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.

Friday, January 15, 2016

What's So Amazing About Mazes?

Work on visual scanning/tracing, fine motor precision, spatial relations, figure ground, manual dexterity, crossing midline, fine motor precision with a writing tool, tripod grasp, attention, decision making, problem solving, memory, motor planning, coordinated use of both hands, mental flexibility, self control  

Mazes are a fun way to practice skills that will help kids in school in general, as well as apply to specific academics such as reading and writing. Paper and pencil mazes are popular, and free printables can be found all over the internet. Mazes are also readily available at all different levels, from simple beginners mazes to quite complicated ones. In addition, there are maze-themed games and toys that can offer additional practice in a fun way. Here are seven areas related to success in school that can be addressed through working with mazes.
  • Fine motor precision - A great way to practice precision with a writing tool. The drawn line must be confined to a narrow roadway that weaves and zigzags across the page, requiring control. When choosing mazes, start with wider paths for beginners and narrow the width of the path as the individual progresses.
  • Self control - I like mazes for kids who move impulsively because you have to slow down and move with purpose. If you move quickly without looking ahead, you will end up backtracking, a lot. This can be frustrating and can lead to the individual giving up. Cue to work slow and look ahead as the individual works so that this is less likely to happen.
  • Crossing midline - Drawing through a maze may require the child to cross midline multiple times to complete. Using the eyes and/or body to cross midline is required in many activities including reading, writing, and playing games in PE or at recess. If this is your goal, look for mazes that contain these horizontal paths and make sure that the individual doesn't lean to the side as he crosses midline.
  • Visual tracing - Visual tracing, looking ahead before tracing with the pencil, will help you avoid dead ends and wasted effort. Or you can use only the eyes to scan the maze to find the correct path. I like to use the mazes that offer several different endings and then ask the child which object was at the end of the correct path. This way you will know if they did it correctly (see image below).
  • Eye-hand coordination - Eyes and hands work closely together to accomplish many tasks in school and in life, including working mazes. Each maze is different so you will never come to the place where you can look away and complete the task automatically.
  • Decision making and problem solving - Different paths are available and you must decide which is your best option. Trace ahead with your eyes before moving to see if you can see a dead end. If you do come to a dead end, you must back track, remember which path(s) you have already tried and choose another course. This will require working memory, the ability to hold information in your memory long enough to complete the task at hand.
  • Focus and sustained attention - Working mazes requires focus and sustained attention as the eyes guide the hand. To increase focus and attention time, increase the length of the maze a little at a time. Without focus and attention, it is difficult for learning to occur.
Below are maze-themed games and toys that can also help, some with, some without a writing type tool. Click on any name below to go to my post about that item:

Create-a-Maze - Follow a challenge card to create a pattern on this LARGE plastic maze, then attempt the challenge on the card. 10 challenges included.

Go Getter 2 - Use the removable tiles to make a combination of water and road pathways between fish, boats, a shark, people and more. Comes with a book with 12 challenges.

Go Getter 3 (Prince and Dragon) - Use the removable tiles to make pathways between people, a dragon, a castle, a treasure chest, and more. Comes with a book with 12 challenges.

Maze app - My favorite android maze app. No graphics or busy pictures to distract from the task, just clean, straight up mazes. Easy, medium, and difficult levels.

Magnetic Gumball Counting Maze - Sort the gumballs into the machines according to their number. A magnetic maze that has two levels and five different ball colors. A magnetic tool is attached.

Magnetic Colorpillar Maze - Sort the colored balls into the different sections of the caterpillar. Four colors to sort by. A magnetic tool is attached.

Magnetic Go Fish Go Maze - Move the balls around the fish. Six balls, red and blue. A beginners' maze. A magnetic tool is attached.

Laser Maze - A one-player logic game that features a laser beam. Create a path for the laser to travel so that it hits the target. 60 challenges that get increasingly more difficult.

Lab Mice - Draw paths from mice to cheese. But don't cross another mouse's path. 100 puzzles get increasingly more difficult.

Magnetic Shapes Maze - Sort objects by shape using the attached magnetic tool.

Melissa & Doug Smarty Pants - A kindergarten level box of visual perceptual puzzles on cards. Use your eyes to trace the mazes.

Labyrinth Treasure Hunt - Race to visually trace through the labyrinth to be the first to the destination.

Mummy Maze - A nine piece maze logic puzzle with 48 challenges that get more difficult as you play.

Trace with the eyes only. Determine which toy each child will end up with. (Boy A will end up with teddy bear, girl B with the swing. The process of elimination will tell you what girl C will get. :)

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