Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tweens Like To Play Too!

Over the years, I have heard from parents of tweens and soon to be teens how tricky buying gifts for this age can be.  Because of this, I started my Tween Gift Guide last year.  This year, I have tried to offer as many new ideas as possible for this hard to please crowd but suggest you take a look at last year's guide for additional ideas.

So many of these kids still want to "play" but at the same time, want to act all grown-up.  I know from my own 11-year old niece, that she has been asking for a phone or a computer for years but at the same time, she still wants to be a kid and get presents that will entertain her.  And she is not any different than any kids her age...no matter how into clothes and technology they are, they still want to get presents that they can "play" with.  So, this particular list is dedicated to all those kids of mine who I have known since they were babies and who are now tweens.  To those kids who are in limbo and aren't quite ready to grow up and just get all clothes and big kid kinda stuff...this blog is for you!  



Polaroid Camera-I think this is one of the greatest gifts that you can give a tween, especially those who don't have their own phone yet.  Kids love taking pictures and I have found that when kids use digital cameras, they are just clicking away without really understanding what they are taking and why they are taking them.  I have found that using a Polaroid camera makes kids pay attention to their environment a bit more...makes them connect to the people they are with more.  This is because you have to be certain about what you want to take a picture of because you can't erase it or do it over.  One thing I recommend to people is that kids have a book or journal dedicated to the pictures they take with their camera.  This allows them to store and write about the picture in a place where they can use it as a keepsake item.  

   
DIY Ukelele-there was something about this DIY kit that really caught my eye.  First of all, I think more and more kids are getting into music these days.  I know that many of the kids in my family are all inspired by music and arts so that is probably what made me want to include this on this years list. The kit is easy and the end-product is something that your kids will enjoy for years.  It comes with an unfinished and pre-assembled body, guitar neck and the strings.  Once it is put together, your child can make it all their own by painting it or adding stickers, decals, etc..   Great for working on improving fine motor, visual motor and perceptual skills, executive functioning skills such as following directions, focus and attention and organizational skills.  Once it is completed, kids have this boost in confidence and self-esteem from having built something from scratch.  Then there is the added benefits of being able to learn how to play a new instrument!



Sewing Machine-another thing I feel like kids are much more interested in these days are fashion and some of them even want to learn how to make their own clothes at a young age.  I have actually been on the lookout for a good sewing machine for my own daughter who has aspirations to become a fashion designer when she grows up.  I didn't want to spend a ton of money, but I definitely wanted one that was more than just a kid one.  I reached out to a family friend and she highly recommended this one by Janome (full disclosure...you can get it much cheaper on Amazon)....it's definitely not top of the line but it is one of the best portable ones and intended for younger sewers.  There are a tremendous amount of developmental benefits from learning how to sew and they say that the ideal age to introduce your children to this is between 8 and 12 years of age.  Some of the benefits are working on improving fine motor skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and developing executive functioning skills such as organization, motor planning, time management and following instructions.  Most importantly, it helps kids develop self-esteem and builds confidence when they complete their projects.

Air Power Soccer Disc-another great and affordable product that encourages kids to get up and move around.  Part air hockey puck, part levitating ball, this durable disk glides over floors with a push or a kick.  It's made of plastic and rubber and has a cushion around the outside so it can be used for indoor or outdoor use.  It also lights up making it suitable for nighttime play.  Kids can work on improving gross motor skills such as balance, coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.  Great for working on improving social skills, teamwork and collaboration while also working on improving confidence and self-esteem.  


Tabletop Air Hockey Table-I've had more hours of fun playing air hockey over the years with my family and friends and I love that it is still a game that kids love to play.  Living in NYC, having a giant air hockey table is not possible so I was excited when I found this tabletop one and have been suggesting it for some of my older kids over the years.  I love air hockey because it is a fun way to work on improving hand-eye coordination skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, fine motor skills and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.  This is a great activity for kids on playdates or to do with their siblings or with their parents.  

Emoji Uno-Uno will continue to be one of my favorite games.  First of all, it's easy to play as a family or with a group of friends.  Secondly, it's easy to carry around with you, making it perfect to take on vacations or when you know you are going to be waiting somewhere for a long time (think a sibling's sporting event or therapy appointment).  This version of Uno is almost exactly like the original Uno game except that all the special cards have a different emoji on it.  If someone puts that down, the person who follows them has to hold that face for two turns.
Great for working on visual motor and visual perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, fine motor strengthening (holding the cards) and a fun way to work on improving focus, attention and organizational skills. There are also a tremendous amount of opportunities to work on social skills and becoming a little bit more in touch with and understanding emotions and feelings.   


Fündapop-as you can see, I am trying to suggest things that get kids playing together and up and moving around.  I've been recommending the OgoSport Ogodisk to families for years and years and while I think it is something great for all ages, I was really drawn to the Fündapop for the older kids.  Fündapop is a catching game with a bit of a twist.  Kids put their hands in the mit and when they want to throw the ball, they open their hand and the ball pops out super fast. Once the ball lands in the other mit, it will snap closed.  This could be a great gross motor gift for kids who may have a hard time with throwing a ball.  Fündapop works on improving hand-eye coordination, grasp strength and manipulations skills, focus, attention and organizational skills and improves social skills as kids play together to catch and "throw" the ball with each other.    

Beat The Parents-let's be honest, at a certain age, your kids just don't want to spend too much time with you...they would much rather be with their friends or playing some video game.  You have to make sure that you find something to do with them that will be fun and definitely not too serious.  Beat The Parents is a great board game that is meant to bring kids and parents together.  This trivia based game has kids answer questions about their parents and parents answer questions about their kids.  Whoever crosses the finish line first (watch out...wild cards can send you back to the beginning or help you get to the end faster) is the winner.  This is a great way for families to connect and learn more about each other at the same time.  Also great for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, organizational skills and could be a great way to encourage conversation amongst families.  


Slapzi-from the makers of one of my all time favorite games Tenzi comes Slapzi.  This is a fast-matching, card-slapping game that will be sure to entertain kids and their families for hours.  The point of the game is to be the first to match the correct picture to the clue card.  Each player gets 5 picture cards that have images on both the back and the front.  A player is assigned to flip the clue cards over and then everyone has to quickly look at the front and back of their card to see if either of the pictures match the clue.  The first person to slap on of his/her picture cards on top of the clue gets to discard the card.  This continues until one of the players gets rid of all of their picture cards.  This game is great for working on improving visual motor, perceptual and tracking skills, hand-eye coordination, and bilateral coordination skills.  Also great for working on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills in addition to a ton of social skills!

Coloring Books/Pages-this is a broad recommendation but one of my favorites.  Coloring books have come a long way in the last few years and there is such a huge selection now that are appropriate for tweens/teens.  Coloring can do way more than just work on improving graphomotor and visual motor/perceptual skills.  The benefits of coloring are endless but here are a few of the most important things that can be accomplished through coloring:

*coloring can be a calming and therapeutic for kids who might be feeling stressed about all of the social and educational demands
*coloring can decrease stress and anxiety levels
*coloring encourages kids to focus on the "now"
*unlike drawing, coloring can be done by anyone.  So many kids avoid art activities these days because they feel like they won't do it well but coloring gives these kids a clear idea of what they need to do.  
*coloring encourages creativity and individuality.  While there may be a template for them to color in, they can use whatever colors they want.  They can express themselves through their coloring in the colors they choose.
*coloring is a portable hobby....you can easily take your favorite coloring book and writing instruments with you wherever you go.  
Some of my favorite coloring books/posters are listed below but there are SO many more to choose from based on your kid's interests.
Pirasta Coloring Posters
Harry Potter Coloring Book
Cats In Paris Coloring Book
Pusheen Coloring Book
Secret Garden
The Lost Ocean
The Dr. Seuss Coloring Book
Trolls....It's Color Time
Star Wars Doodles
Wreck It Journals





Saturday, November 26, 2016

For the Wee Ones!

Baby and toddler toys are always the hardest for me to recommend.  Not because there aren't a ton to choose from, but more that I want to make recommendations that may end up lasting a longer time.  When kids are really little, you can end up acquiring a ton of products that only get used for a very short amount of time.  But there are a ton of great products out there that can grow with your kid....can be adapted to make it better to use depending on their age and skill set.  Here are my top 10 (with a little help from some of my new moms out there!):

Bolli-I am a huge fan of OgoSport so when I saw that they had created the Bolli ball I was psyched.  I was initially drawn to it because of its shape and design.  I loved how the open spaces in the ball encouraged manipulation and grasping skills in younger children.  But the more I looked at this ball, I realized just how great it really is.  It can also be used for teething without parents worrying because it is made of materials that are 100% nontoxic, BPA and phthalate free.  It's soft and pliable making it easy for young kids to squish and stretch it which is great for working on bilateral coordination skills and hand-eye coordination.  As kids get older, you can work on throwing and catching skills with it! For all you parents concerned about how you clean this thing, it can be thrown in the dishwasher!  Each pack comes with 3 varying colors so you don't have to worry if one gets lost.

Rainbow Cone Tower-I am pretty sure that most everyone knows about the original Fisher-Price Rainbow Stacker.  I mean, I remember it from my childhood and have used it during my career.  Some people aren't always open to having plastic toys and would rather spend a little more to have a toy that may last longer.  One thing to keep in mind with baby/toddler toys is that less may be more...bells and whistles and lights and flashes may actually be more over-stimulating for young children.  When I saw this wooden rainbow stacker at Norman and Jules, my local toy store in Park Slope, I kinda fell in love with it.  This is the wooden version of the Fisher-Price rainbow toy from my childhood.  It will work on improving grasping and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, color recognition, motor planning and organizational skills.  This toy is made out of the highest quality and naturally harvested wood, colored using non-toxic dyes, paints and finishes meaning it's okay if your kid starts to chew on it!

pipSquigz-I have been a fan of the regular Squigz for a long time.  Their bright colors drew me in at first but then I fell in love with the popping sound they made as you pulled them apart from each other or off a mirror or wall.  The developmental skills that can be worked on while using them are amazing.  Then I discovered the pipSquigz and my mind was blown.  pipSquigz were created for younger kids and their little hands.  They are meant to encourage sensory exploration and awareness, stimulate bilateral coordination skills, hand-eye coordination and fine motor and manipulation skills.  Suggested for kids 6-months and older, but can be used as a teething device for younger children since they are BPA-free.  These are also great for speech and language development because you can teach kids color, sounds, feelings, etc. while they are playing.

Rody Horse-I've always loved Rody because he is super cute and the kids are always drawn to him.  They don't realize that they are actually working on developing trunk control and strength, balance and coordination skills and providing themselves with body awareness through the bouncing up and down while sitting on it.  Kids can also work on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills while holding onto Rody's ears.  While initially intended for children 2 and older (it can hold up to 100 pounds of weight), younger children can use it as well.  Rody comes in a variety of colors and is easy to pump up with a hand or foot pump.

Shape Sorter-a shape sorter is a really good gift to get for those younger kids because they will last a long time.  There are a lot to choose from which can make it confusing for people as they try and decide.  Over the years, they have evolved and I have found myself being more drawn to the wooden ones.  My new favorite shape sorter is by Hape (I love so many of their toys) because there is a sensory experience as well.  Each shape not only has balls/bells in them to make them rattle when shaken, they also coordinate with a color on the sorter.  You can start using this with kids as soon as they begin to sit up and are using their hands to explore the different shapes.  As they get older, you can start having them work on matching the shapes and colors.  Great for working on improving grasping and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and focus and attentional skills.  Made from all natural woods and painted with nontoxic paints, parents don't have to worry about kids putting the pieces in their mouth.

EZ Grip Massaging Teether Fruit-one of the biggest concerns I get from parents of my younger clients is that their sweet babes are putting everything in their mouths.  I've loved the vibrating fruit teethers by Innobaby for a while.  Babies get to soothe the pain from teething while working on grasping and hand-eye coordination skills.   I don't know from personal experience, but many people have said that by introducing kids to these fruit-like teethers that they have kids who are more open to trying a variety of fruits.   BPA, Phthalate, PVC and lead free, these are truly safe for your baby.

Poke-A-Dot Books-I discovered these books when my daughter was a baby and just loved them.  At the time, there were only 2 to choose from so I am happy to see that they have expanded their collection.  These books are interactive books that help in developing fine motor skills in babies and toddlers.  Each page has raised buttons that are part of the story (for example, you have to push a button down as you are counting the monkeys in 10 Little Monkeys). Using their pointer finger, kids push the buttons down as they are counting or finding objects on the pages.  Kids love the popping sound and that they get to be an active while having stories read to them.  Poke-A-Dot books are also great for working on improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, focus, attention, counting skills and language development.

Peek N Peep Eggs-sometimes the simpler the toy is, the better it is for kids.  This set of six eggs and chicks is an example of this.  Each chick is a different color and has different facial expressions that match one of the shells.  Great for working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, focus and attention.  For toddlers, it's a great way to help them identify feelings and emotions. Oh, and they squeak when you push them down which is sure to make your wee one giggle!
*Be sure to check out your local toy stores for this product.  I have seen and purchased it from Little Things Toys in Park Slope.

Chomp and Count Dino-this toy was highly recommended to me by another occupational therapist who also happens to be the mom of 8-month twins.  The interactive dinosaur comes with eight play pieces that you feed to him.  It has a counting and a food mode.  As he "eats" them, he will respond with different phrases that will help your children learn about colors, numbers, shapes and food.  There is also an option of pressing a button that will ask your child a question about what they have just learned (this is obviously something to do with older children).  While this is intended for children 12 months and older, my friend has been doing hand-over-hand with her babies to have them put the pieces into the mouth.  This is great for not only learning a lot of important concepts, it helps to develop fine motor and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination and visual motor/perceptual skills.  Another great feature, it comes with a pull string so as your kids begin to walk, they can take the dino for a walk!

Oball Products-the classic Oball was my daughter's first favorite toy and I have been recommending and gifting it to people ever since.  Six years ago, they just had the classic ball but since then, they have evolved and developed a bunch of new products that are just as wonderful.  The concept is simple:  each ball is made up of holes which make it easy for those little hands to grab onto them.  They help in developing fine motor and grasping skills and encourage bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination.  They are super durable and made from non-toxic materials making them safe for teething.
Some of my new favorite products:
Oball rattle-just like the Oball Classic but has 3 rattles built in
Rattle and Roll Toy Car-this should be every babies first car!  It is easy for even the youngest child to grasp onto the top (which is made of an Oball) and push it back and forth
2-in-1 Roller Toy-this is a walking toy.  As kids begin to walk, they can push this.  They are rewarded with a fun sound as they push it all around
*again, be sure to check out your local toy stores to see if they carry them.  There isn't a single toy store in New York City that I have walked into that doesn't carry the Oball products.

If you are looking for gifts for older children, don't forget to check out the 2016 Holiday Gift Guide.









Friday, November 25, 2016

2016 Holiday Gift Guide


Year after year, I am asked by parents what they should get or suggest to others for holiday gifts. While they want the gifts to be something that their kids will enjoy, they would also like to make sure that it will work on improving skills at the same time.  The good thing is that you know what to look for when toy shopping, you will realize that there are so many great, kid-adored products out there that will not only be fun, but can help in developing a variety of developmental skills.  When I look at toys, games or arts and crafts, I look to see if there are aspects of the product that will work on the following skills:
*improve fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills
*work on increasing grasp strength
*help to develop visual skills, such as visual motor, perceptual, tracking and attention skills
*work on improving executive functioning skills such as improve focus, attention, organizational skills, etc.
*may encourage speech and language skills
*encourage social skills, such as taking turns, collaborative play, etc..
*can be adapted based on a child's skill level (and by adapted, I mean made less or more challenging based on what each child can do).

Over the course of the year, I have spent time walking in and out of a bunch of toy stores (it's actually a problem....I have to seek out the local toy stores whenever I am somewhere new).  I have walked up and down aisles, researched and have been collecting information on toys, games, books, etc. that I feel should be on my annual Holiday Gift Guide.  This is a labor of love and by far the blog post that I am most proud of each and every year.  I hope that this helps you or that you share it with people who would find it helpful.  And if you have any questions or want further suggestions, I am always a click away and always more than happy to help people out with their gift hunting!

Need ideas for the little ones in you life.  Be sure to check out my gift guide for the wee ones here. and tweens/teens here.

Small Gifts/Stocking Stuffers
People are always on the lookout for small gifts or stocking stuffers that won't clutter up your house. There are also a lot of people who need to get a little gift for kids as a thank you for having them to a party or a simple gift exchange.  I've been putting together this list for more years than I can count and one of my favorite things to share are my favorite small gifts.  Stocking stuffers/small gifts are almost always the ones that bring the biggest smiles to faces.  Haven't we all learned that sometimes the best gifts are the small ones that come in the smallest boxes???


Discovery Putty-working on making those little hand muscles stronger can be a challenge for kids.  I have found that you have to make it fun and motivating for kids and Discovery Putty is just that.  There are four sets to choose from with different themes (transportation, school supplies, animals and sweet treats).  Kids work on improving their grasp strength and manipulation skills by hiding the small objects in the putty and then finding them.

Tenzi-this dice game is one of my all time favorites!  More importantly, the kids love it and ask to play all the time.  The rules are simple:  each person playing grabs 10 dice (each set comes with 4 different colored dice) and starts rolling.  The first person to get all 10 dice on the number they choose is the winner.  Be sure to check out their website for lots of different ways to play the game!  Tenzi is a great game for working on eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, focus/attention and organizational skills.

Rock Chalk-you can never go wrong with giving kids chalk!  My daughter spends hours and hours during the warmer months drawing on our sidewalk.  This set of chalk, shaped like rocks, is perfect for those little hands and even can help in developing grasping skills.  If you have an easel at home with a chalkboard, this set of chalk is perfect!  (Working on a vertical surface is great for improving upper extremity strength and shoulder stability).

Zoo Sticks-meals can be a really frustrating time for some families so why not try and make it more fun??  I've been using these child-friendly chopsticks at work and at home for years and kids love them.  Okay, I won't lie....I don't know how to use real chopsticks and will sometimes use these!  Chopsticks are great for working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills.  They are also great for working on improving eye-hand coordination.  You don't only have to use them for meal time.  I like to have kids at work use them when picking up small objects.  

32 Ways To Dress a Bunny-this cute little booklet has 32 different drawings of a bunny and your child gets to draw different outfits on the bunny!   Each page has a picture of the bunny's face and limbs (or fox) doing different activities.  Your kid gets to decide how to dress and accessorize them!  Great for working on improving graphomotor skills, focus and attention, improves creativity skills and can be great for encouraging language skills.  Another great feature....they are small and can be thrown in a bag to keep your kids entertained at a restaurant, in the car or in a waiting room!

Slime Suckers-if you have a kid who is cool with gross, this is perfect for them.  The best part, kids get the thumbs up to play with gross stuff and work on improving fine motor skills at the same time!  Each set comes with a container filled with slime and a creature that can suck the slime up.  I love the fact that it's totally affordable (under $3!) but really love the fact that it is a super fun way to get kids to work on developing fine motor skills.  I just might have to buy this for every kid I know!

Magnetic Hangman Game-I grew up playing the game of Hangman with my friends and sisters.  Hangman is the perfect game for kids who have learned how to spell and want to show off their skills.  This particular version of Hangman is great because it is easy to put in a bag and travel with.  In general, the game of Hangman is a great way to reinforce learning how to spell words, learn the letters of the alphabet and work on social skills.  It's also a great way to work on improving many executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, problem solving and organizational skills.

Wikki Stix-I've been a big fan of Wikki Stix from the first time I went into a restaurant with a kid and they gave them out instead of crayons and a coloring page!  I remember the kid I was with making a pair of glasses out of the Wikki Stix and my now husband and I making our own designs!  For those of you unfamiliar with Wikki Stix, they are wax-covered pieces of yarn that can be molded and made into a variety of things.  I like to use them to help kids learn how to make shapes, letters, numbers and other kinds of pictures.  Kids can also work on decreasing tactile sensitivity and improving bilateral coordination, fine motor and eye-hand coordination skills when using Wikki Stix.
Rock Crayons-maybe there is a pattern with me....I like writing instruments that encourage an appropriate grip.  An added bonus is if said writing instruments actually are brightly colored!  Each set comes with 12 multi-colored, rock-shaped crayons.  Because of their shape and size, they help to encourage a tripod-like grasp when you use them.   The multi-colored design makes them more exciting and motivating for kids who may be a bit discouraged to pick up a crayon to draw or color with.

Transfers-my daughter received these at a birthday party recently and she has been obsessed with them!  I was so excited to see her so into them because I remember doing these when I was her age.  These make a great little gift and are perfect for working on improving fine motor skills, graphomotor skills, creativity and eye-hand coordination.

Games
Games make a great gift, especially if you are looking for gifts that will be good for the whole family. In a day and age where kids seem to be connected to some kind of electrical device more often than not, it is nice to know that there are lots of game options out there that will keep the whole family entertained.  When picking games, I wanted to be sure that they could help in the development of fine motor, gross motor and/or visual skills.  I also wanted to be sure that they would help in encouraging good social skills, including good sportsmanship.  Many of these games can be adapted based on a child's skill level and his/her needs.

Happy Salmon-this simple, fast-paced card game that combines visual perceptual and gross-motor skills.  Everyone flips cards over their action card after they flip it over; if two people shout out the same action, they celebrate by doing that action together.  The first person to match all their cards in their deck wins.

Giggle Wiggle-this is an updated version of the Scatterpillar Scramble game.  Kids race to get all the marbles in the hands of the moving caterpillar.  Great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills and focus, attention and regulatory skills.  For younger children, you can decrease the level of difficulty by not turning the game on while they are trying to put the marbles on.


Willy's Wiggly Web-this cooperative game combines teamwork and the development of fine motor and cutting skills, eye-hand coordination, counting skills and recognizing left and right hands.  The purpose of the game is to cut all the bugs free from the web before the spider falls from the top of the web. Once the web and all the bugs are in place, kids pick cards and then follow the instructions to cut the web.

ListMania-this cooperative game for kids 7 and older requires them to take turns to make a list of items in alphabetical order.  This is great for working on imagination skills, organizational skills, focus, attention and regulation skills.  If you want to work on improving handwriting, this could be a fun way to get them motivated to write!  Some of the things you can write about are body parts or things you do at the beach.  There are three different ways to play the game.

Pancake Pileup-this is a favorite for the kids I work with!  In this relay style game,  kids have to pile up pancakes in the correct order based on which card they pick up.   Place the pancakes on one of the room and a plate on the other side and kids have to run back and forth while stacking them up.  Great for working on gross motor skills, balance and coordination, focus and attentional skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  You can encourage social skills by having kids work in teams when playing this game.

Tumbling Monkey Stick Game- this has been a fine motor favorite of mine for a long time.  Much like the game Kerplunk but instead of marbles, there are monkeys that you are trying to get out of the tree.  Great for working on developing fine motor and grasping skills, eye-hand coordination, problem solving, organizational skills, attention and focus.  This game can be adapted to be easier or harder depending on children's skill level.

Yeti In My Spaghetti-another great game to work on the development of fine motor and grasping skills.  Place a bunch of plastic spaghetti pieces on top of a bowl and then put the yeti on top.  The point of the game is to pick out a piece of spaghetti from the pile without letting the yeti fall into the bowl.  This has been a big hit with all my preschool and school age kids!  In addition to working on fine motor skills, kids can work on improving eye-hand coordination, problem solving and organizational skills and improve social skills when playing the game.


Thumbs Up-the goal of this game is to be the first to stack a series of rings on their thumb based on the card they choose. Each card has different pictures with different colored objects and numbers on it.  Great game for learning colors, improving visual attention and eye-hand coordination, focus and attention and processing speed.  Can be adapted for kids of different ages and skill levels.

Sturdy Birdy: The Game of Perfect Balance-this game focuses on improving gross motor, balance and coordination skills.  There are 12 cards with different poses on them and kids have to master each one in order to win the game/make it to the end of the line.  They roll the dice to find out where to place a beanbag and how long to hold the position. Everyone counts while the pose is being held which helps in developing good sportsmanship skills.

Social Emotional Toys
In the last couple of years, I have become more and more interested in finding products that help with social emotional learning.  I've had the great pleasure of being a part of The Meeting House, an amazing recreational based after school program in New York City for children with social difficulties, for the last 7 years.  During this time, I have learned first hand that while most children are born with an understanding of how to be kind and understanding, there are still many children who need more support and help in developing these skills.  Many of the kids I work with have a difficult time with processing both verbal and non-verbal social cues so we have to come up with alternative ways to teach them.  Below, you will find a handful of games and toys that will help develop social emotional skills in a fun, engaging and meaningful way.

Make A Face!- this amazing wooden puzzle-like product by Moon Picnic is a wonderful way to teach kids about feelings and emotions.  Not all children are able to talk about or recognize emotions and feelings.  I love how you can flip, turn or twist the 8 different pieces of the face to make a wide range of emotions.  You can use the booklet to copy the different faces or make your own.  This is a great way to help begin a conversation with children about different emotions and feelings, when they might feel this way and what they can do when they are feeling certain ways.  Bonus:  great for working on improving fine motor and visual motor and perceptual skills.
Magnutto Make A Mood-this is another great toy to help children gain a better understanding of emotions and feelings.  When you lift open the box (where you store the 133 different foam magnetic pieces) you find two faces...the top of the box is a magnetic board and kids can add all kinds of details to the two faces.  Pictures of different expressions, a list of emotions and a list of questions you can ask your kids while playing that will help them not only analyze emotions but how to react to them are included with the toy.  You can work on improving social skills by having kids work on the faces at the same time and encourage them to have conversations about what they created.

Eggspressions-these cute wooden eggs by Hape help younger children learn about feelings and emotions.  This set comes with 6 wooden eggs with different emotions.  Kids can use the eggs to help express how they are feeling when they can't really talk about it with others.  The set comes with a book that helps to show kids how to share their feelings.


Many Moods of Me Journal-as kids get older, their moods and feelings can get really confusing for them.  This 75-page journal by Klutz is a great gift for children (8 and older recommended) who need a place to keep track of how they are feeling.  This journal is not organized by the date, but instead organized by the following moods:  happy, sad, afraid, icky and angry.  Included with the book are a multi-color pen (each color represents a different mood) and a mood ring.  Also included are postcards that you can write and save for your future self!  Lots of opportunities to color, doodle and draw throughout the journal.  This is a great gift for those kids who have big feelings but don't want to talk about them with you.  And let's be honest, sometimes it's best for kids to be able to jot down their thoughts and feelings in a private way to be able to understand themselves better.

My Mood Memo-teaching kids at an early age to understand, recognize and deal with feelings and emotions can help them be more kind and empathetic people.  In this game by Plan Toys, kids look for the matching emotion tiles.  Each of the emotions is paired up with a color that represents that feeling and helps them to group them.
Kid can work on visual memory and visual motor skills, focus and attention and organizational skills while learning about feelings and emotions.  Depending on the age of the kids you are playing with, you can encourage them to talk about times they feel certain emotions and how they can deal with those feelings.

Friends and Neighbors: The Helping Game-in this cooperative game by Peaceable Kingdom, kids learn about empathy through matching problems with solutions.  Kids take turns pulling tokens out of the Helping Bag and see if the token they have chosen can help someone on the game board.  Kids have to work, think and discuss together to match up all the tokens.  The best part of this game is that nobody is a winner....you all work together to fill up your boards!

Arts and Crafts (including activity books)

Sticky Mosaics-these are still one of the products that I recommend the most to families!  Kids love working on their creations and don't realize that they are working on improving their fine motor, grasping, visual motor and visual perceptual and organizational skills at the same time.  With so many different sets to choose from (unicorns, dinosaurs, fairies, sports, etc.) you are sure to find one that will be perfect for a kid in your life!  The best part for me to see is how proud and excited the kids are when they put that final sticker on and get to take it home.

Pom Pom Pictures-I was in a new toy store out on Long Island a couple of months ago and got to spend some time with the owner of Fun Stuff Toys, who told me to try these out if I was a fan of the Sticky Mosaics.  I am happy to report that Orb Factory has done it again with these Pom Pom Pictures kits!  They are a huge hit with the kids at work.  Each template is broken down into 4 sections; you peel the sticker off and match the small pom poms to the correct colors.  Great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.

Pirasta Coloring Posters-these posters are a really fun family gift.  My nieces have one hanging on their playroom wall and have been coloring with their friends and each other over the course of time and have the best time.  There are so many different ones to choose from....foods, different cities, animals, etc..  Great for working on improving graphomotor skills, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills.  Hanging it on the wall allows for kids to work on building upper extremity strength and shoulder stability.
The Kindness Kit-Craft-tastic has a ton of great craft kits, especially for older school-aged children.  The Kindness Kit is by far one of my favorites though because it encourages children to share the crafts that they make with others.  The set includes all the materials for 8 projects.  Great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, bilateral coordination and executive functioning skills such as following directions, organizational skills, focus and attention.

Fashion Plates-another one of those toys that brings me back to my childhood!  My little girl has aspirations to be a fashion designer when she grows up so when I gave these to her, she was super excited.  Fashion plates encourage creativity while working on improving fine motor, visual motor and perceptual skills, graphomotor skills, bilateral coordination and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.  If you have a kid who isn't into design, be sure to check out the Action Plates which lets kids design their own superhero!  

The Tinkering Kit-for the kid in your life who is more into building things than doing crafts, this would be the perfect gift.  This is not your typical craft kit and is ideal for kids who are 6 and older.  The kit comes complete with all the supplies needed to make 8 really cool projects.  How much fun would your little engineer have making a zipline or a their own marble maze??  Great for working on improving fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  Especially good for working on improving executive functioning skills such as focus and attention, following multi-step directions and organizational skills. 

Crazy Aaron's Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kit-I've long been a fan of all the products by Crazy Aaron (read their beautiful story here guys....this Phildelphia-based company employs over 800 people with intellectual and developmental delays).  You can't go wrong with any of their putty products because they are great for working on improving fine motor skills, strength and manipulation skills (hide coins or small objects in the putty).  If you have a kid who is into science and doing experiments, you should definitely check out this kit where you can mix up your own magical putty.  The set comes complete with 5 tins of clear putty, three concentrated color putties, three special effect putties and an instructional mat that gives you a bunch of ideas.  There are also labels for kids to write on after they create their own putty which is great for working on improving graphomotor and creativity skills.  


I Like Activity Book-this activity book is great for kids of  all ages.  There are 48 pages of activities that encourage kids to answer questions about themselves.  Lots of opportunities for them to draw, color and be silly.  Older kids who are independent for writing can fill the book in by themselves and then share what they did with their grownups.  Younger kids who may need more help can complete this with their grownups.  Great for working on improving graphomotor and creativity skills.   Also great for working on improving focus, attention and organizational skills.  This can also be great for kids to get to work on language and conversational skills.  

Happy Snacks Color-In'Book-my daughter is really into Shopkins right now so when I saw this adorable coloring book, I had to get it.  The pictures are so cute and engaging.  I love how while we are coloring, we are talking about what we see and whether we like that food or not.  My little girl is a bit of a "by the books" kinda kid, so I've used this book as a way to encourage her to think outside of the box and be more creative.  There is no reason the mushrooms on the pizza can't be purple or the marshmallows in the hot chocolate can't be green.  At the same time, we are working on improving visual motor/perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, focus and attention and improving her grasping skills.  Once your picture is complete, they are easy to tear out and display for others to see!

Chalkola Markers-I was lucky enough for this product to have found me before I published this years gift guide.  I've been searching for something like these for a while and they happened to drop in my lap.  For many of the kids I work with, I suggest that parents find a wall in their house that they can put up some chalkboard or white erase paper on a free wall to work on graphomotor skills.  However, finding the write writing instruments to use on these surfaces has been tricky.  Dry erase markers are great but for so many of the kids I work with, they drag their hand along their work and erase their work before finishing.  These chalk markers are great because they go on as smoothly as they come off.  When I took them out at my gym recently and had the kids write on our mirror, they were so excited.  I had one little boy (who has always been resistant to handwriting activities) ask to write his name four different time in as many colors.  The nice thing about these chalk markers is that once they are started, they are easy to use so if you have a kid with decreased grasp strength, they can still be successful.  I happened to work on a large wall mirror with my friends which is great for building up upper extremity strength and shoulder stability.  When working in this upright position, kids are also more likely to prop their wrists up correctly which puts them in a more appropriate grasping pattern.  Besides practicing shapes, letters and numbers, you can play games like Tic-Tac-Toe, Hangman or the dot game.

Building Toys
This is one of my favorite sections to complete each year.  While there are several items that are always on there, I have included some new construction and STEM sets this year.  These kinds of toys are great for developing a variety of fine motor skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, problem solving and executive functioning skills.  They are also great for helping children become more creative, develop imagination skills and can help them feel more confident when they are done building and creating.
Magna-Tiles-these magnetic tiles have made my list every year since I began.  Not only are they great for working on motor planning and organizational skills, they are easy for kids of all ages and abilities to use them with great success.  If you have a child with decreased motor skills or decreased upper extremity strength, these are great for them.  Kids can build anything from an ice cream cone or a building as tall as them.  In the last few years, they have created different colored sets and ones with doors, windows and wheels so kids can create even more.  In addition to working on motor planning and organizational skills, playing with Magna-Tiles can help encourage bilateral coordination, imagination and creativity and easily be played with a friend to work on improving social and play skills.

Tegu Blocks-another favorite of mine, the Tegu blocks are beautiful wooden blocks that stick together via magnets.  Like the Magna-Tiles, I was originally drawn to these blocks because they were great for children of all ages and abilities.  Kids who may present with motor and coordination problems can play with these independently and successfully which helps in building confidence, self-esteem and imagination and creativity.  Tegu has evolved over the years and now have sets where you can make robots, helicopters and some really cool circuit sets!

Toobalink-I love discovering a new building toy, especially ones that can use household objects to help you create and build.  Toobalink is a construction kit that comes with connectors, joiners and couplers that help turn paper towel and toilet paper tubes into whatever it is your child can think of.   It also comes with an instruction booklet that gives you idea but that doesn't mean that you can't let your imagination go crazy and think outside of the box!  Great for working on improving motor planning and organizational skills, bilateral coordination, imagination and creativity skills.  Also great to work on with friends or siblings to encourage team-work and collaborative play.

Robot Engineer Kit (Level 1)-more and more young kids are interested in building and being engineers.  One thing I have noticed over the last few years is the increase in products that encourage STEM education.  This fun robot kit introduces kids to the basic engineering concepts, teaches them about gears, levers and wheels and allows them to be creative at the same time.  Each kit comes with extremely well made and durable pieces that snap together to build a robot.  It also comes with a book that has 10 different stories the kids have to follow along with in order to put the robot together.  Great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, bilateral coordination and executive functioning skills such as organization, motor planning, focus, attention and following multi-step directions.

Squigz- These colorful suction cup toys seem so simple but encourage a bunch of developmental skills in kids of all ages.  pipSquigz are perfect for babies and younger children. Each set comes with 3 different shape and colored pipSquigz with a different texture and sound (kind of like a rattle) which is great for expanding their tactile world.  The suction cup toys not only stick to each other but to mirrors, windows and similar like surfaces.  My kids LOVE the sound they make and I love that they work on improving eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, bilateral coordination and exploring a variety of different textures.  Another bonus, they are BPA-free which makes them ideal for children who may be teething.  As kids get older, you can get them the Squigz.  These suction cup toys can be stuck to each other or to different surfaces (like the refrigerator, mirror or windows).  Kids LOVE them!  Great for working on improving bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, grasp strengthening and visual motor skills.

Joinks-last year I wrote about Straws and Connectors, another great building toy, but spent some time this year looking for something that was a bit more durable and could handle the wear and tear of use by multiple kids.  Joinks are just that!  This construction kit comes with 76 flexible connectors and wooden sticks that you can use to build a variety of shapes, buildings, people, etc..  Great for working on building fine motor skills, visual motor skills, bilateral coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.  Kids can work on their own to create or play with a friend and work together to help build something fabulous.


Waldorf Inspired Rainbow Stacker-this homemade Waldorf inspired building toy by Hope Learning Toys is great for working on visual motor and perceptual skills.  It's a beautifully made toy that can help younger children work on learning colors.  It can also be used to encourage free play and language skills.  Made with all natural materials and dyes and safe for all ages.

Action-Stackers Little Builder Set-for as long as I have been practicing as an occupational therapist, I have always used the Lauri tall stackers and pegboard.  They are definitely the best pegboard set out there and great for working on so many fine motor, visual motor and executive functioning skills.  I was really excited when I was walking around Westside Kids in Manhattan and saw this awesome product.  Kids can use the pegboard and pegs to build 3-D designs or can just use the pegs, connectors and wheels to build structures, cars, etc.. Great for working on building their imagination and creative skills.  Also great for working on improving motor planning, organizational skills
In addition to the pegboard and pegs, the set comes with a variety of connectors, wheels and a step by step activity book.

Legos-I always try and make as many different suggestions for construction and building sets before recommending the good old standby, Legos/Duplos.  Over the years, Lego has evolved into something so big and targeting the interests of kids of all ages.  Whether you are a superhero fan, a lover of princesses or vehicles, you will always be able to find a set that is good for your child.  Legos/Duplos are great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, grasp strength, bilateral coordination, a variety of visual motor and perceptual skills and executive functioning skills.  It's also great for building confidence and self-esteem when they complete their Lego sculpture.

One of the great things about Legos is that you can find them in any local toy store so support those small businesses and purchase your Lego sets from them instead of getting them from the big box stores.  Some of my favorite stores in NYC to get them from are Westside Kids, Mary Arnold Toy Store, Toy and Stationery World ,  Lulu's Cuts and Toys and  Little Things Toy Store in Park Slope.


Basic Builder Set-another amazing product from Hape Toys that encourages younger children to build and create!  This is a great set for younger children because the pieces are bigger making them easier to manipulate.  Kids can work on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, bilateral coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.  The set also includes a bunch of cards with images on how to make a bunch of different things which is great for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills.

Gross Motor 
One of the things we notice these days are that kids tend to spend more time infront of a tv or some kind of electronic device.  We need to make sure that we incorporate ways for kids to move every day, to build up their strength, endurance and motor planning skills.  In this section of the gift guide, I share some of my favorite toys that not only work on improving gross motor skills, but may help with developing social skills such as cooperative play.  

Big Stack Cardboard Blocks-this set of 40 cardboard blocks of varying sizes is great for people who have a lot of space.  You'll be surprised at how sturdy these blocks are and how they can handle the wear, tear and rough play that they will sure to go through with your kids!  Great for working on gross motor play and strength, encourages creative play and helps to work on eye-hand coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.

Foldaway Trampoline-I wrote about this awesome child-sized trampoline a few weeks ago in great depth and knew it would have to be included in this years gift guide.  Living in NYC, you don't always have the space to keep things like a trampoline out in your apartment.  People are also concerned about kids getting hurt when they are not being supervised while jumping on the trampoline.  So a trampoline that will fold in half and take up almost no room was so great to find.  Many of the kids I work with benefit from jumping on a trampoline for sensory purposes.  It can help organize them and provide them with proprioceptive input that helps to improve body awareness.

Double Rocket Launcher-this is easily one of the most popular toys at Heads Up, the therapeutic gym I work at in New York City.  Kids of all ages love it and don't realize how many gross motor skills they are working on when playing with it.  This is a great toy to work on jumping, running, coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.   If you have a lot of space or playing with it outside, you can have kids have races to catch the rockets or have them take turns catching the rockets for each other.

Zoom Ball-another one of the toys that makes this list year after year.  The Zoom Ball is a great toy that helps kids work on improving upper extremity strength, motor planning and coordination and collaborative play.  It's a great toy for kids to play inside or outside.  In this two person gross motor activity, kids send a football like ball back and forth to each other.  This requires a tremendous amount of focus, attention and requires kids to work together.

Spooner Board-I am sure many of you know of kids who would like to be on their scooter or skateboard all the time.  Now they can be with the Spooner Board.  The Spooner Board helps in developing coordination and gross motor skills, helps to improve strength and balance.  Can be used on pretty much any surface.  I love that kids get to work on all of these skills but have fun at the same time!

Scooter-living in NYC, parents are always looking for a way to get from point A to point B as quickly as they can.  Once their kids outgrow their strollers, they are eager to find something that will be faster than their kids just walking.  While there are a ton of different scooters to choose from these days, the only one I suggest to families are the ones by Micro Kickboard.  Great for working on helping improve gross motor skills, including strength, endurance and motor planning skills.
Swurfer Swing-one of the best parts of my job is that I get to play all day with some of the coolest kids in New York City.  The other cool thing is that I get to use swings indoors to help kids gain skills.  Last year, I learned about the Swurfer swing and we got it for our gym.  If you happen to have a backyard with a great big tree to hang this swing from, I highly recommend it!  Not only is it super fun (not just for the kids....grownups love it too!!), it's a great swing to work on improving balance, coordination, bilateral coordination, motor planning and motor organizational skills.  I've never seen my kids so happy and proud of themselves as I have once they have mastered this swing!

OgoDisk-I have to say I first fell in love with OgoSports products after learning that they were a Brooklyn based company.  Think paddle ball but without the paddles...instead each set comes with 2-15 inch OgoDisks and a ball for kids to pass back and forth to each other.  The disks are made of soft foam edges with a super stretchy elastic center.  This toy works on improving motor planning, bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination and cooperative play.   Can be used indoors, outdoors and in a pool or the ocean!


A Little Bit of This and A Little Bit of That
This section is dedicated to a few more of my favorites that didn't really fit into any of the categories above but can't not be included on my list.

Wooden Alphabet Phonics Matching Game-another wonderful educational handmade product from Hope Learning Toys.  This matching game comes with 52 wooden pieces (made out of my favorite Lilac tree):  26 with the letters of the alphabet and 26 with an animal for every letter.  Kids work on letter identification while trying to find the corresponding animal.  I love how you can alter the game based on your child's age and skill set.  For example, you can have the kids start by putting all the letters in order in a row and then give them an animal picture and have them match it.  You can also play the traditional game of memory by turning all the pieces upside down and flipping 2 over at a time to find matches.  Great for working on fine motor skills, visual memory and visual scanning, focus, attention and organizational skills.

Kinetic Sand-this is one of my favorite sensory materials!  Kinetic
Sand is an easy-to-shape sand that molds into anything you want!  Use cookie cutters to make different objects or shapes, hide objects inside it and have kids dig around to find them.  Not only great for working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, it can encourage play skills, creativity and imagination skills.  I promise you that you'll have just as much fun playing with Kinetic Sand as your kids do!

Floof-another great product that can be used for sensory exploration.  This lighter than air material feels like you are playing with snow but without getting freezing cold hands!  I have loved playing with the Mr. & Mrs. Snowman kit with my own daughter.  There is also a S'Mores Kit which is loads of fun.  Not only is this great for working on improving tactile defensiveness, it works on improving fine motor and grasping skills, bilateral coordination and visual skills.  Playing with Floof encourages creativity, imagination and play skills.

Boogie Board-I have loved the Boogie Board for years and have loved watching how their products have evolved and become more child-friendly over the years.  The Boogie Board is basically the Etch a Sketch of this time.  Kids can draw, write, play games and create on this lightweight ewriter.  With a quick press of a button, they can erase the screen and begin all over again.  Their newest product, the Scribble n' Play, has quickly become a favorite of the kids at work.  It is their first ewriter that has a color screen which is highly motivating for younger children.  It also comes with 4 different stylus' that attach right onto the board.  Great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, graphomotor and visual skills and encourages creativity.


BabyLit Playsets-I am a HUGE fan of the BabyLit series of board books.  They make such great  presents for all kids, especially kids of parents who love the classics.  When I saw these playsets, I got so excited.  There are four to choose from:   Pride and PrejudiceAlice in WonderlandMoby Dick and The Jungle Book.  Each set comes with the original board book and different punch-out cards featuring the different characters from the story. The box it comes in doubles as the scenery/background for the story.  These are great for working on improving focus and attention, language skills and creative skills.  You can also work on improving fine motor skills and visual motor/perceptual by pushing the pieces out of the board and putting them together to play with them.  I can't wait to get a couple of these sets not only for gifts, but to use in my social skills groups to put on little plays with the kids.


Lite-Brite-over the course of my career, I've had almost every kind of Lite Brite created.  This particular version of the always evolving Lite Brite happens to be my favorite.  What sets it apart from the other versions is that the screen is flat but can easily stand up if you want your child to work on an incline.  The other great thing about this one is that they are no longer all circle pegs but there is a variety of square, circle, triangle and curved pieces that make the pictures look more realistic.  They are also great for being able to work on making letters and numbers,  Lite Brite is great for working on improving fine motor skills, such as grasping, strengthening and in-hand manipulation skills.  Also great for working on visual motor and perceptual skills.  The Lite-Brite comes with reusable templates (no more throwing them away after each use...yay!) with highly motivating pictures to complete.  You can also get the animal or underwater refill sets if your kids get bored with the ones that come with the set.

Rock and Roll It Piano-we all know that kid who could spend all day listening to music, singing or playing an instrument.  This portable piano would make a perfect gift for any kid who would like to take their musical talents on the road!  Obviously this is great for practicing piano, but also great for working on fine motor and manipulation skills, eye-hand coordination and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, following directions and organizational skills.  It's also a wonderful way to promote confidence and self-esteem in children.

Princess and the Pea Mouse-When I first moved to Park Slope, I fell in love with a little gift shop called Pink Olive.  Because of that place, I discovered Maileg and they have become one of my most favorite gifts to give to my daughter and most children.  Open-ended and free play is a beautiful thing.  Not only does it encourage language development, it also can help with encouraging imagination and creative skills.  One of my favorite Maileg products are their line of Princess and the Pea beds with dolls.  This little mouse one is really quite exceptional and would bring hours of fun to your little one.   In addition to working on creativity and imagination skills, there is a fine motor aspect to organizing the mattresses, finding the pea, etc..  But really, it will look so cute in any playroom or on the bookshelf of some special kids room!

So there we go....the 2016 Holiday Gift Guide is finally complete!  My hope is that each of you who read through this was able to find at least one gift, but hopefully more, for some of those very special little ones in your life.  Each and every one of these gifts are good for all children, not just children who may receive occupational, speech or physical therapy.

My last little thing, but it is actually a huge thing.  Whenever possible, I linked to small, independent toy stores....the small businesses that keep our neighborhoods what they are.  I know it is easiest to go to Amazon.com or walk into any of the big box stores, but please keep in mind that the small businesses need our support more than any of those big box places.  For my New York City based people, here are the places I shop at the most:
Norman and Jules-158 7th Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Pink Olive-check out the website to see find out their location closest to you in Brooklyn or Manhattan
Little Things Toy Store-145 7th Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Lulu's Toys and Cuts-48 5th Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Westside Kids-498 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY
Toy and Stationery World-125 West 72nd St, New York, NY
Mary Arnold Toys-1178 Lexington Ave, New York, NY
Kidding Around Toys-Grand Central Station and 60 West 15th St, New York, NY
The Children's General Store-168 East 91st St, New York, NY
Boomerang Toys-119 West Broadway, Tribeca, NYC
Fun Stuff Toys-3639 Merrick Road, Seaford, NY