I am a mom to the amazing 5 1/2 year old Quinn Eloise and wife to the most supportive Rob Reinhardt. I have been a pediatric occupational therapist in New York City since 2001. I have spent the last 13 years as a pediatric occupational therapist in New York City and have loved every second.
The end of the school year is just around the corner and there is a level of excitement in the kids that I work with that is hard to contain. Kids are looking forward to spending their summers at camp, going on vacations or just getting a break from the daily grind of school and homework. For many kids, summer is supposed to be about resting and relaxing and not thinking about school. However, since many of the older kids I work with don't come to occupational therapy during the summer because of long camp days or spending the summer out of the city, it's important for me to come up with ideas and activities to keep them writing so they don't lose all the skills they have gained over the summer months. Many parents want to give their kids a break but also want to make sure their kids are ready for the upcoming school year.
There are a lot ways to make handwriting seem less like work for kids. I like when there are activities they whole family can get involved in that way a child doesn't feel like they are being punished. Here are a couple of fun handwriting games you can play as a family:
Crossword Puzzles-these are great for practicing letter writing, sizing and spacing. Mad Libs-these are still one of my daughter's favorite things to do when in the car for long car rides. They are great for working on spelling and learning about identifying parts of speech (verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc.). It's also great for working on sizing of letters so they fit in the space they provide. Cryptograms-a cryptogram is a type of word puzzle that consists of a code in which a symbol or number is assigned to each letter of the alphabet in order to solve the code. These are not only great for practicing writing letters, it's also great for working on improving visual motor and visual tracking skills. You can find them online for printing out or can check out this book here.
In addition to the ideas above, I am sharing some of my favorite activity books, journals and other products that are great for working on handwriting over the summer months. These are meant to help my older children who need to prepare for the increased expectations that they will be faced with in the upcoming school year. Many of these provide writing and story prompts to make it a bit easier for my kids who struggle with coming up with ideas. Sometimes kids get really nervous about how to start a story, but once given a little push, they have great ideas on how to create a full story.
Super Powers! A Great Big Collection of Awesome Activities, Quirky Questions-calling on all kids to turn on their superpowers! This fun-filled book offers tons of wonderful way for kids to discover what really interests them, what makes them unique and what makes them so amazing just the way they are. With invitations to declare a superhero name, create a superhero tool kit and even write their own superhero legend, this book will light up the imagination of young kids-boosting their confidence and opening up their minds to big possibilities. When completed, parents have a wonderful keepsake of their child's unique personality.
And Then Story Starter Cards-And Then is a collection of 20 beginnings of stories that your children have to come up with how the story will end. Each of the cards in this box has a tantalizing start to a story that your child (with the help from friends, siblings or parents) will have to finish. After the And then...it's up to your kids to figure out what happens next. Encourages self-expression, creativity and confidence as they work on developing good writing skills.
I Like....A Great Big Book of Awesome Activities-inspire kids of all ages to write all about themselves and they things they like in this whimsically illustrated activity book. Features creative activities, intriguing questions, writing prompts and wild artwork. This is great for working on handwriting and drawing with kids over the summer months, perfect for taking along when traveling and a great way for your kid to get to know themselves even more.
Cliffhanger Writing Prompts-this ready-to-use resource contains 30 exciting story starters that model good writing and help any student get past writer's block. The prompts provide scaffolding through rich characters, imaginative settings and and edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger. "And then...." students put their natural storytelling skills to work, dreaming up their own unique endings. Some of the writing prompts they will write about are: What's under the door in the floor? What are the voices in the root beer saying? What arrived via special delivery?
Mindful Me Activity Book-being mindful won't take away your problems, but it can help you handle them. In this activity book, kids will learn to settle their thoughts and look inward through a series of fun writing prompts, games and meditation exercises. Serving as a guide to reflect upon the lessons learned in Mindful Me, it offers kids a place to record their reflections, creating a tangible account of how far they've grown in their meditation practice.
Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book-with the Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself book, your child is the author, illustrator and the main character. Filled with loads of interactive pages and plenty of space to write you own life's story, this book is all you need to create your masterpieces. Another great book for kids to take with them while traveling, at the beach or when at a restaurant.
Kid Made Modern Comic Book Kit-this DIY comic book kit has everything you need to create your own comic book. Whether you are writing about a superhero or making up some other fun story....it's all right and all up to the writer. This kit is perfect for the graphic novel obsessed kid and provides endless possibilities to design their own colorful comic book. Your budding storyteller will have plenty of room to explore and customize their own 32-page comic book (or write a bunch of short comics). The set comes complete with a blank comic book, markers, stencil templates, rubber stamps, ink pads, bottles of ink and a storage box.
On The Go Stationery Kits-a fun way to get kids writing is by setting them up with a pen pal of sorts. Summer is a great time for this because there are so many kids who go to camp or friends who go away. And what kid doesn't love getting actual mail in the mailbox?? I love these sets from OOLY. They make a great gift for kids who are heading off to camp. Each kit comes complete with 8 letter sheets, 4 envelopes , 4 postcards, a notebook, a mechanical pencil, a four color click pen, a sheet of stickers and an eraser which can all be conveniently stored in the sturdy case it comes in.
Share Your Smile-living with a 9 year old daughter who is completely obsessed with graphic novels, especially those written by Raina Telgemeir, we had to get this journal like book as soon as it came out. With guidance from Raina herself, kids get lots of tips from her about how to write and draw in this colorful, interactive journal. She teaches kids how to brainstorm ideas, make lists, paste in personal photos and encourages kids to use their imagination to create their own stories. In addition to all these great tips, there are a bunch of behind-the-scenes info from Raina and a sneak peak at her newest book coming out in the fall. This has been my go-to gift and it's been the biggest hit! I guarantee if you have a Raina fan in your life, they will be encouraged to write and create with this journal.
I Am A Rebel Girl Journal-another recommendation based on my daughter loving it. We have been huge fans of the Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls books since they came out a couple of years ago (gladly been backing them on Kickstarter for each of their projects) and when the journal came out, we were psyched. This journal is filled with activities that challenge perspective, induce thoughts and prompt action. There are activities that encourage girls to love their bodies, write a letter to an elected representative and to interact with the absolutely beautiful artwork by female artists. This 224-page journal is perfect for working on developing writing skills while also empowering young girls.
So these are just a handful of the dozens and dozens of amazing products out there that can encourage young kids to want to write and create this summer. I chose ones that keep things light since it is summer and know that you have to motivate kids to work on these challenging things when they aren't being forced to. I also chose ones that allows them to use their imagination while also getting to know themselves a bit better. During the school year, their aren't too many opportunities to just write what you want which can often lead to kids resenting handwriting. By allowing your kids creative writing opportunities, you may find that they actually find it easier and will begin to develop a love for writing.
If you have any other recommendations or ideas, please share them! I know that I am always on the lookout for great writing products and am sure my readers will love the suggestions as well. I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!
It's been a bit rough getting back into the swing of things at work. January is historically a tricky month because of all the paperwork that is required as children get ready for the upcoming school year. I know that sounds crazy since that is months and months away but that is the way in NYC. All of that to say that blogging has been put on the backburner and I'm ready to focus on it again.
Starting this month, I will be doing a monthly blog (along with more regular posts in February) with a wrap-up of some of my favorite things I discovered each month. This will include games, craft sets, activity books, story books and a variety of other things that were a hit with the kids at work. I will end each of these posts with a picture book recommendation that will focus on some kind of social emotional topic. Over the last couple of years, I have spent more time than I can count trying to curate a collection of books that will help children have a better understanding of a variety of social difficulties that they may face. I have found that even if children are having similar social difficulties, they can't quite talk about it or problem solve when it is about them. But when you read a book and a character is struggling with something, they seem to find it easier to talk about.
I am really excited to share some of the products I discovered this month with all of you.
Learn To Write Stencils-a little while ago, my local toy store, Norman and Jules, shared a picture of these stencils on their Instagram page and I became obsessed. I have found finding good stencils can be really tricky and often times frustrating for kids. If they are too flimsy, they are hard for the kids to use. This set of 15 wooden stencils comes with a variety of simple lines that are all used in developing the letters of the alphabet or numbers and can encourage open-ended drawing. One of the things I like to do with them is have the kids look at them and think about what they look like. For example, there is one that looks like waves, another that looks like mountains and another that looks like the top of a castle. My daughter, who is almost 9 years old, tested these out for me and I loved seeing how these simple lines helped to encourage her creative drawing process. I gave her a set of gel pens, some stickers and blank paper and let her run with her ideas. Learn To Write Stencils are also great for working on developing grasping skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. They encourage creativity and imagination skills which helps with the development of self-esteem and confidence.
Grapat Nins Carla Wooden Figures Game-over the last few months, I have been adding more open-ended toys to my therapy sessions. I am a sucker for nice wooden toys and am pretty much can't not buy something if there's a rainbow them to it. This set of rainbow dolls is of my new favorites and I have loved watching my kids play with them. As you can see from the picture, the set comes with 6 colored peg dolls with matching discs and rings. I love how many occupational therapy skills can be worked on while also encouraging open-ended play in children. Some of the skills that can be worked on are color identification, sorting, categorizing, improving hand-eye coordination and grasping and manipulation skills. These are also great for improving focus, attention and self-regulation because you need to concentrate and take your time while stacking the rings and discs. I have found these are great to combine with some of my gross motor activities when at the gym. For example, I will have them sort and stack while lying prone in the net swing so we are adding a strengthening component to a fun fine motor activity.
Pencil Nose Game-I discovered this game at another local New York City toy store when looking for a game to entertain our New Year's Eve guests. In this hilarious game, people wear a pair of glasses with a marker attached and have to draw a pictures listed on the cards they pick while being timed. They keep drawing as many as they can to rack up the most points. This game is definitely geared towards older children but could probably be adapted for younger children. For example, you could have the kids come up with a list of simple objects that they think they could draw and pick from those instead of the ones provided. One of the things I like about this is that it encourages kids to be silly and do something differently than typically expected. So many of the kids I work with, especially those older ones, struggle with being perfect or doing things just so so I like that this makes them step outside of their comfort zone and be silly.
OOLY DIY Eraser Kit-I love a good art kit and am pretty much obsessed with all of the art products from OOLY. This simple kit comes with 12 blocks of dough that can be molded into things to create erasers. There are several kinds of DIY Eraser Kits out there, but I really like this one because it is completely open-ended and encourages creativity and imagination skills. There are three simple steps in order to make your erasers: 1. Come up with what you want to make. This requires thinking about colors, size, etc.. Using their fingers, they mold the dough into what they would like to create. 2. Bake it for a short amount of time. 3. Erase! In addition to encouraging creativity and imagination, it is great for working on improving fine motor skills such as grasping and in-hand manipulation skills. If you want to work on bilateral coordination with kids, provide the kids with a variety of safe tools (knife, fork, rolling pin, etc.) to use. If you want to make an eraser to put on top of a pencil, you can stick a hole in the bottom before baking it.
LetterSchool Spelling Words App!-LetterSchool is my most used and most frequently recommended handwriting app so when I saw that they had developed a spelling app, I immediately downloaded it. It has quickly become a new favorite of mine and the kids. I find this to be perfect for my pre-kindergarten or kindergarten students who are just beginning to learn how read. Much like LetterSchool, this interactive game provides multiple opportunities for children to learn how to spell and read a variety of words. Kids learn how to read and spell hundreds of words that are grouped together by their ending sounds. They have to listen to the word and then drag the correct letter to complete the word. Once completed, each letter is spelled out while being matched up with fun animations and sounds. For each group of words, there are three levels of game, each becoming more challenging. I like to add a hands-on step by having the kids practice writing out the words either on paper, Boogie Board or dry erase board once they have completed each group of words. The first five groups of words are free but I think that this app is one that is worth every cent!
The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell-this children's book was new to me but came highly recommended to me by one of the awesome staff at Stories Bookshop and Storytelling Lab, my go-to for all of my children's books for my social skills group, The Meetinghouse Juniors. Our social skills curriculum the last few weeks has been focused on Thinking vs. Saying when talking to people. We are all guilty of saying things out loud that we think are innocent but may come out the wrong way and actually upset others. The Snurtch is one of the books we have read to help explain this concept to children. The gist of the story is that Ruthie, the main character, has big feelings and will say or do things that hurt the feelings of her teachers and peers. She says it isn't her but is the Snurtch....this monster who makes her do all of these terrible things. This book brought up great conversations with our group about whether or not the Snurtch was a real thing or Sophie's way of dealing with things when they are challenging. It was great to hear the kids talk about how Sophie could have done or said something differently that didn't make her friends feel sad. It was a perfect book to read before launching into our activity about Thinking vs. Saying.
These are my favorite things for January 2019. I am really looking forward to putting these together each month. I am working on some other fun things this year that I think you'll all love and find helpful. If there are things you are looking for, let me know. I love hearing from you all and am just a click away!
There are lots of times when you just need a small gift for people on your list or you are looking for some new and really fun things to fill up a stocking with. Today, I share a bunch of my favorite small gifts that are all kid tested and approved. Everything recommended have some kind of therapeutic benefit but the kids won't even know it! Whether it be helping with the development of fine motor and grasping skills or provide time for sensory exploration, all of the items recommended are guaranteed to make your kids happy. The thing I love about these small gifts is that they can be taken on the go to keep your kids entertained when necessary.
While I have links for all of these items, I have to tell you that most of them were purchased at my local toy stores here in New York City. Your local toy and book stores are often treasure troves for wonderful gifts. While I like to support my local toy stores all year long, I find it extra important this time of the year. If any of you have found anything amazing, please share! I am only a click away and love hearing from you all. Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and fun-filled holiday season!
In this installment of the 2018 Holiday Gift Guide, I share a bunch of my favorite toys, games and craft sets. I have also included a handful of my favorite monthly subscriptions. This is a new addition to my list and it is something I am really excited about. There are a lot of great ones out there and the ones I included are ones that are ideal for children who may need to work on improving fine motor and sensory processing skills. The fun thing about these subscriptions are that they give kids something to look forward to each month after the holidays are over.
Easel-one of the greatest gifts my daughter got for one of her first Christmas' was an easel. She had it for years so it was certainly worth the investment of getting a really good one. Working on an incline is great for developing upper extremity strength, trunk control and encourages grasping skills. I am going to recommend two different ones depending on what kind of space you have. For those of you have a significant amount of space, this Wooden Art Easel from Crate Kids. One side has a black chalkboard, the other has a white board and there is a place for a roll of paper on the top for painting and drawing. There is also plenty of storage space in the frame to store your paints and paintbrushes. If you don't have quite as much space, Crate Kids has this awesome Table Top Easel which features a chalkboard on one side, magnetic white board on the other, a dowel on the bottom that holds a roll of paper and space to hold four paint cups. The nice thing about this one is that if you don't have the real estate to keep an easel out permanently this one folds up for easy storage. Here are some of my favorite craft accessories that can be paired with an easel and are perfect for kids of all ages. *OOLY Chunkie Paint Sticks *'lil Poster Paint Pods *Chroma Blends Watercolor Paint Set *Mumbo Jumbo Chunky Markers *'lil Paint Brush Set *Washable Paint Set
I Can Do That! Activity Books-I am totally addicted to these activity books for preschoolers from Lazoo. Even better, my kids love them and are so motivated to work on challenging fine motor and graphomotor skills. Finding good activity books can be difficult so when I do find them, I love to share them with everyone I know. The books described below are small and can be thrown in a bag, keeping kids entertained while in the car, traveling or when in restuarants. I Can Do That! Erasable Art-this coloring book is perfect for keeping kids entertained on the go. The pictures are simple but of familiar objects. *I like to have my kids use these neon gel highlighters from Ooly. Not only are they great for kids who might have decreased grasp strength because it doesn't require much pressure for the colors to show up, they are easy for kids to erase. The bonus for the kids is that they smell delightful! I Can Do That! Origami-this super simple cutting and folding projects for preschoolers helps develop cutting skills and folding skills which are great for developing fine motor and grasping skills. There are a bunch of activities with no more than 3 steps where kids can turn pictures into something else. I Can Do That! Stickers-this is another favorite of the kids at work. I mean, anytime you include stickers in a project it's sure to be a big hit! Kids not only work on developing fine motor, grasping and coordination skills, they can work on problem-solving, early math and reasoning skills through the simple activities. Another great thing about this is that the stickers are reusable so it isn't a one and done kind of thing.
Wooden Magnetic Earth Tiles-I am a huge fan of Magna-Tiles and have given them as first birthday gifts countless times. However, I love the idea of non-plastic options so when I found these, I was psyched. Earth tiles are made from a durable, sustainable wood with magnets hidden inside so they easily stick to each other. These open-ended building toys encourage creativity and imagination skills, help with developing fine motor and grasping skills, improves bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination and visual motor skills. At the same time, young children can learn about shapes with these triangular and square shaped blocks.
Squigz-a holiday gift guide wouldn't be complete without mentioning Squigz. For younger kids, be sure to check out pipSquigz and the Suction Kupz. These oversized suction cup toys will keep your kids entertained for hours while helping develop fine motor and grasping skills (and can even help with giving some relief when teething). Each one of the pipSquiz is a different shape, has a different tactile experience and a different sound. The Suction Kupz come in a set of 6 and can be used to put other little toys in, house snacks or just be used as a toy to explore. They are both perfect for keeping kids engaged while sitting in their stroller or high chair or even while getting bathed. For older kids, there are a whole series of Squigz from Fat Brain Toys. These open ended toys are great for working on developing grasping skills and bilateral coordination, improve hand-eye coordination, focus and attention and encourage kids to be more creative and imaginative. These are great to keep in your bag for long car trips as they can stick to windows and provide your child with hours of entertainment.
Lalaboom Pop Beads-I love when I find a traditional toy that has been given a bit of a modern update to it. I can remember playing with the Fisher-Price pop beads as a child and still recommend pop beads to parents who are looking for developmental toys for their babes. I was killing time at the beginning of the year and scouring Fat Brain Toys when I stumbled upon the Lalaboom beads. These snap together beads are a great way for young children to work on increasing grasp and upper extremity strength, improves bilateral coordination, motor planning skills and hand-eye coordination. What's nice about these beads are that they each have a different texture on the outside making it an opportunity for sensory exploration. The other great thing about them is that each bead is actually two parts and can be screwed apart and they can mix and match beads. So as kids grow, the way they can play with this toy changes and becomes increasingly more challenging.
Bright Basics Peg Garden-peg boards are so great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination and focus and attention in children as young as 1 years old but are oftentimes so simple that they don't always hold the interest of children for long. Educational Insights has a way of making this important toy more fun for kids. Last year, I featured the Learning Resources Peg Friends Stacking Farm set (which I still use multiple times per week at work). I am in love with this garden themed pegboard which comes with 15 flower pegs and 12 different insects that they can place on top of the flowers. This is great for improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills and focus and attentional skills. What's nice about this pegboard set is that it can be graded to work on different kinds of skills such as sorting the flowers by color, matching the bugs, counting and color identification.
Yeti, Set, Go!-this new game from Play Monster is a mix between Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Yeti in My Spaghetti and has been a huge hit with my kids at work. This goal of this four player game is to be the first player to get all of your meatballs on the mountain ledges. Kids put the meatball on the Yeti's foot, aim in the right place and push the head down. The trick is that if you hit the head to soft the meatball won't go anywhere and if you push too hard it will fly across the room! This game is great for working on hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills, focus, attention and self-regulation.
Googly Eyes Game-finding games for older children can be a challenge. How many times do kids roll their eyes when parents suggest a game night? The key to this not happening is finding a super fun game. Googly Eyes is just that. Players pick a card with a word on it and have to draw a picture. The challenge is that they are wearing glasses (three different lenses) that alter their vision making it much harder to draw what they are supposed to. Kids roll the dice, move their pieces and where they land will determine which set of lenses they have to use to draw their picture. This is not only a fun game, it is a great way to work on graphomotor skills without the pressure of things having to be perfect.
Panda Rollers-this game is geared towards preschoolers and is a really fun way to work on improving visual skills such as visual discrimination, visual tracking and visual motor skills. Kids shake the dice and race to be the first player to match your panda face cards to the colors of the dice shown. The first one to correctly make their panda face receives a reward tile. The person with the most tiles is the winner. This game is also great for working on improving social skills such as being a good winner/loser and turn taking.
Bop-It-I have to admit I am a bit of a sucker for toys that were popular when I was younger. Bop-It was one of those toys that always provided me with that just right challenge and I now love using it with my kids at work. It is one of my go-to toys to work on developing executive functioning skills and to help with increasing frustration tolerance. While there are quite a few to choose from these days, I think the original is the best, especially for kids who might have decreased frustration tolerance or difficulty with focus and attention. In addition to being great for working on executive functioning skills, it is a fun tool to help develop fine motor and grasping skills, improves hand-eye coordination and improves bilateral coordination.
Simon Game-another oldie but goodie and a great game for older school age children who are on your list this year. This is another game that I encourage parents to get for their kids who need to work on improving executive functioning skills. The Simon game is an electronic game where the players have to watch a light sequence and then repeat it in the correct order. The more they can repeat, the higher their score is. In addition to working on executive functioning skills, playing the Simon game also works on hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills, sequencing and can work on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills.
Giant Coloring Posters-these are still one of my favorite things as it is a gift that can last a long time and can be done with friends and family making it a true collaborative project. There are a ton to choose from but my friends over at Norman & Jules have a great selection from a company called Omy that I like the best. Other than the obvious goal of working on improving graphomotor skills, there are a ton of other skills that can be worked on using these giant coloring posters. For example, if you hang it on a wall, kids can work on a vertical surface which is great for building upper extremity strength and shoulder stability and improves core strength. Additionally, it can be a wonderful social activity. We have actually had one one year in my social skills group and it was really fun to watch the kids talk about what they were coloring, what colors they were choosing and having to compromise when someone else might have wanted to color in part of the picture that someone else might have wanted.
Kid Made Modern Arts and Crafts Supply Library-this craft kit is easily one of my most favorite gifts and I actually use it at work on a daily basis. This kit comes with over 1,200 different art supplies including pom-poms, beads, various kinds of pipe-cleaners, googly eyes, felt pieces and SO much more. The best part about it is that it comes in a super sturdy case with compartments for everything. While they give you a simple guide with some ideas of things you can make, this kit is intended to ignite creativity and encourages kids to come up with their own ideas. I have loved seeing how my kids have looked through all the supplies, make a plan and then bring their idea to life. Not only are they working on developing fine motor and grasping skills, they are working on improving executive functioning skills such as task initiation, planning and prioritizing and organizational skills.
Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-these are a long time favorite of mine and they have recently added a bunch of new sets. Sticky Mosaics are a great activity for working on developing grasping skills, increases grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, visual tracking and focus, attention and organizational skills. As kids complete their pictures by matching the stickers to the correct number, their confidence and self-esteem soar as they see their hard work turn into something that they can hang up and display. Be sure to check out local toy stores for these. I have found that they are in lots of the local small businesses here in the New York City area.
DIY Pin and Flair Set-this DIY kit was a gift my daughter received last year for her birthday and she loved it. Kids can color, cut and then bake (think Shrinky Dinks) 18 different pins or other kinds of accessories. This simple activity encourages kids to be creative and express themselves through their color choices and design while working on improving coloring skills, executive functioning skills and increasing confidence and self-esteem.
Chalk Blocks-if you are a regular reader, you know that I am a sucker for a good set of blocks. I am totally obsessed with this set of wooden chalkboard building blocks. Each set comes with 7 blocks, dustless chalk (which lasts longer than conventional chalk), a set of mini paint brushes and a chalk sharpener. What I love about these are kids can work on handwriting and drawing skills while also encouraging creativity and imagination skills. Building with any kind of blocks is also great for developing executive functioning skills such as planning, problem solving and task completion.
Alphabet Blocks-i'm always on the hunt for tools that make learning and writing letters and shapes more motivating for kids. A few months ago, my friends over at Rose and Rex send me this set of alphabet blocks that has quickly become a favorite of the kids at work. These oversized wooden blocks have hand-painted letters, numbers and shapes on all the sides. What makes these unique is that one side of each block is painted in chalkboard paint which kids can use to practice their writing skills. I have had kids practice writing their names by filling in blank letters or have them fill in missing letters of common sight words. They love that after they are done, they love that they can erase it.
When people think of occupational therapy, they probably think of fine motor and sensory processing skills. While that is often the main focus of the work we do, there is also a lot of opportunities to work on gross motor skills as well. Below, I share ten of my favorite gross motor toys, games and activity sets that make developing body strength, improving motor planning and organizational skills and improving balance and coordination fun.
Calm Mind Kit-this is one of my favorite new items to my whole gift guide this year. I have been a huge fan of Rose & Rex for years so when I heard they were developing their very own product that would work on mindfulness and mediation, I was immediately sold. This beautiful set was designed for children as young as 3 years old and can be used through the ages. Created by childhood development and wellness experts, it provides children with a variety of tools that encourage emotional development and improves their overall well-being making them more able to focus, self-regulate and to have improved confidence and self-esteem. Each kit contains three handmade toys and a set of Calm Mind Activity cards that provide instruction on how to use the toys for different meditative, movement and breathing exercises. One of the best things about any purchase made from Rose & Rex is that for each toy you buy, toys will be given to a child in need. For example, for each Calm Mind Kit purchased, 8 toys will be given in turn.
Gel Floor Tiles-these are a big hit with all the kids at my sensory gym and I love how they can be used for a lot of different things. First things first, they are a huge motivator to get kids to jump, leap, hop and other gross motor activities. These colorful tiles are filled with gel so when they are being stepped or crawled on the gel moves all around. We have used them in a variety of ways but my favorite has been to set it up like a simplified Twister game where kids have to listen to and follow the verbal directions given to them. This is great for working on increasing motor planning and organizational skills, focus and attention and following multi-step directions. Also a motivating way to work on increasing gross-motor skills.
Wobbel Board-I had been coveting this beauty for a long time after following someone on Instagram. I've been using it at home with my daughter (because she won't let me take it to work) and it's been so fun to see how she uses it. When I purchased it, I imagined I would bring it to work and use it as a balance board with the kids. At home, it is being used not only as a balance board, but also as a prop in some of her imaginative play. The Wobbel Board is great for working on improving overall strength, trunk control, motor planning and organizational skills.
Stomp Rocket-this is one of those toys that makes my list each year and one of those things that kids love no matter how old they are. It's a simple toy that can help with the development of so many gross motor skills, especially jumping and overall strengthening. Their line has expanded over the years so be sure to check out the link. I like the Dueling Rockets set because it helps kids learn how to jump with two feet at the same time, but they are all great and keep kids entertained for hours. I am kinda excited to check out their newest product, Stomp Rocket Stunt Planes. Kids can work on building endurance (by running to collect the rockets), hand-eye coordination (trying to catch the stomp rockets as they fall down) and motor planning skills when using any of the stomp rocket sets.
Rody Horse-the physical therapists I work with recommend the Rody Horse for a lot of our younger kids (they recommend for kids 2-4 years old but depending on the size of a child, they can be used as young as 1 years old). Similar to the hippity-hop ball, kids bounce up and down on Rody. These are great for working on developing balance, coordination and motor planning skills. Also great for working on increasing core strength and trunk control.
Kick Scooter-living in NYC, parents are always looking for ways to get to places quicker. Once kids outgrow the stroller, they want a faster way to get to place from place so I always recommend a scooter. There are a lot of them out there but I personally love the children's scooters from Micro Kickboard. They are lightweight and the two wheels up front make it a bit easier for kids to maneuver. Scooters are great for working on developing bilateral coordination, motor planning, focus and attention, organizational skills and visual motor and perceptual skills. I also recommend having kids who may have sensory processing difficulties ride their scooters to school to help "wake up their bodies" before getting into the classroom.
Move Your Body Fun Deck-parents often ask me for simple activities they can do with their children at home. Super Duper has a whole series of activity cards that I highly recommend and use at the gym. In the past years, I have recommended (and still do) the Yogorilla cards. This year I thought I would switch things up a bit and find something a little different Move Your Body Fun Deck has 59 illustrated cards that help your child improve their body strength, balance, coordination, motor planning and motor organizational skills. I like this set because the activities are simple and can be done as a whole family. They are easy enough to include in a sensory diet at home or in school that won't require equipment. Some of the activities are to stand on one foot like a flamingo, do a long jump or to do a log roll.
Door Pong-I am loving this game for older kids and it is especially a great thing for kids who live in the city. It is essentially ping-pong without the table. Attach the clamp to the top of any doorway and then turn the dial to adjust the length of the string for your kid. The goal of it the game it to see how many times you can hit the ball back and forth to each other without missing. Door Pong is a fun way to improve hand-eye coordination, executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills, increase upper extremity strength and encourages cooperative play.
Handee Band-I wrote about these in depth a few months ago and feel like they definitely deserve a shout out on this years gift-guide. Parents are always looking for ways to get their kids moving or exercising at home. As kids get older, it's important that they can be more independent and take more control of their physical well-being. The Handee Band, created by a California based occupational therapist, was designed with that exact thing in mind. The Handee Band Exercise Kit comes with 1 6 pound resistance Handee Band (you can order extras if you want more for your family), a book with 15 illustrated exercises with easy to follow 5-step directions, Handee Band Spinner Board and a dry erase Handee Checklist for children to keep track of their progress. Using the Handee Band will be a fun and motivating way for children to work on building body strength and will improve bilateral coordination, motor planning and motor organization, hand-eye coordination, balance and coordination skills.
Zoom Ball-this will always be a huge favorite of mine. First of all, it's super affordable and can be used with our without another person. The second thing I like about it is that it can be used in a variety of ways to work on a bunch of different skills. The goal of the Zoom Ball is to fly the ball back and forth by opening and closing your arms. This is amazing for working on increasing upper extremity strength, bilateral coordination, motor planning, organizational skills and focus and attention. I try and throw in some kind of language aspect when using the zoom ball at work. For example, I have them list the months of the year or name a color every time they open their arms. If you don't have someone to do the zoom ball with, you can attach the second set of handles to someplace higher and the kids can shoot the ball up and it will drop down on it's own.
Gross motor skills are crucial for children of all ages. Not only is it important for keeping kids physically active and healthy, it provides opportunities for building confidence and self-esteem. Additionally, research shows that encouraging free movement can give children the space to develop a more keen level of self-awareness, learn non-verbal ways of communicating with family and peers and help in developing improved body and safety awareness.
What are your favorite family or work based gross-motor games? I'm sure that my readers would love to hear about your favorites just as much as I would. I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.
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..
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.
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.
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 affordable....you 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!
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!