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.

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!