Remote Therapy Tools

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It’s hard to believe how quickly things shifted for us as therapists, parents, teachers, etc. in such a short time. For kids, they may be feeling scared about how many things in their life have changed and as their grownups, it’s our responsibility to offer them comfort and consistency. While I am preparing to move towards remote therapy sessions, I am trying to gather ideas and tools on how to make this as successful as possible. This is definitely going to be challenging, but I am looking forward to expanding my skills and helping parents through this time. One of the things I am doing is trying to think about what parents might have lying around their houses or what might still be easy to get. I know that stores are closed to foot traffic and browsing, but are still open for deliveries or curbside pickup. I urge parents to take advantage of these stores and the personalized care they can provide to you. For my New York City folks, check out places like Lulu’s Cuts and Toys, Norman and Jules, Little Things Toy Store, Stationary and Toy World and Stoopher and Boots (follow on Instagram to see her awesome toys).

Here are more than 20 of my favorite and most commonly used therapy tools:

PopTubes-I think any therapeutic gym you go to will have a bag of these. Used for working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, encourages hand eye and bilateral coordination skills. One of our favorite activities to do at our gym is to set up our sorting bears and cups, have the kids stretch out the poptube and use it as a slide for the bears.

Stickers-I use stickers for SO much. Kids love them as a reward at the end of a session, but I find them to be so useful for therapeutic activities. Here are a few things I use stickers for:
-find stickers of your children’s favorite characters and put them on a piece of paper and have them write their names next to them (I make boxes for my early writers)
-draw lines and put stickers at the top of them and have kids practice cutting. Make curved or zigzag lines to increase the challenge

Bag of Beads-there are so many things you can do with a bag of beads! There are a variety of sizes of beads. Typically I recommend larger beads for smaller hands and smaller beads for bigger, stronger hands. Obviously stringing beads are great for working on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and improves hand eye and bilateral coordination. You can simply string beads or add some challenges by doing the following:
-make pattern cards and have kids follow them
-add a sensory component and hide the beads in a bucket of rice and have them dig through and find them
-when using smaller beads, like these alphabet beads from Norman and Jules, pick up all the beads you are going to use with kids chopsticks

Squeeze Popper Toys-these have been a huge favorite of mine for a while. Definitely check out your local toy stores for these as I have seen them everywhere! Kids really get a kick out it but don’t realize that there are a ton of occupational therapy goals that can be worked on using them. Let them choose their favorite animal or food and then let them play. These are a perfect toy to work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, increases grasp strength and encourages hand eye and bilateral coordination skills. Make a game out of this and set up a target (think something like a dart board) and see how many points you can get by aiming at different numbers or colors worth different points.

Fiskars Scissors-there are a lot of kids scissors out there but many of them are poorly made which could lead to kids getting really frustrated and giving up easily when you present them with cutting activities. The Blunt Tip (made in both left and right hand options) have been my go-to since I started as an occupational therapist. Some people thing I am crazy, but teaching preschoolers to learn how to cut in a safe and appropriate way is a very important thing to me. As a pediatric OT how many times I have seen kids walk into my sessions with chopped up bangs and wished that more schools taught kids the appropriate ways to use scissors in order to avoid this. I have a lot of great cutting activities and resources that I will be sharing with my families as I begin remote therapy. If you want to

Discovery PuttyFun and Function‘s Discovery Putty is another one of my favorite and most recommended items when parents ask for activities to do at home. Theraputty is perfect for working on increasing grasp strength, improves fine motor, manipulation and grasping skills and encourages bilateral coordination skills. There are a bunch of different themes to choose from with different resistance depending on your child’s hand strength. Kids have just as much fun finding the hidden objects as they do when I challenge them to hide them for whoever is going to use it next. Putty can also be used for other things. If you remove all the hidden objects, you can roll it into a snake and practice cutting it into pieces. You can also use putty to practice making letters, numbers and shapes.

Colored Paper-don’t underestimate how helpful a good supply of colored paper can be. I like to use thicker card-stock weight paper because it doesn’t tear so easily and I also find it is easier for kids to cut through if we are practicing cutting. I plan on having kids set up some easy obstacle courses during our remote sessions and will be using colored paper for this.

Legos-I have spent hours and hours scouring Pinterest and so excited to find that there are a million ways to incorporate them into my soon to be remote therapy sessions. My daughter had a thing for a long time with Legos so we have a massive amount of them lying around and it’s amazing what you can do with them. We all know that Legos are a motivating hand strengthening tool, especially if you pick out the right set (we have a new Trolls set that we are going to tackle during our time at home) but there are so many other things you can do with them. Here are just a few things:
-practice making letters and numbers with Legos on a baseplate
-solve a secret code: using 26 different Lego pieces and a baseplate, assign a letter to each piece
-this 31 Day Spring Lego Calendar provides you with a whole bunch of other things you can do with your Legos

JaqJaq Reusable and Washable Paper-these are my new obsession and I can’t think of a better time for us all to be trying to use less paper than now. Especially when doing handwriting or drawing apps, I always have kids practice when pen and paper immediately after practicing on the iPad. For example, when using LetterSchool, I have the kids practice the letter first on the iPad and then have them do hands on writing practice using this amazing product. You can use chalk, chalk markers, JaqJaq Butter Stix, or ooly Dustless Chalk Crayons. Easy to clean with a wet paper towel and can be used over and over again.

Wikki Stix-another classic, inexpensive and really versatile therapy tool that I have been using for years. I have been using these for as long as I can remember to and the kids love them and could be used for so many things. Wikki Stix are pieces of yarn dipped into a safe, non-toxic wax that can be manipulated for open-ended creating. One of my favorite things to do with Wikki Stix, other than making a pair of eye-glasses, is to have kids practice making shapes, letters and numbers. Make sure to have a pair of scissors handy so you can cut them into the smaller pieces. It’s amazing to see how motivated kids are to practice these things when they have fun, sensory materials to engage in more challenging activities.

Zoo Sticks-love, love, love these and I know that you can buy them at Stationary and Toy World and Lulus in Park Slope. Another one of my most favorite and most recommended tools for parents. These child-friendly chopsticks have different objects on the top that connect the sticks together. There are a variety of animals, car, etc. so if you find the right one, your kids will love using them. They are a great way to improve grasp strength and manipulation skills, encourages hand eye and bilateral coordination and can work on motor planning skills. Kids can eat with them or they can be used to pick up small objects in games. For example, I like to use them when playing Kerplunk or Tumbling Monkeys instead of them using their fingers to pull the sticks out. One of the kids favorite things to do is to use them to pick up these Squishy Animals.

Dry Erase Board-I have a feeling that this is going to come in really handy with my upcoming remote sessions. Whether it be to write out the session plan, practice letters or play games, I know my dry erase board is going to come in very handy and have asked parents to make sure they have one handy for their children. I’m looking forward to playing Tic-Tac-Toe, Hangman and other games with my kids using this! An added benefit of using a dry erase board is that if it is hung up on the wall, working on a vertical surface is great for working on improving upper body strength and encourages proper wrist positioning when writing.

Playdoh-I have to admit that I have never been a fan of traditional Play Doh, but the kids love it and it is an easy to find and inexpensive sensory material that can be used in a ton of different ways. Playing with playdoh is great for improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves hand eye and bilateral coordination and encourages creativity and imagination skills. Practice cutting by rolling the playdoh into a circle and cutting out pizza slices. Roll the playdoh into snakes and turn them into shapes, letters or numbers. Throw out challenges and have them create different things: face, snowman, cars, buildings, etc..
Since parents have a lot of time to fill during the day with their kids right now, homemade playdough is a fun thing to do with them. There are SO many recipes out there but I have tried this one and it is great.
If you are looking for something more natural, check out my post last week featuring the almost too beautiful to use Land of Dough.

Pegboard-pegboards are a pretty common toy that you will find in a therapeutic gym because they can be used in a bunch of different ways and work on a ton of goals. Great for increasing grasping and manipulation skills, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages hand eye and bilateral coordination. The pegboard I have linked comes with two double sided boards for different challenges such as matching and sorting. Add a gross motor challenge by having them stand on a balance board forcing them to go from standing to pick up pegs and squatting to place them in the board.

Bubbles-these are probably something that most of us have lying around and if not, go to your local drug store and get a giant bottle of them. First of all, kids just love bubbles and if you blow them for them, they can get some energy out by running around to pop them (great visual motor activity!). If you find that your kid’s starting to feeling dis-regulated or anxious, taking deep breaths and blowing bubbles can help calm them down. A fun (outdoor) art activity would be to place a large piece of paper on the sidewalk or driveway, fill a bunch of paper cups up with bubble mix and add some food coloring to them and then blow different colored bubbles to make a picture.

Rainbow Indoor Tunnel-I like to make reasonable recommendations to families when it comes to gross motor toy ideas because the families I work with tend to not have a lot of space. This tunnel is great because you can do a lot with it and then fold it up and put it under a bed or next to the couch. A tunnel is a great thing to have to add to an indoor obstacle course and can be used with kids of all ages….new crawlers to big kids who need to move around and release some of their energy. Also great for increasing upper extremity strength, motor planning and coordination. Give it more of a sensory experience by putting it over beanbags, couch cushions, etc. and then having kids crawl through.

Balance Board-I tend to add a balance board to some simple activities for my kids at work like completing simple puzzles or doing sorting activities. There are a bunch of different ones to choose from, from a low price point to more expensive. At the gym I work at we have the Alex Monkey Balance Board  which is small and doesn’t take up much room. The balance board is great for strengthening balance skills, improves trunk control, strength and coordination skills. While they are standing on the board you can play a game of catch for added fun. For my daughter, I have the Wobbel Board which I got from Norman and Jules and just printed out the Wobbel Cards to add to our daily routine to get her up and moving around.

Zoom Ball-this is one of my all time favorite therapy tools and one of my most highly recommended gross motor toys on my annual gift guide. Safe to play indoors or outdoors and even though it is meant for two players, there are ways to set it up for a single child to play. Kids can work on improving upper extremity strength, motor planning and motor organization and encourages self-regulation, focus and attention. Make a game out of it by counting how many times they can pass it back and forth without messing up. I like to add a little challenge by having kids answer questions while we go back and forth. For example, name the days of the week in order every time you send it back, name different animals, colors, foods, etc..

Sidewalk Chalk-we are all pretty fortunate that the weather is getting warmer and that we can spend some time safely outdoors. I am feeling very grateful for our little Brooklyn front yard and have been encouraging my own daughter to go out and draw and write messages of hope to those who are out for some social distance walks. Practice letters, play games, make hopscotch boards, draw pictures or make draw a picture on a fence or wall if you have it. This kind of drawing is great for working on building those upper body muscles

Hopscotch Board-keeping our kids moving, especially those of us in New York City who are more limited by our smaller living quarters, is going to be crucial. But space and storage is also limited so we don’t want big and bulky things. I am a big fan of a hopscotch rug as it can be used in a bunch of different ways and doesn’t take up any space. And if you are outside of the city and have a driveway, you can use sidewalk chalk and draw your own! Check out this article from Parents that teaches you how to play hopscotch and even provides some variations so you don’t get bored!

Craft Box-crafting is going to become really popular during this time. I have always had a big collection of crafting materials for my daughter and in the office. I was inspired by Lizzie Assa from The Workspace for Children years ago and have started to encourage open-ended crafting with not only my own child, but with the kids I work with and my kids in The Meeting House Juniors group. Guys…I highly recommend following Lizzie on Instagram for some amazing ideas…like really can’t recommend enough! The Arts and Crafts Supply Library from Kid Made Modern would be a great thing for you to have at home. It comes with fuzzy sticks, wooden pieces, pom poms, wooden and plastic beads, googly eyes, glue, scissors and SO much more in a sturdy case so you don’t have to worry about making a mess.

Writing Journal-this could be a great time for your older children to start journaling. My 10 year old daughter received a blank journal for her birthday and when all of this started, she decided to keep a Corona Virus Journal. At the end of each day she writes about what she did and rates her day. Giving children an outlet to talk about this time, share their feelings and vent is a really important thing, especially if they don’t want to talk to you about it.

 Preparing for remote therapy has been a really interesting and exhausting thing but it has also been very helpful in me feeling ready to start working with kids in this new format. I hope that this list of materials is helpful for all of you whether you are parents, teachers or therapists. I would love to hear from you guys on what materials and toys are most important to you. I am always a click away and love hearing from you all. I think one of the most important things is that we all help each other during this crazy time and look forward to reading about other peoples ideas and experiences.

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