Learning Can Be Fun!

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One of the things that my colleagues know about me is that I love using the iPad during my therapy sessions.  I was an early lover of the iPad and what it could bring to a therapy session.  There were many times I felt really bad about my iPad causing a distraction to the other children and therapists around me.  As the years have gone by, many more of my colleagues are joining me and realizing that when used in conjunction with a ton of other therapy approaches, the iPad can be a tremendously motivating and useful.  What I love most about it is that you can combine the iPad with a ton of other occupational therapy goals and kill two birds with one stone.  Have a kid who needs to work on building upper extremity strength and is resistant to those activities?  Place them on the net swing and find a game for them to play; I guarantee you will get them to stay in that challenging position for much longer!  Do you have a child who needs to work on improving handwriting skills or grasping on a writing instrument?  Give them a stylus when doing handwriting apps so they are working on both letter writing and using a proper grip.

Recently, I have been asked to share my favorite iPad apps with my colleagues and the families I work with.  As more people begin to join the tablet world, they want to make sure that they have enough on their iPads to meet the needs of their children.  There are SO many great apps out there and sometimes it’s so overwhelming looking through the app store that people get scared away.  While I have shared many of my favorite apps recently, I thought I would share this comprehensive list I created last week.  There are probably a million more apps out there (and please share your gems with me…I am ALWAYS looking for new ones), but I thought I would share my most recent list with you all.    There are a lot here but it’s just a sampling of what is on my iPad and what I use during my sessions.

Little Bit Studio happens to have some of the most amazing and motivating apps that I know of.  Not only do the kids that I world with love them, I love to play them with the kids!  They all range in price from $1.00-3.99.  For some, that might seem like a bit of a steep price for an iPad app, but each game comes with about 15 mini games.  
 Bugs and Buttons-18 really fun games that work on a variety of academic skills.  Great game for working on fine motor, visual tracking, visual motor and critical thinking.  
 Bugs and Buttons 2-follow up game to Bugs and Buttons, another 18 games that work on pinching, counting and letter recognition.  
 Bugs and Numbers-another 18 games that make learning math loads of fun for preschool and school-age kids.  Number/shape identification, sequencing, tracking numbers and learning fractions are just a few of the math skills a child can work on when using this app.
 Bug Mazing-created for pre-school and school age children.  Great for working on reinforcing number, letter and shape recognition while working on fine motor and problem solving skills.  
Binary Labs has created a series of apps that are great for preschool and school age children.  What I love about this company is that they recognize the importance of how good fine motor skills can support handwriting and math skills down the line.

Dexteria-the first app I discovered by Binary Labs has been one of the apps I regularly recommend to other therapists and parents.  There are few apps that work on fine motor skills such as grasping, pinching and fine motor control like dexterity and control skills.  Great for older children or even adults who need to work on developing these skills.

Dexteria Jr-hand and finger exercises that develop fine motor skills for kids between the ages of 2 and 6.  The activities are fun and motivating so the kids don’t realize they are working on skills!  Squish the Squash works on finger isolation/using your pointer finger while Pinch the Pepper works on developing grasping skills and improving finger strength.

Dexteria Dots-I have been on the hunt for good math games so was thrilled when I heard about this game.  Fun and intuitive game that work son teaching kids the concepts of addition, subtraction and relative size.  There are different levels so this game is good for children between the ages of 2 and 8.

Dextetia Dots 2-this is a great app that works on fine motor, visual motor and visual motor skills while doing math at the same time.  Helps to reinforce math concepts such as greater/less than/equal to from a conceptual standpoint for school age children 5-10 years of age.

Fizzbrain Apps is a mom and pop company that has dedicated themselves to creating a series of apps that will motivate children to learn.  My favorite ones are their series of Touch and Write apps which . In addition to these apps, they have many apps created for children on the autism spectrum.   

Touch and Write-kids can practice writing the letters of the alphabet using 16 different materials; my kids really love practicing writing with shaving cream or jello!  What I love about this handwriting app is that not only can you practice writing individual letters, but they give you the option of personalizing this for each child and making word lists so they can work on spelling at the same time.

Touch and Write Cursive-for older children who need help with learning cursive.  This app is the same as the original and offers you the opportunity to practice upper and lower case letters and full words.  
**with both of these apps, I suggest using a stylus so you can encourage a proper writing grasp.  I also like to have the children write the letters and words on paper after they have practiced on the iPad in order to generalize their skills.  
Highlights Hidden Pictures-just like the classic puzzles found in the Highlights and High Five Magazines, this app has over 50 puzzles to choose from.  You can change the level of difficulty by turning hints on and off.  Great for working on visual skills such as visual perception, visual tracking and visual organizational skills.  My school age children love this app.  Sometimes, I will have them use the iPad first and complete a puzzle and then give them a page in workbook after to work on generalizing the visual skills.

Whac-a-Mole-I was really excited to see that one of my favorite games to use with my kids was also an app.  There are over 50 levels of play with it getting more challenging as you beat them.  The object of the game it to earn as many coins as possible as you tap and swipe the moles out of your way.  This is a great app for older children who need to work on visual motor skills.  In addition to improving visual motor skills, you can work on executive functioning skills such as organization, focus and visual attention.  
MOMA Art Lab-wonderful app that works on improving creativity and art skills.  Intended for children ages 7 and older, this app allows children to explore how artists can use lines, shapes and colors to create artwork inspired by some of the artwork seen at MOMA.  I love to use this with small groups of older children and watch them work together to create a piece of art.
So many of the kids I work with have a difficult time doing a more abstract art project.  They can be successful with activities that have clear rules and expectations, but get frustrated by more open-ended art activities. This can be a great app to show them that they can be successful and expand their imagination.  If you want to take it to the next level, have materials available for them to make a real life project that resembles what they have just practiced on the iPad.

Pinch Peeps-fast paced and fun app that works on improving fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Pinch and drag together similar peeps in order to score as many points as possible.  The faster you go, the more points you get.  I love using this with my older kids who need a fun way to work on improving executive functioning skills such as organization, focus and attention and following directions.  As an added requirement, I have my older kids tell me the rules and steps of this game before they can play the game.

Faces iMake ABC-looking for something fun and different to work on teaching your little ones their letters?  Faces iMake ABC is just for you then!  This is an interactive game that works on letter recognition and learning the sounds of each of the letters.  What I love about this is there is a puzzle for each letter of the alphabet which works on visual skills, such as tracking, eye hand coordination and perceptual skills.  The kids I work with love how they use every day objects like buttons and different foods to turn them into pictures.
If I have a child who is working on learning how to write the letters, I will let them put the puzzle together first and then they have to practice writing the letter after.  For those who need encouragement for handwriting, I find this to be motivating.
There is a second piece to this game that is more appropriate for older children.  For each letter, the child is asked to find the 5 objects in a field of about a dozen pictures that start with the letter.  This works on improving organizational skills, focus and attention.  
Dipdap-do you have a child who has a really time with drawing?  This is a really fun app that can work on improving drawing skills in a unique way.  Dipdap is a cute character and your job is to help him through 16 different adventures by completing pictures.  In each of the 16 pictures, an object is missing that your child has to draw.  For example, Dipdap is in a car but the whole outside is missing.
For kids who shy away from drawing because they have difficulty with it, I find this to be a non-threatening drawing app that they can be successful with.  I like to talk through it with them before they start drawing; for some kids the planning part is more difficult than the actual drawing part.
As I like to do with the handwriting apps I use, immediately after a child draws on the iPad, I like to get them to practice drawing a picture on paper that they can take home and show off to their people.
Don’t forget to have a child use a stylus of your choice when doing this drawing app.  I think it’s tremendously important for a child to always be encouraged to use a proper grasp when drawing so find the one that your child is most comfortable with and let them draw away!

Letterschool-one of my favorite handwriting apps out there.  The more important thing is that it also happens to be the favorite of my of the kids I work with as well.  Not only will your child work on letter (upper and lowercase) and number recognition, they will also be learning the sounds that go with each letter.  For each letter, there are three different choices….tap (this helps a child learn where each part of the letter starts) and watch the lines get drawn; drag (drag the arrow from the starting point to the end point) and draw on the chalkboard.  Once the letter is complete for each game, the letter comes to life….racecars zoom, flowers bloom and a train moves along the tracks are just a few of the fun things that your child is rewarded with after they have completed the letter.
I love that you can change the mode so if you are doing the Handwriting Without Tears program with a child, you can use this app along with it.  For my kids, they know that when they use Letterschool, they will have to practice writing the letter either on a chalkboard or a piece of paper.

L’Escapadou has created two wonderful handwriting apps…one for print and one for cursive…that my kids love to play with.
Writing Wizard/Cursive Writing Wizard-practice writing all the upper and lowercase letters and numbers while tracing them using animated stickers and sound effects.  Once the tracing is complete, they can interact with the letters.
The game is customizable and you can play around with the settings to make it best for your child.  There are two modes:  free and 5 Stars mode.  In the 5 Star mode, the focus is on learning the letter by tracing it 5 times.  Once it’s successfully traced 5 times, the child earns a star that is then displayed on the home screen with all of the letters.
Don’t forget to use a stylus when using this app with your kids.  Also, anytime possible, have them practice writing on paper or a chalkboard immediately after completing it on the iPad.  

Pepi Play has a series of apps that are ideal for preschoolers that work on fine motor, visual motor/perceptual and other academic skills.  My own daughter can play these games for hours and they are often the go to apps when my children at work have earned iPad choice!  

Pepi Tree-in this educational game, children get to explore a variety of tree-dwelling animals and learn about some of their habits.  They get to learn about where they live, what they eat and what different animals look like.  There are six separate games in this app and each one works on some kind of occupational therapy goal.  My kids really love feeding the caterpillars different foods and watching them turn into beautiful butterflies.  I like the owl who uses his night vision to find all of the other animals who are also away at night.  Highly motivating app that works on improving visual motor, visual tracking, fine motor, bilateral coordination and focus/attentional skills.

Wallykazam!  Letter and Word Magic-this preschool literacy app is a big hit amongst my preschoolers and younger school age children.  For kids who are struggling with reading, I find that they are more motivated to work on this skill when some of their favorite characters are involved.  The goal of the game is to help Wally and all his friends in a variety of adventures.  There are several games built into this app that work on phonemic awareness, letter recognition and letter-sound associations.  Additionally, your child can learn how to write letters by tracing them in the stars.  It is highly interactive and keeps even the most frustrated early learner motivated and engaged.  For some of my older children, I have them trace the letters using a stylus so we can work on proper grasp on writing instruments.  If you have children who are struggling with handwriting as well, this is a good game to use in conjunction with handwriting activities.  After they have traced the letter in the sky, have them write it on paper or on a chalkboard.

Super Stretch-while I am not one who does yoga personally, I recognize and appreciate the therapeutic benefits of it and have used it often in my sessions.  Not only is it great for working on overall body strength, it also works on motor planning, focus/attentional skills and breath control.  Whether you do it individually or in a small group, I have found that my kids love following Super Stretch on his adventures.  I like that you can pick and choose which poses you want to work on so it can work on individual goals for each child.  I have used this in my social skills group many times and I love how the kids look at each other to figure out how to get themselves in the different poses.  If you have a child who has modulation and focus/attention difficulties, you can use this app in the beginning of your sessions to work on grounding them and getting them ready for their session.

I know this is a lot of information…perhaps too much!  I also know that this is just a small sampling of the amazing apps out there that can be used to motivate and encourage children to learn a variety of skills.  I feel like it is highly important for me to repeat that it’s important to use the iPad as an addition to your regular therapy sessions and not let it replace the hands on, multi-sensory experiences you offer in your work environment.  For some of my kids, the iPad is used as a reward for doing all of their other work.  For others, it is used as a side-by-side activity when working on handwriting.

If you have any outstanding apps that you would like to share, please let me know!  I am always excited to learn about new apps out there and use them during my sessions.  I also know that many of my readers would be excited to hear what you have to say as well.  As always, I am just a click away!

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