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Let’s Play Animal Doctor

Animals get sick and hurt and go to the doctors – simple theme but oh… so many sensory, motor and social experiences to practice!

Choose Your Role

We like the kids to have any role they choose and we fill in the empty roles. Sometimes they like to be the pet, sometimes the vet, the assistant, the owner of the animal, the pet ambulance driver, and so on. Later, they will have opportunities to play different roles and add variations to the theme, building complex pretend play skills along the way. It’s important to have them be the role they initially imagine. Sometimes that’s all they can visualize.

Move to Play


After the negotiation of roles, we build in some motor and sensory experiences by having kids create buildings and spaces. We find the story often results from the active creation of these spaces. For example, as the kids build a home using a blanket over a table, we talk about what happened to the animal at home. If they say the animal got stuck up a tree in the back yard, we talk about why the animal was climbing the tree, who found her, how did it get down, why did it have to go to the vet, etc.? Once the kids decided to create a circus and have one of the circus animals get hurt! You can imagine the wonderful motor activities built into that play: tight ropewalkers, tumbling acrobats, lion tamers climbing on and off large blocks, and horses prancing around a circle!

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Whose Job Is It Anyway?

One of the greatest challenge for our group kids seems to be maintaining their roles. They all want to be the ambulance driver, not just the one sitting in the back. Once the animal gets to the vet, they all want to handle the doctor kit equipment, not just hold the pet. We spend a lot of time working out the concept that everyone plays his or her part and each part is very important. Rather than grabbing the doctor kit materials, one child can ask the “doctor”, “Can I give you the doctor tools when you need them?” or “What do you need now?” rather than grabbing the syringe and giving the dog a shot without “doctor” approval. The kids develop impulse control, attention, perspective taking, patience, responsiveness, sequencing and collaboration in this child-driven, thoroughly enjoyable pretend play experience.

Now it’s time to change roles and do it all again!

Check out our Amazon Store for some basic doctor and vet kits

fireman small

Fireman Small

Title: Fireman Small

Author: Wong Herbert Yee

Age: preschool, early elementary

Description: One tiny firefighter works hard all day to help his friends when they are in trouble.


  • Rhyming
  • Auditory Memory
  • Sequencing
  • Prediction
  • Perspective Taking
  • Helping others
  • Dramatic Play

Why I like this book: The catchy rhyme in this book grabs kids’ attention and the simple plot line is great for inspiring dramatic play.

Ideas for Use:

  • This story contains a repetitive rhyme that recurs several times within the story. Have kids complete more and more of the rhyme each time it occurs to encourage auditory memory skills
  • The problems related in the story have rather obvious solutions so this is a great book for introducing the idea of problems and solutions within a story.
  • This book can also be used to introduce the category of community helpers. Discuss the different roles that each community helper plays in our community and then play a round of the Bag Game to reinforce those concepts.
  • The narrative structure of this story lends itself very well to use with the Story Grammar Marker App. Have kids retell the story with particular focus on the “kickoff” (initiating event) for each problem, the accompanying emotion, the “plan” and the resolution.
  • This is a fantastic story for promoting group pretend play. Using small people figurines and dramatic play materials, the kids can set up a fire station and props for each of the story components. Kids can then take turns with each of the characters.
  • Kids can also act out the story with themselves as characters and gross motor materials as props. Acting out the story in this way provides a wealth of opportunity to experience movement, deep muscle input and tactile sensations. Using a scooter board or platform swing as a fire truck, a soft barrel as a well and/or a climbing pole as a tree provides lots of different sensory input while fostering representational ideation and play.
  • Fireman Small’s friends really appreciate him. Use this story to talk about thanking friends when they are helpful and how good it feels when we help others. Social Thinking Behavior Maps provide a great visual aid for talking about the connections between our actions and our emotions.

Submitted by:  Karen S Head, MS, CCC-SLP

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Rescuing Mermaids Takes a Whole Team

Playing board games doesn’t always have to be competitive. Some games are designed to get kids working as a team. This is a common theme in our Social Adventures Groups – working as a team. It seems a simple concept, but difficult for our kids to grasp. Kids in general are pretty egocentric around ages 3-7, but some kids really have a difficult time thinking about others. This makes it difficult for them to play collaboratively with others and this can lead to them being left out of lots of play opportunities. So we break the idea down into small steps and try to play games that highlight how working together gets everyone to a final goal quicker than if everyone tried to do it alone.

One of the games that we often use to bring this idea home is the Mermaid Island Game from Peaceable Kingdom. Here’s the set up. There are three mermaids who start off together on an island. There is also a witch who starts off on a different island. The goal is to get all 3 mermaids to the island before the witch gets there. But here’s the kicker, the players do not identify with one mermaid as they would in say, Candyland. Instead, as each player takes a turn, they must decide which mermaid to move in order to keep them all together. This is an excellent game for teaching the concept of “the needs of the group are more important than individual needs.” Almost every child who first plays this game becomes invested in a particular mermaid. It requires a lot of processing to make the point of working as a team. Once they get it though, it is a great way to talk about the same concept in different contexts. Oh and for those who may feel that this game is a “girl game” because it includes mermaids – we have never had a boy complain – whether boys or girls are playing, they are helping others and that is just wonderful!

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Copyright : Anna Omelchenko

Ganging up and Giggling

I run a little social dyad with two school-aged boys (almost middle schoolers). They both need a lot of support to appropriately initiate, and especially to maintain interactions. We use a variety of different strategies and approaches to help them reach their goals. Ask-Ask-Tell from our Social Adventures App, vocabulary and concepts from Social Thinking ™ (i.e. bubble thoughts, whopping topic change, etc.), lots of self-made visuals,  and even the Zones of Regulation to help when we get too silly. That is one of our biggest challenges…getting too silly and getting stuck.

Well recently I had to sit back and let us ride into the “yellow zone” and beyond…and hang out there.

zones 2

*Image from Zone of Regulation website

They were cracking themselves up while ganging up on the teacher (me). One of the boys set the alarm function on his phone to go off in the middle of our session. The other friend did the same on my iPad when we were using for a game. The had  coordinated this (clearly communicating and demonstrating great perspective taking by trying to be secretive…and failing:), and then couldn’t control themselves with laughter when the alarms went off. I tried to be “mad” at first, but then just sat back and watched them connect and enjoy themselves. What a typical social experience- ganging up on the teacher, acting “naughty,” and laughing together. It was important for me to appreciate the skills they were demonstrating: great communication, perspective taking, humor, and appropriate body language (looking at each other, matching their friend’s affect, appropriate proximity). It was awesome.


We now have to work on the concept that jokes are funny one time, sometimes twice…but usually not more. This has become something we want to do every week…but from my perspective, worth adding this new social goal.

mr bounce

Mr. Bounce

Title:   Mr. Bounce (Mr. Men and Little Miss)

Author:  Roger Hargreaves

Age:  preschool, elementary school

Description:  One of the “Mr. Books” that outright speaks to those overly active, well-meaning, but tough-to-manage kids.


  • Self-regulation
  • Body awareness
  • Motor planning
  • Perspective taking
  • Good intentions
  • Understanding consequences of actions
  • Accepting help from an adult

Why I like this book:  First of all, this is a series that I used when I was teaching in the late 70’s, and it is adorable.   Even though it’s “old”, kids respond to the characters and story.  There are few books that specifically address those bouncy kids and, as an OT, I am happy to use this one.

Ideas for use:  

  • Before reading, discuss times when you moved too quickly or moved without looking which caused a problem for you or others.  For example, knocking over a coffee cup or tripping over a pair of shoes.  Have the kids offer suggestions of times their high activity level caused bad things to happen.  This helps “normalize” the situation without pointing a negative finger at the “Bouncers.”
  • As you read the story, have the kids anticipate what will happen.  There are lots of opportunities for visualization.  For example, “… you can guess what happened next, can’t you?” and “As you can imagine, that made things very difficult.”  Taking time to think about and discuss these concepts helps kids with ideation and planning.
  • Discuss feelings as you read.  How did Mr. Bounce feel about falling in the water?  The simple line drawings actually have very expressive faces.  Have the kids work on mimicking the expressions.
  • Young kids may not know they need help from adults to manage their high activity level.  They may be disciplined for accidents they cause and feel that they need to figure it out on their own.  I love that Mr. Bounce seeks help from an adult in this book.  Talk with kids about how we, as adults, are here to help them, not punish them.
  • Play a variation of the Silly-Calm body game from the Social Adventures App after reading this book to help kids recognize they can have control over their bodies.  When you say, “Bounce” kids can move, dance, or bounce around the room.  When you say, “Red Boots” (the shoes that were given to Mr. Bounce to help him be more grounded) the kids will freeze their bodies or pretend to sleep, or go back to their seats and remain still.

Check out their great website for lots of fun stuff

Submitted by:  Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

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*Like this review and activities? Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities for children.



A Tale of Two Beasts

Title: A Tale of Two Beasts

Author: Fiona Roberton

Description: A little girl rescues a strange beast (a squirrel) in the woods and brings him home to take care of him. The “beast” is not happy and escapes, and tells his own version of events. The book is broken up into 2 short stories to illustrate these two perspectives.

Goals/ objectives:

  • Perspective Taking (social language skills)
  • Narrative Language
  • Friendship Skills
  • Grammar: adjectives
  • Why Questions
  • OT/SLP goal: pretend play (ideation, motor planning, etc.) 

Why I like this story: The two perspectives are wonderful for discussion, and the story is really funny and entertaining. Kids of all ages will love this.

Ideas for use:

  • Have kids tell from the 2 different perspectives. Using a tool like the Story Grammar Marker from Mindwing Concepts to tell from the little girl’s perspective and then from the “beast’s” perspective. Discuss their different “kickoffs” (initiating events): little girl was walking through the woods when suddenly she saw a strange beast stuck up a tree…” vs. “I was hanging from my favorite tree singing happily to the birds  when I was ambushed…”
  • Great for social language discussion around how different interpretations of the same events can happen
  • Do Compare/Contrast of their perspectives, and even their lives. Tie in curriculum around habitats, and animal behavior. Discuss WHY the squirrel may not have liked what the girl was doing to him (i.e. bathing, walking on leash, dressing).
  • At the end of both “tales” they come to realize maybe the other wasn’t so “strange”- great for discussion with social groups about friendship and staying flexible and open minded.
  • Grammar: there are lots of wonderful examples of use of adjectives and adverbs to make sentences more complex and engaging: strange little beast, whining sadly, lovely bath, gorgeous new hat, beautiful house, etc. You could have students find synonyms for these words as well as compare to what adjective the “beast” would use (likely antonym).
  • In a group or dyad, act out the story! Would be great to have kids use various objects to represent the setting and events. What could be the woods? What could be the bath? Who can be the “beast?” Have students sequence events, narrate, negotiate roles and props, etc. Have them generate their own story with 2 perspectives, using the same frame of the story
  • Write their own version of story using different characters, but following this frame. Use apps like Book Creator to generate a story.

Submitted by Meghan Graham M.S. CCC-SLP

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The Magic of “Say a Name”

We have been running Social Adventure Groups for almost 20 years and although the kids in the program all come with unique challenges and strengths, most if not all of them, do seem to have one thing in common. They don’t gain the attention of their peers. As a result, chaos often ensues. During our talking time, it is not uncommon for 2 or more kiddos to launch into a story while staring at one of the adult leaders. They talk over each other and no one is really listening. If we are in the gym trying to work on a collaborative project; again, everyone starts doing their own thing, talking about their ideas without ever realizing that no one else is listening.

A Social Catch Phrase to the Rescue

So… what do we do? Well, we have found that using a simple catch phrase, “Say a Name” can be very helpful. But it isn’t so helpful unless we practice, practice, practice. In order to help the kids understand the power of gaining someone’s attention, we play a variety of games designed to focus on this one particular skill and use one of our Social Catch Phrase Cartoons to provide visual cueing.


Begin with Role Play

We have found that acting out social situations gone awry is a great way to introduce a concept. We are lucky to have two adults, so we tell the kids that they are going to go to a pretend movie. They are the directors so they say “action” to get things going, “cut” if something goes wrong and “print” if everything went smoothly. All kids LOVE being included in this way. Once the kids start the action, then here’s the script:

Actor 1: begin by looking distracted by something that draws attention away from Actor 2, such as drawing a picture.

Actor 2: looking at a pile of blocks says, “let’s build a fort with these”

Actor 1: keeps drawing the picture

Actor 2: now looks in the direction of Actor 1 says, “let’s build a fort – it will be so cool”

Actor 1: keeps drawing the picture

Actor 2: gets exasperated and stomps away

Hopefully, the kids have yelled “cut” by now because most of our kids recognize when something has gone wrong with other people, they just aren’t as good at monitoring their own behavior.

At this point, we ask the kids what would help. Sometimes they know, but more often they blame Actor 1 for not responding. At this point, we introduce our Social Catch Phrase Cartoon. We then act out the scene again, but this time Actor 2 says a name and all goes well.

Reinforcing Activities are Always Helpful

In order to reinforce the power of “Say a Name”, we play a pass the ball game. The kids are gathered in a circle or around a table. We explain that the rules of the game are to say a friend’s NAME and to WAIT until they look at them and show a READY BODY (hands out in front ready to catch the ball) before throwing the ball to that friend. This provides practice for saying a name while also working on waiting for a response before taking action.

We also play a version of Simon Says. Instead of saying “Simon says,” we say a friend’s name and then follow it up with an action. To keep it fun, the adults play too and sometimes we say, “EVERYBODY… clap your hands.” This activity works on perspective taking and regulation too because the kids need to ask their friends to do something that isn’t too difficult and isn’t too silly :)

Submitted by:  Karen S Head, MS, CCC-SLP

Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities like this.



Biscuit’s Valentine’s Day

Title: Biscuit’s Valentine’s Day

Author: Book:  Alyssa Satin Capucilli , eBook: Zuuka, Inc

Description: It’s Valentine’s Day and Biscuit and his friend spread the love…

Goals/ objectives:

  • “w” and “f” sounds
  • animal sounds
  • early sequencing
  • turn-taking in conversation
  • OT goal:  figure-ground perception
  • OT goal: craft project to go along
  • “wondering” vs “knowing”

Why I like this story: It’s Biscuit!  Need I say more :)

Ideas for use:

  • for minimally-verbal children, encourage them to attempt a “doggie sound” when Biscuit “woofs”
  • lots of opportunities for “w” and “f” production and simple sound-sequencing (e.g., “doggie”, “meow”, “knock knock”)
  • for more sound play, have Biscuit deliver valentines to a farm full of animals.
  • OT:  prior to reading the story, have kids make one of the adorable valentine crafts found on our Pinterest Board,
  • then act out the story pretending to deliver the Valentine using simple play house and people.
  • talk about conversational turn-taking.  With a girl figurine and a dog, act out the turn-taking.  The little girl speaks, then the dog barks and so on.
  • Use a visual to denote whose turn it is so kids get the rhythm (e.g. pass a bean bag back and forth)
  • OT:  the eBook has bones hidden on every page, encourage kids to find them and touch them.  There will be a tally at the end.  Great for keeping kids focused without being distracting.
  • Enjoy this adorable story, and then discover more Biscuit books…

Submitted by Karen S Head M.S. CCC-SLP

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feelings book

A Little Book About Feelings

Title:   A Little Book About Feelings

From: “Ruby’s Studio:  The Feelings Show”

Description:  This adorable little eBook offers a nice description of feelings and what happens when we express them.


  • Identify a variety of feelings
  • Identify ways to express feelings – words, facial expressions and body language
  • Describe how various feelings manifest in our bodies
  • Discuss the importance of understanding the emotions of others

Why I like this book:  The simple format and engaging pictures work very well as conversation starters.   The book can be read in its entirety or one page at a time…

Ideas for this book:

  • Create a “Feeling Throughout the Day” chart.  Along the left side of a page place symbols to represent waking up, getting ready for school, riding the bus, being in the classroom, playing at recess, etc.  Then next to each of these symbols, have the kids brainstorm how they felt that day during each of these times.  This gives kids a chance to realize how many different feelings we experience each day.  Looking for symbols to use for this project?  Try downloading some from LessonPix.  
  • Play Feeling Charades:  Make a stack of cards with action words (jump, tiptoe, skip, etc) and another with feeling words.  Have each child pick a card from each pile, act them out and see if friends can guess the action and the feeling.  Watch out for angry tiptoers!
  • For children who have difficulty identifying emotions through facial expressions, try introducing them using the Emotions app from Alligator apps.  Then have them use a mirror to try to copy those expressions.
  • Play Match the Feeling – Tell a story with a very obvious emotion attached (something sad, scary or exciting).  Encourage the children to “match” their facial expression and body language to that of the story.
  • For Valentine’s Day, have the kids generate a list of words that express positive emotions; such as loving or liking someone.  Use these words to make special Valentine’s Day cards.  Add these words to this adorable craft we found on Pinterest from Family Fun magazine.  The hand says “I love you” in sign language :).
  • Discuss the places in our bodies where we feel some negative emotions – our hearts beat fast, our tummies feel tight or sick, our mouths feel dry, and so on.  Then discuss how our bodies feel once we have expressed those feelings and they have been understood by someone else – our hearts slow down, our tummies feel better, our mouths feel normal, and so on.
  • Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!!
Submitted by Karen S Head, MS, CCC-SLP

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The Biggest Valentine Ever

Title: The Biggest Valentine Ever

Author: Steve Kroll

Age: School Age

Description: Two friends from class decide to make a valentine for their teacher together. Working together proves to be quite challenging…


What I like about this book: It’s a cute thematic story for Valentine’s Day with a social focus.


  • Pragmatics/Social Language
  • “Wh” Questions
  • Narrative/Story retell

Therapy/Activity Ideas:

  • A great book for discussion of teamwork and working together. Have students talk about what is hard when working together, what makes it fun, etc.
  • Discuss ways to help make working together go more successfully: making a plan, “asking” vs. “telling,” giving compliments, looking at friends’ faces to determine how they are feeling, etc.
  • Role-play different scenarios in the story when the two mice are not getting along. Discuss what they could have done differently. What language could they use if they don’t like someone’s idea? (vs. what the mice do “you put too much glitter! Why did you make a heart in the middle?!). Discuss the effects of tone of voice. What if the mouse said it with a different tone of voice? Would that change the situation? Use thinking and speaking bubbles to help teach these concepts.
  • Have students work in pairs to make the valentine that was made in the story (a mouse out of 5 paper hearts). A context to help support the above stated skills…(tone of voice, negotiation, etc.)
  • Have students retell the story working on story grammar elements (characters, setting, initiating event, etc.). Pair with the Story Grammar Marker.

Submitted by:  Meghan Graham M.S. CCC-SLP

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