Friday, April 8, 2016

My Top 10 OT Tools

For those of you who aren't occupational therapists, you may not realize that April is Occupational Therapy Month.  It began in 1980 and was scheduled to coincide with the AOTA Conference and Expo.  I feel beyond fortunate to work in a field where there are so many dedicated professionals with the common goal of making life better and happier for people.

I thought it would be fun to make this week's post focus on my top 10 tools for my sessions.  While my closet and storage boxes are overflowing, there are a handful of things that I consistently use with kids of all ages and skill levels almost every single day.  The thing that is common amongst all of the items listed below are that they can be used at home with kids.  They are tools that a parent can have that will help us therapist's carry over some of the work that I do during my sessions.  They are things that don't take up a ton of space and don't require the knowledge of an occupational therapist to use.  Most of them are things that can be picked up in local toy stores or on  Lastly, they are all affordable and things that can be modified depending on a child's age and skill level.

1.  Discovery Putty-for years, I was hiding objects and coins in therapy putty.  It served the purpose to help build strength in those little hands, but it got old and boring and the kids would lose interest quickly.  When I heard about Discovery Putty by Fun and Function, I quickly became obsessed and it became a fan favorite of all my kids.  Kids who used to avoid this activity now ask to find the animals, treats, vehicles or school supplies hidden in varying resistance of putty.

2.  Zoo Sticks-where shall I begin with my love for Zoo Sticks by Hog Wild Toys???  I began using them to pick up these squishy plastic animals to work on improving fine motor skills and grasp strength.  I now use them for pretty much anything I can....whether it is to pick up the pieces of fruit from a game like Hi Ho Cherry O or to pick up M&Ms to work on sorting by color, Zoo Sticks are a great, versatile and affordable tool to have at home.  I often suggest parents pick a few sets of these up to have eat dinner with.  It's an easy way to work on improving eye-hand coordination, grasp strength, visual motor skills and independence for feeding.  Plus, they are super fun and cool looking!

3. Stylus for an iPad-there are a ton of different kinds of stylus' to choose from these days.  And like most things, when there are so many to choose from, it becomes too difficult and we just opt to avoid. If you are going to use an iPad to help facilitate skills, especially handwriting skills, I always suggest using a stylus as it is  I have 3 that I recommend to parents these days:
iCreate Crayon Stylus-looks and feels like one of those fat Crayola crayons.  Good for promoting an appropriate grasp on a writing instrument.  Kids like to use it because it looks like something they are used to using
Kikkerland Retro Stylus Pen-light weight and provides a 2 in 1 writing option.  Kids can practice using an appropriate grip on an iPad and a piece of paper using the same writing instrument.
Cosmonaut-I've been through a lot of different stylus pens but right now, this is my absolute favorite. There is a lot to love about this $25 stylus....the width of the stylus makes it good for encouraging an appropriate tripod grasp.  The weight of it is good for encouraging a child to use the appropriate amount of pressure when writing with it.  Lastly, it is a very well made and durable stylus so it is able to a beating from a lot of use from kids.

4.  Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-I discovered these years ago and now always have a couple of sets in the office to work on with kids.  The idea is very simple:  kids have to match different colored stickers to the number that it goes with to make a colorful picture.  It's a great craft to work on improving fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  They are super motivating and fun activity to do with children of all ages.  Over the years, the selection has grown making it easy to find a set that will make your kid excited to complete.

5.  Spot It Games-I'm a big fan of games that are not only fun for kids to play, but easily adapted for all different ages and skill sets.  Spot It, by Blue Orange Games, is one of those kind of games.  There are a variety of ways to play this game, but the basic gist of it is that you have to find matching objects between cards.  Each card has an equal number of objects and even when you don't think it is at all possible, there is always one matching object.  Great for working on a variety of visual skills, focus and attention and social skills.  One of the best things about this game is that it is small, lightweight and easy to take with you.

6.  Crayola Triangular Crayons-these days, there are so many different brands of crayons to choose from that you can easily get confused.  I am a traditionalist when it comes to crayons and stick to know they are good quality and offer the best colors!  For my little ones, those beginning to color and draw, it's important that the crayons are wider making it easier for them to hold. I also encourage parents to get the triangle shaped crayons for two reasons:  it encourages a tripod-like grasp and they won't constantly roll off a table!  Another little trick:  break the crayons into two or three small pieces to encourage kids to use a non-fisted grasp when holding them.

7.  ZoomBall-the zoomball has been one of my favorite gross motor/upper body strengthening tools from the very beginning of my career.  Kids feel so good about themselves when they finally figure out how to get the ball going back and forth with a partner.  This is a good toy to have at home since it doesn't take up a lot of space.  Parents often ask what they can buy or do at home to work on strengthening and this is one of my top suggestions.  It's great for a kid to play with with their parents or siblings.  If you want to add a challenge, you can play a word game while playing:  think of a category (sport, food, color, etc.) and every time you send the ball back to your partner, you have to call off something in that category.

8.  Usborne Drawing Books-learning how to draw can be a challenging thing for kids.  And when something is challenging, kids will avoid it.  For me as a therapist, helping a child gain confidence with drawing is an important thing.  Drawing is a critical skill in young children as it is their first way of telling stories.  Usborne has a wonderful drawing book that teaches children how to draw everything animals to hot air balloons in easy to follow steps.  Kids will begin to see how you can draw so many different things by joining simple shapes together.  At the same time, their confidence will grow!

9.  Kumon Workbooks-it can be incredibly overwhelming walking into a bookstore trying to find the best workbooks for kids these days.  There are so many choices making it difficult to know which ones to get.  For years, I have been using and suggesting the Kumon workbooks.  My favorites are the cutting, coloring and pasting books for the younger kids but I really do love all of the books.  The pictures are always motivating and the paper is often thicker than most of the workbooks I have tried out in the past.  This is especially important for cutting....the thicker the paper is, the easier it is for children to have success with cutting.  Personally, I have a 6 year old daughter who asks for her cutting books at least once a week!

10.  Fiskar's Scissors-when kids are learning how to cut, it's really important to provide them with a good pair of scissors.  Ones that are the correct size, easy to open and close and cut through paper with little difficulty.  I can't tell you how many times I have walked into classrooms and had a teacher tell me that so many kids can't cut and they can't figure out why.  When I look at their scissors, they are often too big and the blades are full of glue and stickiness making it impossible for the kids to cut with ease.  Whenever anyone asks me for a scissor recommendation, I suggest Fiskar's children's scissors.  They never disappoint!

It was a lot of fun to put this list together and hope it will help some of you parents out.  It can be hard knowing what kinds of things you need at home to help your children be successful and oftentimes you think that you have to rely on the therapeutic catalouges where everything is much more expensive.  It's important to me to educate parents that more often than not, you can just adapt toys or tools for your children who may need more support.  If you have any questions or want some advice on other tools you can use at home, please feel free to email me.  I am a click away and love hearing from you all!

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