I hope that this finds you well and enjoying the beginnings of the holiday season. Since many people ask me what they should get their children for the holidays, I have put together a list of games, activities, books and iPad apps that might benefit your child. If you look closely, you will see that I have included what kind of occupational therapy goals will be met for each gift. I hope you find this helpful and please feel free to pass along to any of your friends, family and colleagues. If you don't find something on here, or have specific questions I might be able to answer, please don't hesitate contacting me.
While I have included links to amazon.com and other big box stores, I encourage us all to try and support your local toys stores and businesses this season. There are a lot of hidden treasures in these stores and I am sure that your business will mean the world to them. I have included a list of NYC and Brooklyn toy stores that I shop at who have always been friendly and helpful.
I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday season and that you have a very happy and healthy New Year.
Meghan’s Annual Holiday Toy Recommendations
Spot It/Spot It Junior
This is a great fast-paced game that works on matching, visual perceptual skills, motor planning and modulation/regulation. The point of the game is simple: find the one matching object on each of the cards. Sounds simple, but I find myself stumped every time I play! Once children get the hang of it, they can be completely independent which helps facilitate language and improved social skills.
While I haven’t played this game, I've heard great things about it. It's great for school age children and ideal for family play. And is described as a game of dice where players roll dice and draw cards to see what their moves are to be. It includes 25 blue dice, 25 green dice, 25 red dice, 25 white dice, 1 large die, 60 draw cards and a game grid. The first player to play all of his or her dice is the winner!
This is a great game for school age children that works on visual motor/perceptual skills, grasp skills, hand strength, following directions, etc. It's a simple game but very fun. Each player gets 10 dice and has to keep rolling until they get all the same number.
I love when I find a game that’s really great for toddlers/preschoolers. My daughter picked this out the other day. She loves it and my husband and I enjoy playing it with her. It's a cute game that works on color matching, following multi-step directions and grasp strength. It includes a cute set of Sneaky Squirrel grabbers that are used to pick up the acorns which work on grasp strength. It's a fun family game that I think even your older children will enjoy playing with the younger ones.
Wok N Roll
This is one of my all-time favorite games that is fun for all ages. It can be easily modified to use with preschoolers but can be made challenging enough for the older ones. It works on matching, eye-hand coordination, grasping skills and much more.
This is a version of Kerplunk, but you have to get the monkeys out of the tree instead of the marbles. It can be modified for children of varying ages, but is best for older preschoolers to young school age children. It can be made more challenging by having the children try and get the least number of monkeys. It's great for fine motor skills, including grasping and also works on motor planning, problem solving and visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
This is another one of my all-time favorite games and a total classic. It works on eye-hand coordination and matching and visual perceptual skills. I like to hide the shapes in putty and make the children find them to work on increasing grasp strength at the same time.
Hedbanz is not only fun, but very educational. It's a great game to work on social skill development and improving speech and language skills. Children work in pairs or teams to answer questions/come up with clues in order to figure out what is on the headband. It's great for working on problem solving, speech and language development and a bunch of other things.
This is a great game for children between the ages of 3 to 7. It encourages expressive vocabulary, memory, matching skills and visual scanning skills. Children go "shopping" for what is on their shopping list. The person to fill their cart with the items on their list first is the winner.
You will find this game in every speech therapist’s office. Children never get bored with this matching game. I recently discovered Travel Zingo which is great for the younger kids because you can modify the size of the board. It works on matching skills, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Also great for working on speech and language development by identifying pictures.
This company makes a ton of fantastic wooden games that I love to use in therapy. I love that they don’t have a ton of bells and whistles, but are clever and different and the kids love them. Below are a couple of my favorites but take a look at their website and see all the great games they have.
A version of Kerplunk or Tumblin’ Monkeys which is great for developing eye-hand coordination, improving grasping skills, motor planning and sequencing skills. Play it with friends and you can work on important social skills such as turn taking, winning/losing and how to help friends. It's great for preschoolers and young school age children but would also keep the attention of older kids as well.
A fun game of balance. Children must get all the cargo on the ship without letting them fall off which is great for problem solving, eye-hand coordination and visual motor skills. It can work on modulation and regulation by helping a child slow down before making decisions and is a great game to play in teams to encourage children to make decisions together in coming up with a game plan.
Read and Build Lego
This is one of my new favorite Lego products. I have always felt that there weren't enough for the little ones and it was like they read my mind! Duplo has created a series of books and you have to create an animal on each page. Great for sequencing, following directions and increasing grasp strength and improving in-hand manipulation skills. I have actually done this in groups of two to encourage team-work, taking turns and social skill development.
B. Toys Bristle Block Spinaroos
We all remember bristle blocks from growing up, right? This company is my new favorite. Their toys are very well made and claim to be environmentally friendly. These manipulative toys would be perfect for your toddlers but I have a feeling your older kids will spend hours working on them as well. Spinaroos are great for improving bilateral coordination.
I picked these blocks up before the hurricane last month and both my 2 ½ year old daughter and my husband played with them for hours and hours. They are made by a Brooklyn-based company (woot woot) and I am all about supporting local businesses these days. I love blocks and manipulative toys because they work on motor planning, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, play skills, creative play and many other things. Since these come in different colors and sizes, you can also use them to teach children colors and concepts, such as big and little. These blocks are so well made that you will be able to keep them forever!
B. Toys Symphony in B
If you have a music-loving toddler, I highly recommend this toy. My daughter received it for her 2nd birthday and while it was a little challenging and required help from me or my husband, she loved it from the very beginning. There are a bunch of musical instruments that you need to fit into the correct spot so you can work on matching and shape recognition. The songs are fun, and because you can control the volume and speed, it can be great to help calm a child down if they are hyper and need to regulate themselves.
B. Toys Pop Arty
I have included this toy on my last for the last couple of years. B. Toys creates the coolest toys and the bright colors and shapes are really motivating for the kids. This toy in particular is good for school age children as the pieces are small and could be tough to put together independently. You can use these beads for working on increasing grasp and hand strength, improving in-hand manipulation skills, eye-hand coordination, sequencing, motor planning and visual motor/perceptual skills.
Fisher Price Peppa the Pig House
My 2 ½ year old daughter was given this toy and she loves it (as do I). This little doll house has a bunch of furniture that has two sides (for example, the bed has two sides: one where the bed is made, the other it is not). It's great for fine motor skill development, improving imaginative play and developing social skill development. Not to mention for speech and language development for toddlers and preschoolers!
This is a great game for school age kids. It works on tactile exploration, matching, etc. Kids use their hands to find hidden objects in Ned’s heads.
Kid O Magnatab Letter and Number Boards
I love these boards and think they are great way to work on handwriting (both letters and numbers) in a fun way for the kids. I am a big fan of multi-sensory ways to learn how to write and this is a great one. The magnet stylus helps encourage proper grasping on writing instruments and all the boards have arrows that show the proper way to write the letters.
Memory Match 16
I love this wooden matching game that comes with eight different boards for you to choose from with varying levels of difficulty. As a mom who loves games that don’t take up much space or have a lot of parts, I love that this matching game doesn't have a million cards to get lost. It works on matching, memory, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and is great for working on social skill development.
Skip Hop Alphabet Zoo Match & Play Puzzle and ABC House Blocks
I must admit, this is a bit of a selfish entry although I do stand by this toy 100%! It has nothing to do with the cute little model in the picture. Skip Hop, a NYC-based company, has come out with a series of wooden toys that are a lot of fun. They are simple and keep my daughter engaged forever.
Legos and Legos Friends
You can never go wrong with the Lego products. They are timeless and will be in your child’s toy collection forever to be kept for future generations! They are great for working on improving motor planning, organizational skills, sequencing and executive functioning skills. Also great for working on improving grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Now that they have introduced a girl's line, there are even more options for boys and girls!
Over the last few years, Lego has come up with a series of strategy and board games. They have been a huge hit with my older kids, kindergarten and up, and will work on all the same things that regular Legos do. Apart from what I listed above, Legos can address language and friendship skills as well. My favorites: Wild Wool, Ninjago and Pirate Plank.
Arts and Crafts
Orb Factory Mosaic Toys
These mosaics have been on my list for the last several years. They are motivating to all kids and the final product is awesome. It works on fine motor skill development, especially grasping and improving finger strength. Additionally, these toys work on eye-hand coordination, matching skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Each year they come up with more and more activities, and there are varying levels, so you can get these for your preschooler or school age child.
Loop De Loop Friendship Bracelet Maker
I'm not sure if you have all noticed how popular friendship bracelets have become but I see them on all my children at work these days. For some of our children with fine motor and motor planning difficulties, this activity can be very frustrating and prevent them from trying. The good news is this little machine helps create the perfect friendship bracelet and once children get the hang of it, they can be independent. It still requires a child to organize and plan out the project, but will work on improving in-hand manipulation skills, bilateral coordination, improving eye-hand coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. If they try and do it too quickly, children will not be able to make the bracelet, so it will also work on improving modulation and decreasing impulsive behaviors.
Crazy Crayons Eco Stars
I love these crayons not only because they are environmentally friendly, but because they are great for encouraging a proper grasp on a writing instrument. The bright colors and fun shape get almost all my kids to color and have fun doing it!
Write Me A Story-Eeboo
I am always looking for fun ways to motivate my kids to write in general, but with my older kids, to write stories. I love this series of books because they give you a bunch of stickers to choose from (ranging from 3-7 stickers), put them in order and then challenge you to write a story using the stickers. This is great for school age children who struggle with coming up with ideas and the sequencing of stories. Stickers are fun and I love that each story, even if using the same stickers, will always be different.
I love this project for so many reasons. I can remember doing these with my girlfriends a million years ago and love that they have come back in full force. As an occupational therapist, I love all the skills that making these can work on: handwriting, folding, increasing grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills...I could go on and on. My speech therapy friends would love the language it could stimulate and the friendship skills it could encourage. Here are two different options: one is more geared towards girls, but the other has good ones for boys as well.
Taro’s Origami Studio
This place is an awesome origami studio that has recently been featured in the New York Times. Origami can be really challenging, but I took a client here for her birthday who really struggles with these kinds of activities. The staff was amazing and her private lesson couldn't have been more motivating and encouraging for her. She left with her “Yellow Origami” belt and a tremendous amount of pride. This place is definitely worth making the trip to Brooklyn! Origami is great for so many things: eye-hand coordination, sequencing, motor planning, grasp and finger strengthening, improving in-hand manipulation skills and many others. When a child completes a complicated origami pattern, the sense of pride they feel is priceless.
Imagine That Coloring Book
This is a great coloring book that will inspire your child to color, draw and use their imagination. It's a big hit with my older preschoolers and young school age children. You can use this with the star crayons for a perfect combo! It works on improving imagination skills, fine motor skills, grasping skills, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. The pictures are motivating enough that you can really stimulate language development as well. The author, Lazoo, has a series of drawing and coloring books that I also highly recommend: Squiggles, Holes, Incredible Stickers. All can be found on their website under Books.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish this Activity Book
I am a huge Mo Willems fan and when I saw this book, I flipped out! It offers a ton of different activities that will keep your preschooler and/or school age child entertained for hours. It helps develop creative writing and imagination skills, language development and can even be done in multiples to work on social skill development and encouraging teamwork. It will also work on eye-hand coordination, handwriting, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
The Button Factory
I thought this activity was going to be really hard for my kids, but they loved it. It's a great and quick activity for school age children. The very cool looking fabric buttons take minutes to make. If a child has difficulty with cutting, they may require some assistance. But it's great for working on sequencing and motor planning, executive functioning and eye-hand coordination. Also works on cutting skills and increasing grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills.
While there is still a lot of conflict on using technology in therapy, I have become a huge supporter. I don’t use it all the time and often will use it as a reward for some of my children. There are thousands of apps out there that can actually really help your child. In addition, the iPad/iPhone apps really do encourage a child to work on important skills such as finger isolation, grasping, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, following multi-step directions...the list goes on and on. If used properly, technology can truly help your child’s skills and confidence.
This is a great app for your little ones who are working on learning their letters. Super motivating and little games that go along with each number
Same as above but works on learning the letters of the alphabet. This game keeps the attention of the little ones forever!
Bubble GuppiesThis is a great game for preschool age children. It works on matching, sequencing, following multi-step directions and I find that the familiar characters from the show are really motivating.
Cute game for preschoolers/early learners that works on matching, following multi-step directions, sequencing, etc.. Cute little characters and fun games that will keep your toddler engaged for a long time!
Don’t Let the Pigeon Run this App
For any of you who are familiar with the author Mo Willems, you will love this application. This can be good for toddlers up to 2nd/3rd grade. You get to be the author of your very own Don’t Let This Pigeon book. There is a cute mini lesson that teaches you step by step how to draw the pigeon character found in all the books. Worth every penny it costs!
This is more appropriate for school age children. Created by an occupational therapist, this app works on improving fine motor skills such as grasping skills, handwriting and in-hand manipulation skills. Cute mini games that will keep the attention of your child while working on important skills at the same time.
My absolute favorite handwriting app out there. Works on upper and lower case letters and numbers. Offers 3 different settings, including Handwriting Without Tears. This game is motivating enough that it keeps ALL my kids interested and excited with handwriting. There are three different ways to learn each letter which I have found to be very helpful for learning the letters/numbers.
A new app I just discovered. Definitely more suited for the school age children. A really fun and simple (and totally addictive) game. I would use this to work on finger isolation, problem solving, following multi-step directions and visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
A cute series of mini games that works on a variety of things. Great for school age games. Works on a ton of skills, including, but not limited to motor planning, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, following multi-step directions, modulation/regulation, etc...
I usually use this game with my school age children as a fun way to work on visual motor and visual perceptual skills, finger isolation, modulation/regulation and a bunch of other things. In addition, it’s a game that many children their same age peers play so it helps in building confidence.
Cut the Rope
Another great game for school age children to work on visual motor/perceptual skills, motor planning and sequencing.
Another great game for school age children to work on visual motor/perceptual skills, motor planning and sequencing.
Below are speech therapy specific applications suggested by my speech therapy friends:
The Monster at the End of this App
Speech with Milo- Great for sequencing and articulation
The Juno Company
Zanny-Born to Run
Bugs and Buttons An educational game for preschoolers that works on sorting, connecting the dots and color recognition
My Play Home
Local Toy Stores to Support
This year, more than others, I am reminded how important it is to support our local small businesses. Although I mostly include links for Amazon or other big box stores, I always recommend shopping at your local toy store to keep our communities fun and unique.
I've listed a handful of toy stores below. And since I live in Brooklyn, you'll see a majority of these are based in my own backyard. However, if you have additional local stores that supply these toys that are so helpful to our children, feel free to email me. I'm always looking for stores to support and recommend.
Norman and Jules
Area Kids *multiple locations in Brooklyn & New York City
Little Things and Little Things Too
Upper East Side
Mary Arnold Toys
Upper West Side
Toy and Stationery World
West Side Kids
Kidding Around *multiple locations in New York City and New Jersey
I know this is a long list. But I hope that, more than anything, you've gotten guidance on fun and important toys to make this holiday season easier for you to navigate. It can be an overwhelming time for all of us, but this should get you well on your way to selecting toys which are fun and play an integral part in your child's development.
I'm just a click away. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Happy happy holidays from my family to yours,