Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
We at Parents put together a great toy guide every year–and you’ll find our latest here–but I admit I’m partial to this one because it comes from my sister, Meghan, a pediatric occupational therapist who works with young children of various abilities. A large part of her job is to engage her kids and help them reach their therapeutic goals by using toys, games, and apps. She is forever on the lookout for the best items, and when she finds them, she enthusiastically writes all about them on her blog, MAC&Toys. (Bookmark it!) And once a year, she pulls together an extravaganza of recommendations, including links to buy and the skills each item addresses (fine motor, visual perception, sensory processing, social, and so on), and sends it to all of the parents of the children she works with. I am making this bold statement: I guarantee you’ll find something on this list you’ll be tempted to buy or know from experience is awesome. I’ll give you a taste with a couple of the items I’m getting for my children.
From Meghan’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide:
Lazoo drawing books There are nine different books to choose from and I can’t say one is better than the other. I adore all of these and each one is so unique and different from other coloring and activity books. My first book was the Holes book and my kids couldn’t get enough. I quickly picked up the Squiggles and Stickers/Incredible Stickers books. Perfect for preschoolers who may not always love coloring and drawing books because the pictures are motivating and exciting for them to complete. Many of the kids I work with get stressed with coloring books because the pictures are too big and their hands get tired. With drawing, they avoid this task because they aren’t quite sure where to start the picture. These books are great because they give you something concrete to begin with and then you can allow your imagination to run wild. These books allow for success and the more successful they are, the more likely they will be to try coloring and drawing activities outside of their comfort zone. Here is a link to the Lazoo Store….warning, you may not be able to stop yourself! (Improves fine motor grasping skills and in-hand manipulation skills; visual motor skills; eye-hand coordination skills; fine motor skills)
Stack Up A great cooperative game perfect for preschoolers or young school age children. The purpose of the game is to work as a team to build a stack of blocks using sticks (the blocks have a hole on either side and children must work together to put their stick in the hole and place it on top of the other blocks). There are challenges as well that keep the kids on their feet and moving around. I love watching the kids figure out how to work together to make the tower. Cooperative games are great for teaching kids the importance of team work and that sometimes winning is not the most important part of a game! (Improves bilateral coordination/using two hands at the same time; sensory processing skills, such as attention and focus; improves gross motor skills, such as jumping or whole body movements)
Go to Meghan’s list for dozens more suggestions for toys, games, apps, and independent toy stores around the country. Happy shopping!
Image: Gift boxes on a colorful background via Shutterstock.
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Monday, December 10th, 2012
If you’re not finished with your Hanukkah or Christmas shopping, have I got a treat for you.
My sister is a pediatric OT in New York City (check out her blog here) and creates a stellar gift guide each year for the parents of the young children she works with. It’s too good to not share. She explains precisely why it’s such a standout, as well as the physical and developmental skills it boosts. This year’s list includes her favorite apps for kids, too. She sent this to me just as I was taking inventory of what I’ve gotten for my children so far. Within 10 minutes I’d stormed Amazon with several of her picks, and now I’m done. Happy shopping, and happy holidays!
Spot It/Spot It Junior Great fast-paced game that works on matching, visual perceptual skills, motor planning, modulation/regulation. The point of the game is simple: you must find the one matching object on each of the cards. Sounds simple, but I find myself stumped every time I play! Once children get the hang of it, they can be completely independent, which helps facilitate language and improves social skills.
Tenzi Great game for school-age children that works on visual motor/perceptual skills, grasp skills, hand strength, following directions, etc. Simple game but super fun. Each player gets 10 dice and has to keep rolling until they get all of the same number.
Sneaky Squirrel I love when I find a game that’s really great for toddlers/preschoolers. My daughter picked this out the other day and not only does she love it, my husband and I enjoy playing it with her. Cute game that works on color matching, following multi-step directions and grasp strength. There are a cute set of Sneaky Squirrel grabbers that are used to pick up the acorns which work on grasp strength. Fun family game that I think even your older children will enjoy playing with the younger ones.
Wok N Roll One of my all-time favorite games that is fun for all ages. Can be easily modified to use with preschoolers but can be made challenging enough for the older ones. Works on matching, eye-hand coordination, grasping skills and much more.
Tumbling Monkeys A version of Kerplunk but you have to get the monkeys out of the tree instead of the marbles. This game can be modified for children of varying ages, but is best for older preschoolers to young school age children. It can be made more challenging by having the children try and get the least number of monkeys. Great for fine motor skills, including grasping. Also works on motor planning, problem solving and visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
Perfection This is one of my all-time favorite games and a total classic. Works on eye-hand coordination, matching and visual perceptual skills. I like to hide the shapes in putty and make the kids find them to work on increasing grasp strength at the same time.
HedBanz HedBanz is not only fun, but super educational. Great game to work on social skill development and improving speech and language skills. Children work in pairs or teams to answer questions/come up with clues in order to figure out what is on the headband. Great for working on problem solving, speech and language development.
Shopping List Great game for children between the ages of 3 to 7. It encourages expressive vocabulary, memory, matching skills and visual scanning skills. Children go “shopping” for what is on their shopping list. The person to fill their cart with the items on their list first is the winner.
Zingo You will find this game in every speech therapist’s office. Children never get bored with this matching game. I recently discovered Travel Zingo which is great for the younger kids because you can modify the size of the board. Works on matching skills, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Also great for working on speech and language development by identifying pictures.
Hape This company makes a ton of fantastic wooden games that I love to use in therapy. I love that they don’t have a ton of bells and whistles but are clever and different and the kids love them. Here are a couple of my favorites but take a look at their website and see all the great games they have:
- Pallina A version of Kerplunk or Tumblin’ Monkeys. Great for developing eye-hand coordination, improving grasping skills, motor planning and sequencing skills. Play it with friends and you can work on important social skills such as turn taking, winning/losing and how to help friends. Great for preschoolers and young school age children but would also keep the attention of older kids as well.
- Stormy Seas Fun game of balance. Children must get all the cargo on the ship without letting them fall off. Great for problem solving, eye-hand coordination and visual motor skills. Can work on modulation and regulation by helping a child slow down before making decisions. Definitely a great game to play in teams to encourage children to make decisions together in coming up with a game plan.
Read and Build Lego One of my absolute new favorite Lego products. I have always felt that there weren’t enough for the little ones and it was like they read my mind! Duplo has created a series of books and you have to create an animal on each page. Great for sequencing, following directions and increasing grasp strength and improving in-hand manipulation skills. I have actually done this in groups of two to encourage team-work, taking turns and social skill development.
B. Toys Bristle Block Spinaroos We all remember bristle blocks from growing up, right? This company is my new favorite. Their toys are super well made and claim to be environmentally friendly. These manipulative toys would be perfect for your toddlers but I have a feeling your older kids would be able to spend hours working on them as well. Great for improving bilateral coordination,
Balancing Blocks I picked these blocks up before the hurricane last month and both my 2 ½ year old daughter and my husband played with them for hours and hours. They are a Brooklyn based company (woot woot) and I am all about supporting local businesses these days. I love blocks and manipulative toys because they work on motor planning, eye hand coordination, bilateral coordination, play skills, creative play and a million other things. Since these are different colors and sizes, you can also use them to teach children colors and concepts such as big and little. These blocks are so well made that you will be able to keep these forever!
B. Toys Symphony in B If you have a music-loving toddler, I highly recommend this toy. My daughter received it for her 2nd birthday and while it was a little challenging and required help from me or my husband, she loved it from the very beginning. There are a bunch of musical instruments that you need to fit into the correct spot so you can work on matching and shape recognition. The songs are fun and because you can control the volume and speed, this can be great to help calm a child down if they are hyper and need to regulate themselves.
B. Toys Pop Arty I have included this toy on my last for the last couple of years. This company creates the coolest toys and the bright colors and shapes are really motivating for the kids. Good for school age children as the pieces are small and could be tough to put together independently. You can use these beads for working on increasing grasp and hand strength, improving in-hand manipulation skills, eye-hand coordination, sequencing, motor planning and visual motor/perceptual skills.
Fisher Price Peppa the Pig House My 2 ½ year old daughter was given this toy and she loves it (as do I). This little doll house has a bunch of furniture that has two sides (for example, the bed has two sides: one where the bed is made, the other it is not). Great for fine motor skill development, improving imaginative play and developing social skills. Great for speech and language development for toddlers and preschoolers, too.
Ned’s Head Great game for school age kids that works on tactile exploration, matching, etc. Kids use their hands to find hidden objects in Ned’s heads.
Kid O Magnatab Letter and Number Boards Love these boards and think they are great way to work on handwriting (both letters and numbers) in a fun way for the kids. I am a big fan of multi-sensory ways to learn how to write and this is a great one. The magnet stylus helps encourage proper grasping on writing instruments and all the boards have arrows that show the proper way to write the letters.
Memory Match 16 Love this wooden matching game that comes with 8 different boards for you to choose from. Varying levels of difficulty. As a mom who loves games that don’t take up much space or have a lot of parts, I love that this matching game doesn’t have a million cards to get lost. Works on matching, memory, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Great for working on social skill development.
Skip Hop Alphabet Zoo Match I must admit, this is a bit of a selfish entry although I do stand by this toy 100%! It has nothing to do with the cute little model in the picture up top [Note: It's her daughter, and my niece!]. Skip Hop, an NYC-based company, has come out with a series of wooden toys that are a lot of fun. Simple but keep my daughter engaged forever.
Arts and Crafts
Orb Factory Mosaic Toys These mosaics have been on my list for the last several years. They are super motivating to all kids and the final product is awesome. Works on fine motor skill development, especially grasping and improving finger strength. Works on eye-hand coordination, matching skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Each year they come up with more and more activities, and there are varying levels so you can find get these for your preschooler or your school age child.
Loop De Loop Friendship Bracelet Maker Not sure if you have all noticed how popular friendship bracelets have become but I see them on all my children at work these days. For some of our children with fine motor and motor planning difficulties, this activity can be very frustrating and prevent them from trying. This little machine helps you create the perfect friendship bracelet and once you get the hang of it, they can be independent. Still requires a child to organize and plan out the project. Will work on improving in-hand manipulation skills and improve bilateral coordination, works on improving eye-hand coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. If they try and do it too quickly, they will not be able to make the bracelet, so it can also work on improving modulation and decreasing impulsive behaviors.
Crazy Crayons Eco Stars Love these crayons not only because they are environmentally friendly but because they are great for encouraging a proper grasp on a writing instrument. The bright colors and fun shape get almost all my kids to color and have fun doing it!
Eeboo Write Me a Story I am always looking for fun ways to motivate my kids to write. But it’s especially tricky to get my older kids excited to write stories. I love this series of books because they give you a bunch of stickers to choose from; you then put them in order and write a story using the stickers. Great for school-age children who struggle with coming up with ideas and the sequencing of stories. Stickers are fun and I love that each story, even if using the same stickers, will always be different.
Cootie Catchers I love this project for so many reasons. I can remember doing these with my girlfriends a million years ago and love that they have come back in full force. As an occupational therapist, I love all the skills that making these can work on: handwriting, folding, increasing grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills…I could go on and on. My speech therapy friends would love the language it could stimulate and the friendship skills it could encourage. I have included two different books. One is more geared towards girls but the other has good ones for boys as well.
Imagine That Coloring Book Great coloring book that will inspire your child to color, draw and use their imaginations. Big hit with my older preschoolers and young school age children. Use this with the star crayons for a perfect combo! Works on improving imagination skills, fine motor skills, grasping skills, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Pictures are motivating enough that you can really stimulate language development as well. This author, La Zoo, has a series of drawing and coloring books that I also highly recommend: Squiggles, Holes, Incredible Stickers.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish this Activity Book I am a huge Mo Willems fan and when I saw this book, I flipped out! This book offers a ton of different activities that will keep your preschooler/school age child entertained for hours. Great for creative writing and imagination skills, language development and can even be done in teams to work on social skill development and encouraging team-work. Will also work on eye-hand coordination, handwriting, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
The Button Factory I thought this activity was going to be really hard for my kids, but they loved it. Great and quick activity for school-age children. Cool-looking fabric buttons that take minutes to make. If a child has difficulty with cutting, they may require some assistance. Great for working on sequencing and motor planning, executive functioning and eye-hand coordination. Also works on cutting skills and increasing grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills.
While there is still a lot of conflict on using technology in therapy, I have become a huge supporter of it. I don’t use it all the time, and often will use it as a reward for some of my children. There are thousands of apps out there that can actually really help your child. In addition, the iPad/iPhone apps really do encourage a child to work on important skills such as finger isolation, grasping, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, following multi-step directions…the list can go on and on. If used properly, technology can truly help your child’s skills and confidence. The ones marked with a * are free!
Tally Tots This is a great app for your little ones who are working on learning their letters. Super motivating and little games that go along with each number
Alpha Tots Same as above but works on learning the letters of the alphabet. This game keeps the attention of the little ones forever!
Bubble Guppies This is a great game for preschoolers. It works on matching, sequencing, following multi-step directions and I find that the familiar characters from the show are really motivating.
*Agnitus Cute game for preschoolers/early learners that works on matching, following multi-step directions, sequencing, etc.. Cute little characters and fun games that will keep your toddler engaged for a long time!
Don’t Let the Pigeon Run this App For any of you who are familiar with the author Mo Willems, you will love this application. This can be good for toddlers up to 2nd/3rd grade. You get to be the author of your very own Don’t Let The Pigeon book. There is a cute mini lesson that teaches you step by step how to draw the pigeon character found in all the books. Worth every penny it costs!
Dexteria This is more appropriate for school-age children. Created by an occupational therapist, this app works on improving fine motor skills such as grasping skills, handwriting and in-hand manipulation skills. Cute mini games that will keep the attention of your child while working on important skills at the same time.
Letterschool My absolute favorite handwriting app out there. Works on upper and lower case letters and numbers. Offers 3 different settings, including Handwriting Without Tears. This game is motivating enough that it keeps all my kids interested and excited with handwriting. There are three different ways to learn each letter which I have found to be very helpful for learning the letters/numbers.
*Clay Jam A new app I just discovered. Definitely more suited for the school age children. A really fun and simple (and totally addictive) game. I would use this to work on finger isolation, problem solving, following multi-step directions and visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
*Albert HD A cute series of mini games that works on a variety of things. Great for school age games. Works on a ton of skills, including but not limited to motor planning, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, following multi-step directions, modulation/reguation, etc…
Fruit Ninja I usually use this game with my school-age children as a fun way to work on visual motor and visual perceptual skills, finger isolation, modulation/regulation, among other things. In addition, it’s a game that many children their same age peers play, so it helps in building confidence.
Cut the Rope Another great game for school-age children to work on visual motor/perceptual skills, motor planning and sequencing.
*Bejeweled Blitz Yet one more fun way for school-age kids to work on visual motor/perceptual skills, motor planning and sequencing.
A few great apps suggested by my speech therapy friends:
The Monster at the End of this Book
Speech With Milo-great for sequencing and articulation
The Juno Company
Bugs and Buttons-educational game for preschoolers that works on sorting, connecting the dots and color recognition
My Play Home
Photo via SkipHop.
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