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.

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, logic, problem solving, executive functioning skills, 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.
  • Point to each section or piece as you go if the individual cannot look at the finished model and know how to proceed. Or give cues such as let's start with the head, or add the tail next, etc.
  • 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.

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