Sunday, November 15, 2015

2015 Holiday Gift Guide

It honestly feels like it was just yesterday that I was putting together my 2014 Gift Guide.  This list is a labor of love but definitely the blog post I am most proud of each year.  Each year, I try and gather as many new things as possible.  With that said, there are so many items that have to be repeated year after year because they are that good.  A good toy, game or craft kit won't get old.  I've also added a new section this year:  Books and Literacy Materials.  As my daughter has gotten older and I have spent more time reading and practicing spelling and writing, I have found a ton of great toys and books out there that make learning more fun.

I know how difficult the holiday season can be.  The hustle and bustle of the season and feeling like there isn't enough time to get everything done.  Gift giving should be fun but can end up being really stressful.  My goal each year is to help make shopping easier for you all.  For some parents, especially those of children who may have delays, they want to buy gifts that may help their children gain new skills.  Every toy, game, craft and book I mention below are gifts that are good for children of all abilities.  Almost all of them can be purchased at local toy/bookstores or in the big box stores like Target.  Just because your child may have delays, it doesn't mean that you have to shop out of a therapy catalogue.  There are so many great toys out there that can be used to work on improving fine motor skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, coordination and gross motor skills.

Stocking Stuffers/Small Stuff
Goody Bag Bar at Hiho Batik
Filling an advent calendar and stockings is so much fun for me.  I love finding little treasures because I know how much my daughter loves them.  I was actually in Hiho Batik, a local clothing and gift store in Park Slope, recently and saw they have a goodie bag bar.  They have a fantastic selection of little gifts (think lip gloss, bouncy balls, modeling clay, etc.) you can stock up on.  If you are local, I highly recommend checking it out.  Here are some of my favorite little gifts for this year:
Rainbow Loom Finger Loom-even though it seems like more of a summer thing, I love therapeutic value of the Rainbow Loom.  When I found the Finger Loom this summer, I was super excited.  This little bracelet maker is perfect for throwing in a baggie with a bunch of your child's favorite colored bands.  Perfect for working in fine motor development, eye-hand coordination, focus, attention and organizational skills.
Discovery Putty-I can't love this putty more by Fun and Function.  More importantly, the kids I work with couldn't love it more and it does so many great things for them.  There are now 4 different putties to choose from (school supplies, transportation, treats and animal rescue).  There are about a dozen or so small pieces hidden in the putty and the kids have to search through find them.  Once they find them all, you can have them hide the pieces again for the next person.  This is great for working on strengthening and fine motor control.  Also great for working on speech and language development.
Moulin Roty Transfers-I remember the sticker transfers when I was a kid and was so excited to see my friends at Norman and Jules had a couple of sets....a city setting and a farm setting.  Great for working on improving fine motor skills such as grasping and strength, bilateral coordination and executive functioning skills like organization, planning, focus and attention.  I have been experimenting with different tools to use and have found that a good pencil seems to work the best.
Kikkerland Rainbow Twirler Top-this is one of those little things I stumbled upon and didn't think much of it.  It didn't cost much and we saw some kids playing with it in the store and my daughter really wanted to try it.  This little toy is super fun and my love playing with it.  I have used it to work on improving bilateral coordination but mostly to get kids to calm down and regroup if they are getting anxious about something.  The spinning is fun to watch but what I really like is that if you go too fast it gets all tangled up.  It causes a child to really concentrate on slowing down.
Animal Poppers-I've always loved these little toys and they bring kids such joy.  My daughter and husband will play with these things for so long and end up in tears...the happy kind that come from laughing so hard!  I've used them in therapy before because they are great for improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination and eye-hand coordination.  I have set up targets for kids to have to aim and launch the balls out which helps with improving visual attention and tracking skills.They  require a tremendous amount of focus, concentration and planning and finding fun ways to work on that with kids can be difficult.
LED Light Up Spinning Flyers-I remember this toy from growing up and have always snatched one up one I have seen one in any store.  I actually remember  making my own at some point using a large button and yarn!  It's a super simple and inexpensive gift but there are so many benefits to this toy from an OT point of view.  This particular set from Hearthsong comes with two spinners in different shapes.  It requires using bilateral coordination, focus/attention, patience and motor planning in order to get the spinner moving.  If you get it going just right, you can keep it spinning and making fun sounds for a long time.
Rapper Snappers-also known as pop-tubes, these are a staple in almost every sensory gym I've ever worked in or visited.  A really simple toy but for some reason the kids love it.  Maybe it is the fun sound it makes when you pull it apart and push it together or the way it feels as you play with it.  Whatever it is, kids don't tire of them and they work on so many things.  Great for working on improving bilateral coordination, grasping skills, upper extremity strength and eye-hand coordination.  I will make shapes out of them and have kids copy what I did with them before we might practice drawing the shape.  Adding a hands-on, tactile experience helps kids learn things at a faster rate.
ZooSticks-I love my zoo sticks and try and use them whenever possible when working with my kids. Chopsticks are hard to use but since these are connected at the top, they are easier to use.  I will recommend parents get these for meal times when their kids are struggling with fine motor skills because they work on improving fine motor and grasping skills.  I use them all the time at the gym with the kids...whether it be picking up squishy animals or cleaning up game pieces, the ZooSticks are great for working on improving a ton of skills.  And if you find your child's favorite animal, they are so excited to use them, they don't even realize that they are doing work!
WikkiStix-this is another one of those toys that I have been using since becoming a therapist a million years ago.  Simply put, WikkiStix are wax covered pieces of yarn that can adhere to almost any smooth surface.  You can bend them into a variety of shapes and squeeze them together to make longer to make different shapes and objects.  I have used them to work on teaching children how to make shapes, letters and numbers.  They are great because they are light-weight and don't take up much room making them perfect to throw into a bag for using in restaurants, waiting before appointments, etc..  Check out these Super Wikki Stix...each strand is 3 feet in length making creating much  more exciting and fun!
Super Snow-it's winter and even though some of us get lots of natural snow, there are a lot of people who don't and want to get that wintery feeling.  Super Snow is a perfect solution for that problem and at the same time is a great sensory experience.  Simply combine water with the snow powder, stir and your snow appears.  The more you stir it, the more it shines and sparkles.  Best part is that it can be reused by spraying water on it again.  As mentioned, a great sensory experience but also great for working on bilateral coordination, strengthening (hide things in the snow and have them dig through and find it) and can improve speech and language.
Melting Snowman-I have used this at work and the kids love it!  You get a little box of white putty with all the necessary parts to build a snowman.  Once it is all together, he will melt and you have to put him back together.  Everyone thinks it is hilarious to watch him melt!  Great for working on improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, building grasp strength and manipulation skills, body awareness and focus and attention.
Travel Spirograph-I love that so many of the toys that I used growing up are still around and/or
coming back after years of being shelved.  Spirograph is one of those great timeless toys that kids love today as much as we loved it years ago.  The travel set is perfect for airplane rides, long car rides or keeping your kids entertained while out to dinner.  Each set comes with 6 different wheels, two pens, a pad of paper and case that has a built in ring to put your wheels into.  Everything fits inside easily so it's easy to keep things in order and organized.  Great for working on bilateral coordination, fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills.

Books/Literacy Materials
This is a new addition to the gift guide.  Over the course of the year, I've discovered some pretty great books that would make the perfect gift for those little bookworms in your life.  There is nothing like a good book, especially a good book that teaches important  life lessons to our little ones.  I could list a million books (not even exaggerating) but I am going to stick to ones that have teachable moments built in.
I Am Books-I was introduced to these amazing children's books by one of the families I work with.  Brad Meltzer has written a series of books about real life heroes.  They are each written from the perspective of these heroes as children and talks about the struggles they had growing up.  He highlights what made them different and how they took those differences and made the world better.  For example, did you know that Albert Einstein was a later talker?  Or that Lucille Ball was encouraged to not be so funny?  My daughter who is 5 1/2 adores these books and I have been so impressed with what she has learned from each of them.  The questions she has asked and what she has taken from each book has been so fun to watch.
I Am Amelia Earhardt
I Am Rosa Parks
I Am Lucille Ball
I Am Helen Keller
I Am Martin Luther King
I Am Albert Einstein
I Am Jackie Robinson
I Am Abraham Lincoln
Disney Pixar Inside Out Box of Mixed Emotions-the success of the movie Inside Out was no surprise to me once I saw it the first time.  The kids I work with loved it and I loved how this movie helped kids feel okay about expressing their feelings and gain a better sense of understanding about their emotions.  When I saw these books, I had to pick them up to bring to work.  I run a social skills group at  The Meeting House for children with a variety of social difficulties.  We have put these books out for the kids during our snack and hangout time and they love them.  This set of 5 books features each emotion.  They are easy to read and even if you have a kid who can't read, they can look at the pictures instead.
In My Heart:  A Book of Feelings-this book by Jo Witeck is a brilliant and beautiful book about feelings.  For many of the kids I work with, understanding your feelings can be quite challenging.  In addition to being an occupational therapist, I work for The Meeting House, a recreational based after school program for awesome kids who have social difficulties.  This book is great for helping children visualize what their feelings may look like.  For example, they relate sadness to feeling as big as an elephant at times or happiness to a hot air balloon.  I love how the author reassures children that feelings are normal and that everyone feels that way at times.
Little Book of Big Fears-this book is written and illustrated by Monica Arnaldo and talks about all different kinds of things that people may be afraid of.  It introduces you to 16 children (in alphabetical order) who are each afraid of something different.  Drew is scared of raccoons and Quinn is horrified by needles.  Not all letters of the alphabet are in the book, but that is on purpose.  The letters that are missing spell out Gutsy and Brave....two things that will help a child get over their fears. This is a cute little book that helps children understand that it's okay to be scared of things and that there are ways to deal with those fears.
What Do You Do With An Idea-I happen to have a little girl who has big ideas.  BIG, BIG ideas.  It makes me happy to see her come with these ideas and then execute them into real plans.  I want not just my kid, but all kids to feel like they can come up with ideas that can turn into real life.  In this beautiful illustrated and written book by Kobi Yamada, the concept is that as a child's confidence grows, so does their idea.  How many of us know a kid who has great ideas but is too nervous or afraid to share them because they think people will laugh at them or tell them it won't work.  If any of you know a kid who has great ideas but worries about sharing them because they don't think they can ever happen, this book is for them.  Or if you have a child who needs a boost in self-esteem an confidence, this may be the book for them.  My daughter and I read this book and while she may not have problems with confidence and self-esteem, she still took the message to heart.
Hope Learning Toys-this brand of nature based learning toys have been created by a mother, teacher and toy lover.  Using a variety of objects found in the beautiful state of Maine, Heather has gathered rocks, shells, branches and wood to come up with an amazing set of learning toys.  My daughter has the Vintage Letter Alphabet Stones and adores them.  As soon as she received them, she started exploring them.  I loved that she wanted to put all the stones in alphabetical order while making their sounds.  We have been using them with her to practice her sight words during homework time and it has made it more interesting and exciting for her.  There are so many products to choose from beyond just the alphabet products.  I, for one, can't wait for the phonics matching game using wood from my favorite tree, the lilac tree.  You need to really spend some time exploring the Hope Learning Toys Etsy shop to find what products are best for your child.
Kids Story Maker-created by Magnetic Poetry, this kid friendly magnet sets encourages kids to build their own crazy stories using over 150 different word magnets.  I love how they have color coded all the words by different parts of language to reinforce nouns, verbs, prepositions, adjectives, etc..  For so many of the kids I work with, writing a story can be really challenging for them (decreased writing endurance) but they have lots of ideas.  For those kids who need some creative ways to practice telling stories, this is a great solution.  You can make a long-term project out of it by having them write a few sentences at a time...first they create their story by putting the magnets up and then they can copy them into a book.
Tell Tale-another great storytelling game by Blue Orange.  Tell Tale has three different versions to choose from (original, Fairy Tale and Disney Pixar).  Using the 60 different cards and illustrated rules, kids and families work together to make a story.  It's hard to bore of this game because it's different every time you play.  The best part is that kids are learning the whole entire time but having tons of fun.  Great for working on improving processing speed, verbal abilities, attention and problem solving and reasoning skills.
Alphabet Magnetibook-another great magnet book by Janod.  This is the perfect on the go toy to work on learning how to spell.  The set comes with 26 pictures and over 100 letter tiles. Each picture has the name spelt out so kids can dig through the letters and put them in the correct order.  I love how the magnet board is in a grid (reminds me of graph paper), requiring them to focus on putting the letters in the blocks and staying in order.  For older kids, you could find magnets of pictures without the words written on them in order to practice spelling.  This toy is not only great for working on learning the alphabet and learning how to spell, but great for working on developing fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills.
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.
Boogie Board- I wasn't sure where to put this on this year's list, but since I use the Boogie Board to work on handwriting and drawing skills, I figured this was the perfect place.  My daughter was given this a couple of years ago and used it off and on. Now that she
is almost reading and learning how to spell, we are using it to practice writing words. The Boogie Board is a thin and light weight LCD writing tablet...think Etch-A-Sketch...that kids can use for school or play. With the push of a button, the screen clears and you can draw something new. It comes with a stylus that attaches to the board so you don't lose it (It also works with your fingernail if you happen to lose it.) Perfect for long car rides, while waiting between appointments, etc. Great for working on improving graphomotor skills, creative thinking, grasping skills, bilateral coordination and visual motor/perceptual skills.  This year, the makers of the original Boogie Board released the Play N' Trace which is intended for younger children.  Kids can place the see through writing screen over letters, numbers or pictures and trace them.  I've been using this with my kids at work and they love it.  The Play N' Trace is a motivating way to work on improving fine motor and grasping skills, handwriting and drawing skills and lots of other visual motor and perceptual skills.

Baby Gifts
Buying gifts for babies (under around 1 years old) can be tough because they are growing so quickly and their skills change at a rapid rate.  For the families I work with in NYC, space is limited and big toys that take up a lot of apartment space are not high on the priority list.  The toys I have chosen are ones that your child can grow with and don't take up a lot of space.
Parum Pum Pum (Musical Instruments)-there are a ton of great musical instruments out there for babies.  This set by My B Toys comes with 7 different instruments disguised as different kinds of bugs.  Besides the fact that they encourage bilateral coordination, fine motor skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, they all fit neatly inside the drum so they don't take up a ton of room.
Djeco Shape Sorter-it can be terribly confusing to find a good shape sorter because there are just so many to choose from.   First of all, I am always going to pick a wooden toy over a plastic toy since they will last much longer.  Djeco makes quality products and this shape sorter is no exception.  I like the design of this particular shape sorter mostly because I am a fan of farm animals.  Shape sorters in general (whichever one you may choose) are great for improving visual motor/perceptual skills, problem solving, grasping and early shape identification.
PopBeads-they seem so simple, but they should a staple in all baby/toddler toy chests.  Pop-beads are great for working on improving bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, motor planning and increasing upper body strength.  These beads don't take up a lot of room and can be a good teething toy.  They are inexpensive so if your child happens to chew on them a lot you don't have to feel too bad.
pipSquigz/Squigz-you'll notice that toys similar to these will come up again later in this list for older kids. These colorful suction cup toys seem so simple but encourage a bunch of developmental skills in babies and toddlers.  Each set comes with 3 different shape and colored pipSquigz.  Each has 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.  Geomag GBaby Farm-for children about 10-months and older, these magnetic toys are great for working on developing fine motor skills and bilateral coordination while encouraging babies to touch, feel and hear different things.  Each set comes with 4 half round, 2 disks and 2 animals (front and back) for your kids to play with, explore and create.  Best part (from a parent perspective) is that the edges of all the pieces are soft and safe for those teething babies to chew on.
Nesting Blocks-there are an endless number of nesting blocks to choose from but I really like the looks of these Eric Carle blocks by Kids Preferred.  This particular set is super colorful and kids love the different animals on them.  Each block has a different animal with a the birds being a variety of textures for children to explore as they are playing with them.  Nesting blocks are great for working on a both gross motor and visual motor and visual perceptual skills and can be good for children as young as 6 months and as old as a toddler.  Little kids love to stack them up and then knock them down.  Sometimes I suggest parents have kids roll balls into the tower to knock it down in order to work on upper body strengthening and motor planning.

Activity Books/Coloring Tools
This may be my favorite section of my whole guide because one of my favorite things to do is color.
 I can spend hours coloring and my daughter has found a love of this as well.  We will sit side by side sharing our pens, markers and crayons talking about what we are coloring and helping each other out every once in a while.

Did you know that coloring is not only great for kids but has been found to have many benefits for adults as well?  This article from Huffington Post last year talks about how coloring can decrease stress in adults which makes it a great thing for parents and kids to do together. Not only is it fun, it's a great way to bond and talk about things.  Coloring is a fabulous way to work on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills in a non-stressful way.  When you are coloring with your child, you shouldn't tell them what to do (for example, what colors to use) or make them stay in the lines.  When there are specific instructions, have them read them to you and make sure they understand what is being asked of them.  Encourage independence, success, creativity and imagination as much as you can.

There are SO many great coloring and activity books out there right now.  So many that it can make it really difficult to choose sometimes.  There are also tons of different tools out there for coloring.  Some people like to color/draw with crayons and pencils, while others would much rather color with markers.  There is no right or's whatever works best for you.  I have shared some of my picks below.  Ones that have been kid tested and therapist approved!

Usborne The Big Book of Things to Find and Colour- another great activity book by Usborne. This one is packed with tons of fun pictures.  Each page has directions for things to find and color in. For example, there is a page filled with fairies and you have to find all the ones holding wands and color them in a certain color, find the one with wings and color them in, etc. This highly motivating activity book works on improving visual motor and visual scanning skills, focus and attention, grasping skills and planning and organizational skills.
The Super Book For Superheroes-this activity book is the perfect gift for your superhero loving artist.  It is filled with ideas, drawing, coloring and activities that encourage kids to be creative and use their imagination.  Kids will learn how to draw villains, create superheroes, secret hideouts, costumes and gadgets they will need to save the world!  For older children, you can have them write out their thoughts and write stories so you can work on improving handwriting skills at the same time.  Kids will have fun working on improving graphomotor, visual motor and perceptual skills, storytelling, focus, attention and organizational 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!
The Usbourne Book of Drawing, Doodling and Colouring-I am a huge fan of almost every single Usbourne book I have every purchased.  They are colorful, engaging and educational.  This particular book is a favorite of mine because it combines the best part of many of their books into one big collection.  This book allows a child to color and create things.  It allows them to work on improving their drawing skills.  It gives them step by step instructions in a very easy to follow visual friendly manner that allows kids who feel like they aren't artists be really good artists!  There are pictures to fill in and make your own and give you instructions to follow in order to complete pictures.  Great for working on improving fine motor skills, such as improving grasping patterns, improving visual motor/perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination and executive functioning skills.
The Dollhouse Book-I am madly in love with this activity book by Rock and Pebble that I just found when at my local toy store, Norman and Jules.  The Dollhouse Book is a drawing book shaped like a half of a house.  When you open it, you will find 30 blank pages that can be turned into your child's dream dollhouse. Through drawing, coloring, painting or using stickers, kids can make 15 different rooms.  This is great for working on improving imagination and creativity skills as kids are encouraged to make each room different.  For kids who have a hard time with coming up with ideas, you can spend some time looking at pictures of different rooms of houses and have them talk about what they will draw.  This book is great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, improving visual motor and perceptual skills and executive functioning skills, such as focus, attention and organization.
Once Upon A Doodle-in this activity book, kids get to create and complete fairy tale pictures. What I
like most about this book is that while there is a lot of room to be as creative and imaginative as you want, there are certain rules that need to be followed to complete the pictures.  For example, there is a page with a bunch of horses in a field.  Your child's job is to turn all those horses into magical unicorns.  Whether it be turning those horses into unicorns or drawing a long, stringy beard on Rumplestiltskin, kids will have fun coloring and drawing while working on improving fine motor, visual motor and perceptual skills, focus/attention and organizational skills.  It's fun to introduce kids to new fairy tales and work on building storytelling skills by having them tell you what's happening in the pictures they have completed.
Usbourne Sticker Books-my daughter is obsessed with these sticker books and can be entertained by them for hours on end.  There are several to choose from and you can often find them in most book stores.  I love them because they are great for working on developing fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills.  Also great for working on expanding language skills.  There are a lot of different sticker books (sports, princesses, castles and doll houses to name a few) to choose from so you will be sure to find one that is just right for your child.
Doodle Lit:  Coloring on the Classics-from the creators of the amazing BabyLit board books comes this fabulous and beautiful activity book.  Doodle Lit introduces kids to classic literature such as Pride & Prejudice, Romeo & Juliet, Alice in Wonderland and many, many more.  The book is chock-full of activities, including decorating the teapot for Alice's tea party and Jane Austen paper dolls.  There's so much more than just coloring in this book and can be a great book for your older children.  While learning about classic characters in literature, children are working on improving imagination and creativity skills, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and improving fine-motor and grasping skills.
Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book-this beautiful and interactive coloring book, illustrated by Johanna Basford, is something that you will want to do with your children.  I have spent countless hours working on this book (and others from Johanna Basford) with my daughter by my side.  It's more than just a coloring book...adorable garden creatures are hidden throughout the pages, making it great for working on improving visual perceptual skills.  Additionally, it's great for working on building speech and language skills as you and your child talk about what you see on each page.
Scented Gel Pens-I am a total sucker for good coloring tools and these happen to be my favorite right now.  More importantly, my little girl (who ironically has a terrible pencil grip) loves them!  This particular set is great because the pens are smaller and encourage a more appropriate grip.  Even if you have decreased grasp strength, you can use these and be successful because they are smooth and easy to use.  An added bonus is that they smell really good so kids get excited to use them.
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.
Crayola Pip Squeaks-all of the Pip Squeak line is pretty awesome but the markers are a staple in my gym and I recommend them to all parents.  There are two different kids of Pipsqueak markers....regular and skinnies.  I love them both and tell parents to try both to see what their child
does better with.  One of the things I work on the most with the kids I work with is getting them to hold a writing instrument in a correct way.  One thing I have learned is that the smaller the writing instrument, the more likely a child is to hold it correctly.  Some people ask why I recommend markers over crayons or colored pencils and the answer is simple:  if you have a child with decreased grasp strength, they will fine more success when using markers over any other writing instrument because the amount of pressure they need to use on markers is not as much as crayons or pencils.
Crayons and Pencils-it's hard to know which crayons and colored pencils are the best.  It's really a personal preference and you may choose different coloring tools for different activities.
As an occupational therapist, I tend to use ones that are in the shape of a triangle because they help to Crayola's My First Crayons are a great and affordable option for your little artists and can be found in most drug stores, local toy stores and big box stores like Target.  A little tip...the smaller the crayon is, the more likely a child is to hold it in a more appropriate grasp.  For older children, P'Kolino carries amazing products.  My personal favorite is the Hexagon Shaped Colored Pencils.  Unlike most colored pencils, these are 100% color so you can use the whole pencil and there is no pencil sharpener required (honestly, where is a pencil sharpener when you really need it??).  Another nice thing about these colored pencils is that they are pretty durable and don't break easily, which is a nice feature for those kids who tend to use too much pressure when engaged in graphomotor tasks.
promote a tripod like grasp.

Finding good games can be difficult.  For each great game there is, there are a handful of really bad ones out there.  I've been a creature of habit when it comes to this section of my gift guide each year but have made a real effort to share some new great games that I have been able to play this year.  I'd like to thank some of my therapist and teacher friends for providing me with some of their favorite games that are included in this list.
Pancake Pileup-I'm always happy to find a game that not only works on fine motor skills but also works on gross motor skills.  Pancake Pileup is a perfect example of how how occupational and physical therapy can be mixed into one game. The point of this game is to get your "customers" their pancake order.  There are a bunch of cards with pancakes with different toppings in different order and kids have to race against each other to stack their pancakes.  This game is great for working on developing gross motor skills such as balance and coordination.  Additionally, it works on building executive functioning skills like focus, attention, organization and motor planning.  I've had this game for a while now and my kids constantly ask to use it during our sessions.
Spot It-my love for all Spot It games is no secret.  I love this fast paced visual game that makes you look for matching pictures (or shapes, numbers or letters).  As hard as it is to believe sometimes, there is a match on each pair of cards you put down.  There are several ways to play this game and one of the things I like to do in order to improve social skills is to have the kids (if they are old enough to compromise) figure out what version of the game they want to play.  Spot It is a great game to throw in your bag because it is small and doesn't take up much room.  Since there are so many ways to play the game, kids rarely get bored by it.  I use this game all the time in my social skills group because it can be played easily and with very little assistance needed by grownups.
Make N' Break Challenge-this fast paced building game by Ravensburger is perfect for the whole family.  In this game two people race against each other to build a structure with blocks that they see on the card.  The first one to build it correctly is the winner.  Sounds easy, right?  There is a challenge that makes this a dream game for me as an occupational therapist:  the players have to build the structures using a set of tongs!  Great for working on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills and focus, attention and organization.
Thumbs Up-I love this game by Blue Orange  and have suggested it to all my colleagues who run
social skills groups.  Finding a quick moving, not too competitive game is hard to find.  The goal of this game is to be the first to stack the different colored rings on your thumb in order based on what your card tells you (each card is different looking but the goal is the same...each object has a number and color and you have to place the ring on your thumb in the correct order).  Great for working on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, focus and attention, organizational skills, motor planning and social skills.
Tumbling Monkeys-this has been one of my favorite games for years and years.  It may remind you of the game Kerplunk, which is also great, but it didn't move my kids the way Tumbling Monkeys has.  I like how this game can be adapted for different children and their skill set.  It's great for working on improving social skills, like taking turns, compromising on the game rules and being a good winner/loser.  As far of occupational therapy skills, this game is chock full of those:  improves fine motor and grasping skills, improves eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and problems solving and organizational skills.  The best part is that kids LOVE this game.
Connect 4 Launchers-my niece received this as a gift for her birthday last year and I couldn't believe she knew about something before me!  Connect 4 has so many great games, but there is something about this version that I really love. Great for working on building fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, social skills and focus and attention.
Tenzi- this quick moving dice game is one of my favorite games. The object is very simple: each player gets 10 dice and keeps rolling until they have 10 matching dice. If you check out the this part of the Tenzi website, you will see that there are a bunch of other ways to play this game. Great for working on developing fine motor and strengthening skills, improves eye hand coordination and visual motor, perceptual and tracking skills.  It can be played with 2-4 players (or more if you buy more than one set).
Green Market-
Slamwich-this fast moving card game by Gamewright has brought hours and hours of fun to my own daughter.  Kids flip and stack cards shaped like sandwich bread and try and build slamwiches and double-deckers.  But players need to be aware because their is a sandwich thief and you need to make sure they don't take your sandwich.  This game teaches reading readiness skills and work on improving visual discrimination and sequencing skills.  Great for working on eye-hand coordination, focus/attention and organization skills and improving social skills.
Scatterpillar Scramble- I love this game for a million reasons.  First of all, I love games that can be adapted to work for different skill levels for the children I work with. While I don't love battery-operated games, they tend to be better for adapting to different skill sets.  Scatterpillar Scramble is one of those games that you can use while turned on or off and the kids have fun either way.  Each player gets a set of marbles and a pair of tongs. Using the tongs, they have to pick up their marble and put it on the caterpillar's hands.  For beginners, I keep the game turned off so they don't get frustrated and give up. As they get used to the game, I turn it on and they have to try and put the marbles in while the caterpillar is dancing.  I can't tell you how funny the kids think this is and how proud they are when they finally get all those marbles on those moving arms! Great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, focus and attention, visual motor and fine motor skills. Play individually or with up to 4 kids.
Robot Friends-another great game by the folks at Eeboo.  The kids love the colorful and fun looking robots.  Place all the pieces face down and try and locate the matches.  The pieces are bigger than your average memory game pieces making it easier for some of those little hands (especially those with decreased grasp strength and manipulation skills) to grab and manipulate.  This game is great for working on improving memory skills and spatial reasoning, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills.
Uno Dare-everyone knows Uno and probably has at least one version of the game in their game collection.  It's a great game to throw in your bag to play if you find yourself with time to kill.  While kids love it because it is fun, pretty fast-paced and simple rules to follow, I love it for a million other reasons.  All versions of the game help children learn colors and numbers.  They teach kids to be follow directions, be a good sport when you win or lose a
game and work on focus and attentional skills. It's also great for working on improving social skills and language skills.  What makes this particular version of Uno my favorite is that there is a gross motor component that gets kids up and moving around.  For all of the +2 or Wild Cards give you the option of taking the number of cards or doing a dare.  There are three different Dare cards (Daredevil, Show-off and Family) and a blank house rules cards where you can make up your own dares.  This is a great family game and the fact that you get to get up and move around makes it even better.  Some of my favorite dares:
*Dance like a robot until your next turn
*Put your foot above your head until your next turn
*Sing instead of talk until your next turn
*Do 10 pushups in 10 seconds
*Try and blow only one card off the top of the draw pile

Visual Perceptual Activities/Puzzles
Janod magnetibook Vehicles-I am a big fan of all things made by Janod.  Their products are beautifully made and can take a beating from the constant use at my gym.  When I saw the vehicle magnetibook, I grabbed it for all the car loving kids on my caseload.  The set comes with 18 cards and 50 magnets in a magnetic storage box.  There is a scene where you have to place your vehicle (tugboat goes in the water, helicopter goes in the sky, etc.).  Kids have to find the required pieces for each picture and then put it together.  You can also give kids free reign to create whatever kind of vehicle they want and then have them tell me a story about what they created.  I have so many kids on my caseload who love cars and puzzles so when I saw this, I was excited to have something new and a bit more challenging for them after they had mastered regular puzzles.  Great for working on improving fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.  As already mentioned, you can also work on encouraging imagination by having kids make their own vehicles instead of following the picture cards.
Janod Magnetibook Moduloform-another great magnet book by Janod but this one uses different geometric shapes to create figures and designs.  Kids can either follow the patterns on the provided cards or use their imagination and come up with their own designs.  Great way for kids to work on fine motor skills in addition to visual motor and visual perceptual skills. This could be a fun activity to do in a small group to work on encouraging team work, compromise and being flexible when working with other people.
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.
Design and Drill Brightworks-Educational Insights has a great line of similar toys but the fan favorite (also known as the preschool voted favorite) is this set.  This set comes with a board, a drill with two different bits, a ton of different colored bolts and a book filled with patterns and designs to follow.  While children can build their own designs, they can also work on visual motor and visual perceptual skills by following the provided patterns.  This toy is perfect for working on improving eye-hand coordination, matching, patterns and sequences and problem solving skills.  Also works on building fine motor skills such as grasping, strengthening and in-hand manipulation skills.  My kids at work love this toy and ask for it week after week.  I love that while they are having fun, they are gaining some very important skills to help them in other areas of learning.
Design and Drill Dazzling Creations Studio-another amazing product by Educational Insights that works on improving a ton of fine motor, visual motor and perceptual and creative skills.  I had to get this set for my daughter (who ironically has some fine motor and grasp issues) when I saw there was a unicorn included.  It happened to be a big hit with her and she didn't even realize that I was trying to get her to work on her grip!
Similar to the Design and Drill Brightworks set, the Dazzling Creations studio uses a tool to create something magical.  This set comes with 4 different templates (unicorn, castle, princess and crown), a variety of different colored screws and a screwdriver.  Using the screwdriver, a child an create a colorful object. In order to complete their project, it requires strength, focus/attention and eye-hand coordination.  What makes this set different is that there are no patterns to follow so kids can be creative and use their imagination.
One of the things I like most about this toy is that there is a motor planning component to it.  Kids have to figure out which direction the screwdriver needs to be in (there is a star on the screwdriver that moves up and down) in order to put the screws in and to take them out again.  There is also an in-hand manipulation and grasping component when you place the special gems (a giant motivating factor for my daughter) into the completed design. One of the bonus factors of this particular toy is that there are no batteries required!
Eeboo Puzzles-I am a big fan of the whole Eeboo line of products but particularly impressed with the quality of their line of puzzles.  From the simple 2-piece alphabet, rhyming and number puzzles to the more complicated larger puzzles, they are all great and you can't go wrong.  I like that the pictures are bright and colorful and help stimulate conversation and language skills. What really sets these puzzles apart from many of the others you see is the quality of them.  They are thick and super durable which is great for little kids who like to be rough with their toys.
Tiggly-I was first introduced to Tiggly at the toy show in NYC a few years ago.  I was an early adapter in using an iPad in therapy sessions with my kids.  Not only was it a highly motivating tool, it was something that was proving to help my kids learn things that they had once shied away from (especially learning how to write letters and numbers).  I have been using Tiggly Shapes with my little ones ever since and love how focused and attentive they are to the activity.  Since then, they have introduced Tiggly Math and Tiggly Words.  All Tiggly toys are designed to help kids develop fine motor, visual motor and visual processing skills, encourage creativity and to learn important educational concepts.  Additionally, they can be used to work on improving bilateral coordination, problem solving and social skills.  All of the apps associated with the toys are highly engaging (and free when you buy the different sets)  and kids will be asking to learn when you have these on hand.  Below, you will find a brief description of each set.
Tiggly Shapes (2 to 5 years)-each set come with 4 shapes (circle, square, triangle and star) and 3 different apps that are compatible with them.  In addition to learning basic shapes, children are encouraged to learn a variety of other skills using the different apps.  In the Draw app, you use the shape tools to create pictures and imaginary creates.  Once created, they can make them come to life. In Safari (my favorite app for these toys), children construct animals in different habitats by matching the shapes that pop up onto the screen.  They start simple by having to match only one shape to create an animal and becomes more challenging when the shapes pop up on the screen and then start to move all around.  Tiggly Stamp is the most open-ended app and focused on encouraging creativity.  Using the different shapes, kids can create their own canvas to make up stories.  There are different themes for kids to use, such as halloween and other seasons.  This is a great app for working on improving speech and language skills as well.
Tiggly Math (3 to 7 years)-I've been looking for a great math app for years so was really excited when I saw that Tiggly released this last year.  Each set comes with 5 interactive math tools (they look like squares connected to each other) that can be used with the 3 apps that you can download with purchase.  Through cooking, creating and play, children are learning about numbers, addition and early math concepts.  The best part is that they are having fun while learning.
Cardtoons-in this app, counting comes to lives with 25 imaginative stories.  Kids count, drag and match objects which is great for working on developing eye-hand coordination, motor planning and focus and attentional skills.  Simple pieces of cardboard shuffles into a variety of positions making different objects (gumballs for a frog who likes to blow bubbles and bananas for a camel's back are just two examples).
Tiggly Chef-kids learn early addition concepts as they help the crazy chef prepare over 40 outrageous meals.  Kids will have fun and laugh a lot while learning about addition.  The chef will tell you what he needs in order to make his different recipes and using the Tiggly Math cubes, you give him the exact number of necessary ingredients.  My daughter has had so much fun learning early math skills using this app and I guarantee your child won't give you any fight about practicing their math with this app!
Tiggly Adventure-this app is the most appropriate for your younger kids (preschoolers).  Using the tools, kids will build bridges, ladders and other kinds of objects needed in order to skip obstacles that might get in their way.  It's a fun way to introduce your children to numbers and encourage language skills at the same time.
Tiggly Words (4 to 8 years)-each set comes with 5 lower-case vowels that you will need for the apps
that go along with them.  Children become more familiar with the building blocks of language, learning long and short vowels, phonics, nouns, verbs and word building using this hands-on and interactive tool.  They have fun spelling silly words and solving unusual problems, hiding the fact that they are learning at the same time.
Tiggly Doctor-your child gets to be the Tiggly Town Doctor when playing this game that focuses on teaching kids their verbs.  In addition to using the different vowels, kids will be asked to complete action verbs to cure their patients of their very unusual illnesses.
Tiggly Story Maker-using the tiggly word toys, you make new words by replacing the CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) patterns.  If you create a word that has an actual meaning, the word will come to life.  Kids will learn about CVC patterns, short sounds, building words and the beginnings of writing stories using this fun and engaging app.
Tiggly Submarine-in this words app, children begin to learn simple words with short vowel sounds and spelling patterns.  They get to explore the underwater world and go on adventures while learning at the same time.
Djeco Tap Tap Vehicles-this is a combination puzzle and building activity that helps develop fine motor, visual motor and perceptual and bilateral coordination skills.  The set includes all the pieces to make 5 different vehicles and cards with amazing visual directions to make them.  You can also encourage to work on increasing their imagination and creativity skills by building their own vehicles.  Kids pick out the pieces they need, put them together and then have to use a hammer and nail to secure them into the cork board that comes with the toy.  Everything can conveniently stored in a box. This is a great toy for older preschoolers but because of the nails, your children should always be supervised.

Building/Block Sets
One thing that I tell people is that sometimes you have to spend a decent amount of money when you are buying blocks and other types of building toys.  Good building toys are an investment and when taken care of, they will last forever.  They can take a beating and still look and be played with as if they were right out of the package.
Blocks and building toys are great for all children and can help those how have any kind of fine motor or developmental delays gain new skills. For example, they can help with building fine motor strength and in-hand manipulation skills.  They can work on improving bilateral coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.  They often require you to follow visual directions which means that they will help you improve eye-hand coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
Additionally, building something from scratch helps a child build confidence and self-esteem....two attributes that are so important and can lead to so many other things for children.  A child who has good confidence and self-esteem are more willing to try challenging things and take risks.  They are willing to try new things, even if those things are not easy for them.
Below, you will find some of my favorite building and block sets.  They can be used by themselves or mixed together.  Throw in some of your child's favorite characters into whatever they build and let their imaginations run wild!
Lego/Duplo-you really can't go wrong with a good Lego or Duplo set.  I've been using them in my therapy sessions and recommending them to families for as long as I remember.  What I really like about any set you get is that they are a toy that is popular with all kids, no matter what their skill level is.  If properly introduced to a kid, they can be successful.  Even though some of the kids I work with may be significantly delayed, they can use Legos and Duplos successfully.  You may need to break down the steps or simplify things for them by only giving them the blocks they need for each step, but if you are able to figure out what works for your particular child, they will end up with something that they have completed from beginning to end and that is a pretty fantastic thing for them.  My favorite sets right now are:
Duplo Creative Cars
Duplo Superman Rescue
Disney Pixar Cars Classic Race
Disney Princess Elsa's Sparkling Ice Castle
Disney Princess Rapunzel's Creativity Tower
Lego Ghostbuster's Ecto Car
Lego Friends Sets
Lego Superheroes Sets
**there are a crazy amount of Duplo and Lego sets to choose from and I just shared a few of them.  There are many other amazing sets to choose from and you should definitely do some research before picking the right set for your little builder!***
Tegu Magnetic Blocks-I've been a fan of the Tegu blocks since the first time I saw them.  As a professional who spends time with kids who may have some pretty significant fine motor and coordination difficulties, it was so great to find a building toy that would be good for those kids.  When I first discovered Tegu, I had no reason to buy them.  As I previously mentioned, good building toys can be expensive and you have to be ready to make that investment.  As soon as my daughter was born, I bought a set of these blocks for her and my husband to play with.  As an 8 month old, she was able to explore and have fun with her Tegu blocks. Because of their magnetic quality, she was able to have success with stacking and building with ease.  She was able to successfully stack and build which gave her the confidence to try with other blocks.  While the sets have become more advanced, you can't go wrong if you have one of them in your toy box. Tegu Magnetic Blocks are great for children who have coordination and motor planning difficulties.  While I recommend these for all children, I think they are especially great for children who have difficulty with coordination because the magnetic quality takes on some of the work for them. Tegu blocks are a great tool for improving bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, grasping skills, motor planning and focus and attention.  Additionally, they are great for working on improving social skills by having children build things together.  They need to work together in a collaborative manner to build something.
MagnaTiles-I have loved MagnaTiles from the moment I was introduced to them by a teacher friend years ago. They have been on my list year after year since I began this list  years ago.  The plastic
tiles  have magnets build into them so they can stick together to build 2-D or 3-D creations.  They are great for working on improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills.  They come in a variety of shapes and colors so you can use them to work on learning shapes and colors for younger kids.  Magna-Tiles help to promote imagination and creativity skills.  A great thing about MagnaTiles is that they can be used individually or in a group setting to encourage teamwork and compromise while coming up with a great creation.  As I've already  mentioned, good building toys are pricey and these happen to be totally worth the associated price-tag.  While I've recently purchased new Magna-Tiles, it's not because my old ones are banged up....they are still in great condition but since I needed more because the kids in my TMH Juniors group needed to build bigger and grander creations!
littleBits-do you have a child who loves to build and invent things?  If you do, littleBits are the perfect thing for them.  These easy-to-use electronic building blocks snap together to make a variety of different things.  Your kids can learn the basics of electronics and explore STEAM/STEM principles while playing with their LittleBits.  The base kit comes with 10 bits and a very easy to follow guidebook providing you with the steps for 8 easy to make inventions.  The deluxe kit comes with 18 bits and motors and wires plus a guidebook with directions for 15 inventions.  These are not cheap, but they are well made and easy for kids to use, allowing them to begin experimenting with electronics without too much assistance from their grownups.  They are a toy that you will have for a very long time. Great for working on problem solving, focus and attention, organizational skills, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills.  They can be played with individually or in a small group which would allow them to work on improving social skills.
B. Stackadoos (Bristle Blocks)-I am always comforted when I find toys today that were similar to ones I played with when growing up.  I have fond memories of building and creating with Bristle Blocks with my sisters and friends.  I loved the way the stuck together and the bumpy, tactile feeling.  Those are still the things I like about them today and think they are a great building toy, especially for younger kids.  There are a ton of different kinds of bristle blocks to choose from, but I lean towards this set by B. Toys.  Each set comes complete with 68 brightly colored pieces in different shapes and sizes in a great jar that makes it easy to store them.  It also comes with a booklet filled with building ideas.  Stackadoos are great for working on improving fine motor skills, grasp strength, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, focus and attention, organizational skills and can boost creativity and imagination in little ones.
Keva Structures-I will be honest in saying that I haven't actually used the big set of these but have been given the thumbs up on this product from an amazing mom (thank you Erin Fogg!).  I have used the KEVA Brain Builders Juniors set with some of the older kids on my caseload and they love them.  Keva Structures, by Mindware, require no glue or extra pieces to make them connect to one another (although there is a new set out that has plastic connecters that can be used when building/creating).  The wooden planks simply stack on top of each other to create whatever you imagine.  It's not only a wonderful activity to stimulated creativity but also great for working on improving fine motor skills, organizational skills, motor planning, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and focus and attention.  There are several sets to choose from on the Mindware website.  All include planks and a guide with some ideas for your little builders.  Be sure to check out some of your local toy stores to see if they carry them.  I've seen them at Mary Arnold Toys in Manhattan and Norman and Jules in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Marble Run-another one of those toys that if you invest in it, you will be happy that you did.  While there are a ton of different brands and styles of marble run toys, I have a preference for the Quadrilla Marble Run by Hape.  It is a beautiful and incredibly well made toy that can be passed on from generation to generation.  This toy is great because it can be as big or as small as a child wants and allows them to build something from beginning to end.  There is no right or wrong way to build it which is great because kids can be as creative and imaginative as possible.  As you can see, there are different versions of the Quadrilla depending on what you are looking for.  I really love the musical one that has chimes built in and will make noise as the marbles pass through.  You can also get extra pieces to add onto your original set.  The Marble Run is great for working on motor planning, visual motor and perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, focus, attention and organizational skills. This is a great family gift to encourage teamwork and flexibility during play.

Arts and Crafts
I happen to love arts and crafts.  I love being able to make something from scratch by using my own hands and my imagination.  I try and use crafts at work whenever possible.  I especially like ones that may take more than a session or two so the kids can have something that they spend time working on for part of all their sessions.  Arts and crafts are not only great for working on fine motor skills, but also great for improving confidence and self-esteem.  The items I talk about below are ones that I have used at work and at home with my own daughter.  They are kid-tested, therapist approved and great for a variety of ages.
Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-these have been on my list year after year because they are just awesome.  Each year, they expand their products and offerings so they never get old.  I've been using these with my kids at work for as long as I can remember.  What I like most about them is that they don't take up a lot of room and they are lightweight, so if you are a traveling therapist (which I sometimes am), they are easy to take with you.  Great for working on improving fine motor skills, such as grasping and strength, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, focus, attention and organizational skills.  Not only is there a wide range of sets (unicorns, sports, pirates, princesses), there are different sets for different ages.  For younger children, they have different colored shapes that you have to match.  For older children, they are required to match different colored square stickers (some sets have gems as well) in order to complete their mosaics.
Aquabeads/Beados-I had no idea what either of these products were until my daughter received them for Christmas last year.  When we first got them, I hated them.  These small beads fell all over the place and I was stepping on them for weeks on end.  When I finally sat down with her and problem solved on the best way to do this with her, I fell in love.  I blogged about them and you can read about them in depth by clicking here.  Aquabeads/Beados are different colored beads that you place into a variety of templates (my daughter's favorites have been the Shopkins and Frozen sets).  Once they are all in (this requires focus and patience), you spray them with water and they will stick together to make a cute character. They are really a dream activity for an occupational therapist because they work on so many skills.  I suggest parents play around with Aquabeads/Beados before doing them with your child in order to figure out the best way to complete them.  Some kids do better placing the beads in using their fingers, others do better using a little pen.  These are not for everyone but if you happen to be a parent who loves doing craft activities with your kids, they might be for you!
Seedling Activity Kits-whether you have a superhero loving kid, princess loving kid or a pirate loving kid, the Seedling Activity kits will let your kids create and express their personality.  It's hard to choose just one kit to recommend, so I will just let you choose from this amazing selection of activity kits.  My daughter loved making her shield, superhero cape and the princess crowns.  We've given all kinds of these kits as gifts and everyone has loved them.  There is a huge selection of kits so you will be sure to fine something for your little ones here.  They have left no stone unturned when coming up with their sets.  I like that the directions are easy to follow and that there is a lot of room for children to express who they are when making things.  Another great thing about the Seedling kits is that they come complete with everything you need in order to complete them so you don't have to go searching for anything.  I've purchased my kits from Hiho Batik and Norman and Jules, both located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, so I am sure you will be able to find some at your local toy stores.
Glitzi Globes-this is another find I owe to my daughter...she saw these on an infomercial and HAD TO HAVE THEM.  I resisted for a while but then I looked into them and discovered that they were actually really cool.  I mean, snow globes are magical for kids.  How cool is it that they can make their very own??? These mini snow globes can contain your favorite Disney Princesses or cute little animals.  In just a few simple steps, your little one can make their very own mini snow globes.  Great for working on improving fine motor skills, grasp strength, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
Fashion Plates-another one of those toys that I remembered from my childhood that I am happy to see back.  I chose this particular set because everything can be stored in the cute bag that it comes with, making it much easier to not lose all the little pieces.  There are 15 different fashion plates with images on both sides.  Slip the plates into the tablet, place paper on top, close the frame and rub the black crayon over your creation.  Once their image is complete, they can take the picture out and add color and details.  This craft activity is great for working on fine motor skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, bilateral coordination, focus, attention, motor planning and organizational skills.  At the same time, it inspires children to be creative and use their imagination.
Action Plates-just like the aforementioned Fashion Plates, these Action Plates allow a child to mix and match the different plates to create their own superheroes.  Mix and match the 10 different characters to make the superhero of your dreams.  Pick your 3 plates, place them in the tablet, put a piece of paper over the plates and close the top before rubbing the black crayon over the action plates.  Once your character is completely visible, you can color them in and add details.  If kids get really into this, they can make their own story or comic book by putting all of their rubbings together.
Recycled Paper Beads-this kit allows children to make colorful beads using colorful papers.  It comes
with a bead winding tool that takes ordinary strips of paper and with some turning of a handle, turns them into a tight bead that you can then string to make bracelets and necklaces.  The great thing about this is that once you run out of the paper the kit comes with, you can use scrap pieces of paper that you find at home.  Great for working on motor planning, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and improve fine motor skills.

Gross Motor
Many of the kids I work with have decreased strength throughout their body.  If you don't have good core strength (your belly isn't as strong as it should be), you will most likely have fine motor delays.  I always tell the parents of the kids I work with that we have to focus on building upper body and core strength at the same time we work on their fine motor skills.  There are so many great "big body" toys out there to choose from.  The ones I talk about below have been used in the gyms I work with for years and proven to be fun for the kids.  They are all toys that can be used at home or in the playground.  Many of them are toys that can be used with a friend which is great for being able to work on improving social skills at the same time.
Zoom Ball-this toy actually brings me back to my childhood and I love that it is something that kids still love.  First of all, the Zoom Ball is a fun toy!  Secondly, it is great for working on so many physical and occupational therapy skills, including building upper body strength, motor planning, coordination and focus and attention.  For my older kids, I like to coordinate this activity with some kind of verbal task.  For example, before you send the ball back to me, name a color or tell me a month of the year.  Great for working on improving executive functioning skills.
Balance Board-a good balance board can be a great thing to have, especially if you have a child who has gross motor delays.  Personally, I like this one because it is double sided and can be used for kids with different kinds of needs/skills.  As the name implies, a balance board works in improving a child's balance.  But it works on a ton of other things as well.  Using a balance board can work on improving strength, coordination and focus/attention.  It's important to fine the right activity when using the balance board. I like this Fishing Magnetic Puzzle by Melissa and Doug because you can then work on improving bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
Pogo Stick-recently, I have seen more kids in the playground and parks on pogo sticks.  Mostly older kids who have outgrown scooters and swings but still need to move around.  The pogo stick is a great for working on balance, coordination, core strength and motor planning.  Good for kids 6 and older but all kids should be supervised until they have mastered using it.  For younger children, you can look into the Hop & Squeak Pogo Jumper- this kid-friendly pogo jumper is made out of durable foam and has a built in squeaker that squeaks every time a child jumps up and down. The bungee cord handle has a comfortable grip for the kids to hold onto. Great for working on improving trunk control/strength and motor planning. Also great for providing proprioceptive input to kids which helps with improving focus and attentional skills. Can be used indoors and outdoors and ideal for kids 3 and older. 
Scooters-living in New York City, you see kids scooting from place to place all the time.  My daughter has actually been scooting since she was 1 1/2 years old and we are on our second one since it gets so much use.  There are a lot of different scooters to choose from but my personal favorite are the Kickboard Scooters.  There are several styles to choose from depending on your child's age and skill set.  I like these because they are lightweight and easy for kids to maneuver.  I've found that even my kids who have significant difficulties with gross motor skills have success in learning how to use these scooters.  Scooting is a great way to get places when your children have outgrown strollers.  They encourage balance, coordination, endurance and motor planning.  Kids also have to be aware of where they are going so it works on improving body awareness and focus and attention.
Hop Ball-we all grew up with the hoppity ball and now there is a new and improved version available now.  The hoppity ball is great for indoor or outdoor play and great for working on coordination, balance and endurance.  It's a fun way to work on building core strength with kid as well.  I would suggest practicing with kids inside before taking it outside.
OgoSport Super Sports Disk- there are several different sized disks to choose from so they can be used with children (and grownups too) of all ages. Each set comes with two hand-trampoline disks and a koosh-like ball to bounce back and forth to your partner. If you have more than one set, you can add more people! The disks are super lightweight because they are made of foam which makes it easy for kids to hold onto. Can be played with indoors and outdoors. Great for working on eye-hand coordination, social interaction, focus and attention and regulation skills.
Stomp Rocket-kids LOVE playing with stomp rockets. After the kids place the foam rocket on a tube they jump on the launch pad and it shoots off.  This is a great toy for working on jumping, balancing on one foot and building body strength. I love this toy because it is non-battery operated and doesn't make a ton of noise. The kids love it because it is really fun to  make something fly and the higher it goes, the happier they are. I really like this Dueling Stomp Rocket that I saw in the Fat Brain catalog.  Looks like a perfect family gift!

So, there you have it.  My 2015 Holiday Gift Guide is a nice mix of new toys, books and crafts mixed in with some of the most popular items I have suggested in the past.  I hope that you have found this helpful and have found some inspiration for some of the little ones that you have to shop for this year.
I always use this blog post as an opportunity to remind everyone to try and support their local toy and bookstores.  The people who own and work at these stores are some of the most devoted and hardest working people I have ever met.  Especially during this time of the year.  They work longer hours and give up time with their own families in order to help our children have the happiest of holidays.   They will answer any question you might have and special order that perfect gift you might be looking for.

If you have any specific questions or need advice on a certain toy, game or activity for someone special on your list, I'd be more than happy to help you out.  I have a million  more ideas and suggestions that I couldn't put on this list but would be happy to share them with you if you need me to.  I am always a click away and love talking toys with everyone!

May this holiday season be a happy, healthy and fun one for you all!