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!

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Thursday, September 13, 2018


Plays similar to Yahtzee, fun-shaped pieces to manipulate.

Work on visual discrimination, manual dexterity, palmar arch development, in-hand manipulation, writing tool use, practice writing in limited area, socialization skills, executive functioning skills, play and leisure participation and exploration

In the box: 1 score pad, 8 plastic tetra pieces

I had never heard of this game before today. I picked it up second-hand and my mother-in-law promptly beat me at two games, after which I excused myself to "go blog about it". It's a fun game that is similar to Yahtzee, except that it uses different pieces to throw than dice. As the name implies, each piece has four sides and four colored balls that look like a group of atoms. The pieces are identical and the four colors are red, green, blue and yellow. They are made of plastic and on each turn you will throw all eight of them. It is a handful for me and I usually held them in one hand and cupped the other hand over the top to shake.

The score pad is very similar to the Yahtzee score pad with a few unique differences. 
Score pad.

Have the highest score at the end of the game.
Set Up:
Place the eight tetras in the playing area. Give each person a sheet from a score pad.

You will play one column per game. At the top of the score pad you will see game 1, game 2, etc. Each player gets up to three throws per turn. Throw all eight pieces. Sort the pieces by color, depending on the top circle of each Tetra that is thrown. For instance, in the picture above, there are two greens, two blues, two yellows and two reds. Look at the score pad and decide what you will try for (four of one color, two of each color, etc.). Throw up to three times to try and get what you are looking for. Leave out any of the pieces that are already what you want and throw the rest. Change your mind if you want and try for something else depending what comes up on subsequent throws. At the end of your three throws (or sooner if you get what you want) you must either enter a score on the pad for a level that you have achieved, or cross off one of the boxes if you were not able to throw a combination that you needed. All players will end the game on the same round. The person with the largest score is the winner.

Try this:
  • Make a copy of an unused score sheet before you run out them. I don't think you can buy just the score pads and it is different from Yahtzee (which you can buy separately).
  • Hold the number of pieces in one hand that you need for a challenge, such as a full house. See if you can bring them to your fingertips, one at a time, and place them upright how you need them on the table top. If eight is too many, start with fewer and work your way up.
  • Pick them off the table to throw by picking them up one at a time and squirreling them in the palm. Then shake and throw.
  • Cup your hand and separate your fingers so you can hold them all in one hand. Carefully shake without dropping any. Continue to cup your hand each time you pick up the pieces and shake to throw.
  • Cup both hands, one on top of the other while shaking.
  • Set a timer for a half minute and throw as many times as you want instead of stopping at three throws. 
  • Keep a calculator handy if you are not good at mental math. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Picture Peg

A favorite of mine but no longer being manufactured. Check Ebay or Etsy.

Work on palmar arch development, manual dexterity, precise fine motor control, in-hand manipulation, distal rotation, separation of two sides of hand, grasp, visual discrimination, figure ground, executive functioning skills, process skills, play and leisure exploration and participation  

In the box: plastic pegboard/grid, 6 pictures, 200 plastic pegs

Pegboard activities are not as popular with kids as they once were, but this is one of my favorites. An oldie but goodie, I have used this activity many times over the years. It still pops up on Ebay from time to time, so I decided to add it. A peg activity that kids like is a real find and I have had luck with this one. If you are working on in-hand manipulation, you have the opportunity to practice it over and over and over within one activity when you work with pegs. I usually leave the whole thing in the box as the kids work on it, as everything stays in place nicely that way. The peg tray is a lighter weight plastic that can be taken out and set on the side, and the black grid is hard plastic and can sit on its own also. The pegs are about 3/4" and the colors are red, blue, green, yellow and white. Simply let the individual choose a picture that they like and place it on the pegboard. I usually anchor it by placing pegs in a couple of corners, just to make sure the holes on the paper match up with the holes on the grid. Then start matching the colored pegs to the same colors on the picture. Simple child-themed pictures, small pegs and bright colors are reasons I think this has appealed to kids. Pictures are printed on paper, not card stock. There are six individual pictures including a picture of a girl feeding a fish to a seal, a bear driving a train, mixed fruit, a family of three people and a duck, multiple fish, and two colorful birds. An additional page of pictures includes nine small pictures. You can't place this one on the pegboard, and will have to look at it and then look back to the grid and make it. It will take the ability to count spaces to know where to place pegs on each line, so that could add an extra challenge if you are looking to use it with a higher functioning individual.

Try this:
  • Take turns. If the activity seems like too many pegs for one person to complete, or they need frequent demonstrations, I take turns placing pegs with them.
  • Place one peg in the individual's palm. Ask them to bring it to the fingertips, turn to orient for placement, and add to the board. If they have difficulty starting from the palm, place it at the base of the fingers to start.
  • Place 2 or 3 in the palm after the individual is able to complete with one peg. Place all of one color for an easier task, or different colors for a more difficult task as the individual will have to separate out the color they want one at a time.
  • Look for a nice rounded web space for easier pick up of pegs.
  • Clean up by seeing how many pegs the player can take off the board and squirrel into the palm without dropping any.
  • Mix the pegs in a bowl. Take several at a time and sort them back into the tray by color, pushing them to the fingertips one at a time before dropping.
  • Cup the non-dominant hand and drop several pegs into the palm. Let the individual pick them out one at a time to use, while keeping the hand cupped during the work.
  • Place all of one color at a time to work on learning colors.