Old-Timey Fun = Therapy

Old Time Fun Therpay Shannon May Blog Intro



Old-Timey Fun = Therapy

by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP,

on the ATandOT Blog



In over three decades of being a mother and occupational therapist, I have seen such a drastic shift in the amount and type of play that children in our country participate in today. With the summer school break not too far away, I wanted to share some insights and resources regarding the importance of play, and in particular, older time-honored classic games and activities you can share with your children to help improve their overall fine and gross motor skills, upper body strength and coordination, handwriting skills, memory skills, and social interaction abilities.  Parents are always asking me for activities to do at home with their children who receive occupational therapy and are excited to hear about some of these tried-and-true activities that can help their child developmentally.

There has been a great deal of buzz in the media in recent years about the vital role that play, outdoor play, and recess provide to children. With an eye on evidence-based practice, this is an intriguing study published by the JAMA that identified that about half of the preschoolers in their study did not have even one parent-supervised outdoor play opportunity per day. There is one school district in Texas that has quadrupled recess to research the benefits to students.   My peer blogging buddy, Marie Toole (School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists) recently posted an excellent blog about incorporating sensory breaks and movement throughout the school day.  Another great article noted the challenges facing the current crop of “helicopter” parents’ in allowing their children to simply play outside and understanding that these skills are critical for childhood development.

As an OT that has specialized in school-based therapy, I have seen such a decrease in both typical and special needs children’s ability to hold a pencil using a correct, functional pencil grip and in overall legibility with handwriting.  Some of the reasons for the poor grip and messy handwriting may possibly include the decreased time that children are playing outside, the increased time spent indoors using a variety of technology, the lack of time children are “non-scheduled” with afterschool activities, the increase in finger foods which do not require the use of utensils, and the lack of participation in games and activities that promote fine and gross motor coordination (such as old-timey activities and games).

As a child in the 60’s, I spent hours and hours outside riding my bike, practicing clapping games with my friends, and playing hopscotch.  My four children, raised in the 80’s and 90’s did spend a lot of time outdoors, yet not as much as my generation, playing on their non-motorized scooters, riding in their “cozy” car, and jumping rope.  Yet, my four grandchildren, aged 2-8, spend so much less time outside playing; and if they do, they may be in a motorized car, playing briefly with balls, or on their swingset (if their parent is available to watch them).  I do think that there is an increased fear that parents now have about their child’s safety and they are fearful to let them out of their sight.  When my grandchildren do come to stay with Mimi and Poppa, we make a concerted effort to never have the TV on and to work hard at interacting and playing with them both inside and outside.


Hula Hoop
Hula Hoop


Fortune Teller
Fortune Teller









Here are some classic games and activities to play with the children in your life along with some potential developmental benefits of each. If you don’t remember how to play some of them, just check out Pinterest or the internet as there are many great resources available (Here is a link to my Pinterest board “Old Timey Fun=Therapy.”


Activity Gross Motor Fine Motor Motor Planning Bilateral Skills Strength/


Visual Motor  Social Skills Sensory Skills Perceptual/Memory
Hula hoops and Skip bo x x x x
Hopscotch, Croquet, ring toss, bocce ball x x x x x x x x
Jump rope, chinese jump rope, and limbo x x x x x x x
Clapping games, string play x x x x x x x
Pick up sticks, Tiddly Winks, Jacks, marbles, Potato head x x x x
Card games: Old Maid, Go Fish, War, etc x x x x x
Games: Red light/green light, charades, Simon Says, Hokey Pokey, Hot Potato, Hide and Seek, Duck-Duck-Goose, Musical Chairs x x x x x x x
Bubbles, giant bubbles x x x x x
Ball play, obstacle courses x x x x x x
Origami, fortunetellers x x x x x x
Playdough, paper dolls, cutting dough x x x x x x
Washing their bikes, toy cars or helping their parents wash and dry their cars x x x x x
Sensory play and tasks with gardening, playing in the dirt, water play, sidewalk chalk, water balloons x x x x x x x


So put down the phone, remote, or tablet yourself as a parent or loved one.  Make the effort to spend time playing with the special children in your life and it will help them with their overall development too. The bottom line is that these games and activities are FUN and that is why they are treasured classics.



Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATPMolly Shannon, OTR/L, AT , is an occupational Therapist with 33 years’ experience and  currently working in the public schools as a school-based Occupational Therapist in NC. She has specialized in the provision of Assistive Technology for 29 of those years and is RESNA certified as an Assistive Technology Professional. In addition, Molly is an Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in the Master’s Program teaching Therapeutic Adaptations/Assistive Technology in OT. She loves to present and train others in Assistive Technology and has been a national-level conference presenter since 1989.  She has worked with clients of all ages and with a wide range of disabilities in public/private school settings, non-profit educational/therapeutic agencies, outpatient/inpatient rehabilitation, and with the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program.  You can connect with Molly on Twitter sitePinterest Boards, or her ATandOT Facebook page.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  

Photos are the property of the author and should not be used without her expressed permission.  

Old-Timey Fun = Therapy

5 thoughts on “Old-Timey Fun = Therapy

  1. Dana Cappel says:

    Hi Molly Love this post. Can I share it on Facebook? Dana

    Dana Cappel Occupational Therapist Technology Consulting Center Beit Issie Shapiro


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lei Satele says:

    Thank you so much for posting this important message!! I am servicing in an area where adult supervision play is nil because the parents are working two to three jobs and environment is cramped and unsafe! My best memories are hanging out with the block kids, riding bikes, playing games on the concrete sidewalk, playing at the playground and playing croquet in the front lawn of another block kid’s house. I am going to incorporate games from my childhood to my schools! They don’t know what they are missing out on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lei, I’m glad you agree and see the value of the old-Timey games and activities. Once pointed out to parents in meetings, it is often a lightbulb moment! Thanks for taking the time to respond.


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