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!