20 Classic Educational OT Toys To Help Children Prepare for School

Last week there was an article in the NY Times, “Watch How You Hold That Crayon,” about OT and handwriting. In the article Anthony DiCarlo, a Principal stated, “In the last five years, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of kids who don’t have the strength in their hands to wield scissors or do arts and crafts projects, which in turn prepares them for writing."

He goes on to say that while many kids head back to school with accomplishments like music, yoga and sports classes, they may not have logged enough time in open-ended play. “I’m all for academic rigor,” he said, “but these days I tell parents that letting their child mold clay, play in the sand or build with Play-Doh builds important school-readiness skills, too.”

All children need greater opportunities for hands-on play with simple, traditional toys. The basic games that we did as children have fallen out of the repertoire for kids today and that means they aren't having the opportunities to build their hand strength and dexterity.

We asked Casey Halper, a wonderful Pediatric Occupational Therapist, to recommend some inexpensive, open-ended games that would help children increase hand strength, improve coordination, expand attention skills and have fun. You will recognize some of the games on this this list of Finger Toys as the classic games of our youth. You just didn't realize how good they were for you.

Silly Faces Stick-Ons Game

Tricky Fingers

Alex Tissue Art

Alex Toys Clay Pictures

Zoo Sticks

Chalk Board (with broken chalk)

Wikki Stix

Fantacolor Junior


Puzzibits (also called Hexabits)


Melissa & Doug Lace and Trace Pets

In my experience, if you find that your child really hates these types of activities, you might want to have them evaluated for Early Intervention. It may be that the aversion stems from difficulty with hand strength and dexterity. Catching issues early can help them succeed in school later.

Casey Halper, Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Consultant
from The Casey Halper Group and has also, previously, contributed this wonderful list of Sensory Savvy Snacks.

If you liked this article you may also want to read: 

NYC Toy Stores for Special Needs Children

99 Sensory Activities for Any Child

The full NY Times article, Watch How you Hold That Crayon

For more gift ideas check out our NYC Shopping Local Gift Guide, and for holiday fun see our Holiday Guide.

This post originally published in March 2010.

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