Play and Activities

Toy Takeover 2020 – 5 Fantastic Learning and Development Toys
Toy Takeover 2020 – 5 Fantastic Learning and Development Toys 1080 1080 PTN Chicago

December is here!  Can you believe it?  When people say “the year crept up on them”, it really rings true for 2020.  While there was a ton of instability this year, one thing that remains stable is our annual tradition of our December Toy Takeover. There are many wonderful toys that are designed to help with your child’s learning and development, including five we really love for their versatility.

Not only will these five particular toys provide hours of endless fun for your little ones, but they will also help to work on all areas of your child’s development from gross motor and fine motor skills to speech and cognition. The best part? All of the toys featured in our December blog can be purchased at local small businesses in the Chicago area.  At PTN, we believe that shopping local matters and we encourage everyone to support as many small businesses as possible. This especially applies to this year as many of these businesses have struggled during the pandemic.

We’ve decided to feature two local stores in this year’s blog – Building Blocks Toy Store, and Timeless Toys. If you’re interested in purchasing from Building Blocks Toy Store, below is a promotion that they’re currently having for $5 local Chicago deliveries:

With that being said, let’s get onto the list:


Squigz are one of the most versatile toys on the market. Not only can your child suction cup them to basically any surface around your home, but they’ll also be able to channel their creativity as they build cool structures and unique objects by connecting the Squigz together. Your kiddos will love gripping, sticking, creating, and separating their fun new toy, and you’ll love the fact that Squigz are safe and easy to clean.

Shape Sorting Cube 

We love to use this toy during therapy sessions and now your kiddo can use it at home, too! This vibrant shape sorting cube is wonderful for helping your child learn their shapes, colors, and sorting, while also working on developing their fine motor skills and gripping. You can even start early with this toy by removing the top and having your child practice putting objects in and out of a container.

The set features 12 colorful shapes that your child will enjoy dropping into the provided wooden cube over and over again. Once they’ve figured out where each shape goes, simply have them dump out all of the pieces and repeat the process.

LED Hula Hoop

Did you know that there are plenty of things that you can do with a hula hoop besides actually hula hooping? Yes, really! Here are some of our favorites:

  • Hold onto the sides and sing, Ring Around the Rosey (the hoop can assist with side stepping, weight shifting or transitions to and from the floor if that is a goal for your child).
  • Turn the hoop so that it is standing straight up to create a tunnel that your child has to squat down and walk through.
  • Make a choo-choo train by having the leader in the hoop while others hold the back and take your train for a spin through the house.
  • Create a “pit” to jump or step in and out of.
  • Make a bean bag toss game and use the hoop for your target.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt and place all of your collected items in the hoop.
  • Have a dance contest and incorporate the hoop into your dance routines.

Stomp Rockets

Get ready.. Get set.. Blast off! Stomp Rockets are the perfect gift for those kids who are always full of energy.  Your child will love setting up their glow in the dark rocket onto the launch pad, stomping as hard as they can, and then watching as it soars over 100 feet in the air. They’ll be entertained for hours on end as they keep trying to send their rocket higher up into the sky than the time before, while also working on their coordination and balance in the process.


Bubbles that have a no-spill design and come in a travel sized container? Count us in!  The container is designed so that the Fubbles will not spill out, even when tipped upside down so you can let your kiddos blow bubbles indoors without worrying about the mess! Pop the bubbles by pointing, reaching, clapping, or stomping, and practice counting and turn-taking along the way.  Each set of Fubbles comes in either a red, yellow, or blue container, and contains a bubble wand and non-toxic bubble liquid.  

Believe it or not, we’re just getting started with our Toy Takeover recommendations this holiday season. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter for more great toy ideas, and be sure to follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) as we’ll be sharing even more suggestions throughout the entire month of December.  On behalf of the entire team at PTN, we wish you and your families the happiest of holidays!

At-Home Therapy Activities That Use Your Child’s Favorite Stuffed Animal
At-Home Therapy Activities That Use Your Child’s Favorite Stuffed Animal 1080 1080 PTN Chicago

When you were a kid, what was the one item that you always had to have with you? Was it a blanket? A toy? Well, for a majority of our staff here at PTN, our special item was a stuffed animal. It’s very common that children have a favorite item, and more times than not, you’ll notice that this item is indeed a stuffed animal. This is because stuffed animals bring on a sense of comfort and joy, and they make it easier for children to express themselves, which makes them the perfect learning tool during therapy sessions.

Using your child’s favorite stuffed animal during at-home therapy can be extremely beneficial as it will keep your kiddos motivated and excited to develop their skills. The best part? Your little one will be ecstatic to be learning with their best stuffed animal friend, by their side.

With that said – and in honor of September 9th being National Teddy Bear Day – we wanted to share some of our favorite at-home therapy activities that use your child’s favorite stuffed animal. Enjoy!

Create a Story 

This activity gives your child the opportunity to be creative while working on their speech development. Sit down with your kiddo and ask them some questions about their stuffed animal such as, “What’s your stuffed animal’s name? Where does your stuffed animal want to go? What’s your stuffed animal’s superpower?”. 

As they’re telling you the answers to the questions, write each answer down on a separate sheet of paper. Once you’re all done asking questions, get ready to help your child create their very own book. Your child will be able to work on their grip strength by coloring each answer page with an image that fits the text, and once they’re done, they’ll have their very own book based on their stuffed animal!

Partake in Sensory Play 

Another great way to use your child’s stuffed animal is for sensory play. Kids (especially toddlers and babies) love to explore different textures, and most stuffed animals have numerous textures on them. For example, if the stuffed animal is a cat, it may have prickly whiskers, soft or fuzzy fur, and hard eyes. Let your child touch each texture one at a time while you ask them to describe what it feels like – soft, hard, fuzzy, rough, bumpy, etc. 

Play Dress Up

Your child will absolutely love being able to use their imagination while dressing up their stuffed animal, and you’ll love this activity because it works on your child’s fine and gross motor skills. You and your kiddo can make up stories about where their stuffed animal is going, and then, they’ll dress up their stuffed animal to fit the story. For example, if you both decide that the stuffed animal is going to a ball, your child could dress their furry friend in a dress or suit, and if you both decide that the stuffed animal is going to a beach, your child could dress their furry friend in shorts and a t-shirt. Your child will have so much fun looking through all of the clothing options and will be entertained for hours on end.

You can find dress up clothes that will fit your child’s stuffed animal on Amazon, at toy stores, or, you can make them yourself!

Let Your Child Be a Caretaker

Allowing your child to take care of their stuffed animal will bring out their nurturing side, and will allow them to work on their fine motor skills, speech, and gross motor skills. You can have your child feed their stuffed animal, give them a pretend bath, place a bandaid on any owies they may have, or put their furry friend to bed – the possibilities are endless! The best part about this activity? Your child will learn responsibility and compassion in the process. 

Be sure to keep an eye on our social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest) all month long as we share additional activities.

Fun Family Activities That Will Help Improve Your Child’s Fine Motor Skills
Fun Family Activities That Will Help Improve Your Child’s Fine Motor Skills 1080 1080 PTN Chicago

With all of the uncertainty in the world right now, it’s nice to know that there’s one thing that you can always count on – your family. Through all of the ups and downs that life brings, your family will always be there for you no matter what, and if there’s one positive thing that has come out of these uncertain times, it’s that parents and their children have really gotten to reconnect and spend more time with one another.

With that said, we understand that many of you have had to get creative in finding ways to entertain your kids while also helping them improve on their fine motor skills. If you feel like you’ve run out of ideas, we’re here to help! One of our favorite holidays is celebrated in August – Family Fun Month – so we thought we’d share some activities that your whole family will love, and that will also work on your child’s fine motor skills. 

From q-tip painting to friendship bracelets, here are some fun family activities that will help improve your child’s fine motor skills:

Q-Tip Painting

What you’ll need: Q-tips, paint, paper, stick-on magnets, your imagination!

Our first fine motor activity lets your child’s creativity shine! For q-tip painting, you’ll need to get some q-tips, paint, paper, stick-on magnets, and your imagination. First, you’ll want to sit down with your kiddos and talk about what you’re both going to paint –  the possibilities are endless!

Once you’ve decided on what you’re going to create, use a q-tip as a brush, dip the cotton section of the q-tip into the paint, and then start painting with your q-tip on a plain piece of paper. Once you’re done, you can put stick-on magnets on the back of the paper, and hang your artwork on the fridge, or place your art in a frame to hang around the house. 

Friendship Bracelets

What you’ll need: String, scissors, beads, penne noodles, food coloring dye.

Who doesn’t love a cute friendship bracelet? We know we do! For this next activity, you and your kiddos will get to make some adorable jewelry that you both will love. All you need is some string, scissors, colorful beads, penne noodles, and food coloring dye. Before you begin, grab a couple bowls and fill them with some water and food coloring. Next, soak the penne noodles in the food coloring for a few hours in order to dye the noodles. Now, it’s time to create your jewelry! Help your kiddo out by cutting them a piece of string for their bracelet, and show them how to thread on the noodles and beads. Once you’re both done, you’ll have cute friendship bracelets to show off!

Spray Chalk Art

What you’ll need: Spray bottle, water, washable tempera paint, dish soap. 

Our final activity let’s you and your kids get outside and enjoy the warm weather. Spray chalk art is easy to make and will keep your children entertained for hours on end. To create your spray chalk paint, place a drop of washable tempera paint into a spray bottle along with a cup of hot water and a squirt of dish soap. Shake the bottle well, and get ready to create some art! Show your kids how to use the spray bottle to create unique designs/art on the sidewalk or driveway. When you’re all done, you can simply wash off your art with some water.

Happy Anniversary PTN
6 Favorite Fun Therapy Ideas to Ring in Our Anniversary!
6 Favorite Fun Therapy Ideas to Ring in Our Anniversary! 1000 1000 PTN Chicago

This month we are absolutely thrilled to be celebrating our ninth anniversary. The actual anniversary is June 22, and we can’t believe how fast the time has gone. It has been an absolute pleasure working with such wonderful and diverse children and their fantastic families, and we can’t wait to keep it up for another nine years – and well beyond!

To celebrate our anniversary, we wanted to share some of our favorite occupational, speech, and physical therapy activities that parents and children can enjoy together at home. These play therapies are simple and don’t require a trip to the store, but they can offer hours of entertainment while also helping your child develop skills that will last a lifetime.

For sensory development…

Nothing beats a good old-fashioned sensory bin. The great thing about sensory bins is that they can be regularly updated and adjusted with new objects that your child likes. To make your own sensory bin, first you’ll need a plastic storage tub with a lid. You probably have one under your bed or hidden away in your kitchen or closet right now. Next, fill the bin about half way with a base material that your child can safely sift through. That material might be popcorn kernels, packing peanuts, or dry rice. The final step is hiding fun sensory objects in the bin for your child to discover and enjoy. Try to find things that will engage a variety of senses. For example, puffy poms are great to touch, tea bags are fun to smell, and oversize beads are beautiful to look at!

For gross motor skills…

One of our favorite activities that helps develop gross motor skills is playing pretend! This activity is wonderful, because it can be whatever you want, and it lets both you and your child stretch your imaginations. Maybe you can take turns pretending to be different animals. Or you can pretend that the floor is lava and jump between cushions and pillows laid out on the floor. You can stomp around like dinosaurs, or practice climbing (with supervision!) like monkeys.

For fine motor skills…

A great game for developing fine motor skills and getting some occupational therapy in at the same time is Restaurant! Play this make-believe game in your kitchen with actual pots, pans, and safe utensils like spatulas. You can even break out some real food like dry pasta or those baby carrots you’ve been trying to get your child to eat to make the game even more fun. Moving the game into the kitchen helps your child gain comfort in a different environment while practicing skills like stirring, scooping, and following directions, all while being creative.

For a DIY toy…

The simplest of simple do-it-yourself toys is the cardboard roll at the center of your paper towels. When you finish a roll, hand the cardboard over to your little one and tell her that it’s a telescope, or maybe a magic wand, or tape two together and make binoculars. A cardboard roll can become a log for dolls to sit on or a tunnel for small cars or Legos to slide through.

For speech therapy…

Try playing “I Spy” around your house – or anywhere, for that matter! But home is a great place to start with this game, as your child will be able to name more of the things in their environment. This game helps with building vocabulary, especially adjectives and nouns, and also builds critical thinking skills.

For balance…

Make a gym in your living room – or any room that has soft carpet – by grabbing a stack of your child’s books and lining them up on the ground to make a balance beam. Your child will have fun standing on their books and practicing walking across them without falling off. (And if you’re worried about books being mistreated, don’t be! The more that books feel like toys and rewards, the more your child will want to look inside.)

We hope you enjoy all of these play activities this summer. Give us a call anytime for more recommendations tailored to your child!

Chicago Kids Activities
5 Indoor Play Places in Chicago that We LOVE
5 Indoor Play Places in Chicago that We LOVE 1000 1000 PTN Chicago

February is the month of love, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share some of the places that we love in and around Chicago, particularly during these cold winter months. These places are all wonderful spots for engaging your little one in play that promotes healthy child development.

The Chicago Public Library

With every last book available through the internet, it’s easy to forget just how wonderful your local library can be. Spend a half hour letting your little one pick out books that she likes and reading them to her. Do some puzzles, or play a game that you don’t have at home on one of the children’s computers. Each branch also has plenty of interactive programming every month, ranging from homework help to story hours to arts and crafts. Find your local branch and check the event schedule here.

The Little Gym of Chicago

We can’t say enough good things about The Little Gym. This place specializes in classes that involve active play. Some classes are for parents and kids, some are just for kids, and the age range is from four months to twelve years old. (So many places that offer children’s classes start at age two, so this place can be a real life-saver for new parents.) Choose from gymnastics, dance, sport skills, karate, and more. Visit the website here to check out the current class schedule.

Kid City

This indoor play space is over 3,000 square feet and has everything from a play grocery market to a dress up boutique. This is a great spot for toddlers and pre-k kids in particular with big imaginations. You can bring a friend along or plan a session with one of our occupational therapists at this great playground. Learn more about the rates and hours here.

Little Beans Café

A perennial parenting problem is figuring out a way to take your kids on fun adventures and feed them well at the same time. Little Beans Café solves that problem by serving an assortment of drinks (including coffee) and snacks that both parents and kids will enjoy, all within a family play space. This could be the perfect spot to meet with one of our speech therapists to practice socializing, instruction following, and more. Learn more here.

Exceptional Wiggleworms at Old Town School of Folk Music

If your little guy loves music but has sensory sensitivities, then Exceptional Wiggleworms may be the perfect solution. This set of music classes is specifically designed for children with special needs and children with sensitivities to loud noises. Every class follows the same structure and is taught by someone educated in the field of special education. Learn more and sign up for a class here.

These are just a few of the spots we love. For more recommendations, feel free to give our office a call any time. We can also answer any questions you may have about our occupational, speech, and physical therapists or our approach to pediatric therapy.

Spring Play Therapy
It’s Time to Spring into Action!
It’s Time to Spring into Action! 1200 600 Triston Kee

The cold of winter is finally melting into the warmth of spring, and the transition couldn’t have come sooner! Your kids have probably been bouncing off the walls inside, so it’s finally time to get outdoors and enjoy some fun play therapy that will get them moving.

Here are a few of our favorite outdoor activities for speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy for kids.

Marco Polo – This is a classic version of tag in which the person who is “it” has to keep his or her eyes closed. To find the other kids, he or she yells out “Marco!” and the other kids have to respond, “Polo!”

A great way to simplify this game and make it a little less frustrating is for the “Polo” children to stay in one place. This makes them much easier to find, and it allows the game to get switched up more often, which keeps everyone happier and safer. Be sure to play this great sensory game in an open space free of tripping hazards, and always have adult supervision.

Scooting around the driveway – A fun way to practice balance skills is to hop on a balance bike, sit on a skateboard, or bring those roller boards outside and scoot around the driveway or the basketball court at the park. Draw lines with chalk to make “roads,” or follow the lines already drawn on the basketball court to add some imagination to your scooting.

Outdoor gymnastics – An open patch of grass is all you need to practice gymnastics with your children. With toddlers, you can lay down and practice rolling around on the grass. With preschoolers, you can show them how to tuck their heads and do a somersault. Your preschooler might even be ready to give hand stands or cart wheels a try (with your help, of course)!

If you make it out to your local playground, give the monkey bars a try, or even do a flip over a low bar. Both you and your little one will get a great, playful workout.

Tummy time under a tree – With your littlest little ones, getting outside for tummy time can be a great change of scenery. If your baby hates tummy time, he or she might tolerate it better when there are grass and flowers to touch, smell, and look at.

Remember to bring a blanket with you and set up under a shady tree to protect your little one from the sun. Baby will also love looking up at the leaves, birds, and swaying branches when you flip over.

For more tips on how to engage in play therapy with your children this spring, contact the PTN team today. Our Chicago occupational, speech, and physical therapists are always here to help!

Feel the Love and Grow with These Family Activities Geared Toward Child Development
Feel the Love and Grow with These Family Activities Geared Toward Child Development 1280 810 Thomas Chibucos

No two children are alike. Every child will develop at his or her own pace, and every child will have certain strengths and certain weaknesses. If your child is a bit behind with their gross motor, fine motor, or speech skills, working with a physical therapist can be helpful. But you can and should also enjoy activities at home that can help promote healthy development.

The best occupational therapy and speech therapy for children is usually play based. Here are a few simple family child development activities that you can do (at little or no cost) with your children to help them grow stronger and more confident in their abilities.

Drawing Rainbows and Racing Cars to Cross the Midline

Some children have a tough time crossing the midline. This means that they have trouble using the two halves of their body together. This is a skill that most children develop by the age of three or four. If your child could use some extra practice crossing the midline, get a big sheet of butcher paper or poster board and have them actually sit on the edge of the paper. Then, give them crayons or markers to make semicircles around their own body. The result will be a beautiful rainbow of color and great practice using their hands on both sides of their body. Be sure to get in on the fun as well with your own rainbow.

You can also practice crossing the midline by making a figure eight race track and running cars around it. You can use electrical tape or masking tape to make a small track on your floor, or use a wooden train set if you have one. By moving cars or trains in a figure eight pattern, your child will move their arms back and forth across the midline.

Playing Hand Games to Develop Fine Motor Skills and Language Skills

Plenty of nursery rhymes and children’s songs use hand gestures. Singing these songs with your children and doing the hand movements with them can help develop fine motor skills and promote better language skills at the same time.

Sing a few rounds of The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, and don’t forget to make rain trickle down your child’s face with your fingertips. Pat-a-cake is another favorite that parents and children can play together. You can also count off the ten little monkeys rolling out of bed on your fingers, or you can make up hand gestures for your child’s favorite song or lullaby.

Crawling Through Tunnels and Rolling on Scooter Boards to Build Gross Motor Skills

A nylon pop-up tunnel can be purchased for under $15, and scooter boards can be found for less than $20. These great toys can be used for all sorts of imaginative active play. Not only will your child (and you) develop important muscles and improve flexibility, he or she will have endless hours of fun in the process. Get on your scooter boards and pretend your living room is a raging river that you need to navigate together. Or see just how much fun your toddler has crawling through a colorful tunnel and playing peek-a-boo at either end. You’ll be blown away by the laughs and smiles.

Beat the Cold with these Excellent Child Development Activities
Beat the Cold with these Excellent Child Development Activities 1200 600 Triston Kee

We know that in the winter months it can feel like your options are incredibly limited in terms of play with your children. But resist the temptation to throw on a movie and call it a day! There are plenty of ways that you and your children can stay active while engaging in therapeutic activities at the same time.

Here at PTN, we believe in supporting development through play. An activity doesn’t need to be specifically designed by a therapist to benefit the development of your child. All sorts of play can incorporate learning, movement, body awareness, and social interaction. Here are some of our favorite winter activities.

If the weather permits, get outside!

If the sun makes an appearance, get your child bundled and head out the door.

  • Ice skate! If your child is a little older, take them to the local skating rink and practice those balance skills while having a great time scooting around. If skates are out of the question, you can also get on the ice in your snow boots and have fun trying to slide from side to side. Remember to make any falls as positive as possible by laughing and making it feel ok (and even fun) to fall down every now and then.
  • Throw snow balls! No need to have any fights. Rather than throwing snow balls at people, have a distance throwing contest, or practice hitting targets like fences or snowmen. Packing snowballs together is a great sensory activity, and throwing will build strength and coordination.
  • Go sledding! Even if you just have a cookie sheet or a trash can lid, sliding down hills can be a lot of fun and burn a lot of energy. Even climbing small hills can help build little leg muscles, and taking turns will help build those social skills.

Indoor fun for extra cold days and nights

When the weather forces you indoors, you can still have lots of fun playing pretend.

  • Stomp like monsters! Use blocks to build towers around the room, then stomp between them like overgrown monsters. Your child will love pretending, and he or she can even knock the towers down with their feet. This is a great way to stay active while practicing those big steps needed to make it through high snow. And building and rebuilding towers will improve those fine motor skills.
  • Put on a puppet show! Give your child finger puppets or a few stuffed animals and have him or her tell you a story using the puppets. Encourage a big imagination and help guide the story if your child gets frustrated or runs out of ideas. Just don’t take control – let them tell their story, and be sure to listen intently. You can also put on a show for your child. Take turns, and have fun with it!

For more winter activity suggestions or to learn about our therapy services, contact our team today!

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