What’s App-2016

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One of questions I get quite often from parents, especially before a big trip, is “what apps do you recommend for my child?”.  While there is still a lot of controversy over whether screen time is a good or a bad thing for a child, I strongly believe that after a certain age (typically 2 years old), there is a lot good that come from monitored screen time with your children.  For older children who are working on reading and writing, the iPad can be a huge motivator and when used with books and real handwriting activities it can go a really long way.  I’ve seen how effective a combination of hands-on and iPad apps can be…both professionally and personally.  I have a 6 year old daughter who is on the cusp of reading and one of the things I have noticed is that the reading iPad apps are super engaging and get her to try just a bit harder.

It’s easy to get sucked into the app store but if you don’t know what you are looking for, you can get easily frustrated by all the different choices.  Personally speaking, I would much rather spend a few bucks on a good app that can be used by kids of all ages and work on important skills in a developmentally appropriate way.  There are some great companies out there that just seem to get kids and end up creating the most wonderful and entertaining apps.  Below, I will share my top 10 app picks at this time.  Some are old ones that I have suggested before (because they are just that good) and some are new…..all have been kid-tested and therapist approved!
Dexteria Junior-this is has been a long time favorite of mine and used with both my preschoolers and school age clients . Created by Binary Labs, Dexteria Jr. is a set of hand and finger activities that help in developing fine motor and manipulation skills, handwriting readiness, visual motor skills and eye-hand coordination.  Kids don’t realize that while they are squishing the squash, pinching the peppers and tracing and erasing lines, that they were actually working on important skills that are needed for kids to be successful in school.

Letterschool-easily my favorite handwriting app out there and is my go-to during my sessions and teh first one I recommend to parents.  Children can work on learning how to write upper and lowercase letters and numbers.  There are two levels to move through and for each letter or number, there is a 3-step process of practicing them.  First you learn where a letter starts and watch it being made.  Second, you have to drag the lines to complete the letter.  Lastly, children have to write the letter.  I like that this isn’t solely a tracing app and the kids actually have an opportunity to practice their letters without lines being provided.  I like to have kids 
Bugs and Bubbles/Bugs and Buttons/Bugs and Buttons 2-I love all of the apps by Little Bit Studios and while I put this in my younger kids section, they are all appropriate and loved by my bigger kids as well.  These apps are still as entertaining and as motivating as they were when I downloaded them years ago.  They are still one of my  most recommended apps for parents to add to their app collection.  First of all, each app comes with 18 different games that teach your child a variety of things:  colors, shapes, matching, eye-hand coordination and a million other things.  Second of all, there is such a variety in the games that your child can play it over and over again without getting bored.

Thinkrolls/Thinkrolls 2-these games have been a big hit with many of the older kids on my caseload.  There are two versions of this game and each of them are totally worth spending the money on because they will keep your kids occupied and thinking for a very long time.  There are several puzzles to play that works on improving problem solving, memory and spatial organizational skills. Kids can learn about all about science and physics while exploring the different levels of both Thinkrolls and Thinkrolls 2.

Trilo Spelling-I just discovered this spelling and phonics app a few weeks ago while I was trying to find a good reading/spelling app for my own daughter.  It has been a huge hit with her and she actually asks me to practice her spelling now!  It’s a challenging but motivating app, specifically designed for kids in kindergarten through 2nd grade.  Through 5 levels, kids begin to learn the letter-sound relationships and how they can be blended together to form words.  My daughter’s confidence in spelling has exploded through using this app and I see it carrying over into her reading and writing skills as well.

Little Fox Animal Doctor-I blogged about this app a couple of months ago in great detail but it’s worth adding to this list because my kids still love it and ask for it all the time.  Kids get to play doctor to 7 different animals.  Each of them are at the doctor’s for a different reason and they have to take care of them following visual directions that are provided.  One of the things I really love about the game is that before you can take care of the pet, there is a short video showing what happened/why the animal is there and then pictures pop up of what they have to do in order to help them feel better.  This is a great opportunity for kids to work on improving language skills, organization skills and focus/attentional skills.    
Endless Alphabet-this has been a favorite of mine for a while and I love how there are constantly new words being added to the app.  In this engaging and motivating app, kids learn new words while working on improving eye-hand coordination, visual attention, visual tracking and focus/attentional skills.  Kids can choose from dozens and dozens of different words.  First they have to match
the letters; while they are doing this, they are learning the different sounds each letter makes.  Once they match all the letters, they get to watch a cute video defining the words.  Depending on the age and goals of the child you are working with, you can change the expectations for the child you are working with.  For example, you can have the children put the letters back in order or let them just randomly put them in the right spot.  For older children, I have them write the word after they complete each puzzle.

Lazoo Art Box-I first discovered Lazoo by using their amazing activity books with my daughter.  They were fun, colorful and, most importantly, motivating activity books that made her want to sit down and color and draw with me.  When I saw that they had an app, I had to get it.  Essentially, this is an interactive coloring and drawing book where kids get to make pictures come to life.  Whether they add details like making bubbles come out of an elephant’s trunk or add hair to people, kids learn how to draw and be creative in a fun way.   There is also an option for drawing on blank pages which allows for kids to take some of the things they have learned in the other parts of the app and practice them to make their own pictures.  
Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App-it’s no wonder that this Mo Willems app is a huge hit with kids of all ages on my caseload.  I knew I had to get this interactive storytelling app the minute I saw it.  Who doesn’t know and love the pigeon and all his great stories? This app has three different levels of play:
Egg-the most basic and simple level.  Kids shake the pigeon and are treated to a different story afterwards. You have the option of listening to the story with our without the text which could be a good thing for your emergent readers.  The best part of this level is that you get to have Mo Willems read the story to you!
Chick-at this level, kids begin to gain a little more control of the story.  Think Mad Libs meets Mo Willems. Kids are asked a handful of multiple choice questions which will result in a story that will be read to you.  One of the things that the kids really love is that they get to record their name and hear their own voice before the story is read to them.
Big Pigeon-this level is the funniest and allows for a child to be as creative (or as silly) as they want. Kids answer a series of questions in their own voice and when they are all done, they get to listen to hear their story read back to them in both their and Mo Willems’ voice.  I love watching the wheels spin as my kids answer these questions but even better, is watching their reactions as the story is read back to them.  
Artie’s Magic Pencil-this is a relatively new app for me so haven’t had much practice with it but based on the times I have used it, the kids have loved it and it is perfect for working on developing drawing skills in younger children.  In this app, your kids become part of the story and have to help Artie fix all the things that the monster has destroyed.  By tracing circles, triangles and rectangles, they rebuild all that has been destroyed.  Once they rebuild the objects, they have the option of change the color and patterns of things.  As children go through the story, the objects that they have to rebuild become more complex and challenging.  A bonus feature of this is that this app allows you to print out pages so after you can not only practice the shapes on the iPad, you can then practice with pen and paper tracing the shapes and coloring them in.  
Using an iPad can be a really motivating tool for all of the reasons that I have already mentioned throughout this post but there are a lot of other benefits if you can learn to be creative.  When used in conjunction with other therapeutic techniques, the value of the iPad can become even more impactful.  Here are a few of the things that I do when using the iPad to make it even more therapeutic:

1.  Work on an incline-working on an incline with the iPad works on improving shoulder stability and upper extremity strength.  It can also help work on wrist extension which will lead to the development of a good pencil grip.  Last, but not least, working on a vertical surface helps to bring the task at hand at a better point of view to the child which means they are able to attend and focus on said task better.
2.  Use a stylus-by using a stylus with appropriate apps, you can help encourage an age appropriate grasp on writing instruments.  My favorite ones are the crayon stylus by Fred & Friends and the wide grip stylus by Cosmonaut.  It’s so much easier for kids to
3.  Use a Boogie Board-I’ve always been a fan of the Boogie Board and how it can be used in conjunction with the iPad (you can always just use paper and a writing instrument, but I prefer to not waste paper when at all possible) .  This is an especially useful tool when you are working on graphomotor skills and using the aforementioned apps like Artie’s Magic Pencil and Letterschool.  For some kids, you have to motivate them to write/draw and if you first have them practice on the iPad and then follow it with the Boogie Board or pencil or paper, they are more successful.
4.  Use the iPad while on a swing-for some kids, working on upper extremity strengthening is hard and unless you really motivate them, they won’t do it for very long.  I have found that the iPad can be a distraction and motivator for those kids who tend to complain after just a few minutes.  Oftentimes, they are having so much fun playing that they don’t even realize that they are working!

I should make it clear that the iPad is not the only way I work on visual skills and fine motor skills.  I always use it as a reward or as a motivator.  The iPad will never replace the important things that take place during all of my therapy sessions.

Do you have any wonderful apps that you are using with your children or in your sessions that you recommend to me and my readers?  I am always happy to try out a new app, especially ones that will benefit the kids I work with.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.

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