their time with their turn, I have found that after a couple of times of their stick unsnapping, they remember to slow down without verbal prompting.

**one other kids have a tendency to put their heads right above the game as they are putting their pieces down.  It's important that they keep their faces away as you have no idea when the pile will explode and where the pieces will go!

In addition to working on the aforementioned skills, this game is great for working on the following skills:
Improves Grasp Strength/Manipulation Skills-the locking of the sticks is a great activity to help make those little muscles in the hands get stronger.  Kids also have to pay attention to how they are snapping the pieces into place.  I also require that the kids use a pincer grasp when placing it on the lid.
**I sometimes sneak an extra strengthening activity during cleanup by making them pick up all the pieces with a pair of child-friendly chopsticks
Improves Bilateral Coordination-in order to lock the stix, kids must use two hands at a time.  Many of the kids I work with will try and use their dominant hand at all times but with this game, you just can't snap the pieces into place without using both hands.
Improves Hand-Eye Coordination-this game requires a tremendous amount of visual attention and focus.  Kids must look at the pieces carefully before placing the piece down.
Improves Executive Functioning Skills-this game is great for working on improving focus and attentional skills.  It's also perfect for working on self-regulation and organizational skills.  It requires a child to control the impulse to throw the pieces down on the lid.  It also works on motor planning and organizational skills because they have to look at the pieces on the lid and see what spot is the safest/least likely to cause the pieces to explode when they put them down.
Improves Social Skills-while the directions are very straight forward with this game, you can challenge the kids you are playing with to try and come up with their own rules.  Throw a dice into the box and have them roll the dice to see how many sticks they need to put down on that turn.

What I really love about Boom Blast Stix is how many occupational therapy goals can be addressed while playing this game.  The kids don't even realize that they are "working" which makes it doubly great.  Parents are always asking me what they can be doing at home with their kids and the thing that is most important to me is that kids don't feel as though they are in another therapy session.  Good family games are always my go-to recommendations and Boom Blast Stix will be on the top of that list!

If you have any other fun family games that you have recently discovered, especially ones that would be good for the whole family, I would love to hear about them.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.