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!

 

 

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.

And of course, my e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With /Low Muscle Tone will help you will all aspects of potty training.  Read more about this unique book, available on Amazon and Your Therapy Source here:

The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived!

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.  And then there is the child-height toilet.  It isn’t difficult to find online, and even the big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s carry them online.  It can mean the difference between fear and confidence, so check out Should You Install a Child-Sized Potty for Your Special Needs Child?.

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 Your Therapy Source.  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!

Looking for seating that isn’t a potty seat?  Check out The Cube Chair: Your Special Needs Toddler’s New Favorite Seat! ,  Kids With Low Muscle Tone Can Sit For Dinner: A Multi-Course Strategy and A Simple Strategy To Improve Your Child’s Posture In A Stokke Tripp Trapp or Special Tomato Chair.

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!

 

 

Best Preemie Toy? Try An O-Ball Toy For Easy Grasping And Playing

 

Preemies often wait a long time to start playing.  NICU life isn’t about fun, it is about survival.  Once your preemie is home, you will want to get the party started.  If she has a weak grasp or isn’t coordinated enough to easily hold every rattle and toy that you got for your shower, you might want to consider the O-ball to develop visual-motor skills.

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The Original O-Ball!

This is the basic O-Ball, a great toy that I recommend for my 1-4 month clients.  I also recommend the next generation O-ball toys, such as the O-ball car, for equally easy grasp with my slightly older preemie or developmentally delayed kids.

Why do I like this ball over cloth balls or those bumpy sensory balls?  

  • The web-like design allows a child to hold it with almost any type of grasp.  Low muscle tone, spasticity, or weakness reduce a baby’s ability to grasp and retain a toy.  It just isn’t fun if your toy keeps falling out of your hand.
  • Texture, but not too much texture.  The plastic is a little bit grippy, so it doesn’t fall out of her hand like a smooth plastic ball, but not so textured that a sensitive infant would find it overstimulating.  Preemies sometimes leave the NICU a little overwhelmed by sensation, and yet many need the extra touch input to really feel what is in their hands. This ball is a good balance of tactile inputs.
  • Fun at a fraction of the weight.  A baby that has strength or tone issues needs lightweight toys to pick it up easily and continue to hold it as gravity pulls the ball down and out of his hand.
  • The O-ball is large enough and light enough for 2-handed grasp, an important developmental milestone.  As an OT, we know that using two hands at midline (the center of your body) supports all the other movements that require a sense of moving around a center…rolling, crawling and walking!  Start now to develop awareness of midline and two-handed activity.
  • Second and third generation O-balls have built-in rattles and are more colorful than this one.  None have sharp edges or pieces that can fall out.  Safety first.
  • Did you say “Spit up”?  Wipes clean in an instant.
  • It is a bit squishy, which means it will bend, not break.  If your child drops it on her face or on the floor, she might cry from surprise but not from injury.
  • It will still be fun to play with next year.  This ball will still be fun to roll and throw later on in life, unlike those rattles that will be tossed out in a few months.

Here is another great post for parents of NICU graduates: Baby Wearing for Premature Babies

Is your preemie hypermobile?  I wrote an e-book just for you!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years is finally out!  I include techniques to hold and carry your child, how to use infant exercisers and how to do “tummy time”  with a hypermobile baby.  There are chapters on how to talk with your family, babysitter, and even how to talk to your pediatrician about your child’s needs.  You can buy it on Amazon.com today!  Don’t have a Kindle?  NP!  You can read it on any screen or desktop.  Want a printable copy?  Buy it on Your Therapy Source today!

Live in the NYC area and want to learn infant massage for your preemie?

Visit my website tranquil babies and make an appointment for an in-home lesson designed just for preemies today!

Plus Plus Toy Review: This Toy Can Make Your Child Turn Off The Tablet

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Almost endless creativity in a very small package!

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Fun for a wide variety of ages; adults too!

 

I got a box of mini PlusPlus building pieces as a gift from a client.  Her son is apparently addicted.  He was totally occupied with them for their entire vacation plane ride earlier this year.  The entire ride.

These toys from Denmark come in midi (medium size) and mini sizes.  They are intended for ages 3+ due to their small size.  If your child likes to put objects in his mouth, pass on this toy until that phase is over.  Same if your child doesn’t clean up well or throws toys frequently.  Think carefully if you have a baby in the house.  An infant would find these colorful pieces and put them in her mouth very easily.

Why am I so thrilled with this toy?  After all, LEGO has been around for decades.   Answer:  You can build things with PlusPlus that aren’t possible with LEGO.  The flat shape can be easier to assemble, and the uniform shape actually speeds building.  A younger child isn’t left with odd small pieces that an adult has to deal with.

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This is the photo from the box.  These are the mini size and they drape around the child’s face softly, unlike the LEGO bricks.  Clearly, this is a child that is old enough to grade her force so that the glasses don’t break or enter her eye accidentally.  Safety first with all toys.  But this means that if she has a younger sibling, she can be a terrific role model for this kind of play.  They can play together, making different things with different levels of skill.

My local stations run a cable ad that imagines what would bring siblings together without fighting.  Their answer is two separate TVs in two separate rooms.  Success is separation and sedation.  Sad.  How about creativity and abundance bringing kids together?  The big box supply is large enough for at least two kids to feel they both have enough.  If you have a child that isn’t satisfied unless she has everything, you have bigger issues than what toy to buy.

The small size and the ability to create both flat (2-dimensional) and standing structures (3-dimensional) increases the fun.  Kids may not realize all the dexterity and visual-perceptual skills they are developing.  It is just fun!

My suggestions:

  • find a sturdy container for all these little pieces.  Make sure it closes very firmly but easily.  If a child can’t secure it or doesn’t realize it isn’t secure, the mess he makes when it dumps out is going to look overwhelming.  Refusing to pick up the pieces puts you in place for an argument.  You may find yourself picking them up for days if they scatter.
  • Make sure that there are enough favorite colors, and that the size is right for the child.  Tiny pieces that are hard to grasp and control aren’t fun.
  • Let the tablet’s charge run down.  When a child has to wait to go back to tapping and dragging, you can bring these out.
  • Build something simple but fun that a young child can add to.  Think of it like the foundation of a house.  Younger children have a hard time starting from scratch but as they work they may even destroy the original structure and build something more fabulous!

 

 

Homeschooling? Make Learning to Write Easy for Everyone

Handwriting is a skill that powers the development of language and literacy, as well as math skills.  This is an important early foundation skill.  Keyboarding does not replace writing at any age.  If you doubt me, gather up all your pencils and pens for a day or two.  See what happens.

If they are truthful, most early education teachers will tell you that they received very little training in how to teach young children to write.  They are using the curricula that their principal or lead teacher has chosen.  It usually has not been chosen because those professionals have actually used it successfully.  Often it is a district-wide decision and teachers may not even be trained in the basics of using the program, let alone the principles of teaching any handwriting curricula to typically-developing children.

Luckily, my favorite handwriting curriculum is easy for parents to use when they homeschool.  This will be one of those situations where your children’s skills will almost immediately exceed their public school peers, and stay that way through the years.  Even if your child has learning differences.

Handwriting Without Tears is an affordable program, has easy-to-understand parent/teacher guides, and multi sensory activities that engage young children right away.  The materials for cursive and above are not insulting to the older child that needs review and support.  Most importantly, if your child has learning differences, your child can use this program successfully because the materials support children of all stripes.

HWT provides pre-writing materials like wood pieces and Mat Man that are fun for 4’s or older kids working at that level.  Their workbooks are simple and uncluttered for kids with visual-perceptual issues, and the teaching progression is developmental, not alphabetical.  Kids that have motor issues will be supported to build control before they have to work on the tricky diagonals or curves of the letters “A” and “B”.  You can still teach phonics and any other literacy program that you desire.  HWT allows you to teach writing and reading separately or together.  You get to decide.

Kids on the spectrum are often literal thinkers, and get overwhelmed with complex teaching language.  You will be using repetition and routine with this curriculum, helping them learn by supporting their strengths and their desire to have structure and familiarity.  This will not slow down a sibling that isn’t on the spectrum.  That child will simply sail ahead!  The ultimate goal of handwriting instruction is simple:  legible automatic handwriting.  For all the excitement about spontaneous and free writing for literacy in kindergarten, if your child is constantly erasing errors in first and second grade, he or she will start to write less and less.  Making too many mistakes will reduce creativity and writing output.

The program is also written in Spanish and French, which may be helpful for children learning English or desirable for families that want a multicultural curriculum.  Same excellent and easy-to-teach format.

Visit their website, where you can download some free samples and try them for yourself.  Homeschooling requires parents to make many decisions, but this is one choice that makes things easier.

 

Is HWT Gray Block Paper All You Need?

HWT Gray Block paper does so many amazing things all at once to help a young child learn to write.  I had to take the Handwriting Without Tears assessment class twice to really understand why it works.  All you have to do is read this blog post.
IMG_1107.jpgThis paper is intended for children that write at the kindergarten level.  That means that a 4 year old that is leaving his classmates in the dust can use it, and a second-grader that struggles with getting his letters small enough to fit on homework assignment sheets can use it too.  The HWT people don’t put grades on their materials so that it can be used by anyone.  I find that really kind to the egos of children everywhere.  If you aren’t good at writing you probably know it, but having it broadcast throughout the school isn’t helpful.

This paper is for uppercase letters and to be used with pencils, but I have had children who need the waxy grippy-ness of a very pointed crayon succeed on this paper unless they use too much force.  Pencils are still the best tool for writing in such small spaces.  I frequently have a child use my favorite pencil grip  The Pencil Grip That Strengthens Your Child’s Fingers As They Write. You can address a lot of needs and IEP goals all in one activity if you use Gray Block paper!

The paper comes in the center-starter cues version or the alphabet/numeral copy format shown above, but it also has a blank-box version and a left corner-starter cues version.  Example:  the letters “E” and “L” begin at the top left corner, but the letters “T”and “C” start at the center top.  The dots tell a child where to begin a letter.  The alphabet/numeral page provide correct starting dots for each character.  HWT has given teachers and parents sheets that create a progression from copying a model to independent writing, while still providing clear boundaries for size and control.  More on that later.

Starting letters in the correct spot is a primary goal for legibility.  An uppercase letter that is started at the bottom may look good, but it will be made a bit slower.  Once a child starts writing words and sentences, using an incorrect start can result in being the slowest writer in the class. Starting at the bottom also makes it harder to control your hand for an accurate stop, therefore a child’s letter can be too long or have a straight line that develops a curve as they try to come to a halt with an upswept wrist or finger motion.  When a child starts a letter correctly, the chances of using the correct sequence of moves rises significantly.  The blocks also help a beginning writer avoid reversals.  For example, children cannot reverse the “D” if they stay in their block.  An immediate reminder.  Make “D”s this way for a while, and a child’s brain automatically glides the pencil to the right to make a big curve.  No decisions needed.  It is a habit.  And no parent/teacher correction needed.  I love it when I don’t have to say or do anything to get good results!!!!

So far this magic paper has controlled the start and assisted in getting the sequence of movements correct while avoiding reversing letters.  The size of the boxes and the shading make it very clear how large and how wide the letters should be, supporting correct and consistent sizing.  The boxes are in a horizontal row to help a child identify the baseline, which is correct alignment of uppercase letters.  Sometimes I will take a black crayon and draw a line under the row, making a bold baseline.  I told one child I see for private tutoring that only adults make the baseline, and in true form for him, he insisted that he be allowed to make his own baselines. His letters still wobble a bit, but he always aims for his baseline now.   Another win for both of us!

I have recently seen some preschoolers that I treat privately come home with sheets that look like HWT’s gray blocks, but are actually just rectangles drawn on paper in pre-K sizing (yes, there is a way to know what is standard sizing is, even this early).  These pages sometimes even come from the occupational therapist at school!  OOPS! This make me think that they (or someone at school) has seen the Gray Block paper and thought that they would create them for younger kids.  Sorry, guys: you missed the part of the lecture on why Gray Block paper works and for whom it has the best results.

Preschoolers that are advanced can jump into using gray block paper, but there is an important thing that simple rectangles on a page can’t deliver for children that are not yet ready to control a pencil and not writing without a model.   The shaded block gives a subtle visual cue that four drawn lines do not.  For beginning writers, especially for kids that have visual-perceptual issues, those extra lines can create more confusion than support.  Gray Block paper provides simple visual guidelines for the creation of vertical and diagonal lines without confusion for older children.  A child writing an “N”, for example, traces the left-side edge of the shaded block, jumps back to the starting corner, then makes a diagonal line to the lower right-hand corner, and then traces straight up to the top right-hand corner.  The letter “N” is a tricky one for many preschoolers and kindergarteners, who use all diagonal lines or reverse the letter because they aren’t sure when to jump up and when not to jump.  Gray blocks that are shaded, not drawn, allow them to see their writing through the shaded areas, developing more control and independence.  They aren’t writing within the blocks, they are using the edges to trace lines without a letter model.  You can’t trace a dark edge and still see your own work.  The effect of shaded blocks acting as a bridge to independent writing is one of the things that make this paper “magic”.  Making your own blocks is not going to deliver the same effect.

The blocks are spaced evenly but they are larger than “real-life” writing.  No worries; children will gradually imitate adult writing and make their free writing smaller than the blocks after practice.   The blocks give adults the chance to explain that letters need space.  You can even teach word spacing by always leaving one empty space between them.  It turns out that the correct amount of space between words is the lower case “o” in the size that you use for your age.  Gray blocks deliver again.

So…let’s list the things these little blocks can do for beginning or struggling writers:

  • appropriate for a wide range of ages
  • provides prompts for correct start and sequencing
  • discourages reversals
  • encourages awareness of a baseline
  • develops automatic and uniform sizing
  • promotes awareness of spacing letters and words
  • creates a bridge between tracing and independent writing
  • improves control with fewer confusing lines

Teaching handwriting to young children can be fun, but it can also be complicated.  Out of all of HWT’s products, this is one of the most useful items in my office now.  It gets results so quickly for so many children!

 

Develop Pincer Grasp With Ziploc Bags

Toddlers love snacks.  OTs love refining a child’s grasp.  Mash the two together and you get….the Ziploc snack bag.  Try serving a tiny portion of your child’s fave crunchy snack in a small bag that has a zipper closure and watch their fingertip control take off!

Here are the important points to make this safe and successful:

  • Use the smallest zipper bag you can find.  If it is large enough to cover their face or head, it is unsafe.
  • Place only a few pieces of the snack inside.  Why?  If I gave you one goldfish cracker you would use your fingertips to take it out.  If I gave you 20, you would reach in and pull out a fistful.  So will your child.
  • Always offer more snack servings,since each serving size is so small.  You will seem like the most generous person they know.
  • Close the bag after filling it.  Children actually enjoy the experience of mastering the little zipper.  It is a little moment of control in a day where everyone is telling them when to go potty, when to nap, and when to get in the carseat.  This is a moment of control!

Preschool Pencils That Develop Hand Control (and with tips that won’t constantly break!)

Great pencils for preschool pre-writing fun!

Great pencils for preschool pre-writing fun!

Most preschoolers with older siblings are aware that the “big kids” use pencils for their homework.  Just like the fight to avoid the booster seat, older toddlers and preschoolers aspire to the next stage of development.  The problem with using #2 pencils before kindergarten?  Many children do not have the required small muscle strength and control to use them well, and drop into a fisted grasp.  As a pediatric occupational therapist, I am aware that a poor grip is not the end of the world, but it can make a slow writer slower and sloppier.  It can mean that a child’s hands get tired and they give up before the assignment is done.  This creates lots of arguments during homework time.  Wouldn’t it be better to spend a little more energy in preschool developing hand control so this is not an issue later?  These Crayola Easy-Grip Colored Pencils allow a young child to feel more mature by using a tool for older children, and have success designed inside.

The best features:

  • triangular shape gives small hands three flat surfaces to place the pads of their fingers.  More square footage gives more sensory feedback.
  • Short shafts discourage a fisted grip and match the smaller hands of younger children.
  • Thicker lead minimizes tip breakage, but you can still use the larger opening on a regular sharpener to get a fine point if desired.
  • coloring pictures within the lines and with the contours of the designs is terrific strengthening and motor planning for little hands!  I feel that coloring is totally underrated by most adults.  Hint: coloring with your child, describing in a play-by-play manner what strokes(vertical, horizontal, circular) you use and why, is absolutely magic.  Children really want to see what you do, see you make mistakes and deal with it, etc.  Youaren’t wasting your time, you are investing this skill with meaning and teaching without realizing it.

This box of pencils is very affordable; combined with the Melissa and Doug coloring pads (posted December 2014) it is a wonderful gift for a 3-5 year old at a very reasonable price!

Lakeshore’s Rubbing Plates Build Hand Strength and Coordination While Having Fun!

a very easy activity to develop many sensory-motor skills!

a very easy activity to develop many sensory-motor skills!

This simple activity uses just paper ( I use the back of scrap paper to be mindful of the environment), a crayon and Lakeshore’s rubbing plates.  I included a sample photo of the number plates, but the letter plates are used in exactly the same manner.  Such an easy activity, and yet it builds sensory-motor skills and can be a lot of fun!  Learning to control a crayon and learning to recognize numbers and letters are essential before a child learns to write.  Familiar letters and numbers will be easier to write.  If your child can’t identify the symbol they are copying, then they may not be learning much from a handwriting lesson.

Children with learning differences or sensory processing issues are often uninterested in simple coloring or pre-writing activities.  This multi-sensory activity appeals to kids who need more input to engage in learning.  Preschoolers just love the vibration and noise that they create as their crayon bumps against the raised plastic ridges.  The characters used to illustrate the number on the plate are recognizable to most toddlers, such as one birthday cake and stars.  I have had children insist that they must make one for each family member.  Daddy just had a birthday so he gets the cake, Mommy likes dogs so she gets that one, and on and on.  Remember, these are children that rarely want to pick up a crayon for any reason!!!

I take the paper off of a 2-3 inch long preschool crayon, and turn it horizontally.  It is very difficult for preschoolers to grasp the standard-thickness kindergarten crayons, so please use the larger diameter preschool size.  Younger preschoolers need a little help to place their thumb on one side of the crayon, and four fingertips on the other ( a quadrupod grasp turned sideways).  I model the crayon stroke on my own rubbing plate until the image is revealed and they become excited to try their own.  I might also physically assist them to move the crayon up and down on the paper-covered plate if needed.  It is fun to add layers of colors and see what happens!   Repetition gives children the chance to develop motor planning skills and strengthen their grip.

I usually cut an 8.5×11 inch page horizontally to create two paper pieces.  Each one is large enough to cover a single rubbing plate.  I have enough paper overlap to tape the edges to the back of the plate if needed.  This is helpful for younger children that aren’t able to effectively stabilize the paper with one hand and rub their crayon over the plate with the other. As a bilateral control activity it builds  awareness of the body’s midline and developing differentiation of right and left hands.  It can be discouraging for a child to have the paper move while rubbing; the image blurs and can be almost unrecognizable even for an adult.

Older children will use tape to connect a series together to spell their name or the name of a pet or family member.  You could make a banner with them, or come up with your own creative use for these handy plates!

The Pencil Grip That Strengthens Your Child’s Fingers As They Write.

The generic form of this amazing pencil grip!

Lakeshore Learning has one version this amazing pencil grip!

 

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The Grotto Grip; firmer plastic gives more sensory feedback and a strong barrier to incorrect finger “migration”!

Pencil grips are frequently recommended but mostly ineffective in improving pencil grasp. They are often placed at the wrong part of the pencil for best use, or quickly and repeatedly lost like mittens. I wrote a post on how to decide if you need a grip for a child  Should Your Child Use A Pencil Grip?, but once you need a grip, there is only one I can recommend.   I have found only one style that actually builds strength and control, instead of just propping up fingers on a piece of plastic.  As an occupational therapist, I spend a lot of effort working with preschoolers on hand strength.  For good ideas that actually work, not waste your time, read Strengthening A Child’s Pencil Grasp: Three Easy Methods That Work.  If they continue to struggle to control a crayon and cannot hold a pencil as they enter and complete kindergarten, I really have to think about whether a pencil grip would help them.  This is the only one that does.

 

I must have purchased every known type of grip over the years, and also constructed grips out of rubber bands/string/etc as well. They all went in the trash after I found this style about 10 years ago.  Turns out, this grip requires the use of the small muscles of the thumb and fingers to write, unlike the other types on the market.  It cannot be used comfortably without the child actively contracting those muscles.  This style blocks most of the compensating patterns that children develop by providing “wings” that prevent fingers from sliding over or around the pencil. It has a trough for placement of the thumb-side tip of the middle finger (radial aspect of the DIP joint on digit III for all those therapists out there) to support the thumb and index finger.

Many pencil grips look terrific, but if a child has true weakness, little fingers will wrap around the other grips and their hand collapses into a hook or gross grasp.  This is the very same (ineffective and immature) pattern they use without a pencil grip!  Now teachers and parents find themselves repositioning the child’s fingers or constantly telling them to “fix” their fingers.  Too much work for everyone!

A good OTR will do their best to develop hand strength and control and not hand out pencil grips like candy.  Younger children who are not yet writing words and sentences should have full opportunity to develop the required hand control.  But if a kindergarten teacher is insisting on pencil use when your child really does not have the physical control required for pencil grasp, you have to really think about what you are going to do.

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I have used the Grotto grip, the version with stiffer sides, with two four-year-olds that have seriously weak and unstable fingers.  These little girls tried very very hard with but never achieved much with therapy putty and finger exercises.  I think that is because therapy 2x/week for was not frequent and intensive enough practice, and they could compensate/cheat but seemingly perform each exercise. They have been writing and coloring age-appropriate activities every day using the grip for the last 3 months, and the progress is significant!  It really is doing everything I promised with these younger preschoolers.  The grip places their fingers in a position to build muscle bulk and they are able to assume a better grip on pencils without adaptations for short periods.  Strengthening is a long process, but they now know how the correct grip should feel.

Most children want to use a pencil.  They don’t care that their fingers wrap around the pencil like a snake because they are finally “writing like the big kids”.  Children have no idea that they are being set up for years of poor control, slow writing, hand discomfort and fatigue, and eventually an avoidance of writing just when they should be doing creative composition.  Imagine if your writing was slow and your hand was tired or sore: would you want to write more about your summer vacation?  You would write the minimum required.  And that is from a compliant child.  I have heard of kids screaming that they don’t care about grades or losing privileges, they won’t write at all!

This style is available in some learning-oriented stores and therapy catalogs both online and in the mail.  The Therapy Shoppe calls theirs the “Grotto Grip” and there are copycats that are a bit softer but also incorporate the “wings” and a trough for third digit placement.  If you have an OTR at school, they may have one available or be able to help you find one of these grips if they think it is time to consider using it. Because it requires the use of finger muscles that might be initially very weak, I recommend short periods of use that increase gradually.  Forcing large amounts of writing all at once when they cannot fall back on their compensatory finger patterns creates the risk of developing total resistance in a child.   I think the shape reminds me of a cobra’s head.  Lots of little boys find that using a pencil grip in the shape of a potentially deadly animal is a very appealing concept.  Sometimes you just have to spin things the right way to appeal to your audience!

Want more information on how to help a child succeed in school and in life?  I wrote an e-book just for you!

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The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility  Volume Two: The School Years is a resource for parents and therapists.  I explain how hypermobility creates sensory processing and social/emotional challenges as well as motor issues, and how to build independence at home and school with ease.  Learn how to pick the right backpack, desk chair, even clothes and spoons, to make life easier.  I include forms and handouts for positioning, teaching educators and coaches what they need to know, and even explain how to speak with medical professionals to be heard clearly and get answers to your questions.

My book is available as a read-only download on Amazon or a printable download on Your Therapy Source.

 

Think your child needs a better pencil, not a better pencil grip?  Take a look at Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills if they are over 5 and have a tripod or quadruped grasp.  And don’t forget erasers:  Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser will help you outfit your child with tools that make writing more successful.

Lakeshore Stickers That Make Learning Letters and Sight Words Fun!

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So many possible activities to create!

So many possible activities to create!

Just one game for spelling, alignment of letters on the baseline, and dexterity

Just one game for spelling, alignment of letters on the baseline, and dexterity

I love these letter stickers because they are so versatile.  Children that need to develop letter recognition can use them, but older children that want to spell words and write sentences can also enjoy them. They support sorting and pattern creation, two early math concepts.  The small size and the intricacy of interlocking the letters requires children to use a pincer grasp and coordinate both hands.  What more could an occupational therapist want? I posted one activity, but there are an almost infinite number of ways to use these stickers.

Uppercase letters are the first letters that preschoolers recognize and write.  These use the Zaner-Bloser font, but it is simple to explain to children who question letter formation that a computer made these letters, and the way they write their letters by hand is slightly different.  Stickers of any type are almost always appealing to young children, and the interlocking puzzle design just happens to support good letter spacing.

Some children with visual discrimination issues or poor modulation for visual sensory input work better without a huge pile of stickers to scan and sort.  You can make target spelling words or words that begin or end with a specific sound.  You may need to turn down a corner of the paper backing for the youngest children or kids with fine motor issues.  The puzzle stickers are sticky enough that they can be removed from a page and repositioned.  Finally, the paper backing is small and slippery.  Cleaning them up is great for children that need to work on grasp and awareness of what they are holding in their hands!

Teaching Pencil Grasp Can Start with Edison Chopsticks

Cute characters and a stable grasp!

Cute characters and a stable grasp!

Playing Wok 'n Roll with Edison Chopsticks!

Playing Wok ‘n Roll with Edison Chopsticks!

I love these Edison training chopsticks.  You could eat your lunch with them, but you could also pick up little toys and game pieces.  Every preschooler that I work with that has difficulty with controlling their pencil has fun with these chopsticks.  They have no idea that my goal is to get their finger strength and coordination to the point where holding a pencil is as easy as can be.

This style is convertible, in that you can remove the loops, but you cannot rotate the finger loops for hand dominance.  That means that if you have lefties and righties in the same family, they can’t share.  You have to buy a right-handed or a left-handed one.  I have seen other training chopsticks and chopstick holders that are neutral; neither left or right-handed.  The Edison design is the cutest set I have ever seen, and provides the most stable grasp since the finger loops really insist on correct finger placement.  I think they are worth the cost and the inconvenience of not being able to share between righties and lefties.

You can create a cheap DIY training chopstick set.  You need wooden chopsticks, the paper  wrapper or another paper rectangle about the size of the wrapper, and a rubber band.  Twist the rubber band around the chopsticks tightly at the top but leave enough slack for one more twist, then take the rolled-up chopstick wrapper and insert it in between the chopsticks.  Twist the rubber band beneath the paper, and off you go.  The paper creates a fulcrum for the chopsticks.  YouTube has more than one video that will guide you along in creating this chopstick trainer.  Not as cute as the Edison chopsticks, but much cheaper, more earth-friendly, and even travel-ready.  Just bring along your rubber band to dinner and you are all set!

Using these chopsticks is so much fun that some young children think that meal times are suddenly more fun, and they might want to eat a wider variety of food as well.  Lots of preschoolers go to hibachi restaurants with their parents in my area, especially on the weekends.  They are so excited when I teach them to use these chopsticks so that they can eat like the “big kids”.  They have no idea how much fine motor development they are gaining with every bite!

Lakeshore Scissors for Toddlers That Only Cut the Paper, Not the Toddler

terrific safe scissors for little hands!

terrific safe scissors for little hands!

Lakeshore Learning sells their own brand of plastic safety scissors, and I like then so much that I wouldn’t recommend any other brand for children under 4.  Toddlers are just too curious about how scissors work and too excited to listen to safety precautions.  These scissors mean that they can develop solid hand skills earlier and without bloodshed.

Scissors are the second actual tool a child masters (eating utensils are first) and the earlier a child understands how scissors work and how to handle them, the safer they are when using them.  I wouldn’t give anyone under 2 a pair of scissors unless they impressed me with their maturity and fine motor control.  Before 2, most children do not have the requisite coordination to make snipping on paper a success.  Toddlers with older siblings immediately earn a slightly earlier-than-usual first lesson from me, as I know that older children often leave regular scissors on a table without thinking. I want them to understand correct grip, correct carrying and that using scissors is a “big kid” privilege.

One of may favorite work memories is a child to whom I offered a pair of these scissors and tried to help him put his fingers into the handles.  He resisted me, and with a combination of derision and fear, uttered “Dane-ge-wous!!”.  Apparently he had heard about scissors from someone else! This version will prevent you from shrieking and grabbing a scissor away from a child just as he is really learning how to cut.

Lakeshore’s own brand of safety scissor will break easily if a child tries to twist the blades apart.  Luckily they are very affordable, and I generally encourage parents to buy a few at a time in the same color when shopping.  They will not cut skin, hair or clothing, but they will pinch fingers. Of course, if your child tries to stab someone in the face they will cause injury.  Just because they are not going to cut a child doesn’t mean that they cannot be used as an intentional weapon or create some accident.  Supervision is essential, and not just for injury prevention.  I always bring 2 scissors with me so that a child can see me demonstrate cutting without having to rip a pair out of his hands.  You know that the toddler commandments include “If I am holding it, it is mine” .  If I have only one pair of scissors, toddlers are so intent to retrieve that pair that they cannot watch my demonstration.

Combine these great scissors with the high-quality paper and creative designs of the Kumon cutting books (see earlier post) and you have hours of fun and solid preschool skill development!

LEGO Duplo My First Car Creations: Putting Together Cars, Building Hand Coordination

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UPDATE:  LEGO has changed a few things, including the name of this toy.  It used to be “Combine and Create”.  The new version is really great as well.  They have added some fun pieces with more graphics.  The piece that could morph from dump truck to tanker trunk is gone, and the dump truck piece is not as easy to use in another way.  I still like this set much more than their specific sets.  Children grow mentally and socially when they can be creative.  When I get my new set I will post a photo of the box and give you a more complete review!

Imagine; your toddler makes a new car and cannot wait to show you the “gas station-fire truck” just invented in your playroom!  LEGOs are my favorite toddler toy, always creative and very hard to destroy.  If I was asked to jump on a plane and teach therapists in a far-away country,  these LEGOs would be in my bag.  This set is so much fun for toddlers that I just had to post it. It is more creative than similar DUPLO sets that just build one type of vehicle.  Nothing will stop your child from making any vehicle they can imagine.  You can use the set to build a small structure as well.  The enclosed poster demonstrates specific vehicles that older children can copy, but the real fun is making your own designs.

I will tell you that the youngest toddlers may have to be restricted from the smallest squares and rectangles; they are a choking hazard if your child tries to mouth them.  But the wheel bases, the tow truck hook, and most of the other pieces are chunky enough and so much fun for fingers that you might try this set out with those just under 2.  With good adult supervision, those smaller pieces can be teaching tools.

This set has a pretend gas hose that is like catnip to little boys.  Can’t explain it, but then I still don’t know why guys love the 3 Stooges.  You can connect all 3 wheel bases to form one huge vehicle, and older kids will revel in how outrageous a vehicle they can construct using every piece.

Children will enjoy this set for years, and it is at a price point that makes it the perfect birthday gift.  Confession: I bought 2 sets to double the fun.  Totally worth it!

The Best Toddler Paintbrush Is…..A Travel Foundation Brush

Painting is so much fun for toddlers and preschoolers.  Finding the right brush that fits their little hands and also encourages a developing crayon grip isn’t as much fun.  Stores are full of all sizes and shapes, some with collars so that paint doesn’t run down their arms, some with ridged handles, some so tiny that you wonder how small is too small.  Find the right brush, and painting is a great pre-writing activity, developing hand strength and control along with creativity and touch exploration.

I shopped around for the right brushes, spending a fortune in therapy catalogs and at Target/Walmart/art stores.  Then I bought an expensive makeup foundation that provided it’s own small brush.  For the price they charged, they should have thrown in a makeup artist to apply it, but that is another blog post.  The brush was great, but not for applying my makeup ( I am a sponge girl).  It was just the right length and diameter for preschooler fingers to hold while painting!

Little hands should use small (but not tiny) diameter handles, and shorter rather than longer shafts.  A brush that has just enough room for fingertips (which discourages a fisted grip because there simply isn’t a long handle shaft) is just right.  Mine had a shiny base near the bristles that created a visual cue for finger placement.  That was a plus.

I think that a nice travel brush should work just as well, and a well-made brush can withstand the abuse a young child is capable of delivering on their way to creating a work of art!