An App That Has Me All Fingers and Thumbs

adminapps, attention, dexteria jr, eye hand coordination, fine motor, grasping, iPad, pinching, preschool, scanning, tracing, visual motor, visual tracking 2 Comments

I am sure it is totally obvious how much I love finding good apps.  Ones that will motivate my kids and keep them interested while still working on specific goals.  Months ago I found Dexteria, an occupational therapy app created for school age children (also great for adults who may need to work on building up strength after a hand injury) that focuses on improving fine motor skills.  While it has been a great app for my older clients, it was a bit challenging and not motivating enough for my younger children or those older clients who have significantly decreased grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills.  So when I saw that they released Dexteria Jr. I immediately downloaded it and began using it right away.  It’s a true must have for all you therapists who use an iPad during therapy.

Binary Labs created Dexteria Jr. in conjunction with occupational therapists.  There are 3 activities that work on improving pinching, grasping and coordination of motor skills.  I have been using this for a week or so with a variety of kids (including my own 3 year old daughter) and they all love it.  For my preschoolers who struggle with aquiring higher level fine motor skills, this is a fun app that easily motivates them to work on those challenging skills.  It’s clear to me that a lot of thought and collaboration was put into the creation of this app and I am thrilled to have it out there.  Not only am I loving using it in my sessions, I love having it to suggest to my colleagues and to parents of children I work with.

The app is broken down into three mini-games and each game has multiple levels that focuses on a different fine motor skills.  I will describe each game here:

Squish the Squash

Squish the Squash-works on encouraging a child to use a pointer finger to squish the vegetable.  I encourage my kids to stick only their pointer finger out and let all the other fingers go to “sleep”.  This can be quite challenging for those kids with decreased grasp strength.  There are a number of levels and the expectations increase on each level.  The number of squash they must squish goes up; they start moving around the screen and eventually you have to squash them 2 to 3 times before you earn a point.

Pinch the Pepper…watch out for the multiplying yellow peppers

Pinch the Pepper-this section of the game focuses on developing a pincer grasp.  Kids are expected to pinch the peppers on the screen.  Again, there are a number of levels and the expectations and challenges go up with each level.  At first, the peppers remain still; eventually they begin moving around the screen.  My favorite part of this game is that eventually the red peppers will begin changing color; if the pepper is yellow and it is pinched, it will split into 3 more peppers.  This is perfect for working on improving a child’s focus and ability to regulate their actions.

Trace and Erase..Step 1.  Drag the line to the star

Trace and Erase-this game is perfect for working on pre-writing and tracing skills with preschoolers.  A child is expected to trace a variety of lines and shapes by drawing a line from a dot to the star.  They are timed and their accuracy is measured.  Once they are done tracing the lines, they are then expected to erase each line.  As they erase the lines, they begin to see a picture of themselves.  Once all the lines are erased, the camera will go off and take a silly picture of the kid.  Talk about motivating! My kids keep asking to do more levels just so they can get there picture taken at the end.

In addition to what I have already mentioned, here are a few more occupational therapy goals that can be addressed when using this app:

Improve Grasping Skills-the pinching game is perfect for working on improving a child’s grasping s I would work on generalizing this skill by following up with a hands on activity like the Orb Factory Mosaics or stringing small beads on string.  If you are working on proper pencil grasp with a child, you can have them complete the squish the squash and tracing game using a stylus.  I try and do this as often as possible with apps so they can work on grasping skills more consistently.  I recommend the iCreate one found here.  This one meant to look like a crayon is the perfect size for little hands.
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-all 3 of the games require eye-hand coordination.  This is a perfect and motivating app to be able to focus on coordinating your eyes and hands.  Once you feel as though they have mastered this, you can then try and find more hands on/less techy activities such as stringing beads or mosaic activities.

Trace and Erase…Step 2.  Check out the picture that pops up
as you erase your lines.  

Improve Visual Tracking and Scanning Skills-this is a great game to work on improving visual tracking and scanning skills.  The squash and pepper game require a child to follow the vegetables around the screen prior to either sqishing them or pinching them.  They begin to move faster and faster so it’s really important that they maintain their eye contact at one object at a time instead of moving from one to the other.   If you want to work on generalization of their tracing skills, have them complete a paper tracing activity right after.  I am a big fan of the Kumon books; try out the Amazing Tracing and Easy Mazes ones to compliment this activity.
Improve Modulation/Regulation Skills-I like that in order to be truly successful with these games, it requires a child to slow down and be steady in their movements.  For example, if you rush through the trace and erase game, you won’t stay in the lines.  I tend to have to remind my kids that speed is not as important as staying in the lines in order to get them to slow down.
Improve Attention and Focus-sometimes I find that the timed apps make my kids rush through activities.  While playing Dexteria Jr., it’s important to remind the kids to maintain their focus on the vegetables or the tracing shapes and not the timer.  All three of the activities require you to focus but on different things.  For example, the tracing game requires you to focus on staying in the boundaries.  The pinching game requires you to focus on the color of the peppers.
Improve Upper Extremity Strength-not all iPad games are easy to do while lying on the net swing but once a child is familiar with this one, you can present it to them while on the swing.  I have so many kids who complain about working on upper body strengthening and say they are tired within seconds of getting on the swings.  However, if I have them engaged in a game, they don’t mind spending more time in that position.

There are a ton of things to love about this app and as an OT, I could go on and on about the therapeutic benefits of it.  The best part about it is that the design is very child friendly and motivating for the younger kids.  They are having serious fun while working on skills that are necessary for success in academic skills such as handwriting, drawing and cutting.  What’s also great is that while it is therapeutic, it can be used at home with caregivers and parents.  Children don’t mind doing their OT homework when this app is involved.

While there is still a lot of summer left, I know some parents are looking for activities to get their kids ready for the new school year.  I promise Dexteria Jr. will be something all you early educators who use the iPad will want in your catalog of apps.  And I promise you will be recommending it to parents for home use.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the app and how you use it in therapy or at home.  If you have any other apps that are like this that you want to suggest to my readers, please let me know.  I am always a click away and value your thoughts and opinions.

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