Mr. Rodgers once said, “Play really is the work of childhood.” That a child’s “job” is to play is as true now as it was when he first spoke these words. Of course, I also believe children’s job description should include learning. Therefore, I will say the two primary jobs of a child are to play and learn. Through play, a child’s muscles will grow and develop (fine and gross motor muscles). The child’s visual motor, visual perceptual, the ability to complete dual action tasks including thinking and moving, attention, and overall cognitive abilities will also improve. This becomes the base for future academic and life success. In this sense, play becomes a child’s most important “career preparation.”
Sometimes parents and teachers become confused when they hear that their child is receiving occupational therapy. The word “occupation” makes them think that I plan to get their child a job. Of course, this may be the 20 year plan, but it is not my area of concern when they are young. As a profession, occupational therapists do believe that a major job of a child is to play, to do their activities of daily living (dressing, toileting, eating etc), and to be able to do various fine motor skills required to play, learn, and complete ADL. Therefore, if there is a disability impacting these areas, we are often brought in to provide specialized intervention/ treatment to help in their development. Within the therapeutic scope of trying to help improve a child’s development, we often use play. The great thing about this is that it means that I get to “play” as a part of my job! I often tell folks I do not have a desk job, but rather a floor job. It also means that I get to buy cool fun toys. However, I will add here that I really do not feel that one needs to spend a lot of money to help a child play, grow, and develop. Even though I may occasionally splurge and buy some toys at the fancy toy shops, this is not my norm. I encourage teachers and parents to not feel that they must buy expensive toys, but rather be creative and thrifty. In other posts, you will see how I do this, but today will be about my new toys for my toy box this school year.
And so here are my new toys that I had the fun of finding over the summer:
- Colored card stock paper that I found at Michael’s Craft Store. Card stock is easier for children to cut from than basic paper. To me, the basic paper is too flimsy for their hands to manage while cutting. Card stock is sturdier, but not too dense to cut through. Also, due to its size, construction paper generally will not go through photocopiers, whereas card stock allows be to photocopy designs for children to practice cutting.
- Fun stickers that can tell a story.
- Fun markers. I usually prefer for students to use crayons, pencils, and chalk because they give more “input” into the joints and works their muscles more. However, sometimes for the younger child (4K and younger), or for the child who cannot stand the feeling of the resistance of other drawing utensils, I will use markers.
- And my most loved item in this picture: Rainbow Pom-poms. I can do so much with just some fun small pom-poms!
Stacking Wooden Bear Puzzle by Melissa and Doug.
This was probably my big splurge toy this school year. I needed additional toys for my more involved children who have cerebral palsy and my medically complicated/ health impairment children. Stacking items is a critical skill for motor control and coordination of the arm. Being able to stabilize the muscles at your shoulder, to allow for motor movement, and control at your hand is critical for future fine motor skills. Therefore, the big thing to take from this toy is having various things for children to stack. I did find that the interlocking part of the bears were hard to use for my children with involved cerebral palsy, but I will adapt it for them. It is also an easy matching color inset puzzle board for kids too.
I found the Ogodisk H2O or Disk Paddle at Learning Express.
I will say here that Learning Express is currently my favorite “fancy” toy store. I can often find new things each time I visit the store. It is a really good thing that there is not one near me, or my pocketbook would be in trouble. Someone told me they did find this online at Dick’s Sporting Good’s store. Of course, I do not use a water balloon on it, but rather a Koosh ball. What type of therapeutic outcomes do I look for with this toy? First, it works the shoulder muscles. Again, strong shoulder muscles will allow for a more stable arm that will be better with cutting, drawing, writing, and fine motor skills. Your shoulder and core muscles are the “foundation” of your “house” as I often tell parents and teachers. A stable foundation makes for a stable roof. It is critical to get these muscles strong. I also like the motor planning required; you must think and move to play this game. That is awesome for a developing mind. Finally, I like that it requires both hands. When a child is able to use both hands together more effectively, that means that both sides of the brain are talking better to each other. Again, this is critical for brain and motor development.
I found Tangoes Classic at Toys & Co.
As a traveling OT, with a toy box that gets pulled from one school to another, the awesome thing for me about this toy is how compact it is. It is hard to see in the picture, but it is the perfect size for the traveling therapist. Now, I should admit that this is a purchase for my older regular education students that demonstrate visual perceptual delays. Right now, I am using it with a second grader and it is hard for him. I can only use the easiest cards and must use the back side of the card, which gives the student more visual cues. What is awesome about this toy? It works visual perceptual skills in various ways. These are important skills for being able to perceive how letters/ words/ sentences should look, but visual perception is also important for math skills and executive functioning of the brain.
Now this was a toy I was excited to find at a store: a Hoberman Sphere!
Once again, I found mine at Learning Express, but I do not see it on their website so here is another place: Hoberman Sphere I have wanted one of the these for yoga breathing and mindfulness techniques. Not only am I an occupational therapist, but I am certified in children’s yoga. I like to incorporate yoga concepts into some of my treatment sessions. This sphere is used as a visual for breathing exercises: “take a deep breath while you open the ball, blow out as you close the ball” My kids just seem to have a hard time understanding breathing techniques, especially how to do a controlled breath in and out, and this seems to help. Next to it, you see my bubbles. This is another way to work on breathing and mindfulness. The simple act of blowing bubbles usually brings a person’s brain to the “here and now” (aka mindfulness), forces controlled breathing without kids realizing, and just brings joy, which is always good for the mind! I will also state here that another easy toy to use to work on mindful breathing is a pinwheel for a student to blow on.
On the note of mindfulness, I will add this picture. A friend gave me these cards at the start of the school year. I do like the child friendly graphics. If my treatment areas had the space, I would love to put up just a few to give a low verbal child an ability to express how they are feeling to me.
This is the one and only fidget toy I bought this summer.
It is contained in the hand while a student can flip the metal pieces around each other. It is compact and not a big distraction. I will admit I bought this for my daughter but she prefered the fidget dodecagon that we bought at the end of the school year. I think either are perfect for an anxious student who has movement energy to burn. I will state it here: I generally do not like fidget spinners. I think – in the end – they have given fidget devices a bad name. They seem to distract students and impact the teacher’s ability to command the attention of the student, therefore, I am not an advocate for them. Sorry, but I said it.
Foam capital letters……
I happened upon these foam letters at Target and grabbed a bag; I wish I had grabbed two bags! I will use these letters in so many ways. Obviously to spell words, but I will also put a large field of these letters (smaller field if a child can’t handle that many letters) in various spots. I will use them with a child sitting or laying on a therapy ball, laying on a mat under my platform swing, or as part of an obstacle course. Using them this way, I will work various visual perceptual skills, visual scanning, dual action tasks, and working memory. I also often use capital letters with my kids since capital letters are easier to form than lower case letters. However, I do use these letters with students that are writing in capital &/ lower case letters. I might also mix them with lower case magnets I have.
The Pancake Pile-Up relay game.
I found this at Target on clearance, but then I found it even cheaper on Amazon. Basically, the game is that a child or team is given a card with a sequence of pancakes to pile up in the order shown. You use the spatulas to carry the item across an area to build the pancakes. I love this game because it is actually rare to find a game that addresses some of these areas in a fun way. This game will work on gross motor control/ coordination, which is the base for fine motor control. FM control also includes the ability to control letter size and placement. Again, shoulder stability = fine motor stability and success. It also works visual memory and visual sequencing. The dual action of the prior skills are required to remember how to spell words/ sentences and to write them down. They are also skills used in math. Again, it is critical for children to work on gross motor skills because they build up to many fine motor and visual motor / perceptual skills.
Finally, my last purchase from Learning Express.
- Faber Castle’s easy squeeze cutting scissors. I have not used them frequently in the past, so we shall see what I think. I am a big fan of Fiskar’s Spring loaded scissors. These can be hard to find, but I often see them at Walmart or Target at the start of the school year and then they are gone!
- Heart coloring pencils. I bought these because – if separated – they are small and would force a tripod grasp (because there is not enough space for more than 2-3 fingers to get on them) Again, I need to try these out.
- Training Chopsticks (you can also find these at nice cooking stores). They are for the higher level student, but are great to work on motor control and the tripod grasp.
Normally, I do not buy this many things/ toys over a summer break, but I shall admit that I was blessed with reimbursement money from my school district. I was allowed to spend it on things that I felt would benefit the students I serve. I know; I am a lucky girl.
I hope you find these pictures and information helpful. If you think it will help others please share.