Often times, parents of the kids I work with are looking for activities that they can do at home to carryover the work we do in our sessions without spending a ton of money. Seeing how it is NYC and people don't have a ton of space, they also don't want anything that takes up too much space. Personally, I like to provide suggestions to parents that they can throw in their bag and easily take places. Things that can keep kids occupied while waiting for an appointment, at a restaurant or for traveling.
There are so many great items out there that parents can use at home that will help develop skills in children. These are things that don't cost a ton of money (which is a bonus if you have to buy for multiple children) that can be as therapeutic as the expensive toys out there. Below, I share some of my favorite therapy tools that are all under $10. Many can be found in little toy stores but I have shared links for online ordering.
Slime Suckers-I found these at a Learning Express and knew they would be a huge hit with the kids. First of all, I discovered them as the slime fad was at it's peak so anything slime related motivates kids. Secondly, what kid doesn't love something a little gross? This simple little toy is great for working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, motor planning and organizational skills. With a little squeeze, the animal (there are monsters, hedgehogs, pigs, etc.) sucks up the slime in the container; with another squeeze, and maybe have the kids make a silly sound, the slime comes shooting out of the toy. One of the really great things about this toy is that it is small, lightweight and easy to carry around. So if you are a therapist that travels a lot for work, these are perfect for you.
Super Sonic Gyro Disc-I was so excited when I came across this toy in a little bookstore while on vacation a few weeks ago. I remember playing with something similar to the gyro disc as a child and thought it would be a perfect addition to my occupational therapy tool box and a great toy for parents to have at home.
This simple and inexpensive toy (I picked mine up for under $5) is great for working on improving bilateral coordination skills, increasing upper extremity strength, motor planning and organizational skills. Kids are motivated by the spinning noise and how the LED lights light up once they get it going. This can be tricky for the kids to get started so I sometimes offer hand-over-hand assistance until they feel like they have the hang of it. For older kids, I add a challenge by having them do this activity while balancing on a balance board or a bosu ball.
Hog Wild Popper Toy-finding the right toy to work on hand strengthening can be tricky because kids who are weak are very good at avoiding those kinds of activities. When it comes to doing it at home, it really has to be motivating and seem like a toy and not a therapy activity. The Hog Wild Popper toys are perfect for this and definitely are more fun than work. My unicorn obsessed daughter has been gifted more of these than I can count and loves them. There are TONS of poppers to choose from ranging from animals to team mascots and all are just under $10. The balls are foam so there is little risk for them hurting someone else or breaking anything in your house.
In addition to hand strengthening, they are great for working on improving bilateral coordination, hand eye coordination, motor planning and focus and attentional skills. You can also combine working on improving visual and gross motor skills by setting up a target that kids aim towards and then having them wheelbarrow walk, run or do some kind of animal crawl to retrieve the ball.
Wikki Stix-I first discovered Wikki Stix when at a restaurant with kids years ago. Instead of the usual crayons and activity menu, this place gave out little packs of Wikki Stix to entertain the kids. At first I was confused and wondered how it would possibly keep them quiet for an entire meal, but then I was fighting with the kids to play with them and I quickly understood. For those of you not in the know, Wikki Stix are basically different colored wax covered yarn that can be bent into different shapes. They can be used for play and for learning. Kids can practice making different shapes, letters or numbers by bending the Wikki Stix. For younger kids, you can have them put the Wikki Stix on printed out shapes, letters or numbers and for younger kids you can provide them with a blank piece of paper and have them create them without a visual cue. They are incredibly durable and can't be ripped or torn (you can cut them into smaller pieces if you need to). Wikki Stix are great for working on improving fine motor skills, such as improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, encourages bilateral coordination and can help work on improving tactile defensiveness because of it's sticky texture.
Wrapper Snapper/Pop Tubes-sometimes the simplest toys can bring kids tons of joy. Wrapper snappers, or pop tubes as some call them, are one of those toys. I always make sure to have a stash of them at work and they are always included in my annual gift guide. They are great for working on improving bilateral coordination, grasp and upper extremity strength and motor planning. If you get a bunch of different colors, they are a fun way to work on color recognition. In our gym, we have kids use them as "slides" and they take small sorting bears and sort them into colored cups. These are a great toy to have at home because they are lightweight and you can throw them into a bag. An added bonus, they are really inexpensive so you can get some for all your kids!
Travel Notebook-another easy thing to have around that helps school age children who are working on improving their handwriting skills is a cool notebook. There are a lot of notebooks to choose from, but I really like this one from OOLY because it comes with a little folder to hold things (my kid like to collect business cards, pamphlets, etc.), a place to store a writing instrument (comes with one but you can swap it out for whatever works for your kid) and a variety of different kinds of paper (lined, graph and plain) to write or draw on. I love having a notebook with me at all times to keep my daughter entertained while at restaurants or when traveling. Some things you can do with your kids: play games like Hangman, Tic-Tac-Toe or the Dot Game. I like to do things like I Spy with my daughter and have her write down things that might start with a certain letter, different types of animals she sees, etc.. It's a great way for her to practice handwriting and spelling and keeps her connected to her environment. She loves that she has her own special notebook that nobody else can use and there are no real rules attached to it (like a school notebook which has to be used for very specific things).
Mad Libs-one of my absolute favorite things to recommend to work on handwriting at home is Mad Libs. Who doesn't remember doing these as kids? Not that I had forgotten about them, but I hadn't used them in a while until my daughter was learning how to read and write. She was becoming so frustrated with learning this new skill that we had to find ways to make it fun and motivating. She zipped through page after page and with each one, her writing and reading improved. An added bonus, she was able to learn all about verbs, nouns, adjectives and all other parts of speech. The variety of Mad Lib books that one can choose from is awesome. They range from sports to Star Wars and other popular movies. In addition to being a great way to work on handwriting, this can be a perfect social opportunity between siblings or on play dates. For younger children, who are not quite ready for regular Mad Libs, you can check out Mad Libs Junior. One is never too young (or old based on how much my husband and I enjoy doing them) for Mad Libs.
Mini Sport Games-the toughest kids to work with at home are the school-age kids because they are so busy with other things. It's critical that if you are going to try and work with things at home with them that they are highly motivating and are matched with their interests. There are a whole bunch of mini-sport games out there that can work on improving fine motor, manipulation, visual motor/perceptual and executive functioning skills (focus, attention, organization, etc.). These games can also be used to work on improving social skills, especially to practice sportsmanship for kids who might struggle with winning/losing. There could be lots of opportunities for role playing and working on strategies on how to deal with problems that might come up during sports. Here are some of my favorites and all are priced under $10:
Fingerboard Ice Hockey
Mini Tabletop Basketball
Now that I have shared some of my favorite and affordable OT tools, I would love to hear from you about some of your favorites. I know there are tons of things out there and would love to know what kinds of toys and products you use with your kids that get them to work without making it feel like work. I am only a click away and love hearing from you all.