Friday, October 16, 2015

Let's Build These Cars and Take Them For a Test Drive

As the holiday season approaches, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for hot toys and games to add to this year's gift guide.  Parent are already asking me what they can get their children and what they can suggest that others get them.  While parents want to get things that their kids want and will like, they also interested in getting things that will help them reach some of their therapeutic goals.

I've always been a fan of Legos and have quite the collection that I use at home and at work.  For some of the older kids on my caseload, working with Legos can be motivating and get them to work on a number of skills.  They are great for working on increasing hand strength and improving manipulation skills, which  is important for handwriting, cutting and all kinds of other academic activities.  It helps with executive functioning skills, especially improving organization, problem solving and focus and attention.  At the end, the kids have a final product that they have built themselves and there is a tremendous amount of pride.

Many of the kids I work with are under the age of 5 and have significantly decreased grasp strength and poor fine motor skills.  Therefore, regular Lego sets are typically not appropriate for them and end up causing more harm and frustration than good.  In the past few years, Lego has expanded their Duplo products and there are some pretty amazing ones to choose from.  The other day, I was looking around and stumbled upon the Creative Cars set.  First of all, I was impressed with the affordable price tag of $20.  The set comes with 40 different colored blocks in a variety of shapes, including windows, sirens and other truck parts.  With those 40 Duplo blocks, you can create tons of different cars and trucks, including a dump truck, a police car or a tow truck.  The set comes with a poster that shows you all the different things you can make.  The best part is that the pictures are big and make it very easy to follow the directions.  Depending on the child you are working with, you can make something small and simple or bigger and more complicated.  I like that most of the cars and trucks use less than 10 pieces (most of them are closer to 5 or 6 blocks) so they can complete them in a short amount of time.  After the kids have built all the different vehicles, you can ask them to try and create their own.  If you have kids who need to work on being more creative, you can put a handful of pieces in front of them and have them come up with their own creation.  

Some of the other occupational therapy skills that can be worked on using the Duplo Creative Cars set are:
Improve Grasp Strength-as previously mentioned, all Legos, no matter the size, are great for working on increasing grasp strength and making those little muscles in the hands stronger.  Many of the kids I work with tend to avoid working with manipulative kinds of toys because they are hard for them so it's important that I find things that are interesting and exciting to them.  I've only been using these for a couple of days, but I can tell you that the kids are loving them and asking to build more and more cars instead of giving up after just one.  

Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-building with Duplos are great for working on bilateral coordination/using two hands together during activities.  For so many of my little kiddos at work, this is a difficult thing for them.  I spend a lot of my time telling kids to use both hands.  Even with blocks and other manipulative toys, I watch kids not use two hands and they get frustrated because the blocks aren't sticking together.  Bilateral coordination is important for so many things, including handwriting, cutting and other academic activities.  It's important to find motivating ways to work on this skill, and this car set is proving to be very motivating!
Improve Visual Motor/Perceptual Skills-as I mentioned earlier in this post, the set comes with a poster with pictures of all the different cars and trucks that you use as a reference when building with the blocks.  This is great for kids to work on improving their visual skills, such as visual tracking and visual perceptual skills.  Kids have to be able to look through and scan the big pile of blocks to find what they need to build the car or truck of their choice.  Once they have all their pieces gathered, they need to be able to be able to look at the diagram and figure out what pieces go where.  It can be tricky sometimes because some of the pieces look really similar so I have the kids double check their pieces before they begin building.
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-there are so many executive functioning skills that can be worked on when building with this Duplo set.  First of all, being able to follow the directions and maintain their attention is very important in order for children to be successful when building their cars and trucks.  They also need to be able to sort and organize their blocks before building.  Sometimes kids can frustrated when things aren't easy and give up easily.  Being able to ask for help instead of giving up and getting upset is a really important skill that can be worked on as well.  
Improve Social Skills-these cars are great for working on improving social skills with younger children.  I had a small group of 3 boys playing with them yesterday and it was fascinating to watch them work together to build cars and then play with them.  The great thing about this set is in addition to being able to build cars and trucks, you can build a gas station so you can expand play skills at the same time.  In my social skills group, I had the kids build a garage using Magna-Tiles which they thought was really fun.  Using the Creative Car set with a group of kids will help them work on sharing, compromise and working together to build something.  This can be a difficult thing for kids and is something that's important to work on so they can be socially successful in a classroom setting later on.

While I have only had this Creative Cars set for a few days, it has been a popular activity amongst all the kids on my caseload.  When I told one mom that her son had played with the Duplo blocks for almost 10 minutes, she didn't believe me.  "My kid doesn't play with Legos, Meghan." I think that the building of vehicles and then being able to play with them are highly motivating for the kids.  If you wanted to add another level of play to this, you could get this Road PlayTape and have the kids set up a course for their vehicles to drive along.  There are so many things that you can do with the vehicles once they are built.  As I mentioned earlier, you don't have to just make the vehicles that they have pictured on the poster.  Sometimes kids need to be able to think outside of the box and become more creative in their play.  Have them build vehicles and tell stories about them.  Have them give the vehicle a name, a magic trick it can do or a place they are going to go on some kind of magical adventure.  Being able to be imaginative and tell stories is a really difficult but important skill for kids, even preschoolers.

Whether you use these with an individual child or a group of children, there is so much that you can do with the Creative Car set by Duplo.  While they are having fun, you can be happy knowing that they are working on developing a ton of skills that will help them become stronger and more confident little people!

Be sure to check out your local toy stores (I found mine at Mary Arnold Toys on the Upper East Side of Manhattan) before going to Amazon or the other big box stores.

If you have any questions, I am only a click away and love hearing from you all!

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