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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Every now and then on a Friday we like to post one of our favorite blogs.  This week we thought it would be fun to share this one:


The tag line for our web site is “Collaborative Tools and Technologies” and I am bursting to write about a collaborative tool that is not based in technology. Our group of 5 year-olds just finished an 8-week project that brought much delight to the kids (and, therefore the group leaders). After playing several different board games that involved dice, cards, and spinners, the kids decided they wanted to make a dice-based game. They talked about all kinds of activities and other things they liked until they happened upon something they all enjoyed – pets. We used the side of a cardboard box to draw a game board. The kids made marks on several spaces that served as the “bad things happen” spaces. The “bad things” were a T-Rex, a cage, a dark cave, and a fire-breathing dragon. Each child chose a “bad thing” which they drew and colored on the game board. It didn’t matter that the drawings were roughly depicted. The kids knew what they were supposed to be and encouraged one another.

Pictures of animals were cut out and glued around the game path to keep things cheery. Game pieces were made by stringing small beads on pipe cleaners and closing them in a circle to become pet collars. The kids talked about making a “good thing” square so they glued a star on the board. If you landed on the star, you got to jump to the other star placed further along the path. They decided that everyone should be able to finish the game, so when they reached the end, their pieces were placed on a “bench” drawn by one of the kids, to watch and wait until everyone completed the game.

Pride, simple joy, companionship, feeling supported, being supportive, winning gracefully, losing gracefully, fun, successful, and happiness are all words that come to mind as I picture the little faces of the kids as they played their original game. Oh…and let’s not forget collaboration!

This 8-week Collaborative Project is one of 4 outlined in our Social Adventures Apps. Find our more HERE.

by Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

play tent

Bag the Plan and Let the Creativity Begin!

I have been an OT treating children for (gulp!) 25+ years and still enjoy thinking about my clients and planning the “perfect” session. Sometimes, it seems that the best sessions are the ones that happen if I am willing to let go of MY play. Yesterday was one of those days in our Social Adventures group.

Karen and I planned to continue working on the skills we emphasized the previous week with our 5 and 6 year olds. However, when 2 of the 6 children were out sick, the make up of the group changed. In addition, one girl spontaneously began crying and couldn’t tell us why and another tents boy explained that he was tired while a third child suddenly had to leave to go to the bathroom. Karen and I decided to let the kids have “buddy play” time in the gym rather than follow through with our plan since the kids all seemed to need to experience some freedom and success.

I don’t know how, but a camping theme emerged as each child began creating their “tent”. When the girls chose the play tent, the boys began finding items around the room to build their tents. Cardboard blocks, blankets, furniture, and mats all magically became. The kids found items to use for a campfire ring, fishing rods, butterfly nets, and a lake for swimming. They picked berries and cooked, swam and climbed. They worked alone or in pairs at times but always called the others over to share a meal or activity. When it was time to sleep, they made sure everyone was ready to sleep at the same time and to wake up together. The planning, organizing, sequencing, and sharing of all these actions, and using their bodies in space while moving constantly around each other was fantastic! Practice using objects representationally and
sometimes miming as in charades was so helpful to these kids who struggle with visualization and imitation.

Conflicts arose as they usually do when kids play together, however, these conflicts gave us the perfect opportunity to work on all of their goals. We worked with the kids on initiating interactions, helping them ask to join another child’s activity if they didn’t know what to do. We worked with them on advocating and compromising when 2 kids wanted to use the same materials or tent space. The kids practiced negotiating space, as their swim noodles became fishing poles. Throughout the session, each child seemed to need some time alone. We worked with the others in respecting their friend’s need assuring them that the friend would come back when he or she was ready… and they always did! Theory of mind was tackled often from both the cognitive and emotional perspectives. Why is that child mad? Why do you think that friend went to be alone? What do you think that friend wants? We frequently heard, “But I was just going to use that!” and
needed to talk about how other people don’t know what you are thinking.

We could not have planned this activity. The kids generated and executed the plan, which resulted in a tremendous amount of creativity, collaborative play, and feelings of competence. There is nothing like pretend play! Without planning too much, I hope we can do it again next week!

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

*Like the ideas in this post? Check out the Social Adventures App for more activities for children.

Photo by: Lars Plougmann

nuture shock

Relational Aggression

We want our children to have friends. We also want them to have pleasant interactions even with kids who aren’t necessarily their friends. We also don’t want our children to be bullied or to bully others.

There has been a lot of talk about bullying lately and although I work with children every day, even I am become weary of the subject. However, I recently read a book that put a slightly different spin on bullying. Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discusses many aspects of child development based on new research presented in a very accessible manner. The chapter titled, “Plays Well With Others” was particularly poignant. The authors discuss 3 types of child-on-child aggression that is prevalent among young children in our society. Physical and verbal aggression are familiar to all of us. The third type of aggression is relational aggression. In pre-school age children, relational aggression involves saying things like, “You can’t play with us” or ignoring children who want to play. Did you ever think of that as aggression? I hadn’t but it makes sense. Children with social cognition challenges want to play
and talk with peers. Being ignored or left out of play can have long-lasting effects.

We posed the following question to our 5 and 6 year old kids in the Social Adventures group.  “What do you do if you ask someone if you can play with them and they say, ‘No’ “? The answers included:

– “Say, ‘Please, please, please, PLEASE’ ”
– “Run away”
– “Say, ‘You can’t make me leave!’ ”

As we role played alternative responses we found the children we were coaching to say “No” didn’t know how to say no in a kind way. So, we worked on that as well.

The beautiful thing is that you could practically see their self-esteem meters rising as we worked on how to say ”No” and how to respond to “No”. The kids learned to tell each other to come back later and the ones who were gently rejected in this way, went on to play with others. Happily, this little exercise transferred to the playground time and we witnessed kids being more relaxed about the freedom to say “No” without worrying about being mean. Kindness begets kindness. We witnessed little relational aggression that day. Hopefully, the kids went home with another tool in their box to help them experience more positive social interactions.

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


What, So What, Now What?

The theme of the first group with our 3rd and 4th grade Social Adventurers was change; how difficult it can be, how resistant we can be to change, and yet, how important it is to learn how to manage ourselves in the midst of these transitions. Change is a fundamental part of each new school year… new teachers, different classmates, new room, new rules, new everything! And our students have a really hard time with change! When I googled “resistance to change” I came across a business presentation that used the words: “What?” “So What?” and “Now What?” as a model for introducing change within an organization. I found it rather fascinating and decided to try it with our group. We use what we call, “Social Catch Phrases” to help our kids remember important principles of social interaction so these simple words fit right in with our typical style.

Meghan and I introduced a group project using the three small questions:

WHAT?: What are we doing? We are building ONE tall structure as a group using clay and tooth picks.

SO WHAT?: We are doing this activity to practice working together as a team. It is important to learn how to do things with other people, how to listen to our friends, respond to our friends, appreciate their ideas, be flexible, and take turns. We want our friends to do the same thing for us and all this takes practice. We are doing this activity to practice these skills in a fun way.

NOW WHAT?: Now we need to plan. What are the steps? How are we going to accomplish this goal?

Then we set the kids loose. There were a couple kids trying to direct everything but basically, each child began building a structure directly in front of themselves with their own materials. We held up the “WHAT?” card and reminded them that the activity was to build only one structure. As they continued to work and become frustrated, the question emerged, “Why can’t we just build our own structure?” We then held up the “SO WHAT?” card, reminding them that they were learning how to work together as a team, to be flexible, etc. The kids began to work together which resulted in some heated discussions over where to put pieces, whose creation would be on top, and where to add elaborate pieces (that did not in fact lead to the ultimate goal of creating a tall structure). The kids’ attention was directed to the “NOW WHAT?” card as they were asked to pause and talk about how they could use what they have already built to produce a tall structure. Is it important that one child’s piece is on top or that the pieces below could support the top and have it stay up? What could they do now to accomplish the goal?

There were a few tears along the way, and definitely some frustration but in the end, the kids accomplished the goal and all seemed pleased with the result.

by Jill Perry, MS, MHA, OTR/L

If you like these ideas, be sure to check out the nearly 80 activity ideas for promoting social cognition in our Social Adventures Apps.


Bumper Crashers!

Just about every teacher, parent, and therapist I know (and that’s a LOT) have commented on kids who lean on others, talk too close, crash into other kids, and touch things that don’t belong to them. They invade spatial boundaries without meaning to and alienate others so fast they don’t know what happened! Funny … alienate has the word “alien” in it and our little bumpers and crashers are often treated as such.

The sad thing is, the kids don’t mean to be intrusive; and are doing the best they can. Games to emphasize spatial awareness can be helpful in teaching both the cognitive and physical aspects of closeness. See how close the kids can walk to a wall without touching it. Have them move around the room without touching one another until the music stops and have them notice how close they are. Play games in which all the kids need to end up in an area when the whistle is blown without pushing one another out of the small space. Have kids move on a chalk-drawn circle in one direction until a whistle is blown and they need to switch direction without touching each other.

You get the picture. When kids play games like these they are becoming more aware of their spatial boundaries mentally and physically. Hopefully when they invade someone’s space incidentally, a simple cue will do. They may even be able to adjust their distance without feeling reprimanded and will wear a smile on their faces remembering the fun games they played.

by Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

image by: Leslie Parker

If you like these ideas, be sure to check out the nearly 80 activity ideas for promoting social cognition in our Social Adventures Apps.


Collaborative Stories – An Adventure in Flexibility

As in most social groups, flexibility is the challenge. In one of our recent groups, we decided to use some Rory’s Story Cubes – dice with adorable illustrations on them, to create a “teamwork story” that required a lot of flexibility, and also allowed us to work on narrative language skills which is always a plus :)


I started the story (which always helps to establish a character, setting and initiating event…another great activity to tie to Mindwingconcepts) by rolling the die. I created a beginning of the story, and then said “beep” and passed a die to the child on my right (this allows the child to be in charge of their own contribution. If they are struggling they can keep it short). He then added on to my story, with the rules being that he had to “connect” the two ideas. This alone is a challenge in flexibility. He then added his part, and said “beep” when he was ready, and I handed another die to the next child, who added on. Jill as my OT co-leader and MUCH better drawer, kept track of the story using a white board, which provided visuals for the kids to help connect the story.

The story went on like this until everyone had a turn to add. Jill ended the story to provide a clear resolution. Throughout the story making process lots of skills were addressed.

  • Keeping it “short and exciting” versus going on and on and on. This encouraged them to read their friends’ body language. Are they  bored? Excited? Should I wrap it up or keep going?
  • Listening to their friends. They had to stay “part of the group” in order to add on to the story and have it make sense
  • Being flexible. The story may not be going the way YOU would have it go
  • Commenting on their friends ideas

We then decided to illustrate the story- but we added a twist. You didn’t get to illustrate your own addition to the story, but the part that happened after you. The kids had to then check in with their friend, and have them describe what THEY were picturing. This lead to great discussion, question asking, description and again, you guessed it….flexible thinking. We always find drawing helps our kids stay regulated as it is inherently therapeutic. An added bonus as we ended our group, and sent them off to their classrooms.

Meghan G. Graham M.S. CCC-SLP

If you found the ideas in this blog helpful, you will definitely appreciate the activity ideas in the Social Adventures app available on the Social Adventures - all4mychild


Just Say, “No”… Once

Today was one of those days when one of our 4 year-old group kids was really having a very bad day.  Well, to be truthful, he has been having a lot of bad days lately and the strategy he has decided to employ is to just say, “No” to EVERYTHING.  Although none of his peers or teachers particularly like this strategy, one has to admit – it is effective.  Suddenly, teachers become very engaged in trying to find a way to bring him back to the group.  We offer alternatives, to which he says, “No”.  We set “if/then” behavioral expectations, to which he says, “No.”  Pretty much no matter what we try to do to get the group back on track without leaving him completely out, he sabotages with one simple word.  As I said, very effective for him – not so much for the rest of the group.

So we knew that playing tag is his weak spot.  It is really hard for this little guy to say “no” to tag, so we pulled him back in with that trusty lure, and then… we told the kids that they were each to contribute one part of the tag game.  No surprise our little nihilist started right in with his favorite response.  It was then that we introduced a new rule – ONLY SAY “NO” ONCE.  We started around the circle again asking kids to share ideas (“how ‘bout…”) and then each of the kids could respond with thumbs-up or thumbs-down.  As expected, our friend was thumbs-down on the first idea, which was going in the tent once you get  tagged (an idea that he normally loves by the way).  I said to him, “Do you really want to use your ONE “no” now with three more ideas to come?”  Kind of a tricky concept, but this little guy is quite bright and he got it.  His little thumbs-down slowly turned to a thumbs-up.  The same with the next idea shared, and by the third idea – he had forgotten about “no” and remembered how much fun it was to play tag with his friends.  Whew!!  Another lost group averted.

by Karen S Head, MS, CCC-SLP

If you found the ideas in this blog helpful, you will definitely appreciate the activity ideas in the Social Adventures app available on the Social Adventures - all4mychild

Cooperative Play = Teamwork

Working with many 3-6 year olds, I am often struck with the challenge of moving kids beyond parallel play towards cooperative play.  We try familiar duck-duck-goose and tag games.  Inevitably everyone is out to be the winner, be the best, and in the end, that’s all that matters to them.  We don’t tend to see kids rise up as leaders in that they don’t help organize or negotiate for the sake of the game.  Some may appear to be leaders as they boss each other around but they are typically trying to work the situation to their advantage.  Empathy for the “loser” seems non-existent.

We have found one of the simplest of all childhood games helpful in illustrating the importance of “teamwork” to children.  Follow the leader is a cooperative game that has two, clear roles…the leader and the follower.  The game absolutely cannot be played without individuals to play both parts.  Because kids understand the concept of leader (e.g. They often want to be the leader as they walk to lunch, recess, or circle time), follow the leader teaches the value of the follower.  It feels good to be the leader and have others follow along.  It is also clear to kids that they won’t have others follow them if they don’t take a turn following their friends.  This is a game that cannot be played in parallel with others.  It must be cooperative and is a fun and familiar way to help kids understand the concept of teamwork experientially.

by Jill Perry, MS, MHA, OTR/L

If you found the ideas in this blog helpful, you will definitely appreciate the activity ideas in the Social Adventures app available on the Social Adventures - all4mychild