by Stacy Turke, OTR/L
“Just where DO you get all that amazing therapy equipment you use?”
As a School OT, I hear that ALL. THE. TIME. See, in my job, I get to play…er, work…with kids most of the time, and although we have important therapeutic goals we are working on, we have to make it fun and meaningful for the students or we will get nowhere fast. I always have a bag full of fun, enticing materials and equipment that I carry in and out of the schools I serve because I want kids to think, “Wow that looks like FUN!” There are all kinds of great companies that sell therapy stuff like alternative seating options, adapted writing tools and grips, specialized writing paper, mats to encourage reluctant eaters, and things like that, and I do use those catalogs and websites. But honestly, most of what I use during sessions with students I get at local stores, like Target.
This is not an advertisement for Target. I’m not an affiliate…I’m just a big time Fan. With a capital F.
You see, as a school OT, Target “gets” me. They know that I cannot resist that seasonal dollar section at the front of the store, where I might be able to find adorable little erasers in shapes that match the season or upcoming holiday that we can use for sorting. Target knows that I cannot pass by the wonderful office/art supply section, where I can find several different size and shapes of crayons, or super cool erasers that will ease the pain of having to “edit” work. And the toys. Don’t get me started on what can be found in the Toy Department. Cuz once I start I can’t stop.
I was recently at Target. I went because some of my Twitter friends had tweeted about a cool fidget ball they found at Target, and I just had to get myself one. If you are a school OT, you know you can never have too many Fidget tools that are both engaging and useful! My plan was to go in, locate the needed ball and then head DIRECTLY to the check out and for the low low price of $3.18 I would have a new tool for my students. However…while there, Target’s amazingly enticing array of stuff drew me in and I left with a cart FULL of new tools to add to my every growing bag(s) of tricks. None of which is official “therapy equipment” yet all therapeutic and readily available. And I thought I would share it here for all my friends, colleagues, and students’ parents who wonder, Where can I get THAT?
From that Irresistible Dollar Section
- Super Squishy Blob Ball: I am not kidding, it is actually called this! For $3, you get a gel ball inside a threaded mesh cover that allows the ball to squish through the mesh when the ball is squeezed. Super fun, and can be used both as a fidget tool and as a means of strengthening the muscles of the hand. Not for kids who might mouth or bite it, nor for a child who might poke it with a sharp object. For everyone else, super fun, as evidenced by the number of OT friends who were tweeting about it!
- Squish-A-Fish: This ultra sticky, squishy fish is filled with what seems to be water beads and a blinking light that starts when the fish is squeezed. I searched carefully through the bin of different colored fish to find one with a broken blinky light, because in my experience blinky lights are very annoying in classrooms! Plus, there is a risk that a strobe-like light can trigger headaches and seizures, so I try to avoid those. Cost for this guy? $3! He’ll make a great fidget tool because it’s quiet and interactive, and it will provide a nice finger/hand wake-up before writing tasks. That’s a lotta bang for $3.
From the Office/Art Supply Aisles
- Yoobi 24 Pack Mini Colored Pencils: These pencils are adorable, people! They are the size of golf pencils, so they encourage a “tripod” pencil grasp because they are just too small to hold in a full hand grasp. While markers offer a smooth, low-resistance feel when writing or drawing, pencils give the brain more feedback about what the hand is doing. And because most kids are expected to use pencils for most of their school work, using pencils for drawing and coloring helps support learning pencil skills. Kids have fun while learning and growing. That’s a win. Teachers and parents have kids who willingly work on improving skills (even though they may not know they are “working”). Another win. Everybody wins, including my wallet, these are just $4.
- Yoobi 4 Pack Pretzel Erasers: “Good writers edit their work.” Just about every one of my students hears me say this each and every time we get out a writing task. It’s a reminder that the “rough draft” is a real thing, and that only through fixing errors and rewording do we come up with a final draft we can be proud of. But try convincing a reluctant writer that writing isn’t done yet-and we need to erase work YOU’VE ALREADY DONE to do it again? Or a student with a strong perfectionistic streak that their work wasn’t perfect the first time! UGH! So I find that when I have interesting, enticing erasers available, kids don’t mind fixing their work as much. In fact, finding things to “edit” might actually be fun. And the sting of work that might be less than perfect is lessened. These pretzel erasers have an added bonus: they can double as a fidget tool in a pinch. All for the low, low price of $1.50. One tip I learned the hard way: when these things are left in the car in the winter, they get hard. And then when they get hard because they are frozen, they break like dry twigs. And then the OT is sad. So don’t leave them in the trunk of your car if you live somewhere that gets cold in the winter. You’re welcome.
- Yoobi 6 Pack Binder Clips: Yes, I realize this feels like an advertisement for the Yoobi line of products. It’s not, unless gushing over products my students and I love is considered an advert. I’ve always loved these binder clips for kids because they are so intriguing, and they require good finger strength and bilateral coordination (both sides of the body working together) to make them work. This particular set has emoji faces on them, and anything with a face seems to draw kids in (have you seen Shopkins???). And these have a cool added bonus, GOOGLY EYE STICKERS! Honestly, there are some kids who would do absolutely any fine motor task I ask of them, no matter how challenging, if Googly Eyes are involved! Cost? $3.
From the Party Supply Aisle
- SPR!TZ Handheld Puzzles (pack of 18): For $5, this is almost a classroom pack! These are little marble run type puzzles of assorted designs. I’ve already put several into a lunch sack, and had a child reach in and pull out one. His friend with him also pulled one out of the bag, and then they worked to move the marble from the beginning to the end. The bag fed into my students’ natural curiosity, and made working on a visual processing puzzle more fun.
- SPR!TZ Mini Erasers (pack of 24): These erasers are not only erasers of cute foods, like slices of cake, ice cream cones, popsicles, sandwiches, and hotdogs, but they are also puzzles! Yes, the pieces pull apart and push back together…at least initially (they will wear out). So not only are they tools to help ease the harsh reality of “editing,” but they are also quiet fidget tools that are socially appropriate and even desirable. And cute, did I mention how cute they are? I paid $5. For 24 tools. Roughly 21 cents each.
From the Gilded Aisles of Toys
(Okay, it’s Target, so the aisles in the toy section are as red as the aisles in every other section. But just go with it…this section is special for School OTs.)
- Robot Claw!: My absolute favorite item purchased this trip? Hands down, it was this $5 grabber that makes a cool ratchet-like sound when you squeeze the trigger-like handle. So far, 13 of 13 students have ADORED this new toy that acts like an adult reacher and strengthens hands and grasp skills along with eye-hand coordination while being really fun. This was the best $5 I’ve spent this year, and that’s saying a lot because there’s this coffee roaster in town that makes a WICKED good pour-over coffee from beans they roast themselves…but I digress. Seriously, you’re going to find that this toy can be used for all kinds of functional tasks while making the task feel like play. And did I mention only $5???
- Feed The Woozle: This was a bit more costly, $20. But the options for this game were great so I gave it a chance. It was a good decision. Don’t let the “for little kids” reference scare you off. Many of my students struggle with games that require more strategy than action, or that are heavily language based, and this game can be played in a way that minimizes those challenges. The object of the game is to cooperatively feed the Woozle Monster from a variety of snacks that come with the game (or that you add yourself). The child rolls the dice on his or her turn, and using the enclosed spoon (or, again, any tool you want to select from your arsenal of tools), you place the food into the Woozle’s mouth. It involves counting, balancing items on a spoon, moving items from one spot to another while seated or when moving (if the Woozle is placed across the room). You can divide the food items up and the first child or team of children to run out “wins,” or you can eliminate winning and losing by simply ending when the food runs out. Cooperative play, turn taking, simple counting, gross and fine motor skills, eye hand coordination…lots of learning happening while playing this game.
- Amazing Color Changing Putty: Back to the steals (well not literally,) this silly-putty like material changes colors when squeezed. So obviously, we will be working on all the usual “putty” activities including strengthening the muscles of the hand, enhancing or activating the tactile sense when we hide small items like plastic beads in it, motor planning skills, etc. Oh and remember using silly putty to “copy” comics in the newspaper when you were a little kid? (No? Maybe you’re not as old as me?!) You can recreate that memory using this little tip: draw a small box, say 2 inches square. Inside it, draw a simple smiley face using very dark pencil lines. Place the putty on top of the design and push down. Have the child count slowly to 5. Carefully peel the putty up and you will have an exact copy of your smiley face, which can now be pulled and tugged into all kinds of funny distortions. Now that your child has seen the process, you will not have any trouble getting them to try it on their own. Instant magic. Oh and the cost? Just $6.
I wish I could say that I walked out of Target that day with these 10 items only. But alas that would be a lie! Still, I considered this to be a major haul at $55.50 for 10 items, each of which will be fun for kids, serve multiple purposes, and boost my creative juices for the remainder of the school year.
Please note: Unless you have money burning a hole in your pocket and you simply MUST part with it, there is no reason why you would EVER need to buy all 10 of these items, even if your child is getting Occupational Therapy and needs to work on all of these skills. But I hope that these examples show you how easy it is to find interesting and fun “tools” to support your child’s natural inclination for play while working on developmental skills. You don’t have to have the latest therapy equipment catalogs. It’s as easy as a trip to your local Target.
Have you found fun and interesting toys and tools at a store near you? Share your finds in the comments below! It’s so much fun to share 🙂
Stacy M. Turke, OTR/L: “On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog.” Stacy has been a school OT for 31 years with the same intermediate school district in Michigan in what she describes as “my dream job.” Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including those in the rural, suburban, and urban areas. She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. She expresses her enthusiasm when she says “This career has been fulfilling, always presenting new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!” You can connect with Stacy on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/ and on Twitter at @StacyTurkeOT.
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