As a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA/L) one of the really fun parts of my job is exploring and finding toys that engage our students! The majority of the students on my caseload are in the special education program. Their abilities range from mild to severely impacted, and my role is to help support their ability to function and participate in their academic programs.
I like to think that over the years I have developed a keen eye for spotting products that are beneficial for development. I can also see alternative ways to use the same product for students with different abilities. Read on to find out the top 10 products we utilize to help build the essential skills necessary for school success!
What kiddo doesn’t love a good ol’ game of hide and seek? Especially with the preschool students, I particularly love the visual-motor components of this game. This game allows me to work on matching, identification (colors, numbers, shapes), “put-in’s”, and even cause and effect! Add a little tummy time action and they are working on all of that visual-motor as well as core and neck strength, positioning, and overall endurance.
This fun train ride is particularly great for developing visual perceptual skills. The color coded pieces fit perfectly into each of the train cars, but it takes a little visual perceptual problem solving and manipulation which is great for our early learners! Not to mention, using their hands and fingers to place the pieces in carefully work on essential fine motor skills as well.
I absolutely love these little elephants as an addition to any sensory bin! Having kids feed the elephants beans, or using small pom poms to wash the elephants all work on important hand & finger manipulation skills. Not to mention, the kiddos love counting and connecting them while pretend playing in the sensory bins.
This color sorting magnet activity is such a great tool used to work on a white board. Playing in this position helps to develop shoulder strength and stability needed in so many of the daily tasks our students are expected to perform. Add the pieces to your favorite gross motor obstacle course to work on both visual motor and gross motor planning skills.
A staple in any school-based OT practice! These Gator Grabbers are a fun, motivating way to work on hand strengthening for students of all ages! We particularly love picking up spikey balls and pom poms as part of our “finger warm-ups” at the start of each of our therapy sessions!
This game is super versatile and can be adapted for use with students of a wide array of abilities. The pieces can be used to work on 1:1 correspondence as well as visual-perceptual building skills. With our older students, we like to do “challenge levels” where we flash the cards, and see how well they can rebuild from memory!
Gears are always a big hit and can easily be incorporated into any skill practice. Placing the pieces along the path of an obstacle course adds a fun visual-motor component to a gross motor activity. In addition, Putting the pegboard onto a slanted surface allows us to practice hand and arm positioning.
This magnet set is hands down my favorite new addition to my therapist toolkit! In the schools, we work on handwriting development A LOT and this set allows me to facilitate skill development from the prewriting strokes in preschool, all the way to letter formation and handwriting in elementary school! The most popular activity I do with this set is the “marker obstacle course”. We arrange all of the pieces across the board, and students travel through the course with their dry-erase markers! (Did I mention the pieces are all dry-eraseable? How amazing is that!) .
My absolute favorite thing to hide in putty! My favorite part of this dino digging activity is that they are working on strengthening their finger muscles. These Dino counters are also a great manipulative to add to sensory bins, as well as use with sorting trays. The possibilities are endless for all of the fine motor and visual motor skills!
The alpha pops are popular with the kiddos because they are fun and colorful. They are a simple tool to practice letter recognition and matching. One of my favorite activities is our popsicle delivery game. As the student sits at the top of a slide, we place the popsicles on both sides of their body. They must then scan and search for the popsicles as I call out letters or colors for them to find. Reaching for them and sliding them down helps with practicing crossing their midline which is a very important skill!W
We hope these toys inspire the little learners in your life!
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