What to Do When Easy Turn-Taking Games Are Not Easy Enough

My daughter Beth has multiple developmental issues that interfere with her ability to play easy turn-taking games (e.g., difficulty focusing on tasks, language delay, motor planning challenges, fine motor delays, and core strength issues that make sitting difficult) .  I have attempted turn-taking games on and off starting at age 3, shortly after Beth’s autism diagnosis.  I just recently figured out how to play games with her and she is nearly 5. The key to our success was to think outside the box and modify rules, and sometimes the game itself, to fit Beth. Below is a list of the lessons I have learned on the road to playing games, with examples of the games we use (or do not use and put in the “game reject” closet) and how we modified them. Please visit these Pinterest boards for my lists of easy turn-taking games and supplies for making your own games (http://pinterest.com/fumbthruautism/very-easy-turn-taking-games/ and http://pinterest.com/fumbthruautism/supplies-for-making-your-own-games/).  Also, I welcome input on games and game modifications on my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fumbling-Thru-Autism/102482513246303).

1. No Sitting Required

Beth has trouble sitting still or sitting down to do anything, so making her sit on the floor or in a chair to play a game leads to instant frustration.   So I let her stand and I sit beside her while we play games.  Sometimes she rests her foot on a little chair behind her, sometimes she jumps or rocks at the table, and occasionally she does a lap around the house and comes back to the game.  I set out several games so that we can do one quick game after another and so that Beth can choose from the games.  Here is our game table set-up:

Game Table

Game Table

2.  Shop at Thrift Stores and Ebay, and Never Get Rid of a Game

I have found some excellent deals at thrift stores or on Ebay.   I have used the pieces from some second hand games for modifications to other games I own.  I never throw anything out or give a game away, even if it seems like a complete reject.  I may think of some way to use the game or its pieces later, so I put it in the “game reject” closet.  Example of an easy turn-taking game from a thrift store:

Maisy Game (http://www.amazon.com/Briarpatch-Maisy-BP04101-Game/dp/B000ZIMBMC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360934313&sr=8-1&keywords=maisy+game)

This is a wonderful matching game and I paid $2.50 for it.  I just tilt the spinner to help it land appropriately to avoid missed turns, otherwise it is perfect.  Beth loves this game because we have read Maisy books since she was very young.

Maisy Game

Maisy Game

3. Circumvent Fine Motor and Motor Planning Obstacles

I try to remove or lessen fine motor challenges and motor planning obstacles so that we can just focus on the game itself.  Examples of game modifications I have made to circumvent fine motor and motor planning issues:

Preschool Lotto Game (http://www.amazon.com/eeBoo-PRELOT-Preschool-Lotto-Game/dp/B0014N0BSS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360957187&sr=8-1&keywords=preschool+lotto+game)

Lotto is an easy matching game. But the instructions say to put the cards face down on a table, have the players take turns to turn one card over, and if he/she does not have the card on their board then turn the card back over and return the card to the table.  All that turning over and handling small cards on a flat surface was too difficult for Beth. Another problem was she would drag her hands across the board during play and slide the cards around the board by accident.

Modifications:  I used a paper bag to draw the cards out of the bag instead of putting them on a table.  At first we just started with her playing alone with 1 board so she did not have to return cards to the bag and miss turns.  Now we can play together and she enjoys throwing them back into the bag.  Also, I used puffy paint (http://www.amazon.com/TULIP-PUFFY-FABRIC-PAINT-COLORS/dp/B0062PNAZY/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1360957797&sr=8-3&keywords=puff+paint) to create boarders to keep the cards in place on the game boards.

Lotto Boards With Puffy Paint Boarders, Pieces Drawn From Paper Bag

Lotto Boards With Puffy Paint Boarders, Pieces Drawn From Paper Bag

Angry Birds (Knock on Wood) (http://www.amazon.com/Angry-Birds-Knock-Wood-Game/dp/B004U52VPS/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1360927818&sr=1-1&keywords=angry+birds+knock+on+wood)

Beth giggled when she saw the bird and pig heads, so I knew I had to make this game work for her.  She already understood the game because she plays Angry Birds on the iPad (or attempts to, often the bird gets shot the wrong way!).  The catapult in the real game is excellent…easy to load and easy to pull back.  I do the building, but even knocking it down has its challenges for Beth. She can’t work the catapult on her own by holding with one hand and pulling back with the other.  She can’t aim with the catapult by moving it or adjusting the amount she pulls it back.

Modifications:  I added a backer board (a train table mat) to increase the chances that Beth knocks something down every time (no aim required, since it bounces of the backboard and she seems to pull it back all the way every time so I can fix the catapult in one spot).  I also taped down the catapult so that she only needs to use one hand.


Angry Birds Game with Backer Board and Taped Down Catapult

Game currently in our “game reject” closet due to fine motor issues:

4. Avoid or Alter Overwhelming Sounds

When I first started playing games with Beth, she was afraid of everything, so her specific fears of sounds that games made was not clear.  But now her fears are more obvious, because she winces and/or scrunches up her face, then disengages.  If I see signs that sound is problem, I alter the game’s sound and try again.  If I can’t get it to work after a couple of tries, I just put the thing in the “game reject” closet.  Examples of games where I altered sound:

Red Rover (http://www.amazon.com/Mattel-R3191-Red-Rover-Game/dp/B00383GDXE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360926037&sr=8-1&keywords=red+rover)

Beth thinks Red Rover is adorable and she wants to play with him, so that is a big plus!  I like that there are two levels of play (easy level- the dog just requests that you feed him different colors of bones; advanced level-  the dog requests colors, shapes, and numbers). But it is hard for Beth to align and push the bones in his mouth, so I help her.  The dog uses too much language, so I have to repeat the key item he is requesting.  But the near deal breaker was that the loudness of Red Rover’s voice stops her dead in her tracks and she can do little else but listen to the recording.

Modification: I simply taped the speaker in the back, and now it doesn’t overwhelm her anymore.

Red Rover

Red Rover

Red Rover, Speaker Taped

Red Rover, Speaker Taped

Angry Birds (Knock on Wood) (http://www.amazon.com/Angry-Birds-Knock-Wood-Game/dp/B004U52VPS/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1360927818&sr=1-1&keywords=angry+birds+knock+on+wood)

I mentioned some of the modifications to this game above, but sound is also an issue.  The sound of plastic pieces crashing to the table and into each other scare Beth.

Modification:  I put a piece of cardboard underneath to dampen the sound and I cut and sanded a square pine rod to make a quieter version.


Angry Birds, Plastic Replaced with Wood and Cardboard Underneath

Pop-Up Pirate  (http://www.amazon.com/Tomy-TY7028-Pop-Up-Pirate-Game/dp/B0000669DR/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360958241&sr=8-1&keywords=pop-up+pirate)

This is a very easy and fast moving turn-taking game where you plunge swords into a barrel until the pirate pops up (sort of sick!). It is a bit difficult for Beth to insert the swords due to fine motor issues, but I tilt the barrel to help her see the hole and that helps.  The biggest issue is the loud  and sudden spring-type mechanical sound when the pirate pops out, followed by the loud sound of the pirate hitting the table.

Modification:  I hold my hand above the pirate’s head and catch him, which eliminates the noise when he hits the table, which helps some. The jury is still out on this game.  I will continue to give Beth game choices and if she stops choosing it, I will assume the noise is too much and put it away.

Pop-Up Pirate

Game currently in our “game reject” closet due to noise: Lucky Ducks. Take my advice, if you have a sound-sensitive kid, don’t buy this game.  Even if you buy an old version and disable the incessant and loud quacking by taking out a battery, the motor that makes the ducks move around and around is too loud.  Turn everything off and you still have to deal with matching the bottom of the duck to a card, which involves turning the duck over, then turning him back over so that the match is hidden again. (http://www.amazon.com/Hasbro-42870-Lucky-Ducks/dp/B000E3USRS/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1360958704&sr=1-1&keywords=lucky+ducks).

5. Stack the Deck & Avoid Missed Turns

I often use “stack the deck” (i.e. ensure that game cards or pieces are ordered so that there is always a play) or take other measures to avoid missed turns.  It makes the game move faster and avoids confusion.  Examples of games where I altered games to avoid missed turns:

Candyland Castle (http://www.amazon.com/Hasbro-41450-Candy-Land-Castle/dp/B000OKS774/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1360968603&sr=1-1&keywords=candyland+castle)

This was the best beginning turn-taking game for Beth.  It has action (pull the lever to shoot game piece out), but no loud noise. It is super simple and quick.  The game cards have a recessed areas to hold game pieces which is a plus.  But the instructions say to load all the pieces, take turns ejecting them out, and if there is no match put the piece back in.  The game can get long if you have to keep putting the pieces back and putting the pieces back disrupts the turn taking and flow.

Modification:  Stack the deck!  I take two cards (one for me, one for Beth) and load them up with pieces, then put pieces from each card in an alternating fashion into the castle to load it.  That way, when the lever is pulled, we take turns and there is always a match for each of our cards.

Candyland Castle

Zingo (http://www.amazon.com/Think-Fun-7700-ThinkFun-Zingo/dp/B00006408Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1360968664&sr=1-1&keywords=zingo)

Zingo is a step up from Candyland Castle (mentioned directly above). It is good for working on language and has a great sliding game piece dispenser. But the game can get really long if you keep returning unplayable pieces.  The game board has no recessed areas for the pieces, so they may slide around too much.

Modification:  Stack the deck! The game dispenser spits out two game pieces at a time. I put the game pieces for my daughter’s card on one side of the dispenser, and mine on the other.  I either quickly get my piece to avoid confusion or work on the fact that Beth doesn’t have the piece, so she should give it to me.  The puffy paint mentioned in the lotto board section above can be used to make boarders around each square to keep the pieces from sliding around if needed.


Hi Ho Cherry O (http://www.amazon.com/Hasbro-44703-Hi-Ho-Cherry-O/dp/B00000IWGQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1360968733&sr=1-1&keywords=hi+ho+cherry+o and http://www.amazon.com/Hi-Ho-Cherry-O-Book-Series/dp/B000N2347Q/ref=sr_1_3?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1361010271&sr=1-3&keywords=Hi-Ho+Cherry-o)

A spinner and removing cherries is a great way to work on counting. But the game board was too cluttered and Beth kept putting her cherries in other buckets and taking the cherries from my tree and other buckets.  The spinner has some confusing parts that lead to missed turns (e.g., bird flying off with a cherry, spilled bucket) and it was visually confusing.

Modification:  I used pieces from two games I owned (see links above), and made a version with separate trees, separate buckets, and a portable spinner.  I mounted my child’s tree on a box with a hole in it so the cherries would not slide around.  I took apart the spinner (it pulls it apart and snaps back together easily), modified it with paper covered with clear contact paper, and put only large numbers on the spinner to avoid missed turns.  At the end of the game, I tilt the spinner to get the exact number of cherries left on the tree.  The portable spinner is great for controlling the game, because after Beth’s turn, I can hold the spinner above her tree so that she stops taking off cherries and I can take my turn. I taped Beth’s tree and bucket down so it did not move during play.

Hi Ho Cherry O

Hi Ho Cherry O

Game currently in our “game reject” closet due to visual clutter: I Spy Games. These games are a visual clutter nightmare for my child!  Also, traditional board games (Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, etc).  Many newer versions are more cluttered than the classic versions for some reason.  The Lauri Toys Peggy Back Game is an easier option I plan to try: http://www.amazon.com/Lauri-Toys-Peggy-Back-Game/dp/B000B7P8UE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361011990&sr=8-1&keywords=lauri+peggy+back+game.

6. Make Desired Placement of Game Pieces Obvious

My child needs to know EXACTLY where to put things during a game, or frustration ensues.  Here are some sample modifications to games to address the placement issue:

Memory Games.  When all attempts to do memory games in the real word failed, the iPad taught Beth how to play them (it took many months, but slowly, she got the concept).  But even after mastering memory games on the iPad, playing them in the real world initially failed.  Then I realized because of Beth’s need to know exactly where things go, I needed a holder to keep the game pieces in place during play and bowls for our matches.  I used foam board (http://www.amazon.com/Elmers-Acid-Free-Boards-16-Inch-902015/dp/B003NS4HQY/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1361200914&sr=8-4&keywords=white+foam+board) and cut out openings, then taped the foam board to the game table (the picture below shows 8 openings and I will cut out the top 4 tracings later to expand the game).  We use thick wooden tiles to help with fine motor issues (there are many sets available, here is one – http://www.amazon.com/Maple-Landmark-Animal-Memory-Tiles/dp/B007I3ALJC/ref=sr_1_26?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1361200585&sr=1-26).

Memory Game (foam board with cut-outs to hold tiles and bowls to hold matches)

Memory Game (Foam Board with Cut-Outs to Hold Tiles in Place During Play and Bowls to Hold Matches)

Honey Bee Tree (http://www.amazon.com/International-Playthings-P8070-Honey-Tree/dp/B000063KC8/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1360968826&sr=1-1&keywords=honey+tree)

This is a very easy game…just take turn pulling out the leaves and collect the bees.  This is basically the game Kerplunk and there are other versions out there with monkeys and marbles, but my kid likes bees.  But it takes forever to set up, so do it before your child even approaches it!  Where do you put the bees and leaves?  This was a huge problem for Beth.  I kept trying to show her how to put them in piles, but that confused her.

Modification:  I use a tall cup for our leaves that we pull out, and we each get a short cup for our bees.  At the end we work on which cup has more by sight instead of counting them all.

Honey Bee Tree

Honey Bee Tree

7. Make Your Own Games

Here are some home-made games I have made:

Eraser Lotto Game

I go to the dollar store and buy seasonal erasers to make lotto games. I copy them on my color copier to make lotto cards (cover the cards with clear contact paper).  I hide the erasers in my daughter’s lima bean sensory bin and we take turns drawing them out to place them on the cards.  I keep note of where I place the pieces in the bin, so that I can “find” the same pieces that she finds so she doesn’t draw a repeat piece.  This is the Valentine’s Day version of the game:

Eraser Lotto Game

Eraser Lotto Game

You can also make lotto cards by copying pieces of a matching game, which are abundant at thrift stores.

Feed the Animals Game

I previously posted about my iPad to real word feed the animals activity (http://wp.me/p2OomI-sU), which we are now using as a feed the animals game. I went to a teacher’s supply store and bought a spinner, took the spinner apart, copied the feed the animal food, cut out the food, put the food pieces on the spinner, covered with clear contact paper, and put the spinner back together.  We take turns spinning to feed the animals.  I tilt the spinner to avoid missed turns so that we never land on a food that has already been fed.

Feed the Animals

Feed the Animals

First Words Game

I previously posted about my iPad to real word beginning words activity (http://wp.me/p2OomI-sq).  This activity was easy to convert to a game by putting the letter tiles in a bag and taking turns to draw letters.

First Words Game

First Words Game

Simple Path Games

I found many theme-based simple path games in the book More Than Counting (http://www.amazon.com/More-Than-Counting-Activities-Kindergarten/dp/1605540293). In the example below, Beth and I take turns rolling a die to see who can get her acorn to a squirrel first. A large die is helpful because she can touch the dots while counting. We roll our wooden die into a plastic box to dampen the noise.

Short Path "Race" Game (custom die 1-3, game pieces are acorns sanded flat on the bottom)

Short Path “Race” Game (large wooden 1-6 die where I used self-stick foam to cover each side and put dots on each face with a permanent marker to make a 1-3 die, game pieces are acorns sanded flat on the bottom, squirrel stickers at end)

Short Path "Race" Game (Close Up of Acorn Game Piece)

Short Path “Race” Game (Close Up of Acorn Game Piece)



6 thoughts on “What to Do When Easy Turn-Taking Games Are Not Easy Enough

  1. Check out toys made by “Haba” (German). Low frustration, no fiddly parts or sounds, cooperative. “BusyTown Find It”is another good one (based on the Richard Scarry books). But for the love of all things good, stay away from BusyTown Airport, that one is a dud. My kids are neurotypical, but we still modify rules and game play to meet their needs developmentally. It’s just smart parenting all around. We try to focus on being a good sport, being honest, and turn taking, while leaving the game short and simple enough to experience success. This includes set up and clean up! I don’t agree with parents that just let their kids play however they want (whining and switching rules mid-game), it doesn’t really set them up for success on playing with friends. If my kids start to lose interest or can’t hold it together, we take a break, no big deal. I liked your reviews and modifications, I’m going to try some of these out!

  2. Roth Ko says:

    Wow! You are so creative. I love how you have modified these games. I found your entry about “going it alone” (Nov 2012) and wanted to learn more.

  3. Leah Kelley says:

    You have some really great ideas! I love the lotto with the little seasonal erasers, and I can think of a number of my students who would respond to this. I will definitely be back to read around your site 🙂

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