Friday, August 9, 2013

It's All About Teamwork

As a therapist, I wear many hats.  I do all the 1:1 private practice stuff at two sensory gyms in NYC (Heads Up and SAGE).  I am a co-founder of the most amazing after school program, The Meeting House, for school age children with social special needs.  And I run smaller social skills groups with a speech therapist I have had the joy of working alongside for years now.  Professionally, I can't think of a luckier therapist than me.

With all of those different hats I wear, the toys, supplies and equipment I need varies from setting to setting so my eyes are ALWAYS open for new and fun things that would be appropriate for each place.  Yesterday, while walking around the UWS trying to kill some time between clients, I found myself in Stoopher and Boots, a super cute kids store that carries not only adorable clothes but also a great selection of toys.  I'm super excited for the new game I picked up and think that many of you will love it as well, especially you parents of multiple children or therapists/educators who tend to see groups of kids.  Stack Up by Peaceable Kingdom is a perfect game for preschoolers.  It is great across the pediatric disciplines as it covers goals for occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, physical therapy and educational goals!  I can't think of many other games in my very large and overstuffed closet that do that.

Stack Up is a cooperative game that focuses on having all the players work towards the same goal as opposed to being first or the winner.  The object of cooperative games is that you focus on working together and not as individuals.  Nobody is made to feel left out or made to feel as though they didn't do a good job.  The point of the game is that in order for you to win, you need to be part of a group and play with your friends, not against them.  Cooperative games have becoming increasingly popular since I began working in schools about 10 years ago.  I love them because I find that for some of the kids on my caseload, they spend so much time working 1:1 with grownups that they lose out on opportunities to play with their peers outside of the classroom and may present with difficulties playing games appropriately.  I am lucky enough to work in an office with other occupational therapists and speech therapists.  If the kids are appropriate for one another, we will put aside some time to play a game together; this is great for all those involved.  For parents who want to encourage their children to play together more peacefully, this game is perfect!  Sometimes parents tell me they have a hard time letting their kids play games together because it leads to so much fighting and upset when somebody loses.  This could be a good solution to the sibling game-playing blues.

In addition to what I already talked about, here are a few more goals that can be worked on while playing Stack Up:

Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-this is a fun way to work on eye-hand coordination without the kids even realizing they are working on it!  My favorite kind of that can be super fun but help reach some of those occupational goals.  A child requires eye-hand coordination to put the stick in the hole of the block and then they need to carefully look at where the block goes and how to stack it on top of the other without it toppling over.  Sounds easy but when you have kids do it at the same time, it can be quite tricky for them.
Improve Frustration Tolerance-cooperative games are a good way for kids to work on improving their frustration tolerance.  Not just towards an activity, but in regards to working with another child. This is such an important skill for kids to develop but not always an easy one to work on.  Children who have good frustration tolerance will most likely play better with their friends.  

Improve Color Recognition/Matching Skills-another great aspect about this game is that you can use it for younger children who are still in the early stages of learning their colors.  As you spin the spinner, you land on 1 of 4 colors; you can use this as an opportunity to not only learn colors but to work on matching and sorting colors.  For younger children who aren't quite ready to play the game, you can use the opposite side of the board and have them sort colors onto the right colored square.
Improve Social Skills-I find it is very difficult to teach a child the importance of team work and not always having to be the winner.  So many of the children I work with think that if they win, they are the best.  I love that the concept behind this game, and all cooperative games, is that the way to win is by working together and making decisions as a group, not just on your own.  There are a lot of collaborative games out there but many are geared towards older children and, oftentimes, don't always hold the interest of the kids.  I love that this is easy to understand and even easier to adapt for whatever the group of children are able to handle.  This game is also good for encouraging conversation amongst friends which many of my kids need to work on.
Improve Motor Planning-depending on how you play the game, you can add a physical component to the game.  If you land on a challenge when you spin, you pick up a card with some kind of physical challenge (the whole group should perform this).  For example, my favorite challenge is to do a jumping jack and freeze in a legs open position.  The kids found this to be really funny and we were able to work on a skill that is sometimes hard for them.  Other challenges include standing on one foot, giving a friend a high five and holding it for 5 seconds or making silly faces.  All of these things may sound easy to you but for children with motor planning difficulties, it can be quite challenging and they may avoid trying it.  This game motivates the kids to try it in a really fun way.

I am really excited about trying this game out with the kids signed up for my social skills group in the fall.  I am also anxious to check out a few more of the games that Peaceable Kingdom has created.  The other cooperative games they have on their website look like they will be a lot of fun as well. In addition to more cooperative games, they have regular board games, card games and sticker sets.  I'm impressed not only with the quality of the product but with the thought that has been put into creating the game.  I am sure their other games and products will prove to be equally as wonderful.

Do any of you have cooperative games that you can recommend to me and my readers?  I would love to start the fall with a few new games to use during my sessions at the gym and also for my social skills groups.  Please share your ideas with us all!  While this game is targeted towards the younger kids, I also work with older children both in my private practice and at The Meeting House and would love a few more games for that population.

As always, I love hearing from my readers and am just a click away.  Looking forward to hearing your ideas and suggestions for other fun and motivating cooperative games.

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