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!