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An OT’s Guide to Home Learning: Board Games and Puzzles

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

As social distancing recommendations, stay-at-home orders and shelter-in-place mandates continue to keep families confined to the home, parents are quickly being asked to take on the roles of teacher, therapist, warden, work-from-home professional, best friend and more. For parents of children with special needs and learning differences, this can feel extra daunting. There are countless online resources providing specific in-home activities, recommendations, and suggestions for working on targeted skills (e.g., literacy, fine motor, sensory integration, gross motor, etc.) in the home. It’s easy to get quickly overwhelmed by the onslaught of information.

While I believe there are many useful and creative free resources available online (I’ve written some of them!), our “new normal” includes many barriers to easy implementation including time, expertise, resources and confidence. Today, I want to share how some fun activities involving board games that you may already have in your home could make the task of keeping children engaged, interested and learning a little bit easier. Our game makers are getting increasingly creative and aware of their role in helping children build their skills, and the games listed below are just a few of the many options available.

5 Board Games for Development of Visual Perception

  • Connect 4 – Playing Connect 4 with the traditional rules requires kids to track horizontally, vertically and diagonally with their eyes. They need to visualize where their checker will land and place it in the correct spot at the top. Additionally, children need to monitor two colors at a time to ensure that they do not need to block their opponent on their next turn. For younger children, consider using the board to practice patterns or make shapes out of one color.
  • Quirkle – Quirkle combines colors, shapes and a grid pattern to create an interactive game for children to play with their parents. It promotes form perception, visual discrimination, tracking and matching.
  • Dominoes – There are many different games that can be played with Dominoes, making it easy to scaffold the activity for all different ages. Dominoes works on many of the same skills as Quirkle, but really allows children to practice visual figure ground. Figure ground is the ability to distinguish relevant information from a busy or overwhelming background. Dominoes have lots of different colored little dots in different patterns and alignments allowing children to practice this skill. Notably, Dominoes often have a tactile aspect allowing children to both see and feel the dots.
  • Spot it! / Spot it Jr! – Spot it! has quickly become a favorite game of occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and school psychologists alike. It practices a multitude of important skills. In terms of visual perception, Spot it! focuses on visual discrimination, hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, figure ground and more. Due to its popularity, Spot it! has provided us with an excellent variety of specific versions, such as Alphabet, NFL, Gone Camping, Animals, as well as substantial Spot it Jr.! options.
  • Memory – Unsurprisingly, the game Memory works on increasing visual memory! Children have to remember which cards they have picked, where they are on a grid and where the matches are. There are lots of options to order online, but this can absolutely be played used playing cards or DIY pictures drawn on pieces of paper. Children are also able to practice pronation/supination by flipping over the cards and placing them back down on the table.

 5 Board Games for Development of Fine Motor Skills

  • Trouble – Trouble allows children to work on building hand strength as they push down the pop-o-matic die roller. Try to ensure that children are using the muscles in their hands and fingers to push down, and limit the amount of body weight they use to help them push down. Additionally, children practice a pincer grasp as they pinch their pegs to move them around the board.
  • Hi-Ho! Cherry-O! – This game includes little plastic fruit that need to be placed in a basket to promote a pincer grasp and a spinner board that helps teach kids to flick or push a spinner.
  • BedBugs – Tongs and tweezers are part of an OT’s go-to toolbox as they promote fine motor precision, keeping an open webspace, and hand strength and coordination. This game is for children age 4 and up and provides each player with their own tongs to try and catch little bouncy bugs on a bed. Add a layer of complexity by having kids each try to catch one color!
  • Avalanche Fruit Stand – Another game that incorporates tweezers, Avalanche Fruit Stand promotes grip strength, pincer grasp and problem-solving as children need to balance different fruits on a stand. There is also a spinner to add in another element.
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos – Use this game to practice finger isolation and increase finger/hand strength. Encourage your children to use one finger at a time to depress the lever and make their hippo eat the marbles. Try switching fingers for each round.

*Bonus!* While many of these games work on more than one skill at a time, one age-old recreational activity that targets visual perception, visual motor integration and fine motor skill is simply completing a puzzle. Focus on teaching strategy and problem-solving by having your children start with the edge pieces, organize by color or choose one figure or character in the puzzle to build independently.

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email or call 617-658-9800.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email or call 617-658-9800.