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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Stone Soup

Card games offer a natural opportunity to practice using both hands in a coordinated manner.
Work on visual discrimination, bilateral coordination, manual dexterity, in-hand manipulation, sequencing, executive functioning skills, social interaction skills, process skills, play and leisure exploration and participation

In the box: 54 cards

Card games, like Stone Soup, offer a natural opportunity to work on using both hands in a coordinated manner while shuffling, dealing, fanning, and holding and choosing cards. Some card games require dealing each player a hand, such as five cards. The nice thing about Stone Soup is that it requires dealing out all 54 cards to start the game, so let those players needing help be the dealers and have patience. The cards are standard playing card size and each card has a number and a picture on it, as you can see in the image above. The number indicates where in the sequence of ingredients it is to be added to the pot.  In addition, there are two Sequence of Ingredients reference cards.   

Object: Be the first to get rid of all your cards by playing them in sequence into the pot.
Set Up: Place the two sequence cards in the middle where all players can see them. Deal out all the cards.
Deal an extra hand and set it aside so no one can ever be sure how many of each card is left to be played.
Play: Starting with the first ingredient, the potato, players will take turns putting a card(s) face-down into the pot (pile). First player plays a potato(es), second player plays a tomato(s), third player plays sausages, etc. Play one or more cards, as many as you want. At times you will have to bluff. Here are three reasons why:
  1. You have a stone to get rid of.
  2. You don't have the right card.
  3. You have too many cards in your hand.
If you think a player is bluffing, you can challenge him by saying "stone soup" and he has to pick up the card(s) he played and show all. If you are right and he was bluffing, he has to pick up all the cards in the pot and put them in his hand. If you were wrong, you have to pick up all the cards. At any time you may skip your turn by adding a card with a picture of salt on it and saying "I think this soup needs a dash of salt", and placing it on the bottom of the pot pile. The next player plays the card you would have. The game ends when one person runs out of cards.

Try this.
  • Hold the deck in the non-dominant hand and push the cards off the top with the thumb, one at a time, to deal.
  • Skip the game. Place a sequence card on the table. Hold the cards face-up and deal them one at a time into two piles. Deal the ingredients as they come up for the soup recipe in one pile. Deal the cards that come up out of sequence into the other pile.
  • Deal and sort the cards face-up into seven different ingredient piles.
  • Practice different ways of shuffling cards.
  • Break the deck into several small piles for dealing if holding all 54 cards at once is too much to handle.
  • Play a game of war. Deal the cards between players, face-down. Each player turns his top card over and the one with the highest number wins the card. If there are any matching cards, the player of those cards deal two cards face-down and then one face-up. The higher of the face-up cards wins all the cards. Player with the most cards at the end wins. Leave your cards on the table top and separate and pick one card at a time off the pile without toppling other cards off the deck.
  • Practice fanning cards by pushing them apart with the thumb.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Cooperative games encourage players to work together.

Work on cooperation, social interaction skills, visual tracing, spatial relations, eye-hand coordination, manual dexterity, palmar arches, executive functioning skills, process skills, play and leisure exploration and participation

In the box: Game board, 2 dice, a cat marker pieces, 3 creature marker pieces (chipmunk, mouse, bird), 4 treat marker pieces (cheese, milk, catnip, bowl of favorite food)

Max is a cooperative game. A cooperative game is where everyone works toward a common goal, there are no individual winners or losers. Max is also the name of the black tomcat on the box cover, a cat owned by the creator of the game. The real Max runs around his farm catching small creatures. The goal of the game is to get all the small creatures safely to their homes in the big tree and making sure that Max gets fed. The game board is smaller than a typical game board and measures 12 x 12". It is a simple board with 27 spaces and no reading required. The two dice are the same, each have three green and three black dots, one per side. You can see them on the game board in the image above. The other game pieces are small flat cardboard pieces with pictures on them. You can also see those in the image above. 

Set up: Place the Max marker on the rug, upper left hand corner of the game board. Place the four treats near the board. Place the three other creature markers on the tree stump (the yellow stump space is at the top of the board).
Play: Players take turns throwing the dice. Follow these directions depending on the dot colors that are thrown:
  • Green dot: Move a creature one space toward the tree. Each creature has a short cut and may use it if they land on that space.
  • 2 green dots: Move one creature two spaces or two different creatures one space each.
  • i green dot, i black dot: Move one creature one space and move Max one space.
  • Black dot: Move Max one space.
If you feel that Max is getting too close to a creature you can call him back to the rug space by placing one of his treats on the rug. There are four treats, so you can do this four times. Max can also follow the shortcuts for all the creatures. The instructions do not say what happens when Max lands on the same space as a creature, or vice versa, but I imagine that ends the game. If this does not happen, the game ends when the three creatures are all safely in their tree home. Players are encouraged to discuss plays and what to move when for the best outcome.

Try this:
  •  Shape the palm before shaking the dice by putting a small ball or round object in the individual's hand and forming the hand around it.
  • Model the cupping position and how to shake the dice before starting to play - fingers together, making a rounded cup in the palm. Often the child will just squeeze the dice tight in the hand and shake the hand, thinking the dice are moving around when they are not.
  • Cup both hands and place on top of each other (at a 90 degree angle) to shake. Double the therapeutic value!
  • Trace the path with the eyes before starting the game. Look for the shortcuts and follow them to see how they work.
  • Count to 10 or recite a kitty ditty while shaking the dice to keep the hands in that position a little longer.

    If you are interested in purchasing this game or just want more information, click on the image below.