Written by Jessica Addeo and Dana Blumberg

The holidays are often accompanied by gift giving and parents want to give their children gifts that will not only put a smile on their faces but will benefit them as well. As pediatric OT’s we are constantly assessing new toys for their developmental impact (and fun factor). As much as the new toys on the market bring something exciting and different to the table, there is something to be said for the oldies but goodies. Here are our top 10 tried and true “OT gifts” as well as our top 5 new favorite toys.

  1. Body Sock: The body sock is a great tool to provide proprioceptive input as well as a quiet space when your child needs a time out. For input have your child climb into the body sock; they can walk, roll or crawl around. For an extra added layer of fun throw some bean bags or sensory balls inside the body sock. Sometimes kids (and adults) can become overwhelmed by the bright, loud sounds and spaces of the holidays. In these moments, a body sock can provide a reprieve and a space to take a much-needed time out before re-engaging with the world
  2. Musical Hop Skipper (Super Skipper): This game provides an opportunity for sensory input via all the jumping, as well as some endurance building for the lower extremities. It can be set on 3 different speeds providing the opportunity to work on timing one’s movements. Since the super skipper can be so tiring, it is a great opportunity to work on self-regulation skills as well. When your child is starting to get tired or frustrated, point this out (in a nonjudgmental way) and encourage them to take a break, catch their breath and then re-join the game.
  3. Scooter board: This is an all-time OT classic. From sitting and scooting to laying on one’s belly the strengthening and input opportunities are endless. A favorite way to use the scooter board is to put puzzle pieces at one end of a room (about 10 feet away) and the board at the other end. Have your child lay on his or her belly and use their arms to propel back and forth to put the puzzle together. For more information about how to use the scooter board and why it is so beneficial check out this post (insert link to Sensory Equip 101)
  4. Twister: A funny and classic game! Twister is great to work on motor planning, knowing one’s left and right, turn taking and handling frustration.
  5. Pop The Pig: This is a fine motor game that incorporates hand strengthening (pushing the pigs head down and rolling the die) as well as counting, color recognition and turn taking. To ensure your child is getting the most hand strengthening out of the game focus on how they roll the die. Place the die in the palm of your child’s hand and have them wrap their fingers around it to hold the die inside. Give a few gentle shakes and then drop the die by opening their hand. Often children will use two hands or throw the die versus dropping. This is a great opportunity to work on self-regulation skills and grading pressure. You can also place the hamburger pieces on one end of the room and add in the scooter board or tunnel for some extra strengthening!
  6. Tunnel: The tunnel, like the scooter board, is an OT classic for strengthening. You can use the tunnel in the same way as the scooter board above (using a puzzle). It is a great alternative to the scooter board for younger clients or clients who fatigue quickly. The tunnel has the added benefit of working on the two sides of your child’s body and brain coordinating their movements via crawling. (Again, check out this post for more information about the benefits of the tunnel and crawling- insert sensory equipment 101).
  7. Zoom Ball: This is a great game to practice all the skills needed for successful throwing/catching but in a different way. The traditional manner of zoom ball is to have a child open and close their arms in a horizontal plane. Your child needs to learn to wait for the ball to come fully to the handles and to open their arms wide versus pulling back. Things to look for here are your child flaring their ribs forward or elevating their shoulders. These are indicators that your child is working hard to grade their movements and generate enough strength to successfully play. (If you see this check in with his or her OT for suggestion!). Once the horizontal plane is mastered (or your child gets bored) you can have them place one hand on top of the other and open the handles like an alligator mouth. Make sure to do both sides!
  8. Alligator Tongs /Zoo Sticks: In addition to tongs clothespins are another great tool. The opening and closing motion of tongs and clothespins helps to strengthen intrinsic hand muscles which are the muscles we use to hold scissors, pencils, utensils, manipulate fasteners…basically use our hands effectively. To start your child may grab tongs with their entire hand, as they become more refined and practice you can encourage them to hold the tongs with just their fingertips. The next step is to hold the tongs with just their first 3 fingers (thumb, index and middle finger). Sometimes this is facilitated by holding a pom-pom or small eraser with the ring and pinky finger while the other fingers hold the tongs. You can have your child sort and play with pom-poms, mini erasers, cotton balls, really anything that can be picked up with tongs!
  9. Rush Hour(Ages 8+) Rush Hour Jr. (Ages 5+): This is a great visual perceptual game that comes in a junior and then older edition. The purpose of the game is to figure out how to get a specific car out of “traffic” by moving the other pieces on the board in their specified tracks. The board is set up from a game card (they come in varying difficulties). You can have your child set up the card to add an extra visual perceptual element. You can also have your child lay on his or her belly or over a ball to add a strengthening and sensory input component to the game.
  10. Therapy Ball(Ask your therapist for a specific size for your child): This is an old standby for OTs that can be used to work on so many different skills. In its simplest form have your child seat on the ball (with support) and bounce up/down or side/side. Talk to your child’s therapist about what type of movement best supports your child’s needs (is it slow, rhythmical bouncing or more fast, erratic movements). Your child can lie backwards on his or her belly or back for some more intense vestibular input via rocking. While your child is laying back he or she can reach for a bean bag or toy and do a sit up to bring it up to you (make sure they don’t use their elbows). You can have your child lie on his or her belly and complete a puzzle or game over the ball for some vestibular input and strengthening. Again, please check out our post here for more info on the ball.

Favorite New Toys

  1. Color (Colour) Code: This is a fun visual perceptual problem solving game that also enhances spatial awareness. If your child loves the game Rush Hour, they will surely enjoy Color Code
  2. Crayola Color Wonder Magic Light Brush: A fun and imaginative mess free way to color and draw, working on fine motor skills and motor control
  3. Squishies: Pick from a variety of a small to large animals or food for your child to enjoy squishing and providing input
  4. Moodsters Feelings Flashlight: With this fun and interactive book and flashlight, your child can start to learn about their own feelings and emotions as well as other’s reactions
  5. Magformers Hi-Tech Walking Robot: This enjoyable robot helps children work on their fine motor skills, problem solving and imaginative play.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of potential OT gifts. But it is the list we run through in our head when a friend or family member asks what they should give to their child. As always speak with your child’s OT to get specific insight into how the above can be used for your child and any other classic games they think would be beneficial. Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping!


“Evidenced Based Practice in Sensory Processing Disorder” with Sarah Schoen, PhD, OTR

Written by Jessica Addeo

A part of our responsibility and commitment to the clients at Positive Steps is ensuring that we as therapists are current with what is best practice in our field. There are many continuing education courses that our therapists participate in independent of Positive Steps as we each pursue our own interest areas. However, this past May Dana Blumberg (Director) brought a course to us, so that we could all be on the same page and learn together. The experience was invaluable as we brainstormed together, watched videos of our clients with an expert (with parent permission of course), and grew not only as individual therapists but as a team.

Sarah Schoen is the director of research at the Star Institute for SPD in Colorado. The STAR Institute was founded by Dr. Lucy Jane Miller and its mission is “To improve the quality of life for children, adolescents and adults with SPD, and their families”. They do this by assessing and treating sensory processing disorder (SPD), conducting research on this topic, educating others and advocating for official recognition of SPD worldwide. To study with such a high caliber presenter typically a therapist would have to travel to Denver, Colorado for a 1 week intensive program. Dana (who did this 1 week intensive in August 2011) brought Sarah Schoen to New Jersey for a shortened but personalized program.

The weekend included information about SPD definitions and subtypes, treatment and assessment models and clinical reasoning. The big takeaways (that will be discussed in further detail in this post) were that as a staff we want to include parents more in our goal setting and treatment planning, interacting with our clients and facilitating relationships is just as important as the “treatment” we are doing and that taking a course together as a staff was truly beneficial and special (and we plan to do it again in 2018!)

At Positive Steps, we strive to be in constant conversation with the parents, caregivers, teachers/professionals and adults in our client’s lives. After every session, we leave a few minutes to chat with parents about the session, if a parent can’t be there we then email that parent or write a note in a communication book. In addition to this we make ourselves available when any difficulties are occurring by scheduling phone conferences, emailing teachers, reviewing home programs, etc. It was surprising that as Sarah Schoen discussed a concept called “Goal Attainment Scaling” we began to realize that there was an area of our practice where we wanted to include parents more. Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) is a technique for evaluating therapy progress using a strong family centered approach. Instead of goals being written based on standardized assessments and the therapist’s clinical observations, goals are written with a strong focus on the real-life day to day struggles that brought a parent to therapy. The typical progression of a child’s goals at Positive Steps starts with an initial evaluation that includes a lengthy report and a set of goals that we review with the parents (with re-evaluations being conducted yearly). We use information from standardized assessments, clinical observations and parent report to guide our goal writing and treatment plan. As therapy progresses, as mentioned above, we are in constant communication about what is going on in sessions. As therapists, we know why you are coming to therapy and what your priorities are from these conversations. As we learned more about Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) we wanted this to be reflected in a more formal way. So, we dug a little deeper and found that the full model of GAS was not the best fit for our practice. Just as we do for our clients, we modified and made a new program that fits us and will be implemented in January of 2018. We will begin setting up “OT conferences” where you as the parent will review your child’s goals with us and we will discuss what has been working since starting therapy, what is still a struggle and what your main goals for bringing your child to Positive Steps are in this current moment. Our goals as clinicians is to support your child’s full participation in all areas of his or her life (school, home, extracurricular activities, community based activities, family parties, etc.). Sometimes we do need to work on foundational skills like balancing on one foot and core strength to support this participation. However, we don’t want parents or clinicians to lose sight of the bigger picture, which is ensuring your child is living their fullest life. These conferences will be a way for us all to step back from the tiny details we get caught in and look at all the facets of daily life to ensure that therapy is best supporting your child and your family.

Another common “trap” that comes up in therapy is this idea of the therapist having this “magical power” that gets a child to behave a certain way that just doesn’t occur at home. Truthfully it is wonderful but insignificant if a child can be more organized in a session at Positive Steps but leaves the center and continues to struggle. Therefore, we have always prioritized home programs and parent education as a part of our therapy services. What was highlighted in our course is the value in bringing parents into our sessions to be there to not just learn what therapy magic is going on, but to become part and parcel of the therapeutic relationship. Sarah Schoen spoke a lot about the importance of relationship and connection to the therapeutic process. She highlighted that these “magic moments” best serve our clients when they happen between the child and his or her parent (versus the therapist). And just as important as all the developmental milestones we are working to help our clients achieve, is the relationships they have with the people central in their lives.

Most often children, especially young children, learn about the world and relationships through play. If a child is motivated in the play it becomes a more meaningful experience. It is our job as therapists to make sure the play is meeting the child’s therapeutic needs. And we are very practiced in this, the biggest perk of our jobs is that we get to play all day. But this therapeutic play doesn’t need to stop when a child leaves OT or when they are done with their “OT exercises” at home. If it can be a part of daily life, the impact becomes more powerful and those family centered goals that we are focusing on start to shift. Some simple ways this can be incorporated into daily life (when possible) is to follow the child’s lead. What is he or she most interested in, what activities does your child participate in the most, what brings that gleam or twinkle to their eye and what are they proud of? If you can tap into that as you interact with your child improved regulation will occur and then dinner time or bath time (insert your trouble time of the day) should get easier. Of course, each child has specific sensory needs and we will continue to educate you on the clinical observations of your child’s specific needs. You can use this information about his or her sensory system to promote the play and play environment that is most supportive. But just using this sensory information, without the relationship piece, isn’t as effective.

Of course, this blog post isn’t inclusive to all the things we discussed and learned at the weekend course with Sarah Schoen. However, it highlights the parts that meant a lot to our staff and some small changes that we are implementing at Positive Steps. This is just the beginning of our staff courses; this May Dana is bringing Integrated Listening Systems or “iLs” to Positive Steps. We stand committed to our family centered approach and continued learning to ensure that Positive Steps will keep growing and helping our clients achieve their highest potentials.


A Mindful September

August 31, 2017

Written by Jessica Addeo Back to school time elicits the age old question “How was school today” that often gets parents an answer such as “okay”. This year we would like to encourage parents to find ways to connect more with their children and school routines to foster more open lines of communication and connectedness. […]

Read the full article →

Happy Summer!! Top 5 Summer OT Tips

July 12, 2017

Written by Jessica Addeo Summer is here and everyone at Positive Steps couldn’t be happier. Summer means more time outside, more opportunities for sensory input (swimming, playground, walks), more free time and less academic demands and truthfully, just more fun! Summer is a great time to capitalize on what your child has been working on […]

Read the full article →

Celebrating Occupational Therapy Month with Positive Steps

May 2, 2017

Written by Dana Blumberg and Jessica Addeo April is Occupational Therapy month. At Positive Steps, we love to get everyone involved (children, parents, sibling, the community) and share with as many others as we can about Occupational Therapy. As such, all month long we decorated our waiting room with a variety of fine motor and […]

Read the full article →

Therapeutic Listening: What Is It & Why Do We Use It?

April 9, 2017

Written by Jessica Addeo Therapeutic Listening is a music based sensory program that is often recommended to our clients. It can be somewhat difficult to explain in detail in a quick conversation and your therapist may say something like it is “modulated music” or it helps with sensory processing. Often this is somewhat vague and […]

Read the full article →

Sensory Equipment 101

January 22, 2017

Written by Jessica Addeo It is certainly possible to create sensory activities at home without any “special” equipment. However, at times it can be nice to have a few supplies to take things to the next level. It is not at all necessary to re-create a sensory gym at home in order to provide your […]

Read the full article →

Why Obstacle Courses

December 22, 2016

WRITTEN BY JESSICA ADDEO During the warmer months going to the playground, shooting hoops outside and even going on a nature walk are all wonderful ways to get sensory input in a natural, organic way. As it gets colder out playing in the snow, building snowmen and going on a nature walk are still viable […]

Read the full article →

Holiday Gift Guide 2016

November 22, 2016

One of the greatest skills an occupational therapist can possess is not their knowledge base or certifications (these are important too!) but the capacity to make “therapy” fun. To make it so fun that the child doesn’t view the task as therapy or work but instead as game. When this happens the child will be […]

Read the full article →

Activities to support the Vestibular and Proprioceptive System

November 10, 2016

Back in April, we shared a post that further explained our vestibular and proprioceptive system (you can check that out HERE). This post will be a continuation of that explanation that includes activity suggestions for both types of input. Please speak with your child’s occupational therapist to discuss the best times of day for the […]

Read the full article →