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, June 18, 2017

Might Mind Aquarium Adventure

Underwater themed shape puzzles.
Work on manual dexterity, fine motor precision, in-hand manipulation, body awareness, tactile discrimination, visual discrimination, visualization, visual closure, visual form constancy, spatial relations, figure ground, visual scanning, eye-hand coordination, attention, problem solving, planning/organizing, applying logic, creative thinking, recognition of shapes and shape names, play and leisure exploration and participation
In the box: 32 plastic design tiles, 24 pattern cards, 1 solution card
Mighty Mind is a name that has been around for about 40 years. They have a whole line of products based on using geometric shapes (design tiles) to create patterns and pictures, with or without pattern cards. I have several of their products and the pieces are brightly colored, smooth plastic, and the pattern cards are stiff and have held up well. The claim they make on every product is "Makes Kids Smarter". You can be the judge of that. They have won many different awards and I regularly use this type of activity in many different forms.
The design tiles come in four bright colors (red, green, yellow, blue) and come in six geometric shapes (circle, half circle, square, rectangle, triangle, diamond). The pattern cards measure approximately 6 1/4" x 9 3/4". Each card has one puzzle to solve on each side, and puzzles are printed on whimsical backgrounds.
Two pattern cards.  Large and small circle design pieces.
Choose a puzzle you want to solve and lay the design pieces on top of the white portion, fitting them inside the outline exactly. Circles are often just placed on top of the finished puzzle, as in the port holes and eyes in the two patterns above.
Solution page.
Try this:
  • Play with the pieces before you start a picture and talk about their shapes. Show how two half-circles make a whole circle, two rectangles makes a square, four small squares makes one big square, etc.
  • Sort the pieces by shape, naming the shape of each.
  • After learning the shapes, put them in a bag so you can't see the shape and ask the individual to put their hand in the bag, feel a piece, and tell what it is without looking.
  • Give the player one piece at a time to place as he learns. Next separate out and give the player only the pieces that are necessary for his picture. Then place all the pieces on the table and let the player find the pieces he needs as he works.
  • Ask the individual to pick up each piece and then turn it in-hand, if needed, to the correct orientation for placement.
  • Use the pieces and make your own picture.
  • Make the first picture or two with the solution next to the puzzle page to give the individual an idea of what is expected.
  • Make a picture as the individual watches, thinking out loud as you decide why certain shapes will go in certain places, such as this must be a triangle or diamond because the edge is sloped.
  • Avoid frustration and keep the puzzle on track by gently nudging pieces back into place if the player is having trouble keeping them inside the outline.
  • Correct errors as soon as they are made with beginners. Continuing to build on an incorrect piece will just throw off the rest of the puzzle.
  • Teach the individual to recognize and correct errors on his own. If the individual places an incorrect piece, try asking "Are you sure?" or "Try something else" to prompt him to reconsider. If he cannot figure out the error, correct it while he is watching, then pick the piece up and hand it to him to place himself.
  • Give fading prompts as the individual learns to identify and correct errors on his own.
  • Ask the individual to cup his non-dominant hand to help strengthen palmar arches. If he has trouble doing this, place a small ball in his hand and ask him to curl and lightly squeeze his fingers around the ball. Then remove the ball and ask him to hold his hand in that position. Place several of the pieces he will need in the cupped hand and keep the hand cupped while he places the pieces on the card.
If you are interested in purchasing this item or just want more information, click on the image below.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse

A coloring game.

Work on visual discrimination, visual closure, visual motor integration, fine motor precision, finger isolation, separation of two sides of the hand, coordinated use of both hands, thumb to finger, developing web space, tripod grasp, coloring, manual dexterity, executive functioning skills, social interaction skills, process skills, play and leisure exploration and participation

In the box: Game board, spinner, 4 pawns, 144 sheets animal coloring pad, 8 crayons

A coloring game - this is the first of its kind for me. Whether you use markers, pencils, or crayons, coloring is an activity that lots of kids like and that is great for helping develop functional hand skills. It's also a way to get a writing tool into the hands of reluctant writers. I've passed out many a color book and box of crayons in my day. Unfortunately, they are not making color books like they used to. If you go to Walmart, a color book is likely to cost you $6. The dollar store still carries them but they are called activity books, and half of the pages are devoted to puzzles, mazes, and the like. The object of this game, according to the box, is to "explore the painter's color palette in this cooperative game of self-expression." This game comes with very simple drawings of several different animals (lion, bear, fox, crocodile, horse, donkey, cow) on plain white paper. Pictures are L 5" x W 2 3/4" and each animal is divided into four sections.

Set up: Place the game board, spinner, and crayons in the middle of the table. Place a pawn on start.
Play: In turn, each player will spin the spinner. The options that may come up include:
  • 1-4 - Move the pawn ahead on the board the number of spaces indicated. Everyone colors one section of his animal with the color indicated on the space.
  • Any color X 2 - The person who is spinning chooses two colors that all players will use to color a section of their animal.
  • Trade animal - Players trade their unfinished pictures and end up working on other's masterpieces.
The game ends when all sections of the animals are colored and everyone enjoys all the masterpieces.

LEFT - Spinner.   RIGHT - Game Board.
Try this:
  • Use pencils instead of crayons.
  • Use your own pictures or coloring books for more variety, a longer game, and to customize the skill level or subject of interest to your individual colorer.
  • Follow the path on the game board with your eyes and touch each color as you name it. Do this before the game to familiarize yourself with the colors.
  • Tape the animals in a long line on the wall as you finish coloring them. Make a parade of animals for everyone to enjoy.
  • Lay the crayons on the table upside down so that when an individual picks one up, he will have the opportunity to rotate it in-hand to orient it correctly for coloring.
  • Practice flicking the arrow with different fingers to thumb. Look for the big circle in the web space before flicking.
  • Practice distal rotation by coloring in the animals using small circular motions. I call it giving the animal "curly fur".