One of my many occupational therapy jobs is that I am a founding member of The Meeting House, an after school program for school age children with social special needs. It's a recreational based program that focuses on fun, friendship and community but at the same time provides children who struggle socially with tools and skills that will help them be better friends at school, at home and any other place where they need to be social. As the occupational therapist, I am there to provide my expertise but not provide 1:1 therapy. The therapeutic aspect of the program is embedded and my job is to provide suggestions and insight to help the children succeed in this setting. It's a fantastic program and we have some of New York City's most amazing kids attending the program. If you are in the area, you should definitely come and visit us. Contact me if you are interested in learning more about The Meeting House.
When the kids first come in after school, they have the choice of doing homework or hanging out and playing games with their friends. It's a time for them to relax after a busy and sometimes stressful day at school. I think it is one of the most important parts of our afternoon and am on a constant search for fun, but simple, games that they can be independent with. I can spend hours a week scouring toy stores looking for such games. A few months ago, I was on the hunt for games that would be good for our kids and found the perfect game: Tenzi.
Tenzi is a 2-4 person dice game (more if you have children partner up with each other). The rules are simple and everyone can play with little support from grown-ups. Each child or team gets 10 dice. One of the players shouts out a number and everyone rolls their dice until they have 10 of the same number. It's really as simple as that and the kids have a great time. While it seems like it could get competitive, I have yet to see that amongst our group of kids. Because it is so fast paced, it's really more about having fun and less about being the winner. When the first person rolls 10, they are encouraged to help a peer out. I love watching the kids play this game; there is so much laughing and cheering friends on. A truly perfect game to encourage social skills at The Meeting House.
This is not only a great game for improving social skills, it's also perfect for using with my kids at my private practice. Because it is usually is me and one child at the gym, I can focus more on occupational therapy goals. I tend to have my kids play this game while lying on a net swing or lying prone on a bolster to work on increasing upper extremity and neck strength.
*Improve visual tracking skills-a child has to carefully scan the playing space to look for the number of dots on each dice
*Increase grasp/hand strength-by having the child use just one hand (I usually encourage the child to use the hand that they write with) to pick up the dice, you can work on improving the hand muscles which is important for handwriting, cutting and other school related skills
*Improve wrist control-rolling dice is a great way to work on improving wrist control and strength. You would be surprised how difficult something as simple (to us) as rolling dice can be for children with fine motor difficulties and strength issues.
*Improve attentional/focus skills-a child has to pay close attention to the number of dots on the dice. If they are not paying attention, they might keep picking up dice that already have the desired number.
*Improve modulation/regulation skills-a child has to not be impulsive when rolling the dice and not just pick up the dice again before finding the desired number. In the thick of the game and out of pure excitement, I have had to remind the kids I work with to not pick up a dice that is not theirs.
*Improve organizational skills-a child has to organize their dice in a way that they don't constantly pick up the dice that already have the desired number. I talk to my kids about having a place to roll the dice and having a place to put the dice that have already got the correct number. This can be VERY difficult for the children I see who have impulse control issues.
While I have played this game mostly with the school age children on my caseload, I have been thinking about ways to make this work for the younger children. I think I am going to try using only 5 dice and help my children work on counting and 1:1 correspondence while counting.
I really do enjoy this game and think you will all love it too. As always, check out your local toy stores to see if they carry this game (I found mine at Little Things Toy Store in Park Slope). I always feel better buying local even if it means spending a little more than from online stores.
I would love to hear if you have any other suggestions/adaptations for younger children. Remember, I am only a click away and would love to hear from you all.