Starfish Therapies

February 19, 2018

Favorite Toys: The Vet

Starfish Therapies The Vet

I know we took a brief break from blogging but we’re back! We are going to start adding blogs about some of our favorite toys to use in therapy and how and why we use them. The first one is The Vet (here is another smaller version).

This toy has a lot of uses for occupational therapy since it has keys that you have to match up by color to open the individual doors. Since we do mostly physical therapy, we use it as a motivator, and the extra fine motor work they get to do is an added bonus!

We have used this toy for all ages. Currently I have a 12 month old using it (yes, the skills are higher than where he is but he is really interested in it so it works great as a motivator) and we kids up into double digits using the toy.

In this video we are working on hip stability and balance. Once she is finished her toe taps she gets to squat down (working on staying in the middle, and not shifting too far to one side) to open or close the doors. We would increase the number of taps between her opening or closing the doors and she was only allowed to open or close with each squat (anything to get more repetitions in!).

We have also used this toy to increase repetitions on the stairs as well as walking back and forth between support surfaces to improve ambulation. Anything with lots of pieces and parts is great for repetitions.

You can also use it to work on squatting. You saw some squatting in the video, but you can also ‘drop’ the keys repeatedly or have all the animals on the ground and the vet up on a higher surface to practice going down and up. If you want to work on balance with squatting and playing in squatting, just change the positions and have the vet on the floor and the keys and animals on an elevated surface. It takes longer to put the animals in and out and open and close the doors!

How have you used this toy?


December 9, 2017

Holiday Gift Giving Guide

twister yoga
It’s always amazing how fast the year goes by and how quickly another holiday season is already upon us! With that said, it’s time to start thinking about what gifts we can give to the children in our lives that they are sure to love but that will also encourage practice of motor skills and/or general physical activity.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you moving in the right direction!
  1. Pewi Ybike Walking Buddy and Ride On Toy: This is great for babies/toddlers in the pre-walking phase as they can work on reciprocal stepping using it as a ride on toy and can also use it as a push toy building balance and control.  It’s a little on the pricey side but toddlers will continue to enjoy zooming around on this one way beyond those first steps!
  2. Teeter Popper: We haven’t had the opportunity to try this one out but this wobble board looks like all kinds of fun.  It can promote sitting and standing balance, core stability and provides plenty of sensory feedback since the suction cups on the bottom pop as kids make the board move. Check out the video on amazon through the provided link for a demonstration.
Here are some of our Favorite Toys that can be used to encourage gross motor activity:


  1. Squigz
  2. Stomp Rocket
  3. Laugh and Learn Piggy Bank
  4. Stacking Cups
  5. Twister
  6. Melissa and Doug Puzzles (musical instruments, shapes, farm animals)
  7. Feed the Woozle
  8. Cones and Hurdles
  9. Spots
  10. Stand and Play Parking Garage
  11. Balance Board
  12. Monster Feet
  13. Yoga Ball
  14. Ring Toss
  15. Hippity Hop
  16. Scooter Board
  17. Activity Table
  18. Balls of all kinds (o-balls, playground ball, gertie ball)
  19. Hopscotch
  20. Activity Cards

August 27, 2017

Squat, Stand, Tip Toes


One of our previous PT’s stopped by and brought us a 10 year birthday present (We had just celebrated our 10 year anniversary). She was so excited when she saw the Little People Stand and Play Rampway because she thought it would be great for kids to use to work on standing, squatting, transitions on and off the floor, and more. And yes, we have used the toy in the way we thought, although we’ve also found its good for tip toes as well! Sometimes we are inspired by a toy and sometimes we have an idea and find a toy that will help motivate. This happens to be one of those times that we were inspired by a toy!

As you can see in the picture, we set it up on a support surface so that the child would still have to get in to standing to reach the top. An added bonus was that she had to get up onto her tip toes to reach. To work on being all the way down on the floor transitions, you could have the car end up under the bench. They may try to reach in squatting, which also is good for them to do, but many times they will get onto their hands and knees or into sitting so they can reach a little easier. Then they have to practice the transition from the floor into standing. If they choose to stay in squatting they get to work on balance and stability while reaching outside their base of support.

What are some of your favorite toys for working on standing, squatting, and tip toes?

August 6, 2017

Feed the Woozle

Another game I have never played, but one of my therapists found a really fun way to use it to motivate one of our kiddos to work on stairs, and more specifically stairs while carrying things. You can take the general idea and use it for other activities you are trying to get kids to do!

We put the Woozle at the top of the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs the kiddo gets to roll the dice and figure out how many pieces of food he gets to take up to the Woozle (1, 2, or 3). [Note – also working on counting and numbers]

Once that has been determined he picks the food (which have amazing names – a favorite is the Lemon Flavored Underpants) and puts them in a cup (we use stacking cups). [Note – also working on fine motor skills]

He then carries the cup up the steps to the Woozle to feed him. The trick is that in order for the Woozle to know that its the kiddo approaching to feed him, and not a ‘bad guy’, he has to step on the taped x’s. Which of course encourage reciprocal stepping (occasionally the x’s get missed and we use our judgement if we want to repeat or let them go, especially if they are doing reciprocal anyway). [Note – and visual processing, coordination, motor planning, balance]

Once to the top, he feeds the Woozle and then comes back down the stairs holding the empty cup to fill back up with more food. [Note – also works on floor to stand and stand to floor each time, or squatting]

I don’t know about your kids, but ours think this is hysterical and love picking out which food they are going to give him, and they find it funny when he only gets one piece of food. Little do they realize that means they have to do more reps to get rid of all the food!

What other ways have you used Feed the Woozle?

October 22, 2014

Toys, Toys, Toys

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 7:02 am
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It’s almost that time of year again! Time to brave the crowded malls and search for the perfect gift for the children we love. One of the biggest questions we get as pediatric therapists, is what can we get them that will help their motor skills. For those of you still searching, here is a list of ideas of toys and games that are not only great gift ideas, but can also help your kids develop their fine and gross motor skills while playing.


1)   Baby Einstein Play Gym: For your newborns. A play gym is a great way to encourage play and exploration while laying on their back or their tummy. While lying on their back, different items can encourage children to kick and reach overhead or across their body to eventually encourage motor skills like rolling. The play gym can also encourage tummy time, which will help build neck and trunk extensor strength, scapular stability in their shoulders, endurance to further progress their motor skills towards getting onto hands and knees and crawling.
2)    Play tent with a tunnel: Tents with tunnels can encourage crawling and bilateral coordination. Crawling through the tunnel into the tent will allow your child to practice weight shifting and using a reciprocal crawling pattern, build their core strength, develop the arches in their hands, and play in quadruped and tailor sitting in the tent.
3)    Push Toy: A push toy is a great gift for a kiddo who already pulling to stand and cruising and starting to explore learning how to walk. You can try the shopping cart and wagon type push toys if your child likes to transport their toys with them or once that converts to a sit and ride toy if they just can’t wait to get on that bike.
4)    Learning Table: A learning table is a great toy for way to encourage your child to get upright. You can practice playing in a tall kneel, a ½ kneel, or pulling to stand through a ½ kneel and standing. The lights, songs, numbers and letters on the tabletop provide motivation for your child rise to a new level and begin working on upright motor skills. You can place it against a wall or in a corner if your child needs a little more stability or in the middle of the room if they are learning to stand with a little less stability.
5)    Hippity Hops: A ball with handles is a great way to help your child build coordination, balance, and strength. You child will have to use their core and leg strength in order to bounce and maintain their balance while hopping on the ball. A hippity hop can also provide great vestibular and proprioceptive input with the bouncing for the kiddos who are seeking out more sensory input.
6)    Sturdy Birdy by Fat Brain Toy Co: This game is a fun and exciting game to work on kid’s balance, coordination and core strength. If your child is having trouble with single leg balance tasks such as skipping and hop scotch, this game provides them with the opportunity to work on this task. By balancing on one leg, not only are they practicing the motor task, but they are building strength in their hips and core musculature that will allow them to continue to progress in their gross motor development.
7)    Step 2 Folding Slide: This slide is a perfect toy that can be used in doors or out doors. It allows your child to build leg strength and core strength and develop the skills necessary to walk up stairs. Climbing up the ladder provides kids with practice of the same motor pattern and strengthening of specific leg muscles that are used to walk up stairs, with extra support from the rails. Sliding down the slide can also help build core and trunk musculature to maintain or improve postural control and balance.
8)    Super Skipper: The super skipper is a great way to help your child practice timing and grading of jumping skills. By jumping to different songs at different speeds, kiddo’s can develop their jumping skills to progress to more advanced gross motor skills, such as hop scotch and jump roping.
9)    Giant Piano Mat: This is a fun way to practice more jumping skills and balance activities. Your child can work on single leg balance, single leg hopping, walking on tiptoes and jumping while building their creative and musical skills. This is also a great way to work on coordination skills. With prerecorded songs, your child can practice specific steps to a song.
10) Sensory stepping stones: Each stepping stone has a different texture that will provide new tactile input to your child’s feet or hands by crawling, walking, jumping or hopping onto each stone. Not only can kid’s work on their balance and gross motor activities, but they can also get sensory input.
11) Scooter board or skateboard: This is a great way for kiddos to work on upper extremity, core and trunk strength. Your child can lie on their belly on the board as they use their arms to pull themselves along the floor. Not only are they using their arm muscles but also engaging their core and trunk extensors to keep their head and body up on the board.
12) Side walk chalk: Sidewalk chalk is a great tool to work on all sorts of gross motor activities. You can draw a hopscotch grid to work on single leg hopping, coordination and balance. If the kiddo is not comfortable with single leg hopping yet, try practicing the hopscotch with two feet. Have them practice jumping with their feet apart and then feet together to work on coordinating movements, then once they have mastered that pattern, slowly practice switching from two legs to one and then one legs to two. You can draw different items on the ground and practice jumping on them or create a start and finish line of a race to work on running. The visual cue of different colors or drawings on the sidewalk can help kiddos focus better on the task that they are attempting.
13) Nubby ball: This is a great way to work on ball skills, such as throwing, catching and kicking. The texture can also provide sensory input to those kiddos who are seeking more tactile input as well. The increased tactile input could also help their awareness when attempting catching and gripping. For more advanced kids practicing ball skills can be great for single leg balance and coordinating movements of arms and legs. As kids get older, they can begin to build interests in certain sports.
14) Kinetic Sand: It feels like sand, but is not nearly as messy to clean up. Kinetic Sand helps improve tactile awareness, and fine motor skills. Kids can squeeze it and shape it to build different items and let their creativity bloom. The feeling of the sand can provide children with new tactile input that can decrease stress and allow for improved exploration to different tactile surfaces. The squishy material can also help improve fine motor skills, allowing kids to build their hand musculature and gripping techniques by forming different size structures.
15) Constructive Eating plate and Utensil Set: For those picky eaters. The 3-piece utensil set includes a bulldozer pusher, front loader spoon and forklift fork with textured handles that are easy to grip. The plate has ramps and parking spaces for food and utensils. This is a great gift to help engage children with their eating, as well as work on their fine motor skills of gripping and grasping and using their utensils to access food.


Happy Shopping!

May 30, 2014

Favorite Summer Toy: Hula Hoops (Blog Hop and Giveaway)

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:41 pm
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Hula hoops are a great summer time (or anytime) toy.  Now don’t automatically assume it means you need to know how to ‘hula hoop’ in order to play with them.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrible at ‘hula hooping’ however there are a ton of other ways to have fun with them.

Hula Hoop Paths

Movement Through Space – If you get a few hula hoops you can line them up in a row and you can practice locomotor skills through them.  Start simple by having kids walk through each one.  Next can be running through them.  Add in some jumping and hopping as well.  To get more complicated you can create movement patterns similar to hopscotch where they have to jump in one then hop in the next one or skip hoops as they run through them.  You can also do side stepping and leaping.  I like this activity because it works on movement through space with the child being aware of their path.  They also have to coordinate their movements while remembering a pattern/instructions.  If you have enough hoops and kids, you can even make it into a relay race!

Visual Motor – Hula Hoops also make great targets.  You can set them on the ground and use it as a visual for bouncing a ball in.  This could be done by yourself with dribbling skills, or using a tennis ball to practice bouncing and catching.  It can also be used with a partner for bounce passes and having to bounce the ball in the hoop before your partner gets it and bounces it back.  You can keep score for how many times you each get it in the hoop!  Also, you can use it as a throwing target.  If you have a tree you can hang it from a branch and practice throwing balls through it or being really tricky and getting a frisbee through it (my frisbee skills are about as advanced as my hula hoop skills)!  If you don’t have a tree you could prop it up against a support or leave it flat on the ground and try to throw or toss an object into or through it.  If you are leaving it on the ground you could use chalk and add rings inside of it and try to toss bean bags in.  Each chalk circle could have a set number of points and you could see how many points you get (similar to darts or ski ball).

Body Awareness – Some other fun ideas to use a hula hoop for are as a jump rope and as an actual hula hoop.  For jump roping (yes, even adults can still do it – I tried it today) you hold onto one edge of the hula hoop and swing rotate it so it swings over your head and then you jump through as it comes back down to your feet.  Similar to a jump rope you have to be aware of where your body is as well as rhythm and coordination but with the hula hoop its a closed loop so you have to know where your head is as well as your feet.  For actual hula hooping (is that even a word?) you can do the traditional version around your waist/hips but you can also experiment with other body parts such as arms, legs and even your neck.  It allows kids to know where the parts of their body are and focus on how they are moving and controlling that one area such that it is isolated to get the movement they want.  What’s great about the hula hoop is they are getting immediate feedback.

Some other fun ideas:

  • Team work activities where you have two or more people in the hula hoop and they have to move across space together (similar to a three legged race).  You can make the trek as complicated or simple as you want.  To add to the difficulty level you can blindfold all but one of the people so they really have to work as a team.
  • Hula hoop rolling.  You can place the hula hoop on its edge and see how far you can roll it, or who can roll it the furthest.  You can also draw chalk lines and try to keep it rolling on the line for as long as possible.
  • Extra large ring toss is always fun.  If you have stumps or other outdoor items that work well as a post you can try to use the hula hoop as a ring to get around it.

What are some of your favorite activities with a hula hoop?

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August 9, 2013

The Un-Block

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 7:00 am
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When we went to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) conference this year we saw this great toy that one of the vendors was selling.  It’s called the Un-Block.  I of course had to get it because I love any type of building toy and thought it looked like such a novel idea.  (Since I’m a PT, I was crossing my fingers that the OT’s would be able to use it.)  Luckily our OT’s have been using this toy and were able to give me some feedback on what they were using it for.

The biggest thing they said kids had a challenge with was motor planning how to connect the pieces.  Because it is a precise fit and the pieces slide together, many kids found this challenging and required hand over hand assist while working on the motor planning.  A lot of times they just wanted to snap them together (similar to legos) but they won’t connect that way.

Another challenge was lining the pieces up together in order to slide.  Currently the pieces are all the same color so it requires increased use of the visual system to get accurate alignment as well as precision.  Several kids would get it close and then keep attempting in the same spot, so they required assistance to problem solve and make adjustments so that the pieces would fit together.  We talked about that it would be great if the blocks were different colors or had the interlocking parts defined out by a color/boundary.  This is easy enough to add on your own if you think your kids would benefit from this.

This toy also allows kids to work on their grasps, such as the three jaw chuck or pincer grasp, when picking up the pieces and manipulating them such that they fit together.  In addition, the get to work on fine motor control, precision and coordination.

Lastly, they get to have fun with their imagination and build things!

While talking about the pieces being different colors we were also brainstorming that kids could do patterning, or create additional designs, or just get the visual assist that may be needed.

Have any of you played with this toy?  If so, how are you using it?

December 13, 2012

Snow Ball Fight

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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snowball fight

This is such an easy and fun game.  My nephew brought over an actual Snow Ball Fight set but you can just as easily do it with newspaper crumpled up.  We had fun chasing each other through the house trying to hit each other with the snow balls.  In doing so we were getting the following benefits:  cardiovascular (there’s lots of running – especially up and down the stairs – when you play with an almost 9 year old), throwing, environmental awareness to avoid obstacle and avoid getting hit, catching (if I was lucky enough), and pretty much any gross motor movement you can think of to hide or get out of the way (jumping, crawling, squatting, etc).  My favorite was when I had possession of all the snowballs!

What versions of snow ball fights have you had?

December 12, 2012

Magnetic Toy Imaginary Play

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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I have always wanted to play with Magna-Tiles especially when I have read about them in blog posts or heard parents talking about them.  I decided to buy a set and had my nephew help me check them out.  He of course was excited (and he’s almost 9) because he had played with them before.  He even tried to convince me to give them to him!  At first we just tried out building structures and seeing what we could come up with.


Then he went into the closet where his toys are and came out with this other cool toy that I had never seen before.  It was SmartMax Set.  It had two sized pillars and a bunch of balls.  All of which were magnetic.  We combined it with our Magna-Tiles to create a really cool structure.  I will admit it collapsed on us quite a few times until we figure out exactly where the magnetic attraction would be greatest to combine the two toys.


And then, of course we had to add figurines because this became a fortress with a force field and in the Magna-Tile box were prisoners who we were trying to free.  What you can’t see off to the right became pyramids which is where the controls were kept so that could deactivate the force field and rescue the prisoners.  As you can see we had a guard inside the force field as well.


I love engaging in play with my nephew because I am amazed by his imagination every time.  I also loved playing with these toys because we got to practice problem solving (when they kept crashing on us), fine motor skills for building, bilateral coordination using helper hands (because otherwise its awful hard to maintain this structure while connecting the pieces).

What magnetic toys do you like?

November 23, 2012

Lego Fun and Pretend Play

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 12:00 pm
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(This was not the original set-up I wasn’t proactive enough to photo that so I had to pull out some of the toys and arrange them on the carpet)

I was reading this blog post by ‘Dirt and Boogers’ and it reminded me of playing with my nephew just the other day.  We weren’t playing exactly the way they were but in the same way I was amazed by how his imagination was engaged as he played.  I mean, it wasn’t just lego vehicles and houses and people for him, it was the scene he was creating in his mind.  We had a mixture of Toy Story and Starwars Legos as well as typical legos, multiple Hess trucks/vehicles and a pirate war ship.  I believe there was also an Abominable Snowman figurine thrown in there as well. My cat and dog also made guest appearances as characters in the unfolding adventure.  First we had to build some houses (we had the pieces for a Wild West jail as well as a service station) and then we built additional vehicles (a moving van).  There was a safe that had money and there was a lump of gold that needed protecting (although not in the safe).  My nephew’s bed and desk and desk chair were all incorporated in as well.  He had specific paths and tunnels that he created for the bad guys to hide the gold and the good guys could follow but if I tried to take a ‘short cut’ without weaving in and out of the rungs of his chair and then going to the bed I had to start over because I didn’t follow the tunnel that was created by the bad guys.

I loved engaging in this imaginative play although I did notice that whenever I had a good idea he counteracted it with a new scenario or rule so that my guys never got control of the money…

Legos and other figurines are a great way to encourage imaginative play.  Depending on the child’s age you may need to set up some structure for them or if they are older let them define the structure.  You can use cardboard boxes to create roadways or waterways, or even make ‘buildings’ out of the boxes.  This will engage the child in drawing and coloring as well as decorating.

How do your children pretend?

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