Friday, March 6, 2015

Game On!

Last week I talked about how I was pretty much bored of all of the apps and toys I have been using since September.  It's not that they aren't fun or have lost their therapeutic value, it was just that I needed a change and something new to motivate the kids I work with.  I am pretty sure I heard some sighs and saw some rolling of the eyes in the last few weeks as I pulled about Barnyard Bingo and Whac-A-Mole!  I spent some quality time with Amazon and found a couple of great games by Educational Insights that have been a hit with the kids at work.  
First of all, I'd like to take a moment to talk about this company.  There isn't one thing that they have created that I haven't loved.  All of their games are fun, motivating and incredibly well made which means that they can handle the wear and tear of lots of kids handling and playing with them at the gym I work with.  As an occupational therapist, I adore that the games all have a fine motor component to them and can be graded to make it appropriate for pretty much any child on my caseload.  I don't have any of their actual toys, but as I was searching through their collection, I found many things that I will be adding to my collection very soon.  For example, check out these two drill sets:  Design & Drill Dazzling Creation Studios and Design & Drill BrightWorks.  I know a lot of kids who would flip out over these!

The two games that I picked up this week have been a hit amongst all the kids I have tried them with.  They have provided a just right challenge while working on a lot of different occupational therapy goals.  

Crazy Cereal-this electronic game is a fast-paced, exciting 2-player game that requires kids to match colors.  The game consists of 3 bowls (two small bowls for each kid to collect their cereal pieces and one large one to be placed in the middle for all the cereal pieces).  Each child grabs a bowl and a spoon, turns their spoon on and let the cereal grabbing begin.  The spoon lights up different colors and the child is expected to pick up whatever color it flashes one at a time.  Every once in a while, the spoon goes crazy and flashes all different colors at which point they can pick up two pieces of any colored cereal at a time.  I have modified the game for younger kids by not having them turn the spoon on (it moves pretty quickly) but by calling out the color that I want them to pick up instead.  Great game for working on color recognition and matching.  In addition that the aforementioned, Crazy Cereal works on the following occupational therapy skills:
Improve Bilateral Coordination Skills-great for working on using two hands in a coordinated manner.  As the kids are collecting the cereal, they need to hold onto the spoon with one hand and the bowl with the other.  
Improve Fine Motor Skills-once the kids have completed the game and have collected as many pieces of cereal as possible, I like to have them put the cereal back in the big bowl using a pair of Zoo Sticks.  This is great for working on grasp strength and manipulation skills.  
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-kids must look at their spoon and watch for what color it will turn before picking up their cereal.  I have to remind the kids quite often to look at the spoon after they collect each piece of cereal as the spoon changes color pretty quickly.
Improve Executive Functioning Skills-this game requires a tremendous amount of focus and attention in order to be successful.  If they aren't keeping their eyes on the spoon in between turns, they will often pick up the wrong color.  They also have to remember to pace themselves and only pick up one (or two) pieces of cereal at a time.  This requires them to regulate and be in control of their actions, which can be quite challenging when kids are excited and really want to win!  For older kids who are working on sequencing and organizing their work, you can have them read the directions and then tell the other kids the rules of the game.  
Improves Social Skills-while this game can be played independently but is way more fun playing with a friend.  It works on promoting good sportsmanship, especially learning how to be a good winner and loser!

Pancake Pileup-when I saw this game, I was sold by the fact that it was a physical game that got kids up and moving around the gym.  This has been a long, cold and snowy winter and so many of the kids I work with who benefit from running around outside have spent a lot more time sitting inside.  This game is not only great for occupational therapy but also for improving gross motor skills.  It is a fun movement game that has kids copy stacks of different flavored pancakes shown on a card.  Using a spatula, kids have to pick up the correct pancake and walk them over to their plate.  The child who finishes theirs first without making a mistake is the winner.  Depending on the age/skill level of the children playing, you can have them each pick up their own card or have them do the same card.  This is another one of those great games that can be adapted to be appropriate for all children.   I also love it because it can be done in a group as small as two but can also be done in classrooms or small social skills groups.  In addition to what has already mentioned, Pancake Pileup can work on the following occupational therapy goals:
Improve Eye-Hand Coordination-kids need to use eye-hand coordination as they scan the pile of pancakes for the correct pancake, as they pick up the pancake with the spatula and also when they are placing it on the plate.  
Improve Motor Planning-I've really enjoyed watching the physical therapists I work with play this game with the children they are working with.  They have been using it with just one child so they can be a little more creative.  While this game works on balance and coordination, it can also be played while doing a simple obstacle course.  Or you can play it while having a child walk across a balance beam or while stepping on stepping stones.  The kids have to be mindful of the obstacles that have been created.  
Improve Focus and Attention-the point of the game is to get your pile of pancakes stacked up as quickly as possible without dropping them from your spatula.  Kids need to focus on maintaining their attention to what they are doing because if they start looking around and drop the pancake off the spatula, they will have to start again.  
Improve Social Skills-great game for working on building sportsmanship, especially how to be a good winner or loser.  If playing in a larger group, you can work on teaching kids how to be part of a team, how to cheer their friends on and how to build up tolerance for others when they mess up. If you have a small group of kids, this is a great game to do relay-race style to work on taking turns and work as a team.  

It's so great when you find games that can be used in both therapeutic and social environments.  These are just two of many of the great games by Educational Insights.   When parents ask me for suggestions on what they can do with their children at home, I'm always happy to give them games and activities that can work on achieving our goals in a fun and stress-free way.  I love when kids are so comfortable with a game that they are able to tell the rest of their family how to play it.

Do you have any great new games that you like to recommend to families?  I'm still on the lookout for a few more new and exciting things to do at work and would especially love some more games that get the kids up and moving since this crazy weather has kept a lot of kids stuck inside for days on end!  I'm always a click away and love hearing from you all.

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