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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.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

K'Nex Elmo Building Sets

ELMO themed construction sets with picture cards.
Work on visual discrimination, visual closure, visual form constancy, figure ground, eye-hand coordination, manual dexterity, coordinated use of both hands, in-hand manipulation, finger/hand strength, executive functioning, sequencing, process skills, play and leisure exploration and participation

In the box: Varies per set. Approximately 35-50 pieces.

K'Nex and LEGO are two of my favorite construction sets. These K'Nex Elmo sets are more comparable to the LEGO brand DUPLO sets, bigger pieces for younger kids. Each of these sets have a different theme and each set includes pictures of multiple things that you can construct, including animals, a sandcastle, and always an ELMO. There are pictures on the box and several picture cards inside each box to show items you can make. As with most K'Nex products, you will have to work from these pictures of the finished models as there are no step-by-step instructions like you get with LEGO. The pieces are well-made and brightly colored. Some of the bigger pieces are hard plastic, but many of the pieces are made of a sturdy, but flexible plastic. There are not enough pieces for all of the items pictured on the cards to be made at once. You will have to disassemble some to make others. They are fun sets and kids that I have worked with have liked them.

Two pattern cards from the Sunny Days Building Kit.
Try this:
  • Give time for free play at the beginning so that the person can examine the different shaped pieces and how they snap together. Some pieces you will have to push down from the top, not in from the side, and go together nicely with a pinch.
  • Ask the child to pick up the model when possible and hold it in one hand while adding pieces with the other hand so that both hands work together while adding pieces.
  • Hold the model in the non-dominant hand and pick up the correct piece in the dominant hand, setting up a natural opportunity to manipulate the piece in-hand for placement. 
  • Turn pieces on the table so they are not in the correct orientation. Ask the individual to pick up a piece and turn it in-hand to the correct orientation.
  • Set a piece, or only a few pieces, at a time in front of the individual to cue him which piece(s) he will be placing next. It can be difficult to look at a completed model and determine where to start and/or how to proceed. 
  • Give the beginner one piece at a time as he needs it and point to the piece on the picture to direct where he should place it.
  • Cover the part of the model that you are not working on to reduce confusion or to direct the building sequence. 
  • Keep the unused pieces in a pile so the child will have to search for each needed piece. Turn some of the pieces upside down or half bury them under other pieces so they will look different from the picture.
  • Advise the child to hold or stand the model in the same orientation as the one in the picture to aid in orienting pieces.
  • Point to each piece on a model and ask the child to find it in the pile of pieces. Assemble all the needed pieces before building.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Games That Require a Writing Tool

Games that require a writing tool.

Games that require writing, drawing, doodling or keeping score are one way to get a writing tool into the hands of those who need practice holding or using a writing tool or reluctant writers. Below are the links for games, books and activities that I have blogged about that require using a writing or pencil shaped tool. Just click on any link to go to the blog about that item.


Alphabet Squiggle - Start with a letter of the alphabet and draw a picture around it.

Backseat Drawing Junior - Draw a picture based solely on verbal directions from a partner. One of my favorites.
Bowling Dice - Learn to keep score for bowling.

Buy it Right - Add 3 digit numbers on a score sheet.

Captain Clueless - Draw on a map. without sight, to get to your destination.

Cartoon It! - Look at a picture of a character head and then draw it from memory or by looking at a board with features. A favorite.

Color Counts - An adult level coloring book.

Coloring Dot Marker Pictures -  Practice coloring in circles with the same motion used for writing.
Cranium Puzzle Plus - Assemble a puzzle and then use a dry erase marker to find and mark items from cards.

Crayon Maze App - Use a stylus on your tablet, same size as a pencil.

Crayon Rubbings - Choose a plastic design, put a piece of paper over it, then color back and forth over the paper. Raised areas from the design will show a design in crayon.

Doodle Quest - A fun spatial activity. Draw with a dry erase marker on erasable cards.

Dora Fashion Tracing Plates - Place a piece of paper over a raised plastic plate. Press hard with a crayon to see the design come to life.


Drawing Book of Faces - A favorite of mine. Practice drawing lots of different shapes and lines. Use pencil, crayon or marker on paper or a dry erase marker on a white board.

Erasable Geoboard Picture Book - Copy each picture onto your own geoboard - marker on laminated sheets.
Erasable Geoboard Pattern Book - Same as above except you are drawing patterns, not pictures.

Expo Dry Erase Board & ExpoMarkers - The only ones I use. I explain why.

Extreme Dot-to-Dot - Numbers go into the hundreds. Work a section at a time until the picture is finished.

Finger Painting Bugs Art Set - Press your fingertips into the small ink pads, press onto paper and draw small lines and symbols on print to make bugs.

Fish Stix - Keep score.

Get the Picture - A dot to dot game using dry erase marker and board. Guess the picture as you go.

Go Fish Go Magnetic Maze - A writing tool is not included, but the magnetic wand is about the same size as a pencil. 

Goody Gumdrops by Ed Emberly - Practice drawing lines and symbols while drawing whimsical animals. All animals start with the same shape - a gumdrop.

Google Eyes - Draw pictures that others can identify while wearing vision-distorting glasses.

Guess How I Feel? - Draw faces and try to guess the emotions.

Kidsbook Giant Scavenger Hunt -Figure ground, look and find pictures. Use writing tool to make a large X on or circle items when you find them. Use any number or shape you are working on for repeated practice. 

Lab Mice - Use dry erase markers to draw mazes on cards.

Lewo Magnetic Puzzle and DrawingBoard - Make patterns and pictures on the magnetic whiteboard following the 2D booklet. Then use dry erase markers to fill in the picture on the whiteboard.


Magnetic Colorpillar Maze - A writing tool is not included, but the magnetic wand is about the same size as a pencil.

Magnetic Gumball Counting Maze - A writing tool is not included, but the magnetic wand is about the same size as a pencil.

Magnetic Shapes Maze - A writing tool is not included, but the magnetic wand is about the same size as a pencil.

Melissa & Doug Lace & Trace - Place the plastic item on a piece of paper and trace around it.

Oodles of Doodles - A fun game for doodlers. Draw 8 pictures as your opponents try to guess what you are drawing.

Pass the Pigs -  Keep score on a very small pad.

RapiDoodle -Using a single shape, draw as many items as you can around it.

Scrabble - Keep score.

Search & Find Cards - Search for objects on the erasable cards and circle them with a dry erase marker.

Shake 'N Take - A shape recognition game that requires you to circle like shapes on cards with dry erase markers.

Snout Pass the Pig Card Game - Keep score.

String Along Lacing Kit - Does not include a writing tool but the lacing tool is about the same size as a pencil.

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse - A coloring game.

Travel BINGO - Includes paper cards. Mark in the boxes as you spot each item.

What's So Amazing About Mazes? - Use writing tools for follow lines or complete mazes.