Ready, Set, Let’s Do Art!

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As a pediatric occupational therapist, much of my “free” time is spent looking for new things for work.  Whether it be games, apps, activity books, etc., this is something that takes up a lot of my time.  When I find myself getting bored with the activities I am presenting to the kids I work with, I have to wonder what is going through their heads as I offer them the same sorting game or puzzle every other session.

I’ve written about coloring and activity books several times on my blog.  One of the reasons for that is that almost all of the kids I work with have handwriting and graphomotor goals that need to be worked on during every session.  Since this is typically something that isn’t easy for them, they can find a million excuses to get out of doing them.  That right there is one of the main reasons I am constantly on the search for motivating activity books…if you find a good one, you can easily work on so many of those handwriting, coloring or drawing goals.

A couple of weeks ago, I was researching new and fun apps.  I have actually used much of this summer to take a break from using the iPad.  Maybe the reason for that was that I couldn’t watch or hear the same things one more time since the kids often pick the same apps every time.  When I discovered the Lazoo Art Box app by PBS Kids, I wasted no time downloading it.  The Lazoo activity books may be my favorite ones out there.  They are totally unique and incredibly motivating for the little ones I work with.  The pictures often have a simple direction for them to follow which not only works on improving their coloring/drawing skills, but also works on expanding their creative skills.  It also works on executive functioning skills such as organization, planning and following directions.

Lazoo Art Box is one of those apps that you get a lot for what you pay.  The app has four different modes that you can choose from in the beginning:  Let’s Squiggle, Let’s Color, Let’s Draw and Draw from Scratch.  In each of the modes, kids can complete a series of unfinished drawings by following the directions/suggestions provided.  For example, you can add squiggly wool to a family of sheep, color in balloons or draw teeth on an alligator or make hair on people.  Once you have finished your pictures using a variety of colors and stamps, you can bring your picture to life.  The kids just love watching their work come to life!  If kids would like to create a picture from scratch (or from a picture stored on your iPad), they can do that as well.  Just like the other modes, once they are done with their picture, they can bring it to life.

What I love the most about the Lazoo Art Box app is that it combines three of my favorite activity books (sadly, they are not easily available these days) into one great app. Because I am one of those crazy people who likes to collect things she likes, I happen to be lucky enough to have a couple of each of these activity books in my possession.  I only wish I had thought to photocopy the pages before it became impossible to find.  One of the things I have been doing is looking through the books and finding pictures that match with some of the pictures offered on the iPad app.  This allows the kids to practice and learn what is expected from them before using something more permanent.  It depends on each child, their age and their skill set, but sometimes I will “erase” what they have done on the iPad if I find that they aren’t doing their best work.  Let me be clear about one thing:  best work doesn’t mean a child has to do things perfectly.  It means that they are focusing, paying attention and following the directions that were given to them.  I am all for fostering creativity, but for some of my kids if not encouraged to remain on task, they will not complete it properly.

I am going to do something a little different with the end of my post this time.  Instead of talking about all the therapeutic benefits, I am going to introduce you to one of my little friends.  Meet Mack.  He is a super star.  We have been working together for about 13 months now.  When I first started working with him, he had such significant sensory processing difficulties that I couldn’t even begin to work on figuring out his fine motor delays.  We could easily spend a full 45-minute session in the cuddle swing and it still wouldn’t be enough.  I’m still recovering from our first session when I put him on a therapy ball and he screamed so loudly and jumped off the ball so quickly that I wasn’t quite sure where he had gone.  He initially refused to participate in all table top activities, especially any that involved coloring, drawing or handwriting.  Within two sessions, Mack was calmer and more relaxed.  He is a sensory seeker, craving a tremendous amount of proprioceptive and vestibular input in order to organize his body for most tasks.  A year later, the amount of  input he requires varies but is definitely not what he needed last year.  He is more independent in all tasks presented to him and will actually ask for us to do graphomotor activities that he used avoid at all costs.

Last week, I decided to pull out the Lazoo Art Box app and one of my old Let’s Color activity books.  I searched through the book to find an image that was also available on the iPad so we could start with coloring on the iPad and bring it to life first and then have Mack color in the same picture using crayons.  Since Mack is such a smart guy, I decided to make it a little more tricky for him and make him color the balloons in the same color on both the iPad and his coloring page.  It’s a great way to generalize the skills that we are working on in a fun and motivating way.  Mack LOVED it and for the first time, actually asked if he could take his work home and show it off to everyone.  His mother later reported that he showed it to EVERYONE he met….his doorman, his dad, his sister and his baby sitter to name a few!  This is a really big deal and proved to me that Mack is beginning to not only enjoy these kinds of activities but has the confidence in himself to know that he can be successful with them.

A couple of things I did with Mack that you can do with your kids to work towards his/her occupational therapy goals are:
Start with a Strengthening Activity-before beginning most graphomotor activities, I like to warm up those small muscles of the hand by doing some kind of strengthening activity.  Some of my favorites are Discovery Putty, poptubes or Lego activities.  Always have a couple of options and let the kids choose which one they want to do.  
Use a Stylus-when appropriate, I always have my kids use a stylus when using the iPad.  This allows us to work on improving grasping skills when using writing instruments.  I typically use one of these three stylus’:  Paper Mate’s 2 in 1 Stylus pen, the crayon stylus by iCreate or the Retro Mini Stylus Pen by Kikkerland.  Choose whichever one your child feels most comfortable with.
Work on an Incline-for many of the kids I work with, working on an inclined surface helps with success with graphomotor tasks.  It puts their wrist in an optimal position and also can work on increasing upper body strength.
Use Broken Crayons or Short Markers– especially for the younger kids on my caseload, I recommend using small crayons or short markers.  The smaller writing instruments encourage a more appropriate grasp.  Crayola makes a box of triangular crayons that I find to be particularly good.  They also make PipSqueak markers (both think and thick) which my kids really love too.  For kids who have significantly decreased grasp strength, starting with markers because they don’t require as much pressure and they can have more success without getting as frustrated.  As their grasp strength improves, start introducing crayons or colored pencils.

As we approach a new school year, I know many of the families I work with are asking what they can do to get their children prepared for the upcoming school year.  If you want to start off slowly and in a fun way, I highly recommend the Lazoo Art Box app by PBS Kids.  This is a great app to have on your iPad as you head off to your final summer vacations.  It can keep your kids occupied on long car rides or when you are going out to dinner.

What are some of your favorite activities to give to families or use with your kids to get them thinking about school and doing work?  I would love to hear from you all and I am sure all us parents would be grateful for some new ideas to try with our own kids.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

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