Looking for the last year’s apps, what would I send a fellow therapist, or buy for myself? Physical and Occupational Therapists everywhere are always on the lookout to find new ways to motivate students and help them to be ready learners. Often times basic physical skills are not in place, and kids can’t learn because there is not a reliable base from which to function. It could be something as simple as basic strength and endurance which may interfere with having the stamina to concentrate or stay seated, or something more involved such as sensory or motor planning issues which cause a kid’s world to be so unreliable that it is like starting over each day without a compass to guide you - often these kids are lost in anxiety wondering what to do and when that other shoe is going to drop. So many times, kids get labeled as unmotivated, not performing up to their potential, or worse yet – lazy, when really the truth is that they can’t perform because of a lack of knowing what or how to do what is asked. Here are a few notable apps for a therapist, teacher, or parent that came out this year, and deserve a closer look for your therapy toolbox. Cause and Effect Games are great for beginning learners. It is the basis for learning and extending oneself out into the world. It brings a child from the context of their own inner space to beginning to explore the world around them. Simple interactive tools add another element for when you want to continue to place harder physical demands of performance on a child, but still, need to provide a ways and means to sustain attention and help keep a child relaxed. i.e. working muscles for strengthening and endurance by providing an app to motivate a child so that they can sustain a certain position. Zen Studio by Edoki, is an app that can be graded up or down depending on a child’s cognition and skill level. Gameplay centers on either creating structured pictures or free form art from mosaics. Its musical accompaniment is tonal and helps to elicit a relaxation response. What is revolutionary about the soundtrack is it changes or adapts to the child’s movements. Every experience or play will be different. For the very young, it is a tool to empower, and for older kids, it is a means to self-regulation and focus. The impact of the play, however, is far more reaching and can influence the understanding of mathematics, art, and practical life. Books, Books, Books There is nothing that beats a great story. Selecting Read to my myself helps a child tune into your voice, and thereby later trains the ear to notice when giving direction. Books help increase attention, and if working in a gym or clinic, are invaluable for positioning and strengthening the postural system, as well as coordinating the visual, hearing and motor systems. Some of our favorites this year have come from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - David Wiesner's Spot; Oceanhouse Media's enhanced - Green Eggs and Ham; Spinlight's Billy's Coin Visit's the Zoo; and the team of Joshua and Dana Wilson at the Happy Dandelion. Early Learning Games range from learning shapes and colors to extending play to multiple steps. These apps are essential in beginning to learn how things work, and following directions. Tiggly is one of the most exciting companies to arrive on the scene in early learning. They have combined manipulatives with their apps to help develop little hands and minds in such diverse areas as shapes, math, and early literacy. The gameplay is absolutely delightful and engaging, and kids can be enwrapped for hours. Tiggly not only exceeds in teaching early learning concepts across the board but also each game can be expanded on to extend off screen learning. Check out their newest collaboration with Sesame Street Workshop: Sesame Street Alphabet Kitchen. Sago Sago in their mini line of apps consistently delivers fun and engaging apps for preschoolers to explore both familiar and new worlds. Graphics are always on target and not so visually cluttered that kids don’t know what to do next. Here, even the youngest kids are able to learn and play independently, and what a joy that is to see for many parents and clinicians. When I want to demonstrate a child’s abilities to another clinician or parent, I always reach for Sago, and am never disappointed. Given the right tools, kids are phenomenal in learning new skills on their own. Just make sure you are close by for when they are ready to share their experience! My current favorites are Sago Mini ToolBox and Sago Mini Boats. Check out all they have to offer, I am sure you will find one to fit the temperament or interest of a little one on caseload. Pre-K - Cognition and Handwriting skills are closely connected and literally teach us how to begin to form mental constructs and shape an understanding of the world. Cognition helps drive hand function and visa-versa through sequencing, noticing patterns, and experimentation with objects to see what works and more importantly what doesn’t work. Fairlady Media has successfully joined these two in a number of recent apps. Grandma’s Preschool and any of the specific apps from the Grandma/Grandpa series gives preschoolers challenges and a chance to openly experiment with a number of topics. Grandma’s Preschool is one of the most comprehensive apps for preschoolers I have seen. It details the daily routines and plays schemes of a preschooler. Be sure to check out all their apps. I'm sure you will find several specific to your young ones. Dexteria VMI Visual-Motor Integration and other apps in Binary Labs, Inc’s line up of apps are always sure winners in any therapy clinic. In Dexteria VMI, kids not only learn about visual-perception but also how to build objects from a model. The interface is clean and focuses skill building in a natural progressive manner. It is a great precursor for learning to write and can be paired with any of their writing apps. Kindermatica has come out with works in progress for beginning handwriting skills that lend themselves to carry over off screen. In Yum-Yum Letters, kids learn proper letter formation and earn points for in-app "games" as rewards. Games are art projects that teach about symmetry and left/right discrimination, so you can't go wrong here. Letters are arranged in either HWT format or alphabetically. Fonts included are Zaner-Bloser or HWT. With a promise of more to come, this is a preschool crowd pleaser. Apps for Older kids: LogicCity for Schools by Minds on Play LLC is an incredibly addictive logic game. One can almost see the growth in the ability to problem solve in kids who play very quickly. It is similar to Sudoku, but with attributes. It is easy to learn but takes a lot of skill to play. Use a couple rounds to gain attention and learn to reorganize and follow rules. These are comforting measures in learning self-regulation. Zoombinis by Technical Education Research Centers, Inc. or TERC is by far one of my all time favorite games. Helping the little blue ones find a new home far away from the evil Bloats, is an undertaking for only the fiercest of trailblazers. As there are 400 Zoombinis to save, kids invest both time and effort in finding patterns; analyzing data, problem-solving, and planning a course of action. These are just a few skills kids learn by playing. Leonardo’s Cat by StoryToys is an app where dreams are made from and is another favorite of mine this year. Gameplay employs logic and problem-solving that not only presents new challenges but also has kids (or adults) learn from past mistakes to help poor Leonardo da Vinci’s cat scurry about the city looking for lost pieces to one of Leonardo’s inventions. There are 60 levels that increase with complexity and employ an increasing array of tools from Leonardo’s vaults to conquer the levels. Green Screen by Do Ink is a wildly creative app that was recently updated this year. It teaches kids about green screen technology and can be morphed and used for almost any purpose and environment. One of the greatest uses for it therapeutically is to use the technology to take films or photos of kids who may not be mobile and give them that chance to fly in outer space or dive in the sea with exotic fish or sea creatures. Seeing the delight on their faces is priceless. Artgig Studio always has your child's best interest at hand with their wonderful line up of apps for early learners and pre-K through second grade. They have spectacular apps for learning numerical sense, early math, and beyond; but have recently forayed into early literacy and spelling. The gameplay is always spot on for kids, and with their games comes a mission to pursue that facilitates investment. And that translates into reinforcing investment and attention when generalizing material off screen. Art gig has staying power and the commitment to making quality apps, and is a brand to always check out! These are only a handful of apps that you may want to give or keep for yourself this holiday. There are much much more that needs to be mentioned. What is on your list for the holidays? Be sure to Read Katie’s Wishlist for the Classroom here for more Holiday Fun. Also, stay tuned for our 2015 round-up!
Written by Jo Booth
Jo Booth has been an Occupational Therapist for over 30 years and currently works in Pediatrics with early intervention. She sees kids newly diagnosed on the spectrum as well as medically fragile kids. She loves to move, explore and play every day; so that “her kids” grow up to be healthy independent learners.