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Children learn through play. As an occupational therapist who works with children and youth, I use games and toys almost every day to help develop important cognitive, visual perceptual, motor, sensory, social, play and leisure skills. While many different types of activities can be used in therapy, this blog focuses on off-the-shelf games and toys that are accessible to most. Whether you are a therapist, parent, teacher, or a game lover like me, I hope you discover something useful while you are here. Learn a different way to play a game you already own or discover a new game for your next family game night. Either way, just go play. It's good for you!

The OT Magazine named The Playful Otter one of the Top 5 Pediatric OT Blogs.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Go Fish

Plenty of fishy memory and matching fun. Without the smell ;)

Work on visual discrimination, visual closure, visual form constancy, spatial relations, figure ground, eye-hand coordination, in-hand manipulation, coordinated use of both hands, manual dexterity, executive functioning skills, cooperation, social interaction skills, process skills, play and leisure exploration and participation

In the box: Fishing pole, 4 boats, 35 fish cards

Use the suction cup fishing pole to fill your boat with colorful cardboard fish. Play several different games that can include matching, memory, and/or sequence. The fish all look the same on one side, as you see above. The fish are all different on the flip side. Here is what you get:
  • 8 each of 4 different colors, numbered 1-8
  • 1 tire fish
  • 1 boot fish
  • 1 anchor fish
Even though my box looks just like the one above, my fish look a little different and the colors are different. The four boat colors in my box are purple, orange, blue and green. As noted above, there are 8 fish of each color and they are also numbered 1-8. The boats are hard plastic and have four slots so that you can stand the fish up. The fishing pole is also a hard plastic, but you cannot "reel" anything in with it. The white rope (fishing line) will move forward and backward, but is also made of hard plastic. The worm is attached to the rope and has a little suction cup on the bottom. Hover the suction cup over the fish you want to pick up and push down on the pole to make the cup flatten and stick to the fish. My experience is that suction cups eventually give out... we'll see. The instructions offer two different games and I will add some of my own with suggestions to TRY THIS.
  • Game 1
    • Object: Be the first to fill your boat with fish that match your boat color.
    • Set up: Give each player a boat. Spread all the fish, color side down, in the middle of the players. Give the fishing pole to the first player.
    • Play: Players take turns "catching" one fish with the suction cup. If the fish color matches his boat, the player gets to put it in his boat. If it doesn't, the player makes sure everyone sees the color and then returns the fish, color side down, to the same place where he found it. If the player catches the boot, tire, or anchor, he loses his turn and returns the fish, picture side down, to the same place where he found it. Play until one person has filled his boat.
    • Try this: For a little longer game, if a player catches a boot, anchor, or tire, he throws a fish back into the mix from his boat.  If you are working on colors and don't want the memory component right away, place the fish color side up and then let the player fill all the boats, sorting the fish by color. Skip using the fishing pole if it is awkward.
  • Game 2
    • Object: To have the most sets of fish when the game is over.
    • Set up: Take out the boot, anchor, and tire fish and set them to the side. Mix the remaining fish, color/number side down in the middle of the players. Each player chooses one boat and six cards and stands the cards up in his boat so that only he can see the numbers.   
    • Play: From here on this plays like a game of Go Fish. Any players with matches (same number) in their boat sets the match(es), number side up, to the side. These sets are safely caught! The first player asks any other individual if he has a certain number that will match a number he already has in his boat. If the individual has that number, he gives it to the player who continues to ask for numbers until he gets a no answer. If the answer is no, the individual will tell him to GO FISH. The player then chooses one of the fish from the mix on the table, puts it in his boat, and his turn is over. Then play passes to the next person. If a player runs out of fish in his boat he picks one from the mix and his turn is over. Once all the fish on the table have been claimed as sets, the player who has caught the most sets is the winner.
  • Game 3
    • Object: Be the person with the most sets after all the fish have been matched.
    • Set up: Mix the fish and place them in a grid, number/color side down.
    • Play: Play like a game of memory match. In turn, each player turns over two cards. You can play to either match color or number. If you turn over a match, go again until to don't get a match and you turn ends. 
    • Try this: Cue the players to look at each card that is turned to remember the number/color and location. Leave the card turned over for a few seconds to record it in memory. Play a cooperative game and let two players turn over one card for each set, allowing discussion and assisting as they go.
  • Game 4
    • Object: Sequence numbers
    • Set up: Mix the fish and place them all number side up on the table.
    • Play: Call out a number and ask the player to sequence a certain set of numbers around it. For instance, say 5 and ask the player to find the two numbers that come right before 5, or ask them to find all the numbers from 5 to 8 and line them up in order, etc. Add a second attribute by saying find the number before and the number after 5 and use three different colors.
    • Try this: Play with only one color (one color goes from 1-8) if the player has difficulty with figure ground and all the fish.
  • Game 5
    • Object: Work on visual closure, visual form constancy, and figure ground
    • Set up: Mix the fish and lay them out, color/number side up. Be careful to overlap some, hiding parts of numbers and orienting so that they are facing in all different directions.
    • Play: Ask the player to pick up a sequence of eight, or find all of one certain number. Limit the amount of adjusting the fish so that they can see the whole number.
    • Try this: Show more or less of the number, depending on what the player needs.
  • Game 6
    • Object: Sequence 8 with in-hand manipulation
    • Set up: Sort the fish ahead of time so that they are in four piles by color. Mix the cards in each pile so that they are not in numerical order.
    • Play: Give the player one pile, number side down. Ask him to hold the pile in his non-dominant hand and push the cards off the top, one at a time, with the thumb. Take each card with the dominant hand as it is pushed off and turn it in-hand so that it is number side up. Place on the table. Once all eight cards are on the table, ask the player to line them up in sequential order (1-8).
Practice using the pole before playing a game. If you have trouble with the cup slipping, hold the pole in one hand and, holding the rope or worm with the other, push firmly down so the cup will attach to the fish. If using the fishing pole becomes frustrating, just skip it.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Adapting Off-The-Shelf Games and Toys for Therapy - Christmas Edition



What a great time of year to be able to use holiday games and toys in therapy. Below are some of my favorites. Just click on the title to go to that item and get more information. 


LEGO Build Up - This came out around Christmas time and has several Christmas related models including a reindeer, candy cane, Christmas tree, a gift box, and Santa. There are 24 models in all, so there are many that could also be used throughout the year. Models are small, just right for a beginner in therapy. Pieces range from around 15 pieces to 30+ pieces.

Memory Challenge Holiday Edition - One of the first I pull out each year. Sets include many Christmas, a few Hanukkah (dreidle, candles) and a variety that could just be considered winter (snowman, hot chocolate, etc.). This game also includes extra challenge cards for a fun holiday twist (optional, don't have to use them). Inexpensive, family fun. 

Reindeer, Santa, Elf, Snowman Poppers - Hog Wild sells poppers in lots of different seasonal shapes, including Santa Claus, snowman, and elf. Kids love these.

Indoor Snowballs - A kid pleaser. Lightweight, but not flimsy, these plush snowballs are for indoor play. I get a lot of mileage out of this one from December through February. Would probably be longer if I lived in the Midwest.

Scrabble Holiday Edition (Christmas) - Time for a party! Bring together your Scrabble friends for holiday treats and a Christmas themed Scrabble game. This one is for me!

Holiday Fluxx Card Game - Covers holidays from Halloween to New Year's. If you are working on following directions and adapting to change, you may like this one. 

Spot it Holiday - My favorite card game goes Christmas.

Jesus is Born Nativity Wooden Puzzle - 30 piece wooden puzzle depicting Jesus' birth.

Holiday Charades - Another of my favorites for motor planning fun. Can just turn into role playing also if it is just another person and me in a therapy session.

LEGO Decorating the Tree - LEGO offers small holiday and seasonal sets. They sell out fast and kids love them.

Christmas Bingo - Most kids like Bingo and you can work on numerous skills with this one too. Grab a few inexpensive prizes and bring on the fun.

It's a Charlie Brown Christmas Android app - My favorite cartoon kids explain the true meaning of Christmas. Lots of interactive fun.

It's a Charlie Brown Christmas Look and Find - Find the pictures hidden in the backgrounds from this Christmas classic. Figure ground fun.

Charlie Brown Christmas Board Game - Spend time with the Peanuts gang while they get ready for Christmas.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Game - Recover the Christmas presents from the Grinch to help save Christmas for the Whos in Who-ville.

Angry Bird Christmas Dice Game - A holiday-decorated, card/dice game based on the popular app.

Find It - Elf on the Shelf - Twist and turn the tube to find the 40 Christmas/winter related items hidden inside. Search-and-find cards add extra fun.

Scaventure Kids - Sort through the cards and pick out a few Christmas themed activities such as:
  • Locate three different types of Christmas tree ornaments.
  • Find a cone from a coniferous tree.
  • Recite the items that someone's true love gave for every day of Christmas.
  • Draw a holiday symbol.
  • Track down a candy cane.
  • Make up your own!
Candy Memory by eeBoo - This memory game is all about candy and has several holiday matches I associate with Christmas including candy canes and ribbon candy. 

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Dominoes - Traditional domino game with Rudolph themed characters. Each tile has a picture to match as well as a number for keeping score. Does not show the usual dots.

Let's Match! Merry and Bright Memory Game - Round cards, 24 sets, 12 could be used as winter without Christmas.

Christmas Sticker Scenes - I have used sticker scenes from Oriental Trading for years. They come in everyday scenes as well as holiday and seasonal. Inexpensive fine motor and visual perceptual fun.