Category Archives: toy/equipment review

The Elf on the Shelf Could Get Your Child to Write a Letter to Santa!

 

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Write to Santa, but KEEP the note since the elf brings it to the North Pole…and then back to your home!

‘Tis the season, and Elf On The Shelf is back for more fun!  Some parents adore the concept and cannot wait to move that little elf around the house every night, and others mock him and his expanding merchandising.  Now that he is getting kids to write and draw, and parents will be able to save the heartfelt message as an ornament, I’m in with the Elf!  Not familiar with the Elf story?  Read Elf on the Shelf Controversy: Let’s Try Positive Gossiping to Santa.  Used as an encouragement and not a punishment or a threat, I am OK with this holiday tradition.

You use the paper and materials in the kit to write and bake-off a letter into an ornament that the elf “shows” to Santa on his nightly trip, and then he “returns” it to your tree.  The kit includes a storybook, materials to write, bake and hang your ornament.

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I wanted to share a few ideas that could make this more fun and a bit less stressful for children that struggle with handwriting, learning and attention issues:

  • The set includes 8 special sheets of paper that will get baked off in the oven to create an ornament, but I would encourage everyone to have their child refine their message and practice writing/drawing the note on regular paper before putting it on the special sheets.  Use these sheets as a template so that your child is aware that they can’t write more than a few lines at most.  There is no way to erase on the special sheets, and although some errors are charming, a child can be heartbroken if they think that they are sending a messy message.
  • I would encourage parents to consider copying the message so that kids have a sample to copy, rather than free writing.  Copying is an easier task in the developmental progression of handwriting, and reduces the stress for success on kids.  Nobody needs stress when making a special request to Old Saint Nick.
  • Younger kids, or kids with strong fears of failure or anxiety in general can draw or decorate a parent’s writing.  As long as they are involved, I don’t think it has to be all or nothing.  Many of my most avoidant clients get excited when I tell them that they just have to draw a sun (circle with rays) or some grass (short vertical lines that start at the top and descend to a baseline) to a picutre that I am drawing, and I  will take care of all the hard stuff.  Sometimes they even decide that they want to draw much more than they were planning to contribute.
  • Encourage your child to make the letters and designs a bit large, since they will shrink with the baking process.  Most young children cannot comprehend this step and will assume that the finished product will come out of the oven the same size that it was when it went in.  Tiny details may not be visible, tiny letters may be illegible.  Make a sample if possible for children that need proof of everything before they believe you.
  • If you know that your child may be impulsive or has such significant struggles with design, handwriting, or decision-making that you will need more than 8 sheets to create one final project, buy two kits.  The holidays are challenging enough without a fun activity ending without even one finished ornament.  If things go well and you don’t need the extra box, you have something that can be a wonderful gift for another family this season!

If you use this kit with your child this Christmas season, please write a comment and let my readers know how it worked out for you!

 

 

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Make Wiping Your Child’s Nose Easier With Boogie Wipes

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It is cold and flu season here in the states, and I have already seen my share of snot-caked little faces.  Little children get more colds than older kids and adults, and they can turn into an agitated mess when you say “Honey, I need to wipe your nose”.  These wipes are going to make your job as chief booger-wiper a lot easier!

When I first saw Boogie Wipes, I will confess that I thought it was another expensive product to separate first-world parents from their money.  After all, I grew up on dry tissues and I survived.

I was wrong.  These really work.

At first, I thought that the use of moisture was the key to their success.  Not so.  Parents told me that using a regular baby wipe didn’t “do the deal” the way a Boogie Wipe took care of the snot problem and made kids calm down about nose-wiping.  I had to find out what really made this product better.

  1. Boogie Wipes have a few important ingredients that separate them from the standard baby wipes.  The first ingredient is water.  The second ingredient is sodium chloride; good old salt.  Saline is a combo of these two ingredients, and saline softens the gluey crud that is dried-on snot.  It also thins the still-wet snot so you can wipe it away without pressing so hard on tender skin.  Yeah!
  2. The next four ingredients are aloe leaf juice, chamomile flower extract, vitamin E and glycerin.  All gentle and (to most children) non-irritating skin conditioners.  I am a huge fan of Puffs Plus tissues, but these wipes are gentler than my fave tissues.  Children’s skin is so much more delicate than ours, and the ingredients in snot are so irritating.  That is even before it becomes a dried-on coating.  Boogie Wipes leave a thin coating of skin conditioners after you wipe your child’s face.  This coating acts as a slight skin barrier for the next drip of snot.  Brilliant!

The remaining ingredients are preservatives that prevent your open container of Boogie Wipes from becoming a source of germs instead of a source of relief.  I am sure that there are children who react to these preservatives, but I haven’t yet met any families that report problems over the years that this product has been available in NY.

Unless you know your child will react to these specific preservatives, I recommend trying the unscented version first (they come in fresh and lavender scents too) and using them before your child gets a cold.  It is kinder to find out that they are sensitive to any ingredients before their skin is already irritated by all that snot from an illness.  Kids whose skin is going to react will likely do so when well, but their skin can recover from any irritation more quickly when their immune system is not also fighting a bad cold.

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The Boogie folks do sell a saline spray as well as wipes, and I am all for using saline spray to loosen up internal nose crud.  The problem with sprays isn’t that they don’t work.  They do, and they work well.

The problem is that children are naturally avoidant of us sticking things up their noses, and they are really bad at controlling the “sniff” in order to efficiently suck the spray up into their sinuses.  I teach children how to blow their noses and how to handle sprays.  It is part of my job as an OTR.  Not the best part, but nevertheless, a part of teaching ADLs.  I haven’t had much success teaching children under 3 to use nose sprays.  They just get more frightened and upset.  If you have an older child or a child that seems less afraid of nose examinations at the pediatrician, then go ahead and give sprays a try.  It can really loosen up a clogged nose.

Good luck trying Boogie Wipes, or try the generic versions that I am starting to see on store shelves.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so manufacturers are telling us that they also know that these products really work!

Review: Kumon Sticker Books For Toddlers

Children love stickers.  Kumon has created great sticker books for the 2’s or children performing at that level.  I have the vehicle-themed book, but they have a zoo-themed book as well.  I use their scissor books every week, maybe even every day with the 3’s and 4’s.  I wanted to see what they came up with using stickers.  They impressed me again!

Like all of their products, the paper quality is excellent, and the stickers are sturdy.  No delicate stickers that little fingers can tear easily.  It is so frustrating for a child when that happens.  I am a thrifty person, so after adding the stickers, each page will become practice for cutting (cut off the instructions, please) and coloring (add a sun, some grass, a ladder, etc).  Only when the paper is this sturdy can a toddler snip with ease and success.  The slippery or thin pages of cheaper sticker books just crumple.

Kumon has done more than just make a fun book.  They have designed a workbook for the youngest learners in preschool.  They use simple graphics that are easy for little children to comprehend.  Kumon gives you ideas for discussions with your child.  This builds language  and visual-perceptual skills as you discuss the colors and shapes with them.

The designers have even tried to grow your child’s self-esteem and social skills: they encourage you to praise your child’s attempts, even if they aren’t very accurately placing their stickers on the page.

Perhaps they read the same book about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset that I did?  Carol Dweck developed the concept of “Mindset”.  It is more than just praising a child’s effort.  It is educating children to think critically without the fear of being judged.  Take a look at her work, Mindset, and see if this changes what you say to a child when they are learning and exploring.  You can start growing your child’s growth mindset when you work on this book together.  Your comments will be about their effort (or lack of it; not every child perseveres) and note their creativity and enjoyment.  The message that you are sending is that you admire effort and engagement more than perfection.

 

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These pages are designed in a developmental order.  This means that the first few pages invite your child to place the corresponding stickers anywhere on the page.  As they progress in control and comprehension, there are targeted spots for the stickers.  Geometric shapes are used at the beginning, as above, and more irregular figures are shown as they progress.  In the photo The Big Dig, you can see that the triangle sticker will only fit at one angle.  At the very end of the book, there are no white targets; your child will place stickers on figures such as a bridge or a rollercoaster without a visual cue.

The way this book is bound can make it difficult for a young child to keep the book open while placing their sticker on the page.  You could carefully tear out pages (harder) or simply cut out the page (easier).

Save the finished artwork and put it up on the fridge or the cork board.  It will be that good!

Color Wonder Paper Will Boost Creativity and Save Your Walls

 

 

Nothing ruins the fun of scribbling like the frustration of discovering that clothes, skin and walls are also covered with “creativity”.  It is important to teach children that we color only on specific surfaces, but messes will happen on the path to full comprehension and compliance.  Crayola has just about solved this problem for parents of kids 12 months and up with their Color Wonder line!

There are paper pads, fingerpaint, markers, and coloring books in the Color Wonder line. The markers and fingerprint will only work on their specially-treated paper, but I have a suggestion for those of you who are as frugal as I am:  use regular markers on the back of this thick paper, and then use it for scissor practice!  The fingerpaint is really only safe for children that do not put their fingers in their mouths.  I imagine that the chemicals that allow the paper to react with the paint are not to be swallowed.  The coloring books are widely branded.  If you have a fan of “Frozen” (who isn’t?) or “Cars”, you are in luck.  My strong preference for kids under 3 is the blank pad and markers.  Why?

Perceptual skills are very immature before 3, so the black-and-white line drawings in the coloring books appear to them as just a mass of curved and angled lines.  The little ones get so much more creativity out of plain paper or coloring on your drawings.  If they need a simple graphic, you can draw them a face that they can scribble on, or an ice cream cone like mine above, on which they can add colorful sprinkles.

The magic of Color Wonder is that the markers will not leave a mark on anything but the paper.  Not skin, not clothes (maybe silk, but who wears silk in the presence of toddlers?), not sealed wood furniture, and not walls.  The fine print on the products says that there will be a mark on unfinished wood and some fabrics, but in my experience it has been unable to leave a mark on most everything a toddler can reach.  If you are willing to allow a toddler near a 10K designer sofa, then maybe you can afford to buy another one next year.  I can’t.

This no-marking feature makes it safe to bring to public places and relatives that do not appreciate their home being attacked by young artists.   Not everyone decorates in “toddler chic”.  You probably know that style, where nothing is white and nothing exists that cannot be scrubbed clean? The grandparents have redecorated since you left home, and they will not thrilled to see their home drawn on.  Make them happy and make your toddler happy too, with these Color Wonder products.

Once a toddler realizes that they cannot draw on themselves or you with Color Wonder, they usually give up decorating themselves and your home.  They color on the paper without an argument.  But not always.  One of my families with an almost-2 year-old did get the plain paper pad and mini-markers on my advice, and the mom reported that her son didn’t scribble with her as much as he does with me in our sessions. The reason?  We figured out that he really enjoys getting a negative reaction out of her when he tries to color on the walls or the floors.  Deprived of her strong response, he wandered away, searching for another way to get her attention.  I guess I should link her over to Turn Around Toddler Defiance Using “Feed the Meter” Strategies for some methods to engage him in more positive ways.

I very much prefer the mini-markers, with the caps removed (not clicked onto the ends) while coloring to the standard size markers.   The short shaft promotes a more mature writing grip, while the longer shafts encourage children to use a fisted grasp. There are pastel and bold color sets.  One feature of these markers is that they take a few seconds to react with the special paper.  Young toddlers may think that they don’t work.  Demonstrate that they do indeed work, and even count it off:”One, two, three….magic!!”

My trick for impulsive or impatient kids?  I keep my markers top-off in a small, well-sealed, zip-top plastic bag.  They don’t dry out and I can quickly grab a few markers to offer to a child before she races off to find something else to do.  Clean-up is faster too.  Since the markers don’t stain fingers, I can just scoop and dump them in.

Try these products and see how easy it is to color this summer when you don’t have to clean your walls, skin, and clothes!

Lakeshore Paper Strips Make Summer Writing Practice Easy and Fun!

 

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Make writing vibrant and fun!

These paper strips, both the short (shown) and the long versions, are great for summer writing practice.  Here are a few handwriting tips to make writing on these strips really fun:

  1. They have two different sides; use both of them.  There is a single baseline side which can be much less confusing for the Pre-K set.  Trim the width so that the top of the paper is the top line. You don’t need to write a top line in.  If you find that a child really cannot or will not stop at the baseline, make the baseline thicker with a wide marker and then cut off the space under the baseline.  You won’t need that room for uppercase letters.   I tend to agree with Handwriting Without Tears about too many lines for little kids.  The kids finishing kindergarten can handle a variety of lines, but the 4’s just get confused.
  2. Use these as affordable nameplates in your home for kids who are just starting to read print or cursive.10 Easy Ways to Prepare Preschoolers to Write
  3. Make a treasure hunt that requires them to copy a word in order to receive the next clue.  Don’t forget that if the child is a lefty, the word they are copying is to the right side, and the space they are writing on is on the left.  They need to see your word clearly without twisting their wrist.  Take a look at The Two Differences in Teaching Lefties to Write That Teachers Forget for another secret of teaching writing to lefties!
  4. The paper colors are wonderful, so for children who cannot effectively copy from a model yet, use a gray crayon stroke like Handwriting Without Tears, then have them trace your writing in black.  Use the single baseline side.  Their work will be vibrant.
  5. Write a story using the long strips, taping each sentence together.  Vary the colors and it will be a wonderful graphic as well as a treasured creation.
  6. If you are a big fan of HWT, you can add in the midline to the side that just has a baseline for lowercase letters and cursive.  Remember, kids like to know grown-up things, so be sure that you instruct them on the real name of each line (baseline, midline, topline).  Not to be too critical of Fundations, but even though the “worm line” sounds cute, the kids I know are not into cute as much as they are into being 5 going on 15.  They want to know what grown-ups know.
  7. You could just buy the long strips and cut them shorter if you have a steady hand.  I think they are very affordable, but it is possible that you wouldn’t go through 75 short strips and 100 long strips by the time school starts again!

 

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Kids with low tone benefit significantly from supportive seating for eating, playing, and yes, toileting.  Picking the right training potty can make all the difference for them, and their parents. My new favorites for smaller children (smaller than the average 3-4 year-old) are the Little Colorado Potty Chair and the Fisher Price Custom Comfort Potty seat.  For older or larger children, I suggest that you take a look at my post on using the adult toilet for equipment ideas. Equipment matters, it really does. Why? Let me give you a short review of what potty seats need to provide for children, and why.

Low muscle tone makes children less stable, and when they are using a toilet, they are not sitting/standing passively. For little boys, you also have to consider standing to urinate. Although it can be easier to start teaching a boy to urinate in sitting, it seems to me that it quickly becomes natural and physically easier for all but the most unstable boys to shift to standing. This means that they may need to hold onto the raised seat for stability or hold onto the edge of the vanity cabinet or even a handrail.

 Selecting a potty seat is seating them for action!  They need to be able to sit straight, get on and off independently and safely, and feel stable enough to let go.  The right seat will let them be slightly flexed forward with knees up above their hips a tiny bit.  This allows them to use their abdominal muscles more effectively to perform a gentle Valsalva Maneuver.

This position is the way traditional cultures “make”; they squat and bend forward, increasing the intra-abdominal pressure to help empty their bowels without straining or holding their breath.  Children with low tone almost always have weak abdominal musculature, and can even have poor smooth muscle contraction of the lower intestine.  That slows the timely movement of feces, contributing to constipation and straining.  Have you ever had the indignity and frustration of trying to have a bowel movement in a bedpan?  Enough said.

Learning a new skill, a skill that is not visible and involves both motor, sensory and cognitive abilities, is best done with equipment that fully supports skill development.  Children often have fears, including fears of falling in.  They get frustrated and don’t want to bother to sit when they could be playing.  The list goes on.  Pick well and a child can learn faster and become more independent.  Pick poorly and learning can be slower, more uncomfortable or embarrassing, or convince both of you to just give up for now.  Want your OT or PT to help you decide?  Read Low Tone and Toilet Training: How Can Your Child’s Therapists Help You ?  and see all the things that therapists can do to help you train your child.

Here is a short review of what my favorite seats have to offer:

Fisher Price Custom Comfort Potty Seat

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Pros:

  • This seat delivers a lot of support, with both a high back and armrests.  A child can feel very supported and safe.
  • Kids can use the armrests to re-position themselves independently and get on/off with less or without help.
  • Small size helps the younger or smaller child get their feet flat and have a better sense of their body position.  Even with the ability to raise the seat an inch or two, it is pretty short.
  • All-plastic construction is easy to clean.
  • A splash guard is molded into the bucket for those little boys who need some redirection.
  • Compact size is easier for travel.  Not if you have a Mini Cooper perhaps, but if you have larger car, you will be able to take your child’s comfortable potty with you on trips.  Nothing ruins a good time like accidents or constipation because a child is too anxious or unstable to “go”.

Cons:

  •  this is not one size fits all; the older and wider child could feel cramped or have their knees way too high for good posture or even comfort.  A shallow seat makes it harder for larger boys to aim accurately when peeing, and doesn’t give taller children of both genders enough input through their thighs for postural control.  Imagine sitting on a tiny little seat; you have to work extra hard to stabilize your body.
  • The short curved armrests may be angled too much to help with standing/sitting if a child really needs support.  They are not independent if they need help to get on and off the potty.

Little Colorado Potty Chair

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This natural wood chair looks like what it is: a traditional commode-style potty.  You can get it in a painted version, and I would opt for that, since the extra layers of finish should be the easiest to clean.

Pros:

  • You can get some add-ons that have benefits: a toilet paper holder and a book rack that attach on either side. The TP roll holder gives a child some independence with wiping (as long as they don’t think that rolling it out to the end is a fun game) .  I would think twice about the book rack for a child that struggles to perceive sensation from the bowel or bladder.  Lots of kids like to look at books while waiting, but for some kids any distractions hinder the ability to accurately perceive bladder/bowel information.  Why Low Muscle Tone Creates More Toilet Training Struggles for Toddlers (and Parents!)
  • This chair has a wide, straight back and straight armrests for extra stability and support.
  • This chair is higher, wider and deeper than the FP chair above.  For bigger kids or older children who are being trained later due to developmental delays, this is a big help.  It is hundreds of dollars less than the adapted toilet chairs that kids with more severe or multiple delays really need.  Most children with low tone are not going to need that level of stabilization, and getting more support than you need is not helpful, it slows down independence.

Cons:

  • The bucket insert doesn’t have a splash guard.  That means that little boys especially must be positioned well.  Kids with low tone often shift around more than the average toddler, so keep and eye on the position of everything while using this seat.
  • This chair is not travel-friendly, unless you drive an Escalade or a Tahoe.  It is affordable, so if you have a summer home or if you visit relatives regularly, you can pick up a pair and leave one there.

Neither chair plays music when you pee, has characters all over it, or does anything else but let your child sit there in peace, stable and ready to do the deal.  If you truly need those other things, I guess you could sing a potty song and find some stickers.  Hopefully your child will be able to train quickly and then advance to the next level:  using the adult toilet.

If you have a tall toddler, or your child is over 3.5 years of age, you may not have much choice.  The best system for very unsteady kids is shown in this post Low Tone and Toilet Training: Transition to Using The Adult Toilet , and I have also seen people use something call the Squatty Potty footstool for a bit higher support than the Baby Bjorn stool that I love. The area for foot placement is relatively small, so kids that pay no attention to where their feet are might not be ready for this one.  The squatty folks make a foldaway one with a tote bag that you could take when you go out and use discreetly in public toilets.  Genius.

Want more information about toilet training the child with low tone?  I wrote a book for you!  Visit my website tranquil babies and click on the e-book section in the top ribbon. It is also available on Amazon.com and yourtherapysource.com.  This book gives you extensive readiness checklists that help you make a plan, it teaches you how to navigate problems like refusals and fears, and explains why low tone is such an issue with toilet training!

Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills

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Great mechanical pencils for kids !

These pencils help students with the following handwriting issues:

  1. They use too much force while writing, and the pencil tips break frequently.
  2. They need more tactile information to achieve and keep a mature pencil grasp.
  3. They rarely notice that they need to sharpen their pencil to improve legibility.
  4. Getting up to sharpen a pencil distracts or disorganizes them so much that it extends the time to complete assignments.

I usually do not recommend mechanical pencils for the earliest writers, but that changes after the first half of second grade.  Once a child is facing the volume and speed demands of later second grade or above, it is time to be creative and think outside the box.

Working on the physical skills and the sensory processing skills that cause a child to struggle with grading force, perceiving tactile input, and monitoring their performance is still important.  They would probably take away my OTR license if I didn’t say that!

The problem is that sometimes life hacks are essential to keep a child functioning and feeling like a success.  Having the right equipment is an important and easy life hack for the child that already (at 7!) thinks of himself as a bad writer.  Using this pencil can be one of those “low-hanging-fruit” situations where performance improves while skills are developing.

PaperMate hasn’t targeted the kids with low tone, sensory processing, ASD, ADHD, or any other issues, and that is actually a nice thing.  Older kids don’t want a “special” anything in the classroom or even at home.  They might reject seat cushions and pencil grips that help them because they don’t want to look different or feel different.  Well, these are easy to get at office supply stores.  There is nothing “special” about them at all, except that they really help kids write neatly.

  • The pencils have #2 leads, a good eraser, and come with both extra lead and erasers.  We all know that running out of erasers will communicate “I don’t really need to erase that mistake” to a child.
  •  The colors are appealing to kids, but not infantile.
  • Adults know that their handwriting will immediately look better with a fine point writing utensil, but kids do not.   Children that have visual-perceptual or executive functioning issues often struggle to accurately assess what is causing their handwriting to look illegible, and then take the appropriate action.  They just shrug it off and say that they are simply “bad at writing”.
  • The pencil shaft is smooth, but the thick triangular shape adds much more tactile input than a regular pencil.  Feeling an edge, rather than a cylinder, is often just enough tactile feedback to remind kids to reposition their fingers without an adult saying “Fix your grip”.  Kids get so tired of adults telling them what to do.
  • The triangular shape limits how often the pencil rolls away or rolls off the table.  For kids with ADHD, that can be enough to derail homework without any drama!
  • Finally, mechanical pencils seem more grown-up to children than standard pencils, and you can spin it as such.  What a nice opportunity to be positive about handwriting!

What happens when your child makes a mistake and needs to try again?  They need the best eraser!  Check out Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser , because the erasers on these PaperMate pencils are good but not great.  Having the best equipment positions your child for success!