Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Screen Free Summer Fun

Last week, I blogged about a bunch of apps that would be good for kids to use during the summer.  I know, and totally respect, that technology and screen time aren't for everyone (you can see that post here).  There are too many kids who get sucked into the games and have a hard time pulling themselves away from an iPad so sometimes it's just easier for those kids to not use it at all.  I know that there are some kids who just do better with more hands on activities for learning.  This post will focus on activities, games and toys that can be used this summer to help kids work on maintaining what they worked on during the school year in therapy and school.

Many of the things I will suggest below are ones that I have written about before but are ones that I think would be great for the summer.  I have tried to find things that don't take up a lot of room for those of you who will be traveling and don't want to bring things that are heavy or take up a lot of room.  The most important thing is that everything I suggest has been kid tested and approved.

Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-one of my absolute favorite activities to do with my kids at work.  These are also one of the first things I recommend to parents who are looking for an easy but therapeutic art activity to do with their children at home.  When I first discovered Sticky Mosaics, there were only a few sets to choose from.  Now you can find dozens and dozens to choose from which means there is a set that will be right for whatever your child is interested in.  I stumbled upon this awesome Dragon set which was a HUGE hit amongst my older boys more interested in scary and more "boy" like things.  The goal of each mosaic is to match the different colored square and gem stickers to the the number associated with it.  There are different kinds of sets for younger/toddler kids which require the kids to match larger stickers that are varying colors and shapes.  No matter what set your child chooses, this is great for working on developing fine-motor skills, increasing grasp strength, improving bilateral coordination, focus/attention and eye-hand coordination.  Each set typically comes with 4 or 5 different pictures to complete and plenty of stickers to complete them.  For those of you who will be traveling, take all the pieces and throw them in a ziploc bag.  The box it comes in takes up a lot of space and could be annoying to travel with.  Take that away and you have a very lightweight activity that won't take up space in a travel bag and will occupy your kids for hours!

Boogie Board-the Boogie Board has been around for a while but it's only been in the last year or so
that it has become a staple not only at my office but in my work and personal bag.  This lightweight writing tablet is perfect for keeping kids busy while in the car, plane or at the beach/pool.  They can practice writing letters, draw pictures or play games against their friends (Hangman, Tic-Tac-Toe or the Dot game). Like I have already mentioned, the Boogie Board is lightweight and takes up very little room in a bag making it a perfect thing to pack.  I encourage parents to use the Boogie Board in conjunction with an iPad if they are working on handwriting apps; first they can practice the letter on the iPad and then practice using the Boogie Board.  If you are concerned about how much paper your kids waste when playing games, this is perfect because no paper is required!  Some people have mentioned that the stylus that comes with the board is a bit too thin for their kids.  If this is the case for your kids, there are a lot of pencil grips that can fit right onto the stylus which will make using it easier for those little hands.

Uno Dare-I just found this new version of the classic game Uno the other day.  I have loved Uno forever and always have a full set in my bag of tricks for work.  Uno is great for working on so many things:  color and number recognition, eye-hand coordination, focus, attention, social skills, executive functioning and several other things.  One of the things I like most about Uno is that it can easily be adapted to suite the level of different children.  For example, when I am just teaching a child how to play, I remove all of the extra cards and focus on mastering the concept of matching the numbers or colors.  As kids become more comfortable, I slowly introduce the extra cards.  I find that kids, especially those who may have some learning difficulties, end up being more successful when you play it this way.  So, back to Uno Dare.  The game is essentially the same but they have added a more physical/gross motor aspect to the game.  On the wild and choose 2 cards are put down, opponents have the option of taking the number of cards or doing a dare.  They get kids up and moving around which I have found really helps with focus and attention.  Some of the dares are jumping like a bunny rabbit until your next turn, holding a card against the wall with your nose until your next turn or having to try and blow just one card off the top of the deck.  It's fun to watch the kids get into the dares that are provided.  I am excited to try this with one of my social skills groups and have them come up with their own dares for their friends!

Thumbs Up-I'm always excited to see new games by Blue Orange Games.  I was in an Upper East Fantastic Kids Toys,  and one of the employees there suggested I try out Thumbs Up.  It's become a fast favorite of mine and every kid that I have used it with at work.  Like all the other games/activities I have written about, I have included this on a summer list because of how light and easy it is to travel with. Take it out of the box, throw it in a ziploc bag and you can throw it in a travel could be a great game for a plane ride or family game nights when on vacation.   Thumbs Up is a fast-paced game that works on improving visual skills such as visual motor, visual perceptual, visual tracking and visual attention.  It can also work on improving color and number recognition.  The game consists of 4 different colored rings and a stack of cards; the cards all have fun pictures with numbers and colors.  The point of the game is simple:  each player is given 8 rings (2 of each color), the cards are placed in the middle of the group and each player takes a card.  The first person to correctly put their rings on their thumb in the order wins that round.  The first person to get 5 cards is the winner of the game.  For a game to be a true winner for me, it's important that it be easily adaptable for kids of different ages and cognitive levels.  Thumbs Up is great because you can sift through the cards and finds one that will be appropriate for younger children.

Discovery Putty-Fun and Function now has 4 different putty sets for you to choose from.  I happen to have all four at the gym I work at which makes it fun for the kids as they get to do something new and different every session.  Their job is to find all the animals, sweet treats, vehicles or school supplies hidden in the putty.  While doing this, they are working on building up their fine motor skills, especially grasping skills and hand strength.  Once they have found all of the objects, they can hide them for the next person to try and find them.  Unlike regular theraputty, kids are more motivated by the kid-friendly colors and objects hidden inside.  I love how much conversation can be had while finding the objects.  For children who are also working on language skills, be sure to ask them about each found object, what it does, how it is used, how it tastes, etc..  Like many of the other things already written about, the containers of putty are lightweight and won't take up much room in a bag.

Usborne Activity Books-while I find it is important to rest and relax over the summer, I also think it Lots of Things to Find and Color and it is still my favorite.  Each page is filled with a new might be a page filled with fairies or an ocean filled with fish.  On each page, there are several rules for the kids to follow.  For example, on that page of fairies, you have to spot all the fairies with a wand and color them a certain color.  Another great one is the Usborne Big Color by Numbers Book.  This is better suited for older kids and requires that kids recognize their numbers.  There is a lot of coloring to do on each page so it requires attention, focus and coloring endurance.  The completed pictures are really fun and the kids truly feel like they have accomplished something once they have completed it.  For kids who are struggling to learn how to draw, I have found that the Usborne Big Drawing Book to be really motivating and successful.  A child is taught how to draw animals, objects and people step-by-step in a visual and easy to follow way.  I will have the kids practice the steps first on a Boogie Board and once they feel confident, have them draw in the book.  They are encouraged to add their own details, color them in the way they want to and really make the picture their own.
These are just 3 of the dozens and dozens of activity books by Usborne.  Next time you are in Barnes and Noble, or any bookstore for that matter, look through their selection and find the book that's right for your kid.  Any of their books are perfect for keeping your kids entertained and learning on long car/plane rides.  They will keep meals out from being a dreaded experience for you all!  Most import
is important for the kids I work with to spend some time focusing on the skills that we worked on so hard all year long.  I don't want kids to be drilled with flash cards or asked to spend time every day doing boring workbooks...that's not what summer should be about.  What I would like is for kids to spend some time working on fine motor, handwriting and drawing skills in a fun way.  There are so many great activity books out there....spend some time at a local bookstore or a Barnes and Noble and you will easily get lost in all of your options.  I discovered the magic of Usborne books a couple of years ago when on the hunt for something new and different to get my kids motivated to color.  The first book I discovered was the

Magnetic-Go Hangman-when traveling with older kids, it's important to have lots to entertain them.  From my personal experience, no matter how complicated or mature those kids are, it doesn't take a crazy amount of energy to entertain them.  Hangman is one of those classic games that can keep even the most high maintenance of kids entertained.  I was killing time the other day between clients and found this fantastic magnetic hangman game.  I've already played it with a few of my kids and it's great.  The kid I happened to play this Hangman game with is someone who has a difficult time with coming up with an idea....she needed a lot of support to come up with words and organize her work in order for us to play this game.  If playing this game with a typically developing child, the sky is the can explain the rules of Hangman and run with it.  What I have found to be helpful for the kids I work with is that you (the therapist/grownup) start the game off by being the person to choose the word that the kid has to guess.  Give them a clue about what your word is....for example, you say something like "This is something I like to eat" or "this is something you play on in the playground". I have actually used a Boogie Board and have the kids write their word on that so they can refer to it as their opponent is guessing letters so they can easily figure out if a letter is in the word and where it goes.  This game is recommended for kids ages 5 and older but really should be for kids who are reading and writing.  I have a pretty smart 5 year old but she wouldn't be able to play this game successfully.  The best thing about this game is that it's compact, lightweight and won't take up space.  It doesn't need to be turned off during takeoff and landing.  It's great for problem solving, improving social skills, visual motor/perceptual skills and literacy skills.

Spot It Games-I've been a fan of the Spot It games by Blue Orange Games forever.  Truth be told, I love any game that can be played quickly, with few rules and guarantees a lot of fun.  Added bonus with all of the Spot It games are that they come in a cute little tin and take up almost no room at all in your bag.  You can't go wrong with any of the Spot It games.  My princess loving 5 year old really loves the Frozen and Princess Sofia editions that came out earlier this year but if have a sports loving kinda kid, there are lots to choose from as well.  There are several ways to play Spot It but whatever way you choose to play, you will work on improving visual motor/perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, focus and attentional skills and social/pragmatic skills.  There are several ways to play the game and I tend to encourage the kids I work with to decide on the rules they want to play by before starting play.  Great to play in a group of two or as a whole family which makes it perfect to take on summer vacations.

OgoDisc -I include the OgoDisc on my Holiday Gift Guide each year.  It's a great outdoor game (and indoor if you have the right space).  We use it at The Meeting House and at Head's Up (the therapeutic gym I work at in New York City) with some of our older kids to work on gross motor, sensory motor and executive functioning skills.  Additionally, it's great for working on improving social skills, especially being a good sport, playing by the rules and sometimes, being part of a team.  OgoSport describes the OgoDisc is a hand trampoline that can be used to throw, catch and bounce balls back and forth.  They have several sizes and versions (with or without handles) but the point of the game is very simple:  see how many times you can catch and bounce the ball back to one or more people before it hits the ground.  One of my favorite things about this set is that it is lightweight and has a great grip for even the littlest of hands to easily grab onto it.  I have found that when I introduce this game to some of my kids, it's best to have them practice by themselves and see how many times they can (gently) hit the ball up and down without it falling to the ground; this gives them a sense of what is expected, how hard they need to hit it, the importance of keeping their eyes on the ball, etc.. As they get better and more comfortable, you can have them play with other kids.  This is a great family game.....perfect for taking on camping trips and vacations.  My daughter loves playing with us and I love watching her confidence grow as she gets better at catching and hitting the ball.

There is a lot here to keep you and your kiddos busy this summer that gets them away from an iPad, video games or any other screen.  Everything here has been kid-tested and therapist approved and can be perfect for taking on vacations.  I love that they will not only work on improving a ton of occupational therapy skills, but can help with improving social skills and encourage families to play together.  While I don't want kids to lose any of the skills that they worked so hard on all year, I also want to make sure that they get a chance to have fun, rest and have fun with their friends and family.  I have tried to suggest things that I thought could accomplish all of those things!

Do you have any games/toys that you love using at work or with your family?  I would love to hear from you about your family favorites, especially those that are great for traveling and taking on a long car/plane tripe.  I am always a click away and love hearing from you all!

Happy Summer to you all!  May it be filled with tons of opportunities to create some amazing memories.


  1. Great toy ideas. We love the ones you came up with. We would like to offer you another. KnuckleStrutz! You can check them out on

  2. Hi, Meghan, These are such a refreshing treasure chest of options for the summer. I especially like Hang Man and had not seen that version. Will definitely get one! And Thumbs Up! has certainly gained my thumbs up. A great impromptu activity to "take along."
    I wondered if you had received an email I sent to you via the address you provided here. It's an invitation to join me and other guest bloggers on a Techie Series I'm running in August. If you are interested, please check out my site at and let me know! I'd be honored to have you join us. Thanks for all of the wonderfully appy blogs you post! Katherine