One of the most common questions asked by parents, especially around the holidays, is what kind of games should they buy for home to support what we are addressing in occupational therapy. With the holidays rolling in, I thought it might be helpful to share with you my favorite games in different categories. This post will be focusing on games that help develop or promote gross motor skills. For those of you that don’t know, gross motor skills are essentially the big movements we make with our bodies. Think jumping jacks, using two hands together, hand eye coordination, etc. All of these games can be adapted to an appropriate developmental or skill level of the players. Therapists use adaptations and modifications all of the time and we call it “grading”. So we can downgrade the task to make it simpler or upgrade it to make it more complex. In addition to the game suggestions, I will also suggest a modification so that you can downgrade the games at home as needed.
This game comes with a resistive band with visual markers of where hands should be placed to hold the band. It also comes with a spinner to see which character you land on. Each character has a corresponding exercise that is explained further in the booklet. This game is great for upper body strengthening, body awareness, and coordination skills.
You can downgrade each exercise by performing the exercise first and then having your kiddo copy you!
A yoga game with a pirate twist! There are various cards with yoga poses you must copy – but they each have a picture of where the parrot should be placed on your body while in your yoga position. Don’t drop the parrot! This is great for motor planning, body awareness, coordination, and even impulse control (you have to manage your body in order for the parrot to stay in place)!
You can downgrade the game by helping kiddo get into position and then placing the parrot on a stable spot for them.
This classic toy is quick, simple, and great for many different skills. Bilateral coordination, upper body/shoulder strength, hand eye coordination, motor planning, rhythm, and even muscle force gradation! This is also good practice for moving eyes in and apart (called convergence and divergence). Imitate different animals like alligator chomps (alternating which hands are on top) or bird wings. Choose different places to stand like tall kneeling or one leg.
You can downgrade this by you being lower than your child which compensates for strength and coordination difficulties.
A classic game that most have in their gaming repertoire. This game is great for motor planning and coordination. It is HUGE for body awareness, proprioception, and left/right discrimination. Since you have to maintain your stance while playing, it also improves upper body and core strength which helps support fine motor skills as well. You can always “twist” the game up by using other body parts (ex. elbow, knee, head) or even speeding up the play with a lightning round!
Downgrades can be as simple as breaking down the task. For example, “Where is your right hand? Ok, place that on yellow!”. You could also give specific directions to assist with motor planning/moving their body in order to be successful. You can join in on the fun and model each turn as well.
Throw Throw Burrito
A creative game for you hand eye coordination and body awareness skills! This card game is a fast paced matching game with burrito throwing fun! Dodging the burritos includes motor planning and body awareness while throwing burritos includes hand eye coordination, muscle force gradation. bilateral coordination, as well as motor planning and body awareness!
Downgrade this game by designating matching times and burrito throwing times so that full focus can be on each respective task with less chaos for younger kiddos.
A gross motor game for your younger kids is the classic Hot Potato! Just like in the old school game in which you toss the potato around until someone yells STOP – this hot potato plays music. While the music plays, players toss the potato frantically to the next player. Whoever is holding the potato when the music stops is out! This game helps with hand eye coordination, bilateral coordination, trunk rotation (assuming you’re tossing it around a circle of participants), and muscle force gradation. Not to mention the added benefit of auditory discrimination by focusing on the music and the motor task of throwing!
You can downgrade this simple game by giving a visual or verbal cue once the music stops to help kiddos understanding that the tossing is paused. You can sit while tossing rather than standing and you could also be closer together for tossing or even roll to participants based on skill level.
Our hope is that this post gives you ideas for gifts or even fresh ways to play with games you already have! Ask your occupational therapist for specific recommendations for your child and family.
-Caitlin Sanschagrin, MS, OTR/L