Sunday, November 18, 2018

2018 Holiday Gift Guide-Children's Books

One of my favorite gifts to give is a good book. Unlike many gifts, it is something that can be used over and over again and when it is a truly special book, it can be held onto and saved for future generations. Over the years I have spent quite a bit of time building a library of books for the social skills group I lead at The Meeting House. Each of the books has some kind of social emotional lesson to teach children. Some of the major themes covered in the following books are labeling and identifying feelings, kindness and empathy, being brave and overcoming fears and perspective taking.  One of the things I have learned over the years is that children can have a difficult time talking about or recognizing their own social difficulties. By providing them with a story that has some kind of social theme, you provide them with a safe outlet to discuss things that may be tricky for them. I have been amazed over the last few years with my kids at The Meeting House how they have been able to talk about and problem solve a variety of social difficulties we all experience at some point. By taking away the personal part and focusing on a character, they feel less intimidated to talk about them around their peers. Below I share 25 of my favorite children's books that would be a great addition to any personal library or classroom.

Be Kind by Pat Zieltow Miller-When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind? From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference-or at least help a friend. 
The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas-we spend a lot of time teaching children about concepts such as colors, numbers and letters, but not enough time teaching them about feelings and emotions. This interactive pop-up book helps kids learn about emotions by matching them with a color and helps to open up the conversation about what feelings look like. 

After The Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat-everyone knows that when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. But what happened after? We learn about Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high on the city wall-that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can no longer do many of the things he loves most. Will he find the courage to face his fear? This book teaches children about what happens when you face your fears and take chances. 

ish by Peter Reynolds-Ramon loved to draw. Anytime, anything and anywhere! Drawing is what Ramon does and what makes him feel good about himself. It is what makes him happy until his older brother makes a mean comment and he no longer can find the joy in drawing. Ramon can't draw without feeling sad and worried about what he is doing. Luckily for him, his younger sister the world differently and opens Ramon's eyes and makes him realize that things don't always have to be "just right". This is a great book for children who are always seeking perfection and need to know that "just right" is different for everyone and just because someone doesn't like what you are doing, it shouldn't stop you from finding joy from it.

The Book Of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken-one eye was bigger than the other. That was a mistake. The weird frog-cat-cow thing? It made an excellent bush. And the inky smudges....they look as if they were always meant to be leaves floating gently across the sky. As one artist incorporates accidental splotches, spots and mishapen things into her art, she transforms her piece in quirky and unexpected ways, taking readers on a journey through her process. Told in minimal and playful text, this story shows readers that even the biggest "mistakes" can be the source of great ideas...and at the end of the day, we are all works in progress. 

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds-as art class ends, Vashti is sitting in her chair staring at a blank piece of paper feeling frustrated by not being able to complete her art assignment. Her teacher walks over and tells her to make a mark on the paper...any mark will do. She angrily makes a dot on her paper and then her teacher tells her to sign the paper. When she comes into class the following week, her picture is hanging above her teacher's desk which ignites her confidence and encourages her to try more. As her confidence continues to grow, so do her artistic abilities. This book is a good reminder to kids of all ages that sometimes you have to take a chance and step outside of your comfort zone in order to get better at something. 

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires-a little girl and her assistant, her beloved dog, set out to make the most magnificent thing. But after spending a lot of time and energy on her project, the final product just isn't what she had imagined. Frustrated, she quits. Her assistant suggests a long way to cool off and as she calms down, she realizes what she has to do in order to succeed. This is a great story that teaches kids about perspective, not giving up even when feeling frustrated and helps them realize that there is no reason for things to be perfect all the time.  

Fair is Fair by Sonny Varela-"It's not fair!" This is something that parents and teachers hear all of the time when they think someone else, a sibling or classmate, is getting more than they are. Do special needs for one mean less love for another? This is the question explored in this short children's story of three zoo animals. They learn that being equally loved doesn't necessarily mean that they're treated the exact same. Rather, true love is expressed when each animal gets what they need. This is a perfect book for all families with siblings who think may think that things are never fair. 

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry-when Stick rescues Stone from a scary situation with a Pinecone, the pair becomes fast and best friends. But when Stick gets stuck, can Stone return the favor? This simple book uses a nice rhyming text that makes it easy for children to follow and is a nice introduction to bullying, friendship and kindness. 

Everybody's Welcome by Patricia Hegarty-poor Frog's pond has dried up and he has nowhere to live. Luckily, he meets friendly Mouse, who is just starting to build a new house. "Everybody's welcome, no matter who they are, "explains Mouse. "Wherever they may come from, whether near or far." As Frog and Mouse build a house together, they meet more animals without a place to live. Soon, they all join to build a big, beautiful home where everyone is welcome, safe and war. Children will learn about how important it is to always lend a helping hand to those in need no matter who they are. It also teaches them about community and how all kinds of people can not only live together, but work together to help each other. 

Courage by Bernard Waber-What is courage? Certainly it takes courage for a firefighter to rescue someone trapped in a burning building, but there are many other kinds of courage too. Everyday kinds that normal, ordinary people exhibit all the time, like "being the first to make up after an argument," or "going to bed without a nightlight." In this book, all acts of courage, both big and small, are celebrated and show that we are all heroes when we can overcome some of our fears. 

We Are All Wonders by RJ Palacio-so many people were moved by the book Wonder, a novel about a little boy named Auggie born with significant craniofacial differences. In this picture book, we hear more about Auggie and get a better understanding of every child's desire to belong and be seen for who you are and not what you look like. It's a beautiful and simple book that helps kids learn about empathy, kindness and accepting. 

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts-hardly anyone noticed young Sally McCabe. She was the smallest girl in the smallest grade. But Sally notices everything-from the 27 keys on the janitor's ring to the bullying happening on the playground. One day, Sally has had enough and decides to make herself heard. And when she takes a chance and stands up to the bullies, she finds that one small girl CAN make a difference. This book is great for teaching kids that anyone can make a difference, no matter how big or small and how those acts of kindness can be contagious.

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel-teaching children about perspective taking can be really challenging, but is also very important. This is a great book to teach children about perspective and how everyone may see or feel things differently. The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws....In this glorious celebration of observation, curiosity and imagination, kids learn about how perspective shapes what we see. 

Waiting by Kevin Henkes-five friends sit happily on a windowsill, waiting for something amazing to happen. The owl is waiting for the moon. The pig is waiting for the rain. The bear is waiting for the wind. The puppy is waiting for the snow. And the rabbit is just looking out the window because he likes to wait! What will happen? Will patience win in the end? Or someday will the friends stop waiting and do something unexpected. Waiting is a big, and oftentimes very difficult, part of being a kid....waiting in line, waiting to have a turn at something, waiting to grow up to do big kid things and waiting for something special to happen.

The Bad Seed by Jory John-this is a book about a bad seed....a really bad seed! How bad? Do you really want to know? He has a bad temper, bad manners and a bat attitude. He's been bad as long as he can remember. This seed cuts in line every time, stares at everybody and never listens. But what happens when one mischievous little seed changes his mind about himself and decides he want to change and be happy? This book is great for teaching kids that if you put in some effort and try new things, positive change can happen for anyone. 

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein-It's time for the little red chicken's bedtime story-and a reminder from Papa to try not to interrupt. But the chicken can't help herself! Whether the tale is Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood or even Chicken Little, she jumps into the story to try and save the characters from doing silly or dangerous things. When it is time for the little chicken to finally tell her story, will he be able to stay awake and keep from yawning/interrupting her? This is a great way to teach kids about interrupting and the effect it has on other people....even if they are doing it out of pure excitement.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson-there are many reasons for children to feel different. Maybe it's the way you look or talk, where you come from or maybe it is because you may have a harder time talking or walking. It's not easy to take the risks to join a group when nobody really knows you yet, but you know you have to do it. This book is a helpful reminder to children how we may all feel when you have to join a new group and that if you open up and share  some of your own stories, there just might be others that you can connect with. This is a story about being brave, especially when you feel like you might be alone.

Tough Guys: (have feelings too) by Keith Negley-a boldly illustrated picture book talking about how everyone gets sad-ninjas, wrestlers, knights, superheroes, everyone...even daddies have emotions! We live in a society where some kids, especially boys, believe that they have to act a certain way. It's incredibly important for all kids to know that feelings are a normal thing and that EVERYONE feels them, no matter how tough they may seem. This is an important book that shows all people are allowed to express their feelings no matter what gender expectations and social norms say. 

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek-this is one of my favorite books about feelings. What I like about this is that it gives children a better idea of how feelings can physically feel to you. It is totally normal for kids to feel a certain way but it is also normal for those physical reactions to feelings can scare children at times. Happiness, sadness, bravery, anger, shyness....our hearts can feel so many feelings! Some makes us feel as light as a balloon, others as heavy as an elephant. 

Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig-meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game or birthday party...until, that is, a new kid comes to class. When Justin, the new boy arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine. This story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. 

The Way I Feel by Janan Cain-feelings are neither good or bad....they just are. Kids need words to name their feelings and that can be really difficult for some kids. The Way I Feel uses bold, colorful and expressive images to go along with simple verses to help children connect the word and the emotion. While your child is being introduced to new words, you can take this opportunity to talk to kids about what makes them feel those emotions or how they might be able to notice these feelings in other people. 

The Way I Act by Steve Metzger-in this companion book to The Way I Feel, children learn that feelings come and go and that it is okay to feel all different kinds of feelings. The Way I Act looks at 13 different kinds of behaviors you may feel/see and provide tips on how you can maybe change the way you act in those situations. The pictures are fun and great for opening up conversation with kids on how it is normal to behave in certain ways but that we have the chance to redo moments and behave differently. 

Everyone by Christopher Silas Neal-in this book, children are invited to explore how we feel and also how other people feel things too. From the animals in the woods to the neighbors in their homes nearby, everyone has feelings and shares them in this whimsical story. Vivid, childlike art in a limited palette conveys a full spectrum of emotion. Young children easily frustrated by a popped balloon or overjoyed by a sky full of starts with relish this simple exploration of empathy. 

Can I Play Too by Mo Willems-Gerald is careful. Piggie is not. Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can. Gerald worries so that Piggie doesn't have to. Gerald and Piggie are best friends. In Can I PLay Too:, Gerald and Piggie meet a new snake friend who want to join their game of catch but they are worried how they can include snake since you need arms to play catch. This book is great for showing kids that sometimes you have to be flexible and think outside of the box to include friends into an activity that you think should go a certain way. 

This is just a sampling of some of my favorite children's books that have a social emotional lesson to teach kids. If you are looking for a book with a specific theme, please don't hesitate reaching out to me. I have so many more book suggestions and am only a click away. If you have any books that you think should be added to my library, please share! I am always happy to have a new books to share with the kids I work with. 

I have intentionally left out links to these books. I make a point of purchasing my children's books from local bookstores. Do you know if you go into bookstores, they can special order any book you want and get it to you almost as fast as ordering online? Here are some of my go-to children's bookstores in New York City:

Stories Bookshop and Storytelling Lab-Park Slope, Brooklyn

Community Bookstore-Park Slope, Brooklyn
Greenlight Bookstore-Fort Greene, Brooklyn 
powerHouse on 8th-Park Slope, Brooklyn (there is also a second location in DUMBO)
Books Are Magic-Cobble Hill, Park Slope 
Bank Street Bookstore-multiple locations on the UWS of Manhattan
Books of Wonder-Union Square and UWS locations
Shakespeare and Co-UES and UWS locations

Thursday, November 8, 2018

2018 Holiday Gift Guide-Open Ended Toy Edition

I can't believe the time to work on my gift guide is already here! With Hanukkah less than a month away and Christmas just about 6 weeks away, it's time to start thinking gifts. My first installment of this year's gift guide will focus on open-ended toys. This is something that I have been trying to incorporate into both my private occupational therapy practice and during the hang-out time for my kids in The Meeting House Juniors program.

I wish I had known more about the importance of open-ended play when my daughter was younger because there are so many benefits. Here are five benefits of open-ended play opportunities for children:
1. Provides opportunities for kids of all ages to explore ideas and concept such as mathematics and science. Additionally, it helps with improving problem solving skills and increased language development.
2. It provides kids with a stress-free play environment where kids don't have to worry about doing things perfectly all the time
3. Open-ended play helps kids develop both social and emotional intelligence.
4. It provides kids with the chance to teach themselves things since they aren't being told how to play with these kinds of toys.
5. It helps in developing confidence and increased self-esteem in children.

The toys recommended below would actually be considered investment pieces. They are things that will cost more money but will last forever. I actually have a handful of these from when my daughter was younger (she is now 8 1/2 years old) and they are still in rotation when she plays. When I have to buy a gift for a special family member or friend, these are some of my go-to's.

Squigz-since I discovered these a few years ago, this line of toys from Fat Brain Toys has evolved and they keep getting better. Be sure to check out the full line of Squigz that I have linked to see what is best for your child. I've been using the original Squigz with my  kids for years and one of the things I love about them is that they still look brand new. They are really well made and can take a beating from being used by dozens and dozens of kids. These open-ended suction cup toys stick to each other and onto a variety of surfaces (I've used them on mirrors, in the bathtub and windows). Squigz are great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, encourages bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination all while letting kids use their imagination to create structures.

Magna-Tiles-a long time favorite of mine and one of my favorite gifts to give. These are definitely worth every penny spent and will last a lifetime. And let me say one thing...I have ordered generic magnetic tiles before and they just don't hold up the same way the original Magna-Tiles do. I have had the same set for years and years and they have been used by hundreds of kids, been dunked in water and been used to build some pretty awesome structures on the sidewalks of Brooklyn and have held up beautifully. Magna-Tiles are great for encouraging creativity and imagination skills and also for working on developing visual motor and visual perceptual skills, improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, focus, attention and organizational skills. These are also great to encourage social skills by having kids build things together. Also, Magna-Tiles are a great gift for children who have disabilities that inhibit their motor skills. Because of the magnets, the blocks stick together with less effort and allow kids to be more successful which also encourages learning.

Wooden Building Blocks-I can still remember the hours and hours of fun I had with my sisters building with our blocks years ago. It's so nice that all these years later, I can go into any classroom and see a bookshelf filled with classic blocks and see kids swarming around them. With that in mind, I go back to my comment about investment pieces. A good set of wooden blocks will last you forever so it's worth spending more for a good quality set. This set by Guidecraft has 84 different pieces of varying sizes and shapes and are amazing in quality. Building with blocks has so many benefits (read this article that lists them all) including encouraging creativity, imagination and increasing confidence and self-esteem. It is also great for for working on problem solving and organizational skills, increasing upper extremity strength and bilateral coordination skills. Additionally, building blocks are a perfect toy to work on improving social skills, such as taking turns, being flexible about ideas and working with a team to build something.

Plus-Plus Blocks-I first fell in love with Plus-Plus blocks because of their fun colors and the how they were a perfect portable fine-motor tool. The more I played with them with my daughter, the more I realized how wonderful they were for developing fine motor and grasping skills. We have had countless hours of fun making all kinds of creations with our Plus-Plus blocks. We even used them to practice making letters, numbers and shapes when she was younger. In addition to working on fine motor skills, Plus-Plus blocks help to develop bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills while encouraging creativity and imagination. One of the things I love most about Plus-Plus blocks is that they are a great on-the-go activity and can easily be kept in a backpack or purse to keep your kids entertained while waiting at appointments, while out to dinner or in the car/airplane without the use of technology.

Winter Themed Loose Parts Set-you can't go wrong with anything from the Hope Learning Toys shop on Etsy. All of the products are amazing and encourage learning with sensory play experiences in mind. The Winter Loose Parts Box is one of my favorites and would make a perfect gift for your little one. Each set comes with a 6-piece stackable tree and dowel, a jar of homemade play dough, 4-piece snowman family, glass beads, mini pine cones and so much more. This set will not only encourage creativity and imagination skills, it will work on developing fine motor, visual motor and perceptual skills while providing opportunities to work on increasing focus, attention and organizational skills.

Joinks-this is another great open-ended toy that helps in developing fine motor and grasping skills. The set comes with a variety of wooden dowels, silicone connectors with up to 5 prongs and suction cup connectors that help make your creation stick to different surfaces. Joints are great for individual or group play and encourages creativity, imagination skills, problem solving and organizational skills. Additionally, they work on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination and increases grasp strength and manipulation skills.

Tegu Magnetic Blocks-I feel in love with Tegu blocks the minute I saw them years ago and have a pretty sweet collection of them that daughter still uses to this day. Like Magna-Tiles, these magnetic blocks are great for children who may have difficulty with manipulating other kinds of building blocks due to physical disabilities. The set I have linked is a good first set and comes with 42 pieces in various shapes and sizes but there are so many other sets to check out here. Tegu blocks encourage creativity and imagination skills while also working on developing grasping skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
Rainbow Family Peg Doll Sorter-this is something I bought on a whim a few months ago and have been pleasantly surprised at how much use they have gotten at work. It is a simple toy with endless possibilities. The set consists of 6 rainbow colored boxes which house 4 matching peg dolls in 4 sizes. I have used this to work on skills such as color identification, sorting and matching but I have been so excited to see how the kids all have their own way of playing and interacting with the dolls. Some kids have organized their sorting all of one color at a time and placing them in the box in size order which shows some pretty awesome executive functioning skills.

Way To Play Highway Play Set-this is one of my new favorite toys of the season and definitely worth splurging on if you have a kid who loves to build and play with cars/vehicles. They have also been a huge hit with all my kids at work. Kids can make their own roads by connecting the segments. These can be used on any surface and used indoors or outdoors. These are great for encouraging creativity and imagination, works on developing bilateral coordination skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and helps with increasing grasping skills. It's also a great activity to encourage social skills by having kids work together to build their roads.

Areaware Blockitecture Big City-this block set is a perfect compliment to the Way To Play Highway Play Set. Once the kids build their road, they can use these blocks to build a whole city around the road. They not only helps them develop hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, it helps with developing planning and reasoning skills. As with all kinds of other building blocks, these will help with social and emotional growth by having kids work together to create their city, taking turns adding things to the city and being flexible when their friends are adding things they may not want.

Does  your family have a favorite open-ended toy? It's always fun to hear from families and therapists what kind of open-ended materials they use to encourage creativity in children.

Be sure to keep checking back for the rest of my 2018 Gift Guides. If you are looking for something specific for your child(ren), please let me know. I am always a click away and love hearing from everyone.