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, September 17, 2017


Practice drawing with precision. Make your own game without buying this one.

Work on visual memory, visual closure, visual motor integration, fine motor precision, precise use of a writing tool, executive functioning skills, socialization skills, play and leisure exploration and participation

In the box: 4 drawing tablets, 4 dry erase markers, sand timer, 36 shape cards, 24 bonus rule cards

Another doodle game to get those writing tools into the hands of kids. I need to say up front that this one does not involve copying, so it will take some imagination and skill on the part of the players. I find that kids with good visual perceptual skills often like games like this. There are instructions for two different versions, beginner and advanced, which I will explain below. There are four exact sets of shape cards, each set has nine cards. Each set has a different color border around the outside edge so they are easy to separate. Each shape card is divided into four squares, and the same shape is printed in grey in each square. Look closely at the image on the box above and you will see a pyramid, a house, a teepee, and a sailboat. Each drawing started with the beginning shape of a triangle. There are 18 different shapes total (9 cards, 2 sided, 18 shapes). Shapes include a diamond, square, arrow, long thin rectangle, zigzag, half circle, circle, heart, and hexagon. A drawing tablet consists of a 5-1/4 X 5-3/4 inch piece of cardboard with a transparent piece of plastic (like the kind they use for overhead projectors) glued to the cardboard across the top. This way you can lift the plastic and place a shape card under it. Draw on the plastic with the dry erase marker, then erase and start over with a new shape card. 

The markers are short, about 3-5/8 inches tall, and narrow, about the width of a pencil. The sand timer is for 1 minute, so this will require players to be able to think and work fast to complete 4 different doodles/images before time runs out. Or skip the timer like I do most of the time in most games.

Object: Be the person with the most points after four rounds.

Set up: Give each player a set of shape cards, a drawing tablet, a marker, and met the timer nearby. 

  • BEGINNER - The first player looks through the shape cards and chooses one he likes. All players place that shape card into their drawing tablet. The timer is turned over and all players quickly draw four different images based on that shape. When the time is up, all players stop drawing. The player who chose the card describes each of his drawings - such as a person, a cat, a car, etc. If any of the other players have drawn the same thing, no one gets a point for that drawing. If the drawing is unique, the player gets one point, a possible four point per game. Each of the remaining players goes over his unique drawings. Players total their points for unique drawings and write the number at the very top of the drawing tablet to keep score. The next player chooses a shape card and players repeat the process. Play four times and total all the scores at the top of the tablet. Highest scorer is the winner. 
  • ADVANCED -Before starting, shuffle and place the deck of bonus rules cards next to the players. Instead of each person choosing a drawing card, each player, in turn, will choose a bonus card. Each card shows a shape and a category. This is the shape card you will use to draw your four doodles. In addition, for each doodle you draw in the category listed, you will earn 1 extra point. Categories include a household object, clothing, found in a store, furniture, bigger than a person, found in nature, and food. There is also a memory rewind card that instructs players to play the last round's shape again, rewarding points only to doodles that are drawn by more than one player. After four rounds, the player with the most points wins.
Try this:
  • Give players a minute to think about what they will draw before setting the timer.
  • Stress precision - sharp corners, closed shapes, starting and stopping on a line, rounding, proportion, etc.
  • Skip the timer. Draw four doodles and let the player copy you.
  • Skip the game. Put a card in the drawing tablet and let the individual trace each of the images. Then take the shape card out and ask the individual to draw several without tracing. Leave the shape card next to the drawing tablet for reference, then remove the shape card after practicing for a more difficult challenge of drawing from memory. 
  • Don't buy the game. Draw shapes on regular paper and play. Keep drawings to track and document improvement.
If you are interested in purchasing this game or just want more information, click on the image below. 


Friday, September 8, 2017

Yeti in my Spaghetti

Remove the spaghetti without disturbing the Yeti.
Work on manual dexterity, pincer grasp, graded movement, spatial relations, eye-hand coordination, socialization skills, process skills, play and leisure exploration and participation.

In the box: Plastic bowl, lightweight plastic Yeti, 30 pieces of spaghetti

This is a pretty simple game. As you can see above, there is an orange bowl, a lot of wavy plastic sticks (spaghetti), and a lightweight plastic toy (Yeti). Set the bowl in the middle of the players. Crisscross the plastic sticks on top of the bowl, mixing them up so they are going in different directions. Then place the Yeti on top of the plastic sticks. Now players take turns pulling out one stick at a time. The goal is to get your stick out without causing the Yeti to fall. Play until someone pulls a piece that causes the Yeti to fall into the bowl and they are the loser. The last one to have placed a stick successfully is the winner. Pretty straightforward. 

Try this:
  • Push the bowl back a little while setting up to work on reaching.
  • Use your own lightweight toy on top. Make it smaller for a more challenging game (better chance of slipping through a hole).
  • Use two hands for set-up by holding the sticks in one hand and pulling them out one at a time to place with the other hand.
  • Roll the spaghetti piece in the fingertips while removing to get over curves in the spaghetti.
  • Sing On Top of Spaghetti as you play.
  • Follow with sensory play with a bowl of real, cooked spaghetti. Plenty of ideas for using spaghetti on Pinterest.
If you are interested in purchasing this game or just want more information, click on the image below.