Apps to Enhance Fine Motor Development, Prewriting, and Writing Skills

Ever hear the saying, “There’s an app for that?” Well there is, and they’re a great way to tap into your child’s motivation while developing fine motor skills and handwriting.  Look at the chart below for exciting, kid-friendly apps!

Apps for developing fine motor skills and handwriting:

Name Function Description Price
Dexteria-Fine Motor Skill DevelopmentDexteria Jr. -Fine Motor Development -Handwriting-Strength-Coordination and Control


-Set of therapeutic hand exercises including letter tracing, pinching, taping, etc.-Tracking feature makes it easy to note progress $3.99
Letter Tracer -Pre-writing/Handwriting skills-Letter identification and formation-Finger Isolation

-Fine motor coordination and control

-Learn shapes, signs, and sounds of lower and upper case alphabet-Learn number formation  $0.99
Lego Creationary -Motor planning-Visual perception-Finger isolation -Match lego designs to a picture-Great single and multi-player game Free
Paper Toss -Motor planning-Visual perception- Hand-eye coordination

-Finger isolation

-Bilateral Coordination

-Stimulate crumpling a piece of paper and tossing it into a trash can.-Levels of difficulty-Single finger flick control Free
Bugs and Buttons -Fine motor precision-Finger Isolation-Pattern Formation

-Distal Manipulation

-18 games and activities  covering a variety of learning skills including counting, sorting, pinching, letters, etc. $2.99
Draw Animals -Fine motor control-Finger Isolation-Visual Scanning

-Letter and Number Identification

-Fine motor coordination

-Following a pattern and verbal directions to recreate a picture. Free
LetterReflex -Motor Planning-Right and Left Discrimination-Visual Perception

-Distal Manipulation

-Finger Isolation

-Bilateral Coordination


-Helps with letter reversal problems and letter discrimination skills $1.99

Co-author: Kelley Balmer

8 Great Apps for Kids with Autism

Parents often ask me if I have suggestions for applications to download on their iPads, iPhones or other devices for their children.  I do!  I have TONS of apps that I use in my work with children with Autism daily.

My 8 favorite apps to use with kids diagnosed with Autism for iPhone/iPad users are the following:

  1. 123 Token Me– This app is a visual token board that can be used for one child (free version) or unlimited children and unlimited behaviors ($9.99).  This app gives you the versatility to choose background color, various token choices, and graphs and visually displays data for you. This is the most motivating token board I have used with my kids because it is interactive.  Also, one of the token options shows a picture of the child, which they all love!
  2. First Then Visual Schedule HD– This app is 2 applications put into one; it is both a visual schedule and a choice board.  It allows you to show the child “first ___, then ____.” with the ability to make choices from a visual field.  It also allows you to make more complex, multiple-step, visual schedules.  It is a bit on the pricey side at $14.99 but totally worth it if your child struggles to make choices verbally or would benefit from a visual schedule.  It is much easier to carry around than a paper schedule or choice board, because you can update it on the fly using the camera function or Google images.
  3. Duck Duck Moose, Inc.- (includes Wheels on the Bus, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, Old MacDonald and many more).  All of the Duck Duck Moose apps are a big hit with all the kiddos I work with as they are interactive, the characters move, jump and dance, and they all play familiar kid’s songs.  The apps range in price from free versions up to $3.99 each. Read more

Our 10 Favorite Speech and Language Apps for Kids

Apps can be a great way for kids to practice a variety of skills.  Read on for information on our top 10 choices for speech and language apps for children!

App Name


Age Group


Purchase/Download Info

Peek-a-Boo Barn Lite
  • Spatial concepts (in, on, under, next to)
  • Animal sounds
  • Vocabulary (animals names, open/shut, barn)
  • Turn-taking
  • WH questions (what, where)
0-3 Listen to animal noises, then push barn doors to reveal the farm animal inside. Available in 10 languages. Free on iTunes for iPhone/iPad (full version, $1.99). $2.99 on Android


Toca Boca Kitchen Monsters
  • Verbs
  • Labeling (foods)
  • Language expansion (practice 2+ word phrases)
  • WH questions
  • Following directions
  • Environmental sounds
2-6 Choose and prepare various foods before feeding them to a Toca monster. Free on iTunes for iPhone/iPad
  • Verbs
  • Two-word combinations
  • Counting
  • Concepts (i.e. matching, size (big/little, on/off)
  • Following directions
2-6 Involves counting 1-20. Each number coordinates with an activity that illustrates language concepts $2.99 on iTunes for iPhone/iPad and  KindleFire/Android
Speech Tutor
  • Articulation
  • Visual cues (what mouth, lips, tongue, etc. are doing) for production
  • Tips for producing the sound
  • Other information about a selected sound
All Ages Watch a virtual mouth as it produces selected sounds. This application also provides tips for producing the sound and age for when we expect mastery of each sound. Free on iTunes for iPhone/iPad
My PlayHome Lite
  • Vocabulary (around the house)
  • Actions
  • Pronouns
  • Following directions
2-6 Manipulate people and things inside an interactive home (i.e. make Mom drink water, put Dad behind the couch, make the boy jump on a chair). Free on iTunes for iPad (full version, $3.99). $2.99 on Android
Articulation Station
  • Articulation
  • Matching
  • Labeling
All ages Speech sounds in words, sentences and stories in all positions of words (i.e. initial, medial and final). Choose from flashcards or matching games. Easy to keep track of accuracy and progress. Free to download on iTunes for iPhone/iPad (additional sounds $2.99 each).
  • Sequencing
  • Expressive language (grammar, syntax)
  • Vocabulary
5-7 Put 3-4 picture sequences in the correct order. Includes 100 sequences. $2.99 on iTunes for iPhone/iPad
Blue Whale- NACD
  • Apraxia and articulation (CVC productions only)
1+ Imitate consonant-vowel-consonant (“CVC”) productions. 8 levels of complexity included. $4.99 on iTunes for iPad. Also available for $4.99 for Kindle, Android tablets and Nook.
Describe It to Me
  • Word-finding
  • Categories
  • Salient features
  • Object function
  • Parts
  • Location
5+ Complements EET program (Expanding Expression Tool). App can be used both expressively (e.g. to generate ideas), or receptively (e.g.  correctly select or point to various objects’ categories, function, parts). Customize  vocabulary given child’s needs, as well as skills targeted (categories, parts, etc). $9.99 on iTunes for iPad (free sample on iTunes).
Full Social Skills Builder
  • Understanding emotions
  • Perspective taking
  • Identifying appropriate responses (making comments, asking for information)
5-12 Videos are organized according to age group (school age, adolescent). Watch videos in different environments (school, community). Child answers 3-5 multiple choice questions following video. $14.99 on iTunes for iPhone/iPad (free sample on iTunes).

Click Here to View our Speech and Language Infographic!

*Co-written by Caitlin Brady

Physical Activities to Get your Child Moving | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, a pediatric physical therapist will explain creative ways to help your child get up and get active!

In this video you will learn:

  • What indoor games are best for encouraging physical activity with your child
  • What outdoor activities increase muscular activity
  • What gaming system is best for enhancing your child’s activity

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide
audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and
innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now you’re host, here’s

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host Robyn
Ackerman, and today I’m standing here with Leida Van Oss, a
pediatric physical therapist. Leida, can you tell us some
physical activities that we can use to get our children

Leida: Sure. When you want to get your kid moving and active, it’s
really important that it’s something that’s fun to them. So
if they’re really interested in doing board games, there
are a couple different board games you can do, such as
Hullabaloo or I Can Do That by Cat in the Hat or Twister.
If they like to go outdoors, then do something like a
sport, like swimming or soccer, or if there’s snow on the
ground, you can build forts or go sledding. But it’s really
important to pick something that they’re going to be
interested in so that they get really active.

If they really like video games, there are a lot of good active video
games you can do, especially with the new system, the
Kinect. Things like Just Dance or Dance, Dance Revolution
are all really good games that incorporate the video game
aspect with being really active.

Robyn: All right. Well, thank you so much for those tips, and thank
you to our viewers, and remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of
mind to your family with the best in educational
programming. To subscribe to our broadcast, read our blogs,
or learn more, visit our website at That’s

Holiday Shopping: How to Choose Developmentally Appropriate Toys for Your Child

The holidays are approaching rather quickly and most parents are hoping to not only get their children gifts that will make them happyholiday gifts for kids and excited, but gifts that will help them to learn and grow as well. It can definitely be challenging to not only find a toy or game that you feel your child will like, but that you as a parent will approve of as well due to the skills it addresses. Fortunately, certain stores have created special catalogs and websites to help sort toys by categories and skills. For example, Toys R Us has featured categories on the ‘Differently-Abled Kids’ portion of their website, such as Auditory, Fine Motor, Gross Motor, Social Skills and Tactile. It is important to use these resources to your advantage. Such resources are not only for children with skill deficits, but they also help you, as a parent, to look at games in a functional and educational manner. Below are some examples to give you an idea. It should also be noted that many of the games that are listed below are specific games that we use as occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and social workers within our daily treatment sessions to work on a variety of goals.

Fine Motor Skills Toys:

  • Easel (e.g. Crayola Magnetic Double-Sided Easel)
  • LEGOs
  • Angry Birds Knock on Wood Game
  • Connect 4 Launchers
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos
  • Mega Bloks Build ‘n Create

Gross Motor Skills Toys:

  • Scooter (e.g. Radio Flyer My First Sport Scooter)
  • Mini Trampoline (e.g. JumpSmart Trampoline)
  • Wagon
  • I Can Do That! Games- The Cat in the Hat

Auditory Skills Toys:

  • Bop It! Reaction Game
  • Melissa & Doug Sound Puzzles
  • Musical Instruments (e.g. Casio Key Light Up Keyboard)
  • Barbie Voice Change Boombox

Thinking Skills Toys:

  • Headbanz
  • Scrabble Flash Game
  • Train set (e.g. Chuggington Wood Beginners Set)
  • FAO Schwarz Big World Map

Overall, it is crucial for parents to keep in mind that while new technology is impressive, traditional board games as well as hands-on toys continue to be an ideal way for children to work on a variety of skills and allow them to explore their environment and pursue their own interests. It is exciting to think that your child will gain so many new skills just from playing one of the games listed above with friends and family. Stay tuned for my next blog on a more detailed breakdown of many of these toys. Happy shopping!


Smartphone Technology and Language Development: Pros and Cons

iPads, iPhones and apps.  Today’s buzz is all about Smartphone technology and what “apps” will benefit development and academic skills in children.  Parents frequently request recommended apps to best address their child’s speech and language skills.  After all, we want to take advantage of the latest learning tools and most cutting edge technology to help our kids succeed.  However, use of Smartphone technology should be approached with caution.  Like all good things, moderation is key.

Here are a few important points to consider before integrating Smartphone children on phonestechnology into your child’s daily routine:

Pros: What are the positive benefits of Smartphone technology?

  • Smartphone apps provide excellent “drill” style activities to teach specific skill sets, such as vocabulary building, phonologic awareness, articulation skills, and learning new concepts.
  • Devices such as tablets, Smartphones and iPads expose children to modern day technology, improving their computer literacy and ability to navigate such tools.
  • Smartphone apps provide a fun and entertaining activity for children. This can be excellent choice for breaks from homework, rewards or car-rides.

Cons: What are the negative effects of Smartphone technology?

  • Smartphone apps promote passive learning and provide little opportunity for creativity, social interaction, problem-solving, sustained attention, ideation, and make-believe. All of these skills are foundational to development in children by promoting motor skills, language learning, problem-solving, and social skills.
  • While Smartphone apps may encourage children to talk or practice sounds, they do not encourage children talk to an actual person. Language is a reciprocal social system, intended for communication between people. It’s critical that children learn to communicate with others in a reciprocal context.
  • Smartphone apps do not promote the use of novel language.  A critical part of language development includes the ability to arrange words into combinations, building sentences to communicate their thoughts and ideas.
  • Smartphone applications offer little opportunity to learn social skills. Social skills include interpreting nonverbal cues, making eye-contact, initiating conversation, and responding to others.
  • When it comes to learning, practicing skills in context is critical. So even though Smartphones might teach children new skills, they do not offer opportunities for children to generalize these skills in a real-life context.

So what can parents do?

Here are a few practical steps as families navigate their child’s use of tablets, Smartphones and iPads:

  • Think moderation. Limit your child’s use of electronics, and set boundaries ahead of time so your child knows what to expect.
  • Encourage activities that encourage creativity, social interaction, problem solving, sustaining attention, ideation, and make-believe. A few good choices include blocks, dress-up, play-doh, books, pretend food, and baby dolls.
  • Spend face-to-face time with your child every day. Encourage your child to participate in play with you and encourage their use of their language, facial expressions, eye-contact, and engagement.

Love What You Read?  Click Here To Subscribe To Our Blogs Via Email!

Speech-Language Apps Continued

This past summer, North Shore Pediatric Therapy launched its first technology room in the Highland Park clinic! Our tech room is fully equipped with Kinect + Xbox 360, two iPads, and a number of games and apps. With the tech room up and running, I have discovered a number of new iPad apps that my kiddos can’t get enough of! Feel free to contact us if you would like to tour the tech room!

[table id=7 /]

**How to use My Choice Board [more technical]:

Open My Choice Board and click Start. Click Add Board to start a new choice board. Type in what you want to name the board. Click Save. Click Edit Choices. Select the board you are working on from the list. Click the green plus sign. Click Pick Image on the bottom left screen. There are three image sources: Device Image Library, Google Images, or Camera. Click Caption. Type a very short caption or else there will be a partial caption followed by “…” Click Record Voice. Press the red circle to start recording and the blue square to stop recording. Use the voice recording feature to compensate for the caption length limitations. Click Save.

I’m always looking for fun, new apps to use in my therapy sessions and apps that parents can use at home to promote speech-language development. If you have any must-have apps, please leave a comment below with the app name!

For more app reviews, please visit my previous blogs:

  1. iPhone and iPad apps to Promote Reading and Language Development
  2. Using iPad and iPhone Apps to Promote Speech and Language Development
  3. Facebook, Twitter, Texting: Are They Bad For Language Development?
  4. Speech and Language Apps From Duck Duck Moose

Keeping Your Child With Special Needs Safe

How do I keep my child safe?
Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night screaming after a nightmare that my child wandered off and I never found him again.  Children with special needs have an even higher chance of wandering off. What do I do to keep him in my sight?
This week, we all read about Kahil Gray, the missing boy from Chicago with autism.  Kahil was found 3 days later, 26 miles from his home.  Kahil has autism and only speaks a few words.  Support for Autism symbolHis parents were lucky that someone spotted him days after he went missing.   What can be done to prevent losing our kids?

How to prevent your child from wandering off:

GPS tracking technology is often associated with fun gadgets and navigation for vehicles, but there are many potential security applications for this type of technology as well. Product and software developers have created a handful of tools to harness the power of GPS tracking for better safety and security, allowing parents to keep track of their children.

Here are some additional tips to keep the kids from wandering:

  1. Use a tracking/watch device that you can purchase.
  2. Download an app for your child’s iPhone so you can track the phone.
  3. Have the child memorize a plan if he is lost; keep a piece of paper with that plan and have the child practice handing it to people to help him.  He should have several copies of it with him at all times.
  4. Keep medical bracelets on kids that tend to wander.
  5. Alert police even before the child is lost so that they will keep an eye out for your child; many cities now keep a database on special needs children should they go missing.

Love What You Read?  Click Here To Subscribe To Our Blogs Via Email!

Speech and Language Apps From Duck Duck Moose

If you have read my last few blogs, you will probably know that I love finding new apps to use in my speech therapy sessions. I am also cognizant of which apps my families could use at home to reinforce the skills I work with their children on. The descriptions below will give you a good idea of what each app entails. Items listed under “Use this app to work on” relate to speech and language skills that I found I could target with the specific app. If you have any more ideas, please be sure to leave a comment so that we can continue to learn together!

Enjoy exploring the following apps:

Parents with a child holding an iPad

Draw and Tell HD – $1.99

Description: This is by far the coolest drawing app I’ve seen for children of all ages! Children can choose between making their own picture or coloring one of 18 pictures stored within the app. If your child opts to create their own drawing, they start off by selecting the paper they want to use, with all sorts of colors and patterns to choose from. Once they get to the main drawing page, they can either draw (using colored pencils, crayons, paints, and patterned markers) or put fun stickers on the page. There are TONS to choose from. For example, pick the cute yellow puffer fish or the purple garbage truck. Then put a fancy black top hat on the puffer fish and feed him a delicious cupcake!

Other fun features include stencils, a record button, and an undo button.

Use this app to work on:

  • Answering and asking wh- and yes/no questions
  • Formulating sentences
  • Story construction – Have your child make up a story about their picture, including important story elements such as characters, setting, events and problems/solutions.
  • Articulation
  • Improving vocabulary –both receptive and expressive
    • I.e., Letters, numbers, food, animals, clothing/accessories, transportation
  • Following directions with spatial or sequential concepts

Peek a Zoo – $0.99

Description: This is a great interactive app for the little ones, between 2 and 5 years old. In this app, children are asked a question (the question is read out loud and is written on the screen), and the child is asked to identify the animal that answers the question. For example, “Which animal is sleeping?” This app incorporates vocabulary such as animals, emotions, actions, descriptive adjectives, and clothing.

Use this app to work on:

  • Improving receptive vocabulary
  • Answering who questions
  • Identifying colors
  • Producing animal sounds

Musical Me! – $0.99

Description:  This is a wonderful musical app. It teaches children all about rhythm, pitch, notes and creating music. In the first activity, there are 2 animals and a monster that dance and move when touched. In the next activity, the child is asked to tap out the rhythm to different songs by touching the birds as they fly by. There are 3 different levels within this particular activity. The next activity is a memory task. The child hears a pattern and sees 3-5 planets, depending on the level (again, there are 3 levels). When a note is played, the corresponding planet gets a bit bigger. After the pattern is played, the child has to touch the planets corresponding to the notes in the right order. As we continue onto the next activity, the child gets to create his/her own music by moving the notes up and down on the scale. After he/she makes a song, they can choose to play it back to them. Animals move around on the page and do silly things when they’re touched! The last activity has a variety of instruments to choose from and when touched, they make their sound. You can tap them to play along with the song!Use this app to work on:

  • Following directions and auditory processing
  • Recall of information
  • I will most likely use this app as reinforcement or as break activity as it does not relate directly to speech and language.

Word Wagon HD – $1.99

Description: This app has 4 different levels: letters, phonics, spelling I, and spelling II. The words that are targeted in this app come from the following categories: animals, around the house, numbers, colors, food, vehicles, and Mozz and Coco. It should be noted that some of these words are Dolch sight words. You can choose which category of words to work on or click “all” to get a random assortment!

As reinforcement, children earn stars and stickers. The stars form different constellations that turn into animals! The stickers can be moved around and make sounds when you touch them.

Level Breakdowns:

Letters: Children have to match uppercase letters to form a word which reinforces learning letter names.

Phonics: Once the child matches the letters, they hear the sounds each letter makes.

Spelling: Children spell words up to 4 letters.

Spelling II: Children spell words up to 6 letters.

Use this app to work on:

  • Letter recognition – uppercase only
  • Spelling – 3 to 6 letter words
  • Phonemic awareness skills – while this app does not target rhyming, manipulation of phonemes (i.e. sounds) or other reading readiness skills, you can take the phonics level a step further and work on these!

Old MacDonald HD – $1.99

Description:  This app takes a children’s song and nursery rhyme to a whole new level!! It is a very interactive and engaging book. I think it’s called a book because you have to “turn the page” to get to the next animal or vehicle. The song is always playing in the background. There is only one word per page, which labels the target object (i.e. “dog”). There are 12 pages in the book. Animals and sounds included are: chicken, dog, cat, pigeon, cow, sheep, duck, frog, bear, and pig. Vehicles included are: a tractor and a bulldozer. The best part of this book is that the objects on the pages are all animated. They all do different things when touched. For example, when you click the barn doors, the doors open and ducks come out!     

In the settings, you can choose from different languages or instruments to play while the app is being used. The child can even record himself/herself!

Use this app to work on:

  • Producing animal sounds
  • Labeling animal names
  • Action vocabulary
  • Singing and joint attention 

Be sure to check out other apps by Duck Duck Moose!! Don’t forget to leave comments if you find other useful ways to use the apps! Thanks for reading!

Love What You Read?  Click Here To Subscribe To Our Blogs Via Email! 

How To Set Technology Rules

In the past few years, Ipads, Ipod touches and other tablet devices have given children the ability to text, talk, and surf the web younger than ever before. Children as young as 5 and 6 are using electronic tablets and Ipod Touches to not only play games, but also to take pictures, make videos as well as face-time and send texts using apps such as text-free or text-plus. These devices are opening a whole new world to children, but parents must be aware of how their children are using these devices and also create rules to ensure the children are using this technology safely and appropriately. As a teacher, I have put together a list of guidelines that may help your family create rules about the use of technology in the home.

 Technology Guidelines For Children:

Texting: Set specific hours and times that texting may take place. For example, texting is allowed after school until 7pm. Phones, ipods and tablets need to be turned off at night. Be nice with texts.girl on computer You may not send mean messages or use texting to talk about other people in a mean way. Remember, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all-this rule applies to texting, too!

No texting times: No texting during dinner and family time, and no texting during homework time. Parents need to also follow these rules and model appropriate behavior such as not texting while driving.

Videos/Photos: No sending videos or photos without permission. This helps children understand that they cannot just send anything to anyone. Children may think it is funny to take a picture of a friend in an awkward position and then send it on to a friend, but may not realize that the picture can then be sent to many more people or even posted on the web.

Facetiming/Skyping: Ask a parent before facetiming or video chatting with a friend. Remember, when we Skype or Facetime we invite another person into our home. We need to be sure that our house is “open for visitors.”

Internet: Ask permission before searching on the web. This includes Googling and searching on You Tube. It is best to keep the family computer in a central location to monitor what your children are viewing on-line. Limit use of wireless devices behind closed doors. If your child has an Ipad or Ipod you can go to the Apple store or call Apple customer service to have certain restrictions put on their device to prevent them from looking at inappropriate websites.

You Tube: Tell mom or dad before going on this site. It has become popular for kids to post on You Tube and other similar sites. You may want to limit this or make it a “no” item in your house. A similar rule can be applied to Facebook or other social media sites even those geared to younger children such as Club Penguin.

Account sign up: Do not sign up for anything, give emails or other personal information to any site on line. Do not order apps or other software without permission. Children learn emails and passwords quickly. It is important to explain to them the danger of giving out personal information or typing personal information into the computer. They may not understand that this information can be used by other people to do harm.

Technology has grown dramatically in the past few years and our children have access to many wonderful devices; however, this new technology is presenting a whole new parenting issue. Parents need to be aware of how their children are using these devices and help them to understand the dangers as well as the benefits.

Love What You Read?  Click Here To Subscribe To Our Blogs Via Email!