Thursday, July 18, 2013

Building Just Got More Fun!

Recently, I took a trip to the Bronx Zoo with my family to check out their new Dinosaur Safari.  While we were annoyingly shut out of the actual safari part, we were still able to participate in a variety of fun arts and crafts activities that they have set up in conjunction with the exhibit.  As a therapist, I am always on the lookout for new toys that will motivate my kids to be challenged when working with me.  When I walked into the area, my eyes immediately went to the dry erase board filled with the cutest homemade zoo animals and dinosaurs made out of LaQ construction toys.  I had never seen them before but spent some time playing with them at the zoo and went right home to order them for my office.  I won't husband and 3 year old daughter spent hours creating this weekend.  They didn't follow a pattern but used their imagination to build creatures from Quinn's mind.  They had so much fun playing and telling stories to each other based on what they had built.  While daddy did most of the work, Quinn still got to be an active participant by pulling some of the pieces apart and finding the pieces that daddy needed.

LaQ construction toys are a great way to work on improving grasp strength and fine motor skills.  There are 7 different shaped pieces/connectors.  With those 7 pieces, what one can build is just endless.  The pieces are small and require a child to use a pincer grasp to push the pieces together.  For kids who struggle with grasping skills, this is a fun way to work on improving that without them even knowing it.  And if they are fans of construction toys, they will be asking to play with these all the time.  Unlike Legos, LaQ blocks are thin so you can really only use two fingers on each hand to push them together (for therapists/educators who do a lot of homecare, they are small and light enough that you can throw them in your work bag and bring them from place to place without being weighed down).  The pieces are colorful and they make this awesome snapping sound when they are pushed together.  For some kids, it is great to have some kind of sound to know that they have successfully gotten the pieces together and should move onto the next step.  

There are a variety of sets to choose from including dinosaurs and food.  While each set comes with a book full of patterns, you can check out their website for many more great ideas.  The nice thing is is that there are 3 different levels of patterns so there should be something for everyone to choose from.  I like the patterns on the website a little better than the books that come with the sets because they break down the steps with more clarity.  

In addition to what I have already spoken about, there are several other OT goals that can be addressed using LaQ construction blocks:
Improve Organization and Sorting Skills-there are 7 different shaped pieces in all LaQ sets.  They may come in a variety of primary and pastel colors, but these 7 shapes can make thousands and thousands of designs and patterns.  Many of the kids I work with need help organizing their work and on each of the patterns provided, there is a grid provided telling you how many of each shape and color you need.  I like to have my kids sort these out before they begin to put their creations together.
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-for those of you who work with school age children who continue to struggle with bilateral coordination, this is a great activity to work on encouraging that skill. There is no way that a child can be successful with this toy if they don't use two hands.  They will need to hold pieces in both hands in order to put complete the patterns and be successful in creating a final product.
Improve Visual Motor/Perceptual Skills-while there is room for a child to be totally creative, there are hundreds of patterns to choose from.  When I was at the Bronx Zoo, there were mostly zoo animal and dinosaur patterns out for kids to create but through my google searches, I have found all different kinds of patterns.  I bought this set more geared towards girls that includes a head band and jewelry box, to name just a few.  Once you pick a pattern, it really requires you to visually attend to what you are doing in order to follow the patterns so the pattern comes out the way it is supposed to.
Improve Frustration Tolerance-this is a challenging activity.  It requires a child to have an enormous amount of patience, which many of the kids that I work with lack.  It may require them to not only accept but ask for help from a friend or a grown-up.  Asking for help can be a frustrating thing for a child who wants to believe that he/she can do things all on their own.  They would rather figure it out on their own which often leads to them giving up.  Encourage kids to ask for help and talk to them about how everyone sometimes needs help and that it is okay.
How awesome are these LaQ creations?
Improve Focus/Attention Skills-this is an activity that requires a child to really focus on what they are doing.  They need to focus on what pieces they are taking and focus on following the directions/patterns.  If their attention strays, they may have to take apart the whole project and start again from the beginning.  If I know a child has difficulty with attending, especially to new and more challenging activities, I like to set a timer for them.  They know before even beginning that they will be required to focus for x amount of time and just knowing that sometimes keeps a child's focus and attention on what it needs to be on.
Improve Confidence and Self-Esteem Skills-I have always noticed how completing long term Lego projects often bring out a tremendous amount of pride in a child.  I have bought Lego sets for my kids who have fine motor delays and decreased self-esteem and confidence and worked on these sets for weeks or months at a time.  When they finish the project and can show it off to their parents or caregivers, they are beyond proud.  This is a similar activity and from what I have seen so far, when a child finishes their creation, whether it is from their imagination or from a pattern, they are beaming with pride.
Improve Social Skills-while a child could be happy doing this completely on their own, it is also a great activity to do with a friend.  This is a perfect activity to do in a small group to work on turn taking, problem solving and working on pragmatic skills like asking and accepting help from a peer.  For many of the kids that I work with, the idea of completing a project like this with the help of another is a difficult concept.  As children get older, they will be required to participate in group projects at school and will have to learn to be flexible and work as a partner and not an individual.  This is a great activity to do in order to prepare your child for working as part of a team with friends and classmates.

More awesome LaQ creations at the Bronx Zoo
I can't say enough about how great these manipulative toys are.  My only regret is I didn't know about them earlier in the year because I had many kids on my caseload who would have loved them and we would have been able to work on so many skills without them even realizing it.

I would love to hear from you guys about how you are using these at home or at work.  Do you have any creations you want to share with us?  I am just a click away and would love to hear from you.

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