More Than Meets The Eye

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In this portion of my 2015 Holiday Gift Guide, I focus on fun toys that work on building a variety of visual skills.  Visual skills, simply put, are a set of skills that we use to gather visual information from our environment.  We use this information that we gather to integrate them with our other senses in order to gain understanding and meaning of different experiences.  Visual perceptual skills are especially important for learning things like reading, writing, completing puzzles and gross motor/sports skills.  Kids need to have good eye-hand coordination, visual tracking and visual attention in order to be successful with things such as riding a bike, tying shoes or being able to cross a street.

Since most of the children I work with have delays in the area of visual skills, finding the right tools to encourage them to work on said skills is essential.  It’s important to find things that are not only educational and therapeutic, but also to find things that are highly motivating because children have a tendency to avoid tasks that they think will be too hard for them.  Below, you will find a handful of my favorite toys and activities that work on improving visual skills.  Additionally, most of them work on improving fine motor skills, problem solving, focus, attention and organizational skills.  All of them can also be used in small groups or with siblings to encourage social interactions with peers.

Janod magnetibook Vehicles-I am a big fan of all things made by Janod.  Their products are beautifully made and can take a beating from the constant use at my gym.  When I saw the vehicle magnetibook, I grabbed it for all the car loving kids on my caseload.  The set comes with 18 cards and 50 magnets in a magnetic storage box.  There is a scene where you have to place your vehicle (tugboat goes in the water, helicopter goes in the sky, etc.).  Kids have to find the required pieces for each picture and then put it together.  You can also give kids free reign to create whatever kind of vehicle they want and then have them tell me a story about what they created.  I have so many kids on my caseload who love cars and puzzles so when I saw this, I was excited to have something new and a bit more challenging for them after they had mastered regular puzzles.  Great for working on improving fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  As already mentioned, you can also work on encouraging imagination by having kids make their own vehicles instead of following the picture cards.
Janod Magnetibook Moduloform-another great magnet book by Janod but this one uses different geometric shapes to create figures and designs.  Kids can either follow the patterns on the provided cards or use their imagination and come up with their own designs.  Great way for kids to work on fine motor skills in addition to visual motor and visual perceptual skills. This could be a fun activity to do in a small group to work on encouraging team work, compromise and being flexible when working with other people.

Lite-Brite-over the course of my career, I’ve had almost every kind of Lite Brite created.   This particular version of the always evolving Lite Brite happens to be my favorite.  What sets it apart from the other versions is that the screen is flat but can easily stand up if you want your child to work on an incline.  The other great thing about this one is that they are no longer all circle pegs but there is a variety of square, circle, triangle and curved pieces that make the pictures look more realistic.  They are also great for being able to work on making letters and numbers! Lite Brite is great for working on improving fine motor skills, such as grasping, strengthening and in-hand manipulation skills.  Also great for working on visual motor and perceptual skills. The Lite-Brite comes with reusable templates (no more throwing them away after each use…yay!) with highly motivating pictures to complete.  You can also get the animal or underwater refill sets if your kids get bored with the ones that come with the set. 

Design and Drill BrightworksEducational Insights has a great line of similar toys but the fan favorite (also known as the preschool voted favorite) is this set.  This set comes with a board, a drill with two different bits, a ton of different colored bolts and a book filled with patterns and designs to follow.  While children can build their own designs, they can also work on visual motor and visual perceptual skills by following the provided patterns.  This toy is perfect for working on improving eye-hand coordination, matching, patterns and sequences and problem solving skills.  Also works on building fine motor skills such as grasping, strengthening and in-hand manipulation skills.  My kids at work love this toy and ask for it week after week.  I love that while they are having fun, they are gaining some very important skills to help them in other areas of learning.
Design and Drill Dazzling Creations Studio-another amazing product by Educational Insights that works on improving a ton of fine motor, visual motor and perceptual and creative skills.  I had to get this set for my daughter (who ironically has some fine motor and grasp issues) when I saw there was a unicorn included.  It happened to be a big hit with her and she didn’t even realize that I was trying to get her to work on her grip!
Similar to the Design and Drill Brightworks set, the Dazzling Creations studio uses a tool to create something magical.  This set comes with 4 different templates (unicorn, castle, princess and crown), a variety of different colored screws and a screwdriver.  Using the screwdriver, a child an create a colorful object. In order to complete their project, it requires strength, focus/attention and eye-hand coordination.  What makes this set different is that there are no patterns to follow so kids can be creative and use their imagination.
One of the things I like most about this toy is that there is a motor planning component to it.  Kids have to figure out which direction the screwdriver needs to be in (there is a star on the screwdriver that moves up and down) in order to put the screws in and to take them out again.  There is also an in-hand manipulation and grasping component when you place the special gems (a giant motivating factor for my daughter) into the completed design. One of the bonus factors of this particular toy is that there are no batteries required!

Eeboo Puzzles-I am a big fan of the whole Eeboo line of products but particularly impressed with the quality of their line of puzzles.  From the simple 2-piece alphabet, rhyming and number puzzles to the more complicated larger puzzles, they are all great and you can’t go wrong.  I like that the pictures are bright and colorful and help stimulate conversation and language skills. What really sets these puzzles apart from many of the others you see is the quality of them.  They are thick and super durable which is great for little kids who like to be rough with their toys.  Since I work in a gym where toys are shared, finding puzzles that last is very important.  They get used over and over again, maybe thrown across a room or put into a kid’s mouth.  Unlike your traditional paper puzzles, these take a lot more wear and tear to bend, break or to be ripped.  Puzzles are great for working on problem solving, eye-hand coordination, fine motor development and for working on executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organization.  You can also work on improving social skills by having kids work together as a team to complete a puzzle.
Tiggly-I was first introduced to Tiggly at the toy show in NYC a few years ago.  I was an early adapter in using an iPad in therapy sessions with my kids.  Not only was it a highly motivating tool, it was something that was proving to help my kids learn things that they had once shied away from (especially learning how to write letters and numbers).  I have been using Tiggly Shapes with my little ones ever since and love how focused and attentive they are to the activity.  Since then, they have introduced Tiggly Math and Tiggly Words.  All Tiggly toys are designed to help kids develop fine motor, visual motor and visual processing skills, encourage creativity and to learn important
educational concepts.  Additionally, they can be used to work on improving bilateral coordination, problem solving and social skills.  All of the apps associated with the toys are highly engaging (and free when you buy the different sets)  and kids will be asking to learn when you have these on hand.  Below, you will find a brief description of each set.
Tiggly Shapes (2 to 5 years)-each set come with 4 shapes (circle, square, triangle and star) and 3 different apps that are compatible with them.  In addition to learning basic shapes, children are encouraged to learn a variety of other skills using the different apps.  In the Draw app, you use the shape tools to create pictures and imaginary creates.  Once created, they can make them come to life. In Safari (my favorite app for these toys), children construct animals in different habitats by matching the shapes that pop up onto the screen.  They start simple by having to match only one shape to create an animal and becomes more challenging when the shapes pop up on the screen and then start to move all around.  Tiggly Stamp is the most open-ended app and focused on encouraging creativity.  Using the different shapes, kids can create their own canvas to make up stories.  There are different themes for kids to use, such as halloween and other seasons.  This is a great app for working on improving speech and language skills as well.

Tiggly Math (3 to 7 years)-I’ve been looking for a great math app for years so was really excited when I saw that Tiggly released this last year.  Each set comes with 5 interactive math tools (they look like squares connected to each other) that can be used with the 3 apps that you can download with purchase.  Through cooking, creating and
Cardtoons-in this app, counting comes to lives with 25 imaginative stories.  Kids count, drag and match objects which is great for working on developing eye-hand coordination, motor planning and focus and attentional skills.  Simple pieces of cardboard shuffles into a variety of positions making different objects (gumballs for a frog who likes to blow bubbles and bananas for a camel’s back are just two examples).
Tiggly Chef-kids learn early addition concepts as they help the crazy chef prepare over 40 outrageous meals.  Kids will have fun and laugh a lot while learning about addition.  The chef will tell you what he needs in order to make his different recipes and using the Tiggly Math cubes, you give him the exact number of necessary ingredients.  My daughter has had so much fun learning early math skills using this app and I guarantee your child won’t give you any fight about practicing their math with this app!
Tiggly Adventure-this app is the most appropriate for your younger kids (preschoolers).  Using the tools, kids will build bridges, ladders and other kinds of objects needed in order to skip obstacles that might get in their way.  It’s a fun way to introduce your children to numbers and encourage language skills at the same time.
Tiggly Words (4 to 8 years)-each set comes with 5 lower-case vowels that you will need for the apps

that go along with them.  Children become more familiar with the building blocks of language, learning long and short vowels, phonics, nouns, verbs and word building using this hands-on and interactive tool.  They have fun spelling silly words and solving unusual problems, hiding the fact that they are learning at the same time.
Tiggly Doctor-your child gets to be the Tiggly Town Doctor when playing this game that focuses on teaching kids their verbs.  In addition to using the different vowels, kids will be asked to complete action verbs to cure their patients of their very unusual illnesses.
Tiggly Story Maker-using the tiggly word toys, you make new words by replacing the CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) patterns.  If you create a word that has an actual meaning, the word will come to life.  Kids will learn about CVC patterns, short sounds, building words and the beginnings of writing stories using this fun and engaging app.
Tiggly Submarine-in this words app, children begin to learn simple words with short vowel sounds and spelling patterns.  They get to explore the underwater world and go on adventures while learning at the same time.

These are just a few of my favorite toys that work on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Do you have anything that you use with your kids that you (and more importantly, your kids) love?  Please be sure to share your favorite toys with me and my readers before the holidays so we can be sure to add it to our shopping list.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

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