“Toys are my life” as quoted from a four-year-old. And, I have to agree. Games and toys are important as they are all about the discovery and practice of new skills. Fine Motor development begins with a foundation of postural control so the arms and hands are free to practice the handling of manipulatives. Early experiences of weight shifting on the belly and crawling help support fine motor development as well as a variety of reinforcing activities to encourage continued play. Here are a few of our favorites. They are age old standards because of their potential for skill development – but mostly because they are fun. These are games you may have hidden away in a closet from your own childhood or ones that you can find at a local yard sale or mommy market.
Pop-Up Pirates by TOMY. This game facilitates bilateral integration, a lateral (key hold) pinch, and the ability to modulate force. This game is a keeper with little ones around. It is sooo much fun as gameplay revolves around sticking swords into a barrel with a pirate captured inside. Gameplay continues by pushing swords into the barrel until he pops out. All the elements of a great and fantastic game are inherent within for preschoolers. It contains a familiar theme of repetitive visual-motor action as well as intermittent surprises as the pirate pops out of the barrel. This game NEVER gets old for kids or parents. It is often on sale at local retailers or can be bought at Amazon. I have the Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Carribean model but I didn’t pay over $10.00 for it. It was just being in the right place at the right time – namely the local toy shop. Adaptations for scaffolding play can be to sort colors of swords, helping to hold the barrel as a child gains mastery of their ability to handle the swords and target holes, or fill the pop-up hole with candies or other small items and watch and grab them as they pop out of the hole.
Connect 4 by Hasbro is a classic game that can be found in any OT’s cabinet. Placing checkers into a vertical “grid” to try and get four across, down, or diagonal is the goal of the game, but it can be played with kids as young as two if you ditch all rules to the game and just plunk the checkers into the vertical grid. It teaches eye-hand coordination (targeting), strengthens arm, wrist, and hand muscles, and can be used to learn to take turns. Some adaptations we’ve made have been turning the grid so that kids with low vision or have difficulty targeting can see where to place the checkers in the slot or holding the completed grid to the light so that the checkers light up. This is very reinforcing (and pretty truth be told) to kids who are visually entertained. We also use the checkers as an opportunity to match, sort and take turns…”You chose the red ones, so I am going to use the yellow ones. At ISTE 2017 this year, I had the opportunity of playing on a GIANT connect four game – that contains all the possibilities for both gross and visual-motor development. It is currently on my wishlist from Santa this year!
Perfection by Hasbro is a favorite for kids that have eye-hand coordination in place and need a little more challenge by adding spatial orientation and refinement in grading their force to target objects accurately. In addition, practicing a neat pincer grasp, as well as in-hand manipulation skills, are what makes this game rock. The focus of the game is to match a shape and place it into its corresponding hole (positive space to negative space). There are many versions of this game including the number of shapes to match to a board, some with abstract geometric shapes and some with familiar shapes. Kids of all ages love the included timer – and it’s best to anticipate the spillage. Adaptations include: allowing for prior practice by handling the manipulatives, targeting them to a container or pre-made sheet including labels for the name of the shape), and setting the shapes up to assist with increased ability to identify and target each of them.
All of these games can be found just about anywhere – from a drugstore to Grandma’s game cupboard. They are all sure winners for both family fun and skill development in your little ones. They are a big part of my therapy toolbox, and come highly recommended.