As a pediatric occupational therapist, finding a good toy is like winning the lottery. I love nothing more than finding a toy or game that kids not only love to play with but that help with the development of a variety of skills. Since the occupation of a child is to play, it’s my job to find toys that may possibly motivate them to learn at the same time. Another really important thing I look for in products is that they encourage kids to be creative and to use their imagination as much as possible. I am so excited to share some of my favorite items that made my 2018 Holiday Gift Guide. If you want more ideas, be sure to follow my blog!
Rainbow Family Peg Doll Sorter-this is something I bought on a whim a few months ago and have been pleasantly surprised at how much use they have gotten at work. It is a simple toy with endless possibilities. The set consists of 6 rainbow colored boxes which house 4 matching peg dolls in 4 sizes. I have used this to work on skills such as color identification, sorting and matching but I have been so excited to see how the kids all have their own way of playing and interacting with the dolls. Some kids have organized their sorting all of one color at a time and placing them in the box in size order which shows some pretty awesome executive functioning skills.
Magna-Tiles-a long time favorite of mine and one of my favorite gifts to give. These are definitely worth every penny spent and will last a lifetime. And let me say one thing…I have ordered generic magnetic tiles before and they just don’t hold up the same way the original Magna-Tiles do. I have had the same set for years and years and they have been used by hundreds of kids, been dunked in water and been used to build some pretty awesome structures on the sidewalks of Brooklyn and have held up beautifully. Magna-Tiles are great for encouraging creativity and imagination skills and also for working on developing visual motor and visual perceptual skills, improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, focus, attention and organizational skills. These are also great to encourage social skills by having kids build things together. Also, Magna-Tiles are a great gift for children who have disabilities that inhibit their motor skills. Because of the magnets, the blocks stick together with less effort and allow kids to be more successful which also encourages learning.
Wooden Building Blocks-I can still remember the hours and hours of fun I had with my sisters building with our blocks years ago. It’s so nice that all these years later, I can go into any classroom and see a bookshelf filled with classic blocks and see kids swarming around them. With that in mind, I go back to my comment about investment pieces. A good set of wooden blocks will last you forever so it’s worth spending more for a good quality set. This set by Guidecraft has 84 different pieces of varying sizes and shapes and are amazing in quality. Building with blocks has so many benefits (read this article that lists them all) including encouraging creativity, imagination and increasing confidence and self-esteem. It is also great for for working on problem solving and organizational skills, increasing upper extremity strength and bilateral coordination skills. Additionally, building blocks are a perfect toy to work on improving social skills, such as taking turns, being flexible about ideas and working with a team to build something.
Rody Horse-the physical therapists I work with recommend the Rody Horse for a lot of our younger kids (they recommend for kids 2-4 years old but depending on the size of a child, they can be used as young as 1 years old). Similar to the hippity-hop ball, kids bounce up and down on Rody. These are great for working on developing balance, coordination and motor planning skills. Also great for working on increasing core strength and trunk control.
Kick Scooter-living in NYC, parents are always looking for ways to get to places quicker. Once kids outgrow the stroller, they want a faster way to get to place from place so I always recommend a scooter. There are a lot of them out there but I personally love the children’s scooters from Micro Kickboard. They are lightweight and the two wheels up front make it a bit easier for kids to maneuver. Scooters are great for working on developing bilateral coordination, motor planning, focus and attention, organizational skills and visual motor and perceptual skills. I also recommend having kids who may have sensory processing difficulties ride their scooters to school to help “wake up their bodies” before getting into the classroom.
Wobbel Board-I had been coveting this beauty for a long time after following someone on Instagram. I’ve been using it at home with my daughter (because she won’t let me take it to work) and it’s been so fun to see how she uses it. When I purchased it, I imagined I would bring it to work and use it as a balance board with the kids. At home, it is being used not only as a balance board, but also as a prop in some of her imaginative play. The Wobbel Board is great for working on improving overall strength, trunk control, motor planning and organizational skills.
Easel-one of the greatest gifts my daughter got for one of her first Christmas’ was an easel. She had it for years so it was certainly worth the investment of getting a really good one. Working on an incline is great for developing upper extremity strength, trunk control and encourages grasping skills. I am going to recommend two different ones depending on what kind of space you have. For those of you have a significant amount of space, this Wooden Art Easel from Crate Kids. One side has a black chalkboard, the other has a white board and there is a place for a roll of paper on the top for painting and drawing. There is also plenty of storage space in the frame to store your paints and paintbrushes. If you don’t have quite as much space, Crate Kids has this awesome Table Top Easel which features a chalkboard on one side, magnetic white board on the other, a dowel on the bottom that holds a roll of paper and space to hold four paint cups. The nice thing about this one is that if you don’t have the real estate to keep an easel out permanently this one folds up for easy storage.
Here are some of my favorite craft accessories that can be paired with an easel and are perfect for kids of all ages.
I Can Do That! Activity Books-I am totally addicted to these activity books for preschoolers from Lazoo. Even better, my kids love them and are so motivated to work on challenging fine motor and graphomotor skills. Finding good activity books can be difficult so when I do find them, I love to share them with everyone I know. The books described below are small and can be thrown in a bag, keeping kids entertained while in the car, traveling or when in restuarants.
I Can Do That! Erasable Art-this coloring book is perfect for keeping kids entertained on the go. The pictures are simple but of familiar objects.
*I like to have my kids use these neon gel highlighters from Ooly. Not only are they great for kids who might have decreased grasp strength because it doesn’t require much pressure for the colors to show up, they are easy for kids to erase. The bonus for the kids is that they smell delightful!
I Can Do That! Origami-this super simple cutting and folding projects for preschoolers helps develop cutting skills and folding skills which are great for developing fine motor and grasping skills. There are a bunch of activities with no more than 3 steps where kids can turn pictures into something else.
I Can Do That! Stickers-this is another favorite of the kids at work. I mean, anytime you include stickers in a project it’s sure to be a big hit! Kids not only work on developing fine motor, grasping and coordination skills, they can work on problem-solving, early math and reasoning skills through the simple activities. Another great thing about this is that the stickers are reusable so it isn’t a one and done kind of thing.
Eeboo Pretend Play Stickers-one thing we know about the holidays is that we end up with a ton of cardboard boxes of different sizes. One of my daughter’s favorite things to do to this day is to use these boxes to build all kinds of things with. The hours that were spent making and creating were some of our favorite and most creative hours. When I discovered these pretend play stickers by Eeboo, I was ecstatic. Many of the kids I work with are too young or have trouble with initiating play and these are perfect for them. There are 3 sets to choose from (Car, Kitchen, Spaceship) and each comes with 5 sheets of reusable stickers. In addition to being a perfect tool for encouraging pretend play, creativity and imagination skills, it is great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination and visual motor skills. It’s also a great social skills tool!
Squigz-a holiday gift guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Squigz. For younger kids, be sure to check out pipSquigz and the Suction Kupz. These oversized suction cup toys will keep your kids entertained for hours while helping develop fine motor and grasping skills (and can even help with giving some relief when teething). Each one of the pipSquiz is a different shape, has a different tactile experience and a different sound. The Suction Kupz come in a set of 6 and can be used to put other little toys in, house snacks or just be used as a toy to explore. They are both perfect for keeping kids engaged while sitting in their stroller or high chair or even while getting bathed. For older kids, there are a whole series of Squigz from Fat Brain Toys. These open ended toys are great for working on developing grasping skills and bilateral coordination, improve hand-eye coordination, focus and attention and encourage kids to be more creative and imaginative. These are great to keep in your bag for long car trips as they can stick to windows and provide your child with hours of entertainment.
Lalaboom Pop Beads-I love when I find a traditional toy that has been given a bit of a modern update to it. I can remember playing with the Fisher-Price pop beads as a child and still recommend pop beads to parents who are looking for developmental toys for their babes. I was killing time at the beginning of the year and scouring Fat Brain Toys when I stumbled upon the Lalaboom beads. These snap together beads are a great way for young children to work on increasing grasp and upper extremity strength, improves bilateral coordination, motor planning skills and hand-eye coordination. What’s nice about these beads are that they each have a different texture on the outside making it an opportunity for sensory exploration. The other great thing about them is that each bead is actually two parts and can be screwed apart and they can mix and match beads. So as kids grow, the way they can play with this toy changes and becomes increasingly more challenging.
Bright Basics Peg Garden-peg boards are so great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination and focus and attention in children as young as 1 years old but are oftentimes so simple that they don’t always hold the interest of children for long. Educational Insights has a way of making this important toy more fun for kids. Last year, I featured the Learning Resources Peg Friends Stacking Farm set (which I still use multiple times per week at work). I am in love with this garden themed pegboard which comes with 15 flower pegs and 12 different insects that they can place on top of the flowers. This is great for improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills and focus and attentional skills. What’s nice about this pegboard set is that it can be graded to work on different kinds of skills such as sorting the flowers by color, matching the bugs, counting and color identification.
We are excited to add some of these toys to Luke & Caroline’s Christmas list!!
Meg & Kay