Friday, May 23, 2014

This Tree Doesn't Need To Be Watered!

One of my favorite things to do is re-discover a favorite toy or game at work.  I'm sure you toy lovers (aka hoarders!) know what I am talking about.  You play a game multiple times a day with all different kinds of kids.  These are the games that are fun for the kids but also work on occupational therapy goals in a way that makes it not seem like work.  They are often simple and don't require a lot of reading to figure out how to play the game properly.  They are the games that rules can be changed and adapted based on a child's goals and needs.

Tricky Tree is one of those games for me.  I had lent it out a while ago and it was just returned to me a few weeks ago.  As soon as I got it back, I felt as though I had been reunited with an old friend.  We hadn't been together for a very long time but we picked up just where we left off!  Even better, it's a new game for so many of my kids at work and they are loving it!

Tricky Tree is a great game for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills.  The game is made up of leaves (clothespins) and branches and the goal is to make as big of a tree as you can before it falls over.  It is a great game for working on increasing grasp strength, improving in-hand manipulation skills and problem solving skills.  It can be used with preschoolers but also keep my older school age children motivated.  It can be played individually or with a group of children.   Best of all, it is a simple game and a ton of time does't have to be wasted explaining the rules of play.  The point of the game is simple:  try and build a tree using as high as you can without letting the tree fall over.  You take the clothespins and put them on the tree branches.  It requires a child to think about which side of the tree needs more leaves so it won't fall over.  For my younger children, I will work with them and figure out the best place for them to put the leaf.  For my older children who need to work on problem solving and organizational skills, I will talk to them about how to keep the tree balanced before they begin playing.  We talk about what happens if they put too many on one side of the tree and not enough on the other.  I will talk to them about balance and will sometimes try and compare it to their bodies....when they are carrying a super heavy backpack, they might feel like they will fall over.   I try and give them as few clues as possible while they are playing and hope that they will take their time and really think through what they are doing.

In addition to what I have mentioned above, the following occupational therapy goals can be addressed:

Improve Grasping Skills-this game was made for working on improving grasping skills.  Small clothespins to manipulate that act as leaves.  You need to use a pincer or three finger grasp to open the clothespins to not only put them on the branches, but to take them off at the end of the game.  For my younger children, I don't enforce the pincer grasp but for my older children, I always remind them to use the proper grasp.
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-Tricky Tree is great for working on encouraging bilateral coordination skills.  While one can try to play this game using one hand, they will have a truly difficult time being successful.  As you can see in the pictures, you need to pinch the clothespin with one hand and hold the tree steady with your other hand.
Improve Organizational Skills-if you have a child who needs to work on motor planning and organizational skills, this is a perfect game for them.  I like to have my kids sort the pieces into piles before beginning play to work on organizational skills.  All the leaves go in one pile, the two-point branches in another and the 3-point branches in a third pile.  I find that the more organized their work space is, the more organized their actual work will be.   To work on increasing hand strength, use a pair of zoo sticks to sort the different pieces into piles.
Increase Upper Extremity Strength-for older children who also need to work on building upper body strength, have them play this game while lying prone on the net swing.  You can place the clothespin leaves and the branches on the opposite side of where they are building so they have to walk on their hands more.  I always find that kids are more likely to spend more time on this swing when engaged in a fun and motivating activity.
Improve Social Skills-while this game can be played with just one child, it is even better when played with peers.  Part of being a good friend is not only being able to play games with peers, but learning how to be a good sport when you win or lose a game.  If you have enough kids (I would suggest 4 for this), you can put the kids in two teams and the kids have to work together to figure out how to put the tree together without it falling over.  They can work on problem solving together to figure out the best option for their moves so the tree doesn't topple over.

I love these simple, non-battery operated toys and feel like they end up being the most played with toys in my closet.  Some of my favorite games are beginning to change (and not necessarily for the better), so I love that games like Tricky Tree that won't ever change.  And if taken care of properly, it can last forever.

What are your favorite non-battery operated therapy games?  I would love to hear from all of you about what you are playing and more importantly, what games your kids love to play with.  I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!

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