One Bead at a Time

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When my daughter was coming up with her list for Santa Claus last year, she kept this arts and crafts kit she had seen at Toys R Us.  She couldn’t tell me much about it but said they had all kinds of beads that you could spray together to make animals and other things.  She was so excited but I had no idea what she was talking about.  When she unwrapped her Beados machine from her babysitter, I though she might explode with happiness.  I, on the other hand, was scared at first and just imaged these little beads spilling and going all over the place.  I also didn’t see how Quinn would be able to complete this particular art activity without me helping her for almost the whole thing.  There were some tears (by both of us at one point), but once we successfully finished our first Beado project, we felt really good and excited to make more.  As an occupational therapist, I couldn’t help but thinking about how great this particular product would be for some of the kids I work with.

For those of you who haven’t heard of them, Beados and Aquabeads are small, colorful beads that stick together when sprayed with water.  They are two different brands of a pretty similar product but do exactly the same thing.  Each kit comes with several templates, a work palette, hundreds of different colored beads and a pen/wand that you use to put the beads into place.  My daughter has this work station kind of thing that comes with a base, a storage spot on the top for all the beads and a special pen that helps put the colored beads into the correct place.  There are tons of different sets out there including magical creatures, foods and sea creatures.  I am a big fan of the Alpha Set by Aquabeads which I have used at work with a bunch of my kids already.  My goal is to have my kids help me make the whole alphabet and then attach magnets or velcro to them and have kids work on letter recognition and practicing spelling words and other kinds of fun alphabet games.  
Total disclosure because it wouldn’t be cool of me to not share some important facts about this product.   First of all, there are a lot of tiny pieces…lots and lots of little water beads that you need in order to complete all the patterns.  If they spill, you will be stepping on them for days to come. I highly recommend that you do this at a table with good lighting.  If you have younger children, it might be best to do this with your older kids while they are doing something else because your help will likely be needed.  Secondly, you (as a parent) need to have a lot of patience as your child is completing them.  Your kid will end up getting frustrated or annoyed because it is highly likely that they will end up messing up their design before it’s completed.  It may take several attempts before you figure out the best way to complete this activity.  
With all those warnings above, there are a lot more benefits to using Aquabeads or Beados and I have been using them a ton with the older kids on my caseload.  I have found that motivating my older kids to work on things that challenge them becomes increasingly more difficult and they become very good at avoiding them.  Another thing that I have found is that if there is some kind of really cool thing to take home with them and the end of a session, it makes them more excited to work harder and work through those challenges.
Here are a few occupational therapy skills that can be worked on when using Aquabeads or Beados:
Improve Fine Motor Skills-as soon as I started playing with Aquabeads and Beados with my daughter, I thought about how great it would be for those kids who need to work on improving their hand skills.  While they are definitely tricky, they are great for working on developing fine motor skills such as grasping skills.  You can use the special pen that it comes with (it’s about the size of a regular pen or pencil) and encourage the children to hold it in a tripod grasp.  If you want to really challenge a kid, you can have them use their pincer grasp to pick up the small beads and place them into the palette.  For an even bigger challenge, have them pick up a few at a time and make them hold them in their palm and translate them to their fingertips as they place them in the palette.  
Improve Visual Skills-there are so many different visual skills that can be worked on while playing with Aquabeads and Beados.  First of all, you have to be able to visually track between the beads and the palette with the template under it.  You need to be able to recognize what color bead you need (some of the colors are similar) and place it where it goes.  This is also a great way to work on improving visual motor integration/eye-hand coordination.  
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-finding fun and motivating activities for my older kids can be challenging, especially for those who present with difficulties with executive functioning skills.  Aquabeads and Beados are great for working on so many of the key executive functioning skills.  For example, if you have a child who has a difficult time with planning and prioritizing, you can talk to them about how they want to complete their picture.  Do they want to place the beads into the palette row by row or complete one color at a time?  Do they want to place the beads in from top to bottom or from left to right?  Make the child come up with a game plan and then have them evaluate how they did once they complete it.  Another great executive functioning skill that can be worked on is practicing how to control impulses.  So many of the kids I work with move quickly, not thinking about how those actions will effect his/her work.  Kids will learn quickly that if they move too fast, they will mess up their work and have to start over again.  When I do this with kids, I talk to them about how important it is to keep their bodies calm and in check.  These are also great for working on improving a child’s attention and focus.  Depending on a child’s attention span, I give them different templates to choose from.  I want them to be able to complete the project in one sitting and if it is too big, some kids won’t have the attention or ability to sit still long enough for them to be successful.  I always want to set my kids up to be successful, especially with new activities, so making sure we set reasonable goals makes it more likely they will be successful.  
Improve Confidence and Self Esteem-while it is likely that your child may become frustrated during this activity, it is also highly likely that they will be so proud of their completed project that it will make them forget about how frustrated they got.  I actually just did this the other day with a little girl who had tried doing it a few days before.  Her mother said that she got so frustrated when she messed up that she ended up in tears and threw away the project.  We ended up talking about what had happened the other day and she decided she really wanted to try it and wouldn’t get upset.  We came up with a plan, talked about how she needed to keep her body calm and not move too quickly and that if anything got messed up, we would fix it and move on.  We worked for a long time and when she finished it, she literally squealed with joy over her completed Shopkin Beado.  She also couldn’t stop talking about how she didn’t get frustrated and that she kept her body calm so it didn’t get messed up while she was working on it.  
Improve Social Skills-this is one of those activities that can be done independently or with a group.  If you have a couple of super-crafty kids that you work with, you can easily have them complete a project together.  With my daughter and her friends, they take turns placing the beads into place.  They have to compromise who will go first, how many beads they get to put in, etc..  I love the language it encourages, especially if you make one of the sets with characters (we are a big fan of the ShopkinsFrozen and Hello Kitty sets).   Once they are completed, they can act out scenes and make up stories together.
Like I have mentioned, Aquabeads and Beados are not for everyone and I am very careful about who I would give them as a gift to.  If you are a crafty and patient person and love spending time with your kids doing these kinds of activities, then I highly recommend them.  If you have a child who has fine motor difficulties and resists working with you at home, then this could be a fun way to get them to do work without them realizing that they are working!  I’ll admit, I find myself totally wrapped up in an Aquabeads or Beados project with my daughter and love seeing the beads come together to make something fun.

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