Baby and toddler toys are always the hardest for me to recommend. Not because there aren't a ton to choose from, but more that I want to make recommendations that may end up lasting a longer time. When kids are really little, you can end up acquiring a ton of products that only get used for a very short amount of time. But there are a ton of great products out there that can grow with your kid....can be adapted to make it better to use depending on their age and skill set. Here are my top 10 (with a little help from some of my new moms out there!):
Bolli-I am a huge fan of OgoSport so when I saw that they had created the Bolli ball I was psyched. I was initially drawn to it because of its shape and design. I loved how the open spaces in the ball encouraged manipulation and grasping skills in younger children. But the more I looked at this ball, I realized just how great it really is. It can also be used for teething without parents worrying because it is made of materials that are 100% nontoxic, BPA and phthalate free. It's soft and pliable making it easy for young kids to squish and stretch it which is great for working on bilateral coordination skills and hand-eye coordination. As kids get older, you can work on throwing and catching skills with it! For all you parents concerned about how you clean this thing, it can be thrown in the dishwasher! Each pack comes with 3 varying colors so you don't have to worry if one gets lost.
Rainbow Cone Tower-I am pretty sure that most everyone knows about the original Fisher-Price Rainbow Stacker. I mean, I remember it from my childhood and have used it during my career. Some people aren't always open to having plastic toys and would rather spend a little more to have a toy that may last longer. One thing to keep in mind with baby/toddler toys is that less may be more...bells and whistles and lights and flashes may actually be more over-stimulating for young children. When I saw this wooden rainbow stacker at Norman and Jules, my local toy store in Park Slope, I kinda fell in love with it. This is the wooden version of the Fisher-Price rainbow toy from my childhood. It will work on improving grasping and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, color recognition, motor planning and organizational skills. This toy is made out of the highest quality and naturally harvested wood, colored using non-toxic dyes, paints and finishes meaning it's okay if your kid starts to chew on it!
pipSquigz-I have been a fan of the regular Squigz for a long time. Their bright colors drew me in at first but then I fell in love with the popping sound they made as you pulled them apart from each other or off a mirror or wall. The developmental skills that can be worked on while using them are amazing. Then I discovered the pipSquigz and my mind was blown. pipSquigz were created for younger kids and their little hands. They are meant to encourage sensory exploration and awareness, stimulate bilateral coordination skills, hand-eye coordination and fine motor and manipulation skills. Suggested for kids 6-months and older, but can be used as a teething device for younger children since they are BPA-free. These are also great for speech and language development because you can teach kids color, sounds, feelings, etc. while they are playing.
Rody Horse-I've always loved Rody because he is super cute and the kids are always drawn to him. They don't realize that they are actually working on developing trunk control and strength, balance and coordination skills and providing themselves with body awareness through the bouncing up and down while sitting on it. Kids can also work on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills while holding onto Rody's ears. While initially intended for children 2 and older (it can hold up to 100 pounds of weight), younger children can use it as well. Rody comes in a variety of colors and is easy to pump up with a hand or foot pump.
Shape Sorter-a shape sorter is a really good gift to get for those younger kids because they will last a long time. There are a lot to choose from which can make it confusing for people as they try and decide. Over the years, they have evolved and I have found myself being more drawn to the wooden ones. My new favorite shape sorter is by Hape (I love so many of their toys) because there is a sensory experience as well. Each shape not only has balls/bells in them to make them rattle when shaken, they also coordinate with a color on the sorter. You can start using this with kids as soon as they begin to sit up and are using their hands to explore the different shapes. As they get older, you can start having them work on matching the shapes and colors. Great for working on improving grasping and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and focus and attentional skills. Made from all natural woods and painted with nontoxic paints, parents don't have to worry about kids putting the pieces in their mouth.
EZ Grip Massaging Teether Fruit-one of the biggest concerns I get from parents of my younger clients is that their sweet babes are putting everything in their mouths. I've loved the vibrating fruit teethers by Innobaby for a while. Babies get to soothe the pain from teething while working on grasping and hand-eye coordination skills. I don't know from personal experience, but many people have said that by introducing kids to these fruit-like teethers that they have kids who are more open to trying a variety of fruits. BPA, Phthalate, PVC and lead free, these are truly safe for your baby.
Poke-A-Dot Books-I discovered these books when my daughter was a baby and just loved them. At the time, there were only 2 to choose from so I am happy to see that they have expanded their collection. These books are interactive books that help in developing fine motor skills in babies and toddlers. Each page has raised buttons that are part of the story (for example, you have to push a button down as you are counting the monkeys in 10 Little Monkeys). Using their pointer finger, kids push the buttons down as they are counting or finding objects on the pages. Kids love the popping sound and that they get to be an active while having stories read to them. Poke-A-Dot books are also great for working on improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, focus, attention, counting skills and language development.
Peek N Peep Eggs-sometimes the simpler the toy is, the better it is for kids. This set of six eggs and chicks is an example of this. Each chick is a different color and has different facial expressions that match one of the shells. Great for working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, focus and attention. For toddlers, it's a great way to help them identify feelings and emotions. Oh, and they squeak when you push them down which is sure to make your wee one giggle!
*Be sure to check out your local toy stores for this product. I have seen and purchased it from Little Things Toys in Park Slope.
Chomp and Count Dino-this toy was highly recommended to me by another occupational therapist who also happens to be the mom of 8-month twins. The interactive dinosaur comes with eight play pieces that you feed to him. It has a counting and a food mode. As he "eats" them, he will respond with different phrases that will help your children learn about colors, numbers, shapes and food. There is also an option of pressing a button that will ask your child a question about what they have just learned (this is obviously something to do with older children). While this is intended for children 12 months and older, my friend has been doing hand-over-hand with her babies to have them put the pieces into the mouth. This is great for not only learning a lot of important concepts, it helps to develop fine motor and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination and visual motor/perceptual skills. Another great feature, it comes with a pull string so as your kids begin to walk, they can take the dino for a walk!
Oball Products-the classic Oball was my daughter's first favorite toy and I have been recommending and gifting it to people ever since. Six years ago, they just had the classic ball but since then, they have evolved and developed a bunch of new products that are just as wonderful. The concept is simple: each ball is made up of holes which make it easy for those little hands to grab onto them. They help in developing fine motor and grasping skills and encourage bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination. They are super durable and made from non-toxic materials making them safe for teething.
Some of my new favorite products:
Oball rattle-just like the Oball Classic but has 3 rattles built in
Rattle and Roll Toy Car-this should be every babies first car! It is easy for even the youngest child to grasp onto the top (which is made of an Oball) and push it back and forth
2-in-1 Roller Toy-this is a walking toy. As kids begin to walk, they can push this. They are rewarded with a fun sound as they push it all around
*again, be sure to check out your local toy stores to see if they carry them. There isn't a single toy store in New York City that I have walked into that doesn't carry the Oball products.
If you are looking for gifts for older children, don't forget to check out the 2016 Holiday Gift Guide.