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, February 16, 2015


Work on manual dexterity, in-hand manipulation, motor planning, body awareness, tactile perception, visual discrimination, visual closure, visual form constancy, spatial relations, figure ground, eye-hand coordination, executive functioning skills, recognition of shapes and shape names, play and leisure exploration and participation

In the case: 42 wooden magnetic pieces, 25 double-sided challenge cards (50 images)
One of my top 10 favorites. Create 3D models from 2D picture cards using a variety of brightly colored, shaped wooden pieces.  The pieces come in a wooden case, as pictured above. The inside of the case has a white board finish on both sides. The wooden pieces have a magnetic layer on the back and stick very securely to the white board. The pieces will stick to both sides, so you can build on either or both sides. You can also draw on the white board with dry erase markers, but I have never done it, so I don't know if it cleans up well or leaves a shadow, like some white boards. I have found Bic erasable markers do not wipe off totally on some surfaces, so I avoid them altogether. My favorite brand is Expo and I blog about them here. The challenge cards are numbered 1-50 and increase in difficulty as the numbers go up.  Looking at the box (above), you will see that the ladybug is made up of five pieces, the scooter takes a few more, and the dog and dinosaur take considerably more. The pieces store securely in the wooden carrying case and stay stuck to the side they are on once the lid is closed. I especially like using this activity to work on spatial orientation. I often use the magnetic pattern sets with beginners or individuals who have conditions that impact their fine motor precision because magnetic pieces, once laid, are harder to disturb if bumped than non-magnetic pieces. You can also buy additional pieces and pattern cards in an expansion pack. I blog about that here. There is also a Deluxe model that I blog about here.

For more activities of this type, check out my post What's in Your Therapy Box? Pattern Blocks Edition.

Try this:
  • Play with the pieces before starting and point out the differences in shapes, colors, number of sides, etc.
  • Put the first piece in place in front of the individual if he cannot look at the model and figure out where or how to start.
  • Orient and place a piece for the individual as he watches if he is having trouble with placement. Then pick the piece up, and give it back to him to try again.
  • Hand the individual a piece he will need and ask him to turn it in-hand to position it for placement.
  • Use consistent directional and positional language such as above, to the right of, under, and flush.
  • Find all pieces for the card ahead of time instead of asking the individual to sort through unneeded pieces. Place only those pieces and the card on the table in front of the individual. Or start easier by giving the individual just one or two pieces at a time to place.
  • Ask the individual to search through all of the available pieces to find the ones he needs. Turn some pieces so they are facing the wrong direction, upside-down, overlapping other pieces, and/or put them on their sides for a more challenging search.
  • Correct errors as soon as they are made as continuing to build on an error may throw off the rest of the model.
  • Teach the individual to recognize and correct errors. After the individual places a piece incorrectly ask "Are you sure?" or say "Try again". If he cannot figure out the error, correct the piece while he watches. Then pick up the piece and hand it to him to place.
  • Give fading prompts as the individual learns to identify errors and correct mistakes on his own.
  • Ask the individual to cup his non-dominant hand. If he has trouble doing this, place a small ball in his hand and ask him to curl and squeeze lightly his fingers around the ball, then remove the ball and ask him to continue to hold his hand in that position. Places several of the pieces he will need in the cupped hand and keep the hand cupped while he places the pieces on the board.
  • Prop the card up in front of the board and ask the individual to look up and then down to the board and create the design.
To purchase this item or for more information, click on the image below.

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