Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Popping Good Time!

There are a few toys/tools that pretty much every occupational therapist and therapeutic gym has.  One of those are wrapper snappers or pop tubes.  This simple toy can bring endless hours of joy to kids and the therapeutic benefits are endless.  They are great for working on improving bilateral coordination, grasp strength, manipulation skills and problem solving and motor planning.  Kids love the funny sounds that they make as you push them together and pull them apart.  And you can be super creative and do lots of other fun things with them like make a marble run or use it as a slide for little toys to sort into different color containers.  The best part, they are inexpensive and easy to throw in a travel bag.

This past weekend, I was in my local toy store looking for a birthday present.  Imagine my surprise, okay, my childlike excitement when I found this amazing box filled with mini wrapper snappers and little plastic connecting pieces called Popoids.  Upon closer inspection, I discovered that Popoids was a popular toy in the late 70s/early 80s (my own childhood).  The toy is basically the same as the original one with some minor changes.  Each box comes with 60 pieces....36 pop tubes in a variety of colors and 24 connectors.  Don't get scared about that number of pieces....the box they come in is incredibly sturdy so you can use that as storage.  And if you want to keep your kids occupied on a long car ride, to take on vacation or eating out, you can pack a handful in a ziploc bag and throw them into your bag.  There are plenty of things your child can create with just a handful of the Popoids.

I am going to put this out there and say it might be one of the best toys I have purchased in a really long time.  In the week that it has been in my gym, just about every kid has used it and has had the best time.  One of the things that I am looking for in toys these days is that they encourage creativity in kids.  During the summer months, I want to not only work on meeting the IEP goals of kids, but also want to help kids think outside of the box and begin to use their imagination when building with different toys.  The best thing about this particular toy is that not only does it work on a bunch of occupational therapy goals, it encourages creativity and open-ended play.  There is no right or wrong which is a welcome change for so many kids who are used to having to do things just right in school or therapy.  Providing children with the opportunity to play with open ended materials such as Popoids help develop problem solving skills and enhances cognitive and executive functioning skills such as working memory, flexibility and self-regulation.

In addition to all that I have already mentioned, Popoids help work on the following occupational therapy skills:
Improves Grasp Strength/Manipulation Skills-pop tubes have been one of my go to finger/upper extremity strengthening activities since day one.  I have been using the smaller pop tubes from the Popoids set to "warm up" the muscles of the hands before kids do graphomotor activities.  The good thing is that the kids are having so much fun, they don't even realize they are doing work.
Improves Bilateral Coordination Skills-whether you are pulling the pop tubes apart or pushing them together, attaching pop tubes to each other or to the other pieces, kids have to use two hands.  For some of the kids I work with who have decreased upper extremity strength and shoulder stability, I have to really encourage them to not use their belly to stabilize/make this task easier.
Encourages Creativity-while there is a little guidebook to show you some of the things you can make with the Popoids, very vew of the kids that have played with them have wanted to use it.  They are having more fun building their own creations.  Whether it be a fireman hose, robots or a some kind of crazy alien, kids are choosing what they want to make and then they choose their pieces, put them together and then playing with them.  So in addition to improving creativity, it is encouraging open-ended play opportunities which many of the kids I work with don't get nearly enough time to do.
Improves Social Skills-I've had more fun watching the kids I work with play together and come up with something to build and then play with.  They have had to sometimes negotiate and be flexible about trying something different than they were thinking about making.  They have to share pieces or sometimes help their friend put the pieces together.  Once they are done creating their masterpieces, they can play together.

Here are a few other things you can do with the Popoids.
*have kids work on matching and sorting colors.  Make sure that you have them identify the colors as they sort them.
*for kids working on shapes, have them put together a few pop tubes and manipulate them into shapes.
What are some of your favorite open ended building materials?  I would love to hear from you about other great toys that will encourage and motivate creativity.  I am only a click away and love hearing from all of you.

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