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.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Here, Kitty, Kitty!

40 tiny kitties for manipulation... M-E-O-W!
Work on visual discrimination, eye-hand coordination, following directions, executive functions, manual dexterity, in-hand manipulation, fine motor precision, socialization skills, process skills, play and leisure exploration and participation
In the box: 40 small kitties, 6 home game boards, deck of instruction cards
They had my attention at 40 itty bitty kitties. Even if I never played the game, I could find a way to use those kitties! :)  Anything that small just cries out for in-hand manipulation. As a matter of fact, those 40 kitties can all fit in the palm of my hand at once. So cute! There are three different poses and four different colors (orange, black, white, grey).
Moving beyond the kitties, this game is all about following directions. During each and every turn, players must follow directions to perform two actions. Actions involve one or two steps each and there are three actions to choose from. It is your choice which two you will perform from this list: 
  • Move one kitty one space.
  • Play one card.
  • Discard 1-3 cards from your hand.
 The ultimate goal is to have the most points at the end of the game. There are different ways to make points and I will show an image of the scoring card below instead of typing it all out here. Points will be earned from where your cats are located on your property at the end of the game (most points for being in the house) and the color combination of your cats. You will need to use some strategy to win, but it is more dependent on the luck of the draw of your cards. To set up the game, place all the kitties in a neutral space (the neighborhood), deal each player two or three cards (depending on how many people are playing) and let each player choose a home game board. Your home board will picture your house in three sections: yard, porch, inside the house. Going from one section to the next counts as one move (for instance from the neighborhood to the yard or from the yard to the porch). Players now take turns performing two actions (as noted above). Move kitties from the neighborhood onto your property and try to set back your opponents. Players will draw cards and can play them on their turn to help or hinder. Examples of cards are:
  • Move 2 cats from your porch to your house.
  • Steal 1 cat of your choice from another player's house and put it in your house.
  • Move all cats of a single color from your yard to your porch.
  • One player of your choice must move 2 cars from their house to their porch.
  • One player of your choice must move 1 cat from their yard to the neighborhood.
  • Prevent one cat from being moved by another player.
At the end of your turn, draw up to the number of cards you were dealt in the beginning. As the game progresses, the players move the kitties from the neighborhood to their yard, then to their porch, then into their house. The game is over when the last card is drawn. Here is a picture of a game in progress:
Try this:
  • Skip the game and play with the cats (you knew I'd say that, didn't you?) Place one or more cats in the players palm and ask him to bring them to the fingertips one at a time, orient, and stand on their feet.
  • Hide the kitties in theraputty or play-doh.
  • Sort the kitties by color.
  • Forget the scoring and make up another criteria to win, such as most cats in your house, or most cats on your property.
 If you are interested in purchasing this item or just want more information, click on the image below.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

ZOOB BuilderZ STEM Challenge

5 basic pieces snap together in 20 dynamic ways.
Work on visual discrimination, visual closure, visual form constancy, spatial relations, visual memory, figure ground, eye-hand coordination, in-hand manipulation, manual dexterity, strength, hand arch development, separation of sides of hand, using two hands together, executive functions, process skills, play and leisure exploration and participation
In the box: 175 ZOOB pieces, 2 foam building pads, 4 wheels with axels, 1 high-bounce rubber ball, 23 rubber bands, 20 ft. nylon string, 14 cards with 35 challenges, 5 building guide with 40 challenges
The past couple of weeks ZOOB sets have been super cheap on Amazon and I AM a fan, so I added a couple more sets to my collection. I have blogged about different ZOOB sets in the past and also compared them to my other favorite construction toys. You can see that blog at Building Skills with Construction Toys. Probably my favorite feature about ZOOBs is that they take strength to push the pieces together and to pull them apart, but they are also longer so you have something to hang on to while you are pushing and pulling. The pieces look similar and there is either a ball or a socket at either end of each piece. Some pieces have a dip across the middle and you can also snap those across each other. And since most of these connections will be joints, the things you make can be dynamic, unlike say LEGOs. Here are the basic shapes:
The five basic pieces snap together 20 different ways.
So when I saw the instruction cards pictured on the box front I was not sure if this would be something I could use in therapy or not, since the instructions took up the whole card and there were no diagrams. It is a STEM challenge set and I didn't know how involved it would be, but I figured if I didn't use it in therapy I could give it to my great-nephew, who is very bright and also likes ZOOBs. Once I saw the cards in person I realized that the instructions do not take up the whole card. They are written in three different languages and the English portion is at the top, in red print. There are 13 laminated cards with a challenge on each side, so 26 challenges, plus 9 bonus challenges. Nine of the challenges also include a second, bonus challenge. The challenges are numbered and increase in difficulty as the numbers increase. From the introduction card "Nearly all of the Challenges have multiple solutions, so any device, contraption, machine, gadget or scheme that solves a Challenge is correct." Therefore, no answer or solution diagrams. They also encourage you to add your own materials to complete challenges like string, twigs, tape, etc. Below is challenge #1 and challenge #26, so you can see the easiest and hardest challenges.
  • Challenge 1
    • Set Up: Build a car and place it on a table.
    • The Challenge: Can you figure out three different ways to make the car go all the way across the table?
    • Action! Set the car in motion.
    • Restriction: You may not touch the car with any part of your body.
    • Bonus Challenge: Can you build something that makes the car stop at the edge of the table before it falls off? 
  • Challenge 26
    • Set Up: None
    • The Challenge: Can you build two devices that transfers the ball between them? The first device must carry the ball three feet through the air, then transfer the ball to the second device. The second device must be on the ground and carry the ball at least 6 inches.
    • Action! Start your first device.
    • Restrictions: 1) You may not push or pull your first device, you must simply release it from a standing position. 2) The ball may not touch the ground. 3) You may not touch either device or the ball after you release your first device.
    • Bonus Challenge: How quickly can you make the ball go the full distance? How slowly can you make it go, without it stopping completely?
The ZOOB set also contains 5 instruction guides to build 40 additional creations.
I also bought the Inventor's Kit and it contained the same 5 instruction guides. The guides each have a number on the front, indicating models in that guide use that many (or less) pieces. A few of the models show the building in steps, but the majority do not. The individual will have to be able to look at a completed model and know where to begin and how to proceed.
I know I can use the instruction guides in therapy, but not sure if or how I would use the challenge cards. To me it seems more like an academic exercise, and of course it is advertised as a STEM activity. My nephew will probably get this one. 
Try these ideas using the activity guides. There will not be enough pieces to build two models of the larger models:
  • Make a model ahead of time and let the individual work from a 3D model if they cannot interpret the 2D picture.
  • Find all the pieces needed for the model ahead of time if you want to focus on a single goal, such as hand skills or spatial relations. This will help you save time and decrease frustration that might be added by requiring additional tasks.
  • Ask the person to find each needed piece in the box of pieces, using color and/or terms of ball and socket to describe what he is looking for.
  • Working side by side, build the model piece by piece while the individual watches and builds his own.
  • Ask the individual to move the piece in-hand for placement if he picks it up in the wrong orientation.
  • Take time for creative play after the model is complete.
  • Build a small model beforehand and ask the individual to take it apart and put the pieces away to work on a simple task involving strength.
  • Push pieces into a straight line for a simple task to work on hand strength. Add a pattern if the individual is able to follow, such as red, silver, blue, red, silver, blue, etc.
If you are interested in purchasing this item or just want more information, click on the image below. Even if you just want the 175 Zoob pieces, 4 wheels, and the 5 guides it is selling for only $16 at the time I am writing this.