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. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

On The Go Fun!

It's hard to believe that the end of another school year is quickly approaching.  Being the mother of a second grader, the countdown to the last day of school has begun (27 school days left as of today).  For us, the summer means being on the go quite a bit.  I think that is the norm for most families, right?  It is during the summer months, that many of the kids I work with go on vacations and miss more therapy than they do during the school year.  Many of the parents panic a bit about this and are looking for ways they can make sure their kids don't regress.  They are also looking for things to take on the go....things they can throw in a beach bag or in a backpack when traveling and need to keep their kids entertained for long periods of time.  They want hands-on things so their kids don't spend time on some kind of device.

In today's blog, I share a dozen of my favorite on-the-go craft sets and activity sets and books that you can throw in your bag and easily take with you wherever you may be going.  They are things that can work towards a variety of occupational therapy goals but your kids won't even know it because they are super fun and the "therapy" piece is hidden from them. 

On-The-Go Jewelry Making Kit-this is a great activity set for your little craft lovers.  It contains 102 multicolored beads and  2 different colors of cords.  It comes in a convenient little carrying case making it a perfect on-the-go kit.  Making jewelry is great for working on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills, increases grasp strength and manipulation skills and encourages bilateral coordination.  It is also great for helping kids become more creative as there is no right or's just what you put together.  

Playfoam Go-if you have a little sensory seeker, this is a great on-the-go set for them.  Educational Insights Playfoam is a non-toxic molding dough that never dries out.  It can be molded into anything the imagination comes up with.  One of the best things about it is that it won't stick on anything
This set contains 8 blocks of different colored Playfoam in a portable carrying case.  The top of the case has 4 shapes on top so you can turn your Playfoam into a star, triangle, circle or square 

Melissa and Doug Water Wow-I've been a fan of these Water Wow books for ages and are great for younger children.  What I love about it is that each of the books comes with a water brush you fill up before use.  Kids use this water brush to color in pictures, learn how to write numbers, letters and shapes and complete a variety of different activities (dot-to-dot, mazes, etc.).  Perfect for car or plane rides as you don't have to worry about markers or crayons getting all over the place.  Great for working on introducing younger children to graphomotor skills (drawing, coloring and handwriting), improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and and can increase focus and attentional skills. 

Take-Along Games-this set by Peaceable Kingdom is great for keeping kids entertained while in a car/plane, at a restaurant or those down times at the pool or beach.  The set comes with 4 games that use reusable stickers (think Colorforms): Tic-Tac-Toe, Four-in-a-Row, Memory Match-up and On-the-Go Bingo.  In addition to keeping kids entertained, these are great for working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on executive functioning skills.   

Little Travelers On-The-Go Magnetic Play Set-this tin contains 25 magnetic pieces that can be mixed and matched to create different people who are ready for some kind of travel adventure.  The tin not only acts as storage, the inside has two scenes printed on the inside where the characters can be displayed.  This open-ended toy encourages creativity in children as there is no right or wrong way to make the characters.  Kids use their imagination to come up with all kinds of characters.  This set is also great for improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and helps in developing fine motor and grasping skills.  You can help encourage language in kids by having them talk about their characters and what they are doing in the scenes.  

Glow Friends Neon Colouring Set-sometimes my daughter is perfectly content with the coloring pages that you may get a children's menu on at restaurants but most of the time she wants more than a couple of crayons and whatever they give you to color.  This coloring set by Tiger Tribe is a perfect for throwing in your bag, whether you are going out to eat or about to hop in a car or a plane for a long trip.  Each set comes in a sturdy box with a magnetic top and contains 36 coloring pages, 2 storage drawers, 3 sheets of stickers and 3 double sided markers.  Great for working on improving graphomotor skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages creativity.  

On-The-Go Coloring Kit-another great on-the-go kit by Kid Made Modern.  This Coloring Kit contains a 24-page coloring book, 10 markers and  a dozen hexagon crayons (awesome for encouraging a proper grasp).  All of these awesome tools come in a super convenient canvas storage tote you can throw in any bag.  Perfect for improving graphomotor skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages creativity while working on increasing focus, attention and organizational skills.  

Scratch and Sketch Games and Puzzles Ocean World-I am a longtime fan of the the Scratch and Sketch books by Peter Pauper Press.  I recently saw this book filled with a variety of games and puzzles and snatched it up immediately for my own daughter for our next trip out to California.  It includes games like crossword puzzles, complete the pictures and connect-the-dots.  In addition to the 20 pages of scratch paper activities, there are also 20 pages of activities like Tic-Tac-Toe, the Dot Game and Sudoku.  This book is great for working on improving graphomotor skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills 

My Brick Case: Travel Lego Box-my daughter is obsessed with Legos and insists on taking a bag full of them whenever we travel.  I love Legos because they not only keeps her entertained for hours on end, it is one of the things I recommend to all my families to help build grasp strength an in-hand manipulation skills.  This travel Lego box by ModFamily is a perfect storage case for your Lego fan.  What I love about it is that it can hold hundreds of pieces and has two base plates built onto each side of the box so kids can build and create while on the go.  **I suggest putting all your Lego pieces in a Ziploc bag and placing it in the case so when they are ready to build, they can just grab their pieces from the bag.  In addition to improving grasp strength, building with Legos encourages creativity, works on improving bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.  

On-The-Go Stationery Kits-I have all of these stationery kits by OOLY!  I couldn't decide which ones I wanted for my daughter so just got them all.  During the summer months, I am going to encourage (actually going to force) my daughter to keep in touch with friends and family via old-fashioned snail mail.  This is a good way to work on her spelling and writing with it being a bit more fun than just practicing.  These sets by OOLY are definitely motivating her to write some letters, especially the Unique Unicorns set!  Each set comes in a sturdy plastic case and contains: 8 letter sheets, 4 postcards, 4 envelopes, a notebook, a sheet of stickers, a multi-colored pen, a mechanical pencil and an eraser.  In addition to working on improving graphomotor skills, it is a great way to work on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.  

Wikki-Stix Traveler Set-another one of those awesome toys that I have been pushing on parents for years.  I was first introduced to Wikki Stix when at a restaurant.  The wax covered yarn kept my daughter (and husband) entertained the entire time we waited for our meal.  Wikki Stix are .  This set contains 144 Wikki Stix in 16 different colors, a 12 page activity book with different ideas for the kids to make, 2 activity sheets with games like tic-tac-toe and connect-the-dots and is all stored in a sturdy carrying case.  This set is great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Kids can work on creativity by building their own designs.    

Mad Libs-this is one of my families favorite things to do when we are in the car.   We all take turns being the writer (except for whoever is driving!) and take turns coming up with words.  Mad Libs are a sure fire way to make kids laugh hysterically as they read the completed story.  They are also an amazingly motivating way to teach kids about parts of language, how to spell and expand their vocabulary.  In addition to the aforementioned, Mad Libs are good for encouraging creativity and working on executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organizational skills.  Warning: depending on your child's sense of humor, you may want to come up with some family game rules before you start such as forbidden kinds of words!  There are now dozens and dozens of different editions of Mad Libs so if you have a kid who may be resistant to writing, you can probably entice them with a Mad Libs books of their favorite characters, tv shows or sports.  

I could keep going and making more suggestions for On-The-Go fun but I think there is plenty here to choose from.  While many people rely on an iPad or some other kind of tablet to keep their kids happy and entertained, there are many who prefer to keep their kids busy doing something instead.  Do you have anything that you rely on for long trips or keeping your kids occupied without a screen when at a restaurant?  I would love to hear about some of your favorites and I am sure my readers would love to as well.  I am only a click away and love hearing from all of you!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book of the Week-We Are All Wonders

One of the most important things I can teach my daughter is the importance of being a kind, empathic and understanding child.  Living in New York City, children are exposed to a variety of people at a very young age.  I'm lucky enough that my daughter doesn't seem to notice people being different.  Or she notices their differences but doesn't think they matter.  The easiest way for children to learn about being kind and empathic is by seeing it from other people in their lives, especially their grown-ups.  However, there are many children who need to help understanding that not everyone looks the same and some are born with issues that make them very different than them.  For example, kids may not be able to speak or walk without a walker or may need a wheelchair in order to get around.  While it is normal for kids to be curious, we have to teach them that staring at a child for too long or asking them too many questions may make the other kids feel sad.

We Are All Wonders. by R.J. Palacio is a picture book based on her book Wonder.  I was so moved by that book when I read it a couple of years ago that I now recommend it to anyone who works with kids and have gifted it to more people than I can recall.  We Are All Wonders features Auggie Pullman, the main character of Wonder.  The main theme of the book is the importance of being kind, empathetic and understanding.  Auggie was born with facial differences and because of that, he is different than other kids his age.  The kids don't invite him to play and call him names because of the way he looks.  What those kids don't understand is that even though he may look different than him, he is very much like them.  He likes to play with the same kinds of toys and do the same kinds of activities.  Auggie is sad that nobody wants to play with him so when he is feeling extra lonely, he puts on his space helmet and he and his dog Daisy escape to Pluto where they play with old friends.  As they are coming back to Earth, Auggie sees just how big it is and how it should be big enough for all kinds of people.  This is something we all need to be reminded of at times and definitely something children need to learn from a very young age. 

Here are some questions you can ask your children and activities you can do to go along with We Are All Wonders.
~one of my favorite quotes from We Are All Wonders is "I can't change the way I look.  People just need to change the way they see."  Using this quote, you can brainstorm with the kids about how they would describe Auggie without focusing on the way he looks.  For older children, you could put everyone's name in a bag and have them pick a name out.  They must then think about something wonderful about that person that has nothing to do with they way they look.  Provide examples such as "you have a really great singing voice" or "you know how to make the coolest MagnaTile structures" or "you are a really great drawer". 

~an important conversation to have while reading this book is about how everyone is different.  We may have things in common with our friends and family, but there are things that make us each unique and extraordinary.  Go around the class and ask each child to think about something that makes them different than their peers.  If they can't come up with something, help them come up with something that you notice makes them unique and special.

~something I have introduced to my own daughter is the idea of performing random acts of kindness.  A random act of kindness is when someone unexpectedly does something kind for someone that brightens their day.  Brainstorm with your child or the class about different kinds of things that they can do for people in their lives.

~one thing that can be done in either a classroom or home setting is to make a Kindness Jar.  Every time a child is caught doing something kind for someone else, you put some kind of token in that jar.  Once the jar is full, the class earns a party or you and your child can do something special.  I sometimes suggest that parents actually write down what that act of kindness on small pieces of paper so they can read through all the great things that the kids did.  For younger children, it may be easier to have a bowl full of pom poms that they put into a jar and for the grownup to keep a running list of random acts of kindness they observe and then share some of them when the child/class earns their reward
~I have discussed this before, but it is too good not to do again in conjunction with We Are All WondersThe Kindness Rocks project is an initiative that spreads kindness through drawing, painting and creating on rocks.  People are encouraged to draw special pictures or write inspirational messages on rocks and then place them throughout their community or take them with them while they are traveling.  The hope is that people will find those rocks and their day will be a bit brighter.  For schools who want to promote social emotional learning, you could have classrooms make their own rocks and place them in different places that can be found. 

Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing my favorite books about teaching kindness, empathy and understanding to children.  I have a whole bunch but am always looking books to add to my library.  If you have any favorites you would like to share, I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Write Stuff!

There are several reasons children are referred to occupational therapy but one of the most common, especially for school age children, is because of difficulties with handwriting.  Expectations for handwriting jump pretty quickly between grades.  In most preschools, handwriting is a choice and done through more hands-on kinds of activities (which I totally support!) but in most kindergarten classes, children are expected to be able to write and then by first and second grade, they are expected to write for longer periods of time with accuracy.  Many of the kids who come my way are able to write but lack endurance or have an inefficient grip on their writing instruments that may lead to messy handwriting.

Below, I share a handful of my favorite writing instruments for children of all ages.  These are ones that I use in my practice and recommend to parents and other professionals all the time. 

Squiggle Wiggle Writer Pen-I was really excited when I saw that this pen was making a comeback.  I had used it almost daily when I first began working as an occupational therapist and loved how something could not only be motivating, but be therapeutic at the same time.  The Squiggle Wiggle Writer is vibrating pen that produces squiggly pictures.  It comes with 3 interchangeable pens which slide in and out of the tip of the pen (which is great for working on bilateral coordination).  The vibration is great for providing children with sensory input while drawing or writing which helps with focus and attention.  Kids are also given an opportunity to work on improving their creativity and imagination skills.  Since there are only three colors to choose from, I have the kids fill in details of their pictures using crayons, markers or colored pencils.
*the one downfall is that due to its weight, kids are not always able to use a tripod grasp when they hold it.  Most kids are observed to use a fisted grip to gain control of the pen which I don't always have them change.

Zebra Zensations Mechanical Colored Pencils-hands down, these are my favorite colored pencils I have used.  First of all, I am a huge fan of using mechanical pencils with children because it helps them work on grading the pressure they use when using them.  If you press too hard, the tip will break which gets frustrating after a few tries.  This set includes 24 colors but you can get a smaller set of 12 pencils here.  Another great things about these colored pencils is their triangular shape.  The triangle shape helps to encourage a tripod-like grasp when holding them.

Twist n' Write Pencil-I always have a collection of 1/2 pencils to use with the kids I work with.  The shorter a pencil is, the more likely they are to use a proper grasp.  However, there are many kids who require something else to encourage a better grip on pencils.  This typically happens due to decreased grasp strength and delayed manipulation skills.  I was introduced to the Twist n' Write pencil when I was seeking alternative writing instruments for my own daughter.  This pencil was designed for a child's hand.  The Y design not only encourages a child to utilize a tripod grasp for graphomotor tasks, it also forces them to use less pressure allowing them to write for longer periods of time without tiring.

Yummy Yummy Scented Glitter Gel Pens-I'm a complete sucker for gel pens.  Throw in scented and glitter gel pens and I am done for!  This set from OOLY is one of my daughter's favorite possessions and we must always have a backup set for her coloring, letter writing and list making projects.  I tend to only use gel pens with my older kids who I am trying to challenge more with more advanced coloring activities.  Gel pens are great because they are smoother and typically much brighter on paper.

Crayola My First Crayons-there are a lot of people who get anxious about giving toddlers any kind of crayons, markers, etc.. They are worried they may put them in their mouths or may draw on a surface they shouldn't.  I encourage parents to let their kids draw as early as possible, especially if they are showing an interest in it.  Crayola has launched a handful of new products meant just for little hands.  These egg-shaped crayons are the perfect size and shape for your little artist.  There are many benefits of children drawing at an early age including developing fine motor and grasping skills, encourages creativity and imagination, improves hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination.  It's also a great way to introduce colors to children.  If you have an easel, I highly recommend having even the youngest of artists to use that because working on a vertical surface is great for kids of all ages.

 Mumbo Jumbo Chunky Markers-another one of my favorite products from OOLY.  As I mentioned above, it is important for even the youngest of children to explore and experiment with drawing as early as possible.  It's also important that we provide them with the right tools that will help them be successful.  These washable markers are great for little hands.  The box of 16 markers are short and have a thicker barrel making it easier for little hands to hold.  The colors are really bright.  Sometimes using markers are better for children, especially if they have decreased grasp strength since it requires less pressure to make markings on the paper.  This set of markers come in a sturdy box with a handle which my kids love to carry around.

Cosmonaut Stylus-for a variety of reasons, kids spend more time on tablets these days.  As with all things, as long as you don't overdo it, working on the iPad can provide a lot of benefits.  One of the things I recommend to all parents is that if they are going to let their kids use an iPad or other kind of tablet, be sure to have them use a stylus as much as possible to help develop fine motor and grasping skills.  I think this is especially important if your child is doing any kind of handwriting or drawing apps.  There are a lot of different stylus' to choose from but the Cosmonaut is my favorite.  It is a little pricier than some of the other ones made for children but it is far more durable.  I have had mine for several years and it still looks brand new.  The barrel of the stylus is thicker which encourages a tripod-like grasp when holding it.

Twee Sidewalk Chalk-as the weather gets warmer, kids tend to spend more time outside.  One of my favorite outdoor activity is drawing with chalk. While any sidewalk chalk will do, I am a particular fan of the fun ones by Twee.  These handmade sets are created in small batches by a Philadelphia based preschool teacher and are meant only for outdoor use.  I was drawn to them when I saw the adorable sets, especially the unicorn horn set that the Easter Bunny will be delivering to my unicorn obsessed daughter.  Some of my other favorite sets from Twee are the alphabet and letters and the sushi.  There are so many benefits of drawing with chalk outdoors including: develops fine motor skills, works on increasing upper extremity strength, motivates kids to practice letters and numbers and it encourages creativity.

Rainy Dayz Gel Crayons-one thing that motivates kids to write is when they can do it on a forbidden surface like a window or mirror!  Working on a vertical surface is wonderful as it works on a variety of developmental skills, especially promotes improved fine motor and gross motor development.  In addition, working on a vertical surface helps increase core and upper extremity strength while encouraging proper wrist position, head and neck position, promotes bilateral coordination and crossing midline skills.  There are a lot of different products out there, but my favorite are the these gel crayons by OOLY.  The colors are bright and they don't require too much pressure for colors them to show up on the mirror and window.  I like gel crayons because they do help children learn about using an appropriate amount of pressure.  Many of my kids who have decreased grasp strength are observed to use a lot of pressure when coloring.  If they use too much pressure when using these gel crayons, they will lose the tip of the crayon.  For older kids, you can play games like Hangman and Tic-Tac-Toe

Handwriting Without Tears Flip Crayons-one of the first things I tell parents, caregivers or educators when they have a child with an immature grip is to break crayons into little pieces.  To be completely honest, I don't think any preschool classroom should have full sized crayons for the kids to use.  The smaller the crayon is, the more likely it is that they will use a tripod-like grasp.  The HWOT Flip Crayons are great because they are about 2 inches long and have 2 colors making them a perfect size.

Some things to keep in mind when picking out writing tools for children:
-the smaller the writing instrument is, the more likely it is to encourage a tripod-like grasp
-for kids with decreased grasp strength, drawing and coloring with markers or gel crayons may be easier and decrease frustration when presented with more challenging activities
-work on a vertical surface whenever possible.  It's not only great for working on increasing upper extremity and core strength, it encourages wrist extension which is important for proper grasp on writing instruments

If you have any questions or are looking for something specific for your child, don't hesitate reaching out.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.