Lalaboom Popbeads-we all know about the traditional plastic snap lock beads from Fisher-Price that have been around for as long as I can remember. They have been a staple in my OT tool box since I began working, especially with my younger kids. During one of my Fat Brain Toys website searches, I stumbled upon the Lalaboom Popbeads and was an immediate fan. I quickly became obsessed by how they took an already awesome toy and made them even more awesome. This set of 48 snap and twist-together beads work on developing fine motor, grasping and bilateral coordination skills, improve visual motor and perceptual skills while introducing kids to a variety of sensory experiences. The beads are interchangeable by twisting them apart, finding two sides you like and putting them back together.
Elemenosqueeze Blocks-these are a great first set of blocks for your baby as young as 6 month old. There are 26 animal themed blocks, 1 animal for each letter of the alphabet. Since they are BPA free, you don't have to be worried if a teething baby/toddler chews on them. They are all different shapes and have different textures on each of them. I love that these can grow with your child by using them for different reasons throughout their development. As a baby, they can learn how to grasp and manipulate blocks. As they get older, they learn how to stack and build and as a preschooler, they can be used to teach your kids the letters of the alphabet. Kids of all ages can work on developing grasping, fine motor and manipulation skills, improve bilateral and hand-eye coordination and improve visual motor and perceptual skills while encouraging creativity.
Popoids-I've had these on the shelves at my gym for years and they are a constant favorite with the kids (and me). This set from Romper Room comes with 60 colored mini poptubes and different kinds of connectors and encourages creativity and imagination. This open-ended building set comes with suggestions on things you can make but they really are an invitation to create whatever comes to mind. Popoids are great for working on developing fine motor and grasping skills, increased grasp strength and manipulation skills, encourages bilateral coordination and works on developing hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills all while encouraging creativity and imagination.
Squigz 2.0-I have been obsessed with all things Squigz since they first came out years ago and didn't think they could get any better until I saw Squigz 2.0. Essentially the same concept as the originals but these have the ability to stick to each other in more ways because of the new design. This 36-piece set comes with a variety of new shapes and are great for teaching young children about colors. Additionally, they work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and improves bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination skills while also encouraging creativity and imagination skills. These can be used on a variety of surfaces including the bathtub, walls, windows, mirrors and so much more. Easy to throw in a bag to keep kids entertained while at a restaurant, in the car or waiting for appointments.
Bristle Blocks Stackadoos-another great open-ended building set from B. Toys, this set is recommended for kids 2 years and older but can definitely be used with younger children who are being supervised by an adult. These chunky, soft pieces are easy to connect and offer a multi-sensory experience for little hands. This set comes with 68 assorted colored and shaped bristle blocks and a booklet with building ideas that can be stored in the sturdy jar that they come in. Great for working on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, increasing grasp strength, improves bilateral, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages creativity and imagination.
MagnaTiles-another staple to my holiday gift guide. MagnaTiles are pricey but worth the investment and will last you for a lifetime. My daughter is almost 10 years old and we still have her original set of MagnaTiles and are still in perfect condition. She may not use them as much but they are pulled out from time to time. MagnaTiles are also a huge hit with my kids in my social skills group and are a great tool to encourage creativity and imagination skills while also working on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and improves bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination. I like to have my kids at work use different characters and work together to build something for them to then play with the dolls. For example, I have seen kids use them to build a castle for the Disney Princess Magic Clip Dolls. It's so fun to watch them not only create together, but then come up with a story for the princesses. One thing I was excited to learn was that in 2020 they will be releasing a series of new products that will have images on them that will encourage them to build different structures.
Way To Play City Speedway Set-totally love this collaboration by Way To Play and Candylab. If you have a transportation lover in your life, this is the perfect gift. I have used the Way To Play road pieces with the kids in my social skills group and they loved them. It was so fun to see how they would work together to put their road together, adding twist and turns and then take cars for a ride. This particular set comes with 12 Road Pieces that can be connected to make a closed loop and 2 Candylab Race Cars. This open-ended set is great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves bilateral and hand-eye coordination and works on developing executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organization. And as previously mentioned, this is a great building set to work on encouraging social skills such as teamwork, flexibility and working with other people's ideas.
Build It Blueprint Puzzles-in these clever puzzles, children get to build a structure by following the blueprint. On one side of the puzzle there is a blueprint image and on the other is the exterior of what they are building (doghouse, birdhouse, a cabin or barn). The chunky pieces are great for little hands. I like that kids work on developing bilateral and hand-eye coordination skills while also working on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills. While putting the pieces together, they are also working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills. Another great feature is that once they are done, the can take it apart and store the pieces in the board.
People Blocks-I have been a longtime fan of magnetic blocks, especially for younger children who have developmental delays. This cute set from People Blocks is intended for children starting at the age of 18 months. The way in which children will interact with these blocks will expand over the years. This open-ended building toy works on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills and encourages problem solving, creativity and imagination.
Design and Drill My First Workbench-I am obsessed with this workbench from Educational Insights! It makes a great gift for kids as young as 3 years old and I can say through experience that kids as old as 6 and 7 still enjoy playing with some of my other Design and Drill sets. This workbench (which comes in two different color choices) includes an electric bolt driver, a hammer, 60 bolts and 60 nails in a variety of colors and a guide that includes 10 different patterns all which can be stored in the built-in drawer under the work area. This is great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, increases grasp strength, improves hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills and encourages focus, attention, planning and organizational and task completion.
Design and Drill Space Circuits-this STEM set from Educational Insights is the perfect set to introduce children as young as 5 to basic engineering. Kids can use the battery operated drill (which they absolutely love doing) to complete 20 space-themed, circuit building challenges that lights, spinning simple motors and more. I have had other of the Design and Drill sets and my kids just can't get enough of using the drill to screw in the bolts. I love how this works on developing executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, problem solving, organization and task completion while also working on improving grasping, fine motor and manipulation skills and encourages bilateral and hand-eye coordination skills.
Straws and Connectors Building Sets-this simple open-ended building toys have been a staple in my social skills for years and I am always amazed at what the kids will build, especially when they are working together. This set comes with 750 straws, connectors and wheels in 4 different colors, an idea book and a sturdy storage container to keep everything contained. The straws are completely flexible so they can make curves for whatever your children decide to build. Straws and Connectors is great for encouraging creativity and imagination skills while also working on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on developing executive functioning skills such as motor planning, organization and task completion.
Bamboo Builder Marble Run-this is another one of those items I would consider an investment piece that your children will use for years and years. There are a variety of sets to choose from and all can be used with each other. Kids can follow along with the book or make their own design. The kits come with a variety of hand-crafted carbonized tracks, bamboo cylinders, and wooden spirals that connect to each other. Some sets even come with special pieces that make music as the marble goes flying down the tracks. Kids can work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improve hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills and work on visual motor and visual perceptual skills when playing with the marble run. This is also a great activity for kids to work on together and collaborate on what to build, take turns adding pieces and be able to be flexible and take ideas from others.
Young Architect House Designer Set-this is a great activity set for kids 8 and older and introduces kids to the world of architecture. Kids get to build their own 3-D house using acrylic walls, corner blocks, tracing paper and a handful of other tools. Kids can make their own floor plan, including figuring out where furniture should go. Great for working on improving graphomotor skills, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization, problem solving and task completion.
Jixelz-these small and colorful-jigsaw shaped building pieces are definitely intended for older children who don't have significant fine-motor delays. There are a variety of sets to choose from including, but not limited to, animals, robots and mythical creatures. Kids can use the templates to create something or use their imagination and create something of their own. They can work on improving fine motor, grasping and in-hand manipulation skills, increases grasp strength, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on developing executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning, organization and task completion.
Plus Plus Blocks-another open-ended building set that encourages creativity and imagination skills in children of all ages. These manipulative toys are awesome for working on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills while encouraging creativity and imagination and working on executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organizational skills. There are several sets to choose from, including different size Plus Plus Blocks for younger and older children. In my Small Gifts/Stocking Stuffer Gift Guide, I recommended the tubes for on-the-go fun but here I recommend the larger sets that come with a baseplates for some more advanced building opportunities.
Engino Discovery Stem Kits-looking for something for some of the older kids on your list? This STEM set is a great option as it can be used to build 50 unique motorized machines, from race cars and motorcycles to bouncing mechanical creatures. Kids snap pieces together and turn things into moving objects. Great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, encourages hand-eye and bilateral coordination, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on developing executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning, organization. While the set comes with directions for 4 models, you can go online to find the directions for 46 others.
There are so many great building toys out there that help children develop a crazy number of developmental skills. It was hard to weed out my favorites, especially since there are so many new things hitting the shelves each year. One of the things I did try and do were find things that could last a bit longer and could grow with your child. If you are looking for something a bit more specific for your child, don't hesitate reaching out to me. I am only a click away and love hearing from you all. Also, if you have building sets and manipulative toys that you think are fabulous, please send along! Not only am I always interested to hear what is out there, I know my readers are as well.