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, March 11, 2018


A bug-themed game that teaches simple counting (1-5), VP skills.
Work on visual discrimination, visual memory, spatial relations, eye-hand coordination, manual dexterity, in-hand manipulation, simple counting, executive functioning skills, socialization skills, play and leisure exploration and participation 
In the box: 55 playing cards, 36 bug tiles
If you're not put off by the thought of building your own collection of creepy crawlers, check out this game. It is billed as a counting game for beginners. Players will be required to find from 1-5 bugs on each turn. Strangely (to me) there are no numbers on these cards. The bug cards (see images below) show words instead of numbers. If the individual does not read, you can count the bugs on the bug card instead. If the card says TWO BUGS, it will show two bugs. The bug tiles (yellow cards below) will show one, two or three bugs each. BUGGO is the spider with the brown and blue body (see him on the box cover above).
Object of the game:
Collect the most bug tiles and BUGGO tiles.
Set up:
Shuffle the playing cards and place them in a pile, face-down on the table. Mix and place the bug tiles face-down on the table, side-by-side (not in a pile). This is called the "sandbox" of tiles.
LEFT: Bug card.  RIGHT: Bug tile.
Players take turns. On your turn, take the top card off the bug card pile and turn it face up on the table. It will either have a number or it will read BUGGO.
  • If the card shows a number - Attempt to find that many bugs on bug tiles in the sandbox. Turn tiles over one at a time. If you get the exact number, take the tile and your turn is over. If you get a tile with fewer than the number on your bug card, you have the option of turning over more tiles or stopping. If you stop, you will keep the tile(s) you have turned over that total lower than the number on your bug card. If you keep going and end up revealing more bugs than the number allowed on the big card, turn all tiles back over (face-down) and leave them where they are. Your turn is over. When someone has to do this, try to remember where the bugs are so you can turn them when you need them.
  • If the card reads BUGGO - Attempt to turn over a bug tile with BUGGO's picture on it (the blue and brown spider in the image above). If you succeed, take the BUGGO tile and your turn is over. If you fail to find a BUGGO tile, turn the tile back over and your turn is over. If you happen to turn a BUGGO tile over when you are looking for other bugs, say you have a FOUR BUGS card (image above), your turn ends immediately. You must turn face-down any other tiles you have already turned over in that turn and you must also put one of the tiles you have previously won back into the sandbox, face-down. If this happens to someone else while they are playing, try to remember where BUGGO is so it won't happen to you too! AND, so that when you need BUGGO, you will know where to find him.
The game ends when four BUGGO cards have been collected. The person with the most bug tiles is the winner.
Try this:
  • Turn the bug tiles where they lay. Don't allow the individual to pull the cards to the edge of the table for easier handling.
  • Play with the cards before starting the game. Practice counting the bugs on the cards.
  • Place a line of tiles on the table and count the bugs across. Place more tiles as the individual learns to count higher.
  • Place two like tiles on the table, making sure they are in different orientations. Ask the player to turn the tiles so that the two are facing the same direction.
  • Turn tiles face-down on the table and play a game of matching/memory. This will be easier than the typical version where there are only two of each kind because there are many identical of each card. Adjust for difficulty by subtracting or adding additional matches.
  • Sort tiles by images. Four different images.
  • Stack the tiles before putting them in the box. How many can you hold in your hand as the stack gets taller. Place the stack on top of each new tile, picking it up as part of the stack. Place them in the box by handfuls.
  • Place the tiles face-up on the table. As the player learns to count higher, say a number such as 10, and ask the player to pick up cards with bugs that equal 10. How many different combinations can you get for 10?
  • Place all the bug tiles on the table face-down, except for the BUGGO tiles. Mix them in with the other tiles but leave them face-up. Study the tiles. Now turn the BUGGO cards face-down and see how many bug tiles you can turn over and collect before you reveal a BUGGO tiles.
  • Set up the game as in the suggestion directly above this one. Now mix the bug cards and place the pile, face-down, by the tiles. Each player turns one card over on his turn and picks that many bug tiles off the table, avoiding the BUGGO tile. When someone reveals a BUGGO tile, end the game. The person with the most tiles is the winner.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Peacetown - Conflict Resolution

Lots of role playing opportunities to resolve conflict.

Work on learning and practicing conflict resolution skills

In the box: 1 2-sided game board, 70 conflict cards, 60 chance cards, 13 skill cards, 6 pawns, 1 die.

Ages 7+, 2-4 players

The goal of this game is to teach, and then provide opportunities to practice, the skills needed to peacefully resolve conflict. The game follows Steve and Wendy through a typical day in their home town, Peacetown. The game board is a large board, trifolded, and 2-sided. Side one of the game board shows exteriors of Peacetown and teaches eight conflict resolution skills:
  • Apologizing
  • Using Chance
  • Compromising
  • Taking turns
  • Sharing
  • Avoiding
  • Ignoring
  • Getting help
Side two of the game board shows what is going on in the interiors of the buildings of Peacetown and teaches deeper conflict resolution skills:
  • Listening
  • Respecting differences
  • Communicating feelings
  • Taking responsibility for actions
  • Attacking the problem, not the person
The instructions recommend a teaching session using the Skill Cards before beginning the game. There is one skill card for each conflict resolution skill that I listed above. After choosing which game you will play (1 or 2), present the skill cards, one at a time, and read the short definition included in the instructions.

There are two sets of cards to the game - one set for side one, one set for side two. The cards for each game will include conflict cards and chance cards. Conflict cards set up a conflict for you to resolve. Here are some examples:
  • Side one
    • Whenever Jake walks into the cafeteria, the kids call him "fat" or "four-eyes". Jake doesn't like this, be he has to go into the cafeteria to get lunch. What can Jake do?
    • Mr. Frankel divides his class into small groups and asks each group to draw a picture of what they think their school will look like in 50 years. Linda is put in charge of one group. She has some ideas about how the picture should look, but so does everybody else in the group. The group starts fighting over what the picture should look like. What can Linda suggest that would stop the conflict and get everyone started on the project?
  • Side two
    • When Juan gets mad, he yells at people. When Jamal gets mad, he keeps his feelings inside. Is one way of handling feelings better than the other? Why or why not?
    • Velma's dad is out of work and trying hard to find a job. Paco tells everyone at school that Velma's dad is a bum and that he doesn't want to work. If you were Velma, how would feel? How would you let Paco know how you feel?
The chance cards
  • Side one
    • A bully threatens to beat you up after school, so you ask your friends to walk home with you. Move ahead 2 spaces.
    • You refuse to take turns with a friend. Move back 2 spaces.
  • Side two
    • When your friend tells you about her problem, you listen without interrupting and try to understand her point of view. Move ahead 2 spaces.
    • You get even with a boy for tripping you by tripping him back. Move back 2 spaces.
Move along the path earning peace points by appropriately resolving conflicts. When someone reaches the finish line, the person with the most peace points wins.

Set up:
Place the board in the middle of the players. Each player chooses and places a pawn on the "start" square. Shuffle and place the conflict cards on the board. Shuffle and place the chance cards on the board.

Each player will throw the die and move his pawn that many spaces. There are no blank spaces on the board, and each space on the board has some kind of symbol that will indicate what action to take. There will be a lot of opportunities to problem solve and practice as you go.

The box has the ages of 7-12, but I did not list the top age as I have used side two with teenagers with success. Maybe some will think this goes against the spirit of the game, but I never like to penalize someone (withholding peace points) for a wrong answer when they are learning. Each wrong answer is an opportunity to teach a better way. If you want to compete, see who gets to the finish line first. Of course that will just be dependent on the roll of the die.

Try this:
  • Skip the game and just use the game cards, posing questions and role playing.